Uncut Tension (Uncut Gems, 2019)

Uncut_Gems_PosterAdam Sandler plays Howard, a man with a once thriving business as a jeweler whose gambling addiction has brought his life to a stressful ruin.  When he acquires a gem worth millions, that he plans to auction off, life spirals even farther out of control as his debtors close in.

The Safdie Brothers have crafted a film that is unrelenting in its desperation. It feels almost like a constant build up that never gives any release during its run time.  It never paints Howard as anything but a tragic fool, a slave to his greed and gambling addictions.

Sandler gives what is easily his strongest and most intense performance of all time.  Did you forget that Sandler can act? The Safdie Brothers did not and Sandler’s performance is one of the best performances of last year. The man was cheated by the Oscars.

Uncut Gems is not an easy watch, but it is rewarding and is a film worth checking out.


Gender War (Hustlers, 2019)

Hustlers_PosterDestiny is working in a strip club trying to make money.  She is taken under the wing of the superstar of the club, Ramona, they start to hatch a plan to increase their incomes by conning their wall street clients.  They build up a side business where the women set up private parties where they use drugs, alcohol and the promise of sex to get access to their client’s credit cards and bank accounts, spending exorbitant of the client’s money…and using humiliation to keep the men silent.

Inspired by a true story, Hustlers is a dark tale. Early on, it placates you into feeling like “okay, these guys deserve it”, but as the film plays out, we find ourselves and Destiny becoming increasingly concerned with the dangers and ethics of what they are doing.  This all starts to drive a wedge between Destiny and Ramona’s relationship.

Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez deliver great performances.  Director Lorene Scafaria uses a peircing neon color scheme that has the result of giving everything an incredibly surreal feel.

Hustlers is a great film that deserved a lot more recognition. Very recommended.

Woke Culture (The Hunt, 2020)

The_Hunt_PosterSo, the Hunt was meant to be released last year, but after a mass shooting and leaks about plot specific information led to people declaring this movie should not be released, including a condemnation from the impeached President of the United States. And so the movie was pulled.  Although there seemed to be talk at the time of this film just being put on a shelf somewhere…well, it was released to theaters with a modest amount of commercials and it hit a week before movie theaters closed across the nation. Universal took the proactive move to make three of their recent films (the Hunt, Emma and the Invisible Man) available for streaming rentals. Disney has followed suit with Onward.  I recommend Onward and the Invisible Man as very worth watching.  I have no opinion on Emma yet as I have not gotten to watching it yet.

So…how is the Hunt? Is it a super hateful film celebrating killing Trump supporters? Well, my short answer is as follows.

No.  Yes, this film is about a bunch of rich liberals who hunt a bunch of red staters.  But the film is not at all sympathetic to its liberal characters.  They are all played as awful people, while the film is pretty ambivalent about the Red Staters.  Most of those characters get little to no characterization, not even in the sense of being stereotypes. Most of the liberals are stereotypes, with really only Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank’s characters getting much personality.

Betty Gilpin is actually really good in this. She seems to be in a constant state of shock and on the verge of breaking down. But she also delivers some great action scenes and had a really good show down sequence.

As a genre film, this has a solid and classic hook.  This is in the vein of films like Surviving the Game (a personal favorite).  Honestly, I think it is hilarious that people assumed this would be a hateful screed against Trump when all the people who do not support Trump are evil cretins.  As a lefty, this did not bother me terribly much, Gilpin feels rather a-political and is easy for viewers to root for.

I liked it.  It is not the greatest film, but it is pretty effective as a genre thriller.

Sally Forth! (Onward, 2020)

Onward_PosterIt is Ian Lightfoot’s 16th birthday. Shy and reserved, he really has no friends and has always felt like his life was missing something very specific.  His dad.  When his mother was pregnant, Ian’s father died.  Sixteen years later the family has rebuilt itself with his big brother Barley and mother and his centaur stepfather.

Oh, yeah, by the way, Onward is set in a universe where the world is populated by elves, centaurs, ogres, mermaids, goblins and unicorns. Years ago there was magic, but as it was not something everyone could do, technology developed, starting with electricity…eventually, magic was largely forgotten.

On his sixteenth birthday, his mother hands him a gift from his father.  What they find is a wizard staff, a jewel and a spell that will bring their father back for one day so he can see who his sons have become.  Things go wrong and they bring him back from the waist down…this sets Ian and Barley on a quest to find a new jewel to complete the spell before sundown robs them of their time.

Onward keeps its world building deceptively simple.  The opening couple minutes set up exactly why we basically see a world a lot like our own, just with mythical creatures.  They have a lot of fun with a concept where technology has caused natural things to the different creatures to atrophy, so when Barley tries to tell people how things used to be, they laugh at him (why would a centaur need to run up to 70 miles when they have a car?) or become angry (are you telling pixies they are lazy for not flying?). And Barley seems easy to write off, all his knowledge is based in a Dungeons and Dragons style game that he claims is historically accurate.

I really found the characters endearing.  The side plots are also engaging, especially the boys’ mom who teams up with the Manticore (Octavia is delightfully manic) to secure a sword that can end a curse the boys are on track to unknowingly release.

