Sunday, May 31, 2009

Race With the Devil (1975)

What the hell do we have here? A horror picture involving a Satanic cult, car chases, rattle snakes, Warren Oates, Peter Fonda, and "Hot Lips" Houlihan. Sign me up, there's no way this can't be good. I wasn't disappointed.

It's pretty clear that there is some sorta massive conspiracy of witchcraft, satanism, cannibalism, etc amongst certain towns in Texas. This is a picture about two couples who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of San Antonio. So, they purchase an RV and make for Aspen, Colorado. Along the way, they plan on "camping" wherever the hell they feel like it. None of those mobile home parks listed in the yellow pages. Fuck that bullshit. They're going to take a turn on to one of those dirt roads, the kind not on any map, and drive for a few miles before camping beside a river across from which stands an ominous tree. That is what we're talking about I'm sure Oates (character named Frank) and Fonda (character named Roger) were saying. Things start off well enough. They dirt bike through some open fields before Oates inadvertantly jumps his bike into a small pond and says "I'm getting too old for this shit", they have a romantic dinner with the wives, the wives go to bed but Frank and Roger keep the party going outside with what I'm sure must have been some whiskey or maybe bourbon. Across the river, a flame goes up and a red cloaked crowd gathers. Frank and Roger sneak a little closer, with binoculars to investigate. Some robes come off and naked women frolic around. There's some chanting, some incanting, etc. Frank wonders "what are they doing, having an orgy" to which Roger says "give me those damned binoculars!" Then, a naked woman is lifted up, flat on her back, some sort of high priest with a goat mask steps in with a knife and plunges it into the woman's (virgin?) supple flesh. The movie has officially begun I guess.

After a narrow escape, and I mean narrow by the fact that those satanists were alerted to their presence by "Hot Lips" hollering out for the boys to come to bed and also the RV got stuck in mud and some of those red cloaked sons of bitches were clinging to the back breaking the rear window and shit, they make their way to the closest police department. At first the cops, led by legendary character actor R.G. Armstrong (several Peckinpah pictures) seem pretty helpful, dusting the RV for prints, going out to the crime scene, taking statements, and stuff like that. Then R.G. chalks it up to a bunch of hippies and also claims Frank and Roger, who by their own admission were drinking, must have been drunk. I don't know, there's something about his eyes that's not very trustworthy.

Well, shit, I don't know if I'll ever take that road trip through Texas backroads I've got planned. Between this, that movie with chainsaws, that movie with those ominous hills and I think there were some eyes, I think I'll just stay home this year. If there's one thing about Texas, and especially in these kind of pictures, it seems like it takes forever to get from nowhere to nowhere. And then, when you finally get somewhere well, hell, it ain't really somewhere at all, just more of that nowhere shit. In this picture, Frank and Roger don't really trust the sheriff, or the gas attendant, the deputy, etc so they plan to go to a real city (Amarillo) to alert the proper authorities. Fuck man, I don't know about that city called Amarillo, but I do know they probably aren't gonna make it there in this picture. The nearest highway is about 150 miles away. Ordinarily, I'd figure they might make it but I don't know. The phones are out at every gas station (reference to some sort of wind storm being the culprit), everyone they encounter on the road seems a little strange, and their RV just keeps getting more and more beat to shit. At one point, they stop at a gas station and the attendant tells them their headlights are out so we know if it gets dark they're in trouble.

Also, they brought along a little yippy dog. I don't know about you, but when I first saw that little thing I assumed, knowing this movie has satanists in it, that it wasn't going to survive until the end. That's just me I guess. Maybe I'm just being a pessimist. This is an enjoyable one, I highly recommend it. It's also a PG film, but that wasn't as much of a negative for a horror picture in the 70s as it would be today. There's no gore or anything, and the nudity I referenced in the beginning is obscured by a giant bonfire but there are several tense situations and the ending, while fairly obvious, is pretty bleak.

The work by both Oates and Fonda is terrific. You got them in a picture and you've got a good chance to make something worthwhile. Probably don't even need a script. Just let those two riff off each other. Oates, played Frank (I mentioned this earlier), as one of those older type of guys that just hates crowds. He's proud of his RV. The thing is self sufficient, they don't need nobody, etc. The night following their encounter with satanists, he gladly pulls into one of those packed RV parks with all the amenities. Even says something like "this place looks great." That was a nice touch. Unfortunately, there's that whole conspiracy thing I made mention of before. Hell, what's with all those people staring at our girls? What's with them hanging our dog? And, who the fuck put those rattle snakes in our mobile home while we were out enjoying a juicy steak and country music?

Shit man, this Jack Starret guy (the director) is a pretty fucking competent director but he's also a decent tough guy actor. It's possible that you might remember him as the police officer trying to shoot John Rambo from the helicopter in First Blood. He's the one that fell to his death when the chopper lost it's bearings. Also, gets off on abusing prisoners. He directed lots of television and pictures in the 70s including episodes of "Starsky and Hutch" and Cleopatra Jones. There's lots of good stunt work in this thing, people jumping onto and climbing up speeding RV's, lots of car flips and rolls, and one guy gets taken out by an underpass while trying to set the RV on fire from above. Maybe this is a minor flaw, but fuck it, I almost forgot we were dealing with satanists here for a while because the action was so good. The last twenty minutes or so is just one long car chase, involving a tow truck, a box truck, a pickup truck, and, of course, The RV. Fonda, behind the wheel, does some damned fine work. I haven't seen Dirty Mary Crazy Larry so I can't really compare. Not sure if he drove an RV in that one. Also, Warren Oates was in Two Lane Blacktop, another picture I haven't seen. He acquits himself fine as a driver, but he's no Fonda. Also, I'm pretty sure he relaxes and thinks they're in the clear a little too early. Not sure though, don't want to spoil the ending.

The final verdict is somewhere along the lines of "check this one out". Before you feminists get all crazy and start saying shit like I bet the two female characters were only in this to scream and get abused and shit like that, calm the fuck down. These two girls hold their own, even do some Nancy Drew type stuff at a library when they steal a book on satanic cults. They hand the book to their men and then spend the rest of the picture screaming. Also, one of the girls, not "Hot Lips", was even more astute than the men if you can believe that. She wanted to go home after the first night and was the one to pick up on all the weird looks they were getting. In this particular Texan county, I guess everyone is fucking in on it. Who knows how far the conspiracy spreads? The abuse those girls suffer is more mental than physical, although they do get thrown around alot in the mobile home as Frank and Roger try to swerve the thing through fake roadblocks and shit. Frank, upon seeing a school bus accident smartly claims "I don't believe in a school bus on sunday" and just guns it. The people go through hell but let's not forget about the poor mobile home, a somewhat forgotten victim. At the beginning of the picture, it's pristine, fulled loaded with a color television, a 4 stovetop oven, a god damned microwave, etc. By the end, well, it's still got those things but now just looks like a piece of shit. I could go on and on about this one but I'll let you see it and figure some things out for yourself.

Friday, May 29, 2009

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)

It Came From Beneath the Sea is perfect viewing for a lazy saturday afternoon. One of those days where, nursing a massive hangover, you crawl out of bed only to collapse in front of the TV, in your lazy boy with a bowl of cap'n crunch, or whatever. One of those days. I'm not saying this is the kind of picture you should pass out to (at least, not without having seen it first). Let's say you watch a double feature. This should be the first movie. Passing out for the second (say, something like Reptilicus) is fine. I suppose you could watch something on the Sci-Fi network, or syfy as they go by now, but that wouldn't be the same. Those are the kind of pictures best enjoyed drunk and, right now, you're just not in the mood. So relax, sit back, recline, whatever, finish your cereal and enjoy a Ray Harryhausen masterpiece.

Well, actually this ain't exactly a Harryhausen masterpiece, I went a little overboard there. In case you don't recognize the name, Ray Harryhausen is a master of visual effects, stop motion style. He learned under Willis O'Brien (King Kong, The Lost World) and also was self-taught. It Came... was the first real movie to his credit, although he did some army promotional videos as well as a series of fairy tales like "Little Red Riding Hood", "The Three Little Pigs", "Hansel & Gretel" and other good shit like that. Unfortunately, the series didn't last very long since each episode took about seven years to make.

