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Police Academy (1984)
Barely a movie
When I was a kid I watch Police Academy 4 and 5 a zillion times. I rented them so often I might as well have bought the tapes. I only rented the sixth movie once and I hated it. I have never bothered to check out the first movies until now and I can't say I'm impressed. The crazy characters are as adorable as ever, but there's just nothing much for them to do.
Police Academy is more of a raunchy frat-house pic and not the lovable family comedy that the later movies became. There's barely any plot to speak of and the scenes come across as a bunch of awkward vignettes with terrible comic timing and pauses for laughs that I didn't make. It's strung together very loosely and gets boring after a while. The Blue Oyster bar jokes, however dated, still make me giggle though.
Despite their, somewhat deserved, bad reputation as low-brow trash, some of these movies were much more fun than the original, especially the cartoon show that followed (and a live-action one too). Police Academy is ripe for a reboot and I'd love to hear that happy theme tune again.
Black Rock (2012)
Surviving the Lame
I'm not sure what led to Black Rock's inception, but it seems that writer/director/star Katie Aselton found herself with a budget and whipped together a paper thin story of three girls and a fight for survival that was supposed to be "empowering" or whatnot but is just laughably uncomfortable and embarrassing.
So Kate Bosworth (remember her?) and Lake Bell are off to spend the weekend on a lonely New England island and bring their estranged friend with them. There is tension for a moment, but it goes away until they arrive at the island and start arguing about...men. Yup, because even a female writer cannot write depth or originality into this. You'll hear better dialogue in real life when listening to drunk girls arguing in the street.
Once on the island they encounter a trio of men who are obviously a bunch of awkward creeps and sit around the campfire with them. Katie Aselton (are their character names even important?) flirts with one of them in an uncomfortable, overbearing way, which makes even the dude himself feel weird. She lures him into the forest alone and invites sex, but then, for absolutely no reason other than to make more "plot" happen, decides she doesn't want him and caves his head in with a rock when he doesn't stop. It's like they are deliberately teasing us with a ludicrously exaggerated "no means no" scenario that we are supposed to still find justified. Believe wahmen and all that. This is such poor writing.
The girls are now hunted by the other two creeps and there's zero atmosphere, very little action, terrible photography, no sense of place or space, loads more cringeworthy dialogue, and even gratituous nudity when they have to take their clothes off after emerging from freezing water. And yes, they spend the next short while completely naked. In any other movie that would be considered completely inappropriate but since it's a female calling the shots behind the camera it's...not?
Black Rock, is cheap and flat, and look like sub-par TV waste. Even the tagline of "Hunt or Be Hunted" is agonizingly overdone and cliched, and it doesn't even apply to what occurs in this "movie". It's 79 minutes of untalented people trying to stretch geriatric tropes to feature length, ending with a "shocking" cut-to-black that is nothing more than a welcome relief for everyone desperate for it to be over.
Oh, and they have landing strips, btw.
Nonsense in a title
It seems that Pascal Laugier may be a one-trick-pony, as this movie doesn't differ too much from his brutal 2008 shocker Martyrs (which itself veered-off into a cryptic, nonsense ending). The story has two sulky teenagers and their mother (played by Mylene Farmer, of all people) move into their aunt's old house after her passing. Exactly why they're moving out into the middle of nowhere (is this the ghostland in question?) and MUST live in this archaic funhouse of nightmare dolls and puppets is never made clear, though there seems to be some sort of vague rumor circulating among the other townsfolk.
When the "ice-cream truck killers" (or whatever they are) invade their new creepy home it seems that we're in for a bloody home invasion flick, but then it switches to alternate timelines and universes, which would be interesting if Pascal Laugier knew to use it effectively. Sadly, it just feels like pretentious padding. If you're a fan of 2002-era trash horror flicks you are sure to enjoy the endless stingers, stingers, stingers, yet more effing stingers. You'll end up with anxiety at the overuse of this frustrating and lazy technique, which is so far overused in general, nevermind in just this movie, that after a while you'll begin to question if they are attempting to make this movie a lampoon of the tired genre.
Make-up effects range from laughable, to somewhat unique and disturbing. Far too much of the blood is CGI and it looks terrible. Some of the acting is just downright awful too. It's shot in Canada, doubling as Illinois, and there's a cold, empty look to the photography. The score can be quite atmospheric in places but it is overall a forgettable effort.
The movie is notable for the horrible accident on-set in which Taylor Hickson had her face almost sliced off her skull when she fell through a candy-glass window. She was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery and eventually sued the production company for damages. She may regret the permanent damage to her face for such a trashy movie but...honestly...I think it makes her look really cool now. She's got a defining, stand-out look to her and she could take full advantage of that.
I wanted this to be a nice, little atmospheric chiller and what I got something that would have been lazy and dated over fifteen years ago. You might say I was...disenchanted.
(Thank you, I'm here all week)
Joshuu sasori: Kemono-beya (1973)
The most accessible of the series
Beast Stable begins with Matsu still on the run after her escape in the previous movie. She's cornered on a subway train and handcuffed to a cop, who she promptly hacks at with a knife, severing his arm. A wonderful flight through the city streets with a dismembered arm cuffed to her wrist as the opening credits appear gets things off to a good start.
Matsu is quickly taken into care by her old friend Yuki, who is forced to live in a shack with her mentally damaged brother while satisfying his sexual needs. The one-armed detective doesn't let a little thing like the loss of an appendage stop him from his pursuit of Matsu, however, and he rounds up every police goon in the city to close the net on her. Meanwhile, the Yakuza have an axe to grind with Matsu as well. She will make them all pay, and a succession of gory revenge and escape scenes follow.
It's less arty-farty than the first two, and follows traditional three-act structure with better locations. The endless, depressing prison scenes are gone, replaced with better characters, wickeder villains, and some semblance of an actual plot. I found the others a bit too thin, honestly, but Beast Stable is definitely the most watchable of the series so far.
