January 22nd, 2008

EASTERN PROMISES (2007) **

An open letter to David Cronenberg: 

 

Dear Mr. Cronenberg,

 

For more than thirty years you have been the greatest horror director to come out of Canada.  With each progressing film, you have stamped your own personal signature and given us some of the most memorable horror imagery in the history of the genre.  In They Came from Within, it was the sex parasite going up the twat of Barbara Steele.  In Rabid, it was Marilyn Chambers’ armpit monster.  In The Brood, there were those terrifying telepathic tykes.  In Scanners, you set the bar for exploding heads.  Who could forget Videodrome, where you made James Woods seem like a NORMAL person, even when he was stuffing handguns into his abdomen and shooting people with cancer bullets?  That same year you gave us The Dead Zone, one of the finest Stephen King adaptations ever made where, again you made a usually psychopathic looking actor (in this case, Christopher Walken) seem NORMAL.  Then, you made The Fly; your masterpiece.  Jeff Goldblum turning into a slimy vomit monster.  Priceless. 

 

But after The Fly you made Dead Ringers which was all PSYCHOLOGICAL and stuff.  You started moving away from the whole sex parasite/armpit monster/killer kids/exploding heads/cancer bullets/psychic Christopher Walken/insectoid vomit monsters business and started doing more “arty” movies.  While I got a kick out of the whole “Gynecological Instruments for Operating on Mutant Women” thing, it featured not ONE thing nearly as great as the maggot baby scene in The Fly.  You got even artier with your next film, Naked Lunch.  The biggest problem with that film was the narrative: Robocop going back and forth from the real world to the “fictional” world.  I guess it’s not entirely your fault because if you WERE to film a true adaptation of the book, it would probably land you in jail.  Then you did M. Butterfly.  ‘Nuff said. 

 

You made a return to form with your next film Crash, which is still the best James Spader as a Sexual Deviant That Gets Off on Vehicular Homicide Movie Ever Made.  Then Existenz came along and even though it wasn’t perfect and only played in theaters for about five minutes, it was the closest you’ve come to your “old self” in a long time.  But I’ll be damned; you got all arty on us again with Spider.  At least Spider was vaguely Cronenbergian.  Your next film, History of Violence was pure Hollywood creampuff.  I was hoping you got that out of your system, but not even two years go by and you basically regurgitated that movie and called it Eastern Promises.

 

How disappointing. 

 

In History of Violence you had Viggo Mortensen go from being a good natured man who wants to protect his family to becoming a slimy gangster.  In this flick Viggo goes from being a slimy RUSSIAN gangster who becomes a good natured man who wants to protect SOMEONE ELSE’S family. 

 

Basically if you slapped a bunch of fake tattoos on Viggo, gave him a Boris Badenov accent, and played History of Violence backwards, you got Eastern Promises. 

 

Just like History of Violence, there are NO surprises in Eastern Promises.  Whereas we pretty much knew from the get-go in Violence that Viggo was not who he claimed to be (more of the preview’s fault than yours), the viewer will recognize right away where Viggo’s loyalties will lie in this one.  The “mystery” father of the abandoned baby will also come as no surprise to any half-intellectual viewer. 

 

At least Viggo doesn’t look half asleep in this movie and gives a pretty good performance.   

 

The ONLY reason you must’ve wanted to direct this movie (besides ogle Naomi Watts) is to film the brutal fight scene where Viggo gets naked in a bath house and beats the bejabbers out of two assassins.  Unfortunately, the brutality of the fight scene is often lost whenever Viggo’s flopping nut sac enters the frame.  And it enters A LOT.  Excellent eyeball gouging though.   


In a career of sex parasites, armpit monsters, killer kids, exploding heads, sexed-up television sets and slimy vomit monsters, the only scary image you give us in Eastern Promise is Viggo Mortensen’s balls. 

 

Balls. 

 

There is a word for you Mr. Cronenberg.  Perhaps one day you will rediscover yours, and with that newfound testicular fortitude, you will direct another classic like The Fly, Videodrome or They Came from Within.  Until that day, God speed sir. 

 

Sincerely, 

 

Mitch Lovell

The Video Vacuum 

INVASION USA (1985) **

In 1984, teenagers Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze fended off a Communist takeover of America in Red Dawn.  Chuck Norris got wind of this and said, “If those snot nosed little punks could do it, so can I!” 

 

The difference is that Red Dawn was an intense action film that depicted the Communist invasion of America as a cautionary “What if…?”  The idiotic Invasion USA delivers more of a perplexing “What the…?”

 

The plot has the scaly faced Richard (Sword and the Sorcerer) Lynch heading up a multi-national group of Communist terrorists who invade America.  The terrorists gun down a boat full of Cuban refugees, murder couples necking on the beach, bazooka houses that are all decorated for Christmas, and blow up shopping malls.

