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Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)
Rote and By-The-Numbers, But I Enjoyed It For What It Is
There is zero new cinematic ground broken here. It is an almost near regurgitation of its predecessor. It pleases its audience and does not challenge it in the least. But it presses all the buttons it's supposed to press.
The dialog is loaded with the worst clichés ("He's right behind me isn't he," "In English, please") but you can say that about many Hollywood wannabe blockbusters. The action is exciting but surprises are few and far between. The acting is serviceable from mostly forgettable performers...except Goldblum and Judd Hirsch. Good to see Bill Pullman again, but even he seemed to be just punching the clock.
In spite of all these qualities, it does what it says on the tin, as they say in the UK. It's an alien invasion action movie. There will be relatively little insight into the human condition, and relatively massive amounts of CGI footage of spaceships blowing things up. If you know that going in, and just eat your popcorn and enjoy the ride without thinking too much about why the characters are doing what their doing (the characters sure don't seem to be doing that) then you should have an enjoyable if slight experience.
Plan 9 (2015)
It Sounded Like A Good Idea At The Time
An update of Plan Nine From Outer Space for the post-modern age. It was a good idea. An idea that even I had considered at one point. Add in modern effects, Romero style zombies, extra low budget gore, a few boobs, military that attack and murder the citizens instead of swooping in to save the day. So why is it so...meh?
As far as the actors, Brian Krause and Sara Eshleman were fine. I like Mister Lobo even if he was a bit obnoxious. Hell, I probably like him because he's obnoxious. But the wink-wink meta commentary is a bit played out by now. You name the town Nilbog? A guy's wearing a Stephen King t-shirt? Mr. Lobo is acting in a remake of Plan 9, playing Criswell, but he's not really Criswell?
It's a bit too meta. You have characters commenting on the action, other movies, and what point in the screenplay we're at.
There are, of course, call backs to various other movies including Night of the Living Dead, The Mist/The Slime People and Night of the Creeps. But the one that really stuck in my mind was Robert Rodriguez' Planet Terror, which was itself already a commentary on various zombie films. The feel is really close, similar lighting effects, you have the element of the military attacking people, and you even have the female lead, Sarah Eshleman, a petite blond scientist in a white lab coat, a dead ringer for Marley Shelton in Planet Terror, a petite blond doctor in a white lab coat.
In spite of all this, the movie is neither good enough to be excellent nor bad enough to be laughably enjoyable. It just sits somewhere in the middle.
If you want a really well-written film that's a fun commentary on zombies and zombie flicks, Sean of the Dead or Zombieland are there for you. The remake of Plan 9 is a must-see only for Ed Wood completists.
Samurai Cop (1991)
The Legend Is True...
I guess I was behind the curve on finding out about this messterpiece, but about a year ago I was clued in and have seen it several times since, as well as seeing the Kickstarter fueled Samurai Cop 2 in its theatrical run, no less.
But let's get back to the original. A highly incompetent Lethal Weapon ripoff mixed with a ninja film, this was barely released direct to video in 1991 and thereafter floundered in obscurity. It may have actually gotten a theatrical release in some lesser nation; I know there was a movie poster from Poland which served as the basis for the first DVD cover. Years later, some hipsters dug it up and thanks to the internet, it developed a well-deserved and appreciative dedicated cult fandom.
Although plagued with nonsensical writing, bad acting, non-existent direction, hack-job editing and video-game level musical score, Samurai Cop is actually a hilarious entertainment experience, unlike the even worse action/exploitation flick also made by an Iranian immigrant, the diabolical Dangerous Men. Where Dangerous Men is filthy, difficult to watch and depressing as hell, Samurai Cop is rollicking, goofy and insane.
A lot of this appeal is due to the good will engendered by the two leads, Matt Hannon and Mark Fraser, who ended up doing very little after this film, career-wise, which is a shame.
Half the script makes no sense as it is an impression of American films and American culture written by an outsider, English-as-a- Second-Language auteur, director Amir Shervan. Lead actor Hannon wears a cheap ladies' wig through much of the film as he had gone off during a break and cut his hair short (to be fair, Shervan told him the film was done and called him to come back for more shooting about six months later).
Special effects are bargain basement, fight choreography is nearly non-existent, and the Japanese gang with only one Japanese person in it must be seen to be believed. At this point you probably don't need my recommendation to go see this as the film's reputation for hilarity is probably up there next to Tommy Wiseau's The Room by now. I'd even recommend repeat viewings as there's probably more laughs to be mined after the first go round. See it before you get shipped back to Tokyo in a garbage bag for fertilizer!
Dangerous Men (2005)
It's No Samurai Cop...
This is one of the worst films I have seen. Not good. Not "bad good." Not "so bad it's good." Just bad. Not quite as bad as The Creeping Terror, Monster-A-Go-Go or The Guy From Harlem, but right up there as one of the premiere entries in the hall of amateurishness.
Unlike in something like Samurai Cop, which has a light tone and jokes in spite of (or more accurately, probably because of) its status as a low budget Lethal Weapon ripoff, Dangerous Men doesn't have any intentional humor (except for maybe the naked guy covering himself up with tree branches) and is trying to be the next Death Wish. Only it fails so miserably on all accounts, it makes Ed Wood look like David Lean.
There is really nothing to recommend it. The writing and directing are horrible. The actors are all painful to look at. Segments shot 20 years apart mean suddenly we're back in 1982, oops no wait, we jumped forward again. The story construction is abysmal and makes no sense, since segments shot decades apart were attempted to be stitched together into a single story (hackmeister Al Adamson was famous for doing this, but at least his movies weren't shot 20 years apart!). The sex scenes are not sexy. And that MUSIC! Not since Mesa of Lost Women has there been a more repetitive, annoying soundtrack. At least that wasn't composed on a Casio keyboard bought on lay-away from Sam Ash Music, like this piece of tripe.