The ending scenes don't make much sense though.
Joshû 701-gô: Sasori (1972)
Tawdry trash flick with delusions of grandeur
I came to this movie looking for some skewed inspiration away from the mainstream. Made in 1972, before the nasty "wimmin in prison" sub-genre of the late-70s and 80s, which were largely left to VHS audiences via cheap labels, this is primarily one of those "hell hath no fury" movies where a wronged woman fights back at her male antagonists (or all of male-kind, apparently).
Nami Matsushima (aka Matsu the Scorpion) is betrayed by her police detective lover and sent to prison after her failed attempt to kill him. There she is routinely, and ritually, humiliated, degraded, and tortured by everyone until the building pressure reaches crisis point and a riot erupts.
There's mild attempts at visual metaphors but the overall quality is spoiled by poor fight choreography, bad make-up effects, and awkward editing. It's an unpleasant film to look at, but not without atmosphere in a few scenes. Even the nudity fails to be titillating as the best parts are always hidden. Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion doesn't have enough ideas or story, and restrains itself when it threatens to spoil us with a gory, visceral pay-off, leaving the viewer constantly frustrated.
Worth a single viewing, but no classic. There's better schlock out there.
Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay (2018)
Worth putting a gun to your head for?
I was quite into the DC animated movies about 10 years ago, but then they overproduced an insane amount of them (with wildly differing voice casts between them) I eventually lost track and interest. Recently, after the theatrical release of The (rather lame) Killing Joke I've been trying to get back into DC animation, and despite the live-action movie being terrible, the Suicide Squad has been knocking it out of the park.
The plot here is kinda stupid, involving a literal "get out of hell free" card that various supervillains want to get their hands on. But it doesn't feel the need to apologize for such an eccentric MacGuffin and thus it works without shame while taking itself seriously enough. The usual anti-hero team plus a few new faces are featured here. Though I'm not really sure why Harley Quinn is ever a part of the team outside of satisfying thirsty fanboys who have a thing for her. What exactly is her special ability other than being a bit unhinged and swinging around a bat/mallet? It's hardly an effective weapon considering the opponents they regularly face.
For the entire movie I was wondering who was voicing Deadshot. "Who IS that?" I kept thinking, trying to rundown a list of 60+ years old actors who'd match that kind of voice. Then the credits roll and...Christian Slater? He's sound ooooold!
The animation is bold and colorful with a wide variety of locations. Written by DC heavyweight Alan Burnett, the movie is never once boring despite being one of the longer entries. In-house composer Robert J. Kral provides an above average score, with some nice passages too. The violence is also frequent and bloody, so it doesn't shy away from being truly adult in nature. There's even a bit of full-frontal female nudity. I happy to announce that Suicide Squad has set the president for animated shaven haven in a mainstream franchise from a major studio. Very happy!
I honestly think that Warner should just abandon trying to make this work as a live-action movie and stick to excelling with these animated efforts. This is a great formula and I look forward to more in the future.
Double Dragon (1995)
End of the Dragon
Developed and released by Technos in 1995, Double Dragon (there is no numeration in the title) is the fourth and final DD game to be released into arcades. Instead of a side-scrolling brawler (as DD3 was beyond terrible) they went for the tried and tested one-on-one fighting formula for this one and based it off the goofy, but fun, 1994 movie.
This game frequently gets mixed-to-negative reviews, but it seriously doesn't deserve it. The characters are well animated and high-powered, the environments and fighting arenas are eye-popping and engaging, and the moves and techniques are all fun and satisfying. Marian is now redrawn to somewhat resemble Alyssa Milano, and I tell you, for a bunch of pixels she's really quite hot! Callbacks are made to the original games while still in-keeping with the story and setting of the movie.
It's a real shame that they never developed the series as a versus fighting franchise after this as it really does show potential. At the very least, whoever holds the rights to the series now could resurrect this game on Steam or port it to current generation consoles, but I fear it will be forgotten as an obscure deviation from what made made the brand name famous in the first place, even if it was the smart thing to do.
Apollo 13 (1995)
(Not quite) to the moon, Alice!
Launching on the 13th of April 1970 (just over 50 years ago as I write this review) Apollo 13 was NASA's near-miss, finest hour, successful failure, almost disaster that had the whole world holding its breath, waiting to see if the three unlucky astronauts within would splash back to Earth in one piece. I grew up not knowing anything about it until this movie came out in the summer of 1995, releasing the same weekend as Under Siege 2, which is the weekend I started getting very sick, an illness that came to define my teens. I finally saw Apollo 13 when it released in the UK, in screen 2 of the Edinburgh Odeon on September 23rd 1995, the day before my 15th birthday (my actual birthday movie was Speed on widescreen VHS), with a sold-out audience.
In the US a lot of tall buildings miss floor 13, skipping from 12 to 14, fearing bad luck. They fail to realize that floor 14 will still be the 13th floor. For some reason this logic always reminds me of Nigel Tufnel. Pilots, sea captains, and astronauts are a very superstitious lot, so I don't get why NASA let two number 13s slip in there. Not that it would ANY difference at all, but they could have maybe launched on the 12th and called the mission Apollo 12.5. Maybe?
There's a lot of effort made to keep this movie as accurate as possible to real life, from analysing NASA transcripts right down to the fashions and style within the Lovell household. There's no exaggeration or dramatic licence here. We're very far from Michael Bay's Armageddon. A routine mission to the moon, ignored by the media, is thrown into chaos when an oxygene tank blows, ripping open the side of the spacecraft. With the extremely limited technology of the time (the average iPhone has million times more computing power) the astronauts on board, the increasingly exhausted team at mission control, and the rejected third crew member struggle to keep things hanging together as they slingshot around the moon (so close, yet so far, in a bittersweet scene), and head back to Earth running on empty.
