July 31, 2022

Try These APPLES


APPLES (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 90 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😺

If nothing else, this sci-fi tinged Greek film serves up a concept I’ve never seen before. Not bad for writer-director Christos Nikou’s first feature film. What he does with the concept is pretty interesting, too, making Apples worth seeking out for those looking for something different.

Introverted loner Aris (Aris Servetalis) is suddenly stricken with total amnesia, which is a widespread pandemic that currently has no cure. Without ID, he’s taken to a facility where others have also been afflicted. Hopefully, relatives will come to claim them (provided they haven’t become afflicted, as well). Nobody comes for Aris, so he’s given two options…either remain at the facility indefinitely or take part in an experimental program that will help him begin a new life.


Choosing the latter, Aris is set-up in a small apartment. He’s required to go out each day and engage in a specific activity chosen by his doctors. Sometimes it's simply seeing a movie or riding a bike, other times he’s required to interact with strangers, such as getting a lap dance from a stripper. For each task, Aris must take a Poloroid photo and put it in a scrapbook, which serves as a journal of his activities. Then he meets Anna (Sofia Georgovassili), a fellow amnesiac who’s going through the same program. She often asks his help for some of her own activities, and he’s usually happy to accommodate her. 


"I just need a little space."
At this point, Apples takes some interesting narrative turns, though it raises more questions than it chooses to answer (directly, anyway). However, they’re really good questions. What is the purpose of these tasks? Are they meaningful without any previous life-experience to provide context? Is the program actually helping these two adapt to a new life? We suspect it isn’t helping Anna at all. She accomplishes each task like a mere checklist without becoming personally invested in any of them, including her one-time sexual encounter with Aris. Conversely, Aris lets his emotional guard down at key moments, usually when he’s alone, and becomes greatly affected when required to find someone who’s terminally ill and comfort them until they die. 

Is that what it takes for an amnesiac to reconnect with the world? The poignant conclusion certainly suggests so. Still, this isn’t a somber journey. Aside from his love of apples, we know almost nothing about Aris, but he’s likable - or at least sympathetic - and his experiences are often amusing. Despite her emotional indifference, we’re sort of invested in Anna, too, which makes the abrupt denouement a little frustrating. There’s closure, but Apples expects the viewer to work for it and those willing to put in the effort might find the film rewarding. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

TAIKA WAITITI IN CONVERSATION WITH DIRECTOR CHRISTOS NIKOU - The Thor director interviews Nikou in a 30 minute Zoom discussion.

A CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOS NIKOU & EXECUTIVE PRODUCER CATE BLANCHETT - Another 30 minute Zoom discussion, moderated by Anne Thompson.

TRAILER

July 30, 2022

WHITE ELEPHANT: The Michael Rooker Show


WHITE ELEPHANT (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 92 min
Review by Tiger the Terrible😽

In this job, I’ve reviewed a plethora of low-end, direct-to-video action films starring former box office titans now past their prime. More often than not, these things end up being 90 minutes of my life I’ll never get back. While White Elephant does indeed feature one of those guys, the actual star is Michael Rooker, the beloved character actor (in our house, anyway) who's always been in his prime.

He has a long, impressive resume, but most of his roles have been antagonists, secondary characters or sidekicks. Since he has certainly stolen a few movies from bigger names in the cast…why not let him carry a smaller film on his shoulders and let him be king of the mountain for a change? 


Rooker's the main reason White Elephant is worth checking out. He plays Gabriel Tancredi, an aging mob hitman still mourning the death of his wife while doing various dirty jobs for boss Arnold Soloman (Bruce Willis), with the help of ambitious, cocky protege Carlos (Vadhir Derbez). However, when ordered to kill hard-nosed cop Vanessa Flynn (Olga Kurylenko), Gabriel has a sudden change of heart and decides to save her. The film doesn’t adequately explain why - threatening to delve into Batman v. Superman’s “Martha!” territory - but ultimately, the reason doesn't matter. Rooker’s earnestness and conviction sells the character’s sudden epiphany, while still being quite the badass.


