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Friday, July 12, 2024

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS -- Movie Review by Porfle



 

Originally posted on 8/31/16

 

With 1991's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Anthony Hopkins burst onto the horror film scene with a Hannibal Lecter whose rich theatricality and giddy delight in his own unfathomable evil captured the imaginations of filmgoers, including many in the mainstream, like few such characters before or since.

Approaching his dark, Gothic lair in the bowels of a castle-like hospital for the criminally insane where he lurks like some medieval gargoyle, we share the trepidation of the young FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) who has been sent to consult with Lecter regarding another serial killer on the loose (known as "Buffalo Bill" due to his penchant for skinning his victims).

Hopkins plays Lecter to the hilt, relishing each perverse aspect of the character just as Lecter enjoyed feasting upon the organs of those he killed--sometimes with "fava beans and a nice Chianti...fthfthfthfth!"


His version of the silken-voiced psycho, unlike that of MANHUNTER's equally fine Brian Cox, is a creation that would fit comfortably in any rogue's gallery of horror film icons.

One of the pleasures of this film is watching him toy with the callow Starling (excellently portrayed by Foster) on a purely emotional and intellectual level in which she has no defense, then growing to admire her courage, convictions, and strength of will.

Also unlike the Lecter of MANHUNTER, we get to see this monster at his full power once he's broken free in a terrifying sequence that is beautifully-directed by Jonathan Demme. When Lecter's brilliant escape plan goes into motion, it's a thrill to watch Hopkins turn into one of the most cunning and terrifying killers the screen has ever known.


Compared to his mad-dog antics, the film's wrap-up of the Buffalo Bill story is almost anti-climactic, although Demme does stage a nailbiting finale with Starling taking on the killer by herself in his pitch-dark cellar of death.

Still, Bill delivers a line to one of his captives that has since become one of the most oft-heard quotes in recent film history: "It puts the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again." And his naked dance will become seared in your memory whether you like it or not.

With a level of excellence that garnered it Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Director, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS remains one of the finest and most popular horror films ever made.


Read our review of MANHUNTER
Read our review of HANNIBAL


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Thursday, July 11, 2024

MANHUNTER -- Movie Review by Porfle



 

Originally posted on 9/2/16

 

Michael Mann's stylish, heavily 80s-centric cop movie-slash-horror thriller MANHUNTER (1986) introduced us to suave, sophisticated, and thoroughly evil Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

Will Graham (William Petersen in an excellent performance) is a talented profiler who can get into the minds of the serial killers he's seeking out, but at the price of his own sanity. Retired after an attack by Lecter that almost killed him, Graham is lured back into the game when a maniac known as "The Tooth Fairy" starts murdering entire families. Graham visits Lecter in his cell for advice, and to see if the sight of his old adversary will reawaken his suppressed instincts.

A bonafide cult classic, MANHUNTER's biggest fans will tell you that it's superior to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, while its detractors dismiss it as day-glo 80s cheese on the order of "Miami Vice." I'm not sure which Lecter film is best but I find this one to be first-rate in every respect.


Tom Noonan's Francis Dollarhyde, aka "The Tooth Fairy", is an imposing figure whose calm, deliberate actions and quiet demeanor make him even scarier. Petersen, in a thoughtful, soulful performance, makes for a highly sympathetic hero who's appalled by the thoughts and feelings in which he must immerse himself in order to think like a killer.

The rest of the cast are fine as well. Dennis Farina has one of his best roles ever as FBI man Jack Crawford (played by Scott Glenn in SILENCE), who persuades the reluctant Graham to contribute his special skills to the investigation.  The withering look he gives some dubious detectives after one of Graham's unusual deductions is proven right is priceless.

Stephen Lang is also ideally cast as the vile newshound Freddy Lounds--his captivity by the Tooth Fairy is a terrifying sequence--as is Joan Allen as Dollarhyde's blind coworker with whom he fantasizes about a "normal" romantic relationship. (The scene in which Dollarhyde takes her to a vet so that she can caress an anesthetized tiger is brilliantly done.)


The highlight of the film, of course, is Brian Cox as Lecter. Caged in a stark white cell and stripped of anything that might conceivably be used as a weapon, this version of the famous character is cold, calculating, always wary and observant of the slightest detail, yet dulled and weary of a confinement which prevents him from interacting with the world in his own unique way.

