Friday, February 22, 2008

Shadow Of A Scream (1997)

Before Mystic River, before Gone Baby Gone, Before The Departed, there was Shadow Of A Scream. Dare I say this is the definitive Boston crime thriller? Nah, I'm just kidding. Other than the brief mention that this thing takes place in Boston, or in parts around, there really isn't any way to tell that this takes place in beantown. Oh, sure, the finale takes place in a lighthouse, so it at least invokes New England at one point. Also, the cast members in this thing should never have the word "definitive" anywhere near their names (unless we're discussing television shows about bouncing jugs or thirtysomethings).

Actually, forget that. This is the definitive David Chokachi (Baywatch) film. It's not the definitive Timothy Busfield (Thirtysomething) picture, however. That distinction, of course, lies with Revenge of the Nerds. I want to say that it's most certainly the definitive Athena Massey film, but then I checked IMDB and realized she was in Red Shoe Diaries 9: Slow Train. This picture also stars Cyril O'Reilly (Patrick Swayze's Black Dog).

So, what's it about? A serial killer is loose in the Greater Boston area. A killer who finds his victims in personal ads geared towards S&M (this was before Craigslist "casual encounters", so I imagine this guy had his work cut out for him). This guy is kinda sick. One near victim recalls how he put his knife against his own penis and it wasn't even erect, so clearly this guy is disturbed. The first victim is found in a wooded park, stuffed in a garbage can. She was assaulted, sexually, violently, and violently sexually. Chokachi plays Darren Metlick, the #1 suspect. Why? Famed criminal psychologist Matthew Grissom (Busfield) explains that he's a loner with a history of abuse. Therefore, guilty. It's up to detective Alice Redmond (Massey) to go under cover and try to stop him. Also, on the side of good is detective Don Holy-rod (O'Reilly) who is also Redmond's lover. When I say lover, I mean that Holy-rod likes to take Redmond from behind while pulling on her hair. But he's ok because as Redmond says "you know the great thing about you Don? You stop when I say no." Or does he? Don is the red herring (or is Metlick the red herring?) of the picture. The only thing I know is that, regardless of who the killer is, both of these dudes are pretty sick fucks.

The picture does a pretty decent job of fooling us. I was convinced for a while that Don was the killer and that perhaps Metlick was just misunderstood. Sure, he likes to fuck with a knife to his girls throat or tits or whatever, but, I don't know, I'm sure there are girls into that sort of thing. He just needs to look harder. There's a lineup scene early on involving Metlick, but they need one more guy, so the captain orders Don in there. Guess who the old bag (witness) picks? It's clear that Don and Darren are both sexual deviants (at one point, I even wondered if they worked together). There's a classic scene where Don's advances are spurned by Redmond, so he drives to the park (murder site) in a drunken stupor. It's midnight, so the park is empty, except, except....for a midnight female jogger in a blue jumpsuit. Women have been murdered there, dismembered, raped, etc, but it's perfectly safe to jog there after dark.

Anyway, the subsequent autopsy is a classic in the autopsy oeuvre. First of all, the women in the blue jumpsuit isn't even dead yet. She's breathing quite rapidly, but that doesn't stop the examination from commencing. They discover a carving on her stomach and Grissom claims "my friends, this is our rosetta stone. Figure out what it is and we can catch a killer". Um, the killer has the same carving on his stomach. Wouldn't that be pretty easy to find out?

For a direct to video feature I've certainly seen worse (The Triggerman for example). Some of the camera work was actually pretty good, especially Redmond's shower scene (with the camera focusing on her from above). The acting is atrocious, but in this film's defense there's certainly worse out there (Triggerman for example). I loved the "suspenseful" finale at the lighthouse, especially the killer's ridiculously facile death scene. This isn't really a Boston crime drama. Accents aren't even attempted. Aside from the lighthouse, we don't really get any sense of location. There is some nudity, but unfortunately most of the breasts have a knife to them. It's kind of like a reverse Basic Instinct the more that I think about it with Massey standing in for Douglas, Chokachi for Sharon Stone and, I guess, that would mean big ol' George Dzunda is O'Reilly (although that creates the image in my head of Dzunda taking Douglas from behind). Oh, and obviously Busfield is Jeanne Tripplehorn. Seriously, this picture is terrible. Dust off your VCRs and check it out.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Xanadu (1980)

What was I expecting? Rollerball the musical?? Kind of. This is one of the few musicals that deserves its status as a cult film. The plot is fairly insane. Michael Beck (The Warriors) plays Sonny "Michaelangelo" Malone a struggling artist working for Airflo Records under the tryannical watch of his boss, Simpson (The Ron Silver-like James Sloyan). By day, Sonny replicates album covers with his brush. By night, he dreams of being a respected artist.

