This Dinner Party Dishes the EVIL! “Happy Times” reviewed! (Artsploitation Films / Digital Screener)

A small, but affluent, Los Angeles Jewish community dine together at a Hollywood mansion in celebration of the Shabbat.  Mixed feelings about each other compounded with mixed drinks stir the emotions of heated topics, including business ventures, religious attitudes, social statuses, marital qualms, and hidden desires.  Lines are being drawn and sides are being taken when one thing leads to another and undisclosed secrets become evident in a clash of suburban violence that pits friend versus friend, colleague versus colleague, and husband versus wife to the death. 

Director Michael Mayer reminds us that you should never mix business with pleasure with a keep your friends close, but your enemies closer black comedy entitled “Happy Times.”  The brawl of survival centered around Israel immigrants living in the U.S. is the second written and directed film from Mayer, following polar oppositely against another Israel themed, 2012 picture, “Out in the Dark,” a gay drama in the backdrop of the two rival and patriarchal sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The only conflict in this 2019 thriller-com is of the gravely plentiful and concentrated kind inside a L.A. mansion turned battle arena that sees about as much confrontation as the war-torn Gaza strip.  Co-written with Guy Ayal, “Happy Times” is a collaboration produced by Erri De Luca and Paola Porrini Bisson of OH!PEN and, the Israeli born, Gabrielle and Tomer Almagor’s Urban Tales Productions in association with Michael Mayer’s own company, M7200 Productions.

The Israel-nationality cast can be an immersive experience and a sign of good faith casting from the filmmakers as well as a show of open diversity from the production studios that casting Hebrew speaking, Israel background actors implies a serious interest and respect embroidered into the project. Mayer, born in Haifa, Israel himself, is a breath of a fresh air of non-appropriation in a time where whitewashing can still be prevalent in the movie industry. Israel born actresses Shani Atias, Liraz Chamami, and Iris Bahr command the screen not only as Israeli women in lead roles, but as different personas that interact and keep lively the one night, single dinner party narrative. Chamani especially dazzles in the details as the dinner hosting socialite wife and mother, Sigal, who exacts an assertive Jewish woman with a cooped up attitude and a knack for handling her own while also worried about her social status, an extravagant exhibition of a screen trope that you might experience on shows like “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” or movies like “The Slums of Beverly Hills,” enacted on point when she’s handing a frightened dinner guest, outside their Jewish circle and fleeing from the scene, tin foil wrapped leftovers with a wide menacingly unsure smile, while holding a medieval crossbow to go frag another party guest, in the plain view driveway. The wives’ counterparts are equally as Jewish and equally as prominent in the fold of the affair with Ido Mor as a unscrupulous businessman co-hosting the dinner, Guy Adler as a construction manager with money problems, and Alon Pdut as an unhappily married Ph.D engineer bothered by his fellow dinner guests’ lack of education and tact. In all, most of the characters are undilutedly snobbish with the exception of Sigal’s struggling actor cousin, Michael, played by Michael Aloni, whose magnified Hollywood liberalism deconstructs the Hebrew bible as racist and inaccurate among other colorful adjectives and becomes the catalyst that begins all hell breaking loose. Stéfi Celma, Mike Burstyn, Daniel Lavid, and Sophie Santi become the filament around the principle leads that strengthen the kill or be killed melee in “Happy Times.”

