In the aftermath of the American Civil War, two rebel Texans are fleeing toward the Mexican border in a wagon, having made off with a huge sum of money stolen from the United States government. Just before reaching the safety of foreign soil they are intercepted by a U.S. army patrol. As the mounted soldiers close in, the men draw cards to decide who will stay on the wagon and draw the pursuit, and who will jump off with the loot and escape, keeping the other man’s share safe until he can claim it. Ken Seagull (Nando Gazzolo) wins the draw, jumps off and successfully hides. Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter) crashes the wagon, is apprehended by the troopers, and is sent to a military prison. Five years later, Brewster is released and returns home to reunite with his wife and son. He finds his house deserted and in ruins, but discovers his wife’s journal, which tells him that Seagull not only gave her no aid, but told her nothing of the money or the fact that her husband was alive. Maddened by the betrayal, the unarmed Brewster immediately finds himself under gunfire: Seagull has learned of his release and sent men to get him out of the way once and for all. Running into the barn for cover, Brewster finds a mysterious stranger (Dan Duryea) who throws him a weapon with which Brewster kills his attackers. His benefactor, who introduces himself as Winnie Getz, offers to tell Seagull that, while Brewster killed the hired gunmen, Getz himself finished their job and killed their target. The seemingly homeless Getz says he hopes to parlay that false intelligence into a steady job with Seagull. Getz goes on ahead, while Brewster (now using the name Jim Houston) follows on his quest for vengeance. Brewster soon learns that Seagull, now known as Ken Milton, has used his wealth to acquire a ranch and the services of vicious killer Garcia Mendez (Henry Silva), with whose help he has expanded his holdings by terrorizing other landowners. Brewster also learns that Seagull killed his wife, but finds his young son alive and living nearby as an orphan. The man called Houston gets a job with Mendez (while managing to stay out of sight of his employer “Milton”) and, with Getz’s help, proceeds to play a double game wherein he rides with Mendez and his killers, but secretly aids their intended victims…

“The Hills Run Red” (Un Fiume di dollari) is one of the earliest spaghetti westerns made after the Eastwood/Leone Italian western boom, in 1967 and directed by Carlo Lizzani. And it´s so apparent that Lizzani casted Thomas Hunter in the lead because he carries a resemblance to Clint Eastwood. He even seems to try to talk like Clint Eastwood in certain scenes. There´s some nicely shots scenes, but the revenge story carries nothing new and “The Hills Run Red” just becomes a poor poor mans Leone/Eastwood spaghetti Western copy. And I always had a slight issue with the dubbing in movies like this. The only upside is the always outstanding Henry Silva as Mendez and Ennio Morricone´s (using the pseudonym “Leo Nichols”) great score. (2 out of 5)

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Xavier Rousseau (Romain Duris) is now forty years old. At forty you are supposed to be more mature and live a a steadier life than at twenty. But not Xavier. Well, to be fair, he has made some progress in the field of thoughtfulness (he has even become a writer) but as concerns his everyday life, it is far from well-ordered. To be totally honest it is not entirely Xavier’s fault if his wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly) has suddenly divorced him for a new companion in New York and taken their two children with her. Realising he can’t stand living without them, Xavier decides to settle down in The Big Apple in order to remain close to them and continue to write books. His close friend Isabelle (Cécile de France) has also decided to move to New York to be with her new partner Ju and they help Xavier to find a place in Chinatown. Isabelle has also asked Xavier to become a spermdonor for her and Ju so they can get a child. And Martine (Audrey Tautou) suddenly gets in touch with Xavier to tell him that she will come to New York on a business trip. With other words, things are getting a bit complicated as always for Xavier…

