Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Caller (2011, Matthew Parkhill)

Coming this Friday (August 26th) from Samuel Goldwyn Films, is a supernatural thriller entitled The Caller.  Starring Stephen Moyer from True Blood and Rachelle Lefevre from Twilight, this is a dream come true for modern day Vampire fans.  Only this isn't a modern day Vampire film.  But who cares because this is way better.  Trust me.  
The Caller is the story of a recently divorced woman named Mary (Lefevre) who moves into a new apartment by herself.  Shortly after moving in, she gets a call from an old woman looking for a previous tenant....or is she?  After repeated calls, Mary decides to talk to the woman and soon learns that she is actually calling from the past.  After giving the woman some advice, Mary soon finds herself involved in murder and realizes that if she doesn't keep answering the phone, bad things will happen to those she loves - including her new boyfriend John (Moyer).
The Caller proves that not all new horror movies have to be remakes or reboots.  The story is original, creepy and provides goosebumps galore.  From the dreamy atmosphere, to the sudden loud jump scares, The Caller will put you on the edge of your seat and leave you there until the end credits.  Moyer exudes charm in the first role I have actually seen him in and Rachelle Lefevre (who I used to watch on What About Brian?) does a credible job as the tormented Mary.  The rest of the cast, including Luiz Guzman as the mysterious maintenance man, Ed Quinn as Mary's violent ex and Drag Me to Hell's Lorna Raver as The Caller, help to create a solid picture.  The story's progressions are smart and mostly unexpected (as is the ending), so I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone looking for something new and original. 
RATING:  8/10
The Caller makes its (limited) theatrical debut this Friday August 26th.  Check local listings for showtimes and keep an eye out for an upcoming DVD release.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Red Zone Cuba (2011, Shout! Factory)

Another Shout! Factory Select title (only available through their website), Mystery Science Theater 3000 takes on the 1966 film Red Zone Cuba (just released August 16th, the same day as another MST3K title - The Unearthly).  Red Zone Cuba is something that is hard to put into words, but one thing that I can say is that not only does it feature screen legend John Carradine but he also sings the theme song!  Now that's something.  As far as the movie itself though....that parts not so exciting.
Red Zone Cuba really doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  Actually it didn't make any sense.  I have no idea what the movie was about and watching it, I didn't really care.  I know it had something to do with Cuba (only because of the title) and it looked like something to do with the army and I think it took take place in the midwest.   Wait, I thought it was Cuba?  Crap, now I'm not sure.  Does Cuba touch the midwest?  I quit.
Skipping over the synopsis because I don't think the film had any discernible plot, I'll go straight into the highs and lows.  The only real highs I can think of (besides John Carradine's brief involvement) would be that some of the shots in the film (mostly of the dusty midwestern/cuban/wherever the hell it is terrain) were actually pretty nice.  Of course those shots lasted only a few minutes at most so really the film itself was otherwise poo poo.  Once again, Mike and his robot sidekicks do their duty of ripping the film apart.  Jokes such as one of the characters resembling Curly from the Three Stooges makes this episode a good addition to Shout!'s already expansive DVD catalogue.  Also included is a hilarious little short about public speaking called Speech:  Platform, Posture and Appearance that also proves as a perfect target for the Satellite of Love's insults.
If you order Red Zone Cuba along with The Unearthly HERE , you'll receive a free MST3K Stress Ball (you'll need it to get through this film).
RATING:  7/10

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Unearthly (2011, Shout Factory)

August 16th brought us two more exciting MST3K episodes sold exclusively through Shout! Factory's website, as part of their Shout! Select line.  Both featuring B movie veteran John Carradine, the films couldn't be more different (well except the fact they are both terrible).  Red Zone Cuba is the first and the other is The Unearthly, which is the subject of this review.
The Unearthly features Carradine as a mad scientist (that's a first) who thinks he has found the fountain of youth.  Not literally, but he thinks he can stop the process of aging by implanting a gland into his subjects.  The patients/victims he selects are to have no relatives or connections to the outside world, avoiding any problems should the experiments fail.  As you would expect, things don't work out the way the mad scientist expected and his victims turn into horrific freaks.  Two of the patients figure out what's going on and try to stop the doctor before he can use them as guinea pigs. 
The Unearthly is undoubtedly a god awful turd of a movie, which proves to be perfect fodder for Joel, Crow and Tom Servo's hilarious criticisms.  As with many terrible movies, the title is misleading since there are no aliens in the movie.  The jokes come fast and make the task of sitting through this shambolic waste of celluloid not only bearable, but enjoyable.  Perhaps even more enjoyable though are the two shorts included before the feature.  The first is called Posture Pals and explains the importance of good posture.  The second is called Appreciating Our Parents and teaches you how not cleaning up your toys will make you a bad person.  Ah, the glorious 50s.  Nowadays I'm sure such public service announcements would involve Facebook bullying or saying no to crack but the times are different I guess.  Anyway, definitely pick up this fun episode for a laugh or better yet, pick it up along with Red Zone Cuba and you can get a free MST3K Stress Ball! ( click HERE to order The Unearthly direct from Shout! Factory)
RATING:  7/10

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Secret of Dorian Gray (1970, Massimo Dallamano)

