Saturday, February 2, 2013

Listomania: Thomas' January Jetsam of 2013

Good lord I watched a lot of movies in January. I'm sure Mr. Christensen still has me beat, but my count of 55 feature films is a pretty respectable number, I think. Depending on your definition of "respectable". Here are some of the titles that are notable, that didn't, or have yet to, make it into full reviews.

DREDD (2012): This has gotten a huge amount of post-theatrical praise and it’s definitely one of the best action movies to get a wide theatrical release. Set in a hyper-contemporary re-envisioning of MegaCity 1, crime lord MaMa (here re-envisioned by Lena Headey in a slightly dumpy, petite version) has the hot new street drug slo-mo which causes time to move at a fraction of its normal rate for the user. After making an example of a couple of double-crossers, by skinning them and throwing them off of the top of her apartment bloc, 200 stories up, Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) take the call. Once in side, the Judges find themselves trapped in the bloc with a bounty on their heads. Yep, that’s it for plot, it’s action on top of action with Urban and screenwriter Alex Garland doing a great job of staying true to the characters (which Stallone found impossible). Dredd and Anderson are so well represented here that it is a real shame that the rest of DREDD’s trappings have absolutely nothing to do with the source material. It's interesting that the filmmakers comment on how rich and deep the source material is and then use hardly any of it. It looks like a slightly more futuristic modern city – which it is, as Johannesburg is MegaCity 1 with very few changes.
The costumes (of everyone except the judges), vehicles, buildings, cars, etc; none are from the source material and MaMa is in the comics (dealing Umty Candy) and she’s a older, fatter and angrier. There are so many details they could have put in, but weren't  The set dressers were the only ones who got it as they threw in little authentic details in the graffiti. I can see how they would think that the bizarreness of the comic might not come off right to a modern audience who hasn't read the comics and maybe there’s some truth to that, but at the same time it sure would be nice to see an adaptation that stayed true to the source material for once. Stallone’s version had fantastic production design, but completely destroyed the characters with a insipid and moronic script. Here, the characters are great, but the production design is for a completely different film. In spite of my nerdy gripes (which, granted, make up the bulk of this review), it is a lot of fun and those of us who skipped it in theaters can hold ourselves responsible for its untimely demise and lack of sequel. Since it’ll probably be another 20 years before anyone can convince backers to try another adaptation, maybe we’ll at least get some sort of incredible animated film like BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (2012). Maybe.

SPIDER-MAN (1978): Much has been said about the Toei SPIDER-MAN TV series over the years and I have always meant to get around to seeing it, but haven't until now. Remember the whole Peter Parker / Daily Bugle / Doc Oc stuff? Forget all that. They Japanese ain't havin' it! A spaceship called The Marveller crashes into Earth awakening a 400 year old warrior from the planet Spider. The spaceship, carrying Professor Monster (who apparently is a cyborg), is the spearhead of an invasion by the Iron Cross Army. Using his telepathic powers the warrior summons a motorcycle racer named Takuya (Shinji Tôdô) to find him in a cave, where he can snap a spider bracelet on the hapless tween, altering his DNA and turning him into "Spidah-man"! Not only can he spin a web any size and catch thieves just like flies, but he can also command the Marveller to transform into a giant robot (named "Leopardon" - really), drive the GP7 (a flying, jet powered car) and wield a deadly sword. That's right, Spider-man uses a sword. While at first it seems completely freakin' wacko, it's actually really familiar stuff to anyone who has seen any Kamen Rider episodes. Ultraman too, come to think of it. It's a pretty blatant rip-off of Kamen Rider, with Takuya racing around on his custom cycle, then using a device to transform into Spider-man so he can then fight a group of clones (none of them say "Eeeeeee" though) and ultimately fight a cybermonster straight out of any one of the Shocker labs. The GP7 flying out of the Marveller is pretty much the Science Patrol's shuttle on the VTOL from ULTRA-MAN.
Spider-Man realizes that he's...
Once you get over the initial culture shock of seeing Spider-man reinterpreted as an alien with a sword, it is actually a fairly unimpressive Kamen Rider wannabe with Tôdô providing some of the most ghastly over-acting you've ever seen, even by Japanese TV standards. When he receives a slight nick on the left side of his neck from a badguy's blade, he writhes around on the ground screaming like he's lost a freakin' limb and then proceeds to limp and gasp like a dying man for the next 10 minutes favoring the right side of his body! Plus you get some dialogue that is definitely "amazing", such as when a badguy asks Spidey "who are you?", Spider-man throws a pose and says "I'm the messenger from hell - Spider-man!" Prove to me that Japan is not on a completely different planet.

