Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jungleground (1995)

I've been a fan of Roddy Piper ever since I saw him in They Live. If there's a former wrestler out there that has the goods to be a legitimate action star than he is probably the one. He's got a great physical presence along with some adequate charisma and the ability to deliver a good line or two. Unfortunately, hollywood never really saw it the way I do and so he's been forced to work on the outskirts trudging through some pretty awful shit that I am too lazy to look up on imdb and name for you. I did see him in Hell Comes to Frog Town which was a pretty fun post apocalyptic story about the last fertile man on earth or some shit like that. I recommend that one. And, now, I've seen his low budget actioner called Jungleground which takes elements from a picture like Surving The Game (or, The Most Dangerous Game for all you film snobs) and fuses it with the urban gangland aspects of Judgement Night and then surgically removes the entire budget. Anyway, wanted to knock off a quick review or two before I go home for the holidays so here you are. My long anticipated write up for a Roddy Piper picture that no one has heard of and that wasn't even made in the 80s even though it feels like it was.

Jungleground is the kind of picture set in an urban wasteland and likely filmed in Canada somewhere to capture an authentic look and feel of that type of society. There are basically two locations; the east side of a bridge and the west side of that same bridge. I can't remember which side "jungleground" was on but it was probably the bad side. The picture opens with a cocky little pizza delivery boy who doubles as a drug runner for his boss who I guess is named Poppa being sent deep into jungleground to make a delivery. It's his first time so Poppa sends along a hired gun but the poor boy sets off an explosion after ringing the doorbell of a broken down tenement and the hired gun is dispatched by a boy armed with an uzi on roller skates who is named gameshow and thinks he's being clever when he says "the price is your life" (I guess he is referencing "the price is right".) The explosion looked pretty cool anyway.

Roddy Piper plays a police lieutenant named Jake Cornell and he lives on the good side of the river with his artist girlfriend in their spacious loft. He spends most of his time working undercover in jungleground and his scars and traumas from everyday life are what fuels his girlfriend's art which appear to be badly rendered metal sculptures of various nightmarish things indicative of life in the jungleground or so we are told. She's pretty good at what she does though because on this night she is hosting a gala celebrating her art and also some dealer tells her so but later recants and claims it's all shit because she won't sleep with him. This dealer tries to cause a rift between the artist and Piper with a slew of umemorable insults but Piper just responds by saying "I just figure you're like a kid that hasn't been toilet trained yet. He doesn't mean to offend with the load of shit he's been saddled with." That shut the guy up real quick. His artist girlfriend is a real character though because she doesn't accuse Jake of sabotaging her career like most women would in such a picture. She loves him for standing up to the asshole and paraphrases Rachel Ticotin during a nice rooftop scene "grab me now or lose me forever."

Later, some cop named Wilson shows up at the party and it's all downhill from there. Some bad shit is going down at a jungleground bus station and Cornell is needed to oversee a deal, make sure things don't get too fucked up. His job is just to stand by and look inconspicuous (he fails miserably) while a couple of other undercovers broker the deal. I don't know man, this is fucking jungleground. A few white guys (and a lady) pretending to read the paper in the world's most dangerous bus terminal is probably going to stand out. Still, these are not the world's smartest drug dealers so things go okay until one of them decides to pinch the undercover female cop's ass and she unloads a clip into his chest. I think she was new because a seasoned undercover would probably just have laughed off such a gesture, maybe even flashed a little breast with a wink but this cop was into women's lib and shit. Her pride got them all killed except, of course, for Piper who is captured by the gang and given a chance to live. All he has to do is survive the night in jungleground long enough to make it to the other side of the river.

The movie has an interesting view on gangs. The gang is led by a scenery chewing JR Bourne as Odin. His war chief is played by Peter Williams and is named Dragon. Fuck, these guys all have names from some sort of mythology or other; Well, ok, I guess Thor was the only other one. Some other names were Posey, Diesel, and Ferret. So, there is a good old fashioned power struggle taking place between Odin and Dragon. Dragon's mission is to rid jungleground of pushers and to clean up the neighborhood. Odin says that's his mission but he rarely backs it up with action. He has a point. If these guys want to be a self respecting gang they need to bring in the money somehow. In a part of the city even the cops are afraid to enter drugs seems like the logical choice. Things get a bit skewed when Dragon's young brother (the rollerskating gameshow) is accidentaly killed when, while pursuing Piper, he skates up a ramp and into a hanging car engine that knocks him to the ground and then falls on him. Will Dragon blindly seek vengeance on Piper even though he knows it wasn't really his fault and that Piper may be the best remaining chance to clean up jungleground?

I'm trying hard to defend this one but it was really hard to get past the miniscule budget. I mean, Piper is great in this thing but no one else distinguishes themselves and quite a few should be embarrassed by their performances. I think my favorite scene involved a set of gangland twins dispatched by Odin to go to Piper's girlfriends apartment and hold her hostage until dawn at which point they will kill her I guess (or worse). These scenes contain the film's most disturbing sequences as the twins duct taped her mouth and then would torture her by duct taping her nose shut and then only ripping the tape off right before she passed out. This girl, her name was Sam, was a bit resourceful though and devised a semi-brilliant escape plan.

I forgot to mention the picture's biggest set piece involving the trial of Roddy Piper in a scene that reminded me of barter town from that Mad Max Thunderdome picture. Also, Piper is dressed in a toga and Odin addressed the masses from a balcony. It's probably the only time the picture achieved any kind of worthy atmosphere and it didn't even bother me too much that it was ripped off. Fuck, I am going back and forth on this one. This picture does some things pretty well I guess. They take the old tired "hooker with a heart of gold" cliche and, while they don't do much with it, have her take a bullet in the gut while helping Piper. She doesn't die (at least not onscreen) but Piper still leaves the poor, possibly mortally wounded, girl in the company of a bunch of construction workers and apparently these are not the ogling type but i still wonder what happened to the broad. Scene could have turned into one of those disturbing type of gang bang pornos they used to make in the 70s but luckily the director had more class than that I guess.

Also, one of the gang members is a black cowboy that brandishes a pair of six shooters. I like it when movies twist some stereotypes around like that. Unfortunately, his inclusion leads to one of Piper's worst lines when he says "hi ho silver" after dispatching him. Well fuck it, some of this picture is shit and some of it entertained. How much shit can you tolerate I guess is the question of the moment. I can tolerate a lot so there you go. The movie is full of exploding cars, gun battles, and some hand to hand combat type scenes where Piper finally gets to display the moves that originally made him famous. Piper is a brawler in this one. He gets his ass kicked at times but keeps coming back. Please, for the love of god, someone put this guy in a decent picture.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Punisher (1989)

After seeing Punisher War Zone I decided to go back and visit the one that started it all but then I learned that these films aren't really connected, there's no trilogy...each one is what they like to call in Hollywood a "reboot". I guess that's become popular these days since Hollywood is constantly fucking up our comic book movies and needing to re-do them. I've never heard the term used for any other genre. Why can't they "reboot" the Star Wars prequels or The Happening or The Hills Have Eyes sequel to the remake? Anyway, it turned out I had never seen this one which surprised me a little. I always felt the punisher was one of the more interesting comic book heroes (I think I was the only one). His is the rare case where his alter ego, Frank Castle (or is punisher the alter ego? I forget how this works), is actually dead, not in the literal sense. The moment his family was wiped out Castle ceased to exist and he became the punisher. There's no going back to Castle. His is not really a story of redemption so much as a story of vengeance that can only end when he dies. Like many heroes, the punisher works mostly at night because, I guess, that's when most criminals go to work. During the day he lurks in his subterranean lair (it's a sewer) and prays in the nude to a god that will not listen. He's not asking for forgiveness or answers or anything like that. He knows he's going to hell. I think he's just lonely.

Anyway, this punisher guy is played by Dolph Lundgren in this one, the first one. He definitely looks the part except I can't, for the life of me, figure out why they didn't give him the skull t-shirt. That was a mistake I think since it's sort of his identifiable mark. I could see a thirteen year old today coming across this picture on TBS and quickly changing the channel when he so called realizes this is one of those crummy 80s pictures that Dad likes to watch and not a comic book movie that all thirteen year old boys are required to watch. That kid would be wrong and would probably grow up to be at least a fraction worse for it. This is a much much better picture than it has any right to be.

The opening credits are usually a good place to start and these are some good ones. We're treated to comic book drawings of villains being shot off the screen as an honest to god real orchestral pulse pounding score serenades us into euphoria. The movie begins much like the 2nd reboot began; with an asshole mafioso being acquitted. He stops to talk to the press and says a line we actually believe he believes that goes like "if a man is innocent, justice prevails" and then he has this to say about the so called punisher "if he ever shows up within a thousand yards of me, he'll find out what the word punished really means." Like most mafioso douchebags, this guy is not really a man of his word and he will soon find out what the word retribution means in spectacularly brutal fashion. Of course, this is the 1980s so the violence isn't quite as over the top as War Zone but it's certainly still to be appreciated. We don't need to see organs flying out of bodies or whatever to understand the consequences of the punisher's actions.

I'm not sure why all the internet fanboys weren't up in arms when this thing came out. The 1st Punisher reboot caught a lot of flak for being set in Miami and not New York City which is apparently the only place these stories can take place. Well this fucking thing was filmed in Sydney Australia ya bunch of fuckos and I have to think that's a step below Miami. The city itself is never named but how the fuck can Punisher not even be in America? It's an abysmally awful choice by the director Mark Goldblatt and his studio New World Australia. This is such a slap in the face to all of us fucking Americans. How would you douchebags like it if we took an Australian treasure like Crocodile Dundee or something, put him in a movie and set the god damned thing in New York or Los Angeles? Christ.

