The FIEND’s Quick Reviews 5/30/16

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Low Down (2014) I have to say that sometimes I am a sucker for a well designed DVD cover. Oscilloscope has released some fine films in the past and so after reading the back of the Low Down DVD, I picked it up. I know I sound like a dumb ass when I say this, but had no idea this was a bio pic until after I was finished with the film. I had no idea who Joe Albany was. In any case, the film is told from the view point of the young daughter (based on her memoirs) and follows the father and daughter from the years 1974 to about 1978. While a brilliant musician, he had a heroin addiction which of course affected everything in his life. The narrative is odd but you can follow it easy and it’s cast of actors keeps you interested in this not very unique story. Loved the rough cinematography, feels like you are in the dirt of ’70s Hollywood. It gets the FIEND’s recommend as a solid blind buy.

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Don’t Bother To Knock (1952) On my further quest to watch more Film Noir and seeing more Monroe films, I took out two birds by popping this in the DVD player. Monroe stars a young woman with an unknown past who becomes a babysitter for one evening in a nice NYC hotel. The evening is very eventful as she tries on the wife’s clothing and jewelry, invites Richard Widmark over for a drink (who is having his own problems with Anne Bancroft, downstairs singing in the hotel lounge) and dealing with the nosy kid. Trust me, Monroe portrays “crazy” very well in this film and if it was filmed without the restrictions of the day, it would have been an even darker picture. A MEGA Fiend recommend.

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The Devil’s Hand (2014) In a Quaker-like community of New Bethlehem, 6 girls are born of the 6 day of the 6th month…are they the evil prophecy as predicted and will one become THE DEVIL’S HAND!? Yes, its another movie about the devil coming home to roost but it’s above average in it’s execution. It has solid acting by Colm Meaney (pretty much why I bought it) and Rufus Sewell though the well worn story and way too clean production (looks like a Lifetime movie), holds it back. Have to say, I liked the Giallo elements and loved the ending. You think they would go with an ending that matched the lackluster production, they didn’t cheese out like Kevin Smith did at the end of Red State (2010). Ha ha.

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Sheba, Baby (1975) Finally was able to see this film after seeing some of her best known pictures like Coffy, Foxy Brown and Friday Foster. Sheba follows the same well worn territory as some of those. She is a private investigator who father’s loan company is under siege by an unknown force. As she hunts for clues, Sheba is unstoppable. While I love Pan Grier, this is definitely the weakest of her AIP films for me. The ending action scene is hilarious (and not meant to be….really) and whitey gets his in the end. If you love this style of film as I do, see it but nothing new for sure.

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Angel (1984) Of all the films discussed in this post, Angel is the only one I have seen before and have seen it MANY times. It is an all-time exploitation film classic. I recently picked up the budget DVD on Image, which also has the first two sequels on it, because I never seen Angel widescreen before. One thing I didn’t know it that the star Donna Wilkes was 25 when she made this………………..she was playing 15 and looks it! While she is not naked in it (that probably would have crossed the line due to the sleazy subject matter), there is plenty of nudity of “high school” girls and street hookers. The greatest thing about this film is the characters, all are vividly fully realized and show the 1980’s Hollywood Blvd. life well. Oh did I mention there is also a serial killer taking out the local hookers and Angel takes it upon herself to kill him. Will she succeed? You need to see for yourself as the FIEND put this one highest on the highest list!

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Red, White and Blue (2010) I have been wanting to see this film ever since it was discussed on the Dark Discussions podcast years ago. I did have a hard time locating one for a decent price as it was hard to find. I really don’t want to discuss much about the film because you need to go in as blind as possible to soak in the intelligent film making here. You know from frame one that nothing good is going to happen. It’s bleak, anytime a character has even the hint of happiness, it’s gets snatched away quickly. Smiles are fleeting. A script that blends the characters well with each other and great camerawork too. Possibly a 10 out of 10 for the FIEND as everything here was perfect. Still thinking about it a week after I saw it, it stays with you.

