Friday, December 3, 2021

The Call: a treat for those who hate obnoxious teens

Greetings, commies!

You can never have too many revenge horror/thrillers featuring obnoxious, impulsive, selfish American teens. Check out The Call, a deeply satisfying, intellectually intriguing paranormal horror flick.


In the fall of 1987, a group of small-town friends must survive the night in the home of a sinister couple after a tragic accident brings them to the couple's door.

My thoughts:

First of all, let me assure you: you are NOT a monster for gloating when obnoxious, self-centered teenagers get their comeuppance. In fact, it's one of the few acceptable guilty pleasures. There is a reason why teeny slasher movies with elements of torture porn are popular: too many people have less than pleasant memories from high school days, and too many people have fantasized of exacting revenge on their insufferable classmates. For that reason, movies about teens getting trapped, tortured and potentially killed will never go out of style. 

Bad acting and less than authentic costumes aside, "The Call" has a fairly intricate, intellectually stimulating concept framework. There is something to be said for setting this particular movie in the 1980s, before the popularization of mobile phones and the internet. Sometimes limiting technology actually opens up plot possibilities. The writers have to find new creative ways to use outdated technology. 

Saturday, November 13, 2021

"Belzebuth": a gem of Mexican horror

Greetings, commies!

Halloween is over, but it doesn't mean that you should stop watching horror flicks. Consider signing up for Shudder on Amazon. Today I would like to share "Belzebuth", a gem of Mexican horror. Warning, if you are triggered by cruelty to children, you may rethink watching this film.


The story begins in a hospital with detective Emmanuel Ritter and his wife celebrating the birth of their baby. When Ritter receives a call from his office, he leaves and a nurse takes the baby to the nursery. The nurse locks the nursery door, takes out a scalpel, and starts to stab Ritter's baby and other infants in the nursery. Before anyone can break into the nursery, the nurse has killed all the newborns and slit her own throat.

Many years later, Ritter remains traumatized and emotionally distant, unable to process the death of his son. At work, he learns of a mass shooting at an elementary school. This turns out to be only one of a series of gruesome massacres in the area. Ritter embarks on a paranormal investigation, looking for an excommunicated priest and trying to find the evil force responsible for the shocking incidents.

My thoughts

I have only recently discovered the delectable world of Latin American horror films. "Belzebuth" pulls no punches and cuts no corners. There are certain subjects US directors will not touch for fear of offending the audiences that are used to jump scares and cliches. I have a pretty thick skin and a strong stomach, but some of the scenes left me gasping for air. Rarely do you get a horror film with strong Biblical themes tied to demonology. There are horror movies about religion, and there are horror movies about demons, but rarely do you get such an effective and disturbing weaving of the two. So, if you are find yourself underwhelmed by the mainstream American movies, give "Belzebuth" a chance. It's both sickening and intellectually stimulating, tapping into the para-Biblical mythology. 

Friday, October 22, 2021

Birds of Paradise: a mediocre wannabe artsy endeavor

Greetings, commies!

If you have Amazon Prime, you have probably been flooded with movie suggestions. I noticed that the ones worth watching are quickly migrating to paid platforms like Shudder. The free stuff is ... sometimes worth watching if you are in a mood to find production flaws. Birds of Paradise is one of such flicks. I watched it because I am a former dancer myself, and I always wonder what stereotypes the director will explore.

Kate is an aspiring ballerina who is given a scholarship to attend a prestigious ballet school in Paris. Upon arrival her confidence is tested by a fellow dancer, Marine who recently lost her brother. While confrontational at first, their relationship evolves into an emotionally charged, competitive union beset by lies and sexual awakening as they risk it all to join the Opéra national de Paris.

My thoughts

The dull title aside, the writing itself is very lazy and clumsy. The novice actresses try to do their best with the script, but some of the dialogue is just at the level of a sixth grade creative writing workshop. Is it so hard to write a screenplay about ballet without incest, drug use (we are not told what drugs those are) or girl on girl action? My biggest complaint is that there are so many implausible twists and loose endings that do not end up getting tied towards the end. Characters appear and vanish without serving any kind of purpose. I don't know where the movie was filmed, but the sanitized set is anything but modern Paris. Maybe, someone who has never been to Paris won't know any different.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

"Replace" - a slow burn gem of mind & body horror

Greetings, commies!

