?

Log in

PUNK VACATION (1990) *

A punk kills a store owner when the soda machine won't pay him back his forty cents. His gang also assaults his youngest daughter, leaving her in a catatonic state. When the oldest daughter goes out for revenge, she is kidnapped by the punks and her deputy boyfriend has to rescue her.

Punk Vacation is a long 90 minutes. It moves at snail’s pace and isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. After it’s all over, you’ll feel like you’ll need a vacation.

The back and forth between punks and the cops is especially dull. There’s no tension whatsoever and the punks never once feel like a legitimate threat. It also doesn’t help that the cops are pretty much completely useless. (The boyfriend only catches the ringleader of the gang because he accidentally runs over his motorcycle.)

Also, there’s not nearly enough violence and absolutely no sex. I don’t think it’s rated, but it could’ve easily gotten a PG-13 rating, if not a PG. It desperately needed more exploitation elements to keep it afloat.

The third act is the worst. It’s here where a bunch of rednecks join the pursuit. Now the audience has to follow three groups of idiots traipsing around the wilderness instead of two. The ending is a total bust. They couldn’t even afford to show the villainess getting shot, so they just freeze frame a picture of her on her motorcycle, add in the sound effect of a gunshot, and fade to red. It’s the pits.

Tags:

BLINDMAN (1972) ***

Sometimes you just have to hear a couple of key phrases that make you want to see a movie. With Blindman, all I saw were the words “Spaghetti Western” and “Ringo Starr” and I immediately knew I wanted to watch it. Fortunately for me, it’s actually pretty good. It’s a terrific vehicle for Tony Anthony, who would go on to reunite with director Ferdinando Baldi for the equally great Comin’ At Ya! a decade later.

Anthony plays the blind man was about to escort fifty mail order brides to their rightful owners when his partner stole them under his nose (he is blind after all) and sold them into white slavery. The blind man then has to go find the girls and get them back.

Tony Anthony is awesome as the blind man. His rifle doubles as a walking stick and he uses his horse like a seeing-eye dog. There’s a fun scene where he gets all fifty women back and as he’s making his getaway on a train, he’s mortified to touch their faces and discover that they are the wrong women (and old and ugly to boot).

Like all the great Spaghetti Westerns, there’s a scene where our hero gets the snot kicked out of him by the bad guys, but comes back tougher than ever. It also contains a memorable score by Stelvio (Twitch of the Death Nerve) Cipriani and some great cinematography by Riccardo (Lady Frankenstein) Pallottini. The fifty women in the cast also provide a heck of a lot of nudity, so the flick is almost always easy on the eyes (sorry, blind man).

The only reason I wanted to check it out was for Ringo. He actually does a good job playing the villain’s hotheaded brother. I also liked the scene after he got killed where his grief-stricken brother tried to force a woman to marry Ringo’s corpse!

The real reason to see it though is for Tony Anthony. It’s a shame he didn’t make more movies because he’s a total badass in this. I wish this had been an ongoing series, kind of like the Zatoichi films. It would’ve also been cool seeing him go up against John, Paul, and George at some point.

Tags:

THE SLAYER (1982) * ½

An artist is having weird dreams about a monster. She tells her boyfriend about it, but he doesn't believe her (or care). They plan a trip with another couple to a remote island to get away from it all. Of course, the house just so happens to be the one from her dreams. Before long, people start dying one by one.

The Slayer belongs in the subgenre of horror films I like to refer to as a Looking movie. It is almost exclusively filled with long scenes of people wandering around darkened hallways looking for other people. After an extended period of looking (which may or may not be interrupted by a false scare), they are eventually killed.

It also belongs to the Pitch Black subgenre. No, this has nothing to do with Vin Diesel. It means that the cinematography and lighting are so bad that whole scenes are filmed in near darkness. Often, it’s hard to tell just what the hell is going on, which makes matters even more frustrating.

The Slayer is also a 3 Second movie. No, I don’t mean that it’s so quickly paced that it feels like it’s over in three seconds. Quite the opposite. No, what I mean is that it features a pretty cool monster, but you only see it for literally three seconds in the whole 86 minute running time. Talk about a complete rip-off. On the plus side, the monster is shown prominently on the video box, so if you looked at the box for more than five seconds, you’ve already seen the monster more than you will in the entire film.

Adding insult to injury, The Slayer is also one of those It Was All a Dream movies. That’s right. You get jerked around for an hour and a half only to find out the chick had been dreaming the whole time. I could’ve been asleep this whole time too, lady.

The good news is that the kills are rather gory. One guy gets his head bashed in pretty good. There are also deaths via fishing rod, pitchfork, and flare gun. The coolest scene though happens when our heroine wakes up next to her boyfriend and begins kissing him, only to realize he’s nothing more than a severed head. This of course is revealed to be nothing but a (you guessed it) dream, which kinda sucks.

Writer/director J.S. Cardone later went on to write the Prom Night and Stepfather remakes.

AKA: Nightmare Island.

Tags:

MURDER BY PHONE (1982) **

Some thugs run wild through a subway station and knock over a homeless person. A college student steps in and helps the bag lady to her feet. As she’s about to walk away, she hears the pay phone ringing behind her. Cautiously, she approaches the phone and works up the nerve to answer it. When she picks up the receiver, the phone sends a jolt of electricity through her body, causing her to shake and convulse until her eyeballs bleed. Then the force of the shock sends her flying through the air and onto the up escalator.

If you’re too young to remember pay phones, the appeal of the opening scene of this movie might be hard to explain. Back in ye olden days, pay phones were everywhere. Occasionally, one would mysteriously start to ring. Your natural inclination is to pick it up. However, who’s that on the other line? Is it just a wrong number? Or maybe a heavy breather? (Man, if you’re too young to remember pay phones you probably don’t know what a heavy breather is. I only have so much space here. Google it.) Or perhaps a stone cold psycho who will use electricity to kill you when you answer it?

Richard Chamberlain was the young girl’s science teacher. While attending an environmental symposium with his mentor (John Houseman), he decides to investigate her death. He eventually uncovers a devious plot by a disgruntled phone company worker who has figured out a way to fry people alive by using a telephone.

If you’ve ever been put on hold by the phone company, you’ll know how it feels to watch Murder by Phone.

Michael (Logan’s Run) Anderson’s direction is flat and uninspired. The scenes of Chamberlain playing detective feel like they came out of a TV show. If it wasn’t for his terrific performance, these scenes would be a total bore. Chamberlain and Houseman class up the movie way more than it deserves and their commanding screen presence helps to anchor the plot whenever it begins to get listless.

I will give this to Anderson: He gives each death its own unique kick. One guy starts glowing and goes flying out the window in his swivel chair. A lady drops the electrified phone while washing dishes and she gets blown across the room. Another woman leaks blood all over her Mickey Mouse phone. Some guy’s glasses shatter and his eyeballs explode. Unfortunately, the villain’s eventual comeuppance is weak. If he had a real show-stopping death, this might’ve squeaked by with ** ½.

It’s slow going in between the phone murders. The 89 minute running time feels a lot longer than it actually is. Whenever the telephone’s ringing, the movie is off the hook. Otherwise, you might feel like hanging up.

AKA: Bells. AKA: The Calling. AKA: Hell’s Bells.

