Thursday, June 17, 2021

A Reel 30: The Year in Film 1991



This month marks 30 years since this Blogger graduated high school. While this cap-tossing feat is stupendous enough to celebrate, it’s also an opportunity to look back at the films that were populating theatres 30 years ago. 


The early months of the year delivered a handful of gems along with one classic. We had the Julia Roberts-led thriller SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY, the Charlie and Martin Sheen military drama CADENCE, and the Chevy Chase comedy NOTHING BUT TROUBLE. 

 

But it was in early February when Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of a Thomas Harris novel where history was made. Sir Anthony Hopkins took on the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster played FBI Agent Clarice Starling in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. LAMBS became only the third film to win Oscars in the top five categories; Best Picture, Director (Demme), Actor (Hopkins), Actress (Foster), and Adapted Screenplay. To this day it is still the only horror film to win Best Picture. 

 

The rest of the Spring season brought us Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone’s THE DOORS, the gangster flick NEW JACK CITY, the Bill Murray comedy WHAT ABOUT BOB?, and Ridley Scott’s Oscar-nominated THELMA & LOUISE. 

 

The Summer Movie season got off to a hot start with Ron Howard’s firefighter drama BACKDRAFT. A few weeks later, ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES became a box office monster. The Kevin Costner-led film, with help from the Bryan Adams single (Everything I Do) I Do It For You, would finish as the second-highest earner of the year, and earn the late great Alan Rickman a BAFTA Award for his role as the Sheriff of Nottingham. 

 

The July 4th weekend saw one of the biggest films of all time arrive: TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY. James Cameron returned to direct the sequel to his own 1984 sci-fi thriller, as did Arnold Schwarzenegger…who was arguably the biggest movie star on the planet at the time. Linda Hamilton set a new standard for the female action hero, and the film set other high bars for sequels and for visual effects. Cross-promoted by the Guns N’ Roses single You Could Be Mine, T2 would finish as 1991’s box office champion, along with four Oscar wins. 

 

Other Summer hits included the late great John Singleton’s BOYZ N THE HOOD, the action thriller POINT BREAK, and the Harrison Ford drama REGARDING HENRY. The Billy Crystal comedy CITY SLICKERS would earn an Oscar win for the late great Jack Palance. 

 

The Fall started with the sixth Freddy Krueger film, FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE, along with Terry Gilliam’s Oscar darling THE FISHER KING, and the football comedy NECESSARY ROUGHNESS. By October we were having plenty of laughs watching Joe Pesci as a slumlord in THE SUPER. 

 

November came in like a literal beast, when Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST wowed audiences of all ages and ushered in a new era for the house that Walt built. BEAST would become a cultural icon for all time, a box office hit, and the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. Other hits from November included Martin Scorsese’s CAPE FEAR, the creepy and cooky THE ADDAMS FAMILY, the animated film AN AMERICAN TAIL: FIEVEL GOES WEST, and the comedy/drama MY GIRL. 

 

The final month of the year set off for new frontiers with STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, which would be the final film with the entire original STAR TREK cast. Steven Spielberg would deliver his Peter Pan tale HOOK, and Oliver Stone’s JFK would spin heads. Other notable releases in this month would include THE FATHER OF THE BRIDE, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, and another Oscar darling, THE PRINCE OF TIDES. 

 

There were some significant film debuts in 1991. This was the year we were introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio (CRITTERS 3), Reese Witherspoon (THE MAN IN THE MOON), Steve Carell (CURLY SUE), James Gandolfini (THE LAST BOY SCOUT), Paul Giamatti (PAST MIDNIGHT), Heath Ledger (CLOWNING AROUND), and Gwyneth Paltrow (SHOUT). 

 

Other notable films from 1991 included JUNGLE FEVER, BARTON FINK, DON’T TELL MOM THE BABYSITTER’S DEAD, THE ROCKETEER, BILL AND TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY, DOC HOLLYWOOD, and RICOCHET. 