Halloween is about 7 weeks away, but it's not too late to start prepping your watch list. Today's review is of Replace, a deeply rewarding and intelligent body horror film. 


Afflicted with a dermatological disease, young and beautiful Kira discovers that she can replace her skin with that of other girls. Helped by her lover, she plots a murder and the victim becomes her donor, but when the disease returns, she is forced to find more victims.

My thoughts:

If you are looking for mindless scream fest with a linear plot, do not watch this movie. It has a challenging texture, and you will find yourself frustrated. You must be in the right frame of mind to appreciate this gem. The one-word title of the film doesn't tell you much until you actually watch the whole thing through. You have to be patient and open-minded as you sit through the initial scenes that don't appear to make sense. The payoff is worth it. If you have seen "Vanilla Sky" or "Dark City", you will appreciate the mind and body horror. The film examines the concept of self. Is there more to "self" other than long term memory and body tissue? 

Kira, the protagonist, is not very sympathetic from start. She comes across as a superficial brat and doesn't make you want to root for her. In fact, you get that "serves you right" reaction when she starts suffering physically. Again, resist the knee-jerk temptation to stop watching just because the main character annoys you. 

And of course, no body horror movie would not be complete without the incomparable Barbara Crampton. After a few horror staples of the 1980s, she has earned this role as a mad demoness who justifies her actions by her hunger for discovery and progress. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

Warsaw 44: a ruined opportunity


Greetings, commies!

You can never have too many WWII films on your list. I am always browsing Amazon suggestions. Every few months new titles are added. Being of mixed Central European heritage, I am addicted to movies about the Eastern front. I encourage you to watch Warsaw 44. Let me know if you are bothered by the same things I was bothered by when I watched it. 


The true story of a group of scouts called Szare Szeregi during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. The liberation of one of its members through maverick military action in broad daylight known as ''Action at the Arsenal," was the single biggest feat undertaken by a youth resistance organization in all of occupied Europe during WWII. Polish language with English subtitles.

My thoughts:

I really wanted to love this movie. The subject of Polish resistance, so dear to my heart, is so unfairly underrepresented in film and literature. It made me sad to see what would be a serious and poignant feature reduced to a war game ad. The most powerful WWII movies have minimal soundtracks. Nothing creates suspense like eerie lull. The loud, obnoxious, campy soundtrack in "Warsaw 44" detracts from the story. The slow motion kiss with bullets flying around evokes certain scenes from Chinese martial arts epics. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Nazi". I know there were many parties involved in sponsoring the production of this movie, and it shows. There is no single vision. Multiple creative influencers were locking horns about what the look and the atmosphere of the film should be. 

Stylistic faults aside, the casting was pretty decent. The depiction of the Polish resistance fighters is realistic. They are not professional soldiers. They are earnest, fearless, passionate, sincere amateurs who have no formal military training. They still rise to the face the enemy. These kids stand up, knowing they will be wiped out. Yes, you can be both patriotic and realistic. Now, if someone could re-edit the movie with a better soundtrack and get rid of the cartoonish special effects!

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Where Hands Touch - an interracial love story during WWII

Greetings, commies!

You know my fondness for obscure historical occurrences that get ignored (unfairly) by writers and filmmakers. Where Hands Touch is the answer to my prayers, the treat for my hunger. The archetype of a tormented, conflicted, sympathetic Nazi soldier is not new, but in this film it's taken to a different level and given an additional layer of human complexity. I am grateful that there is a film highlighting the complicated plight of Afro-Germans during WWII. They were not exterminated en masse like Jews or gypsies, and they were given some protection under the Reich, but their position was rather precarious. 


When the daughter of a white German mother and an African father meets a member of the Hitler Youth - compulsory for all Aryan boys in 1944 Germany, they must battle against the fates laid out before them during the most brutal of times.

My thoughts:

This film exceeded my already high expectations, from impeccable casting to authentic acting. A film like this could have been so easy to ruin with excessive sentimentality or righteousness. There were so many opportunities to throw in some 21st century righteousness and monologues about human dignity. Thankfully, the screenwriter did not tumble into that ravine. Humanist ideology is strategically rationed.