Tags:

HUMAN EXPERIMENTS (1979) ** ½

Linda Haynes stars as a country singer in the midst of a tour. Aldo Ray is a sleazy promoter who swindles her out of her fee and gets away with it because his brother (Jackie Coogan) just so happens to be the sheriff (and Uncle Fester). Unfazed, she continues on with the tour. While on the road, Linda has an accident and goes to a nearby farmhouse for help. There, she stumbles upon the dead bodies of a family. She kills the young boy responsible for the crime in self-defense, but the courts don’t believe her story and sentence her to life in prison. It doesn’t take long for the crazy prison shrink (Geoffrey Lewis) to single Linda out as his next psychological test subject.

Human Experiments is weird hybrid of horror film and Women in Prison movie that’s not always entirely successful, but it does offer intermittent thrills. The Women in Prison aspects don’t really take hold until the second act. That’s okay because it gives us enough time to get to know Haynes and root for her. As far as the Women in Prison clichés go, we get a pretty good delousing scene, a potentially great physical examination that is unfortunately cut short, and Haynes has several run-ins with the bitchy matron. Sadly, there aren’t any shower scenes, but Linda has a few quality nude scenes (including a hot masturbation scene) along the way.

The title is a bit misleading as the main experiment doesn’t happen until the last twenty minutes. Also, don’t expect it to be exploitative and trashy just because most of the action takes place in a women’s penitentiary. The horror here is more psychological than anything, which isn’t exactly a bad thing.

The problem is that none of it quite gels. We get some campy moments here and there (Haynes’ country crooning in a honkytonk is just plain awful) and the horror aspects are mostly limited to Haynes crawling through a narrow hall full of spiders and bugs. Still, there are a handful of effective moments, like when Haynes finds the dead bodies in the farmhouse. When the toast pops out of the toaster, it’s a nice jump scare, but it also tells us that the killer is probably still lurking about. Although it’s a simple little detail, it works. Other sequences feel like they could’ve come out of a Lifetime Movie, which makes sense since that’s pretty much what director Gregory Goddell directed for the rest of his career.

The cast helps to sustain your interest even when the film can’t make up its mind what genre to pursue. Haynes (who looks a little like Nicole Kidman) is excellent in the lead and makes you care about her character. Lewis does some fine work as the doctor who has an obvious screw loose and Ray and Coogan once again excel at playing degenerates. John’s sister, Ellen Travolta also pops up as a convict who shows Haynes the ropes.

AKA: Beyond the Gates. AKA: Women in Prison.

DEATH SHIP (1980) *

George Kennedy is the captain of a luxury cruise ship with three days left till retirement. One night, a seemingly derelict ship rams the boat at full speed, sinking it in minutes. Kennedy, his first mate (Richard Crenna), and a handful of others are the only survivors. After some drifting, their lifeboat comes upon the ghost ship and they climb aboard. Soon people fall victim to several "accidents". Eventually they realize they're on a possessed Nazi torture vessel that runs on blood. To make matters worse, Kennedy becomes possessed by a Nazi ghost and starts killing more people to feed the ship.

The opening minutes of this movie are downright awful. The scene of the death ship as it closes in on the cruise ship is laughable. When we see the cruise ship, it’s in total darkness. Then when they cut to the waves hitting the hull of the death ship, it looks like late afternoon. The editors keep cutting back and forth at increasing speed, which ordinarily would be a good tactic to maximize the suspense. However, all it really does is magnify just how poorly the footage matches up. We’ve seen day and night come and go within the same scenes before, but this is like, way worse than anything Ed Wood ever did.

The budget was also so low that when the big collision happens, you more or less have to take the movie’s word for it. Sure we see an explosion and a couple of shots of sailors and passengers running around, but then it quickly cuts to the survivors in the lifeboat. It all happens so fast that we feel shortchanged. Considering the fact that the film was released during the disaster movie craze (not to mention the fact that George Kennedy is on board), we at least feel entitled to some good disaster carnage. No such luck though, I’m afraid.

We also have to deal with a lot of annoying characters. All of them basically deserve to die and when they finally do, their death isn’t grand or weird enough for us to applause or anything. You know you’re in trouble when the closest likeable character is the kid whose main character trait is having to go pee at the most inopportune times.

The movie moves at a listless pace. There are long scenes that try for suspense but just succeed in boring you to death. Many sequences just involve extended scenes of people wandering around or climbing up a ladder. You’re supposed to think, “Oh is something suspenseful going to happen?” Then it’s revealed that, no, the character is just wandering around aimlessly for no reason whatsoever.

The capable cast is left adrift in this mind-numbing mess. Kennedy has been in some turds before, but even he looks bored. Crenna tries to remain professional throughout and damn near escapes the flick with his dignity intact. Saul (Death Wish 5) Rubinek does what he can with his small role as the comedian who is the first to die aboard the death ship.

Director Alvin (City on Fire) Rakoff does deliver at least one memorable sequence. That’s when a woman becomes trapped in a shower that shoots out blood. Other than that, this is a major bust. Rakoff’s use of slow motion late in the game is irritating and the editing is often choppy, bordering on incoherent. Even when the movie should be over, it continues on with dozens of useless shots of the boat chugging along.

Bottom Line: Death Ship (co-written by Jack Hill of all people) deserves to be buried at sea.

Tags:

Before he made Rocky and The Karate Kid, John G. Avildsen directed this oddball softcore sex comedy. A community (okay, two couples) is outraged when a teacher comes to town and begins teaching a Sex Ed class. After a lot of back and forth, they eventually give in and start to explore the bounds of their own sexuality.

Guess What We Learned in School Today?!? starts off slow and sloppy. The cutting back and forth between the two couples has no rhythm and it’s hard to get a handle on just what the heck is going on in some of the scenes. Once the editing finally settles down, the film finds its footing. Heck, late in the game the flick actually manages to be somewhat sexy when the prudish housewife gets stoned and hires her sexy neighbor to deflower her virgin teenage son.

Rosella (I Dismember Mama) Olsen is wickedly hot as the sexy neighbor. The scene where she gets high and fools around with Jane McLeod is great too. I also thought Diane Moore did a fine job as the sultry babysitter who jerks off McLeod’s son while she reads him a bedtime story.

Unfortunately, all the stuff with Olsen’s vice cop husband going around and busting hookers is pretty annoying. The faux-Dragnet narration isn’t very funny. Nor are the scenes with McLeod’s impotent general husband. Still, the film will on occasion hit a funny note, and there’s a decent amount of skin on display. In the end, it’s all too uneven to be truly worthwhile.

AKA: Guess What!?! AKA: Sex-Sex-Sex. AKA: I Ain’t No Buffalo.

CHEERLEADERS BEACHPARTY (1978) * ½

Four cheerleaders get irate when a recruiter from another team tries to sway their star football players away from the school. They then set out on a road trip to sabotage the try-outs using any means necessary. Of course, along the way they wind up falling in love.

Cheerleaders Beachparty has at least one memorable nude scene in which all four cheerleaders are crammed into a tiny shower stall and begin shooting each other with water guns. That’s about where the fun begins and ends. Despite an okay topless swim, most of the time, the girls have their backs to the cameras whenever they take off their shirt.

The “comedy” scenes range from desperate to stupid. In one scene, they pretend to be ghosts to frighten the jocks into running back home. In the end, the girls resort to putting crabs in the team’s athletic supporters so that they constantly itch throughout the game. None of this is exactly funny. It could’ve worked in better hands I suppose, but director Alex E. (Cherry Hill High) Goitein is unable to wring any laughs from Chuck (Preppies) Vincent’s admittedly weak script.

With a few snips, this would be perfect Up All Night fodder. (Most of the movie is so dark you can’t see the boobs anyway.) In fact, the later you put it on, the better off you’ll be. That’s not because it’s a late night delight or anything. More like a perfect cure for insomnia.

AKA: California Cheerleaders.

