Saturday, June 17, 2017

Movie Review of Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

Amityville II: The Possession (1982) - One of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century concerned a supposedly haunted house in a town called Amityville. The subject of first a book then a movie, it spurned on even more movies, each as much a work of fiction as the first. The one thing that was not a work of fiction was there was a mass murder of members of the DeFeo family at 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville in 1974. This was referenced in the opening of the first movie and an element of the story. Amityville II: The Possession does a fictitious take on that mass murder by changing the family name, setting it in the 1980s and involving a possession ala The Exorcist.

The Montelli family has moved into the home they bought in Amityville. From the start there is an antagonistic relationship between the father and the eldest son, Sonny (like that's original). Sonny and his teenage sister, Dawn, also have an awkwardly flirty relationship. The father is loud and abusive toward his family while the mother walks a line between love and hate for him. If this weren't bad enough of a setting, a presence is in the house and begins communicating with Sonny via the headphones on his walkman style radio. Feeling the house has something evil lurking in it the mother asks a priest to come over and bless it, setting into motion events that will lead to the murder of the entire family by one of their own, and he's possessed.

The movie is essentially trying to merge several genres into a single movie, and not successfully. This initially starts off as a well directed haunted house story in the first half of the movie but then flounders and dies a deserving death in the second half that degrades into a bad made-for-TV movie before it finishes off trying to copy The Exorcist right down to the priest's self-sacrifice for the demon to take him instead of the 'innocent' boy.

I would go further into describing the movie, but what defines this film as the lowest of exploitation trash that it is, is from the start making a movie to profit off the murders of a family. They might have used the excuse that it was just based loosely on the tragedy, and loosely based in reality it was, but a movie going public is not going to see this as complete fiction when it is promoted as not only being based on a true story, but it clearly states in the advertising "this is their story". Even changing the family name and elements of what happened that night does not take away from the fact that this was just another gimmick to make a buck off of tragedy. To add to the sleaziness of what the producers of this movie did was unfounded accusations of incest and child abuse within the murdered family, and once again even with the names changed a movie going audience is going to think this reflects on the victims.

Despite excellent direction and scene structure in the early part of the film and really wonderful performances by Erika Katz and Brent Katz (real life siblings too), and being such young performers at that, I can't give this other than my lowest rating for simply being the exploitative trash it is.

I give it 1 Dagger

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Simple Mind (2012): Simply Thrilling

Simple Mind (2012; Indie Short Subject) - The mind is a terrible thing. Hmm...seems like something is missing from that line. In reality the mind is a complex thing. Desires, disappointments, loves and losses, these are just some of the things which make up the fabric of our separate realities. And calling our everyday experience a reality is not simply concrete, as reality is a matter of perception, as real to one person as it is false to another. Simple is not the mind, but complex and twisted is the reality created, simply of mind.

In therapy, Bob deluges his therapist with stories of his sinister deeds. In this session though, it might not be the therapist who needs to learn about Bob... but Bob, himself.

Simple Mind is an indie short subject of just a little over 7 minutes starring Timothy J. Cox as Bob, a man in therapy with his therapist being played by Kristi McCarson. Cox brings out his sinister side in acting playing Bob, and to his credit in such a short film he explores many sides of the same character from wicked to tragic in a complex performance that elicits from the viewer feelings from disgust to sympathy. McCarson is an ideal sounding board for Cox's performance as hers is to maintain a degree of neutrality and subtly playing off of the main character's story he is telling. And I'll leave it at that without giving anything away.

Of course any film is made up of the necessary ingredients of its script and its production. In both cases these ingredients in this are excellent. Phil Newsom scripted and directed this with Paul Nameck doing the camera work. A lingering camera can be a dreaded thing in the wrong hands, but these are obviously the right hands as Newsom and Nameck  exercise a tendency to let the camera and focus wander, in a creative way which increases tension and pulls in the viewer. A particularly good use of music, with a soundtrack by Keith Campbell and additional music by Jeremy Gonzalez, drives the tension even further by injecting sinister strains into otherwise auspiciously melodic soundtrack.

The performances, direction, camera work, and music combine to create a taut thriller with a wicked twist that in only just over 7 minutes offers much more than its seemingly limited time would suggest.

I give it 5 Daggers


You can watch Simple Mind on YouTube.

Check out its IMDb page

Friday, June 2, 2017

Making Love (1982): Boldly Coming Out in the 80s

Making Love (1982) - 1982 was a banner year for Hollywood's coming out party, so to speak. No fewer than four films with prominent gay themes or subplots were released by the major studios including Making Love, Victor Victoria, Personal Best and Partners. Making Love was the only one in which the main plot was the coming out of a man, the main character of the story, and in 1982 suffered the consequences of an unaccepting public, and unaccepting film critics.

