Hey everyone. I guess you can tell I haven’t been around a lot as of late. I’ve had some problems with LiveJournal lately and to make a long story short, I packed up my bags and went to Blogger for a spell. I didn’t really like that all that much either, so as of now, I’m kinda in between blogs until I figure out what I want to do. In the meantime, I’m going to dust off my old Letterboxd account and use that as my temporary home for my reviews. So if you want to see what I’m up to nowadays, you can find me here: https://letterboxd.com/thevideovacuum/
I’m not really an anime guy. I wouldn’t know a Ghost in the Shell from an Akira. All I know is that this movie, based on the beloved Japanese cartoon and comic book, rocks.
Imagine if John Woo used The Matrix technology to remake Blade Runner (okay, Johnny Mnemonic) and that might give you an idea of what we’re talking about.
The movie is basically a remake of Robocop. In fact, I kind of wish this really was the legit Robocop remake instead of that forgettable Robocop remake from a few years ago. It uses the same themes as a Robocop movie and tweaks them for the 21st century, creating something familiar, and at the same time, fresh.
It also happens to be one of Scarlett Johansson’s best. I didn’t think she’d be able to top her performances in the Marvel movies where she wore incredibly skintight suits and beat up hundreds of guys, but somehow she does just that here. What makes her performance so great in this one is that she wears a skintight suit that is flesh-toned and nearly anatomically correct. This way whenever she’s beating up hundreds of guys, it leaves little to the imagination as to what’s underneath.
The film also gives us some pretty neat glimpses into the future. I liked that hookers have floating LCD signs above their heads that advertise what they’re charging. I also dug the body modifications that allow people to become more robot-like. I’m not talking about the eyeballs that give you instant night vision. I’m of course referring to the modified liver that allows you to drink like a fish without damaging your innards.
Director Rupert (Snow White and the Huntsman) Sanders does some pretty nifty stuff with the action. The opening sequence is breathtaking and he also gives us a cool, atmospheric fight in a darkened hallway where the only flashes of light come from electric tasers. While some of the fight scenes feel a bit generic, I defy you not to smile when you hear the words “Activate Spider Tank!” This Spider Tank guy is pretty badass and he can kick butt like ED-209.
A side note regarding the whole “Whitewashing” debacle. I have seen the original Ghost in the Shell anime, although I can’t for the life of me remember anything about it. All I can say is that this is a case of people condemning something before they actually see the finished product. You see, the “shell”, or robot exterior, may be Caucasian, but the “ghost” or spirit that is inside of it, is Asian. Since my mother always told me it’s what’s on the inside that counts, I have to say a lot of the negative comments that were heaped on the film before its release were unjust. Then again, I’m not an anime guy, so what do I know?
Burt Kennedy directed this workmanlike adaptation of Jim Thompson’s classic novel. It sure does take its sweet time getting going, but it does gather a modicum of steam as it reaches its inevitably downbeat conclusion. While Michael Winterbottom’s recent remake captured the essence of the novel better, Stacy Keach embodied the spirit of its protagonist, Lou Ford better than Casey Affleck did.
Lou Ford is a seemingly gregarious small town cop who is dating the local schoolmarm. Ford gets an assignment from the old coot who owns the town (the great Keenan Wynn) to quietly run a hussy (Susan Tyrrell) over the county line for making time with his son (Don Stroud). When Ford goes to do the job, the prostitute provokes him and sends him into a violent rage. The thing is, she kind of likes the negative attention, and she and Lou begin a love affair. Things eventually get a little too complicated for Lou and he hatches a coldblooded murder scheme to do away with her. Naturally, things don’t go exactly as planned and Lou has to murder more people to cover his tracks.
Keach and Tyrrell are excellent together. Unlike the remake, you have to wait a long time until her character is introduced. Once she is brought into the fold, the movie really kicks into gear. The duo also starred in the much better Fat City, and if you haven’t seen that one, I’d highly suggest you check it out.
This is a perfectly serviceable character study/noir drama. If I’d never read the novel, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more. It just seems that Kennedy and his screenwriters were much too shy to really delve into Ford’s ruthless character. They use a lot of flashbacks of his past traumas to let him (and the audience) off the hook in a futile effort to excuse and/or explain his diabolical actions. It was much more effective in the book (and the remake) where we slowly learn he's a sociopath without remorse.