When you're treated to an opening credit sequence promising one person as writer, producer, director, editor, composer, art director and costume designer (at least he didn't make himself the lead actor), you know you're in for trouble. I didn't heed the warning, and I paid the price. Please heed my warning. Unless you are the most masochistic consumer of z-grade film atrocities imaginable, please stay away from DANGEROUS MEN.
Didn't Believe One Second Of It
Hackneyed, overcooked screenplay that showcases not real people, but memes stolen from other, better movies. Not credible hogwash where things happen that can't happen in real life, but only in Hollywoodland. Not a story, but a collection of clichés done hundreds of times before, and done better each time.
If no other reason, naming your protagonist in your boxing movie "Hope" when the cliché "Great White Hope" has been around the boxing world since my grandfather was watching bouts. That right there should be an automatic disqualification. That just slaps the audience in the face with the idea that you think they're stupid.
Weird directing choices with distracting use of odd close-ups that make no sense.
Acting choices that emphasize the pre-fab, cardboard cutout nature of the characters.
Overbearing soundtrack which is annoying.
I'm only giving it a 2 instead of a one since the Cinematographer did an okay job.
The Signal (2014)
Stabs The Audience in the Back
I wasn't sure what the "mindblowing" twist was gong to turn out to be exactly, but I immediately sniffed out that whatever was going on wasn't real and was either a dream or a computer simulation of some kind.
The three leads are whiny and terrible people. I didn't care one whit about their fates, in fact I wanted Fishburne to gun them down in cold blood.
Maybe I've just seen too many movies like this too many times, but this whole concept is threadbare and PLAYED OUT.
This was a close second to the film Identity for a hateful waste of time. The one advantage in my view is that this film had a low budget, so at least it didn't it waste as much money as Identity did creating a final product that aggravates all who view it.
Don't answer The Signal.
Record City (1977)
"Car Wash" in a record store. "The Gong Show" meets "Empire Records." The fever dream of a cocaine-riddled comedy writer. The Seventies in concentrated form. "Record City" is all of these things and many more.
It's certainly no one-man play here, as the cast features every character actor and comedian in Hollywood that wasn't doing anything that week, along with other assorted Seventies pop culture flotsam like Rick Dees, Kinky Friedman, and that guy from that show, you know the one. (I guess The Real Don Steele wasn't available?)
Record City is an assault on good taste and humor, all captured on 2 inch videotape and transferred to film for editing. (Exact reverse of how it's done these days.) I guess the only people missing from this parade of spandex and glitter were Mason Reese, Scatman Crothers and Sigmund The Sea Monster. (Kids, Google or ask your grandparents about that...or for that matter what a record store is...)
When not marveling at the paper thin plot, stretched to the breaking point by the inclusion of way too many characters, hell, way too many protagonists, you'll be gobsmacked at the by-this-time cringe-worthy jokes featuring the (not) wonderful worlds of casual racism, sexism, homophobia (that's pure gold for the writer, apparently, since he keeps coming back to that gag as well as being-hit-in-the-nuts humor) and misogyny. If the jokes aren't headache inducing enough, your eyes will have to adjust to not only Seventies street fashions, but Seventies Vegas-style stage costumes as well. And, oh yeah, the pseudo-Nazi outfit worn by Jeff Altman, who has about three lines, playing second fiddle to freaking Rick Dees and his mock Wolfman Jack as a gorilla shtick.
Record City captures a moment in time long gone, and one which will never return. Thank God. Approach with caution, and then only from the perspective of an anthropologist visiting some long-thought vanished ancient culture whose ways have become lost to the modern world.
Isaac Your Bartender wins the talent contest.
Extremely Valuable and Gripping Viewing
I moved to Hollywood in 1989. My first experience with Scientology rank-and-file was seeing crowds of Sea Org teenagers milling about Hollywood Boulevard in their fake naval uniforms. I was like, what is this? The Navy docked in port? Uh, no, the port's 25 miles away. Halloween is two weeks away, so what is the costume party all about? Scientology had a lot more members then, so there were dozens of these people wandering around, trying to look important and accomplished. All of them probably under 20 years old. They all looked like children playing dress up. I just smirked and shook my head. It was a combination of hatred and sadness that I felt for these poor children. Many times later on, passing the by the Scientology "Testing Center," I got hit up on the sidewalk for a free "personality test," or maybe it was a "stress test" by that point, I can't remember. I took one look at the zombie-like girl with the plastered smile, and just laughed. I wanted to tell her, I see right through your lousy sales technique. That smile is not real. You're miserable. You're trying to sell books and register new members and are failing miserably. I wish I could have helped her. I wish I could have told her, you know, it's okay to be grumpy. It's okay not to smile 100& of the time. We're all humans and we have emotions. That's just how it is. I can see somebody being grumpy especially doing the job that you're doing. You think Scientology works somehow? You're trying to audit away your emotions? That means you're attempting to audit away your humanity.
Years later, I started running into several books laying bare the psychosis of L. Ron Hubbard and his army (sorry, navy) of hypnotized, brainwashed robots. Then I started to get mad. Mad that this organized fraud mafia masquerading as a religion existed and there was apparently no way anyone could prosecute them for their crimes. Then, when the internet became a thing, the word began to spread far and wide about the ongoing criminal activities of Scientology. Human trafficking, kidnapping, slave labor, espionage, wholesale fraud, negligent homicide.
