Film Review: Next of Kin (1982)

Also known as: Hell House (Philippines English title), Terror Fatal (Brazil English title)
Release Date: April 30th, 1982 (Australia)
Directed by: Tony Williams
Written by: Michael Heath, Tony Williams
Music by: Klaus Schulze
Cast: Jackie Kerin, John Jarratt, Gerda Nicolson, Alex Scott

Filmco Limited, The Film House, SIS, 89 Minutes

Review:

I had never heard of this ’80s Australian horror flick but Joe Bob Briggs did me a solid when he featured it on the most recent season of The Last Drive-In. Man, what a neat treat it was.

The film is basically a haunted house story but then, is it really? We’re never actually sure whether or not the house is full of vengeful spirits or if it’s all being orchestrated by someone sinister.

The house is an old folks home and the main character inherits this place and is left to run it. Upon her arrival there, old people start dropping like flies, as they’re murdered in strange and brutal ways. The woman is obviously in fear of what’s happening and while it appears like the threat is possibly supernatural in origin, we never see evidence of actual ghosts or demons.

What might be a turnoff for some viewers is that this picture is a real slow burn. But as Joe Bob pointed out while hosting this movie, the slow burn movies usually have the best pay offs. In regards to this one, he wasn’t wrong.

The climax is pretty incredible, actually. And it was made even better by how incredible some of the shots were. The scene where the woman is fleeing the house is cinematic perfection. Additionally, the general cinematography is impressive, especially during the final sequence in the house.

After exiting the house, there is the real climax, which takes place in a diner. This whole part of the film is also well shot and greatly executed.

Overall, Next of Kin was a pleasant surprise and immediately moved up near the top of my list of favorite Australian films.

Plus, it also features a young John Jarratt, who would later go on to be the killer in the Wolf Creek films and television series.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Australian horror films.

Film Review: Audition (1999)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1999 (Vancouver International Film Festival)
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Written by: Daisuke Tengan
Based on: Audition by Ryu Murakami
Music by: Kōji Endō
Cast: Ryo Ishibashi, Eihi Shiina

Basara Pictures, Creators Company Connection, Omega Project, 115 Minutes (original), 113 Minutes (R-rated)

Review:

“Only pain and suffering will make you realize who you are.” – Asami Yamazaki

I was somewhat late to the Takashi Miike party, as this was the first film of his that I had ever seen. He had a lot of pictures under his belt by the time Audition hit the United States but this was still my introduction to the director, who many people love but I simply don’t.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the man’s work rate and his effort, as he’s always working on something. But his movies typically don’t connect with me. And that’s certainly not the gore or a cultural issue, as I love lots of film with gore and if you’ve followed Talking Pulp for awhile, my love for Japanese cinema should be pretty apparent.

That being said, Audition is probably my favorite film of Takashi Miike’s after Ichi the Killer. That doesn’t mean that it’s great but I do think that it’s terrifying as fuck and damn effective.

The story is about a single father who has his friend hold fake acting auditions in an effort to screen women for the real life role of his new girlfriend. He does find what he’s looking for. However, the girl he selects is pretty much psychotic and ends up torturing and disfiguring him after she feels slighted.

The movie moves at a snail’s pace but the high points are damn good and will probably give most men nightmares.

It’s well acted, well shot and well directed. It’s much more grounded than Miike’s more surreal stuff and that’s probably why I connect to it more than most of his work.

In the end, though, many view this as a classic and I just view it as just a fucked up flick that took me two decades to revisit.

For those that think its over the top, it really isn’t when compared to some of Miike’s other pictures.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Takashi Miike films.

Film Review: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

Release Date: September 29th, 2003 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: RZA
Cast: Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Sonny Chiba, Julie Dreyfus, Chiaki Kuriyama, Gordon Liu, Michael Parks, Michael Bowen, Jun Kunimura, Kenji Ohba, James Parks, The 5.6.7.8’s

Super Cool ManChu, A Band Apart, Miramax, 111 Minutes

Review:

“Do you find me sadistic? You know, I bet I could fry an egg on your head right now, if I wanted to. You know, Kiddo, I’d like to believe that you’re aware enough even now to know that there’s nothing sadistic in my actions. Well, maybe towards those other… jokers, but not you. No Kiddo, at this moment, this is me at my most… [cocks pistol] masochistic.” – Bill

The Kill Bill films are my favorite movies from Quentin Tarantino, which makes me happy that there are two of them. I felt that reviewing them was long overdue, so I had myself a little marathon with these two movies and some of the classic Pai Mei flicks I’ve already reviewed on this site.

