February 25th, 2009

BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER (2008) ****

Bodybuilder Chris Bell takes us through the world of steroids in this fascinating documentary.  Bell concentrates on America’s obsession and condemnation of the “performance enhancing” drugs and talks to several experts in the field of medicine, all of whom cannot offer conclusive evidence of their reputedly harmful side effects.  He also focuses a lot on his two brothers, both “Juicers” who are failed professional wrestlers and strive to achieve excellence as bodybuilders.

 

What’s most interesting about Bigger, Stronger, Faster is that Bell gives his own personal spin on the issue.  Growing up, he idolized guys like Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone and pursued lifting weights to be as big and strong as those guys.  When it came out that ALL these guys used steroids (or in Stallone’s case, Human Growth Hormone), it left Bell shaken.  How could the guy who said, “Drink your milk, say your prayers, and take your vitamins” really be a Juice Head?  How could the guy who said that you could achieve anything in life “If you work hard and play by the rules” actually be using steroids?  How could Rocky, the biggest underdog of them all (and who fought Ivan Drago, a known Juicer) be on HGH?

 

Bell also focuses on the mentality in sports to “Win at any cost”, which is just slang for “TAKE STEROIDS!”  We learn that in the 1988 Olympics, Canadian Ben Johnson was stripped of his title because he used steroids, but they gave the gold to American Karl Lewis who (are you ready for this) was taking steroids too!  Lewis only got to keep his medal because the US had a better PR department.

 

Another interesting thing that Bell does is talk to classical musicians, all of whom take Beta Blockers for performance anxiety, begging the question:  Are these drugs “performance enhancers” as well?  And what about the American pilots whose own government hands out “Go-Pills” (amphetamines) like candy so they can fly the friendly skies?  And speaking of our governments, why would Congress spend more time debating steroids than say… the clean-up of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina?

 

In the end, Bell doesn’t condemn steroids, but he admonishes America’s “Whatever it takes” attitude to be the best.  Ultimately, the flick raises more questions than it answers.  That’s a good thing though.  That way you’ll have something to talk about when the movie’s over.

SHAKER RUN (1985) **

The Car Chase Movie had pretty much fizzled out by 1985, but nobody told that to the good people of New Zealand who hired out-of-work actor Cliff (Spider-Man) Robertson and former teen heartthrob Leif Garrett for Shaker Run.  Cliff plays this down-on-his-luck American racecar driver who is barely paying the bills by performing in a stunt show in the middle of Bumfuck, New Zealand.   Leif is his annoying mechanic who readily accepts a job from a bunch of mysterious scientists who hire the duo to transport some hazardous viral material cross country in their souped up racecar.  Naturally, terrorists, the C.I.A., and the New Zealand police force are in pursuit of Robertson and Co. and they chase them halfway around the Land of the Kiwi for 89 minutes.

 

Shaker Run goes through all the motions of a Car Chase Movie, yet it never completely pulls you in.   There are a handful of good stunts (the last one is a doozy), but the budget was way too low to really deliver the goods.  The offbeat setting is also a plus since most Car Chase Movies take place Down South not Down Under and the presence of Robertson helps a lot as well.  He anchors the flick with a solid performance as the world weary seen-it-all-before driver who’s just out to make a buck.  Unfortunately, Leif’s pretty terrible in this flick and he’s got this perpetual dumb ass coked-out stare throughout the entire movie. 

 

If you like Robertson and/or fast cars, Shaker Run might be enough to foot the bill.  Otherwise steer clear (I made a pun!)  of it.

AGAINST ALL HOPE (1982) ** ½

Perennial tough guy Michael (Reservoir Dogs) Madsen made his film debut in this unintentionally uproarious Pro-Christianity movie about the dangers of alcoholism.  Now I’m a sucker for flicks that feature my favorite movie stars in roles before they were famous and in that respect, Against All Hope is a blast.  It also works as a hilariously over-earnest melodramatic way too; much like a cheesy After School Special.  I think this flick was made by and for recovering alcoholics who accepted Christ into their lives and for all I know, this may have even been shown during AA meetings too.  All I can say is don’t have a few stiff drinks before checking this flick out or you’ll be on the floor rolling with laughter.