One night, Sonny tears up a water color and flings the remnants out the window. They float across town and land in front of a mural, which features five beautiful woman. Of course, they come alive to the tune of the 80s hit "I'm Alive". In the mural is Kira (Olivia Newton John), who is to become Sonny's muse. After a meet cute, they fall in love. At the same time, Sonny has befriended a boardwalk musician named Danny (Gene Kelly). Danny turns out to be a millionaire who gave up his dream of music (he played early on with Glenn Miller) to live the "comfortable life" in Construction. Danny seems to recognize Kira. Is it possible she was his own muse a long time ago? Unfortunately, this picture doesn't have any room for creepy love triangles.

So, basically, the movie is about following your dreams. Sonny and Danny team up to ressurect an old run down roller-rink into a new club to be called Xanadu, which merges both the old world (big band era) with the new (rock & roll, synthesizers, spandex). It's a horrendous idea and one that could only be imagined in 1980.

Did I mention that Kira is also the daughter of Zeus? There's a terrific scene where, after breaking Sonny's heart by leaving, Sonny follows her into her realm. To do this he rollerskates at top speed into a brick wall (the one with the mural on it). Of course, he goes through the wall and into a mystical world with bright neon and smoke machines. Kira appears and is accompanied by the voice of Zeus, who forbids her to leave. Even Zeus' wife, Mnemosyne (wait, were they actually married?), intercedes on Kira's behalf. Still, Zeus is unshaken and sends Sonny back leaving Kira alone to sing "suspended in time". The song is convincing enough and Zeus agrees to return her to Sonny for either a "moment" or "forever" since they still haven't quite figured out this time thing yet.

The music, for me anyway, was a mixed bag. I recognized several hit songs from the era including the aforementioned "I'm alive", "suddenly", and "magic". Of course, there are the mediocre numbers like "Dancin" and "All Over the World" which is notable for reminding me of a similar moment from National Lampoon's European Vacation. My favorite was Newton John's duet with Gene Kelly called "whenever you're away from me". Gene Kelly, alone in his massive study starts to sing and, suddenly, a big bang (whoops. Freudian slip? I meant "band", I swear) appears with Newton John singing. So, of course, she was his muse all along. Kelly was wrong when he said "I'm gettin old babe. You wouldn't even know me now." The song is terrific, but watch too closely and you'll notice some faulty choreography. Actually, that's kind of an issue I had with the film (it's a minor one, to be sure. Do you think I really care about dancing??). They should have ditched the roller skates. Not only do they completely date the movie (as well as the songs, the hair, the clothes, Newton John, Michael Beck, Spandex, etc), but neither Olivia nor Beck are able to dazzle with their skating. The dance numbers on skates are, frankly, boring.

This is way more than I ever wanted to write about Xanadu. It's a pretty trippy movie, especially the final title song, which I can imagine was quite a hit back in the day. Olivia Newton John is incredibly adorable, sexy, beautiful. In fact, it's always been my dream to sleep with her. And yet, I don't see fucking Zeus sending Kira down to the Boston Commons on rollerskates to help me achieve that dream. Asshole.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Four Times That Night (1969)

It's about time I reviewed something sexy. No, this isn't porn despite what the dvd menu (above) hints at. This is a perfectly harmless Italian sex comedy by way of Kurosawa's Rashoman. I'm going into this particular genre fresh. The only movie I've seen that even comes close is Barbarella (it's not that close). I find it interesting that Four Times That Night was directed by Mario Bava, the godfather of Italian horror. Before Argento, before Fulci, there was Bava. The thing about Bava, however, was that he could never be pinned to one particular genre. He devled into gothic horror (Black Sunday), splatter horror (Bay of Blood), westerns (Roy Colt and Winchester Jack), viking pictures (Knives of the Avenger), and he even tried his hand at a heist film (Rabid Dogs). Of course, Rabid Dogs quickly devolved into Last House on the Left-esque mayhem and didn't stop itself at forced female urination. So, his subject matters were often harsh, often disturbing, frequently bloody and, yet, he never strayed too far from a sense of whimsy. His films often featured rousingly entertaining scores accompanied by a strikingly visual acumen. He's influenced such directors working today as Scorsese, Tarantino and, of course, Argento.

Four Times That Night is an example of Bava's whimsy. This film is pretty fun starting with the neat opening credits featuring some animated nudes and the positively upbeat late 60s jazz music. The plot is pretty simple. Gianni Prada (Brett Halsey) is driving around when he spots Tina Brandt (the exquisite Daniella Giordano) walking her poodle. Upon seeing her, he hits the breaks and immediately yells out "hey! I almost drove off the road! I nearly had a heart attack." She's taken in by this sweet talker immediately. After a few minutes of chit-chat, followed by a few provocative, nearly up-skirt shots, a date is arranged. What follows is Bava's take on Rashoman as the viewer is presented with four different versions of the date; Tina's, Gianni's, the doorman at Gianni's estate, and some weird psychiatrist dude who espouses some bullshit on the meaning of perception, etc.