Anyway, the cast in this picture is pretty impressive. I mentioned Dolph Lundgren but haven't even gotten to the real casting coup yet; Oscar winning actor Lou Mother fucking Gossett jr. Yeah, he's in this. He's Frank's old partner and current Sydney detective Jake Berkowitz. If it sounds like a white guy's name that's because it is. They replaced the white actor that was originally in the picture with a vacationing Lou Gossett who decided he needed some time away from the wife. Can't pass up a chance to grab an oscar winner, right? The name was already in the script so they kept it. He filmed his part in about ten minutes and is pretty much useless until the end and even then he's pretty fucking useless always showing up a few minutes after punisher leaves. He has one fantastic emotional scene with Punisher after Punisher has just been arrested for rescuing a bunch of mafia kids from the Yakuza (long story) where he addresses Punisher as Frank and tells him he's sick because of what he's done and what the fuck does he call 125 murders in five years to which Punisher responds "a work in progress."

I really enjoyed the performance of Jeroen Krabbe who played the mafia don as a somewhat sympathetic character who loves his son almost as much as he loves the family business. Kim Myori played the Yakuza crime boss named Lady Tanaka and was the kind of cold hearted bitch that would feed her brother a nice meal and slit his throat as soon as he was finished and, in fact, she did. Some hot blonde broad played her lieutenant the white blonde ninja or at least she did until punisher broke her neck. Punisher took a beating in this picture and I guess that makes sense because it's the first movie and he's still learning the ropes. At one point he's overwhelmed by a bunch of ninjas at an amusement park and placed on a torture device commonly referred to as the rack. We learn how far this guy is willing to go when he sees his only friend named Shakes the bum on an adjacent rack. Torture has no effect on a guy like the punisher, a guy with an incredibly high threshold for pain coupled with an absolute willingness to die. What about the torture of a close friend, a drunken bum that claims himself to be an actor, a guy that punisher plys with booze in exchange for information? Will that have an effect on the guy? Nope.

The only people that can get through to the guy are the children. Yes, punisher used to have two children of his own until they were blown up by the mob. He even has the picture and the dental records to prove it. Often he sees them reflected in the eyes of the mafia kids and then he becomes, for a brief moment anyway, a big softie. Wow, forgot a plot description so here is s a brief one for you: In five years time punisher has decimated the local mob to the point that the Yakuza can waltz in and take over. Yakuza make fun of Italian mafia and steal their children to sell into slavery. Italians try to make a deal and show up at a fancy restaurant but it's actually an ambush since apparently all the other diners (including a little old white lady) are working for Yakuza and shoot the place up which is hilarious since Lady Tanaka waltzes in and tells the few survivors about the poison they just drank. Anyway, Punisher rescues all the children except for one, you guessed it, the son of the boss. The boss and Punisher team up to rescue the boy with Punisher telling the boss "when this is over, you're dead." Can either of these two loveable outcasts be redeemed? Is punisher a man of his word? Why am I an hour and fifteen minutes into this thing with nary a naked breast in sight? I can answer the last one. Punisher has no use for women, no, just vengeance. Vengeance and children.

The Punisher Origins is an entertaining movie, a near forgotten gem from a time that time forgot, the time just before 1990. Lundgren is, like I mentioned earlier, good in the role except for his voice which at times seemed to be trying a little too hard to be menacing. English is not really his first language so maybe the guy was just trying to enunciate correctly. I tried to keep a count of dead guys but it didn't take long for me to throw up my arms and just give up. You'll probably be a bit surprised to learn that this picture is also a bit funny at times. I liked when the mob guys were on the pier waiting for a shipment to come in and one of them radioed a lookout named "red 2" and asked "what have you got" to which red 2 responded "bad kidneys...gotta take a leak." Lots of throwaway lines like that which enhanced the overall flavor of the picture and also the racist line where the one italian guy scoffs at the Yakuza 75-25 proposal and says "I'm not gonna be a salary boy to a bunch of nips". I didn't actually find that part funny at all. Racism is never funny. Well, wrapping up...what he have here is a pretty good action picture the likes of which the world has seen many times over but one that I can whole heartedly recommend. I just wish they had wrapped it up with a better fight. It's a pretty tired cliche where two guys wrestle for control of a gun, the gun goes off, and then one guy stands up and we think the guy on the ground must have been the one that was shot but no, we've been tricked, the guy that stood up was the one shot all along. Then again, I don't know if I've seen that cliche before 1989 or, more likely, I just don't remember. If this is the origin of that particular god awful cliche then I dub this the Casablanca of action pictures.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tango and Cash (1989)

One or two more of these pictures and then I swear I'm going to have to move on. Tango and Cash is a selection from the sub genre of action films known as the "buddy picture". While not quite at the level of 48 hours or Lethal Weapon this is a pretty fucking good movie, the kind that if made today would probably go DTV with a 1/4 of the budget. I recently saw Punisher: War Zone. It kicked all sorts of ass. And yet, after my viewing I couldn't help but wonder why the hollywood action picture is changing so drastically. They've always had elements of hyper-violence, but now that violence comes equipped with Saw-like gore. This absolutely is not a bad thing (unless, of course, that gore comes with Saw-like edits)....but, but, but....where have all the titties gone? They used to be a staple of this type of picture. You cannot have a scene in a titty bar (another staple of action pictures) without titties. You just can't. I think the problem is that actresses today don't have the balls that they had in the past. They want a legitimate acting career and fear showing their goods might hinder their progress. Of course, we know this to be bullshit. Tango and Cash almost fell victim to this "progress". Teri Hatcher plays an "erotic dancer" who doesn't take off her top. Thankfully, I guess they hired real strippers for the strip club scene and we got to see some of them backstage. Hatcher kept her clothes on in her dance scene though. I haven't been this appalled since Jessica Alba didn't take off her top in Sin City. Fuck man, I'd even settle for some CG titties. Anything! I guess Americans are more comfortable watching a wheelchair bound elderly mafioso having his head cut off (great moment in Punisher) then seeing something like a beautiful pair of tits. It doesn't make much sense to me. Murder and mayhem are good. Sex, the thing responsible for life and hard ons, is not. It's a bad trend and it needs to change. I think I should just add "titties" as a blog category and be done with it.

Tango and Cash is the story of two Los Angeles narcotics officers named Cash (Kurt Russell) and Tango (Sylvester Stallone). These guys couldn't be more different. Tango is the buttened down stock broker type, referred to as "Armani with a badge" while Cash is the slovenly blue jeans and a t-shirt type. He's the kind of guy that gets a tear in a shirt and laments "this shirt cost me nine bucks!" Also, they work in different precincts so it's not like these guys are even partners. What they have in common is they've been costing Jack Palance (he plays a drug lord) millions. Palance, playing a guy named Yyves Perret, is not your typical drug lord though. Instead of just having these two cops killed he concocts an elaborate scheme to have them framed for the murder of an undercover agent and sent to prison. While in prison, they'll be tortured and killed by a group of thugs led by none other than the "maniac cop" (Robert Z'Dar), he with the enormous chin. Of course, no prison can contain Stallone (see Lock Up) and Russell, we know, is pretty good at breaking in and out of them as well (Escape from New York and L.A.) so immediately we realize Palance's scheme is flawed.

This picture actually has a great line up of villains. Besides Palance and D'Zar, we've also got the likes of Brion James (Blade Runner) playing a cockneyed thug and James Hong (also Blade Runner) as, I guess, Palance's left hand man (he's not very good and as far as I could tell did nothing but suck down his camel 100s). Even Clint Howard (Blackwoods) shows up briefly as Tango's cellmate Slinky. He's named so because the guy wraps his slinky around his head while he sleeps and shoots spittle on the ceiling. We're not even going to stop here. A Frank Oz looking mother fucker shows up as a key witness against Tango and Cash, an audio expert who "authenticated" the pivotal evidence at their trial. He's played by Michael Jeter. Fuck, even Seinfeld's Mr. Lipman makes an appearence as Tango and Cash's lawyer. It's pretty much a cast for the fucking ages. Oh yeah, a non-topless Teri Hatcher (is she Stallone's girlfriend, daughter, or...gasp...sister??). And former real-life criminal turned actor playing a cop Edward Bunker is in this thing. It's a dream cast.

Back to the story, amazingly Cash and Tango were able to cut a deal of only eighteen months in a country club like prison for murdering an undercover agent. Also amazingly, Palance has enough pull (i.e. cash) to get these guys rerouted to a maximum security joint, one that he basically controls. I assumed this because on the first night in prison, Cash and Tango are dragged from their cells by their prison mates and into an underground lair where Palance happend to be waiting. Perhaps, the funniest scene (and the gayest!) of the picture, was when Tango and Cash were taking their first shower together and they couldn't help but look at each other's junk. Tango calls Cash "minnie mouse" while Cash refers to Tango as "tripod". I think I'd rather be tripod. Then Cash dropped his soap. I hope the prison systems have improved since this picture. This place is a dump. Fires everywhere, papers flying out of cells, big bucks yelling things like "Cash! I'm gonna put brown sugar in your ass." Somehow, Tango and Cash are able maintain a sense of humor despite the impending sodomy ("loved you in Conan".)

Hell, this whole picture is pretty damned amusing. When one fellow officer insults Tango by calling him "Rambo" he replies "Rambo...is a pussy." The action scenes are well shot as well....at least until the final brouhaha at Palance's armored fortress. That thing was a little too nuts. There's a car chase in a parking garage that I'm still amazed by how well they pulled it off. The prison escape is a thing of beauty although highly unrealistic but, then again, who wants realism in their action pictures? This prison is one of those corrupt kinda joints where the inmates (in this case Robert D'Zar) appear to be running the place. The guards are taking naps apparently or, more likely, paid to look the other way. I did like Cash's deduction during their daring flight..."we jump to those wires and swing to the other side"...these are power lines..."as long as you're touching one wire and not touching the ground you won't fry.......right??". Fuck it, just do it man.