As if dinner parties weren’t already stressful enough, having to make trivial small talk, possibly acquaint or re-acquaint with unaccustomed faces, or pretend to enjoy the slop being served as food, “Happy Times” turns the internally exasperating dinner party debacle on its head with guests and hosts who are just too terribly comfortable with each other as volatile personalities explode like little active volcanos plumed to reach every corner of the house in a deadly playground for unstable, on-edge adults spewing their strident emotions and Mayer is able to maintain a layered pace with a narrative that’s snowballing quickly.  Where “Happy Times” struggles is the redline occurrences that trigger things to go very badly.  Though hardly trivial episodes between the guests, involving innocent infidelity affections or a slight practical joke stretched beyond devastating consequences, the harried moments afterwards diverge into a blown out result while more nefarious consequential revelations are held back, in after the fact chaos, and these differently graded spurs seem unbalanced, if not flip-flopped, in the story.  The characters themselves adequately course into being delightfully insane and as about as relatable as the internal frustration against our friendly-façade enemies, but there’s a part of me that personally wanted more development.  Military vet Avner, for example, exhibits symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the horror sounds of war play in his head when under stress.  As he stares into oblivion when the rage fills into his face, especially by a nagging, browbeating wife who doesn’t seem to be aware of his condition, the subconscious killing-machine overcomes the mild-manner tech engineer.  There’s also Yossi’s opaque tax evasion scheme, Michael’s thespian struggles, and Mati, the late arriving Rabbi, who pockets money on the side from Yossi and Sigal that factor into an erratic equation that’s a mind field surprise every step of the way.

“Happy Times” relishes in unpredictable violence as a round table of feast or famine hatred in this dog-eat-dog thriller coming to you from the Philadelphia based distributor, Artsploitation Films. Slated for a February 9th, 2021 release, the unrated film will be presented in a widescreen, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, in a gorgeously rich color of a modest, natural color scheme. Kazakhstani cinematographer, Ziv Berkovich, distills a solid, yet uninspiring, photography of mostly still cam mixed with subtle steady cam, rooting firmly to particular rooms without capturing the flow of a big mansion, reducing much of the in clover luxuries of the hosts. The Hebrew, English and some Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mix offers well balanced layers of audio tracks with dialogue clarity and establishing good range with depth not really set up because of the close up or medium shot frames. Guy Aya;’s score offers a good blend of a violin-screeching from a murder mystery dinner theater with the inklings of traditional Israel folk sprinkled in to create an anxiety riddled brew of trouble. There were no bonus material included with the digital screener nor were there any bonus scenes during or after the credits. The best of times and the worst of times doesn’t compare to the bloodletting of “Happy Times” in a wildly amusing dark comedy with every impulsive-driven and tension-wrought scene chockfull with bated breath.

Pre-order “Happy Times” on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazom.com (Click the poster)

Evil’s Ultimate Climax. “Gorgasm” review!


A low on the totem poll detective receives the chance to get out from behind a paperwork overloaded desk to investigate the gruesome death of a seemingly BDS&M gone array. The case lures the investigator through the muck of the sleazy and sexy underground to where an independent zine lists GORGASM as the ultimate climax. With every lead, GORGASM connects them all and there’s one person, one suspect, on his radar and her name is Tara, the face of GORGASM. Tara’s a psychopathic call girl, aiming to dish out a finitely pleasurable zenith to those who want more than just sex, and the unlikely hero detective embraces the case personally to put a stop to Tara’s gruesome delusional calling before he’s sucked into an inescapable world blended with lustful carnalities and death.

“Gorgasm.” By title alone, “Gorgasm” has already peaked interest and paved for a path of optimism and delight despite the inkling in the back of the mind about the film’s low-budget shlock. In any case, the title comes from the imagination of creator, writer, director of “Dead Silence,” a one Mr. Hugh Gallagher, and is his 1990 sophomore feature that showcase plenty of violence in an ostentatious psychosexual thriller. Gallagher, perhaps, isn’t the first to delve into porn’s mucky and sleazy underworld that’s universally stigma in many cultures, but, and again perhaps, is the first to explore the many facets that porn has to offer and highlights the habituating circumstances porn has to morph into to keep up with customer demand, whether it involves whips, clips, and chains or to be more specific in the realm of fetishes.

