Monday, March 29, 2010

Twilight (2008)

"I watched this movie called Twatlight...hahahaha.....It's a movie about teen Vamps and teen Wolves and shit...and sucks and, by the way, fuck it's fans...they are so annoying...they ruined horror for me and my elitist horror loving friends...LOL....Twatlight..."

Well, shit...the above is paraphrasing what most people in the webisphere seem to think about this picture called Twilight that came out a couple years ago. It seems the "horror community" was up in arms that someone would have the gall to make a film with vampires that wasn't aimed at them. I mean, what the fuck is that shit about? These are the same people that revere something like The Lost Boys as some sort of pinnacle of 80s horror. I mean, have they seen The Lost Boys lately? In no universe can that thing be considered good. Sure, it's enjoyable but as an actual work of film it's....shit, I'll stop right there. Now I'm doing what those "Twatlighters" enjoy doing so much.

Anyway, I was gonna go on this whole rant about how we live in a contrarian society where people love to try to convince others why they should hate something they love and blah blah blah blah blah, but I'm sometimes guilty of that shit too. Hell, if I had come to Twilight when it was released I probably would have fallen into the "Twatlight" camp. A couple years has given me some perspective. I'm happy for it's fanbase. I know what it's like to claim "ownership" over things like movies and music, to be amongst the first to experience them. It feels good. Here's a movie made for them. Have at it. I am legitimately happy for you. First they had the Stephenie Meyer books and now they have the movies. That's great.

So, now that I've seen the picture what do I think? It's not awful. It's not exactly good either. The screenplay is problematic to say the least. I think this picture was mostly made for people that read the books. I scratched my head a few times. So, on a script level this is not really good film making. What we have here is a traditional fish out of water story. In this case, the fish is a 17 year old Arizonian sent to a small Washington town to live with her father. Her name is Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). She's nothing like her name, however. She's awkward, selfish, rude, bitchy and all around not very pleasant. In other words, a typical teenager (if not the perfect sort of character to build a movie series around).

Anyway, Bella moves to a small town in Washington and, soon after, falls in love with this Edward Cullen guy who she doesn't have much in common with on account of him being an old as shit vampire. Edward, as played by Robert Pattinson, is almost as unpleasant as Bella (at least, in the beginning). He broods a lot. On first meeting Bella he covers his nose as if she's farted (it was explained to me that the smell of her blood is overwhelming, but this fact is never made clear in the movie). Inexplicably, it seems like all the kids in this town love Bella. The all american guy that asks her to the prom, the native american that used to make mud pies with her when they were kids, the would be rapists in the back alley, etc.

This picture's not all unlikable characters though. We got Bella's dad, who she refers to as Charlie. He's a good dad, doesn't "hover", loves Bella while having a hard time finding ways to express that love. Billy Burke, as Charlie, gives a strong performance. We like the guy. We got the native american chief, and buddy to Charlie, played by Graham Green. We got Jacob, the native american kid and also the one who has a thing for Bella even though the chances of his affections being reciprocated are small. Um, I also liked the friend...I forgot her name, the one with the big smile and the blondish hair that the all american boy ends up going to the prom with after being spurned by Bella. That one.

In the Cullen family, we got a few characters I liked such as the guy that looked like Lestat , was the town doctor, and also the "father figure" to his little vampire squad. Edward's sister, Alice, who immediately accepts Bella despite her many shortcomings and also was perky for a vampire. And then there's lovable Jasper who tries to eat Bella but later feels bad about it. Apparently, Jasper also has some sort of "mood thing" that he does which is never explained (lazy, lazy script). Actually, all the vampire's seem to have different powers; Alice sees the future (only it's constantly changing on her), Jasper does that "mood thing", and Edward can fly and maybe something else, can't remember what it was (and yes, parts of the movie - especially the part where Edward put Bella on his back and flew up a mountain - did remind me of Superman I in a fairly superficial way).

Basically, the movie is about forbidden love. Bella loves Edward and will do anything (which includes possibly destroying her own family) to be with him. Edward loves Bella but can't be with her because he also would love her with a little salt and pepper. Other boys love Bella too, but she won't give them the time of day. And, then some bad vampires wander into the surrounding woods killing folks and blaming it on giant wolves. One of these bad vamps takes a liking to Bella (as one would like a juicy, bitchy steak) and starts hunting her. It's up to Edward and his family to save her. Also, vampires love baseball. And, sparkling in the sunlight. Yep, they love that shit too. I'd never seen them vampire's do that shit before.

Why did this harmless, not entirely devoid of entertainment value, picture offend so many people? Is it because Stephenie Meyer took the basic tenets of vampires; stake through the heart, sunlight=bad, fangs, cloaks, vampires hate baseball, etc and fucked with them? Doubtful. I think it's simply a matter of numbers. More people saw, and loved, Twilight than saw, for example,the similarly themed Let The Right One In. Is LTROI a better movie? Of course it is. So, why are they upset? Why does it even matter? One picture just happens to appeal to a wider audience, that's all. Don't worry, they're remaking Let the Right One In for American audiences (shudder).

In Meyer's world the only way to kill a vampire is to tear him/her apart and then burn the pieces. This happens. Unfortunately it's just hinted at. One thing she doesn't get into is how vampires have sex. Could have used some sex. They don't eat or drink normal food. Do they take a pee? Drop the kids off at the pool? Would the doctor comment on all the blood in their stool? I guess when you're immortal you don't see a doctor. In the case of Ed's family, his dad's a doctor so that particular base is covered not that he'd ever have to see him. Just in case he got a sun rash or something.

Anyway, this picture wasn't made for me but that's fine. I sort of enjoyed it. I still don't like Bella or Edward. Maybe they improve as the series goes on. She is, after all, only 17. Plenty of time to mature. Edward on the other hand is 109? He's out of excuses. Thankfully, Catherine Hardwicke (the director) has made a picture that's, at least, pretty to look at. One thing I found odd, and potentially interesting, was that Edward and his "siblings" actually bothered going to high school. After a scene during science class, where he identified some shit in his microscope that he barely looked at (as if he's taken that class before!), the fact that he's been at the same grade level for decades isn't really addressed. I also would have liked some more high school shit, in general. Could have used some bullying or some shit by the "normal" kids as well. Also, what did the "normal" goth kids at school think of the "abnormal" goth kids? Missed opportunity in my opinion.