 

The government wants Chuck to help blow away Commie scum but he’s too busy riding his air boat around the Everglades.  Lynch has bad dreams about Big Chuck mucking things up for his operation so he sends a bunch of Commies to Chuck’s house where they blow up his shack, kill his trusted Indian advisor and nearly slaughter his pet armadillo.  (I’m not making that last part up.)  Homeless and friendless, Chuck finally decides to strap two Uzis onto his chest to singlehandedly wipe out terrorism for good.    

 

Even though Chuck saves a church and a school bus from being blown up, he still takes time to mourn the dozens who get massacred at a nearby carnival. 

 

“For every one I stop, a hundred succeed.” 

 

Maybe the government’s problem was sending in ONE guy to fight off hundreds of terrorists, instead of sending in, say… the Army. 

 

Actually the biggest problem with the movie is that the terrorist’s “plan” is thoroughly incomprehensible.  I mean they just show up arbitrarily in the south, killing people at random, hoping that the country will slowly throw itself into chaos.  They are so sloppily organized that we never really understand what their intended goal IS, except for maybe general anarchy and an excuse for Big Chuck to earn a paycheck for Cannon Pictures. 

 

Speaking of Big Chuck, he doesn’t express a single emotion in this flick, but that’s okay though because he lets his automatic weapons do all the talking.  Sadly, he never really gets a chance to use his patented kung fu skills much though. 

 

This movie severely suffers from Get On With It Syndrome.  If you’ve ever watched an action or horror movie, you’re aware of Get On With It Syndrome.  You know how every action or horror movie ever made always starts with a bang, then there’s that draggy section where not much happens except for “character development” and the laborious set-up of the “plot”?  You just sit there, munching on popcorn saying to yourself “Get on with it!  Show me some action!”  Well Invasion USA’s “G.O.W.I.e.S” takes up more than HALF the movie before Chuck reluctantly steps into action and Uzis a bunch of Commies to death.  The fact that the movie’s running time is 107 minutes, approximately 27 minutes longer than it really needed to be, doesn’t help any.   

 

There’s also a gratuitous female reporter character who says things like “Didn’t you bastards ever hear of the First Amendment?” and “Where did you learn to drive, cowboy?” who adds greatly to the movie’s G.O.W.I.e.S. 

 

That’s not to say that this movie is a complete waste of time.  There’s a great pre-G.O.W.I.e.S scene where Richard Lynch grabs a woman snorting cocaine by the back of the head and shoves her coke straw up her nose before shooting Billy Drago in the balls.  TWICE.  The movie also contains the best car chase through a shopping mall scene since The Blues Brothers and ends with the world’s only High Noon style quick draw shoot-out with rocket launchers, so that’s at least worth SOMETHING.

 

The director Joseph Zito, who also directed Chuck in Missing in Action as well as Friday the 13th Part 4, does a good job with the action, but if he had hired a better editor to trim this baby down, Invasion USA could’ve been a classic.

 

Even though Chuck only says about 47 words throughout the whole movie, he does at least get one memorable line:  “I’m going to hit you with so many rights; you’re going to beg for a left!”

LONE WOLF MCQUADE (1983) ** ½

Chuck Norris stars as J.J. McQuade, a Texas Ranger who doesn’t play by the rules.  His captain (R.G. Armstrong) doesn’t like the bad press he gets when he submachine guns a bunch of horse thieves and saddles him with a wet behind the ears rookie partner (Robert Beltran from Night of the Comet). 

 

Just so you know, McQuade’s the kind of guy who lives out in the desert in a dilapidated trailer and spends his days blowing away scarecrows for target practice. 

 

After a skeevy arms dealer played by David (Kill Bill) Carradine doesn’t like it when McQuade starts making time with his woman (Barbara Carrera), he has McQuade’s daughter (Dana Kimmel from Friday the 13th Part 3) almost killed.  That makes McQuade mad and he starts gunning down dozens of Carradine’s underlings, but not so mad that he doesn’t have time to make out with Carrera some more.  But then Carradine mows down his former captain (L.Q. Jones) and that gets McQuade REAL mad so he retaliates by machine gunning MORE of Carradine’s underlings.  Carradine gets fed up so he knocks McQuade unconscious, stashes him in his truck, and buries them both in an unmarked grave.  Luckily, McQuade comes to, downs a beer, hits the accelerator and he and his truck RISE FROM THE GRAVE! 

 

Brilliant.

 

McQuade spends the rest of the movie healing up so he can go toe to toe with Carradine for the big showdown in which McQuade hops in a bulldozer and battles Carradine’s Army Jeep.

 

The film more or less plays like your average updated Spaghetti Western (the music is mock Ennio Morricone) except it features Norris rising from the grave in his trusty truck, Uzis, kung fu, and video game playing paraplegic midget gun runners.  It’s also quite a thrill seeing two titans of martial arts cinema squaring off as Big Chuck trades knuckles with Caine from Kung Fu.  