The character designs are solid, though not groundbreaking for Pixar.  But they are fun to watch and the voice cast gives them a vivid life.  I also love how colorful the film it.  Even when they are contrasting the world without magic with a more grimy look, it is really nice looking.

I had a great time watching Onward and think people of all ages will really enjoy it.

Poisoned Earth pt 4 (The Color Out of Space, 2020)

Color_Out_0f_Space_2020_PosterRichard Stanley has returned after nearly a 20 year absence from theatrical filmmaking. And I must say, it is a welcome return.

Using a modern setting, Stanley and writer Scarlett Amaris stick closely to the source material.  The meteorite falls near their home and starts to infect the land around them.  The trees seem to have an unearthly sway and there is beautiful unearthly lights.

The family’s youngest son starts to hear a voice from the family well.  There are weird noises and the animals start to behave in an odd fashion.

I like that the family in the film is in less conflict with each other.  It really sells the terror that they seem to really love and care for each other. Cage gives a really good performance here, not as bombastic as Mandy, but very much a man trying to protect his family in the face of a pending implosion.

The effects are quite good, and Stanley shows a real understanding of how to use digital to enhance his practical effects.

The Color Out of Space is a strong return for Stanley and easily one of the best Lovecraft adaptions committed to film.

Poisoned Earth pt 3 (The Color Out of Space, 2010)

Color_Out_of_Space_2012_PosterA young man goes to a small town in Germany in a search for his father.  His search for the truth leads to the discovery of a meteorite that landed years before and corrupted the land.

This is mostly a german language film made on a small budget.  What really makes it stand out is the visual choices the filmmakers have chosen. It is primarily presented as a black and white film, giving a feeling of desolation to the film.

But when things start to fall apart, we are introduced to a neon violet color that pops beautifully against the stark black and white.

The visual spectacle is what really makes the film interesting, and it definitely is a visual treat.

Poisoned Earth pt 2 (the Curse, 1987)

The_Curse_PosterThis adaption of the Color of Space picks up at the time the meteorite crashes.  Going back to a small farm setting the focus is on the struggling Crane family.  The local realtor is working on a secretive deal to get people to sell their land to him cheap, but Nathan is holding out.

This film amps up Nathan as a religious man, making him a stern preacher.  His youngest son Zack feels out of place in his family.  There is the implication that his mother has a wandering eye and has been unfaithful.  The family is a bit stressed before the meteorite lands, but once it hits, the family starts to unravel.

This is closer to the original story, though as I recall, the religious emphasis  is more prominent in the movie.  The effects range from decent to blatantly obvious latex masks that do not blend very well at all. Claude Akins is very good at the role of deeply religious man teetering on the edge.

This is a decently fun adaption, clearly done on a restricted budget. One of only three films directed by actor David Keith, this showed some promise.  The Curse became an anthology series with three more direct to video films.  The Curse II: the Bite (which I have a soft spot for) and the Curse III: Blood Sacrifice and a film not actually made for the franchise call Catacombs (but titled as the Curse 4: the Ultimate Sacrifice) had no connection to the first film, and none were based on Lovecraft either.

Again, this is a decent adaption, it is definitely very much a product of the eighties, even in its reflection of the world encroaching on the struggling farmer. But it is a fun watch.

Poisoned Earth pt 1 (Die, Monster, Die!, 1965)

Die_Monster_Die_PosterLovecraft is a writer that, in spite of his personal failings (you know…racism), inspires creative people. His stories are creepy cosmic and occult based horror. Die, Monster, Die! adapts the memorable the Color Out of Space.

Stephen Reinhart has been requested by his girlfriend Susan to come to her parent’s remote home.  When he tries to find transportation from the nearby town, nobody will take him out there, refusing to explain why they seem so fearful of the Whitley Estate.

On his way he finds a decaying forest and when he arrives at the Whitley home, he finds that Susan’s mother has taken ill and her father is behaving very mysteriously.

What he discovers could doom the world and Susan’s mother begs Stephen to take Susan far from their estate before what has befallen her starts to consume Susan as well.

Die, Monster, Die follows the core idea of a meteorite that mutates the world around it…giant plants, mutant farm animals, people deteriorating monstrously. But it abandons the setting of a farm house for more of a gothic stately mansion.  The film is colorful, especially the greens.  The visuals still hold up and Karloff gives a nice menacing performance throughout the film, without being so far that he cannot also be sympathetic.

This is an entertaining adaption that is definitely a product of it’s time without not being to corny. Instead, it has a nice Hammer film feel to it.


World Washed Away (The Last Wave, 1977)

The_Last_Wave_posterWhen five Indigenous men in Sydney are accused of murder, a lawyer (with no experience in murder defenses) is called on to provide their defense.  But instead, he finds he may have always been a part of something larger.

Haunted by nightmares and visions, including of Chris Lee (one of the accused), he finds he may be on the verge of a world ending cataclysm.

The Last Wave is Peter Weir taking his time and looking at the possible end of the world on a very small scale.  This is effective, as Richard Chamberlain struggles to piece things together and learn from his indigenous clients what is truly happening.  It ends on a haunting and slightly ambiguous note, but so very effective visually.

The Last Wave is kind of a forgotten film, but it is a strong entry in the realm of apocalyptic horror.

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