Ron Howard details the long, torturous journey full of clammy, claustrophobic impatience on both the spacecraft and at control as everyone tears out their hair thinking of various last-minute solutions to every new problem, but it's not a film assembled by nervous, chaotic editing (I already said that this is not Armageddon). The pace and succession of events is laid-back and measured, a style of editing that is not too common now. James Horner provides one of his better scores, with some haunting touches, that lend the movie a timeless dignity.
Apollo 13 shoots for the moon and back again and does so with more unpretentious dignity than virtually all of the similar blockbusters that followed. It's a Sunday afternoon movie, not a Saturday night special, and none the worse for it.
Critters Attack! (2019)
An okay pot-boiler
For a franchise that has been dormant since 1991 no one was expecting much from Critters: Attack! Apart from the appalling eight-episode streaming series that run at ten minutes each there has been nothing from the Critters franchise for a very long time, they barely got released on Blu-ray. Warner/New Line seem to be somewhat keen to keep it alive as a TV movie/DVD franchise and while Critters Attack (the colon and exclamation point in the title are problematic, so I'm missing them out from now on) is mildly enjoyable it doesn't do much other than keep the engine running and build new brand awareness. The original Critters was the best of the Gremlins rip-offs, and if they can turn it into a similar cash cow in the form of toys and merchandise there might be more of these to come, which is likely why the Gremlins textures are amped up for this sequel.
When a delivery boy is dragged off into the night by Krites after their ship lands in the wilderness lonely teenager Drea and her younger brother Philip find themselves in the middle of a new Krite invasion. Before the carnage begins they agree to babysit for a college professor and take the kids for a walk in the forest. I was a little confused as to the ages of these characters though. The girl being babysat seems to be 15, with the body of an 11-year-old, and the face of a woman in her late 20s. She might even be older than the actor playing Philip. It's so odd. The boy playing her younger brother is supposed to be aged 9 but has a voice that broke years ago.
In the forest they discover the frightened "Bianca" - an injured "good" Krite who has come to Earth to stop the bad Krites, meanwhile a bounty hunter called Aunt Dee (Dee Wallace Stone, kinda but kinda not reprising her role from the first film) picks up the signal of the landing Krite ship and begins her own hunt with, what appears to be, an updated Ghostbusters PKE meter.
There's a lot of components here and the movie really ought to cut back and forth between them as a consistent pace but there's just no energy to it. There are plot threads that just stop with no conclusion. The original Critters kept throwing wildly imaginative new developments at us every five to ten minutes, getting the series off to a bizarre but highly charged start. By comparison, Critters Attack is a bit more downbeat and subdued. There's no atmosphere to the photography or set pieces at all, the Deus Ex-inspired score is totally at odds with whatever tone they were going for. It would have been better to bring back David Newman to bring the series score full circle and connect it to its roots more.
It seems that the soul of Critters is missing here. The original movie had a theme of quiet Americana being disrupted by wild intergalactic anarchy. Critters Attack, being shot in South Africa, feels and looks bland, despite quite a few stunning locations being featured. There's no hometown heart, and it's a million miles from Grover's Bend, Kansas. Despite the swift 89-minute running times it's the longest movie in the series, and the first to be rated R, while the others were rather lenient PG-13s.
The creature effects are fun, and the movie is infrequently gore just about enough to make it passable. In the hands of a better director and with more imaginatative photography this could have been a solid made-for-TV movie. As it is, it's just for hardcore fans, and if Warner were expecting this to reinvigore the series they might regret the abrupt ending that hints are more to come. A stronger effort needs to be made next time.
As a footnote, I have to say that the excuse given by Dee Wallace that her character is "Aunt Dee" instead of "Helen Brown" because of "rights issues" doesn't make sense. Domonic Muir wrote the original screenplay for the first Critters. He died in 2010. Warner owns the rights to Critters. Not the Muir estate. This reeks of a cover-up. Very strange.
The Last Man on Earth (1964)
An unknown germ is blown around the world, it's highly contagious, and it's reached plague proportions
I suppose even the great ones can fail to deliver sometimes. Vincent Price is quite miscast as Robert Neville in this lame attempt at bringing Richard Matheson's novel to the big screen. There's clearly no budget for the scope of this story and the director simply doesn't have the vision. The production values just are not there.
With a global pandemic (!) resulting in dull-witted vampires spreading across every continent, the only uninfected human is Vincent Price who spends the days burning the dead and the nights brooding in his gloomy house while former colleagues thump on the walls and windows. There's really not much more to it than that and it feels very overwrought even at 86 minutes. Though I can see the same plot points developing in the same order as they did in The Omega Man seven years later in 1971 and I Am Legend thirty-six years after that in 2007. I wasn't too keen on Charton Heston's version but at least it had better world-building and felt more expansive.
This movie is set in the US but clearly shot in Italy (I recognise locations from Hudson Hawk) and Price is the only actor speaking English while the rest are speaking Italian with English very obviously dubbed on. I have no doubt that this movie could have been pulled off in 1964 but it needed a better director and a more fitting leading man. It's shot in black-and-white on 35mm in an obscure anamorphic format called "Totalscope" but there's not much in the way of dynamic framing or atmosphere. Colorized prints appear to be in a cropped 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The Will Smith version is the best incarnation of this story, but they even managed to mess that up with the original theatrical cut being rather tepid.
V for Vapid
There was a time in the 90s when Hollywood action movies courted the directors and styles of Asian cinema while simultaneously inhibiting such styles to fit in with their more mainstream tastes. It never made sense to me. The first casualty of this stupidity was bringing John Woo to Hollywood then cutting all his action down to shreds and giving him bland projects destined to misfire (Paycheck, Windtalkers). Why hire John Woo when you can hire John Smith? Jackie Chan and Jet Li also had a tough time breaking into the US market initially. When The Matrix came along at the tail end of the decade/century/millennium and incorporated Hong Kong style action into the fight scenes a barrage of lesser directors were all of a sudden copying their style, even when it wasn't completely necessary or appropriate. Your training, Matrix!
