Deep Web (2015)

Deep Web ★★★✫✫ Director: Alex Winter EPIX (Official Site) 90 Minutes Premieres at 8:00 PM Eastern Sunday, May 31st on EPIX – On Friday, Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the Silk Road, a so-called “hidden” site on the Deep Web that specialized in selling hard drugs and illegal services, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Though Silk Road was seen by many, including the United States government, as a den of vice, to others it was the ultimate expression of freedom and privacy, a giant “fuck you” to a flawed system that was corrupt and harmful to its citizens. During sentencing, the government explicitly stated that it wanted to make an example of Ulbricht as a warning to others, and the federal judge who, according to Alex Winter’s newest documentary Deep Web, had consistently sided with the government throughout the trial, more than agreed. Noting that Ulbricht had gone by the handle “Dread Pirate Roberts” and indicated that, just like the character from The Princess Bride, if one “DPR” disappeared another would take his place, Judge Katherine Forrest said, “For those considering stepping into your shoes… they need to understand without equivocation that there will be severe consequences.” Deep Web, which premieres on EPIX at 8:00PM tomorrow night, could not be more timely, although its unstated but obvious goal to defend Ulbricht, at least in the court of public opinion, comes a little late to do any good for the now-convicted entrepreneur. Still, Deep Web … Continue reading

Results (2015)

Results ★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Andrew Bujalski Magnolia Pictures (Official Site) 105 Minutes Release Date: May 29, 2015 (limited) – Disheveled millionaire Danny (Kevin Corrigan) turns to Power 4 Life, the local fitness center owned by the buff and seemingly together Trevor (Guy Pearce), ostensibly to learn how to take a punch. Bored and lonely, what Danny really wants is someone to hang out with, maybe smoke a little pot, and Kat (Cobie Smulders), Trevor’s most intense employee, surprisingly fits the bill, at least for a little while. She takes Danny on as a client, but between her casual relationship with Trevor and an ill-advised liaison with the frumpy millionaire, things start to get complicated. It’s this complication that powers Results, the latest from mumblecore auteur Andrew Bujalski. Far more mainstream than any of his previous films, Results finds much of its comedy in the fact that Danny, Trevor and Kat don’t even realize they’re in a love triangle, and when they do, they don’t seem to know what to do with that information. The trio are alternately appealing and awkward, their days full of isolation and long pauses, their minds constantly working at grimly earnest life goals. Kat is intense to the point of being inappropriate, Trevor equally so, though manages to be a little more personable about it. Even Danny, the puffy-eyed slacker, has a streak of ferociousness that makes one wonder just why he wants to learn how to take a punch. Their individual quirks are routinely … Continue reading

Yellowbeard (1983)

The infamous 1983 film Yellowbeard, a zany spoof of adventure-packed swashbucklers of yesteryear, is known for its unbeatable cast and unbearable lack of humor. Meant to be a wacky smash-up of classic British and American humor, instead it’s a schizophrenic whirlwind of confusion and mayhem. The bad kind of mayhem, unfortunately, the kind that happens behind the scenes and involves executives in polyester suits and rock stars without acting experience coming and going from production. It’s the middle of the 17th Century, and the dread pirate Yellowbeard (Graham Chapman), after spending 20 years in a disgusting hell-hole of a prison for tax evasion, is due to be released. Instead, he’s informed by a commander in Her Majesty’s service (Eric Idle) that no one expected him to live so long, and they really don’t want to release him, so they’ve just tacked 140 years on to his sentence. Infuriated, he escapes, his sole concern the treasure he has buried but refused to reveal to the Crown. He’s hampered, only slightly, by his former conquest Betty (Madeline Kahn) and her news that he has a son, Dan (Martin Hewitt). Dan isn’t a pirate by nature, more of a scholar, but he has the treasure map tattooed on his head, so off he goes with his father, his step-father Lord Percy (Peter Cook) and Dr. Gilpin (Michael Horndern) in tow. They’re pursued by the law, of course, as well as Yellowbeard’s old nemesis Moon (Peter Boyle) and Moon’s sidekick Gilbert (Marty Feldman). The … Continue reading

Black Patch (1957)