Extreme Neighborhood Watch.
The familiar plot relies too much on the stupidity and shitty marksmanship of the bad guys, all of whom are one-note caricatures, which includes Willis in yet-another performance that’s painful to watch in light of his recent aphasia diagnosis. Conversely, Kurylenko fares better in a physically demanding role, but only Rooker provides his character with the depth and gravitas necessary for us to invest in him. 

Elsewhere, there’s enough gunplay to keep things interesting, culminating in a big, loud, insanely-bloody showdown at Gabriel’s mansion (where he keeps enough weapons to take down a small country). White Elephant never challenges the intellect, nor is it teaming with originality, but Michael Rooker makes the most of a rare leading role. He elevates the film a notch or two higher than the usual direct-to-video drivel.

July 29, 2022

KITTEN COLLECTIBLES #4: Taxi Service Treasures


A Treasure Hunt by D.M. ANDERSON💀

In addition to watching and writing about films, I’ve become something of a memorabilia collector in recent years. Cursed with a teacher’s salary, I ain’t out there bidding on Dorothy’s ruby slippers or anything, but certainly enjoy haunting local antique stores for a variety of movie-related stuff. Or when feeling particularly bold, I’ll occasionally overpay for some retro relic on eBay.


More often than not, I leave antique stores empty-handed. But every now and then, I’ll find a small treasure that doesn’t completely empty my wallet and give it a new home in the Dave Cave.


There are some nearby stores that I visit pretty often, mostly the ones on my side of town, so a lot of it is same old, same old. However, circumstances recently allowed me to check out a few new places and I came away with some pretty cool stuff…


TGSW Antiques & Collectibles
One weekend, I was appointed taxi driver for my wife’s annual lunch get-together with a couple of her old high school friends. They were meeting in Lake Oswego, one of the more hoity-toity Portland suburbs and a logistical nightmare to drive through…I’m pretty certain the city planners were high as fuck when they mapped out this labyrinth of one-way streets and bike paths, none of which appear to intersect at right angles. Anyway, among the galleries and boutiques was the French cafe where they planned to meet. 

Fortunately, my wife did not expect me to join them. Whether that’s because she was worried I’d embarrass her by creating uncomfortable silences (of which I’m a Jedi) or knows I’ve never liked most of her old friends doesn’t matter. What does matter is there was a nearby antique mall that I’d never visited, TGSW Antiques & Collectibles…if I could find the fucking thing (even Google Maps refused to give me a straight answer).


Cheaper by the half-dozen.
TGSW turned out to be a pretty cool place with a surprising amount of booths related to pop culture, including a few dedicated to movie collectibles. One in particular had a bunch of character figures, most of which were priced with a hopeless sense of optimism (as much as I love Reservoir Dogs, I can’t really see paying a C-note for an unboxed Mr. Orange action figure). However, I did grab a carton of Alien facehuggers & eggs. Since the wife was currently shelling-out $27 for a plate of eggs benedict, surely I could justify 32 bucks for these babies (even without hollandaise sauce). Both of my maladjusted daughters thought they were cute.

Another booth was dedicated to all things Star Trek. I normally don’t collect much Trek stuff because…I dunno, there’s something about it that seems almost too nerdy. A ridiculous statement coming from a guy who’s turned his entire family room into a movie museum, but perhaps the stigma dates back to the days of Trekkie conventions, which were attended exclusively by nerds & geeks long before being one became cool. I even remember making fun of Tony, an acquaintance who came back from a convention boasting the plastic phaser replica that set him back twenty bucks, as well as another $15 for a fucking Tribble (which looked like it was made of material from some old lady's fake fur coat). 


My neighbors better watch out.
“But look!” he said, pulling the phaser’s trigger, which made the same sound effect from the show and movie. That whole day at school, he kept shooting anyone who paid attention to him, including our Social Studies teacher, who finally got sick of being vaporized and confiscated it for the rest of the day. I thought Tony was gonna start crying. What a dork.

But here I was, decades later, paying for what looked like the same gun. Hell, maybe it was even Tony’s old toy, finally parting with it once he figured he’d never lose his virginity if he kept vaporizing potential dates. It only set me back $12, and lo & behold, it still worked! So guess who commenced vaporizing other drivers on the way back to pick up his wife? I also vaporized my kids several times when I got home. My oldest called me a nerd, but she was obviously jealous. Being sort of a nerd herself, my wife and I took turns vaporizing each other. 