 

The film centers on the life of Cecil Moe (Madsen), a drunk who yells at his wife and neglects his kids.  One night Cecil feels extremely suicidal and picks a priest out of the phone book (!), calls him up, and drags him out of bed so he can relate his life story.  Flashbacks reveal that a teenaged Cecil was grief stricken when his mother died.  To make matters worse, the bitchy nurse, who was hired to look after his invalid mother, ended up marrying his father and reveled in making his life a living Hell.  Cecil ended up running away to join the Navy and after his father died, Cecil took up drinking and never stopped.

 

Filmed in 1982 (it looks more like 1962), Against All Hope is a laugh riot from start to finish.  I’m sure that’s not exactly what the filmmakers intended, but even though their intentions were in the right place, their overly melodramatic handling of the material sends the flick straight off the Goofy Meter.  Try not to laugh during the following moments:

 

  • The funny Reefer Madness style scene where Madsen wigs out from the D.T.’s. 

 

  • The slow motion shots of a happy teenage Madsen riding his horse, whose name is “Peanuts”.  Yes, PEANUTS!

 

  • The bitchy nurse who becomes a wicked stepmother and has a tendency of throwing people down stairs.  I thought it was a bit much when she threw Cecil down a flight of stairs, but I just about peed myself when she threw HIS FATHER down the stairs too.  (Seriously, WHO DOES THAT!?!)

 

  • The wicked stepmother thing was hard to swallow, but on top of that, she’s given dialogue like, “What do you expect from a boy whose best friend is his horse?”

 

  • And speaking of hysterical dialogue, get a load of the scene where Cecil’s nagging wife pours his booze down the sink and he laments, “You just threw my best friend down the drain!”  My brain still hasn’t quite recovered from that one.

 

  • Or the contrived way Cecil falls off the wagon.  (He walks into the bar to pay his bar tab, but the patrons won’t let him leave until he takes a drink.)

 

  • Or the hilarious scene where Cecil goes to a doctor for help and he tells Cecil his diagnosis while lighting up a cigarette!

 

  • And wait until you see the scene where Cecil sells his wife’s brand new car for $150 to buy booze.

 

  • If you think that’s funny though, check out the part when Cecil hocks the toaster to buy cough medicine for his sick kid, but ends up buying booze instead!

 

  • Or Cecil’s breakdown in front of a bathroom mirror:  “I hate you!  Why did God bring you into this world anyway?”

 

  • But nothing and I mean nothing will prepare you for the side-splitting final shot of the movie in which Cecil successfully walks past a bar without going inside and triumphantly leaps in the air and the screen freezes just like Rocky!  Unbelievable.   

 

So yeah, the flick doesn’t work at all like it’s supposed to.  What was originally conceived as a harrowing tale of alcoholism and redemption through Christ, actually contains more laughs that your average Jim Carrey movie.  The overdramatic music really sells each schmaltzy moment and adds to the fun. 

 

Is the flick any good?  No way Jose.  The narrative is choppy as all get out and the script is hopelessly contrived.  Still, I laughed more at this movie than most comedies I’ve seen this year, so that’s at least worth something in my book.

 

The real Cecil Moe also co-wrote the script and co-stars as the priest.  I hope the shittiness of the film didn’t drive him to drink.

 

AKA:  One for the Road.

KANGAROO (1952) ** ½

Peter Lawford and Richard Boone are two swindling cheats who conspire to steal an Australian ranch from a drunkard Irishman (Finlay Currie).  Predictably, Lawford falls for the guy’s beautiful daughter (Maureen O’Hara), which ticks off Boone to no end.   

 

I somewhat enjoyed this odd western.  Even though it didn’t quite fire on all cylinders, I have to give it up for the inspired decision to film the entire thing in Australia (this was the first Technicolor movie filmed Down Under) and the scenic location sets Kangaroo apart from dozens of other oaters that were being made at the time.  Director Lewis Milestone filmed the breathtaking outback with panache and always kept the story moving along at a steady clip, for which I was eternally grateful.

 

The performances were all solid, with Lawford (in his pre-Rat Pack days) making for a suitably suave leading man.  Boone played his umpteenth variation of a snake in the grass, but he seemed to have a lot of fun doing what he does best.  I had fun watching him too, so it was all good.  The real treasure here is O’Hara.  Although her character isn’t really given a whole lot to do except stand around and look gorgeous, that was more than enough for me.

