A Movie A Day #151: Easy Money (1983, directed by James Signorelli)


Rodney Dangerfield.  He didn’t get no respect but he did smoke a lot of weed.

It’s true.  Rodney first lit up in 1942 when he was a 21 year-old struggling nightclub comic.  According to his widow, the moment meant so much to Rodney that, decades later, he could still remember the room number — 1411, at the Belvedere Hotel in New York City — where he and fellow comedians Bobby Byron and Joe E. Ross smoked that first joint.  That was back when Rodney was performing under the name Jack Roy.  (His was born Jacob Cohen.)  Rodney’s first comedy career went so badly that he quit and spent the next twenty-two years as an aluminum siding salesman until he found the courage to return to the stage.  However, whether he was selling or performing, Rodney never stopped smoking marijuana.  When he was working on his autobiography, he wanted to call it My Lifelong Romance With Marijuana.  His wife convinced him to go with a different title:  It’s Not Easy Bein’ Me: A Lifetime of No Respect but Plenty of Sex and Drugs.

There’s plenty of drugs in Easy Money, which is a problem for baby photographer Monty Capuletti (Rodney, of course).  Monty likes to gamble, drink, and smoke pot, much to the disapproval of his wealthy mother-in-law (Geraldine Fitzgerald).  When she dies, she stipulates in her will that if Monty goes for a year without indulging in any of his vices, he and his family will receive 10 million dollars.  Sounds easy, right?  The only problem is that Monty really likes to eat, drink, gamble, and get high.  His best friend (Joe Pesci) doesn’t think he can do it.  His mother-in-law’s former assistant, Quincy Barlow (Jeffrey Jones), is determined to catch Monty slipping back into his old ways so that he can inherit the money.  Monty’s determined, though, to win the money for his family, especially now that his daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has married the bizarre Julio (Taylor Negron).

The episodic plot is really just an excuse for Rodney to be Rodney, spouting off one liners and making snobs like Quincy look foolish.  Rodney and Joe Pesci were a surprisingly effective comedy team.  The scene where they get stoned and try to drive home without damaging the huge wedding cake in the back of the van is a hundred times funnier than it has any right being.  Even though it is hard to imagine her being, in any way, related to Rodney Dangerfield, Jennifer Jason Leigh is always a welcome presence.  Like many comedies of that era, Easy Money is uneven, with as many jokes failing as succeeding but, for Rodney Dangerfield fans, it is a must see.

Guilty Pleasure No. 30: Wolfen (dir. by Michael Wadleigh)


Wolfen_1981A guilty pleasure is a film that we might enjoy, but isn’t as loved by others overall. It’s the kind of film that you can watch on any given day, but to speak of it may cause raised eyebrows among your peers. Everyone has at least one film or two that they treasure in this way.

My Guilty Pleasure pick is 1981’s Wolfen, directed by Michael Wadleigh. Loosely based off the novel by Whitley Strieber, the film focuses on two homicide investigators who learn that the case they’re working may actually be caused by animal attacks. Often mistaken as a werewolf film, I really wouldn’t group Wolfen into that category. It’s supernatural in some ways, yes, but you won’t find any serious werewolf activity in it. Surprisingly enough, Wolfen was released in the theatre just a few months after Joe Dante’s The Howling. This makes me wonder how audiences took to Wolfen after seeing all of the make-up effects in Dante’s work. From an effects standpoint, Wolfen’s big claim to fame is the negative photography used to showcase the animals’ point of view. I can’t imagine it was incredibly amazing when comparing the two, but on it’s own, it’s not bad. It’s one of the few movies I’d like to see get a remake, if only to have the story match Strieber’s book better.

When a millionaire land developer and his wife are found brutally murdered in Battery Park, Detective Dewey Wilson is brought on to investigate. Albert Finney (Miller’s Crossing, The Bourne Ultimatum, Skyfall) easily carries the film as Wilson, feeling a lot like the owner of your favorite corner deli. Wilson’s detective work is subtle in the film, and Finney plays to that with a relaxed alertness. He comes across as calm, questioning, but you get the sense that if it came to blows, he’d be ready to react. I suppose most detectives are that way. When the murder is believed to be a possible terrorist attack, a Security Agency brings in a psychological expert named Rebecca Neff, played by Diane Venora (Heat, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet). Wolfen was Venora’s first film and she’s good in this, though the screenplay is written in a way where it’s more Dewey’s tale to tell. The book did Neff’s character more justice than the movie, overall. Rounding out the casting is Gregory Hines (Running Scared, The Cotton Club – also with Venora) as a forensics expert, Edward James Olmos (Miami Vice, Battlestar Galactica) as a Native American worker who may know more than he says and Tom Noonan (Manhunter, The Last Action Hero, F/X – once again, with Diane Venora) as a Zoo Worker who’s just a little to into wolves in general. That’s just my opinion, though Noonan’s been known to play creepy very well. The performances here are all pretty good. No one is really out of place here, as far as I could tell.