With Going Clear, the true facts about Scientology are going to be revealed to the public at large. Many people watch HBO. The scales are going to fall from their eyes. So many people in the public probably don't think much about Scientology, and if they do, they think of it as that wacky alien worshipping, e-meter using religion that Tom Cruise belongs to. This film will change that perception. There are a lot of shocking facts here, and Oscar winning documentary film director Alex Gibney delivers them in a stunning presentation. The film just flew by. I was on the edge of my seat for a lot of it, and I knew most of the story.
Just to add, as a long time Scientology watcher (I have never been a member, but living in the proximity of their facilities for years I can't help but see them around from time to time), very little of this was new information to me. But the way that Gibney presents things using the language of film is powerful and engrossing. For people not versed in the subject, this is a fantastic primer on the madness that is Scientology. The approach of having people tell their personal stories, mixed in with archival footage, really humanizes the film.
Gibney has a lot of ground to cover. He takes a look at the life story of L. Ron Hubbard, a lot of his lies and crimes, the founding and rise of the Church of Scientology, Hubbard's death and the dictatorship since that time of one David Miscavige. The film also explicitly calls out the two highest profile Scientologists, John Travolta and Tom Cruise, and accuses them of culpability in the large range of abuses that the Church perpetrates on their low level staff, who get paid 60 cents an hour.
There are just so many bizarre tales, wacky stories, unbelievable occurrences, that a two hour movie is not enough. (Would you like to hear about the time that Scientology tried to take over the government of Morocco?) But it is a stunning introduction that touches on a majority of the important points. The life of L. Ron Hubbard alone could be great material for a lengthy TV series lasting several seasons about the long strange life of a sociopath, at least as watchable as Breaking Bad if not more so, except the stories would all be true events that actually happened.
If you are one of those people that dismiss Scientology as just a bunch of harmless idiots, I urge you to watch this film and get the real story of what a dangerous, power mad organization Scientology really is. You won't regret spending the two hours.
Inherent Vice (2014)
(The Big Lebowski + Chinatown) x (Pynchon + Anderson) = Awesome
Thomas Pynchon and Paul Thomas Anderson are a match made in filmmaking heaven. Both work on sprawling canvasses with large cohorts of quirky, well-defined characters. Both have used Los Angeles as a setting, and both know its cultural landscape like the backs of their hands.
There's a reason why nobody has made a film adaptation of a Pynchon novel until now. Inherent Vice is one of his shorter, more accessible works, but no less creative, incisive or dense than his longer novels. (If anyone wanted to film V, or Gravity's Rainbow, or Mason and Dixon, a mini-series on HBO lasting 20 or 30 hours would probably be the appropriate format these days. His other short novel, The Crying of Lot 49, would be a great follow-up to this film; another tall tale set in the hills and valleys of Southern California, taking in the defense industry, the police, DaVinci code type machinations decades before The Da Vinci Code, and the entertainment machine.)
Here, Joaquin Phoenix has to carry the entire film on his stoned, hairy shoulders, and he does not disappoint. Perhaps too easy a comparison, but Jeff Bridges as The Dude in the Big Lebowski just kept popping into my mind. His Doc Sportello has the distinct advantage in his profession of being constantly underestimated by the goons and crooks around him. Josh Brolin as failed actor, LAPD outcast and flatopped frenemy Bigfoot just can't seem to crush Sportello under his giant shoe.
So many other great performers populate this film that come and go in a flash. I wanted to see a lot of more of Marty Short, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro and Eric Roberts. But leaving the audience wanting more is always a much better stance than the characters overstaying their welcome.
To those who complain about there being too little plot, or even, no plot at all, I must say, you didn't really get it. There is a Hero's Journey here. Doc is given a mission, and does go on a quest of Odyssean proportions. On this Journey, he encounters all kinds of monsters and discovers the failures of Hippie idealism, the triumph of cynical capitalism and the destructive exploitation of the naive in the post-Manson, pre-Watergate early 1970's. But he survives, coming out the other side with his humanity intact, based on what he does for Coy Harlingen.
What exactly did he do? No spoilers here, other than to say that after it was all over, I was highly satisfied, even if a few story threads were left hanging.
If you're a Pynchon fan, I would anticipate that you would enjoy this, with possibly a few small objections, but overall this is a fantastic piece of film making based on a sublime piece of writing.
I can't knock the look of the film and the excellence of the special effects, but the script was just too long and flabby. It was like 2001: A Space Odyssey as directed by M. Night Shymalan. This is a problem you sometimes get where the director and the writer are the same person. Nolan is just too in love with his own script and can't possibly bring himself to make the tough editing choices that need to be made. I could have cut almost a full hour from this film and made it much better. And somebody should have. And yet, among the long stretches of the film that drag and are boring, there are a few parts that feel ignored and rushed.
The "ghost" subplot was just too predictable and hacky, something that Shymalan would have put into one of his movies, while patting himself on the back for his extreme cleverness.
McConnaughey doesn't take too many chances here. While he brought welcome humanity to a cold movie, this is familiar territory for him. Anne Hathway was fine. Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine were excellent.
I should also bring up the difficulties with the sound mix, causing important dialog to be difficult to understand. Hans Zimmer's omnipresent, throbbing, overdone score was like a party guest that would not leave long after he had become unwelcome.
Overall, not terrible but really overrated.
The Creep Behind the Camera (2014)
Bold New Frontiers in Filmmaking
I just experienced The Creep Behind The Camera last night at ScreamfestLA at the Chinese Theater.
