Category Archives: DVD

Review – The Haunting of Sharon Tate


FILM REVIEWTHE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATEWith Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda,   Ryan Cargill. Written and directed by Daniel Farrands. Rated R for strong bloody violence, terror, and some language. 94 minutes.

haunting_of_sharon_tateHorror films have always been transgressive. The fact that we now consider Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” a film classic shouldn’t make us forget what a shocker it was when it was released in 1960. Such films violate our social norms either by making icons of their bloody protagonists or by depicting violence or gore or by making us feel less safe in our surroundings. In that sense, THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE is very much in that tradition.

Tate, of course, was the young actress who was married to international filmmaker Roman Polanski and pregnant with their child when she and four other people were savagely murdered at the direct order of cult leader Charles Manson by four of his acolytes.

Writer/director Daniel Farrands, known primarily for documentaries on horror series such as “Friday The 13th,” “Nightmare On Elm Street,” and “Scream,” has crafted a slick and disturbing movie based the report that long before her death, Tate had a premonition about the murders. Over the course of 90-or-so minutes, Tate (played by one-time teen star Hilary Duff) experiences the home invasion by Manson (Ben Mellish) and his gang more than once. When the actual attack occurs, Farrands takes the story in an unexpected direction, providing an unconventional conclusion to a story where we already knew how it had to turn out.

Getting Duff for the lead is something of a minor casting coup. Known for her run as “Lizzie McGuire,” and later on “Younger,” this is her first foray into horror. She plays Tate as a considerate if someone shallow young actress, whose marriage to Polanski has raised her profile. She’s troubled by her visions and concerned about the forthcoming baby. It’s a credible performance.

Had this been a film about fictional characters, it might attract some notice among horror fans, as well as some curiosity seekers interested in Duff in an unexpected role. However, it’s not. It’s about the victims of one of the most sensational crimes of the 20th century. It’s not only in living memory but several family members – including Polanski and Tate’s sister – are still alive. Instead of being just a horror movie it becomes yet another wound, using the actress’s tragic death as fodder for cheap thrills.

Farrand knows the beats of the horror films he’s patterned this on, and it could be argued that his focus is on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Manson may be a monster, but the film isn’t about him the way, say, the “Nightmare On Elm Street” movies are about the fictional Freddy Krueger. Still, there are times when one must question whether a film goes too far, even in a genre noted for pushing the boundaries.

The result is that “The Haunting Of Sharon Tate” works as a conventional horror film with a twist, but some will find that by using a real life story rather than borrowing some elements for a fictional one, it leaves a bad taste. Farrand doesn’t seem concerned, though. His next movie, currently in post-production, is “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

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Review – The Inhabitants


FILM REVIEW
– THE INHABITANTS
With Elise Couture, Michael Reed, India Pearl, Judith Chaffee, Rebecca Whitehurst. Written and directed by Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen. Unrated. 90 minutes.

Two brothers based in Somerville, Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, are busily honing their skills as filmmakers in the horror genre. Having scripted “The Ward” for horror legend John Carpenter, they collaborated on making their own film with “Dark Feed.” Now, with their second film, THE INHABITANTS, they demonstrate impressive professional skills given that this direct to video/streaming release was shot on a tight budget in Salem and Wayland, Massachusetts.

This is a serviceable horror entry that falters primarily in the familiarity of the material. The plot involves a young couple, Jessica (Elise Couture) and Dan (Michael Reed) who buy a bed-and-breakfast. The house itself becomes a character in the film and the Rasmussens were fortunate to get permission to shoot at the Noyes-Parris House in Wayland. (Rev. Samuel Parris was a leading figure in the Salem Witch Trials.)

The house, of course, is haunted. Without giving too much away, it has something to do with a previous resident who may have done terrible things to children. The film hits the expected beats: their dog becomes aware of the evil lurking in the house long before the people; Dan goes on a business trip leaving Jessica alone to deal with strange sounds and weird discoveries; Dan discovers a closed circuit camera system that has been spying on all the inn’s guests.

Of course this is a genre that–except for the serious genre film buffs–plays to teens and twenty-somethings, so that something that may have been done in a film before won’t necessarily be recognized as being recycled. That would explain how something dreadful like “Insidious” could turn into a hit by filmgoers imagining they’re seeing something new.

The Rasmussens are too clever to think they’re breaking new ground. Instead, they try to make it as polished as they can, without going for the obvious “gotcha” scares that less talented filmmakers use. A good example of this are three young toughs who hang out near the inn and seem vaguely threatening to Jessica. Could they be behind the sinister goings-on? The film lets this subplot play out quickly and neatly while leaving the viewer in suspense as to what will happen next.