Gallagher didn’t manage to make any old, run-of-the-mill low-budget venture, but managed to do so with a professional lead in Rik Billock. The name might sound familiar to horror fanatics. Billock has been a stock regular in George Romero films: “Dawn of the Dead,” “Knightriders,” “Monkey Shines,” and in “The Dark Half.” He also had a small, yet door knocking down roll in Tom Savini’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Billock’s a bright star with an organic singularity amongst a mechanical lineup, popping out like a child’s pop-out book that solidifies his presence. Even his co-lead, introducing an actress only known as Gabriela, a former wrestling-affiliated performer in her first feature film. Gabriela is stunning, beautiful, and well-endowed, perfectly casted to be the personal-placing killer call girl with dark features and though her method is a bit monotoned and monologuing, Gabriela’s looks really do standalone. “Gorgasm” also co-stars Paula Hendricks who puts a real damper into the ebb and flow of being a strict and condescending sergeant to Billock’s character, but the silver lining is that this Hendrick’s sole credited role. Rounding out the cast includes Paula Gallagher, Kevin Patterson, Denis Hellrung, and co-producer Flint Mitchell in a show-stopping slimeball performance as a sleazy magazine owner.

With an extreme and inviting title like “Gorgasm,” there comes a usual, if not blatantly given, perception that blood will flow and guts will be strung and plastered on forefront of the featured scenes, but to an extent, the gore and the blood splatter were surprisingly granular results and doesn’t ultimately champion an autassassinophilia effect. However, don’t be scornfully turned away from Gallagher’s film if “Gorgasm” isn’t locked and loaded with blood drenching entrails and other body fluids and fleshy tissue. Gallagher executes tasty scenes of violence and mortality on a budget with examples being a garage door decapitation and a kill shot to the vagina. There’s also a weed whacker chewing through a pervs face. “Gorgasm,” perhaps, does find space in the gore and shock subgenre pie, even if only a sliver of a piece.

MVDVisual and SRS Cinema release the Draculina Productions film, “Gorgasm,” onto DVD home video and present the film on the original SOV, full-frame format that’s pleasantly held up over the last 28 years. Aliasing is quite common on shot-on-vide, even on Super VHS that director Hugh Gallagher shoots the film, and the coloring has a slight washed look, but considering the VHS monstrosities out in the world today on DVD, “Gorgasm” has no ill-will toward this release. The uncompressed PCM 1.0 mono track has limited depth and range with a consistent static hiss throughout, but generally adequate with clear dialogue upfront. The “bloody” bonus features include a commentary with Hugh Gallagher, behind-the-scenes footage, and trailers. Also, the grisly-gorgeous illustrated cover art by Mike Mez Phillips is exquisitely killer and on point. While director Hugh Gallagher mediocrely went through the nuts and bolts of vehement slasher violence without really thickening already deep pool of gore, the director did manage to fulfill a promising title with meshing sexual deviancy and blood in an entertainingly provocative feature. Rik Billock and Gabriela, whose half naked through more than half the 82 minute runtime, embraces their twisted characters that you’ll love to death!

Dope Dealing Evil Doers Meet Their Match! “Violent Cop” review!

