Month: January 2012

De-Lovely

2004

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Produced and Directed by Irwin Winkler

Written by Jay Cocks

DE-LOVELY is a good example of the way musicals are made nowadays.  Audiences have to have a ‘reason’ for why the people in the movie suddenly break out in song and dance.  I myself have spoken with many people who hate musicals because as they put it: “Why are the people singing?  Where’s the music coming from?”  Well, where does the music come from in a comedy or an action movie?  It’s not real, people.  None of it.  It’s the movies.  Musicals is a genre where you take it on faith that they’re set in an alternate universe where people express their feelings by singing and dancing to music that comes out of thin air. Jeezly. Pay your money and check your sense of reality at the door.

In DE-LOVELY, the conceit is that a man named Gabe (Jonathan Pryce) who may be a guardian angel is taking the old, crippled Cole Porter (Kevin Kline) on a trip back through his life before he dies.  Naturally, Cole’s life is shown to him and us as a stage musical.  Gabe occasionally goes up on stage to give direction to the various characters in Cole’s life, including his wife Linda (Ashley Judd)

The story here in DE-LOVELY is quite simple.  The movie mainly concerns itself with Cole Porter’s amazing music and his complicated relationship with Linda.  Cole Porter is bi-sexual.  Linda had an abusive first marriage that left her uninterested in sex.  She’s content to be the wife of the world famous songwriter and composer.  And it doesn’t hurt Cole’s career that she’s wealthy and socially connected.  As well as willing to ignore Cole’s relationships with other men and women.

The movie depicts the emotional love between him and Linda as real and genuine but physical love between them isn’t all that important.  They sleep in separate bedrooms, only occasionally coming together such as when Cole gets a sudden urge to be a father.  Linda seems to be satisfied with being Cole’s muse and helping direct his career.  It’s Linda who persuades Irving Berlin to come to Venice to offer Cole a job.  The Porters then move to New York where Cole Porter’s Broadway shows are huge smash hits.  It’s Linda who talks Cole into moving to Hollywood where he goes to work for MGM and Louis B. Mayer (Peter Polycarpou) But the move to Hollywood backfires on Linda when Cole gets pulled deeper into the gay subculture and they end up being blackmailed.

DE-LOVELY quickly settles into a routine:  there’s a musical number.  Then we get a scene where Cole and Linda discuss his affairs with women.  Then we get another musical number.  Then we get another scene where Cole and Linda discuss his affairs with men.  And then we get a musical number.  Then we get another…oh, never mind.  I think you get the point by now.

If there’s any reason for you to see the movie it has to be the musical numbers.  Cole Porter wrote some of the greatest songs ever.  “Anything Goes” is one my Ten All Time Favorite Songs and the gimmick in this movie that many contemporary artists appear in the movie in some really terrific numbers singing his songs.  Robbie Williams tears up “It’s De-Lovely” which is sung at the wedding of Cole and Linda.  Elvis Costello performs “Let’s Misbehave” and I really loved the hell out of Alanis Morrisette’s version of “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall In Love”

“Torchwood” fans will get a real charge out of John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness) singing “Night And Day” and while I appreciated Caroline O’Conner’s version of “Anything Goes” where she appears to be channeling Ethel Merman it doesn’t match up to the lavish Kate Capshaw version in “Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom”  There’s also Sheryl Crow doing a really magical version of “Begin The Beguine”, Vivian Green tearing the raw emotion out of “Love For Sale” and many other wonderful performers including Natalie Cole.

I’ve never been impressed with Ashley Judd as an actress.  Remember back in the 90’s when she was doing suspense thrillers and it seemed like she was remaking the same movie every year?  But here she’s not bad.  She’s a contemporary actresses who looks like she could have been a 30’s/40’s actress and she wear the clothes of the period well.  She inhabits the world of the 30’s/40’s as though born to it.  It’s not an Academy Award performance at all but it is an interesting one.  She goes through some remarkable character development during the film and I appreciated what she was doing while she was doing it.

