Monday, September 27, 2010

Shit, I have a blog don't I? Someday I'll get back to writing on this thing.  Someday, soon.  Someday, when they stop calling these things blogs.  Till then...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Trucker (2008)

Trucker opens with the sounds of sex.  The camera eventually reveals the sex to be between Diane (Michelle Monaghan)  and Joey Lawrence's brother.  The sex is taking place in a seedy hotel room.  It was possibly pre-arranged, maybe even paid for.  Diane certainly wants to keep it anonymous.  As soon as it's over she splashes some water on her face and leaves the room after rebuking the kid's request to stay in touch via email.  The camera follows her as she crosses a parking lot. She then gets into a big rig and hauls it out of there.  Whoaaaa (as Joey might say), this broads a trucker.  Pretty hot.  The title now makes sense.

is one of those indie dramas that I don't review (or watch) that often.  It's a simple story about a woman truck driver who is reunited with her estranged son who she hasn't seen since he was a baby (he's now 11).   The boy's father (Benjamin Bratt) is in the hospital with colon cancer and the stepmother (Joey Lauren Adams) has to attend to her own ailing father.  Diane's their last option.  Reluctantly, she takes the kid.  The kid ain't too happy about it either.

You see, Diane is one of those independent type women.  This kid's gonna cramp her style.  All she wants to do in life is drive her rig (which she proudly owns) and get drunk with her good buddy Runner (Nathan Fillion).  There's no room in there for a kid.  Meanwhile, the kid just wants to be back with his daddy who is a pretty great daddy in the opinion of the kid.  He takes care of him, pays attention to him, plays games with him, and puts food on the table for him.  Diane isn't really willing to do any of those things.  Will she come to love the little guy?  Will he love her back? 

Basically, what we got here is a story not unlike more popular shit like The Wrestler or Crazy/Heart only the central character is just a regular Joe (or Joan) and not some former celebrity trying to reclaim past glory.  Diane's a truck driver.  That's pretty much all she wants to do.  In that regard I guess it makes sense that they got the blue collar Michelle Monaghan to play the part.  Although, if Charlize Theron or Sandra Bullock had taken it they'd probably have another Oscar on their mantle.  Monaghan just doesn't come with the same name recognition which is a shame since she does great work here.  The script is a little on the predictable side.  She and her kid don't get along.  Then all of a sudden they do get along just in time for the reveal that they're going to have to spend a lot more time together than originally planned.  Commence the tugging of heart strings.

My favorite part of the picture was when Diane has to take the kid on the road with her.  She gets tired and pulls off to the side of the road.  Kid is like "what the fuck are you doing?"  She tells him to get in the back of the cab, shut up, and go to sleep.  Kid's like "I don't think so....we're going to a hotel".  Cut to them walking into a hotel room.  Later, the kid gets pushed down by a couple of punks while trying to buy a toothbrush.  Diane runs out in a skimpy tee shirt and panties and kicks their asses.  There's more bonding like this throughout the movie as the two come to realize just how alike they are.  They play baseball together, kid hits some guy with a bat that may have been thinking about assaulting Diane, breakfast burritos with Fillion, etc.

Overall, I give this a plus rating.  Sometimes I just want to watch a little of the ol' slice of life type shit.  The supporting cast is good.  Nathan Fillion plays a guy whose wife is apparently cheating on him with some asshole but that's ok cause he's in love with Diane anyway.  Fillion's acting range lies somewhere between puppy dog nice and slightly older dog nice, but he's great within that range.  Bratt is good in his limited screentime, another nice guy.  And whoever played the kid isn't bad either.  Not too annoying.  Anyway, this is one of the better trucker type movies out there.  It could have used an orangutan but that's a nitpick.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Predators (2010)

Predators is to Aliens as is Predator is to Alien.  Did I get that right?  It's been a long time since I've had to worry about analogies.  Predators pretends that the other Predator sequels (Predator 2, and especially Alien versus Predator I & II) never existed.  This is the first picture in the series that feels like the first Predator.  Actually, if you take away the alien (or predator, if you're confused) setting (which greatly resembles the Guatemalen jungles anyway), it's pretty much the same damned movie.  Throw that analogy above right the fuck out.  Still, plenty of good fun to be had here.

Predators opens abruptly.  With Adrien Brody being jolted awake by the fact that he is plumetting from the sky towards a jungle landscape thousands of feet below.  He lands with a thud, seconds after his shoot finally opens.  He has no idea where he is or how he got where he is.   A few feet away, lands Danny Trejo with a couple of uzis at his disposal.  Brody's got a rifle.  Some crazy Russian bastard who landed a bit further away starts shooting at them with the same gun Jesse Ventura used in the first picture, you know, the "big fucking gun" (to quote The Rock in Doom).  Brody, obviously some sort of skilled survivalist type, easily flanks the Russian and gets him to calm down.  Others fall from the sky:  We got a female sniper (and potential love interest for Brody), a guy that fought in the Sierra Leone, that guy that was in "The Shield" as a death row inmate/rapist/comic relief, a Samurai Yakuza, and Topher Grace, from "That 70s show" as a doctor who seemingly doesn't belong in this situation.

If this had been the first picture in the series I might have been intrigued by the opening in an "Outer Limits" sort of way.   Why are they here?  Who, or what, brought them here?  What do they all have in common?  The characters even have some fun with their plight wondering in a Lost-ian sort of way if, perhaps, they're all dead.  Too bad we know from the trailers and also the title that they were brought here by a bunch of predators for the simple joy of being hunted and killed in horrible ways.  Also, Brody calls it a "gaming preserve" in the trailer, which doesn't make much sense since there ain't much preserving of game in this thing.  Point is, lots of spoilage before I even saw the damned thing.

So, the characters spend a lot of time walking around a jungle.  The sniper, who I mentioned is a broad, analyzes the terrain, and the topography, and has no idea what jungle they're in.  It's not Africa, or Asia,  "I guess it could be the Amazon", but she doesn't sound convinced.  Then they wander onto a cliff and notice the giant moon and also the fact that there are multiple giant moons.  If this doesn't convince them they're fucked maybe the alien dogs with large protruding spikes on their faces will.

Other than the dogs, another alien that runs on two feet, Laurence Fishburne as a guy who has lived through "ten seasons", and the fact that they are being hunted by three predators instead of one, this is practically the same picture as the first one.  Brody makes a serviceable action hero.  He's bulked up considerably but remains wire-y in contrast to Arnold's bulkiness.  He's a highly intelligent bad ass.  One other difference is that he doesn't smoke cigars like Arnold did.  I'm sure there were others.  The girl sniper reminds us of the girl from the first one.  I thought she was her daughter or something but they didn't go there so ignore this sentence.  The guy from Sierra Leone looks like a nicer version of Bill Duke's character from the first one and is also the first to notice the predator looking down at them from the treetops and to be seen in predator-vision (just like Dukes).  Topher Grace is the seemingly weak, yet slightly smarter, version of the Shane Black character.  Slightly smarter until the part where he wanders off from the group and gets someone killed.  I guess that makes the Russian this picture's version of Jesse "I ain't got time to bleed" Ventura.  They're nothing alike except that they carry the same type of gun.  The Yakuza would be this picture's version of Sonny Landham.  They're both quiet, spiritual, and with a strict honor code that doesn't allow them to flee during a key moment.  I can't remember if Landham walked around the jungle barefoot or not.

I guess there is no Carl Weather's character in this one unless we want to say the rapist character would be his stand-in but I'm not gonna do that to Carl Weathers even if his Dillon was an asshole.

So, these characters wander around, set up defensive perimeters, and fight a predator, just like the first one.  Ok, they fight three predators, hence the title.  And, a forth predator even factors into this one but they don't fight him. Lots of predator-vision which had higher resolution than the predator-vision in the first one.  Not as pixellated, so good for the predators.  They've advanced.  Anyway, over the course of the picture they find cages which had also parachuted down to the planet.  What was in the cages?  Other prey, perhaps.

Eventually, the picture goes on a slightly weird tangent when they encounter Laurence Fishburne who has managed to survive a long time.  He even killed a few predators, and stole some cloaking armor.  He takes them back to an old crusty grounded spaceship where he's been hiding.  He's also a schizophrenic which makes you wonder how he could possibly have lasted this long.  He doesn't last much longer.

The picture's not unique but it manages to move itself along well enough.  The rapist has a funny speech about what he's gonna do if he ever makes it home (hint:  The Accused) and Topher has an equally funny reaction to that speech.  There's some gore in this thing.  One guy has his spine ripped out from the base with his head still attached.  One guy is blown up by one of those predator tracking energy beam things which doesn't exactly mesh with what happens when you get shot by one of those predator tracking energy beam things in the first one.  Then again, these predators are constantly advancing.  Their advancement might be the point of this whole hunting exercise, you might say.