Since the noughties action movies have leaned more and more towards overly stylized fight scenes that take me (and, I imagine, most audiences) further and further out of the moment with ever-escalating impossible physics and pointless camera trickery. Whatever happened to practical angles, editing, realistic one-on-one hand-to-hand combat? Most action movies now feature superheroes even if they are not based on comic books, and I don't find this entertaining at all.
Asian cinema is now following Hollywood's lead, and The Villainess (translated as "Wicked" from the original Korean title) over-indulges in hyper-stylized action that actually ends up hindering its effect and it never once feels believable or exciting.
Sook-hee is a deadly assassin who storms into a meth lab and massacres about 394,839,483,948,394,839 people in the space of five minutes. Initially this is done from a first-person POV though the camera steps to the side when she gets her head bashed against a mirror. It was an interesting twist for a few minutes. She's promptly arrested and whisked away to a secret compound operated by a shady organization to refine her skills and make her into an even deadlier assassin. This is the E-X-A-C-T plot that was played out in Nikita in 1990, which was then remade itself in 1993 as The Point of No Return, and then again as it's own TV show. By extension you could say that Columbiana is also a remake. And the more recent shortening of that very title Anna is basically the same premise rehashed yet again. Is Luc Besson a one-trick pony or what? Further to this there is also Atomic Blonde, another movie where a tough female takes on hordes of men and comes out the victor thanks to impossible physics.
Let me share with a few quotes on men fighting women from UFC personalities:
"I've never felt so overpowered ever in my life." - Tamikka Brents
"Bone structure is different, hands are bigger, jaw is bigger, everything is bigger." UFC President Dana White
"You look at a man's hands and you look at a woman's hands and they're built different. They're just thicker, they're stronger, your wrists are thicker, your elbows are thicker, your joints are thicker. Just the mechanical function of punching, a man can do it much harder than a woman can, period." - Joe Rogan
Can some women beat-up some men? Sure. Women CAN be tough. Can a dainty Asian chick that weighs less than the clothes she is wearing massacre half of Korea after skipping lunch?
If you are willing to suspend your disbelieve you'll still be let down by the muddled plot which tries to come full circle by tying in the climax of events to the beginning of the movie but instead ties itself in knots with convoluted, confusing flashbacks and an annoying lack of clarity. Half of the blood effects are practical and pleasing, but the other half is really poorly done CGI and there is a lot of noticeable green screen work that takes you out of the moment even more.
If they scaled back the ambition and focused on developing the story and characters then this could have been a much better movie. As it is it's hard to follow and mind-numbing. There's better Asian action movies out there. I don't know what they were smoking at the Cannes Film Festival when this got a four-minute standing ovation.
Sing si lip yan (1993)
On a Friday night in June 1995 I suddenly found myself without adult supervision and it suddenly became "movie night", which was more of a thing when I was a kid. I went to the video store with a friend and settled on City Hunter as I had recently discovered Jackie Chan and I was a huge fan of Operation Condor. This movie is way more off-the-wall and eccentric, and is geared a little more towards younger kids, being based off a popular Japanese Manga and anime series.
Jackie plays Ryu Saeba a womanizing private eye raising the beautiful Kaori, his late partner's sister under the promise of never seducing her once she grows up. Tired of not getting the attention she wants, Kaori runs away and boards a cruise ship, where Ryu has stowed away in pursuit, and just so happens to find Shizuko (the unbelievably cute Kumiko Goto) the runaway daughter of the millionaire he's been hired to find in the process. So far, so convoluted.
While running around the ship, evading the crew, and becoming increasingly hungry, Ryo is absent when a group of terrorists led by Donald MacDonald (prolific stuntman Richard Norton) and his right-hand man Kim (Gary Daniels) take over and strip the passengers of their wealth while playing deadly card games in the casino. Ryo rounds up a disparate gang of misfits and leads the fight back, leading to many humorous fight scenes and creative choreography, including a bizarre fight in an arcade where Jackie and Gary Daniels become characters from Street Fighter 2.
The humor is often quite surreal, and if you can't get into the right frame of mind you likely will not enjoy it much. I recommend watching it subtitled in original Cantonese as much of the nuances and finer details are lost in the original home video English dub (I watched it twice in one night in both dubs). However, there are some jokes here that ABSOLUTELY. WOULD. NOT. BE. ALLOWED. in current year. I'm amazed they even got away with it in 1992, and in a kid's film. How times have changed.
The exteriors of the cruise ship were all shot on a cruise liner parked outside of Tokyo but the interiors were shot on a soundstage instead of the real thing and I have to admit the bland production design and early 90s aesthetic do not compliment each other. Fans of Rush Hour and Jackie's more family orientated movies will still have a bit of a tough time warming to City Hunter, the slapstick absurdity just isn't for everyone, but if you can see past all that it's still a fun, un-PC, live action cartoon. Like Hudson Hawk, you either go along with it, or you just won't understand it at all.
An outlandish idea it does nothing with
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes has a cult status and spawned three sequels and a cartoon show on Fox Kids (which I suppose is now owned by Disney). It's a juvenile, high school class clown movie that takes very, very broad, scattergun shots at comedy while never fully embracing it's own stupidity.
As the title suggests, Killer Tomatoes are attacking a San Diego suburb and a wide range of useless characters, in an apparent parody of Dr. Strangelove, lead the fight back. The film's biggest failure is that the tomato attacks are barely featured and it begins to really drag after a while. However, I did find myself laughing out loud more than I thought I would as some jokes are quite clever and funny. Pre-dating Airplane by two years, this could have been much more of a classic had the budget been higher and the commitment to the insanity been more inspired.
A curiosity and certainly no classic.