It Came From Beneath the Sea involves a giant octopus from beneath the depths of the pacific ocean. The picture's from the 50s so we can assume that radiation is involved. In this case, the radiation didn't exactly make the octopus giant (it was already giant), it just changed its eating habits. Now, instead of fish, it eats people. And submarines, and bridges, etc. Two scientists, and one sub commander who spends all but the opening on land, race against time to discover the nature of the beast and figure out a way to kill it before it eats California.

The octopus may only have about five minutes of screen time, but it's presence is felt throughout. In the beginning, it attacks a submarine, commanded by Kenneth Tobey (The Thing From Another World). It shows up as a pretty big fucking blip on sonar and creates some palpable tension as it closes in. Tobey, narrowly escapes, and ends up in San Francisco with the beautiful Dr. Joyce and her partner-in-science John Carter. I'm pretty sure a large part of the film's subtext is that Carter is gay. I could have missed this one entirely. I mean, he works closely with Dr. Joyce, they behave like husband and wife, she cares about him, etc. Then she's making out with Tobey, while Carter looks on seemingly uncaring, so I don't know what to believe. A strong case can be made that Carter is the hero of the picture so, if I read the subtext right, then that's pretty damned impressive. Also, did I mention they're in San Francisco?

The octopus attacks are few and far between but, when they come, they are damned impressive. When is stop motion coming back as a legitimate filmmaking tool? Has anyone noticed that CGI seems to be getting worse? Fuck man, let's bring it back. The only time we see it these days is from fringe filmmakers. I've gone on and on about it before and, at this point, it probably seems like I'm jacking off, but here's the difference. Both tools call attention to themselves, there's no question (although CGI can be used effectively and with subtlety, it rarely is). CGI, however, calls attention to itself for being fake. Like, that's a pretty cool cartoon sabretooth tiger. It almost looks real...and yet is completely weightless. Stop-motion on the other hand is actually real. There's substance there. Well, man, you don't need me to half ass explain this to you, you know. Just see the picture I guess. Anyway, one poor bastard gets squashed on a beach, tentacles come out of sewage drains spanking pedestrians like flap jacks and, in the film's greatest moment, the beast attacks the golden gate bridge (echoed later in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, where the beast attacks a lighthouse). It's probably some of the finest stop motion work I've seen. The beast sorta herky jerks it's way up the bridge. Woulda been strange if there had been a guy jumping off the bridge at that very moment, maybe land in the creatures maw. I guess that's a bit of a missed opportunity. Interestingly, Harryhausen wasn't put off by the miniscule budget. He even saved a few bucks by giving the octopus six tentacles instead of eight. It's impossible to tell since they, smartly, never show the entire thing at once.

Well, this isn't the best Harryhausen (I prefer Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans or even the aforementioned Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), but it's still enjoyable. Forgive my lack of detail. This is another review I've sat on for over a week. I started writing it last thursday, got tired, went to bed and forgot I even saw it for a while. If you're afraid of the black and white, you can supposedly watch a colorized version. Not sure why you'd do that, but they're both available, so no big deal. Robert Gordon directed this and did a fine job. This seems to be the only big movie on his filmography. After that he went into television, did some fine work there too it seems ("The Texan", an episode of "Maverick", etc). Seriously, if you're feeling like shit, hung over, dry heaving, etc, watch this picture and you probably won't be disappointed. If you're feeling really awful, afflicted with dry mouth and alcohol blindness, I recommend you skip this one and put in Peter Benchley's magna-epic, four hour monstrosity, The Beast. Both good pictures.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Terminator Salvation (2009)

oooops, I've been sitting on this review for almost a week. Meant to write it up and post it sunday or monday I think and then just forgot. It's been a week since I saw it and I'm still not sure what to make of it. I sorta liked it coming out of the theatre, was also frustrated by it. I liked it a little more the more I thought about it and, now, I may like it less, who knows? I'll try to separate my thoughts for you to understand.

There are several things I liked about this picture, but also some things I didn't. I've been dying to see a movie made of that future war we kept seeing in flash forwards from T1 and T2 but, unfortunately, this isn't really that movie. Instead of a future society of humans liviing in a junkyard, we have a future society of humans, with global communication links, living in a desert having access to fighter jets, helicopters, submarines, nukes I think, etc. Instead of a rag tag bunch of soldiers fighting off infiltrating terminators with whatever they can get their hands on, we've got a fairly well organized army that seems to be doing more than their share of damage to Skynet. So, anyway, not exactly the movie I wanted to see. Hopefully, we'll see that picture next time.

Terminator Salvation takes place in 2018, post "Judgement Day". The humans, at this point, are led by General Ashdown (Michael Ironside) whose hidden away in a submarine somewhere. Ashdown may be the official leader, but humanity looks to John Connor (Christian Bale) for their...uh...salvation. Meanwhile, JC looks to Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) or his dead mother (Linda Halmilton) - via audiotapes. The humans have also uncovered a frequency that will disable the machines. All they have to do is set it off at Skynet central which I guess is located in a San Francisco remade to look like Blade Runner's L.A. Oh, meanwhile, there's some machine running around (Sam Worthington) thinking he's human. Connor, needs to find Reese (just a teenager, not yet a part of the resistance) before the machines. Also, I think the old T-800s fits in here somewhere.

I don't know, the more I think about it, the more I wish they had gone with a different story. I guess this is another one we can chalk up to the writer's strike. The picture follows Marcus (Worthington) around a lot and these scenes aren't bad. He ends up in L.A., encounters a teenaged Kyle Reese, and has no idea what those robot things trying to kill him are. All of this could have been great in a fish out of water sort of way if we didn't know Marcus' secret immediately. There's an awful prologue which shows Marcus on death row (2003) being asked by a dying Helena Bonham Carter to sign away his body for cancer research. A chance at a second chance is something like what she said. So, how else could Marcus go from death row in 2003 to post-apocalyptic L.A. in 2018. Also, he's first seen walking out of a terminator facility that Connor and his boys just destroyed (at the cost of everyone's life, but Connors). In a neat twist on the other films, Marcus (naked) removes the clothes from a dead resistance fighter. See, that's how we know he thinks he's human. A machine that knows what it is would have found a living human to beat the shit out of and throw on a stove top or something. Also, instead of going to the past, he went into the future. Except his mode of transportation was being excectuted by lethal injection and then having his body transformed into a terminator. Another neat twist.

The performances in this thing are pretty varied. Worthington I actually kinda liked. He had a small role in Rogue where he started out as a douchebag, then turned heroic, then got eaten. He made it work. In this, he seems like a good guy. He's kinda like Jason Bourne in a way. No real memory, amazing fighting ability, travels around trying to figure out who he is, etc. Worthington shows a good presence. Bale as Connor also shows a good presence but it's such a damned limited character. We don't really care about him. Also, no way does Edward Furlong grow up to look like this guy, I just ain't buying that. Anyway, the script really let's Bale down. He delivers all his lines in the same strained way, mostly yelling, frustrated, upset, etc. I wish the script had let him relax for a second, kiss his wife, smile. I know it's the apocalpyse and all but shit man, why so serious? Hopefully, in the next one, when he's a father, he'll lighten up a bit. The biggest surprise of the cast was Yelchin as Kyle Reese. I didn't think he was a great Chekov, but he really nailed this part. Lots of one armed shotgun cocking, "come with me if you want to live"s and so on. He even looked kinda like a young Reese should look. Everyone else wasn't really around long enough to give a crap about. I mean, Bryce Dallas Howard was beautiful as Connor's wife, although not sure why she'd show up at a certain battle scene nine months pregnant, but that's a nit pick. Moon Bloodgood resonated somewhat as Blair Williams, a resistance fighter. Rapper Common...didn't really resonate at all. Just kinda angry all the time. Bonham Carter wasn't as terrible as everyone says she was, although her last scene could have been extracted completely if the script had been better (it was like Spock's exposition scene with Kirk in the new Star Trek). Any picture with Michael Ironside is usually pretty good. Unfortunately, his appearences in this thing are limited. He's got one good moment and it's right before he's - spoiler - fucked.

