November 2nd, 2009

WHATEVER WORKS (2009) *** ½

Woody Allen’s movies have kinda been in a funk lately.  What’s worse; his past couple of films haven’t really even been comedies either, which is pretty weird if you ask me.  I’m glad to report that Whatever Works is a return to form for the Wood Man.


Larry David stars as a genius named Boris who never passes up an opportunity to express his contempt for the human race.  By chance, a runaway teen (Evan Rachel Wood) turns up on his doorstep and Boris, against all better judgment lets her stay at his apartment.  Eventually, his disdain for her blossoms into love and they get married.  Their marital bliss is challenged however when her boozy mother (Patricia Clarkson) and fanatical father (Ed Begley, Jr.) show up looking for her.


Boris’ motto in this movie is “Whatever works” and this seems to have been Woody’s approach behind the camera as well.  The film has some passages that contain absolutely no laughs but more often than not, David will let loose a zinger that has you cracking up.  Whatever works, right?


While Allen’s writing is sharp, it’s David’s performance that makes the movie.  This is the kind of role that Woody would’ve usually taken for himself but David infuses the character with a lot of his trademark piss and vinegar that makes his rantings and ravings hysterical.  Naturally, he gets the best line of the film when he says, “I get night sweats… I used to think it was AIDS!”

BLACK ROSE (1989) **

A karate chopping chick stands to inherit her father’s fortune but there is a bunch of no-good bad guys that want it for themselves.  That means they try to jump her repeatedly and she has to kick the snot out of them at regular intervals.  In the end, our heroine discovers that her inheritance is a humongous amount of heroin.  That gets her so mad that she sets out to kick the bad guys’ collective asses once and for all.


Before I go any further, I have to get something off my chest here about Black Rose (a film that IMDB has ZERO information on by the way).  I got this movie in a pack of 70’s blaxploitation films but it is actually a Chinese Kung Fu movie from the 80’s.  To top it off, the main character isn’t black and her name isn’t Rose either.  Talk about disappointing.


Disreputable titles aside, this is an OK Kung Fu flick.  The acting is horrible, the dubbing is atrocious, and the fight choreography leaves something to be desired.  However, what Black Rose lacks in quality, it makes up for in quantity as there is a major Kung Fu battle at just about every reel change.   


What entertained me most about Black Rose was that it ripped off so many musical scores from other films.  During a love scene, they actually play “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me.  Even better is the fact that they use Jimmy Page’s score from Death Wish 2 and 3 for several fight scenes.  The thing of it is; it’s actually pretty effective.  More composers should rip off the Death Wish theme for their movies!

AKA:  Hong Kong Tigress.

FROZEN ALIVE (1967) **

A smug scientist (Mark Stevens) and his pouty assistant (Marianne Koch) discover how to cryogenically freeze chimps.  When they get a grant to further their experiments (READ:  Human Test Subjects), their asshole boss won’t let them.  Meanwhile, the scientist’s floozy wife (Delphi Lawrence) thinks he’s cheating on her so she starts shacking up with some reporter bozo (Joachim Hansen).  Mr. Upstanding Scientist Guy then decides to try to freeze himself and while he’s in the fridge, his wife commits suicide.  The idiotic police force thinks he’s responsible though so they order him to be thawed out; but will he survive his unscheduled de-freezing?


If Frozen Alive was a mixed drink it would contain:


5 Parts boring ass General Hospital level melodrama.


2 Parts science-y stuff.


1 Part dull police procedural crap.


Shake contents well and serve over ice.  Garnish with a slice of chilled chimpanzee shit.


This is one of those movies where the idea is sound but the filmmakers drop the ball and give us a bunch of soap opera bullshit instead.  Although the scenes in the laboratory were kinda tight (especially the stuff with all the frozen chimpanzees) and the finale is sorta tense, the movie gets bogged down rather quickly with all the pathetic Love Rectangle nonsense.  It doesn’t help when the performances are bland as fuck.  Lawrence puts in a good turn as the slut wife though.  


AKA:  Der Fall X701.


A mess of eyewitnesses who’ve claimed to have seen UFO’s are interviewed and they talk all about their various run-ins with extra-terrestrials.  This is followed by a pretty groovy title sequence that features some cool 70’s graphics, accompanied by a bunch of “real” pictures of UFO’s (as well as some unfortunate hippy music).  Then the “plot” begins…


A reporter teams up with a psychic chick to get to the bottom of a rash of UFO sightings that have been sweeping a small community.  While traipsing around the woods, the psychic gets possessed by an alien entity and her eyes start glowing.  It’s the reporter fella the aliens really want though.  They start communicating with him and get inside of his head; causing his hair to fall out.  In the end, he leaves with the aliens, leaving only his skeleton behind while lots of Low-Fi 2001 inspired graphics play on endlessly.


