Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Survivalist (now on video)


The SHOUT! Factory video release of Stephen Fingleton’s grim, minimalist dystopian drama-thriller is an item which actually works best in the DVD/Blu-ray format - not downloads, not on a big screen, not even on good old VHS. The menu presence of a handful of related Fingleton-scripted short subjects, clearly set in the same doomsday vein as the feature (one is, in fact, the prequel), makes the whole experience complete. That it's a complete feelbad mini-spectacle, well. that's for your individual tastes.

Some viewers may note a resemblance to Hollywood's film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, with its small cast's ground-zero-eye-view of the post-apocalypse. Only an opening graphic gives the backstory, that oil and electricity have run out for mankind, cueing a massive population die-off.

Now only remnants of humanity fight it out, these particular ones in some green part of the UK (the film was Northern Ireland production, and the milieu certainly does have a tragic aura).

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Escape From New York (screens Oct.13 and Oct. 15 at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK screens Friday October 13th at 7:30 pm and Sunday October 15th at 9:50 pm at the Cleveland Cinemathque.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

All his career John Carpenter has told folks that he’s really only wanted to make “westerns.” Yet he has consistently delivered horror and science-fiction and the occasional one-off nonconformist like a good TV biopic of Elvis Presley (featuring Kurt Russell) or the police thriller ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, which is regarded as a partial remake of RIO BRAVO. Okay, but not since his student-film days, if I’m not mistaken, has the dude actually delivered a genuine western.

Maybe he’s doing one of those things from The Little Prince, in which there’s a drawing of a lamb that is so perfect it’s just the box in which the lamb resides; you will never actually see a lamb, but you can still just imagine how the drawing is exactly right (sort of like my career). Same with John Carpenter and his “westerns.”

Carpenter’s 1981 flick ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, at least, does have the DNA of a proper Hollywood-studio western, in the Howard Hawks no-funny-business filmmaking style (most recently personified by Clint Eastwood’s work behind the cameras), hitched to a high-concept dystopia plot.

Friday, October 6, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Cold Moon (now playing at Tower City Cinemas)



[31 Days of Halloween 2017: COLD MOON opens today in Cleveland exclusively at Tower City Cinemas.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

The late writer Michael McDowell is best known these days, if at all, for co-writing the screenplay to BEETLEJUICE, which led to further film work in the nineties. But during the eighties, he cranked out a number of pulpy horror novels, including the then ubiquitous “Blackwater” series. Early in his career he wrote the novel ‘Cold Moon Over Babylon’, published as a paperback original in 1980. That novel has now been adapted into the film COLD MOON by director Griff Furst and his co-writer, Jack Snyder.

At first, COLD MOON plays like a fairly typical seventies gothic slasher movie, something along the lines of BLOOD AND LACE or THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN, perhaps. That means unlike a FRIDAY THE 13TH eighties style slasher, there’s more emphasis on character, place, and subtext. We sense there will be a little more meat on its cinematic bones than just seeing how high a body count the killer can rack up, and what interesting forms the deaths might take.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Antibirth



[31 Days of Halloween 2017: ANTIBIRTH is now available on home video and streaming.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Lou (Natasha Leone) is the kind of girl whose hard partying lifestyle could plausibly lead to a situation like the one in which she finds herself in ANTIBIRTH. To be specific, she is evidently pregnant despite not having had (to her memory) sexual intercourse for the last 6 months. But hazy memories point to the possibility that something may have happened at a druggy warehouse party. Maybe she was raped by Gabriel (Mark Allen Webber), a small time drug dealer and sammer, or his buddy Warren (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos). Or maybe some other, stranger kind of violation took place.

Lou looks for support from her friend Sadie (Chloe Sevigny), Gabriel’s girlfriend. But it is Lorna (Meg Tilly), a mysterious drifter who talks about alien impregnations, who ultimately helps Lou get to the horrifying truth.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

All Things Must Pass (screening at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival)

[ALL THINGS MUST PASS screens Thursday October 5th at 7:00 pm at the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

Filmmaker/actor/Hollywood royalty Colin Hanks - staying offscreen for the duration here – shows a gift for nostalgia beyond his young years as he directed ALL THINGS MUST PASS, the chronicle of Tower Records. Remember them? It was a giant music/entertainment retailer and tastemaker that seemed unstoppable  until it collapsed, seemingly overnight, at the start of the 21st century.

Founded in Sacramento as a humble scheme to sell used jukebox 45s at a Tower drugstore, the chain grew by leaps and bounds, as the initial success spurred CEO Russ Solomon to move into vending all-new vinyl LPs at prime locations on the West Coast, under the slogan “No Music No Life.”

What Hanks does quite well is show how Russ Solomon ended up one of those unsung-hero retailers who steered creative industry choices, as the artists themselves began finding their own muses via the inventory. His LA emporium, in fact, observed special hours to accommodate star shopper Elton John (John is interviewed here, as are Bruce Springsteen and David Grohl). 