The people behind the film's camera did an amazing job, providing a fully satisfying film experience, while creating a brand new genre.
It is not really a docudrama. That would imply a drama informed by real events. TCBTC was that, but it also contained interview segments. It felt more like a mockumentary, though all of the events portrayed were real, and the interview segments were of real people describing real events. Like all of the best documentaries, the reaction of the viewer is, "if you submitted this script to someone as fiction, they would reject it as too unbelievable."
It is unbelievable. This is the story of one Arthur J. Nelson, aka Vic Savage, aka any number of other names, whose sole legacy as a filmmaker is the deservedly reviled film The Creeping Terror from 1963, promoted by Nelson himself as "the best monster movie ever made."
I had first become aware of the film while reading the book The Golden Turkey Awards by the brothers Medved, during the early 1980's. Alas, the home video revolution had at that point not coughed up a copy of said film, and it would be another 20 years before I finally viewed it on DVD.
Up until this point, I had dismissed The Creeping Terror as the feckless celluloid leavings of a pitiable, gormless incompetent. Now I understand that it is the motion picture equivalent of a John Wayne Gacy clown painting; the disturbing vision of a twisted, evil psychopath.
The Creep Behind The Camera reveals the devastating landscape of psychic terror left behind by Nelson, a sociopath and huckster. His list of crimes as showcased in the film is long and horrific. Beating his wife, burning her hand on a stove for no damn good reason, addicted to any number of toxic substances, standing in front of a full-length mirror naked, while wearing a German helmet and a fake Hitler mustache, and proclaiming, "I am God!" Yeah. That happened.
And finally, as is heavily implied in the film, for the most devastating action of all, Nelson created child pornography, perhaps explaining that the making of The Creeping Terror was really nothing but a convenient excuse for him being in the possession of filmmaking equipment in his house. Sure, perhaps he wanted to be a star, and make a movie, but in the end, his only concern was swindling as much money out of as many people as possible. As the film documents, he extracted payment from people for the "honor" being in it, as well as squeezing generous actor William Thourlby (who also has a large part in the film and ended up rescuing it from the garbage heap) for a somewhat large chunk of the budget.
Nelson is long dead, and as contended by MST3K's Frank Coniff during the Q&A session after last night's screaming (ha, screening), they probably won't have to worry about anyone bringing defamation charges against them for this film.
Except maybe for Charles Manson.
According to the film, Charles Manson was actually employed on The Creeping Terror and procured stolen cars for use in one of the scenes. I am NOT BUYING this. History tells us that Manson was in jail in 1963, when The Creeping Terror was filmed. But, cool story, bro. (To be fair, the film was largely shot at the Spahn Movie Ranch. Manson did live there...but not until 1968.) Because he was not even present, Charles Manson could very well file suit under defamation for being associated with Art Nelson! That's how dirty bad Nelson is.
Director Pete Schuerman does a spectacular job evoking a 1950's/1960's setting on what was likely a very small budget.
Lead actor Josh Phillips is mesmerizing as Art Nelson. Also a tough acting assignment to portray a leading character who has NO sympathy whatsoever and is basically a heavily damaged, completely irredeemable human being. Jodi Thomas, playing Art Nelson's child bride, Lois, is equally laudable as the battered, tortured object of Nelson's psychoses, who finally, ultimately, gets her revenge on her torturer.
A somewhat satisfying ending, as Nelson ends up in jail. He does get out of jail, but dies a penniless, unknown drunk. And minor character Charles Manson goes on to do...other things.
If you have any chance to do so, please check out The Creep Behind The Camera.
The Spoils of Babylon (2014)
Not Jonrush's Best
Glad to see that Eric Jonrush's "The Spoils of Babylon" has finally gotten out to the wider public. Sure, it's been available for years on the collectors' circuit, on shabby VHS dubs from shady dealers at shadier fan conventions, but now, finally, it can be seen in its original fidelity and quality.
Which really isn't that much better.
There's a reason why certain projects get released, and others remain on the shelf, whether that shelf be in an air-conditioned film vault in a major movie studio or in a pawn shop. SOB is a case in point. And apparently, Eric Jonrush has reached that point; desperate, pining for former glories. A sad, obese old man draped in tent-like garb, swilling mid-priced wine and flirting with waitresses one-third his age. We see this much in the recorded introductions to the episodes of this mini-series.
I actually had not ever bothered to track down any of those low fidelity bootleg tape versions, usually made from a single, unauthorized broadcast on an Indonesian cable channel in 1987. But, I must admit, I was curious.
Though I had not read any of Jonrush's source novels, I had seen several of his potboiler films. Those were all much better than SOB.
I frankly wallowed in the cheesiness of "The Barbarian Hordes," his Roman A Clef expose of his time working in the advertising industry on Madison Avenue, in retrospect an amazing precursor to "Mad Men." TBH had the distinct advantage of being written by a direct eyewitness, but the distinct disadvantage of being written without any talent. It's a nutty conflation of The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit, Darren Stephens from Bewitched, and the worst parts of The Fountainhead, without any of Ayn Rand's subtlety. And, yes, lots of sex scenes thrown in.
I stood in awe of his most widely seen film, "The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of," the sweeping, star-studded epic about the early days of the Hollywood studio system. Most famous for its bizarre casting of then current stars playing stars of the past. (Kate Jackson as Mary Pickford! Tom Selleck as Charlie Chaplin!)
I spent weeks trying to puzzle out the complicated wonders of "The Aubergine Conundrum," his police/spy/detective/murder mystery/courtroom drama: equal parts Perry Mason, The Maltese Falcon, and Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In.