The terrain of this world makes little sense.  Start in the jungle, walk a mile and you're on rocky terrain.  Walk another mile and you're in a field that might be a great place for a Samurai duel (spoiler).  The director is the superbly named Nimrod Antal who also made the adequately entertaining Armored (also with Laurence Fishburne).  The score contains plenty of notes from the original, not quite iconic, score. 

The finale involves a betrayal, an unexpected alliance, paralyzing neurotoxins, a blown up predator space ship, redeeming shots from a sniper rifle, serial killer shenanigans, beheadings, and etc.  Also, we got a mud covered Adrien Brody going man-o y predator-o with a predator.  I have to wonder though.  Do these predators know we are calling them predators?  What would they prefer to be called?  I mean, we are lumping them in with Lions, bears, snakes, and such.  Not very original.  And one more thought.  If they let the pianist manhandle them too badly should we even be calling them predators in the first place?  Despite these questions (and a few more) this was an enjoyable romp through a world of predators and others that may or may not beat them up.

Two Minute Warning (1976)

I couldn't figure out if Two Minute Warning was attempting to be an important film about the randomness of violence or if it was trying to be a fun, big budgeted 70s disaster type movie.  You know, like The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, or The Poseidon Adventure.  In the end, I sided with the latter perspective and just embraced the picture for it's non politically correct values as well as it's...well...random acts of violence.

What we got here is a picture about an all star cast converging at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Super Bowl where they are targeted (or not targeted with the violence being random and all) by some crazy guy with a sniper's rifle who has dug in at the top of a tower right above the scoreboard.  We know what this guy is capable of since as the picture opens we see his point of view (through a sniper's scope) as he blows away an innocent bike rider from his hotel window.  The guy quickly packs up his things, disassembling his rifle and putting its various parts in varying compartments in his jacket, and leaves, not forgetting to check out.  We never see his face.  In fact, we don't see the guy's face until the very end but we are constantly treated to his perspective.  This guy is like the giant wave, or the earthquake, or the meteor from all those other 70s movies I referenced earlier.  Or, like the swarm of killer bees.  It doesn't matter what his motive is.  He  probably doesn't have one.  He exists and he's gonna cause a massive panic and probably take some lives in the process.  The only difference being he's human (he might as well not be) so we infer he's stoppable.

Just like every other big disaster movie from the 70s this picture features an all star cast.  We got Charlton Heston and Martin Balsam as a couple of detectives.  We got John Cassavetes as the leader of the SWAT team.  We got a very young and, relatively thin, Beau Bridges as a father that beats his kid.  Jack Klugman (Quincy M.D.) plays a degenerate gambler.  David Jannsen (the fugitive) and Gena Rowlands play a bickering married couple.  Walter Pidgeon is a pickpocket.  Some guy plays a catholic priest, there's another young couple, a guy in charge of maintenance at the stadium, etc.  Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, and Dick Enberg appear as themselves.  The president (I believe it was an actor, not the real thing) appears in his motorcade on the way to the game.  There's footage of a real football game but it was just a college game so it's not easy for us to buy them as genuine professionals.  Ah, who am I kidding?  I bought it.

We're introduced to the cast in separate stories as they make their way to the game.  Their stories, for the most part, don't intersect although the gambler and the priest end up sitting next to each other at the game.  A few of the stories are actually somewhat compelling if entirely generic.  The gamber, as played by Klugman, is a nastily funny man who is shown being dangled from his ankles outside of a high rise building due to his inability to make good on his excessive gambling debts.  He's got one chance to make it to tomorrow alive.  Hint:  that one chance involves the Super Bowl and more gambling.  The priest is shown checking his watch as he gives his sermon.  Beau Bridges is shown smacking his kid at the ticket booth.  There are other characters in here as well (see my list above) doing stuff before they get to the big game.

Then there's the sniper who puts on his rifle concealing jacket, buys a ticket (same day since the Super Bowl must not of been popular in those days), walks into the stadium, up some stairs, picks a lock, feeds a couple guard dogs some steak, and climbs up to the top of the tower so he can wait for the perfect moment to strike.  The early parts of the picture were treated not unlike a slasher movie where we see things from the killer's perspective never even catching a glimpse of his identity.  The closest we get is when we see him climbing the tower ladder from a distance.

I won't spoil what happens except to say that not much happens (outside of the game) for most of the picture.  It's a bit of a slow burn although I can't say it ever got boring.  It's very 70s in that it meanders a bit, plods along, takes its time, etc.  Hell, the sniper is spotted during halftime but the cops don't do anything about it for fear of causing a panic.  The maintenance guy attempts to take the law into his own hands and get's butted in the head with a rifle and pushed off the tower to his death for his troubles.  At one point, we see the sniper time his shot to match up with the shot from a referees pistol but we never see if he shot anyone or not.  Also, don't think referees use pistols anymore precisely for the reason that some insane sniper might be waiting to time his killshot to match the referee's shot.  Anyway, the last twenty to twenty five minutes of this thing are gloriously glorious mayhem.

Roger Ebert reviewed this picture back when it came out and gave it one star claiming:

"The movie tells us nothing at all about the gunman. But it takes great pains to establish other characters who are in the movie for a dreadfully simple reason: One by one, they will be shot. The clue is in the decision to keep the gunman anonymous. The movie's totally uninterested in the reasons behind his action; he's necessary only as an agent of violence, so we can be entertained by his victims. I found that disturbing."

I don't entirely disagree.  At the same time, lighten up young Ebert!  Had this been a low budget schlocker with a no-name cast I wonder what his reaction would have been?  Well, I'm sure it would have been the same because Roger Ebert seems like a man of principle.  He tends to stick to his guns and I respect that about him.  Hell, maybe it is reprehensible that they would make a fun movie about an anonymous sniper picking off people at the Super Bowl.  It's almost too prescient.  A bombed out blimp flying into the superdome is one thing but a sniper (think Charles Whitman or later, John Allan Muhammad) hits a little bit close to home.  Basically, what he got here is a slasher movie with a giant cast and a large budget.  Ultimately, when the slasher is gunned down, we get no real satisfaction since the guy was just a device.  He was the meteor, the earthquake, the raging inferno, the big wave.  He wasn't a person.  He doesn't necessarily need a motive, but he needs a face, a personality.   It's almost like remaking Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer as something fun.  The filmmakers attempt to tack on some deeper meaning to the preceedings when Balsam and Heston, standing over the dead killer try to make sense of it all saying something along the lines of "we have no idea who he is, but in the next few days we'll learn a whole hell of a lot" (commenting on the media or some shit).  Whatever.

Shit man, I lost my train of thought.  I didn't mean to make it sound like I didn't enjoy this thing because I did.  I enjoyed the hell out of it.  The shit involving whether or not to evacuate the coliseum or sending in the SWAT team was some good shit.  When the shooting starts, this shit gets visceral.  I'll close by saying that Two Minute Warning may or may not be morally reprehensible but in the end it's a gamer and lots of gamers have loose morals.   

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Out of the Past (1947)

If there's any picture out there that might get you to take up smoking and boozing it's probably this one.  Everyone smokes in this thing and they look pretty good doing it.  We got Mitchum smoking.  We got Kirk Douglas smoking.  We got femme fatales smoking.  We got Mitchum drinking.  A lot.  We got bars.  We got cabanas.  We got smokey night clubs.  We got bourbon.  We got smoking while driving.  Maybe a little drinking while driving.  We got smoking in black and white which looks much better than smoking in color.  Hell, we even got some smoking before and after fishing.  This picture's got everything an addictive personality could want and dread at the same time.  If some kid came up to me with a cigarrette dangling from his lips and said he saw this picture and had to try it for himself I'd probably just nod my head knowingly and ask if I could bum a smoke.  If this picture came out today it would probably be rated X for smoking.  Fucking MPAA. 

What we also got is a pretty god damned labyrinthine story that nearly lost me at about the halfway point which is one of the reasons I just gave up and started paying attention to all the smoking going on.  What is it with these noirs (film term I learned on the internet) that strive for befuddlement as an emotion?  Well, I haven't seen too many noirs to be honest.  Just this and The Big Sleep (off the top of my head).  The Big Sleep makes this one seem like Star Wars in regards to plotular complications.  And yet, despite my confusion, I can honestly say this is a great motion picture.  It's involving (emotionally and intellectually), beautifully shot, has some great performances, and never becomes predictable beyond the fact that we know a lot of these characters are gonna die.  Yeah, half the time I had no idea what was going on, and I'm dreading the part of this write up where I mention the plot, but I was never less than captivated.  Shit man, I'll say it.  Great fucking movie.  Better than The Big Sleep anyway.

The story started off simply enough.  We got a guy coming into a small town called Bridgeport looking for a man named Bailey.  Bailey runs the gas station and is played by Robert Mitchum so we're pretty sure he's not entirely on the up and up.  You might even say the guy looking for him has come out of his past.  Whenever bad men try to turn their lives around their past almost always catches up with them.  Bailey is trying to live a quiet existence now.  He's friends with some deaf and dumb kid that works for him at the gas station. He's got a girl that he plans to marry.  And he loves to fish and smoke.  He's covered up his past for the most part as exemplified by the part where his girl asks him if he's ever been married before and he responds with "not that I can remember".