The flashbacks that try to explain everything are pretty hokey. The use of irritating sound effects to signal a traumatic event is really annoying too. Kennedy films some of these sections in black and white to make it look like an old horror movie, which is a little too on the nose. Also, the scene with a doctor, played by John Carradine, is unnecessary as the character is only there to further spell out what we already know.
Whenever the plot focuses on the dynamic between Keach and Tyrrell, it works. The supporting cast is equally fine as they put in some strong performances. Their efforts keep you watching, even when the film falters.
Three stock brokers leave a late night Christmas office party and stop at an ATM. Brian Geraghty is the square, Josh Peck is the cut-up, and the sexy Alice Eve is the unattainable blonde. When they try to get back in their car, they are menaced by a faceless dude in a winter coat who won’t let them leave the ATM. More people show up and they are offed by the killer. Meanwhile, the brokers try to survive the night, using only their wits, but the clever killer is able to stay one step ahead of them at every turn.
The killer obviously saw Urban Legend because he modeled his look on the parka-wearing psycho in that film. Even though his look may be unoriginal, the movie is a rather slick and inventive thriller. The performances by the three likeable leads certainly help as they make you genuinely care for their characters.
Director David Brooks does a good job at setting up the premise swiftly and quickly begins turning the screws to the characters. The clever script also finds some inspired ways to ratchet up the suspense and even though the film takes place primarily in one setting, it never wears out its welcome. While it may never fully kick into gear, it remains a solidly entertaining little flick. As far as Christmas-themed thrillers with characters in claustrophobic settings go, it’s not quite as good as P2, but it’s a fun low-key high-concept chiller.
AKA: No Escape.
Next time on It Came from the Thrift Store: Java Heat!
If you all have the time, the great Cody Jarrett needs your help to finance his documentary on the iconic Tura Satana, star of the legendary films Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, The Astro-Zombies, and Sugar Boxx. Not only that, but it includes an appearance by the always entertaining John Waters too! If you're a cult movie fan like I am and have a few dollars to spare, help Cody out!
In the futuristic year of 1940, another World War breaks out, causing devastation throughout the globe. In 1966, a deadly plague further culls the population. In 1970, a man in a plane touches down near a settlement and is immediately taken hostage by the suspicious warlord who controls the town. Eventually, his organization, “Wings Over the World” bombs the town and begins to make way for the futuristic society of 2036.
Directed by William Cameron (Invaders from Mars) Menzies and boasting a screenplay by none other than H.G. Wells, Things to Comes is a fascinating, if flawed film. It’s more speculative fiction than science fiction, but it’s interesting to see what Wells and company predicted would happen in the future. They accurately predicted another World War would occur, they just got the duration wrong. They also predicted the advent of flat screen TVs, and the giant underground society of the future looks a bit like a modern day shopping mall.
Things to Come doesn’t really have a traditional narrative. It doesn’t so much follow characters, but rather gives you glimpses into a futuristic time. While I do appreciate this novel approach, the whole thing is dramatically uneven. The earlier scenes of the world on the brink of war are much more effective than the stuff involving the post-plague society.
Some of the character’s musings on war is a bit too on-the-nose. (“If we don’t end war, war will end us!”) The acting is a bit stilted and/or overly theatrical too. That’s sort of the point though as the movie seems to be a propaganda film from some kind of futuristic alternate reality.
Menzies’ framings and compositions are larger than life. The set design is stunning and some scenes feel almost like a nightmare. The bombing sequences that show the mass destruction of the city are well done. I also liked the scenes of people being shot down for having the “wandering sickness”. You have to wonder if maybe George Romero took a cue from this movie as this section sort of feels like the “Shoot them in the head” scenes in his zombie films.
I like the fact that this crop of low budget filmmakers wears their inspirations on their sleeve. They have a Cronenbergian company name, use the same credits sequence font that John Carpenter always used, and swipe a town’s name from a certain Stephen King story. It also takes place in the ‘80s too, which is always nice. Although they can’t quite pull the whole thing off, I’d like to see what they’d be capable of if given a bigger budget and a better script.
