Friday, September 2, 2011

Listomania!: Thomas' August 2011

We watch a ridiculous amount of movies here at VJ. Most of these films never get a write up in these pages, so we thought it would be fun to post the Top 10 most noteworthy hits and misses of our month of video mainlining. The coulda-beens that we decided not to bother with giving full reviews for one reason or another.

ROAD HOUSE 2 (2006): We all know Aussies make awesome movies in Oz, but take them to Hollywood and Sampson loses his hair, or just goes completely batshit crazy like that one dude who made that Christ movie. I know what you're thinkin', "it's a DTV sequel to ROAD HOUSE, and you thought this would be good, why?" C'mon, now, you got Richard Norton (with what appears to be someone else's face) and more importantly, William Ragsdale cast as a bouncer! Yes! A bouncer, actually the head bouncer! A few amusing moments, but this is one rough HOUSE, desperately trying to be an Isaac Florentine film, but epic failing by fudging all the fight scenes with rapid edits of close-ups of body parts. Almost feels like watching porn in fast forward. So yeah, director Scott Ziehl (also responsible for the Sci-Fi Channel's '91 non-remake EARTH VS. THE SPIDER), can now be added to the Aussie Wiki under "Exception to the Rule".

MOONRUNNERS (1975): It's amazing that this template for "The Dukes of Hazard" has still yet to see the light of day on DVD. Is Waylon Jennings' estate holding out or something? The plot has a couple of shine-runnin' cousins, Grady (James Mitchum) and Bobby Lee (Kiel Martin), helpin' out their bible-thumpin' Uncle Jesse when the owner of the Boar's Nest decides that their friendly rivalry should take a mean turn. This really has everything that you could want from a '70s back-woods car-chase flick, 'ceptun mebbey sum nekkid wimmuns and o' course the good ol' General Lee.

THEY'RE A WEIRD MOB (1966): My obsession with Aussie cinema has gotten to the point where I'm starting to do some serious digging. So maybe my idea of buried treasure ain't for everyone, but for my money this '60s classic (that is reviled by the hoity-toity), is well worth the price of admission. After arriving in Oz, Italian immigrant Nino (Walter Chiari) finds that his cousin has disappeared leaving a mountain of debt in his wake. So Nino does what all good Italian's do, rolls up his sleeves and dives in head first. Getting a job in landscaping and learning the way to King's Bloody Cross and the subtle etiquette of Australian drinking rituals. Dated, sure, but some of it is flat-out hilarious. More than a little un-PC, and that's half of it's charm, if you ask me. And in case you ever wondered, yes, the Pope is a deigo.

MALCOLM (1986): If RAINMAN had Colin Friels, John Hargreaves and was about armed robbery, model trains and robots, it would have been a damn sight better in my humble opinion. This was a sleeper hit in the US back in the day, and it's easy to see why. Since it's an Aussie film, it sidesteps a lot of the Hollywood trappings and creates a rather safe, quirky comedy about a mentally handicapped man (Friels) who is obsessed with building machinery, from model trains to a car that splits in half. To solve his money issues, he takes some advice from a neighbor and rents a room in his house... to an ex-con (Hargreaves) who is looking for another score. Pretty tame stuff compared to our usual fixes here at VJ, but hey, it's Aussie, so it's good!

HEATWAVE (1979): It's amazing what Aussies are capable of before being assimilated by the Hollywood machine. Phillip Noyce. Yes, he is Australian. Sure, he's now running top Hollywood celebs around a green screen, but there was a time, yes, even before the 1989 Zatoichi reworking, BLIND FURY (which, for the record, I really like), that Noyce made some really interesting movies down under. Actually, a lot of movies down under. This is more of a drama than a thriller, but flat-out refuses to explain the mystery as would a Hollywood film and lets the audience piece it together, right down to the end credits. Sort of a SILKWOOD kinda thing, but not really. An architect (Richard Moir) involved in building a new super-modern apartment complex for the wealthy gets involved with an activist (Judy Davis) who is fighting to save the tenants from being forcibly evicted from their homes that stand in the way of this new building. When a tabloid journalist who is helping to spearhead the rebellion disappears, things start to get ugly. The use of Sydney during a brutal Christmas heatwave is brilliant in and of itself. The movie is flawed and Davis is a bit too shrill to be believable as anyone's love interest, but it's still worth checking out, if for no other reason than to see how un-Hollywood Noyce was at one time.

THE FALLING (1987): I remember not liking this much back in the day under the rather misleading title ALIEN PREDATOR. Still not the best movie ever, but widescreen and uncut makes it strangely compelling. Three friends (Dennis Christopher, Martin Hewitt and Lynn-Holly Johnson) go on a Winnebago trip through Spain only to find themselves broken down in a strange little town that is the site of an extra-terrestrial experiment that goes surprisingly well and is quite safe. You buyin' that? No, of couse not. The scientist in control of the experiment lets it loose to infest itself in people's heads turing them into zombie-like psychos who eventually succumb to the parasite when it explodes from their faces in a big, chunky mess. Yep, that's the complelling part. Well, that and I remember Lynn-Holly Johnson being kind of attractive back in the day and now that my youth is behind me and I'm just a middle-age perve, damn, she's fucking hot! *ahem* Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah... expect some typical '80s teen hijinx and Johnson, sadly, stays extremely over-dressed throughout the film, but I dunno, for some reason, like a lot of crap from the '80s, I enjoyed it a lot more in retrospect.