 

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A look back at 1991 shows a vastly different era. Superheroes in cinema were scarce, STAR WARS was in the middle of a 17-year hiatus, and the idea of using computers to make movies was being laughed at. But it was in this year where the roots were planted that would change cinema forever. TERMINATOR 2 re-wrote the book for visual effects by way of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), which would assist James Cameron in his making of TITANIC (1997); the film that would alter blockbuster filmmaking to this day. Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST would change the world’s thinking towards animated films while making new icons for themselves, and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS would renew the legitimacy that the horror genre had not enjoyed since THE EXORCIST (1973). 1991 was a special year, one that it’s class of movies can proudly toss their caps for. 





Monday, June 14, 2021

A Reel Retro Review: THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948)

Reel Speak’s Retro Reviews will randomly review a classic film from the TCM library every week, with the intention of introducing some overlooked and perhaps forgotten screen gems from the past to those of us who may be unfamiliar or unawares of their existence. 




As blogged about here on Reel Speak (HERE), this month marks the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ iconic adventure film, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The film that introduced the world to the swashbuckling archeologist Indiana Jones took inspiration from many places, one of which being the 1948 adventure film, TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. 

 

In 1925 Mexico, two American drifters; Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart), and Curtin (Tim Holt), encounter an old man and ex-miner named Howard (Walter Huston), who convinces them that there is a fortune to be made in hidden gold in the hills. 

 

Helmed by famed director John Huston and based on the book of the same name by B. Traven, TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE is less of an adventure film and more of a story of constant betrayal. The early goings see Dobbs and Curtin as homeless men in Mexico, desperate for work. When they are suckered into a construction job by a con man who stiffs them on their pay, it creates an instant theme of distrust that is constant through the film. As the trio head into the mountains to dig for gold, they are all looking over their shoulders at each other; distrust that eventually turns bloody. 

 

As one of the first Hollywood productions to be shot outside of the United States, director John Huston makes excellent use of the landscape. The isolation of the desert and its harshness can be felt through the gorgeous black-and-white film, and every frame is a masterpiece in composition. Pacing is an issue, as the film feels like it gets bogged down once too often with characters thinking their thoughts out loud. 

 

Acting is very good. Humphrey Bogart is more gruff and mean than anything we’re used to seeing him in, and is painted as one of the first anti-heroes; almost to the point of unlikeable. The film belongs to Walter Huston, John Huston’s father, who plays the role of mentor in a world-weary character. 

 

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK only took a few cues from SIERRA MADRE; Bogart’s hat, a trek through the wilderness on donkeys, and a bar fight leap out right away. The film doesn’t have a ton of action; almost to the point that it’s a minor fib to call it an adventure movie. But as a matter of film history it’s worth a look as a RAIDERS precursor. 

 

BOTTOM LINE: See it 

 

Reel Facts: John Huston and Humphrey Bogart collaborated together on notable films such as THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), and THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951). TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE would win three Oscars; Best Supporting Actor for Walter Huston, and Best Director and Screenplay for John Huston. The film is also the origin of the famous quote “I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges”. 

 

 



Friday, June 11, 2021

A Reel Review: IN THE HEIGHTS



When the name Lin-Manual Miranda is brought up, we all rightfully associate him with his must-see Broadway hit Hamilton. The success of that cultural-smashing show has caused many to overlook his Tony Award-winning musical, In the Heights, which debuted on Broadway in 2008. Here in 2021, Miranda and director Jon M. Chu bring that story to the big screen. 

 

In the largely Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights, NYC, Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), the young owner of a small bodega, tells a group of children the story of how he and his friends chased their dreams. 

 

Based on Miranda’s show and the book of the same name by Quiara Alegria Hudes, IN THE HEIGHTS is a film that has a lot going on. Although Usnavi is set up as the main character, the story eventually moves on to the large cast. There’s Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), a love-interest of Usnavi who dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), Usnavi’s teenage nephew who just wants to go to college. Nina (Leslie Grace), who has quit college despite the wishes of her father (Jimmy Smits). And Benny (Corey Hawkins), who longs to be with Nina. All these characters are intertwined in one way or another, and toss on a few subplots involving a salon, a neighborhood blackout, a missing winning lottery ticket, and a disappearing neighborhood due to buyouts…and we’ve got one packed film. With so much going on, it’s tough to latch onto a single theme or character. 