 

What really bugged the shit out of me about Kangaroo was the fact that there weren’t hardly any kangaroos in it!  Sure, we see a couple during the opening credits, and later see a herd of them dying off from the drought, but that’s about it.  What’s up with that, yo?

 

Milestone and Lawford re-teamed eight years later with the classic Ocean’s 11.

 

Kangaroo is on The Video Vacuum Top Ten of 1952 at the Number 9 spot, right below Red Planet Mars.

A HAZARD OF HEARTS (1987) **

A jackass nobleman (Christopher Plummer) loses his daughter Serena (Helena Bonham Carter) in a game of dice and then promptly kills himself.  Serena gets carted off to live with the pompous Lord Vulcan (Marcus Gilbert from Army of Darkness) who won her hand in marriage and they slowly grow to respect one another.  However, his bitchy mother (Diana Rigg) hates Serena and tries everything in her power to get her axed from the family.

 

I’m not much for these corset-ploitation movies, but I kinda dug A Hazard of Hearts.  What really made the flick watchable were the performances.  Ever since Fight Club, I’ve sorta had a thing a thing for Helena Bonham Carter, so it was nice for me to see her playing the innocent ingénue.  Rigg played her role to bitchy perfection and chewed on the scenery with aplomb.  It was Plummer though who gave the best performance in the movie as the noble-dude who recklessly gambled away everything he owned.  Too bad he blows his brains out ten minutes into the flick.

 

A Hazard of Hearts has all the standard issue clichés you’d expect from a bodice-ripper like this one.  There are fancy dinner parties, disgusting highwaymen, dueling (both pistols AND swords), and a bunch of frowny people falling in love.  It was all slightly better than I expected and the pacing moved along briskly for the first half of the film.  I guess the credit there has to go to director John (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry) Hough, who spices up the early scenes with some cheeky humor. 

 

Sadly, the flick gets sillier and sillier as it goes on until it gets flat out stupid near the end.  (Seriously, I was expecting to see the kitchen sink by the time the climax rolled around.)  If you have a high tolerance for these sort of stuffy British shenanigans though, you’re going to fucking love this shit.  Whenever you get bored, you can have fun spotting all of the Bond movie vets in the cast like Fiona (A View to a Kill) Fullerton, Edward (Never Say Never Again) Fox, and of course, Diana (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) Rigg.

 

Hough went on to direct Howling 4:  The Original Nightmare the next year.

CATCH ME A SPY (1971) ½ *

Kirk Douglas stars as an American secret agent in this woefully lame and absolutely unfunny spy comedy.  A couple’s honeymoon in Bucharest is interrupted when the husband gets kidnapped by Russian agents.  The wife (Marlene Jobert) tries to get the head of the British Embassy (Trevor Howard) to find her husband but he’s no use.  Enter Kirk, who’s got some devious plans of his own.  In the end, it turns out that Marlene’s hubby IS a spy and it’s all just an elaborate game of deception.

 

This is just one of those idiotic movies that you want to strangle everybody involved.  Director Dick Clement (who later went onto write The Bank Job) just lets each scene sputter out with little consequence to the next scene.  The plot more or less just sits there like a limp dick and moves at a snail’s pace to boot.  And the less said about the “zany” boat chase finale, the better.

 

And is it just me or is Kirk Douglas the LAST person you’d want to star in your stupid borderline braindead spy comedy?  Sure, the man has SOME sense of comic timing, but he just seems out of place while dressed up in a tux like a third rate James Bond imitator.  And despite his top billing; Douglas’ part is more or less a glorified supporting role and he doesn’t do Jack Shit until near the end of the picture.

 

Jobert is one heck of an annoying French twat.  She looks like a more trollish version of Shirley MacClaine and will get on your fucking nerves in record time; which is a pity because she gets the most screen time out of anyone in this mind-numbing mess.  She’s got one of those irritating squeaky Frenchie voices that are like nails on a goddamn chalkboard. 

 

Despite the moronic scripting, there is ONE line of dialogue I kinda chuckled at.  It’s delivered by a blustering embassy worker who tells a frantic Jobert, “I presume that you’ve been raped by some gypsy violinist or something!”

 

AKA:  To Catch a Spy.  AKA:  Keep Your Fingers Crossed.