The only on-screen bit of
nastiness in the entire film
YOU WILL DIE AT MIDNIGHT (1986): Nobody does. Mediocre giallo and far, far from Lame-berto's best, but then again, miles from his worst. Even uncut, it's teetering on PG-13 fare and the twist ending is not in the least bit interesting. A cop (Leonardo Treviglio) in the middle of a traditional Italian discussion of matrimony, attempts to kill his wife for cheating on him, he stops short and walks out, only to have an unseen assassin walk in behind him and stab his wife to death with an ice pick. After going into hiding, the detective on the case (a bearded Gianni Garko), spends an awful lot of time stressing about finding his pipe while his offices are being relocated. Oh, and he checks into the murders which are starting to pile up. But those can wait. Where did that pipe get to? Gianpaolo Saccarola pops up and stretches his thespian legs as a none-too-bright suspect in the slaying of a librarian. The murders are barely on screen and the rest of the film can't prop itself up, but some folks on the IMDb think this is a keeper, so what the hell do I know?

THE LAST OF THE KNUCKLEMEN (1979): Damn near got testosterone poisoning from this Aussie classic. Great cast, played with so much gritty machismo that you can almost smell the stale sweat and warm beer. A fistful of men work the mines in the middle of the Aussie wasteland, living in a tin shack and occasionally throwing down cash in arranged fights. Based on a play, but don't let that stop you, this sweaty drama (yeah, I said it, it's a drama) from the legendary Tim Burstall (who amazingly never embarrassed himself in Hollywood) boasts a great cast including Gerard Kennedy, Mike Preston and Steve Bisley, gritty dialogue and tons of great moments that would never, ever be handled in the same fashion in Hollywood.

END PLAY (1976): They don't make this type of murder-thriller any more, not even in Oz. No opportunity for CG effects I guess. Damn, I'm turning into a cranky old man. Tim Burstall goes all in with this nifty thriller that draws inspiration from Hitchcock's seedier works (why are Aussies always the best at that sort of thing?) and, at the time, modernized parlor-room murder thrillers like SLEUTH (1972). Though there is no comic relief to be found here, this is a vicious little pug. I can't say too much about this as not knowing what is going to happen next is key, but John Waters (no, not that one) and George Mallaby star as unusually close step-brothers who are somehow involved with murdered hitchhikers in a rural town. Excellent acting and neat little twists overshadow the fact that modern cinema nerds will probably be able to piece together the twist before it is revealed, but getting there is pretty damned entertaining.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND DR. WATSON, PART ONE: ACQUAINTANCE (1979): First of a series of 11 Russian TV movies that ran from 1979 to 1986. In addition to the fact that they may be the best straight forward adaptations of the stories (if not totally verbatim), the casting is quite good with Vasili Livanov turning in a fine performance as Sherlock Holmes, but Vitali Solomin damn near stealing the show as what is unequivocally the best reading of the Doctor Watson character. None of this wallflower-with-whiskers characterization here. Watson is a sharp ex-military man who may not reach the heights of deductive reasoning as Holmes, but is no bumbling half-wit. In addition to great casting, the sets appear to be lived-in and worn, adding a sense of reality that is rarely seen in Holmes adaptations which invariably present Victorian England as a very clean, freshly pained environment. Add an excellent score (who knew Russians were good at music?) and interesting, occasional, use of hand-held cameras and you have something that completely blows away the incredibly overrated Jeremy Brett piffle.

DAMNATUS: THE ENEMY WITHIN (2008): Hmmmm… maybe there is a reason Games Workshop doesn't want this movie seen. Haven't had this much fun since Albert Pyun's ADRENALIN. Well meaning Huan Vu (who brought us the far more entertaining and only slightly less convoluted Lovecraft adaptation, THE COLOR), clearly worked his ass off making this low-budget, SOV action-horror effort set in the Warhammer 40K universe. Boasting a relentlessly complicated plotline that can be easily stripped down to the simple fact that it is an underground bug-hunt. A group of marines (really? The ALIENS cliche, in this day and age?) are recruited to trudge through some sub-terranean passages in pursuit of some heretics who are trying to summon a massive demon that will threaten all life as we know it. I really hate to beat Vu up about it because he does accomplish a lot on what is obviously very little resources. Even at it's worst, for an amateur German effort, it's head and shoulders above Timo Rose and Andreas Bethman, but even at a scant 80 minutes (10 of which is credits), it is a long, slow slog. I don't know much about Warhammer 40K, but what I have seen had power armor and space orcs and stuff. None of that is here, but there are lots of long winded speeches in the vein of TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE, which is the modern excuse to pad out the running time and replace the action that the SOV filmmaker can't afford. The tons of W40K details that are packed in here will appeal to people whose idea of a fun Saturday night is sitting around discussing the intricacies of the W40K timeline, but for everyone else it's like washing back a handful of Sominex with a bottle of Nyquil.

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