“Casse-tête Chinois” (Chinese Puzzle) is the third chapter of the Spanish Apartment trilogy, after “L’Auberge Espagnole” (2002) and “Les Poupées Russes” (2005). Almost 10 years has passed since part two came out, so I reckon I was a bit rusty in remembering the characters and the other two parts properly, but both “L’Auberge Espagnole” and “Les Poupées Russes” was of my liking when I did see them. I actually saw “Les Poupées Russes” when I was living in Australia and I reckon that particularly year my life was sort of like Xavier´s… It´s nice that Cédric Klapisch decided make a third part that sort of connects the dots. Great to see that Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cécile De France and Kelly Reilly reprise their roles. I reckon the foundation of this trilogy is that there´s not set structure or path for any of us and what we might mean is a “perfect life” is something that can look so different for each one of us. With all sorts of challenges in life you grow and learn and that makes your specific path become your path and your “perfect life”. Klapisch wanted apparently to portray a generation of people who are more mobile, who aren’t afraid of mixing with different cultures, live in different countries, deal with the challenges presented by this new country. I love the dynamic way Klapisch directs and the funny ideas like bringing in old philosophers talking to Xavier. And the same goes for the quirky animations and when people comes alive in a magazine for example. “Casse-tête Chinois” has this “authentic” feeling to it. Duris & Co makes also the story really come alive, as they all are “home” in their roles since this is the third time they portray each character. Life presents difficulties when we might least know it or want it, but life is in general not that bad. Despite Xavier´s problems there´s this positive vibe and feeling within the movie and I do like that. I do recommend you to see this trilogy. (4 out of 5)

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A disoriented man climbs up into the attic of a sorority house while the occupants hold a Christmas party. Jess Bradford (Olivia Hussey) receives an obscene phone call from “the moaner”, a man who has recently been calling the house. After sorority friend Barb Coard (Margot Kidder) provokes the caller, he replies, “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU,” then hangs up. Claire Harrison (Lynne Griffin) is offended by Barb and goes upstairs to finish packing for her trip home. She hears Claude the cat’s cries and goes to investigate. Claire is attacked and asphyxiated with plastic dry cleaning covering over her head. Her dead body is carried up into the attic, where the killer places her in a rocking chair next to the window and puts a doll in her lap. The next day, Claire’s father arrives to take her home for the holidays. When she is not at their appointed meeting place, he goes to the sorority house. Jess meets her boyfriend, Peter Smythe (Keir Dullea), a neurotic aspiring pianist, to inform him that she is pregnant and wants to have an abortion. Peter is upset and urges her to discuss the situation with him more later but she refuses. Mr. Harrison and two of the sorority sisters Barb and Phyllis “Phyl” Carlson (Andrea Martin) go to the police to report Claire’s disappearance. Sgt. Nash dismisses the report and says that Claire is probably with a lover. Claire’s boyfriend, Chris (Art Hindle), is informed by Jess about the disappearance and Sgt. Nash’s unwillingness to help; they rush back to the police station to discuss it with Lt. Kenneth Fuller (John Saxon). A mother reports that her daughter, Janice, is missing as well. That evening, Mr. Harrison, Chris, and the sorority sisters join a search party aiming to find Janice or Claire. Back at the house, Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), the sorority’s housemother who’s packing her bags to leave for the holidays hears Claude’s meows in the attic and goes to investigate. She stares in horror as she discovers Claire’s body, but the killer launches a crane hook and hangs Mrs. Mac. The long awaited taxi driver becomes impatient and goes knocking on the door and then leaves. With the help of Lt. Fuller the sorority girls gets a wiretap on their phone to be able to trace “the moaner” whom they think might be involved in the disappearance of Claire, but will they manage to stop the killer roaming around in the attic before he kills again?…