I watched Making Love at the theater upon its release in 1982. I went to see it because Kate Jackson was in it, having been a fan of Charlie's Angels as any teenage boy of the time would have been. I didn't read any reviews and was completely ignorant of what the movie was about. It was slowly sinking in this was not a love triangle between Kate Jackson's character and two guys.

When Michael Ontkean's and Harry Hamlin's first onscreen kiss happened, the theater erupted. Some guy several rows behind me shouted some now forgotten expletive as he launched his large soft drink at the screen, ice and cola splattering on the upper right -hand side of the screen and running down the length. The lights came on as probably one third of the audience left the theater; I guess in the few days the movie had played there they had gotten used to such reactions. At the time I laughed at the audience's reaction though I stayed and got to see a wonderful movie, even with the stain on the screen throughout.

Unfortunately, at the time, many film critics, though they may have stayed for the movie, just as much walked out with that one third of the audience in their minds. If you think that is an overstatement, just consider the national film critic consensus for the movie according to Rotten Tomatoes at just under one third approval rating as compared with the IMDb general audience rating of just over two thirds approval.

I can't say what the perspective of a reviewer with a homosexual viewpoint might be, but the clearly negative film critic, to be read as heterosexual, response strikes me as more boys club gay jokes than honest critique. Despite Rotten Tomatoes having a usually dependable cross-section of opinion from knowledgeable film critics, the 31% average score on their site for this film clearly, in my opinion only, shows a conservative stuck in the Reagan 80s bias of film critics, which as a movie reviewer is embarrassing. While the IMDb audience rating comes in at 68% showing a more progressive and socially conscious contemporary audience as contrasted with film critics.

In all fairness to Rotten Tomatoes and more contemporary film critics, there are only 16 critic reviews for the film on Rotten Tomatoes, with many written when this was released to the theater in 1982; and many of those lead to error pages as they are no longer valid links. Their average might be representative of a 1980s opinion and a conservative white opinion but it sure is not representative of more contemporary and progressive critical or public opinion. Perhaps Rotten Tomatoes might want to incorporate a better system when it comes to legacy films that doesn't rate them based on outdated viewpoints that are most definitely entrenched in their time.

Interestingly if this had been a story about a woman coming out and her lesbian lover, not only would that one third of the audience not walked out but I wouldn't be writing this commentary. If you think that is bunk, Personal Best was also released in 1982, and though the homosexual element of the story is secondary to the competition main story, it is a story about two women who develop a romantic relationship. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 77% approval rating. There are a few more recent reviews out of the 22 reviews as compared to Making Love, but still quite a few legacy reviews, and some of those legacy reviewers panned Making Love.

Making Love is the story of an all too idealistic marriage. Zach and Claire are a couple on the edge of 30 following their goals in life together. They have just bought a house, and though no children as they wanted to get their careers in order first, they have settled on a name for the child. They are best friends who seemingly have the idyllic marriage, except for one thing he has been trying to repress all these years; he's attracted to men. Enter Bart, a successful writer and all too seemingly the guy most any man would want to be; handsome, fit, well to do, and free spirited. However, Bart is gay, despite all those so-called 'man' qualities, and those qualities don't go unnoticed by Zach in a chance meeting. Eight years of marriage thinking he is living the life he's suppose to, now Zach is questioning his own inner mysteries as what he has been suppressing all these years he cannot hold back.

The storyline of the movie is chronological though told in flashback, introduced by the characters of Claire and Bart, then intermittently as Claire and Bart separately inject their feelings about the events which have transpired in the movie; using a narrator approach in these instances of breaking the fourth wall and speaking to the viewer to explain things that would have otherwise labored the dialogue of the film.

The story unfolds brilliantly. We are introduced to the characters of Zach and Claire out with a realtor looking at a home. It is the ideal home for them, though even with their successful careers it is a little out of their league. Deciding to throw caution to the wind, and to pack bagged lunches for economy, they take the home as it is one more perfect step in their marriage, their marriage as they always wanted it to be.

I don't know if it was just a happy coincidence in getting Michael Ontkean and Kate Jackson to play a couple. It strikes me as deliberate, having starred together previously in the TV series The Rookies they have a natural and fun chemistry together. This is ideal for painting them as the seemingly perfect and loving couple.