Kevin Kline is…well, he’s Kevin Kline.  The guy looks like he was born in a tuxedo and I’m convinced he had to have lived a previous life in the 1930’s.  He just looks so comfortable and classy inhabiting that world.  It’s an effortless performance that brought a smile to my face.  But Kevin Kline has that effect on me.  He’s just such a good actor I’d watch him in anything.  I’ve seen him in better movies than this but it’s hard for me to say anything bad about an actor who obviously has so much fun doing what he’s good at.  His huge “Be A Clown” number is in the best tradition of classic movie musical numbers.  And what is really interesting is this:  Even though he’s an excellent singer, Mr. Kline deliberately does not sing as well as he normally does since the real Cole Porter wasn’t that good of a singer.

So should you see DE-LOVELY?  It’s not a movie I say you absolutely have to see.  But it’s very interesting in that it’s less of an examination of the life of Cole Porter and more the story of a woman married to a man who prefers anonymous sex with strangers than with her.   But if you’re a fan of Kevin Kline or Cole Porter music it’s most definitely worth a viewing.  And as a further temptation there are those really great musical numbers.  It’s an okay movie if you’re in the mood for a musical.  Enjoy.

PG-13

123 Minutes

Cold Mountain

 2003

Miramax Films

Directed by Anthony Minghella

Produced by Sydney Pollack, Albert Berger & William Horberg

Screenplay by Anthony Minghella

Based on the book by Charles Frazier

I like Jude Law as an actor a lot.  I liked him even before the yearlong Jude Law Film Festival of 2004 since he starred in two of my favorite science fiction movies, “Gattaca” and “eXistenZ”.  He played one of the most unusual hired killers I’ve seen in a motion picture in “Road To Perdition” and an android gigolo in “A.I.”.  So based on the strength of his past track record with me I figured that COLD MOUNTAIN  would be worth watching even though I had heard and read that the movie wasn’t all that good.  This was one time I should have listened.  It’s not that COLD MOUNTAIN is a lousy movie.  In fact, there are an awful lot of good things about it.  It just doesn’t add up to a movie that’s very interesting to watch.  And by the time the end credits came up I found that I really didn’t care much about what I had just watched.

The movie starts just before The Civil War.  Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) and her father, The Good Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland) have just settled in the small North Carolina town of Cold Mountain where they are received warmly and Ada develops an interest in the broodingly handsome Inman (Jude Law).  Beats the hell out of me how they can be so interested in each other when they barely have conversations of more than twenty words at a time.  In fact, Inman comes right out and says to Ada that a relationship between them would be perfect if they never had to talk.  A notion that Ada agrees with.  Now I thought this was a Civil War drama I was watching but the notion of a man finding a woman who doesn’t like to talk skirts dangerously into science fiction territory if you ask me.

Inman goes off to war delightedly and Ada promises to wait for him.  And so she does as the town comes under the control of Teague (Ray Winstone) and his Home Guard.  Supposedly their job is to protect the town but instead they prey upon the women, old men and infirm citizens who have nobody to defend them since all the able bodied men are off fighting in the war.  The Good Reverend Monroe passes away and Ada goes a little nuts, dressing in her father’s coat and hat and letting the farm go to ruin.  Into her life comes a down to earth, no nonsense, take charge spitfire named Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger) who rouses Ada out of the apathy she’s let herself slip into and they start working the farm together.

Meanwhile, Inman has been seriously wounded in a hideously brutal battle and he receives a letter from Ada asking him to forget the war and come home.  Despite warnings from other soldiers that fellows who decide to take a long walk from the war are shot on the spot, Inman deserts and sets out on foot to return to Cold Mountain and the woman he loves.

Now this should be great material for a wonderful love story set against the backdrop of The Civil War but it’s anything but.  The romance between Ada and Inman didn’t work for me because there’s no chemistry between the actors playing them at all and it doesn’t help that Nicole Kidman and Jude Law spend most of the movie apart and since we’re talking about a movie that’s almost three hours long that’s a whole lotta time.  It’s almost as if Nicole Kidman is in one movie and Jude Law is in another.  There’s a sex scene between the two near the end but it still didn’t convince me that these two were madly in love with each other.

