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A few reviews

TM2YC

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Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night (1979)
Werner Herzog remade F. W. Murnau's 1922 film as a way to connect the pioneering birth of German silent film, to it's later (and then current) "New German Cinema" rebirth. Herzog eschews romantic lighting and Gothic artificiality, in favour of stark location filming, minimal music, no visFX, pale natural light and nary a smoke machine in sight. When it works, it works beautifully but the pace of the editing is often interminably slow. A youthful looking Bruno Ganz plays a rather grave Jonathan Harker, while Klaus Kinski's Count Dracula isn't a powerful, alluring Byronic figure like in some adaptations, he's an awkward lonely man. Another difference from other versions is Lucy being the one who sets out to defeat Dracula, not her incapacitated husband Jonathan, or a skeptical Dr Van Helsing. I thought the ironic surprise ending had a Python-esque quality to it.

 

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Medical Police (2020)  (US Netflix)

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Are you in the mood for a Bayhem/Bruckheimer Childrens Hospital spinoff series about a pair of wacky doctors racing to find a cure before a deadly virus wreaks havoc on the global population? No? Maybe? Kinda? If you're not a "hard pass" to that question, the international action thriller Medical Police might just be right up your alley!

Despite the outrageousness of its premise and the wacky antics of its heroes, much of the series' humor is pretty low-key, with the joke often being how nonchalantly the characters react to absurd situations and reality-defying non sequiturs. The breakneck plot speed, meanwhile, means that any setbacks for the heroes are strictly momentary, so it's impossible to feel any tension even within the context of their absurd scrapes. I don't think I had any belly laughs, but I did chuckle throughout, and stars Erinn Hayes and Rob Huebel definitely grew on me over time. This isn't comedic gold, a la Macgruber, but it's comedic bronze in a similar vein. Well, comedic aluminum, at the very least... It's solid and it works, is what I'm saying. Parodying the self-serious, blandly international procedural is getting pretty musty itself these days, but the leads carry the program even when the scripts aren't hugely inspired. If the teased S2 comes to fruition, however, I want to see the series really go for broke, and give us freaky-ass mutants and monsters.

Grade: B+
 

TM2YC

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Gardens of Stone (1987)
Despite some really terrific performances and engaging characters, Francis Ford Coppola's 'Gardens of Stone' lacks impact somehow. It's about soldiers that carry out funerals at the Arlington National Cemetery during the Vietnam war and their feelings about their jobs and the war itself (both mostly negative). Like the services they officiate, the film feels muted, sombre and dignified. Unfortunately Coppola's son Gian-Carlo was killed in a speedboat incident caused by Ryan O'Neal's son Griffin (who was cast in the movie) soon after filming had began. Griffin was replaced and FFC continued with the project but maybe his heart just wasn't in making a story about funerals anymore. Of the 12 or so films I've seen by Coppola, this is probably the least but I couldn't say it was bad.

 

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TM2YC said:
Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night (1979)
Werner Herzog remade F. W. Murnau's 1922 film as a way to connect the pioneering birth of German silent film, to it's later (and then current) "New German Cinema" rebirth. Herzog eschews romantic lighting and Gothic artificiality, in favour of stark location filming, minimal music, no visFX, pale natural light and nary a smoke machine in sight. When it works, it works beautifully but the pace of the editing is often interminably slow. A youthful looking Bruno Ganz plays a rather grave Jonathan Harker, while Klaus Kinski's Count Dracula isn't a powerful, alluring Byronic figure like in some adaptations, he's an awkward lonely man. Another difference from other versions is Lucy being the one who sets out to defeat Dracula, not her incapacitated husband Jonathan, or a skeptical Dr Van Helsing. I thought the ironic surprise ending had a Python-esque quality to it.


I found the pace of this extremely slow, and the the character Renfield is very distracting. He basically has a case of the giggles the entire movie to show that he's insane.

One brief scene I thought was great was, during the plague, some townspeople are having a feast at a table outside before they die and then there's a smash cut and suddenly the people are gone and the table and food are covered in rats.
 