Scared to Death (1980)
Nothing: The Movie
I remember seeing the VHS box for this movie on the shelf in a video store when I was 5 years and thinking that it was terrifying. Who would want to be scared to death? Why would grown-ups willingly watch such a movie? This was back in the days when I thought that all of the monsters would come out of the boxes and haunt the video store after it was closed. Being locked in a video store was one of my worst nightmares. It was only when I got to my 20s and worked in a Blockbuster that I realized this wasn't accurate.
The "plot" for this movie has a monster stalking people in cheap locations in Los Angeles and...doing something to them that gives them brain cancer. An ex-cop (who looks like a dorky Michael Bay who'd lose a fight with a wet paper bag) eventually investigates after his new girlfriend is molested by said ghoul. The V-A-S-T majority of this movie is made up of people wandering around, looking...just looking, wandering more, and more, "anyone there", looking, "hello?", and wandering in depressing, sparsely-lit sets.
I don't know why William Malone edited the movie this way as it is 96 minutes long and could have been a far punchier 85-minute borefest. Malone went on to direct the slightly better Titan Find and then the far superior House on Haunted Hill, so he has talent, but not as a writer. Brain cancer-giving monsters? Really? I can handle silly science in my movies, but he clearly knows nothing about what he is attempting to tackle here. It sure ain't written by Michael Crichton. There's nothing here. Even the monster is a xenomorph rip-off with significantly less articulation that is apparently made out of cereal boxes and old tyres. It's played by a guy called Kermit! So...
The print on Amazon has a high amount of damage, dirt, missing frames, and warps, along with faded, ruined colors, though this might be inherit to the naff photography. I'm sure a label like Vinegar Syndrome or Arrow could do a restoration, though they usually choose movies of some substance, of which this garbage has none.
A sequel was made with higher production values, but why even bother?
Small Time Crooks (2000)
Doesn't know where it's going
"I like Woodsey Allen movies apart from that nervous fella who's always in 'em." - Ned Flanders.
Small Time Crooks quickly sets up a decent caper plot in its first act, then completely abandons it, and most of the characters, for another plot, which is then abandoned as soon as the second act is over, and tries to come full circle in the last half hour, which is barely does, but it still feels like a cop-out.
Ray and Frenchie (Allen and Ullman) are a bickering couple who are looking to dip their toes back into a life of crime just enough for one big score for financial security. Ray has a hair-brained plan to buy a pizza parlor so he can use the basement to drill through to the bank vault a few doors down. He recruits friends Michael Rappaport, Jon Lovitz, and Tony Darrow to pull off the heist despite none of them having enough brain power to illuminate a low-wattage warning light. Sounds like a funny movie, and it might have been. But then it goes off in a new direction.
Frenchie turns the pizza parlor into a cookie store as a cover but is so successful that the couple become affluent millionaires within a year and attract the attention of smooth-talking con-man Hugh Grant, who has plans for Frenchie under the guise of making her more refined and educated. A bit of a jarring u-turn, but I can handle that. Then it hits another dead end and goes back to being a heist movie. It's so frustrating.
Allen's fast-talking dialogue is a tiny bit inhibited by the PG rating and while a lot of it is smart and funny it is a little overplayed. He really is a great comic performer though, echoing the pantomimes and anxieties of Stan Laurel. There are some quite nice shots in there too, and many long takes of dialogue with the camera following characters in and out of rooms. You need genuine acting ability to do something like that and Allen and Ullman riff off each other perfectly. Elaine May is also quite amusing as Frenchie's deadpan, dunderheaded cousin.
A pleasant distraction, but hardly Woodsey Allen's best.
Which witch is which?
I grabbed TWWCFTS expecting it to be a sleazy, schlocky exploitation flick and what I got was a thoughtful, cleverly-written psycho-thriller. I mean that's fine, I guess, but was it was still kinda mis-sold.
Set, and shot, in the genuine scabby areas of Santa Monica in 1976, the movie focuses on Molly, a thirty-something singleton (and Bonnie Bedelia lookalike Millie Perkins) and loving aunt to her two nephews, who she adores. She's hungry for men though, and seems torn between lust and a desire for torture and murder in flashes of primal instinct that haunt her daily. The repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse from her dad are coming back with a vengeance and Molly targets the Hollywood and athletic elite to release her anxiety and act out her revenge on all men.
It sounds sordid, but its written with an anti-morality play edge with strange ideas, and directed with an auteur flair. However, I'm sad to say that no matter how well shot the movie is there is not one ounce of atmosphere that gives it the visual signature of horror or psycho-thriller. Instead it's filled with grotty 70s fashions and lots of broad daylight. The title is actually an allusion to The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, a painting seen in the movie, so it's nothing to do with Molly having witch powers, which was another disappointment and straight-up lie by the advertising materials and cover art.
There's plenty of nudity however with Millie Perkins going topless for many scenes, not the least of which is one where she gets a massive mermaid tattoo on her torso from her cleavage to her "special area". She doesn't flinch once when getting this ink done. Doesn't even make a fist as the needle cuts into her.
TWWCFTS didn't deserve its status as a video nasty or as a lurid exploitation. It really is neither of those, though it does have a couple of pretty nasty kills and moments of torture. It deserves praise for its moxie to tackle off-kilter and forbidden subject matter and is a curious insight into Los Angeles geography of the era (try actually living on Santa Monica Pier for a peasant's wage now!).
Shot in anamorphic Todd-AO 35 (by Dean Cundey, of all people) the negative to the movie was deliberately destroyed by the director's wife during a nasty divorce when she locked him out of the house. Arrow video have made a noble effort to find the best-looking print and make a 2K restoration. There is a lot of print damage here, and the sound needs to be completely rebuilt, but I doubt the audio masters exist now either, which is a real shame. They've done their best to resurrect this forgotten oddity and open-minded film enthusiasts will probably accept the bumps and dents that feature even on the best releases.