I have to say, I was not a fan of MCG before TS. I almost walked out of Charlie's Angels. The action scenes in this thing are pretty great though. The first battle scene, Connor's first appearence, his attempted escape are all wonderfully realized. Marcus' first encounter with a terminator was a nice scene. The harvester scene was great except that it reminded me a little too much of Spielberg's War of the Worlds. Also, what does skynet want with old people and children? We've yet to see "old" terminators or "kid" terminators. That could be pretty fucked up. Hopefully, in the next one. The last scene in skynet is pretty decent and features the return of an old friend. Connor shows he can take a lot of punishment, almost too much if you ask me. don't suppose he could be a...?

Like, I said, my biggest issue with the picture is the story and the more I think of it, that's a pretty big issue. We spend many early scenes following this Marcus guy around but we don't really care. After all, he's a machine. Kyle doesn't know it, his little friend doesn't know it, but we do. Why not tighten up the script? Why not get rid of that first scene on death row? If we follow around this Marcus guy, watching him do good things, helping Connor's daddy, getting cozy with Blair Williams, etc...then when he's finally revealed to be a Terminator it will mean so much more. There's limited emotional power in this picture. Connor's too angry to care about. Marcus is too machine. That leaves Reese, but unfortunately, he spends the majority of the film locked up in a skynet jail. Make me care about Marcus and then reveal he's a machine and see if I still care is what I'm saying. I'll give them credit for making Marcus into a new type of terminator, one that thinks it's human, with a human heart, etc. I guess we're approaching Battlestar Galactica or even Blade Runner realms. I just wish his secret wasn't given away in the first scene and also in the trailer too. Whatever.

I don't know man, I liked it. I just didn't care as much as I wanted too. I liked the look of the film, the action scenes. The terminators were wonderful. Just coulda used some better characterizations is all, a tighter story. I like that everything barrels ahead, there's some good momentum and shit, but I'm not sure I really gave a shit where it was all headed. The ending also felt like a bit of a cop out to me. The original ending was - spoiler alert for a movie that can only be made if someone goes back in time to put things right - supposed to have Connor die and then have his skin grafted onto a reprogrammed terminator, you know, to keep hope alive. I like that ending much better, but I guess Bale probably didn't think too much of it. Overall, story-wise it's not much better, or worse, than Star Trek but the big difference is this one lacks the character work or a consistent desire to have fun. Well, Terminator Salvation, as it is, is not bad, it's not great. It's fine. It's better than the last one (which, minus the terrific ending was pretty bad), much worse than the first two. I could probably go on, but I've run out of ideas. Should have stopped while I was ahead or at least outlined a tighter review. There's some good material in here somewhere.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blind Justice (1994)

I'm a big fan of IMDB. Usually, they get things right. I especially enjoy reading their film trivia and sometimes I'll even check out their "goofs" link. Basically, someone takes the time to point out continuity errors or plot holes. This can be fun to read but also disheartening when a favorite picture is picked apart. Anyway, they have one plot hole listed for this movie I watched called Blind Justice: "Most of the activities that Canaan (blind hero of Blind Justice) performs throughout the movie, especially shooting and keeping his horse on course, would be impossible for a blind or nearly blind man to do". This is an idiotic point to make. I mean, the point of the picture is that the guy is blind. His other senses are heightened; smell, hearing, etc. Next they will say that Zatoichi, or Nick Parker for that matter, can't wield those swords for the point of anything other than comedy. I suppose it would be funny, and a completely different movie, if Canaan never hit anything with his guns. It would also be a good message to send out to the blind. I guess IMDB probably thinks the blind ain't reading their site. I don't know if braille computer screens have been invented yet. Maybe there's some kind of audio component they can use? Anyway, it's ridiculous to point out a plot hole when that plot hole is the point of the movie is my point.

This is a good one, an HBO original production, bigger than TV, somewhat smaller than a real movie. Armand Assante stars as Canaan, a bounty hunter traveling across the West with an infant in tow. A Civil War veteran with an axe to grind. Also, Blind. His purpose is to return the infant to her mother. His character is like a cross between Al Swearengen (similar mannerisms and also similar voice) and Fenster (mumbles a lot), minus the cocksuckers. The picture was inspired, loosely, by Jonah Hex (DC Comics bounty hunter of the old west, soon to be a movie starring Josh Broilin). They're both disfigured Civil War vets working as bounty hunters in the Old West. That's about where the comparisons end. I guess he's also sorta like that Zatoichi guy, being blind and all. The difference is that Canaan's blindness isn't really played for laughs. They even threw in a little Ogami Ito (Lone Wolf & Cub) into the mix except Canaan carries around an infant as opposed to a toddler. Also, no babycart. Also, this infant is a girl and doesn't help Canaan out the way little Daigoro helped out Ogami. Is this picture sexist or just pointing out that infants are useless? Well, this is a pretty fun performance by Assante. In his first scene, he is circled by some banditos. They make fun of his disability, shoot their guns in the air, cackle, etc. The leader gets off his horse and Canaan asks him to hold the baby. He then shoots the horsed banditos (I think there were four of them), turns to the leader and says "much obliged" as he takes the baby back. Good introduction to the character.

Well, those banditos had ties to an even larger band of banditos led by Robert Davi. Davi is a guy you'll be familiar with even if you don't recognize the name. He's been in Predator 2, Die Hard, Raw Deal, Action Jackson, and so on. A member of the "that guy" action hall of fame I'm sure if such a hall of fame exists. It's a pretty juicy role, something Davi's not used to. His gang comes across the guy humiliated by Canaan in the opening scene (and left alive). The guy begs for water and Davi tells his #1 enforcer (MC Gainey, another "that guy") to "give him a drink". He dismounts, unbuckles his pants, and pisses all over him. This guy has had a terrible couple of days. Embarrassed by a blind man and now on the receiving end of a golden shower from a guy that doesn't look too clean. To top it all off, Davi blows his head off with a shotgun. Crappy way to go out. Speaking of crap, Davi also said "he looks hungry too" after Gainey pissed all over him. I'm glad we didn't have to put up with a brown shower scene. That would have been pushing the envelope a little too much.

Like most westerns, this one involves a town under siege (by Davi's banditos). Canann sides with the town (in exchange for 200 silver pieces courtesy of the U.S. Government). The town is occupied by some calvary led by Adam "I'm not a Baldwin" Baldwin (he was in "firefly"). Also, Elisabeth Shue is in this before she was in Leaving Las Vegas and after Cocktail. She should probably stick to playing hookers or cocktail waitresses or something because she's pretty bad in this role. We do get to see the nipple on her right breast though so that's something. The town's also got a priest and an Indian. The Indian wasn't really a character at all. Just someone we could laugh at I guess. Every town in the old west needs one, a drunken bafoon who never really speaks, makes funny faces, and so on. He does save Canaan's life at one point, so that's something. Jack Black appears briefly as a calvary private. It's crazy that this guy, before he was even a name, could land a part in a western where he pretty much just plays himself for two minutes. I mean, I like the guy, think he can be funny. Still, this is a fucking western. Why have Jack Black appear for two minutes, do his shtick, and then just disappear from the movie entirely? It was a little strange.

There's not too much backstory on this Canaan character and that's just as well. It's better to be mysterious. What little we learn, we get through his dream sequences. There's a battle. He's fighting for the north. There's a little girl caught in a crossfire. Canaan wants to help her but his commanding officer orders him back into formation at gunpoint. Then an explosion, girl dies, Canaan is blinded I guess. So, we can understand why he has such a low regard for authority figures, why he tends to work alone, why he cares for this mysterious infant, and, also why he's blind. All wrapped up neatly in a 2-3 minute dream (spread throughout the film). Luckily, this guy sleeps a lot. He gets shot, crucified, plenty of time for fever dreams. We never did find out how the guy can get his horse to go to the right place (IMDB may have been right to question this I begrudgingly admit). When first we see him, he's on foot. He's not completely blind though. He sees things in shades of milky white, not dark, so who knows? Could just be a really smart horse or maybe Canaan talks to him like the Beastmaster?