 

IN THE HEIGHTS is a musical first and foremost, and even though the sequences are spectacular, every number feels like it could have been trimmed by a few minutes. They ramble on way too long, and every minute of the nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time can be felt. Starting with the very long prologue (so long that when the opening title finally pops in, it’s a surprise), the film gets tedious right away. 

 

There is still a lot to be impressed by in IN THE HEIGHTS. As stated, the numbers are fantastic to see; done on a large and impressive scale with hundreds of extras. Filmed on location in NYC, there is a strong level of authenticity, and the attention paid to various cultures and traditions gives the film a richness. There are strong themes at play concerning immigration without getting preachy or political, although the Trump-era harshness towards The Dreamers rears its ugly head. The film for the most part is a delight with many laughs, although the explanation behind Usnavi’s name, which feels like it could have been a funny story, comes off as absurd. 

 

The cast seems to be having a blast and hit shows. Anthony Ramos, who starred in Miranda’s Hamilton, gets most of the screentime and carries the movie. Jimmy Smits is excellent as always, and the show is stolen by Leslie Grace and Melissa Barrera. 

 

With so many characters and threads at work, IN THE HEIGHTS takes a very long time to wrap up, and by the time the credits mercifully roll…there is a feeling of exhaustion. There does exist a good movie in here; one that feels like it could have used another pass or two in the editing room. It feels like it’s true to the stage version to a fault; fans of the show will probably love it, while newcomers will be waiting for the story to just get on with it. That sort of imbalance knocks it down from a must-see. 

 

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it 




Wednesday, June 9, 2021

A Reel 40: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK


“Snakes. Why’d there have to be snakes?”




 

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. 

 

The adventure film that introduced the world to archeologist Indiana Jones, the origins of RAIDERS go all the way back to 1973, when a young filmmaker named George Lucas, who at the time still had STAR WARS in his future, was inspired to create a character based on the heroes of his youth such as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Modeled after the serials of those characters, Lucas conceived THE ADVENTURES OF INDIANA SMITH, featuring a two-fisted obtainer of rare antiquities who got his name from Lucas’ beloved Alaskan Malamute dog. 

 

Fast-forward to 1977. Lucas had just completed STAR WARS and had booked a vacation in Hawaii to get away from possible bad reviews. He invited his friend Steven Spielberg, who had helmed the first blockbuster of all time in JAWS (1975), and was putting the final touches on CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). On a beach, Spielberg mentioned that he had always wanted to direct a James Bond film. Lucas replied that he had something better, and Indiana Jones was discovered. 

 

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan was brought in to write the screenplay, with the Ark of the Covenant, the mysterious, yet powerful chest that the Hebrews used to carry the Ten Commandments, as the central plot device. By early 1980, casting had begun. Hollywood names such as Tom Selleck, Bill Murry, Nick Nolte, Steven Martin, and Chevy Chase were considered…with Selleck actually being cast before his TV commitments forced him to withdraw. The role would go to Harrison Ford, who impressed Spielberg after his second performance as Han Solo in Lucas’ own THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980). 

 

Spielberg and his crew would shoot RAIDERS in 73 days, with desert sequences in the 130-degree heat of Tunisia. Ford was joined on-set by Karen Allen; playing the love-interest Marion Ravenwood…along with Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John Rhys-Davies, and Denholm Elliott. For the score, Spielberg brought in John Williams, in what would be their fifth collaboration together. 

 

Upon release, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK would become the highest grossing film of 1981. It was considered to be one of the top 10 films of the year, and would win five Oscars; Best Art Direction, Editing, Sound, Sound Editing and Visual Effects. Today it is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made. Empire magazine ranked it number two in their 2008 list of 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. In 1999, the United States Library of Congress selected RAIDERS for preservation in the National Film Registry. Indiana and his film would become cultural icons; inspiring books, video games, action figures, and amusement park rides. 