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In a city fueled by constant drug trafficking and violence, a weak and corrupt police department has revolving leadership, but one good cop, detective Azuma, of the vice squad doesn’t have the taste for dope. Azuma’s wild card police tactics stir much controversy in his department, placing him on extremely thin ice, but he manages to get the job done no matter the destructive, if yet effective, trail left behind. When the detective learns that his long time colleague and best friend, detective Iwaki, has been involved with trafficking drugs, Iwaki ends up dead in apparent suicide and Azuma will stop at nothing to discover the truth behind his friend’s sudden death. Azuma’s Dirty Harry-style methods catch the attention of a powerful yakuza henchman who kidnaps her and lets his entourage gang rape his mentally unstable sister and with nothing else to lose, the rogue officer shoots first and never asks questions later.
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“Violent Cop” is the breakout 1989 directorial film from Takeshi Kitano, one of the most recognizable names and faces in the revival of Japan’s film industry and a staple amongst other mediums including stage performance, television, and other various liberal arts. Kitano also headlines the yakuza genre film as the lead character, the ungovernable detective Azuma, in this unforgiving cop drama under his pseudonym ‘Beat’ Takeshi. Kitano’s harden plastered mug and short, stocky stature caters to the era of lone wolf. rogue cops, providing a hearty performance familiar to that of Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. “Violent Cop” quietly packs a punch, patiently waiting to seize the opportunity to display explicitly graphic violence while also being sleek in it’s construction, charmingly odd in it’s humor, and basking more in the parameters of performance than in it’s exposition of dialogue, which is kitano is known more for in his acting.
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Much of the film revolves around Azuma’s cavalier and stoic personality. In the opening, three teenage boys unjustifiably harass and assault an elder homeless man. Azuma, who happened to witness the assault, follows one of the boys to his home, knocks on the door, identifies himself as a police offer to the boy’s mother, walks up the stairs alone, and slaps the boy around in his own room until the boy confesses and agrees to turn himself in at the station the following day. This introduction not only showcases Azuma’s descriptive title character as the violent cop, but also informs that the work alone Azuma has a vigilante moral principle that even isolates him from his unstable sister. Once a student of comedy, Kitano re-wrote the Hisashi Nozawa original comedic script into a brutal police drama, wanting to exhibit a serious side, but left alone some of the script’s initial comedy elements that blend the spirited yakuza film to being just inside the genre. Kitano’s progressive camera work includes deep long shots along with tight quarter setups, extensive and angled crane shots, slow motion sequences, and long track work that pinpoints Kitano’s diverse style.
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“Violent Cop” lives up to the title. Heads being bashed with an aluminum bat, multiple gory-soaked stabbings, and a sadistic, punishing maltreatments are just a few examples of “Violent Cops” barbaric qualities. The violent scenes feel almost peppered throughout, but they’re really strategically placed between character building segments that only support the necessity of brutality. Did detective Azuma really need to run over a suspect, who just murdered a colleague, down twice with the squad car? Yes, because the suspect desperately and dangerously wielded a baseball bat as a weapon and attacked them numerous time. The actions of the criminal warranted Azuma’s unethical position of bulldozing him over, twice. Only when Azuma is pushed beyond his limits does he lose what was left of any shred of restraints that were holding him back. Azuma meets an antagonistic match, a blood thirsty foe equally resistant and, at the same time, loyal with his boss, creating a villainous mirror image whose just as a loose canon as himself.
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Film Movement, the New York based award-winning and foreign cinema distributor, presents a specialized hi-definition Blu-ray treatment of “Violent Cop” in a sharply detailed 1.85:1 aspect ratio stored on a single disc BD-50. The region A disc provides the best transfer quality of this 1989 film to date with stunning, natural coloring, balanced hues, and defined edges with no signs of compression artefacts. Darker scene noise is present, but to affect the experience, the noise would need to be more extensive. With Film Movement’s release, the noise is minimal and shouldn’t be considered a factor. The Japanese LCPM 2.0 audio track is quality with no hiss or pops. Dialogue is evident in the forefront, all other tracks seem level with an accompaniment range of ambiance, and, like aforementioned, all tracks are clean and clear of distortions. Extras include a featurette entitled “That Man is Dangerous: The Birth of Takeshi Kitano” and an booklet essay with the topic of Takehsi Kitano, written by Asian film expert and film curator Tom Vick. “Violent Cop” offers no sympathy, but provides an abundance of rich, dedicated filmmaking in a raw format that seems almost archaic in the present. Film Movement and “Violent Cop” go hand-in-hand, a foreign yakuza melodrama that saw the beginning stages of rebirth in the last days of a struggling Japanese cinema market and Kitano’s face is at the forefront of that movement.

“Violent Cop” on Blu-ray at Amazon.com!