If Wolfen suffers from any major problem, it’s in the writing. In adapting the novel, they had the chance to really bring the terror from the novel on screen. In the book, we’re given an understanding of what the Wolfen are – creatures older, faster and more terrifying than your typical canine. They came complete with their own way of communicating with one another, and Strieber’s novel even referenced his other story about Vampires, The Hunger. The final standoff of the book was a fight similar to From Dusk Till Dawn, with the hope that our heroes could maybe hold off what was coming. The movie decided to go a different route. Not terrible in any way, but it could have been really good if they stayed on track.

I could be off here, but I believe the film elected to try to make the story more relevant for its time by circling the murder around terrorism and using the Security Agency. The Security Agency has so little to do with the film outside of bringing Neff on the case, it’s incredible. About every 20 minutes, the film cuts back to this crew of personnel at their computers, watching footage of attacks (that have little to do with the original victim) in an attempt to piece together why this death happened. Meanwhile, Wilson walks into bar and gets the whole solution handed to him in a short story over a beer. I wonder if Wadleigh (who co-wrote the script) was trying to say that with all the technology at their disposal, all it really took to solve a crime was just regular legwork. To quote Olmos’ character “It’s the 20th Century. We got it all figured out.” That’s just my speculation on that.

From a Cinematography viewpoint, Wolfen has some impressive scenes, particularly those of the Manhattan landscape. For a city that doesn’t sleep, the streets as they’re filmed here are barren, with lots of shadows. One scene in particular has Finney and Olmos’ characters talking on top of a bridge, and I have to wonder not only how they were able to get that shot, but how the actors maintained their composure. One wrong slip and either of them could have fell. I also love seeing New York City in the early 80’s, where most of the Bronx and Brooklyn looked like warzones. Both Wolfen and Nighthawks (also released in the same year) are great examples of how bad the city really was during that time.

Wolfen was also one of James Horner’s first scores. Listening to it, you can hear elements of what you’d find in Aliens, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and his other pieces.

Overall, Wolfen is a good film if you find yourself running into it late at night and there’s nothing else to catch. I watch it on purpose, but that’s just me. We all have our tastes. If at all possible, consider reading the novel as well.

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line

The Indiana Film Journalists Have Spoken And They Love A Film About Boston!


Ted_2_poster

The Indiana Film Journalist Association have announced their picks for the best of 2015 and they went with … Ted 2!

No, just kidding, they went with Spotlight.

Best Film

Winner: “Spotlight”
Runner-up: “Room”

Other Finalists (listed alphabetically):

“Anomalisa”
“The Big Short”
“Carol”
“The End of the Tour”
“Mad Max: Fury Road”
“The Martian”
“Steve Jobs”
“Straight Outta Compton”

Best Animated Feature

Winner: “Anomalisa”
Runner-Up: “Inside Out ”

Best Foreign Language Film

Winner: “Son of Saul”
Runner-Up: “Goodnight Mommy”

Best Documentary

Winner: “Amy”
Runner-Up: “Meru”

Best Original Screenplay

Winner: Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, “Spotlight”
Runner-up: Matt Charman, Joel & Ethan Coen, “Bridge of Spies”

Best Adapted Screenplay

Winner: Emma Donoghue, “Room”
Runner-up: Adam McKay and Charles Randolph, “The Big Short”

Best Director

Winner: George Miller, “Mad Max: Fury Road
Runner-up: Tom McCarthy, “Spotlight”

Best Actress

Winner: Brie Larson, “Room”
Runner-up: Charlotte Rampling, “45 Years”

Best Supporting Actress

Winner: Greta Gerwig, “Mistress America”
Runner-up: Elizabeth Banks, “Love & Mercy”