Their escape leads to the most titillating scene of the movie when Cash receives a massage from Teri Hatcher (ok, she's Tango's sister) and Tango barges in on them...."ok, I think it's in...oh yes, it's in..it's in". Is she talking about his slipped disc or his member? I'll let you decide. Until you see the picture. The movie concludes with a scene filled with potential that just doesn't really live up to it. Tango and Cash are equipped with an "RV from hell" and have a demolition derby with an army of Palance's bucketloaders, big rigs, and what I'm pretty sure was Big Foot (the truck). It wrapped up too quickly for my money. I did like how Palance aped Howard Hughes and watched from his safe room filled with a vast array of televisions and piss bottles (I made that last part up). This is the last buddy cop picture worth watching in my opinion and it's a good one to go out with. Any movie that ends with a freeze frame of a high five which leads into a Bad English song is definitely worth your time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blue Thunder (1983)

There was something about Roy Scheider that was just so damned likeable. I'm not really sure if he was ever playing anyone other than Roy Scheider (well, with the exception of Marathon Man and perhaps Romeo is Bleeding). In the majority of his roles he appeared to be a real guy thrust into some pretty extraordinary situations. I think it's because he reminded me of my father. He tended to portray cops in his pictures. My dad is a small town cop. In Jaws he was the police chief of a small New England town. My dad's the police chief of a small, albeit landlocked, New England town. Obviously, that's a very base comparison. They don't really look alike but they share many of the same mannerisms. A slight grimace when they walk. Exceedingly practical in their day to day lives. Hell, I even used to picture my dad as a passenger on the "Orca" with Quint barking out orders and Hooper...uhhh...being all scientific as my dad just took it all in. An observer at first until finally the situation dictated action. Of course, I imagined this, as a kid (just to be clear), all taking place on Lake Champlain, but still....it was a nice image. Anyway, what Scheider accomplished onscreen in his many roles was certainly no easy task. He got the audience to relate to him, to like him, to pull for him. He made it look effortless.

His work in John Badham's Blue Thunder is no different. Written by Dan O'Bannon and Don Jakoby as a loose fitting update of George Orwell's "1984" and set in the far flung future of..um...1984....and released in 1983 so I guess that makes it a little bit ahead of it's time. The big brother theme is prevalent throughout this picture as the United States government has developed a helicopter designed for keeping tabs on the general populus. Blue Thunder comes fully loaded with turbine boosters, state of the art video and audio equipment, a thermograph, infrared night vision, and the ability to go into "whisper mode". Also, a pivoting machine gun on the nose that aims wherever the pilot turns (aims) his helmet. It's a wonderful design and, go figure, was actually built for this movie. No CGI. What?

The story follows a couple of L.A. (the city is never actually named, but come on) beat cops, officers Frank Murphy and Richard Lymangood (Scheider and Daniel Stern), whose beat isn't on the ground, but in the air. The picture begins with the partners patrolling an area of the city (in a regular chopper at this point) that happens to feature a nude aerobisizer who stretches in her highrise apartment, in the nude, every night at 10:30, like clockwork. She's really the perfect specimen as noted by Lymangood; "would you look at her tan? it's so....even." Unfortunately, they're called away from their peep show for what is announced as a "rape in progress" (I imagine that's the first time that's ever been used, I mean who the fuck would call that in...wouldn't you try to stop it?). The victim, a mayor's assistant working to curb urban warfare, is shot in the ensuing melee. She eventually succumbs to her injuries in the hospital. Was this just a random act of violence?

Into the mix comes Malcolm McDowell as U.S. Colonel Cochorane. Hilariously, he does nothing to hide his prissy British accent and thus comes across as easily hate-able. He's an old war "buddy" of Murphys (as we see in various 'Nam flashbacks) and, at one point, tried to have Murphy court martialed. Cochorane arrives to show off, and deliver for a test run, a new helicopter prototype known as blue thunder. There's a great scene where Cochorane tests the thing in front of a captive audience. A fake town is set up with red dummies (bad guys) and white dummies (good guys). Cochrone takes out the red guys with "near" precision and a government flunky feels the need to toot his own horn: "One civilian dead for every ten terrorists....that's an acceptable ratio." Sheider, without missing a beat: "Unless you're one of the civilians."

Originally, Blue Thunder was going to be a Taxi Driver-like story about a pilot driven insane and terrorizing the city from above. I would have loved that picture. Still, I dug this one. A whole hell of a lot. The aerial photography in this thing is flat out amazing. How often do you see actual dog fighting between helecopters? I suppose it could be done today but it would be all CG. I loved the stunt flying in this one. The camera movements. The fact that Blue Thunder uses a move that Tom Cruise used in Top Gun, that inverted G thing or whatever, and this movie came out a few years earlier. Of course, that move is likely impossible in a helecopter but who gives a shit?

Scheider, like I said, is good in this thing. It's not a showy role by any means (his roles rarely are) but he adds just enough humor and subtlety to keep us interested. It's a small thing, but I love the way he interacts with children. There's genuine love there (and no, I'm not referring to something inappropriate you sick bastards). His character in this is a bit unbalanced (some war wounds never heal) and I liked how he brought himself back to sanity using his stop watch. It was a nice touch. McDowell is a motherfucker. Hate, hate, hate the fuck. He prepares for a little game of "follow the leader" (with him in blue thunder and Scheider and Stern in a regular copter) by unscrewing what I'm sure is a pretty important screw on Scheider's bird and then calling in their subsequent crash as he's yawning: "chopper down (yawn) somewhere in the Watts area". I also wanted to punch him viciously in the nuts everytime he said "catch you later" while pointing his finger as if it were a gun. The performance I absolutely adored in this thing was Warran Oates as Captain Jack Braddock. Oates is slowly, but surely, becoming one of my favorite actors. The guy just flat out knows how to deliver a standard line and make it something great. Like, for instance, when he tells Stern "you're supposed to be stupid son. don't abuse the privilege." Sadly, this was his final performance but I think he can be proud of his work here. What a great voice he had.

I think the fact that I've barely touched on the plot is an indication of how good this picture is. Let's just say that a certain murder touched on earlier ties in with a certain British windbag and a certain blue thunder helicopter program. The movie has several tense moments including a prolonged aerial battle between blue thunder (piloted by Scheider) and a couple of horrendously inaccurate F-16s. Out of all the other helecopter movies/tv shows of the early 80s (including "Airwolf" and "blue thunder" the series) this is, by far, the tops.

We're winding down our 80s action month and a half or whatever. I've got a couple more reviews in the pipeline. Fuck, why have I been focusing on the good action shit? Haven't even touched on Schwarzenegger or Stallone yet (though I did watch Cobra but, while I liked it, I just couldn't motivate myself to write about it). I'm also planning on attempting some sort of "ten best" and "five worst" lists for 2008 but that's going to be a fucking chore. You know it's been a terrible year at the movies when the latest Bond film, Quantum of Soul-less or whatever, could possibly make both lists. Fuck, I can't wait for 2009.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Osterman Weekend (1983)

The Osterman Weekend is an interesting picture nearly ruined by an incomprehensible screenplay. Sam Peckinpah's final gasp before years of drug and alcohol abuse would claim him less than a year later. I find it interesting that Peckinpah was trying to re-establish himself in the film community with this picture since he must have known the end was so close. This one feels more like a gun-for-hire job with the usual Peckinpah flourishes appearing all too infrequently. It's based on a Robert Ludlam novel by the same name and, according to most accounts, Peckinpah had no love for the source material. He simply wanted to make a picture that the masses would see so he could make some cash and get back to making pictures that interested him. And then he died.

So, his heart wasn't really in this thing but, regardless, it's still pretty damned enjoyable even if I couldn't understand what the hell was going on at times. The film opens with a grainy video of a couple making love. I became worried that the entire picture would be filmed this poorly as there was no immediate indication that what we were seeing was a video within a movie. The man (John Hurt) leaves (bare assed) to go to the bathroom and a couple of men walk in and murder the woman in typically covert fashion (as it turns out, she's his wife). Turns out the video is being watched by William Danforth (Burt Lancaster), the head of the CIA. He ordered the hit on Hurt's wife. Strangely, he doesn't even remember why. Ironically, despite the most high tech video surveillance equipment (I think they used beta!) at their disposal, the CIA is fucking blind and Danforth is another case of the blind leading the, um, blind. Hurt, CIA operative Lawrence Fassett, is called into Danforth's office where he reveals the existence of a group known as "Omega". Some sort of soviet spy network. He presents a plan that entails "turning" these spies instead of simply eliminating them. He is, apparently, unaware of Danforth's participation in his wife's murder. He believes "Omega" to be responsible.

I'll be honest here, I cheated a bit with that previous paragraph. Some of those plot details arrived courtesy of wikipedia. The rest will be all me. This is a fucking needlessly convoluted mess. If it wasn't for the performances and the action and the constant titties on screen I probably would have turned it off. Anyway, Rutger Hauer (yes, him again!) also stars as John Tanner, the host of a television show called "Face to Face" where he allows guests, usually of a political nature, to come on and be ambushed by his anything goes line of questioning. Once a year, Tanner hosts what have come to be known as "Ostermans" (named after college buddy Bernard Osterman) at his isolated country home. Bernard Osterman, a marvelous performance by Craig T. Nelson, is a film producer. Also in attendance will be plastic surgeon Richard Tremayne (Dennis Hopper) and dog hating doucher Joseph Cardone (Chris Sarandon). Also, their horny wives. Tanner is married to Meg Foster, her with the frighteningly strange pale eyes, and she's as hot as she'll ever be in this thing. Something about a broad with a bow and arrow. Tanner also has a young son and a dog.

So, basically Fassett and Danforth approach Tanner and convince him (with video evidence) that his three college buddies are spying for the soviets as part of "Omega". Tanner, while leaning far to the left, is stringently loyal to his country. The plan is for Fassett to rig Tanner's home with hidden cameras and spy on them for the weekend. Tanner, without much prodding relents, but on one condition: That Danforth will appear on his show. Meanwhile, Tanner's friends hold secret meetings where it's clear they are up to something. It's not made clear exactly what that something is. One thing is made clear. They're not sure they can trust their "friend" John Tanner. It's going to be an uncomfortable weekend.

So many questions, so few sensical answers. First, just what the fuck is "Omega"? I'm still not really sure. Second, what is Fassett's motive? That one I finally figured out but it took some heavy lifting. What I loved about the film were the performances. John Hurt is great as Fassett, a shadowy man who spends most of the film appearing on the TV. He's rigged up every television in Tanner's home to run on a closed circuit and at one point communicates with Tanner on the TV in the kitchen while his guests are enjoying drinks in the other room. The guests suddenly appear and Fassett atempt's to disconnect the feed are hilariously fruitless so he's forced to give the weather forecast as Tanner is engaged in conversation. If you actually listen to what he's saying (he repeats himself a few times) it's clear he's got no idea what he's doing. This is probably one of the better performances Craig T. Nelson has given. He's introduced in a funny scene where he is getting his ass handed to him by his sensei. The sensei turns off the lights to "even things a bit". The audience hears typical fight sounds and when the lights come on the sensei has been destroyed in a non-lethal, almost friendly, manner ("I feel like that was better").