The production design of UFO:  Target Earth is laughably bad.  A lot of it is too dark to see; particularly during the night time sequences.  The flick also features the most obvious visible boom mike in the history of motion pictures.  On top of that, the film is too damned dull to be of much use to anyone and features enough annoying hippie/country music to make your head implode. 


Still, the flick had some redeeming qualities that made me not completely hate it.  UFO:  Target Earth is a lot more thoughtful and introspective about it’s material than most Sci-Fi flicks.  The unbelieving characters talk a lot about aliens as being nothing more than modern folklore.  (One even goes so far to say that the idea of alien abduction dates as far back as Jonah and the Whale!)  These shenanigans are kinda neat and are a lot more refreshing than the usual onslaught of bad special effects.  I also admired the filmmakers’ do-it-yourself aesthetic when it came to the trippy finale.


The performances are all thoroughly boring but the psychic chick is given enough unintentionally hilarious dialogue to make up for that oversight.  Some of my favorites include:  “’Beings’?  That word is too dimensional!” and “I feel like you’re trying to bind my soul with your technology!”  Too bad she disappears before the cosmic ending.  I would’ve loved to have gotten her take on quickly balding reporters that lose all their flesh and become one with an alien consciousness. 


AKA:  Target Earth.


Lon Chaney was famously known as “The Man of a Thousand Faces” but out of all the faces he was renowned for, it’s the face of The Phantom of the Opera that he is probably best remembered.  Chaney gives one of his greatest performances as the brooding, tortured, and disfigured Erik.  He lives below the Paris Opera House where he falls in love with an opera singer named Christine (Mary Philbin).  Erik demands that she be given the leading role in the next production and when she doesn’t, he drops a chandelier on a bunch of theater patrons.  He then kidnaps Christine and gives her some singing lessons but when she takes off his mask, he gets pissed… big time. 


There have been approximately 70 kerbillion adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera over the years.  This one remains far and away the best.  One reason for this is that it’s a silent film so you don’t have to listen to any annoying opera singing.  The main reason though is because of Lon Fuckin’ Chaney.  Not only is his performance enormously creepy (even after nearly 85 years), but he actually makes you kinda sympathize with the poor guy too.  I mean he just wants to be loved.  It’s kinda hard to get a piece of ass when you have a face like that.  Speaking of which, Chaney’s make-up for the Phantom is simply one of the finest ever created.  With his eyes bulging out and nose bone exposed, the Phantom still remains one of the scariest horror movie icons of all time.


And while we’re on the subject of greatness, let’s talk about the famous Unmasking Scene.  That shit is still plenty powerful.  I think what makes it work is that when Christine pulls the mask off; it’s the audience that sees the Phantom’s face first and we get freaked out.  Then, the Phantom turns around and Christine sees him and she gets freaked out.  It’s a Double Whammy.  Then director Rupert Julian just LINGERS on every blessed pore of the Phantom’s face for a straight two minutes.  I bet all those people back in ’25 were upchucking in their shorts by that time.


The scene that really endears us to the Phantom though comes when he spies on Christine and her lover on the roof of the Opera House.  Here, we see the Phantom’s heart breaking, and we immediately want to see him get some revenge on that tart.  That’s what makes the Phantom better than a lot of the Old School Movie Monsters:  We actually care about him.  The Technicolor scene where the Phantom shows up to a costume ball dressed up as The Red Death is pretty cool too. 


The Phantom gets the best line of the movie when he tells Christine, “Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my accursed ugliness!”


The Phantom of the Opera is Number 3 on The Video Vacuum List of the Greatest Silent Movies of All Time, just below Nosferatu, and right above Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.


Quasimodo the Hunchback (Lon Chaney) is the deformed bell ringer for the Notre Dame Cathedral.  Some tyrant motherfucker forces him into kidnapping a cute gypsy girl named Esmeralda (Patty Ruth Miller) but Quasimodo gets caught red handed and is sentenced to be whipped in public.  The gypsy chick doesn’t bare a grudge though and gives him some water after his beating.  When Esmeralda gets framed for a crime and sentenced to death, Quasi pays her back for her kindness and comes to the rescue.  Of course, like all ugly dudes in movies that pine for foxy females, his love goes unrequited.