This is a movie where the supporting characters are more fun than the leads and Renee Zellweger takes top acting honors here.  She comes into the movie like a whirlwind and her first scene is priceless.  Informed by Ada that she believes that the farm’s rooster is possessed by The Devil since it keeps attacking her, Ruby calmly walks up to the bird, wrings it’s neck and turns to Ada with a big grin and a suggestion they put the bird in a pot.  Whenever Renee Zellweger shows up on the screen, the energy level of the whole movie gets bumped up several welcome notches.  Jude Law’s character meets his share of characters on the road as well: Philip Seymour Hoffman as a preacher who can’t keep his business in his pants where it belongs, Giovanni Ribisi as a sneaky farmer who uses his wife and her sluttish sisters to entrap, rob and murder deserters and Natalie Portman as a lonely widow woman.

COLD MOUNTAIN is one of those movies that led me for the longest time to wonder why Natalie Portman kept getting work as an actress.  She has one expression she wears on her face throughout this movie and it’s not a convincing one.  There’s a scene where she’s about to be raped by Union soldiers and I give the other actors in the scene credit for keeping straight faces during Portman’s horribly unconvincing hysterics.

What’s good about the movie?  Well, Nicole Kidman is as usual, almost supernaturally beautiful here.  Even under all the hardships her character goes through she continues to glow with an angelic aura.  Her scenes with Renee Zellweger are extremely good and have more conviction than her scenes with Jude Law.  The scenery is gorgeous and the way the whole movie is photographed is just terrific.  This is a movie worth watching just for the cinematography alone.  And the opening fifteen minutes has one of the most terrifying battles I’ve ever seen on the screen.  I suppose that knowing he was only going to have one big battle in the movie, the director decided to go all out and he certainly does.  It’s a brutally realistic depiction of men killing each other and after seeing it you can readily understand why Inman decides to say the hell with the war and goes home.

What’s wrong with this movie?  The lack of chemistry between the supposed leads.  Ray Winstone’s badguy Teague.  There’s no reason for him to be in this movie save to provide a threat to Nicole Kidman’s character and he plays the character on the level of an old silent movie villain.  I half expected him to be twirling his mustache every time he showed up.   And one of his minions is an acrobatic albino sharpshooter who seems more like a villain you’d find in “The Wild Wild West” television show than a realistic Civil War drama.  The uneven pacing of the movie doesn’t help due to the nature of Inman’s journey.  The movie is less a unified and complete story and more of a series of incidents strung together.

So after all this, should you see COLD MOUNTAIN?  If you’re a fan of Jude Law, Nicole Kidman or Renee Zellweger you’ll probably enjoy this one.  It didn’t work for me as a love story or as a drama.  I enjoyed the supporting performances and some of the situations Inman finds himself in during his journey are interesting but taken as a whole, I couldn’t recommend this movie as anything other than a time waster on a slow Sunday afternoon if you’re snowed in.

Rated R: There are scenes of violence here that are depicted realistically as well as a graphic sex scene between Jude Law and Nicole Kidman.  I should also mention that there’s a scene where some soldiers threaten a baby that I found very uncomfortable watching.  I think that using a baby in a movie in such a manner is a cheap way for the filmmakers to show what despicable bastards the soldiers are and we could have gotten that impression from their attempted rape of the Natalie Portman character.

152 minutes

Smiley Face

2007

First Look International

Directed by Gregg Araki

Produced by Steve Golin, Gregg Araki, Alix Madigan, Kevin Turen and Henry Winterstern

Written by Dylan Haggerty

I get ragged on quite a bit because a lot of people say that I don’t know what’s funny or that I have too highbrow a sense of humor or don’t have a sense of humor at all.  I will admit that my sense of humor is somewhat skewed.  I went to see “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” during its original theatrical run and sat there laughing like a hyena until my friends told me to shut the hell up or they would beat the piss outta me.  You see, I thought I was watching a spoof of horror movies.  And I’ve sat through “Shaun of The Dead” “Bringing Up Baby” “There’s Something About Mary” without cracking so much as a smile.  I dearly love The Marx Brothers and Buster Keaton but Laurel & Hardy and Charlie Chapin you can keep as they don’t turn my crank at all.