You know a movie is doing something right (or, is it wrong) when Dennis Hopper gives the film's most muted performance. He barely registers here and is, often, dominated (in several ways) by the performance of Helen Shaver, as his drunken, coked up wife. Chris Sarandon is clearly the baddest seed of the group. Upset by losing a game of water polo he kicks Tanner's dog and then threatens his wife with a gun after the tension reaches it's breaking point. Lancaster is pretty good too though his role can barely be called a glorified cameo. Hauer is fine as well although he's in the obligatory everyman part. "Everyman" as in it could have been played by any man.

The building tension, the breasts (ass too), the performances all help to sell this thing even as the faltering story tries to return it. However, this is Peckinpah and even disinterested, drunk out of his mind he still knows how to give us the action. Typical Peckinpah the action scenes are shot in a slightly disorienting slow motion as if the gods themselves were watching the event's unfold with their hands on the remote control. Kind of like me when I get to the nudie parts these deities prefer to break down the action and see how it unfolds. They can see breasts anytime they want after all they created the damned things. The assault on Tanner's house by CIA agents (?) is a master stroke. Osterman (whose side is he on?) kills one agent with his bare hands and spends most of the rest of the movie slow-mo diving out of the way of gunfire. Why are the agents suddenly descending upon the house with orders like "terminate" and "eliminate"? Where did Sarandon, Hopper and their wives get that motor home (did I take a bathroom break here?) so they could try to make their getaway. Thankfully, the motor home is also rigged with video cameras (and explosives) so Tanner can watch while Fassett delivers the picture's best line: "Think of them as fleas on a dog hit by a car driven by a drunken teenager whose girlfriend just gave him the clap. It will put things into perspective."

Fassett may or may not be evil (likely just driven crazy by grief). Osterman may or may not be evil. I'm pretty sure Danforth is evil (head of CIA after all). Meg Foster looks evil but I'm pretty sure she's ok. Chris Sarandon is a son of a bitch but I'm not sure that makes him evil. Fuck, and Hopper seems like a decent enough guy who just happened to marry a rotten money grubbing bitch. The critics, at the time and probably still to this day, were harsh with this one. The studio butchered it. A director's cut was released in 1988 but not sure if it had the official Peckinpah stamp of approval since he'd been dead for four years. Anway, I was never bored and mostly entertained. Out of all the Peckinpah films that I've seen this is the worst and that's still a fucking ringing endorsement because the worst of Peckinpah is better that most of the bullshit that Hollywood shits out these days. Damn, I just wish I could have better described the plot or even understood what, and more importantly why, things were happening. Maybe I'll watch it in slow-mo next time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kickboxer (1989)

Here's a typical film scenario courtesy of "the muscles from Brussels": Man (JCVD) travels to foreign land (in this case, accompanying his kickboxing legend moustachioued douchebag brother) for martial arts tournament. Brother destroyed by local legend. Man swears vengeance, appears in way over his head. Man gets ass handed to him for most of the final fight. Man comes back from near death to win bout with a bunch of slow-mo, repeated blows while seemingly unbeatable foe suddenly forgets how to block punches or...um...fight altogether. Man doesn't get laid during film's runtime. Ok, I think I probably missed/added some things but you get the gist. This picture, Kickboxer, is run of the mill. It's also the gayest thing Van Damme's ever done.

The movie centers around a couple of brothers that are clearly pining for each other's balls. Eric Sloane (Dennis Alexio) is some kind of kickboxing champion. The picture opens with him kicking ass across, what can only be, minor circuits. The first thing that tipped me off to his gayness was the Gold's Gym muscle shirt. The second thing was the moustache. Still, he's a pretty solid fighter and this becomes more clear when we realize the guy manning his corner is Jean Claude Van Damme (playing Kurt Sloane). These guys have had it with their current, lack of, competition and so they pack their bags for Bangkok, Thailand to challenge the current Thai champion known as Tong Po. Before the fight we get a nice little montage of the two brothers touring the city, arm in arm, as a sweet little 80's ballad serenades us. Eric eventually retreats to the hotel with a couple of hookers as his brother sorta just shrugs off his closeted ways. Later, the fight takes place and Eric is paralyzed barely a round into the thing ("these guys use their elbows!"). Stubborn son of a bitch should have listened to his brother who ran into Tong Po earlier knocking down cement beams with his shins. Oh well, live and learn I guess.

Of course without the back breaking, we wouldn't really have a movie or, at least, not a very good one (we still don't). Kurt vows to avenge his brothers crippling (at least now when Eric can't get it up for chicks he'll have an excuse) and journeys to a more forested region of Thailand to train with "Muay Thai" legend, Xian Chow (Dennis Chan). Along the way, Kurt meets a girl, deals with some Thai mobsters, and of course has a training montage (a nifty way to keep movies from exceeding months in length). Suddenly he's better than his brother ever was (as if that's hard to believe). He's more than ready to face Tong Po. If only Kiki, Chow's dog, was as confident as Kurt was ("someday, Kiki will believe in me.").

This is one of those movies that starts off shitty but by the time Kurt and Tong Po are facing off with fists wrapped in cloth, dipped in resin and covered with glass, you are completely won over and then the movie keeps going and just becomes pretty shitty all over again. Nothing about this picture is believable. First of all, no way was Eric ever a better fighter than Kurt. No way would that girl show any interest in Kurt. And, for fuck's sake, are we really supposed to believe that Eric and Kurt are american brothers. In Kurt's defense he does claim they are originally from Belgium. Eric just took the better ESL program I guess.

The final battle is interesting. Thai mobsters capture Eric before the fight and let Kurt know that he has to suffer through every round or his brother will suffer a horrible death. So, it's up to Xian Chow and Winston Taylor (Vietnam vet living in Bangkok that befriends JCVD. I think he's working as a pimp.) to rescue the brother before Tong's punishment becomes too much for Kurt to endure. Tong is relentless. He's also a rapist apparently since he chastises Kurt after one particularly brutal round with the following line: "You bleed like Mylee (Kurt's girl, duh). Mylee....Goooooood fuck." Then he whipped his ponytail around and licked his lips. Tong Po, like the majority of Thai's portrayed in this movie, is pyschotic.

I won't spoil what happens but let's just say that once Kurt sees Eric sitting with the audience, as comfortably as one can be in a wheelchair, that Tong Po doesn't stand a chance. Oh wait, I just spoiled it! This was also the moment when I realized that I hate the way all Jean Claude Van Damme pictures end. So, clearly Tong Po was never a match for the guy. Kurt was near death, guts dripping out of his stomach, glass embedded in his skull, etc. We know he endured this for his brother. Still, wouldn't he be a bit out of sorts from things like blood loss, for instance? Ok, I get it, it's a fucking movie. Also, why doesn't Van Damme have the confidence in his abilities to cut most of his fights in real time? Why do we have to see him do that double punch, or that Jump kick, three times and in slow motion? It completely takes you out of the picture. I fucking can't stand the way his fights are cut. Suddenly, I realized what I was watching wasn't a fight, but masturbation.

Oh well, he can't win them all I guess. Bloodsport suffers from the same technical issues. It's still a much better film. Cyborg isn't bad even though it's directed by Albert Pyum. Jean Claude, I think, just lacked the scripts and charisma, albeit limited charisma, that make Steven Seagal pictures such a pleasure. Anyway, Kickboxer works on a simple level. It's not transcendent, or even good. It's pretty bad. Mostly, it just is.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Movie Wars Volume II: Invasion U.S.A. vs Revenge of the Ninja

A while ago I started this series called "Movie Wars" where I take a look at two pictures, have them duke it out, and see which one is left standing. Well, in this case, I figured it would be great to apply this to the current month (or two) where I review 80s action cinema. Also, I watched both of these pictures over a week ago and didn't really feel like doing a full review for either one.

Nostalgia is a fucking bitch. I loved both of these films when I was a kid and had not revisited them since. 9 times out of 10 when I rewatch a childhood treasure I'm disappointed. Anyway, let's take a look at the carnage, shall we?

Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

As a kid I pretty much only wanted to grow up to be one thing: A fucking ninja. I bought the magazines, I made a wooden sword in my friend's Dad's workshop, I honed my "skills" in the backyard. I was stealthy, quick, daring. I'd climb trees and sit on the top for hours, biding my time. I'd practice hiding in plain sight. Most of all though, I devoured any and all ninja films I could get my hands on. American Ninja I-II, Ninja Wars, um...not much else. Those movies were fine I suppose. American Ninja pissed me off because it was about an...um...american ninja. Michael Dudikoff was just some douchey white guy. The only real ninja, as far as I was concerned, was Sho Kosugi. This guy was good enough to be on a poster occupying prime real estate on my bedroom wall. And, he was Japanese.

To be honest, my days of being a ninja, or caring about them, are long gone. I am pretty sure I would look ridiculous if I were to put on one of those all black suits. Since I'm a white guy tradition might dictate I wear a white suit. I'd look pretty silly skulking around the city ambushing petty criminals and their bosses. I've never taken a martial arts course in my life so my ass would probably be handed to me unless I had one of those smoke bombs handy to make a speedy getaway. What kind of ninja would I be if I attacked and ran all the time. Not a very good one is the likely answer. Certainly no Sho Kosugi is the even more obvious answer.

Revenge of the Ninja is the middle film of a ninja trilogy (all three starring Kosugi). Enter the Ninja led things off and Ninja III: The Domination concluded things. It's really just a thematic trilogy though since Sho's character was decaptiated (spoiler alert!) at the end of the first one by some douchey white guy no less (Franco Nero!). My memory of Ninja III, however, is a bit more cloudy. There was a white female possessed by some evil ninja I think and then also a massacre at a police officer's funeral or some shit like that and I don't even remember how Sho Kosugi fit into the cast. If it was half as good as Revenge of the Ninja then I will say it was pretty good.

