Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Crippled Masters (1979)

Wow. Just. Wow.

I've probably seen hundreds of kung fu films in my life (most between the ages of 9 and 15). Strangely, this is one I'd never heard of. Sometime in 2006, I watched 42nd Street Forever, a glorious 2 hours of trailers from 1970s exploitation films. This was one of those trailers. I knew I had to see it. I searched the ends of the earth. Netflix, amazon, the martial arts section at Newbury comics. To no avail. It simply wasn't available. The Crippled Masters would become my holy grail. I couldn't imagine going another year without seeing this. Well, if you try hard enough and really put your mind into something, then anything is possible (also, the message of this picture). So, barely a month ago, I found this used online as part of a ten pack called Tough Guys of Kung Fu. It comes with such titles as Ninja Wars, Killing Machine, and Fists of Bruce Lee which, oddly enough, does NOT star Bruce Lee. All for under ten bucks! How could I possibly say no??

What did I think? Fucking awesome! Inspirational and most certainly NOT funny! This is a serious story, beautifully told, about overcoming the odds and standing (or sitting, I guess) up for oneself. It's the story of Lee Ho and Tang. Two bad men who suddenly become good because they lose their arms (Lee) and legs (Tang). Two fierce enemies who unite only because there is something they hate more than each other; Master Lin, the crime lord with the steel hump. Together, Lee and Tang form a whole person (the movie's words, not mine). United, they stand. Apart, they fall. One of the few times I can actually say literally AND figuratively and have it make sense. These two need each other.

Our story begins with Lee Ho being punished for having turned against his bosses (Tang & Lin). His arms are severed as Tang tells him, "you broke the rules here, you deserve everything you get. You should be grateful." Armless, Lee stumbles into the town and walks up to a restaurant, where he is mistaken for a begger. Amazingly, he didn't have to go to the ER. Perhaps he cauterized the wounds with a hot poker or something. Those scenes may be in the director's cut that I'm hoping is in the works. The scene in the restaurant is a sad one as the other diners are clearly disgusted by him. It becomes even worse when the propieter holds some chicken just out of Lee's "reach" as the sound guys employ some looney tunes-like sound effects. At this point, I considered the possibility that I might be going to hell. Thankfully, Lee bit the propieter in the balls and, I knew, all was well. Of course, the ball biting leads to a no holds barred brouhaha, leaving poor Lee in worse shape than when he entered. Mistaken for dead, he is taken in by the friendly old coffin maker, named Jin. Jin tells Lee that he can change his course in life. He's too young to let his evil beginnings ruin what he has left.

Lee takes these words to heart and leaves the town. He does this by somehow swimming down a river. Again, inspirational. When he's not swimming, he's crawling. A little confusing, since his legs seem to work fine. He ends up at a farming community, eating out of a pig trough. A farmer asks him if he's a man or a ghost. His reply; "If I were a ghost, would I be eating pig swill?" I suppose he has a point. Suddenly, we have the first of many montages in this picture. As flute music plays, we see Lee watering the fields with his feet, playing with children, using his nub to haul buckets roped to the ends of a bamboo pole. Yes, he has a nub. You're right. Those bastards must have used a dull blade. Fuckers. Anyway, back to the montage. Lee even plays hackey sack. The world, for the first time in a long time, seems like a good place to be.

Unfortunately, we are plunged back into the dark world of Master Lin's corrupt town. Lin (the evil humpbacked one) has ordered his cronies to disable Tang, for no apparent reason, except to make the movie good. They do this by pouring acid on his legs and laughing as they melt. Lin tells his former servant, "All I know is, those against me die". His message is timely. Tang is pushed down a hill. Does anyone want to guess which farming community he ends up in?

We now have the buildup. What follows is a story of redemption and revenge. Who knew the two could go hand in hand? Sorry Mr. Lee. Hand to toe? Lee and Tang are able to put aside their differences with the help of an old kung fu master, an old coot that makes Pai-Mei look like...well.....Bruce Lee. The old guy in this story isn't very good. The scene where they encounter him is, surprisingly, the first legitimate "what the fuck" moment of the film. He brings Lee and Tang together by imploring them to forgive each other. "I think the both of you could be a very good couple." I think he went on to say something about how together they could almost be one person and therefore, could maybe defeat Mr. Lin. Lee and Tang didn't seem too insulted by this, so why should I be? Of course, this scene leads into a brilliant training montage, which culminates with the teacher playing keep away with his disabled students (shaking my head). I was going to say "crippled", but I think disabled is slightly less offensive? They both kind of imply that something is wrong, don't they? Fuck it, I'm sticking with crippled. What am I going to call them? Disabled Masters? Handicapped Masters? Fuck that.

Up until this point, there really hasn't been much kung fu (we're about 30 minutes in). I started to check my watch when I noticed the "crippled" masters, um....inching there way towards the restaurant, the same one where Lee got his ass handed to him earlier. What follows, and really every fight scene beyond this point, is sheer brilliance. I really don't have the words to describe it, so here's an image of Tang in training to tide you over. Notice, he has legs? Trust me, he can't use them.