Now there is a genre of comedy I totally get and laugh my ass off every time I watch a movie in that genre: the stoner comedy film.  You see, I’m a member of that generation that listened to Cheech and Chong albums or went to see a Cheech and Chong movie while freely and generously indulging in whatever recreational pharmaceutical of choice.  I think it’s more than safe to say that Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong created the stoner comedy movie genre and without them we wouldn’t have “The Big Lebowski” “Half-Baked””Friday””Dude, Where’s My Car?” the “Harold & Kumar” trilogy or SMILEY FACE.  Why do stoner films make me laugh?  Maybe it’s because of my own personal and professional familiarity with the drug subculture.  I watch stoner films and if it’s a good one, the characters and the situations ring true and that turns my crank.  How do I know if it’s a good one?  Simple.  If you can watch a stoner comedy cold sober or twisted and still laugh your ass off, it’s good.  And SMILEY FACE I would put in that category.

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First of all, what is a stoner comedy film?  It’s a movie that revolves around the use of marijuana and the pursuit/results/consequences of using said drug for comedic effect.  If maryjane is what fuels the plot and gets it going, usually with the characters trying to purchase some pot or what happens to them after they get the weed, it’s a stoner movie.  Now, there are some exceptions, such as “The Big Lebowski” which is just as much a character study and a modern mystery/noir as it as a stoner comedy but that’s a whole ‘nother review.

SMILEY FACE is something really unique in that it’s the only stoner comedy I’ve ever seen with a female stoner as the lead.  Jane F (Anna Faris) is a failed economics student and aspiring actress who one day ends up sitting in a Venice Beach Ferris Wheel car, holding onto the actual Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx and having a conversation with the disembodied voice of Roscoe Lee Browne with absolutely no idea of how she got there because she’s totally and absolutely baked outta her mind.  The movie then jumps back to the beginning of the day to show us how Jane got there.

First of all, it wasn’t such a good idea that Jane started hitting her bong at 9AM since she has an important audition at 11.  After getting high, she gets the munchies and eats a dozen cupcakes baked by her really weird roommate Steve (Danny Masterson).  Jane assumed that Steve doesn’t get high since she’s never seen him indulge but that’s because Steve ingests his wacky tobaccy through cupcakes.  Just so happens that Steve has baked a dozen cupcakes full of industrial strength weed to take to his buddies at a sci-fi convention so they can get their wigs tight.  Naturally, the overdose of marijuana takes Jane to a new level of high she’s never been at before.  The rest of the day follows her as she tries to replace her roommate’s cupcakes, pay back her dealer (Adam Brody) and make her audition all while totally blitzed on bammy.

First off, SMILEY FACE is absolutely and totally funny.  And in a large part that is due to Anna Faris and her performance.  Prior to this, I only knew her from the “Scary Movies” franchise but after seeing this movie I’m going to find her other work and watch it.  She’s on screen just about the entire running time of the movie and she owns it from start to finish.  I have no idea if she ever indulged in marijuana use but in her body language, the look on her face and the phrasing of her words in certain situations, she gets it absolutely right.  There’s a scene where she and her dealer are discussing Reagonomics as it applies to drug dealing and I forgot to laugh as she had me completely convinced she was high.  And there’s the scene in a meat packing plant where she gives a rallying cry for unionism and the workers to throw off the chains of their oppressors that belongs in The Hall Of Fame of Great Movie Moments.  I would not dream of telling you how that scene ends.

smiley-facePart of the fun of watching this movie is seeing how many of the supporting characters are people we know from our favorite TV shows and movies.  Danny Trejo is here, partnered with John Cho who plays ‘Harold’ in the “Harold & Kumar” trilogy.  Jane Lynch and Jayma Mays you know from “Glee”.  Danny Masterson you know as Hyde from “That 70’s Show”.  John Krasinsky from “The Office” is here as a nerd in love with Jane.  Marion Ross, Fonzi’s beloved ‘Mrs. C’ from “Happy Days” has a small but pivotal role as well.

So should you see SMILEY FACE?  Without a doubt, yes.  If for no other reason than the outstandingly hilarious Anna Faris performance, if you need a good reason.  It’s streaming on Netflix right now.  Go watch and enjoy.  And you don’t even have to indulge in your recreational pharmaceutical of choice to enjoy it.