Collector's looking to discover something old and weird will find it here.
With so many, many, many, many, many, many, many superhero movies bombarding audiences these days its hard to remember a time when there wasn't an unnecessary comic-book adaptation being forced in our increasingly tired faces. When Hancock was released in 2008 there was no DCEU, and there wasn't really an MCU either. Comic-book movies (of which this is not) and superhero movies were still struggling and finding their feet. Outside of Spider-Man, many of them were alienating and disappointing audiences (Hulk, Superman Returns, Fantastic Four) and while that may still be the case with most of these exhausting franchises, they are so ubiquitous that the hits cover-up the significant misses.
Hancock divided audiences in 2008 with many not understanding what it was trying to say or do. Now, more than ever, is it time to give Hancock a re-evaluation?
Will Smith (as his career was beginning a downturn) stars as a man with an unknown past who has superpowers, only his faith in people and enthusiasm for life causes the citizens of his hometown of Los Angeles to not appreciate his careless, lazy efforts at fighting crime and rescuing those in trouble. When he saves idealist public relations expert Ray Embrey (the always delightful Jason Bateman) from a trainwreck he is encouraged to turn around his attitude and allow the world to embrace him as a hero who really cares. But Ray's wife Mary (Charlize Theron) has secrets of her own and might know everything about Hancock's mysterious past.
This alone would have been enough to make a unique, adult-themed superhero movie, but it seems that several re-writes of the script decided that some kind of villain needed to be shoehorned in there where it didn't belong, and the movie flounders in the final act as a standard Hollywood ending conflicts and deflates the many new ideas that came before it. I still enjoy it way more than Deadpool (an ugly, depressing film which I despise). The 92-minute running time screams of a difficult time in the editing room and the struggle to find a traditional narrative in the flurry of ideas that were written, re-written, re-drafted, and re-arranged during the scripting phase. The movie was originally written in 1996 with the rather worrying title of Tonight, He Comes and was about a kid who struck up a friendship with a fallen superhero - really quite different from the final product.
With no toxic fanbase behind it, Hancock comes with a clean slate and is enjoyable as a comedy with some okay action scenes. We're all jaded and indifferent to this stuff by now and the physics and frequent 9/11 porn of superhero movies has been done to absolute, stone-cold, death, DEATH, D-E-A-T-H. Please stop making these! At least it doesn't end with a big blue light shooting up into the sky.
Peter Berg's direction is always merely a pastiche of whatever his peers are doing at the time, and Hancock has no unique visual flair, which would have been just fine if the original idea at its core was allowed to shine through the muddle of changes it obviously went through. It's a horse made by a committee.
It's a camel.
The House of the Devil (2009)
The Home of the Debull
I went in with low expectations, believing this movie to be yet another soulless contemporary exploitation full of stingers, cheap scares, and aggravating characters. To my surprise, it's actually the (nearly) perfect antidote to the mostly dreadful horror movies we've been getting since the turn of the century. The problem with horror is that it's often so cheap to make that novice (and mostly talentless) filmmakers try to enter the movie industry via this genre and the market has been flooded with so much garbage. It's always been like this, but since the advent of digital video and streaming it's went from bad to worse.
THOTD is no such movie. It's a genuine horror, shot on 16mm, that feels real, with an unsettling atmosphere and a rising tension. Writer/director Ti West should not be conflated with wannabes, he knows how to make a movie.
College girl Samantha is keen on moving out of the dorm room she shares with a deadbeat roommate and into her own home with best friend Megan (Greta Gerwig). A babysitting job during the night of a lunar eclipse gives her the opportunity to make the first month's rent and get on her feet, but the client, Mr. Ullman, is an unusually edgy and apologetic man (Tom Noonan, best known as Dollarhyde in Manhunter or as Caine in RoboCop 2) who has trouble communicating with Samantha as well as not being completely honest. Once she arrives at his gloomy mansion in the middle of nowhere she is not to look after a child, but to act as peace of mind for the unseen old mother upstairs. Initially hesitant and suspicious, Samantha ups her fee to $400 and agrees.
Once alone, she slowly realizes that the mask Mr. Ullman and his wife put on for her is completely fake and that something very wrong is going on. This is the movie's best strength and it is at its most effective when we're drawn into this sinister plot of something hidden that is about to be revealed, lending a morbid tease to every scene. Set in 1983, the cinematography and style reflect the period, and the minimalist, less-is-more approach is far more intriguing than any of its lesser counterparts.
I was let down by the ending, which is why I can't give it the 8/10 it would have deserved had it been just a tiny bit more satisfying. It needed to end on a shock and a nihilistic note, but it went for fashionable ambiguity which deflated the tension building up to it.
Nonetheless, this is a notable horror movie that stands high above the vast majority and needs to be appreciated.
The Dead Zone (1983)
For the longest time I always got this movie mixed up with Brainstorm, believing them to be one and the same. It's an easy mistake to make since they are both cerebral thrillers starring Christopher Walken that came out within a month of each other.
Walken stars as Johnny Smith ('cause he's just a normal guy. But not everybody will get that. That's just for the scholars a hundred years from now) an ordinary school teacher with a loving girlfriend who is in a car accident one night and wakes up from a coma five years later with psychic abilities that he unwisely doesn't keep to himself and becomes a public spectacle. With his new powers he helps the police fight crime and prevents future disasters from happening. Though he's not very happy about it, especially as his girlfriend effed-off to be with someone else.
If any of you have seen Medium with Patricia Arquette then this will hardly seem new or exciting to you. However, Walken is always captivating and I'd pay good money just to watch him read the dictionary, or even Twilight. Strange to think that Stephen King wanted Bill Murray for the role. My big problem with the movie is that there just isn't much plot, which is fine as it doesn't have to be a traditionally-driven narrative. I don't mind watching Walken discover new abilities and help people in trouble, it just builds to a bit of an unsatisfying climax. It's especially frustrating as David Cronenberg is known for his disturbing body-shock movies and The Dead Zone just seems a bit tepid in comparison to his other work. The car crash at the beginning is also rather unspectacular and hardly the kind of thing that would result in a five-year slumber. Cronenberg has not made a career out of long movies, but at 103 minutes it's just too thin. I know he filibusters and waffles a lot, but Stephen King's novel ran well over 100,000 words so there was clearly enough literary material to work from.
