Thursday, June 21, 2018



I know that at the heart of it all AGFA is trying to rescue films from obscurity, trying to offer them with the best presentation possible and saving movies that might otherwise be lost to the world forever. But there is also a large part of me that gives credit to people who at least attempt to make a movies, a large part that says ALL films should be saved from disappearing to the ravages of vinegar syndrome or the trash heap, at the same time a small part of me says maybe there are some movies that with the exception of friends and family of those film makers the world might be a better place for not being exposed to a particular film. Case in point THE SOULTANGLER.

Promoted on the box as similar to RE-ANIMATOR but shot in New Jersey I found so little of it similar that I couldn’t comprehend the comparison. I saw some green fluid but there were other colors as well. During the commentary track the director said his lead actor looked like Jeffrey Combs but I’ve seen people on the street who looked more like him. And the similarity of creating zombies of the dead is not limited to RE-ANIMATOR. So ignore the claim and look at the film on its own…merits?

The story involves a Dr. Anton Lupesky who is kicked out of the hospital he works in for doing experiments deemed unworthy of such an institute. Coming back to the same town a few years later Lupesky has developed a serum that transfers the souls of one person into the deceased body of another. Except that they come back as zombies. A reporter is doing research on the story and, as with all good reporters, eventually finds herself with the possibility of becoming a part of the story she has no desire to be.

In reading that description, and not giving myself credit, it is much more entertaining than the actual film itself. I am a lover of low budget films but this movie transcends low budget and delves into the world of no budget. When your secret lab looks like what it is, the basement of someone’s home, then you know you have a problem.

I’ve tried to think of something positive to say about the film but there isn’t much that deserves it. Beginning with the script we have a terrible amount of bad story telling going on here. Far too much of the story is being told to us via narrators or letters being written and read. One entire segment is a letter being read while images of an abandoned institution is on display with boarded and broken windows. Uh okay how about a little more explanation than that? I just finished watching Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER in which almost all of the film takes place in a single room. Plenty of exposition is in the script as characters discuss possibilities of what actually happened. Five minutes of that film rivals anything seen in this film’s entirety.

The acting is subpar throughout in spite of the director in the commentary track giving praise to different cast members. A recent high school production of ANNIE I saw which had some terrible acting on display (not all but some) showed more potential than the actors here.

The film was shot on 16mm and it shows. I’ve seen some films shot on 16mm in the past that were blown up and transferred and they actually looked pretty good. This is not one of those films.

The special effects, the mainstay of any gore fueled horror film, are for the most part weak here. Far too many images of just blood smeared on someone or squirting into the face of Lupesky are used. But at least there were two segments that allow me to say something good about the movie. One involved a dream sequence in which the reporter peels away a portion of her own forearm that was well done. The second involved the doctor’s henchmen having had his head not quite severed from his body who stands up and pursues the reporter, head hanging on by a thread. While it wasn’t amazing to see it was well done and kudos to the make-up man for that image.

I will, in the end, still believe that all films should be preserved and saved from obscurity. Films like this one may make it difficult to believe that and continue to encourage it but they do. Some people will watch this and love the low-budget of it all, the attempt to create something from nothing, to make a horror film that intends to frighten even if it inspires raucous laughter instead. For those people this will be an item to pick up, to watch while incredibly drunk as you roll around on the floor in spasms of laughter. For the rest of is it does have one beneficial aspect to it. When you’re facing a night of insomnia put this one in the player and I can almost guarantee you that within minutes you’ll find yourself dozing off.

Extras include the commentary audio track with director Pat Bishowl, an unseen 62 minute alternate director’s cut, behind the scenes footage, trailers for this film & DEAD OF NIGHT TOWN, a music video for “Wave” by Hypnolovewheel and liner notes by Bleeding Skull’s Zack Carlson. I’m stunned that a movie like this has this many extras included while some great movies are being released with none. View at your own risk.

