June 3rd, 2009

FANBOYS (2009) ***

After learning that one of their buddies has terminal cancer, a quartet of Star Wars nerds go on a cross country trip to sneak into George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch to see the rough cut of Star Wars:  Episode I:  The Phantom Menace.  Along the way, they run into some vengeful Trekkies, wind up stripping in a gay bar, and eat peyote-laced guacamole with Danny Trejo.  Eventually, they make their way into the ranch and have to contend with Lucas’ heightened security and a very familiar trash compactor.

 

There was a big debate before this flick was released because The Powers That Be wanted the cancer subplot removed from the film.  The filmmakers held their ground and kept it in, which resulted in the movie getting a limited theatrical release.  I can’t really blame the studio though because the cancer stuff doesn’t really add anything to the film other than giving the fanboys a deadline to see the movie.

 

Being a huge Star Wars fan myself, it was easy to forgive Fanboys for some of its slower, unfunny stretches.  The film really works best during the final act where the fanboys break into the ranch.  The funniest part (for me anyway) was that Lucas’ guards were dressed up like the security robots from THX-1138.  I wasn’t expecting that. 

 

I also enjoyed seeing a slew of awesome Star Wars memorabilia and particularly liked the painted van featuring an interior laced with Star Wars Topps trading cards.  The best thing about the flick though was seeing Kristen Bell dressed up in Princess Leia’s metal bikini.  That should be in every movie. 

 

Speaking of people who were in the movie, I have to say that neither of the fanboys left much of an impression on me.  That’s OK though because there are so many awesome cameos in the flick that I’m willing to give it a free pass in the acting department.  Seth Rogen has not one but two hilarious cameos as an overzealous Trekkie and as a Star Wars obsessed pimp.  (He even gets to fight himself at one point.)  There’s also Will Arnet, Danny McBride, Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, and even William Shatner as himself.  (“I’m William Shatner, I can score anything!”)  If that wasn’t cool enough, we also get to see Star Wars alums Billy Dee Williams (as Judge Reinhold), Ray Park (as a security guard), and Carrie Fisher (as a doctor) too.  It’s a shame about all the Rush music though.

 

Best line:  “1.21 jigawatts don’t come cheap.”

THE GREATEST MOVIES IN THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE

Here’s a new feature on The Video Vacuum where I’ll be telling you all about some of The Greatest Movies in the History of the Human Race.  A lot of these flicks will be controversial decisions for most of you out there but I know that once you have read my enthusiastic impassioned reviews for these films, you’ll have no choice but to say, “You know Mitch, you were right.  That IS one of The Greatest Movies in the History of the Human Race.”  The inaugural movie in The Greatest Movies in the History of the Human Race series is…

 

ROCKY 5  (1990)  ****

 

I have no fucking clue why the heck Rocky 5 didn’t make the AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies List.  This thing is fucking awesome.  Not only is it the best fucking Rocky movie ever made, it’s the best damn movie Sylvester Stallone ever wrote from himself that he didn’t direct.  He let the original Rocky director, John G. Avildsen helm this puppy and since the man was still riding the creative wave of directing the seminal Karate Kid 3, Rocky 5 likewise carries that flick’s surreal level of insane awesomeness.

 

The plot:  Rocky’s accountant steals all his money after he fought Ivan Drago in Russia.  Rocky returns home to learn that he’s penniless and has to sell his mansion and move back into his old ghetto house in Philadelphia.  After drunkenly seeing the ghost of his former manager Mickey (Burgess Meredith) in the old gym, Rocky decides to reopen the old sweatbox.  Meanwhile an unscrupulous promoter named George Washington Duke (Richard Gant) repeatedly tries to get Rocky into the ring for a big payday.  Since Rocky has severe brain damage from his bout with the Russian, the doctors won’t allow him to fight.  Rocky instead sees his dreams of competing in the ring with a young brawler named Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison).  Rocky spends more time in the gym shaping Tommy into a legitimate fighter than being with his family as a result, his son Robert (Sage Stallone, Sly’s kid) starts smoking and hanging out with a bad crowd.  It’s only after Duke steals away Tommy from Rocky for fame and money that he realizes what he’s lost out on.  Grudgingly, Robert accepts him back and his wife Adrian (Talia Shire) stops acting like a total bitch.  Then while Rocky is drinking in the bar with Uncle Paulie (Burt Young), Tommy shows up with Duke in tow challenging Rock to a fight.  Rocky politely declines but when Tommy slugs Paulie, Rock says, “My ring’s outside!”  This leads to an incredible street brawl, which is absolutely the best fight scene in any Rocky movie.  Guess who wins.