I’m going to get this off my chest right away.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame features way too many idiotic supporting characters, too much palace intrigue, and enough dopey lovey dovey bullshit to make you wanna vomit.  BUT… it comes highly recommended because it features Lon Chaney giving one of his best performances.  He’s great in this movie.  He’s always doing something like jumping up and down, climbing on the outside of the cathedral, ringing the bells, sticking his tongue out; he really goes for broke.  The finale where he pours a vat of molten lead on a horde of motherfuckers is pretty legit too.


Chaney’s make-up is equally impressive.  In addition to the fucked-up hump on his back, he’s got a giant nose, a Ronald McDonald wig, and this big old bulging eye that looks gnarly as shit.  Then there’s the scene where he gets his shirt torn off and you can see his nasty chest hair.  It’s for this image and this image alone that I’m going to categorize this movie as “Horror” rather than “Drama”.

NOSFERATU (1922) ****

Okay folks, this is the one that started it all.  Vampire Film Numero Uno.  Before Gary Oldman, before Christopher Lee, before Bela Lugosi, there was Max Schreck.  We’re talking about Nosferatu.


The plot was stolen from Dracula.  Since everyone and their mother knows that story; there’s no use going into the customary plot rundown.  Let’s just talk about how great this movie is.


Max Schreck, the guy who plays Count Orlok (or Dracula, as he’s called in some prints) is the reason to watch this sucker.  A lot of film snobs will tell you that Nosferatu is a classic because the director F.W. Murnau did all this such-and-such bull-honky with the camera.  Uh-uh.  This movie is awesome because Schreck is scary as fuck.  Everyone gets all worked up about the scene when he rises out of his coffin and while I admit that’s some freaky stuff; I have to say that Schreck is scary JUST STANDING THERE.  Shit man, there’s a scene on the boat where he just pops his head from out of  the hull and looks around that’s just as creepy. 


And that’s probably what I love about this flick the most:  It makes being a vampire so damn unglamorous.  The term “Nosferatu” literally means “plague bringer”, so this aint’ no dapper motherfucker we’re talking about here.  I mean look at this guy.  He’s bald, got a big nose, bushy eyebrows, giant ears, and hasn’t cut his nails in two years.  He isn’t dressed very well either and more than likely smells like shit too.  Can you imagine all those brain-dead Twilight obsessed teeny-boppers going ga-ga for this guy?  Didn’t think so. 


Nosferatu was the very first film adaptation of Dracula and it’s one of the best.  While I personally prefer the 1931 Lugosi version over this one; there is no denying that this flick rocks out with it’s cock out.  For an interesting double feature, you should check out Shadow of the Vampire, which is all about the making of this film.


Nosferatu is Number 2 on The Video Vacuum List of the Greatest Silent Movies of All Time; sandwiched in between The Unknown and The Phantom of the Opera.


AKA:  Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror.  AKA:  Nosferatu, a Symphony of Terror.  AKA:  Terror of Dracula.


A big time corporation bilks a ton of money out of the stock market with the help of a local crime lord.  The District Attorney gets wind of their little scheme and is promptly murdered.  An annoying fast-talking reporter finds out about the various dirty deeds and tries to get the story.


The World Gone Mad is a great title.  It almost sounds like it’s going to be a Mad Max rip-off or something.  Too bad it’s nothing more than a woefully inane, thoroughly dumb, and hopelessly boring murder mystery.  Far too much of the film is taken up with dullards going on and on about stocks and corporations and stuff.  It’s almost like watching MSNBC or something.


The cast is filled with capable talent.  There’s Louis Calhern (who was in Duck Soup the same year), Neil (Commissioner Gordon!) Hamilton, and Evelyn (Daughter of the Tong) Brent.  Unfortunately, none of them are given anything to do.  They are allowed on occasion to say “Hell” and “damn” though.


The sound is also supremely shitty.  At all times it sounds like someone is frantically typing just off screen.  Either that or the crew was popping popcorn.  Whatever that sound is, it’s more entertaining than the drivel the actors are forced to spout.


This flick was on a 50 movie pack of horror films.  It ain’t scary in the least.  I guess you could label it a horror film if you have an acute fear of being bored to death.


AKA:  Public Be Damned.  AKA:  Public Be Hanged.