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NEWS AND NOTES

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/

GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) *** ½

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?

THE KILLER INSIDE ME (1976) ** ½

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.

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FullSizeR (10)

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!

tura

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!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1486618309/tura-the-tura-satana-documentary?ref=project_link

THINGS TO COME (1936) ***

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.

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FullSizeR (9)

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.

CALIGULA 2: THE UNTOLD STORY (1982) ***

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.

DEAD AND BURIED (1981) ** ½

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.

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THE LOVE WITCH (2016) **

Of all the throwback retro-grindhouse movies that have come out in the past decade or so, The Love Witch comes closest to matching the look and feel of its original inspirations. The color scheme, costumes, make-up, and hair all feel like they came out of a Jess Franco film from the ‘70s. That is to say it’s pretty awesome. At least on the surface, that is. Honestly, it’s about as uneven and frustrating as your typical Franco flick.

Samantha Robinson stars as the titular witch who uses spells, magic potions, and other forms of sorcery to make men fall in love with her. She looks great with her long hair and clingy pastel dresses, but her acting is a bit of a problem though. Her line readings are often flat and she doesn’t have much screen presence. She certainly looks the part; I’ll give her that. Too bad the second she opens her mouth, the spell is broken.

The film is gorgeous to look at. Every frame is filled with impeccable costuming, garish lighting, and inventive set design. Since director, producer, and screenwriter Anna Biller did just about everything herself, I have to give her all the credit. She certainly proves herself to be a director to watch.

While she got the tone and look of the film just right, the script is sorely lacking such loving attention to detail. Mostly, the movie revolves around scenes of women sitting around and trash-talking men’s shortcomings before Robinson puts stuff in her date’s drinks and watches them become horny and vulnerable. All of this gets a bit repetitive and frankly, a bit boring.

The exorbitant running time of 120 minutes doesn’t help matters either. I’m sure Biller could’ve cut out whole chunks of this thing and no one would’ve ever noticed. The lame Renaissance Festival scene in particular goes on forever and the awful medieval music gets on your damn nerves.

Still, The Love Witch has its moments. The witchcraft scenes are pretty cool and the scene where she makes a potion using her pee and used tampons is rather gnarly. I just wish the whole thing was shorter, funnier, and had some actual meat to the story.

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GUNSLINGER (1956) ***

Gunslinger is probably the first feminist western. It features a female lead that is just as tough and quick on the draw as just about anyone in westerns at the time. Beverly Garland gives one of her best performances as the wife of a small town marshal (William Schallert). He gets shot in the back in the opening scene and instead of grieving; Beverly immediately picks up his rifle and plugs one of the murderers. Later, at the funeral, when the other gunman shows up, Beverly pulls a pistol and guns him down right there in front of the priest! When no one steps up to be the interim marshal, Beverly grabs her dead husband’s star and proceeds to clean up the town.

What’s cool about Gunslinger is that no one really questions her. They accept Garland as a superior, or at the very least, an equal. Even though she’s a woman, they don’t even really make a big deal about it. One guy makes a comment about her wearing pants, but that’s about it. Garland is able to hold her own in the Wild West. She’s not afraid to shoot first and ask questions later.

The always awesome Allison (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) Hayes plays the villainess, a saloon owner who is plotting to take over the town if the railroad comes through. She hires John Ireland to kill Garland if she makes trouble. Naturally, Ireland, intrigued by Garland’s beauty AND her badass talent of gunning people down, falls in love with her, which complicates things.

Garland and Hayes are equals in this. They play off each other rather well and both of them get lots of opportunities to shine. In your typical western, these roles would’ve been played by men and they would’ve been fighting over the affections of a woman. Here, John Ireland is the object of their affection, and since he is just as good of a shot as Garland is, it offers a unique dynamic than your average oater.

Gunslinger is a Roger Corman movie. It’s in color and looks better than most of the films he was doing at the time. There are some admittedly rough patches here, mostly owing to the low budget. (Jeep tracks are visible on the range, the indoor sets wobble during a fight, etc.) However, the central premise is involving and the performances are engrossing enough to make it work.

FISTS OF FURY (2016) ***

Here’s another trailer compilation DVD from Full Moon Features. This one is hosted by Cynthia Rothrock and it contains nothing but Kung Fu trailers. Her host segments are kind of cheesy as it’s mostly just Rothrock giving comic karate demonstrations on a bunch of people before talking about a particular segment. The good news is that she has a winning personality and her spiels are often rather informative.