Well, this guy comes into town thinking Bailey is somebody else.  That somebody would be Jeff Markham, who used to work for a heavy named Whit (Kirk Douglas).  Apparently, he used to be some sort of private dick a while back, had a partner who still works as a bag man for Whit, but whatever shit he used to pull is never made abundantly clear.  His past is mysterious and he did some bad things is the point.  This part of the picture reminded me of Cronenberg's History of Violence except that Bailey/Markham gives up pretty quickly and confesses to his girlfriend, who is surprisingly accepting.  Jeff's gonna go with this man to Lake Tahoe, meet with Whit, see what he wants, and then come back so they can get married.  No complications whatsoever, he promises her.

Complications ensue.  Turns out Whit wants him to find an old flame of his named Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer).  That's what he's good at, apparently.  Finding people.  Whit wants her back.  Kathie's fled to Mexico and Jeff is forced/payed to follow her.  He finds her and, predictably, they have a whirlwind affair.  Some time passes, things are going well, Jeff and Kathie make plans to run, Whit and his cronies show up in Mexico, awkwardness, tension, drinking and smoking, etc.  Jeff has to cover things up, says she's already moved on, here let's have some bourbon and some smokes while Jeff contemplates how to get out of this sticky situation, etc.  Kathie walks into view, Jeff says "hey, look over there", etc.  The story then takes Kathie and Jeff, via steamer, north to San Francisco.  Jeff told Whit she headed down to South America, but he's too smart to buy that shit.  Things get progressively complex as Jeff's former partner, and current Whit employee, Stephanos spots Jeff at the racetrack...and now I just realized I'm regurgitating plot.  Sorry, there's a lot of it.

Here's a quick sum up:  Jeff and Kathie have a falling out involving murder and forty thousand dollars.  Jeff returns to Bridgeport and his bride to be.  His past catches up with him again.  Jeff's hired for another job by Whit.  Kathie is back in the picture.  He does the job Whit hires him for.  There's another murder.   Back to Bridgeport.  More shit comes out of his past, etc.  A lot of shit happens in this one.  Very few characters are innocent.  Even the deaf and dumb kid shows how a simple rod and reel can be a lethal weapon.  I stopped trying to keep up with the goings on and just began focusing on the characters and the thick atmosphere.  Also, the snappy dialogue which was incredible.

For example.  An exchange between Kathie and Jeff when she thinks he's going to kill her.

Kathie:  I don't want to die.
Jeff:  Neither do I, but if I have to, I'll die last.
puff puff

Jane Greer portrays Kathie as one of those nasty type bitches that you can't help but love even as she's twisting a knife into your back.  Slowly.  She's the definition of a femme fatale.  Mitchum's Jeff Markham is interesting in that he seems pretty slow half the time but he somehow manages to stay ahead of the game, just enough.  Things aren't going to end well for anybody.   People die off screen and then their bodies just show up.   There's no chance Markham can escape his past and have that life he tried to have, but we root for him anyway.  It's not often that Mitchum can make us sympathize with his characters, but he achieves that here.

Someday I'll check out more of these film noir type deals.  The director (Jack Turner?) is probably best known for his Cat People picture (unseen by me) and I guess a couple episodes of "Bonanza".  I can't imagine anything he's done topping this one however.  It's overly complex without becoming boring.  We're not sure why the characters are doing what they're doing or which side they're on half the time.  These are all bad, selfish, people even if some of them are trying to change their ways.  Despite all this, the heartbreak we feel at the end is genuine and deserved.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Blood Sucking Freaks (1976)

So, I followed up Combat Shock with a, much more offensive, little gem of 70s sleaze called Blood Sucking Freaks (aka Sardu; Master of the Screaming Virgins which was then re-titled The Incredible Torture Show).  Apparently, Troma (them again) picked it up for distribution and slapped on the title that eventually stuck, Blood Sucking Freaks.  Whereas Combat Shock was completely lacking in the nudity department, Blood Sucking Freaks, from what I can remember, didn't have a scene without nudity.  Unfortunately, almost all of the nakedness onscreen is of the tied up girls being humiliated and tortured variety.  Beggers can't be choosers. Sorry if I've used this line before.

What we got here is a look into the world of underground S&M shows that took place in the basement theaters of New York City.  One such theater, the one the picture focuses on, is run by Master Sardu (a fu manchu looking mother fucker) and his perverted dwarf assistant, Ralphus.  Ralphus looks, and behaves, similar to that sinful dwarf you may or may not be familiar with, Olaf.  In fact, these two deviants might be related.  Perhaps Olaf faked his death at the end of The Sinful Dwarf and escaped across the pond (Brit term for the Atlantic) where he got a job doing what he really loves.  Hint:  that job involves raping and torturing young women that are tied up against their will.  Anyway, if this is true, Olaf (now calling himself Ralphus) has found the perfect life partner in Master Sardu.  They share laughs, and the occasional cigar, while whipping and mutilating young women.  Good times, am I right?

The picture opens with one such show, set before a captive audience, where a girl is bound to a chair and has her eyeballs gouged out and eaten by Ralphus or something.  Also, the girl is naked.  Master Sardu announces that what they are witnessing is real.  One guy, a critic who somehow was admitted to the show, calls bullshit and says "I've been to the Grand Guignol theaters in Paris and you sir, are no Grand Guignol".  I'm not sure if this guy works for the New York Times or not, but I can imagine that if any form of entertainment would be critic proof then this kind would be it.  Also, guy is a torture snob.  Fuck him.  Anyway, Sardu is offended and plans to kidnap the critic in the hopes of forcing him into writing a good review. He also plans to kidnap the pretty ballerina sitting in the front row whose boyfriend thought a show where young, completely naked, women are being tortured (real or fake) would be a good first date.  Having a ballerina in the show might lend them a little more artistic merit or something. Sardu licks his lips in anticipation. Ralphus licks some girl's lips.

Lots of 70s type nudity in this thing which is to say plenty of bush shots and natural breasts and also welt marks from the constant whipping these poor girls are subjected to in the name of entertainment.  Also, in a sub basement there is a cell where lots of insane hairy naked women are locked away.  Every now and again, Sardu throws them some food (people) and these broads go to town.  If naked women fighting over who gets to eat what part of their screaming, writhing (also naked) victims, well....  

I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about some of the methods of torture.  I think one such scene involved a rat but that might have been a different movie.  There's a scene where Sardu and Ralphus enjoy a game of darts with the dartboard painted on the backside of one of their slaves.  They enjoy smokes and single malt scotch while throwing.  Not sure who won, but Sardu hitt bullseye at one point.  Couldn't figure out if they were playing cricket rules or not.  One poor girl is put in a guillotine, naked of course, and the rope keeping the blade in position, is placed in her mouth.  Then Ralphus starts whipping her on the backside.  A lot of torture involving backsides in this one.  If she screams.....well, if she screams I can only imagine that Ralphus will do something unsavory with the decapitated head which would be years before High Tension had a similar scene.  If she screams, but I don't know, she looks like a tough girl, so I'll give her a puncher's chance. 

Thankfully, the picture manages to maintain a somewhat campy tone.  Otherwise, it would be unwatchable by most people.  Ralphus and Sardu are simply too ridiculous to take seriously.  The treatment of women, while horrendously exploitative, is not that uncommon for the time period. I can't imagine anyone watching this thing and saying something like "I need to start me a sex slavery ring/torture show".  Also, the villains get what's coming to them (of course, I'm struggling to remember how it happens, was probably tacked on to secure distribution) so there is that.  Oh wait, I think their demise involved the animal-like women locked up below?  Anyone seen this thing? Help me out.

There's a sideplot involving the ballerina's boyfriend and some detectives trying to find her.  There's some hilarity involving the chained up critic.  The picture is gritty looking.  Can't remember the music so I'm assuming it was subtle.  Once again, I'm devolving into a typical boring review.  That's what happens when you can't remember the story.  There's a scene where a poor girl has her brains removed that is downright wrong.  The character of Ralphus shows, once again, why dwarfs, in horror pictures, can fucking go to hell.  So, the picture moves along at a brisk pace, there are lots of naked women, plenty of gore, some funny shit happening for, you know, the kiddies, and a final comeuppance for the devious duo that makes us feel it was somewhat worth our time.  I probably wouldn't display this in my collection (at least not proudly) but I'm not upset I watched it.  I think this is a breed of film they don't make anymore and I feel it's my duty to watch it for, you know, research and stuff. 