So, yeah. I watched Twilight and didn't hate it as much as I was supposed to. Wanna fight about it?

Also, I can finally watch my copy of the super lame Taintlight and know why that shit is supposed to be funny.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Crash (1996)

So, I watched this picture about people that get off on car crashes and, I have to say, while I was never bored by it I'm not really sure I understood it either. I'm not even sure if this is a real fetish. I'm afraid what google might bring up if I try to find out. It's a Cronenberg, so you know you're gonna have lots of weird touches like the leg wound that looks like a vagina and eventually gets fucked or even the whole "takes place in Canada" aspect. I mean, I watched the NC-17 version and, I gotta say, there is a lot of fucking in this thing. Only, it's not exactly of the erotic variety. Lots of fucking near car crashes, after car crashes, etc. Twisted metal and damaged bodies are a real turn on to these people.

James Spader starts out as a pretty normal guy who is fucking his secretary (Deborah Karr Unger). Later, he gets in a head on collision (his fault) that kills Holly Hunter's husband while managing to somehow undo Hunter's shirt, exposing her breast. Spader gets kind of turned on while the dead husband, who flew through his own windsheild and into Spader's, lies dead next to him. They both rehab at the same joint, encounter each other in the hall (he makes a weak apology attempt), and later, meet again, at the junkyard. Spader gives Hunter a lift and they end up fucking in his car while it's parked in a crowded parking garage.

Hunter introduces Spader to Elias Koteas who takes pictures of wounds and, in his spare time, recreates fatal celebrity car crashes in front of an appreciative audience. He also dates Rosanna Arquette who has a hideous vaginal leg wound and seems like she's part machine (another fascination of Cronenberg's is the melding of technology and flesh - so he keeps his themes going). Later Spader fucks Arquette (and the aforementioned wound), Koteas fucks Unger, Unger fucks Arquette, and Spader fucks Koteas. Then they all get in crashes and shit. Koteas gets jealous when his buddy stunt driver dresses up like Jayne Mansfield and re-enacts her crash without him, complete with dead puppy in the back and near-decapitation.

The picture ends with Spader causing Unger to crash and then fucking her, as she's possibly near death, in the divider between highways as cars just continue on their merry way. Lots of fucking in this one. Sorry if I spoiled all the fucking. And some dirty talk between Unger and Spader including when Unger asks Spader "if he'll put his penis in [Koteas'] asshole" or something like that. Anyway, lots of sex. A couple car crashes (some off camera..some on) and then more fucking. Not too much talking. It's a quiet movie about fucking and car crashes and the link between them and lots of other shit I don't really understand. Good performances. Lots of baring of souls and various other parts. I'd still rather watch this than the picture of the same name that won best picture a few years back. Recommended for sick fetishists or Cronenberg fanatics or for people that want to watch a movie called Crash.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Strange Behavior (1981)

Strange Behavior is the first in a planned "strange" trilogy from director Michael Laughlin and writer, and future Oscar winner, Bill Condon. The second film, Strange Invaders, tanked at the box office and so dreams of a trilogy were dashed (thanks wikipedia). Well, shit, why don't I just start regurgitating everything I read in wikipedia? Did you also know the song played during the famous synchornized dance routine at the costume party was Lou Christie's "Lightnin' Strikes"? And that the soundtrack is by Tangerine Dream (see also Sorcerer)? Or that the star Michael Murphy was also in McCabe and Mrs Miller, a movie I just reviewed? Well, that shit wasn't in wikipedia and to be honest I didn't even notice he was in McCabe. I found that out when checking imdb to see if he was in The Car (he wasn't).

Anyway, what we got here is a pretty strange attempt at a slasher film and one that, probably, inspired the Katie Holme's (barely memorable) Disturbing Behavior. Kids are dying around the small town of whatever the name of the town in this movie is called, Illinois. We got a kid stabbed in the face, we got a human scarecrow, a shower murder, a near drowning, a back stabbing, etc. Sheriff John Brady (Michael Murphy) is reluctantly on the case. Meanwhile, his teenage son Pete tries to get laid. Throw a mad scientist in here somewhere and we got ourselves a plot.

The murders start out as your typical stalk and slash type killings with all of them, with a few exceptions, being perpetrated against kids. We got a kid home alone. He finds some cigarettes. The lights go out. He gets knifed in the face (in beautiful silhouette). Eventually, things get weirder though. We got one girl stalked while she steps outside of a party. The killer forces her into a pool, she splashes around alerting other guests, and the killer flees. Then...he stops. Takes off his mask and reveals himself as (SPOILER) Pete's best friend. Ok, the weird kid's the killer. Big deal. Later, we see another killing. And another (one scene includes a levitating killer's point of view), and another. Each time the killer is revealed (SPOILER) to be a different kid. Kids killing kids using the ol' stalk and slash technique. Interesting concept.

Well, of course there's something much more sinister than just simply kids killing kids going on. It might involve the lab running tests on local high school kids, a lab run by a mad scientist, who's supposed to be dead. Note to parents: Labs run by mad scientists are probably not good places to send your children. I gotta be honest, I kinda liked this approach. I'm a sucker for hackneyed science in film. However, a part of me wishes they had just kept with the randomness of kids killing other kids. Random usually equals scarier. Hokey science equals Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Still, glad this thing was mostly played straight. Mostly, except for one scene.

That scene being the absolutely amazing costume party sequence I referenced earlier. Forget, for a second, about the flying nun who isn't "wearing any panties" and concentrate just on the synchronized dance scene. Pay attention to Batman (my favorite character in the whole movie and he doesn't even have a line!). It feels completely out of place (which is just one reason I loved it). The dance culminates at about the 2:33 mark. After that, you can stop watching (or, by all means, don't). And, you know what, the rest of the movie isn't too shabby either. We also got genre stalwart Louise Fletcher (Invaders from Mars the remake) looking drunk in a throw away part. I'm pretty sure you'll like this one.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hercules in the Haunted World (1961)

I've seen only a few Hercules pictures and, until now, none from the Italian beefcake sub genre. I guess Hercules was some Greek wrestler back during the times of mythical beasts and performance enhancing magic. From what little I can remember Hercules was fathered by a grizzly bear. After Herc was born, the bear threw his mother into outer space after which, Herc grabbed papa bear by the tail, twirled him around, and launched him through the stratosphere where various god's and shit took his frayed hide and used it to make Orion's belt (also, his loafers). Later, Herc became a world champion wrestler and all around Grecian idol posing for various magazine covers like "Going Greek" and "Playgirl". This, I'm pretty sure, is all just a legend.

