July 22nd, 2009

BEAT STREET (1984) ** ½

Beat Street is more or less a second cousin to the Breakin’ movies.  The major difference is that instead of being about young breakdancers trying to make it big, it features young breakdancers, rappers, DJ’s, and graffiti artists trying to make it big.  It also takes place in New York instead of LA.  Other than that, they’re basically the same movie.


A lot of Beat Street is straight-up hilarious.  It’s not intentional to be sure, but it got some pretty big laughs from me.  The part that had me cracking up the most was when Ramo, the Latino graffiti guru saw his nemesis “Spit” defacing the “art” that he worked so hard to paint on the side of a subway car.  They get into a brawl and end up falling on the train tracks and get electrocuted.  When’s the last time you saw someone die for their “art” like that?  If Ramo only painted on an easel, he may have been still alive today.  That’s OK because if he didn’t, DJ Double K wouldn’t have been able to give him the uproarious Rap Eulogy that concludes the film.


Speaking of music, Beat Street features a wonderfully ludicrous “band” that can only be described as The Village People 2.  These guys all dress up in weird costumes (Barbarian, Egyptian, Safari guide, etc.) and have off-key choreography.  They have to be seen to be believed.  Most of the music in the flick is terrible, but there is one awesome Christmas rap song by Kool Moe Dee and Doug E. Fresh.  Not only is it fly AND dope, it also manages to drop the F-Bomb in a PG movie.  Mad respect goes out to the Old School Rappers for slipping that past the MPAA ratings board.


I also want to take a moment to address the breakdancing in this movie.  I am sort of an authority on this subject because I myself participated in a breakdancing exhibition in elementary school where I did my signature move:  The Worm.  It pains me to no end to inform you that the dancers in Beat Street DO NOT DO THE WORM.  How can you have a movie about breakdancing and NOT have The Worm?  That’s like making a werewolf movie without the full moon.  Half-Star deduction for that.


The movie’s breakdancing sequences also suffer from being inauthentic.  They seem more like a glossy Hollywood musical than the real-deal breakdancing I knew.  For example:  When we breakdanced in school, we ALWAYS danced on top of corrugated cardboard boxes.  In Beat Street, all the dancers bust their moves on spotless, heavily waxed dance floors.  Another Half-star off for that glaring bit of misrepresentation.  


Even though Beat Street features ZERO Worm-age and fancifully staged dance routines, I still dug it for the most part.  The thing that prevents the film from really taking off is the fact that all the performers specialize in different areas.  Once the breakdancing scenes start to cook, we have to cut back to see how the Mexican graffiti dude is doing with his out-of-wedlock kid and bimbo girlfriend.  Just when the DJ gets the gig at the club, we have to see his little brother bust a move in a dance-off.  Because of its back-and-forth narrative, the flick is just way too disjointed for it to truly work.  


Whatever it’s flaws, Beat Street still has its moments.  It features enough scenes of people spinning on heir heads to make it worthwhile for die hard fans of breakdancing and/or connoisseurs of 80’s cheese.  And if you can believe it, it was produced by Harry Belafonte (!), co-written by Andrew (Above the Law) Davis (!!), and co-stars Duane (Night of the Living Dead) Jones (!!!).


Director William Girdler has made some good movies like Three on a Meathook, Sheba Baby, and Grizzly.  He’s also made some not-so good movies like Abby, Day of the Animals, and The Manitou.  Asylum of Satan is his all time worst.  It should’ve been called Asylum of Shit.


Lucina (Carla Borelli) has a breakdown and is put into the care of the mysterious Dr. Specter (Charles Kissinger).  She doesn’t know why she’s in his rundown old asylum or why everyone in the cafeteria wears white Satanist gowns.  Lucina’s fiancée tries to get the cops to search the place but they naturally don’t believe anything’s gone wrong.  After a couple of patients end up being sacrificed to Satan, Lucina finally starts to realize that she’s in line to be the doctor’s ultimate offering to The Dark One.