I will not commit the common crime and compare the main characters to Romeo & Juliet - that would be a lazy shortcut - but this is a story of two ideologically confused and conflicted lovers. Leyna and Lutz discover the difference between patriotism and allegiance to an absurd regime. I was a little surprised that Leyna was not more bitter towards her ... hm... "fatherland" after all the rejection and mockery she had faced there, after all the filthy things she had heard. She continues clinging to the idea of being German and loving Germany. She has a sort of Stockholm syndrome towards her country and her background.

Any time you have an international cast, the director has to decide which language they speak in and if they should have an accent. You have American and British actors faking German accent to various degrees of authenticity, but that does not detract from the movie.

The character who plays Lutz also has some moderate acne. I don't know if it was a deliberate move to not have it treated prior to shooting. Those teenage outbreaks give him an air of vulnerability. It's terrifying to see that scrawny, pale, pimply kid in an SS uniform. Makes you think of how many other German boys were cajoled into this hellish situation under similar circumstances.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Through a Different Lens: A Pride and Prejudice Variation

Greetings, commies and fellow Aspies!

This novel should have been reviewed in April - the autism awareness month. As a proud and vocal member of the neurodivergent community, I should really commit to reading and reviewing more works featuring characters on the spectrum. Through a Different Lens by Riana Everly is a yet another take on the classic Pride & Prejudice. It offers an actual clinical explanation for Mr. Darcy's behavior. What would it be like to be on the spectrum before the term autism existed? What social perils did autistic people face in Regency England?


Elizabeth Bennet has disliked the aloof and arrogant Mr. Darcy since he insulted her at a village dance several months before. But an unexpected conversation and a startling turn of phrase suddenly causes her to reassess everything she thought she knew about the infuriating and humourless gentleman.

Elizabeth knows something of people who think differently. Her young cousin in London has always been different from his siblings and peers, and Lizzy sees something of this boy’s unusual traits in the stern gentleman from Derbyshire whose presence has plagued her for so long. She approaches him in friendship and the two begin a tentative association. But is Lizzy's new understanding of Mr. Darcy accurate? Or was she right the first time? And will the unwelcome appearance of a nemesis from the past destroy any hopes they might have of happiness?

My thoughts:

Let me begin by saying that I am not a huge fan of the original P&P. I never understood all the swooning around Darcy. Clearly, there are enough readers and writers fascinated by him to spawn a metastatic plethora of sequels and spinoffs. I picked this particular spinoff because I was intrigued by the original twist on Darcy's character. I commend the author for immersing herself in the world of Jane Austen and her characters, for reproducing their language and customs that may seem so foreign to 21st century readers. A truly titanic endeavor! It is so easy to ruin a novel like this with flippant anachronisms. You almost have to be on the spectrum yourself to become so obsessed by that era, by that social strata, to replicate scenes from their daily lives. 

If you disliked the Lizzie-Darcy pair in Austen's original, you are not going to like them in this particular novel. They have kept their most annoying traits from P&P - and that's what makes their interaction so intriguing and entertaining. The chemistry between them is mildly toxic. You keep wondering how high the toxicity levels will rise before an explosion occurs. 

I noticed that some reviewers criticize the novel as tedious, but the original itself is rather slow-paced. You enjoy this novel, you need to train your attention span and learn to appreciate the slow burn. Remember, the people of that class had plenty of time to reflect and ruminate. 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

"The Life Before Her Eyes" - a man-hating anthem

Greetings, commies & screenwriters

If you want a lesson on how to create annoying, unsympathetic female protagonists that you cannot wait to strangle with your bare hands, check out The Life Before Her Eyes. It's on Prime now. 


The Life Before Her Eyes is a 2007 American thriller film directed by Vadim Perelman. The screenplay was adapted by Emil Stern from the Laura Kasischke novel of the same name. The film stars Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood. It was released on April 18, 2008, and revolves around a survivor's guilt from a Columbine-like event that occurred 15 years previously, which causes her present-day idyllic life to fall apart.