Although the cast of unknowns do their jobs well, the weight of the film is on Couture and Reed, who appeared in the Rasmussens’ previous feature. Each navigates the complicated arc of their respective characters without a false note. Couture goes from potential victim to potential victimizer by playing it straight. There’s no over the top “scream queen” moments here. Reed has the slightly more difficult task, going from skeptic to someone who can’t deny the increasingly eerie facts associated with the house. If there’s a false note in either performance it comes from an essential flaw in this kind of movie: the viewer can’t help asking why they don’t just leave the haunted house. Of course if they did, there wouldn’t be a movie.

“The Inhabitants” is suitable Halloween month entertainment with a nice local hook. Best of all, you get the sense that the best from the Brothers Rasmussen is yet to come.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Cold Lands


With Lili Taylor, Silas Yelich, Peter Scanavino, John Ventimiglia, and Maggie Low; Written and directed by Tom Gilroy; Not rated (appropriate for ages 17 and older); 100 minutes

There are some films that are worth viewing for their cinematic beauty as much as for their acting and storyline. Some of the Academy Award-winning beauties that come to mind are “Apocalypse Now,” “Out Of Africa,” “The Mission,” “Dances With Wolves,” “Life Of Pi,” and most recently, “Gravity.” There are other films in which the entire story could be told through the cinematography alone, such as “The Passion Of The Christ,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Platoon,” “Ran,” and “Raging Bull.” These critically-acclaimed award winners and nominees do well enough visually that just about anyone could get the general storyline without a word of spoken dialogue.

THE COLD LANDS has stunning cinematography by Wyatt Garfield (“Beasts Of The Southern Wild”), a talented cast of actors (Lili Taylor, Silas Yelich, Peter Scanavino, John Ventimiglia) and a capable director (Tom Gilroy). The director shot his sophomore effort in his home town by the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York. The care that was taken to illuminate the beauty of the wooded settings is very Walden-esque. The film earns merit for the artistic expression of Gilroy, so as a piece of visual art, “The Cold Lands” is a success.

As far as conventional filmmaking goes, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Sure, one could argue that the hook of this thing is the quiet suspense that constantly puts on edge the dynamic of the characters’ relationships. But the storyline strings you along with few high points before it eventually fizzles to an unsatisfying ending.

The term “spoiler alert” would be appropriate here, if there were any big surprises to spoil. Lili Taylor is a self-sufficient single mom who dies very close after the beginning of this film because in her attempt to raise her young teen boy and teach him the ways of a free spirit, she neglects to take proper care of her serious ailment. She apparently believes that she is providing her son Atticus with sufficient survival skills to take care of himself after she is gone because she hasn’t made any kind of arrangement for guardianship or even prepared him for the inevitable demise when it is hinted that she knows what is coming. When a concerned neighbor comes looking for the boy to take care of him, the frightened kid takes off and hides in the woods, which is pretty understandable. Then he meets up with a kindred neo-hippie named Carter who makes jewelry and smokes a lot of pot.

The story turns into the tale of two misfit buddies. One lives in his car, selling his trinkets from the trunk at hippy craft festivals. The other is an orphan trying to live free of society and a legal guardian who could shelter and take care of him properly. Leaving a lot to the imagination at the end, this film had me wondering if this disheveled big brother figure who can barely take care of himself, would continue to keep Atticus under his broken wing. Or would he do the right thing and surrender the unfortunate boy to the authorities?

While I’m trying to figure it out, I’ll give this…

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Dana C. Kabel is the author of several short stories, appearing in Otto Penzler’s Kwik Krimes, Out of the Gutter Magazine, Shotgun Honey and several others. He currently resides in New Jersey.

Review – Blue Jasmine


With Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Peter Sarsgaard, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay. Written and directed by Woody Allen. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content. 98 minutes.

Putting aside the overall arc of Woody Allen’s career as a filmmaker, his dramas have always been a problem. The plain truth is that one of the greatest comic writers in the English language has a tin ear when it comes to dramatic dialogue. To go through his dramatic films is like watching the proverbial clown who wants to play Hamlet or, in Allen’s case, direct like his idol Ingmar Bergman. Movies like “Interiors,”  “Another Woman,” and “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” were painful, especially because great actors were struggling to bring his leaden scripts to life.