As Tina arrives at her mother's house after the date, her dress is torn. How did it get that way? Each version of the story is completely different. There's some sexual assault, lesbianism, roofie-ism, homoeroticism, smut-peddling-ism, voyeur-ism, nudi-ism, man-in-a-speedo-ism and various other isms strewn throughout.

The doorman provides, by far, the best version of events when he recalls, to his assistant, spying on Gianni and Tina from an opposing terrace. In his view, Gianni's friends Giorgio and Esmeralda (lesbianishly played by Pascale Petit) arrive to party. Gianni and Giorgio begin dancing together while the naive Tina asks "what are those two doing? Are they dancing by themselves?" Giorgio and Gianni quickly retire into his bedroom whilst Tina still thinks they are just "hanging out". Esmeralda comforts Tina by telling her "she's not Gianni's type. You're not a fireman with chest hair." Esmeralda begins seducing Tina, but her advances are ineffectual until she uses the powerful line "I've slept with thousands of men, but you've never slept with one woman." Also, the date rape drugs were starting to kick in by this point. I loved when, as soon as it looks like Tina might actually be into it, the doorman is shown Benny Hill-ing his way down to the office to retrieve his binoculars. Of course this being the perverted, sex-starved, smut peddling doorman's perception of events, Gianni is clearly gay and out of view.

The material may sound a little extreme, but there isn't a cruel bone in this little film's body. There is some nudity, but it's often obscured by arms, a lamp, or that annoying glare cast on that one little portion of the glass shower. The sets were terrific, including Gianni's gorgeously tacky home. It's refreshing to see a film from this era with such open views on sexuality that still doesn't stoop to the level of pornography (and no i am not condoning roofies).

I guess it all comes back to the psychiatrist. He presents us with the story of the "great deluge" to illustrate his point. He asks Noah's wife about the voyage, but all she can recall is the "awful stench." The dove regretfully recalls how Noah in his haste included only males for certain "unfortunate" species. The giraffe tells the psychiatrist that all he got out of the trip was a "very stiff neck." Of course, we can wonder about the sanity of the good psychiatrist, since he was asking these questions of pictoral representations of said creatures (and the answers were being produced within his own head). Still, his point was that "the truth is always something else." His version of the night in question is, I suppose, the one that makes the most sense. Gianni takes Tina back to his place to build up some trust and show he can control himself. After talking for a while, he starts to take her home. Unfortunately, they're locked inside his gated property because the doorman was up on the terrace spying on them. Tina tries to climb the fence but falls, tearing her dress and scratching Gianni's forehead in the process. They have a good laugh and finish the night off with a drive to the sea so they can take in the sunrise. No sex, no booze, no lesbianism. I prefer to think that "the truth was something else" entirely. I think the doorman seems an honest fellow.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead (2008)

Well, George finally did it. He killed the zombie movie. Where do I want to be when the end begins? As fucking far away from the fucking pricks that occupy this picture as possible. The "living dead" genre has always been one of my favorites. Starting with Romero's own masterpiece Night of the Living Dead and continuing through his underrated Land of the Dead. I love the original Dawn of the Dead as well as the remake. I've got a major hard on for Fulci's unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead called Zombi 2, a film that features the first ever zombie versus shark battle. Perhaps the genre should have died with Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's lovingly hilarious send up Shaun of the Dead.

Romero can't help but instill a little social commentary into his "dead" films. In his latest, Diary of the Dead, he takes on the government controlled media as seen through the eyes of the myspace generation. Let it be known that this is NOT a sequel to his original series. This is a reboot of the franchise to present day. The premise is simple. Several college friends are in the Pennsylvanian woods filming a mummy movie when the zombie outbreak begins. The director, Jason Creed (played by Joshua Close) decides to keep filming. He and his crew travel through Pennsylvania with separate agendas. Creed want's to document the events for his new film "the death of death" also known as "the death of dead movies". His crew, including Jason's soon to be ex-girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan) just want to get home to their families. It's a clever premise to be sure. Unfortunately, the recent Cloverfield used a similar gimmick to a much more horrifying effect. Sure, the idea for Diary was conceived well before Cloverfield. For that, I suppose we can give Romero some credit. Unfortunately, and it truly pains me to say this, the execution of this thing is abysmal.

Before I get into what doesn't work, I'll mention the things I liked about the picture. The deaf scythe wielding Amish guy. After hurling some dynamite at a few lumbering dead, he provides the film's best moment when, without missing a beat, he etches on a hand held chalkboard: "hello, my name is Samuel." Romero also takes a dig at the recent trend toward fast zombies by having the director chide his mummy actor for running after a victim telling him that "corpses don't run because if they did their ankles would break. dumbass." Ok, that's what I liked.