I wanted to comment briefly on Canaan's gunfighting skills. He's no "man with no name" I guess in that he moves around a lot, as if he can actually dodge bullets. He does a lot of rolls, etc. Eastwood characters were smart enough to know you couldn't dodge the bullets, you just had to be a quicker draw than the other guy. I guess that's one aspect of Canaan I didn't really get into. I mean, he's blind so he's probably pretty quick like Daredevil or Zatoichi. What's with all that movement? I like an economy of action in my blind characters is what I'm saying. This guy can be a bit of a show off. Having said that, I still enjoyed the character. He overcame a lot of adversity to get where he is today (150 or so years ago). Also, a bit of a drunkard and cigar addict. Two solid traits in a western hero.

This is the part of my review where, if I was smarter, I'd discuss the religious implications of the picture. Canaan is a name from the bible I believe. Was he blind in the bible? At one point, the Indian is stoned by some racist townies. Canaan is crucified. The priest is duplicitous. Profit, not compassion for your fellow man, rules the day. I don't know, it's all in there. You figure out what it means. I'm not the right guy to ask. Haven't read the bible since the time I brought it to school in the 5th grade to read during study hall and then the teacher called my Mom to see if I was ok. Not a normal thing to do I guess, so I never picked it up again. I think I barely made it through "genesis" anyway, so no big deal. Comic books were the way to go is the lesson I learned. I should have read some "Jonah Hex" come to think of it. Instead, I kept reading that same issue of Yusagi Yojimbo that I had. Religion played no role in that one from what I remember, but he was a bunny, whatever that means.

I'll wrap this one up by saying it's worth a watch. It's not going to blow your mind or anything. It's not one of the better westerns I've seen but it's got a great central character, a disreputable villain, a Jack Black scene, and also Elisabeth Shue's right breast so we know it could be worse. If you don't mind your westerns with lots of close up shots and limited shots of John Ford-ish wide open vistas then this one gets a pass.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cthulhu (2007)

Not much to say about this one. It's clearly a Lovecraft adaptation. Similar to the 2001 Stuart Gordon film, Dagon, this one is based on "the Shadow Over Innsmouth". Instead of a New England coastal town (like the original story) we have a Pacific Northwest coastal town. Quick plot summary: A young history professor returns to his childhood home of Rivermouth for the funeral of his mother. Long estranged from his father, priest of town cult, the professor tries to make a quick entrance and even quicker exit. Unfortunately, he's named executor of the will and forced to stay a little longer than he'd hoped. While in town, he reunites with an old flame, reflects on a colorful childhood, etc. Everyone in town acts strangely, so he looks into that. Searches for the book of the dead, is raped by Tori Spelling, and other fun stuff. Also, gay.

Yeah, this is a gay picture, but that's not really the issue. I don't care. Gay or straight, who gives a shit? I'm a fan of Clive Barker, so clearly I'm down with gay culture, right? So, it's not the message as much as how it's conveyed. Which is a shame, because at times, the filmmaking is pretty solid. Creepy images abound, lots of modern-day quick cuts (I hate them, but there are those that swear by them), good use of sound effects. Unfortunately, it's all completely overwhelmed by heavyhandedness and poor acting. This isn't the story of a young man returning home after several years only to realize that the cult his father runs is praying to the "old ones", sacrificing innocents to the sea, awaiting their return, distributing the date rape drug, and uttering words like "dagon" and "shagoth". Well, that does happen, but it's not really what the picture is about. It's about a young gay man, forced to leave his town because of his lifestyle, later forced to return to an even more unaccepting community than before. Then they drug him, force him to have sex with Tori Spelling, and somehow they have sea creatures for babies or something. You know a picture is in trouble when Tori Spelling gives the best performance. And it's not even close.

The guy that played Russ, the professor, was painfully uninteresting. Not a good trait for your leading man. Russ' father was pretty damned eccentric, if you know what I mean, and I'm not just saying that because he was the head of a cult. There's an awful flashback of Russ and his childhood pal heading off under the pier where they talk about Christie Brinkley while jerking off together. Ok, we get it. Then the director hits us over the head with a big ass fucking rainbow. If the gay message wasn't enough, we also get an environmental plea shoved down our throats as a radio newscast informs us that the last polar bear, in the wild, has died. I'm not sure what this has to do with the rest of the film, but later we see Spelling's character working around some caves and shit where Polar Bears are held in captivity. So, knock off the global warming all you sons of bitches or else. Also, everyone be gay, or at the very least, legalize gay marriage (I'm for it, seriously!).

Later, Russ is framed for a murder (also, the sheriff has it in for gays), breaks out of jail, tries to save his old flame (new boyfriend), watches the dead walk out of the sea (in an admittedly virtuosic shot), and is forced to make a decision on the fate of his boy toy. The resolution is wholly unsatisfying. The film's best line is when the boy toy and Russ are lying in bed and Russ goes on and on about how he doesn't want to put any pressure on him (his friend is straight and has a family, forgot to mention that). His friend says "it's not like I can change my life and be a gay guy." Ok, I thought it was a good line but I guess the best one is when Spelling's husband says to Russ "Tori (forgot character's name) needs your swimmers".

I'd recommend you watch Dagon for a better adaptation of this material. The effects at the end of that thing were pretty bad but at least they made the effort. Gay or not, we deserve a better picture than this.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Maniac (1980)

There's something about the simplicity of this title that I appreciate. I mean, the picture is about a maniac. I know, let's call it Maniac! I like that. What I don't like is how the feminist groups were all up in arms with their protests when this movie came out; spray painting over posters, labeling it with words like "despicable", "misogynistic", "appalling", and so on. That is a little over the top in its ridiculousness. Just because the guy on the poster is holding a freshly scalped woman's scalp while standing there with what appears to be an enormous erection does not give these women the right to write off the picture sight unseen. There could be plenty of reasons for that guy to be standing there, fully aroused, with a scalp in his hand. Maybe it's not a scalp. Maybe he's a wig maker and he spilled some paint. Maybe he just found it on the street and is holding it up for a police officer to tag and bag. I don't know, if these women had seen the film I could maybe understand a little more about where they're coming from.

Having now seen the picture I want to add another label. "sleazy". That definitely applies. This is yet another picture where a guy grows up to be a serial killer because of the way his mother mis-treated him. Joe Spinell stars as maniac, aka Frank Zito. He manages an apartment building in New York City, but we never really see him doing much in the way of managing. He actually spends very little time in his apartment, which progressively becomes more crowded by mannequins with women's scalps tacked onto their heads. Zito sleeps with one until he gets sick of it and then moves on to another one. Let me just say that this is a tour de force performance by Joe Spinell (The Godfather, Rocky, Nighthawks, etc).

The director is William Lustig who many horror fans may recognize as the guy that runs the "blue underground" label. Lustig also made some pictures of interest such as Uncle Sam and Maniac Cop. Lustig, and screenwriters Spinell and C.A. Rosenberg, ask us to, and this might be reprehensible, sympathize with this Zito fellow. It's easy to feel sorry for him. I mean, as a kid his mother beat him and brought johns home (she was a hooker) to their apartment. Then, to top it all off, he grew up to look like Joe Spinell which does not make attracting women very easy. I mean, you would need a really good personality and I'm not sure talking to yourself or your mannequins qualifies. Even so, it's kinda hard to hate the guy when he's not hacking up women. He just needs to stop trying so hard. Women tend to like him at first but then goes overboard what with the killing and scalping and all. Oh well, can't say he isn't trying.