I do enjoy the cinematography by Mark Irwin, who went on to shoot RoboCop 2 and Scream. There's a lot of cold, wintry atmosphere to The Dead Zone, and it's all done in-camera, giving it a real, earthy feel. If this were made in current year it would all be done against a green screen with excessive filtering and it would look terrible. How I miss old-school filmmaking.
What is rather odd about this movie, especially considering the subject matter, is that Walken, in more than one scene, recommends reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a movie he would later star in as The Horseman. Martin Sheen's character also makes a prediction that he will become president, which he did, to great acclaim, in the TV show The West Wing.
But there's something else lurking in the background, perhaps some intentional psychological trickery by David Cronenberg. In three different scenes/locations there is a picture of a sailboat. In the movie Brainstorm Walken starred alongside Natalie Wood, an actress who mysteriously drowned in the Pacific off the coast of Catalina in 1981 in circumstances that are still not fully understood to this day, though her husband Robert Wagner took a lot of heat for this apparent accident.
Who was their guest on that yacht the night she died? Christopher Walken.
Am I reading too much into this?
A decent thriller, and a subdued effort from Cronenberg considering the source material.
Straight-to-DVD garbage that somehow got talent involved
HATEOTS is a hateable film indeed. It's the trashiest, nastiest garbage that's been done before thousands of times in similar low-rent slime, and it's really no better other than the fact that somewhere, somehow, someone conned Jennifer Lawrence and Elizabeth Shue into starring in it.
The story, for what little it's not worth, has them acting as mother and daughter, moving into a new house in "generic rural land" where a spooky house just beyond the property line freaks them out with its property price-dropping and urban legend backstory. J-Law soon befriends the gentle, misunderstood boy living there and an excruciating sequence of cliches and boredom soon plays out for the rest of the miserable running time.
Even if the story wasn't bottom-feeding drivel the dialogue is frequently pathetic, the direction and camerawork is so hopelessly misjudged, with awful stinger effects every five minutes, and very poor editing. I really hope that the heyday of PG-13 horror/thriller crap is over as nothing that era has produced is notable and HATEOTS is an example of this guff at its worst.
The portmanteau horror movie was hardly new at this point as Tales of Terror had already been out three years by the time this movie was released, which I am sure was the first. Regardless, this became the concept for higher profile movies and serials such as Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt.
Peter Cushing is the Doctor in question, who boards a steam train, cramming into a carriage with five other men. He reveals that he can predict their future with his tarot cards (his "house of horrors" as he calls the deck) and baits them all into wishing to know what misfortunes lie in their near future and how to avoid them.
Now five short movies play out with the same morality play consequences with the twist ending as the aforementioned movies. A couple are fun and interesting, and all are wonderfully shot, but there are moments when you can feel them stretching the thin material a little too far, especially in Donald Sutherland's segment. It reminded me a lot of Horror Express, which followed seven years later.
This movie really needed Vincent Price in it, but it's decent one-off watch as it is, but in no way a classic of the genre or of any the cast's acting careers.
La chiesa (1989)
As boring as the real thing
I saw segments of The Church on Bravo when I was 13 and thought it looked super scary. Flash forward far too many years later to the burned-out, cynical, grump that I am now and I realize that whatever dread this movie might have made me feel isn't going to work on my overly analytical adult mind.
Opening in the dark ages, a bunch of knights massacre a village accused of devil worship (turns out they really were, I think). A church is built on the spot, which many centuries later becomes a cathedral in Hungary, or Germany, or something. They're not too specific about the location. Now we're introduced to a large cast of characters, including a young, pre-tattoo Asia Argento, all of whom, apparently, have their own storylines which go nowhere. It's crazy to think that a total of eight writers teamed together to create this nothingburger. None of the main components of the story build to a climax or even fit together. It's like we're watching vignettes of different movies edited together.
As expected, the "big evil" underneath the church is unleashed and crazy stuff happens, I think, to the poor people stuck inside. But even with this thin concept it cannot stay consistent. Some guy goes mental and literally jackhammers himself to death through the chest. The dude from Holby City (no joke) finds him and flips out. No one is surviving a chest jackhammering any time soon. Ten minutes later, said jackhammered dude is alive again, chest intact, and stabs a pretty schoolteacher though the neck with a section of broken spiked fencing. He disappears again, and a few minutes later the kids are happy and joyful.
No one involved knew where any of this was going or what do to with the concept. Everything is squandered under their "let's just go with it and see what happens" logic. I can imagine the editor looking at the dailies and having an aneurysm. It's not his fault none of this makes sense.
Although directed by Michel Soavi, this has Dario Argento's dirty fingerprints all over it. I'm just not a fan of the man's work at all. I know that Giallo is very special to a lot of film fans, but there's much better examples of the genre out there and The Church came in at the tail end of its life and is such a lazy, careless effort to go out on.
The Hard Way (1991)
The easier option
This was my introduction to James Woods. I was 11 years old when I rented the VHS tape (in brutal pan and scan) and it felt grown-up to watch Michael J. Fox in an adult comedy dropping F-bombs, but I remember being more taken aback by Woods' fast-talking verbosity and heart-warming arrogance, a trait that has become his trademark over the years. Strange how in the 28-ish years since my first viewing I remembered so many lines of dialogue. I can't think of any other movie that has had that effect on me.