You really don't want to mess with Tang. Aside from being named after a soft drink favored by astronauts, this guy has the upper body strength of a mule. Not a handicapped mule, an actual mule that people might use to haul shit. Nobody is putting Tang "out to pasture".

Strangely, about 2/3 of the way in, this becomes a heist picture. Lee and Tang's teacher, it turns out, has been training them so he can use them to steal the "8 Jade Horses" from the town's temple, or something. Lee is offended. "Gold, treasure mean nothinig against life. Why do we have to fight for it?" Teacher's response: "so I can die easy". Lee: "Ok, if you insist then we'll do it." This further demonstrates how selfless Lee and Tang have become. After years of terrorizing a town under orders of Mr. Lin, they are now at the point where they can rob the same town, simply so their old teacher can die with some money. This kind of character development makes me all weepy inside. Let's move on.

After retrieving the horses, which simply appear to be little figurines, our heroes bring them to teacher's farmhouse (it's not really a farmhouse, simply just a couple of sticks propped up together). It is revealed by teacher that the horses hold the key to a magnificent brand of kung fu, one that could even defeat Master Lin. Suddenly, Lee puts one of the horses on top of another horse, "now I have found the secret". It's that simple. Have you guys seen Voltron? This is better.

The final battle between Master Lin and Lee/Tang is an epic confrontation, lasting nearly ten minutes. Eight of those minutes are spent with Lee fighting as Lee and Tang fighting as Tang. They're not very effective, minimal blows are actually landed on Lin, but they've learned enough to keep him occupied. At the eight minute mark, things go slo-mo as Tang jumps on Lee's back and ,suddenly, Mr. Lin and his fucking hump, whose one move is to arch his back at his opponent as the sound technicians bang two steel rods together, doesn't look so good. Leetang, as I will now call them, finish him off in two or three moves. The final shot is a freeze frame, and certainly one worth the wait. What? Did you actually think for a minute that the filmmakers might actually let the crippled masters lose?? You might be joining me in eternal damnation, but at least this movie will be playing non stop.

I had a blast with Crippled Masters. The first time I watched it, I confess I was not myself. I was smashed, so I really didn't remember too much. I loved the fight scenes, the setting, even the dubbing was not awful. The lighting was pretty decent I suppose, considering this was transferred from an old video tape. I loved several characters. My favorites were Master Lin's two henchmen, simply named Black and White. White was a talking mime. These guys were pretty good at the kung fu, but not as good as my next favorite character, the mysterious stranger named Po. This is a guy who we're not really sure about. Is he good or evil? He's a commentary on the duality of man. First, he hates Lin and then he's working for him. Does he now like Lee and Tang? They seem to think so, but why is he now kicking their asses? Of course, Lee and Tang were, by far, my favorites. They taught me so much. I learned that if I ever lose my arms OR my legs (dear god, don't let it be both), whether by the sword or sulfuric acid, that I can still live on. Well, as long as I find a partner, someone who lost the opposite appendages of me, I can. Two guys with no legs is probably comparable to having two left feet. If I should happen to lose my arms, as long as I've maintained some sort of nub (for face smacking and bamboo pole twirling) I'll be ok. It wouldn't hurt to find a good teacher either. Life is full of possibilities.

Thankfully, Life is also full of good movies. This one put a smile on my face.

It's not funny.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Severance (2006)

I was primed to call this one "The Office meets Friday the 13th part VI" and then I saw the fucking DVD cover claiming this picture to be "The Office meets The Hills Have Eyes". Fuck me. I thought about being sneaky and finding a poster that didn't include that quote. Then, maybe when you guys later rented the DVD and saw the cover you might consider how brilliant I must have been to have thought of that first, only logic would still really point me out as a fraud. So, better my being upfront about my potential transgressions that I so clearly, in the end, deemed beneath me. Anyway, where was I? Yes, Severance. It's "Office Space meets The Hills Have Eyes. Part II! Not the sequel to the remake. Instead, the one with the bus. Also, the reformed cannibal who is now a vegetarian." If there's an Ultimate edition DVD in six months, I hope they put that one on the cover.

For about 45 minutes, this is a brilliant, darkly humorous, slasher film. There's a fun pre-title sequence involving two scantily clad, beautiful and busty women running from some unseen terror in the woods. Oh, there's also some middle aged, paunchy guy also fleeing that same terror, albeit, running in a different direction. Anyway, the guy falls victim to a rope trap. You know, one of those things that catches around your foot, sets off a counterweight, and sends you shooting up into the trees, helplessly inverted, so that a masked psychopath can come up and gut you like a pig? Meanwhile, the girls fall into a brush covered pit. In order to escape they remove everything but their undergarments to make a rope. Still, a little too short, the less busty brunette looks over at her friends bra: "Nadia, we are short only a little bit". I think I might like this movie.