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Thursday, May 31, 2018


I’ve noted before that I love movie musicals. They’re more rare than ever these days since I don’t consider pop song fueled items in that genre. Those movies are made to sell records or up the marketability of a particular pop star. I’m talking about full blown musicals where characters suddenly burst into song about what’s taking place. Most these days are based on Broadway shows. But for once a full on movie musical has hit the screen and now disc that deserves notice. That movie is THE GREATEST SHOWMAN.

The movie is loosely based on the life of entrepreneur P.T. Barnum, the first person to create what we call showbiz. At times a promoter and at others a con man at heart, Barnum brought something new to the stage unseen before. This film cleans up his act a bit, puts a nice coat of white paint on his reputation and in doing so makes for one outrageously entertaining film.

As a boy Barnum follows his father, a tailor, around and helps when he can. He meets a young girl named Charity in the home of one of his father's customers and even as a child falls helplessly in love with her. They remain in contact against her father’s wishes and eventually marry with promises of a world they will create all their own.

But plans don’t follow through. Living in a leaky flat with two young girls to take care of Barnum (Hugh Jackman) loses his job as an accountant. Charity (Michelle Williams) tells him not to worry and as the three celebrate one of the girl’s birthdays he has an idea. The next day using documents he took from his ex-employer and spinning a yarn of owning ships at sea (while failing to mention they’ve all sunk) he gets a loan from the bank and rents a building.

He fills the building with the latest craze, wax figures. He also brings in oddities not seen in the city like wild animals now stuffed. When business doesn’t take off his daughter suggest he needs something alive. Another spark of inspiration. Barnum posts signs everywhere looking for unique people, what would later be termed “freaks”. He starts off the cast of his show by approaching a young man he dubs Gen. Tom Thumb who stands 25 inches tall. As more cast are added to the show it becomes a must see attraction.

Given a bad review by the press it doesn’t matter. People come from far and wide to see the show. In addition to that Barnum has given these people something they never had before, a family, people who care for them in their own circle.

Searching for a way to make his location more reputable he approaches a wealthy young playwright named playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zach Efron) to invest in his show. Hesitant at first Carlyle agrees for a percentage and on his first visit falls in love with trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). Barnum gets another assist from Carlyle who helps them get an audience with Queen Victoria, adding a touch of prestige to the show. While there he meets opera star Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson) and makes plans to produce a tour featuring her across the US.

More happens in the movie but I’ve already said too much. Troubles at his show, losing track of his original intent, forgetting the people he brought in who depend on him and losing his path in life all make up for the content of this movie. It’s uplifting and heartbreaking at different times. The plight of the stars of his show, being unacceptable to some members of the public who think they should crawl back in the shadows is the heart and soul of this film. The film’s strongest song, “This Is Me”, celebrates their strength in discovering who they are and the power they have to be accepted as real people. The song was nominated for best song at this year’s Oscars and in my opinion they were robbed by not winning.

It’s not the only song to stand out here though. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who wrote the songs for last year’s LA LA LAND have crafted some of the most amazing music and lyrics to find their way to film in decades. Recent musicals like BURLESQUE and CHICAGO don’t compare to this soundtrack in my opinion. The movie lifts you up and breaks your heart both.

The entire cast stand out as amazing in the film. I’ve wondered when Efron would act in a film rather than just take off his shirt and he does great here. Zendaya is underused but does well. Williams as the love of Barnum’s life is wonderful. But it is Jackman who shines above all others here. His portrayal, his emotive expressions and his singing all make the character come alive.

If all of this weren’t enough to convince you the movie is worth adding to your collection then consider the extras in this sing-a-long edition. They include THE FAMILY BEHIND THE GREATEST SHOWMAN a featurette on the making of the film, THE SONGS each song singled out for fans, THE SPECTACLE offering behind the scenes info on characters and choreography, a gallery of concept art, a gallery of storyboards used for the film, MUSIC MACHINE offers direct access to each song in the film with a sing-a-long option, sing-a-long mode which presents the entire film with subtitles to sing along with each song and an audio commentary track with Michael Gracey the film’s director.