But it wouldn’t hurt.

88 minutes

Rated R

Altitude

2010

Darclight Films

Directed by Kaare Andrews

Produced by Ian Birkett

Written by Paul A. Birkett

 For the longest time I have believed that “Cursed” the werewolf movie starring Christina Ricci and Joshua Jackson was the worst movie I have ever seen.  Prior to that, the champ was “The Blue Lagoon “starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins.

Well, not that I was looking for it but I’ve found one worse than the both of them. All hail the new champion: ALTITUDE.

Five friends board a light aircraft, looking forward to a weekend of partying.  The pilot is Sara (Jessica Lowndes) who has recently got her license.  Within five minutes we know that she’s The Level Headed One.  Her boyfriend Bruce should have a sign on him that reads The Character With The Big Secret That Explains Everything since he’s so twitchy right from the first minute we see him that there’s no surprise later on when he does turn out to have The Big Secret That Explains Everything.  Mel (Julianna Guill) is an aspiring filmmaker who has the annoying habit of sticking her camera in everybody’s face.  Since Sara has claimed The Level Headed One title, this means that Mel is designated The One Who Comes Unglued When Things Go Wrong by default.  Sal (Jake Weary) is The Obligatory Dickhead while Cory (Ryan Donowho) is The Rock Steady Heroic Type.

Due to a freak accident, the plane flies into a storm, climbing higher and higher because the elevator mechanism that controls altitude is jammed.  What’s even worse is that Sara stupidly took off with the gas tank half full and the plane will run out of fuel in an hour.  First thing Sara suggests is that they throw everything out of the plane to lighten it and thus make the gas last longer and the second thing she suggests is that somebody climb out on the outside of the plane while they’re flying at top speed through a storm at twenty-four thousand feet to manually unjam the elevator mechanism.

I did tell you that Sara was The Level Headed One, right?  Right.  On we go.

It’s Cory who goes outside as he argues that his free rock climbing experience makes him the logical choice.  Beats the hell out of me how weekend rock climbing qualifies him to even attempt such a thing but hey, I didn’t write this brain dead mess.  The expected happens and Cory is lost.  But not before the others see what looks to be a huge, tentacled monster in the storm, following them.

Now here’s my beef with ALTITUDE: I dig the idea of a Lovecraftian monster living in the storm and terrorizing the plane.  But I also dig the idea of these four remaining people trapped in the plane turning on each other, becoming more paranoid and freaked out.  The problem with ALTITUDE is that it can’t make up its mind which movie it wants to be.  So it tries to be both and as a result, ends up being neither as it resorts to a final “surprise ending” to explain everything that even M. Night Shyamalan wouldn’t have dared try pulling off.

What can I say good about the movie?  I did actually like how inventive the cinematographer was in filming the actors inside such a confined space as 90% of ALTITUDE takes place inside a small passenger plane.  Even though there’s not much space to work with, I never felt as if I were looking at the same shot over and over again.  I did like Jessica Lowndes and admired her ability to sell her character and quite frankly, she’s the reason I hung in there with the movie until the end.  An ending that quite honestly left me sitting there with my mouth open as I could not believe what happened in the last fifteen minutes of the movie.

If you’re at all curious to see ALTITUDE, it’s on you.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

90 minutes

Rated R

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol

2011

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Brad Bird

Produced by Tom Cruise, J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk

Written by Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum

Based on the television series “Mission: Impossible” created by Bruce Geller

Unlike a lot of people I really don’t have anything against the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film series.  The major argument people always throw at me is that it’s not the TV series.  Well, of course it’s not.  The only way to make it faithful to the TV series would be to get together a group of little known, semi-retired or B/C list actors in an ensemble piece.  Once I heard that Tom Cruise was going to be starring in the first one, I knew it was going to be his movie all the way.