You know what? The post-title sequence isn't too shabby either, for a little while anyway. We join our heroes as they travel across Eastern Europe in a tour bus, commisioned by Palisade Defence. It's the annual Palisade team building trip and these unfortunate souls are off to an isolated lodge in the forests of Hungary. The Palisade Defence sales team consists of Richard; the David Brent-like boss, Maggie; the hot AND feisty American blonde, Jill; the slightly obnoxious brunette, Steve; the Jeff from Coupling-like rube, Gordon; the Gareth-like, by the book, kiss the bosses ass, trip organizer, Harris; the smarmy good looking guy us guys hate, and Billy; token black guy. Oh yeah, there's an asshole Czech bus driver too, but he doesn't last long and is even killed off screen. On the way to the lodge, a tree blocks the road. The driver, refuses to take a detour claiming he's heard "bad things" about the other road. He kicks the Palisade sales team off the bus and forces them to go by foot. See? Asshole.

The opening scenes, up until the lodge are actually pretty funny. The director, Christopher Smith (Creep, the one with Franka Potente), ratchets up the terror using sound and music and at the height of all this tension, something happens that we would never expect such as a guy burping or a floorboard cracking. He plays with our expectations of slasher films and then skirts the cliches or, at least, modifies them so they feel original. There's one scene involving a character investigating a dark room when suddenly we, the audience, hear two knives scraping together. The character turns because he hears what we hear, or so we think. Here, we are treated to a quick cut to another character in a well lit room scraping those same knives (we assume) together in order to cut some cheese, by the way, a pretty nice homage to Wallace & Gromit I'm sure. There's also a terrific dream sequence that is unlike any I have ever seen, with an end that is both highly original and funny.

I enjoyed the dinner coversation which involved the characters telling stories about the lodge and the area where they were staying. One involved a silent movie sequence about an insane asylum where the inmates took over. Of course, Palisade Defence was involved in resolving the incident. Another story involved crazy Russian guerillas. Again Palisade Defence is contracted. My favorite story was the one about the sexed up busty nurses at the old folks home. When the geriatrics could no longer satisfy them, they had to turn to each other. So, basically, the dinner serves as a multiple choice for what our heroes are going up against here. I didn't notice a (D) for "all of the above."

I liked Richard and Steve. Richard has to pretend to be in control, even when everything goes to shit, although he does a piss poor job of it. He gives a nice Brent-esque speech early on, however, when he says "I can't spell success without U....and U....and U...uh...and U. Oh, and U." The scenes with Richard talking go on and on, well past the point of awkwardness. Steve, like Richard, would probably not be my first choice for a weapons sales man. He's kind of a bumbling idiot, albeit, slightly loveable. On the bus ride, he consumed an entire bag of magic mushrooms and then spends the next thirty minutes of the film worrying that he's pissed himself. I kinda liked Maggie (Laura Harris) too, but primarily for another reason:

She's got that Jane Mancini quality, doesn't she? She's also an american, so it's a little strange, for a British film anyway, that she's the hero. She definitely has that american quality of not running away in the face of danger. You know? She stands up to the aggressor(s), gets her hands dirty, brandishes a shotgun while the British hide in the bushes. God bless America. Leave the humor to the Brits. When it comes to Rambo-like asskicking, always pick the American. Seriously. Even IF that American is a girl.

sidenote: In the movie, she's American. In real life, Laura Harris is actually, gasp, Canadian!

This film features the best slasher movie paintball scene since Friday the 13th Part VI, that's for sure. Steve partnered with Billy (a little shy around the dames), issues the classic line "english birds aren't complicated. You buy them a baccardi breezer and they'll ride you like seabuiscit". The paintball game features one of the most tense, painful, so annoying it will have you screaming at your tv, bear-trap scenes. One of the things I liked about this movie is that, for the most part, the characters acted like real people. They rarely went off alone, fled in the face of danger, and spent large portions of the films second half hiding. This scene is no exception, and, oddly enough, I fucking hated it. Just pull his fucking leg out of the bear trap. Open and pull!!! Is it really that hard???

Unfortunately, it's after this scene (about 45 minutes in) that the movie begins to lose some steam. There's a beheading which is WAY TOO cute, considering that earlier the same character that was beheaded discussed how Marie Antoinette was able to see her own headless stump spurting blood for seconds after the blade dropped. There's a death by blowtorch scene, but the actual kill is off camera. One guy is filleted alive. Another poor bastard was blown away with a shotgun blast to the chest, only I didn't realize it at the time. There's a funny scene involving a knife in the sphincter. Yes, it's funny, trust me, ok? In the end, a couple of our characters even make it to the lodge they were supposed to have gone to in the first place. We're witness to a weapons testing that results in the funniest take down of a commuter airliner I have ever seen. Too soon? These scenes were all well and good, but felt completely removed from the film that preceeded them. The slasher movie element was replaced by, well, Rambo. Although, with a little more humor, a little more satire. I didn't like where it ended up, and yet I didn't expect it either. On that note, I guess, Christopher Smith is to be commended.

