The Cinema Penitentiary Diaries June 13-19

  1. The Stranger The horror genre took a hit in 1999 with the Blair Witch project, from which it has only recently begun to recover. Too many amateur efforts made with flashlights and iphones cluttered the horror shelves, so the odds of finding something watchable became increasingly unfavorable. Not to mention the hundreds of zombie movies made in backyards and local parks with half-assed make=up artists having their way with friends and volunteers. But this year we have already had “It Follows,” which was not so great in itself but was a sign that the genre wasn’t totally dead. And now we have “The Stranger,” which may be the first genuine spooko of the century.  Uruguayan director Guillermo Amoedo, who wrote The Green Inferno for Eli Roth and Aftershocks for Chilean director Nicolas Lopez, comes to Canada to direct a horrific  tale of the last vampire’s struggle to remain the last of his kind.  Madame Bovary (Chabrol) REVIEWED   Supermensch: the legend of Shep Gordon I learned quite a bit from this documentary on the life of Alice Cooper and Anne Murray’s manager. Foremost that Frank Zappa tried to keep “I’m Eighteen” off the radio because he did not want to be associated with a song demonstrating  such high commercial potential.  Entertaining and informative throughout, the only thing I questioned was why the Tropicana was referred to as the Historic Hollywood motel, and not by name
  1. The Border and Goin’ South Two Jack Nicholson pictures featuring excellent performances from character actor Jeff Morris. “Goin” South” is an anarchic Western comedy that suffers from Nicholson’s egocentric direction, but nevertheless has an oddball charm.  Nicholson plays a horse thief prospecting for gold and Jeff Morris is the leader of a rival gang who wants the gold for himself. Morris’ comic grotesqueries are  upstaged by the more polished comedic talents of Christopher Lloyd, while  John Belushi has descended so far into the LeBrea Cocaine Pit that he is barely visible. Everyone fares better in “The Border,” a powerful tale of corruption and murder on the El Paso border, expertly directed by Tony Richardson, and featuring Harvey Keitel playing Mephistopheles to Nicholson’s stubbornly moral non-Faust.   Morris is frightening as the murdering sonofabitch without a clean bone in his body. Elpidia Carillo makes a stunning film debut as a Mexican woman whose baby is kidnapped and put for sale on the black market.
  1. Petrified Forest and It’s Love I’m After Two with Leslie Howard and Bette Davis.  “Petrified Forest” is a classic drama featuring Humphrey Bogart as a gangster on the run  who holds the occupants of a desert diner hostage, while  “It’s Love I’m After” is a backstage comedy with Olivia De Havilland as Bette Davis’ rival for Leslie Howard’s love.  Both Davis and Howard are better at drama than comedy. Danny Collins REVIEWED.
  1. Hunger Games 1, 2, 3a Watchable but unmemorable. Nothing worth saying about it. Just like watching a long night of television.
  1. Bed and Board I always enjoy revisiting Antoine Doinel in the youthful Paris of the 60’s and early 70’s. Jean-Pierre Leaud was far more appealing when working for Truffaut than he was in his films with Godard. Over time, Godard emerged as the  more inventive film-maker, but Truffaut had a greater love, not only for movies, but for life.  Robin and the Seven Hoods  The movie wasn’t all that good, but the songs are still memorable.  I hadn’t seen the picture in over forty years, but was singing along with most of the songs.  And what can you  say about a scene in which Frank Sinatra accuses Bing Crosby (in song) of having no style, and Crosby goes along with it?  Twenty years earlier, a national radio poll determined Sinatra had  eclipsed Crosby in popularity, and here he is still crowing over it.
  1. A Bay of Blood By 1971, the Italian film industry was in decline, with neo-realism and its descendants having given way to giallos, horror, and westerns.  Mario Bava was such a brilliant   director that one can only imagine what he might have done in healthier times.  Admittedly, he was working during the golden era, making “Black Sunday” while Antonioni was in the midst of his trilogy of discontent, but he might have switched gears when gore became a staple of the horror film, had the commercial possibility of more serious films been more tangible.  Still, we treasure the horrors of Bava, even when we turn away from the prolonged plunging into  body cavities by man-made orifices.  “Bay of Blood” is notable in the history of whodunits in that all the characters turn out to be both the murderer and the murdered.  Tremors Once Abbott and Costello joined Frankenstein, the Universal horror pictures were finished. Comedy and horror don’t mix.  Except on occasion, and “Tremors” is one of those rare occasions.
  1. She’s Having a Baby When? If you are expecting a good pregnancy comedy, expect to wait a long time for the conception. While We’re Young  Despite the stupid premise of an older couple re-igniting their lives through a friendship with a younger couple, “While We’re Young” scores a few points  in criticizing the decline of integrity among documentarians.  This is pretty old stuff, though, as the controversy over staged scenes in a documentary  reached its zenith in 1968 with the Maysles Brothers’ “Salesman.” today, most filmgoers are hip to the bullshit factor in documentaries.   Face of an Angel REVIEWED

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