Wicked, Wicked (1973)

Troubled hotel handyman Jason (Randolph Roberts) dons a creepy mask and dispatches beautiful blonde women in the 1973 slasher flick Wicked, Wicked. Filmed in a split-screen format called Duo-Vision used for most, but not all, of the film’s runtime, the audience is ostensibly treated to both the killer’s and the victims’ point of view simultaneously. Fortunately for us, though unfortunate for Wicked, Wicked’s Oscar chances, this split screen turns what would be a relatively tepid slasher film into a camp classic, one that became one of the biggest hits on TCM’s Underground series in the late 2000s. Not content to just hire extras at scale and have the creepy mask-wearin’ Jason off them one by one, Wicked complicates matters by introducing an economic element to the mix, as the manager of this glorious old seaside hotel decides that the missing women were actually just skipping out on their bills. Hotel detective Rick Stewart (David Bailey), however, discovers the women may have left the resort, but they never returned home, implying more than simple skipping out is going on. Soon, Rick’s beautiful ex arrives, an up-and-coming singer named Lisa James (Tiffany Bolling) set to perform at the hotel. Her superstar image includes wearing a large and unconvincing blonde wig, which unwittingly makes her the killer’s next target. Filmed in and near the legendary Hotel del Coronado, the setting of Wicked, Wicked is one of the best features of the film. Though the hotel was purportedly being expanded and renovated in the … Continue reading

Beside Still Waters (2014)

Beside Still Waters ★★☆☆☆ Director: Chris Lowell Tribeca Film (Official Site) 96 Minutes In Theaters November 14, 2014 (Limited) – It’s The Big Chill for a new generation in Beside Still Waters, the inaugural directorial outing for actor Chris Lowell. Daniel (Ryan Eggold) gets the old gang together at his family’s lake house before it’s foreclosed upon, and soon tensions, loves and rivalries bubble to the surface, especially after it’s revealed none of them bothered to show up for his parents’ funeral just a few months prior. The friends are the usual monochromatic, Hollywood-eclectic sort: Olivia (Britt Lower), Daniel’s former girlfriend who brings her new, slightly older boyfriend with her; Charley (Jessy Hodges), the free spirit character responsible for all the drugs the plot requires; Tom (Beck Bennett), the token gay guy, and more. Though the ensemble cast, for the most part, works well together, the characters are undeniably stereotypical. And it’s not immediately clear just how a group of people whose ages appear to span the better part of a decade are all childhood friends, or how someone who once had a significant career on the stage but is now reduced to reality shows could be the peer of a woman just beginning her master’s degree. This is a problem in a film that so blatantly compares generations: there is a thin thread of “Lost Generation” references throughout, and a hapless Gen Xer in their midst, as well as the group’s unseen parents, presumably members of the Big Chill … Continue reading

Starry Eyes (2014)

Starry Eyes ★★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer MPI Media Group (Official Site) 98 Minutes In Theaters Beginning November 14, 2014 (Limited) – Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) is just one of thousands of struggling young actresses in Los Angeles, a nice girl stuck with crappy friends and a demeaning job, desperate for auditions and waiting for callbacks that never come. No one is more shocked than Sarah when she lands an audition with a big studio, but competitive and disbelieving friends, an inappropriate boss and her own uncontrollable insecurities wear at her. When she thinks she’s blown an audition, she falls back on a frightening habit: yanking out chunks of her own hair. It’s a gruesome act of both self punishment and self soothing, and it’s when she accidentally reveals that hidden reservoir of anger in an audition that she finally gets a chance at stardom. In Starry Eyes, those dreams come at a grisly price. Filmed deep in Old Hollywood territory, primarily at the old Howard Hughes offices on Romaine in L.A., Starry Eyes is nestled firmly between Hollywood’s cynical, smog-filled present and its rich, glamorous past. It’s Rosemary’s Baby by way of Mulholland Drive, a grim world where success comes at a price no one should have to pay. But it’s a world where the woman in distress is, in a perversely refreshing change, less defined by her victimhood than her choices. She’s being taken advantage of from all sides, but she’s savvy enough to know that … Continue reading

