Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Last Movies for July 2008

Wed. July 16th, 2008
The Manipulator aka B.J. Lang Presents (1971)*** - This is one truly bizarre movie. Even from the early 70's when movies were weird, this had to stick out as an oddball piece of cinema. Mickey Rooney stars as B.J. Lang an old Hollywood make up artist (he once did the make up for Marilyn Monroe he tells us) that has truly slipped a cog. He is now holed up in a warehouse, apparently on some back lot somewhere, living in a fantasy world where he is a director. He flits around, acting out scenes, giving directions, setting up shots, watching old films, pretending they are dailies, and rather bizarrely talks to the numerous mannequins imagining they are cast and crew. The whole first twenty odd minutes of the movie is just Rooney alone acting out his psychosis. Then out of nowhere he wheels out a wheelchair with a woman tied to it that he has had captive for some time. She is now to act in his fantasy as well. Then as if it couldn't get weirder he shows up in full female make up, telling stories about the good old days of Hollywood as he preps his new star. The rest of the movie is a chamber piece of these two character's battle of wills, complete with funky music, weird camera angles and non-nonsensical flashbacks. The movie is no masterpiece, but its so fucking weird, I couldn't help but to love its shaggy ass. Sad thing is that I saw a certain amount of myself in this movie. I could totally see myself in thirty years, insane locked in a warehouse pretending to be a filmmaker, living out some obtuse fantasy. Hell I could see it happening next week... First time seeing this.

Friday July 18th 2008
Le Frissions Des Vampires aka The Shivers of the Vampire (1971) *** - If you are a newbie to the filmography of French erotic/horror filmmaker Jean Rollin this is a pretty good place to start. All of his obsessions are in place here. world weary vampires, saphic love scenes, color blasted night scenes, climactic scenes on the beach Rollin grew up on, a spooky castle and naked people galore. It is also chock a block full of stunning images such as the main vampire woman emerging from a grand father clock at the stroke of midnight, her seduction of the main character framed by the bedside curtains, the blood of a dove trickling down into her coffin, sunlight hitting the writhing vampires on the beach and the nude vampire's assistant as just a speck in the frame surrounded by the foliage of the castle grounds. The story revolves around a newly wed couple who go to the bride's cousin's castle to visit on their honeymoon. she hasn't seen her cousin's since she was a child. what she doesn't know is that in the years between they had become world renowned vampire hunters and then were seduced into becoming vampires themselves. they know live in the castle under the spell of Isabelle a female vampire, with two human familiars who take care of all of them. That night Isabelle emerges from the clock and begins her seduction of the bride into their clan. As with most of Rollin's work this is more about poetry than plot, which it is thin on. If you go into it looking for a lot of story or logic you may be disappointed. But if you go into it looking for visual thrills, and poetic images that wills tick with you then you will be satisfied. The movies has problems the most difficult being the terrible miscasting of the Isabelle the vampire. Nicole Nacelle who plays her looks like a Height Ashbury reject on a methadone program. She hardly projects the statuesque beauty or power needed for the role of someone who can seduce anyone. Especially considering the beauty of the lead played by Sandra Julien as Isa the Bride who is very attractive. Another great plus in the movie, maybe its greatest achievement is the score. A psychedelic explosion of fuzz guitar that was improvised on the spot of a teenage band named Acanthus that only did one album, this soundtrack. Which is a pity because the music is simply amazing. there is nothing else quite like it anywhere. There was a soundtrack CD available years ago and luckily I snagged it. I watched this on the import Encore 2 disc PAL DVD which is simply stunning. The old Image DVD was superb, but this is amazing. Comes with a 42 page booklet too. The movie used to be available from Something weird on VHS under the title Thrill of the Vampires which was released by Harry Novak's Box Office International. that cut is actually longer because it has a ton more sex that was NOT shot by Jean Rollin, but by Novak's crew that is edited in almost at random. So if you have that old tape its worth keeping as a curiosity item (and is currently out of print). I love Jean Rollin. He is a true original. Seen this plenty of times before.