The compilation is broken up into different sections. We have segments on Badass Women (Above the Law, Deadly China Doll, Ebony, Ivory and Jade, Sister Streetfighter, Sting of the Dragon Masters, and Wonder Women), Bruceploitation (Bruce Le’s Greatest Revenge, Bruce’s Deadly Fingers, Enter the Fat Dragon, Fists of Bruce Lee, and The Return of Bruce), Deadly Weapons (Lightning Swords of Death, Master of the Flying Guillotine, Secret of the Shaolin Poles, Slash: The Blade of Death, The Damned, and Invisible Swordsman), Martial Arts vs. Guns (Ninja Blacklist, Jaguar Lives!, Shatter, Sudden Death, The Bodyguard, and The Stranger and the Gunfighter), Revenge (Chinese Hercules, Five Fingers of Death, Revenge of the Ninja, The Brutal Boxer, The Street Fighter, and Thunderfist), and Differently-Abled Combatants (Kung Fu vs. Yoga, Lucky Seven, The One Armed Executioner, The Crippled Masters, The One-Armed Swordsman, and The Story of Drunken Master). A lot of the trailers feature Lo Lieh and Angela Mao.

Some trailers go on forever, especially the foreign language ones. Still, there are a lot of winners here and very few repeats from other compilations (although I’ll never shy away from seeing the Lucky Seven trailer yet again). I do sort of wish that the trailers played out non-stop though. Before each one, there’s a little bio of the film accompanied by release dates, cast listings, posters, and a synopsis of each movie. Again, since the flick is packed with information, it’s kind of a minor criticism.

TRAPPED (1982) *

Director William Freut made this boring slog of an exploitation flick in between the slightly better Funeral Home and Spasms. It plays like a mash-up of an ‘80s Dead Teenager movie and a ‘70s Deliverance rip-off. Fans of either genre will likely walk away disappointed.

Henry Silva stars as a redneck who rules a no-horse backwoods town with an iron fist. When he catches a traveling salesman messing around with his young bride, he covers him with tar and feathers. Nicholas Campbell and his friends go camping in the woods and witness Silva murder the man in cold blood. They go to the cops, but since the sheriff is Silva’s brother, he doesn’t do anything.

Naturally, the teens are too stupid just to leave town, but noooooo…. They’ve got to go back to get their tents. Of course, Silva finds them, captures them and threatens to rape Campbell’s girlfriend if he doesn’t give himself up. This all leads to the big confrontation in which Campbell and Silva have an axe vs. crowbar fight.

Despite a modicum of promise, the movie never really works, partially due to the glacial pacing. It takes forever for something to happen, and when it finally does, the film relies on stupid characters doing dumb things to start, prolong, and sustain the (what passes for) suspense. Plus, there just isn’t enough exploitation goods here (aside from a couple of gratuitous breast shots) to make it stand out from the rest of the pack.

It also doesn’t help that Silva is sorely miscast. Yes, if you want a slimy, sleazy homicidal Mob hitman, Silva is your go-to guy. However, a slimy, sleazy homicidal backwoods hillbilly is just out of his wheelhouse.

AKA: Baker County, USA. AKA: The Killer Instinct.

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THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES (2007) *

The Poughkeepsie Tapes is kind of like a gory, fictionalized episode of one of those Discovery Channel criminal investigation shows about serial killers. We are shown snippets of videotapes a serial killer made before killing his victims. Afterwards, a team of experts analyze the footage and try to offer theories behind the killer’s motives. Detectives, forensic specialists, and even members of the victim’s families are also interviewed.

What makes this thing different than something you’d see on TV is the fact that the tapes are shown in all of their disgustingness with nothing blurred out. Well, that’s not entirely true. Director John Erick Dowdle goes a bit overboard with the post-production distortion in an effort to make the tapes look old and decrepit. By doing so, all he accomplishes is making it harder to see just what the hell is going on. It also doesn’t help that the kills on the tapes are nothing more than your typical shaky-cam Found Footage stuff. None of it works as the overall effect is more depressing than anything.

The stuff with the interviewees is slightly better. It would’ve helped if they found some better actors to sell their “critical analysis”. As it is, the acting is rather uneven. While some are able to convincingly pass themselves off as talking heads, others are painfully obvious phonies right out of Central Casting.

Dowdle went on to direct other insufferable shaky-cam nonsense with the likes of Quarantine and As Above So Below.

IGOR AND THE LUNATICS (1985) **

A cult leader kills some people and goes to jail for his crimes. He gets out fifteen years later and it doesn’t take long before he kills again. It's then up to a former cult member and his girlfriend to stop him and his bloodthirsty minions.

Igor and the Lunatics is a low budget Troma movie that feels unfinished. Whatever was finished feels halfheartedly slapped together too. It's barely eighty minutes long, but it’s still packed with long scenes of people walking around, dumb dream sequences, and one of the murders is repeated twice. Admittedly, the murder scene that is shown twice is a pretty good one, so I'll let that slide.

Of course I’m talking about the scene where the cult leader puts a woman on a sawmill and slices her in half LENGTHWISE. Other kills include heart ripping, a machete to the stomach, an arrow to the head, and a pitchfork to the stomach. Neither of them pack the impact of that sawmill scene, hence why they’re only shown one time.

Look, this is a Troma movie, so you should pretty much already know what to expect. The gore is decent, the acting is terrible (especially by the main lunatic), the production values are slim, and there's a smattering of nude females on display. As far as these things go, it’s a middle-of-the-road effort, but one that will offer up a modicum of fun for the indiscriminating Troma fan.

