April 3rd, 2008

KANSAS CITY BOMBER (1972) ***

A better part of my youth was spent watching roller derby reruns on television.  Although the sport never really caught on (despite unsuccessful revival attempts in both the 80’s and 90’s), at least a handful of movies were made to forever document it’s brief, but glorious popularity.  Kansas City Bomber was the big studios version of a roller derby movie, and while it pales in comparison to The Unholy Rollers, it’s low budget drive-in counterpart, it’s still a lot of fun. 

 

The flick features Raquel Welch as a single mother who pays the bills by being the top roller derby queen of Kansas City.  When she gets traded to Portland, the sleazy owner (Kevin McCarthy from Invasion of the Body Snatchers) worms his way into her pants and eventually makes her a star.  Her teammates are less than thrilled with her inability to keep business and pleasure separated, but Raquel really doesn’t give a shit as long as she can knock the crap out of people on the roller rink. 

 

What I really like about this movie is the notable lack of the usual sports movie clichés.  Sure Raquel is a single mother, but she more or less states up front that her job comes first and her kids (one of whom is a very young Jodie Foster) comes second.  Even though there is one scene where her mother scorns her for not spending enough time with her children, none of this really interferes with Raquel busting heads while wearing roller skates.  And while there is a bitter rivalry between Raquel and another skater on the team, it’s actually kind of refreshing because Raquel is pretty much a bitch at all times and not some cookie cutter goodie two shoes. 

 

The dramatic aspects of the movie seem ripped out of a Lifetime Original, but whenever Raquel is on the track knocking the crap out of people, it’s damn good times.  The roller derby action is well executed and exciting and I particularly liked the mid-game interviews Raquel gives in which she vows to kick her opponent’s (or sometimes teammate’s) ass.  And even though Raquel doesn’t bare her considerable assets, in one scene she does don an incredibly sexy see through dress.  McCarthy is also quite good as the manipulative owner and lots of real roller derby stars add lots of color to the proceedings. 

RESCUE DAWN (2007) ***

 

Christian Bale stars as Lt. Dieter Dengler in director Werner (Aguirre, the Wrath of God) Herzog’s true to life account of his capture, escape and rescue from a Laotian prisoner of war camp during the infancy of the Vietnam War.  Ever since he was a young boy, Dengler wanted nothing more than to fly airplanes and jumps at the chance to join the American Air Force.  During a top secret bombing mission, he is shot down and is captured by Viet Cong soldiers.  He is tied up, dragged behind a bull, hung upside down with an ant’s nest tied to his head, and nearly drowned before being thrown into a POW camp.  Dengler thinks escape will be easy since the prison is made from nothing more than bamboo, but his cellmate (Steve Zahn) tells him, “The jungle is the real prison.”  That doesn’t discourage him though and after he successfully escapes into the jungle, he must contend with such perils as mudslides, waterfalls and leeches before eventually being rescued by US troops. 

 

Bale is excellent in the lead and yet again lost a ton of weight for the role of the malnourished Dengler.  His scenes with Zahn in the jungle are quite good and they have quite a rapport with one another (even AFTER Zahn dies).  Jeremy (Saving Private Ryan) Davies doesn’t fare nearly as well as the wild eyed prisoner who tries to sabotage their escape.  With his long stringy hair and dingy beard, it seems like he’s still playing Charles Manson from that Helter Skelter remake and his character is fairly annoying. 

 

Although it moves at a deliberate pace (like most of Herzog’s work), once Bale escapes, it really starts to cook.  My favorite scenes though happen early in the film when the naive army pilots play Mystery Science Theater while watching poorly produced training films.  It isn’t perfect, but any fans of Bale or Herzog owe it to themselves to check this one out.  Herzog covered this same material ten years earlier with the documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly. 

SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992) ***

 

Remember in the early 90’s when everybody was making From Hell movies?  Like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, which was the Babysitter From Hell Movie.  Or Unlawful Entry, the Cop From Hell Movie.  And The Crush, the Jailbait From Hell Movie.  Single White Female is the Roommate From Hell Movie and it’s actually one of the better efforts to come out of the subgenre. 

 

Bridget Fonda flips out when she discovers her fiancé Steven Weber is cheating on her and forces him to move out.  She gets frumpy Jennifer Jason Leigh to move in to help out with the rent and they soon become fast friends and go shopping together.  But when Weber weasels his way back into Bridget’s heart, Leigh snaps and kills her dog.  Pretty soon, Leigh starts styling her hair like Fonda, stealing her clothes, killing her friends and tries to literally take over her life.   

 

What could have been another standard issue erotic thriller is benefited greatly by the excellent cast.  Fonda and Leigh are both outstanding in the leads, but their “acting” talents take a back seat to their other “assets”.  Fonda gets nekkid (from the backside at least) and Leigh shows off her rack A LOT, which is always a good thing.  The scene where she’s masturbating up a storm is also pretty awesome too. 