 

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In 1981, this Blogger was a STAR WARS kid all the way, and was living with the belief that all movies revolved around that far, far away galaxy. And then came Indiana Jones. He didn’t carry a lightsaber or fly a spaceship or wear cool black robes…he carried a bullwhip, revolver, and wore a simple fedora hat and weathered leather jacket. He was human and down-to-earth, and when he shed his adventure skins, he was a bookish and nerdy professor. He was appealing because he could punch out Nazi’s, solve riddles, swing across chasms and out-run rolling boulders…but at the same time he could get beaten up, bleed, get scared of snakes, and fall asleep when tired. He was a new hero for all generations by embracing classic storytelling, and after 40 years the word “adventure” in cinema has been permanently related to the man who was named after a dog. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have had that special ability to make popular films without equal in the history of cinema, and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is one of their greatest discoveries. 

 

“This is history.” 




Monday, June 7, 2021

A Reel Retro Review: SECRET OF THE INCAS (1954)

Reel Speak’s Retro Reviews will randomly review a classic film from the TCM library every week, with the intention of introducing some overlooked and perhaps forgotten screen gems from the past to those of us who may be unfamiliar or unawares of their existence. 



 

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ iconic adventure film, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. The film that introduced the world to the swashbuckling archeologist Indiana Jones took inspiration from many places, one of which being the 1954 adventure film, SECRET OF THE INCAS. 

 

American adventurer Harry Steele (Charlton Heston), possesses the key to finding an ancient Inca treasure with no means to travel there. He encounters and seduces Elena Antonescu (Nicole Maurey), a Romanian defector, and uses her situation to make their way towards the treasure…

 

Directed by Jerry Hopper, SECRET OF THE INCAS is an “adventure” film that takes a while to find its footing. The stepping-off point, which every film has, takes a very long time to unfold. The film hangs around its opening location for what seems like an eternity with Harry Steele. Steele is set up as an anti-hero; running cons for the sake of making coin. His long-term goal is to make his way into the jungle where he can find the Inca treasure, and in the nearly-helpless defector Elena, he finally has a way. 

 

Once the story finally gets to the jungle, things don’t really pick up but instead find new ways to grind the supposed adventure to a halt. Steele and Elena fall in with an archeological expedition led by Dr. Moorhead (Robert Young), who immediately falls for Elena and complicates things for Steele’s plans to make off with the treasure. Eventually some action rolls around, with Steele confronting an old rival…but at that point the excitement has been long lost. 

 

Director Jerry Hopper gets great performances out of his cast, with Heston rightfully leading the way. The film was shot on location in Peru and looks gorgeous. With not much action going on the film feels longer than its 98 minutes. 

 

With a sluggish starting point, an unlikeable hero, and dated sexism even for its time, the main draw for SECRET OF THE INCAS is the inspiration it would have on the creation of Indiana Jones. Indy’s outfit, and several scenes are right out of this film. As troubled as it is, it’s worth a look as a matter of film history, but not much else. 

 

BOTTOM LINE: Rent it 

 

Reel Facts: SECRET OF THE INCAS is credited with causing a surge in Peru tourism. Director Jerry Hopper moved over to television after 1958, directing episodes of WAGON TRAIN, GUNSMOKE, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, PERRY MASON, and GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. 

 

 



 

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

A Reel Review: CRUELLA



One of the more useless trends in Hollywood in the last decade has been the villain solo-movie; a film featuring a Big Bad minus his or her usual adversaries; adversaries that make the bad person be bad. Warner Bros. had mixed results with JOKER in 2019, and the less said about the VENOM garbage from Sony Pictures the better. Disney gave it a shot with ho-hum results with MALEFICENT in 2014, and this year they try to learn from their mistakes with an origin story based on the classic Disney villain from their 1961 animated, and 1996 live-action films, 101 DALMATIONS. 

 

After the death of her mother, Estella (Emma Stone), is orphaned on the streets. With her new friends Jasper (Joel Fry), and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser), she grows up as a petty thief before finding employment with Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson); a ruthless head of a London fashion house. 