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HOUR OF THE GUN (1967) *** ½

John Sturges, the man who gave us such classics as The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape gives us his take on the legend of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. This was actually his second movie on the subject, having directed Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral ten years earlier. After seeing this, I might have to check out Gunfight to see how it stacks up to this one as it’s one of the best Wyatt Earp movies ever made.

What is different about this film is that it starts with the O.K. Corral. This shows Sturges isn’t intent on telling a historical look at Wyatt Earp, nor is he really interested in the actual gunfight itself. Sturges wants to look beyond that. He’s more concerned with the aftermath that comes from bloodshed than the actual bloodshed itself. Of course, what comes from bloodshed is nothing but more bloodshed, but that’s sort of the whole point.

James Garner is cast against type as Wyatt. He’s quiet, morose, and far removed from his usual easygoing persona. It works though and he plays it rather well. The scene where he guns down a guy at point blank range at a train station is chilling; partly because we rarely see Garner doing something this cold-blooded, but also because he goes all-in with his character.

Jason Robards might be my favorite Doc Holliday of all time. He’s cranky and cantankerous, but is a loyal friend and will follow Wyatt to the end. The subplot about him going on his own adventure to find men for a posse is really well done. I especially liked the part where he waived the guy’s extensive gambling debt in trade for a deputy star.

What makes Doc unique in this version is that in addition to being a mere sidekick, he also acts as Wyatt’s conscience. He’s more than willing to help Wyatt gun down the people who murdered his brother, but he’s there to see that Wyatt remembers he’s a lawman and that revenge takes a backseat to the matter at hand. He doesn't want Wyatt to become a killer like him. He's the angel on Wyatt’s shoulder who's actually a devil at heart. This dynamic is what makes their relationship work so well.

Robert Ryan plays the villainous Ike Clanton in a more suave manner than what is normally portrayed. It works because he is keenly intelligent and an even match for Garner (and because he’s goddamned Robert Ryan). I also enjoyed seeing a young Jon Voight as Curly Bill, a member of the Clanton gang.

While there are a number of exciting sequences, the pacing does meander a bit towards the end. The shootouts also tend to get a bit repetitive as they go along. However, the meat of the story and the relationship between Wyatt and Doc is what makes Hour of the Gun stand out from the glut of other Wyatt Earp movies.

Garner later went on to play Earp again in Sunset.

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BLAIR WITCH (2016) ½ *

You all are complaining you lost an hour because of the time change. Amateurs. I watched Blair Witch and lost ninety minutes.

I guess you all remember the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones”. Well, we learned in the first Blair Witch that they can also bore you. At least in that movie the budget was so low that that’s all they could afford to show you. In this soft reboot/sequel, they actually show the Blair Witch. Would it surprise you that she looks like a half-assed CGI monster from the Syfy Channel? Probably not.

Look. Found Footage movies are not my bag. Still, I sat through this one because it was directed by Adam Wingard, who made You’re Next and The Guest. I thought if anyone could breathe a little life into the tired franchise, it was him. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi: “I was wrong”.

Some more dummies go into the woods with cameras looking for the Blair Witch. After a half an hour of checking the camera equipment, putting up tents, and walking around the woods endlessly, we finally get to the meat of the movie. That is to say another half an hour of people looking for other people.

The thing that makes this entry different? This time out, there are a couple of local stoners that join the camera crew who act as tour guides. That is to say there’s even more people to annoy the shit out of you while they’re wandering through the woods.

I don’t know why Wingard would want to make this shit. This sort of thing is clearly beneath him. He proved with You’re Next and The Guest he can hold the camera still with the best of them. Sadly, Blair Witch features brand new ways to irritate the piss out of you in terms of shaky-cam nonsense.

You see, this is the 21st century, so now people can wear cameras on their heads to capture their footage. That means that instead of holding a camera in their hand and shaking it up and down when they run, they have a camera on their head that shakes side to side when they run. Progress.

Hundreds of imitators have come and gone since the first Blair Witch. You shouldn’t do another one unless you’ve got an interesting angle. The only potentially intriguing idea they can come up with is the camera crew’s use of drones to give them aerial footage of the woods. This admittedly decent idea is almost immediately squandered when the damn thing gets stuck in a tree. When a chick climbs up to get the thing, she dies from… wait for it… falling out of the tree. Weak.

The kills are downright stupid, other than the part where a girl is folded in half. The sole “good” part is when a girl picks at her pussy leg. As in her leg is filled with pus. Not as in her pussy is filled with leg.

The extended finale in the Blair Witch Asbestos House of Death goes on forever. It looks like the first person camerawork from Doom, except minus the guns. Or the point. (This is the second review in a row I’ve mentioned Doom. Maybe it’s time to give that flick a reevaluation.)