 

Too bad a lot of the movie is utterly stupid. 

 

Like the final scene.  It’s hilarious.  Carrera jumps in the way of Carradine’s bullet, which is intended for Norris.  Carradine then gives her just enough time to deliver her impassioned deathbed proclamation of love to Norris before reloading.  Of course Old Chuck gets REALLY mad and when Carradine finally fires the rest of the clip, it of course comes nowhere near hitting him, giving Chuck the opportunity to blow him up with a grenade. 

 

But Lone Wolf McQuade has a tender side too.  Take for instance the scene where Carrera moves in with McQuade and starts vacuuming the floor, makes him take vitamins and worse, THROWS OUT HIS BEER.  But Chuck’s such a wimp in this movie he actually CONSENTS to this de-masculinization and even makes love to her in the mud while opera music plays!  Not logical.  Half star deduction for that.   

 

The stellar supporting cast includes Sharon (It’s Alive) Farrell, William (Newhart) Sanderson and Leon Isaac (Penitentiary) Kennedy who says “I’m not the token nigger!” 

 

Speaking of great dialogue, Carradine gets to say a lot of slimy things like “Trust is the most important thing in our business.”  But it’s Big Chuck who gets the movie’s best line when he says:  “Super-charge THIS!” 

 

Chuck basically recycled this concept for his ever popular Walker, Texas Ranger TV series. 

2007: A LOOK BACK

 

Well 2007 is in the books and as we look back on the state of cinema I can’t help but to get all choked up.  With all the pointless remakes (The Hitcher), lame sequels (Aliens vs. Predator), awful movies based on video games (Bloodrayne 2), shitty musicals (Across the Universe), and over long toy commercials (Transformers), there were enough moments of greatness to warrant 2007 as one of the best years at the movies in a long time.  There were great remakes (The Hills Have Eyes 2), superior sequels (28 Weeks Later), entertaining movies based on video games (Resident Evil: Apocalypse), wonderful movies based on comic books (300) and one of the best horror movies released in recent memory (Grindhouse).

 

Like all years, the film saw it’s share of GOOD Bruce Willis movies (Live Free or Die Hard) and BAD Bruce Willis movies (The Astronaut Farmer) and even bad movies like Smokin’ Aces had the benefit of at least one truly great performance (like Jason Bateman as a transvestite) or as in the case of Eastern Promises, one truly memorable fight scene.

 

The Oscar Awards were just announced today and pretty soon, I’ll have the Video Vacuum Award nominees up and running.  (I’m still waiting to see There Will be Blood before I tally up the final votes), but here’s just a short list of memorable moments from the past year:

 

Who could forget the flesh falling off of Nicolas Cage’s face before he became a flaming skulled supernatural “Devil’s Bounty Hunter” in Ghost Rider?

 

How could you let the beached whale scene from Reno 911!: Miami slip from your mind?

 

Who could forget the intimacy of the cheek filleting scene from Hannibal Rising?

 

Let us not forget about Robert Downey, Jr.’s incredible performance as the fidgety, perpetually drunk reporter who is targeted by the Zodiac Killer in Zodiac.

 

I’m sure the scene where Gerard Butler screamed “This is Sparta!” before he kicked scummy Persians into bottomless pits in 300 touched you all as much as it did me.

 

Dead Silence showed us all that the killer dummy genre is far from biting the dust.

 

2007 saw witness of the Greatest Inbred Mutant Cannibal Rapist Movie of the New Millennium:  The Hills Have Eyes 2.

 

I’m sure no one has forgotten the vital cinematic importance of the Let’s Go to the Lobby speed metal opening of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters.

 

Nor has anyone likely suppressed the sight of Timothy Dalton’s chin being impaled on a cathedral model in Hot Fuzz.

 

A show of hands for anyone who let the sight of Spider-Man duking it out with Sandman and Venom in Spider-Man 3 slip from their minds?  Didn’t think so.

 

I think we all look back fondly on Katherine Heigl’s enlarged vaginal cavity in Knocked Up as the perfect form of birth control.

 

I forgotten everything there was to remember about Music and Lyrics EXCEPT the classic 80’s music video in which Hugh Grant hams it up a la Andrew Ridgely.

 

Ocean’s Thirteen reminded us all that 13 is better than 12, but not as good as 11.

 

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer showed us all that in whatever format, the Silver Surfer is a bad mofo.

 

The ladies may disagree with me on this point, but the men will certainly never forget the final five minutes of Hostel 2, which goes to show you that vengeful teenage girls aren’t the best choice to perform unwanted emergency vasectomies.

 

Bruce Willis going head to head with a jet plane in Live Free or Die Hard made us all remember that even without hair; Willis is still one of the best action heroes we have in the United States.