Tags:

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017) ****

At first, I was unsure how they were going to make this work. I mean Batman was the best part of The LEGO Movie. How can you make a whole film entirely around him? It’s like making a Happy Days spin-off about Fonzie. Sure, it sounds good on paper, but he’s really best when he’s bouncing off the other characters.

Luckily, my fears were squashed from the very first frame of the movie. No, from before the first frame. As soon as you hear Will Arnett’s voice, you are instantly transported. For the next hundred minutes you are immersed in all that is Batman. What you slowly realize is that it's not a film about LEGO Batman. It is a film ABOUT Batman. What is crazy. What is downright insane is that this is without a doubt the best Batman movie of all time.

Strike that, this is THE BEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME.

This is not hyperbole. This isn’t me being cute. I loved every single frame of this flick. If you love Batman as much as I do, then it is my sincere hope that you will love the movie as much as I do. If you are a casual fan or a Batman die-hard like me, you are guaranteed to at the very least walk out of the theater with a stupid grin on your face for two or three hours afterwards.

I tried to make this review as Spoiler-Free as possible, but in my excitement, I let a few occasional spoilers out. I would never dream of spoiling the pure joy of this movie to you. So please note, that is THE BEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME (yes, even better than The Expendables 2 and Star Wars), and you should stop reading this, go out and see it, and come back and finish the review. You’ll be glad you did.

If you love Batman, then you will love this movie because this movie loves Batman. It is celebration of all things Batman. It takes everything that has come before, the good, the bad, and the ugly and accepts it. It embraces it. It owns it and wears it like a badge of honor. When Batman whipped out the Shark Repellent, I applauded.

No iteration of the Dark Knight is left unmentioned. Even the ‘40s serials get a shot out. The movie takes EVERYTHING that makes Batman the goddamned Batman (nipples on the batsuit and all) and lovingly flaunts it loud and proud. Folks, I can’t even express to you how good it felt to see Adam West do the Batusi on the big screen.

This is the best iteration of Batman we’ve ever seen on the silver screen. His relationships with the other major character are fleshed-out better here than in any of the other motion pictures. (Save for Commissioner Gordon, who retires early on.) The bond between Batman and Alfred (beautifully voiced by Ralph Fiennes) is poignant. Yes, this is at face value, a kiddie movie, but their scenes together capture the relationship better than anything outside of the comics. When Alfred tells him, “You can’t go around dressed in black and brooding all your life”, it’s in the way a parent would tell a goth teenager, but it perfectly suits the character.

The formation of Batman and Robin (an irresistibly enthusiastic Michael Cera) is better here than in Batman Forever. If you’ve ever wondered how in the world a swinging bachelor like Bruce Wayne would ever come to adopt a young boy in tights, this movie sums it up perfectly. The way they eventually learn to work as a team is a joy to behold. When Batman finally admits that Robin has done a good job, it’s truly a wonderful moment.

The relationship between Batman and Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is the best I’ve ever seen. Sure, the movie boils their dynamic down to a rom-com cliché, but in doing so, it makes it that much more potent and heartfelt. It deals with their mutual need to be feared in such a simplistic way that when Batman says, “You complete me”, he’s not just referencing Jerry Maguire; he’s acknowledging that a hero is essentially nothing without his arch nemesis.

The movie also captures the psychology of the character perfectly. Again, it treats it in the simplest forms, but that’s what makes it resonate so powerfully. It also answers the question what does Batman do when he isn’t fighting crime? The scene where he waits for his dinner to cook in the microwave is both funny and at the same time tragic.

Another important question: “Does Batman live in Bruce Wayne’s basement or does Bruce Wayne live in Batman’s attic?” Take a second to give that question some thought. It gets infinitely more complex the more you think about it.

I was expecting lots jokes and pop culture references going in, but I was caught completely off guard by this movie’s heart. What is so glorious is how it turns on a dime. It goes from being hilarious and irreverent in one scene to downright moving in the next. The fearlessness in which it takes hold of you and makes you feel a spectrum of emotions is powerful filmmaking on any level.

Take for example the scene when Batman finds out the Justice League is holding a party and didn’t invite him. It’s bad enough not to be invited, but then they ask him to take their picture. Just the look on his face at being excluded is oddly moving.

So is the way Batman pushes his makeshift family of Alfred, Robin, and Batgirl (Rosario Dawson) away. In his mind, he’s saving not only them from physical harm, but he’s saving himself the emotional pain of potentially losing them. He had a family once, and they died. He isn’t about the same mistake twice.

Those pop culture references though are what really made it for me. I mean how many movies do you know of manage to work in a Passenger 57 reference during the main character’s big introduction? How many of them feature a sidekick who knows Gymkata? Heck it’s worth the price of admission alone just to hear Batman’s computer password.

Once the Joker breaks out of the Phantom Zone and brings all of his pop culture cronies with him, it’s like the toy box of your mind unleashing nostalgia cruise missiles into the pleasure centers of your brain. I’m trying my best to avoid spoliers here, but (SPOILER) I mean there was a moment there when the Joker unleashes Gremlins on the Batwing and Batman has to fight them off where I just wept from pure joy.

The movie starts with a Michael Jackson quote, which Batman attributes to himself. That message is prevalent throughout the film. When the song itself plays at the end, I found myself choking up a bit.

Will Arnett triumphs over all others who have worn the cowl. He was great in The LEGO Movie as Batman. Here, he IS Batman. I would be perfectly fine if DC stopped production of their live-action movies and gave us nothing but LEGO Batman sequels year after year.

Zach Galifianakis just might be my favorite Joker. As much as I love Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger, Galifianakis just hits it out of the park. That has a lot to do with the way he plays off of Arnett and how the script was written, but he makes the character his own.

Ralph Fiennes is the definitive Alfred. He was born to play the role. The pained way he dutifully obliges Batman under the constant hope that the Dark Knight will eventually see the light and learn to admit he can’t save the city alone is wonderfully written to begin with. Fiennes delivery is note-perfect every step of the way and gives the character several unexpected layers.

Heck, this might even be my favorite version of Bane (Doug Benson). Notice I didn’t say “most faithful”. He’s mostly just a riff on Tom Hardy’s unintelligible Bane, but every time he opens his mouth, it gets a laugh.

Yes, I understand this is a kid’s movie. Yes, I understand we are essentially watching toys being manipulated by cutting edge stop-motion animation. However, The LEGO Batman Movie cuts right to the heart of what makes Batman tick and captures it better than any other live action film or cartoon ever did. It takes everything from the character’s seventy-eight year history and funnels it into one streamlined monument to his continued endurance, relevance, and awesomeness.

I know that fans were relieved when the live action films turned dark and broody after the goofy ’60 TV show softened the character. The LEGO Batman Movie does the unthinkable. It asks the question, why can’t Batman be both goofy AND broody?

The film’s aim is not to mock what the serials, cartoons, TV show, Burton, Schumacher, Nolan, and Snyder have done with the character, but to treat it as just another step in the character’s journey. Another (LEGO) brick in the wall, if you will. That’s what makes The LEGO Batman Movie such a special experience. If we could all be like Batman and embrace ALL the parts that make us who we are, even the missteps, we’d be better people for it.

JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2 (2017) *** ½

John Wick (Keanu Reeves), perhaps the quintessential 21st century badass, is back, killing scores more disposable henchmen in this fun sequel. This time, he is forced to come out of retirement to perform an assassination he clearly does not want to do. Since Wick’s profession has several layers of intricate laws, codes, and oaths, he is unable to refuse. After he is double-crossed, he goes out for vengeance.