Anyway, that great maestro of Italian horror, Mario Bava (Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, The Whip and The Body), decided to give a Hercules picture a shot. I got to say, this one isn't awful. We got plenty of signature Bava moments. Most notably, his use of color to enhance atmosphere. This is probably as cheap as movie's get so the guy had to navigate around these monetary limitations. For the most part, he did a good job. I liked the way the picture looked. The Hades (or "haunted world") scenes were obviously fake, but in such an over the top manner that they became interesting. Unfortunately, the story is pedestrian which isn't nearly good enough for a story about a half bear-half man oafish lout.

We got Hercules returning home from various adventures to learn that the woman he loves is under some kind of trance inducing spell. Christopher Lee plays the king of this particular realm. He plays it rather smarmily and, unfortunately, not with his own voice (Italian film = all voices dubbed). Apparently, Lee (King Minos or Lycos or something) has made a deal with the devil (or the Greek version of the devil) which grants him a kingdom and Herc's broad. Can't remember what the devil gets in return. Maybe Herc? So, Herc returns with his buddy and I think maybe an effeminate Moe from "The Three Stooges". They need to journey into the underworld to retrieve some golden apple. I think the golden apple assures that they can leave the underworld without having to give up their lives. Sounds like a moronic catch-22. Anyway, that's the task presented them.

Herc solves all problems by throwing rocks. His two buddies (after being separated from Herc) are attacked by some sort of rock monster who places them on torture devices and then has the most absurd stream of consciousness ranting I've yet heard come from a rock monster: "I am gonna stretch you out until you are as long as the table you lie on and then you will be dead as the rope which binds you and then I'm gonna tie you into a knot". Direct quote. Herc appears at the last minute and throws the rock monster against some other rocks. The rock monster costume was, shall we say, quaint?

Herc's favorite mode of transportation is tying a rope to a large rock (or boulder) and heaving it across a wide chasm so he and his buddies can shimmy across. He does this several times. So, anyway, I liked the gothic elements. The red and yellow haze in Hades effect, the narrow corridors, the copious amount of rocks. I enjoyed some of the hammy-ness. Only one scene really stuck out as anything original, however. It involved Herc standing atop a hill and heaving giant rocks at an advancing zombie army.

I got to say, I can't imagine that the humor came from Bava. Maybe I underestimate the guy. There is a scene at the end when the Moe character shows up with a new broad who seems to genuinely be interested in him. Until Herc's other buddy steps in and steals the broad away from him (I guess it's his wavy blond hair and "not-quite Herc sized" but still pretty good muscles). Moe threatens to drown himself in the ocean a fit of depression and struggles against the waves, is bashed by the surf, etc. Meanwhile, Herc and his own broad just laugh and then the movie ends. This picture is not pro-weakling is the message I suppose. Must be a product of the times. Regardless, I'm gonna go hit the gym.

I'm probably not gonna rush out to see any of the other Reg Park Hercules pictures. Apparently, he inspired Arnold Strong to get into bodybuilding. Strong later appeared in Hercules in New York ( might have to see that one) and later Conan The Barbarian where he was billed as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Hercules in the Haunted World is probably for Bava completists or nerds only.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ricco The Mean Machine (1973)

Ricco The Mean Machine is a weird title for this picture when you consider that the title character isn't really mean at all. I mean, here's a guy that goes away to prison for two years while the local mafia kingpin kills his father and steals his girlfriend. When Ricco finally gets out, he's got this laid back surfer dude type attitude about the whole thing. Upon first seeing his sister and her husband, they roll around on the ground laughing. His mom tries to hand him his father's gun in the hopes that he'll kill Don Vito (the aforementioned mafia kingpin)and avenge his father, but Ricco replies that he'll handle it his own way. His "way" could be cooler.

Starring as Ricco, we got the son of Robert Mitchum. Aside from his surfer hair cut, he looks just like his father. That's where the comparisons end. He's terrible in this thing, alternating between dazed looks and stilted laughter. His character hooks up with Barbara Bouchet, who plays a slutty counterfeitter and also the cousin of his stolen girlfriend. She looks great naked and seems like she'd be a lot of fun to hang out with.

My favorite character was probably Don Vito played by Arthur Kennedy, who looked familiar. This is a mobster who has built his empire on soap. Soap, which he exports across the world. Also, if you cross him you might get the shit kicked out of you by his henchman and dropped in a large vat of the stuff. If you get caught sleeping with his girl you might find your dick being cut off with a switchblade and shoved into your screaming mouth as you're dropped in the stuff. This actually happens and it's shockingly realistic. It's no surprise then that Don Vito can't stand his own product. At the very least, don't wash your face with it.

Anyway, this is a pretty good exploitation movie. We got a main character who sorta accomplishes shit by accident. I enjoyed the interview where Robert Mitchum's son talked about how he's a blackbelt in kenpo karate. You can't tell by watching this picture. The fight scenes are laughably bad. I counted three moments where Ricco would have been killed if not for the intervention of someone else. He also doesn't really think things through too well. He breaks into Don Vito's fortress to talk to his ex-girlfriend but didn't come up with an escape plan. Once again, he's saved by the smarts of someone else (in this case, Bouchet). So, he's not your typical badass I guess. Even after Vito has the rest of his family murdered (spoiler) all Ricco can think to do is sit out side Vito's front gate with a pistol ready to fire. I'm not sure if things are going to end well for Ricco.

So, it's enjoyable and you see a guy's penis snipped off and shoved into his mouth (balls first). If that's the kind of picture you want to see then look no further.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Killer Snakes (1975)

The warning label for The Killer Snakes states that it "contains extremely sick and disturbing scenes" and also that this is "not meant for most people". Boy, they weren't kidding. The Killer Snakes is one of the most exploitative pictures I've ever seen this side of XXX - the rating, not the picture (or The Sinful Dwarf). The picture opens with an abrupt black and white scene involving a young boy playing with snakes as his mother is smacked around for sexual gratification in the next room. Yet another boy with mother issues growing up to be weirdly perverted. It's that kind of picture. And more!