There was one exception to this, and it was 1989’s “Crimes And Misdemeanors.” It wasn’t simply the comic story with Allen, Mia Farrow and Alan Alda that made it memorable–although it was very good–it was Martin Landau’s standout performance as a doctor coping with feelings of guilt after he has his shady brother arrange for the murder of his mistress. The dramatic story easily could have failed, but Landau’s acting was so strong it lifted up everything around him. Allen has tried to do it again in dramatic films since, but it took Cate Blanchett to help him succeed with BLUE JASMINE.

Blanchett–who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress and will almost certainly get it–plays Jasmine. At the start of the film she has left New York for San Francisco and we quickly get her story because she sees herself as the star of her own tragedy. Her husband (Alec Baldwin) was a big New York financier whose house of cards has come tumbling down. She’s now moving in with her working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) while trying to figure out what to do with her life.

Her problem is not only her fall from the heights. It is that she isn’t really equipped to be anything but a society hostess and a trophy wife. While Ginger is feisty, has a job, and a boyfriend (Bobby Canavale) who may be a bit crude, Jasmine finds herself in a world where she lacks the ability to cope, which is to say the real world. Her attempts to date or hold a job put her up against people with whom she never had contact with when she lived in her cocoon.

In Jasmine’s mind this is simply wrong. She feels anything is justified to get back to the sort of life she is entitled to and which she is good at, allowing a State Department official with political ambitions to romance her. If she has to lie or omit the truth, so be it. Indeed, in her mind, it is the only rational course of action.

Blanchett, who already has proven herself a fine actress (and won the Oscar for playing Katharine Hepburn in “The Aviator”), does more than show us Jasmine’s delusions. Her characterization lets us see how her actions make perfect sense to her, and how restoring herself to the role of society hostess is the only place where she can feel secure. At the same time she also shows us how Jasmine is become increasingly disconnected from reality.

With her performance as an anchor for the film, Allen is able to surround her with supporting players who can bounce off her, from Baldwin’s slick investor to Hawkins’s sibling dealing with her high-maintenance sister. Perhaps most surprising is ‘80s blue stand-up comic Andrew Dice Clay, who pops up in several scenes as Ginger’s ex-husband. Older and with some miles on him, he turns in a strong performance as someone who found his life changed for the worse for having known Jasmine.

Allen has never been an actor’s director, giving his casts the freedom to do their thing within the confines of his scripts. Actors have flocked to him for the chance to try and, given a strong script, performers like Landau, Diane Keaton, and Dianne Wiest–among others–have soared. Now we have to add Cate Blanchett to that list. Her “Blue Jasmine” is one you won’t soon forget.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – 1976: Hunt vs. Lauda


Narrated by Ed Stoppard.
Directed by Matthew Whiteman. 48 minutes.

One of the surprises of last fall’s move season was Ron Howard’s “Rush,” a drama about the rivalry between two Formula 1 race car drivers back in the 1970s. If you’re a devotee of the sport you may have wondered why it took them so long to make a movie about this historic competition. If you’re like this reviewer and couldn’t tell Formula 1 from Formula 409, you may have wondered who these people were and why you had never heard of them. Indeed, you may have wondered if the story could possibly be true.

Indeed James Hunt, one of the racers, would have agreed with you. At the end of the BBC documentary 1976: HUNT VS. LAUDA, Hunt is quoted as saying, “If you wrote this as a film script people would say, ‘It’s ridiculous. You have to have something believable. You can’t have this farcical story.’” Amazingly, that “farcical story” turns out to be true.

The British Hunt and the Austrian Niki Lauda had very different approaches to racing. Hunt was a dashing young man who pushed himself to the limit. Lauda had a more scientific bent and approached the process as a problem to be calculated and solved. Lauda had been champion of the 1975 season, but Hunt was ready to give him a run for the money in 1976. Hunt was racing as part of the McLaren team from England while Lauda was representing the Italian automotive magnate Enzo Ferrari.

Howard’s film focused on the personal lives of the racers, of which we get only a smattering here. Instead we learn a lot about the politics of auto racing. We hear much about Ferrari fought for every advantage, even getting Hunt’s car disqualified after he had won a race. Given that this is a BBC documentary, it’s not surprising that the McLaren side of the story gets a more sympathetic hearing.