The gunfights and shootouts offer little variation from what we saw in the first movie. While some may be disappointed by this, I can’t really fault the filmmakers’ “If it ain't broke, don't fix it” mentality. Although I would've liked to have seen more creative shootouts (the lone exception is the cool hall of mirrors finale), the hand-to-hand stuff yields a few novel deaths. In one scene Wick kills a guy by shoving a lit cigarette down his throat. Wick also partakes in a grueling fight with a rival (played by Common) that features shades of the Piper/David brawl in They Live. The standout scene though is when he kills a bunch of people using a No. 2 pencil.

What I enjoyed most was seeing the expansion of John Wick’s criminal world on a global scale. The world-building aspect was what made the first movie so great and this one doesn’t disappoint. I mean when Franco Nero shows up as the head of the Italian Continental Hotel, it’s just cause for celebration. I also loved the bit with the armorer who provides weaponry services in the same way a wine steward recommends a fine Cabernet. The stuff with the homeless criminals, who have their own underground network (led by Laurence Fishburne) is really cool too.

If there is a flaw, it's that it all feels less personal this time out. In the first one, John Wick was out for revenge because they killed his dog. In this one, he’s just forced out of retirement and betrayed. Sure, the whole One Last Job thing is an equally sturdy action movie cliché as the Death Wish cliché. It’s just that it lacks the same cool badass drive that propelled the original. Still, once the flick gets into gear, John Wick kills lots and lots of people, which should be enough for the Wickians out there.

The set-up for the sequel is absolutely brilliant. In fact, the whole movie feels like a placeholder for a bigger, grander finale that’s yet to come. Having said all that, treading water has never been so exhilarating.

Nero gets the best line of the movie. When John Wick arrives in Rome he greets him with open arms. Then he quietly takes him aside and asks, “You’re not here to kill the Pope?”

Tags:

RING OF DEATH (1980) **

A dimwitted country bumpkin goes into town at the request of his aunt. There, he meets a monk who refuses to let him pass unless he can beat him in a fight. Since his aunt has told him never to fight, he tries to avoid contact. The monk persists and the bumpkin accidentally kills him with one punch. Fearing a murder rap, his aunt sends him off to find his father, who happens to be an evil general, and an asshole to boot. He doesn’t want anything to do with his kid so he tells him his father is actually some old dude. The bumpkin eventually gets an old drunken Kung Fu master and his cranky wife to teach him the martial arts to prepare him for an upcoming fighting tournament.

Ring of Death was definitely riding on the tails of Drunken Master as both films revolve around a young fighter and a drunken Kung Fu teacher. There is more of an emphasis on the comedy than the Kung Fu too. While there are some funny moments here and there (when our hero slices a guy’s hand, he says, “Now you can’t even jerk off!”), the bulk of the comedy is played way too broad for it to really work. Likewise, there are only a handful of decent fight sequences, although most of them suffer from weak choreography. The training montages are pretty good though.

The big problem is with the main character. He's more or less a gullible buffoon, which makes it hard for the audience to really root for him. Sure, you feel sorry for him because so many people take advantage of him, but he’s too much of a simpleton to take seriously as an action hero.

AKA: Bastard Kung Fu Master. AKA: Jung-ri’s School of Yong—hyung-ma.

Tags:

LITTLE MURDERS (1971) ***

Little Murders is an offbeat, weird, mostly amusing, sometimes frustrating, occasionally exhilarating black comedy. It swings for the fences in nearly every scene. Because of that, it winds up whiffing big time every now and then. However, when it hits, it’s often a grand slam.

Marcia Rodd saves Elliott Gould from a mugging. Instead of thanking her, he just wanders off and lets the muggers turn their attention on her. When she goes to give him a piece of her mind, she is perplexed, but fascinated by his nonchalant attitude towards just about everything. They wind up falling in love (sort of), get married, but have trouble achieving marital bliss.

The big problem with Little Murders is that many of the dialogue scenes go on for far too long. It was based on a stage play, so the film contains several longwinded monologues that ramble on unchecked. While the majority of them work others fall flat (like the scene with the judge). If you can get through the spotty passages, you’ll be rewarded with some downright hilarious moments.

The scene where Rodd brings Gould home to meet her family is a masterpiece of black comic WTF weirdness. This sequence achieves a surrealistic quality that is almost dreamlike. It’s expertly acted (especially by Vincent Gardenia as Rodd’s uptight father) and the comedic timing is impeccable. The best part though is Donald Sutherland’s extended cameo as a priest who performs their wedding ceremony. Sutherland is amazing in this. He gives an awesome speech about love and marriage that is timelier today than when it was made. If I ever have to renew my vows I might have to crib a line or two from his speech.

Unfortunately, the movie stumbles a bit in the third act. The writing tends to be more and more unrestrained as it goes along, particularly the scene with Alan Arkin (who also directed) who plays a crazy cop. Still, the film ends on an absurd, violent, but oddly poignant note, and the final shot is rather sublime.

Little Murders is uneven and flawed to be sure. I bet Arkin could’ve taken a few scenes out here and there and it would’ve tightened things up considerably. Still, the film has a voice that is so irreverent and surreal that it’s hard to resist. I can only imagine how audiences reacted to it when it was released. With the world getting more and more bizarre as each day passes, I think the flick has almost (but not quite) caught up to where we are today. That of course means it’s ripe for rediscovery.

Tags:

ALIEN SEED (1989) **

I've watched Elves every Christmas for almost twenty-five years now. Part of the tradition is seeing the hilarious trailer for Alien Seed that immediately precedes the film. For whatever reason, it’s taken me this long to watch it. While I am glad I’ve finally seen it I have to confess that all the best parts are in the trailer.

Mary (Shellie Block) gets abducted by aliens while jogging. (A flash of white light is the special effect.) Afterwards she has no memory of the event. All she knows is that they left her with a big old alien hickey on her neck. She contacts a writer named Mark (Steven Blade) who is an authority on alien abduction, but she is killed by the evil Dr. Stone (Erik Estrada) before they can meet. Her sister Lisa (Heidi Paine) is then abducted and impregnated by the aliens. Mark tries to help Lisa understand what’s happening to her when some government agents show up trying to assassinate them, fearing that her half-alien child will be the new messiah.

While watching Alien Seed, it dawned on me that it’s basically an inverse version of Elves. (Which figures since it was made by the same producers.) Instead of Nazis using elves to mate with women to produce the Antichrist we have religious nuts using aliens to mate with women to create the second coming of Jesus. It also has a keyboard-heavy score that is similar to the one heard in Elves, which makes me think it might make a good double feature.

Sadly, Alien Seed is nowhere near as much fun as Elves. I will say the first twenty minutes or so makes for a mini-camp classic. Block's acting is terrible and her airhead line reading of the simplest dialogue is often hilarious. The stuff with the aliens, who wear masks from Spencer's Gifts and white spandex, is pretty funny too. The early scenes also contain lots of T & A as Paine works in a topless bar.

Once the action switches focus to Paine’s character, the whole thing takes a nosedive in quality. From here on out, the film resembles a cheap version of a ‘70s political thriller with our heroes hiding out in hotel rooms and outrunning men in black suits. The action is also cheaply done with nearly all the car chases taking place well within the speed limit. The shootouts are fairly low rent, although the squibs are pretty bloody. We do get one great fire stunt in the final minutes of the movie. Although brief, it's quite effective.

Erik Estrada really gets into his role of Dr. Stone. He gamely chews the scenery and his theatrics are entertaining (especially when he tortures Blade using “buffalo stimulants”). You just wish he had more screen time because when he's absent his presence is sorely missed.