Saturday July 19th 2008
The Dark Knight (2008)*** - The big event movie of the year is the sequel to the rebooting of the Batman franchise and it is very good. Naturally a lot of the interest and popularity is due to the fact that Heath Ledger died and people are jumping on the bandwagon posthumously. But he IS terrific in the film as the Joker. But what this has overshadowed is that the movie hardly focuses on the Joker or Batman. This movie is really about the Harvey Dent character played by Aaron Eckhart (who is also very, very good). He is the focus of the film and the main character whose story arc carries the picture. The Joker, though important, is secondary to the plot in a lot of ways. I'm not going to bother with a plot synopsis because I'm sure most of you went to see this by now, and if you haven't will see it soon enough. While I liked it quite a bit, it certainly blows away most comic book movies such as the mechanical and rather tepid Spiderman films, I couldn't help but feel like there was something missing this time. Maybe it was the huge hype surrounding it that lead to my slight disappointment. But more to the point I felt like this entry lost some of the darkness and personal demons that made the Batman character so interesting in Batman Begins. This time it felt more like a highly orchestrated, albeit fascinating, chess game to get all the characters and motivations into place. There are some great political jabs at our current predicament about surveillance and one person wielding too much power and a lot of talk about who is a real hero. But the heart of darkness seemed to be more mechanical to me this time. And certainly less about Batman, which was a fault the original series of sequels had too by having too many characters at play. Still it is grand entertainment, well made, acted and very entertaining. So I really can't complain too much when a summer blockbuster has the edge to try as many things as this does. First time seeing this.

Lost Boys: The Tribe (2008) * - I'm not one of those people who thinks the original Lost Boys is some sort of holier than tho classic. I liked it alright as a teenager, but as I got older really found it to be a pandering and pretty lame movie. Its flashy, loud and empty as hell with some downright stupid moments. But it did have a good soundtrack. Well, someone at Warner Brothers thought so too. In fact, they were so enamored with that "Cry Little Sister" song from the original that they wrote the entire sequel around the lyrics to it! And boy did they end up with a flaming turd of a movie. Calling this a piece of shit would be mean to shit everywhere. In this sequel a brother and sister whose parents have croaked go to a California beach town to live with their quirky Aunt. Seems the brother was once a famous surfer even though he looks to be all of 19 years old. He soon discovers that an old surfing legend lives in the town too. The guy immediately seduces his sister which doesn't sit well with him (because that will takeaway his own chances for layin pipe at home). In the movie its because he is just looking out for his "little sister" (He actually says "Cry little sister" at one point) but there are more than a few occasions where it seems that big brother has other yearnings for his younger sibling. Naturally the surfer dude and his buddies are a clan of vampires trying to add her to the clan. And who can blame them since they only seem to have one gal in the clan (though a very hot one) and she exits the movie pretty early on. It seems like a Boys Only type club. So when big brother figures out what is up he enlists the help of Edger Frog played by Corey Feldman reprising his role from the original and frighteningly not looking much older. Maybe he's a vampire too. Everyone goes through the motions, it goes where you think it is going and ends pretty much exactly how you think it will end. Except the brother and sister don't sleep together. But they do ALMOST kiss then think better of it. Seriously. Angus Sutherland is cast as the main vampire because of the relation to Keifer Sutherland. Lets just say that the acting genes stopped of Keifer in the family. This guy is beyond terrible, delivering his lines in a monotone that would have made Ed Wood demand retakes. Someome ona message board said he was doing a Leif Garret thing. But Leif has an excuse for actign that way, he's been stoned for the last thirty years! This douche is just a shitty actor.The rest of the acting it direct to video bad, but no worse than this kind of thing usually is. Tom Savini makes an early appearance doing what he does best, flexing his chest muscles and glistening with sweat.Then is killed off too soon. Thus prooving the movie has no real style, something you could not say about the original, which was all style. Style in this movie is when they fill the background with lots of smoke. This is just lifeless and dull, almost challenging you to stick with it. The only thing that can be said for the movie is that they upped the gore content considerably to fit within the current zeitgeist of modern horror films. But even that seems out of place with the goofiness and tomfoolery on screen. Oh yeah, if you must, stick around during the credits to see the other Corey show up for a blink and you missed him walk on. Apparently he was so stoned for the shoot they had to pull a page out of the Jan Michael Vincent book and shoot him in single propped up shots all by himself. Probably the funniest thing about the movie. First time seeing this and I don't see me ever sitting through it again. Give me Jean Rollin vampires any day of the week, please!