What the documentary does well is present us not only footage and interviews from the 1976 season, but also contemporary interviews with some of the players including Lauda. (Hunt died at the age of 45 in 1993.)  We get a real sense why, for racing fans, this was a legendary season where its victor – Hunt or Lauda – was not determined until the 16th and final race. We also see the unholy relationship between racing (really, all sports) and television when the drivers don’t won’t to go out in the last race because of hazardous conditions and they are told the race must go on or else they will lose a lot of the money that had been put up to broadcast the event.

Whether as a supplement to “Rush” or standing on its own, “1976: Hunt vs. Lauda” provides the details of one of the most notable chapters in auto racing history. As with the feature film, it also transcends its subject by depicting the complex and friendly rivalry between two men who were two of the greatest in their field. There are lessons here that apply far beyond the racetrack.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Falco: The Rise And Fall Of An ’80s Pop Icon

Click poster for official site.
Click poster for official site.

With Manuel Rubey, Patricia Aulitzky, Christian Tramitz, Martin Loos, Nicholas Ofczare, and Susi Stach; Directed by Thomas Roth; Not Rated (but not for kids, and for many reasons); 109 minutes

Austrian pop sensation Falco (born Johann Hölzel in 1957) lived larger-than-life, an MTV “Behind The Music” program just waiting to happen. Now, in the form of the biopic FALCO: VERDAMMT, WIR LEBEN NOCH! (“Dammit, We’re Still Alive!”), the English-speaking world can now know fairly well the man behind “Der Kommisar” and the #1 international smash (and in our opinion, the best song of the 1980s), “Rock Me Amadeus,” even if some of it is lost in translation.

If Europe ever had an Elvis Presley, it was Falco, and it is a parallel not lost on writer-director Thomas Roth (“Kaliber Deluxe”). From Falco being the only surviving triplet (Elvis had a stillborn twin), to growing up impoverished with a domineering mother to dying shortly after age 40, the similarities were as numerous as one needs them to be. It is from that artist-as-tormented-pop-god perspective that Roth tells his story, and admirably, without a hint of snark or irony.

Actor Manuel Rubey’s other gig as a singer for the Austrian rock band Mondscheiner prepares him well for the role of Falco, specifically in the number of Falco songs he performs with uncanny accuracy. One glaring problem, however, is the lack of subtitles during the songs. For the uninitiated non-German-speaking, it is difficult to discern what Falco is singing about, which detracts from the understanding of why he resonated with audiences as strongly as he did. It also confuses when it comes to the controversy surrounding the hit “Jeanny,” which was the story of a young girl gone missing (and possibly murdered), told through the eyes of a rapist. Still, Rubey’s cult of personality is appropriately strong. He owns the role, and with just as much flair as Axel Herrig had when he played Falco in the gonzo 2000 stage musical “Falco Meets Amadeus.”

For two people as influential as Danish producers Rob and Ferdi Bolland – the dynamic duo behind 1986’s album-for-the-ages, “Falco 3” – they are given little attention. Falco refers to them with disdain, repeatedly calling them “cheese heads” (a derogatory moniker for Netherlanders). This attitude characterized Falco’s tumultuous relationship with the überproduktor brothers, but in that they are never seen on-screen, they are little more than the singular caricature of a boogeyman. It seems that there was a dynamic there that would have made for some interesting drama. Instead, the narrative focuses on the usual – the desperate need for Falco to be heard and break through, the sudden fame and wealth, the troubles with women, the emotional isolation. Hey, isn’t that what “Pink Floyd: The Wall” was all about? (More parallels!)

Anyone keen to dismiss Falco, who is sometimes referred to as “the first white rapper,” as a clownish footnote should give this standard yet passionate docudrama a try. ’80s aficionados will appreciate the period authenticity and the love that went into telling the story of a misunderstood talent, who, like the Mozart of his biggest hit, was a superstar, he was popular, he was so exalted (because he had flair), he was a virtuoso, was a rock idol – and everyone shouted, “Come on and rock me Amadeus!”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Robert Newton is the editor of North Shore Movies. He is also a novelty recording artist and runs The Cape Ann Community Cinema in Gloucester, MA. He would totally produce an English-language documentary about Falco if he were given the resources.

Review – Fringe: Season 1

Starring Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble. Created by J.J. Abrams.

North Shore Movies has given this set a score of 4 out of 5.The best way to understand “Fringe” is to take it as “Lost” creator/”Star Trek” helmer J. J. Abrams doing his version of “The X-Files.” Since he seems to have a firmer grasp on storytelling than Chris Carter, it’s off to a good start with the promise of even better times ahead. “X-Files” had many great episodes but fell apart as it kept teasing its “mythology” (its internal and unfolding mystery) without ever getting to a real payoff. Abrams seems to have learned from Carter’s mistake.

