Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Dracula Made Dull

Film: The Return of Dracula
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when I wish I had created this blog around shorter reviews. Were I writing 500 word reviews, I’d probably post a little more often. Even if that were the case, though, even if I was writing 300 word reviews, I’d be struggling with The Return of Dracula in terms of having things to say. This is a movie that leaves almost no impression. It plays exactly like a typical Dracula movie. Even now, typing this while the movie is literally still playing, I’m struggling to think of things that are worth talking about.

It starts out with at least a little bit of promise. A Czech artist named Bellac Gordal (an uncredited Norbert Schiller) is heading to America to spend time with some cousins. At the same time, a group of vampire hunters is looking to kill the corporeal body of Count Dracula (Francis Lederer). Dracula turns out to be missing; he’s on the train, and it just so happens that he’s in the same train car as our artist. So, no shock when our vampire takes over the artist’s identity after draining him of blood.

Sunday, May 26, 2024


Film: The Sacrament
Format: Streaming video from Hoopla on Fire!

I am not a believer in the supernatural and I am not merely irreligious but antireligious. While I don’t address every film I watch from the perspective of antitheism, there are times when it becomes relevant. The Sacrament is one of those times. This is a film that very clearly wants the audience to think of instances like Jonestown in Guyana and the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Texas. The connection is obvious, but this doesn’t in any way detract from the story. It’s very clear where this is going to go, and once it starts, there’s no getting off that rollercoaster.

Fashion photographer Patrick (Kentucker Audley) gets a letter from his sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz), a recovering addict. Caroline is now living in Eden Parish, a religious community completely off the grid in an unknown location accessible only by helicopter. Patrick takes this information to his coworkers at Vice, reporter Sam (A.J. Bowen) and cameraman Jake (Joe Swanberg). The group agrees that there might be a story in this, and all three head down to the commune to see what is happening.

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Age Gap

Film: May December
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players.

I have never been shy about the fact that age gap relationships in film really bother me. I don’t understand why Hollywood still seems to believe that having women in their 20s and 30s actively pursuing relationships with men in their 50s and 60s. This comes with the knowledge that I know of several relationships like this in real life. My wife’s cousin is married to a woman who is several decades older than he is, and that is the kind of relationship that we’re going to be investigating in May December. The difference is that my wife’s cousin met his wife when he was in his 30s and she was in her 50s. In May December, we’re looking at a relationship that began when she was in her 30s and he was…13.

And that is the story of May December. Actress Elizabeth Berry (Natalie Portman) goes to Savannah, Georgia to research an upcoming role. That role is as Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Julianne Moore), a woman caught having an affair with a 13-year-old boy named Joe. Gracie was sent to prison for this clear abuse of a child, and while in prison gave birth to that boy’s child. And, then when she was released from prison, she married him, and 23 years later, is still married to Joe (Charles Melton).

Monday, May 20, 2024

In the Gallery

Film: Velvet Buzzsaw
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

It’s not easy to interact with the art world as an average person. So much of the art world is an evident scam. Even if the entire tax dodge may or may not be reality (and there’s some evidence that the “buy a piece of art, have it appraised, donate it for a tax write-off” scam isn’t that easy or that common), wealthy art collectors do frequently buy art, talk it up to others, and hope that the artist catches on. At the same time, there is truly vital, important art in the world. The works of Ai Weiwei, Banksy, the recent portrait of King Charles by Jonathan Yeo, and more are important and make serious commentary on the world around us. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than the 2010 film Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s this world we’re going to dive into with Velvet Buzzsaw, a film that decides the art world needed a horror movie.

Before we get going, it’s worth saying that Velvet Buzzsaw is from the heart of the “NetFlix is doing the best work” period, and because of this, could get pretty much anyone they wanted for any projects. Among the cast are Rene Russo, Jake Gyllenhaal, John Malkovich, and Toni Collette.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Don't Forget the Bloody Corsage

Film: Prom Night (1980)
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Jamie Lee Curtis got her break in Halloween, which was the first movie she ever did. Now, certainly there was some nepotism involved in her landing the role, and evidently John Carpenter considered hiring her to play Laurie Strode was an homage to her mother’s role in Psycho. Nepotism or not, Curtis definitely has the goods, but her early career is littered with low-budget slashers, making her one of the premiere late-‘70s/early-‘80s scream queens. There are some gems in the mix, but Prom Night isn’t one of them.

We start with young kids playing a version of hide-and-seek in an abandoned building. When another kid joins, the four playing the game essentially turn on her and scare her, which leads to her falling out of a window to her death. The four kids—Wendy, Jude, Kelly, and Nick—make a pact not to ever tell anyone. Flash forward six years and those kids are now seniors in high school, getting ready for their prom. Wendy (Eddie Benton), Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens), and Jude (Joy Thompson) are figuring out their dates, while Nick (Casey Stevens) is dating Kim Hammond (Jamie Lee Curtis). To tie all of this together, Kim’s father (Leslie Nielsen!) is the principal of the high school. It also turns out that the girl who died in the open sequence was Kim’s younger sister. Also worth noting that Kim has a twin brother named Alex (Michael Tough).

