May 30th, 2014

AVALANCHE (1978) **

Rock Hudson builds his new ski resort and shows it off by holding some half-assed Winter Olympics. Robert Forster tries to warn Rock that the resort is in the path of a potential avalanche, but Rock ignores him. Forster then bides his time by bedding down with Rock’s wife (Mia Farrow). Naturally, the avalanche hits and makes Rock look like a total asshole.

Avalanche was producer Roger Corman’s entry into the disaster movie sweepstakes of the ‘70s. And as disaster movies go, it’s not a particularly bad one. The cast is rather fun to watch and the avalanche footage is decent. The scenes of skiers getting pelted with Styrofoam and fake snow are good for a laugh or two, as is the scene where the womanizing skier outruns (err... outskis) the avalanche.

Forster is very good as the whistle-blower. Rock, even though his paunch is noticeable in his skintight flannel apparel, gives it his best shot. And Farrow isn’t bad, but she looks pretty emaciated throughout the flick. (At one point I swear she lost a few pounds in between cutaway shots.)

The middle section of Avalanche is padded with a lot of shots of winter sports. Ordinarily this would be a bad thing. However, there is one random snowmobile race scene that is pretty funny. As the racers go downhill, they punch and kick the competition, causing them to go flying over the handlebars. It’s a pretty nutty scene and has more action in it than the rest of the flick.

But while Avalanche is a serviceable enough disaster movie, it never really kicks into gear. After the titular disaster happens, the ensuing scenes of Rock digging tourists out of the snow are pretty weak. And the rest of the drama is pretty ho-hum too. Still, it’s not a bad disaster movie; just an inessential one.

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) ***

Claudette Colbert stars as a spoiled gal on the run from her millionaire father. While heading from Miami to New York on a crowded bus, she meets a reporter played by Clark Gable who agrees to help her on her voyage in exchange for a scoop. Along the way, they predictably wind up falling in love with each other.

Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night basically set the standard for all romantic movies to come. It’s hard not to think of a single Chick Flick that stole from this movie. In fact, many movie clichés got their start here. (Heck, even Spaceballs pretty much ripped off the wedding scene at the end.) Of course, you’ve seen all of this before, but since this flick practically invented the genre, I’m willing to give it a pass.

Clark Gable is pretty much a pimp in this movie. And I don’t mean that he’s a badass. I mean that he more or less threatens to smack Claudette Colbert around if she doesn’t do what he says. And of course, she falls madly in love with him. But he’s got so much charisma that it’s easy to see why.

At 105 minutes, the flick is about 20 minutes longer than it really needed to be. But even though there are some lulls in the action, there’s a lot of good stuff here. Everybody talks about the famous hitchhiking scene from this movie, and no wonder: It’s pretty damn funny. The rest of the movie isn’t quite up to snuff with that particular scene, but it’s still a solid comedy through and through.

SILK (1986) ***

Cec (Hell Comes to Frogtown) Verrell stars as Jenny Sleighton, AKA: Silk; a tough and sexy cop who busts a heroin smuggling operation in Hawaii. Silk is also investigating the appearance of a mysterious dead body. She does some digging and eventually uncovers a vast web of corruption between the mysterious “Gemini Syndicate” and her own police department.

Silk has enough plot for two or three episodes of a bad TV cop show. That is to say, there’s a lot going on in this movie, although nothing really ever happens. And although it was directed by Video Vacuum favorite, Cirio H. Santiago, it’s seriously lacking the sleaze of his best work. (At some junctures the flick resembles an Andy Sidaris movie edited for network television.)

It may sound like I’m ragging on this flick, but Silk is actually a lot of fun. The film is made watchable, thanks to Santiago’s sense of style and Cec Verrell’s likeable performance as Silk. She has a no-nonsense screen presence that perfectly fits her character. Verrell is also very credible in her action scenes and it’s obvious that she did a lot of her own stunts.

The Marlon Brando of the Philippines, Vic Diaz also makes a welcome appearance too as the head of the local cockfighting ring. Sadly, he isn’t given a whole lot to do besides drink and sweat. Still, just seeing him pop up (it wouldn’t be a Santiago flick without him) in a small role is enough for me.