Let's be frank for a minute. This is a message film. The message, at first, seems a little mixed. Guns are bad. Palisade Defence put them in the wrong hands and now they are paying for it. Suddenly, our heroes find themselves with guns, and are not too reluctant to blow away bad guys. So, now they're kinda good? Then, a bazooka is used to, albeit accidentaly, shoot down an airliner. This one had me laughing pretty good, but I think I still managed to catch the message here. Bad, right? I think the films stronger message is that bear traps and land mines are awful. Any kind of weapon that is left in the ground to maim something or somebody, potentially weeks later, is not my kind of weapon. That's the message I took away from this film, but then I already knew that. My appreciation for guns hasn't really waned though. I know this because I had a big old smile on my face when a couple of topless buxom eurotrash hookers (I'm not degrading women because this was their actual occupation) blew away a villain with machine guns. Now. Topless chicks with guns? Another message I can certainly agree with.

Unfortunately, right after that, the credits came up and I was subjected to Ed Harcourt's version of "We'll Meet Again." Now I KNOW guns must be really bad because if I had one, there'd be a big gaping hole in my TV.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Django (1966)

Or, The Bad, the Badder, and the Baddest.

This is the movie for those of you that thought The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly was too long since it clocks in at a crisp 90 minutes. It's also far bloodier than Leone's masterpiece. Is it better? Not even close, but how could it be? The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly is, not only the best western ever made (fine, the best western i've ever seen since I certainly haven't seen every western ever made) but, one of the greatest of all pictures. I know there are those of you that prefer Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West and, believe me, it's hard to disagree with that choice. Still, Good, Bad, Ugly has the superior characterizations, score, and the final graveyard scene is perhaps the greatest standoff ever put to film. Of course, that's all my opinion and I would never really argue with anyone over this because I love both films.

Django is a spaghetti western that came out in 1966 (the same year as Good, Bad, Ugly). Some of the similarities are striking, so it's hard to believe one story did not influence the other. Both stories involve three central characters; an Eastwood-like stranger with a mysterious past, an "ugly" mexican bandito, and a steely eyed sharpshooter. There's also a plot involving stolen gold, as well as a spectacular final graveyard shoot out. Unlike the Leone films, however, this one chose to throw in a love interest for Django, one of Django's few faults (the movie AND the character).

In general, I prefer the spaghetti westerns to the hot dog and hamburger westerns. For authenticity, they blow away their hollywood counterparts. Of course, the dubbing is a problem for some. In Leone's pictures this was a neccessary evil since few of the actors spoke the same language. Still, these worlds look lived in. The characters look like they've actually lived IN them. I recently caught the 3:10 to Yuma remake, and while I liked the film, I couldn't help but notice how damned pretty some of the characters were, the beautiful woman bartender, Bale's wife, and, If I were more in touch with my sexuality, I might even offer Bale, himself. Also, Russell Crowe, perhaps Ben Foster. Hell, even Luke Wilson if you're into that type of thing. The hotel where they holed up before making the mad dash for the train was pristinely put together. In contrast, the characters in Django wear grime soaked beards, the whores are overweight and prone to coughing fits, the buildings look devestated by years of harsh weather and gunfights. Again, 3:10 to Yuma is good. Go see it. I'm just illustrating my point, whatever that may be.

Ok, Django. The picture opens with a lone stranger traversing a blighted landscape. This would be Django, played by Franco Nero (Enter the Ninja). The conditions are harsh, the land caked in mud. Django pulls a coffin behind him and carries his horseless saddle upon his shoulder. We assume he's a northern army civil war veteran because of his pants. Also, we're told this later on in the picture. An old timey (60s sounding) song cerenades us with his story. "Django. You must face another day. Django. Now your love has gone away". As he begins to descend a barren hill, he sees several mexicans tying up a beautiful red haired woman. They begin to whip her. Suddenly, we hear gunshots and the mexicans fall dead to the ground. We assume it was Django, but no, over an adjacent hill come five cowboys wearing red sashes. Unfortunately, the cowboys saved her so they could tie her to a cross and burn her. Their logic? "Burning's a lot better than getting beaten to death". To each his own, I guess. Django finally makes his approach. The picture wasn't titled "The Red Sash Five" so we can guess who doesn't walk away from this confrontation.

The girl Django saves is named Maria, played by Loredana Nusciak (Vendetta per Vendetta), and is strikingly beautful with her glorious red hair and green eyes. I just contradicted myself, didn't I? She's the ONLY beautiful thing in the picture. A key to most westerns are the eyes and boy does Loredana have an amazing pair of green ones. Nero's got great eyes as well, but enough about him. Loredana is up there with Claudia Cardinale. Since the movie was dubbed, I relied on the eyes to carry the acting for me. Quite frankly, the movie is full of awful lines, and worse line readings. We're subjected to painfully stale dialogue such as "a woman shouldn't be treated that way" and "That whore's got an ass sweeter n' Texas. Yahooo!" Perhaps, that last line wasn't in the final film, I can't remember.

Anyway, the movie revolves around three central players. The bad, the badder, and the baddest. These characters being Django, Major Jackson (the leader of the red sash army), and General Hugo (aka "Ugly"). Hugo and Jackson are vying for control of the town, with Django playing both sides (sound familiar?). Actually, Django never sides with Jackson. He was too busy destroying his "army", but more on that in a bit. These three men alternate between who is worse, although Django is on the path to redemption at least. After rescuing Maria, Django brings her into the town. It's currently being run by Major Jackson (aka Steely Eyes). Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) is a biggoted prick. The war may be over, but he's running his own "private war" to eradicate the mexicans. Obviously a statement on the KKK, his men wear red sashes, red hoods, and carry burning crosses. Django enters the brothel run by the short, stout, cigar chomping Nathaniel (Angel Alvarez) who is clearly on board for comic relief. As Django enters, still pulling that coffin, followed by Maria, the record player skips and everyone turns to stare. Alright, there was NO record player, but if there was it would have happened just like this. The pianist did stop playing, however, but there was no skipping sound.

