Sunday, January 21, 2018

THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) movie review



The Shape of Water (2017) d. del Toro, Guillermo (USA)

This “adult fairy tale” sees Sally Hawkins’ mute cleaning woman falling in love with an unworldly beast after it is captured in the Amazon and spirited away to a generic top-secret research facility, with scientist Michael Stuhlbarg and government thug Michael Shannon vying for proprietary rights. What follows is a Visually Stunning Effort, with all creative collaborators working overtime to deliver a heightened urban landscape of the early 1960s (we hear references to JFK, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement), and the inimitable Doug Jones (Hellboy) donning arguably the most elegant rubber monster suit to grace the silver screen.


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Civilian 2017 Wrap-Up and Year-End Stats!




Greetings, my friends!

This marks the 11th year that I have taken the time to not only reflect upon "the year in movies" gone by, but attempted to give it context and shape by assessing the quality of the films in question, and noting any particular patterns or interests that made the year distinctive. In 2009, I began breaking the Horror Views and Civilian Views into two separate sections, being that the blog I had just started was called, after all, HORROR 101.

Having already given 2017’s fright flicks their deserving measure of thought (click HERE to see)
, it’s time to dive into the less-scary side of things, as well as looking at the Views overall.


This year, it should be mentioned, marks the lowest total of films (251) watched since I started tracking such minutiae back in the early 1990s. (I know, I know, it may still seem like a lot to some. Everything is relative, no?) I attribute this to a variety of elements, not least of which being the amount of time I simply sat staring at the computer screen in disbelief at the madness occurring in the political arena. I was, quite literally, stunned by this world that had been allowed to manifest itself and almost didn’t dare turn my back… for fear things would slide past the point of no return during the period between opening and closing credits. I also found myself looking for ways to combat the various situations rather than escape from them, and often decided against a movie if there was a worthier task at hand, be it the organizing of a self-defense workshop or contributing time or money (or both) to a fundraiser or protest, etc.


This is also probably a good time to point out that there also wasn’t much coming to the cinema that I was interested in seeing. Outside of the two film festivals (BIFFF and Cinepocalypse), there was only one day that I spent at the multiplex seeing more than a single movie. One. (August 8, to be exact.) The rest of the time I was single-viewing it, i.e. going to the theater, seeing ONE MOVIE (“inconceivable!”) and then going home. I mean, seriously, who is this and what have you done with AC?


Add to this the insanity of running on minimal sleep during the 25 weeks that I was rehearsing and/or performing onstage while maintaining my personal training practice of 25-30 sessions a week, and suddenly it becomes clearer why the numbers are the way they are. To be honest, I’m genuinely surprised the tally isn’t lower. Then again, BIFFF, Cinepocalypse, and October’s SCARE-A-THON 2017 represent approx 35% of the total Views, even though they cover only 6 of the 52 weeks. (It seems we can still dive in deep when the occasion calls for it.)

This is why we record these things, to remember each year and what was different and special. So… let’s look around a bit, shall we?

2017 Totals: 251 films, 179 first time views, 111 horror, 52 cinema

(2016 Totals: 272, 183, 131, 31)

(2015 Totals: 352, 190, 224, 41)
(2014 Totals: 399, 203, 251, 48)
(2013 Totals: 306, 240, 185, 69)
(2012 Totals: 607, 520, 362, 166)
(2011 Totals: 640, 419, 355, 59)
(2010 Totals: 364, 253, 242, 45)
(2009 Totals: 472, 276, 289, 38)
(2008 Totals: 384, 278, 226, 39)
(2007 Totals: 409, 284, 260, 40)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Dr. AC's 2017 Horror Wrap-Up Extravaganza!




Howdy troops,

I openly confess that this year was not my strongest in terms of focusing on the genre of choice, and if it hadn’t been for the two film festivals I attended, it would have been a rather poor showing indeed. I missed out on many of the biggest horror buzzflicks that achieved theatrical releases (Happy Death Day, IT, Alien Covenant, Jigsaw, mother!, Rings, Killing of a Sacred Deer, Leatherface, Life, The Dark Tower, The Mummy) as well as numerous straight-to-streaming – not a reflection of merit in this changing world – such as Gerald’s Game, The Babysitter, 1922, Tragedy Girls, XX, or Creep 2.



Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Fool's Views (12/1 – 12/31)



Howdy folks!

I’ll get all reflective and introspective in a bit when I do the year-end recap, so for now we’ll just address the month at hand. Very little horror, even of the seasonal type, which is unfortunate since I would have liked to tackle Shout! Factory’s new BR release of Silent Night, Deadly Night or Red Christmas in a more timely fashion, but it just didn’t work out that way.

Instead, my viewing time was taken up with the remainder of Akira Kurosawa’s filmography that was available to me, a number of revisits to high octane/high profile action flicks of yore, several new releases, and a number of foreign language films and overlooked gems that had been lingering on the to-watch list that ended up falling into my grip during December’s visits to the Chicago Public Library. Bottom line, it was an eclectic mix as per usual, but very few that I imagine are lighting up anyone’s else’s Christmas tree but mine. Sometimes you just gotta dance to your own jingle beat, right?

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Fool's Views (11/1 – 11/30)



Hello, my friends!

Running out of 2017! Keeping it short this time around, both in terms of write-ups and intros, but happy to report that I got a ton of flicks in – the same number as I did for the October Challenge, as fate would have it. Thanks to the packed schedules that comprised the inaugural voyage of Cinepocalypse at the Music Box and the 15th annual Gobblerfest known as Turkey Day, as well as an impromptu Michael Haneke film festival (inspired by a short film I recently shot called So I Watch You from Afar, which was itself inspired by Haneke’s Cache), the numbers tallied up to a respectable monthly tally in a year that has seen precious few of them.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.

Enjoy!

Monday, November 13, 2017

VERONICA (2017) movie review - Cinepocalypse 2017



Veronica (2017) d. Plaza, Paco (Spain) (1st viewing)

Our titular teen protagonist (Sandra Escacena) does not have what many would consider an easy life. Her father recently died in a tragic accident, her mother works all hours to keep a roof above their heads, and she is tasked with caring for her three younger siblings, everything from breakfast to homework to bedtime baths. One day, knowing that the rest of the class will be outside observing a solar eclipse, she and two friends sneak downstairs to the school’s basement to try to contact her passed-on papa via a Ouija board; predictably, things do not go as planned and dark spirits begin to slip into every darkened corner of Veronica’s life, threatening her and everyone close to her.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

CINEPOCALYSE Film Festival 2017 wrap-up!!!



It was never my intention to dive back into the movie watching fray with such gusto following the madness that was the October Horror Movie Challenge and Scare-A-Thon 2017. Not because I watched so many titles (the final total of 31 was the bare minimum; in years past, I’ve watched over 100), but because it was a jam-packed month what with First Folio’s The Man-Beast and doing full-length DVD/Blu-ray reviews at the same time that I was holding down my personal training practice. In short, it was a full plate, and I was looking forward to chilling out come November. But all that changed with an email from our very own Music Box Theatre, informing us that Cinepocalypse was upon us!


Saturday, November 11, 2017

SUSPIRIA (1977) movie review - Cinepocalypse 2017



Suspiria (1977) d. Argento, Dario (Italy) (4th viewing)

Considered by many to be Il Maestro’s masterwork, this fiercely original tale of an exclusive (and haunted) German ballet school exhibits more personal style and verve in its opening ten minutes than many directors demonstrate in a lifetime. The arrival of American dance student Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper) coincides with a series of bizarre, violent deaths within the academy, and while the film’s coven-of-witches storyline is tenuous at best, Argento’s striking camerawork and audacious colored lighting more than compensate.


DEAD SHACK (2017) movie review - Cinepocalypse 2017



Dead Shack (2017) d. Ricq, Peter (Canada) (1st viewing)

An amusing diversion that mashes up a few well-worn tropes (cabin in the woods, psycho killer, cannibals, zombies) and assembles an amiable and game cast to play them out. In this case, it’s a single dad (Donavon Stinson) toting his boozy gal pal (Valerie Tian), his bratty teens (Lizzie Boys, Gabriel LaBelle), and their wallflower (Matthew Nelson-Mahood) friend out to the boonies for a little chilltime. Upon reaching their remote cabin location, they discover that their nearest neighbor is a hot cougar number (Lauren Holly) with a penchant for dressing up in skin-tight leather and luring the local frat bros back to her domicile to serve as the family meal.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

2017 SCARE-A-THON FINAL RESULTS!!!



It is accomplished!!!