Tags:

FullSizeR (5)

Chi Kuan-Chun is hired by the famous killer Golden Mask to perform an assassination. He does the deed, only realizing afterwards that he’s just killed his own brother. Kuan-Chun then goes after Golden Mask for revenge.

Thankfully, there’s not a whole lot of plot, just an excuse for Kuan-Chun to get into constant fisticuffs. The action comes fast and furious at the outset. Nearly every scene begins with our hero walking into a place and someone saying he shouldn’t have stepped foot there and a fight ensues. He fights random guys in the road, a monk at a temple, some asshole who keeps stalking him, and a bunch of people in a tea house.

Honestly, I lost track of the fight scenes as they happen just about every five minutes or so during the first half hour of the film. Unfortunately, Golden Killah is unable to keep up that pace once the action switches over to Eagle Palace. It’s here where Golden Mask infiltrates the palace and picks off people one by one. From this point on, the fights occur at a more sporadic pace as it becomes more of a whodunit than an actual Kung Fu picture. They are also sorely lacking the fun of the fights featured earlier in the flick.

At least things get capped off with a solid fight sequence where Kuan-Chun does battle with no less than five Golden Masks sporting dangerous weapons that look like spiked Frisbees. This scene also gives us a little bit of gore as eyes are ripped out and one of the Frisbees lands in one guy’s stomach. If only the second act wasn’t so sluggish, this might’ve been a minor classic.

Still, there are some priceless moments along the way (and again, they are mostly weighted towards the beginning of the film). I loved the part when a guy wearing a golden mask shows up and starts fighting the monk. He asks, “Who are you?”

Golden Mask replies, “Golden Mask!” and they begin fighting.

You know, as if the golden mask didn’t give away who he was or anything.

We also get some great dialogue too. My favorite line being, “That foxy lady? She’s a cruel bitch. Don’t ever go near her!”

AKA: Bad Ninjas Wear Gold. AKA: Golden Mask. AKA: Dragon vs. Dracula.

Next week on It Came from the Thrift Store: Chinese Hercules!

BAYOU (1957) **

Peter Graves stars as Martin, a big city architect who comes down to the bayou to design a new civic center. He meets Marie (Lita Milan), a feisty Cajun woman who’d rather read books than go out partying and takes an instant liking to her. Ulysses (Timothy Carey) is the lecherous creep who has eyes for Marie and is always trying to force himself on her. When Martin bests him in a boat race, it sets off a heated rivalry between the two men. Tempers flare when Marie chooses Martin to be her man and tragedy strikes when her father is killed in a sudden storm. It all comes to a head with a brawl between Martin and Ulysses at her father’s funeral.

Bayou is a deep fried southern melodrama that benefits from a solid cast. Graves makes for a square, but likeable hero and Carey is a hoot as the greasy, sweaty brute. (His out-of-control dancing at a wedding is pretty funny.) We also get Roger Corman vets Jonathan Haze and Ed Nelson popping up in supporting roles.

Director Harold (Terror in the Haunted House) Daniels gets a lot of mileage out of the strong location work. The authentic looking extras in the background also help to provide colorful local flavor. However, the pacing is often sluggish. Scenes seem to come and go without much consequence and some sequences go on seemingly forever (like the wedding scene). The melodramatic plot only occasionally comes to life, and that’s mostly because of the performers (many of which sport laughably bad Cajun accents). The theme song (which sounds like it’s being sung by a Dean Martin impersonator) is pretty catchy though.

Producers later added spicy sex scenes and extra banjo music and repackaged the film as Poor White Trash, resulting in a box office smash that played at drive-ins for years to come.

AKA: Poor White Trash.

BEWITCHED (1981) **

A man is arrested for murdering his daughter. At his trial, he claims a witch put a spell on him and he’s promptly sentenced to hang. Before the execution, he tells a detective how it all happened. He was visiting Thailand and picked up a girl thinking she was a prostitute. When he returned home to his family, strange things started happening. His daughter began sleepwalking and ate raw pork liver. Then he became impotent and weird shit started growing on his chest. He thought the only way to stop it was to kill his daughter. The cop is intrigued and sets out to check on the guy’s story. Pretty soon, he comes under a magic spell too.

The opening sequences are fast paced. Director Kuei (Corpse Mania) Chih-Hung does a great job at cutting all the fat from the police investigation and being like Joe Friday, giving us just the facts. (He also gives us a great slow motion scene where the topless witch frolics on the beach.) Once he introduces the supernatural elements into the film, things get awful sluggish. The scenes of the various voodoo ceremonies aren’t exactly scary and are really drawn out. The battles between the good and evil monks locked in mortal combat are pretty lame and the use of flashing lights and endless chanting gets repetitive after a while.

There’s still some good stuff here. We get people with green goo shooting out of their faces, a mummified man oozing glop all over, and ghoulish nurses with crusty faces going crazy. These moments are ever so brief and it makes you wish that Chi-Hung had played up these elements more. He returned two years later with a sequel, The Boxer’s Omen, which was a lot crazier and much more entertaining.

Tags:

THE SEVEN MINUTES (1971) *

The year after Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was a smash hit for 20th Century Fox, he made The Seven Minutes. It was not a hit and wound up being his last movie for a major studio. It’s easy to see why it was not embraced by audiences as it’s an interminable bore.

The plot is about a disturbed privileged man who is accused of a rape he did not commit. Because he had a scandalous book, “The Seven Minutes” in his possession at the time of the arrest, his attorneys try to say that the book drove him to commit the crime. In order to make that stick, they put the book on trial to see whether or not it is obscene. A compassionate defense lawyer tries to prove the book’s artistic merit and has to contend with bribes, dirty tactics, and physical violence from the other side.

Are you still awake?

There are snippets of Meyer’s usual fetishes here. Nearly all the women in the picture are big and busty, although the sex and nudity really is quite minimum, which is strange for a movie that’s all about defending artistic use of pornographic subjects. Seeing some of Meyer’s stable of actors like Charles Napier, Stuart Lancaster, and Edy Williams helps to keep you from completely dozing off. (The character of Martin Bormann turns up too, albeit with very little to do.) It was cool seeing a young Tom Selleck as the publisher of the book, but his role is rather nominal.

Meyer’s use of rapid-fire editing is also ever-present, but it does little to spruce up the endless dull dialogue scenes. If you thought the scenes of the crusading lawyer building his case were slow going, wait till you get to the courtroom sequences. They’re guaranteed to put you to sleep.

Basically, the whole thing feels like an overlong episode of Matlock with a couple of titties tossed in. It’s hard to understand why Meyer would want to make this movie. I’m sure the subject of free speech spoke to him, but he really is the wrong director to tackle the subject. Luckily for us, he quickly returned to his drive-in roots with his next picture, Black Snake.

Tags:

SUGAR COOKIES (1973) ** ½

Sugar Cookies is an early Troma movie produced and co-written by Lloyd Kaufman. It was made in collaboration with Theodore Gershuny, who also did the awful Silent Night, Bloody Night the year before. What’s striking about the film is that it’s a huge leap in quality from Silent Night, Bloody Night. The cinematography is gorgeous and the plot is involving. It’s far from perfect as it’s way too long and features too many subplots. Still, it’s a shame Gershuny worked so sporadically afterwards because he showed a lot of potential with this one.

Alta (Lynn Lowry from The Crazies) is a movie star who plays a kinky sex game with her director boyfriend Max (George Shannon). He pulls out a loaded gun, bangs her with it (no pun intended), and then makes her suck the barrel. While she’s doing so, he blows her brains out. (So I guess he did bang her after all.) His other lover, Camilla (Mary Woronov, Gershuny’s wife at the time) then holds a casting session to find a woman that looks just like her. She eventually comes across the timid Julie (also Lowry) and grooms her to be the next Alta.