I mentioned Major Jackson being a racist prick. Besides the obvious (red hoodies, burning crosses), we know this because of a scene where he and his men release a penned up mexican one at a time, wait until he's far enough away so he thinks he has a chance at escape, and then shoot him. If you've seen Apocalypto, you might recall a similar scene. I think I liked this one better.

The 2nd gunfight between Django and Jackson's bafoons takes place in the brothel. It's a brilliant little eruption of violence where Django kills 5 more of the red sash bastards (one without even looking) in about 3 seconds. He leaves Jackson alive, however, and tells him to round up his remaining men (48, we're told) and to come back when he can give Django a fair fight. Yes, Django is an arrogant cocksucker and if Jackson were'nt so reprehensible I might actually be rooting against him.

Well, Jackson DOES bring his men back to town, but Django is waiting for him in the middle of main street. Here, we FINALLY get to see what's in the coffin. SPOILER ALERT!!!A god damned Howitzer, which unloads about 50 rounds per second. END SPOILER. So, Jackson's "army" lasts about 5. Seconds. Django again, somewhat inexplicably, leaves Jackson alive (He must know what he's doing, right?). We also now learn that Django has a sense of humor when he shoots Jackson's retreating horse, which causes Jackson to plunge face first into the mud, giving him the black face, which he clearly despises so much. Racist.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on whether you're racist or not, with Jackson's men out of the way, those dirty stinking (just kidding!) mexicans roar back into town. Their first act, in what I hear is a semi-famous scene, is to graphically cut off the ear of one of Jackson's men. Clearly, this inspired Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, only they went a step further by making the poor son of a bitch eat his own ear before shooting him in the back. The mexicans point and cackle maniacally as the poor, misguided bastard is horribly murdered. this Jackson guy had a point, right? I mean, if these are the mexicans he's had to deal with, I can suddenly relate. Coulda done without the red hoods and burning crosses though. Seriously, good to have the mexicans back. We missed you.

It turns out the leader of the mexicans, General Hugo, and Django go way back; "This is Django! A murderer and an outlaw! But, he means more to me than a brother." At this point, Django's character becomes interesting because, to be frank, he turns into even more of an asshole than before. He starts belittling women (even Maria) and at one point, he shoots up poor Nathaniels bar as the mexicans drunkenly cheer him on. Actually, what he's doing is trying to win their trust. He needs them for a gold heist he's apparently had in the works for some time. This is what's great about Django. He's thinking three, four steps ahead. Your average Joe wouldn't be able to think ahead of the step involving the 50 KKK members coming at you with guns, but Django did. He's one of a kind.

The remaining picture involves that gold heist, a double cross and a jarring barroom brawl that employed Greengrass-like (Bourne Supremacy) shaky cam when Greengrass was still shitting his diapers. This fight is better though because it ends with an impaling. This is the first western I can remember since Blazing Saddles that features quicksand in a pivotal scene. There's also found love and lost love and found love again. At one point, Django endures one of the most savage beatings I've ever seen on film (at the hands of the mexicans). His hands are badly mangled, rendered completely useless. Yet, he still must think of a way to defeat Major Jackson (Yes, I knew there was a reason he let him live. Twice.) in a graveyard battle that needs to be seen to be believed (hmmm, I say that a lot, don't I?). Jackson, shows up with five men (so 6 total). Hmmm, six shooter? six men? Django is forced to improvise by using his mouth and some good ol' gravestone metalwork. Who won? Well, here's a hint. The movie spawned over 30 sequels. Nero wouldn't reprise the role until 1987 in Django 2.

Speaking of Django 2. It's the only sequel that gained the approval of this films director, Sergio Corbucci. Corbucci has directed such Italian classics (I've been told) as Mercenario (with Nero and Jack Palance) and Companeros (Nero). I'm definitely going to check these out. This is really a fine picture and, to be honest, if I had watched it with subtitles as opposed to dubbing, should not be reviewed by yours truly (at least, not on this site). It deserves mention with Leone's classics, although it's a step or two behind. The music is close to Morricone level, with lots of horns and plenty of bombast at appropriate times. Let's face it though. Django is no Blondie. Hugo is no Tuco and Jackson is CERTAINLY no Angel eyes. But, goddamn, if I'll ever get rid of that image of Django pulling that coffin behind him, that coffin which, Django eventually reveals, carries himself.

I think he was speaking metaphorically.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sound of Thunder (2004)

2055 – New technology was invented that could change the world…
or destroy it.

A man named Charles Hatton used it to make money (i.e. destroy it ).