Maniac is a character study. There's no mystery. We know who the killer is almost immediately. I guess it's like Taxi Driver (another movie Spinell was in) only if Travis Bickle were a little more disturbed. Frank Zito primarily goes out at night trying to make some sort of connection with humanity. These nightly jaunts almost always end in stabbings, strangulations, shotgunnings, etc. The kills all seem to be indirectly inspired by Hitchcock, by way of 70s Giallos. Characters, mostly women, are introduced (and not named) only to be killed off minutes later. The picture is incredibly explicit and, yet, there are instances where what is implied if far more horrifying than what is actually shown. Case in point, the Tom Savini scene. Savini did the special makeup effects for Maniac and I have to say this is some of his best work. Savini also appears briefly as a character named "disco guy", acting alongside "disco girl". Savini shows why he's an awful actor while showing why he's one of the best makeup guys at the same time. I thought the exploding head bit in Scanners could never be topped. This one's better. We can only imagine what happens to "disco girl" soon after. Well, we're pretty sure her head is blown off as well but some other things that might happen to her are probably worse than death.

The picture hits its stride when Zito meets a girl (Caroline Munro) and she actually seems to like him back. Spinell is charming and, even somewhat, funny in these scenes. His attempts at normalcy are pretty damned endearing. If I didn't know he was murdering women for their scalps and stapling them to his mannequins I'd probably want to hang out with the guy too. Munro plays fashion photographer Anna D'Antoni. She's a beaut alright. They have some interesting conversations like the one about how Zito would want to keep all the pictures she takes in case the girls die or something. A memento (trophy?) to remember them by. Anna laughed this off, but that's a weird topic to get into on a first date. Also, she seems pretty touched when Zito says he wants to swing by his mother's grave a little later (I think it was their second date). I don't know why, but it was weird watching him eat a normal dinner with her. I half expected him to sneak eyeballs or nipples into his meal when she wasn't looking. I guess he's schizo though so that side of his personality was likely asleep.

One other thing I found interesting about this picture was the almost complete lack of nudity. There is some towards the end but I just don't think Lustig and company were interested in titilating the audience with this material. There's always been a fine line between sex and violence in films. If you show too much of either you risk being pornographic. If you don't show enough, you risk losing your intended audience. Well, I don't know, but there is a lot of violence and gore in this picture. Some of it might even make you a bit uncomfortable. It's never really exhilerating, though I confess to being a little bit excited by the Savini headshot, which is why it stears clear of the pornography label. There is almost no sex. Zito pays for a hooker at one point but strangles her before they actually get anywhere (probably reminded him of his mother). Hell, I guess it's progress that none of the violence against women is really of a sexual nature. Probably because Zito is impotent, but also, more probably because he's got those sweet looking mannequins to go home to. We are making strides I guess.

I really liked this one. The ending was incredibly surreal and strangely mirrors Spinnel's own death years later. Apparently, the guy got drunk one night and cut himself in the shower. He passed out on the couch and, being a hemophiliac, bled to death. Later, the cops walked into his apartment, which resembled a literal blood bath. The first thing they saw was Spinnel's severed head sitting on the TV. No, it wasn't his real severed head. It was a prop head they used for this movie. Still, that freaked the cops out pretty good you can imagine and it took a while for them to regain composure and search the rest of the apartment. This, and various other Spinell stories, are from a documentary included with the DVD. Some of his friends wonder if Spinell put his "head" on the TV as a joke. Guy has a pretty fucked up sense of humor if that's true. Also, just realized I spoiled the ending by revealing that they used a prop head. If you are looking for a sleazy, depraved, disturbing, revolting, good time then I recommend you see Maniac.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Star Trek (2009)

I had no intention of writing up this picture called Star Trek that came out last week. I mean, this write up is obsolete before I've even finished it. Almost as obsolete as the original series (or TOS as I guess most Trekkers or Trekkies or whatever they go by these days refer to it). I'm a fan of the original movies (TOM) and actually don't buy into the whole "the even movies are good and the odd ones are bad" philosophy. Well, to be honest, I remember almost nothing from Star Trek the motion picture (STMP). Most consider it pretty boring. I'll revisit it one of these days. I think Star Trek Wrath of Kahn (STWOK) is damned fine, likely the best of TOM. Star Trek The Search for Spock (STSFS) is underrated and includes a heart breaking scene where the crew stands on a precipice on a dying planet and watches the Enterprise disintegrate in the atmosphere. I may be in the minority here, but Star Trek the Voyage Home....(STVH) is not a great movie, in my opinion. The majority of that picture takes place in 1980s San Francisco. There are characters with mohawks and piercings. Spock learns some slang. Chekov gets subjected to primitive medicine. There are lots of jokes in that one. It felt like a rehash of Nicholas Meyer's Time after Time where H.G. Wells follows Jack the ripper into late 70s San Francisco to me, which is funny because Nicholas Meyer helped write the script for STVH but was overruled when he tried to change the location. Oh well, could have been good I guess. Then there's the fifth Star Trek called Star Trek and The Search for God which adheres to the even/odd rule for the most part by actually stinking. Except for the part where Bones/Spock/Kirk sing "row row row your boat", that part was good. Almost finally, is Star Trek and the Undiscovered Country which was pretty Hitchcockian with it's wrongfully accused scenario...and also like The Fugitive. Finally, there was Generations where Kirk gets sucked into an alternate universe via some sort of nebula thingamajig and then fights Malcolm McDowell with that bald captain guy and dies under a collapsed bridge. Anyway, as you can see I'm a fan of the Trek. Haven't seen the original series since I was a kid though. Used to watch the cartoon on Nickelodean, does that count? I guess not. Thanks anyway Trekkers, but I guess I will have to find another club.

The point I'm trying to make I guess is that this new picture is probably tailor made for me. I enjoyed the movies but don't look at the original series in biblical terms. Well, you know what? I think this movie is for Trekkers too, they just might not realize it yet. The story in this new Trek may not be as crisp as the story in Search for God, but it's pretty good. The screenplay has some rotten moments, but let's chalk that one up to the writer's strike. Also, chalk it up to the guys that wrote this also having wrote Transformers.

The gist of this picture is as follows. The U.S.S. Kelvin is somewhere in deep space when they encounter one of those strange type of electric anomaly type things, and also a cloud of sorts. Out of that anomaly comes a lovecraftian type ship, revealed a little later to be a Romulan mining ship from the future. The Kelvin is no match, the captain shuttles over and is killed by the Romulan commander Nero after making his first officer Captain. That first officer is none other than Kirk! Kirk issues the abandon ship order to the crew (and his in labor wife) while he mans the bridge solo. As soon as his wife is safely away, and gives birth to their son, he kamikazes into the Romulan ship. Wait, Kirk is dead? Nah, just kidding...that was Kirk's father, George or Joe or something. Kirk is the guy born on the fleeing shuttle. That would have been a ballsy opening to kill James Kirk in the opening scene. Anway, Kirk grows up in Iowa, is a rebellious kid, a rebellious teen, and then, a rebellious starfleet academian (where he is played by Chris Pine)...banging green chicks, cheating on tests, etc. At the academy, he meets best buddy Bones (Karl Urban) and, the beautitfully seductive Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Also, supreme goody-goody douchebag Spock (Zachary Quinto).

Here's the brilliant thing about this film. It's not a prequel despite what several reviews are implying. Prequels are the worst. I mean, they're a lose-lose proposition and this Kirk fellow doesn't believe in a no-win scenario so why the hell should we? With a prequel, you force yourself into a corner. Things can only end one way. That is fucking bullshit and cuts down on the suspense. In this film, things are set on a different course. This is an alternate history, like if the Germans had won WWII or if Joanie didn't marry Chachie or whatever. Time travel will do that I suppose. In the future (Old Star Trek timeline), the Romulan homeworld is threatened by a supernova. So, future Spock (Leonard Nimoy) brings along some good ol' Vulcan Red Matter to the rescue (like dark matter only red and less dark). His plan, to create a black hole which will eat the supernova and save the planet. Unfortunately, he made a wrong turn at the regis Nebula and Romulus was destroyed. A Romulan mining ship, watched helplessly as Spock unleashed the matter, too late...the black hole opened, Spock went in, the Romulans followed....and entered the past. Coincidentally (and there are a lot of these I guess) the Romulans arrive first just as the Kelvin is entering the vicinity. Spock comes 25 years later (good for him or else he'd be really really old, possibly senile during the events of this film) holes are weird like that. So, yeah, in this history, James Kirk never knows his father, his training is hastened due to the Romulan threat, and...oh...Spock (spoiler that might upset you) is banging Uhura (which according to one of my Trekker friends, doesn't really jive with Vulcan mating practices, so there you go).

