Friday, January 11, 2013

Listomania: Thomas' December Decimation 2012

TOTAL RECALL 2070 - MACHINE DREAMS (1999): Surprisingly impressive made for Shotime pilot movie of a short-lived series that is sort of a re-imagining of Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale" through the eyes of BLADE RUNNER (1982) on a cable show budget. At first glance you'd think this was a recipe for disaster, but in fact, it is really quite good.
Set in the distant future where crime and violence in general has been minimalized to the point of inconsequence  a couple of CPB (Citizens Protection Bureau) detectives are investigating a break in at the mega-corporation Rekall only to find themselves being shot at by three laser-wielding beta-class androids (who look just like humans except they bleed blue blood). Detective Hume's (Michael Easton) partner is killed, which means his irate (black) captain is going to hand him a new partner who is just a little too good at combat and thinking and not so good with the social skills. Ok, so you can see where that is going, but it's only a minor subplot in a larger web of kidnapping and the use of memory implants to facilitate corporate greed. The BLADE RUNNER influence is really heavy, to the point of being a rip-off; the score is very Vangelis, the androids are off-planet workers, they have a beef with their creators, Detective Moralez (Damon D'Oliveira) is dressed up just like Gaff, the CPB drive VTOL vehicles that fly around like Spinners, and so on. This coming out of a '90s era cable network might be a pretty painful thing, except for one major point. It was made by Italians (ok, so it was produced in Canada).
Director Mario Azzopardi (who technically was a Canadian at this point in his life) and writer Art Monterastelli (who is actually American born and went to San Francisco State) both have a pretty solid pedigree of genre TV work prior to this show. Instead of taking the easy way out and making a quick and simple cash-in, Monterastelli and Azzopardi really dig in deep and submerse the viewers in a proper alternate reality (even if it's a bit pillaged from the Scott classic) and then have the audacity to create a complex and involved crime thriller that actually requires the viewer to pay attention. Monterastelli reportedly spent two years developing the series and it shows. That is not to say that MACHINE DREAMS is all heady sci-fi, perish the thought, in fact we are treated to some impressive nudity before we even hit the three minute mark (with a neat little twist). That has to be a record. Plus there are bloody shootings, an android autopsy and some amusing melodrama with lines like "it's not dying that I'm afraid of; it's living without memory." What more could you want?

RED RIDING - IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1974 (2009): Trying desperately to be a gritty Scandinavian-style serial killer thriller, this made for UK TV movie is merely the opening gambit for a trilogy that seems to have gotten some acclaim. A young buck reporter (the not-so-AMAZING Andrew Garfield) is kicked up north to Yorkshire after fumbling a story back home. Once on the local beat, he uncovers a string of bizarre and gristly child rape/murders that have been going on for decades unsolved. Truth be told, he spends most of the time getting his ass kicked by the local fuzz and getting laid by a mother of one of the missing children. Unfortunately the mystery part takes a very far back seat to soft-focus interpersonal drama, particularly after he comes on the idea that a local construction tycoon (Sean Bean) could be at the center of it. So thinly plotted that it's not even a whisker on Henning Mankell's chin, the movie becomes rather tedious, trying desperately to squeak by on it's smoke-stained, mock-'70s atmosphere and the dubious romantic charm of the leads. The film has so little substance, in fact, that I'm amazed how many people actually found the film confusing. Unless the long dry bits between plot-points cause memory lapses. Not the worst killer-thriller ever (nice to meet you, IRENE HUSS), but crushingly pretentious and vacuous at the same time and if you are expecting what it's promising, you are better off taking your business north of Germany.