I take back all the nice things I’ve ever said about Ben Kingsley (notice I’ve demoted him from Knighthood). Look, Kingsley was legitimately great in Gandhi. He was pretty fun in Sexy Beast. I remember he was in Bugsy and that movie won over some critics, so maybe he was pretty decent in that one too. Seriously though, what else? Certainly not this piece of crap. He's lucky to have Uwe Boll.

Sound of Thunder takes place in the somewhat near future. It’s sad to learn that in such a short time, no real animals will be left in the wild, having been killed off by a virus and/or poachers. Charles Hatton played hilariously badly by Ben Kingsley (BloodRayne) is upset that there are no more animals left to kill. So, he contracts himself some genius scientists, including Travis Ryer played by Ed Burns, to lead some tourists back in time for top dollar. What if, he thinks, we can go back in time and kill the same animal over and over again? And, since we’re already going back in time, why not just go all the way back to the Jurassic period so we can kill us some dinosaurs! Them’s good eats. Actually, they’re not allowed to eat the dinosaurs since there are 3 rules of “time jumping”:

1. Don’t change anything
2. Don’t leave anything behind
3. Don’t bring anything back

So, I guess if you were to eat the dinosaur you would technically be bringing something back. It probably wouldn’t be too easy to get it back through the time portal anyway, the set up of which looks about as scientific as a loop less rollercoaster, one you’d find at a county fair. Anywhoo, the rules sound simple enough, but would you really trust the fate of the world, as we know it, to a couple of mother fucking asshole tourists? You can talk all you want about precautions, but when it really comes down to it, plenty of tourists out there are nothing but dumbfucks (not you!) that don’t really know that much about the laws of the universe. So, what did they really expect when two dipshits, Mr. Echols and Mr. Middleton (two clowns that make the American clients in Hostel 2 look like geniuses), happened to fuck up the space time continuum? Should they really be that surprised?

I suppose it’s not easy to get a time travel movie right. Whenever a time travel picture is released, there’s an army of nerds waiting around the corner to point out inaccuracies and ignored paradoxes. In the case of Star Trek IV, you’ve got to contend with twice the nerds. The best time travel pictures sometimes forgo logic and instead concentrate on action and special effects (Terminator 1-3), story and characters (12 Monkeys), or comedy (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure)…or all of the above (Star Trek IV and Time After Time). Sound of Thunder does none of these things. At least, none of them well.

This picture contains some of the lousiest special effects I have ever seen in a theatrical release. The shots of Chicago go for a retro-futuristic look, not one that looks lived in (such as Blade Runner), but one that someone designed on their MAC in about five minutes. I swear if they held a shot of a city street long enough (say ten seconds) we would see the same car repeat itself as if on a continual loop. If you’re a fan of Sci-fi originals you’ll love the beautifully realized, amazingly life like Tyrannosaurus Rex (The unfortunate bastard that gets shot everyday by aforementioned tourists. Oh, it’s ok because he was about to get stuck in tar and then covered in lava or something. Well, who knows, maybe this time he’ll be able to latch onto the man made time bridge and bring himself into the future where he’ll wreak havoc on Tokyo. Assholes.). I’m just kidding. This is actually the worst looking T-rex I’ve ever seen. Ok, it looks more like a T-rex than the T-rex in King Kong (1933), but at least that T-rex had the distinction of being in a classic picture. The only thing classic about Sound of Thunder is the short story from which it’s taken. Also, The Simpson’s Tree House of Horror episode featuring the time traveling toaster.

This movie is probably currently resting in a dollar bin at Blockbuster, which is a shame because I have a lot of respect for Peter Hyams. He’s the director behind the criminally underrated 2010 as well as the enjoyable The Relic. I really hope he gets it right next time. The Sound of Thunder reeks of studio interference, so I’ll just give him the benefit of the doubt. Better luck next time.

Of the performances, I can say the best was given by Ben Kingsley’s platinum hair. Kingsley, himself, was pretty awful. He was basically a one dimensional money hound. Kingsley took the part, I suspect, because like Michael Caine, he simply cannot turn down a paycheck (Jaws the Revenge, anyone?). He does get to repeat a line after each successful time jump that I liked; "Today you stood shoulder to shoulder with Columbus discovering America. Armstrong stepping on the moon, Brubaker landing on Mars. You are true pioneers on the very last frontier: Time." After that, I guess Edward Burns (Saving Private Ryan) was somewhat adequate as the genius scientist Ryer. I have to confess something. I’ve seen this movie twice now. I saw it back in 2004 and again recently on DVD. The best thing I can say about Burns’ performance is that when I reflected on his character (before watching it again) I thought he was played by Aaron Eckhert (a much better actor). So, for a minute, I thought Burns gave an Eckhert-like performance, until I realized I wasn’t thinking of this movie at all. I was thinking about The Core. So, yeah, via my fading memory, I thought Burns was decent for a moment. Catherine McCormack (28 Weeks Later), as Sonia Rand, wasn’t too dreadful playing an ex-scientist turned P.E.T.A. member , or should it be P.E.T.T. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Time)? After one successful Time Jump, she crashes the after party by spraying everyone with a champagne bottle filled with blood. Whose blood it was, I am not sure. McCormack’s character is also the inventor of TAMMY, the supercomputer that helps to administer the Time Jumps.