The film is regarded as being one of the first slasher films. It set the layout for films such as John Carpenter Halloween (1978). However, director Bob Clark considered it to be more of a psychological horror film than a slasher film. The film had only moderate box office success and negative critical reception when originally released, however the film went on to have a large cult following. It has since received a critical reevaluation and is now considered a classic. Composer Carl Zittrer said in an interview that he created the bizarre music score for the film by tying forks, combs, and knives to the strings of his piano so the sound would warp as he struck the keys. Zittrer also said he would distort the sound further by recording audio tape while putting pressure on the reels of the machine to make it turn slower. Upon initial release in the US the films title was changed to “Silent Night, Evil Night” because the American distributor feared the title “Black Christmas” might cause the film to be mistaken for a ‘blaxploitation’ flick. However the film didn’t do well under the new title and it was changed back to the original “Black Christmas” title, under which it was a success. According to director Bob Clark the original script for the film featured murder scenes that were more graphic. Clark however felt that it would be more effective if the murders were toned down and made more subtle on screen. Writer Roy Moore liked the idea as well. Minimal vulgarity from the phone calls were initially scripted, director Bob Clark read out rather tame dialogue for the actors to react to. However stronger coarse language was later looped in post-production for a stronger reaction. Cinematographer Albert J. Dunk created Billy’s POV shots by rigging up a camera harness that would mount the camera on his shoulder as he walked about the house and climbed the trellis and attic ladder himself. Heidi Martinuzzi of Film Threat called the film “innovative” and praised the leading actresses, Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder. However upon its initial release, the film had garnered mixed reviews. A writer for The New York Times scored the film a 1 out of 5, calling it “a whodunit that begs the question of why it was made.” “Black Christmas” did set several standards in the slasher genre for sure (something you understand after having seen it), despite the fact that director Bob Clark considered it to be more of a psychological horror film. It´s not that graphic, but instead disturbing and quite chilling created via the cinematography, camera angles, voices, shadows, objects and environments. The telephone calls are pretty disturbing in my book and even I raised an eyebrow or two during those scenes. The calls sets the mood straight away and it keeps you in that grip throughout the movie. Nice to see a young, beautiful and terrified Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder. “Black Christmas” is a quite well made psychological horror movie, created with small means and hardly a big budget. And I do like the ambiguous ending. (3 and a half out of 5)

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In 2014, an experiment to counteract global warming causes an ice age that kills nearly all life on Earth. The only survivors are the inhabitants of the Snowpiercer, a massive train powered by a perpetual-motion engine that travels on a globe-spanning track. A class system is installed, with the elites inhabiting the front of the train and the poor inhabiting the tail. In 2031, the tail inhabitants prepare for the latest in a series of rebellions. Guards arrive periodically to deliver protein blocks for food, and take some of the children. During the guards’ next visit, Curtis Everett (Chris Evans) leads the tail inhabitants in revolt, forcing their way through several train cars to the prison section. There, they release prisoner Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho), the man who built the security system that controls the doors dividing each car, and his clairvoyant daughter Yona. They offer him uncut Kronole, a drug that both he and his daughter are addicted to, as payment for unlocking each of the remaining doors. One of the cars is filled with armed men. Under the orders of Minister Mason (Tilda Swinton), the men battle Curtis’ forces. Curtis’ side prevails, and he captures Mason, but he is forced to sacrifice his second-in-command, Edgar (Jamie Bell), to do so. Mason agrees to lead the group through the high-class cars in exchange for her life. In the school car, the teacher points out seven frozen rebels through the window. She and a henchman then draw machine guns, slaughtering many of Curtis’ followers, and executing his mentor Gilliam. Curtis then kills Mason. Curtis, his few remaining followers, and Namgoong and Yona continue through the train, discovering the extravagance in which the elites have been living while the poor wallowed in squalor. One of Mason’s henchmen, Franco the Elder, kills the rest of Curtis’ followers, before the henchman is himself seemingly killed. Curtis resolves to complete his mission, accompanied by Namgoong and Yona. The trio moves through the remaining cars where the elite indulge in food, partying and Kronole; Namgoong steals much of this Kronole from the inebriated revelers. As they arrive at the Engine door, Namgoong suggests they use the collected Kronole, made from explosive chemical waste, to blow open the side of the train, and escape into the outside. Namgoong explains that every year, the train has passed a crashed plane buried in snow, which has become less buried with each passing year, suggesting that Earth is warming, and that survival outside is now possible…