 

Directed by Craig Gillespie, CRUELLA has a lot of plot to get through. The early goings spend time with Estella as a child; going through her tough upbringing, rebellious nature (earning the Cruella nickname from her mother), her love/hate relationship with dogs, and the untimely (and somewhat suspicious) death of her mother. The film takes a while to find its footing; footing that comes when Estella begins to suspect that the Baroness may not be who she says she is. This leads Estella to secretly take on her Cruella persona; a mysterious woman who upstages the Baroness’ high-profile media events and fashion shows. It’s a clever twist on the old hidden-identity we’ve seen in superhero films for decades, and it works well. 

 

While the main plot focuses on the building blocks for the Cruella character we’ve known for five decades; including her car, last name, and fashion sense…director Craig Gillespie is also working with plenty of sub-text. The film takes a good look at mental illness, the Have’s vs. the Have Not’s, and the persecution of those who are born different. There is a depth to the film that does indeed make the Cruella we are familiar with a deeper character. 

 

For a film that runs over two hours, pacing is tight and light and a lot of fun. The comedy, coming mostly from Jasper and Horace, is very well timed and never gets ridiculous. CRUELLA is backed by pop music selections from each era, and every song selection is specifically chosen for the situation at hand. Set design is terrific, and the costumes tell a story of their own; each one tailored for the scene. 

 

Acting is excellent. Emma Stone shows a dark and vulnerable side and some terrific range. Emma Thompson is one hell of a villain, and the show is nearly stolen by Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser. Mark Strong is rock-solid, as always. 

 

CRUELLA offers a twist or two in the third act that many may see coming, but in broad strokes serve the story well. As an origin tale it clicks all the necessary boxes, and by making Cruella’s worst enemy her own self, it seems that Disney has finally cracked the code in getting a villain’s solo story to work right. This is as good as bad can be. 

 

BOTTOM LINE: See it 




A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2021 - Episode I



The Big Screen has returned! As the country digs itself out of the mess that was 2020, our beloved theatres are reopening, and Reel Speak is back in the business of the monthly previews. Here now are the notable theatre releases for the month of June. 

 

June 4th

THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT – The eighth installment of the CONJURING horror franchise, based on the “true” case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson reprise their roles as the paranormal investigators who this time get into the real-life case of the first murder suspect to use demonic possession as a defense. 

 

SPIRIT UNTAMED – This DreamWorks Animation film is based on the popular Netflix series SPIRIT RIDING FREE, and a spinoff of the animated film SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON. It stars the voice-talents of Jake Gyllenhall, Julianne Moore, and Walton Goggins. 

 

June 11th

IN THE HEIGHTS – Lin-Manual Miranda, creator of the famed Hamilton Broadway smash and co-star of MARY POPPINS RETURNS, brings his other stage musical to the big screen, about a New York City bodega owner dreaming of a better life. It is directed by Jon M. Chu (CRAZY RICH ASIANS, GI JOE: RETALIATION). 

 

PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY – The sequel to the 2018 live-action, CGI-bunny family film. James Corden provides the voice of Peter, and he is joined by Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, and David Oyelowo. 

 

June 16th

HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD – The sequel to the 2017 comedy. Ryan Reynolds stars as the bodyguard who must protect his hitman (Samuel L. Jackson), and his wife (Salma Hayek), without using weapons. It also stars Frank Grillo, Antonio Banderas, Morgan Freeman, and Richard E. Grant. 

 

June 18th

THE SPARKS BROTHERS – Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, SCOTT PILGRIM), directs this documentary film about the pop and rock duo Sparks. 

 

June 25th

F9 – The tenth film in the car-flipping FAST & THE FURIOUS franchise. The packed cast includes Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Michael Rooker, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, and Charlize Theron. 

 

WEREWOLVES WITHIN – Milana Vayntrub (Lily from the AT&T commercials), stars as a mail-carrier trapped in a small town which is being terrorized by a mysterious creature. Sam Richardson co-stars. 

 

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Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of July. 