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Destroyer of Worlds

Film: Oppenheimer
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

I don’t think anyone was surprised when Oppenheimer cleaned up at the most recent Oscars ceremony. I hadn’t seen the film until today and I would have picked it to win more than the seven it did. Christopher Nolan was due to win an Oscar, as the best working director without one in the minds of many people (although I’d pick either David Fincher or Greta Gerwig). But it was Nolan’s year and nothing was going to knock this movie and Nolan off of that pedestal. It’s been one that I’ve been looking to watch for some time, but the last few months have been disturbingly busy, and this film is a good three hours long. As it is, it took me a couple of days to watch it.

This, of course, is the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the man most credited with the creation of the first atomic bomb and the Manhattan Project. As befits a movie that is a good three hours long, Oppenheimer turns out to be a lot more complicated than we might think. The film has the good taste not to be hagiographic, although I wouldn’t call this a “warts and all” biography, either. Oppenheimer is painted as at least a sympathizer of communist sympathizers (his brother, his wife), as well as a womanizer. So, we’re going to be led to seeing him as brilliant, but flawed, which is probably the best we can expect.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

I Might Roll a Brand-New Car

Film: The Fall Guy
Format: Market Square Theater (Theater 3).

So we went out to the movies tonight. I just finished grading for a few classes and needed a break and she’s going to be out all day tomorrow (she spends Mother’s Day with our younger daughter), so I thought I’d see what was playing. She showed interest in The Fall Guy, so we went. It would have been cheaper to go one town over, but the seats aren’t as nice, and what the hell? So we went.

The Fall Guy is loosely based on the television show of the same name. In the show, from about 40 years ago, a stuntman (played by Lee Majors, who shows up for a cameo at the end) also acts as a bounty hunter between movie gigs, usually using his stuntman prowess to capture bad guys. That’s not the case this time. In fact, while we’re still in the realm of stunt performers, this is going to take a much more literal, albeit slang meaning of the title.

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

The Shadow Over Point Dune

Film: Messiah of Evil
Format: Streaming video from AMC+ through Amazon Prime on Fire!

Paying homage to something without duplicating it or spoofing it is a fine line to walk, and it’s rare that a movie does it really well. When one of those movies pops up, it’s a rare treat. Messiah of Evil, despite its Satanic Panic-worthy name, is one such film. This movie has a lot going on in it, and it feels like it’s making reference to a lot of other tales. It still manages to tell its own story, though. So, while there are definite elements that are calling out to other films, the experience of this one is wholly its own.

When I say that there is a lot going on in this movie, I’m not really selling it hard enough. There is a definite connection to Romero’s zombie films in the storyline and the Italian homages to Romero in the visual aspects. If it had come out a year later, I’d suggest a connection to Romero’s The Crazies as well. There are aspects of the tone and feel of the film that are strongly reminiscent of Carnival of Souls. There is also a very strange sense of H.P. Lovecraft to this as well. While the film is set in California, it might as well be set in Innsmouth or Arkham. There’s also allusions to the Wendigo myth and the Donner Party. It also features cameos from Elisha Cook Jr. and The Warriors director Walter Hill.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

What I've Caught Up With, April 2024

I was on the road a lot in April, which meant I didn't really spend a lot of time watching films. Total, I watched maybe a dozen or so just because I ran out of time. Family wedding, trip to St. Louis to visit my older daughter, and a few other day-long trips or events took their toll. Television was a lot easier for me last month because I could divide out show episodes a lot more easily. I finished (and reviewed) a couple of Mike Flanagan shows from NetFlix. I also watched Guillermo del Toro's The Strain and the very entertaining Russian Doll.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024


Film: The Fall of the House of Usher (2023)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I’ve been going through Mike Flanagan’s multiple NetFlix miniseries. With The Fall of the House of Usher, I have now seen four out of the five, and mentally, I think I need a little break from Flanagan before I watch the one I haven’t seen. The reason is simple: Usher, despite being shorter than both The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, takes a much bigger toll on the viewer. This is angrier than Flanagan’s other series, and perhaps that’s a function of the way the story went.

Unlike Hill House and Bly Manor, The Fall of the House of Usher is not focused specifically on a building. In this case, “house” is referring to the family or lineage of a family called Usher. The story is vaguely based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name (no surprise), but with a substantial amount of license taken. In Poe’s story, the Usher family is down to a couple of members who are preparing for their demise. In this version of the story, the Ushers are fabulously wealthy, connected to a multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company, and also preparing for their ultimate demise.