But those productions had notable advantages over SOB: they were produced by major studios and had decent budgets behind them.
Though SOB (the novel) did show up on the bestseller lists, it wasn't the kind of runaway hit that has Hollywood beating down a writer's door. And with only three television networks at that time, the available slots filled up fast, especially for tent-pole productions like sweeping, multi-part epics.
Jonrush, seething to get SOB made, could not take the rejection and put up his own money to complete the production. His caviar tastes and baloney budget forced him to cast little known actors, including his then-wife, Laureigha Samcake, and low profile soap opera hunk Dirk Snowfield. Samcake is way out of her depth, but she tries her best. She's even out-acted by the mannequin playing Lady Anne. Yes, in one case, Jonrush's limited budget meant that for one role, he could not afford to hire an actress, only a voice over artist. Only Samcake's endless fashion parade of ever-changing wigs keeps her afloat. Snowfield is not much better, with his accent that wanders more than Jack Kerouac and his Bob Dylan hairpiece.
The decision to use scale models for sets rather than stock footage is a curious one, especially when it is discovered that a crew of Old World craftsmen was flown in especially from Switzerland to construct each model by hand out of thousands of matchsticks, which Jonrush paid for in Krugerands.
Believe it or not, the writing is actually the least awful thing about SOB. After a while I started getting into the story and the relationships between the characters. Would Devin wrest control of Morehouse Conglomerated from Cynthia? Would that little twerp Winston get what was coming to him? So many questions, and so little wine to find the answers.
Why doesn't anyone try to film romance novels anymore? Here you have the response to that query, in full color. Advisable for Jonrush completists only.
A Bad Case of Sequelitis
There's a popular screen writing book that claims that a studio executive once said "Give me the same thing only different." (No it wasn't Sam Goldwyn, this was supposed to be a recent reference.) Anyway, Will Ferrel and company have taken that advice completely to heart with Anchorman 2.
Xerox copies of so much from the original Anchorman are in full effect: the news team rumble, Brian Fantana's condom closet replacing his previous cologne closet. Calling Christina Applegate's character a "bus stop tramp" instead of a "whore from Whore Island." This list is long.
I must agree with almost everyone else that Brick became extremely annoying almost immediately, except, oddly, for the love story with Kristen Wiig's character, which (in opposition to many others commenting here) I found to be the most enjoyable part of this film, actually, since it wasn't a carbon copy of anything from the first film.
Yes, there were a number of funny non-sequitor flashes of dialog, a few humorous bits of foreshadowing (like Brian Fantana's name dropping of O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector and Robert Blake). But for every enjoyable bit of ripe dialog and screaming-at-the-walls overacting, there were ten instances that were grating and fell flat.
Probably the worst sequel to a classic, successful hit comedy since Caddyshack 2, which came out 25 years ago. This is probably even worse than Caddyshack 2, actually.
Some movies don't need sequels. Case in point.
Who's the Caboose? (1999)
I first heard of this movie by writer/director/co-star Seder when he endlessly plugged it on the radio show on Air America that he did with Janeane Garofalo for something like four years. Eventually I saw it somehow, somewhere. Online? On cable? I don't remember.
Anyhow, this is a very low budget film in the mockumentary style. As I love mockumentaries I had to give it a shot. Isn't everyone in the know by now about the "inside baseball" stuff in show business by this point? Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood have been on TV forever by now. So, there's plenty show business jokes here, but, still, I think most people outside of the entertainment field would find this funny.
The other great thing is the appearance of so many now familiar faces. Of course on the poster now Silverman is given top billing with Seder at the bottom, whereas in the actual credits of the movie that is reversed.
Now I will have to track down the four episode "Pilot Season" if I can. Well worth seeking out.
Deliciously, Deliciously Bad
Riper than a fruit cart in August, Scorcher is like a greatest hits of disaster movie tropes, Hollywood hack hits and Clichéd dialog.
Yes, they are all here. The wise-cracking action hero (except this time his jokes are not funny), the scientist who warns of the approaching doom but nobody will listen, Fingers the wacky sidekick (role would have gone to Paul Giamatti if they had a big budget) the duplicitous double agent who wants to thwart the whole mission, I guess because he read the script and hates the writer so much. I know that I saw the movie and now I hate the director so much. And everyone else involved.
Plenty of clichés to go around here: "Grab my hand!" "You're not dying on my watch!" "Doc, again please, this time in English." "Are you out of your mind?" "Don't F@@@ with me, Cowboy." And that was just the first ten minutes.
So bad that I almost thought this crossed into the realm of spoof. But I think they were actually somewhat serious.
On one minor positive note (pun not intended), as many of the other commenters have stated, the music score is pretty good. Almost fooled me into thinking this movie had a bigger budget.
Great fodder for MST3K style riffers or the masochistic movie fan in your life.
From Hell It Came (1957)
My Old Friend Tabonga
I first viewed this on a Saturday afternoon TV creature feature in the 1970's during my suburban youth. I believe it was channel 5 in New York.
The film provoked in me a feeling of confusion and disorientation (who made this? Why? Did they think it was scary? Or realistic? Or entertaining? And seriously, a walking tree monster? WTF?) that I would later recognize as similar to the effects of mild-altering hallucinogens.
Today, some three decades later, I am revisiting From Hell It Came for the first time since that fateful day.
We can tell right off the bat that we're dealing with a low budget (but perhaps not ultra low budget) production when the Allied Artists logo comes up, along with the credits over painted illustrations. Yes, those were in style in the 1950's and even many mainline, major studio blockbuster releases had them, but, still, they can be done quite economically.