Shaw Brothers was like the Warner Brothers of China. They've got that classy logo (located on the window on the door of Shaw Studio offices). So, it's weird to see a picture of this ilk coming from them. We know about their kung fu stuff (Five Deadly Venoms, The One Armed Swordsman, etc). They also delved into dramas and comedies. Not many people are aware of their horror output and that includes me. I watched this thing with my jaw on the floor.

I don't know though. I liked it. We've got a lead character named Zihong who can't keep a job, can't get a girl, and is being constantly bullied. He lives in a basement apartment with holes in the walls and crumbling bricks. He's got his eyes on a pretty girl (Xiujung) who feels sympathy for him, but that's about it. Strangely enough, we actually feel sympathy for the guy even after he does some of the things he later does. This guy basically needs some friends. Well, all it takes is one injured snake slithering through a hole in his wall. The thing had its gall bladder removed (which have "overrated" healing powers, according to Zihong) so he takes it in, sews it up, and gives it love. The snake then tells it's friends and suddenly hundreds of snakes are living in his shit hole of an apartment, having a great time, doing his bidding, etc. "I've got so many friends", Zihong now exclaims.

This picture is like China's answer to Taxi Driver only instead of driving around in a cab this guy bosses around some snakes. Also, it was made two years earlier so I guess that makes Taxi Driver our answer to The Killer Snakes. At first, Zihong just uses the snakes for innocent stuff. You know, pranks and, when he puts a cobra in his pants and visits the prostitute that helped get him fired from his last job as a delivery boy. First he fucks her, then he has the snake kill her friends. Then he brings her back to his dungeon where he ties her up, strips off her clothes, and has his little scaly friend violate her to death. Yup, that's pretty much as innocent as it gets. You can imagine some of the other shit without me having to describe it, I hope.

The Killer Snakes is a sleazy journey into the underbelly of deviant human behavior. It left me feeling a little filthy to be honest. Especially the part with the gilla monsters. I signed on for killer snakes, but not that shit. This probably isn't movie night appropriate unless your guests are as fucked up as you are. The lead (some Chinese guy) is exceptional as Zihong. His love interest (Chinese gal) is adorable. Eventually, she falls into some danger and has to be saved...or, maybe avenged. Basically, the end is just a tragic free for all of snakes; we got cobras, pythons, bulls, boas. And, I'm sure there were some milk snakes thrown in there. Maybe an anaconda or two. Vipers maybe. I'm making this shit up as I go along. I know shit about snakes. I did find it interesting how they seemed to communicate with Zihong through a low hiss. These snakes are good actors.

Oh, and did I mention the nudity? We got tons of nudity. None of it very titilating. Mostly it's just the tied up and gagged while snakes bite their breasts and faces type of nudity. I didn't notice if there was a line at the end of the credits claiming that "no snakes were harmed during the making of this movie". I don't think there was which makes me wonder about the scene where the guy with the sword was chopping up snakes as they jumped at him. Oh yeah, these snakes jump. Well, I can't think of anything else to add for this one. I'm gonna go take a shower.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Red Sun (1972)

I guess the best thing I can say about this picture is it was serviceable. Serviceable doesn't really cut it, however, when your picture stars Charles Bronson and Toshiro Mifune. It also stars Alain Delon who I probably should know, but, after looking over his imdb page it turns out I don't. Ursula Andress is also in this thing and pretty attractive. She gets naked in this picture so I'm gonna change her name to Ursula Undress. See what I did there? Clever.

Anyway, it's been a couple weeks since I saw this one. If I'm gonna keep reviewing a movie a day during the week then I gotta pick something so this one wins out. I remember enjoying it. It takes place sometime in the late nineteenth century. A Japanese ambassador travels to the United States with a couple samurai guards accompanying him. This being the nineteenth century we can assume (and then have confirmed by watching the movie) that he takes a boat across the Pacific to California and then hops on a train to take him to Washington, D.C. Once there, he'll present the President (I don't know...Arthur or Garfield or something) with a ceremonial sword on behalf of the emperor. Oh yeah, and one of the Samurai's with him is Yojimobo, in the flesh.

Well, no one told these guys about the wild west 'cause as soon as they board the train a bunch of rough and tumble outlaws come on board with guns. Since guns are better than swords they steal the sword (maybe diamonds too, but I can't remember). One of Yojimbo's buddies doesn't like the idea of being disgraced so he goes after one of the bandits and gets shot dead (off screen). Oh, and two of the bandits are played by Delon and Bronson only Delon betrays Bronson and makes off with the sword (and maybe diamonds). This leaves Bronson to, reluctantly, team up with Yojimbo and pursue Delon. They have a time limit (couple weeks) after which Yojimbo will be forced to kill himself (seppuku). Plenty of time for some Rush Hour like hilarity. Oh, and Andress fits in here somewhere as Delon's lover who is also willing to whore herself out to Bronson as long as it benefits her somehow.

My favorite parts are the ones with Bronson and Mifune walking through the desert, in pursuit of Delon. Bronson creates such a likable character (sorry, forgot his name) that even though he'd kill Mifune if the opportunity came up we still root for him (not to kill Mifune, but to at least stay alive). He spends the first thirty minutes or so trying to get away. Mifune is pretty persistent. And, so is Bronson. Bronson keeps coming at Mifune who keeps beating him down. Bronson pushes Mifune off a mountain but he makes it back before Bronson's gone ten feet. Neither gives up. That's why we like them. Later, of course, they come to respect each other and ultimately become friends.

Unfortunately, while this picture has two guys that worked with Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa, it doesn't have anyone on the other side of the camera with Leone's or Kurosawa's sense of style. Which is why I labeled this thing "serviceable" earlier. The director worked on a couple of early James Bond pictures and then some other shit I never heard of. He's good, but not exactly an artist. Not too many beautiful wide shots and lots of poorly staged fights. Yojimbo fights an Indian at one point, one on one, so maybe the director is comparing the plight of the Indians to the plight of the Samurai. Sorry, Native Americans?

Anyway, it's a good one but if you want to see a movie with a similar theme and a better story I'd suggest Hell in the Pacific where Mifune plays a Japanese soldier during World War II marooned on an island with Lee Marvin. Mifune doesn't speak a word of English and the filmmakers don't bother translating, yet it's still a terrific performance. He's better there than here is what I'm getting at. So, I recommend this one as long as you lower your expectations.