New from Raro Video USA is an Italian production of Oscar Wilde's classic story of eternal youth - The Secret of Dorian Gray.  Starring Helmut Berger as the title character, this version is different from the novel by incorporating contemporary (for the time) themes of sexual liberation and fashions.  Considered shocking when released, the film definitely has its moments but is still pretty tame by today's standards.
Dorian Gray (Berger) is a wealthy young man who falls in love with an amateur actress.  After modeling for a friend's portrait, Dorian sees his own beauty and realizes that it is more important than anything else in the world.  After his love commits suicide over his rejection of her, Dorian begins to live a life of debauchery; relishing in his own beauty and wealth.  He is shocked to find that as he remains youthful over time, his portrait grows old in his place. He hides the portrait from the world in hopes of staying young forever.
The Secret of Dorian Gray is a nice slice of the taboo-smashing 70s, featuring a wonderful performance by Helmut Berger.  Updating the story into the (then) present time works well and proves how timeless Wilde's story is .  Dallamano's use of vibrant colors, hallucinogenic lights and an attractive cast makes the film a joy to watch.  The supporting cast features such notable names as Herbert Lom, Richard Todd, Margaret Lee and Maria Rohm and they all do a great job creating the excess-filled world of Dorian Gray.  Included in this new release by Raro Video USA is a new Digital HD transfer from the original 35mm negative, an interview with the assistant director Maurizio Tanfani and a fully illustrated booklet.
RATING:  8/10

Monday, August 1, 2011

MST3K Vs. Gamera: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI (2011, Shout! Factory)

On August 2nd every MST3K fan's prayers will be answered when Shout! Factory delivers MST3K Vs. Gamera, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Vol. XXI.  This set includes all 5 episodes featuring the Japanese monster Gamera (think Godzilla crossed with a turtle).  These episodes all premiered in 1991 during the show's 3rd season and are collected here for the first time.  Before this set, I had only seen the first Gamera film (review HERE) so it is fun to revisit it again with the MST3K treatment along with 4 of its sequels.

The first Gamera film came out in 1965, launching a much loved franchise featuring a giant turtle monster wreaking havok in Japan.  After the first film however, Gamera became a good guy, fighting off other monsters and being "a friend to children everywhere" (enter Gamera theme song here).  In Gamera vs Barugon, a bunch of treasure hunters search for a giant opal which turns out to be an monster egg.  Once the monster is unleashed, Gamera must come to save the world from the creature.  In Gamera vs Gaos, a giant blood thirsty bat creature (Gaos) is awoken from an erupting volcano and Gamera must stop it when a group of scientists' plan fails to lure the bat with fake blood.  Gamera vs. Guiron begins when some annoying kids are kidnapped by female aliens for sinister purposes.  Gamera must save the kids (and the world) from a monster unleashed by the aliens.  Lastly, in Gamera vs Zigra, the earth is threatened by a fish-like monster who wants revenge on our planet for ruining his home planet's water.

Though the Gamera films have some charm, they are pretty terrible and prove to be easy targets for Joel Hodgson, Tom Servo and Crow.  The quips come fast and furious and I found myself laughing throughout.  Each of the five episodes were top notch and it is great to have them all together in this box set.  Sitting through the films back to back might be a chore so I recommend watching them spread out.  Also included in this set, which comes in a collectible tin case, are 5 exclusive mini posters by artist Steve Vance.  The set also features a slew of bonus features including a look back at MST3K & Gamera, a documentary on Gamera by Japanese monster expert August Ragone, Gamera vs. The Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Pee Wee's Big Adventure), MST Hour wraps and the original Japanese trailers.  I highly recommend this set for MST3K fans, monster movie fans and bad movie fans.

Order it now from Shout! Factory HERE and receive a free MST3K Stress Ball and an Exclusive Postcard Pack.

RATING:  8/10


Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man (1976, Ruggero Deodato)

Directed by Ruggero Deodato (Cannibal Holocaust and Last Cannibal World) and written by Fernando Di Leo (Milano Calibro 9, The Italian Connection, The Boss), Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man takes the already violent Italian crime genre and takes it to a new level.  Just released by Raro Video USA, this film is finally available in the states, providing us with another missing piece in the director's varied filmography.  Deodato has done everything from the aforementioned Cannibal films, Disaster films (Concorde Affair), Sword and Sorcery films (The Barbarians) and Revenge films (House on the Edge of the Park) so it is only appropriate that he dipped into Italian crime films too.

Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man follows Fred (Marc Porel) and Tony (Ray Lovelock), two cops who believe that the only way to fight crime is with violence.  Though their boss (Adolfo Celi) doesn't approve of this method, he still assigns them to the new special force where they try to catch dangerous gangster Roberto "Bibi" Pasquini (Renato Salvatori).  Fred and Tony use every method they can, from blowing up a parking lot full of cars to "seducing" Bibi's sister Lina.  But will their dangerous tactics pay off or end up getting them killed?

Definitely the most violent polizioteschi I have seen, Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man is also one of the best I have seen.  Porel and Lovelock do a great job as the carefree cops who not only ride together on one motorcycle and share an apartment but also share and try to seduce the same women.  From a surprisingly vulgar conversation with their boss's secretary to the previously mentioned "seduction" of Bibi's sister, the duo's clean cut, pretty boy image proves to be the complete opposite of their tough, misogynistic demeanor.  The action begins with an epic motorcycle chase (right after the title song sung by Ray Lovelock) and doesn't let up for more than a few minutes at a time throughout the film.  The only flaw I really found with the film was some of the dialogue, which was a little campy and over the top.  On the other hand though, I feel that without this break from the violence and action, the film may have been a little too dark and wouldn't have allowed the audience to breathe.  Included on this disc from Raro Video is a new 35mm transfer, a documentary on the film with director and star interviews, as well as some early commercials by Deodato.

RATING:  9/10