Combat Shock (1986)

It's been a while.  Sorry about that.  I probably lost about half my audience in the process, so we're down to four of you.  Thanks for sticking with me.  I'm not really sure what happened.  A part of me just lost interest there for a bit.  Watching movies is easy.  Writing about movies is slightly less easy.  Easier to just watch another movie.  In addition, the quality of my write ups over the last year or so has gone downhill.  I'm not interested in writing proper reviews, but that's exactly what I've been doing.  As if I know shit about directing, and colors, acting, or music, etc.  Well, I know a little but to tell you the truth, I don't really care.  Give me a good story, some breasts, a weird diverging subplot or two, some capable action, and a few funny lines.  That's the kind of stuff I appreciate.  So, again, I'm sorry I haven't been there for you lately. I'm trying to get better.  Well, not really trying that hard.  I am pretty god damned lazy after all.

Anyway, so we're back with this picture called Combat Shock which has been labeled a "Tromasterpiece" by Troma themselves.  I find myself agreeing.  It's the only Troma movie I've seen that actually feels like a real movie.  And, it's depressing as all hell, although that depressed feeling is lightened somewhat by several goofy vintage Troma moments as well as some shitty acting.

The picture opens with some cheap scenes set in Vietnam where this guy Frankie was sent to fight the Cong.  Things didn't go well over there for Frankie but at least he made it home.  Unfortunately, his home was Staten Island which, if you ask this movie, was not much better than Vietnam at the time.  See, Frankie returns home a broken man and also a broke man.  He has a wife but she's an overweight nagger with an annoying New Yawk accent.  He's got an infant son but his son has been mutated due to the agent orange that got into Frankie's sperm.  He's got a job but his job only involves walking around all day, avoiding gangs, waiting in line at the employment office, talking with his best friend whose a junkie, and avoiding underaged hookers and their pimps.  And, his job doesn't pay.

So, like most movies that deal with Vietnam War veterans life is not good.  It's downright terrible.  You might say that you can take Frankie out of the war but you can't take the war out of Frankie to regurgitate some oft used cliche about war veterans.  Combat Shock does something no Troma film (at least ones I've seen) has ever been able to do.  It manages to achieve a gritty realism.  The acting is shoddy, almost across the board, but it's not self referential.  It's not cutesy.  Strangely, it feels genuine.   Basically, this is Troma's Taxi Driver.  We got the Vietnam veteran that hates what his city has become.  A vile cesspool of filth and smut.  At one point, Frankie even talks to a fifteen year old prostitute but that conversation is abruptly cut off by her pimp and we never see her again.  Unlike Travis Bickle, Frankie isn't really interested in cleaning up the streets.  He just wants to "save" his family.  If you're wondering why I put save in quotes you can probably guess that it means he wants to save them in the wakco sense of the word and not the literal sense.

The entire picture takes place over the course of one day.  Frankie walks around.  A lot.  Every now and then we're treated to a flashback from the war of Frankie in "the box" or some shit like that to illustrate what he went through and kind of give us a sense of why he is where he is.  He calls his father, who had a lot of money, from a payphone and begs for his help.  His father doesn't recognize him at first, thought he died in the war, and is dying himself.  Also, he lost all his money so thanks anyway pops.  Frankie is in debt to some loan sharks who hound him throughout the picture.  Eventually, they catch up to him and beat the shit out of him in some abandoned warehouse.  During the course of his travels that day, Frankie came across a gun.  He blows his assailants away in the first truly visceral moment of the entire picture.  Unfortunately, it took nearly an hour for us to get to this point.  Everything else before was just about the slow build to what is ultimately a brutally shocking, and strangely humorous, climax.

Spoilers to follow so beware. Frankie finally makes it home where his wife has spent the day scrounging around their filthy apartment looking for food to feed the baby (she settled on stale bread crumbs and water).  She immediately starts in with the nagging to which Frankie responds with a pull of the ol' trigger of love....meaning he shoots her.  Ok, none of this is really "strangely humorous".  I'm not sure where I got that from now that I think about it.  He blows away his wife and then walks into his kids room and blows away his baby (which by the way, resembles the love child of E.T. and Belial).  As the sirens close in, he grabs the baby and drops the thing in the oven (and turns it on) before putting the pistol to his own head and pulling the trigger in a shot that is an obvious nod to the climactic blood bath of Taxi Driver.  So, the part with the baby in the oven elicited a bit of a chuckle from this guy probably because the thing was a mutant but also because of now why the hell would he put the baby in the oven?  It's just so absurd.  Maybe he thought the starving baby could eat itself when it was done?  I have no clue.

So, this is one of the better Troma movies.  It's a bit of a smolder, has some ridiculous parts, but, other than the finale, never really turns offensive which is why it might throw some people off a bit.   I mean, it's weird watching a picture like this and not being subjected to even just a little bit of nudity.  And, not much happens until the last twenty minutes.  It's probably not well made enough to be taken seriously by most film critics or film snobs but if you're looking for something a little different that might end up punching you in the balls while also tickling them a little bit (not in a sexual way, more in a I'm laughing and this is sort of uncomfortable kind of way) this picture might be what you're looking for.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Alligator People (1959)

Roy Del Ruth's The Alligator People is an interesting picture.  What we got here is a monster movie almost completely devoid of actual monsters.  By that I mean, there are no creatures out to get us.  Only encroaching nature and a drunken one handed lunatic.  I don't mean that as a negative.  This picture is actually pretty impressive.  It's the story of what happens when you inject reptile hormones into mutilated accident victims and also the unfortunate bastards that are cursed with loving them.  

Also, this controversial treatment involves being zapped with gamma rays.

Anyway, we got that all-to-common framing device where a couple of doctors inject their nurse with sodium pentathol (truth serum) and the nurse recalls a series of astounding events.  In her hypnotic state, she flashbacks to a time when she went by a different name (Joyce Webster) and she's a newlywed on a train travelling to an unidentified location.  She's just been married to a guy named Paul Webster.  He seems like a good guy.  No skeletons in his closet would be a good assumption.  Assumption blown as soon as a train attendant delivers them some mail including one letter that causes Paul to quickly get off the train at the next possible stop and, presumably, disappear from Joyce's life forever.  Joyce spends the next few years tracking him down.  Her investigation leads her to the Louisiana bayou.  Paul once listed some plantation (The Cypresses) down there as his address.  At the train station in the bayou, she manages to hitch a ride with a hook handed Lon Chaney Jr (playing a character named Manon), the Cypresses drunken caretaker.  

Chaney Jr is brilliant in the role, a sort of cajun Captain Hook.  The drive to the plantation reveals him to be a man full of grudges.  And all those grudges are held against alligators.  He badmouths the things the entire ride.  Joyce finds herself in the somewhat awkward spot of having to defend them.  Manon points out she wouldn't survive ten minutes in the swamp.  She relents.  He then spots a gator up the road and guns his truck towards it, running it over in one of the pictures more visceral, and convincing, scenes.  He's Ahab of the bayou.  Gator took his hand.  He wants it back.  Also, no gators were harmed during the making of this picture.  They used real gators and those wrasslers were professionals.  And that gun Manon fired wildly at them was full of blanks.  Also, he was drunk and kept missing.  

On the plantation lives a strange off putting woman named Lavinia and her staff.  Lavinia takes an immediate dislike to Joyce.  Wants her to leave.  Train won't come until morning.   She'll stay until then under the condition that she doesn't leave her room which is pretty much an open invitation to leave the room and go snooping.  Lavinia is hiding something.  When Joyce asked her about Paul, Lavinia proved herself a bad liar.  Eventually, we and Joyce learn the truth.  We get there first.

Turns out there's a clinic down in the bayou easily accessible by river boat.  The clinic is run by Doctor Mark Sinclair.  We see patients, with strange masks concealing their faces, manhandled by beefy orderlies.  Later, one of the patients sneaks onto the plantation and into the house so he can play a few keys on the piano.  We see his scaly face in shadow.  Joyce follows the music in an homage to Frankenstein (or maybe Mel Brook's homaged this scene in Young Frankenstein.  Who can remember?).  The shadowy stranger turns out to be (spoiler) her husband.  An accident victim from years back.  Apparently, the procedure was a success.  At first.  Then the doctor telegraphed Paul (somehow knowing exactly where he was and on what train, etc) to let him know that, not only were the results temporary, Paul would eventually turn into some kind of weird reptile man-thing...alligator people.  Understandably, Paul took off before Joyce was subjected to some kind of bizarre reptile-man coitus.  He was protecting her, still loves her, wants to get it on with her, but doesn't she find him hideous? 

What's truly unusual about this picture is just how tragic it all is.  Sure, plenty of monster movies attempt to emphasize the tragic elements of their creatures, but in the end it's just a misunderstood creature stomping all over civilization.  We can almost buy the science here.  Reptiles are known for regenerating limbs so why not isolate what causes this regrowth and apply that shit to humans?  Ok, so it's 3rd grade science.  Still, works for me.   What's really tragic is the real monster in this picture is Manon whose hatred of alligators extends even to alligator people.  Why is this tragic?  Once again, a drunk is the villain.  