The two films work really well together even though the first one plays more like a martial arts/Yakuza flick while the second is more akin to a spaghetti western. I think this is probably why they were split into two parts, as opposed to giving us one big epic film. Granted, I’m still waiting for the combined version that Tarantino promised years ago. Hell, I think it’s also about time for the third film, which he also promised years ago.

Anyway, this is a review of the first movie, so let me get to it.

The film is just great from top-to-bottom from the opening scene to the big, action-packed, blood-soaked finale.

My only reservations with it, seeing it for the first time in quite a damn while, is that some of the dialogue came out fairly cringe. The scene with Uma Thurman and Vivica Fox exchanging pleasantries seemed a lot less cool and a lot more forced and unnatural for me. It never really bothered me before but it set them film up poorly and because of that, I thought I was going to be disappointed and discover that this just wasn’t as good as I thought it was when I was a lot younger.

I’m glad to say that even though there is more dialogue cringe, it doesn’t really wreck the film or its dramatic effect. Quentin Tarantino is always getting props for the dialogue in his movies but I’ve never been as big of a mark for it. It’s almost always compelling but it tends to be an example of something that sounds great on paper but doesn’t work as well onscreen. And honestly, I think that’s what happened in some of these scenes and I don’t blame the actresses for it.

That gripe aside, everything else is pretty much perfect and the film moves at an incredibly brisk pace, leading to the big showdown with one woman against an army of Yakuza’s wielding samurai swords.

While Tarantino’s films always look fantastic and cinematically impressive, this one really takes the cake for me. Especially, during that final fight, as the film goes from color, to black and white, to just silhouette. The changes work really damn well and the visual tone helps to set the narrative tone, as it shifts during the battle. It also helps break it out into segments, keeping it fresh, as it does run on for a really long time.

Also, I love how after the fight, it switches back to regular color, where it reveals a giant hall full of downed Yakuza, blood absolutely everywhere and limbs just randomly dropped throughout the set. This whole sequence gives you pure, ultraviolence but you don’t actually see the sum of all its (body)parts until that final moment and its kind of breathtaking.

Additionally, the one-on-one final fight between The Bride and O-Ren Ishii is a beautiful, artful and calculated confrontation that works in contrast to the massive fight before it while also being a stunning exclamation point on the film.

The movie is also full of stupendous dramatic scenes and places where the dialogue is so damn good that it sort of washes away the cringe from earlier in the film. The scenes between The Bride and Sonny Chiba’s Hattori Hanzō are fucking beautiful, sweet and intense.

The closing moments of the movie, where The Bride explains her plan to Sofie is ominous as hell and spectacularly effective, as is the big reveal and twist, delivered by Bill, as the final line of the movie.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is pretty close to being Tarantino’s greatest masterpiece. But then, it is slightly edged out by its sequel, which I will review in about a week.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Kill Bill films, as well as other movies by Quentin Tarantino, as well as the many films this homages.

Comic Review: Green Arrow by Kevin Smith

Published: July 26th, 2016
Written by: Kevin Smith
Art by: Phil Hester, Ande Parks

DC Comics, 367 Pages

Review:

I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this as much as I remembered liking it back when it was new. However, it was pretty good and I found it to be much better than my opinion of Kevin Smith’s Daredevil run, which people seem to hold in higher regard.

This story starts with Green Arrow being alive after he had died years earlier. The thing is, he doesn’t know he died and in his mind, no time has passed and the world he finds himself in is now strange and foreign. In fact, at first, he is a bit crazy and looks like a barbaric hobo playing Robin Hood.

As the story progresses, we learn that he’s being cared for by a nice old guy. We also learn about what happened to Oliver Queen and the DC universe in his absence. If you hadn’t read the Green Arrow stories where his son took over for awhile, this does a good job of filling in that void. We also see Oliver discover the truth about himself and his best friend Hal Jordan, a Green Lantern who ended up falling to the darkside pretty hard.