“Snowpiercer” is based on the French graphic novel “Le Transperceneige” by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. “Snowpiercer” received widespread acclaim from critics, audiences, and at festivals all over the world, particularly for Bong Joon-ho’s direction, the film’s cast (especially Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho and Tilda Swinton), visual scope, social commentary, Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography, and Ondrej Nekvasil’s production design. A.O. Scott wrote, in his review for The New York Times, “Planetary destruction and human extinction happen a half-dozen times every summer. It’s rarely this refreshing, though.” Clarence Tsui of The Hollywood Reporter wrote a highly positive review, commenting, “Snowpiercer is still an intellectually and artistically superior vehicle to many of the end-of-days futuristic action thrillers out there.” Speaking highly of Bong’s film-making, Tsui wrote, “Bong’s vivid depictions-aided by Ondrej Nekvasil’s production design, Hong Kyung-pyo’s cinematography and Steve M. Choe’s editing-are exceptional.” At first sight, trailer and poster, “Snowpiercer” looked a bit like a classic ok sci-fi action vehicle, but nothing more. However, this piece of film feels actually fresh in many ways within its genre. It´s gritty, apocalyptic, violent, dynamic, sad and current in its storyline. And not least to say unexpected with nice twists and turns. “Snowpiercer” puts the finger on what happens around us in the world, both in terms of current dictatorships like North Korea and the global warming process. And what might be the results of them in the future. A scary future. (4 out of 5)

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Al Simmons (Michael Jai White), a military soldier/assassin, is betrayed by Jason Wynn (Martin Sheen), the head of a covert government agency. Wynn assigns Simmons a mission to take out a Bio-Chem plant in North Korea while ordering his top assassin, Jessica Priest (Melinda Clarke), to assassinate him. After Simmons dies from a gas fire caused by Wynn, he arrives in Hell, where Malebolgia, the Devil, offers him a Faustian deal. If Simmons becomes his eternal servant and leader of his army in Armageddon, he will be able to return to Earth to see his fiancée, Wanda Blake (Theresa Randle). Simmons accepts the offer and is returned to Earth. When he returns, Simmons learns that five years have passed. Wanda is now married to his best friend, Terry (D. B. Sweeney), and living the life he longed for, including the daughter he never knew, Cyan. He encounters a strange clown-like demon called The Violator (John Leguizamo), who acts as a guide, setting “Spawn” onto the path to evil. He also meets a mysterious old man named Cogliostro (Nicol Williamson), a fellow Hellspawn who freed his soul and now fights for Heaven. Wynn has become a high-class weapons dealer and developed the ultimate biological weapon, “Heat 16”. During a reception, Simmons attacks Wynn, kills Jessica, and escapes, instinctively using Spawn’s strange armor. Following Simmons’ attack, The Violator convinces Wynn to have a device attached to his heart that will trigger the worldwide release of Heat 16 should his vital signs flatline. The device is supposedly a safeguard against assassination attempts, but Malebolgia actually wants Simmons to kill Wynn and trigger the apocalypse…

“Spawn” is loosely based on the comic book of the same name, by Todd McFarlane and published by Image Comics. The film received negative reviews from film critics. According to Rotten Tomatoes reviews: “Spawn is an overbearing, over-violent film that adds little to the comic book adaptation genre.” One of the few positive reviews was from Roger Ebert, who awarded the film 3 1/2 out of 4 stars. He ended his review with, “As a visual experience, Spawn is unforgettable.” I have no insight into the comic, but I know of it and the character. The story is there for sure, but compared to how the movie companies produce comics into feature films these days, “Spawn” suffers from having a bit too “cartoony” feeling and the CGI is truly terrible at times. The acting is as well maybe a bit too theatrical/cartoony, but at the same time it doesn´t feel totally out of place within the cartoon universe. For me the best part of “Spawn” is John Leguizamo as The Violator. He steals every scene he is in and the production crew really managed to make this character come alive with great makeup and outfits. So if they manage to finally make a sequel to “Spawn”, they will hopefully have the money to get some really good CGI and blow our minds on the screen. (2 and a half out of 5)

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Magic!

More or less on the day 30 years ago Information Society released their first album under a major label. Still magnificent! #InformationSociety

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