For those not in the know, The October Horror Movie Challenge, at least as I have come to know and honor it, was born on the IMDb Horror message boards over a decade ago. The original rules were relatively simple: Watch 31 horror films over the course of the month, 16 of which have to be first-time viewings. Of course, for those with a combination of spare time and an enthusiastic spirit of adventure, it also could be used as an excuse to bury oneself in the genre for 31 days, rediscovering old favorites and delving into the "why have I never watched that?" pile.

With my October plates filled to overflowing with onstage performances (one week left to First Folio's The Man-Beast), teaching self-defense workshops, and a full slate of personal training clients, I elected to return to the basics. 31 flickers were viddied from Oct 1 through 31, 16 of which had never passed before these wondering, wandering eyes before. As always, there were highs and lows (more of the former than the latter), and all in the service of our ultimate goal, to raise funds and awareness for a charitable organization. This year's recipients are the AMERICAN WOMEN'S SELF-DEFENSE ASSOCIATION and IMPACT CHICAGO, for whom we were able to raise a combined total of nearly $1800!

Thanks to everyone who participated, whether it be reading the reviews, pledging, watching alongside, or just stopping by to chat. Your support makes the long days and nights go by so much easier. I’ll be contacting donors directly via email, but if you are still interested in contributing, contact me at drach101@gmail.com and we’ll get you to the right place.

CHALLENGE STATS:
Total Movies Watched: 31
Total First Time Views: 16
Scare-A-Thon Pledges/Donations: $1799.24


BONUS STATS:

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

JASON X (2001) movie review



Jason X (2001) d. Isaac, James (USA) (3rd viewing) 93 min

While the concept (“Jason in Space”) smacks of utter desperation, this ended up being the most fun to be had at a Friday the 13th movie in ages. Granted, the loony plot asks its audience to check its brain at the door and just go along for the ride, but it’s a heck of a great ride, combining elements of The Terminator, Aliens, The Matrix and half a dozen other movies into a boffo bloody smorgasbord.


THE EYES OF MY MOTHER (2016) movie review



The Eyes of My Mother (2016) d. Pesce, Nicolas (USA) (2nd viewing) 76 min

In their secluded farmhouse, a mother (Diana Agostini), formerly a surgeon in Portugal, teaches her young daughter, Francisca (Olivia Bond), to understand anatomy and be unfazed by death. One afternoon, a visit from a mysterious gentleman named Charlie (Will Brill) shatters the family’s life, deeply traumatizing the young girl, but also awakening unique curiosities about the human condition and the skin it travels around in. As she grows into adulthood, while still clinging to her increasingly withdrawn father (Paul Nazak), Francisca’s (now played by the astonishing Kika Magalhaes) loneliness and emotionally stunted outlook on the world lead her to strive for connection in haunting, twisted, unspeakably disturbing ways.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

DARK HARVEST (1992) DVD review



Dark Harvest (1992) d. Nicholson, James I. (USA) (1st viewing) 89 min

This may be the top-billed offering for Intervision’s double feature DVD, but while it leads the way in terms of low-budget nudity (really, almost everyone takes their top off here) and a few gore moments, it falls way, WAY short of its poor relation (the Vincent Price-hosted omnibus effort Escapes, which appears as a bonus) as a coherent slice of entertainment. Seriously, this does nothing to dispel the myth that most killer scarecrow movies flat-out suck. Because Dark Harvest flat-out sucks.


DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) Blu-ray review



Dawn of the Dead (2004) d. Snyder, Zack (USA) (3rd viewing) 110 min

“The world is in danger when a mysterious virus turns people into mindless, flesh-eating zombies. In a mall in the heartland, a handful of survivors wage a desperate, last-stand battle to stay alive ... and human!”

Sound familiar? To be fair, when Snyder’s remake of George A. Romero’s 1978 classic was first announced, the landscape was not cluttered with undead onscreen shamblers everywhere. In fact, with the exception of 28 Days Later and Resident Evil (both 2002), zombies were kind of, well, dead. But with the success of this worthwhile reboot, which in turn sparked Romero’s own return to the fray (for better or worse) with Land of the Dead later the following year, the stage was set for all manner of rotters, microbudget to blockbuster, and the face of horror would never be the same.