TM2YC

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Traffic (2000)
Steven Soderbergh remakes the 1989 British TV series 'Traffik' (which I've not seen) about the drugs trade, switching the locations from Britain/Pakistan, to USA/Mexico. An all-star ensemble cast plays characters involved at different levels in the "war on drugs". A US politician tasked with winning the war, his spoiled drug addicted daughter, a corrupt Mexican General, an honest Mexican cop, a US team protecting a witness, the rich wife of a drug lord, a Cartel assassin etc. All their plot threads start out separate but criss-cross at various points. Soderbergh (who acted as his own Cinematographer) choose to shoot the different story lines with heavy colour filters and different film stocks, to help the audience not get confused. I didn't care for the very ugly look this gave the whole film and I think he underestimated his own powers as a storyteller anyway, you could watch this b&w and you'd understand everything. The characters are mostly conflicted, cynical, corrupt and self-deluded and the social commentary sadly hasn't aged a day in 20-years. The dialogue scenes are broken up by many sequences where Soderbergh drops out all the soundFX and just lets us feel what is happening to the characters with music and montage. Michael Douglas has rarely been better, the fewer words that come out his character's mouth, the more his face seems to talk. It's surprising that a film like this, a 2.5-hr serious drama, did $200 million at the boxoffice. Steven Soderbergh got the Best Director Oscar for 'Traffic', narrowly beating Steven Soderbergh for 'Erin Brockovich' :D .

 

TM2YC

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Phantasm (1979)
I was perplexed why this 70s Horror movie opens with a 'Bad Robot' logo but then I read J. J. Abrams is such a super-fan he volunteered his team and facilities for a 4K restoration, which does look fantastic. The cast are all dressed like Bay City Rollers fans, the acting is of a varied quality and some of the editing and story progression felt disconnected. It was a budget movie and it shows but there are some fascinating design choices with what money they did have, like the silver flying death balls, custard yellow blood of the creatures, stark white corridors, weird dimension portals and of course the creepy "Tall Man" undertaker. The constant unsettling soundscapes, the relationship between the two brothers and some interesting surreal dream sequences are all highlights. Overall I didn't like it enough to venture into the four sequels.

 

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I watched all of the Phantasm movies recently--twice--and I love them all (except for the second movie). I can safely say that if you didn't like the first one, you probably won't like the others.
 

TM2YC

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jrWHAG42 said:
I watched all of the Phantasm movies recently--twice--and I love them all (except for the second movie). I can safely say that if you didn't like the first one, you probably won't like the others.

I like the idea of the sequels. Coming back to the story years apart, same director and more or less the same cast.

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Room at the Top (1959)
Number 32 on the BFI's 'Top 100 British films' is Jack Clayton's 'Room at the Top', which kicked off the "British New Wave"/"Kitchen sink drama" movement in the 1960s. Laurence Harvey is so intense as the main character Joe, an angry Yorkshire lad with a huge working class chip on his shoulder. He's got ideas "above his station", wants to marry the young daughter of the boss but is also pursuing an affair with an older married French woman (Simone Signoret). By the time he's worked out who he really loves, it's all too late for him. It took me a long time to warm to the abrasive Joe but I was really feeling the tragedy of the man by the end. Definitely worth seeing for the performances but felt long at 2-hours.

 

jrWHAG42

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Phantasm 2: Boring, retcons the first movie, has a couple good moments, not worth anyone's time.
Phantasm 3: A lot of fun, very funny, briefly recaps the second movie rendering it unnecessary. Also the kid is the same actor as in the first film, he was replaced in the second movie.
Phantasm 4: Brings up the weirdness, raises more questions than it answers, uses a bunch of deleted stuff from the first movie, it's awesome.
Phantasm 5: I personally love it, I think there could've been a better ending though. Once again raises a lot of questions and has you thinking. Some bad special effects at times. Not quite as good as the previous two.

There are some repetitive elements, Reggie has a new love interest in each one, each one introduces new characters that don't show up again. There's constant retcons, some less noticeable than others.
All in all, these movies are really unique, and they all feel like chapters of one larger story. Gross scares, mindless action, confusing plot points, unexplained mysteries, deep themes, great music, lovable main characters, these movies are special. The only thing I could possibly think of comparing them to is the Evil Dead series, with a hint of David Lynch. They're messy, but they work.
I'm a big fan.
 

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TM2YC said:
Traffic (2000)
Steven Soderbergh remakes the 1989 British TV series 'Traffik' 

I thought you were being snarky about this until I looked it up.  Had no awareness that this was an adaptation.  Probably explains why I liked it so much more than 98% of Soderbergh's other work.  I think he does best when there's already a successful story for him to follow.

For what it's worth, I haven't seen this since the theater, but I remember my girlfriend and I both thinking there were a lot of characters to keep track of and a lot of storylines being juggled at once.  We followed it, but remember this was 11 years before Game of Thrones.  I think audiences back then might've needed the visual cues more than you think.  We're all savants now, of course.
 