All I'm saying is you Trekkers need to try watching this thing with a different pair of nerd glasses and you might actually enjoy it. Here's why. The characters. They're all spot on. Pine, Urban, Saldana, Quinto all inhabit the characters without actually mimic-ing the actors who originally played them. Urban as Bones, in particular, is great. I mean, he's the same Bones...only much younger. A hypochondriac who happens to be a brilliant doctor. Naturally funny. I've liked Urban for a long time but never imagined he could pull this off. Pine is great as Kirk. I stopped thinking of Shatner immediately, except for a little bit during his last scene on the bridge. He's cocky, brash, at times a drunken baffoon, charismatic, funny. It's pretty much a star making performance is what I'm saying...of course, he'll probably be stuck playing this role for the next 10-15 years which I'm fine with. Why branch out? Other characters show up, some more than others; Sulu, Chekov, Scotty, Captain Pike, and I guess lots of people were complaining about Tyler Perry but I wasn't even sure who the fuck he was, so no big deal I think. The least successful characters were Chekov and Scotty in my opinion. Not real characters, just comic relief. I love Simon Pegg but give him more to do than be flushed through the ship's sewage system is my beef with his character. I'm cool with the side kick though, can always use more loveable star wars-type aliens in our Star Trek pictures.

So, I'm hoping you can tell I enjoyed the hell out of this thing, but I had a couple issues I have to deal with. Bruce Greenwood was terrific as Captain Pike (the guy is always terrific) but what the hell happened to him after he was captured by Nero and force fed that brain slug? Did he give up the planet defense codes? What about an interrogation scene, I mean really. He's force fed the slug and then is forgot about for an hour until Kirk (spoiler) rescues him. Apparently, the brain slug ate the part of his brain that controls his walking? Also, an interrogation scene would have been a great opportunity to beef up the parts of Pike and Nero. Nero is a pretty mis guided villain. He's not entirely evil. Just stupid and blinded by vengeance. Clearly Spock didn't destroy his what's with the revenge, guy? I like Eric Bana a ton (still think he made a great character out of a nothing part in Black Hawk Down and I will go to the grave as an Ang Lee Hulk fan) but this was a sorely underwritten role. His motivation is weak. All he does is sit on his ship and look angry and sometimes yell stuff or stab starfleet captains and other shit. He's not interesting like the villain in Kahn or even Spock's brother in Search for God.

Also, I was a little annoyed by the whole marooning Kirk (by Spock for insubordination) on that ice world where he meets up with future Spock (also marooned on ice planet, by Romulans, who stole his red matter and plan to use it as a WMD on federation planets). Spock exposits a bunch of bullshit to fill in the gaps left by the, let's face it...bare bones, script. I think it would have been an interesting decision to leave Kirk on that world for years, plotting revenge against that bastard Spock, maybe team up with Future Spock or something. Bring him back in the next picture as a villain. That would have been interesting. Interesting, but maybe too weird. Anyway, They meet up with Scotty on Hoth at an isolated outpost after fleeing from a ridiculous creature that gets eaten by an even more ridiculous creature (nod to Jurassic Park?). So, a couple of coincidences on this planet. One or two in a picture is doable, but this thing has a few more...and the magic of the filmmaking is I could care less. Later, Spock decides to take things into his own hands and gives Scotty the calculations for beaming oneself (or three selfs) onto a starship traveling at warp speed, probably light years away. Calculations, that Scotty, himself, would come up with years later. I think another way that history maybe changed is that Scotty becomes lazy and just waits for Spock to do everything for him.

Fuck man, a few minor quibbles does not make a bad picture. We're seeing the birth of a, potentially great, new series. They don't have to boldly go where the old crew has already gone before. No need to encounter tribbles in this universe, or Kahn, or that conscious energy cloud, etc. They can do what they want, when they long as they follow federation protocol of course. J.J. Abrams is the guy that directed this and he did a pretty good job. Lot of internet bloggers complaining about camera flares (don't care), continuity (what continuity??), shaky cam fights, E.T. like creatures, and so on. None of that shit bothered me. The space battles were pretty good. The music was great (and new until the end), but what makes this a Star Trek movie, for me anyway, is the dynamic between the characters, especially Spock, Kirk, and Bones. Here's where it all begins. Again. Only different. Who cares if Spock spends 90% of the movie as a complete douchebag. Eventually, he comes around. The stage is set Abrams. Don't fuck it up. Also, tighten up that script a little next time. Thanks for reading.

Here's a brief followup: Just re-read my write up and realized I barely talked about the Enterprise, you know, the ship they fly around in. this a criticism of me or the movie? The Enterprise was there alright and it looked pretty good. I mean, they flew it around space at all sorts of warp speeds and shit, but I guess it wasn't as prominent as it was in TOM or TOS. I mean, Kirk isn't even (spoiler) made captain until near the end. Hell, Spock gets to play captain before he does. Hopefully, next time around it will be more in the forefront, more of a character. If they self destructed this one with a few Klingons onboard I'm not sure I'd feel as sad as I did in STSFS. Maybe next time. Thanks again for reading.

Friday, May 8, 2009

White Dog (1982)

Well, there are two kinds of white dogs I guess. There's the kind that is literally a white dog. And, there's the type that is literally racist. This dog in White Dog is both.

Just kidding. It's ridiculous to even think a dog could be racist. That particular disease is solely the province of man (and woman).

I've been meaning to view more pictures from Samuel Fuller for a long time. Recently, I watched A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies and figured it was time (only Scorsese could get me to love pictures before I've even seen them). I had previously seen The Steel Helmet (great) and The Big Red One (pretty fucking good), but had missed the boat completely on Pickup on South Street along with several others that were considered classic Fuller. I appreciated Steel Helmet for it's intimate look at the Korean War and The Big Red One for it's expansive look at WWII. Fuller never got the big budgets and, for the most part, made pictures outside the studio system. That takes some talent I think. Back to the Scorsese film. What a fucking way to spend three hours. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it. He has a few obvious choices, but also points out a lot of lesser known films that I immediately added to my netflix queue (Val Lewton, Fuller, lots of westerns I'd never heard of, etc). It got me thinking that I should probably do a similar project. Start with the pictures that really got to me as a young boy and continue up through adulthood. The second episode of my film series would probably be all about Revenge of the Nerds (and the advent of bush) and, maybe, Benji the Hunted. My retarded film development (also, general laziness) is probably one of several reasons I'm not making films today. Also, lack of ambition, talent, money, etc. This Fuller guy also directed Fixed Bayonets and Burt Reynolds in Shark! Why not start with White Dog?

I made a solid choice. White Dog is the story of a white dog, hit by a car driven by an aspiring actress, Julie (played by aspiring actress Kristy McNichol). The dog is saved and adopted by Julie. She takes him to live with her in her posh, isolated home in the Hollywood hills. It's a pretty nice home considering that Julie can barely get extra work and, in the one job we see her acting in, she appears as a stewardess riding a gondola in Venice on a sound stage! Not too glamorous I guess. Anyway, Julie takes the dog in. Everything is fine until a rapist breaks into her home and starts to do what rapists do. He doesn't get very far because the white dog isn't too fond of rapists. The rapist was white. Black or white, however, he'd still be a rapist. So far, good dog. Later, the dog gets loose, and attacks a guy riding in a street sweeper. This was just some guy minding his own business sweeping the streets at 2 AM or whenever. That guy was black. Ok, black or white, still a street sweeper but I guess that same logic doesn't apply to this situation. Still, was willing to give the dog the benefit of the doubt. It was pretty weird though when the dog finally returned home and Julie didn't think much of the blood dried into his fur. Later, Julie takes the dog to work with her. She's "acting" in a scene with another actress. The dog attacks and mauls the actress while the cameras are rolling. The actress happened to be black. Ok, we might have a problem.