Best Actor

Winner: Jacob Tremblay, “Room”
Runner-up: Jason Segel, “The End of the Tour”

Best Supporting Actor

Winner: Mark Ruffalo, “Spotlight”
Runner-up: Idris Elba, “Beasts of No Nation”

Best Vocal/Motion Capture Performance

Winner: Phyllis Smith, “Inside Out”
Runner-up: Tom Noonan, “Anomalisa”

Best Musical Score

Winner: Junkie XL, “Mad Max: Fury Road
Runner-up: Disasterpeace, “It Follows

Original Vision Award

Winner: “Anomalisa”
Runner-up: “Chi-Raq”

The Hoosier Award

Winner: Angelo Pizzo, writer/director/producer

Here Are The Confusing San Diego Film Critics Society Nominations!


The San Diego Film Critics Society announced their nominees for the best of 2015 and … well, there’s a little bit of confusion.  As Paddy Mulholland of Screen on Screen points out, the San Diego film critics did not list their nominees alphabetically.  But, at the same time, the SFDC hasn’t acknowledged that the nominees were listed as a ranked slate either.  So, when they list Ex Machina as their first nominee for Best Picture and Brooklyn as their second, were they announcing that Ex Machina was their pick for best picture and Brooklyn was the runner up?  Or did they just decided to randomly list the nominees?

The official winners will be announced on December 14th, at which point we will have clarity!

Anyway, here are the San Diego nominees.  And again, h/t on this goes to Screen on Screen:

Best Picture
1. Ex Machina
2. Brooklyn
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Room
5. Spotlight

Best Director
1. George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road)
2. John Crowley (Brooklyn)
3. Lenny Abrahamson (Room)
4. Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
5. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (The Revenant)

Best Actor, Male
1. Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
2. Jason Segel (The End of the Tour)
3. Matt Damon (The Martian)
4. Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)
5. Jacob Tremblay (Room)

Best Actor, Female
1. Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
2. Brie Larson (Room)
3. Charlotte Rampling (45 Years)
4. Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road)
5. Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina)

Best Supporting Actor, Male
1. Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)
2. Tom Noonan (Anomalisa)
3. Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina)
4. Paul Dano (Love & Mercy)
5. R. J. Cyler (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Best Supporting Actor, Female
1. Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
2. Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight)
3. Helen Mirren (Trumbo)
4. Kristen Stewart (Clouds of Sils Maria)
5. Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl)

Best Original Screenplay
1. Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig (Mistress America)
2. Alex Garland (Ex Machina)
3. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows)
4. Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight)
5. Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer (Spotlight)

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. Nick Hornby (Brooklyn)
2. Emma Donoghue (Room)
3. Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa)
4. Donald Margulies (The End of the Tour)
5. Drew Goddard and Andy Weir (The Martian)

Best Cinematography
1. Roger Deakins (Sicario)
2. Yves Belanger (Brooklyn)
3. Dariusz Wolski (The Martian)
4. John Seale (Mad Max: Fury Road)
5. Emmanuel Lubezki (The Revenant)

Best Editing
1. Margaret Sixel (Mad Max: Fury Road)
2. Joe Walker (Sicario)
3. Pietro Scalia (The Martian)
4. Michael Kahn (Bridge of Spies)
5. Nathan Nugent (Room)
6. Stephen Mirrione (The Revenant

Best Production Design
1. Colin Gibson (Mad Max: Fury Road)
2. Mark Digby (Ex Machina)
3. Arthur Max (The Martian)
4. Francois Seguin (Brooklyn)
5. Adam Stockhausen (Bridge of Spies)

Best Sound Design
1. The Martian
2. Mad Max: Fury Road
3. Ex Machina
4. Sicario
5. Love & Mercy

Best Visual Effects
1. The Martian
2. Ex Machina
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. The Walk
5. Jurassic World

Best Use of Music in a Film
1. The Hateful Eight
2. Love & Mercy
3. Mad Max: Fury Road
4. Sicario
5. Straight Outta Compton

Best Ensemble
1. Spotlight
2. The Hateful Eight
3. Straight Outta Compton
4. Inside Out
5. The Big Short
6. What We Do in the Shadows

Best Animated Film
1. Inside Out
2. Anomalisa
3. Shaun the Sheep Movie
4. The Good Dinosaur
5. The Peanuts Movie