In this environment, his pretensions of sanity and normalcy are irrelevant, so he's very blunt and straightforward with Graham. The effect is chilling, with Lecter coming off as a creature of great cunning and intellect but absolutely dead inside, and we dread the thought of this thing ever walking free again.

The only good thing about the 2002 remake, RED DRAGON, is that it manages to make MANHUNTER look even better in comparison. A key scene shared by both films offers a good contrast--Lecter is allowed the privacy of a phone call to his lawyer, but instead manages to call a literary agent and get Graham's home address from the secretary, which he plans to give to The Tooth Fairy and thus place Graham's wife (Kim Griest) and son in grave danger.


Brian Cox turns the scene into one of the film's high points, coolly finessing himself an outside line with a foil gum wrapper and then feigning an unctuous joviality with the secretary until she comes through with the address. Once procured, Lecter drops the fascade, pops the gum into his mouth, and returns to his coldly unsettling self.

Anthony Hopkins, in the remake, performs almost the exact same scene but is too intent on being creepy to make it fun. Several other scenes that are key emotional high points in MANHUNTER--the hidden fingerprint, the sleeping tiger, a stunning videotape revelation, etc.--are either glossed over or botched in RED DRAGON, as are most of the main characterizations.

With a smooth synth score (try to ignore the awful song that ends the film) and visual style to burn, MANHUNTER is an irresistible kitschy-cool 80s period piece whose pastel veneer masks a warm and fiercely emotional core.



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Wednesday, July 10, 2024

THE COMPANY MEN -- DVD Review by Porfle


 Originally posted on 5/23/11

 

If you've ever been laid off from your $130,000-a-year job and had to sell your Porsche just to pay your golf club dues, you'll really identify with Ben Affleck's character in THE COMPANY MEN (2010).  If, however, you don't quite fall within that particular poverty bracket, then this film serves as a mildly entertaining look at how the other half fails.

Hot-shot young exec Bobby Walker (Affleck) gets pink-slipped along with hundreds of other chumps when his high-profile company GTX downsizes in order to make greedy CEO James Salinger (old fave Craig T. Nelson, POLTERGEIST) even richer.  Trouble is, Bobby's having trouble gearing down his extravagant lifestyle (big house, sports car, etc.) even though it's suddenly sucking him dry of every last precious cent. 

His loyal wife Maggie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and sensitive son Drew try to help him learn to be more frugal while he searches fruitlessly for another job, but Bobby's pride is at stake.  It's actually a bit hard to feel sorry for him since he's such a dope, an aspect of the character which Affleck plays very well.  (Okay, that was a cheap shot.)

Also kicked off the gravy train is 30-year company vet Phil, whom we do feel sorry for because Chris Cooper is just so darn good, and because it's even harder for him to find another job because of his age (in a deleted scene that recalls Albert Brooks' LOST IN AMERICA, he's reduced to applying as a pizza delivery man).  Cooper's fun to watch and THE COMPANY MEN is most effective when his character is onscreen being heartrendingly pathetic.
  


Rounding out this roster of rejects is Tommy Lee Jones as Gene McClary, Salinger's long-time partner, whose main failing is that he has a heart.  Yearning for the old days when employees were treated with respect, Gene's vocal opposition to rampant downsizing gets him into hot water with the big cheese and finally lands him on the street as well.  Jones brings his usual hang-dog style to the role and is even more laidback here than in the MEN IN BLACK flicks.  MILF-tastic Maria Bello plays GTX's hatchet woman who is also having an affair with Gene, which places his sense of values in even further conflict. 

The story, which ambles along in a rather dry style that rarely hits any really interesting peaks, is a steady succession of "fail" for its main characters as their once-lofty station in life sinks into a morass of chronic unemployment and reality-check job interviews.  Bobby's desperation finally leads him to accept a job helping his blue-collar brother-in-law Jack (a laconic Kevin Coster) install drywall, giving me a chance to identify with him for once as he gets his first taste of manual labor.  Wait, did I say "identify with"?  I meant "laugh at."



