Thursday, December 8, 2011

Listomania!: Thomas' November 2011 Viewings

ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011): Ummmm, so our heroes are teenage thugs who mug innocent girls and deal drugs, all of which is played for laughs? Huh. This suckered me in with the marketing campaign that proudly announced its tenuous relationship with SHAWN OF THE DEAD, and I guess some folks found the foul-mouthed, nihilistic, ghetto delinquents to warm the cockles of their hearts, but I’ll be damned if I could find a single likable thing about them. CG alien shadow beasts crash land on Earth and a group of pint-size gangstas decide that they are gonna “kill the motherfuckers!” That’s pretty much the long and the short of it. Personally I was hoping that the aliens would kill them off one by one, but no, no, that is so ‘80s. In our new age of enlightenment, the xenophobic future cons escape from the police and the aliens at every turn. I don’t really want to get on a high-horse and say that this is irresponsible filmmaking, but it does glamorize the thug life. “Hey kids, get your buddies and have fun assaulting young girls at knifepoint! It’s fun and funny!” Even with that aside, the film has nothing to offer other than a very weak attempt to remake CRITTERS (1984) in an urban setting.

THE SQUEEZE (1977): "Fuck Andy Williams". It still blows my mind that there are so many films out there with name casts and prolific directors that somehow get lost in the shuffle and never see a proper video release. I mean, seriously, there isn't a day that goes by in my life where I am not thinking about and scrounging for movies from the '70s. Don't get me wrong, I love movies from the '60s and '80s too, but the '70s were both technically proficient and yet they still hadn't become the cynical, soulless, corporate product like the films we see today. Risks were taken, conventions ignored. The way it should be! A washed-up, alcoholic, ex-Scotland Yard detective Jim Naboth (Stacey Keach) finds a renewed sense of purpose when a brutal mob kidnaps his ex-wife (Carol White) and daughter, not to mention forces him to strip naked and dumps him in front of a local church. This film is loaded with moments that would never be done the same today and features characters that behave in a realistic way. The mob kidnappers don’t sit around and talk about pop culture, instead they decide to force the mother of their victim to do a strip-tease before being raped. It’s un-sexy and unpleasant and she is powerless to stop it. In this day and age, the scene would be completely different. It would be a sexy strip with the woman using her femininity to gain power over her captors and she would definitely turn the tables on them at some point with a big macho (yeah, I said it) revenge moment. The always-great Edward Fox plays the new husband who is absolutely useless, Stephen Boyd is the over-confidant mob boss, David Hemmings is the respectable-looking leader of the gang, and Freddie Starr plays a klepto who seems to be quite fond of ol’ sonny Jim.

THE ETRUSCAN MASK (2007): This film answers the question on everyone’s lips; “what happened to Ted Nicolau?” Oh and you will be so glad to find out the answer to that. Actually the movie starts out great with an old farmer selling an ancient Etruscan demon-warrior mask to an antiquities collector. After the sale is complete, the farmer retreats to his woodshed where we find the maggot-filled remains of his tortured victims. He then blows his brains out with a shotgun. Cut to a few short years later and a group of college kids (yeah, see, I said “starts out great”), while working for the smallest newspaper ever, stumble across a rich recluse and his witch-like wife who have their home adorned with satanic imagery with the mask as the centerpiece. This causes weird hallucinations and general creepiness until the end when we find out that the mask actually possesses people with a demon who uhhhh… kills people and stuff.
Full Moon veteran Nicolau has never really been a master of his craft, but I’m always going to give an independent, Italian-produced effort a fair shake. Unfortunately here he manages to take a great set-up and blow it in every way conceivable. After the first five minutes, there is literally no horror to be found for the next hour. It’s about the super-duchey kids and a lot of plot exposition that leads to some bad CGI and the most fumbling attempt at a slasher set-up that I’ve ever seen. For this one scene Nicolau decides to do the slasher thing. The mask is worn and the demon stalks a pair of kids (one being Nicolau’s irritating, hipster son) who are about to get it on. Yes, the ol’ Voorhees syndrome is in effect, but the kids don’t even get their clothes off before the knife comes out (so demons must resort to kitchen tools to get the job done?) and even then, after a slow stalk, the actual killing happens off screen. In a later scene he does bring the grue, only to completely obscure a well-crafted latex disemboweling effect with CG blood spray that looks like it was created on someone’s laptop. I’m surprised the effects guy didn’t throttle Ted after that. Come to think of it. Has anyone seen him lately?
Even worse, the female lead, Majlinda Agaj, who was clearly cast solely for her wondrous set of attributes, has a line in the beginning of the film where she says “I’ll keep my clothes on, thank you!” True to her word, she does just that, even in the laughably lame “love” scene. On the plus side, Nicolau turns in a technically accomplished effort for a (did I mention this?) digital video production, with tons of camera set-ups and crane shots. Only to be felled by acting so amatuerish it would make HG Lewis wince, one hour of dullsville and some embarrassingly bad CG effects. Maybe not as bad as THE CHILL, but bad.
How bad is the acting, you ask? Only a video clip will do it justice:

Oh Ted, what are we going to do with you? I give you an “A” for effort and a “D” for execution. The only reasons you didn’t get an “F” was because the opening scene hooked me in and THE DUNGEONMASTER (1982) is always welcome in my home.

NINETEEN RED ROSES (1974): Interesting and obscure Danish police thriller that actually managed to get a US release back in the day. A killer (who we are introduced to in the first scene) is selecting victims who are seemingly unconnected. The police on the case have to piece together the dates, locations and try to figure out a motive. Ok, I don’t think I could be any more vague about it, but I’m trying to go spoiler-free here. While it is dated and feels like a wannabe Martin Beck thriller, it has its moments. Like the Swedish police thrillers, it goes in for a lot of gritty procedural work, while at the same time trying to draw a little influence from Italian giallos. Neither is totally successful, but it still manages to hold your attention.

BECK - BAIT BOY (1997): First in a series of 26 top-notch Swedish TV movies based on the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Imagine CSI without the Hollywood. No trendy emo haircuts, realistic characters and some real nasty grit, thanks to Sjöwall and Wahlöö. Unlike US TV shows, these telefilms pull no punches. While a show like CSI may tackle the same subject there would be plenty of mincing around the nastier elements. Here we are introduced to Martin Beck, a Stockholm homicide detective who's small squad is in charge of solving the ugliest of Sweden’s crimes. While worrying about his daughter trying to rent a black-market flat (the legalities of housing in the over-populated Stockholm area are insanely complex), Martin Beck finds himself thrust upon a rash of murders of young teen boys. In addition to shockingly graphic and unsettling content (bloody killings and descriptions of a boy vomiting up semen before his murder), this telefilm sports great production values and doesn’t go overboard into over-the-top silliness and soap-opera relationships that CSI gets up to.

ROBBERY (1967): Solid, straightforward account of the infamous 1963 "Great Train Robbery" in which a coordinated group of 15 criminals from different mobs robbed a postal train of £2.6 million (about $65 million today). Peter Yates could be accused of flat direction here, but I like to think that he's letting the great cast (Stanley Baker, Barry Foster, Frank Finlay, James Booth, George Sewell and others) play out a great story that needs little embellishment. Watching this really puts Ronnie Biggs into perspective. He's become famous for this heist, but really had almost nothing to do with it other than help the team find a train operator who couldn't drive the train after all! A little dry in spots, but good stuff in spite of it.
VIDEO NASTIES – MORAL PANIC, CENSORSHIP & VIDEO TAPE (2010): The central part of the amazing 3 DVD set titled THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO THE VIDEO NASTIES, this is surprisingly nicely done. Jake West and Marc Morris have made a career out of making featurettes for DVDs in London, and truth be told, this is nothing more than 3 discs of extras, the main feature being a moment in history. Tracing the evolution of the video rental business from its primitive beginnings in which you had almost literally a guy in a closet renting uncensored videos, through the hysteria over films that were believed to be real snuff movies, to the actual banning of films that were barely even questionable on a thematic level, this documentary is fascinating whether you remember those days or not. One of the best things about the documentary is that West and Morris avoid (for the most part) the pitfalls that plague so many other featurette producers (*cough* Code Red *cough*), such as the heavy reliance on obnoxious, alleged “expert / fans” or worse, Eli Roth. West and Morris amazingly get the real players to talk candidly about what happened from journalists, professors and filmmakers, right through to the MP who authored the bill, an arch bishop, a film censor and a former Scotland Yard head, and many, many more. In addition to the interviews for the documentary, West and Morris unearth a plethora of archival clips to add additional insight and give a true feeling for the hysteria of the day. It’s amazing in this day and age how some of these people feel that what they did was completely justified, such as incarcerating the proprietor of a video shop for a longer sentence than a murderer and arresting people for renting THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS. Come to think of it, I've seen the film and that might be justified after all. Amazingly some of these witch-hunters are still adamant that they were cracking down on a real snuff film epidemic and saving the children from becoming killers and rapists. Amazing stuff that is well worth hunting down, particularly if you are the kind of person that reads blogs about trashy movies and gets that Damned song stuck in your head for days at a time.

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