YOUNG WARRIORS (1983): After decades of procrastination, I finally got around to watching this revenge yarn from Lawrence D. Foldes. For some reason I could never get through the first third of the movie, which is essentially a bad ANIMAL HOUSE rip-off. Wait - were there any good ones?
A group of college kids (including James Van Patten and Mike Norris - son of Chuck) like to drink beer and let a pre-boob job Linnea Quigley sleep naked in their room. One day a bunch of evil bikers rape and kill a couple of their friends and now they're mad! Of course it takes over a half an hour to get to that point. The cops (Ernest Borgnine and Richard Roundtree) wring their hands and shake their fists and say the usual things like "there's nothing we can do" and "our hands are tied". Pretty soon the guys will be forced to do something about it. Like drink more beer! Yeah! After another half hour, Kevin (James Van Patten), the most bitter and angry of the bunch finally manages to talk the guys into forming a vigilante squad to take to the streets and do what the cops can't. Oh man, this sucker is hurting for entertainment value up until now. Sure, you'll get a giggle out of the fact that Borgnine is allegedly married to Susan Day George (yeah, you go Cabbie!), and one college student has an entire army surplus stash of weapons and explosives in his closet. Like that would happen!
Actually this brings about the most interesting part of this film. Essentially this movie is about a college student who can't cope with his stress and coerces others into arming themselves with high-power weapons and orchestrating mass killings that escalate in brutality. And the first half of the movie is a comedy! Watching the movie right before the Connecticut school massacre was uncomfortable, thinking about it afterward is sobering and unpleasant. Granted the intent of the filmmakers was to condemn societal violence and they let no opportunity pass without beating its morality play into your thick skull, so much so that it becomes more than a little like a hyper-violent ABC After School Special, while at the same time, blowing up an entire car dealership and drenching sets in blood from bullet hits. I'm not saying that the film shouldn't have been made or anything like that, but I am saying that it would never be made today and it is amazing that it was able to get by Jack Valenti with all of the bloody shootings, when most films could not. An odd bit of conflicted filmmaking that will definitely make you think a lot more than it should.

VARES - KISS OF EVIL (2011): Jussi Vares returns in a new, much more lithe and sharp-witted incarnation, Antti Reini. While it's still pretty flashy, almost all of the annoying crap from the original films has vanished in place of more straightforward detective thriller, echoing the similar Norwegian series VARG VEUM. We know this one is going to be on the right track as the movie opens with a white-trash dude picking the locket off of a torso that's been wrapped in plastic and half-buried in a shallow grave. Vares is hired by the mother of a missing girl, but there seems to be a lot more at play here than at first perceived. In typical Scandinavian mystery fashion, the family has some deep, dark secrets to hide and Vares is going to dig them up, whether they want him to or not. The plot is really familiar if you've read any Scandinavian detective novels or watched any of the adaptations. In fact, the whole package is so similar to VARG VEUM, that it could easily be seen as a rip-off. Antti Reini even looks a bit like Trond Espen Seim. The plot relies largely on convenience (Vares knows everybody and all of the people involved in the mess interact with people that Vares knows), on the other hand, the seediness of the whole thing, rife with junkies, strip-clubs, illicit affairs, and so forth, make for a good gumshoe outing. Plus you get some good bits of pulpy narration: "...a police officer can't let something like innocence get in the way of arresting people. My sense of justice started crying out loud. It cried for a beer."

DEAD EASY (1982): Wildly erratic, but highly entertaining Australian crime flick from Bert Deling, the director of the cult junkie flick PURE SHIT (1975). A low-level street hustler, George (Scott Burgess), is hanging out at his favorite whorehouse trying to get something going with the new girl, when a mob professional runs in busts out some wicked karate and torches the place... and why does he know George's name? So begins George's surreal descent into a life of organized crime that turns to terror after being used as a pawn in by rival mobsters. This film is all over the map. Some times it is a sleazy back street crime flick (ok, most of the time), sometimes a romance, and sometimes an action flick, with bits of low-key humor thrown in. Trying to actually summarize the plot is nigh-on impossible with some of the weirdest stuff coming out of left field, such as the bizarre disco sci-fi sex party and an ex-cop's massive boar-hunting supertruck that has a roll-cage that actually rolls the car back on to it's wheels if it gets flipped. One of many great scenes is when George and somewhat unwilling girlfriend (Rosemary Paul) are having a serious, plot-pivotal conversation while she is at work. Thing is, she's working as the dominatrix in a cheap dungeon with piped in screams for atmosphere. The scene plays perfectly because the actors run the scene as if they were in a diner, or an apartment, playing the scene completely straight, unaware of the absurdity of it all. Oh, and there's a rivalry between mobsters, dirty cops, lesbian affairs, smack withdrawals  painful looking stunts, gritty tough-guy dialogue, some really weird musical cues, and lots of urban sleaze in King's Cross, that could easily double for '70s Manhattan. Add to that Tony Barry and Max Phipps, and you have something that's great fun if you don't mind being whipped around like a ragdoll by Deling's script.