 

Okay, I think a lot of people piss all over Rocky 5 because they accuse Stallone of lazy screenwriting.  They say that Rocky’s sudden loss of wealth is an arbitrary way of getting him back to his “roots”.  Well I call bullshit on that.  Has anyone seen the headlines in the past few months?  Does the name Bernie Madoff ring any bells?  This guy bilked millionaires out of their entire fortunes, just like Rocky’s accountant.  Watch Rocky 5 again and imagine that it’s Madoff who made off (pun!) with Rocky’s fortune this time.  (Though really, if you think about it, all Rocky had to do was sell Uncle Paulie’s robot for scrap metal and he could’ve paid off his creditors easily.)

 

I think another reason people hate on Rocky 5 is the fact that they can’t identify with Rocky.  In the original Rocky, he was the underdog who defied the odds, and we can all identify with an underdog.  Same goes for parts 2 and 3.  Part 4 had Rocky playing more of a Rambo kind of role as he single-handedly won the Cold War and in the process, he pulled at our patriotic heartstrings.  In 5, Rocky is kind of a jerk as he puts his relationship with Tommy ahead of his family.  Audiences didn’t like that.  They wanted Rocky be the good guy and not dis his wife and kid.  As George Washington Duke says in the film, “Identification is the key to public success!”

 

I don’t know.  I liked Rocky’s arc in this movie.  Whereas so many sequels constantly keep their main character going through the same paces without changing who they are, Rocky 5 does something daring and makes Rocky kind of a dick.  Of course, he learns the error of his ways before the movie’s over, but it’s interesting and keeps the character fresh.  Like when Daniel-San leaves Mr. Miyagi to go train with Terry Silver in Karate Kid 3, we go “What, he would never do THAT!”  But in the end, the hero always comes to their senses and beats the crap out of the bad guys so it’s all good.

 

Another dimension I liked about Rocky 5 is that the real villain is the Don King wannabe George Washington Duke who is goading Tommy into fighting Rocky.  With the Duke character, Stallone was trying to make an important commentary on the state of the boxing world.  Sure, Don King is probably way too obvious of a target, but then again the Rocky series has never been known for it’s subtlety. 

 

Then there’s the final fight.  It’s awesome.  Since it takes place in the street, there are no rounds and there are no rules.  Rocky beats the shit out of Tommy using arm locks, takedowns, and body slams.  Seriously, I don’t know how anybody could criticize this movie.  I mean the part where a dazed, punch drunk Rocky sees the ghost of Mickey who tells him “Get up you son of a bitch because Mickey loves ya!” while the familiar Rocky theme plays gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.  Seriously, if this scene doesn’t get you pumped up then you are a mutant android from the planet Xenon who does not belong in my movie dojo. 

 

Then there are the performances.  Sly has never been better.  He really anchors the movie and although you may not like what his character does, you have to agree he really makes Rocky three dimensional in this flick.  Burt Young is once again stellar as Uncle Paulie.  He is really the Yin to Rocky’s Yang.  He gets some great lines in this one and his rant to Adrian is one for the books:  “You live in a fairy tale world where your hair don’t move!  You’re like a season that don’t change!  I’m not no tomato can you can kick around!”  Newcomers to the series Gant and Morrison also bring a lot of authority to their roles and make a memorable impression with their colorful characters.  Then there’s Michael Sheehan as Duke’s flunky, Merlin.  This guy doesn’t get a lot of screen time but he’s great at backing up Duke and saying shit like “Don’t bite the hand that feeds ya!”  Probably the best performance comes from Sage Stallone.  He’s great in this and his dynamic with his real life old man no doubt helped his performance.

 

Rocky 5 (which is Number 1 on The Video Vacuum Top Ten List for 1990, sitting pretty on top of Total Recall) never got it’s due.  I hope this little article helped to correct that glaring oversight.  Be like Apollo Creed and give it another shot.  I’m sure you’ll agree with me.

 

See you all for the next installment of The Greatest Movies in the History of the Human Race.  What movie will it be?  I’ll give you a hint.  We’re talking Charlie Sheen.  We’re talking Tony Soprano.  We’re talking skydiving.  We’re talking a main character with the name, “Ditch”.  We’re talking… Terminal Velocity.  See you then, Vacuumers.