And before finding a place for it in my display case, I vaporized my cat, Stinky, who did not appreciate being startled off the sofa. Oh well…she’ll get over it.


July 28, 2022

NATHALIE… is French Nuerotica


NATHALIE… (Blu-ray Review)
2003 / 105 min
Review by Fluffy the Fearless😽

I’ll be upfront and confess that the primary personal appeal of checking-out Natalie… was the presence of Emmanuelle Béart. I’ll be equally honest and admit I haven’t actually seen her in a ton of stuff. There’s Mission: Impossible, of course, as well as some stand-out French films like La Belle Noiseuse and A Heart in Winter. Still, in the few things I’ve seen, Béart exudes a sultry confidence that’s compelling and - being honest again - pretty damn sexy.

She’s good as the title “character” in Nathalie…, not to mention easy on the eyes. But this time, her role really could have been played by anybody. And the film itself is not quite the steamy slice of French erotica suggested by its synopsis and alluring ad campaign. French nuerotica is more like it.


The main protagonist is actually Catherine (Fanny Ardant), a middle aged gynecologist who discovers her husband, Bernard (Gérard Depardieu), has cheated on her, which he dismisses as a one-time fling. Since their marriage hasn’t been a bed of roses lately, she doesn’t appear too surprised or even all that hurt. In fact, Catherine seems more curious about what actually turns him on, so she hires high-end prostitute Marlene (Béart) to pose as a woman named Nathalie, instigate a chance meeting and coerce him into an extramarital affair. 


"The ol' coin-behind-the-ear trick again?"
Marlene regularly meets up with Catherine and gives her all the details of their sexual encounters in graphic, lurid detail. But Catherne doesn’t seem put-off by these descriptions; she actually looks intrigued, though it does appear to drive an even bigger wedge in her marriage. At the same time, the two women begin to develop sort-of a friendship, though Catherine becomes concerned when the “affair” threatens to turn serious. Aside from a few fleeting scenes of Marlene at work, the sexually frank conversations are about as erotic as the film gets. 

Still, the story is sporadically interesting, with Catherine’s perplexing actions and decisions being the driving force behind the narrative. Ardant is excellent in the role, as well, conveying both assertiveness and uncertainty. One the other hand, Marlene/Nathalie oozes sexuality - of the emotionally detached variety - but is a comparatively static character. The same could be said about Bernard. Despite being the catalyst, he isn’t in the film all that much and his conspicuous absence through most key sequences tends to undermine the climax’s twist ending. 


Though Nathalie… grows a little repetitive after a while, we’re somewhat compelled by Catherine’s plight. Her actions aren’t likely to be anything we would do in a similar scenario and the film isn’t completely successful in justifying her motivations, but she’s sympathetic enough that we hope it works out for her.


July 26, 2022

THE LOST CITY and the Familiar Song


THE LOST CITY (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 112 MIN
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

If you’ve ever listened to AC/DC, you know what to expect from every song: 1) A simple three-chord riff; 2) A catchy sing-along chorus; 3) A bitchin’ Angus Young guitar solo; 4) Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Probably not the most distinctive or challenging approach to music, but it has served AC/DC quite well for nearly 50 years. Not everything was great, but not much of it sucked, either. Listening to an AC/DC album is like ordering a Big Mac…no surprises, but sometimes there’s comfort in familiarity.


If Raiders of the Lost Ark is Hollywood’s Back in Black (AC/DC’s best album) and Romancing the Stone is its Razor’s Edge (a worthy re-working of the same formula), then The Lost City can be considered its Stiff Upper Lip. There’s nothing about that last album that’s new or memorable, but it’s certainly listenable. Similarly, The Lost City is essentially a 21st Century Romancing the Stone, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the right people are involved.