Hamlin and Ontkean work well together. The characters of Zach and Bart have an instant chemistry. Together they are at times whimsical, intriguing, and playful. As portrayed onscreen, and this is from a heterosexual viewpoint for context, it's easy to see the attraction of the two characters, and when they are together in the early stages they are as much fun as Zack and Claire.

These are important distinctions in the story, presenting Zach as someone following the imposed rules of a social dogma which frowns upon and even chastises what he feels naturally. His relationship with Claire is not presented so perfectly to be read as something he'd be stupid to give up so he should just go 'straight', it's presented as even in the most seemingly idyllic marriage he is just checking off the list as he's told to do and trapped, not being who he really is.

Making Love does not waste a line of dialogue or a scene. The structure of the narrative fits everything together seemlessly. Unlike one prominent critic's comment "This movie has some of the worst dialogue one can imagine.." it is intelligently written with dialogue that pulls the viewer into the story and defines the characters. This is not a script trying to be gay but was actually developed as a story idea by A. Scott Berg and the screenplay was written by Barry Sandler, both of whom are gay and the contrast in the characters of Zach and Bart takes a little from each of them, in Zach being relationship minded and Bart being a player. Zach and Bart are well fleshed out characters with intriguing conversations between them and come off as very human and very normal characters in contrast to the all too common stereotypes of gay characters Hollywood flooded movies with. You can read more on the writing of the script and the making of the movie in this excellent article.

Ultimately Making Love is a play set upon an idyllic stage of life against a backdrop of the all-American dream. It's not 'slice of life' but an allegory of 'life by the rules' and those very rules stigmatizing someone's inner self forcing them into a facade they try to believe is real, and certainly parts of it are, but being true to oneself is repressed by this very facade. Living by the rules not only victimizes the repressed by living within 'acceptable' social (to be read as theocratic) boundaries, but those who unknowingly become a part of the facade, and the dream.

I saw Making Love as I mentioned in 1982. I had not seen it again until I watched it for this review. For a movie I had not seen in 35 years much of it had stuck with me. That's quite a movie that has that kind of staying power.

I give it a full 5 Daggers


Making Love is available on DVD

Friday, May 26, 2017

To Be Alone (2017): A Haunting Chill in the Air

To Be Alone (2017; Indie Short Subject) - As a child, if we are lucky, it might be a pet. As we get older, it might be a parent. When we get settled in life, married or with a partner, change is even more drastic when letting go is letting go of your everything. When one understands that time seeing your mother staring out a window, not seeing you. A light in her eyes is missing, a stone cold expression on her face as she looks deep into somewhere, like looking for someone, who is never coming back. There is no set way for dealing with loss, for dealing with change so drastically ..what might we do not To Be Alone?

To Be Alone is the story of William, sensitively played by Timothy J. Cox in a haunting performance, who has suffered that very loss in his life, and letting go is played out in dramatic fashion in the cold chill of winter to match the cold chill of emptiness that has entered his life.

To Be Alone was scripted and directed by Matthew Mahler. Cox and Mahler have done work together before to good effect. What I have seen of Mahler so far he likes to write to allegory in his stories with a brevity of dialogue, if any, using instead a play of events and a setting of mood to tell his story. Timothy J. Cox is the perfect actor for this utilizing his talent in the silent performance with Mahler's story to create a haunting and chilling mood honed raw.

Mahler's direction reminds me of Kubrick. He delineates space in his framing and uses it to draw attention to his subject. His composition allows no distractions, unless he wants them to be there for the story. In previous work of his, working in a beautifully cluttered scene he was able to draw that clutter into the focus of his frame. A talented musician he has scored this himself using vibrant heartfelt beats to up the tension tightened further with claustrophobic framing, and somber melodies in a stark framing to draw in the chill of loneliness. He shows himself to be a master of creating mood without having a word uttered.

Timothy J. Cox is a master of the unspoken performance being able to use emotion and body language to great effect. I don't even know how conscious he is of his performance. When he enters a scene, it looks like Timothy J. Cox, but it's his character that has entered the scene, not him. And when he is able to do that without uttering a word, now that's masterful.

Oddly, when I started writing this review, even though I knew where I was going with the rating, and that has not changed, I was a little fuzzy about exactly the relevance of events in the story. As I wrote my intro, things sunk in. That sneaky Mahler played me with his allegory, and it works beautifully.

Mahler's writing and direction combined with his own score and a wonderfully timed backdrop of gospel blues by The Staple Singers, Cox's brilliant and heartbreaking performance, and the ambiance of the dead of winter put a haunting chill in the air.

I give it 5 Daggers


Watch To Be Alone on Vimeo.

Check out the IMDB page.