One night, Seth (Graham Skipper) sees his friend Mark (Josh Ethier) disappear into a beam of blue light. Two years later, his buddy reappears in the woods, screaming and acting weird. It isn’t long before Seth’s going around town and blowing people away with a shotgun. Since he’s now part alien, he lays eggs in their chests and starts breeding a new race of alien duplicates. It’s then up to Seth and Mark’s old girlfriend (Vanessa Leigh) to stop him from taking over the world (or at least the town).
Almost Human is slightly more competent and a bit more polished than your typical homegrown horror movie. It also has a decent enough low-tech opening sequence, which probably would’ve worked fine as its own self-contained short. At a feature length though, the film doesn’t quite work. Even at a relatively brisk 79 minutes, it still feels heavily padded.
The alien stuff is well done from a technical standpoint given the film’s obvious low budget. (Having the monsters be perfect human duplicates instead of actual monsters really saves on the budget.) Although the flick twiddles its thumbs a bit in the middle section, the third act contains a fair amount of slimy disgustingness. There is one egg-laying scene that is pretty cool. This scene is icky enough to make you wish that the filmmakers had pushed things a bit further into that direction. (More low budget space monster movies need to rip off Xtro.)
In the end, there’s just enough slimy glop and queasy effects for me to let it go with a marginal recommendation. If you’re patient and can get past the talky sections, you’ll be rewarded with some gross gags and effects. You can rag on Almost Human for plenty of things, but at least they didn’t use CGI when it came time for the slimy, sexualized, alien ova-depositors to start squirming around.
AKA: From Another World.
Next time on It Came from the Thrift Store: ATM!
I love Kung Fu films. I love movie trailer compilations. As such, I was a big fan of Kung Fu Trailers of Fury. Unfortunately, this sequel left me kind of cold. While there are some bright spots here and there, it’s just a tad too repetitive for its own good.
I appreciate that they have included a lot of trailers for obscure movies (although I've seen many of the ones featured). However from the evidence presented here, they're obscure for a reason. I'm not saying you need a good movie to make a good trailer. Far from it. It's just that each trailer is often edited, narrated and structured in a nearly identical fashion, which makes it difficult to enjoy. (Almost all of them advertise "new stances".) They really start blurring together after a while.
It also doesn’t help that all the movies have nearly identical plots. (They’re all historical and/or period Kung Fu flicks.) It’s not until the 80 minute mark when we finally get one that takes place in modern times. Even those trailers are short lived as the film goes back to the same old stuff shortly thereafter.
The trailers that really stick out are ones that stray from the formula. Like The Story of Chinese Gods. Now, I’ve seen the film and I can attest that it is indeed terrible. However, because it’s an animated movie, the trailer at the very least is memorable.
Another debit is the fact that all of the trailers are foreign language. Some will enjoy that, but I thought it was kind of a rip-off. I mean, part of the fun of the genre is the bad dubbing. You get none of that this time around. Another problem with the trailers being entirely in a foreign language is that you don't get to hear the great trailer narration from raspy voiced announcers, which are the hallmark of trailer compilations.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I have to say there are a handful of solid trailers here. The ones for Thunderbolt, Yellow Faced Tiger, Bruce and the Iron Finger, and The Instant Kung Fu Man are pretty good. I also enjoyed seeing the few romantic comedy trailers, if only because it broke up a bit of the monotony.
At 133 minutes, it’s a bit of a chore to get through in one sitting. I had to break it up into two viewings. Even then, it was all still a bit numbing. It’s not bad or anything, it’s just not nearly as fun as the original (or even Fists of Fury, Full Moon’s Kung Fu compilation). I’ll probably still pick up Part 3, if they ever get around to making it. Hopefully next time they’ll pick some trailers that have a bit more variety to them.
I know what you’re thinking. Caligula had just about every kind of debauchery known to man. Now along comes Caligula 2: The “Untold” Story. How much more of the story is left to tell?
As it turns out, quite a bit.
Actually, Caligula 2 isn’t really a sequel, but rather a pretty good rip-off. In fact, I think it’s a lot better than the original. It’s definitely one of Joe D'Amato’s sleaziest efforts. If you’ve ever seen a Joe D’Amato movie, you know that’s really saying something.