Channing gets "Thunderstruck."
The three chords are, of course, the plot itself, which has romance novelist Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) being kidnapped by megalomaniacal billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe), who’s convinced she can help him find the Crown of Fire, as depicted in her latest book. Alan Caprison (Channing Tatum) is a meat-headed model - gracing the covers of her books as main character Dash McMahon - who takes it upon himself to rescue her with the help of professional tracker Jack Trainer, played by Brad Pitt. But be advised that Pitt’s role, while definitely a comic highlight, is a glorified cameo. 

The bulk of the narrative focuses on Loretta & Alan fleeing through a jungle with Abigail’s thugs in pursuit. In this aspect, Bullock and Tatum are definitely the chorus, which is the most familiar part of any song. We’ve seen both actors in these roles before, so while neither is stretching themselves, it’s kind of fun to sing-along with them because they deliver the chorus with conviction. Speaking of which, the screenplay and dialogue could be considered the bitchin’ guitar solo. A break between verses and choruses, there’s some amusing banter, throwaway lines and improvisation that adds some zing to the overall story. 


Deja vu runs through nearly every aspect of The Lost City - even the title - but you could say that about any AC/DC song you’ve ever heard. Seldom laugh-out-loud hilarious and bereft of any narrative surprises, it’s nevertheless an agreeable spin on a tried-and-true formula, slickly assembled and performed by a band that knows the formula pretty well. 


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - “Dynamic Duo”; “Location Profile”; “Jungle Rescue”; “The Jumpsuit”; “Charcuterie”; “Villains of The Lost City”; “Building The Lost City

BLOOPER REEL

DELETED SCENES

DIGITAL COPY

July 25, 2022

The Homeowner's Guide to POLTERGEIST


POLTERGEIST (1982)
Starring JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Roarke, James Karen. Directed by Tobe Hooper? (114 min).

ESSAY BY D.M. ANDERSON💀

I was initially unenthusiastic about seeing Poltergeist when it was first released back in 1982. As a teenager, I had already experienced the visceral terror of Halloween & Friday the 13th, the hard-core gore of Dawn of the Dead and the slow-building dread of The Shining (though the latter never came close to being as scary as the novel it bastardized). 

Nearly all horror movies were R-rated at the time, so I couldn’t imagine anything slapped with a puny PG - the same rating given to E.T. - would be anything but watered-down family fare for cowards who couldn’t handle checking out what a machete can do to the anatomy. Still, my girlfriend at the time really wanted to see it, so I dutifully drove us to the Fox theater in downtown Portland to catch a matinee. 


In Poltergeist, the Freeling family lives a contented life in an upscale, planned suburban neighborhood. And I gotta say, they have a really nice house…spacious with all the modern trimmings. They’re even putting a pool in the backyard. The father, Steven (Craig T. Nelson), works for the company developing the neighborhood, while wife Diane (JoBeth Williams) looks after their three kids. Then odd things begin occurring, such as furniture moving on its own and youngest daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) talking to the static on the TV screen.


The incidents grow increasingly malevolent, such as a tree outside the kids’ window coming to life and trying to swallow their son. Worse yet, Carol Anne is snatched away by whatever force is dwelling in the house, but they can hear her cries through the TV. Desperate, the Freelings call a team of paranormal experts, who set-up operations in the living room hoping to get the girl back. Eventually, a medium is brought in, who claims the house is filled with spirits who can’t accept being dead and refuse to cross over. The most powerful of them, the “Beast,” is keeping Carol Anne captive because of her life force…or something like that. The film culminates in a gripping, tension-filled climax that’s spectacular and surprisingly destructive.


Despite my initial misgivings, Poltergeist scared the shit out of me. Hell, it scared the shit out of everybody that summer. Those claiming otherwise were lying their asses off. As for that that PG rating? The movie showed a guy ripping his own face from his skull in lurid, lingering detail! How’d they get away with that? However, the most amazing aspect of the film was that it managed to scare the bejeezus out of an entire generation - exploiting some of our most common fears along the way - without killing a single character. One of the most terrifying movies I’d ever seen up to that point had a total body count of zero.



Alas, we all get older, more jaded and not so easy to spook. Though Poltergeist remains the perfect gateway drug for introducing your own kids to the wonderful world of horror, perhaps it no longer freaks you out like it once did. 

