Wednesday, March 16, 2016


For four films now Daniel Craig has filled the shoes of the most famous of all spies, the man with the double O prefix to his number, James Bond. While at the end of the first film, CASINO ROYALE, we were aware that a group was behind the death of the woman he loved and afterwards Bond went looking for those men it wasn’t until the latest outing SPECTRE brought all the loose ends together. Now we know not only the name of the organization but who controls it as well.

The movie picks up with Bond in Mexico in another of the thrill packed chase sequences that have started each of the Craig films. The end result of this one is Bond’s finding a ring with an insignia, an octopus looking symbol. Called to the carpet for his non-sanctioned escapade the new M (Ralph Fiennes) makes sure Bond is aware that MI6 is under attack by bureaucrats. At present one group is set to end the double 0 branch altogether by imposing a mega computer that will bring together every piece in intel there is.

But Bond is stubborn if nothing else. He knows there is more going on here than meets the eye and sets out to prove this. Following the few leads he has Bond contacts the widow of the man he killed in Mexico. She provides him with enough information for him to make his way to a secret meeting of the organization behind the ring SPECTRE. While at this meeting he witnesses the killing of one of the members of the upper echelon at the hands of Hinx (Dave Bautista). He is also called out by the mysterious leader of the group and barely escapes with his life as Hinx chases him in the standard car chase seen in all Bond films.

With a few assists from Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Wishaw) Bond follows what new information he has to track down his ex-nemesis Mr. White who then leads him to White’s daughter Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux).  She may hold the information that Bond needs to take down SPECTRE. All of this leads to kidnappings, trips to a top secret desert base and a confrontation with the man behind it all, a man from Bond’s past who now calls himself Blofeld (Cristoph Waltz). But being a Bond film even that doesn’t give us the end of the film as more going on behind the scenes is revealed before the film ends.

I’ve read some reviews that have raked this film over the coals but I found it to live up to any of the other films is what is the longest running series in film. It contained all of the action we’ve come to expect, a decent storyline that brings together the threads laid out in the previous three Craig films and reintroduces us to what Bond fans know to be the most evil bad guy in the series, Blofeld. Played in the past by actors like Anthony Dawson, Donald Pleasance, Charles Gray, Telly Savalas and Max Von Sydow, Waltz makes brings to life the formidable foe for Craig. Bautista as Hinx provides a physical enemy that ranks up there with Oddjob and Jaws.

Craig continues to embrace the role of Bond and I’ve come to accept him in the role which is a daunting task with fans of each of the various actors who’ve played Bond in the past claiming theirs is the best. As a child of the sixties I will always think of Sean Connery as the ultimate Bond. But Craig is a close second. There is still a thrill that gets me every time I sit down to watch a Bond film and see the familiar spiraling gunsight move across the screen knowing that Bond will soon shoot and the screen will turn red before a breathtaking visual display of credits will explode on screen. This film carries on all of the traditions of Bond and adds to them.

The big fear for fans now is that Craig might not return. He’s made statements about being tired of playing Bond. I feel that to do so would be a career mistake but who listens to me? Craig could continue to play the role until he reaches an age where he can no longer physically do so while doing side projects in between. Let’s hope that he continues to do so.

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How anyone could watch ROOM and not be touched in some way is beyond my comprehension. It is by far one of the most amazing films that I saw to be released this past year and one that takes your emotions on a rollercoaster ride that continues even after the credits roll. I sat watching the movie absorbed in the tale it had to tell, angry at times, concerned at others and walking away with a love of life that few films can inspire these days.

Most people will know the basic set up of ROOM prior to watching it. Based on the novel by Emma Donoghue it tells the story of Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack (Jacob Trembly) who are together in the single setting of a room. Deeper than that is the realization that Ma was kidnapped and held hostage here giving birth to Jack during the years of her captivity. Now the two of them remain prisoners of the rarely seen Old Nick (Sean Bridgers), the man who kidnapped Ma years ago and who abuses her sexually when the mood strikes.

For the better part of 40 minutes the movie focuses on how Ma and Jack live together. The movie begins with his 5th birthday and Ma deciding that she needs to find a way to get out or at least get Jack out so he can live a normal life. That a movie can hold your interest in a single setting, a room, without letting go is a testament to how good this movie is.