I'm surprised Julie was even allowed to take the dog home after that attack. Of course, no one knows about the street sweeper attack. They just think we're dealing with an attack dog here. Julie seeks the guidance of an old animal guru, played by Burl Ives. He says the best thing she can do is put the dog down. Then the dog attacks a black worker at Ive's wildlife reserve and Ives realizes they're dealing with a "white dog" (dog trained from puppyhood to attack black people). Now, he really wants to put it down. In steps his co-owner, played by Paul Winfield (the guy that gets the mind-slug in his ear, not Chekov, in Wrath of Kahn). Winfield, black, is a bit of a crusader. He likes a challenge. If he can't fix the dog in an allotted amount of time (I don't know, few weeks, or so) he'll put him down himself. His fixing involves several no holds barred matches between himself and the dog in a thunderdome like cage. Ok, not entirely accurate. He lets the white dog maul him (he wears a protective suit) in the hopes that he'll eventually come to accept him or some shit. McNichol may be at the head of the cast, but Winfield owns this picture.

I enjoyed this one immensely and was, often, incredibly moved. The studio didn't like what they had and so dumped this thing into a few theatres and marketed it as an exploitation horror film. It's not even close to that. This came out a couple years before Cujo, features several scenes of a dog chasing and mauling a human, but this one is making a more bold statement than "don't chase rabbits through a grassy field" or whatever Cujo was trying to say. The white dog, admittedly like Cujo, is not at fault (dogs never are). Hell, this called to mind the atrocity that is Michael Vick (sorry for beating that dead horse). It's actually somewhat heartwarming to hear that several of those dogs have been given another chance and are actually doing well. Unfortunately, several of them were immediately euthanized. I like to believe that there is a second chance for these dogs, a chance at rehabilitation or something. You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but can't you, at least, unteach a new-ish dog old tricks? The dog in White Dog was probably subjected to vicious beatings from black crack addicts as a puppy at the behest of his racist owner (in exchange for a couple of bucks). This movie is a tragedy because I believe this kinda thing probably has happened.

This one was fairly controversial apparently. Some fucking morons think of it as racist. I guess the story goes that some representative from the NAACP was refused admittance on the set (Fuller likes a closed set) and then started spouting off against the film. I don't know, I think they mentioned this in the interviews from the extras on the DVD. Anyway, the backlash helped to bury the film. This is an important film about racism and the question of whether or not it can be cured. I think the film may be slightly ambiguous (if you're a moron) but I came away thinking it answered that question with a definitive NO. Slightly bleak viewpoint, but there you are. The truth hurts.

I refer to the dog as "dog" or "white dog" because I'm pretty sure they didn't give him a name in the picture. At one point, Burl Ives refers to him as "Mr. Hyde" so I guess the serum Dr. Jeckyl received was the hatred of his racist owner. To give the dog a name might bring this closer to Cujo territory I guess. I mean, what if they had named this picture "Spot" or "Rex"? Wouldn't have worked. At one point, the former owner comes to claim his pooch. He's a big burly old red neck, lives in a trailer and shows up with his two young granddaughters. So, I guess those two girls are not growing up in a very good situation is part of the point, they are being exposed to seething hatred, much like the dog. It will probably manifest itself a little different in their lives I suppose. They might not maul black people, but they will probably hire them to do menial labor and call them names, etc. Not as hurtful as mauling but still not good for society.

The role of Julie was almost played by Jodie Foster which would have been neat, but, sorta uneccessary. McNichols, at the time, was an up and comer until she blew any chance of stardom with drugs and alcohol. She's fine in the role, but at about the 30 minute mark, this becomes Winfield's film. He's astonishing. There's a scene where the dog escapes the wildlife reserve (this dog may be borderline insane, but we can't question his intelligence) and makes his way to a small black community. This is a harrowing scene. A little black boy stands outside of a storefront as the dog eats some garbage (the boy is just out of his view). The boy walks into the store just as the dog wanders away from the garbage (missing the boy by seconds). The dog focuses on a black man who sees the look in the dog's eyes and flees. Chased into a church, the man is killed by the dog (it's a painful scene, we hear gargling, snapping jaws, etc. the killing takes place out of our view). Winfield tracks the dog down to the church and the look on his face when he sees what the dog has done is heart breaking. The man's body is under a stained glass window of St. Francis and his dog (also white...probably not trained to kill black people, but I'm not sure). Rather than kill the dog there, Winfield brings the dog (full of tranquilizers) back to the compound (I mean, reserve), more determined than ever. This is suddenly bigger than one man or one dog. He hates the dog, for what he did, but must maintain his belief that the situation is not hopeless. Hell, even Julie wants to kill the dog at this point. For Winfield, it's worth the guilt of having, albeit indirectly, caused a black man's death to even have the chance to show that racism is not incurable. This is not about one dog, or even, one (they still don't know about the poor street sweeper) dead black man. It's about that old racist son of a bitch, his two innocent granddaughters, and various other inbred redneck sons of bitches passing on their ideology of hate to future generations. It's about society. How's that for profundity?

This is a good one. Ennio Morricone did the score. It's not the typical Morricone score, the kind you'd listen to on it's own, but it does the job. I think they used two dogs to play the role of "white dog". One dog that was cute and cuddly. One that wouldn't stop snarling and baring his teeth, drooling, etc. I really like this Fuller guy. There's no kind of show offy shit to his directing. It's all intimate, lots of closeups, feels like TV at times, etc. It worked for this picture. Hell, Burl Ives is in it. Until a year ago, I'd only seen him as the snowman in Rudolph. Now I've seen him as a villain in the terrific De Toth western Day of the Outlaw and also White Dog (not as a villain). At first, it was a little jarring. Now I'm getting used to it. I guess he was pretty old when they shot this so he couldn't remember all his lines. That's alright. Thankfully, that great voice was intact. I don't know, seek this one out. It's on criterion and I think it's pretty worthy.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Pink Angels (1971)

What a strange movie we have here. Of course, that's the obvious description I guess. How else to describe a picture about a cross dressing, boy loving biker gang making their way up the California coast to L.A. so they can attend some sort of debutante ball, or at least that's what I thought the plot was. This is basically a remake of Easy Rider, only gay. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that.

I don't know man, but this one was pretty enjoyable. I mean, it's absolutely terrible, but it's terrible in a good way. If not for the title, we might actually think these guys are a straight biker gang, at first. Then again, there's nothing straight about those leather outfits or the fact that their bikes are equipped with sidecars. That's fine for a lady, but what else, except "little bitch", do you call the guy who rides in one? Just kidding, I would never call them that. All the non-gay characters in this movie might, but I like to think I'm a little more evolved. The movie opens with our gang picking up a hitchhiker who then runs for his life after they stop at an A&W and have a hot dog eating contest. I'm not sure what it meant when the poor fellow started running down some railroad tracks only to come face to face with a train, forcing him to run the other way. I think "train" is slang for something fairly unsavory in the opinion of that guy who apparently thought it acceptable to label the bikers a "bunch of faggots". He had it coming.

Like most road movies of the 70s, this one comes with a hippy soundtrack (songs you've never heard before) and many obstacles along the way; including a pair of armed-to-the-teeth cops, the hell's angels, and a war general who seems like he's in a completely different movie. The pink angels spend most of the movie trying to act straight so they don't get their asses kicked. They don't do a very good job of it. They stop at a bar and do everything they can to resist a cadre of hookers. Eventually, they stop to have a picnic with wine, tablecloth, candleabras, etc and the actual hell's angels swing by. Now, those guys are pretty straight we can tell since in their midst is none other than Dan Haggerty (real biker and also Grizzly Adams). Their leader, however, would have fit right in at the blue oyster (gay bar in Police Academy) and other like establishments. He was clearly not straight and probably not happy about it, which would explain his homophobia.