Of course, we wouldn’t have a picture if something didn’t go wrong. One of the asshole tourists brings something back. Ok minor spoiler. It’s a bug. A butterfly actually, that flew too close to the bridge and then apparently landed on the underside of a boot in a flattened state. End minor spoiler. This is only possible because Hatton, to cut costs, disabled the bio-filter. So, we’re now left with a race against time, literally, to figure out what was brought back, so they can go back and fix it because every couple of hours brings a new time wave. Each time wave results in a major evolutionary change and it’s only a matter of time before humankind is turned into ape-like lizards, or worse. These are some major changes we’re talking about. Fish are committing suicide and giant ants are attacking people in apartment buildings. In one amazing scene, Ryer and Rand, to escape death by killer ants, jump out of a window a few stories up. Lucky for them, the last time wave saw fit to install a bushy tree there or they would have splattered on the pavement. After jumping, they actually comment about how that tree wasn’t there before. Seriously, they do. I’m not making it up.

In another hilarious scene, Ryer sends himself back in time to try to fix the damage. Unfortunately, he’s accidentally sent back to a movie set in 1940s Hollywood where they are in the middle of filming a Cowboys and Indians picture. Anyway, with each time wave the situation gets more and more fucked. Chicago is covered in vegetation and it’s more difficult to go back in time to just before the disastrous Time Jump. Apparently, they can’t penetrate the time waves, so they have to go over them….wormhole…..something something…blah blah. Don’t worry, they also made it up as they went along, I’m sure.

Ok, there were a couple of things I enjoyed. I liked the nearly indestructible primate-lizards. They were kinda fun. I liked how they hunted in packs and could only be killed with a shot in the throat. At the same time, they weren’t very intelligent either because they kept exposing their throats and puffing out their chests as if to say “I dare you to kill me”. I liked the nitro guns the humans used. They seemed like they’d also be good for the environment. I also kind of liked the vampire bats. Where did they evolve from? I liked how when we finally found out the cause for this nightmare, we got to hear the line minor spoil…ahhh fuck it, “It wasn’t a bug that he stepped on, it was evolution”. Another thing I liked was that Ryer (a scientist!) ACTUALLY asked, “What’s that smell? Rotten eggs?” And he was serious.

The movie had ONE taut scene in an underwater subway car, involving a giant eel-type thing. Unfortunately, the picture’s basic premise never really allows us to grow too concerned for any of the characters. We know, that if everything is put back the way it originally was, anyone who dies will be fine. It’s an inherent problem in this type of movie and basically kills the suspense. Hyams should have said "fuck the studio" and inserted a different ending where Ryer goes back in time, prevents Middleton from stepping on that bug while accidentally killing an ant (unbeknownst to him) or something. Then when he comes back and everything seems normal, except for the antennae sticking out of Rand’s head or the tail coming out of Hatton’s ass, he could shrug and say “eh…..close enough”.*

* Yes, It’s a Simpson’s reference. I’m not ripping them off, nor am I smart enough to think that one up myself.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)

It’s all good. It’s all right. Everybody gets laid tonight!
-chorus from Journey-esque Everybody Get's Laid Tonight (JCVH theme song)

He came from heaven. Two stakes in his hand. To smote the vampires. And free the land!
-opening verse from Everybody Get's Laid Tonight

Now THIS is how you make a GOOD bad movie. This is a movie that loves its Jesus. Also, lesbians. This is the one of the better Canadian exports, ahead of Bryan Adams and just behind underage drinking.

Ottawa. 1970s. Lesbians are disappearing across the city. Meanwhile a new breed of vampires, impervious to sunlight, are popping up all over. What is the connection? Thankfully, this coincides perfectly with the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ, who wastes no time answering the call of the church. What transpires over the next 90 minutes is a glorious amalgam of kung fu (terribly choreographed), Mexican wrestling, biblical prophecy, and blood sucking mayhem.

The movie stars Phil Caracas (Harry Knuckles and the Treasure of the Aztec Mummy) as Jesus. To combat evil, Jesus joins forces with Mary Magnum played by Maria Moulton (This Movie), a beautiful babe in a one piece burgundy bike suit. This is one cool biker chick. Also on the side of good is Santo (Jeff Moffet, Harry Knuckles series), the beefy Mexican wrestler in the silver mask. I would have enjoyed Nacho Libre if it had been about this guy.

On the side of evil are Dr. Pretorius, the mad scientist who has found a cure for vampire weakness to sunlight. This cure involves the skin of lesbians (I’ll just leave it at that for now). Maxine Shreck, Pretorius’ #1, who may have a serious thing for Mary Magnum, and Golgotha, a Mod-kid vampire who supplies the muscle, round out the key baddies.

All of the characters are lovingly portrayed but let’s face it, this is Jesus’ film. After accepting his mission to rid the city of vampires, he gives himself a punk haircut, piercings, and a new wardrobe. This makeover ends with a fun scene where Jesus leads the entire city in song; “we’ll kick those vampires straight back to Hades”. The song concludes with Jesus raising a dead guy that was just outlined in chalk.