Gershuny’s direction is very stylish. The opening scene is quite effective and I liked the sex scene where he intercuts a gory autopsy with the lovemaking. The script (by Gershuny and Kaufman) isn’t quite up to snuff. It’s filled with useless stalling tactics and subplots that ultimately go nowhere. The ending is also slight, abrupt, and predictable, making for an unsatisfying capper on an otherwise decent film.

Woronov and Lowry (who gets an “Introducing” credit even though she had already appeared in I Drink Your Blood) get naked a lot, which alone is a selling point. They have considerable chemistry together and the sexual tension between them feels genuine. Woronov has a great scene where she bathes while smoking and wearing a panama hat. She also does some hot topless calisthenics. Lowry is virtually naked in every scene, which helps keep you interested, although it’s not quite enough to distract you from the fact that the movie is hopelessly spinning its wheels.

Oliver Stone, a childhood friend of Kaufman’s, served as an associate producer.

AKA: Love Me My Way.

Most of the cast of Support Your Local Sheriff! returned two years for this spotty reunion. It’s not a sequel as everyone is playing different characters. It’s not a remake, but it does have some plot similarities to the first flick. It’s also not nearly as much fun as Sheriff!, but you can’t really fault the cast for wanting to pal around once more.

James Garner plays an incurable gambler who sneaks into a small mining town to get away from his fiancée (Marie Windsor). Trouble brews when he gets mistaken for a notorious gunfighter named Swifty Morgan. Since he’s only in town to get a tattoo removed, he tells everyone his good friend Jack Elam is the gunfighter. When the real Morgan comes to town, Garner finally steps up for the final showdown.

It takes time for the picture to gather much comedic steam, but the cast is able to wring some laughs out of the thin material. The writing isn’t nearly as sharp as Sheriff! and it lacks a quality villain for Garner to play off of. His charm carries the film a long way, although his character isn’t as engaging as the one in Sheriff! Despite that, he still gets a few witty comebacks and a handful of clever lines.

The returning cast members are once again fun to watch. The new cast does a fine job too. Suzanne Pleshette makes for a better romantic lead than Joan Hackett did. Dub Taylor gets some laughs as the town doctor, and Chuck Connors makes an impression in an extended cameo as the real Swifty Morgan.

Overall, this is an inessential, but occasionally amusing western. I’m sure you’ll probably enjoy it. Just don’t expect it to hit the comedic heights of its predecessor. If you’re a fan of Garner though, it’ll go down smooth enough.

Tags:

HAMLET (1962) **

I can’t say I’m a big Shakespeare fan, but I do have an appreciation for the Bard, being a former English major and all. Having said that, I’m not sure I would have sat through this horribly dubbed adaptation made for German television if it hadn’t been on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s an often dreary and slow moving version of the oft-filmed tale.

Maximilian Schell stars as the brooding Hamlet, the only real name in the cast. That is unless you count Ricardo Montalban, who provides the voice of Claudius in the dubbed version. Just hearing Khan’s cold, threatening voice performing Shakespeare throughout keeps you watching. Schell, who provided his own voice, isn’t bad. He is clearly the best actor in the whole play, but he is unable to carry the whole thing on his shoulders.

This is a play by the way, and not a real movie. It’s like a cheap episode of Playhouse 90. The whole set is comprised of a couple of pillars (that are rearranged after each scene) and two chairs that act as a throne. The dingy black and white cinematography adds to the overall dreariness and the director’s decision to hold on actor’s reaction shots while another person speaks endlessly is odd to say the least (although I’m sure it saved a pretty penny in the dubbing room).

I’m sure there are worst adaptations of the play out there. Schell alone keeps it from being a total snooze. I just can’t imagine watching it without the benefit of Mike and the Bots though.

Tags:

With a different lead, Support Your Local Sheriff! could’ve been a breezy and harmless little western comedy. James Garner’s amiable unflappable charm makes all the difference. His undeniable charisma and easygoing appeal turns what could’ve been a light and forgettable comedy into a minor classic of the genre.

A gold strike turns a small village into a booming mining town overnight. The town is overrun by a gang led by Walter Brennan, but since he and his sons keep plugging holes in the sheriffs the mayor (Henry Morgan) appoints, he stops hiring. Garner comes to town with no intention of being sheriff long term. He just wants to earn a little money to take him to Australia. He accepts the job, and immediately causes trouble when he puts Brennan’s son (Bruce Dern) behind bars. Well, the jail is so ill-equipped that the bars are still on order, but the mayor assures him they’ll be in any day now.

Garner is a hoot in this. Sure, he’s more or less playing a slight variation on his famous Maverick character, but he is certainly working at the peak of his powers here. Whether he’s casually confronting gunslingers or trying to protect his overpriced meal during a lunchtime brawl, he's so much fun to watch that you forgive the film when some of the jokes fail to land.

His best scenes are with Dern. The ways Garner comes up with to outwit him are often hilarious. I especially liked the scene in the jail with no bars where he drew a line on the floor with some chalk and splattered red paint in the jail. He tells Dern it’s the blood of the last prisoner who crossed the line and Dern quickly stays put.

The supporting cast is great too. Jack Elam is quite funny as Garner’s sidekick and Henry Morgan gets some laughs as the mayor. Brennan also is fun to watch, particularly when he’s verbally sparring with his dimwitted sons.

Director Burt (Suburban Commando) Kennedy handles all of the gunplay and western clichés smartly enough. It’s only during the romantic subplot sequences in which the film doesn’t fire on all cylinders. Still, whenever Garner is diffusing tense situations or cleverly outmatching ornery cowpokes, Support Your Local Sheriff! is a winner.

Tags:

GREASER’S PALACE (1972) ½ *

Greaser’s Palace starts off like your typical western with a maniacal villain keeping a town full of settlers in constant fear. Then a guy who dresses like a ‘70s pimp parachutes into the situation claiming to be an actor on his way to Jerusalem. When the townsfolk see he has the power to bring people back from the dead, cure the sick, and walk on water, Jesus Pimp attains more and more followers. Really, all he wants to do is be a song and dance man. Like Jesus, he eventually winds up being crucified.

Greaser’s Palace was made when writer/director Robert Downey was still hot off the success of his counterculture classic Putney Swope. At that time, he could’ve made virtually anything and it would’ve gotten financed and released. From the looks of things, that’s exactly what happened.

It is quite frankly a goddamn mess. I guess Downey was trying for one of those El Topo numbers where they try to turn the western genre on its ear. Whatever his intentions, Greaser’s Palace is an interminable slog.

This is just one weird, slow moving, off-putting, often nearly unwatchable movie. Nothing happens for long stretches at a time. Every now and then, you get a joke, but it’s hardly ever funny. Every now and then something will startle you awake like the sight of Toni Basil’s boobs or the sound of Herve Villechaize’s screaming. These moments are fleeting and far apart, let me tell you.

If there was a point to all of this, I clearly missed it. I guess you can say this for Greaser’s Palace: It’s the only Jesus Pimp Western in existence. That’s something. Right?

Tags:

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) ** ½

The Equalizer’s Antoine Fuqua, Denzel Washington, and screenwriter Richard Wenk reteamed for another remake. The Magnificent Seven is of course, a remake of the 1960 classic directed by John Sturges, which was itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. While Sturges’ film nice complimented Kurosawa’s by transplanting the situation from feudal Japan to America’s Wild West, Fuqua and company are merely content on rehashing Sturges’ movie and calling it a day. I’m not saying it’s bad or anything. It just seems uninspired and unnecessary.