Asylum of Satan is one big long snoozer of a horror flick that features terrible performances, atrocious cinematography, and predictable plot twists.  It also contains the most obvious man-in-drag in the history of cinema.  The only thing the flick has going for it is the murder sequences.  One paraplegic chick gets attacked by spiders, a mute gets burned to death, and a blind gal gets attacked by snakes while swimming.  (Does this movie hate the disabled or what?)  If you do make it through to the end without falling asleep, you’ll be sure to get a chuckle out of the ridiculous looking Satan that looks like it was cobbled together with Play-Doh.


A boy named Bobby gets yelled at by his stepfather and is hit on by his slutty stepsister so he goes out for some beer.  He gets picked up by this sleazy dude who hogties him and gets his buddies to gang rape the poor kid.  They dump Bobby in a field where he is later found by a group of Satanists.  One of the Satanist chicks falls in love with him but the leader wants to banish him for being a “homosexual”.  She stands up for him and as a consequence, gets buried up to her neck, has honey poured all over her face, and gets a bunch of ants dumped on her.  To save his new girl’s life and prove himself to the cult, Bobby goes out and murders all the guys who raped him and cuts off their heads as an offering to Satan.  He also kills his stepdad and gives his stepsister to the Satanists so they can crucify her.  In the end, Bobby finds true love.


Man, this is one of the ugliest, disgusting, and disturbing movies I have ever seen in my entire life.  It really gets under your skin and makes you feel uncomfortable for every minute of its running time.  Never since Last House on Dead End Street has a movie made me want to take a shower immediately after watching it.  It really takes a lot for me to call a movie “distasteful” but that’s what Satan’s Children is… distasteful.  While I would normally give a movie like this No Stars for being so putrid and vile, I’m halfway tempted to give it Four Stars just for the fact that it geeked me out so bad.  To be diplomatic, I’ll give it Two Stars and split the difference.


If you want to be repulsed and sickened, by all means see Satan’s Children.  If you want to remain untainted; I implore you to steer clear.  You’ve been warned.

MCLINTOCK! (1963) ** ½

McLintock! tells the story of a guy named G.W. McLintock (John Wayne) who lives in and pretty much owns the town named after him.  We know he’s a good guy because he helps a down-on-his-luck cowhand (The Duke’s son Patrick) with a widowed mother (Yvonne DeCarlo) by giving them both a job working for him.  He also tries to help some friendly displaced Indians who are hated by the close-minded so-and-sos in town.  Meanwhile he tries to patch back together his marriage with his royal bitch of a wife (played by Maureen O’Hara) who is in the process of divorcing him.  Eventually, McLintock has enough of her shit and spanks her in front of everyone in town.  Naturally, she comes running back to him.


This McLintock guy is a P-I-M-P; too bad the movie that shares his namesake isn’t as cool. 


McLintock! (the movie, not the man) is more or less a rip-off of The Quiet Man as it’s mostly about John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara trading barbs back and forth while Wayne hand-delivers a bunch of knuckle sandwiches into various dude’s kissers.  The flick is also suffers from a goofy tone and featured far too much slapsticky stuff for me.  I liked Wayne in this when he was being a badass but sometimes he got a little too cutesy with all the comedy shtick for my tastes. 


I mean it’s one thing if The Duke is going to do a comedy, but is it too much to ask for it to be actually funny?  It’s screwy and full of energy sure.  That doesn’t necessarily make it a lot of laughs though.


McLintock! is full of weaknesses but it does contain two memorable set pieces that make it highly recommended for Wayne fans.  The first is a rousing battle royale brawl where The Duke slugs it out with dozens of character actors and sends them sliding down a steep hill and into a giant mud hole.  The other is the awesome finale where Wayne chases O’Hara all around town before giving her a good spanking.  Any dude that can beat his old lady in front of a bunch of onlookers in broad daylight AND IT’S FUNNY gets mad props from me, no matter how uneven the film about him is.