 

Director Barbet (Reversal of Fortune) Schroeder keeps the plot chugging along and resists many of the usual clichés inherent in the genre.  The violence in the flick is kinda muted, but the high heel to the eyeball gag is reminiscent of Argento.  Followed thirteen years later by a direct to DVD sequel. 

SINGLE WHITE FEMALE 2: THE PSYCHO (2005) ½ *

 

You sorta get a sinking feeling of despair when you see the cover of a thirteen years after the fact direct to DVD sequel with the words “ALL NEW FEATURE FILM!” on the box. 

 

In the imaginatively titled Single White Female 2:  The Psycho, the horse-faced Kristen Miller fucks her client so her PR firm will handle his account.  When her sexy roommate (Brooke Burns) fucks him too, she promptly moves out.  (Since Miller has the face of Mr. Ed, you really can’t blame the dude for cheating on her.)  She moves in with the non-descript Allison Lange and if you’ve seen the first movie, you pretty much know what to expect.  Lange becomes the Roommate From Hell and starts dying her hair like Miller, starts impersonating her, begins hanging out in seedy underground S & M clubs, and starts killing off her friends.      

 

Single White Female 2:  The Psycho is actually a lot like the Roommate From Hell herself.  Whereas the character is a dumpy chick who dresses herself up like her prettier and more successful roommate and becomes intent on sullying her good name, this flick is a dumpy direct to DVD sequel dressing itself up like a respectable movie with the intention of ruining the good name of the original film. 

 

The biggest stumbling block of the movie is that Miller’s character just isn’t very likable from the get-go.  I mean she basically fucks her client just to get his business, which pretty much makes her a slut.  Sluts are hard to sympathize with, especially if they’re the main character.  She also goes through her roommate’s stuff when she’s not there, which makes her something of a bitch too.  Add that to the fact that she sets her roommate up on a blind date with a scumbag.  She also spies on Lange constantly too, so in my book, this cunt gets everything that’s coming to her. 

 

The performances are extremely weak and neither Miller nor Lange makes much of an impression.  It doesn’t help when this atrocity doesn’t have any connection to the first film and is nothing more than just a thin retread of the original.  (Even some of the dialogue is exactly the same.)  Unlike that flick, which had the benefit of some scintillating nudity, this one is pretty much skin free (the sole exception being a couple briefly seen extras in the S & M club).  Most of the nudity comes in the form of stunt cleavage, but even then, the stunt tits are only shown from the side.  I mean Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh may have been big stars when the first movie came out, but that didn’t stop them from baring their bodies.  Miller and Lange are complete unknowns, so you’d think they’d want to get some attention by showcasing their goods.  I mean with Miller’s horse face problem, you’d think she’d want to at least make up for it by showing off her bod (which doesn’t look that bad), but alas, nothing. 

 

If you have fond memories of the original Single White Female, avoid this period-stain at all costs.  If you’re a masochist who needs to see every shitty direct to DVD sequel out there, by all means knock yourself out.   

DUEL (1971) **

Everything I ever read or heard about Steven Spielberg’s feature length directing debut was that it was a masterpiece, but after finally seeing it, I beg to differ.  While it is technically well made and has one or two moments of genuine suspense, for the most part it’s rather ho-hum. 

 

The plot is simple:  McCloud is driving down the road and is menaced by a psychotic truck driver (whom we never see) who tries to drive him off the road.  That’s it.  This premise may have bode well on an episode of Night Gallery or something (also directed by the ‘berg), but when it’s expanded into a 90 minute made for TV movie, it leaves something to be desired.  The attacks by the unseen driver also get a bit repetitive as the film heads to it’s lumbering conclusion. 

 

Whenever McCloud is driving for his life with the truck breathing down his neck, Duel runs on all cylinders, but whenever he gets out of the damn car, the movie likewise slams on the brakes.  There is one terrific moment when the truck nearly runs him over while he’s in a phone booth, but that scene has been copied so many times in countless other movies (like Dreamscape for instance) that it’s kinda worn out it’s welcome. 

 

Another thing that irritated me about the movie is McCloud himself.  I know he’s supposed to be the stand-in for the “Everyman” (his last name in the movie is even “Mann” for Christ’s sake), but he makes for a rather wussy hero.  Also the voiceover narration of his inner monologues are all pretty worthless and are quite gratuitous to boot. 

 

I will say this about Duel, it is better than most made for TV movies of the era, but in the end, it never fully kicks into high gear.  Any fan of Spielberg will definitely want to see Duel, as it’s more or less a precursor to Jaws (Spielberg even used the same sound effect of the truck going off the cliff when the shark died), but it still remains a minor, but notable notch in Spielberg’s oeuvre.  It’s not terrible, just severely overrated.  (It’s certainly better than crap like Hook, Always or Empire of the Sun, I’ll give it that.)  Spielberg and screenwriter Richard (I Am Legend) Matheson later teamed up for Twilight Zone:  The Movie.