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Showing posts from November, 2015

Recently Rated Movies: Classical Beach Boys, Star Wars for Girls, and a Tragic Son

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Death in Venice(1971)
Dir.: Luchino Visconti
TC4P Rating: 6/9

I am woefully unarmed in any discussion involving Thomas Mann's writing. Despite everything I have read in my life, he is a blind spot. I am able to reel off the names of his three or four most well-known books, and know just enough about him to help me in crossword puzzles, but that is all. I am willing to admit that I have not read the man, or Mann, as it were. Therefore, I was absolutely unprepared for watching Italian director Luchino Visconti's film version of Mann's 1912 novella, Death in Venice.

As part of my Tower of Film project, which I wrote about in great detail a few years ago and which is the now the chief guiding force behind what movies I choose to view (though not the only criteria), Death in Venice came up as a selection for the year 1971 based on its nomination at the 1972 Oscars for Best Costume Design, as well as its nomination for the Palme d'Or at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. Part of the…

Zappa Still Alive in "Roxy the Movie"

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Roxy the Movie(2015)
Dir.: Frank Zappa
TC4P Rating: 7/9

Except for my brother Otis, I often feel quite alone in my regard for Frank Zappa, especially in 2015. Some of my friends have Zappa in their collections, but nobody that I am aware of listens to him on a regular basis like I do. And except for when I am with my brother, I have no one else in my life with whom to discuss Zappa and his work.

While I was aware of Zappa when I was a bit younger (I remember being fascinated by him when he hosted one of the more notorious episodes of Saturday Night Live), I did not own one of his albums until 1980. After hearing the song Dancing Fool on Dr. Demento's show, I purchased my first copy of Sheik Yerbouti on double LP (with that iconic cover photo of Frank in Arab garb), and I never looked back. Within a year, I owned seven more of his albums. I kept buying even more albums, anything that I could find in our local record stores. I followed every move Zappa made in the press, including his p…

The Shark Film Office: Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954)

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Monster from the Ocean Floor(1954)
Dir.: Wyott Ordung
TC4P Rating: 4/9
Creatures: shark, octopus, and a monstrous octopus-like thing with a glowing eye.

Monsters, nuclear waste, girls in trouble, sharks... some of the essential elements of low-budget "B" movie thrills back in the 1950s. It helps even more if the girl is in a swimsuit and is wet half of the film, and if the monster is a giant octopus of some indeterminate species, and if the giant octopus has a single eye the size of a cargo hatch and the creature glows due to possible exposure to nuclear testing. And, oh yeah, sharks...

Roger Corman had all of these elements down already in 1954 in his very first full producing credit, Monster from the Ocean Floor. The film is clearly influenced by the previous year's big monster hit, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Corman and first-time director Wyott Ordung seem to be taking great pains to try and replicate the thrilling underwater sequences that made Universal'…

87 Minutes and Entirely Non-Tantric: Stung, and How Not to Get That Way

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Stung(2015)
Dir: Benni Diez
TC4P Rating: 4/9

Wasps are fuckers.

I can look at most predatory species and recognize the beauty behind nature's design even when it results in the death of smaller, weaker creatures. But wasps are fuckers. I defend sharks and spiders from people who are afraid of them, who see only terror where I see wonder at the natural order of things and for efficiency and cunning. Wasps are still fuckers. I can even look at common social insects like wasps -- such as ants, bees, and termites -- and after recognizing both the benefits and downsides of all species, come out with a solid realization of just how necessary they are to the planet. But with wasps, even understanding their place in our world (they are vital in controlling many invasive and pest species of insects), I can only come to one conclusion. Wasps are just plain horrid, scary fuckers.

I think it is because wasps seem to take delight in being outright assholes. I think that if you were able to ask a wa…

Drooling Over Gravy (but Please Mind the Gags)

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Gravy (2015)
Dir.: James Roday
TC4P Rating: 6/9

When Jen and I were finally ready* to move past the December loss of the second of our beloved pair of rat terriers last year, one rescue cat already had an in with us. A friend of Jen's mom was fostering a cat in Denver named Muffin, who was born to a feral mother who had figured out pretty early that her kitten was an indoor cat. We had known about her months earlier before we were ready, but when the time came in April to finally take the next step, Muffin was still up for the taking. She still needed her "forever home," as they say in rescue pet vernacular, though I prefer to be more realistic and call it an "8-14 year home".

After setting up a transport system through the Underground Railroad Rescued Kitty Network, which included our meeting a transfer agent at the airport in Las Vegas, we finally got our Muffin. Except we really couldn't call her Muffin. Cats don't know their name most of the time anyway…

For One Practical Purpose: Harbinger Down

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Harbinger Down(2015)
Dir: Alec Gillis
TC4P Rating: 5/9

You would be forgiven if you thought from the rating that I gave to Harbinger Down, a new monster picture release from the Oscar-winning special effects team of Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., that I didn't like it. My "5" rating is what I use for an number of things: outright product with no real soul or purpose apart from crass monetary gain, the most rote or trite of projects that probably bored me to tears with their unoriginality, and anything middle of the road that didn't really strike me as good or bad either way so I have no place else to put it.

I liked Harbinger Down. I just didn't like Harbinger Down as much as the makers of Harbinger Down would like me to like it.

Harbinger Down has purpose, so it definitely does not belong in the category in which I placed it for that reason alone. And its purpose is one that is close to my heart: bringing back the use of (mostly) practical special effects to the …

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