Silk is one of those cases where the film is more than a sum of its parts. The plot stuff is pretty cliché, and the romantic angle goes nowhere. And yet the Kung Fu scenes, shootouts, and strong performance by Verrell kinda tie it all together nicely. There’s also the nostalgic factor at work since I have fond memories of renting the flick (and its sequel) from our local video store back in the day. So if you have no sentimental attachment to the film, feel free to deduct a ½ * from the rating.

Further Required Reading: Comeuppance Reviews’ review of Silk: http://www.comeuppancereviews.com/2014/01/silk-1986.html

Dr. Gore’s review of Silk: http://drgorereviews.blogspot.com/2006/08/silk-review.html

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) ****

Well, I can’t remember the last time a part 7 was the best film in a franchise. I mean Diamonds are Forever is one of my favorite Bond movies, but it’s not the best one or anything. All I’ve got to say to The Fast and the Furious 7 is… the gauntlet has been thrown down. It’s your move, Vin & Co.

Bryan Singer returns to the X-Men and pretty much doesn’t miss a single beat. He directs the film with confidence and packs the flick with eye-popping visuals and crackling good action sequences. It’s been more than a decade since his last mutant movie, but you’d swear no time has passed.

Speaking of passing time, the flick revolves around a desolate future where Sentinel robots hunt and kill mutants. There are only a handful of X-Men left alive and as a last ditch effort to destroy the Sentinels, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) sends Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (or at least his mind, anyway) back in time to warn Professor X (Patrick Stewart in the future, James McAvoy in the past) and stop the machines from taking over.

I won’t spoil the good stuff for you, so relax. All I’ll say is that this is the Back to the Future 2 of superhero movies. It plays with time in such a fashion that it simultaneously acts as a reboot and a sequel. Because the characters time travel, it changes the future events, but also the story arcs of the previous movies (sort of like the new Star Trek). And the way Singer breathlessly throws the characters (and the audience) into the mix is a real treat.

Now, not all of the time travel stuff jibes continuity-wise with the previous films. I could get into a whole lot of pointless comic book nerd bitching here. But the fact is, Singer kinda just cranks things up to 11 right from the get-go, so you never really have time (or really care) to nitpick. And besides, I kinda dug how the flick made up its own rules as it went along. (As well as the Dallas-inspired ending.)

Singer nails the action set pieces beautifully. The futuristic mutant massacre scenes are amazing and all the stuff with Young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) throwing football stadiums at people kicked lots of ass. Easily the best sequence comes when Quicksilver (Evan Peters) busts Magneto out of prison. It outshines any action sequence in any previous X-Men movie. There’s a sheer joy to this scene that’s missing from many a comic book movie lately. And that’s the plain awesomeness of using your superpowers to kick a little ass. Joss Whedon is apparently using Quicksilver (albeit with a different actor) in the next Avengers movie. He’ll be hard-pressed to top this sequence.

Days of Future Past is sort of like a high wire act. Singer is balancing several characters throughout several time periods (and timelines) at once, and while nothing less than the extinction of the human (and mutant) race is at stake, he resists the urge to make things gloomy. He doesn’t Nolan things up and make everyone mopey. Even when things get their bleakest, there is a prevalent, unflappable sense of fun to the flick.

And that’s the word that best describes X-Men 7: Fun. It might not be the best movie of the year (that would be The Raid 2), or the summer for that matter (that would be Godzilla), but it certainly is the most fun.

Of the cast, everyone is aces. Partially, that’s just because there’s a reunion aspect to the flick as it combines cast members from all previous X-Men films. All they had to do was show up and it would’ve been worthwhile. But everyone brought their A-Game (particularly Jackman, Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence).

I especially liked the dynamic between McAvoy and Stewart. Despite the fact they play the same character in different times, they still share a scene together and it’s one of the best of the entire series. Imagine if you could talk to your younger self. Imagine what you could say to them. This scene explores that possibility in a truly wonderful manner.

I’m sure there will be people out there that will want to pick this thing apart because it’s not exactly like the comic (or the cartoon). But the Days of Future Past storyline works nicely as a way to combine and reunite all your favorite X-Men together for one last showdown. And besides, I can’t imagine one solitary X-Man fan who won’t cheer the last scene of the film.

This summer is still young. It’s already given us the greatest Godzilla movie of all time. Now we get the greatest X-Men movie of all time. Damn, it’s a great time to be a geek.