RAZOR BLADE SMILE (1998) ** ½

Eileen Daly, the chick from all those Redemption Video intros stars in this low budget horror-action flick as Lilith, a hitwoman who also happens to be a centuries old vampire.  After conducting her latest hit, she uncovers a secret organization of vampires known as the Illuminati (the same people Tom Hanks tangles with in those Da Vinci Movies I think) who predictably want her dead.   After the group kidnaps Lilith’s lover, she stocks up on a bunch of weapons and sets out to kick some vampiric ass.

 

Razor Blade Smile was released the same year as Blade and I think director Jake (Pumpkinhead:  Ashes to Ashes) West was going for a similar feel.  Too bad the budget was only about $75. 

 

Seriously, I think there is a good movie here somewhere.  The plot is passable and Daly is ultra hot while wearing skintight latex (I think Underworld ripped off this flick big time) or nothing at all.  The problem is that the budget is so damn low that the action sequences and gun battles are pretty horrendous.  I think West got far too ambitious with his meager budget for his own good.  The action reeks of cheapness and the whole movie would’ve been better suited with something approaching an actual budget.  The flick also suffers from some truly weak CGI dream sequences and the shitty shot-on-video cinematography only adds to the movie’s woes; preventing it from looking like a “real” film.

 

I’m not saying that there’s some good stuff here.  The saving grace is Daly’s performance.  And by performance I mean she looks hot as Hell and gets to show off her big ass titties a couple times.  She even has a pretty kickass lesbian scene too that probably added at least a ½ * to the film.  I particularly liked how she “graded” the blood she drank.  I also really dug the stylish James Bond-ish opening title sequence too.

 

Overall, Razor Blade Smile has some pretty cool ideas but is hampered by a criminally low budget.  I still sorta liked it for the most part though.  It’s sporadically amusing and Daly looks fucking phenomenal in it.  I mean in one scene, she bites off a guy’s dick while giving him a blowjob.  You don’t see that everyday.  Although it kinda bugged me when the film tried to rewrite the “rules” of vampirism (stakes don’t work, vampires cast reflections, etc.), the line, “Fuck Bram Stoker!” gave me a big chuckle.

THE LADY VANISHES (1938) **

There’s an avalanche that delays a train in a stupidly named fictional European country so that means a lot of disparate strangers get stranded in a small inn and have to deal with each other.  Two cricket obsessed English chaps are forced to sleep in the maid’s quarters and annoying musician has to room with a saucy young fox.  When the train finally shows up, everyone gets onboard and mingles until… uh… a lady vanishes.

 

Alfred Hitchcock does a lot of cool little camera moves in this flick which is rather surprising given the relative claustrophobic setting of both the inn and the train.  While the Master’s technical side is on display, the narrative however needed a lot of work.  The 20+ minute set-up at the inn really gets the movie off on the wrong foot and the flick never really recovers from the painfully slow start.  Also, most the comedy is dated and/or just doesn’t plain work and gets in the way of the potential suspense.  Usually Hitchcock peppers his flicks with a lot of little comical touches but here it just seems out of place.

 

The film does get better as it goes along once the musician and the babe figure out where the vanished lady went.  As much as I wanted to like this film though, I just couldn’t bring myself to give it a favorable rating.  There were too many dull stretches and the performances were only serviceable at best.  The Lady Vanishes isn’t Hitch’s worst flick (that would be Topaz); it’s just boring, flat, and unmemorable.

GOKE: BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (1968) ***

Goke:  Body Snatcher from Hell is a weird ass Japanese movie that starts off like a bizarre version of Airport.  Birds start kamikazing themselves into the side of a passenger plane, then we learn there’s a bomb hidden in the plane, and to top it off, there’s a hijacker on board.  (Where’s Wesley Snipes when you need him?)  If that wasn’t bad enough, a UFO shoots the plane, causing it to crash.  And this is all before the opening credits, folks.

 

Even before the surviving passengers get their bearings, the hijacker takes off to the hills where he sees the glowing alien ship.  It invites him in and makes his head split open down the middle so that a slithering ooze monster can worm itself inside his brain!  It then possesses him and makes him a vampire that goes around picking people off and sucking their blood.  The monster chows down on everybody until only the goody two-shoes captain and a sexy stewardess are left.  They eventually defeat the fiend but then are left to deal with the inevitable alien attack.

 

Goke:  Body Snatcher from Hell is wildly uneven; however there is plenty of cool ass shit to recommend.  The model work for the airplane is awesome, as are the scenes where it flies against a very psychedelic looking red sky.  The practical effects are equally impressive.  The head-splitting scenes are amazing and the vagina-shaped scar down the guy’s forehead is pretty kickass too.  The slimy ooze monster is really groovy as well and the scene where it hops from host to host is reminiscent of The Hidden.  We also get some really juicy bird squishing shots in there for good measure.