From glancing at the trailer, I got the impression that these guys were going to start their own upstart company and take on the big boys at their own game, but nothing this upbeat or fanciful occurs.  Which, to writer-director John Wells' credit, makes for a more realistic story. Nevertheless, it isn't a lot of fun to watch unless you enjoy seeing some once-successful shlubs scraping bottom.

The DVD from Anchor Bay and the Weinstein Company is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound.  Subtitles are in English and Spanish.  Extras include a director's commentary, an alternate ending, deleted scenes, and the featurette "Making 'The Company Men.'"

Affleck is well-cast as a shallow jerk who must learn that there's no shame in not being a gold-plated success.  Cooper, as the film's most hopeless casualty, and DeWitt, as Bobby's wise, supportive wife, give the story most of its heart.  Jones, with his comfortable-old-shoe persona, gives us hope that not every corporate executive is a misanthropic creep.  THE COMPANY MEN offers us a dispiriting (save for a final dash of optimism), intermittently interesting, but rarely all that involving look at some guys who get knocked off their perch and tumble downhill reaching for something to grab onto, lest they end up way down here with the rest of us. 



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Tuesday, July 9, 2024

THE SPOILS OF BABYLON -- DVD Review by Porfle



 

Originally posted on 2/29/16

 

Remember when one of the big, big deals on primetime TV was the mini-series?  Back when they first started, we were captivated by these serialized soap-opera-esque epics, these melodramatic cheesefests in which we could wallow in kitsch and gorge ourselves on the exaggerated antics of the immoral upper crust. 

Names like "Rich Man, Poor Man", "The Winds of War", "The Thorn Birds", and "North and South"--as well as such weekly night-time soaps as "Dallas", "Dynasty", and "Falcon Crest"--still have the power to make us cringe as we recall the eye-rolling acting and sudsy storylines that assailed us once upon a time.

Now, stepping up to give such efforts their satirical due in a world of SCARY MOVIE and other such genre-deflating spoofs is IFC's mock mini-series THE SPOILS OF BABYLON (2014).  This six-episode saga is to its target genre what "Police Squad!" was to cop shows and "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" was to regular soap operas, except for one key factor--it isn't all that funny.


In fact, this story of the Morehouse family--oil-rich patriarch Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins), ambitious daughter Cynthia (Kristen Wiig), and rebellious stepson Devon (Tobey Maguire), whom they found wandering along a dusty Texas road as a child--tries so hard to be deadpan funny while ladling on its curdled veneer of pseudo-sophistication that it tends toward the turgid. 

One problem is that some of the leads aren't all that adept at this kind of comedy.  Tobey Maguire, in particular, is out of his element doing straight-faced satire, especially when his character runs away from home and goes through a beatnik phase (this episode, done up like a black-and-white art film, is so far removed from the show's original premise that it seems to belong in a different series altogether). 

Tim Robbins manages some laughs as Jonas, the millionaire with the heart of a humanitarian, but familiar castmembers such as Jessica Alba and Val Kilmer seem out of place.  Kristen Wiig of "Saturday Night Live" and the first season of "The Joe Schmo Show" (I loved her as "Dr. Pat") does the best she can with the "Cynthia" character as she takes over the Morehouse empire and becomes the archetypal evil, scheming villainess who seethes with a forbidden and ultimately doomed love for stepbrother Devon. 


Strangely enough, it's a grown-up Haley Joel Osment (THE SIXTH SENSE, FORREST GUMP) who comes off best as Cynthia's even-more-evil son Winston, who's so evil that he plans to sell a nuclear device to a terrorist dictator.  Osment is a hoot as he inhabits this role to its fullest and gives THE SPOILS OF BABYLON many of its more watchable moments.  Elsewhere in the cast, SNL alums David Spade and Molly Shannon show up for brief cameos (Spade's character is named "Joseph Soil").

Bookending each episode are introductory segments by the show's ostensible author, Eric Jonrosh (Will Ferrell, straining to be funny), a bloated, pretentious blowhard along the lines of the later Orson Welles. 

Jonrosh identifies himself as "Author, Producer, Actor, Writer, Director, Raconteur, Bon Vivant, Legend, Fabulist, Birdwatcher" and boasts of how his magnum opus, which he wrote, produced, directed, financed, and guest-starred in, was done on 93MM film using a process known as "Breath-Take-O-Scope."