 




Monday, May 31, 2021

A Reel Review: A QUIET PLACE PART II



In 2018, John Krasinski made an impressive leap from the small-screen to the big-screen, directing and co-starring in the horror thriller A QUIET PLACE; one of the surprise hits of the year that had audiences shitting bricks. Here in 2021, after a delay of a year, Krasinski returns with PART II; following the Abbott family as they try to survive in a world decimated by deadly creatures. 

 

After the events of the first film, the surviving members of the Abbott family; mom Evelyn (Emily Blunt), along with her hearing-impaired daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds), son Marcus (Noah Jupe), and her infant son…make their way out of their isolated home to search for more survivors…and hope. 

 

Written and directed by Krasinski, A QUIET PLACE PART II re-establishes the world the Abbott’s are living in through an extended flashback; not a TV-episode type that recaps the previous happenings, but an extended prologue that shows the day the deadly, spindly, blind-yet-noise-sensitive creatures arrived on Earth. The Abbott’s and others learn the hard way that silence is the way to survive, and we’re off to the races as the film quickly moves ahead to just after PART I wraps up. In the present time, the family has discovered a way to fight off the creatures, and thanks to the forward thinking of Regan, may have a way to extend the fight for all of what’s left of humanity. 

 

The plot is simple; find help and a way to spread the word of the new fighting method. Hope is the key term and that’s what the characters grapple with in PART II. Eventually the Abbott’s stumble upon an old family friend (Cillian Murphy), who has lost his family and any sort of hope. Finding a way to bring him out of the darkness is the moral center of the film and it works well. 

 

Tension-building with tremendous payoffs was part of the reason PART I worked so well, and this time around Krasinski outdoes himself. Characters having to keep quiet while running and hiding provides some excellent edge-of-your-seat moments, and the creatures are more frightening than before. The highlight of the film comes when the characters split up into three groups, and all three groups find themselves stalked by the creatures…which turns into three different nail-biters going on at the same time in a masterclass of editing. And speaking of editing, the manipulation of sound is tremendous; this is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen. 

 

Acting is excellent. Emily Blunt has the burden of being the only adult in the room and she carries it in her usual solid talent. She feels a little sidelined this time around, as the film does shift its attention more towards the children…but she still gets her moments. The film is stolen by young actress Millicent Simmonds. 

 

After a thriller of a finale, PART II avoids any old sci-fi cliché of wiping out the creatures and mankind rising out of the ashes, and instead stays true to its central theme of hope; and ends with just that for mankind. The film’s shift from the adults to the children is noticeable, but logical, as any hope mankind has always rests with its children. That makes A QUIET PLACE PART II not just a shit-your-pants thriller, but one that means a little something more. 

 

BOTTOM LINE: See it 





Monday, May 24, 2021

A Reel Retro Review: THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)

Reel Speak’s Retro Reviews will randomly review a classic film from the TCM library every week, with the intention of introducing some overlooked and perhaps forgotten screen gems from the past to those of us who may be unfamiliar or unawares of their existence. 



 

As we wrap up STAR WARS Month, we look back at some films featuring its many stars. In 40-plus years of STAR WARS movies, we have been treated to some of the most ruthless and iconic villains in cinema. One that is often overlooked is the man that held Darth Vader’s leash; Grand Moff Tarkin as played by Peter Cushing. But even before Cushing started destroying planets, he was an icon in the horror genre, with one of his films being the 1971 horror anthology THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. 

 

After renting an old country house, horror film star Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee), vanishes. Scotland Yard Inspector Holloway (John Bennett) is called in to investigate, and is told some of the house’s history through four separate tales; including the film star, a struggling writer and his wife (Denholm Elliot, Joanna Dunham), a retired stockbroker and his best friend (Peter Cushing, Joss Ackland), and a widowed man and his daughter (Christopher Lee, Chloe Franks). 

 

Directed by Peter Duffell, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is composed of four short stories, almost feeling like four separate short-films, connected by the house and the inspector trying to solve the murder of the missing film star. As he digs deeper into the recent history of the house, he finds, through the four stories, that all four previous tenants had come to bad ends. As a policeman, Holloway is focused on the facts, while everyone else seems convinced that the house has an evil to it. 