Black Patch is a dark and serious film, which is why it has an adorable little line drawing of the marshal and his badge on the poster.   Directed by Allen H. Miner, known primarily for his television work, Black Patch (1957) is a strange and wonderful little Western, a true independent film that took the kind of risks one rarely sees in this particular genre. Conceived by Leo Gordon, a hard-working character actor who also appears in the film as co-star Hank Danner, it seems the development of the script happened almost by accident. Gordon had never sold a script before when he casually mentioned he had an idea for a TV show: “When Charles Marquis Warren was directing the pilot for “Gunsmoke,” I told him I had an idea for an episode. ‘Don’t tell me, write it,’ he answered. I went home and the next thing I knew I had 110 pages. I showed it to my agent. Next thing I know, George Montgomery wanted to buy it. That was ‘Black Patch’. Gene Corman negotiated the deal. That’s how I came into contact with him and Roger Corman.” – Leo Gordon (from here / quoted here in a fine review by Toby at 50 Westerns From The 50s) Gordon would go on to write deliciously schlocky B-movie classics like Attack of the Giant Leeches and The Wasp Woman, which, in conjunction with his distinctly non-writerly demeanor, may account for the dismissive attitude many hold toward Black Patch. Leonard … Continue reading

It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958)

It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958) is your standard, teen-oriented, low-budget space flick with its narrative roots firmly implanted in the paranoia of the Cold War. It’s the kind of film where all the strings and zippers show, yet still manages to be not only entertaining, but effective. Helmed by Edward L. Cahn, the same director behind The She-Creature (1956), Creature with the Atom Brain (1955) and Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), It! has come to be known as more than just an old-school science fiction classic, but as the inspiration behind Alien (1979), one of the most important science fiction films in recent history. That said, as much as Alien “borrowed” from the plot, It! seems to have been conceived as a knock-off of The Thing from Another World (1951), right down to the title. Further, It! wasn’t the sole inspiration for Alien, as Planet of the Vampires (1965) also provides quite a bit of the story that ultimately ended up in Ridley Scott’s film. That Alien was just a big-budget version of an old B-movie is no surprise, given so many films of that era, including Star Wars (1977) and Jaws (1975), were as well. In It! The Terror From Beyond Space, it’s 15 years in the future, and the United States has sent its first manned rocket ship to Mars. But as we learn in a press conference, held in the standard bare grey-walled room so familiar to fans of 1950s low-budget cinema, everyone in … Continue reading

42nd Street (1933): Now Out on Blu-Ray From Warner Archive

In 1933, at the height of the Depression, a nation in desperate need of distraction broke box office records for the lavish Hollywood musical 42nd Street. This unabashed slice of wish fulfillment is an undisputed cinematic classic, the granddaddy of all Hollywood backstage musicals, and now out on Blu-ray courtesy Warner Archives. Theater director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) has one last shot at creating a hit on the stage. Despite a lofty career, the recent economic downturn has tapped his resources; moreover, he’s in ill health and on the verge of another nervous breakdown. He gets financing for a play called “Pretty Lady” which he hopes to turn into a smash hit, and at the demands of Abner Dillon, a horndog old financier (Guy Kibbee), the beautiful Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) is brought in as the lead. Dorothy has taken up with Abner — hey, a girl’s gotta survive — but she’s also seeing her old flame Pat Denning (George Brent) on the side. Abner’s cuckolding threatens the production; if Dorothy isn’t his and his alone, he has no interest in financing “Pretty Lady.” The love triangle is all but a subplot, as most of the action in 42nd Street is backstage and during the rehearsals, focusing on the naïve young Peggy (Ruby Keeler). A member of the chorus thanks to the unlikely assistance of two wise-cracking chorus girls, Lorraine (Una Merkel) and Ann (Ginger Rogers), Peggy attracts the attention of the juvenile lead, Billy Lawler (Dick Powell)… and also … Continue reading

The Velvet Touch (1948)

“Boy,” I can hear you saying now, “I can’t believe no one made a movie that was a cross between Laura, Mildred Pierce and All About Eve.” Well, folks, I am here to make your day: The Velvet Touch, the 1948 drama starring Rosalind Russell, is indeed a mix of murder-based melodrama, set in the witty and urbane world of the theatre (pronounced: “thee-ay-TAH”). Though it possesses less of the sophistication and psychological angst of the other films, Velvet Touch is still a fine movie, lovely to look at and with some really solid performances. When Valerie Stanton (Rosalind Russell), one of the biggest comedy stars of the Broadway stage for the last decade, decides to branch out into serious drama, she incurs the wrath of her agent Gordon Dunning (Leon Ames). He doesn’t believe she has the acting chops for Ibsen, but more importantly, he wants to control her every move, as he has always done; Gordon and Valerie have been in a dysfunctional relationship for most of her career. Gordon forces her hand by telling columnist and social gadfly Jeff Trent (Dan Tobin) that Valerie has accepted a role in a comedy that she, in reality, has turned down. When she confronts him, he tells her in no uncertain terms that if she doesn’t do what he wants, he’ll tell her architect boyfriend Michael (Leo Genn) that they were once an item. Actually, it’s worse than that: Gordon makes it clear that he will tell Michael disgusting and … Continue reading