Monday July 21, 2008
The Incredible Hulk (2008)** - It's big, it's loud, it has a lot of the Hulk smashing stuff so I'm sure that audiences liked it a lot better than Ang Lee's underrated 2003 adaption. But at the end of the day this one is a lot of thunder, a little bit of heart and not a whole lot underneath. As a B-movie monster mash it is pretty fun, with good special effects and well done action scenes. You can't fault Edward Norton in the lead role as Bruce Banner. But as much as the film tries you never really get the feeling of isolation and loneliness that Banner is supposed to be feeling as he tries to hide from the world. Which is the real core of the story. That damn sad theme song wouldn't have become so iconic if it wasn't! Mainly because you know at any minute he's going to Hulk out and start tearing shit up. I do realize I'm going to be in the minority on this, but I liked Ang Lee's movie better for the attempts to put a cerebral cortex into the myths. Granted a lot of what he attempted didn't work. Even I bemoan the monster poodles. But at least it was not paint by the numbers filmmaking. That movie took chances. This one, while entertaining, never veers from the chosen path. First time seeing this.

Thursday July 24th, 2008
Tougher Than Leather (1988) *1/2 - Starring vehicle for the rap acts on Def Jam records (hell the entire staff of Def Jam records as it seems, as Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin has major roles too as well as some other flunky acts)that features RUN DMC playing themselves. The guys in the snappy hats get hooked up with some mob run record producer wannabe (played by Rick Rubin who also directed this atrocity and cannot act for shit). When he kills their semi retarded friend and roadie its all about them kicking ass until they get to the the man responsible. That's a fine and good set up for an exploitation piece. So what went wrong? When this came out I remember the boys doing interviews talking about how this was the most violent movie ever made. They actually compared it to The Terminator, Apocalypse Now and Scarface in terms of mayhem. Well, there is a body count of like four or five and they are all relatively bloodless shootings. A couple of people get their asses very unconvincingly kicked and that is about it. A lot os posturing and very little pay off. It is painfully clear that they all wanted to keep this project in house at Def Jam and that is the biggest mistake they made. Rubin may be a killer record producer, but he can't direct his way out of a paper bag. They would kick him off the crossing gaurd for his lack of directing skills. The movie is shot and edited worse than most backyard productions (though the opening Leone inspired sequence had be thinking there could be more promising stuff to come. I was wrong.) What does however work here is the presence of RUN DMC. They can't act for shit, but they wisely perform several times and it is a reminder of why they were one of the biggest Hip Hop acts of all time. When they are performing the movie actually comes alive and surmounts the shittiness around it. Also performing and acting are a very young Beastie Boys who are frankly embarrasing. It is kind of amazing to watch them and see just how far they have come. It is a big leap from drunken idiots on stage to trying to save Tibet. Hav seen this before but barely remembered any of it.

Friday July 25, 2008
The Deliberate Stranger (1986) *** - Well made two night TV movie of the week about the life of Ted Bundy that surprisingly gets most of it right. Mark Harmon more or less killed his career with his very good performance as the well known serial killer. The epic running time allows for the story to follow Ted's personal life including his dealings in political circles in Seattle, his love life (god his girlfriend is annoying) and naturally his murder spree. But it also follows the cops trying to crack the case in Washington and then in Utah. Ample time in given to all aspects which allows all the elements room to breathe and be fairly compelling. The biggest drawback of course, is that being a TV movie a lot of the serious nature of Bundy's crimes are glossed over such as the sexual aspects which are mentioned in a couple of throw away lines but that's it. We never really get the information that his killing spree was sexually motivated and that he raped all of his victims. Otherwise they stick close to the facts of the case including his two escapes from jail and to my shock the final murder of a twelve year old girl (though they don't show it at all, just tell us about it after the fact, which is fine really. What happened to her in real life is probably too horrible to put into a movie at all, much less TV). As it stands this is probably the definative movie on the Bundy case even without the gory details. The musical score is truly awful though. First time seeing this.