However, that’s only if you revisit the film with the same mindset you had when you were younger. If you’re a homeowner, there are other aspects of Poltergeist that will terrify you all over again. If I may elaborate…

After a decade of apartment life, my wife and I were ready for a place to call our own, where we could paint the walls any color we wanted, get a pet, have our own driveway and no longer hear dysfunctional neighbors engaging in make-up sex after their latest bout of verbal combat. And we loved being new homeowners. The kids had their own rooms, I finally got the man-cave I always wanted and the only make-up sex my wife & I hear is our own.


However, there’s the part of home ownership I wasn't quite prepared for, which never crossed my mind while signing the mortgage. No longer could I simply call a manager whenever the toilet broke or the oven went tits-up. All that shit was now the responsibility of a guy whose entire tool kit consists of duct tape. That’s not the worst part. Most of our repair issues required hiring someone who actually knew the difference between a claw hammer and a plunger. Over the years, we’ve had some repair expenses so huge that I briefly considered faking my own death just so the insurance pay-out would cover them.


In that context, Poltergeist achieves an entire different level of terror. If you think a kid-snatching demon is scary, try this on for size:


The film was shot in Ventura County, so let’s also assume that’s also the setting. In today’s dollars, a home in that part of California would be worth about $915,000. Now imagine if it was your house and, like the Freelings, you were blissfully unaware it was built over a cemetery and totally haunted. You’ve already signed the escrow papers, so from here on out, any repairs and supernatural baggage are all yours…


…so when that man-eating tree breaks through your kids’ bedroom window to swallow your son, of course you'll fear for his safety. But there’s still that busted window to deal with. It looks like it’s 6’ x 4’, and when checking out prices at Lowes, the average cost for a basic no-frills replacement window is $400. Unless you know how to install it yourself, add another $150 or so for labor. Thank God your boy’s okay, but fuck.


Not quite as wallet draining would be taking care of that burn mark in the ceiling from where your wife and daughter emerge safely. Assuming you can match the color with the rest of the ceiling, a quart of paint and a roller brush should take care of it. Then again, that’s a high vaulted ceiling, and if you’re as clumsy on a ladder as I am, there's some significant personal risk.


Then there’s the total damage done to your kids’ bedroom furniture, which breaks apart as it spins around the room or gets sucked into the closet. Have you priced children’s bedroom furniture lately? Even replacing all their stuff with IKEA furniture will likely run you a couple o’ grand (and you’d have to assemble it yourself, meaning you better have more than just duct tape in your toolkit). 


That's gonna cost a pretty penny.
Speaking of their bedroom, what about the closet door, frame and surrounding wall that are destroyed when The Beast arrives? First off, a cheap door is gonna cost around $150 (not counting the knob!). A frame won’t run as much, but I sure as fuck don’t know how to put one together, meaning more labor costs. Additionally, replacing the drywall surrounding the frame is gonna be about $90 per hour for labor. Assuming the job takes a single day (8 hours), you’re looking at another $1000…not counting plaster and paint. Sure, The Beast should have to foot the bill for this, but good luck getting anything out of him. Demons are notoriously flaky when it comes to financial obligations.

The out-of-pocket expenses don’t stop at home repair, either. You think the massive holes in the lawn from all those caskets bursting out are gonna fill themselves? Landscaping will likely cost anywhere from $50 to $100 per hour, depending on how many workers are used for the task. And while they’re there, you might as well kill two birds with one stone and have them get rid of that man-eating tree before it eats someone whose family could sue you. The cost to remove a tree that large ranges from $500-$1000…probably more if it ends up eating one of the landscapers. Sure, you might be able to do all of this yourself, but yardwork of any kind really sucks and I'll bet you don’t have your own rototiller or stump remover laying around.


But let’s say all these fixes didn’t drain your kid’s college fund. Ultimately, your entire house - and everything in it - gets sucked into a vortex anyway. Trust me, your homeowner’s insurance is unlikely to cover anything like that. I checked my own policy and there’s absolutely no mention of protection from an implosion due to a supernatural portal. In the end, you’re gonna be out nearly a million dollars. 