Best Documentary
1. Amy
2. He Named Me Malala
3. Cartel Land
4. Meru
5. The Wrecking Crew

Best Foreign Language Film
1. Phoenix
2. Taxi
3. White God
4. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence
5. Goodnight Mommy

Best Breakthrough Artist
1. Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl / Ex Machina)
2. Jacob Tremblay (Room)
3. Emory Cohen (Brooklyn)
4. Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation)
5. Sean Baker (Tangerine)

 

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: The House of the Devil (dir by Ti West)


When was the last time you actually saw a good movie on Chiller?  Seriously, it doesn’t happen that often and perhaps that’s why, when, a few years ago, I curled up on the couch and watched 2009′s The House of the Devil on Chiller, I wasn’t expecting much.  However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that The House of the Devil is actually one of the most effective low-budget horror films that I’ve seen in a while.

The plot of House of the Devil is pretty simple.  Samantha (a likable performance from Jocelin Donahue) is a college student who has just moved into her first apartment.  However, Samantha can’t really afford to pay the rent so she agrees to take a babysitting job for the mysterious Mr. Ullman (Tom Noonan, who is just so creepy in this film).  Ullman offers her one hundred dollars to come babysit for the night.  Samantha agrees and, with her skeptical friend Megan (Greta Gerwig, who is hilarious here), drives out to Ullman’s home.  It turns out that Ullman lives in an isolated house out in the country and that he actually doesn’t have any children.  Instead, he wants Samantha to babysit his aging mother while he goes into town so he can watch the lunar eclipse which just happens to be happening on that exact night!  Samantha is reluctant but agrees to stay when Ullman offers to pay her $400.00.

And can you guess where this story is headed?

This film isn’t titled House of the Devil for nothing.

The_House_of_the_Devil

 

As I said before, I wasn’t expecting much from The House Of The Devil.  I was honestly expecting it just to be a typical, low-budget Chiller horror film, good for nothing more then maybe a laugh or two and maybe a few memorably silly gore effects.  Having now seen the film, I’m very happy to say that I was incorrect.  The House of the Devil is a well-made, effectively creepy horror film and it’s one that other horror filmmakers could very much learn from.

Don’t get me wrong.  The plot of House of the Devil isn’t going to win any points for creativity.  Even if the film didn’t open with a wonderfully self-concious title card informing us that the movie is “based on a true story” of Satanic activity, it would be pretty easy to figure out that nothing good is going to happen once Samantha goes into the house.  But that actually works to the film’s advantage.  The House of the Devil feels like an old ghost story told at a sleepover.  You know where the story’s heading but you get scared nonetheless because, ultimately, it’s the type of story that plays on the fears that everyone has.

Also, in the style of the scary ghost story told by a storyteller with a flashlight pointed up at her chin, The House of the Devil understands that the best horrors are the ones produced by an overstimulated imagination.  With the exception of two or three scenes, this is not a gory film nor is it a film that sadistically lingers over scenes of torture and carnage.  Instead, director Ti West takes his time to set up both the story and the characters.  This is a film where the horror comes more from a carefully constructed atmopshere than any sort of easy shock effects.  As a result, this is a horror film that actually stays with you after you watch it.

The House of the Devil is a film that I’m very happy to recommend.

Quick Horror Review: Wolfen (dir. by Michael Wadleigh)


Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen (1981) remains one of my favorite stories with wolves, though there are no actual werewolves in the movie. It’s a great and underrated film, though I’m not quite sure if it really can be considered Horror. There’s bloodshed, yes, but not a lot when compared to the more superior The Howling, which came out in the same year.

The film in a nutshell is that you have the Bronx. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the Bronx was a warzone, and there were a number of films showcasing the decay of the area (Nighthawks and Fort Apache: The Bronx are two good ones). When a real estate mogul who’s developing buildings in the area and his wife are brutally murdered, Detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) is partnered with a terrorism expert (Diane Venora) to solve the crime.

Through the film, Dewey discovers that the murders are being done not by people, but the spirits of ancient indians in the form of Wolves – or better to say that they were hunters from an older time. The Wolfen, as they’re called, are scavengers of the city’s decay, feeding off of those who won’t be missed – derelicts and the like.