In the pilot, we meet FBI agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), a young, beautiful and no-nonsense professional who finds herself involved investigating weird and possibly supernatural occurrences. The first case we see has to do with a plane flying into Boston where all the passengers and crew have died from their bodies melting. Quickly, three story lines emerge for the series. First is the arc story about who or what is responsible for many of the weird things encountered week-by-week. This is not fully resolved at season’s end, but we do know it is related to a mysterious corporation where executive Nina Sharp (Blair Brown) promises cooperation but is obviously being less than forthcoming. In the season-ending cliffhanger, we find this company may be more powerful than can be possibly be imagined when Olivia demands a showdown with Nina’s boss William Bell (Leonard Nimoy). The final image – not to be spoiled here – raises more questions than it answers.

Another story is more or less resolved. Olivia has been having an affair with fellow agent John Scott (Mark Valley) who is killed, but keeps reappearing to Olivia, with hints that his agenda went beyond his role of FBI agent. This is played out over much of the first season but eventually Olivia discovers why John is haunting her and the story seems to come to a conclusion.

The third story is essentially the running plotline of the series. As Olivia encounters weird science week after week, it’s clear that she’s in over her head. Her boss (Lance Reddick) tries to protect her from outside interference but sometimes has to restrict her pursuit of the truth. He seems to be a good guy but one operating under constraints. Fellow agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo) starts out as a minor supporting character but develops over the course of the first season. We see he’s committed to doing what’s right and supporting Olivia, even if he doesn’t completely have access to the bigger picture.

Instead she is forced to rely on Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), a scientist who – conveniently – knows some of the players and worked on some of the experiments that Olivia is now encountering, but who went mad as a hatter and ended up institutionalized. He’s out now, but still not fully connected to reality. He’ll be visiting a gruesome crime scene and start musing on a favorite dessert. Walter, though, has the knowledge and scientific insights Olivia needs, so she also needs the help of Walter’s estranged son Peter (Joshua Jackson) who helps her keep Walter focused and on track.

The first season showed a great deal of imagination with John Noble a standout as the wacky Walter. Abrams and company resist the urge to make this a show centering on him, so that when he does show up he’s a welcome presence.

Anna Torv will be an acquired taste for some and she may seem a bit young for the responsibilities handed her character, but over the course of the season Olivia’s character is developed and Torv seems to be more comfortable playing her as a conflicted agent rather than a pretty, young heroine. Joshua Jackson may have it easiest, getting to play the outsider commenting on the action, with only hints at a possible romantic entanglement with Olivia or, perhaps, someone close to her.

“Fringe” had a good first season, setting up its premises, and having some truly eerie episodes like “Inner Child,” about a weird hairless boy found living by himself, or “Ability” where victims find their facial orifices sealing up leaving them faceless corpses. The trick for Abrams and company now will be to tell us a story that’s going somewhere, instead of simply being another series spinning its wheels.•••

DVD Special Features Include:

* Evolution: The Genesis of “Fringe” featurette – The creators of the show discuss how the series unfolded and the qualities that make it so unique
* Behind the Real Science of “Fringe” featurette – From teleportation to re-animation, Fringe incorporates recent discoveries in science. Consulting experts and scientists who are the authorities in their field address the areas of science which are the inspiration for the show.
* A Massive Undertaking: The Making of “Fringe” (on select episodes) – An in-depth exploration of how select episodes came to be made: from the frozen far reaches of shooting the pilot in Toronto, to the weekly challenges of bringing episodes to air
* The Casting of “Fringe” – The story, as told by producers and cast, of how Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, John Noble and others came to be cast in the series.
* “Fringe” Visual Effects featurette – Goes deep into the creation of the shared dream state with some of the biggest VFX shots of the show.
* Dissected Files: Unaired Scenes
* Unusual Side Effects: Gag Reel
* Deciphering the Scene
* Roberto Orci Production Diary
* Gene the Cow montage
* Three Full-Length Commentaries from writers/producers, including J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtman, J.R. Orci, David Goodman, Bryan Burk, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner

Additional Blu-Ray Bonus Features:
* “Fringe” Pattern Analysis – Take a closer look at 6 select scenes from Season 1 with experts who dissect each scene with notes, photos, and diagrams.
* BD-Live enabled features include Media Center, My Commentary, and commentary on Season 1 finale episode.

Season Two of “Fringe” premieres on FOX Thursday, Sept. 17.

Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.