Quick Reviews: Julia (2014), 99 Homes (2016) & Mystery Train (1989)

Julia (2014) A young plastic surgeon assistant has a date with a client. Unknowing to her, the client has brought 3 men with him to his home to rape her. Left for dead, she somehow gets home and tries over the next few days to get her life back to normal. Not happening of course and after hanging out in a local NYC dive bar, she meets a lady who takes her to a psychiatrist to help sort things out. It seems it goes deeper than this and she is introduced into a revenge cult, who seeks out predatory men and teaches them lessons before they can harm women. There is one catch though…she cannot seek revenge on her attackers.

Interesting concept on the rape-revenge film is hampered by a weird script and odd pacing. Surprisingly, not very gory or violent. The filmmakers have obvious talent as the film looks great and the actors are also very good. I want to recommend because there are some visually cool moments but most are going to be befuddled on what is actually going on. Toss up for sure.

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99 Homes (2016) Recommended by my buddy Philip of Dark Discussions, 99 Homes is an off shoot of the mentor/trainee genre but done is such an insane way. Andrew Garfield plays a single father who is about to lose his home. The day of his eviction comes and he meets Michael Shannon (who seriously deserves some kind awards for Best Actor here), a unscrupulous real estate person, who deals with flipping foreclosures. A few days later, through chance he ends up accepting work from this guy, which leads him deeper and deeper into a web of corruption and gaining money from others misery. Over time, the riches come, he gets his home back but at what cost?

Thematically, I’m not all in on this one. You really don’t know who the filmmakers “blame” for the real estate “problems” of the past decade: is it the people, who want the American Dream and were deceived by the bank with bad loans or the banks who gave the loans to people they knew couldn’t handle it? It’s all about money in the end. Well acted & written though, I was glued to the screen. My little issues aside, it’s a high recommend.

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Mystery Train (1989) Ah, I finally pulled this one out of my DVD collection to watch. I have become a big fan of Jim Jarmusch films and my friend Michael did tell me about this one. Three different sets of characters (who never meet) all have interesting & weird things going on one day/night in Memphis, TN. Two young Japanese travelers roll in on a train, mainly to see Sun Studios and other odd things happen due to the language/culture barrier. A lady who is sending her dead husband corpse back to Rome has a layover, so is forced to stay in Memphis. A group of men have a large set of problems after one of them shoots a liquor store owner in a botched robbery. All end up at the same hotel.

I absolutely loved this film, Jarmusch’s first color picture and the images he gets are amazing. The color itself is vibrant even though the landscape he is filming in (run down Memphis, TN circa 1989) is flat and bleak. The framing of scenes is perfect. The writing and the performance of everyone is top notch. Since the three stories are all happening at the same time, keep your eyes and ears open for clues. This is definitely one film I will re watch in the near future because I know I missed things. I am pretty sure this is on Criterion now, so gifts are welcome!

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NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) film thoughts….

I have been building my collection of the Fox Film Noir Collection for over a year now and recently added Nightmare Alley (#06) starring Tyrone Power to it. He stars as Stanton, a traveling carny who is always looking for a way to up his game so to speak. He becomes fascinated by a mind reading act from Joan Blondell’s character Zenna, which is a big scam. After a strange coincidence leads to the death of her husband, Stanton weasels his way into her life to gain access to secrets of the game. Hooking up with the carnival’s young hottie (played by the beautiful Collen Gray), he dumps Zenna and hits the big time with an excellent mind reading act in Chicago. A chance encounter though with a psychiatrist starts to unravel his grandiose plans and begins the long downfall of his character. Greed corrupts…will Stanton end up winning or will he slide down the hole?

This film was a pretty solid noir with some great characters and good writing to keep things going. Tyrone Power really owns his role, his character’s passion to reach higher heights and gain more money (by using everyone in his path) is intense. It is film that shows the dark side of the traveling carnival life and the joys and miseries that such life entails. The only problem I had with it was the ending. For me, it’s too happy (I like bleak). While getting to the end the picture, I keep saying to myself, “They should end it right here! It would be perfect!”

Overall, Nightmare Alley is a film noir to add to your collection. I have seen Tyrone Powers in a few films now and he really was a great actor. I need to pick a biography on his life.