 

With a creepy atmosphere and some excellent performances from the entire cast, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is perfect viewing during the Halloween season, as it is packed with the familiar spooky things; vampires, witches, escaped lunatics, a large empty house and even a creepy wax museum of horror. The buildup of tension and scares is perfectly done, and each of the four tales comes with a twist or two. 

 

The final minutes don’t do the greatest job in tying the four stories together, and instead focuses only on the final tale. It’s a little unsatisfying, and the final shot is a character looking at the camera and telling the audience exactly how the house works. It feels lazy and unnecessary, but doesn’t ruin the experience as everything else is strong enough, and spooky enough to overcome it. 

 

BOTTOM LINE: See it 

 

Reel Facts: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, who would also appear as a villain in two STAR WARS films, would appear in a total of 22 films together. Peter Duffell’s career would run over 60 years as a writer and director, winning the BAFTA for Best Director in 1980 for CAUGHT ON A TRAIN. He passed away in 2017 at the age of 95. 





Thursday, May 20, 2021

A Reel Review: SPIRAL - FROM THE BOOK OF SAW



In 2004, the horror genre was given a sorely needed vaccine when the tricky and twisty SAW spilled blood on our screens in imaginative ways; gone were the lumbering slashers and in came the killer with a brain and a vendetta. What sadly followed next were seven ridiculous, repetitive, and non-sensical sequels that sunk the franchise into the lower colon of the genre. Here in 2021, director Darren Lynn Bousman, who helmed three of those rancid sequels, returns to the series with yet another chapter. 

 

Detective Zeke (Chris Rock), is teamed up with rookie detective Shenk (Max Minghella), to solve a series of grisly murders that seem to be done by a copycat; replicating the deadly traps by the long-dead Jigsaw killer which put the victims in life or death situations. 

 

In directing his fourth SAW film, director Darren Lynn Bousman seems to have picked up on the many flaws of the previous films and decided to step far and away from them. Where the sequels tied themselves together with recurring characters redundantly siding with Jigsaw, this time around SPIRAL focuses on operating as a cop drama. Although the atmosphere is very much in the SAW world we’ve come to know, SPIRAL separates itself from the previous turds with decent character backstories that come into play in the present. Zeke has a history with his department; having once turned in a dirty cop which results in most of the squad room hating his guts (yellow betrays blue, as they say), and Zeke himself has issues with his father (Samuel L. Jackson), who was once the chief of police. And even as a cop drama, SPIRAL doesn’t hang it’s hat on the old cliché’s of the genre, as the banter between the seasoned and bitter Zeke and rookie Shenk is fresh and new. 

 

Once the killing does start, it’s SAW madness all the way. The traps are thankfully more grounded this time around; gone are the ridiculous giant gatling guns and laser beams, replaced by pure mechanics and engineering. There is a commitment to practical effects that mostly works, although an early sequence involving a cop’s tongue looks terrible. There are a few decent jump-scares, one or two good laughs, and some pop-culture references that earn a chuckle or two. 

 

For the first time in a long while, acting is very good for a SAW movie. Chris Rock makes the transition from comedy to drama very well, and he still manages to throw some of his familiar self in there. Max Minghella is excellent, and Samuel L. Jackson is, well, Sam Jackson. Marisol Nichols comes in as the new chief of police and is excellent. 

 

Every SAW film has a pre-requisite of having a twist. SPIRAL does indeed have one, but anyone who has ever seen at least one chapter of this series has been trained to watch out for dialogue that has more than one meaning. In short, the twist and the identity of the copycat killer is telegraphed early. What follows then is a finale that is loaded with decent irony and another twist that works well enough. The final trap and situation Zeke finds himself in has a lot of holes, but ends just right considering the characters. SPIRAL is new and same-old at the same time, and stands as the most functional sequel of the series. This is the medicine SAW has been needing. 

 

BOTTOM LINE: See it