Things are not going to end rosey.  How could they, in a swamp?  Turns out Lavinia is Paul's mother.  She wants to embrace Joyce but tries to turn her away to protect Paul.  Circumstances are keeping these people apart and will likely end up destroying their lives.  Joyce will probably be left so traumatized that she'll block everything from her memory, change her name, and become a nurse or some shit.  The fact that she did this leads us to believe that Paul stayed in the bayou and that everyone else was probably killed in a radioactive explosion or something (only a spoiler if true).

I don't know man, I really dug the picture.  The atmosphere was thick, the music strung us along, and the makeup more than did the job.  At 74 minutes this thing flew right by.  I liked how it wasn't routine.  The "mad scientist" wasn't mad at all.  He was just an aging doctor who has dedicated his life to helping people.  The character is full of traits that make him human; empathy, love, humor, kindness, stupidity, god complexes, etc.  We also got the interesting flashback framing device, the monsters that want to be human, the human that wants his hand back and is figuratively a monster, and also the hero who, in a last ditch effort to make himself normal, gets zapped with gamma rays that may or may not leave him with a ridiculous looking gator mask for a face.  The alligator people are more human than most humans and especially that drunken biggot Manon who tries to kill Paul after attempting to have his way, sexually, with his wife, which is a pretty monster-ish course of action, even by bayou standards.  So, if you ever want to see a movie like Swamp Thing crossed with Frankenstein and maybe a dash of Moby Dick, then look no further. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Objective (2008)

Well, the director of The Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick) has done it again.  He made another movie.  It's almost as good as Altered, the movie his co-writer and co-director (Eduardo Sanchez) from Blair Witch made.  Basically, what we got here is Aliens.  Only, it's told from the perspective of the Paul Reiser character.  Also, there ain't no fucking aliens in this thing.   Also, minimal action.  And, it takes place in the blighted deserts and mountains of Afghanistan.  Throw in some mysticism and some awkward performances and we've got ourselves a picture.  Still, it was all kind of...interesting.

Jonas Ball stars as CIA agent, Benjamin Keynes.  Keynes is in Afghanistan weeks after 9-11 under the guise of leading a mission to overthrow the Taliban.  He recruits a not-so special forces unit to aid in his mission.  Their goal is to find some Afghani cleric and record a statement from him that will apparently dissolve the Taliban.  Somehow.  Along the way, they pick up Abdul, an Afghani guide who will take them through the treacherous mountains.  Also, there's an Aussie in the unit for some reason.  And none of the troops look particularly fit.  The captain looks like Steve Austin after a year long bender and with a pasted on beard.   Still, I found myself captivated by this bullshit for some reason.

Keynes narrates the action in the drollest of monotones.  He's Fox Mulder on prozac.  He scans the horizon with his infra-red, and radiation detecting, equipment.  After a brief firefight leaves one of their men dead, and no enemy bodies, things get weird.  The mountains of Afghanistan hold many secrets.  Lights dance around the sky, compasses are useless, GPS systems fail, radio communication is fruitless, the water in their canteens is replaced with sand.  Keynes isn't opening up about anything.  His narration is using the present tense. We understand his survival is no guarantee.

I'm not sure where this thing was filmed (and I'm not about to look it up) but it seemed to use a pretty authentic location.  Could have been Death Valley for all I know.  The picture provides few answers and is the better for it.  We got weird triangles in the sky, men evaporating, guys jumping off cliffs and, in one case, some poor bastard wakes up to find himself nothing but guts and clothing (he didn't actually wake up, sorry for making it seem like he did).  I'm not sure what the picture is saying about the war in the Middle East.  I'm not sure it's saying anything.  We all know war is hell.  Sometimes you live.  Sometimes you get evaporated by a giant triangle in the sky. 

Well, if we are to believe the South Park mythos, what these guys were up against was none other than Moses and his army of macarroni pictures.  Of course, this is the real world and so South Park mythology gets thrown out the fucking window.  What we have here is something deeper than that.  Something involving satellite pictures of some weird mystical phenomenom in some Afghanistan mountain range.  Not sure if that phenomenon has anything to do with Osama Bin Laden, but that's who we were searching for in those mountains immediately after 9-11 went down.  Not these guys though.  Shit man, I think Muhammad shows up at the end.  Is it ok to have an actor portray him in shadow or is that shit a death sentence?  I don't know, but I hope Daniel Myrick lives long enough to make another movie.  This one wasn't bad.

The Curse (1987)

The Curse is one of those 80s type films involving a meteor crashing to Earth in, or around, a small town and messing shit up for the yokel locals.  In this case, it lands on the property of abusive farmer Nathan Hayes, played by the spectacularly sinister Claude Atkins.  Nathan is a puritanical monster ruling over his familial unit with an iron backhand.  The meteor contains an oozing menace that infects his crops as well as the town's water supply.  The crops mutate into worm infested apples or something, while the tainted water changes those who imbibe into puss spewing creatures of the night (I think).

Loosely based on Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space" and directed with a sure hand by David Keith (yes, the actor), The Curse is an enjoyable tale well told.  Atkin's plays the Hayes patriarch as a cross between Mitchum's Harry Powell and....well....a puss dripping monster.  Able support is given by Will Wheaton as Nathan's ill fitting (adopted?) son and John Schneider (yep, Bo Duke) tags along as a scientist researching the town's odd happenings.

A side story about evil developers out to buy the Hayes farm on the cheap so they can put in strip malls or some shit only adds to the fun.  Also enjoyable, is the way Nathan continues to deny anything strange is happening even after his wife tries to eat their children.  Creepiness ensues after she's been locked in the cellar.  And then the house disintegrates for some unknowable reason that left me scratching my head.  Even some horribly shoddy effects work (meteor on a stick, anyone?) can't undermine this thing.

As an added bonus, here's a quickie review of The Curse II:  The Bite.  Well, shit man, this one is just a couple good scenes strung together by what seems like hours of tedious bullshit.  We got a guy and his girlfriend driving through the desert (were they running from someone or something?  Can't remember).  They stop to do some sightseeing on the side of the road when the guy is bit by a radioactive snake and then, SLOWLY, his arm starts to change into one (a snake I mean).  The two good scenes are the one where the young couple drive over a highway littered with snakes, which are beaten and battered in slow motion, and also when the guy's arm changes into a snake, while in bed with his girlfriend.  Then the guy chases his girl through some drainage pipes or whatever.  None of this has anything to do with the first picture.  Not much to recommend here.  Well, except for Jill Schoelen,  as the girlfriend, who is fairly adorable.  I can't remember if she got undressed in front of the camera or not.  Find out for yourself.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Triangle (2009)

Wow, that poster is one giant fucking ball of spoilage.  I expected the picture to be about a group of young sailors stuck in the Bermuda triangle getting eaten by sea monsters or some shit (this was before I saw the poster).  At the very least, maybe some syfy channel level of storytelling and special effects thrown in.  Then I recognized the name Christopher Smith.  He did the disappointing (although not completely devoid of merit) Severance and also the fairly chilling horrors lurking in the London subway picture called Creep.  Neither picture blew me away but both have style and atmosphere.  Maybe this is the time Smith actually brings a story to match his visuals.  It doesn't hurt that the thing stars Melissa George (30 Days of Night).

Well, what we got here instead is a nice little twisty story marred by some atrocious computer generated imagery.  I guess water is pretty tough to render.  Anyway, this is the story of a single mother named Jesse (George) who goes sailing with some friends.  I know what you're thinking.  They end up in the Bermuda triangle.  Well, you'd be wrong.  Their boat is called the Triangle.  Also, they end up in some other triangle type anomaly somewhere off the coast of Florida.  One moment they're sailing along nicely.  The next moment the wind stops abruptly and their boat is overturned (tensest moment of the picture) by a massive storm that swoops in out of nowhere.  Also, weird distress call came over the radio just before they were flipped.  Also, Jesse has been weirdly antisocial the whole trip and now they're all clutching to the hull of their overturned ship excluding the one girl that was swept out to sea and presumably drowned.  And then a large cruise ship called "The Aeon Flux" or some shit, looking like something from the early 20th century pulls up next to them.  Saved!  Not so fast.

So, they board the ship and then shit starts getting even weirder.  They keep hearing someone else, while not seeing them.  It's a ghost ship.   It's old looking.  Their ship was called "The Triangle".  Jesse is acting strange.  Blood is all over the ship.  Some guy with a sack on his head starts picking them off one by one or two at a time.  Who the fuck is piloting the ship, if anyone?  Well, I can't really discuss the movie in any more detail without spoiling more shit, so here goes:

Turns out they went through some sort of time rift.  The person they spotted on the ship was actually Jesse (Jesse from the past).  The guy with the sack on his head killing them all with a shotgun or an axe is actually a gal.  A gal named Jesse (from the past).  Why is she killing everyone?  Well, turns out the only way to set things back and give them all a chance of escaping the ship is for them all to end up dead (even Jesse).  Once they're all dead I guess "The Triangle" will appear and the friends will board the boat.  If present Jesse can prevent that from happening or, escape the ship when the other boat appears then maybe she can make it back home to Florida to pick up her special needs kid from school or something.  Anyway, it's going to take a lot of trial and error for things to get straightened out.   If this sounds like the movie Timecrimes its because they have an almost identical plot except this one takes place on a boat.  We got the time travel angle and the guy (or gal) wearing a sack on their head angle.  See, basically the same picture.