The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  There are no extras.

Mildly amusing at times, THE SPOILS OF BABYLON tries everything including doubletalk dialogue, surrealism (Devon's new wife, Lady Anna, is played by an actual storefront mannequin), and sketch-level satire in the vein of "Mr. Show."  To say that the constant throwaway gags and one-liners have a 50/50 success rate would be generous.



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Monday, July 8, 2024

BONNIE & CLYDE VS. DRACULA -- DVD Review by Porfle


Originally posted on 3/13/11

 

It's fun to see filmmakers take a low budget, apply hefty amounts of talent and imagination, and totally ace it.  It's also fun to see a movie called BONNIE & CLYDE VS. DRACULA (2009) in which the infamous outlaws actually do go up against the King of the Undead.  And it certainly doesn't hurt if Tiffany Shepis gives a stunning performance as Bonnie and happens to get nekkid along the way, too.

The film opens with Bonnie Parker (Shepis) and Clyde Barrow (Trent Haaga, who wrote the incredible DEADGIRL) driving the backroads of the deep South, looking for a place to hide out.  Meeting up with old crony Henry (F. Martin Glynn) at a roadside whorehouse run by crotchety old Jake (T. Max Graham), they embark on a scheme to make fast money by swindling some moonshiners.  Bullets fly and a doctor's aid is needed, so Bonnie is sent to the spooky mansion of Dr. Loveless (Allen Lowman), who, as it turns out, is harboring none other than Count Dracula himself. 

Writer-director Timothy Friend doesn't use this outrageous subject matter as an excuse to make a stupid movie.  Indeed, much of BONNIE & CLYDE VS. DRACULA could be a pretty nifty low-rent gangster flick on its own if not for the horrific cutaways to Loveless' mansion along the way.  When the outlaw pair finally do meet the ghouls, we get to see them react in realistic style (shock and outrage, followed by lots and lots of bullets) with the humor coming mostly from the incongruity of the situation.  Russell Friend's impressive-looking Dracula also strikes a good balance between dry wit and genuine supernatural menace, as do his hordes of fanged, blood-craving minions.



Thanks to Friend's deft direction and some superior cinematography, the film looks great.  Artistic lighting and rich colors combine with good costuming and sets to give everything an authentic period feel.  Some shots, in fact, have a pictorial splendor that is suitable for framing.  The synthesizer score by Joseph Allen enhances the off-kilter aura of the story nicely.

Trent Haaga makes a fine Clyde, alternately goodnatured and ruthless, but Shepis steals the show as a sassy, sexy, and bloodthirsty Bonnie.  Her performance is stellar and she milks every line of tough-gal dialogue for all it's worth--I don't think Warren Beatty could've handled her.  She's a joy to look at too, as when she gets the last word in an argument with Clyde simply by standing up in the bathtub.  (I found myself speechless as well.)  In addition to pulling off a more than passable Southern accent, Shepis also handles a Tommy gun or pump shotgun with gleeful abandon and don't take no guff from nobody, alive or undead.



Another standout in the cast is co-producer Jennifer Friend (writer-producer of CADAVERELLA) as Dr. Loveless' simpleminded sister, Annabel.  With an electric restraint collar locked around her neck, the childlike Annabel is forced to help Dr. Loveless in his dastardly scientific endeavors although she'd rather dance and sing and play her harmonica, and put on "The Annabel Show" in her bedroom.  Well, I just fell in love with her and think she's adorable.  I could watch "The Annabel Show" anytime.  Her final scenes during the gangsters vs. vampires melee raise the film to a totally unexpected level that had me glowing with admiration for both the actress and the filmmakers.

The DVD from Indican Pictures is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.  No subtitles.  The screener I reviewed didn't have extras, but the DVD should include two trailers, a behind-the-scenes featurette, "Loveless Viral Video", and a cast-and-crew commentary track.

Hardly the intentionally-bad, "it sucks, so it's fun" type of yuckfest the title suggests, BONNIE & CLYDE VS. DRACULA distills solid acting, a sharp screenplay, hardboiled action, Gothic horror, and a delightfully wicked sense of humor into something that adventurous genre fans should lap up like moonshine out of a Mason jar. 


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