TM2YC

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Thanks for the Phantasm rundown @"jrWHAG42" :) .

mnkykungfu said:
I remember my girlfriend and I both thinking there were a lot of characters to keep track of and a lot of storylines being juggled at once.  We followed it, but remember this was 11 years before Game of Thrones.  I think audiences back then might've needed the visual cues more than you think.  We're all savants now, of course.

It probably helped me that some of the then "up and coming" cast are bigger stars and more instantly recognizable than they were 20-years ago. Actors like Viola Davis and Topher Grace were pretty much nobody back in 2000.

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Woyzeck (1979)
This is my least favourite Werner Herzog film so far. He started filming just 5-days after 'Nosferatu: Phantom of the Night' with the same exhausted crew, what looks like some of the same locations and the same actor Klaus Kinski. He plays a put-upon Army Private who is losing his grip on sanity, exacerbated by an all-pea-diet medical experiment. Scenes were mostly shot in single long takes, from one camera position, meaning it only took 18-days to do, plus 4-days for editing. 'Woyzeck' feels exactly like what I'd expect from a movie made under those conditions, kinda boring, slow and pointless (and it's only 82-minutes). The super slow-motion murder scene sound-tracked with what sounded like Bavarian folk music was distinctive but even that tested my patience.

 

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jrWHAG42 said:
All in all, these movies are really unique, and they all feel like chapters of one larger story. 
Hmmm... possible fan edit?
 
TM2YC said:
Actors like Viola Davis and Topher Grace were pretty much nobody back in 2000.

Holy crap, Viola Davis was in that!?  I was at the right age to be well aware of Grace at that time and wondered what he was doing in such a small role, haha.  But Davis... this film is due for a rewatch!
 

jrWHAG42

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mnkykungfu said:
jrWHAG42 said:
All in all, these movies are really unique, and they all feel like chapters of one larger story. 
Hmmm... possible fan edit?
 
Someone combined all 5 movies in to one 90 minute fanedit and it was amazing.
 

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Stalker. I hadn’t seen this movie in ages. I had forgotten much about it. As such a few recent movies and filmmakers sprang to mind as having been obviously influenced by it. Annihilation is the most direct. But Blade Runner 2049 also is clearly influenced by this film. I’d almost go so far as to say BR2049 has more in common with Stalker than the original Blade Runner. Every shot lingers. Often for minutes longer than would happen in most films. It has a meditative effect and I think that’s what BR2049 was going for (though it was a little too slow burn in that movie for me). The thing about Stalker, though, is we often linger without a clear idea what the filmmaker wants us to be considering. It can try your patience, but if you surrender to it, it can be quite powerful and I could see it making each viewing a unique experience.

But back to Annihilation, sort of. It’s obvious to me that Garland was heavily influenced by this movie. Having also recently watched his TV miniseries Devs, I see thematic similarities there too. Existentialism—or, more accurately, its relative absence in determinism—is much more at the fore in Devs, but it is certainly a theme in Stalker too. In fact, I found myself feeling that ultimately this is a film that challenges the ultimate of existentialism: complete freedom. Or, more specifically, the ability to have whatever we desire. Is the freedom to have whatever we desire, in the hands of humans, a blessing or a curse. This is not a unique theme, nor is it one that is terribly deep. Yet I found it is explored here more effectively than in most movies.

I found Tarkovsky's approach almost antithetical to another filmmaker that I was reminded of while watching. Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker who seems to want to explore larger themes as well. Where Nolan gives us rapid fire, on-the-nose answers to the very questions we’re meant to ponder, Tarkovsky trusts his audience and allows us to stew with these thoughts and never gives us an easy answer. It dares us to be bored without ever being boring.

Allegories abound. Religion, politics, environmentalism, technology. You name it (and spend the requisite time pondering it amidst the many long takes) and you’ll likely find it. It’s not a movie most will watch often, but I can’t help but feel it would be deeply rewarding to do so.
 

TM2YC

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^ Snap! Just watched it too and came here to post my review :D . I was also thinking of BR2049 and Annihilation too... plus I was right back in the Fallout universe.