This one is fun even if it is far less than great, which puts it several notches below how I remembered it. Here's a warning to all you "kids": Do not revisit childhood masterpieces. No good can ever come from it. Anyway, the story is simple. Kosugi is living a peaceful life in Japan with his family, etc. For some reason, while he is away of course, some evil ninjas attack his little idyllic countryside home and slaughter most of his family. Kosugi arrives too late and kills off the evil assassins. He's peturbed to learn that his wife and son are dead though. Thankfully, he's got another son who survived. Also, his grandma made it through ok, but that is little consolation. Sho quickly retires from ninja-ing and moves to California (with his surviving son and grandma) to sell Dolls on the advice of his white friend with the sinister evil ninja-like name, Braden (Arthur Roberts).

Braden, as it turns out, isn't really Sho's friend and proves it by smuggling heroin into the country using Sho's dolls. Also, Braden puts on black ninja garb and conceals his eyes using a silver mask and kills the grandma after the plot is revealed. This is another clue that Braden isn't really Sho's friend. Braden also tries to kill Sho's son (ably played by Kane Kosugi) but that little guys exhibits some ninja-like qualities himself and is able to escape. The movie is one fight scene after another bridged together with scenes or minimal character development. Friends are made, friends are betrayed, friends are killed. Even the mafia gets involved. Let's face it, no one is watching this thing for the characterizations. It's all about the fights and these are terrific. Sho Kosugi deserved some of the fame bestowed upon Jackie Chan because this guy is amazing.

The scene that sold him as a legitimate martial artist was the one where some mob guys break into his gallery to steal some dolls (heroin). Kosugi refuses to give up even after having been beaten to a pulp. He's dragged by their van Indiana Jones style at one point. The stunt work was terrific. His final battle with Braden (both in ninja garb) takes place on the top of a skyscraper and is fantastic. It culminates with that old Japanese standard, arterial spray. I think this picture could have used some more of that.

I actually think, as great as Sho Kosugi is, this picture is worth watching for the performance of his son, Kane. This kid takes on an army of bullies and holds his own. He evades capture and certain death by Braden and, at one point, kicks the shit out of a sumo wrestler. He's like 3 feet tall and 40 pounds. Oh, and the movie also features the requisite boobies and was directed by Sam Firstenberg who would never be better than he is here (American Ninja and American Samurai). The only thing this picture was lacking was Steve James.


Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

I used to think this was the definitive Chuck Norris picture. Fuck man, was I wrong. This is a piece of god awful shit. I guess the definitive Norris picture has to be Braddock: Missing in Action II. The movie starts out well enough. Terrorists, from every middle eastern nation (and maybe Cuba), invade the country from the sea and start committing random acts of violence. They shoot up suburbia on Christmas eve, take out a hot dog stand, shoot up a mall, attempt to blow up a school bus full of kids. Basically, anything that is quintessentially American, these fuckers want to destroy.

Ok, I'm not really sure if they were middle eastern or not. I'm an american so, to me, all foreigners with tan looking skin look alike. I am pretty sure that their leader was some soviet douchebag played by Richard Lynch. And, Chuck Norris is in it playing ex-CIA or ex-Special Forces. He's retired and living in the everglades wrassling gator's and stuff but comes out of retirement when these guys kill his best friend. Like all 80's action heros Norris "works alone" and has a silly name like Mike Hunter or Matt Hamster. Norris slips on his blue jeans (it's about a 3 hour process), puts on his denim shirt and straps on a couple of uzis. Then he spends the rest of the picture miraculously appearing whenever the terrorists are about to shit on another american treasure like church and says things like "didn't work, huh? now it will" as he drops the bomb into the hands of some dumbfounded terrorists that were about to blow up that church and were wondering why the detonator didn't work. It didn't work because Norris cut the wires and then reattached them as the punchline to his joke.

I don't know, I used to love Chuck Norris but he lost a little bit in my eyes when he started stumping for that guy Mike Huckabee. I thought Norris was unbeatable but his guy didn't even make it past the primaries so the lustre is starting to wear off. Also, I can only take so much of people that wear american flags on their shirts, a symbol I used to admire but has since come to represent things like anti-choice and also things like evolution is for fags. I still think the guy is a pretty good fighter and a champion and stuff like that but I also wish he had a few more brain cells. I guess Bruce Lee knocked them all out. At least his tears can cure cancer. It's just too bad he never cries. Maybe that's why he is anti-stem cell. He is just waiting for the day when someone makes him cry and then he can say "look guys I can cure cancer. We can continue letting those aborted fetuses go to waste. Here are some tears I cried while watching Beaches last night. I bottled them for y'all. Also, here is some sperm free of charge. Please....take it."

Invasion U.S.A. is a relic. We'll never see another one like it. It's weird since the politics in this thing are all skewed. Here we have a typical right wing tale of one man who must stand against an invading force to protect religion and hot dogs and yet the only reason that invading force was able to make it into the country is because the current administration (also right leaning) didn't really have an eye on our own borders. What the hell am I to believe? I think vigilantism is probably the way to go. In Norris' defense, it's hard to argue that two rights can make a wrong so what the hell do I know. Politics aside, this picture blows.

Final Thoughts

Ninja star to the eye, Norris and his piece of shit movie fall to the mat. His sperm is still usable, so there is that.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Extreme Prejudice (1987)

This picture has a solid pedigree; Walter Hill directing (48 hours and The Warriors), John Milius co-scripting (Apocalypse Now and Red Dawn), Nick Nolte, Powers Boothe, Michael Ironside, Clancy Brown, William Forsythe, Rip Torn, Maria Conchita Alonso's tits, Tommy "Tiny" Lister, etc. It's like a who's who and a what's what of people and things guys like. Call it "The A-Team" by way of Sam Peckinpah, which isn't that much of a stretch considering Hill, at one time, learned under Peckinpah.

Fuck, one thing you don't really remember, or understand, as a kid is just how right wing all these pictures were. The stories usually involve one man, armed to the teeth, standing up against an army of drug runners, viet cong, invading cubans or some shit. Forget about calling for back up. I think 99% of these pictures were produced by CAROLCO, remember them? The women are usually completely perfunctory except to provide some kind of motivation for the hero to act usually in the form of revenge. Also, sometimes they get to show their boobies and often are employed as a stripper, a singer, or maybe a whore. These were pictures made for men by men about men with men and if you think that's gay, you've got another thing coming. Well, some of them were gay (Top Gun, not that I'm going to continue to beat that dead horse).

Extreme Prejudice is decidedly not gay. Nick Nolte stars as Jack Benteen, 3rd generation Texas Ranger, grizzled, emotionless, a guy who probably would have chastised Sheriff Ed Tom Bell for being a sissy. He's the kind of guy that thinks it's bad practice to give up his gun and is "particular about who he drinks with". He spends his days patrolling a dusty old border town trying to keep the drugs from coming in from Mexico. He spends his nights sleeping next to the beautiful and feisty Sarita (Maria Conchita Alonso). Sarita wants more from life than a roof over her head apparently. She wants adventure, money, maybe even fame. Which is why she goes back with her old flame, Cash Bailey (the terrific Powers Boothe), Jack's former best friend and current drug lord. Boothe is best when playing a villain, and this one he plays very well and is supported by his distinctive voice ("I got a feelin the next time we run into each other, we're gonna have a killin'" and "show us your tits if you want to be useful"). We know what kind of guy he is in his first scene when he let's a scorpion crawl into his palm so he can crush it.

Into this squabble between old friends come a group of six ex-soldiers, classified as dead, now working covert operations for the United States government. Consisting of the likes of Clancy Brown (Shawshank Redemption) and William Forsythe (Raising Arizona) and led by Major Paul Hacket (Ironside). Lamar from Revenge of the Nerds is in the group as well and he's not that gay here. Apparently, these guys were inspired by "The A-team" except they actually kill people for real and, if shot, they actually bleed. There is also a B.A. Baracus type character and a Murdoch (Forsythe) type character but thankfully we are not subjected to a scene where the B.A. character receives a blood transfusion from the Murdoch character and also they don't have to knock B.A. out before getting on a plane. If they did, it's offscreen becuase their first scene is in an airport after they land. Also, the Murdoch character in Extreme Prejudice is cooler than the TV version because he told a young woman "as long as I got a face, you got a place to sit." I've been waiting for the right opportunity to finally use that line in public. Hasn't happened yet, but I will keep you posted.

So, anyway, these A-team guys are actually trying to fuck with Cash Bailey's empire and by "fuck with" I mean destroy. Jack is a little more diplomatic, since they were best friends and all, and tells Cash to just "cut and run" but Cash is drunk with power by this point and a little crazy so bad things are going to happen. The movie is rife with double crosses and operatic gun violence. Sarita starts off the double crossing by leaving Jack to go with Cash in a heart rending moment that pretty much proves she is a money grubbing whore. Hell, I nearly forgot about Rip Torn, who shows up in the beginning as a wise old yoda like Texas lawman. He doles out some good advice to Jack such as "the only thing worse than a politician is a child molester" which is funny since he occupies the elected position of Sheriff. Then he's gun downed by the fat brother of the fat drug runner Jack gunned down in his first scene.

The first great set piece of the picture involves Ironside and his boys robbing a bank that is basically controlled by Cash, the monetary unit and the drug lord. These guys are pretty good. Murdoch and B.A. staged a fight to get themselves thrown in jail for a night so they could study the interior of the police station (number of cops, amount of artillery, switchboard type, etc). The following day, the guy that reminded me of Face, drives a Hydrogen truck into a factory to create a diverson. Meanwile, B.A. and Clancy Brown are disguised as armored truck drivers and Ironside is Hannibal. They all wear panty hose on their heads. These guys are not like the A-team in one respect. They kill without remore, with "extreme prejudice" one might say. Whatever is necessary to win the war on drugs. I wonder why we don't send in some "deceased" special forces to rob the bank of Iraq or Yemen or wherever to win the war on terror? It's just a thought because what we are currently doing doesn't seem to be working very well. I hope Obama reads my reviews.