Remember when Walter Hill made Last Man Standing? That movie was a remake of Kurosawa’s samurai movie Yojimbo, which also had an equally famous western remake, Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. Hill didn’t simply do a remake of Dollars. Instead, he made a ‘30s gangster flick using the same structure. I kind of wish Fuqua did the same thing here.

You know the story. A bad guy (Peter Sarsgaard, who probably could’ve done this brand of quiet villainy in his sleep) lords over the town instilling fear in the good-natured villagers. They seek out seven hired guns (led by Denzel Washington), all of whom with different backgrounds and skills, who teach the frightened townsfolk to fight back.

Seven Samurai is one of the sturdiest templates you could ask for from an action movie. However, this version doesn’t bring much new to the table. While it offers more in the way of diversity as it has a multi-ethnic cast, it still manages to be a rather colorless (no pun intended) and joyless affair.

The problem is that we never really care about the bulk of the Seven. Despite the inflated 132 minute running time, not much time is spent on making the seven heroes into genuine characters. The two most effective characters are Faraday (Chris Pratt) and the awesomely named Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke, who also collaborated with Fuqua and Washington on Training Day). The only character subplot that works comes when Pratt needles Hawke because he’s got PTSD and can’t bear to pull a trigger. The only dramatic sparks the movie can eke out are between these two.

Washington’s bounty hunter character, Chisum has badass swagger to spare. So much so that it substitutes for an actual character trait. He has one or two cocky/cool moments, but honestly that’s not nearly as many as I was expecting. There isn’t really anything wrong with his performance. What’s wrong is the way they reveal his character’s motivations. It was an odd move to keep his motivation hidden until the final moments of the film. If we knew what drove him from the get-go it would’ve served his character better. By doing it this way, the movie kind of shoots itself in the foot.

The other characters are pretty much a wash. Yes, you have a Mexican, Korean, and a Native American in the bunch. However, there’s no real attempt to flesh any of them out. I guess the filmmakers thought that their mere inclusion was progressive enough.

The flat cinematography doesn’t do the film any favors as it lends the flick little in the way of personality. It feels more like a Hollywood product than the mythic western that it could’ve been. Also, what’s with saving the iconic theme song until the end credits? Sure, we hear snippets of it here and there, but imagine what it would’ve been like to see the Seven in action with Elmer Bernstein’s score behind them the whole time. Sigh.

Fuqua’s direction ebbs and flows. The set-up is fine, but the scenes of the Seven bonding feel curiously rushed. It’s almost as if Fuqua couldn’t wait to get to the action-packed finale.

The finale, it should be said, is rather great. It is a veritable bonanza of western carnage. In fact, it almost completely rescues the film from total mediocrity. Lots of cowboys are gunned down, shit blows up, and there’s a great bit where Washington runs over a guy with his horse. If we cared more about our characters, the ending could’ve packed a real wallop. As it is, we do get at least one touching death scene, although that has more to do with the actor’s performance than the actual script.

Tags:

PRETTY PEACHES 3: THE QUEST (1989) **

Peaches (Keisha) has been having some weird sexual dreams so her mom (Tracey Adams) sends her to see Dr. Thunderpussy (Rachel Ryan). (“I saw her on the Oprah show!”) After a rough (but thorough) examination, Dr. Thunderpussy tells her there is nothing physically wrong with her. She suggests Peaches should go on a quest for spiritual enlightenment. On her quest, she meets various crackpots, gurus, and priests, all of whom want to get in her pants.

Alex de Renzy returned for his third go-round in the director’s chair for this final installment of the Peaches series. It’s easily the weakest of the lot. Although the sex scenes are more stylized this time around, very few of them are actually sexy. Most of the scenes are either too short or have too much build-up and not enough payoff (like the exercise seduction scene).

The only returning characters are Peaches and her mother. Both Keisha and Tracey Adams lack the spark they brought to the previous installment. Even the usually sleazy Jamie Gillis (who plays a televangelist inspired by Jim Baker in this one) doesn’t really seem to be into it.

The only performer who throws herself into her work is Rachel Ryan. She is simply awesome as the demented Dr. Thunderpussy. If you thought the scene where she vigorously probed Keisha’s orifices was great, wait until you see her go to town on a male blow-up doll. It manages to be hilarious and sexy at the same time.

If only the rest of the performers were as inspired as Rachel, Pretty Peaches 3 might have been a worthy successor. As it is, it ends the series on a down note. Still, it’s worth a look just for Ryan’s brief, but memorable work.

AKA: Pretty Peaches and the Quest. AKA: Sex School.

Tags:

AMERICAN POP (1981) *

The DVD for American Pop boasts that it features music by “Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Lynyrd Skynyrd". What it doesn’t tell you is that you have to wait for over an hour until you get to them. You’re better off just listening to the classic rock station for ninety minutes and save your eyes from seeing all the shitty animation.

American Pop is a Ralph Bakshi movie, so you know the animation is going to suck. I will say that this is some of his best animation. That is to say that he just filmed scenes with live actors and traced over their bodies to make it look like animation. You know, cheating.

I’ve sat through some bad Bakshi movies before, but this one might be his worst. It follows four generations of lowlifes and degenerates as they try to get a piece of the American pie. In the end, our drug dealing hero, whose family members have included gangsters, drunks, and dope addicts, finally makes it big by writing and performing a Bob Segar song.

Are we supposed to cheer? Are we supposed to care when a character we hardly know is rewarded for a life of selling drugs by becoming a superstar? What’s the message? Sell all the drugs you can and one day you’ll be rewarded with fame and fortune? I don’t get it.

None of the characters are remotely likeable. The pacing is also erratic, sometimes skipping ahead several years and/or decades, leaving the audience in the dust. It’s also episodic to a fault. The music is the sole saving grace, although, like I said, you have to wait a long time to get to the good stuff.

All in all, American Pop is a bust.

Tags:

LA LA LAND (2016) **

Ryan Gosling wants to save jazz. He’s so into jazz that when he gets a gig playing Christmas music in a restaurant, J.K. Simmons fires him when he’d rather play jazz than “Jingle Bells”. (He must’ve been rushing and/or dragging.) Emma Stone is a bad actress who wonders why she can’t get a part. (Or rather she plays a bad actress who wonders why she can’t get a part.) They wind up meeting and falling in love and Gosling pushes her to pursue her passions, even though she’s borderline mental and stuff. When she has a choice between Gosling and going to Paris to be in a movie, she drops him like a bad habit and winds up marrying the American Werewolf in Paris. When the Werewolf takes her to a jazz spot, lo and behold, Gosling owns it, and instead of thanking him and stuff for the inspiration, she just walks out on him without a word.

Hey, we’ve all been there.

La La Land is a musical. It’s getting lots of attention because it’s a musical and they don’t really make musicals any more. You can see why they don’t. Since they haven’t made a musical in a while, the rust really shows. All the song and dance sequences are staged like Diet Coke ads. You keep expecting them to say “Just for the Taste of it!” after every performance. In fact, I’m positive they could’ve cut all of the musical numbers and it would’ve been much better.

Gosling is pretty much the only reason you remain invested throughout. There’s a funny bit where he’s stuck playing in an ‘80s cover band to pay the bills and has to jump off stage and explain to Stone that he still has musical integrity despite the shitty music. I also loved the part where he gets a gig playing in a crappy nu-jazz band and swallows his pride in order to pay the bills. The face he makes when the band starts playing an atrocious auto-tuned version of his beloved music is pretty hilarious.