SPOILER ALERT. So if that’s all you want to know stop reading now. What happens after those first 40 minutes are so are the most amazing parts. Their escape plan works and Jack finds himself in the world outside. For 5 years the only world he has known was room, an 11x11 room with a skylight in the ceiling. Now he finds the entire outside world before him and is dumbstruck with all that he must absorb before he can escape Old Nick. But escape he does and eventually is reunited with Ma.

And here the story goes on a whole different track. The movie now focuses on how not just Jack but how Ma must deal with adapting to the real world as well. While everyone realizes that Jack must learn how to cope with this outside world few comprehend how Ma, 17 when she was abducted, must also relearn what the world is like. She must come to grips with how no one found her. She must deal with how the world looks at Jack, the child of an abductor. She must learn to live with being unable to escape so long ago and it all takes its toll.

We witness the world through Jack’s eyes most of the time, learning about this new world. He learns that there are many people in this world, including his grandparents. Grandma (Joan Allen) and grandpa (William H. Macy) are now divorced and grandma lives with Leo (Tom McCamus). Shy and withdrawn he must learn to develop trust with them, learn what the world is like and deal with his mother trying to cope as well.

The movie grips you by the throat early on and rarely let’s go as it progresses from start to finish. The emotional rollercoaster ride I spoke of has you in fear of what will happen to Ma and Jack. It will have you sad watching the terrors that they go through and considering what it must be like to have been held a captive for years. It will encourage anger as you consider what this monster Old Nick has done to the lives of all he touched, his victim and her friends and family. And it will leave you filled with a sense of joy at discovering through the eyes of young Jack exactly what this world has to offer.

Larson won the Academy Award this year for best actress and deservedly so. Her performance here is amazing to watch. She moves from strong protector to little girl once again and her character feels she isn’t the mother she should be when Jack lets her know that she is. What stuns me is that Trembly, even though he is so young, wasn’t nominated at least for supporting actor. His performance is something one would never expect from a child.

I’ll say again that I can find no way that anyone who watches this film will not be touched in some way. Watching it at home will make it much easier on viewers as those who might cry won’t have to worry about who sees them at different times in the film. If the movie doesn’t touch you then you have no soul. I now have to see SPOTLIGHT, the winner for best picture Oscar, just to see if it was better than this movie. Somehow I doubt that it will be but I will be content in knowing that this film was one of the most deserving of the nominations for that title.

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I’ve sung the praises for Arrow Video for months now. They always seem to be looking to provide movie lovers with something different, with movies that have been looked over or tossed out on the cheapest formats possible. While there is some joy in discovering little known or little seen movies on DVD that have gone through umpteen transfers to the point where the snow and tracking issues almost become part of the film to find them given a decent transfer is enough to bring joy to the most jaded fan. To give them a transfer that’s been cleaned and put on blu-ray is amazing. Now take three of those films and put them in one box set and you have something mind boggling for fans of the genre.

Hold on though, that doesn’t mean that these films are all great movies and should be seen immediately. But the fact is that so many movies have been lost over the decades and now there is a chance to save many of them. Arrow is one of several companies that’s at the forefront of doing just that. Not only are they saving these films but they are presenting them with extras that would otherwise never have been bothered with at lesser companies. And at more affordable prices than some of the others doing this same thing.

So that leads us to this latest release, AMERICAN HORROR PROJECT VOLUME 1. This box set brings together three overlooked films for a time when horror was not a genre seen at the local multiplex on a regular basis. Rather horror films were shown at drive-ins and grindhouse theaters instead. Sure a few movies made by major studios played those big theaters but those were few and far between. Horror films were the inroad for new directors and writers to make their mark, costing few dollars to make and allowing for more creativity than most major theatrical films where the film maker catered to producers and film studios.

What this box set does is take those three films and allow a new audience to see them in a decent format for the first time. Some were released on those earlier mentioned DVD formats that just slopped a rotten transfer onto disc. Others might have been seen only on ancient VHS tapes. But this time around we have a quality copy of all three.

The first film in the set is MALATESTA’S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD. A great title for a mediocre film but one that is filled with originality from start to finish. The odds of finding a film like this today are unlikely and that could be viewed as good or bad depending on what you enjoy. Definitely made on a shoestring budget, the film makers here attempted to make something visually stunning and actually accomplish that at times.

A family consisting of husband, wife and daughter join the carnival in question to work there. It turns out later that we find out their son has gone missing and clues have led them here. Even watching closely some will not realize this until much later in the film. As then movie progresses we discover that the man in charge is actually a vampire, that Malatesta is…well I’m not quite sure what he is other than in charge of this collection of oddities which include a group of cannibalistic creatures that live beneath the carnival watching old black and white silent films while eating wayward souls.