The picture is very Peckinpah, except for the lack of slow motion. Jack eventually joins forces with Ironside and his guys but Ironside has other things on his mind and orders his men to kill Cash and then to also kill Jack, to "terminate with extreme prejudice". By the way, that line and this picture's title is lifted directly from Milius' own Apocalypse Now. Of course the picture ends with a bloodbath in Mexico, reminiscent of Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, on their independance day no less! Cash is king down there and leads an army of Mexicans, gringos, and professional athletes. Tommy "Tiny" Lister shows up as his #1 bodyguard, an ex-american footballer, a guy that made the Pro Bowl in fact. The fact that he is now taking bullets for a drug lord in Mexico doesn't really speak well about the NFL's pension plan. On first meeting Jack he explains "I banged up my knee" to which Jack replies "I think you banged up your head".

This is a terrific picture my friends and just goes to show that a friendship in Texas can mean many things except usually not forever. The border towns were a brutal place, probably still are. People were desperate and turned to the easy money provided by drugs. It's moderately better than dirt farming and teatotalling. Fuck that shit. These people need their tequila and they need it straight. As Cash says, "there ain't no right and wrong, there's only choices." Unfortunately, the cycle of violence is endless. After Cash, some other guy, most likely a Mexican this time, will don the white suit and the only thing he'll find across the border is a stubborn son of a bitch named Jack who refuses to look the other way. Unless the border town he crosses into is corrupted. In that case, all bets are off. I have no idea if Jack took Sarita back, but i do know she's got a nice rack. This is a very good one and incredibly underrated. For the love of Christ, though, please put out a good DVD. It's inexcusable that a picture featuring beautiful wide open Texan and Mexican vistas should only be available fullscreen and with a god awful transfer. Bullshit, man.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987)

Ok, like I said, I'm going to focus on a particular genre for the time being. I was going to concentrate on action pictures from the 1980s for the month of November but now I think I'll extend that to however the fuck long I want. If Netflix didn't screw me over by leaving me without any new DVDs for the past week I may have stuck with my original plan. There are plenty of pictures I want to touch on, plenty of names I want to cover; Milius, Hill, Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Kosugi, Van Damme, Swayze, Peckinpah (yes, his last film came out in 1983), Norris, Nolte, etc. Will I get to them all? Doubtful.

Anyway, I'm not sure why I went with Wanted: Dead or Alive. I didn't particularly remember that much from my initial viewing (1987). All, I remembered was the bad ass ending. It stars Rutger Hauer but I didn't really start to appreciate him until much later. I've always disliked Kiss, so the presence of Gene Simmons as a middle eastern terrorist does nothing for me. The director, Gary Sherman, wasn't actually known for action films. Hell, he's got a pretty solid background in horror though (Dead and Buried and Raw Meat). The movie also features fine supporting work from Robert Guillome ("Benson"!) and Jerry Hardin (deep throat from "The X-files"). Actually, the most action-y thing this picture has going for it, pre-viewing, is that it's based on an old Steve Mcqueen series of the same name from the late 50s. I guess Hauer is supposed to be Mcqueen's great great nephew or some shit like that.

To be honest with you, I wanted to like this a whole hell of a lot more than I actually did. It's got a solid opening, an ass dragging middle, and a slam bam thank you mam finale. Hauer is great but that's not surprising. I've never really seen the guy give a bad performance. He plays a bounty hunter named Nick Randall. He works closely with police officer seargent Danny Quintz (William Russ of "Boy Meets World" fame) in tracking down scum, getting them off the street, and then collecting a reward. One guy, he beats the shit out of and stuffs in his trunk and then drops him off at the station so Quintz can book him. The scum bag asks if he's ever heard of "miranda", but Randall just looks at him and dead pans, "got news for ya, I'm not a cop". So, this is a guy that was being like Dog while Dog was still a pup or getting his high school girlfriend pregnant but this guy is cooler than Dog and he wears his mullet better. Also, Randall is ex CIA so he's seen some pretty bad shit in his days. And, he has a headquarters that sort of resembles a bat cave for the real world and his car has GPS which is pretty bad ass for the 80s. Also, he's got a sweet girlfriend who lives with him on a boat (as action heroes tend to do) while she is studying for her law degree or her CPA or something like that. Still despite all of this something was missing.

The first thing missing is an actor capable of playing a middle eastern villain. It's clear they hired Gene Simmons for his name since this guy cannot really act. He was also in that picture with Magnum P.I. called Runaway, the one with the robotic spiders, and he was pretty terrible in that thing. I think they told him to tone down his act for the clearly more introverted Malak Al Rahim, so they told him to barely speak (also, since he can't do a competent accent) and, hell, they even told him to stay out of most of the picture all together. His first scene is a good one though, I'll give him that, when he plants a bomb in a movie theatre that happens to be playing Rambo. I'm guessing First Blood Part II, but they didn't specify. One of his bomb technicians is excited about a new detonator he developed, one that will work from a distance of up to 2 miles, but Rahim is not really impressed; "What's the point of that if I can't watch?" Anyway, walking out of the theatre, he stops to caress the face of an innocent child. He is a terrorist with a heart of gold. 144 dead.

So, of course Nick and Malak have a history. When Nick was in the CIA he was commisioned to take out seven terrorists. He took out six. Guess who the seventh guy was? Malak isn't just in
L.A. to visit disneyworld and blow up children. He wants to kill Nick as well (maybe make him suffer a bit). Anyway, the middle part of the movie sorta forgets about Malak as we are treated to some character "development". Unfortunately, the movie sorta grinds to a hault with these scenes. There's also a somewhat tedious side plot about corruption within the police ranks led by the shadowy Jerry Hardin. Guillome is Hardin's underling and just about the only friend Nick's got. Well, Quintz was a pretty good friend too, but then he was blown up on Nick's boat (unfortunately, so was Nick's girlfriend) to give our hero a little bit of extra motivation to not hold back. Once that boat blows up, the movie kicks into a higher gear and becomes something pretty cool.

Here are some thoughts on the portrayal of middle eastern terrorists in this picture. It's kinda insulting. Maybe these guys became terrorists in real life because of these harmful stereotypes in hollywood action films. I mean, isn't it possible we made them this way or maybe this is just one of many reasons they hate us? Not trying to lay any blame for 9/11 here, but maybe if Nick Randall didn't use the term "rag head" so much we would all be friends by now. Still, these particular "rag heads" are evil, even if most of them are probably not of middle eastern descent; they blow themselves up, they blow up babies, they blow up women, etc. One moment, in particular, was a bit shocking when two terrorists were driving a getaway car and I guess the driver, who happened to be a woman, did something wrong so the passenger shot her in the head and then licked the brain splattered window in an apparently sexually aroused state. Well, that is pretty evil and just plain sadistic but that is all besides the point. What I want to know is what the fuck were these guys doing hiring a woman?

Hauer has some pretty good scenes in this one with my favorite being the one where he interrogates a terrorist that he stuffed in a locker with a shotgun. This guy is pissed off. That poor terrorist was blasted with the shotgun on most of his extremities and then, later, when Hardin and his cronies show up still has to undergo extreme interrogation tactics 80s (and 2000s) style. Some things never change. The ending is pretty famous. I think you might remember it. Nick has caught Gene Simmons and brings him out to the waiting cops with a grenade shoved in his mouth. He makes an arrangement with Hardin to have his fee ($250,000) sent to the widow of the friend that was blown up on his boat. He's also promised a bonus ($50,000) for bringing in Simmons alive. Fuck man, I really want to spoil what happens here but I guess I will refrain. It's an 80s action film so I don't really think I spoiled anything by revealing the good guy catches the bad guy did I? This is a solid picture with some classic moments, a few good lines of dialogue and a suprisingly melancholic coda which features Hauer harmonicanizing "You are my sunshine". Sniff sniff.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The New Kids (1985)

Initially, the plan was to watch this one and review it for October but now I'm kinda glad I didn't. While there are some horrorish elements, this thing actually fits in more with my planned theme for November (80s action) so we'll go with that. Actually, this is more of a thriller with some fun action moments. Netflix classifies it as horror; It's got Tom Atkins in it (for barely five minutes), it's directed by Sean S. Cunningham (director of Friday the 13th and producer of Last House on the Left), there's copious amounts of cruelty to animals, there's a scene where a girl is stalked while she's in a shower. So, yeah there are several elements of a horror film present here. What I completely didn't expect was how the whole thing follows the traditional formula of an action film. Hero rises to the top. Hero takes a fall (in the form of a vicious mens room beat down). Hero takes out bad guys one by one in a final showdown (with a little help from Hero's sister). Here's the kicker. These are high school kids! This is like the Brick of action films.

Our story begins in small town U.S.A. as the relationship between 'Mac' Macwilliams (the Tom Atkins), an officer in the armed forces, and his two teenaged kids, Abby (Lori Loughlin of the "Full House") and Loren (Shannon Presby) is established. Loren is actually a guy if you can believe it. Don't be fooled by the names. Also, this is, for some strange reason, his last picture. I'm not sure why because he's pretty great in this thing. He's the Steven Seagal of high school. Anyway, Tom Atkins is pretty badass himself. He drives his kids to succeed. He rousts them at dawn to go for runs. He single handedly took out five terrorists on a Boeing 747 and, for his efforts, is receiving a reward from the President himself. There's no problem leaving the kids alone for a few days while he and the misses drive out to accept the award. His kids (and a few friends) eat Pizza, drink soda, and beam with pride as they watch on TV. A phone call interrupts their evening. Loren answers and quickly hushes everyone. Something is wrong. "Both of them?" he asks.

Anywho, with the 'rents dead, Abby and Loren go to live with Uncle Charlie in his Florida tourist trap known as Santa's Funland. Charlie is the anti 'Mac'. He's a fun loving guy who is always looking for his next get rich quick scheme. They always fail. His life is completely void of any thing resembling discipline. He's got a wife, but she doesn't seem very happy. Into their lives come these two kids that will melt their hearts. Their arrival also leads to the infamous "petting zoo massacre". Life is never easy and that's most certainly true in that shit hole town in Florida. Loren and Abby quickly ingrain themselves within the high school community. Loren starts dating the sherrif's daughters. Abby fends off the advances of some red neck bullies (led by the Aryan like James Spader in his second role). Finally, she settles on Eric Stoltz. Good choice in my opinion. Spader, suprise surprise, is the villain of the picture. He doesn't take too kindly to rejection so him and his yokelish gang make life a living hell for Abby, Loren, and Uncle Charlie. Unfortunately for Spader (he played a guy named Dutra), he didn't count on Loren fighting back.