I enjoyed it.  Melissa George gives a terrific performance as Jesse.  She's vulnerable, menacing, sympathetic, fierce, etc.  Lots of adjectives to describe her character so we can surmise she did a good job.  Lots of twists and turns in this thing.  The action becomes a bit repetitive at times but never really tedious.  Some truly shocking moments in this thing like when the one girl, after being knifed by Jesse in the gut, crawls up to some deck only to realize she's already crawled up there to die 50 times previously.  Or, when Jesse hits a seagul with her car and goes to drop it over a ravine only to discover hundreds of seaguls piled up below.  Real interesting shit like that.  Unfortunately, all the other performances are overwhelmed by George's.  We could really give a shit about anyone else.  They seem like fine people, but fuck 'em.

I spoiled a lot but there are still a couple moments of goodness left for you to discover.  Like the scene where Jesse is revealed to be an abusive parent.  Is that  Jesse Prime or one of her copies slapping the shit out of her retarded kid for spilling paint?  Who the fuck knows?  Also, sorry for spoiling that Jesse makes it home so she can beat on her kid.  I promise that's the last spoiler.  I dug this picture.  It kept me guessing.  I rank it slightly behind Creep and way ahead of Severance (maybe I should see that one again to be sure).  I guess Smith is at his best when he sticks to the dark and dour stuff, while leaving comedy-horror concoctions to the experts.*

*There are no experts.   A good horror/comedy almost always happens by accident.  Most good movies with elements of both are either comedy heavy or horror heavy.  An American Werewolf In London is the only example I can come up with that's a perfect blend.  Can you think of any?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Search for the Beast (1997)

This movie is such a piece of shit that I couldn't find a poster for it anywhere.  Or, DVD artwork for that matter.  Apparently, it's only available as part of a Big Foot compilation.  The best I could come up with is the above screen shot I found using google.  That's the beast.  It's intended as a genuine beast.  Unlike Shriek of the Mutilated (available on the same DVD set) it's not supposed to be some guy in a costume luring unsuspecting teens to some kind of Satanistic, Cannibalistic, Ritualistic dinner.  Nope.  It's an actual beast.  That loves to fuck.

I did learn a little history so my experience with this thing wasn't all bad.  I learned that the Algonquin Indians used to sacrifice all their hot virgins to Big Foot in order to stave off slaughter.  If, however, the squaw was a little "rough around the edges" Big Foot would take his disdain out on the tribes in what could only be described as a maelstrom of slaughter and rape.  I'm pretty sure the American cavalry used similar tactics.  Anyway, point is Big Foot's got standards.

Basically, what we got here is a lose remake of Aliens.  We got the scientist type (played by Rick Montana) hired to go back into the mountains of Okaloosa, Alabama and bring back proof that Big Foot exists.  He's sent in by a shady executive (some guy stepping in for Paul Reiser and then re-writing the part so he doesn't actually have to get off his fat ass) to bring back evidence of the existence of Big Foot or Big Feet.  Accompanying him will be an armed squadron of rednecks and also porn starlet wannabe, Miss Holli Day.  Of course, the shady business guy is working a double cross ("kill the thing at all costs").  Montana wants to just leave it be (even though the thing is believed to have killed and raped at least forty people in the last year or so (including - spoiler - the executive's son and girlfriend)).

I'll be the first to admit that this sounds like an amazing plot for a movie.  Almost impossible to fuck up, right?  Well, the first thing they did is shoot on cheap home video with some of the worst sound quality I've heard.  Then they edited the scenes in such a way so that nothing makes sense.  We got an allusion to Montana saving Day's life but are never shown this event actually happening.  Maybe it was when they were scaling a "treacherous" "rock" "face" a few minutes back?  I guess they climbed down using some rope that was being sliced into by a rock, but never broke.  Maybe they forgot to put in the scene where it breaks causing Day to fall on Montana's dick?  Anyway, as a reward, Day fucks the shit out of Montana that very night in his tent, while the other rednecks, and their sister, jack off outside.  Of course, the rednecks in the group (i.e., everyone) assume she's fair game and, therefore, are justified putting their dicks in her whether she likes it or not.

The filmmakers also do some weird shit with the dubbing.  I couldn't tell if 99% of the vocals were intended as inner monologue or if the characters were speaking out loud.  Montana is eventually swindled, tied up, left for dead, and has his girl stolen from him by the rednecks.  All of a sudden, the guy becomes John Rambo, shooting and stabbing his way through the mountainside while being chased by barking dogs that we can hear, but never see.  Also, there's a sasquatch (see picture above for proof).

Seriously, Big Foot has only about three minutes of screentime (at one point, I think a close up version was a cartoon - primitve CGI?) and that was probably too much.  So, I don't know.  This thing never bored me too much but I can't say I enjoyed watching it.  It's only 69 (haha) minutes long.  The highlight of the picture is probably the part where this kid is taking his girl from behind when Big Foot sneaks up behind him, pushes him out of the way, and steps in without the girl even noticing.  Other than that, there were a lot of bad parts like anytime Big Foot peaks out from behind a tree or the final revelation (spoiler) that Big Foot is actually working for a couple of Banjo players (The Deliverance band, I believe they're called) by bringing them women, chaining them up, ripping off their clothes, etc.  Also, bad parts involved anytime a character spoke or anytime shot footage was shown on my tv.  So, to sum up i guess we can say the good thing about this movie is the nudity.  The bad thing about this movie is everything else (including the quality of the girls getting naked).  

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Truth or Dare? A Critical Madness (1986)

Let's keep this string of classics going.  Here's one that won a few academy awards and also that you'll find on most top 100 lists.  Or, maybe I'm mistaken.  Do they give academy awards to slasher films?  Probably not.  I'm also thinking they especially don't give academy awards to inept slasher films.  Well, I thought it had some good parts.  For example, this is one of the only movies ever made that features a drive by chainsawing.  The other one I'm thinking of is, of course, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.  Am I missing any others?   Anyway, at the very least, this is superior cinema to the Madonna documentary of the same name.  This one even has a cool subtitle: A Critical Madness.  Other than that subtitle and the drive by chainsawing, and also some boobies, this is mostly a piece of shit, albeit a sporadically enjoyable piece of shit.  Sorry for misleading you into thinking this was a multi-award winning classic.

The picture opens with a couple of people fucking which is probably how every movie ever made should open (well, maybe not Bambi).  We got boobies right away in this thing (and unfortunately, never again).  Tim Ritter, the director, masterfully cuts between the fucking and some nerdy bespectacled guy driving his car.  Turns out, he's the husband of the wife who is fucking some other guy.  Mike Strauber (the husband) is on his way home to give his wife, Sharon Strauber, some very good news.  He got the promotion at his accounting firm (or wherever it is he works).  Eventually, he arrives and walks around the house a bit calling out for his "honey".  While in the throes of passion she can't hear him.  It's amazing that he can't hear her either.  Finally, he gets to the bedroom, opens the door, and immediately slams it shut after seeing what's going on inside while shouting "Sharon!  How could you?"  He flees, she tries to stop him, then tells him "I'm sorry, I tried to tell you, this ain't working.  Maybe you should go out and find some good friends, live your life, etc."

Then we're subjected to long scenes of Mike driving to the beach, flash backing to all the hints of his wife's infidelities that, at the time, went unnoticed.  Long interminable scenes.  Later, he picks up an impossibly voluptuous strawberry blond, brings her to a campsite, builds a fire, sets up a tent ("you don't mind if we sleep in the same tent do you?").  A rousing game of truth or dare ensues.  Starts out innocently enough ("Do you still love your wife?") and ("I dare you to lift up your blouse").  Progresses to shit like "I dare you to gouge out your eye" and "I dare you to slice open your chest".  Also, the impossibly voluptuous strawberry blond was all in his head.  So, of course, Mike ends up in a sanitarium.

Basically, the movie goes like this.  Mike goes crazy, usually flashing back to his childhood and humiliating games of truth or dare.  Also, his crazy mother appears at times.  After these visions, Mike does something bad and ends up back in the psych ward.  Mike is later released, goes crazy again.  Back to the loony bin.  Mike escapes, goes crazy.  Back to the loony bin.  Rinse, wash, repeat.  Eventually, he completely loses it and plays truth or dare with a couple fellow inmates using the knife he apparently smuggled in using his anal cavity.  One guy cuts off his hand.  Another guy eats a grenade (also smuggled in somehow).  Mike cuts off his face and, I guess, this is the point where it becomes a traditional slasher film (about an hour in) since Mike now dons a copper mask.  He drives around like Michael Myers in that Halloween picture.  He also acquires an arsenal of weapons; including a chainsaw, a machine gun, a medieval mace, nun-chucks, hunting knives, etc.