Probably not covered.
And just to rub salt in the wound…if you’re like Steve Freeling and work for the same greedy developer who built an entire planned neighborhood atop a cemetery without removing the graves, that company will probably be sued into oblivion. So not only are you homeless, you’re unemployed.

Suddenly, Poltergeist is terrifying all over again. It might even be scarier today than when you first watched it because, as a homeowner, you realize there are worse things to deal with than a few angry apparitions. You’ll gasp, you’ll scream, and when the end credits roll, you’ll thank God that what happened to the Freelings hasn’t happened to you…yet.

July 23, 2022

THAT DIRTY BLACK BAG, SEASON 1: Eight Heaping Helpings of Spaghetti


THAT DIRTY BLACK BAG, SEASON 1 (Blu-ray Review)
2022 / 419 min
Review by Carl, the Couch Potato😺

The bag of the title is lugged around by ruthless bounty hunter Red Bill (Douglas Booth) and it’s where he keeps the heads of the outlaws he kills. As he states more than once throughout the show, “A head weighs less than a body.”  And away we go…

Believe it or not, Red Bill is arguably the hero of the story. Everyone else is morally questionable at best. At worst, some commit various acts of greed, revenge, robbery and murder - even a little cannibalism -  making Red Bill look like Gene Autry. This ensemble of characters is the driving force behind That Dirty Black Bag, a delirious and violent throwback to spaghetti westerns, a subgenre never renowned for its restraint to begin with.


Greenvale is a bad town. Once the center of a gold rush, it has since fallen into decay, ravaged by drought, corruption and greed. It’s full of bad people, too, like Thompson (Paterson Joseph), a ruthless magnate who’s convinced the motherlode has yet to be found and has been forcing most of the locals to sell their land. The lone exception is Steve (Christian Cooke), a struggling farmer & family man who claims God himself told him the rains would return to re-nourish the parched land. But Steve’s no saint, either, still carrying a torch for his old flame, Eve (Niv Sultan), who now runs the town brothel. Greenvale is ruled by an iron fist by Sheriff Arthur McCoy (Dominic Cooper). He was once an outlaw himself, committing numerous robberies with his psychotic brother, Bronson (Guido Caprino). And McCoy's got no love for bounty hunters like Bill riding into town.


"Screw your peer pressure. I'm ordering a smoothie."
While juggling numerous subplots, the primary narrative of That Little Black Bag focuses on Bill, McCoy and Bronson, whose pasts have them irrevocably linked, though they don’t realize it right away. It turns out Bill is no mere bounty hunter. For years, he’s been searching for the man who brutally murdered his mother when he was a boy. Normally, I don’t care for shows dedicating an entire episode to flashbacks, but in the case of these three men, Episode Four ends up being the crux of the entire story. McCoy’s secrets are shocking, while Bill’s are tragic, and this particular episode establishes both as neither completely good nor evil. Conversely, Bronson is an irredeemable, sadistic bastard. Not-only is he still a vicious criminal, the zealous, child-sacrificing cult he belongs to is presently grooming him to run for state governor.

Throughout its eight episodes, That Dirty Black Bag is filled with conflict, betrayal, plot surprises - including a serial killer! - and a shit-ton of gory violence. This no holds barred approach to both the imagery and the narrative is a hell of a lot of fun. It doesn’t quite achieve the aesthetic artistry of Sergio Leone, but excellent cinematography and ambitious production design give these episodes the feel of a theatrical film (a far cry from a lot of the budget-conscious direct-to-video westerns I’ve been tasked to review lately). And for the most part, the performances are excellent (Cooper, in particular, looks like he’s having a great time).


But…just don’t expect much in the way of closure. A few concurrent storylines are satisfactorily resolved during the season and the writers are certainly unopposed to killing-off major characters…sometimes without warning. However, the main story arc is unresolved by the end of episode eight and, as of this writing, a second season has not yet been confirmed. So despite a slam-bang climax, there’s a chance we’ll never see how everything pans out. That would be a shame because, so far, That Dirty Black Bag is a lively, uninhibited homage to classic spaghetti westerns.