Of all the movies I saw last year, which was quite a lot, I felt that this movie would surely garner an Oscar nod for best picture. But the Academy did what they’ve done for some time now, nominating movies based on political bent or causes as opposed to what was the best film made. This movie should have won hands down. I saw it twice in the theater and watched it twice on disc now and never been bored. To me that’s the sign of a movie worth owning and repeat viewings. Other’s I know have felt the same. Give it a watch and my guess is you will too. Soon you’ll hear people walking down the street singing “Ladies and gents this is the show you’ve been waiting for.”


One of the great joys of watching movies is to find a movie that you’re not quite sure what to expect from and discover it to be a gem. It doesn’t happen often. You either read something about it, a friend tells you about it, you just come across it or maybe you see an interesting trailer. It is coming into a film with no expectations and discovering it that makes it amazing. Such was the case for me with I KILL GIANTS.

Barbara (Madison Wolfe) is a young teenage girl with a number of quirks. She makes traps in the woods, creates her own special mixture for bait and walks around with fake rabbit ears on her head. To say she is quirky is an understatement. But there is a method to her madness. As she explains via narration, her goal is to protect the town she lives in and the people she loves from giants.

She lives with her brother and her sister Karen (Imogen Poots) in a beach front home in Long Island. She shows an interest in games like Dungeons and Dragons but has no one to play with. With plenty of wooded areas to roam in and lay her traps she spends most of her days alone. Then one day on the beach she meets Sophia (Sydney Wade). Just moved here from England Sydney has no friends and Barbara takes her into her confidence telling her what she does. She also shares the secret of her handbag tagged Coveleski, her secret weapon.

At school Barbara is socially awkward, as we would expect, and the target of the school girl bully Taylor (Rory Jackson). One run in results in Barbara being sent to the new school counselor Mrs. Molle (Zoe Saldana). We get the impression through the actions of both that something is going on we’re not privy to. The end result is Barbara being more confrontational rather than helpful, feeling her time is being wasted with Mrs. Molle.

Taylor tells Sophia that she will let her in on a secret of Barbara’s if she will tell her what she knows about her. The end result is Taylor and her friends dismantling the traps Barbara has set up on the beach and then beating her. Sophia takes Barbara home where she wakes frightened in her bed, fearful of something upstairs. Sophia discovers Barbara’s secret and runs from the house.

The friends come face to face again after Barbara faces off against one of the attacking giants in an abandoned railway yard. Their friendship hasn’t quite gone back to what it once was yet. As a storm approaches Barbara prepares to do battle on the beach where Taylor destroyed her traps. In the meantime Karen and Mrs. Molle search for Barbara, fearful of what may have happened.

Here is the thing about this movie, starting with the trailer. It’s based on a graphic novel of the same name which I’d never read. The trailer was filled with special effects moments of Barbara doing battle with actual giant creatures. But as the story unfolds on film you notice two things. The first is that no one else is ever around when Barbara is confronted by the giants or the warning specters she calls harbingers. The second is that you begin to wonder if there are really giants or is there something going on with Barbara we’re not aware of just yet. Both are possibilities and the answer isn’t revealed until her final battle.

The movie works on so many levels. There is plenty of humor involved her in the form of Barbara and her quirks on display. There is drama in the characters of Karen who’s trying to keep her family together and care for them as well as in Mrs. Molle who wants to help Barbara. There is the comradery of the two girls who become friends in the unlikeliest of possibilities. There is action in the form of battles with bad guys both gigantic and personal. And most importantly there is the subject of trying to understand what is behind it all, a mystery of sorts that some will figure out before it is explained but that provides a journey into imagination that makes this story so wonderful.

As I said I went in expecting one thing and came out the other side having watched something that was completely different from those expectations. And it just made the experience that much better. I was enchanted by this film and loved every minute of it. Even knowing the ending I could easily watch it again and gain new items from the film I would have missed the first time around.

After having sat through so many movies that have been praised by critics and hailed with awards I’m always stunned when films like this go unnoticed. Don’t let that happen. Find this film and watch it. Be transported to a place where quite possibly giants are there to do battle with. By then end my guess is you’ll recognize you may have some giants of your own that need conquering.

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