A NUDE FOR SATAN (1974): Virtually plotless exercise in atmosphere and nekkidity from the infamous Luigi Batzella, also responsible for THE DEVIL'S WEDDING NIGHT (1973) and THE BEAST IN HEAT (1977). A doctor (Stelio Candelli) on a late night house-call tries to help a victim of an auto accident. After dragging her out of the completely undamaged "wreck" (cars are expensive!), plopping her in his passenger seat and slapping her about the face, he declares that she's "all-right" and heads off to his house-call. Once there he leaves her in the car and discovers all sorts of weirdness including an alternate version of the girl, Susan (Rita Calderoni), who seems to think he is her long lost love. When Susan comes in from the car, she finds an strange man in a cape, similar weirdness and alternate version of the doc. The bulk of the film is dreamy seduction sequences desperately try to mimic a lesser Jean Rollin outing, and sometimes succeeding. If you have the hard-core version, there is some added amusement from the inserts that are clearly made for the film, but have different (though similar) actors and sets. For example, the scene where Susan is seduced in the bathtub by a dark skinned girl clumsily cuts to a scene in a similar-style bathtub with a similarly dark skinned girl and a stand in for Calderoni who looks absolutely nothing like her. This may actually heighten your enjoyment of the film, if you are the kind of person who gets a snicker out of that sort of thing. Ok, don't everyone raise your hands at once.

Seamless! No one will ever know.

DOCTOR WHO - THE MOVIE (1996): This is  the TV movie that was designed to revive interest in the Doctor's adventures after the BBC ran the series into the ground in the '80s. It did it's job, but damn is it a big Christmas package of missed opportunity. Set at the turn of the millennium  The Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) is carrying the remains of The Master back to Galifrey. Of course The Master's gooey snake-shaped remains get loose and send the Tardis crashing to Earth - more specifically San Francisco, which would be amazingly cool except for the fact that they felt no one would know the difference if they shot in Vancouver. After being injured in a gang shooting, the doctor is killed and returns in younger form (Paul McGann). Meanwhile The Master steals a body named "Bruce" (Eric Roberts) and sets about opening the Eye of Harmony to cause the destruction of Earth. In order to save the Earth, The Doctor and his new friend (Daphne Ashbrook) must steal the atomic clock being used to count down the new year. Uhhhh... right. This is largely considered a mess by all concerned and it is. It's not without its moments, I actually liked it quite a bit when it first came out, but so many years later, its flaws are writ large. McGann plays such a mousy insecure Doctor and Roberts is simply trying to prove that he can tow the line and not cause any trouble that the two leads, who should have been utterly amazing, utterly fail at being as cool as they should have been.
Then there is the script. This project went through more incarnations during the seven years it took to get off the ground (at one point it was going to be a big budget Spielberg production), and there was so much politicking from both sides of the pond, that the final result was the film being drawn and quartered by guys in suits playing tug-of-war with the concept. The final straw came when they had to remove days from the shooting schedule to save money and all of this becomes very obvious on screen. It doesn't make a lot of sense, it isn't very interesting, and makes some very bad decisions (why is The Master a literal snake in human form with venom and funny-looking eyes?), including the a fore mentioned decision to set the film one of the world's most iconic cities and then shoot in Canada. I guess I finally know what it's like to be a New Yorker. On the plus side, at least it doesn't have Steven Moffat's gratingly self-indulgent LBG soapboxing and incessant sobbing scenes. Big points in its favor.

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