July 6th, 2009

SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949) ****

Sergeant Stryker (John Wayne) is a gruff no-nonsense hardass who leads his squadron of men into battle during World War II.  He takes a shine to one young soldier (John Agar, who also starred in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon with Wayne the same year) who only went to war because of his military minded father.  Since Stryker reminds him of his old man they naturally butt heads.  After saving each others’ lives, the two men learn to respect one another.  Eventually, Stryker leads his troops to the titular island so they can raise the US flag and be immortalized forever.


Sands of Iwo Jima is not only one of John Wayne’s best flicks, it’s also one of the best war movies ever made.  Usually when a war film relies heavily on stock footage for its battle sequences, it comes off phony looking and cheap.  But here, director Alan (The Gorilla) Dwan makes excellent use of the stock footage.  The “real” and the “reel” are blended together quite seamlessly and the stock footage lends an authenticity to the picture that most war films lack.  (The flag used for the finale was the actual flag from the battle of Iwo Jima.  How’s that for authenticity!)  There are even a couple of gruesome (for the time) scenes of violence (one guy gets shot in the eyeball, another is bayoneted in the gut, some soldiers get B-B-Q’ed via flamethrower, etc.) that gives the movie an added punch.


The Duke was nominated for an Oscar for his performance and deservedly so.  Wayne is pretty great and is equally adept at showing his tender side as he is his tough side.  Even though he’s hard on his men, he has his reasons, and deep down inside, he has a heart of gold.  I particularly liked the Mr. Miyagi style scene where he teaches a soldier how to use a bayonet by incorporating a few dance steps into his slashing technique.


What made the flick for me though was the motley crew of supporting characters; all of whom went on to have healthy careers in B horror films.  Besides Agar (who starred in the immortal The Brain from Planet Arous), there was Arthur (Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man) Franz (who also narrates), Richard (Blood Song) Jaeckel, and Forrest (The Crawling Eye) Tucker. This may have been Wayne’s movie but it’s Tucker who gets all the best lines like:  “My natural dislike for you is developing into a great hatred!” and “That’s war:  Trading real estate for men!”


Sands of Iwo Jima is just badass enough to wind up on The Video Vacuum’s Top Ten Films of the Year for 1949 at the Number 2 spot; placing it below Mighty Joe Young and right above The Third Man.

EDMOND (2005) ***

Edmond (William H. Macy) is a schmo who decides to leave his wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) because he’s bored.  He then heads down to a strip club where he turns down sex with Denise Richards because she’s “too expensive”.  Afterwards, he visits Bai Ling in a peep show booth but turns down sex with her because she’s “too expensive”.  Edmond next goes to a massage parlor ran by Debi Mazar and tries to have sex with Mena Suvari.  Predictably, he turns her down because she’s “too expensive”.


Then Edmond gets rolled by some black dudes and decides to pawn his wedding ring to buy a badass knife to protect himself.  The knife comes in handy when a black pimp tries to roll him and he gets to slash him up while saying a bunch of racial epithets.  Triumphant, he seeks solace in the bed of a lowly waitress (Julia Stiles) who apparently fucked him for free.  After he spouts off a lot of crazy talk, she gets scared and tries to run and he slashes her to ribbons.  Edmond gets picked up by the cops and goes to prison where his big black burly cellmate (Bokeem Woodbine) rapes him.


Moral of the story:  If you express your White Hate, you’ll get Brown Sugar in your ass.


Edmond was written by David (Glengarry Glen Ross) Mamet and directed by Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon.  At first glance, this may seem like a bizarro pairing but the duo used to run around in the same theater circles back before they got famous.  Although Edmond is more of Mamet’s movie than Gordon’s (it’s no From Beyond I’ll tell you that), it still had enough squirm-in-your-seat moments to make it his best movie in years.


Macy delivers a solid turn as Edmond and keeps your attention throughout his various misadventures.  The best part of the movie though is the supporting cast that’s chockfull of hotties.  Unfortunately, out of all the foxy ladies, only Bai Ling gets naked.  Jesus, and wait till you see Jeffrey Combs in this movie.  Words can’t describe it; you’ll have to see it for yourself.


While the flick coasts on the performance of Macy it’s far from perfect.  Often the movie feels stagy and more than a tad contrived.  Also, a lot of the over the top dialogue is just way too theatrical to be taken seriously.  Then again, I laughed really, really hard at the following exchange near the end of the movie:


Edmond:  Did they tell you what happened?


Prison Priest:  No.


Edmond:  I was sodomized.


Prison Priest:  Did you report it?


Edmond:  Yes.


Prison Priest:  What did they say?


Edmond:  It happens.


With that kind of priceless dialogue, how can I give Edmond anything less than ***.

VICE ACADEMY 5 (1996) **

Undercover vice cop Candy (Elizabeth Kaitan) gets a new partner named Traci (Raelyn Saalman) and they engage in the usual Vice Academy shenanigans.  Meanwhile, the Commissioner’s computer nerd son Irwin (Chad Gabbert) creates a Virtual Reality Hooker named Heidi Ho (J.J. North) who escapes from cyberspace and starts turning tricks in the police station parking lot.  It’s up to Candy and Traci to bust the buxom binary bimbo and bring her to justice.


Vice Academy 5 is slightly better than the other Vice Academy sequels, although that really isn’t saying much.  All the stuff involving the Virtual Reality Hooker is kinda funny but VIRTUALLY (pun!) nothing is done with her character.  There is a funny bit where she gives her clients sexually transmitted computer viruses though.  (Virtual VD?)  Sadly, director/writer/producer Rick Sloane couldn’t decide whether or not to make her into a sexual mentor (a la Kelly LeBrock in Weird Science) or a legitimate villain and as a result, the character doesn’t have as much of an impact as she should’ve.  


It’s not North’s fault though.  She’s super smoking hot, gets naked a lot and seems to be having a lot of fun.  Kaitan and Saalman also have some nice nude scenes as well, making this the most tit-ccentric Vice Academy movie since the first one.


Despite having a bunch of boobies, Vice Academy 5 falls flat in a couple other areas.  Way too much time is spent on the Commissioner (Jay Richardson) and Ms. Devonshire’s (Jayne Hamil) crumbling marriage.  Their counseling scenes aren’t very funny and get in the way of the VR Hooker stuff.  The film also reeks of shameless self-promotion on Sloane’s behalf.  (Several Hobgoblin hand puppets can be seen in the background as well as posters for Sloane’s other films.)  It’s still marginally better than say, Virtuosity. 


Even though Vice Academy 5 isn’t very good, I have to hand it to Sloane for one thing:  Although he made the film in 1996, it still looks like it was made in 1988.  I don’t know how he did it or what kind of camera he used, but it’s pretty uncanny how everything looks like it came from the 80’s.  You have to respect that.


Vice Academy 5 also has the benefit of a smattering of funny lines.  My favorite came when Ms. Devonshire asks the Commissioner if he wants a little “TLC”.  He responds with, “You know I hate rap music!”

North, Richardson, and Saalman all starred in the classic Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfold the previous year.