Basically, this picture is one damned episode after the other with each scene linked by lots of biking....and more biking on top of that. Every so often we cut to a scene of the general in his war room plotting the demise of bikers or some shit. Here is an example of how the movie flows. Pink angels biking for about ten minutes. Pink angels pulled over by Rambo cops. Cops search their bikes. Cops appalled to find brassieres, panties, and make up kits stowed away instead of the usual fire arms and narcotics. Cops call bikers "faggots". Cops drive away disgusted. Pink angels continue biking. Cut to scene of general sticking pins in a map while his voluptuous secretary looks on. Cut back to pink angels biking again. Cut to hell's angels biking, apparently in pursuit.

The main conflict of the picture is between the two kinds of angels. After the hell's angels interrupt the picnic, we think some sort of brawl is going to take place. The pink angels play straight though and offer the hells angels some booze. Pink angels playing straight is not even close to being straight. I mean, these guys wear fake beards, moustaches, and stuff like that. They lower their voices but they still can't help but prance around. One of the pink angels might even be a bit confused, and is shown making it with a hooker. Speaking of hookers, good times ensue as soon as they show up. The weirdest moment involves the lead hell's angel "banging" the lead hooker while the lead pink angel watches. The "banging" involves lots of fully clothed gyrating. The next morning, the pink angels apply make up to their passed out friends and tie ribbons in their hair which is not something hell's angels usually do. I'm not sure why you'd piss these guys off. I mean, they're pretty hardcore and shit; murder, drug running, hitting on drag queens, etc is their forte.

Then we have more biking, more shitty 70s style hippy music, more biking, some dress shopping, and a hilarious scene where two of the pink angels order room service. Lots of sexual innuendo and double entendres in this thing. They order a couple of "long, hard" drinks and the hotel sends up a naked server (female). She leaves the drinks and asks if they'd like anything else, anything they want. "no, just the drinks will be fine". We get it I think, these guys want their drinks. Also, gay.

Not sure who the audience is for this picture. Gay people, at the time, might be pretty appalled by the stereotypes on display. Also, why the need to play it straight? Today, they'd love it since it's sorta kitsch I guess. Straight people, at the time, were probably all anti-gay and shit. Today, they'd love it 'cause there's nudity and it's all pretty funny. Gay is funny. Flaming gay is incredibly funny. Not necessarily the opinion of this reviewer, more a societal observation.

Eventually, the hell's angels catch up to them but, by this point, the pink angels are dressed up in drag and, so, instead of kicking the shit out of them they proceed to hit on them. I didn't see them drinking before hitting the hotel bar, but it's pretty clear that beer goggles are in full effect. I don't think the director had any idea about what kind of picture to make, or even how to make a picture, in the first place. I mean, I found the movie to be hilarious, but it was all unintentional. I never understood the point of the general since he doesn't encounter the angels until the end. I had no idea how they even ended up at his compound? The hell's angels bring the "gals" (in full drag) there, but why? Were they working with him? I don't think so. The general interrogates one of the "girls" and is appalled when "she" takes off "her" wig and reveals "herself" to be a he. Of course, like all non-pink angels in this thing, the next word out of his mouth is "faggot". I guess that is worse than being a hell's angel in his opinion. Then the camera pans across a tree in the front of the compound and hanging from it are all the angels, hells and pink, as a somber 70s hippy song about individualism and stuff plays. Finally, the angels were able to find some common ground I think, but more likely the hells were hanged for being "faggot sympathizers". I don't know if this movie is making a statement against mccarthyism, or just right wing nuttism in general. Like I said, it's pretty weird. Weird, yet strangely enjoyable.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Timecrimes (2007)

Imagine arriving home on a beautiful afternoon from the grocery store. You arrive at your, recently purchased, home only to realize the trunk of your car opened up at the start of your driveway, spilling your groceries. It's going to be a long day, so already it's time for a nap. You take one. Soon after, you're interrupted by the phone. Your wife is outside, doesn't hear it, so you, begrudingly, pick it up. No one answers. Star 69 reveals it's a restricted number. You can't sleep, grab your binoculars and head out back to relax in a lawn chair. Your wife heads out to replace the ruined groceries. You doze. You notice something off in the distance, in the woods. You look through the binoculars and see a woman, stripping nude. You blink, you put the binoculars down, raise them up again, she's gone. You see a piece of clothing. You head off to investigate. You wander down a path, eventually coming across a woman, naked, propped up against a large stone. Is she dead? You move in slowly, throwing sticks towards her to see if she stirs. You bend down for a closer look when suddenly a man, face completely obscured by bloodstained bandages, stabs you in the arm with a pair of scissors. You flee, eventually coming across a gated home. You break in, looking for help. Night has fallen. A phone rings, a voice on the other end tells you the bandaged man has followed you to the home. You must go out the back door and follow the lit path up the hill. The man on the phone awaits you in a silo at the top. You make your way up the hill, reach the silo, and the man lets you in. It looks like a laboratory of some sort. In the middle there is a hatch. The man tells you to get in the hatch and hide. You do. The hatch lowers, you are momentarily trapped, immersed in some sort of liquid. There is a blinding flash. The hatch raises and you emerge, vomiting. It's a few hours earlier.

So begins Timecrimes, one of the more intriguing time travel pictures I've seen in a while. To give away any more of the plot would be to completely spoil the movie. Hector (the time traveler) is the typical ordinary man thrust into an extraordinary situation. His life seems fairly mundane; grocery shopping, afternoon naps, a loving wife, a new home, a little voyeurism, etc. As soon as he tries to throw a little adventure into the mix (investigating the naked woman) things immediately go haywire. He gets trapped within a vicious cycle of fixing the past so he doesn't have to relive it, over and over again. He goes back in time and suddenly there are two Hectors. I guess this is the zig zag theory of time. Hector 1 must make sure that Hector 2 follows procedure exactly; searching for the naked girl, ending up in the silo at the exact same time, and everything else that happened in between. If he doesn't, things will never go back to the way they were. I've always wondered what happens to the people in the present when someone goes back in time? Is Hector 1 really Hector 1? How many times has this already happened? Why did any of this happen in the first place? Who is the man with the fucking bandages on his face? (well, that one was actually sorta easy to figure out).

I really enjoyed this one. Questions led to more questions...and we even got a couple answers. Karra Elejalde is terrific as Hector. A quiet, nebbish man whose increasing desperation leads him to commit acts that would, ordinarily, be completely out of character. Sometimes, the best time travel yarns are the smaller ones (Primer, for example). There are no hokey explanations of the science behind the machine. There are no grand machinations, no traveling to the distant future or the distant past. I guess the idea of trying to fix the future by fixing the past was previously used in Sound of Thunder, but here it doesn't ring quite so hollow. Also, there were no flying apes or pterodactyls or whatever the fuck those things were. I don't know man, this is one I can't really write too much about. The story keeps wrapping around itself and revealing a little more each time. Sometimes, I guess it would be better off to leave things alone but I don't know about you, if I see a naked woman in the woods I am probably going off to investigate as well.

One thing I found interesting was the look of the guy wearing the bloodied bandages on his face. He reminded me of the David Cronenberg character in Clive Barker's Nightbreed. Anyone else notice this? There's a scene when Hector is hiding from him. He sees the bandaged man with his back to him. Hector looks through the binoculars and suddenly, the bandaged man turns around with his hands cupped around his eyes, as if he's got a pair of binoculars as well, as if to say "I see you seeing me". I don't know, probably just a coincidence, but I think that Cronenberg (with a sack on his head instead of bandages) did the same thing in Nightbreed. No time travel in that one though so maybe I'm mistaken.

I appreciated everything about the picture. The score seemed inspired by the music from "Lost" (with lots of low hums and then sharp strings or whatever they do when something serious happens). The looks of the picture is simple and there were no time ripples or anything like that. Minimal "look at me" type of effects in this thing. I don't really have any complaints here. I've only seen it once, so maybe it's possible to poke some holes in this thing on subsequent viewings. The story was simple enough, I followed along. I kept wondering how any of this could possibly have happened the first time. I'm glad I didn't find out. This is, unquestionably, the best time travel movie of 2007.