Towards the end of this lengthy collection of issues, we learn the sinister secrets of the nice old man who has taken Oliver in and we also get to see a young girl step up to the plate in an effort to become Green Arrow’s new sidekick, a female version of Speedy.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the art in this run, though. It’s not bad but I don’t feel like it was up to the quality of what was common at the time. Coming out of the ’90s, mainstream comic book art was evolving pretty quickly but this looks more like an early-to-mid ’90s book. I feel like they really could’ve paired Kevin Smith up with one of the top artists and turned this into a massive hit.

The art doesn’t wreck the story but I think this would’ve had more oomph had it looked more realistic and less cartoony.

In the end, I feel like this was a much better effort by Smith than his Daredevil run and maybe that’s because he learned from his missteps on that one or he simply had more mileage by the time he picked up his pen for DC.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the ongoing Green Arrow stories that followed Smith’s run, as well as his work on Daredevil for Marvel.

Film Review: Can’t Hardly Wait (1998)

Also known as: The Party (working title)
Release Date: June 12th, 1998
Directed by: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
Written by: Deborah Kaplan, Harry Elfont
Music by: David Kitay
Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ethan Embry, Charlie Korsmo, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli, Seth Green, Robert Jayne, Michelle Brookhurst, Chris Owen, Jason Segel, Clea Duvall, Jaime Pressly, Sean Patrick Thomas, Freddy Rodriguez, Donald Faison, Eric Balfour, Selma Blair, Sara Rue, Jenna Elfman (uncredited), Jerry O’Connell (uncredited), Melissa Joan Hart (uncredited), Breckin Meyer (uncredited), Jennifer Elise Cox (uncredited)

Tall Trees Productions, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Releasing, 100 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know about you, but I really believe that there’s one person out there, and for me it’s gotta be Amanda.” – Preston

I didn’t see this right when it came out, as it was a year after I had graduated high school and also because there were already dozens of similar movies that I had watched from the ’80s and ’90s, growing up.

I first saw this when it hit regular television but once I did, I thought it had a lot of heart while also having that heart in the right place. Sure, this is nothing new for the coming-of-age teen comedy subgenre but it’s hard not to like the main characters and their multiple story arcs.

Honestly, it also doesn’t hurt that this movie has a pretty stacked cast and even if most of these kids weren’t stars when this came out, they started to become them by the time I saw this.

The vast majority of the movie takes place in one location, a big ass house party. There are some school scenes early on but the bulk of the story takes place over one night.

To sum up the primary plot, the male lead has been in love with the female lead since his freshman year. But now that they’re graduating and the girl and her boyfriend split, this guy has one last chance to try and win her over.

Beyond that plot, the rest of the kids are dealing with the fact that high school is over and they have no idea what’s going to happen now that their lives are starting. The party is there as a way to blow off steam and distract them from the inevitable future but they all learn a lot about themselves over the course of the night.

There’s too many characters to feature for any great length and the two leads take up the bulk of the running time but each story is pretty enjoyable and endearing. I think there’s actually things that people can relate to with all of them, as they all share their own versions of doubt, insecurity and fear over what’s next.

Can’t Hardly Wait also feels a lot more like an ’80s teen movie than a ’90s one despite the music and fashion in the film. It just has that ’80s vibe to it and it’s easy to tell that the filmmakers were inspired by those movies and drawing from them.

That being said, this kind of feels like the last film of that subgenre of comedy. Sure, there were others after this but none of them are all that memorable, except for Not Another Teen Movie, which was a parody of this subgenre and kind of exposed all the tropes, making it hard to follow with another picture of this type.

In the end, the boy gets the girl and we leave these characters in a pretty positive way. Granted, the jock’s future isn’t all that promising but he went from dick to nice guy back to dick and well… karma is a bitch.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other teen comedies, specifically of the ’80s and ’90s.