 

With the Writer’s Strike upon us, I guess we will learn to mourn the loss of impeccably written dialogue like “That’s one evil fucking room!” from 1408.

 

Most of the theater going audience will agree with me when I say that cinema progressed a full step further the day Elisha Cuthbert was forced to shotgun her own poodle at close range in Captivity.

 

America not only embraced Superbad, but it made McLovin’ a household word.

 

I’m sure we all would like to forget Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake, but then we would be robbed of the sight of Danny Trejo delivering a heartfelt soliloquy before being drowned in an unhygienic sink.

 

Who could forget Kevin Bacon shaving his head before painting the ghetto red a la Charles Bronson in Death Sentence?

 

How about Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan making the same movie three times in a row and nobody noticing in Rush Hour 3?

 

How about Batman fighting Gladiator in the Wild West in the stellar remake of 3:10 to Yuma?

 

I believe Clive Owen touched all our hearts when he dispatched several bad guys by only using a carrot in Shoot ‘Em Up.

 

If you don’t recognize this dialogue exchange from Resident Evil: Extinction:  “What happened to Vegas?”  “The desert took it back!”, you clearly did NOT go to the movies ONCE this entire year.

 

Before Jodie Foster became a card carrying lesbian she was a card carrying vigilante in The Brave One.

 

The moment that touched all our lives in ’07, of course I’m talking about the scene in DOA: Dead or Alive, where Eric Roberts stole all the fighters’ powers and used it against them, will stay with us forever.

 

If anything, 2007 gave us the most thorough autopsy examination ever seen on the silver screen in Saw 4.

 

And thank goodness Owen Wilson didn’t murder himself, because we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fine work he’s given us in such films like The Darjeeling Limited.

 

If you’re like me, when you hear the words “Fertilization achieved!” you immediately think Species 4: The Awakening.

 

Bestiality has always been a taboo subject, but thanks to Zoo, we learned that horse fuckers are people too and we were blessed with such heartstring pulling dialogue like “Maybe I’ll just FEEL the horse’s nuts”.

 

Thanks to P2, we all go around saying “Way to ruin Christmas asshole!” as easy as breathing.

 

I think we all agree that CGI was good for SOMETHING when it proved you could actually make Angelina Jolie HOTTER in Beowulf.

 

The Mist.  The Greatest Apocalypse in a Supermarket Movie of 2007.  Possibly of all time.

 

If you think of 2007 and it doesn’t involve Ashley Judd naked screaming “I am the super mother bug!”, then clearly A) you didn’t see Bug and B) you need serious help.

 

If you see someone with a hideous haircut wearing coveralls and AREN’T afraid he’ll break into your house with compressed air and make you decide head or tails if you want to live or die, you clearly did not see No Country for Old Men.

 

Lindsay Lohan stayed out of the paparazzi’s cameras long enough to star in I Know Who Killed Me and My Career, the OTHER one legged stripper movie of ’07.

 

Will Smith proved that he actually could ACT in the absorbing Richard Matheson adaptation I Am Legend.

 

You may have had to sit through a lot of singing, but damn if the blood didn’t squirt high and wide for Sweeney Todd:  The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

 

If you don’t think 2007 is synonymous with the Chris Kattan zombie western Wanted: Undead or Alive, this could be signs of a serious condition. 

 

If you hear the Beatles and don’t immediately refer to them as Jack Black, Justin Long, Paul Rudd or Jason Schwartzman, you don’t know Cox, Dewey Cox from Walk Hard:  The Dewey Cox Story.

 

And if you think of ’07 you HAVE to think Ellen Page as the wise assed Juno.

 

But for me 2007 was summed up in one three hour experience.  You were there.  We all felt it.  It was that collective sigh that everything was right with the world and we knew that peace, love and harmony could be felt in the world.  It was when Rose McGowan strapped on a submachine gun to her leg stump and blew away dozens of zombie soldiers.

 

The feeling continued when we saw tantalizing glimpses of such sights as Lycanthropic Nazis, decrepit houses with eerie warnings of “Don’t” and of course Pilgrims slaughtering high school teens.

 

In that same three hour period we also witnessed Vanessa Ferlito’s face become compost under the wheel of Kurt Russell’s Death Proof car.

 

Yes I’m talking about Grindhouse.  If you didn’t see Grindhouse in the theater, you weren’t there.

 

2008 is here and already we’ve witnessed one gigantic over-hyped mess (That would be Cloverfield.) as well as a GOOD Uwe Boll movie. (Of course I’m referring to In the Name of the King:  A Dungeon Siege Tale.)  I don’ know about you, but if 2008 can see the production of a GOOD Uwe Boll movie, then my friends, the possibilities are endless for another year of thought provoking cinema.

 

Mitch Lovell