31 Days of Halloween 2017: Death Note (now available on Netflix)



[31 Days of Halloween 2017: DEATH NOTE is now available on Netflix.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

A high school student finds a magical book that lets him kill anyone he wants just by writing their name in DEATH NOTE. Based on a Japanese manga which was, in turn, previously filmed as an anime feature film, director/writer Adam Wingard’s version tries to adapt the premise for western audiences.

The student in question is Light Turner (Nat Wolf), a smart kid who sells term papers and is still coping with the murder of his mother. Once he finds the book and starts reading it, a demon named Ryuk (voice of Willem DaFoe) appears and explains that he can kill anyone Light wants him to, provided he writes the victim’s name in the book and can concentrate on their face.

Light decides to use this newfound power over life and death to be something of a superhero, taking out the kind of bad guys his policeman father (Shea Whigham) often has to let go due to technicalities. Sort of a supernatural Dirty Harry, if you will.

Nosferatu (October 6th at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[NOSFERATU screens Friday October 6th at 9:30 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque. Live musical accompaniment by The Invincible Czars.]

Review by Bob Ignizio


For those who don't already know, F.W. Murnau's silent horror classic NOSFERATU is in reality a very thinly disguised and very much unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'. Stoker's heirs were not pleased and tried to have every copy of the film destroyed, but like any good movie monster NOSFERATU managed to rise from the grave. It is now considered one of the undisputed classics of the horror genre, one of those films that film historians and critics will tell you that you simply have to see in order to have an appreciation for the development of cinematic art, blah, blah, blah. And they're right, of course, but that's not why you should watch it. You should watch NOSFERATU because, even at almost a century old, it's still fun to watch.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Chagrin Documentary Film Festival Tells It Like It Is, Oct. 3-8


The overused label (especially in movie hype) “labor of love” really applies to the The Chagrin Documentary Film Festival. The CDFF premiered eight years ago, as organizer Mary Ann Quinn Ponce’s way to honor her son, filmmaker and Chagrin Falls native David Ponce who died at 20 of leukemia in 2006 during post-production of one of his nonfiction films.

Now the CDFF is a widely anticipated event that unreels in the fall
throughout the village of Chagrin Falls when the place is in full autumn foliage. Screening sites - most of which are all within nice walking distances from one another - range from the Chagrin Valley Little Theater to the old Township Hall on Main Street to the United Methodist Church.

How big is the festival? Serious names in the film industry arriving this year include Colin Hanks, actor-filmmaker son of Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival alumnus Tom Hanks. Two features directed by Hanks the younger will screen, both music-oriented. ALL THINGS MUST PASS is an oral history of the roller-coaster rise and fall of Tower Records, a music-vending chain that helped shape the pop scene as we know it. EAGLES OF DEATH METAL (NOS AMIS) profiles the American hardcore-sound band caught in a notorious Islamic terror attack at a French concert in 2015 and their return to France a year later.

31 Days of Halloween 2017: It



[31 Days of Halloween 2017: IT is now playing in theaters.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Stephen King’s 1986 novel ‘It’ is over 1000 pages, takes place in two different times, boasts a monster who appears mainly as a clown but is, in reality, comprised of orange lights from another dimension, and includes a scene in which group of adolescent friends engage in a consensual gang bang. To say that it is a difficult work to adapt faithfully to the screen is probably an understatement.

The first attempt to turn ‘It’ into a movie was the 1990 TV film version directed by Tommy Wallace. It boasted a strong cast that included Tim Reid, John Ritter, Harry Anderson, and Annette O’Toole, with Tim Curry giving an iconic performance as the monstrous Pennywise. It’s well acted and reasonably true to the book, but in trying to cram everything into three hours skips over a lot. The special effects are, to be charitable, dated, and much of the horror had to be toned down for the television standards of the time to the point that you’re not always sure whether characters have died or disappeared or been injured until it’s flat out told to you.

Monday, October 2, 2017

31 Days of Halloween 2017: The Blackcoat's Daughter



[31 Days of Halloween 2017: THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER
 is now available on various home video formats.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

Although it is the first feature film directed by Oz Perkins (son of Anthony), THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is his second to see release. I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE was released last year by Netflix, and was one of this critic’s favorite films of the year. Despite having sat on a shelf for a while, THE BLACKCOAT’S DAUGHTER is almost as good.

Perkins takes a familiar horror film setup – a private girl’s school oozing with barely contained sexuality and beset by evil – and puts a fresh and satisfyingly creepy spin on it. With most of the students going home for break, Kat (Kiernan Shipka) remains, waiting for her parents to arrive and fearing that they won’t. The only other student on campus is Rose (Lucy Boynton), who has lied to her parents about when they should pick her up because she needs to deal with her unexpected pregnancy.