After the church informs Jesus of his mission, they provide him with money out of the collection plate to cover expenses (“it’s yours anyway”). Jesus uses the money to purchase wood for stakes. Unfortunately, on his way home, he is ambushed by atheists. Hundreds of them. “We’re taking your 2nd coming ass down”, to which Jesus replies, “Let’s get on with the conversions!” This fight scene is charming, if terribly choreographed. As Jesus kicks atheist ass, they keep pouring out of a tiny jeep (like a clown car). Jesus has one kung fu move that he uses repeatedly, where he pulls a guys shirt over his head and knees him in the face. Surprisingly, at ten minutes, this scene took about six before it started to get old.

Dr. Pretorious is a nice character that likes to lather himself in skin and intestine. Don’t worry, the gore is hilariously fake, what looks to be painted plastic and rubber. As I mentioned before, he has solved the problem of vampire sunlight sensitivity by grafting new skin over the old. They use lesbians because as Dr. Pretorious says, “No one will miss them”. I beg to differ, but this being Canada, maybe they have too many lesbians (if that’s even possible). Golgotha, while serving as the muscle also functions as a delivery boy (“I’ll bring you a lesbian in 30 minutes or it’s free”). My favorite scene of the picture takes place at a Lesbian Drop-in center, also known as a skin farm for vampires. One particular dorm room in this facility features the poster from the movie …But I’m a Cheerleader! Jesus and Mary arrive too late to save the lesbians, but still manage to engage in a fun rooftop battle with Maxine and Golgotha. Unfortunately, Golgotha beats the shit out of Jesus, while Mary is converted to the dark side by Maxine. Jesus, a bloody mess, stumbles home begging for help, but the people turn their backs to him (including a priest and a cop). Won’t we ever learn?? Finally, a spanish speaking transvestite hooker offers her assistance.

Jesus may be rattled, but he is certainly not finished. One night, over dessert, his father talks to him through his ice cream and cherries; “You need help Jesus. I have not forsaken you”. God then tells him to find Santo (the Mexican wrestler) and to also call his mom, she misses him. Later, his mom talks to him through a Virgin Mary light fixture.

As much as I liked Jesus in this movie, Santo was still my favorite character. The instant Santo lands in Ottawa, the paparazzi are hounding him, while they completely ignore Jesus. Santo, whose face remains hidden for the entire film, tells them “make sure you get my good side or you’ll get on my bad side”. Santo comes with a frumpy blond assistant named Gloria Oddbottom. Her bottom's not odd, it's just big. She’s NO Mary Magnum, that’s for sure.

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter features a bee bop tune that rivals, but does not surpass, Michael Moriarty’s in Q. It’s performed by Blind Jimmy Leper, “the man you came to see, can’t see you”. Jesus and Santo have great seats to this performance, in the Dominion Tavern, and at one point Jesus is called up to perform. From his new vantage point, he notices that the tavern is actually full of vampires. What follows is a brouhaha of epic proportions which includes drum stick impaling, crutch impaling, death by garlic breath, and thee old head bashing routine. The bar scene even includes a fun, old fashioned toilet battle. Unfortunately, Santo and Ms. Oddbottom are taken hostage as a result of the melee.

Like many great films, this one comes down to a battle royale in a junk yard. Jesus, now captured by Mary Magnum (vampire), is chained up between two cars going in opposite directions. Santo is “on the ropes” as well. Jesus tells his assailants about their plans to commit “deicide” that “my death was never meant to be the end of the story”. Well, guess what, Jesus doesn’t die here. At one point, while Jesus is kicking ass at the junk yard, he simultaneously shows up to kick Dr. Pretorious’ stunned ass miles away. Pretorious, watching the footage from the junk yard on TV, feels his eyes must be deceiving him. Jesus’ response is “I’m everywhere!” During this battle, Jesus cuts Pretorius’ throat only to heal him immediately. He then continues to beat the crap out of him, fueled by the Rocky-esque score.

Obviously, we know who wins the battle. I won’t tell you if Jesus ultimately lives or dies, but I will tell you he doesn’t get THE girl. See, after healing Mary Magnum, it’s apparent that she’s always been a lesbian and now she has the hots for Maxine Schreck. Jesus must settle instead for a little grab ass with Santo’s chubby assistant.

I haven’t even mentioned the Sermon on the Mount part 2 where Jesus implores his children to “make up your own mind. Don’t follow me, follow my teachings”. Suddenly a cell phone goes off, interrupting the oration. An embarrassed Jesus realizes it’s his own.

The makers of Die You Zombie Bastards could learn something from this picture. These filmmakers loved their characters and actually presented them in a story worth telling. The movie was made this decade, but looks like it was made and set during the 1970s, which is not an easy thing to accomplish on a limited budget. The footage was grainy, the costumes were from the correct era, and they even managed to requisition some vintage 70s vehicles. Two drawbacks: The lines were dubbed, I’m assuming from French, and there was zero nudity. I was praying for a sex scene between Jesus and Mary, but unfortunately, while it may, in fact, be all good, all right, NOT quite everybody is getting laid tonight.

Sunday, September 2, 2007