And to be honest, I don’t have a problem with that.  America needs her own world-saving superspy and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has been doing a respectable job in the four movies to date.  I liked “Mission: Impossible” directed by Brian DePalma even though I think it deplorable what they did to the Jim Phelps character.   The second one was a let-down.  If it had been any other director, it would have been a home run but I was expecting more from John Woo.  Not that “Mission: Impossible II” was a bad movie.  It was my own fault for having such high expectations.  “Mission: Impossible III” was just okay.  Again, not that it was a bad movie and I enjoyed seeing Seymour Philip Hoffman play a bad guy as much as he appeared to be enjoying it.  But ten minutes after seeing that movie, I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was about.

But I’m glad to be able to say that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL knocks it out of the park.  For me it’s the most satisfying and exciting of the four.  Wonderful globetrotting locations, great action, phenomenal stunts and engaging characters tied into a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a Cold War era James Bond movie adds up to an entertaining package.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is broken out of a Moscow prison by IMF agents Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Jane Carter (Paula Patton) who need him to infiltrate The Kremlin.  Carter, Dunn and another agent, Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) were working a mission involving the interception of a courier working for a shadow agent codenamed Cobalt.  Hanaway was killed during the mission and now Jane and Benji need Ethan as a replacement to complete the mission.

The mission turns out to be a colossal set-up.  The Kremlin is blown up with Ethan and his team implicated.  The President of The United States invokes The Ghost Protocol which disavows the entire Impossible Mission Force.  Ethan and his team, along with intelligence analyst William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are considered to be rogue agents.  Despite their having no backup at all, the four elect to pursue Cobalt and clear the IMF force.  It’s during their investigation they learn that Cobalt actually is Kurt Hendricks, a nuclear strategist who believes that nuclear war is necessary for human evolution.  He used the Kremlin bombing as a cover for his theft of a nuclear launch code device and framed the IMF so that he’d be in the clear.  From then on it’s a race against time as Ethan and his team has to stop Cobalt starting World War III.

I really enjoyed how the team aspect of the Mission: Impossible concept was used in this one.  It comes the closest to being faithful to the teamwork in the TV show as everybody on Ethan’s team is essential to the success of the mission and has their role to play.  If one person drops the ball, the mission is screwed.  Add to that the fact that Ethan has never worked with them before.  He’s in a situation where he has to trust them and get them to mesh together as a smoothly functioning machine.  In the previous three movies we’re constantly told what a great team leader Ethan Hunt is but this is the first time that we actually see him working at it.

The movie also has something the previous three didn’t have: some much needed humor thanks to Simon Pegg.  Thankfully, he doesn’t overdo the comedy relief.  He does just enough to enable us to laugh and relax a bit.  Especially during some of the exhilarating and truly harrowing action sequences such as the climbing of the Burj Khalifa tower.  If you have any kind of fear of heights at all, this scene will definitely leave you with no fingernails as I can guarantee you’ll chew them all off while watching.

The story takes some really clever twists and turns and there are resolutions to the sub-plots I honestly didn’t see coming, most notably the sub-plot involving the Jeremy Renner character.  And I loved the opening credits which pays homage to the opening credits of the TV show.

So should you see MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL?  If you’ve seen the first three then you probably already have.  If you’ve never seen any the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films then this is a good one to start with.  You don’t have to worry about not having seen the first three to understand this as the writers and director get you up to speed on everything you need to know.  And with this movie, Brad Bird, who has done animated features such as “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” shows that he’s an action director to watch.  MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE-GHOST PROTOCOL is a terrific action picture.  Go watch and enjoy.

133 minutes

PG-13

Ganja & Hess

GANJA & HESS

1973

Kelly/Jordan Enterprises

Directed and Written by Bill Gunn

Produced by Chiz Schultz

If you’ve been reading my reviews here at The Ferguson Theater or listening to me pontificate over at Better In The Dark then you know full well that one of my particular bugaboos is how African-Americans are so poorly represented in horror movies.  Despite its reputation as a ground breaking horror movie that has a black man as the lead character, I can’t get behind the original “Night of The Living Dead” on that basis.  Oh, it’s a superior horror movie, I don’t dispute that.  But every decision Ben (Duane Jones) makes gets somebody killed.  Ironically, he survives the night by doing exactly what another character suggested at the beginning of the movie: he goes into the basement and stays quiet.  Earlier on, Ben had rejected that plan and insisted everybody stay upstairs while he nails all the windows and doors shut, keeping every light in the joint burning like its New Year’s Eve.  Naturally, every zombie for miles is attracted to the light and noise.  You know the rest.