Monday, March 15, 2010

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

Poor kid. I'm referring to Keith Carradine's nameless cowboy who drifts into the town of Presbyterian Church looking to lose his virginity and leaves (spoiler) as a corpse half submerged in an icy river. The picture's not really about him. He has maybe five minutes of actual screen time and, yet, from the moment he steps into the whorehouse until he is shot dead he brought an injection of life the picture was in need of. His cowboy is just a kid. A gullible (some might say dumb), innocent kid with a wide and goofy smile. He carries a gun, but, as he tells his eventual killer, "I couldn't hit nothin' with it". His death is more heartbreaking, and meaningful, than any in the picture. Finally, here, amidst all this dreariness, is a character we like. Everyone likes the kid. Even the whores he paid. When he attempts to leave town and buy some supplies he must cross a bridge to get to the store. On the other side, awaits a bored (previously seen shooting at a can in the river) gunman, also a kid, younger than Carradine. Any other Western would have presented Carradine's "aw-shucks" demeanor as just an act. Not this one. Nope, in Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller there are no heroes.

So, I got mixed feelings about this one. I'll be honest here. The only Altman I've seen are Popeye and Mash and I saw those when I was a kid. This picture opens with a gambler (that would be McCabe played by a nearly unrecognizable Warren Beatty) riding into town, winning some money, and then opening a whorehouse which is later managed by Julie Christie. Later, some men come into town looking to buy the whorehouse. McCabe refuses. Men react by hiring some gunmen to kill him (including the kid that killed Carradine). This being an Altman movie (I hear this is his style and have to concur after watching this), everything is naturalistic, we got long moments of muted conversation or even silences. The set design is wonderfully filthy (and therefore seems authentic) and we've got non period songs by the likes of Leonard Cohen. Lots of improvising on this picture I'm sure and, to be honest, some genuine boredom on the part of this viewer. Yeah, I'm calling myself out. I didn't appreciate this "masterpiece" quite as much as I'd hoped.

What Altman has done is present us a snow bound "wild west" type town completely devoid of heroism. Beatty is very good as McCabe but he's not exactly someone that lives by a code, unless it's the code of "do whatever it takes to stay alive". The picture doesn't round into form until the moment Carradine's cowboy is killed and then we have long scenes of McCabe awkwardly running from building to building desperately trying to escape being shot. He shoots the first gunmen he sees directly in the back so we know this guy is no Eastwood or John Wayne. He shoots the next guy he sees through a window and also in the back. McCabe is a coward but I guess Altman is saying that most of us would pull the same shit, and I can't disagree. Nobility has left Presbyterian Church. Hell, even the town minister threatens to shoot McCabe if he doesn't leave the "sanctuary" of his church. Guess he doesn't practice the parts of the bible about not turning your back on a fellow man. I haven't read it, but I'm sure there are parts like that in there.

Then the church burns as Julie Christie sits in an opium den. Wouldn't be surprised if Altman and his cast and crew partook (basing this statement on reputation...since I wasn't there). Anyway, this is a strange picture. I guess that ultimately I liked it. The beginning meanders too much for my tastes. Too much drifting in and out of conversations, too little focus. It's weird 'cause I'm a huge fan of Terrence Malick, who has a similar style often to the Nth degree, but I just had trouble getting into this one. However, the end establishes itself as a mini-masterpiece where McCabe struggles to survive amongst some drifting snow and Christie (oh yeah, she was Mrs Miller) continues to get high on Opium. Also, there was lots of nudity. So, I guess between the so-so beginning and the masterful ending let's just split the difference and call this one good.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sorcerer (1977)

William Friedkin's Sorcerer, a remake of Clouzot's Wages of Fear, is unabashedly a man's movie; made for men and about men doing manly things. A picture packed full of violence, explosions, endless fires, truck driving, dynamite, sweat, dirt, etc. Women need not apply. The only woman that makes an appearance in this thing is a bride at a wedding...and she's got a black eye. So, take that for what it's worth. This is not really a good date movie. It is, however, every bit the masterpiece Wages of Fear is. I'd wager it's even a bit better.

The picture spends it's first hour character building. We're introduced to four criminals, notably Scanlan (Roy Scheider) and Victor (Bruno Cremer). As the movie begins, they're spread throughout the world engaged in a variety of nefarious activities; bombing buildings, stealing from high stakes bingo games, gun fights, car chases, etc. Eventually, unaware of each others existence, they converge in a small Venezuelan town, a town controlled by a major oil conglomerate. When an oil well erupts in flames 200 hundred miles away, it's determined that the only way to put out the fire is to dynamite it. Trouble is, the only dynamite within thousands of miles is in the town (200 miles away). Even more troubling, the dynamite is sweating nitroglycerin. One little nudge could set it off. As one character points out, "We can barely move this shit 10 feet and you want us to move it two hundred miles!?" When money is burning, what choice does one have?

A plan is established. Load the boxes of volatile dynamite onto two trucks and drive to the oil site. Who would be stupid enough to undertake such a task? If only we knew of some criminals who, with the law closing in, might want a way out of town. Also, twenty thousand dollars each. At the risk of life and limb. They load the boxes in the trucks and pack them in sand to keep them from shifting. Scanlan takes one truck, Bruno the other. Each with a co-pilot to guide them through the excessively rough terrain, of which there is plenty.

Shit man, this is as tense a picture as I've seen (and I've seen Wages of Fear). Along the way, these guys encounter vicious storms, blissfully unaware natives, hijackers, treacherous bridges (including a scene on a rope suspension bridge that had me completely on edge, knuckles whitening - the thing didn't look like it could hold me, let alone a 2 ton truck) pot holes, mountains, roads encroached upon by a seemingly unending rainforest, etc. Friedkin periodically treats us to shots of the dynamite, as they shift in the sand or collect rainwater from the storms. He's at the top of his game.

Friedkin has given us some of the greatest car chases in motion pictures (The French Connection, To Live and Die in L.A.) What he does here is just as amazing, if a little different. He presents us with two trucks, often moving at a snails pace, and yet it's as intense and exciting as anything he's ever filmed. We still get the traditional vehicle's eye view, but the stakes have never been this high.