The next worrisome sign indicating Hollywood lunkheadedness comes with practically the first shot of the movie, where we see South Pacific aboriginal peoples sticking pins into a voodoo doll. Duh. Voodoo is from West Africa, a good 6,000 miles away. (And why do they have to stab a voodoo doll at the same moment that they are stabbing the real man?) But, okay, let's keep on going with this ridiculousness.
Then "my father died from the Black Plague." Oh really? Was the Black Plague a big concern in the 20th Century, even in developing areas? Then, of course, the evil witch doctor hates the Americans and the man being unjustly executed is enamored with "our friends the Americans" who "only want to help us." Unjust execution leading to the possessed tree stump that comes back to life later in the film is out of the way quickly.
We then move on to the American protagonists within the first five minutes. Scientists doing some kind of experiment on "a tiny Pacific atoll" for reasons that aren't made too clear. Supposedly "studying the natives," I guess for reactions to nuclear fallout. But if so, why do they have a lab full of beakers and test tubes, and not anything remotely resembling a doctor's office? Anyway, that radioactive fallout from the recent nuclear bomb tests is "quite safe, no more than a dental x-ray." Uh huh. Sure.
"Those drums sound like trouble." Cheese. Haven't we seen that bit only in EVERY other jungle movie ever made? "No need to be nervous, the natives on this island are peaceful enough." However, that evil witchdoctor is stirring up trouble by keeping the locals "chained to their centuries old superstitions" instead of the clearly superior approach of the enlightened ones. Science!
The inevitable arrival of a romantic interest for the male lead (a fellow lady scientist) heralds increased stakes for the hero and the B-story as we get into Act Two. Conflict between the heroic scientist and the megalomanical witch doctor for the hearts and minds of the gullible natives now ramps up, as we await the overdue arrival of Tabonga, a walking tree stump possessed by the spirit of the dead native with a distorted human face carved on it. This is a sight of such goofy idiocy that it burns an indelible mark on the minds of all who witness it. I was itching to hit the fast forward button so I could feast my eyes on this spectacular vision, instead of wasting time with the romantic escapades of the two leads or the science vs. superstition A story.
We get a few teases and foreshadowings, but for my money we have to wait far too long for walking tree stump action goodness. It was not until the 34th minute that we hear the phrase "tree monster" and the name "Tabonga", followed by a music sting. CLASSIC! But, I forced myself to stay with it and watch the whole movie. As usual, the scientists are done in by their Achilles heel: their desire to study the monster "for science" (if they are good intentioned) or for personal gain (if they are bad intentioned), instead of burning the devil spawn alive at the first sign of potential trouble. Of course, the hero wants to destroy the thing as soon as they have taken it back to their lab, where they have chained it to a table and performed "surgery" on it.
Tree surgery, I guess.
Well, you just knew it had to happen like this, didn't you? Now it's time for the monster to break its chains and go on the proverbial rampage. When we finally see the walking tree monster at minute 47, it is so hilarious that it's worth the wait. It is a monster so slow and lumbering that possibly only the creature from The Creeping Terror surpasses it in lack of fright.
Can our heroes use their superior science, wits and pluck to put an end to its reign of terror? I'll let you figure it out. (Okay, they actually only just shoot the thing with a gun and it falls into the quicksand pit which is mandatory in every single jungle adventure movie.)
This is a sublimely silly motion picture and supremely enjoyable. One of my absolute favorite Fifties Monster flicks. Get to know Tabonga!
Le 7 fatiche di Alì Babà (1962)
Worth Seeking Out - aka Ali Baba and The Sacred Crown
(Pretty sure that what I was saw was The Seven Tasks of Ali Baba, and not a different movie, though titled as Ali Baba and The Sacred Crown...)
I agree with the other commenter. This is a very entertaining action filled peplum with a decent budget and thrilling action sequences. Judging the acting is usually a bit tough in dubbed films, but it seems quite decent for the genre.
Now Something Weird Video has uncovered a much better, full color transfer of this apparently rare film. The colors are fairly bright and the image is a bit soft, but it is pretty well free of the missing frames, scratches and blips you see on some of these Euro sword and sandal flicks from SWV or Mill Creek Entertainment.
I saw this online via Something Weird's streaming service. Not sure if they have gone to the extra step of offering it on a DVD or DVD-R though. So your options for seeing this may be limited at the moment. Definitely worthwhile if you are fan of the genre.
Spring Breakers (2012)
An Old Joke
Reading most of the comments regarding this movie, I'm reminded of the old joke: everyone has a least one friend who's a total moron, and if you think you don't, then, well, you're it.
Sorry to be impolite enough to point it out, but everyone who didn't understand this movie and groused about how bad it was painted themselves into that rhetorical corner. I had nothing to do with it. You were too dumb to understand the point it was making. Yes, there was an idiot involved in the screening of the movie you saw, but it definitely wasn't any of the people who made the movie.
Satire, people. Look it up. Using the very tools and methods of the bankrupt, Girls Gone Wild, party at any cost culture to expose the utter blankness and uselessness of it. That's what this movie was all about.
I will admit it. The filmmakers, or, at least, the film's marketers, more likely, did not play fair with you. They tricked you into going to see it because you thought it was a straight-ahead Spring Break debauchery fest (sorry to try and read your minds, but that's what I am forced to infer from your disappointed comments). Perhaps it was a bad idea, conning you into looking into a mirror where you would see a void staring back at you. The odds that you would get that, that you would reach that epiphany were quite small indeed. The audience most receptive to this film's message were the ones least in need of its powers of persuasion. The audience least receptive to its points were those least likely to understand them.