Skin Trade (2014)

Skin Trade ★★✫✫✫ Director: Ekachai Uekrongtham Magnet Releasing (Official Site) 96 Minutes Release Date: May 8, 2015 (limited) – Newark police officer Nick (Dolph Lundgren) has spent years hunting down the Serbian family responsible for a large human trafficking operation. On the other side of the world, officer Tony Vitayakul (Tony Jaa) is after the same thing, only he has a very personal stake in the case: his girlfriend Min (Celina Jade) is one of the women forced into sex work by the Dragovich family. When Nick corners patriarch Viktor Dragovich (Ron Perlman) and his son Andre (Michael G. Selby) at a New Jersey dock, a shootout ensues, and Andre is killed. In retaliation, Viktor sends his men out to murder Nick and his family, but Nick survives. With justice the furthest thing from his mind, Nick heads to Southeast Asia to get revenge of his own. Skin Trade boasts an impressive cast, with Peter Weller and Ron Perlman putting in solid supporting turns, and Michael Jai White carrying much of the film. Maturity and experience suit Dolph Lundgren well; his acting has improved exponentially over the years, and his aging, fatigued police officer Nick had the potential to be a really interesting character. Unfortunately, Skin Trade features a hoary old chestnut of a plot, little more than an excuse to get some action on. The main attraction here is the action, which Skin Trade delivers in spades. Jaa is fantastic in his action scenes, and Dolph does world-weariness well. … Continue reading

Barbary Coast (1935)

The Flying Cloud, a ship out of New York, lands in San Francisco after over 100 days at sea. The sole female passenger, one Miss Mary Rutledge (Miriam Hopkins), is cynical and aloof, and upon her arrival in the town, it’s no wonder: she’s essentially a mail-order bride sent to marry a man she doesn’t love. But he was a man who struck it rich during the gold rush of the 1850s and had plenty of money, or at least had money, before he was killed in a duel. Determined to stay and even more determined to find a rich man, Mary immediately sets her sights on the crooked gambler who killed her fiance and took his gold, the notorious Luis Chamalis (Edward G. Robinson). Chamalis, aware that women were so rare in San Francisco, especially in the red light district known as the Barbary Coast, that they were practically commodities, hires Mary on as the hostess at his roulette table. Barbary Coast (1935) was based on Herbert Asbury’s Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld, published in 1933. Directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Sam Goldwyn, Barbary Coast is a lush costume drama with a somewhat undeserved reputation for having only used Asbury’s title while disregarding the real meat of his book. While it’s true that many concessions were made to appease the Production Code Administration, much of Barbary Coast takes Asbury’s novel far too literally. See, for example, the first few paragraphs in this … Continue reading

Private Number (2015)

Private Number ★★★★✫ Director: LazRael Lison Arc Entertainment (Official Site) 95 Minutes Release Date: May 1, 2015 (limited) – Thirty-somethings Michael and Katherine Lane are, on the surface, a perfectly normal couple. Michael (Hal Ozsan) is a writer of fantasy fiction with one moderate seller under his belt, Katherine (Nicholle Tom) runs a small boutique, and they fight about the usual things: having kids, their dull friends, and how long it takes them to get ready to go out. Michael’s troubled past seems to be behind him, thanks to no-nonsense AA sponsor Jeff (Tom Sizemore) and Katherine’s steadying influence, but when Michael struggles with writer’s block and cracks in their relationship start to appear, Katherine realizes Michael is hiding, at least a little, behind a façade. Before either of them can process the situation, though, they start receiving a series of unnerving, late-night prank phone calls. Only Michael gets these calls, however, all from an unlisted number, and from a variety of people who say just one thing: “Remember me?” Private Number (2014), the latest from LazRael Lison, seems at first to be your standard indie horror flick, up to and including a main character who one suspects is a bit of a stand-in for the screenwriter. But just when the film really settles into focusing on the identity of the callers, the strangest thing happens: a knight in full plate mail appears in Michael’s office. He’s the product of a hallucination, surely the result of Michael’s tenuous sobriety and … Continue reading