My thoughts:

I watched this movie because it popped up in my suggestions. A good chunk of it was filmed in my area - Stamford/Greenwich, CT. I remember entire blocks barricaded for that purpose. What detracted from a potentially compelling story was the blatant misandry. There is not a single redeeming male character in the novel! They are either cheaters, or psychopath murderers, or cowards. Evan Rachel Wood plays the same character over and over again - a sarcastic, rebellions teenager. I am referring to "Thirteen", "Pretty Persuasion" and "Mildred Pierce". I am sure she is a fine actress with some range, but she keeps getting typecast in the same role. It's like the same character with different hopping from one movie into another. In "The Life" she does not come across as very sympathetic. At some point you just want to smack her. Her character Diane acts like she is the only teenager living with a divorced overworked mom. She does not become more sympathetic just because the men around her are dirt bags. I don't know whose shortcoming it is, the director's or the screenwriter's, but tooting misogyny is not the most effective way to create sympathetic female protagonists.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

"Saint Maud" - the "Bad Lieutenant" for medical workers

Greetings, commies!

I love a horror movie with a greater purpose. There are too many Exorcist knock offs. Saint Maud gets lumped with possession/exorcism movies, though it's anything but. 


A newly devout hospice nurse, becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient's soul - but sinister forces, and her own sinful past, threaten to put an end to her holy calling.

My thoughts:

This movie is NOT about religion. It does not push Christian dogma, and it does not ridicule Christianity. You can enjoy it and get a lot out of it regardless of your position on organized religion. It does for the medical profession what "Bad Lieutenant" had done for law enforcement. Most medical workers struggle with guilt to some extent. Most of them can name that one incident that left them questioning their professional competency. "Saint Maud" features an extreme case of survivor guilt mixed with professional liability. Katie, a hospice nurse, who blames herself for the death of her patient, invents a whole new persona for herself, flip-flopping between asceticism and hedonism. To appreciate this movie better, you should watch it with "Bad Lieutenant" and "Black Swan". 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

"Russian Bride" - more gross than gritty

Hello commies,

A few weeks ago I reviewed another movie about the so-called immigrant experience. Here is another review of a movie featuring a foreign damsel in distress caught in the throes of her American nightmare, Michael Ojeda's The Russian Bride


A Russian woman travels to America with her daughter to marry a reclusive billionaire, who turns out to be a psycho who sends their lives spiraling into a living hell.

My thoughts:

If you watch it as a straight up torture porn with implausible "deus ex machina" twists, you can give it 3 stars. Don't let the title fool you. This movie does nothing to educate the audiences about the plight of international marriages. This is not a story of a deceived mail order bride overcoming adversity. The movie does reinforce some unsavory stereotypes. If you are a Russian divorcee in your 30s with a kid corresponding with an American multi-millionaire, this is NOT a cautionary tale. Most American men are not sadistic sociopaths, as most Russian women seeking husbands oversees are not meek, accommodating lambs with angelic children. This is lazy character development and an insult to American audiences. So the fact that the female protagonist happens to be Russian is not crucial to plot development. Substitute Russian with any other nationality. She could have as well been Asian or Latin American. As for the plot itself, it tries to tackle some serious bio-ethical issues, but it does it in such a blaring, silly, over the top and unconvincing way, that you will find yourself rolling your eyes. I almost feel bad for the actors, trying to do their best with a flippant, immature script. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Most Beautiful Island - the protagonist you want to strangle

Greetings, commies!

As an immigrant myself, I am intrigued by the portrayal of immigrants in film. I get it, every story is unique, and not every story results in the achievement of the American Dream. Here is a psychological thriller/horror film Most Beautiful Island featuring white immigrant experience - the two main characters are Spanish and Russian, respectively. 

I don't know if the director intended to make the protagonist Luciana incredibly annoying and unsympathetic. You almost want something bad to happen to this woman. Contrary to what the synopsis suggests, this is not a true immigrant survival tale. This woman is not fighting for survival. She is flippantly soul-searching and avoiding responsibility after letting her own kid die in an accident. She thinks that caring for other people's children or cleaning houses is beneath her, because she is European. She is looking to make a lot of money under the table without getting her hands dirty. She endangers the children in her care and she damages expensive garments so she doesn't have to pay for them. So don't be surprised if you find yourself wishing that she got what she deserves. This is no "Dirty Pretty Things".