Ah, well. Fun to look at, and lots of cool music. I supposed that in the end, self-examination was something that should not have been fairly expected from most of the viewers of this film.
D.O.A. (1988) vs. D.O.A. (1950)
The original D.O.A. had one of the all-time classic premises of Film Noir: man investigates his own murder after he is poisoned. This perfectly encapsulated the Film Noir world: creeping doom, hidden motivations, danger around every corner, and the everyday, ordinary man whose world is turned upside down and thrown into confusion and horror. To the ultimate level, in fact: his world is coming to an end and there is nothing he can do to alter his fate. All he can do is unravel the mystery, ensuring that he will obtain the one minimal thing he can achieve at this point, that being the answers to his fate: who killed him and why. Cold comfort, but it's all he has left at this point and he knows it, so he grabs for it with all the tenacity of a drowning man struggling for a life raft, but one which is full of holes anyway.
The 1988 re-imagining keeps that general premise, but changes everything else, and for no good reason that I can determine. The newer film copies the 1950 film for about the first minute, then deviates into its own world. Setting, plot and motivations are all completely altered.
We have the "Christmas heat wave", the University setting, changing of the protagonist from accountant to English professor, adding of additional murders, the Crazy Glue on the arm bit (a bit of The Defiant Ones there) and a good chunk of Chinatown lifted wholesale, as well as a few bits taken from Citizen Kane. Well, if you're going to steal, steal from the best, so I can't dock them too much on that score. There's also the addition of Meg Ryan as occasional helper and romantic interest, something which weakens the notion in the original where the doomed hero must figure out everything for himself.
The film was directed by Max Headroom creators/directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, helmers a little later of the justifiably excoriated Super Mario Brothers: The Movie. Note the Max Headroom tribute in the first scene at the police station where Dennis Quaid is seen on the twonky video monitor.
Well, they do put together a lively action film with a lot of 1980's colors, and even a cameo from one-hit wonders Timbuk 3. Cool, like watching one of those obscure 1960's relics like The Cool Ones which features Mrs. Miller.
But, that ending! You really sank the boat with that ending, people. Have to rate you at a 2 out of 10.
What happened at the end? Did he die? Isn't the whole point of the movie that he dies at the end? Otherwise, then why, for corn's sake why, is the movie even called D.O.A.?
Does he just walk down the hall? Or is that a metaphorical hallway, where he "walks toward the light"?
It was not clear!
A little clarity would have been appreciated guys. But, if you intended that he was cleared of all charges and he just walked out of the police station, then, with all due respect, I must ask you:
W T F ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
The Capture of Bigfoot (1979)
I Cannot Refrain From Rebane
I had seen a bunch of Bill Rebane's other productions. Honestly, I thought that The Giant Spider Invasion, as campy as it was, was the only one worth watching, even as a goof, being helped immensely by some actual professional Hollywood actors. I really despised Invasion From Inner Earth and was not a fan of The Alpha Incident, which some people apparently liked.
This one has some things going for it and almost rises to the level of a bad low budget indie monster movie that could have been released to a drive-in, and apparently it was.
Sure, the Bigfoot costume and the beast's silly growling are not scary in the least, but hilarious. Sure, the goofy Sheriff and his lame celebrity impressions have the potential to be more annoying than entertaining. Sure, the evil businessman and grizzled old-timer Bigfoot hunter characters are lifted whole-cloth from Jaws. (This is certainly not the only low-budget monster movie from the later half of the 1970's to have ripped off Jaws.)
Seems like Rebane even sprung for some production music that was much less bothersome this time out. (Could this movie actually have been scored?) He even has a car chase and explodes a car or two.
Somehow, this stew of idiocy all adds up to a stupidly rollicking good time if you are in the right mindset and have quaffed a few adult beverages. So, turn off your brain and enjoy.
Avoid any of Rebane's other epics, except maybe for The Giant Spider Invasion.
Satellite in the Sky (1956)
Excellent for Its Time, But From Our Vantage Point...
This is one of those 1950's serious science fiction space travel extravaganzas in color, but one of the only British ones. They predicted a lot of things right, got a few things wrong (we still have not militarized space, thank goodness), but still it is amazing that this film was made in 1956, even prior to Sputnik going up.
The model work of the spaceship/rocket is top notch for 1956, even if it doesn't fool one living soul in 2013.
We're all here for the action stuff about test flights and launching the rocket, and the (inevitable) Crisis In Outer Space (tm) that all serious science fiction efforts seem to gravitate (har har) toward.
We're here less so for the political back story, machinations and intrigue, and philosophical battle about the value of taking risks and the sense of discovery that science provides contrasted with all those other issues that require money down here on li'l old Earth, which goes on between the Space Cadet commander and the Spunky Female Reporter (tm also). Did women have ANY profession other than reporter in a movie made prior to 1967? And we're definitely not here for the limp attempts at delving into some of the characters' love lives.
But this is entertaining for its time. There are some slow bits, true, but ultimately they do not forget about what we are all there to see, and we get back to glamour shots of the spaceship eventually.
If you're a fan of 1950's science fiction, and you haven't seen it, you could do a lot worse than Satellite in the Sky.
House of the Black Death (1965)
If the goal here was to make a good movie, they failed miserably.
If the goal was to confuse, disturb and disorient the viewer, then JACKPOT, baby! This movie is not scary because it evokes a disturbing real atmosphere of fear the way something like Night of The Living Dead does. The effect here in HOTBD is much more surreal.