As you can probably guess the movie itself isn’t the greatest thing ever filmed. And yet I found it interesting enough to keep me watching through the terrible acting and low frills effects. But even these no budget effects proved decent for the time and the amount of money spent. I was reminded more than once of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, a movie that also had a low budget but created tons of atmosphere despite that fact. While this film doesn’t come close to what they accomplished it is worth taking a look at. And if you’re a fan of Herve Villachaize it offers one of his earliest performances on film.

The second film in the collection is one that’s been heralded as a great psychological thriller but what I found to be the weakest of the three films and the least enjoyable to watch. THE WITCH WHO CAME FROM THE SEA features Millie Perkins (who many will remember as the title character in THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK), now an adult and ready to prove it. Perkins stars as Molly, a young woman scarred by her past and abuse at the hands of men her whole life. Molly spends her days watching over her two young nephews while her sisters sews telling them stories of how great their grandfather was, a sailor who disappeared at sea. Before the film ends we’ll discover the truth about her father and how her past has turned her into a killer.

The movie progresses at a snail’s pace and the revelations as to the cause of Molly’s eventual breakdown take forever to get there. It also seems strange that her sister lived in the same house and never quite reacted the same way. Perhaps eventual is the wrong word here. While watching this I felt that she seemed off from the start and was always a bit off. I’m reminded of Jack Nicholson in THE SHINING which I thought suffered because of his performance. He seemed mad from the beginning rather than going mad. The same holds true here for me.

I also found the film to be another in a long line of movies where child stars make the decision to disrobe to prove how adult they’ve become. I’m not offended by nudity but for some reason it seems as if child stars always feel the need to display themselves once they reach an age where they can legally do so. Developing body parts does not an adult make. On top of that while I’ve read some reviews that claim Perkins does a fantastic job here I felt her performance was far from it. For me it felt one note and that note was out of it. While watching I kept wondering if she was being medicated while making the film or not.

The third film in this box set is the best of the three. THE PREMONITION takes a parent’s greatest fear and makes it a reality. It opens with Andrea Fletcher (Ellen Barber) reuniting with a man from her past, Jude (Richard Lynch) a carnival clown who takes pictures of guests to the park. They set down together and he tells her he’s found her, the daughter that Andrea had to put up for adoption when she was placed in an insane asylum. Now the two plan to abduct the girl from her adoptive parents and escape.

Andrea goes to see Janie (Danielle Brisebois) as she gets out of school but Janie ignores her and goes to her mother, Sheri (Sharon Farrell). Sheri feels that something is wrong but can’t explain it. Janie tells her about the lady and the apprehension mounts for Sheri.

Sheri’s husband Miles is a professor at a local university who doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He’s been assigned to work with Dr. Jeena Kingsly (Chitra Neogy) whose expertise is in parapsychology and clairvoyance. Timing is always wrong in movies and holds true here as Miles begins to be attracted to Jeena as they begin their research.

The plan to kidnap Janie eventually happens but fails. Andrea has gone over the edge again and instead takes a stuffed animal from Janie’s room. This does nothing to alleviate Sheri’s fears that something is going to happen and infuriates Jude who has done all he can for Andrea. From here on out things only get more mysterious with Sheri depending on Jeena to help her in finding her daughter.

The movie works on many levels and is one of those horror films where a combination of visual imagery and inborn fears are played on to make a terrifying movie, especially for parents. Of the three films in this set is has the best quality when it comes to film even if it seems like the budget allotted wasn’t much. Still this time around we have much better performances than in the other two films and a story that’s more mainstream than either previous title.

One thing can be said about die-hard horror fans. They’re not picky. They don’t have to be wowed by over the top CGI effects or in your face jump moments in films to enjoy a film. They get to the root of what makes horror horrific. They know that a story can add more to a horror film than any amount of special effects. Sure they enjoy that as well but it’s not central to making a film a horror film. That’s what this collection sets out to prove and it does so admirably. Not all three movies will be loved by all viewers but the chances are that you’ll enjoy them all and find at least one you’ll want to remember for some time. Add to that the extras that Arrow consistently offers with their releases and you have a package well worth the price for a horror fan. Commentary tracks, interviews with cast and crews, trailers and a booklet that comes with the package are among the highlights to be found here. Fans of horror should at least make the time to see the films included here. And true fans should add this one to their collections.

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