At least in the original once they got to the house you knew it was over. Here, it continues on and on with the heroine having to partake in a prolonged crawl through a tunnel of shit. I couldn't think of a better metaphor for this movie if I tried.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) *** ½

Kong: Skull Island is the best Vietnam Allegory by way of a Giant Monster Movie I’ve ever seen. At first, the idea of putting King Kong into what essentially is a war movie seems a bit odd. However, it makes perfect sense if you think about it. Instead of fighting the Cong, our soldiers are fighting KONG!

That’s right folks, we’re talking Full Monkey Jacket here. Bananaburger Hill. Apepocalypse Now.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wears his inspiration on his sleeve, just like Gareth Edwards did when he made the new Godzilla movie. Whereas Edwards was making a Godzilla flick as an homage to Spielberg, Vogt-Roberts is doing a clear riff on Francis Ford Coppola. That isn’t to say the film is completely devoid of Spielberg-isms. I dare you not to smile when Samuel L. Jackson does his little callback to Jurassic Park.

Speaking of Jackson and homages, I also like how his character was influenced by some of the great movie characters of all time. You can definitely see a little bit of Gregory Peck’s Captain Ahab as he single-mindedly tries to take down a giant animal. The character he’s most like though is Sarge, the character played by The Rock in Doom as he goes from being a badass to bad guy.

Unlike Edwards’ Godzilla, there is no teasing of the monster’s appearance. Once the team of soldiers arrives on the island, Kong makes short work of their helicopters. The way he swats them from out of the sky is glorious. It’s some of the finest monster mashing mayhem of the 21st century.

From then on, the movie becomes a tale of survival. The soldiers have to regroup and trek from Point A to Point B through a dangerous landscape, all the while avoiding being eaten, stepped on, or squashed by giant monsters. The monsters are pretty cool too. I liked the giant spider scene a lot. The “skull crawlers” that are Kong’s main competition are a little weak, but as with the MUTOs from Godzilla, they’re pretty much there as a punching bag for our star monster. No matter, because the scene in which Kong does battle with a giant squid is worth the price of admission. I don’t know if the scene where he eats the squid raw was a nod to Oldboy or not. I’d like to think so.

The whole “Beauty and the Beast” stuff is kept to a minimum. That’s mostly because Brie Larson isn’t your typical damsel in distress. She’s a combat photographer. Her interaction with Kong is limited, but their big scene together is rather special. It’s more like the dinosaur meeting scenes in Jurassic Park where you can have a quiet moment to ponder the wonder of a giant monster that doesn’t want to eat you.

Unfortunately, they never really find much for Tom Hiddleston to do. He gets a great introduction scene where he lists the various ways people can die on an uncharted island and we hear a lot about his legendary combat skills. Then, once they’re on the island, he basically just acts as tour guide.

The film itself is patchy in places. It’s a given that the human scenes aren’t going to be as good as the stuff with the monsters. There are also more scenes of people walking from place to place than in any given Lord of the Rings movie. The good news is that when the monsters are mashing, it’s damn good times and that’s the only thing that matters.

Let’s go back to the Vietnam allegory for a second. I was only half-joking about how silly the idea of making a monster movie as metaphor for Vietnam is. It actually sort of works though. I mean, we take it for granted that the original Godzilla is a metaphor for the atomic bombs being dropped on Japan. Godzilla’s rampage is meant as a symbol for the destruction of Japan. Here, American troops are stuck in a jungle fighting a war they can’t win. The only difference is that they can clearly see their enemy because he’s a hundred feet tall.

I don’t think this is quite as good as Edwards’ Godzilla movie. It is the best King Kong flick since King Kong vs. Godzilla, so that alone is cause for celebration. I’d recommend seeing it on the biggest screen possible that had the loudest sound system to get the full effect. I’d also say to check out the 3-D version because there are tons of stuff that come out at the screen, including:

• 3-D Gun (multiple)

• 3-D Brie Larson

• 3-D Bomb (multiple)

• 3-D Shrapnel

• 3-D Helicopter

• 3-D Antenna

• 3-D Hand

• 3-D Hat

• 3-D Spears (multiple)

• 3-D Sword

• 3-D Skull Crawler

• 3-D Lighter

AKA: King Kong: Giant from Skull Island.

THE “LEGEND OF DINOSAURS” (1977) *

A woman hiking in the wilderness falls into an underground cavern and disturbs a prehistoric egg. It hatches and a plesiosaur emerges. Pretty soon, it starts hanging out at a lake and eating tourists. Before long, a pterodactyl joins in and the two eventually start a fight over who gets to eat the tourists.

I'm a sucker for a rubber dinosaur movie, but this one deserves to be placed on the lowest rungs of the ladder. As a fan of these types of films, I’m at peace with the fact that all the stuff with the humans is going to be bad. However, The “Legend of Dinosaurs” (those funky quotations aren’t mine, that’s how it appears on screen) contains some of the dullest human interaction scenes ever seen in a dinosaur flick. The romance between the leads is almost unbearable and it's made worse by the atrocious music (which often doesn't fit the scene).