What didn't I like? First of all, the narration by Debra NEEDS to go. I cringed everytime it appeared, not because it was terrible (although it often was), but because it was completely uneccesary. She actually tells us that she went back and added "music to scare you". George should know better. Normally, voice overs tend to ruin poignant or tense moments. Thankfully, this picture didn't have any of those. I don't want to disparage the actors too much because I'm not sure if they were awful or if it was just the characters as written. Jason Creed was a douchebag. After running over a few zombies on a country road, Mary (the winnebago driver) is asked by Jason "how did that make you feel?" I'm guessing not so good since she was blowing out her own brains in the very next scene. Creed is the Uwe Boll of documentary filmmaking. He's an ego-driven maniac that would sacrifice his actors, his friends, his GIRLFRIEND for the perfect shot. Contrast him with the cameraman from Cloverfield, Hud. Hud was a good guy. Personable, funny, and terrified of the events surrounding him. His humor was more of a fear mechanism, so it didn't really feel too contrived. He kept the camera rolling, but he didn't keep it glued to his eyes at all times. When he ran, the camera would drop to his side. If a friend was in peril he would do everything in his power to save them, even if it meant leaving the camera behind (thankfully, it never came to that). Like I said, Jason of Diary is just a douche. The camera never leaves his eye. In an abandoned, zombie infested hospital, he let's his friends go on without him because he needs to stay behind to charge his camera. Whereas Hud was immersed within the action of the film, Jason attempts to distance himself. He tries to direct events that are beyond his, or anyone's, control. It was an appallingly poor decision by Romero to center the film around this asshole.

The rest of the cast didn't fare much better. The actors were all playing a type rather than an actual character. These included the drunken professor, the ditzy blonde, the jesus freak, the deaf amish guy, and the rich prick. It's hard to suspend your disbelief and be taken in by a movie like this when not one of the characters hits a believable note at any point during the film. Hell, even the cameos were wasted. Apparently, Romero got Stephen King and Simon Pegg to read some newscasts, but I didn't notice (and I knew about it going in). The best cameo of the picture was a one minute scene with the guy from the Dawn of the Dead remake that had his legs broken and was dragged through the sewars as he shot back at the pursuing zombies. In Diary he had a couple of unmemorable lines while sitting on the back of a truck. Good stuff.

This should never have received a theatrical release. It's barely good enough to qualify as a sci-fi original (I would, however, hesitate before labeling this piece of shit "the most dangerous night of TV"). There were a few good kills (bottle of acid to the head, scythe through two heads at once, shotgun blast to the head of a zombie woman hanging by her hair), but they were all marred by miserable CGI. Romero needs to hook up with Tom Savini again, because if this is where we're heading with our zombie effects than all I can say is No-Fucking-Thanks.

The biggest offense of Romero's latest is that it bored me. I checked the time twice during this thing. I was constantly shifting in my seat. If you ever see me watching a movie with my hand on the side of my head, that's a sure sign that the movie sucks. It's my tell. The people behind me were obnoxiously loud and, you know what? I didn't even mind. I strained to hear what they were saying because it was far more interesting than what was on the screen.

I guess this is Romero's return to guerrilla filmmaking. He shot it with minimal budget, no cast, and a really shitty script. I wanted to say "no script", but I think it would have been better without one. Maybe the characters would have seemed human, the interactions real if they had been allowed to ad lib just a little. Word on the street is that Romero's already working on a sequel to this one called Diary of the Dead 2: You Guys Will See Anything As Long As My Name Is Attached To It, Won't You? Stupid Shits. Ha Ha Ha Ha. Cha Ching Cha Ching!

Of course I'm kidding about the last line. I don't for a second believe that Romero is motivated by money. I think, in the wake of Katrina and Iraq, the intent here was to rip the government's response to disasters, whether natural or man-made. He wanted to tear into the selective reporting of various media outlets. Unfortunately for Romero, for a film's message to resonate, the film, itself, has to be something you can tolerate sitting through. I barely made it through Diary of the Dead.

I dearly love George Romero pictures, which is why it pains me to say I loathed this one. He's the man behind several of my favorite films; Creepshow, the Dead quadrilogy, and the Crazies. I even love Monkey Shines. I just think he needs to step away from the zombies for a while. As soon as I'm finished sitting through the soon to be released, direct to video, remake of Day of the Dead I'm going to take an extended hiatus from the genre. It saddens me that Romero may have ruined it for me. I always assumed I'd be blaming Michael Bay for that.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Blade Runner review

I've reviewed Blade Runner's Supposedly Final Cut over at a web site called Open Letters. I guess they mostly review books and stuff if you're into that kind of thing. I'm just kidding. It's a great site, brimming with talent. Check it out!