Scheider and Cremer are in excellent form as the two drivers, both saying more with their faces than they ever could with words. Pay particularly close attention to a scene near the end where the camera hold's Scheider's face for an extended moment; sweat and grime covered, unshaven, crooked frown. Yet his eyes say all we need to know.

How the fuck did this movie fail? It nearly derailed Friedkin's career. A box office and critical flop. Today it's something else...and more than deserving of the proper treatment. Get this fucking thing on Criterion now (and no, not as a supplement to Wages of Fear). The current DVD treatment is piss poor, not even widescreen. The images are beautiful, the action extraordinary. At times, I felt like I was watching a Herzog film with Scheider as Aguirre. This one's not to be missed. Like Wages of Fear, Sorcerer ends in irony...only, none of that hoity-toity French kind. Nope, it's a good, old fashioned, American brand of irony.

p.s. I'm trying to review a movie every weekday. this one counts as friday.

The Roost (2005)

I was pretty hard on Ti West's House of the Devil a while back. Said I liked the look of the film enough to maybe give the guy another chance. Man, I'm glad I did because The Roost is pretty fucking great. Like House, The Roost is heavy on atmospherics. Unlike House, however, most of the characters were likable, and the story actually seemed like it was heading somewhere. Basically, I gave a fuck.

In the picture's only misfire, the story is structured around a late night horror program starring Tom Noonan (House of the Devil, Manhunter) as some sort of crypt keeper. Noonan introduces the tale with a complete lack of relish (which is something Noonan probably couldn't muster anyway). He periodically interrupts the tale to methodically babble on about some shit before returning us to what we actually give a shit about. I liked the idea of this much more than the execution. The best I can say about the horror show stuff is it's in black and white. This shit might work better if this were an anthology film. My one nitpick aside, let's move on.

The real movie concerns four friends driving through the middle of nowhere (of course) to attend a wedding. It's nighttime. It's Halloween. They're already late. I loved the lighting of these scenes, shot entirely in the little car, lit in a reddish hue, the two characters in the front seat arguing over being lost while a horror program softly warbles from the radio.

Cut to an old couple, living on a farm, jumping into their truck to head out for a night on the town (or maybe the old country buffet. Whatever, doesn't really matter). The old man forgets to lock the barn, heads on down (the distance from the barn to the house seems unnaturally far) and disappears. After a while, the wife follows. Back to the four friends who, after crossing a creepy bridge, drive into a ditch. Hmmm, we just saw an old farmhouse back down the road. Maybe we can call a tow truck there? Let's just ignore the creepy barn in the background. And, why the fuck don't we get cell phone service out here? Is that a bat I just saw?

So, it's a classic set up to a horror movie. The Roost takes it's time. At only 80 minutes it almost takes too much time. The kids go to the house. They separate. A cop shows up, but he's not as much help as they'd like. And, then there's the barn. What's in the barn? West shows a deft hand at creating a highly stylized world (as he did in House of the Devil). His shots are framed just right. His use of colors is masterful (I'm thinking he's studied his Bava). It almost doesn't matter what's in the barn. Almost. Thankfully, we find out.

While not on the level of Evil Dead, The Roost is probably only a notch or two below. I don't want to spoil anything but let's just say we see the old couple again and they're still hungry. I'm guessing they didn't make it to the buffet. Also, there are bats. Big ones with sharp teeth. The special effects are not the film's strong suit, but luckily West knows when not to go into overkill. He uses them subtly. This thing's more about the characters and slowly building dread anyway. Pay attention and you'll catch the Larry Fessenden (Session 9) cameo. As disappointed as I was with House of the Devil, I didn't expect much from this thing. I'm usually not this thrilled when I'm wrong.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Spider Baby (1968)

Spider Baby (or, The Maddest Story Every Told) is an oddity. A cult film if there ever was one, complete with a bizarre opening title song, performed by Lon "wolfman" Chaney Jr., star of the film. The picture concerns the Merrye family; which, as the story begins, consists of a trio of inbred "children" (they look to be in their 20s) and their butler, Bruno (Chaney jr). The children are Virginia (who thinks of herself as a spider), Elizabeth (I guess the ringleader), and Ralph (sexually repressed). Together, they live in the old family house, isolated from general society, with Bruno, who takes care of them as an oath to their long dead father (who, by coincidence, still rests in an upstairs bedroom). Unfortunately, the children suffer from a rare disease, a disease so rare that they're the first to have it, dubbed "Merrye syndrome", described as a "progressive regression" of the brain which culminates in deformity (check out the people under the stairs).

Into this mess, arrives a money grubbing aunt looking to cash in on the family fortune, a hitler moustached lawyer and his secretary, and a sincere uncle looking to do what's best for the children, maybe get drunk, and hopefully score with the secretary. This isn't going to end well for anyone.

I tried watching this thing drunk a while back and let me tell you, it plays much better sober. There's too much going on to even think about following any of this loopy shit inebriated. When we're first introduced to Virginia, she's shown catching a mailman in her "web" and slicing off his ear with her "stingers". The picture has a strange sense about it. It's not scary, not overly funny (although it will induce chuckles...maybe a smirk or two), not gory, etc. It is deranged. Clearly having borrowed a thing or two from Psycho (the house, the skeletal parent in the bedroom), Spider Baby can also, most surely, be considered an influence on another classic horror picture, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. We got a family of cannibalistic inbreds living in the middle of nowhere. We got a classic dinner scene (The dinner scene in Spider Baby provides the funniest moment of the film; it involves salad). And, we got a family living within their own sense of normalcy. Which, is to say completely fucking abnormal.

Anyway, it's an interesting picture. Look for Sid Haig (looking Michael Berryman-esque) as Ralph, who is constantly showing up hiding in the dumbwaiter when he isn't sniffing panties or peeping in windows. It's a great, and silent, portrayal. We actually kind of feel for the guy. Lon Chaney jr is great, and likely drunk, as the loyal butler. Quinn Redeker is blissfully brilliant as Uncle Peter who, even as he's being tied in Virginia's "web" and about to be subjected to her "stingers", is perfectly sure there's a logical explanation for all of this. Redecker also has a great scene where he and the lawyer's secretary drive around town, after a night of binge drinking, looking for a hotel (all have "no vacancies" signs), only to, of course, end up back at the Merrye house for what promises to be a rousing climax.