I did like how the plot cribs from Jaws. We get a scene where the beaches are closed, as well as a part where some kids wear a fake fin to scare swimmers. You know it’s bad when the most memorable parts of your film are stolen directly from another movie.

All of this would’ve been okay if the film delivered on the dinosaur action. Unfortunately, these dinosaurs are pretty weak. They look alright, I guess, but the designers didn't figure out a way to make them move convincingly. Only the occasional shot of someone struggling inside the chomping jaws of the dinosaurs are worth a damn. Even then, there aren’t nearly enough of them to warrant watching it.

AKA: The Legend of the Dinosaurs. AKA: Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds. AKA: Legend of Dinosaurs and Ominous Birds.

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TROUBLE MAN (1972) **

Robert Hooks stars as the badass “Mr. T”. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that a certain star of Rocky 3 might’ve stolen his name from this character. Nah, I pity the fool that’d do something like that.

Anyway. Mr. T is a bad man, but he does good things for the neighborhood. He goes after negligent slumlords and accepts bail bonds from people who can’t afford to go through the proper channels. A friend in need, Chalky (Paul Winfield) hires Mr. T to find out who’s been busting up his illegal crap games. When Chalky kills the gunman, T is blamed for the murder. Since the stick-up man works for the local kingpin Mr. Big (Julius Harris), Mr. T has to clear his name to both the cops AND Mr. Big.

Trouble Man was included in book The 50 Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way), but I can think of dozens of other Blaxploitation action flicks much more deserving of inclusion. The cinematography is crisp, and the action is well-staged. The opening pool hustling sequence is badass enough to keep it far away from ever receiving a Golden Turkey Award. (The same goes for the cool theme song by Marvin Gaye.)

Still, it ain’t all that great. Once the plot is set into motion, the pacing gets increasingly bogged down. All the double-crossing and triple-crossing is clumsily plotted and ineffectively executed. The flick also suffers from a lack of action, which mostly just bookends the film. Hooks’ performance carries it as far as it will go, but in the end, Trouble Man just isn’t really worth the trouble.

Hooks’ son, Kevin went on to direct the classic Black Dog.

WOMEN OF SAN QUENTIN (1983) ***

Most horror fans know Amy Steel as the feisty Final Girl Ginny from Friday the 13th Part 2. Two years after leaving an impression on moviegoers, she migrated to the small screen for Women of San Quentin. This is a different kind of Women in Prison movie. Instead of the women being inmates, they’re the guards!

Stella Stevens is excellent as the head guard who runs the toughest cellblock in the prison. Steel is the fresh-faced new recruit who is taken under Stevens’ wing. Steel not only has to put up with sexism from the male prisoners, but other guards as well. Meanwhile, Stevens is torn between accepting a promotion and staying in a job that just flat-out kicks ass at. While they both deal with the emotional struggles that come with working in the prison, they also have to contend with an impending race riot that is brewing within the prison walls.

The only knock against Women of San Quentin is that it’s a TV movie. That means it can't get as down and dirty as it really should get. Since the great television vet William A. (Get Christy Love!) Graham was behind the camera, the flick is well-shot, has a breezy pace, and features some dynamite acting.

Seriously, no matter what faults it has, it’s hard to hate any movie that contains:

• Debbie Allen as a tough-talking guard.

• Yaphet Kotto as the experienced guard who shows Steel the ropes.

• Gregg Henry as a nice inmate who might be a potential weasel.

• Hector Elizondo as the crew chief who is carrying on an affair with Stevens.

• Ernie Hudson as the reluctant leader of the black gangs.

• William Sanderson as a nut who tries to cut a guard’s throat.

Oh, and did I mention it’s co-written by Larry Cohen? Don’t you feel like you want to see it now?

THE KILLING OF AMERICA (1982) ****

Of all the mondo movies released in the wake of Faces of Death, this is probably the best. It’s more in your face than Faces of Death, but it somehow feels less exploitative, if that makes any sense (probably because none of the sequences are fakes). There’s an unapologetic cynicism that runs throughout the picture that is unrelenting. You’ll need a cynical viewpoint to in order to stomach it all. Even then, even the most cast-iron stomachs will probably walk away a little queasy from this one. You know the filmmakers have accomplished what they set out to do when you feel like you need to take a shower after you see their film.

The long sequence that focuses on political assassinations is equal parts fascinating and horrifying. We see the Zapruder film. We see newsreel footage of Reagan being shot. We see George Wallace shot down. We see RFK moments before being gunned down. (Sirhan Sirhan is interviewed.) It’s scary how lives can be altered, ended, and the country irreparably changed in the matter of a couple of seconds.

From there, the film focuses on the rise of mass murderers. Snipers like Charles Whitman and cult leaders like Jim Jones are featured. Surprisingly, they don’t spend a whole lot of time on Charles Manson. (Maybe because they thought he was too easy of a target.) The movie draws a direct line from these sorts of crazies to full-blown serial killers like John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy.