When it comes to blacks in horror movies I always point to “The People Under The Stairs” and “Anaconda” in which not only does the brother (Ice Cube) live to see the end of the movie but a Latina as well (Jennifer Lopez).  Those two movies are superior examples of black leading characters in horror movies.  I’d also add the two “Blacula” movies, “The Omega Man” “The Beast Must Die” “Sugar Hill” (which is actually more of a superhero movie than horror) “J.D.’s Revenge”and “Candyman”

And then there’s GANJA & HESS.  It’s a vampire movie unlike any other vampire movie I’ve ever seen.  I’ve heard about this movie for years but it has been notoriously hard to find.  Once again I have to bow in respect to Turner Classic Movies and their Saturday night “Underground” as they have repeatedly come through in airing long forgotten movies I had given up all hope of seeing.  But hey, they aired “The Apple” and for that alone, they had me. They regularly show GANJA & HESS so keep an eye out for it there.

Duane Jones from “Night of The Living Dead” is starring in this one  He’s Dr. Hess Green, an archaeologist and geologist whose particular field of expertise is the ancient and long dead African civilization of Myrthia.  He’s breaking in a new assistant, George (Bill Gunn) who seems to be borderline manic depressive as he’s given to these long rambling stream-of-consciousness conversations that really aren’t conversations as he’s the only one talking.  Hess mainly smokes and listens to him in silence.  No doubt wondering if he shoulda checked out this cat a little more in depth before hiring him.  The camel that breaks the straw back is the night when Hess finds George sitting up in a tree, drinking wine and contemplating suicide.

That same night, George attacks Hess, stabbing him with a bone knife from Myrthia.  George kills himself afterwards but Hess amazingly has not died.  The bone knife has infected him with the curse of vampirism.  But it’s not the type of vampirism we’ve come to know from other movies.  Hess can be seen in mirrors.  He walks around quite comfortably in daylight and rather than shunning churches and the cross, he keeps crosses in his house, employs a minister as his chauffeur and actively professes his Christian beliefs.  But the bloodlust is there and to satisfy it, Hess is forced to steal from blood banks and prey on lower class street people.

The situation is complicated by the unexpected arrival of George’s wife, Ganja (Marlene Clark) who is broke and demands that Hess produce her husband so that he can give her the money he promised.  Instead, Hess offers her George’s accommodations in his palatial mansion.  It’s not long after that they begin a sexual relationship that develops into love and marriage.  It’s then that Hess decides to turn Ganja into a vampire like himself.  And that’s when things really start to get strange…

What sets GANJA & HESS apart from any other vampire movie for me is the clash of African blood rituals and American Christianity depicted.  Hess is plagued by visions of a Myrthian queen (Mabel King) but at the same time he is drawn toward Christianity as a means of curing himself or at least of saving his soul.  Ganja’s influence drives him in a new directly as she is motivated solely by material possessions.  It’s an amusing scene when she first meets Hess and assumes he’s a servant.  If and when you see the movie, observe how fast her attitude changes when she realizes that Hess is wealthy.  For her, wealth covers a whole lot of multitude of sins.  Even murder and vampirism.

But be advised that this is a movie shot on the cheap.  There obviously wasn’t much money to spend on this.  But that works in the movie’s favor as if has a gritty, realistic feel that adds to the horror, especially during one of the movie’s more powerful scenes where Hess kills and feeds on a whore and her pimp.

Marlene Clark walks off with the acting honors and well she should.  By the time she did GANJA & HESS she had already racked up numerous roles in blaxplotation films and TV shows.  What I like about her in this one is her naked lust for material wealth that in itself a form of vampirism.

So should you see GANJA & HESS?  Now that’s it’s also available on DVD I certainly think you should.  It is slow moving in spots and almost blatantly surrealistic at times.  But it’s a powerful exploration of the vampire that I found engaging and highly interesting and I’m betting you will, too.  Enjoy.

110 minutes

Rated R