Documentary Review: The Last Blockbuster (2020)

Release Date: December 15th, 2020
Directed by: Taylor Morden
Written by: Zeke Kamm
Cast: Lauren Lapkus (narrator), Kevin Smith, Doug Benson, Ron Funches, Adam Brody, Samm Levine, Paul Scheer, Brian Posehn, Jamie Kennedy, Ione Skye, Lloyd Kaufman, various

September Club, Popmotion Pictures, 1091 Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

I stumbled across this on Netflix and I was definitely interested in checking it out but it had Kevin Smith’s mug all over it and in the 2020s, that’s a big turnoff for me. That dude’s usually crying and drooling these days and it’s creepy and f’n weird. But luckily, he wasn’t a weeping, insufferable asshole in this and he’s also not in it too much. He’s just one of about a dozen celebrities who popped up to tell their personal stories about Blockbuster Video.

So this is a film about the last Blockbuster store in existence, which runs independently now, and it’s also about the history of video stores in the US from the original mom and pop shops to the mega chains like Blockbuster. In just under 90 minutes, this surprisingly covers a lot.

As I stated in the first paragraph, this also features about a dozen celebrities who talk about what Blockbuster meant to them and a few of them worked in one or simply spent a lot of time in the store.

Overall, this was a solid, fun and positive experience. You come to know the woman who runs the last store, her family, her employees and what the store means to its community and the community’s history.

You also see what it takes to run the store in an era where it’s not as easy to acquire DVDs and Blu-rays because we now live in an age of streaming. We also learn that to use the Blockbuster name, the store has to get permission, annually, from the large corporation that still holds the trademark on the brand.

I think the real highlight for me was hearing the stories from the dozen or so people that were interviewed. For those who visited the last Blockbuster, it was great seeing them overcome with joy, stepping into a legitimate time capsule.

Whether you were a big fan of Blockbuster or just video stores in general, this will definitely give you a hearty helping of warm nostalgia.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other recent documentaries about retro pop culture things.

Film Review: Blazing Saddles (1974)

Also known as: Black Bart (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Al Uger
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, David Huddleston, Dom DeLuise, Count Basie

Crossbow Productions, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.” – Hedley Lamarr, “God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.” – Taggart

I’m a fan of Mel Brooks’ work but not as much as the hardcore fans out there. Most of the ones I’ve talked to over the years seem to like this film the best out of Brooks’ oeuvre. Young Frankenstein is my personal favorite but I’ve also got a deep affinity for the Universal Monsters, which it paradoies.

I also really love westerns too, though. So, naturally, I like this picture quite a bit too. However, I don’t hold it in the same esteem as others.

Everyone in this is pretty damn great, however. Cleavon Little stands out the most, as the actual star of the picture and because he’s just so damn charismatic and likeable. Additionally, his camaraderie and comedic timing with Gene Wilder is incredibly good.

Beyond the two leads, everyone else in the picture is well cast and this is written in a way that allows them all to play to their strengths while also maximizing their value to this large tapestry of talent.

I guess it probably goes without saying but this is a film that you couldn’t make today. It features so much language that would overwhelm the easily offended, which seems to be everyone these days. Modern filmgoers would be so fixated on the language that they’d miss the point of it all.

This was a film that came out in the ’70s and American entertainment was greatly effected by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the racial tensions the United States had to work through. This movie reflects that, as did most comedy of the time, and it features a lot of racially charged language and situations. But it’s how it handles all of that and presents it that is important. Nowadays, nuance and context are completely lost because fingerblasting your own pearls while on public display is the only way these kids know how to communicate, anymore.

Blazing Saddles is a film that doesn’t give a fuck about anyone’s feelings. It cannonballs into the deep end of the pool, splashing everyone and everything, and it just puts it all out there, letting people express their points and their social grievances through comedy. And this is why comedy was great. It could challenge us, turn the world on its head and directly engage with tough topics and things that many would otherwise try to ignore or suppress.

In reality, comedy brought people together and it built bridges between cultures and different points-of-view born from very different experiences. Also, it didn’t allow everyone to have such thin skins. It forced most people to toughen up and deal with shit, so we could all move forward.

And while I didn’t want a movie review to devolve into a political or social discussion, I know that it’s only a matter of time before the censors retroactively try to cancel this picture.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mel Brooks parody films.