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Come Play: an exploitation of autism stereotypes

Greetings, commies!

April is the autism awareness month, and, being somewhat of an insider, I felt compelled to review a recent horror film featuring an autistic character, Come Play, 2020.

I understand that it's a horror movie first and foremost. It's not meant to build awareness around autism. It's not trying to be "woke" in that regard. At least, I hope it's not. I had very mixed feelings about a mainstream movie using an autistic central character. I had hoped they would depict a young boy in a more authentic, nuanced manner. I will be the first one to tell you that there is no such thing as a "typical autistic person". This boy is a compilation of autistic stereotypes. Wide-eyed and angel-faced, he is endearing enough to keep the shock value to the minimum. Think of it as a vanilla, sanitized version of an autistic stereotype. And of course, the imperfect mother becomes a perfect martyr - another stereotype around families of autistic children. I give the storyline a B-. It's another bud on the "Babadook" tree.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Girl With the Silver Star: a refreshingly old-fashioned protagonist

Greetings, commies!

I am delighted to post the review of Rachel Zolotov's novel The Girl With the Silver Star. I share the Judeo-Slavic connection, so I read it with particular interest. The topic of WWII refugees in evacuation does not get nearly as much attention as it should. So be sure to add this gem to your collection.

My thoughts:

It would not be entirely accurate to file this novel under Russian Literature or Russian History category. Eastern European Jews comprise a unique and enduring sub-culture. The characters of "The Girl With the Silver Star" speak Yiddish in addition to Russian and they retain elements of their religion at a time when atheism was sweeping through the newly formed Soviet Union. It would be more appropriate to file this novel under Jewish literature. Believe me, I am of mixed Judeo-Slavic heritage myself, so I know the cultural nuances. Jews and Russians do not appreciate being referred to interchangeably. Even though the Soviet influences had softened some of their differences, they are two very distinct cultural universes. 

What I found refreshing about this novel is the fact that the speaker/protagonist is not a talking head for "progress". Raisa is a sincere, demure, domestic, feminine, wholesome and in some ways childlike. It seems like historical fiction abounds with female characters that push some left wing agenda. You expect to have some female artist trying to assert herself in a man's world. If you want to take a break from that, try looking at WWII through the eyes of a humble housewife, whose only ambition is to ensure survival for herself and her loved ones. She is not motivated to "change the world" or "improve the lot of women". As matter of fact, Soviet propaganda strove to minimize the differences between men and women. Women were encouraged to ditch the "bourgeois" gender roles, roll up their sleeves and toil side by side with men. In that regard, Raisa is outside the mainstream. It was not common for Soviet women in the 1930s and 40s to stay at home and take care of their children. Raisa is more Jewish than Soviet. Her husband Abraham is equally meek. He never abuses his role as sole provider for the family. That makes the reader all the more concerned for this soft-spoken family man who is hurled into the world of violence that his traditional Jewish upbringing did not prepare him for.

I also found it surprising that the characters spent so little timing thinking and talking about the obvious - the Nazis. There is very little room for rage and hatred in the hearts of the characters. They barely talk about Hitler. It's almost like he is this foggy, distant bogeyman whose name they dare not utter. Or maybe they do not fully understand the enemy's motivation. 

Ultimately, we have to remember that his novel is Rachel Zolotov's recreation of her great grandmother's story. This is not a straight up memoir. It's a fictional reconstruction of family history. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

Valerie and Her Week of Wonder

Greetings, commies!

Spring is around the corner, and all sorts of "awakenings" are in store for us. If you are up for an artsy, sexy European flick that pulls no punches, consider Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, a 1970 masterpiece of the Czechoslovak New Wave movement. The film portrays the heroine as living in a disorienting dream, cajoled by priests, vampires, and men and women alike. The film blends elements of the fantasy and horror film genres.