The film concludes with a segment on gun mania. The statistics for the number of guns in this country is astounding and has gone up exponentially over time. The flick ends on a hopeful note as camera crews follow a vigil for the recently-slain John Lennon while “Imagine” plays on the soundtrack.

The Killing of America was co-written and co-directed by Leonard Schrader, the brother of Paul. You have to wonder if Paul’s script for Taxi Driver had any influence on the sequence involving hookers on Hollywood Boulevard. Because of that, the two films would make for an ideal double feature, especially when you consider that John Hinckley tried to assassinate Reagan because he saw Taxi Driver too many times.

Some of this is indefensible. Some of this is off-putting. All of it is gripping, intense, and unrelenting. If you don’t want to be appalled, don’t see The Killing of America. However, if you thought that Faces of Death and Mondo Cane didn’t go far enough, then this should be right up your alley.

AKA: Violence U.S.A.

SCORE (1974) **

Claire Wilbur and her hubby are bored with swinging with tourists in their island villa. So she invites Lynn (I Drink Your Blood) Lowry over and seduces the telephone repairman while she watches. Claire then has Lynn and her husband over for dinner. They have a dress-up party, get high, and break off into same-sex pairs for a night of forbidden desire.

Radley (The Image) Metzger’s Score is groundbreaking in terms of the sheer amount of homosexual content. Sure, we’ve seen plenty of girl-on-girl action in these sorts of movies, but rarely do the guys get a chance to explore and fool around a little. For that alone, I guess Score is worthy of at least some kind of footnote in skinflick history.

It doesn’t help that the plot is slow moving. You can tell it was based on a play because it’s filled with longwinded scenes of people yakking on and on. The problem is, once we finally get to the sex, it isn’t really all that titillating.

Another odd thing is the fact that the guy-on-guy stuff is hardcore, but the lesbian scenes are strictly softcore. I mean what was good for the goose should’ve been good for the gander. Admittedly, the guy-on-guy stuff didn’t do much for me, but even the lesbian scenes fall well short of Metzger’s best stuff. While I’ll never turn down a chance to see Lynn Lowry strutting her stuff, in the end, even her scenes left me a bit cold.

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Producer Roger Corman’s Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader is not only derivative of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, but also The Amazing Colossal Man (there’s a scene involving a giant syringe), Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold (the giant-sized catfight), and Corman’s own The Wasp Woman (a beauty cream has Sci-Fi side effects). Corman, ever the penny-pincher, gave the effects team a budget so low that they have to resort to using the same techniques from the '50s to make the cheerleader look huge. Sure, there are a few CGI touches, but they are few and far between.

The plot I guess is pretty self-explanatory. Jena Sims is an ugly (and by “ugly” I mean she’s a hot coed that wears glasses, doesn’t wear make-up, and doesn’t comb her hair) science major who unsuccessfully tries out for the cheerleading squad. When she uses a sample of a top secret prototype skin cream, it makes her beautiful (and by “beautiful” I mean she stops wearing her glasses, puts on some make-up, and combs her hair), but it winds up turning her into a fifty-foot tall freak.

The cast is pretty good for this sort of thing. We have Sean Young as Sims’ mother, Ted Raimi as a lab assistant, and Treat Williams as the head of the top secret project. Williams does go overboard with his hammy performance (I would've preferred it if he was at the level of cheesy acting that he brought to The Phantom), but it’s still fun seeing him playing scenes alongside Raimi. It’s also cool seeing John Landis and Corman himself popping up in extended cameos.

I’m guessing this was original filmed in 3-D because there are lots of scenes in which the actors shove stuff at camera. Since the version I saw was in 2-D, it grows tiresome. It sometimes feels like that old SCTV sketch, but you know, minus the laughs.

Yes, sad to say that despite the solid premise and game cast, Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader is mostly a bust. On the plus side, there is a lot of nudity, so that keeps you watching. The final catfight between the two fifty-foot pom-pom girls is good, but it’s a long time coming.

THE INVINCIBLE SUPERGUY (1977) * ½

A pair of robbers and rapists are hired by a devious brother and sister team to sneak into a palace and steal some gold. Meanwhile, a girl disguises herself as a man in order to get close enough to stop them. A guy with a metal face called “Devil Man” and his army of zombie fighters joins the fray, and eventually, some dude calling himself “Superguy” steps in to save the day.

I had a hard time understanding some of the plot because the sound kept going in and out throughout the running time. Just when I’d raised the volume up enough to hear it, the sound would come back to full-blast and it nearly blew my speaker out. Usually, this wouldn’t be a problem if there was a subtitle option, but there wasn’t.

Not that plot is essential in a Kung Fu flick. However, there’s so much double-crossing, dirty dealings, and scheming going on between the characters that it’s hard to keep track of who’s doing what to who. I guess it wouldn’t matter if the action was solid. As it is, the Kung Fu isn’t anything to write home about. With the exception of the scene involving a blindfolded woman kicking plates off a guy’s head, the action is rather weak. The finale, which involves a lot of bad guys running around in fast-motion, is pretty stupid too.