Why Be Good? (1929)

The son of a millionaire department store owner is throwing a bash on his last day of “freedom” in 1929’s Why Be Good?, the long-lost silent film, recently restored and released on DVD by Warner Archive. What this rich kid means by “freedom” is really “being almost 30 and only just now being expected to work for a living,” which is why his father’s spacious, expensive and booze-filled home is packed with partiers in various states of sobriety and humor. Despite the horrors he must endure in the morning at (gasp!) work, Peabody (Neil Hamilton, never given a first name for reasons that are unclear) trudges on, hitting a hot local night spot for some last-minute revelry. Elsewhere in town, perky Pert Kelly (Colleen Moore) is winning a Charlston competition. She’s mouthy and arrogant and seemingly willing when it comes to swells who are interested in her, but she always seems to be making fun of the poor pomaded fool she leaves the competition with. Later, we learn it’s because she’s crafted a reputation for herself, a little sexual street cred, if you will, though it takes far too long for that to be revealed for us to really be in on the joke with her. Still, it’s with that reputation that she meets the junior Peabody at a completely bonkers night club known as The Boiler. Our rich alleged hero falls for her as hard as she falls for him, only to later discover she’s a clerk at his … Continue reading

The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion

The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion by Jason Bailey Voyageur Press Released: October 15, 2014 ★★★★½ / ★★★★★ – Jason Bailey’s The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion is a handsome book, solid and oversized, perfect for the coffee table with its striking Brad Norr Designs cover art and clever use of That Font. You know the one: EF Windsor Elongated, Allen’s typeface of choice for the majority of his films. Or maybe it’s EF Windsor Light Condensed. It’s a font; therefore, it’s complicated. But it’s unmistakable, just like Woody Allen himself, one of the most recognizable and important auteurs of American cinema. The Companion is a delightful, comprehensive and indispensable guide Allen’s oeuvre. It’s organized chronologically, each of the director’s films getting from two to five pages devoted to it exclusively, with fast facts in a sidebar on the left, a few pictures, some trivia and film quotes, and a little box on the right where Woody bitches incessantly about his own movies. Those quotes alone are worth the price of admission; as funny as Woody Allen is, he’s funniest when he’s not trying to be funny. On Deconstructing Harry (1997): “I didn’t dislike it.” Coming just a year after the release of his excellent book on Pulp Fiction, Bailey’s writing has taken on a more mature, confident tone. There’s an efficiency that remains entertaining, with a playfulness that shows in some light puns and a few little callbacks here and there that display a solid knowledge of Allen’s work … Continue reading

Possessed (1947) on Blu-ray from Warner Archive

Possessed (1947) was the third of Joan Crawford’s films for Warner Bros., the studio who snapped her up when her long-time home MGM, where she had been since the silent era, decided to cut her loose. Crawford was one of the few, if not only, actresses who managed to weather a host of problems that killed others’ careers: she transitioned to talkies without incident in the late 1920s, overcame the label “box office poison” in the late 1930s, and then, in the mid-1940s, managed to survive being let go from one of the big two studios in Hollywood. And boy did she survive! Her first real film for Warner Bros. was Mildred Pierce (1945), a box office smash that won her a Best Actress Oscar. Her next two follow-up films were terrific, too, and Crawford, for maybe the first time in her career, was shown to be capable of depth and true acting ability. Still the glamour queen in Mildred Pierce and Humoresque (1946), it’s Possessed where Crawford gives her most astonishing performance as an aging nurse with a burgeoning mental illness. She’s still Joan Crawford, and even without her false eyelashes and heavily penciled eyebrows and intricately applied lipstick, she’s glamorous. She is, in fact, the most glamorous middle-aged spinster nurse to ever appear on the big screen. But if anyone could prove that talent and glamour could go hand in hand, it was Joan Crawford. Louise Howell (Joan Crawford) is found wandering the streets of Los Angeles, pale … Continue reading