While Finney and Venora carry the film, Gregory Hines has some fun lines as the local NYPD mortician and Tom Noonan’s Wolf Expert was interesting, though a little strange. The best person in the supporting cast (who doesn’t have as much time to work with) is Edward James Olmos, in a surprising turn as Eddie, who is believed to have something to do with the murders, but later helps put Dewey in the right direction.

Supposedly, the movie was a little heavy handed with all of the anti-terror angle they tried to use. From what I’ve read, it wasn’t a major part of Whitley Streiber’s novel of the same name and it tends to steer the audience away from the actual problem. I mean, the audience is seeing wolves do this (or at least are seeing something animalistic do it), so to bring in the notion that there’s a terrorist plot involved kind of went over my head. The movie would have been tighter without it, I believe anyway.

One of the cooler elements of the movie is that you are able to see things through the eyes of the Wolfen themselves in an infrared vision style. While this was done with movies after it like Predator, and films before it like Westworld, Wolfen was my first experience with the effect. That, coupled with James Horner’s score (a mixture of themes you’d later find in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Aliens), lend to some of the style. Unfortunately, Wolfen is a somewhat difficult film to find in terms of obtaining the DVD for it, but the film has been on Netflix. If you have a chance to catch it, it’s an interesting watch.

Quickie Review: Eight Legged Freaks (dir. by Ellory Elkayem)


In 2002 there came a film in the tail end of that year’s summer blockbuster film season which took me by surprise. The film I’m talking about was Eight Legged Freaks. It was from Kiwi-born director Ellory Elkayem and he did a wonderful job of bringing back just a small peek at those fun 1950’s giant monster and insect movies like Them! and a host of others.

The film pretty much follows the same conventions as those old-time monster movies. It has the smart and bookish teenage boy whose love for all things spiders will come in handy as the film moves along. Then there’s the eccentric and creepy loner who collects spiders and learns that the water he has been giving them has now been tainted by toxic chemicals from a drum container that has fallen into a nearby river during transport. This river and the creek it feeds is right next to a down-and-out mining Arizona town, ironically named Prosperity. The film  wouldn’t be complete without the arrival of its prodigal son, Chris McCormick (played with quite a bit of understatement by the usual over-the-top David Arquette) whose father used to own the gold mines which the town relied on for its economy.

With a reluctant hero comes the woman he left behind and pined for years ago, but now much older and with kids of her own from a previous marriage. Kari Wuhrer — of MTV and B-movie fame — plays Samantha Parker. McCormick’s love interest who also happens to be Prosperity’s current town sheriff and single mother to the aforementioned teenage boy with the thing for spiders and nubile teen daughter Ashley (played by pre-superstardom Scarlett Johansson). Then there’s Wade, the town mayor whose failing ostrich farm and unused mega-mall is leading him to sell the town wholesale to some nameless giant corporation.

With the basic plot set and characters introduced all hell breaks loose as toxic-mutated spiders grow to giant proportions and begin to terrorize and devour the townspeople. At first, it’s isolated attacks until their numbers grown in size and they attack the town itself en masse. This may be a B-movie but it sure had great CGI-effects when it came to the giant arachnids and how they behaved on the screen. The many different types of giant spiders ended up having distinct personalities to distinguish themselves from each other. From the tank-like tarantula to the agile jumping spiders and the cunning trapdoor spiders. In fact, these spiders were also given some sort of voice which sounded like chipmunks on helium as they screeched, yipped and screamed their way around the screen.

Eight Legged Freaks was not something great to write mom home about, but it was a fun film to sit through, especially one full of teenagers who seem to scream and shout the loudest. This was a type of film that actually needs a rowdy audience to really entertain. There’s really no need to follow the dialogue since most of it is quite forgettable. The action on the screen from the giant spiders chasing motocross-riding teens and their attack on the townspeople at the mega-mall does well without the need of extraneous dialogue.

Ellory Elkayem did a great job in making Eight Legged Freaks not just a fun movie but also a throwback to the 50’s monster movies that we see now on syndication. This movie showed Elkayem had great potential as a genre filmmaker. It’s a shame he had to follow up Eight Legged Freaks with two very awful and forgettable sequels to the Return of the Living Dead franchise. I’m still hoping that he’ll rebound from that double-debacle and make more fun monster movies. Until that happens we’ll always have his little flick about giant, mutant spiders who sounded like chipmunks on helium.