Saturday July 26th, 2008
Trapped Ashes (2007) *1/2 - Sean S. Cunningham produced and directed one segment of this still sitting on the shelf anthology horror film that is pretty pedestrian. Also on board is Joe Dante, Ken Russell and Monte Hellman. A group of very annoying Hollywood types go and a tour and end up in trapped in a variation of the Psycho house. For some reason they are forced to tell their worst personal horror stories as a way to somehow get out of their situation. Each of the following stories is a segment of the film. The first one is Ken Russell's about a vain young actress you gets breast implants that turn out to be little blood sucking monsters that attack people. The second story is about a woman who is being lured into hell in Japan by a ghost. The third and most interesting is directed by Monte Hellman and is about two friends in fifties Hollywood and the woman who comes between them and how she stays immortal. This one has some very distinct nods to Stanley Kubrick going on. The last story is about a little girl that while in utero her mother was also carrying a parasitic worm that become her brother. This is slickly produced but all the stories lack payoff so they can come around again at the end and try to have a "shock" finale' at the ending of the film. It doesn't work. It just makes each story seem truncated and frustrating. Mostly it is silly and not very shocking with some interesting ideas thrown away on poor scripts and weak acting. Only Monte Hellman's segment really has any depth and almost would play better as not a horror piece at all. It is really a three character chamber drama with almost no horror and could work as its little existential drama. Ken Russell's piece has some bizarre images but doesn't get under the skin of the matter where it could have had some interesting things to say. Over all it is better than say Creepshow 3, but then tapeworms in my stool are better than that one. First time seeing this.

Simon Says (2006) *1/2 - Yet another horror film that has been sitting on the shelf for a while. This one stars Crispin Glover as twins, one mentally retarded, on not, both insane, stalking an unlikely group of partying kids in the woods. This tries to be a post modern slasher movie by presenting all the cliche's and then turning everything up a few notches, but it doesn't really work. Its fun to see Glover cut loose and goes way over the top, even for him. The gore is almost as over done as his performance as people are skewered and split in half under geysers of blood. But what the movie gets deadly wrong is that the people that are being hunted are so painfully dimwitted, stupid and repellent, that you can't care about them. They group of kids are the worst of Hollywood casting as they are just a list of "types" the musclehead, the pothead, the good girl, the slut and the pretty smart girl all thrown together to party for the weekend. All of them instantly unlikable. Nothing creative is done with the material. There is some interesting kills, but it goes nowhere you haven't seen before and the snarky tone becomes annoying after a while too. Directed by the dude who directed Harry and the Hendersons if you can believe it! First time seeing this.

Sunday July 27th
Cocaine Cowboys (2006) *** - Absorbing if overly flashy documentary about the rise of cacaine trafficking through Miami starting in the late 70's and into the late 80's. The story ends just before the government takes up the cocaine trade and starts shipping in the white powder into the U.S. themselves in the very end of the 80's as part of the Iran Contra Affairs (which are not covered in this documentary). What is covered is how two low end business men, one a pilot, another just a basic street drug dealer managed to build a smuggling empire with the Colombians. Then the "narrative" switches gears to how one woman, known as the Godmother, managed to take over the trade and turn the streets of Miami into a slaughter ground with people being murdered left and right. The most fascinating interview in the film is with her right hand assassin who is in prison for life. While the subject and interviews are illuminating director Billy Corben's style is a big aggravating as he piles on the Adobe After Effects, hyper stylized editing and Jan Hammer score to the point of annoyance often detracting from the subject matter. I'm sure the point was to simulate the hyper reality of the Cocaine subject matter, but more often than not it took away from the experience. Still it is a worthwhile documentary with a lot of information. Be warned the the abundance of crime scene photographs, many of then brutal and bloody, and some of them children, almost puts this in the mondo film camp. First time seeing this.