For a movie named “The Invincible Sugerguy”, we don’t see a whole lot of him. When he finally does show up, it’s too little too late. I realize the filmmakers were probably just trying to cash in on the success of Superman, but there’s absolutely nothing “Super” about this guy, or the movie.

AKA: Golden Lohan.

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FullSizeR (8)

Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies is a bit of a hodgepodge. The bulk of the running time is devoted to old movie trailers, but the first fifteen minutes or so is kind of all over the place. Things get off to a cool start with the Goodtimes logo being projected on an old school TV with a top-loading VCR. The TV turns on and we are treated to a brief segment in which stop-motion movie theater patrons watch clips of old dinosaurs movies. Then a narrator gives us some factual information about dinosaurs using clips from such films as Gertie the Dinosaur, The Lost World, and Godzilla as illustrations.

The coolest part though is the vintage behind the scenes documentary of Ray Harryhausen hard at work on The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. In addition to seeing Harryhausen working on the monsters (along with clips of some of his coolest monsters), we get to see snippets of John Phillip Law and Caroline Munro filming live on location. When she’s not busy filming, Munro takes some time to do some cheesecake photo shoots on the beach, and let me just say… GROWL!

From then on, the flick becomes just another trailer compilation. Many of the movies wound up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, so fans of MST3K will probably get a kick out of it. If I’m being perfectly honest, the flick plays fast and loose with the whole dinosaur theme. Sure, there are plenty of dinosaurs on hand, but the compilation is padded out with lots of giant spiders, squids, and bugs. A more honest title would’ve been Fantastic Monsters of the Movies. I’m not complaining though because this collection gives you a nice balance of special effects from stop-motion to men in bad rubber suits to forced perspective pet reptiles.

I mean how can you complain when you get trailers for Journey to the Beginning of Time, The Lost World (1960), King Dinosaur, The Giant Behemoth, Earth vs. the Spider, The Giant Gila Monster, The Loch Ness Horror (“At last, the world’s most treasured story comes to the screen!”), The Land That Time Forgot, Jack the Giant Killer, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Them, Valley of the Dragons, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, The Giant Claw, Tarantula, 20 Million Miles to Earth, Godzilla vs. Mothra, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Crater Lake Monster, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Rodan, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Reptilicus, The Land Unknown, Jason and the Argonauts, Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, At the Earth’s Core, Valley of Gwangi, Gorgo, King Kong, Son of Kong, King Kong vs. Godzilla, One Million Years B.C., and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.

Join us next time on It Came from the Thrift Store when our movie will be Almost Human!

FREEBIE AND THE BEAN (1974) *** ½

Freebie and the Bean is a messy, wild, freewheeling, sloppy, uneven, thrilling, ramshackle, and just plain fun prototypical buddy cop movie. James Caan and Alan Arkin star as bickering partners who play jokes on each other and make fun of each other’s ethnicities. They work together surprisingly well considering that they can barely tolerate each other.

Along the way they get into some amazing car chases, pile-ups, and car crashes. The scene where their car goes flying off the freeway and into the third story of apartment building is as good as anything in a Smokey and the Bandit movie. If that isn’t high praise, I don’t know what is.

I guess that’s to be expected since it was directed by Richard Rush, who also did the cult classic, The Stunt Man. There is some crazy stuff in this movie. There’s a car crash scene that probably inspired John Landis to make The Blues Brothers. We also get a scene that can only be described as a fist fight, but with a car and a van. Speaking of which, Rush also goes all-in on the fight scenes. I mean why stage a fight in a kitchen unless you’re going to destroy EVERYTHING in the kitchen.

It’s not always successful, but the spirit of unbridled anarchy that runs throughout the film is truly inspired. Another cool thing is that the plot unfolds mostly out of dialogue and the characters’ interactions instead of rote plot points and genre convention. It also helps that the two leads have a lot of chemistry together. It’s easy to forget how funny Caan can be when given comedic roles. It’s a shame he and Arkiin didn’t make an entire franchise out of this.

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CAT IN THE CAGE (1978) ** ½

World class sex symbols Sybil Danning and Colleen Camp star in this nutty mix of noir and slasher movie. Sybil marries an old guy (Frank DeKova) for his money and has her lover, the chauffeur (Mel Novak) bump him off. Her stepson (Bruce Vaughn) just got out of the nuthouse, so there's some tension there, mostly because she hates his cat. When the chauffeur winds up murdered, the increasingly hysterical Sybil fears she'll be next.

Cat in the Cage came out a few years before neo-noir thrillers like The Postman Always Rings Twice and Body Heat were becoming popular. The sex scenes are probably the main selling point too. They are tastefully done by director Tony (Werewolf) Zarindast and aren’t at all exploitative. Camp and Danning’s bodies aren’t the main focus of these scenes, but rather how their character interacts with their partner. Of course, if Zarindast sleazed things up a bit more, it might’ve made for a better movie, but every now and then you’ve got to appreciate a classy approach to one of these thrillers.