 

The film’s biggest debits are the plethora of hateful characters and a particularly patchy second half.  That’s okay by me though because whenever the space vampire was sucking on people’s necks, it was damn good times.  Despite it’s obvious flaws, Goke:  Body Snatcher from Hell is an offbeat, colorful, and fun way to kill 84 minutes.  

 

Of all the subtitled dialogue, the line, “You’ve been spouting that Sci-Fi crap all day!” was my favorite.

 

AKA:  Body Snatcher from Hell.  AKA:  Goke the Vampire.  AKA:  Vampire Gokemidoro.

AMERICAN SWING (2008) ***

I was way too young to attend the infamous New York swinger's nightclub, Plato’s Retreat during it's heyday in the late 70's, but this documentary made the place look like a lot of fun.  Basically this guy Larry Levenson opened it up so lots of horny New Yorkers could fuck their brains out.  That is to say the man is brilliant.  Why hasn’t New York named a street after this guy?

 

Anyway, this doc chronicles the rise (disco, porn stars, and cocaine) and fall (the AIDS scare, prostitution, and cocaine) of the club from the 70’s to the 80’s.  After going to jail, Levenson ended up overweight, living in a basement, and driving a cab before dying of a heart attack at age 62.  That’s no way for a legend to go.

 

Even though a lot of porn stars (Jamie Gillis, Ron Jeremy, Fred Lincoln) and celebs (Buck Henry, Melvin Van Peebles, Ed Koch) are interviewed, it’s the real people that frequented Plato’s who have the best stories.  Old TV ads for Plato’s Retreat and (semi-hot) archived footage of people fucking in the club also add to the fun.  If the movie has a weakness, it’s that the filmmakers couldn’t decide whether to focus their attention on the club or on Levenson.  They try to cover both and as a result, the flick goes back and forth a little too much.  It’s not really a bad thing since the guy is pretty entertaining (especially when he’s interviewed by Phil Donahue).  It’s just that I think he was so interesting that he deserved his own documentary.

 

Best line:  “Levenson was riding a runaway tiger… of sex!”

BRUCE LEE’S DEADLY KUNG FU (1981) ** ½

The first scene of Bruce Lee’s Deadly Kung Fu really got my blood pumping.  It’s totally badass and all kinds of awesome.  Although the rest of the movie never quite lived up to the opening scene, it still put this flick a notch or two or three above most of the Bruceploitation flicks I’ve been watching lately.

 

The scene I’m referring to plays a lot like a Kung Fu version of Waiting.  Bruce (Bruce Li) is a waiter who gets his dim-witted best friend to bus his table for him.  When the jackass customers trip him, he drops the dishes and cuts himself.  Bruce goes over to the table to see what’s wrong and the customers slap him around a bit.  Bruce then heads back to the kitchen and puts a ton of black pepper in their food.  Then the guys get all pissed at him and try to fight him but Bruce naturally mops the floor with them.

 

See, I’m a waiter by trade so I could really identify with this scene.  I’d be lying if I said I haven’t ever felt the urge to karate kick an asshole customer in the face.  This scene was the bitch’s tits so I thought I was in store for a classic of martial arts cinema.  As the film progressed it became apparent that it was just going to be a solid Kung Fu movie, no more, no less.  After a great first 25 minutes or so, the flick pretty much settled down into the routine Good Karate School vs. Bad Karate School clichés.  

 

There were parts of the film that showed signs of holding to its early promise though.  The best non-customer ass kicking scene came when the bad guy’s flamboyantly gay henchman, “San Francisco Iron Fist Man” got the snot kicked out of him by Bruce.  Other than that, it was business as usual.  The competent fight choreography and lots of action kept me from totally losing interest, and I liked seeing Carter (Big Trouble in Little China) Wong in a dignified supporting role.  The movie really belongs to Bruce Li though.  The man can ape the real Bruce like no one else and his considerable screen presence helped anchor the flick.

 

AKA:  A Dragon Story.  AKA:  Bruce Lee’s Secret.  AKA:  Bruce Li’s Jeet Kune Do.  AKA:  He’s a Legend, He’s a Hero.  AKA:  Master of Jeet Kune Do.  AKA:  Story of the Dragon.  AKA:  Wing Chun Big Brother.