Director Andrew V. McLaglen next paired with Wayne five years later for The Hellfighters.

HIGH NOON (1952) ****

Gary Cooper stars in his all time best role as Will Kane, a lawman who gets married to the beautiful Quaker chick (Grace Kelly) on the day he retires.  As he’s about to leave for his honeymoon, he learns that the mad dog killer he put away five years ago is returning to town on the noon train.  Kane decides to stick around to fend off the no-good varmint and his gang of thugs.  He figures he can’t do it alone though, so he goes around town asking the men folk to join his posse and help defend the town.  Trouble is; everyone in town is either yellow or worthless.  With no one to aid him, Kane is left to fight the nefarious gunmen alone.


I need to ask myself a question here:  Why did it take me so long to see this movie?  I love movies and I love westerns but I have never seen this movie before.  High Noon is not only one of the best westerns ever made, it’s one of the best films ever made.  Again:  Why did it take me so long to see this movie?


High Noon is filled with tension and suspense stemming from the arrival of the imminent bad guys but the thing that makes it a classic is the performance of Gary Cooper.  He ranks right up there with John Wayne in Rio Bravo, Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars, and Alan Ladd in Shane as one of the greatest western performances ever.  What makes his character Will Kane different is that he’s not a hero in the traditional western sense.  He’s not a cowboy filled with swagger and bravado like Wayne and unlike Eastwood he isn’t a steely-eyed badass.  Cooper is an everyman.  He’s scared just like the civilians he’s been hired to protect.  What makes him a hero is his willingness to do the right thing when no one else will.  Cooper is a man of few words and when he doesn’t speak, his sorrowful eyes say everything.  He deservedly won an Oscar for his stellar work. 


Then there’s the supporting cast.  Kelly is dazzling as Kane’s resentful wife.  She’s also one of the hottest Quaker chicks I’ve ever seen.  Lloyd Bridges also does a fine job as Kane’s uppity deputy and Lon Chaney Jr. and Harry Morgan put in excellent turns as cowardly townsfolk.


Fred (The Day of the Jackal) Zinnemann’s direction is flawless.  He wrings every bit of suspense possible from the film.  Everything is expertly paced (the flick is filmed in “real time” more or less), every second counts; and as a result, there is not an ounce of fat on this bad boy.  The cinematography by Floyd Crosby is some of the best you’ll ever see and it’s bewildering to think that this is the same guy who shot Attack of the Crab Monsters, Reform School Girl, and The Screaming Skull just a few years later.  


High Noon is Number 1 with a bullet on The Video Vacuum Top Ten Films of 1952, sitting pretty on top of The Quiet Man.


A quartet of thieves using color-coordinated aliases led by Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) hijack a New York City subway car and demand a million dollar ransom or else they start shooting hostages.  After the annoying mayor finally decides to cave into the terrorists’ demands, it’s up to transit cop Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau) to negotiate the payoff of the hijackers.  The quick-thinking Garber is able to stay one step ahead of Mr. Blue and his men and figures out their getaway plan, which leads to shootouts, electrocution, and arrests.


The initial hijacking scenes have a kick to them but The Taking of Pelham One Two Three starts to lose its momentum once Matthau has to haggle with Shaw’s infinite lists of demands.  There are also a lot of superfluous supporting characters (like the idiot mayor) who get in the way of the mental cat-and-mouse games being played by Shaw and Matthau.  On top of that, the movie doesn’t know when to quit while it’s ahead and features an unnecessarily long footnote that adds very little to the overall film.


Director Joseph (Nightmares) Sargent captures the feeling of New York City in the 70’s perfectly and his documentary-like approach helps to elevate the film from the usual run-of-the-mill hijack movie.  (He later went on to direct the unforgivable Jaws the Revenge.)  The excellent performances by the two leads also keep you watching.  Matthau and Shaw are both great separately and it’s a shame that they only share one scene together. 


Remade 35 years later with Denzel Washington and John Travolta.