My thoughts:

If you are fans of Kurt Russell's over the top, dreamlike, hallucinatory, gorgeous films, you must add "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders" to the list. If you are familiar with the historical and political nuances behind Czech cinematography of the 1960s and 70s, you will enjoy the movie on a different level. But if you are just watching it as a straight up psychedelic fantasy, you will still appreciate it. You will pick up on the plot elements from "Little Red Riding Hood": a pubescent young woman with a rather complicated, potentially sinister relationship to her maternal relatives, predatory males, heroic rescuer figures. The film depicts that sexual awakening in a woman is not just about having attraction to a boy. It also contains an element of violence. It's not just about consummating with the boy next door - sometimes it's about setting the whole village on fire. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Look Away - a teen horror flick a cut above the rest

Greetings, commies!

If you are craving a teen horror flick one cut above the rest, consider Look Away. Maria, an alienated high-school student has her life turned upside down when she switches places with her sinister mirror image.

My thoughts:

Here is a teen-centered horror movie that doesn't actually insult the viewer's intelligence with jump scares and toilet humor. You will see some familiar horror staples. They mystical properties of the mirror have been explored in cinema before. And yes, you will find elements of Stephen King's "Carrie", but then, you can expect that from any movie about a high school outcast. The leading actress, who was in her mid-twenties when the movie was filmed, pulls off a high-schooler convincingly. An old soul trapped in a child's body - that works well for her character. The premise of the movie really made me think that we all have a dark twin living inside of us. You may not be tempted to sleep with the lights on after watching this movie, but you will certainly spend a few extra seconds staring at your reflection, wondering who's on the other side.

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister: money solves everything

Greetings, commies!

Valentine's Day is coming, and you wouldn't expect me to review anything vanilla or traditional. So here is my review of BBC's biography drama The Secret Diaries of Miss Anne Lister, the story of one of England's first modern lesbians. 

My thoughts:

If you expect a heart-wrenching outcast story, this film is not it. Anne Lister, the focal heroine, enjoys a pretty high quality of life despite not confirming to social expectations. Apart from an occasional remark from a male neighbor or an indignant glance, she is not really harassed or victimized. It certainly helps to have land and money. Material things make everything better, they make one's exile a little less bleak. An heiress of independent means can afford to be a little ... eccentric. From what I know about 19th century morality, female homosexuality fell under the radar during the regency and the Victorian era. While there were legal and social consequences for gay men, lesbians were scrutinized to the same degree. It is said that Queen Victoria denied the very existence of female homosexuality.

The most surprising part is the number of like-minded women around Anne Lister. At least in this film, her immediate surrounding abounds with women who are at least open to exploring romantic prospects with other women. Anne is hardly isolated. Far from it. She has her own internal posse. When one romantic partner leaves her to marry a much older man, she has no trouble replacing her without much advertising. It's also said that Anne did not really care about the plight of the poor. Her focus was on improving her estate. She basked in her privilege and did not apologize for it. I guess, back in the early 1800s it was considered more controversial to rebel against the class system than against the gender norms. Anne did not try to start a revolution. No, she wanted to capitalize on her estate and enjoy her personal, private happiness.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Evil Eye: an avalanche of ethnic stereotypes


Greetings, commies!

Happy New Year! Today's rotten turnip is a tryin'-to-be mystical thriller Evil Eye, a part of the Blumhouse anthology. A seemingly perfect romance turns into a nightmare when a mother becomes convinced her daughter's new boyfriend has a dark connection to her own past.

My thoughts:

Thumbs down for the sloppy, flippant, simplistic Indian stereotypes. The campy, lame depiction of a complex culture turns this supernatural thriller into a caricature. Indians are portrayed as superstitious, xenophobic, arrogant and obsessed with matrimonial politics. If you have any Indian friends or coworkers, ask them what they think about the movie, just out of curiosity. Most importantly, the cultural component does nothing to enhance the plot. This could have happened with any ethnic group. So the plot and the ethnicity kind of exist side by side, in separate universes, not really enhancing each other. The concept of curse, evil eye, reincarnation is not unique to Hinduism, yet the screenplay makes it sound like it's somehow tied to Hindu folklore. This really doesn't teach you anything about Indian culture, more about Indian stereotypes. So try to divorce the plot from the setting if you want to make the experience more enjoyable.