The problem is that the narrative is just too disjointed. The addition of a masked killer perks things up just when you think the film has run out of gas. It’s just a shame that the prolonged shootout finale goes on for far too long. The unsatisfying twist ending also takes a lot of wind out of the movie’s sails and it goes on about twenty minutes longer than necessary.

The funniest part of the film is the cat attacks. It looks like someone dangled string just off camera to make it bare its claws, and then they added high-pitches screeching cat sound effects in post. Unfortunately Zarindast ditches the crazy cat subplot about halfway through. It would’ve been a lot more fun if the cat was bumping people off instead of the crazy twin brother.

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LOGAN (2017) ****

Logan is a somber movie to begin with, but it’s made all the more poignant because it’s an opportunity to say goodbye to a friend. Yes, after seventeen years and nine X-Men films, Hugh Jackman has retired from the role that made him an international superstar. Of course, I'll believe it when I see it. Superheroes are killed off and brought back all the time, so we’ll see just how long his retirement lasts.

If this is truly Jackman’s swan song as Wolverine, it's a fitting send-off as Logan is easily the best of the three standalone Wolverine movies. While I can’t say it’s the best X-Men film, it certainly has more heart than any of them. That alone is something to treasure.

In the near future, mutants have almost nearly been eradicated. Logan keeps Professor X (Patrick Stewart) hidden away from the world while he moonlights as a limo driver to get enough cash to buy a yacht so he can retire and spend the rest of his days at sea. When he finds a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) with powers remarkably similar to his, he becomes her protector and eventually learns to care about humanity again.

The quiet moments are the best ones. This is more of a character study about a character with superpowers than a superhero movie. Logan is older. Beaten down. He doesn't heal as fast as he once did and his claws don't come out like they used to. He’s done with seeing the people he cares about dying around him. Because of that, he isolates himself from the world, more to save himself the pain of losing someone close to him than anything.

Of course, when he meets the little girl, all of that changes. Slowly though. Logan is a reluctant hero after all, and it takes him a while to fully embrace his role as a father figure. The scenes of Logan, the Professor, and Laura together almost feel like a road movie. Despite their makeshift family unit and an occasional moment of familial respite, we have a feeling that it’s all going to end in bloodshed.

My initial reaction to the film was that it lacked a strong central villain. Boyd Holbrook is good as the henchman, but the big bad is Richard E. Grant (acting understated for a change), who’s just a guy in lab coat. The big face-off comes between Logan and a younger, faster, meaner clone of himself. I guess it makes sense. If anyone can challenge Logan, it’s The Wolverine.

After sleeping on it, I realized that the real villain here is time. Time has taken his friends. Time has made him old. Time has weakened him. Time has made him calloused. Time has made him leery of making personal connections for fear of losing them.

The R rating is a bit gratuitous at times as the film descends into needless overkill and unnecessary F-Bombs. However, you needed the R rating in order to show the psychological effects of violence on a child. Laura kills several dozen henchmen in self-defense and it’s up to Logan to teach her how to live with it. The thing is; he has no easy answers for her. (When she tells Logan all the men she killed were bad, he replies, “It’s all the same.”) That’s some pretty heady stuff for a comic book movie.

James (The Wolverine) Mangold films the action in a solid manner. He takes advantage of the R rating as lots of limbs and heads are lopped off. Logan also uses his claws to skewer people in a variety of ways that were only hinted at in his previous PG-13 adventures. The film is at its best though the further away it gets from the usual superhero clichés. Heck, the scene of the Professor and Laura in a hotel room watching Shane on TV is one of the best moments in any of the films in the series.

The script still feels like it has one foot stuck in the old superhero realm. Some of the dramatic beats feel a bit rushed too. That’s okay though because Jackman and Stewart bring so much of their past history to these scenes that they work on sheer goodwill and familiarity alone.

Logan is a bleak movie, but it’s not a complete downer. There are plenty of little character moments here that are just note-perfect. Like when Logan finally breaks down and buys a pair of glasses he doesn't bother to take the price tag off. Or when someone tries to shoot his limo and he uses his body as a shield to save his livelihood.

I’ll admit, I did have a lump in my throat at the end. The last shot of the film ends things on a perfect note. The reason is simple: This is the rare comic book movie that is more focused on ending a chapter instead of setting up a new one.

I can see why Jackman would want to walk away on that note. If this is indeed his last one, I wish him well on his future endeavors. Thank you, sir. You are a true class act and your films were thoroughly enjoyed.

X-MEN MOVIE SCORECARD:

X-Men: Apocalypse: ****
Deadpool: ****
X-Men: Days of Future Past: ****
X-Men 2: X-Men United: ****
X-Men: ****
X-Men 3: The Last Stand: ****
Logan: ****
X-Men: First Class: *** ½
X-Men: Origins: Wolverine: *** ½
The Wolverine: ***

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