Monday, October 30, 2017

ESCAPES (1986) DVD review



Escapes (1986) d. Steensland, David (USA) (1st viewing) 87 min

You gotta meta-love it when a character in the movie you’re watching mirrors your own experience by describing the movie he’s about to watch onscreen to a friend on the phone as, “I don’t know where this movie came from. It’s got Vincent Price in it. It’s called Escapes.” Appearing as a bonus feature on Intervision’s recent release of the 90s SOV killer scarecrow flick Dark Harvest, chances are that most viewers will have the exact same assessment and will probably watch it with the same “Oh, what the hell, why not” attitude that both the aforementioned onscreen character Matthew Wilson (Todd Fulton) and your humble reviewer did.


BEYOND THE SEVENTH DOOR (1987) DVD review



Beyond the Seventh Door (1987) d. Benedikt, Bozidar (Canada) (1st viewing) 83 min

Upon learning that her boss is a certain moneyed Lord Breston (Gary Freedman), recently released thief Boris (Lazar Rockwood) hits upon the idea of having his ex-girlfriend Wendy (Bonnie Beck) get him into the mansion to make a quick buck. But Breston has taken more than a few precautions, having designed an elaborate series of puzzle traps that the unsuspecting duo must navigate – before long it becomes a question not whether they will escape with the loot ... but rather with their lives.


MADHOUSE (1981) Blu-ray review



Madhouse (1981) d. Assonitis, Ovido (Italy) (1st viewing) 92 min

Julia (Trish Everly) has spent her entire adult life trying to forget the torment she suffered at the hands of her twisted twin Mary (Allison Biggers)... but Mary hasn't forgotten. Escaping the hospital where she's recently been admitted with a horrific, disfiguring illness, Julia's sadistic sister vows to exact a particularly cruel revenge on her sibling this year, promising a birthday surprise that she'll never forget.


Thursday, October 26, 2017

THE ZODIAC KILLER (1971) Blu-ray review



The Zodiac Killer (1971) d. Hanson, Tom (USA) (1st viewing) 87 min

Creating a movie about a serial killer while said serial killer is still at large and still very much active is a strange and exploitative notion indeed, but producer/director Hanson’s backstory further wrinkles the equation. The owner of a chain of slowly-going-bankrupt Pizza Man restaurants claimed (and continues to claim on the audio commentary track for the American Genre Film Archive aka AGFA’s blu-ray release) that his reason for the film’s genesis was that he hoped to catch the murderer, suspecting that the killer would not be able to resist the urge to watch his (or her) exploits dramatized on the big screen. It was a wild scheme, but it’s somewhat charming to believe - however unlikely - that altruism could actually coincide with exploitation.


Wednesday, October 25, 2017

TONIGHT SHE COMES (2016) movie review



Tonight She Comes (2016) d. Stuertz, Matt (USA) (2nd viewing) 84 min.

Rural mailman James (Nathan Eswine), just finishing up his rounds, drops his buddy Pete (Adam Hartley) off on the side of the road to answer the call of nature while he makes one last delivery: dropping a letter off at the (wait for it) remote cabin in the woods where party girls Ashley (Larissa White) and Lindsey (Cameisha Cotton) are planning to meet their pal Kristy (Dal Nicole) for a little weekend of R&R. Unbeknownst to anyone, Kristy’s body has been tasked with hosting an unholy spirit and is now wandering the bucolic outdoors in the buff, a lethal pawn in a mystical ritual set into motion by a bizarre backwoods family (Frankie Ray, Brock Russell, Jenna McDonald).


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

FEED THE LIGHT (2014) Blu-ray review



Feed the Light (2014) d. Möller, Fredrik (Sweden) (1st viewing) 81 min

After losing custody of her daughter, Sara (Lina Sunden) learns that her ex-husband (Patrik Karlson) has disappeared with the child into some strange religious underground (both literally and figuratively) compound. She infiltrates the sect by getting hired as part of the cleaning crew, a plot device that would seem flimsy if not for the fact that it quickly becomes clear that no normal person would want this job: not only is she required to yield her cell phone (and any other means of contact) to the buttoned-down boss (Jenny Lampa), the interview takes place in a room with a naked dog-man (Morgan Schagerberg) crouched in the corner, and her job duties include sweeping up invisible sparkling dust that gathers under the various light sources.