Fox plays Nick Lang, a Hollywood big-shot who is facing a crisis of confidence and desperately wants to shadow John Moss, a hard-bitten New York detective to research his potential next big movie. Moss is outraged by the idea, however his boss is a huge Nick Lang fan and forces them to work together to crack a case involving the maniacal "Party Crasher" (Stephen Lang, that name again, long before his iconic role in Avatar), a psycho assassin who is systematically wiping out drug dealers at night clubs across the city. As with John Badham's previous movie Stakeout, the tone alternates between dark and comedic without every fully committing to both, instead playing it safe in the middle while occasionally glancing in each direction.
Fox and Woods have excellent chemistry, as their names would suggest, and the dialogue spars between them have perfect fluidity. Fox riffs on his naive but good-natured Marty McFly persona while Woods masks his self-loathing with hard-earned intellectual superiority over everyone else (the man has an IQ of 180, don't ya know). I do wish that the script could have been developed a bit more, alternating and reversing their roles as they imprint on each other and make each other better people. It's there, but as I said, they only superficially build on this.
When I was a kid I had a huge crush on Christina Ricci and suffered the dreadful 1991 Addams Family movie just to see her. She has a small role here as the 10-year-old daughter of Moss's girlfriend who seems wise beyond her years, but she too is underused and not developed.
Of all the buddy/cop movies that came out in this era The Hard Way seems to have fallen by the wayside in the shadow of Lethal Weapon and much lesser comedies such as Rush Hour. If only the script had been allowed to push just two steps further it could have been a legit classic, but is merely an amusing, if well-staged, action comedy with plenty of in-jokes and mild satire.
John Badham, like John Carpenter, prefers his movies to be shot in anamorphic Panavision (the notable exception being Stakeout, ironically his best-looking film) and after suffering many years of horrible pan-and-scan home video releases The Hard Way is finally presented on Blu-ray in 2.35:1 1080p. Shot by veteran cinematographer Donald P. McAlpine, famous for his iconic work on Predator, the movie looks slick and very high-key but there is some noticable print damage in the form of stress lines in some shots. Obviously, Universal did not master their Blu-ray from the OCN but it's still a decent-looking transfer nonetheless and likely the best transfer they are willing to give it.
Quatermass 2 (1957)
Officially the first ever sequel to use the numeration of "2" in the title (a claim usually made for The Godfather Part 2 and French Connection II) this movie has liquored-up Brian Donlevy reprise his role as Prof. Bernard Quatermass, eager to get his moon project off the ground with little-to-no government funding. His team pick up a shower of strange meteorites falling through the atmosphere and falling onto the new-town of Winnerden Flats (actually the first stages of Hemel Hempstead) so off they go and discover that space bacteria has turned them all into zombies working in a government plant that looks a lot like Quatermass' own moon base.
Obviously no one believes him, the movie would be over in twenty minutes without this mass-produced difficulty, so he recruits a ragtag bunch of sidekicks to kick in the front gates and discover the true horror that lurks within this secret facility. It can be called pure 50s sci-fi pulp but there's mild allegory here to give it some meaning beyond the hokum all these years later. For a long time I was convinced I had already seen this but I was getting it mixed up with the similar [[ASIN:B07ZWBPMDK X: The Unknown]]. The original [[ASIN:B00NQKW8EW Quatermass Experiment]] was notable as the first movie (to my knowledge) to make effective use of "found footage" and the character has endured over the years with further sequels and remakes (and less sozzled actors). Nigel Kneale's writing is very wordy and fast with the dialogue, but, unusually for the time, it doesn't descend (too far) into "silly science" and feels like it has legitimate weight.
We all despise the endless parade of remakes and sequels defecated out of Hollywood studios in "current year" but Quatermass 2 and the multiple incarnations of the character prove that it's hardly a new phenomenon.
Originally shot in color on 35mm Ansacolor film (which I have never heard of) the intended aspect ratio for Quatermass 2 is 1.75:1, but instead of a color horror movie in standard widescreen Hammer decided to save money by producing black and white prints for distribution and the color version has been locked away for over 60 years.
The Aeronauts (2019)
I was quite looking forward to this when it was out in cinemas. I'd never seen any trailers or marketing until I saw it advertised on the sides of buses and thought it looked like a lovely idea for a movie. Well, it would have been a lovely idea 20 years ago, but like almost every movie made in current year it's liberal, lefty, woke, hot garbage with a passively hostile political agenda and a quiet hatred for honest history, rewriting it to fit its own incorrect narrative. It's so far removed from reality it might as well have been made by the BBC.
The chick from the unnecessary Star Wars movie and the very weird-looking guy who won an Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking (and delivering the most awkward, cringy acceptance speech I've ever seen) play the aeronauts in question. One an amalgamation of several historical female figures, and the other a pioneering meteorologist who has had his notions of predicting the weather laughed at all his life. Together they set off in a hot air balloon and sail across the English skies, in some truly wonderful cloudscapes that are the sole highlight of this movie.
It wouldn't be woke without pandering "female empowerment" but the writing team of Tom Harper (who also directs) and Jack Thorne have no idea how to do this other than having the woman constantly berate and belittle the man. In real life James Glaisher set off on this journey with Henry Coxwell, but to have two men as historical pioneers would be sexist so the aggravating female character now exists in his place. Also, they decide to populate London with a lot of what are supposed to call "people of color" in current year. In the 1860s less than 0.01% of the London population was non-white. But to portray city life as it really was back then would be deeply, disgustingly racist, so we better all shut up about it for the sake of "diversity". Portraying the aggravating female with revolting hairy armpits (as she would have in those times) does not counterbalance this.
It's a real shame, I wanted to enjoy this but I found it to be a consistently depressing experience that I simply couldn't enjoy. Why movies feel like they have to change our thinking and rewrite the past in current year lessens the entertainment and, I hope, will date them all very badly in the future. Amazing visuals aside (though I'm sure I saw a car driving down a road in a long shot) The Aeronauts reeks of poisonous agenda.