YAKUZA GRAVEYARD (1976) ***

Kinji Fukasaku was a prolific director. In his illustrious career, he directed nearly seventy films, spanning several different genres. Recently, I find I just can’t get enough of his yakuza films. The theme of honor and loyalty among thieves runs throughout these movies. And of the ones I’ve seen so far, Yakuza Graveyard is my favorite.

The film almost acts as a reversal of Fukasaku’s Graveyard of Honor. (It even features many of the same cast members.) But instead of playing up the docudrama aspects of that film, Fukasaku goes out of his way to say no one should confuse the characters for actual people. The other major difference is that star Tetsuya Watari is playing a cop, not a yakuza.

And Watari is excellent as the detective who refuses to play by the rules to bust the yakuza. He quickly realizes though that the yakuza have more honor than the crooked cops on the force. And while the line between cop and crook blurs, he develops a poignant love affair with a yakuza boss’ wife (Meiko Kaji, from Lady Snowblood).

Yakuza Graveyard is full of violent confrontations and complicated relationships. Watari is pretty awesome in this and is terrific at showcasing his character’s various shades of gray. It’s an interesting character study as well as an absorbing yakuza flick. Another interesting aspect to the film is that the cops are seen as the real villains and the yakuza (for the most part) are painted as sympathetic, multi-dimensioned characters. Although it doesn’t always click (there are some lulls in the drama here and there), Yakuza Graveyard is still quite a compelling piece of filmmaking.

AKA: Yakuza Graveyard: Jasmine Flower.

THE SPECTACULAR NOW (2013) ** ½

Miles Teller is this asshole teenager who thinks he’s hot shit because he hides booze in his Subway cup and drinks it at work. Like he invented that move or something. He also drives drunk a lot, which pretty much makes him even more annoying. Like it’s so hard to call a cab. Anyway. He passes out on the lawn of a mousy, homely classmate (Shailene Woodley) and they start hanging out. Miles starts falling for her, even though his friends say she’s not popular enough for him. But we eventually find out that she puts out easily enough (and before prom, bonus), so it’s all good. However, he’s got a lot of daddy issues which complicates things. And if you can’t already guess, his drinking eventually catches up with him.

Was it wrong for me to keep rooting for Miles to get into a car wreck the whole movie? Probably. But his character is so annoying that I had to do something to pass the time. Sadly, that never happens, but oh well.

The good news is that the supporting cast is pretty awesome. (I don’t want to spoil who’s in this movie because it’s cool seeing a bunch of accomplished actors popping up unexpectedly.) Everyone in the flick is actually solid across the board. Even Miles does a good job at making his unlikeable character tolerable for most of the running time.

The Spectacular Now may be burdened with a thoroughly unlikeable lead character, but it gets a lot of the beats right. It nicely captures the awkwardness of being a teenager in several scenes. And for that, I’d say it’s marginally worthwhile. It’s no Perks of Being a Wallflower or anything, but it’s decent I suppose.

BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR AND HUMANITY: PROXY WAR (1973) ** ½

The third entry in director Kinji Fukasaku’s epic yakuza series starts out in fine fashion. The opening narration compares the upheavals happening in the yakuza clans with the tumultuous political climate of post-war Japan. In essence, Fukasaku is saying that the yakuza families are a metaphor for Japan itself.

Bunta Sugawara once again plays the badass yakuza enforcer, Hirono. He agrees to take a young punk loser into his clan and make a man out of him. Problems arise when his gang merges with another clan. Some gang members feel slighted by the merger and they start up a war within their clan that rapidly escalates.

Like the previous entries in the series, there are too many bosses, underbosses, and assorted ruffians to keep track of. These unnecessary characters kinda get in the way of Sugawara being a badass. And all the double-crossing among the clans bogs the movie down at several junctures.

However, there are a couple of choice moments of patented Fukasaku violence to make it worth a look. In one scene, a gang member is told to cut off his finger to atone for his mistakes, but he is feeling so guilty that he opts to cut his whole hand off! Then there’s a back alley brawl with a pro wrestler than culminates in someone losing an ear. We also get a couple of juicy stabbing, shootings, and slayings throughout the picture. They don’t exactly save the movie, but it helps keep things on track for the most part.

AKA: The Yakuza Papers Vol. 3: Proxy War.