Truth or Dare was shot in, and around, West Palm Beach, Florida so we got a lot of sunny, boring atmosphere.  We got a couple of bumbling cops hot on Mike's trail.  One cop accidentally burns down the town drunk thinking it's slasher Mike.  Later, he loses his car keys and has to drive around town in the back of a cab.  The end of this picture is pretty bat shit crazy as Mike just drives around killing people that remind him of other people that apparently tormented him throughout his life.  This being Florida, several of these victims are elderly including a poor trio that he machine guns while they're waiting for the bus.  The kills are extraordinarily unconvincing which sorta adds to the brilliance.  There's even a car chase that ends with one guy catching fire and getting shot multiple times as he burns.  Lots of fire in this thing.  That's where the budget went.  I almost wonder if the fire truck in this thing was a real fire truck responding to a fire these bozos started for the picture.

So, It's pretty fucking far from a classic but if you can wade through some of the boring parts there's a lot of fun to be had here.  I laughed every time they cut to the insane asylum when Mike is returned there.  Like I mentioned earlier, the kills were horribly executed.  Sometimes (all the time?) the camera would linger on the victim and would catch them breathing or scratching their ass or some shit.  Almost as if Tim Ritter were daring them to hold their position.  They never did.  Especially that one little leaguer that got drive-by chainsawed.  I can't wait to see some of this guy's other stuff.

Freaks (1932)

I feel like I don't cover enough of the classics so I'll try to rectify that shit.  A couple weeks ago, I wrote up The Wolf Man and its sequel (which I determined isn't worthy of "classic" status).  Well, here we got a pre-code picture from 1932 that is pretty bonafide in my opinion.  It's a picture about circus freaks simply called Freaks and was pretty controversial back in its day.  Tod Browning, the man behind the reputed classic Dracula, has fashioned himself a shocking work about deformed people (freaks) working the traveling carnival circuit and the people who are appalled by them while at the same time taking advantage of them.  Audiences were disgusted by what Browning put on film (real live freaks, no special effects) which makes this picture even more interesting because it exposed his audiences, as well as most of the normal people portrayed in the film, as prejudiced sons of bitches.  Browning was insulting his audiences years before Haneke.

What we got here is a picture that takes place entirely within the world of a traveling carnival.  We got the sideshow attractions (the titular freaks) and a few normals.  A couple of these normals, Olga the trapeze artist and Hercules the muscleman, begrudgingly put up with the weirdos.  We got lots of setup for what amounts to a barely longer than sixty minute picture.  The carnival is run by a little person named Hans who is pined after by another little person named Freida.  He feigns interest in her but only until something better comes along, better meaning normal.  Like maybe the blond trapeze artist for example.  Turns out Hans is due to inherit a large sum of money.  Olga might be interested after all.  She conspires with Hercules.  She'll marry the little bastard, poison him, and then the two of them can make off with the loot.  That's pretty much the plot.  This thing really isn't about what it's about though.  It's about how it's about what it's about. 

Today this thing would be full of special effects.  Can't use real freaks.  Exploiting freaks would cause an uproar.  Browning wanted realism in his picture and he got it.  Lots of real freaks in this thing.  We got "the human torso" which amounts to a guy with no arms and no legs who still manages to light his own cigarettes.  We got the siamese twins who have aspirations of marriage but haven't quite figured out the bed situation yet.  We've got the three sisters (I think) with bird like heads (one of them looks like Sid Haig).  We got the young woman with no arms that eats and smokes with her feet.  We got a couple dwarfs, one of whom went on to play the "master" part of "master-blaster" in Mad Max Beyond The Thunderdome.  We got the standard bearded lady type deal...only this one falls in love with a human skeleton.  And, most impressively, we got the guy with no lower half (who, as it turns out, is probably the best actor of the bunch).  There are a couple sympathetic normals who stick up for their co-workers.  Obviously, one of these sympathetic characters is a clown.  

As I mentioned earlier, for a sixty minute picture, this thing takes a while to get going.  That's a good thing.  We get a peak into the lives of these freaks.  Character is important and we got lots of characters here.  One thing weirded me out though.  I'll be honest.  At first I thought Hans and Freida were children.  And brother and sister.   So, I found it inappropriate that they were alluding to things like love and marriage.  Also, could we get a translator for these two?  I couldn't understand a god damned thing they were saying.  Except when Hans would constantly refer to his normal employees as "swine".  

Anyway, in the portrayal of the lovable freaks and also Cleopatra and Hercules what the picture is doing is showing us that freaks are more human than most humans.  Until the end when the freaks gather up knives, guns, etc and chase Cleopatra through the rain soaked forest and then chop off her legs, melt down her hands, cut out her tongue, gouge out an eye, tar and feather her, etc (some of this wasn't shown in the movie, I had to read it on wikipedia).  The movie loses its message a bit with that climax when it turns the freaks into monsters.  Admittedly, the bitch did have it coming.  I also understand that Browning needed to excite the audiences with some sort of horrific climax.  You know, to sell the thing.  Nothing more horrific than a bunch of freaks crawling through the muck on their way to disfiguring some broad I guess.

So, this is a classic alright.  I loved it.  Being pre-code and all we got bosomy women wearing skimpy outfits and some sexual innuendo between Hercules and Cleopatra, like the conversation about how many "fried eggs" would he like to eat for "dinner" and shit.  That's weird innuendo, but it worked.  The final reveal, the shock moment, that I already spoiled, is equal parts horrific and funny.  Then there's a tacked on scene involving Freida and Hans getting together at his newly acquired mansion which feels a bit perfunctory.  Should have left it out.  Oh, and sorry for overusing the word freaks.  I just like saying freaks.  Of all the movies about freaks, and especially called freaks, this one is probably the best, or close to it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Robot Jox (1990)

I didn't expect to enjoy Robot Jox as much as I did.  Stuart Gordon (director of The Re-animator, Dagon, Stuck) and Joe Haldeman (author of the great "The Forever War") joined forces (along with producer Charles Band) to create something that manages to work despite its paltry budget.  Basically what we got here is a gladiator picture set in the distant future where the combatants are giant robots fitted with all kinds of crazy weapons and piloted by men (and a woman).  Nuclear war has ravaged earth and out of the dust rises two superpowers; The Market (the USA basically) and The Confederation (those evil bastards from the USSR).  War has been abolished.   Conflicts are resolved in the arena.  The Confederation has laid claim to the province of Alaska (the last vestige of natural resources on the planet).  The Market objects and demands they settle this thing as if they were in Ancient Rome.  Only with giant fucking robots.

The picture is a mash up of Rocky IV, Starship Troopers, and Voltron.  We got the reluctant American hero known as Achilles (a solid Gary Graham) versus the lovably loony Russian, Jox Alexander (Paul Koslo).  Koslo has a blast as the villain.  His performance leaves the earth's atmosphere (literally and figuratively).  He encompasses nearly every Russian stereotype and does it all with a ridiculously absurd accent.  At one point, telling Achilles over drinks, "you make my vodka taste like blood."  The picture opens with Alexander destroying the robot of one of Achille's teammates in battle and then stomping on the cockpit until the poor guy is dead, cackling with delight as he does it.  The referees seem mildly pissed off as a result (yes, these battles are pointlessly refereed).  No suspension or forfeiture though.  Just a little tongue lashing.

So, we got this awesome villain and a hero in Achilles who isn't perfect.  He's a drunk, a misogynist, kind of an all around asshole.  Still, it's a tribute to Graham's performance that we actually kinda like the guy.  The first battle between Alexander and Achilles is a memorable one.  It ends when Alexander's robot launches an errant missile/giant robot hand that locks in on a few thousand spectator's seated comfortably in the bleachers.  Achilles blocks the missile with his robot chest to save the crowd.  Unfortunately, the blow knocks him backwards crushing hundreds.  As a result, spectators are barred from future contests and the match is declared a draw.  Also, Achilles retires in shame (a retirement which predictably will be short lived). 

In addition to Achilles we also got a female robot jock with the code name Athena.  She's a fucking annoying character but thankfully we see her bare assed in the co-ed shower scene (predating Starship Troopers by nearly a decade).  She's cocky, hotheaded and, ultimately, incompetent especially when it comes to piloting a giant robot.  Sure, she does well enough during training exercises (including one that results in death or paralysis if you fail) but when the chips are down (i.e. ownership of Alaska) she comes up short.  Also, she pretends to be Achilles  to get access to his robot for the final fight and then proceeds to get the shit kicked out of her by Alexander.