Spider Baby isn't for everyone. It is, after all, a cult film. If you have an open mind, enjoy some macabre shit that doesn't take itself too seriously, might even laugh at itself, by all means, give this one a shot. Usually, I don't go for the camp shit, but this one felt like it was played straight enough. Not too much winking at the camera, something I have a low tolerance for. Well, that's all I got at the moment. Thanks.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Brown's Requiem (1998)

I've been a fan of James Ellroy for probably about fifteen years so it was a shock to find an adaptation of his work that I didn't know existed, made around the same time that my fandom began. And, I'm happy to say, as an Ellroy picture, this one holds it's own with the likes of Cop (based on "Blood on the Moon"). It's no LA Confidential, but it's well ahead of shit like The Black Dahlia (as a movie it's sorta fun, but as an adaptation it's god awful).

Based on the novel of the same name (Ellroy's first I believe), "Brown's Requiem" (the novel) is Ellroy, probably too closely, aping the noir of Raymond Chandler. This is before he found his own bat-shit staccato voice. We got the down on his luck private eye (as well as disgraced former beat cop, repo man, alcoholic, misogynist, etc) Fritz Brown operating in, and around, Los Angeles. As the film begins he is repossessing a car when the owner comes running out with a baseball bat. This kind of thing is all too typical for Brown so he turns to private dicking to lighten things up a bit. One of his first cases involves a fat caddy named "fat dog" (Michael Sasso) who wants Brown to look into the dalliances of his sister, Jane Baker (Selma Blair), who is apparently getting boffed by some tycoon named Solly K (Harold Gould). Solly happens to be old enough to be Jane's grandfather. At first, fat dog just wants to know the nature of the relationship. In typical noir fashion things are never simple. More shit's involved. We got some welfare check scam involving Solly K and the internal affairs cop (Brion James) that got Brown booted from the force. We got people who aren't what they seem, we got innocent dames that ain't so innocent, we got skeleton's in Brown's closet. Etc.

For being a picture I didn't even know existed for the last dozen or so years I gotta say I was impressed. Set apparently in the 90s, the filmmakers (led by director Jason Freeland) did a good job of creating a sort of timelessness to the thing. The score was jazzy, but a subtle type of jazz. The voice over by Rooker, seemed right from Ellroy's text (though I'm too lazy to verify this or not...the book is buried somewhere on my shelf and I forgot to take notes). Peopled throughout are some pretty good character actors like Brad Dourif (as a cancer ridden informant) and the guy that played Jigsaw (as a hardass). We also got one of the actor's from "Law & Order" as a hard talkin detective. Also, Kevin Corrigan (Goodfellas, The Departed, other stuff) makes an appearence as Brown's tragically alcoholic nephew.

Through all this shit is Michael Rooker in probably his best role after Henry. The guy just shows up and we believe him. He's a hard man, but not all that tough. He's reluctant which is why he always asks for the money up front. He's not the brightest bulb but he's smart enough when he needs to be. Rooker shines in the part and manages to create a man who starts out broken, patches himself up a bit, seems to be heading for some sort of redemption, etc. Whether he gets there, I'll leave that for you to decide. It's an interesting arc.

So, this is a good one. I love it when a movie succeeds despite it's budgetary limitations. This one succeeds. The violence that occurs here occurs sparingly and in short bursts. That's appropriate. Prolonged shootouts rarely happen. Bullets are too quick for that. If you're a fan of Ellroy, or film noir, Michael Rooker, or maybe even Selma Blair (sorry, I think the most we see is her in her bra and panties. wait....c'mon, she's playing a sixteen year old. Sickos!) then give this one a shot.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Revisiting Jacob's Ladder after all these years, a couple things occurred to me. First, shit, I bet this thing, with it's flash forwards and flash sideways, inspired "Lost" (at least a little). And, second this might be the biggest downer of a mind fuck I've ever seen. Most mind fucks end and you just want to talk about the experience (good or bad), attempt to put the puzzle together in reverse, whatever. This one ended and I just wanted to crawl into bed and think of ways to stave off my own demons. This is not a feel good experience.

But it is an experience worth experiencing. Directed by Adrian Lyne (Fatal Attraction) and starring Tim Robbins (Bull Durham), Jacob's Ladder is the warped tale of an American soldier (Robbins) wounded during a horrific battle in Vietnam and shipped back to the states (to a city that vaguely resembles 1970s New York City) where, despite having a doctorate in something, he becomes a postal worker (no shame there - trading in one uniform for another). His name is....well....Jacob. One night, on his way home (it's very late), he falls asleep on the train while reading a novel (I'm sure the novel is significant, but I forgot to check what it was), and misses his stop. He finally gets off at a deserted station, discovers he's locked in. On the other side of the tracks is an exit that appears open. He begins to cross, steps in a deep puddle, dances in front of an oncoming train while blinded by the lights, and finally dives to safety as weird faces stare down at him from the windows of the train that doesn't even stop. Shit gets even weirder from there. Jacob has a girlfriend (Elizabeth Pena) and apparently an ex-wife and three boys, one of whom (MacCauley Culkin) was killed in an accident. Anyway, Jacob's life seems to be spiralling from this point on. His doctor gets blown up in his car. Someone seems to be following him. He sees demons everywhere he goes. Heads do this weird jittery thing in front of him. His girlfriend looks like she's getting fucked from behind at this party by a guy with a tail. According to a fortune teller his lifeline indicates he's already dead. Seems like the government may have subjected his platoon to some sort of mind altering drugs they had the good graces to test on monkeys first ('cept the monkeys tore each other to shreds as a result). Old war buddy gets blown up in car. More demon shit. And, etc.

Then, Jacob gets sick (fever of 106) and is submerged in ice water. When he comes to he is living with his ex wife Sarah and says all that other shit was a dream and now we don't know what to believe. And then he wakes up again and is back with Pena. This bullshit is getting confusing. The picture is somber. Lots of quiet moments, subtle scoring, interrupted by the periodic demon shriek type of sound effect. You know, the jarringly loud sound effect meant to wake you if you've fallen asleep (which, I gotta be honest, might happen). Having said all this, I really really like this picture and was most likely blown away by it on my first viewing. The impact is lessened slightly by the fact that I know where it's all heading.