Stalker (1979)
In "the distant future" (at least Wikipedia says that's where it's set because the film doesn't show or tell you that) two men seek to enter the mysterious "Zone" with the help of "The Stalker" (a sort of haunted, depressive Sherpa). It's either the site of an alien visitation, or a meteorite impact, it's not clear which, bottom line, it's a weird place and trespassing is forbidden. At the center there is supposedly a room where your deepest desire will be granted, an obvious enticement when the outside world looks like an apocalyptic wasteland. Like in 'The Wizard of Oz' the "real world" is all sepia but once our characters cross over the film switches to colour but it isn't exactly a Technicolor fantasy. Everything inside the "Zone" is overgrown, dank, muddy, decaying and bleak, pools of polluted water, rusting military hardware and hypodermic needles everywhere. They shot in abandoned chemical factories, toxic rivers, dusty industrial tunnels and crumbling power plants, which allegedly caused the early deaths of some of the cast and crew from lung cancer (including Director Andrei Tarkovsky).

Like with other Tarkovsky films, some of the sequences really stick in the mind. The room of dust piles, the telekinesis scene, the thunderous waterfall inside a collapsed building and the massive light bulb flaring up and popping. Also the world has this amazing smoke/fog that hangs in the far background, like the limited draw distance on an old videogame. This being a Soviet film, it's impossible to not think that the "Zone" is a reference to the Chernobyl exclusion zone but of course 'Stalker' prophetically preceded that disaster by 7-years. 'Stalker' sucks you into the mystery at the start and ends powerfully and enigmatically but did we really need every minute of the 2-hours in the middle where the three characters wonder around talking to each other? The artificial Eye blu-ray, while sharp and detailed, looks like it's from a decaying print rescued from the "Zone" itself, which kinda added to the experience.

 

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TM2YC said:
^ Snap! Just watched it too and came here to post my review :D . I was also thinking of BR2049 and Annihilation too... plus I was right back in the Fallout universe.

That’s a crazy coincidence! It’s definitely not a movie for everyone. My wife opted out and watched Top Chef in the other room. But every time she came in she commented how beautifully framed everything was. I admit I wasn’t always fully present myself. I was jotting down thoughts on my Notes app that became my above review. I’d love to see this in the theatre, both because the visuals are so sumptuous and because it would be much more immersive and hold you in its spell better. It really does seem like a movie that would be a new experience every time based on where you head is at going in.
 

mnkykungfu

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TM2YC said:
Stalker (1979)
In "the distant future" (at least Wikipedia says that's where it's set because the film doesn't show or tell you that) two men seek to enter the mysterious "Zone" with the help of "The Stalker" (a sort of haunted, depressive Sherpa).  At the center there is supposedly a room where your deepest desire will be granted, an obvious enticement when the outside world looks like an apocalyptic wasteland.   Everything inside the "Zone" is overgrown, dank, muddy, decaying and bleak, pools of polluted water, rusting military hardware and hypodermic needles everywhere.

You've inadvertently made me want to re-watch Event Horizon instead.  ;)
 

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Zombi 2 (1979)
Lucio Fulci's film was titled 'Zombie Flesh Eaters' in the UK, 'Zombie' in the US and marketed as 'Zombi 2' in Italy, to cash-in on 'Dawn of the Dead' which was released under the title 'Zombi' (it's all very confusing :D ). For a zombie splatter-fest I was surprised by how great it looks in 35mm scope on the Arrow blu-ray (a 2K scan of the o-neg). It's got a tidy Doctor Moreau-style script, a terrific synth score, mostly excellent acting and the English dubbing is surprisingly good (even if it doesn't always match the lip movements). Richard Johnson's grizzled performance as the exhausted, defeated Doctor trying to contain the zombie pandemic was my favourite. It's a lot of fun and you'll see a zombie fight a (real) shark... enough said.


^ I notice this trailer labels it as "Zombies 2" for one more variation :D .

 

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TM2YC said:
Stalker (1979)
'Stalker' sucks you into the mystery at the start and ends powerfully and enigmatically but did we really need every minute of the 2-hours in the middle where the three characters wonder around talking to each other?

Quick! To the Bat-fan-editing machine! :p
 

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TM2YC said:
Lucio Fulci's film was...

Back in the days I was a great fan of the Italian cinema (mostly giallo), even though Fulci is mostly remembered by his gore films, I've always prefered his lighter, so to speak, movies (again, giallo) - I just love his eerie Don't Torture a Duckling (Italian: Non si sevizia un paperino) from 1972, and I like his trippy A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (Italian: Una lucertola con la pelle di donna) from 1971, and mean-spirited The New York Ripper (1982). There are some nice restorated BluRay versions of these films.
 
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