There are other parts of this picture I liked such as the scene when a traitor is unmasked and he makes a hilarious "getaway".  The sets are cheap.  We're talking painted cardboard.  The special effects veer from the adequate to awful like the part where the giant robot foot is coming directly at the control tower window (reminded me of the shot where Jaws swims towards the underwater window at Seaworld and then Lou Gossett jr. tried to fend it off with his cane).  The robots are brought to life with what looks like a combination of model work, stop motion animation, and men in suits.  The last battle between Achilles and Alexander includes a moment where they launch their robots into space which serves no purpose other than to have a scene take place in space.  And then this thing ends just like Rocky IV minus the awkward speech.  Shit man, I had a great time with this picture.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)

The title Frankenstein meets The Wolf Man is a bit of a misnomer.  First of all, Frankenstein isn't even in the picture.  It's Frankenstein's monster.  I suppose that title could be referring to Dr. Frankenstein's daughter, Elsa but I doubt it.  Obviously, what they are really referring to is the monster which, of course, isn't Frankenstein.  It's his creation.  So, anyway, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster meet up for about ten minutes.  This thing was almost as disappointing as Alien Vs. Predator.  Mostly it was just boring.

Still, I can't dispute the atmosphere in this thing.  We got a full heaping of that shit.  Again with the matte paintings, the forest scenes filmed indoors, the fog machines, the beautiful black and white.  Unfortunately, all that production is let down by an incredibly slight story and Bela Lugosi's laughably bad performance as Frankenstein's monster.  According to the wikipedia (or some other source I can't remember) Lugosi turned down the role in the original Frankenstein because he wanted dialogue.  Here, they gave him some...and then cut all those moments out.  Thankfully for us, Karloff was the one that made the monster famous. 

Anyway, I didn't enjoy this picture nearly as much as I enjoyed The Wolf Man.  What we got here is a sequel that throws continuity out the window.  If you remember the first picture, the Wolf Man (aka Larry Talbot - a returning Lon Chaney jr.) was beaten to death with a silver walking stick by his unknowing father, Claude Rains.  As this picture opens, a couple grave robbers enter the cemetery hoping to rob the monies that Talbot was buried with.  They unearth the corpse which is then revived by the full moon.  Jugulars get ripped (off screen) and now we have ourselves a movie!  Unfortunately, things get really boring from there.  No one believes Talbot is actually Talbot.  And, why should they?  He's dead.  That would be impossible.  Anyway, Talbot spends the entire picture moping around and trying to figure a way to kill himself since obviously silver is ineffective.

Which brings him to Dr. Frankenstein's lair.  Maybe Frank can help him to die?  Unfortunately, the good doctor is away...or dead.  Who can be bothered with remembering all this shit?  He does encounter the Doctor's daughter though. I guess they had a fling.  Maybe not.  I watched this a week ago.  Struggling to remember minor details.  Anyway, Talbot ends up in some catacombs where he finds some tall doofus looking fellow trapped in ice (I think I missed that particular Frankenstein sequel).  He frees him and the creature shambles around clumsily as if he's in an Abbot and Costello picture.  He's fucking goofy.  No menace here.  So, some things happen.   More things happen.  Talbot and the monster fight eventually.  They're both swept away in a flood or some shit and then the picture ends.  Lugosi was better as the gypsy-wolf in part one.  Am I wrong for not enjoying this shit?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Last House On the Beach (1978)

Well, here's an offensive, tasteless, and joyless slice of exploitative sleaze that may have passed you by. Renamed Last House on the Beach (not sure of the original title) to capitalize on Craven's Last House on the Left, this is a nasty picture with few redeeming qualities. Let's just jump right into it, shall we?

The picture opens with a brutish bank robbery orchestrated by three thugs led by some guy named Aldo that vaguely resembles Luke Skywalker. One guy sorta looks like Ralph Malph from "Happy Days". Anyway, these guys make off with some loot, kill a couple bystanders, and head for the shoreline where they come across what appears to be the only house on the beach (so the title actually fits!). Living in the house is a Nun, Sister Somebody and her five (maybe six) teenage students (all twenty something females). Also, we got a maid, but she's taken care of, almost immediately, when a hot iron is implanted in her face. Then, Ralph Malph attempts to have his way with one of the girls as she strips nude in the bathroom but all he gets for his troubles is a sharpened comb (or maybe a pin) stabbed into his upper leg. Wounds like this tend to fester, get infected, maybe migrate up to the stomach, etc. So, things are bound to spiral downward from this point on.

The first thing I wondered is who the hell shot this overly stylized piece of shit? Couldn't be bothered to check, however. The opening robbery is shot, almost entirely, from the ground level. We got no faces unless they're off in the distance. Lots of feet though. We see one of the robbers off a ways wearing a mask. Weird cinematic shit. Anyway, the picture then cuts to a scene at the beach house where all we see are women's feet and I got worried the whole thing would be shot this way. Thankfully, things relax and we get to see the women in their entirety. And, by entirety, I mean they're naked a lot. Unfortunately, most of that nakedness is of the forced kind so unless you're a sexual deviant, best keep those flies zipped.

The Aldo character, and leader of the gang, is someone the filmmakers try, somewhat despicably, to get the audience to relate to. Here's a normal guy; in shape, blond, articulate. He went to college but dropped out after realizing it would take him a hundred years to make a million dollars. Why not just speed up the process by robbing banks? Or, he could just work harder and get a better job. One of the girls (the very blond one) develops a bit of Stockholm syndrome, seems to dig the guy, maybe she can get through to him, etc. Then, during the first night, he looks on as one of his cronies puts on makeup and rapes one of the girls (with Malph on the other side of her) in slow motion while David Lynch orchestrates the sound effects and also the camera angles. So, Aldo ain't exactly a guy we can get behind (neither figuratively, nor literally). Oh, and he also rapes the nun and then comments on the lax standards of the catholic church these days "'cause clearly, she wasn't no virgin when they took her in." Alright, maybe I'm making up quotes here....I think the guy articulated it a little better since he did, after all, have a year of college under his belt.

Anyway, For the most part, I got a problem with this particular genre of moving picture....let's call it the "men have their way with innocent women only to have the tables turned on them by the end" genre. Into this genre falls such pictures as Last House on the Left, The Night Train Murders, Day of the Woman (aka I Spit On Your Grave), Hitch-Hike, House on the Edge of the Park, etc*. A picture like Day of the Woman is full of misogyny, but ultimately justified (by it's many defenders, not me) because it eventually "empowers" women. Well, sure, it "empowers" them. But not until the audience has been subjected to a 30 minute rape scene that takes place in two parts. They're "empowered" if they've survived the raping and the bludgeoning.  The woman in Day of the Woman gets her revenge. She uses her sexuality (which is hardly an empowering notion - as if to say a woman can't use her wits or her non sexual physicality) to undo her tormentors. The "classic" moment in this particular picture is the bloody castration in the tub. Well, it should be the "classic" moment except I was still caught up on the 30 minute two part rape sequence. Unlike Last House on the Left, which at least raises a challenging moral issue or two, Day of the Woman has nothing to really offer its viewer beyond the horror of a 30 minute rape sequence broken up into two parts. Also, the slicing off dick part.

Anyway, Last House on the Beach falls into Day of the Woman category of the "men have their way with innocent women only to have the tables turned on them by the end" genre in that it has no reason to exist beyond its ability to disgust. The ending, aka the comeuppance, feels tacked on at the last minute of filming (much like the ending of House on the Edge of the Park). There's no natural progression. We got an hour plus of women being harassed, terrorized, violated, beaten, stabbed, tortured, penetrated with canes, etc. It's all shot tastefully of course. We got the aforementioned slow motion. The director (from what I can remember) made a conscious effort not to show the naughty parts during any of the assaults. I guess for fear of titillating his perverted audience. Doesn't matter. We know what's going on. And then there's the one scene where Ralph Malph approaches a helplessly bound girl with his phallic cane. This shot was so "awesome" that the director chose to show it twice! Yes, you guessed it. In slow-mo!

For an exciting climax, we got the nun (trained as a nurse) doing the proverbial ol' "turning of the tables" and poisoning the wounded guy and blowing another guy's head off with the wounded, now dead, guy's gun. And so, it all comes down to a brief sequence pitting the Stockholm sufferer against our lovable rapist, Aldo. Are the girls justified in their vengeance? Of course. No question. Does the audience feel satisfied? Of course not. We're still hung up on all the torturing and, you know, the violating. Other than all the negative shit I just mentioned, Last House On the Beach is a borderline passable entertainment. Mainly because, once you take that shit out you got about five minutes of movie.

*For the record, I think Hitch-Hike and, in particular, Night Train Murders are pretty great pictures precisely because the rape isn't the point. They're both shocking, brutal and, yes, borderline misogynistic, but, like Last House on the Left, they place the characters (and the audience) in situations involving fairly heady moral quandaries.