Tuesday July 29th, 2008
Requiem For The Vampire (1971) *** - Once again took a look at this Jean Rollin vampire classic on the Encore DVD special edition set and it is a revelation.The picture is so vibrant and crisp it is like seeing it for the first time, as cliche as that sounds. The colors and detail literally jump off the screen. As good as the old Image disc of the movie was, and it was very good, this blows it out of the water completely. This movie was one of Rollin's narrative experiments. He has said he was asked to hand in a script in a matter of days or else loose a chance for financing. So he sat down and literally decided to tell himself a story as he wrote. No notes, no outline, not even a real idea. Just to let it unfold as he wrote over a period of a couple of days. What came out was a tale of two young women, on the run from a heist, from which they were dressed as clowns, who run afoul of a clan of vampires at a chateaus they hide out at. While the film is virtually plotless, it is one of Rollin's richest in images, starting with the two girls in full clown regalia racing away in a car shooting at cops. There is the moment when they wash the make up off in a stream, turning the water streaks of red and white. We never actually see them wash it off, just the water changing colors. Then there is the big vampire orgy that introduces the vampires. Bathed in red gels, lush music and vampire bats nestled in one woman's crotch, this is not stuff that is easily forgotten. This is a film that does not ask you to follow along , as much as it asks you allow it to unfold before you. Your patience for arthouse horror will tell if this is to your liking or not. Seen this several times before.

Thursday July 31st, 2008
Dr. Gore (1973) *** - Bad movie buffs take note, this is a real winner! On DVD from Something Weird video this used to be available years ago from Paragon Video with an introduction from Herschel Gordon Lewis. It seems that Lewis was friends with the director/writer/star Pat Patterson who also helped Lewis with the effects in some of his later films. Here Patterson takes the full reigns to deliver a unique and grisly bad movie bouquet that should delight fans of this sort of thing. It seems our beloved doctor Branon has lost his wife to a car crash, but as we discover in the very first scene he intends to bring her back to life, but better. More perfect in every way! So him and his hunchback grunting assistant (horrifyingly named...Greg!) set about robbing graves to nab the right parts. But after covering a corpse in tin foil and trying to reanimate it goes wrong. They decide that the only route that makes sense is to hypnotize women and cut off the perfect parts they need. So you get Pat Patterson and his amazing colossal comb over making out with babes in bikinis and then luring them back to his lab in a trance. Never mind the fact that if he has the power to pretty much bed any hot babe around why would he need to create a living perfect women in the first place! So they start hacking up girls in effects scenes that are surprisingly effective for the time period and obvious lack of budget. One dismembered torso is actually rather frighteningly conveyed. Unneeded parts are done away with in the handy acid vat. Greg keeps his bottle of hooch in the freezer with the dismembered body parts and a bunny rabbit just hangs out on set for no reason at all. One shot has some delivery men bring a big box and you can see well over the tops of the set by at least three feet or more. Once the perfect woman is completed the movie sort of comes apart as it clearly is unfinished from this point out, starting from a montage where the Doctor is explaining how he has to teach the new woman everything from scratch about being alive. His voice over explains a whole bunch of stuff, then the montage shows us the same stuff he explained, AFTER he has said it. He teaches her how to love but she takes to hit a little too well and when he catches her hugging on poor Greg, things get ugly fast. Towards the end there is the most blatant and shocking camera clap board ever left in a film in history further underscoring that this is unfinished. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the incredible music by one Bill Hicks. Not the acerbic and dearly departed comedian, but a cherubic, bearded lounge singer whose songs stop the movie dead at least twice. I dunno about you but I kinda miss the days of no budget movies when they were padded with lounge musical numbers meant to further the careers of musical nobodies. If you haven't gotten the point yet, this is AWESOME!!! First time seeing this.

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