One of the 80’s slasher films that got away, and released years after that bubble had burst, April Fool’s Day is a nifty little horror-comedy with a twist ending, despite the logic holes you could drive a bus through. The plot is unoriginal: A group of rich college kids gather at the island home of Muffy St. John (the invaluable Deborah Foreman, of Valley Girl fame) and get picked off quickly by an unseen killer. What makes April Fool’s Day work in spite of the genre is a solid cast (particularly Amy Steel, a talented actress who should have fared better in her career), sharpRead More →

At the age of 78, my late grandmother (may she rest in peace) hula-danced at the Elk’s Lodge in nothing but a grass skirt and coconut brassiere.  That moment, as I’m sure the Benevolent Order would be willing to attest, was more frightening than anything in Paranormal Activity, a somnolent verite-style horror film in the vein of The Blair Witch Project (and Cannibal Holocaust before that). The plot *cough* is simple: A couple is besieged by an unseen entity in their San Diego home.  Micah, played as a complete tool by newcomer Micah Sloat, buys an expensive camera to capture the phenomenon–and proceeds to tauntRead More →

Sergei Eisenstein’s classic about the maritime uprising that was a catalyst for the Bolshevik Revolution.  Cause of mutiny?  A pot of spoiled soup. Tensely mounted sequences of rebellion aboard the Potemkin spill onto the shore of Odessa, as villagers, sympathetic to the revolution, take up against their oppressors.  Well-shot, tightly edited, and propagandist to the bone, Potemkin is another fascinating silent film that was far ahead of its time.  (I could even forgive–though just barely–a grossly manipulative sequence involving a baby rolling down a flight of stairs in its carriage, as the Odessa massacre carries about on all sides.)  Still, I’m dubious about the film’sRead More →

An annual favorite of mine since childhood, and one of the better entries in the British witchcraft genre from the late-60’s and early-70’s. Years after the eradication of witchcraft, a small village sees a resurgence of inexplicable murders.  It seems a demon has come to town, hell-bent on possessing the local children.  It’s up to a local judge to get to the bottom of the nightmare and do away with the unwelcome presence. Typical for the genre, Blood on Satan’s Claw boasts tons of lush British countryside, surprisingly decent cinematography, satanic panic, and graphic teen sacrifices.  Slight on gore, heavy on atmosphere, and enough ritualisticRead More →

For the second time in a week, I have been profoundly moved by this great film.  One of the best I’ve ever seen.  Passion contains the most astonishing performance I’ve ever seen, by Renee Falconetti as Joan of Arc during her heresy trial. Vastly ahead of its time, full of intricate camera work.  The Criterion DVD carries an alternate score, created for the film, that adds another layer of power to the narrative.  See it silent, as well, for an entirely different, more intimate, experience. Powerful, a monumental achievement, and a defining moment for me. (See also Carl Th. Dreyer’s Vampyr (1932), an incredible silentRead More →

  “God…I don’t understand you!” So Max von Sydow, as an anguished father, cries out in the closing scene of Ingmar Bergman’s great The Virgin Spring (1960).  The moment, when it comes, is inevitable: the end of a path paved by torment and loss of faith. I’ve long suspected that Bergman (1918-2007) was the cinema’s greatest director; after my second viewing of The Virgin Spring, I’m sure of it.  And if Bergman was the greatest director, then so too was Sven Nykvist (1922-2006), his long-time collaborator, the best of all cinematographers, a master lensman who understood better than anyone else the awesome power of lightRead More →

The best film of 2009–and director Kathryn Bigelow’s masterpiece.  Largely unknown Jeremy Renner gives a brave performance as an elite bomb disposal technician in Iraq, who goes about his job with reckless abandon, fueled by the adrenaline rush of danger; in short, he’s addicted.  Anthony Mackie plays the by-the-book second in command, and Brian Geraghty is the specialist who cannot come to terms with the randomness of death. The story, small and intimate in its way, makes no political statements about war, instead containing itself to these three characters and the job they do. Bigelow–who will probably become the first woman to win the BestRead More →

Highly stylized, depthless in its perversity, and shockingly pretentious, The Night Porter, like Onibaba and Last Year at Marienbad, will stick in my memory.  I’m unsure what to make of it.  Am I to be offended by the disturbing premise?  Aroused by the overt sexuality?  Left ambivalent by two characters who clearly deserve one another and little sympathy?  I’m all of those things right now, and think a second viewing of the film is in order–after I’ve taken a shower, of course. Briefly: A holocaust survivor crosses paths with a sadistic nazi guard from her past, and the two rekindle the bizarre sexual relationship thatRead More →

Raw, intense and powerful. Olivier Gourmet (who won Best Actor at Cannes) gives a masterful performance as a Belgian carpentry instructor who becomes obsessed with a new student (Morgan Marinne). The Son (2002) centers around these two characters, and I’ll say no more except that what happens, and why it happens, transforms the way we look at film–and ourselves–by reaching profound levels of the human condition.  Yes, I’m being vague; but once you see the movie, you’ll understand why. Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne direct with immediacy, constructing the film out of unbearably intimate close-ups and long, over-the-shoulder shots from Olivier’s point of view,Read More →

Question: Is there anything more fun than watching four squeamish sorority girls try to dispose of a dead body?  I can’t think of anything–unless you consider old ladies falling in the street fun, which I certainly do.  The body in question is Mrs. Slater, creepy housemother and all-around whackjob, the victim of a cruel prank involving a gun thought to be loaded with blanks.  Before you can say “Canadian tax shelter,” the girls are picked off one by one.  Did Mrs. Slater survive?  Or is someone else behind the murders? Insignificant questions, really, since you’d basically have to be an idiot not to spot theRead More →