No, the world of House of The Black Death, aka Blood of the Man Devil is not a world that you or I might recognize. But it is a world that sucks you in. A world of grainy, back-and-white horror; a world of creeping, Gothic torment, a world of a furtively glimpsed fever dream while under the influence of absinthe or laudanum, as you are restrained with rubber hoses in a rusty dentist's chair from the 19th century and assaulted with various antique dental implements.
The stark textures of the muddy, washed out print I viewed only added to the sense of ennui and nausea endured while watching this exercise in creepiness, a tableau which added death-desiring boredom to the mix during the endless talky scenes of people discussing the battle for the soul of the Dessard family between Carradine and Chaney. The extra added frisson provided by the poor condition of the print I viewed was clearly not intended by the filmmakers, but you know what they say, when life hands you lemons...or, more concisely, whatever works.
Now that I have accidentally referred to Woody Allen and Larry David in this review, a highly inappropriate turn of events, I will end with just one command: I importune you to watch this film only late at night, with the lights off, preferably when you are so tired that you will not be able to stop dozing off (if you weren't already there, the dialog will see to that). The wretched visuals of this nightmare of a psychotic will mix with your own dreams as you drift off into an impenetrable trap amongst the ether, of both your own making and that of the (many) directors of this "film."
UPDATE: As of 1/2014, now available on DVD from VCI Entertainment, who have released 2 volumes each of three Jerry Warren "classics." For those with strong constitutions only...
A Band Called Death (2012)
Family, Faith, Art, Spirit, Punk Rock
A bittersweet tale involving the intensity of rock and roll of the wildest, most bracing sort, the vindication of art and the uncompromised vision of a dreamer, an artist like so many, who had to die before the world caught on to his genius.
A heartwarming tale of the strong bonds of family and the unknown surprises lurking in almost all of our pasts.
A film where the heroic role of the rescuers and redeemers is taken up by record collector nerds and glasses-wearing hipsters (YAY!)
A story that, like all the greatest documentaries, is true, but feels so much like a feel-good Hollywood fairy tale that you can't believe it all really happened. But it did.
This is really corny, but hey, when a film is this good, why not indulge in the oldest possible style of film hype: You'll Laugh! You'll Cry! You'll Cheer! Go See A Band Called Death! The Most Feelgood film of the year with the word death in the title!
If you like this, check out "Anvil! The Story of Anvil." Just as tearjerking and entertaining.
Cheap, Sleazy and Depraved -- I loved it! AKA: The Hawaiian Split
This is a somewhat violent crime/Mob action/drama with a few softcore sex scenes thrown in for the dirty raincoat crowd, though by 1971 this might have skated by with an "R" rating with a few judicious trims (pun intended). I'm sure it got mostly Grindhouse or Drive-In play, though with a cast including Rene Bond and Uschi Digart, someone could have ballyhooed this as a porno, but it isn't one.
What it is, is a whole lot of sleazy violent fun! Mobsters are sending a courier with a load of drugs from California to Hawaii to pick up suitcase full of money as payment (don't drugs, like Heroin from Asia, usually come in the other direction? Whatever...) Meanwhile the courier's girlfriend is sending a tough bald dude with a beard (guess Sid Haig was busy that week) to steal the money and drugs. Also, the Godfather has this scary hit-man who looks like half of Grant Wood's American Gothic (that would be the old man, not the daughter), overalls, ten cent haircut and all.
The whole atmosphere is something Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez might have pastiched, had this not been an authentic 1971 artifact. Even the music seems over-the-top grungy, like a tribute track from 1992 Seattle to a 1971 movie soundtrack. But it is a 1971 movie soundtrack. (Hawaiian Split is almost as bad a title as Godchildren, but it does give a vague French Connection vibe.)
But somebody, please put a lid on lame Bobby Lee O'Toole and his whole W.C. Fields as a drunk hippie shtick. It's amusing for about one tenth of a second. Too bad (SPOILER ALERT!) he's just about the only character that doesn't die by the end of the film. Well, him, Uschi Digart and the bartender who made a "great Mai Tai" by pouring rum in a glass and sticking a cherry in it! That's it???
Anyway, see this joint, film scratches and all, and get the vibe of a Texas Drive-In or a 42nd Street grindhouse at 3 a.m. in the early Seventies. FUN!
Sucker Punch (2011)
This film encapsulates almost everything wrong with the state of high-concept, blockbuster, CGI-laden filmmaking these days.
To wit: bad writing, bad acting, nonsensical story, bad mixtures of fantasy and reality, over reliance on computer graphics.
But hey, the music was cool! Not even sure if this film could have been saved with better writing, better casting, better acting, better directing. The whole idea is just so flawed at its foundation.
Fantasy sequences, within fantasy sequences, within dream sequences. Muddled to the point where, honestly, who cared? If the "reality" sequences in the mental hospital, the first few scenes, had been a little less stylized, I might have bumped it up a few points. Reality can be drab, and should be somewhat drab especially in a mental hospital in a non-specific past time. However, the drab reality of the mental hospital setting was equally stylized and comic-book like as the ballet school/jail/nightclub/whorehouse, or whatever it was supposed to be.
And that just turned the whole movie into a mess.
And what does the title even MEAN? It could have been called FLIGHTS OF FANCY, or HELL HOLE, or BRAIN DRAIN, or FIGHT TO BE FREE, or YOU HAVE ALL THE WEAPONS YOU NEED, or any one of many other titles that would have been WAY more appropriate.
But I will give it a 3 for the extremely competent CGI work and the great music choices. The fact that those choices were in service of a really bad idea means that I can't possibly go any higher than that.