Stone’s character is super annoying and drags the whole thing down. I mean, Gosling stopped doing what he loved, swallowed his pride, comprised his artistic vision by performing music he loathed in order to put food on the table, and gave up his own dreams to encourage her to follow her dreams, even when no one else (most of all herself) believed in her. What’s he get for all that? The indignity of having to watch her marry the American Werewolf in Paris. There’s a lesson here. Never trust a woman, ever, or she will break your heart and leave you for the American Werewolf in Paris.

Tags:

FullSizeR (4)

Before the DVD starts up, we get a couple of trailers. First up is Summer of Blood, a vampire comedy, followed by LFO, an odd looking thriller about sound waves, and finally Late Phases, a blind man vs. werewolf movie that looks pretty badass. Then the movie begins.

Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) is a waitress with lofty aspirations of being an actress. She goes on many auditions and often goes completely bonkers when she doesn’t get the part, usually having hysterical fits that culminate in her ripping large chunks of her hair out from the root. One weirdo casting agent notices one of her outbursts and she receives a callback based on the strength of her crazed antics. Sarah gets to meet the bizarre producer of the film who forces himself on her in exchange for a role in the movie. She then embarks on a slow and painful transformation from up-and-comer to ingénue starlet.

Starry Eyes is similar in some ways to The Neon Demon, although it’s not nearly as stylized. The first half of the film contains very few horrific elements, so you have to be patient to get to the good stuff. It’s deliberately paced, but there is a certain level of dread that builds up as it progresses.

This is sort of one of those throwback horror movies like House of the Devil. It uses a cool ‘70s font for its title sequences and wears its inspirations proudly on its sleeves. (The pacing is a lot like Polanski, the music sounds inspired by Carpenter, and the big transformation feels like something out of a Cronenberg film.) I can’t say it’s entirely successful. The second act dawdles, although the eventual revelation of what’s happening to Sarah is well done.

I just wish there was a bit more to the ending. Having the whole thing boil down to Sarah being forced to… well… I won’t tell you… in order to become a star feels awfully small. Still, when the film works, it works. (The final transformation scene is rather effective.) I liked it better than The Neon Demon, that’s for sure.

Next time on It Came from the Thrift Store: Golden Killah!

EXPLOITATION RETROSPECT #53 ON SALE NOW!

51IGPJ7n9VL__SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

I was very happy to contribute a few reviews to the latest issue of Exploitation Retrospect. I am in terrific company as some of the other contributors are writers I respect and admire. Thanks again to Dan Taylor for letting me help out.

You can pick up your copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Exploitation-Retrospect-53-Journal-Culture/dp/1502340429/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486053367&sr=8-1&keywords=exploitation+retrospect

BARBED WIRE DOLLS (1977) ** ½

You expect certain things from a Jess Franco Women in Prison movie. Barbed Wire Dolls pretty much delivers in that regard. There are long stretches where the camera zooms around aimlessly. There are long scenes of naked women being tortured. There’s a gratuitous Franco cameo. There’s a scene where a woman rubs her pussy with a cigarette.

You know; the usual.

You know you’re in for a treat once you meet the warden. What I like about her is that she rules the prison for the mentally insane and never once wears pants. Instead she wears a khaki military top and a black bikini bottom. It’s almost as if you can see the glass ceiling being shattered before your very eyes.

One inmate gets treated like a dog. She is tied to a chain, forced to crawl on all fours, and beg for her food. Another one keeps going on and on about participating in orgies with Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus. (When she masturbates, she screams, “Discover me!”) Lina Romay gets shock treatments. Well, the budget was so low that all they do is tie her to a bed and turn the lights on and off.

My favorite part was when Romay has a dream of her father (played by Franco) trying to rape her. Again, the budget was so low that they couldn’t afford slow motion, so both of them just run around really slowly and pretend they’re in slow motion. It’s fucking hilarious.

Franco and Romay were a couple, so it gives this scene an added layer of creepiness. I mean you have your boyfriend playing your dad who’s trying to rape you. Ah, show business.

Let’s see, what else. Oh, Romay finds a mouse in her food at one point. There’s some tickling torture, which should please a few fetishists out there. We also get a scene where the warden molests a supposed virgin inmate and says, “Someone’s already stolen this cherry!”

This collection of scenes alone is worth ** ½. It’s just a shame that once the girls escape, the movie becomes a slog. You’ve got to deal with long scenes of them running through the brush, the warden barking out orders, and put up with the obvious twist ending. Whenever the Barbed Wire Dolls (I don’t think there was any actual barbed wire in the film, but never mind) were behind bars; it’s damn good times.

Too bad the third act is so snore-inducing. I mean if the girls rose up against their captors and dished out some gory revenge, it might’ve worked. As it is, they just sort of run around aimlessly. If Franco had a little bit more exploitative goodies in reserve for the third act, it could’ve been a winner. As it is, the flick just runs out of gas a good twenty minutes before the finish line.

Also, there are no shower scenes in this movie. How can you make a Women in Prison picture with no shower scenes? That alone prevents it from getting a *** rating.

AKA: Women’s Penitentiary 4. AKA: Jailhouse Warden. AKA: Caged Women. AKA: Woman Caged.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (2004) **

Lau Xing (Jackie Chan) steals a jade Buddha from the Bank of England and poses as a valet to make his escape. Eccentric inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan) hires him, mostly because he needs someone to test pilot his inventions. When Fogg presents his findings to a council of scientists, he’s almost laughed out of the room. He makes a bet with them that he can circle the globe in eighty days. Since Lau wants to return the Buddha to his village in China, he agrees to go with him. Along the way, they run into various authority figures, not to mention a gang of Chinese warlords, who are trying to retrieve the jade artifact.

This adaptation of the beloved Jules Verne novel is an odd duck. They’ve gutted a lot of the novel to make room for a Jackie Chan comedy vehicle. It’s more of a kids’ movie (it was released by Disney) than a real Jackie Chan flick, so the action is overly slapstick-y and the jokes are obvious, broad, and not very funny.

This is one of those revisionist deals like The Lone Ranger where the ethnic sidekick gets more time to shine than the actual hero. This isn’t a bad idea, since after all; this is Jackie Chan we’re talking about here. Since this is an expensive, overlong, and gimmicky kids’ movie, the action sequences weren’t exactly a main priority.

It was directed by Frank Coraci, a veteran of many Adam Sandler movies. That is to say, he’s not the sort of guy you want behind the camera directing Chan. The fight scenes have potential, but nearly all of them fall flat. Take for example the fight in an art gallery where Jackie and his assailants get paint everywhere while fighting and accidentally make a work of art in the process. Although the bare bones of a great scene are there, Coraci doesn’t have the chops to make it work. The finale, which takes place inside the under construction Statue of Liberty is slightly better.

Like the 1956 version, there is a cavalcade of cameos, the most notable being Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Turkish prince who wants to steal Coogan’s girlfriend. While it’s cool seeing two titans of action cinema such as Chan and Schwarzenegger finally on screen together, I wish the film found something more for them to do together besides share a hot tub. I also wish Schwarzenegger had funnier dialogue besides calling Fogg “Foggy”.

Sammo Hung also shows up playing Wong Fei Hung, although he isn’t utilized to his fullest. We also get Rob Schneider (as a bum), John Cleese (as a bobby), and Kathy Bates (as the Queen). The best cameo is by Owen and Luke Wilson as the Wright brothers. They bring a comedic spark that’s lacking throughout the rest of the picture. You almost wish they had their own spin-off.

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Katy Towell