We got probably the best performance of Tim Robbin's career. He's such a sad sack shaggy dog in this thing. Can't help but feel sorry for the guy. We got a terrific Elizabeth Pena as his girlfriend/possible hallucination (spoiler?). We got a funny Danny Aiello as Robbin's wacko chiropractor. Also, early performances from Ving Rhames, Eriq La Salle, and Jason Alexander (as an asshole lawyer). The performances, the visuals, the sounds, the writing all make this thing worth watching on repeat viewings, long after the twist has been revealed. Which I'm gonna do here, so be warned if you haven't seen the thing. It's twenty years old so I'm not gonna feel bad. Holy shit, Jacob's Ladder is twenty years old??? That makes me feel fucking old. Depressingly so. Looks like I'm not that far from the ol' ladder myself.

Well dip shits (just kidding, I love you) the movie is called Jacob's Ladder which if you know your bible is like the ladder to heaven or something. I figured it was a metaphor or some shit, but nope they actually are being literal here. See, Jacob never made it home from Vietnam. Apparently, he was bayonnetted by one of his own mind altered men (if we are to believe this aspect of the story) and then died in a bivouac after fever dreaming this entire picture. Were the scenes with his ex wife actually flash backs? Did he really have kids? I think the whole damned thing was made up. So, anyway, at the end, he realizes that demons were showing up to mess with him until he was ready to move on (to the afterlife) which point, an angel(s) will show up to bring him home (i.e. up some stairs and into a bright light led by Culkin who I guess is the angel or something). I guess I was supposed to be happy for the guy, getting to go into heaven and shit, but I was more depressed for him since he was dead and fought the whole movie to come to his senses only to realize at the end that it didn't really matter. Dead. Kaput. The end.

Still, good movie.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Shriek of the Mutilated (1974)

Shriek of the Mutilated is several different kinds of movies rolled into one. Firstly, it's a Yeti picture, intended to capitalize on the big foot craze of the early 70s. Secondly, it's a satanic horror picture. Thirdly, it's a cannibal picture. Fourthly, it's a harrowing portrait of domestic abuse brought on by alcoholism. Shot somewhere in New York state on a less-than shoestring budget, I'm having a hard time imagining this thing eliciting shrieks from the drive-in audiences of the time. Laughter? Perhaps.

Enjoyable on it's own, very low, level, Shriek is the story of a college professor who coerces some of his students to go on a weekend expedition into the wilds of New Jersey (I think...actually, I spent the entire first half thinking they were trying to pass this shit off as Tibet), specifically Boot Island, to search for the ever elusive Yeti that apparently got trapped there when an ice bridge melted. Once on the Island, the kids are introduced to a Doctor (his name eludes me) who lives there along with his Native American servant (whose tongue was conveniently misplaced). During the weekend they go out, venture off alone, get eaten by a Yeti, etc.

However, before any of this shit goes down, back on the mainland, we are introduced to a former partner of the professor (another name that eludes me). This guy was the only survivor of the previous expedition. Now, he's a drunkard and a wife beater. In an opening scene, he slits his wife's throat with an electric carving knife and then proceeds to take a bath. His wife, not yet dead, crawls to the bathtub dragging along a plugged-in toaster. "Holy shit, this picture rules" was my reaction too.

Anyway, about this Yeti. It's a pathetic costume. Made more pathetic by the fact that the guy in the costume is barely 5' in high heels. So (SPOILER)...clearly the filmmakers decided it could never convince an audience. They rewrote the script. Made the whole weekend a ploy to lure unsuspecting students into the wild where they could be murdered and cannibalized all in the name of satanic ritual. See, the "Yeti" is actually the doctor in costume! Even the town sheriff is in on this shit. In my opinion, the filmmakers would have been better off going with the original script and just showing less of the Yeti, but what do I know? Anyway, this is not a good movie but it's still way better than the Overrated, boring, time waster that is The Legend of Boggy Creek. If you enjoy awful characterizations, unconvincing gore, horribly dim film quality, barely any nudity (none that I can remember), and a 5' Yeti that isn't even a fucking Yeti, than look no further.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dinosaurus! (1960)

Irvin Yeaworth's follow up to The Blob is a hilariously inappropriate mash up of Godzilla meets King Kong meets "Gilligan's Island". This son of a bitch, with it's endearingly lousy special effects and horrendously offensive view of women (and cavemen, I guess), was dated the moment if fell off the assembly line. Here's the story: An American engineer, while building a harbor off a tropical island using dynamite, uncovers a frozen Brontosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a caveman. He leaves them in the care of his "best" man overnight while they thaw out (don't ask how they were found frozen in the first place), only they're struck by lightning and brought back to life. "Best" man is eaten in an egregiously unconvincing scene. Dinosaurs roam the island. T-rex eats people. Brontosaurus befriends little boy. Caveman acts like headhunter from Gilligan's Isle (in wide eyed goofiness only, not by the act of placing people in bubbling cauldron's filled with oversized veggies). Fuck man, I had a blast with this piece of shit.

This picture really doesn't do females many favors. The character of Betty Piper, and love interest for the American hero, exhibits many womanly qualities. First, she's a moron. Prone to motor boating in the vicinity of dynamite blasts and then diving into the water looking for month old canisters or some shit. Of course, this requires a man swimming out, risking his own hide, to rescue the dumb broad. Second, she assumes all cavemen to be maniacal rapists. After this particular neanderthal saves her dumb ass from the T-Rex, she tries to lull him to sleep with a caveman lullaby so that she can escape with her hide untapped. Personally, I think the guy deserved a nice hj for his troubles.

So, basically we got 3 prehistoric creatures roaming around a tropical island causing all sorts of mayhem. Eventually, the Brontosaurus, the caveman, the American, the little boy, and the woman (who screams helplessly in the background) team up to take on the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Things happen. People die. Some asshole native that thinks he owns the island (and subsequently the caveman apparently) might be killed under falling rocks. Lastly, we have the American, in a bucket loader, battling the T-Rex, a scene later homaged in the mini-dino (that's little dinosaurs, folks) classic Carnosaur. Speaking of homaged scenes, check out the T-Rex eying the busload of tourists (Jurassic Park). The effects are of the stop motion variety and so automatically earn the love of this reviewer. The stories a joke but, hell man, that's half the fun. Check this one out!