David Cain Haughton (who was also in D’Amato’s Cave Dwellers) stars as Caligula. While Malcolm McDowell is clearly the better actor, he does an admirable job filling his shoes. He has a knack for really getting into all the assorted disgusting stuff that the character does. I liked the scene where he catches a would-be assassin and orders to have his tongue cut out. He also has the tendons in his arms and legs sliced so he can’t run away. To add insult to injury, Caligula keeps the guy around the palace so he can mock him.
Haughton’s Caligula isn’t an entirely bad guy though. In one scene, he gets one of his wenches to jerk the dude off. I mean, he knows that the assassin’s arms don’t work anymore. So it was nice of Caligula to make the girl lend him a hand. (No pun intended.)
This Caligula is tough, but fair.
The one and only Laura Gemser is the slave girl who wants to get revenge on Caligula. She takes her time to let him notice her, become attracted to her, and eventually invite her into his bed. The funny thing is that he bones her so good that she can’t bear to go through with killing him!
The centerpiece of the film is the long orgy scene that occurs halfway through. It’s rather mind-blowing and it even manages to top the one from the original. Folks, I didn’t think that was possible, but it’s true. Women have sex with dwarves, guys vomit all over the place, and a chick jerks off a horse. I know what you're thinking. It can't possibly measure up to the horse jerking scene in Emanuelle in America. Well, this time the girl in question actually gets mounted by the horse! Thank God that isn't shown, but all the jerking is, and in full detail too.
That’s not all though. Caligula orders virgins to be stuffed with dildos, he rapes and kills, and he even beats a baby to death. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, Caligula ties some guys up and forces rods up their asses till it comes out their chest.
Despite the overall wackness of the proceedings, the film really goes off the rails after the orgy scene. The last half hour is marred by a lot of soap opera stuff with Haughton and Gemser. The repetitive dream sequences further hampers the pacing and adds to the already bloated running time. Still, it’s better than the first one and is easily the second best horse jerk-off movie D’Amato and Gemser ever made. Praise doesn’t come much higher than that.
AKA: The Emperor Caligula: The Untold Story. AKA: Caligula: The Untold Story. AKA: Caligula 2: The Forbidden Story. AKA: Emperor Caligula: Garden of Taboo.
A series of strange murders has been happening in the small town of Potter’s Bluff. As the bodies pile up, the sheriff (James Farentino) wracks his brain trying to piece everything together. Maybe the town’s loony old mortician (Jack Albertson) knows what’s going on?
Dead and Buried is a movie that a lot of people have told me I would love, but I can’t quite say that I’m all that enamored with it. I’ve seen it a few times over the years, hoping that this time might be the time that it all finally clicks with me. No such luck on this viewing. Maybe if I catch it again in another decade or two, I’ll feel differently about it.
The film works in fits and starts. The opening, where a guy is burned alive on the beach is pretty good. Even better is the scene where his charred body wakes up screaming inside of a wrecked car. I also dug the part where he’s all bandaged up in a hospital and gets a hypodermic needle in the eye by a cute nurse. If this section of the flick was its own contained story, it would’ve made for a fine twenty minute long Creepshow segment.
The other kills are marred by the stupid townsfolk standing around and snapping pictures. Yes, we eventually learn what their deal is in the end of the picture, but they still seem out of place and take away from the atmosphere that Gary (Vice Squad) Sherman is trying to create. That atmosphere is another highlight. The frame is almost always shrouded by fog and some scenes feel like they came out of an old E.C. Comic.
The twist ending is predictable and poorly handled. Again, if this was a short Creepshow segment, it would’ve been excusable. However, it’s a bit tough to sit through a ninety minute movie when you know what’s going on and the main character doesn’t. Which brings me to my main criticism…
James Farentino makes for a rather crummy hero. It’s not entirely his fault because his character is rock stupid, but his overacting in the last scene helps to ruin whatever effectiveness the big twist might’ve had. I mean we’re talking about some Ryan O’Neal in Tough Guys Don’t Dance territory here.
The supporting cast fares much better. Albertson hams it up nicely, Lisa (Prince of Darkness) Blount is sexy and spooky as the killer nurse, Melody (Flash Gordon) Anderson does a fine job in the thankless role of Farentino’s wife, and a pre-Freddy Robert Englund has a few good moments as one of the townsfolk. Unfortunately, their efforts aren’t enough to make the uneven script (which was written by Alien’s Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon) come together in a satisfying way.