I think this picture is the reason Spader was cast in so many villanous roles throughout the 80s. He's pretty great here. This guy put the "c" in "creep". "C" as in cocksucker. He's a real good ol' boy son of a fucking bitch. He gets off some great lines in this with my favorite being "What are you? Made of mouth?" Also, I loved the scene where he pulled up to Santa's Fun Land to gas up his van (yes, Santa's Fun Land is also a gas station) and ask Abby to the school dance. His persistance is incredible especially considering that he comes across as an outright asshole from the start. He storms off with "bitch, you had your shot!" His gang is really not much better. They hang out in the sticks (I'm just kidding, everywhere is "the sticks" in this part of Florida) training their pit bull to dog fight by cutting off the head of a chicken and drenching a pull-rope with its blood. They also sniff lots of coke which is something villains do I am told. My second favorite villain was Gideon played by this guy John Philbin. This guy was Chuck in Return of the Living Dead. I can't really remember who Chuck was so maybe you, my readers, can remind me. One of the punks I'm guessing. It's been a long time since I've seen it so I guess it's time I rewatched it. Anyway, Gideon is great. He and Dutra have a bet about who can bang Abby first. He asked her to a drive-in to see a movie called Saturday Night Girls that he confesses to having already seen seven times and then, aftewards, they can take in a dogfight. He also made cuninlingus motions with his tongue and then spit on her computer. I don't know Abby, they are both winners.

Anyway, things escalate. The bullies key Uncle Charlie's beloved Caddilac which doesn't sit well with Loren. There's a great scene where he breaks into Dutra's house in the middle of the night, gags him, holds a knife on him and forces him to fork over some drug money to pay for the damages to the car. I didn't expect this. The kid obviously learned a lot from Pops. I'd stick Loren in a foxhole with me anyday (and I don't mean that to sound gay). Later, he kicks the crap out of the other red necks and quickly becomes the most popular kid in school. The fight scene is actually pretty well choreographed. Loren can fight and he can act, so already he has a leg up on Seagal. Unfortunately, it's his last picture so clearly his heart wasn't in the biz. I wonder what he's up to now?

The final scene is a fantastic one. The bullies abduct Abby and begin to torture her. They douse her in lighter fluid and I half expected things to devolve into Last funland on the left. She escapes, to the funland, and they follow with shotguns but that's not really enough. Loren's a badass. Still, those red necks get in some good shots before they die including the first ever "petting zoo massacre". Lots of animals die in this picture. Molly the rabbit. So and so the goat. Ricardo the rooster and so one. They even shotgun poor Uncle Charlie. Loren gets pissed and takes them out one by one and sometimes two at a time, Seagal style. He wasn't even armed so, yeah, it's badass. This guy stalks through funland rigging the ferris wheel (rednecks used it as a lookout), diving and somersaulting to avoid gun fire, and killing without remorse. His final duel with Dutra involves the gas hose doubling as a blowtorch. Spader didn't stand a chance. Other than the offscreen deaths of the parents at the beginning, no one died until the last ten minutes or so and then they died in spades. It was worth the wait.

Not many people know of this picture I think since it doesn't have a wikipedia page and there are only a few reviews online that I could find. It's vintage 80s. Hell, it defines the 80s. Elevator music-like score (from the usually good, except for here, Lalo Schifrin), a terrific montage where they get Santa's funland ready for its grand re-opening set to a tepid 80s song ("Stand up!"), some fun fight scenes, snorting of cocaine, and a high school dance. Also, Stoltz and Spader. Hell, even Uncle Charlie (Eddie Jones) gets in some good lines here and there (to his wife, "soon enough, we're gonna be fartin' through silk." What?). I'm glad I watched this after halloween though. It's a good start to the new month. I was sitting on a few other horror reviews but to be honest I'm all horror'd out at the moment. You will just have to sit tight in anticipation of my write-up for Who Can Kill a Child? I recommend you check this one out. More, traditional, 80s action to come!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Driller Killer (1979)

I blew it. This isn't even a fucking horror movie. As far as I can tell, it's just a painfully long music video for some shitty punk band I can only assume must have been friends with the director, Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant, Body Snatchers). I think this picture's reputation is based more on it being banned from the UK in the early 80s (and therefore an infamous "video nasty"). It has several elements I like in a picture; breasts, lesbianism, gore. So, there is that. Unfortunately, it's all presented without a modicum of suspense, tension, or story (other things I like in pictures). I think Ferrara's an interesting filmmaker so I guess I can chalk this up to being his first picture. His Body Snatchers is near brilliant. This? Slightly less so.

Ferrara, himself, stars as Reno, a painter struggling to make it in New York City. He lives with his girlfriend Carol (recently divorced) and friend, also Carol's secret lover, Pamela (who appears to be always under the influence). They struggle to pay the bills and usually can't. Rent is due, the phone bills due, they can't even afford to go out. Reno is working on a painting of a buffalo that should land him big bucks with a distributor only it's taking him forever to finish the thing. Can't rush an artist I guess. To make matters worse, an awful punk band has moved in down the hall. They play their shitty music all hours, apparently never sleeping, eating, or shitting. Reno begins to lose it. He starts having bload soaked visions. He witnesses a knifing from the rooftop and is more than a little intrigued. Later, he witnesses a commercial for a new kind of portable drill, the "porto pak" (only $19.95!). Things are looking up for him because that's a pretty sweet looking drill. It does other things too, but who needs that shit. Also, the homeless problem is getting worse in the city, bunch of degenerate low life scum. Buy the drill (I'm guessing he stole the money), kill a few homeless, finish the painting, collect his money, and things will be a-ok.

The synopsis of this thing (not mine, the one with the dvd) wasn't exactly correct. It claims that the killings are a part of the product of his "masterpiece" being laughed out of a distributor's office. That part actually comes towards the end. Reno's killed about 30 people by then. The killings at first are shocking. Reno hovering over a dererlict, drill in hand. The first one is incredibly graphic as he basically drills up and down the poor guy's chest and stomach with blood spurting everywhere. As Reno realizes he loves killing almost as much as he hates the homeless, the kills come faster and furiouser. Fuck, they actually become quite comical and I'm not sure that was the intent. We'll see two bums talking to each other. Suddenly, the tense music kicks in as Reno charges into the scene and drills one of them before the other knows what's happening. After the powerful first kill, they're all pretty much like this. There's no suspense as to who will get killed next. The kill scenes aren't exactly constructed so much as, I don't know, made up as they went along? The movie is a long 90 minutes and could have easily dropped 10-15.

Which isn't too say I hated it exactly. I actually sorta admired the thing. Aside from the gore and the pretty sweet, slightly gratuitous, lesbian shower scene (featuring Reno's nude roommates), the script was full of little moments that held my interest. I liked the opening scene with Carol reading the depressing newspaper stories; "boy hijacks bus and kills two" and "poodle accidentaly microwaved explodes - owner dies of heart attack." Reno had a funny moment when his roommates score free tickets to see the band next door. Reno, scoffs, but eventually relents muttering "at least at a club I can walk out." Pamela offers a suggestion for Reno in his dealings with the art distributor; "you should let him stick it in your ass. use KY Jelly. It won't hurt." His look is priceless and then he hits the streets to murder some more bums. By the way, every person killed onscreen is a man. I think Reno sees himself in them, in more ways than one. Homophobe.

It's not a proper halloween movie, but it has some moments. Ferrara gets off some funny lines but his descent into madness is completely unconvincing. Taxi Driver this is not. I actually somewhat enjoyed the cheap look of the picture, all set in New York. The bums were probably real bums that Ferrara and his crew threw a few bucks at so they could pour blood on them. The score has its moments (loved the heartbeats leading up to a kill), but there was way too much of that punk band playing the same song over and over. The ending rips off Psycho; guy in drag, shower scene. I'll leave you with the art dealer's opinion of Reno's work; "no, no, no, this isn't right! This is shit!" I should steal that line to describe this picture. Ferrara has gotten much better with time. This picture hasn't.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Black Sunday (1960)

It's about time they made a movie (over 40 years ago) about a woman justifiably burned at the stake. I think those pitchfork mobs with torches were always given a bad rap. I mean, in the original Frankenstein they aren't portrayed in a very positive light and yet were acting in the right, in my opinion, since that behemoth murdered a little girl. I'm sure there are other pictures featuring these kind of mobs, usually taking place in eastern europe someplace, where they are portrayed as a bunch of raving, puritanical, monsters that are completely unsympathetic to the monster they are chasing. And then there is that Joan of Arc broad who probably deserved what she got as well. Know-it-all bitch. Also, the salem witch trials. You're telling me not a single one of those women was a witch? Or, at least, not rightfully god fearing like a real american woman should be? The only way to cure that type of blasphemy is through a purifying fire my friends. Yet, history, and the movies, looks down upon these mobs. Have you ever heard the term "mob mentality" used to refer to something good? Didn't think so, at least not within the last century or so. I think there's safety in numbers. It saves you from having to come up with your own opinion, formulate your own ideas. Also, if you're wrong you can just blame it on the other guy. Let's bring back the pitchfork mobs is what I'm saying.

Anyway, Black Sunday is the first picture Mario Bava directed and probably the best. Filmed in stark black and white, set in Moldavia (eastern europe somewhere on the road to Moscow). The film begins with one of those purifications by fire that I mentioned earlier during the seventeenth century. The strangely beautiful (I'd do her but she's pretty weird lookin) witch, Asa (Barbara Steele), and her lover, fellow satanist Javutich, have been sentenced to death by an angry mob (led by Asa's own brother). This is a great fucking scene, the best in the picture. Perhaps one of the best ever filmed. The atmosphere just oozes out of every frame, glorious fires, stakes, fog, crickety looking trees and a hulking, hooded executioner carrying a rather large mallet. Asa is sentenced to wear the "mask of satan" (alternate title for the movie). It's just a mask really, except for the metal spikes on the inside. Asa quickly curses her brother, her ancestors, etc before the mask is placed upon her face. That's not really the worst part though. Those nails haven't gone too deep into her flesh yet so here comes the big executioner with his hammer to really pound their point home. Her scream is cut short the instant the hammer connects and blood gushes from the eyeholes. Not exactly what you'd expect to see in a picture released in 1960. Unfortunately, the fires were put out by the devil's rain that immediately followed and the mob dispersed in a mad panic. They had to settle for burying Javutich (his mask was placed upon his face before the movie even started) in a graveyard "reserved for murderers" and Asa was laid to rest in the tomb beneath her families castle. Her crypt even comes with a window so she can see the cross that will "keep her nailed down forever".

I won't say that Bava completely blew his load with this first scene. I'm pretty sure he rested up for a few hours before continuing. The next load just wasn't quite as big. How could it be? The rest of the picture is still pretty good though. Two centuries later, Dr. Kruvayan and his protoge, Andre, are traveling through Moldavia on their way to Moscow for some sort of science-y conference. The wheel on their carriage falls off and the wander around while the drunken, imbecilic driver fixes it. They stumble upon Asa's crypt, Kruvayal fends off the worst looking bat in film history, destroys the cross above Asa's crypt (accidentaly, while fending off the bat), shatters the protective glass window and cuts himself in the process (accidentaly, while fending off the bat), etc, etc, you get the idea. His blood drips into Asa's eyeless sockets allowing her to return to the realm of the living. Barbara Steele also plays the role of Katja, Asa's doppleganger and ancestor. Asa's goal is to possess Katja and reawaken her love, Javutich, so they can live happily ever after (forever) while causing murder and mayhem amongst humankind.

It's undeniable that Tim Burton took some of his visual style from Bava and, in particular, Black Sunday. This picture looks very much like his Sleepy Hollow. We even have a protagonist, Andre, who is unabashedly a man of science although, in the end, he's a little easier to convince than Depp's Ichabod Crane was. The castle of Asa's ancestors (now occupied by Katja, her father, her brother, etc) is one of those classic gothic castles with hidden passageways, trap doors, and flammable tapestries. Every frame is perfectly set designed from the trees to the roads. It all looks artificial, but that only serves to enhance the otherworldly atmosphere. I thought the score was terrific but since I'm pretty much tone deaf I'll leave it for others to describe. It would have fit in perfectly with the scores from the old Universal monster movies.

It's hard for me to judge the performances. The picture is dubbed, sometimes badly, and who knows how closely the lines being said match up with the original screenplay. Steele, as the witch, is creepy when she's telling her victims to "look into my eyes". As Katja, however, she is much less interesting. Her exchanges with potential love interest Andre, include lines like "I feel like I'm being consumed hour by hour like this garden" to which he responds, "you mustn't give in to despair." Then, I think they banged (off screen). A little too soap opery for my taste. Arturo Dominici played the guy-witch, Javutich, and he was a pretty scary fuck. Looked kinda like Gary Oldman only with horrible pock marks (an unfortunate side effect of "the mask of satan", Asa had them too). Unfortunately, for a guy that's been dead for a couple centuries and with all the powers of satan behind him, he's not a very good fighter. His skill set involves rolling around on the ground. Andre is far from what I would call masculine (the guys a pussy pretty much, a love struck motherfucking pussy) and yet he holds his own with the guy/man-witch/demon/whatever.

There are, I'm sorry to admit, a few moments of unintentional hilarity. One being when the castle dogs have had their throats slit by a possessed victim of the witch (2nd straight movie where a dog dies!). Well, I don't know, I guess there's a pool of blood on the floor but those dogs still seem pretty happy and alive. They almost saved the scene with a quick cut, but I am pretty sure the one on the left rolled over to have its tummy rubbed. I also loved how the answer to all of life's problems (and horrors) can be solved with drugs. Katja, upon seing a hand reaching through the drapes of her balcony, shrieks in terror. Her brother and Andre rush in and can't find anything: "All clear, I'll get the sedative". Again, this just might be an issue with the dubbing.

Minor quibbles aside, this is a great picture that you can get lost in if you appreciate some great atmospherics. There are some terrific effects work here; Asa's reforming, scorpion infested eyes, a burning corpse, Asa's exposed rib cage (mid transformation). Andre though is a pussy throughout. When he thinks Katja dead he intones "my life is finished now..." Jesus man, get a hold of yourself. You just met the broad five minutes ago. Plenty of fish, or hookers, in the sea. Hell, even Asa is looking pretty fine. Just wait a few hours and I'm sure she'll be fully operational. I bet she's dirtier than Katja too. Those satanists always are. Alas, we'll never find out because here comes yet another angry mob with torches, a mere two hundred years after the last one. I wonder if masturbation was invented yet? And, if so, was it a stake burning offense? My advice for Andre would be to add Katja to ye olde spank bank and just move on.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Deathdream (1974)

Classic. Yup, that's the first word that came to mind after viewing this picture. It's a fucking classic that, unfortunately, very few people have probably heard of. Bob Clark, killed last year in a car crash, directed two of the better horror movies from the 70s. This and the influential Black Christmas. Clark would eventually direct another, albeit wildly different, classic called A Christmas Story. Perhaps you've heard of it? Of course, he was also the genius behind such garbage as Porky's I-II, Rhinestone, and The Karate Dog (haven't seen it, but come on, really?). I still haven't seen Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things which sounds like it should be fantastic in every way based on the title alone.

Deathdream, based on "The Monkey's Paw" (haven't read it), is one of those pictures that went by many different names. Fuck, the title credits list it as Dead of Night (it's also known as Night Walk, The Night Andy Came Home, Uncle Sam 2: The Prequel, The Veteran, etc). It's a Vietnam war era story about the Brooks family whose son, Andy (Richard Backus), has been away in "the shit". The picture opens with Andy, apparently, being killed (it's a confusing scene, much like the war). His death is confirmed when a representative from the state department arrives at the Brooks home to deliver the news to his family. His mother, Christine (Lynn Carlin) goes immediately into denial and, later, is shown chanting "he's not dead" over a lit candle (hmmm...). His father, Charlie (John Marley, aka the guy that woke up next to a horse head in The Godfather) struggles to maintain his composure, himself a veteran of WWII. His sister, Cathy reacts as most sisters do, with blubbering hysterics. His dog....is a dog.

So, imagine their surprise when a few nights later Andy comes home. The family is startled by a noise and heads downstairs, together. Andy's appearence is a startlingly chiling reveal and the look on his face, well, it's fucking creepy as hell. How did he get home? Shouldn't he be dead? What the fuck? I guess it's not that much of a stretch to imagine the state department making such an egregious blunder. Probably happens all the time. Maybe his dog tags got switched? Perhaps what we witnessed in the picture's first five minutes wasn't exactly what we thought?

Andy, however, is clearly not the same. He is completely emotionless, zombie-like if you will. His answers to questions are short and curt. He doesn't eat. He doesn't sleep. He spends his time sitting in his room, in the dark, rocking back and forth in his chair. Ocassionaly, he disappears at night. On the night he arrived home, a truck driver was brutally murdered after having made the mistake of picking up a hitchhiker. There was a needle mark in his arm and his throat was jaggedly cut. Was this Andy's handiwork? What the fuck happened to him over there?

Fucking A man, they just don't make them like this anymore. Everything about this picture worked for me. The performances are terrific, natural. John Marley is great as the father, the only one willing to admit that perhaps Andy isn't quite the same. Lynn Carlin is, I guess, a typical mom if your mom was Martha Stewart. She blindly loves her son (as a parent should) and completely ignores his changing demeanor like when he strangled the family dog with one hand in front of some terrified neighborhood kids. It's a shocking scene. I expected him to release the dog just short of death but, no, Andy keeps going and then tosses the poor dog aside. If only the poor little guy knew karate. Anyway, this doesn't sit well with Pops ("That was the best dog I ever had"). This is most evident in an earlier scene where Pops, sitting alone and wondering what went wrong, calls the little dog up to his lap so he can pet him. It was one of those little yippy dogs (a schnauzer or a shnizit or something like that) so I wondered what the big deal was. The mother's last scene with Andy is actually pretty heartbreaking in its way. Even the minor characters, the mailman, the doc, Andy's girlfriend from before the war, the drunk guy in a diner, are completely believable (and in several cases funny).

Clark's never been one to make a pretty-to-look-at film (A Christmas Story is one of the more brilliantly ugly classics around) and that is certainly the case here. This is a portrait of middle america through the eyes of middle americans and middle americans and the towns they live in aren't always pretty. There are some gore effects in this picture and you might be pleased to learn that they were created by none other than Tom Savini. If that doesn't mean anything to you than we're finished. This was Savini's first film (he was billed as an assistant, but his stamp is all over it). It's not a splatterfest by any means. I'm trying not to spoil this one too much and to describe some of the effects would be to do just that. Here's a hint, probably too much of one, but fuck it. At one point, Andy sneaks out of the house and we see him scratching something on a gravestone in the local cemetary. We don't learn what he etched until the very last scene. No one leaves this picture happy, let's just say that.

Of course, this is all a metaphor for the problems facing soldiers returning from Vietnam. There are moments of power equal to anything in Coming Home and, astoundingly, set within the trappings of a genre film! The thing is, this picture might not have worked as well as it did had I seen it 10, 15, 20 years ago. Now, it's more relevant than ever with the situation in Iraq. It's like our own fucking Vietnam. Soldiers are returning now as fucked up as ever, families systematically being destroyed (I can't imagine anything worse though than what happened to the Brooks family). Anyway, this is a good fucking picture, way better than Uncle Sam, although I like that one too. War is hell if you die. Hell if you live. I guess it's no picnic if you're somewhere in between either. Also, there is a great scene at a drive-in where some poor schlub gets hit by a car and then driven over. War is no place for me I guess because I laughed and laughter has no place in war. Only the insane laugh at death or think a death that happens in a movie is real, for that matter. No idea where I'm going with this so I'll just end things here.