SOMETHING CREEPING IN THE DARK (1971): Mario Colucci's haunted house movie in which nothing creeps and it's never dark. It should have been called PEOPLE ARGUE IN THE LIGHT.
A group of mismatched people head to a remote mansion after discovering that a bridge is washed out on a dark and stormy night. Two cops with a "homicidal maniac" named Spike (Farley Granger in a 50's greaser outfit), a rich married couple who spit venom at each other faster than you can say WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, a chain smoking doctor, his mousy assistant, and a professor who's mind is open to possibilities of the occult kind. At the mansion they meet a couple who are caretakers for the estate of a woman who was widely believed to be involved in the dark arts. Hey, I'm a sucker for "old dark house" kind of movies and it doesn't take much to make me happy, but this movie doesn't offer much, but what it offers ain't a ghost story. It offers a lot of aggressive drawing-room beatnik discussions about social conformity and a couple of murders, one being Spike killing a cop while trying to escape the other two being involved with a spirit possessing one of the cast and making them look bored and mute. I'd act the same way if you put me in this snoozefest. The dialogue scenes are the bulk of the movie and boy are they something! Spike, who we discover is an accomplished, soulful pianist has this to say at the wealthy socialite after she asks him how it feels to kill someone:
"Do ya think you could really understand? Tied to a thousand prejudices  a thousand fears, a thousand superstitions? No, you live a life of vanity and compromise. You couldn't be able to understand what it means to free yourself of all the hypocritical and stupidity of this decadent world!"
Well, ask a stupid question...

BLOOD BEAT (1983): Holy freakin' jumped-up jeezus!  Sorry, but words fail me. I saw this back in the day and remember thinking it was pretty crappy, but somewhere over all these long beers - I mean, long years, my brain decided that it was GHOST WARRIOR (1985) or maybe SWORD OF HEAVEN (1985). If you've seen them, you know that those two can get mixed up pretty easily, but how the hell did BLOOD BEAT get in there? Maybe it was just wishful thinking.
A cracker-ass family gets together for Christmas at a house in the Wisconsin woods to do some huntin', some drinkin' and some paintin'. Painting? Oh yes. Mom, Cathy (Helen Benton), is a bit on the different side. She likes to paint and make her would be husband Gary (Terry Brown) miserable. He wants to get married, she's lukewarm on the subject. She loves him until he tries to reciprocate, then she pushes him away. Ugh, it's like my social life back in highschool, why am I watching this? Oh yeah, there's supposed to be a killer on the loose, according to the box. Mom doesn't like her son Ted's (James Fitzgibbons) new girlfriend Sarah (Claudia Peyton) and gets really wound up screaming at him about how she's not trustworthy. While painting Mom starts getting strange visions of Sarah, while a sleeping Sarah has some serious orgasms while having visions of a samurai warrior stalking the woods. Of course, to get there it takes a good 80 minutes of some other family's unpleasant Christmas, complete with abuse, crying, shouting matches and lingering resentment. Fun, right?
An audience member at the half-way point
Loaded with long, dry tracking shots of the forest ground, the floor of the house, a fence and so on, for no other purpose than to pad out the running time. Same with the never-ending shots of people shouting other people's names: "Sarah? Sarah! Sarah! Sarah? Sarah!" Shut up! *ahem* Yeah, if that doesn't drive you off the deep end there's the soundtrack. Virtually every single scene has a completely different library soundtrack and they are all awful. At one point we have cheesy electronica, cut to another scene and we've got ear-shredding violin, cut again and we have a harmonica, again and we have gregorian chanting, and so on. I'm pretty sure the dialogue is ad-libbed and the script was made up while they shot the movie. Sometimes the scenes seems to have been something made up after collecting all of the pieces that spilled on the editing room floor. There is no way for me to adequately describe how completely brain-bruising this movie is. It has very little bloodshed, but there is some amusing nudity. If you can make it to the end, there's a hilarious confrontation between the kids (who suddenly have supernatural powers) and the possessed suit of armor which actually possesses a voice that sounds a bit like a whiny Dalek when expressing it's disdain at being defeated. I guess there's a reason that writer-director Fabrice A. Zaphiratos has never made another movie. You've been warned.

LIVID - THE BLOOD OF THE BALLERINAS (2011): Incredibly slow-moving and pretentious French horror yarn that really just wants to be a Hollywood film. A young nurse trainee, Lucie (Chloé Coulloud), is taken to a creepy old mansion that is surrounded by local superstition. Inside, her trainer reveals that the owner of the house, a wealthy former ballet instructor, is in a coma and has a key around her neck that might be for the rumored hidden treasure. Of course this is simply bait in a trap, and sure enough after telling her loser boyfriend about it, three of them break into the mansion to find the treasure, or, as you could easily guess, gruesome deaths. While there are one or two cool little touches that will no doubt give 13 year old goths screaming hard-ons, this trip is strictly by-the-numbers until the last 20 minutes. It literally takes 50 minutes of the 88 minute running time from the introduction of the main character to the kids walking through the house. Much of the whole breaking into the house-thing is done in real time, so there are painfully long sequences of people walking, opening doors, looking around, walking some more and saying things like "hey, over here! Oh it's nothing". Hell, I can get that on any episode of "Ghost Hunters"! Once you get to the big revelation of who the woman is and why there are missing children in the village, it turns into a goth fantasy film with moths being used to change the souls in bodies and some other odd stuff that seems like a complete departure from the film we have been sitting through for the past 70 minutes. Add to that the fact that none of the scant few ideas the script has are fleshed out at all, instead opting for long scenes of mundane action, and you have something that's paper-thin and rather dull for almost the entirety of its running time, only then to turn good ideas into stupid ones.

Well, at least they aren't any CGI ghosts.

DEMON OF THE ISLAND (1983): Subtle (for the most part) and strange French horror film that uses some of Stephen King's favorite themes, but in a strange, French sort of way. A chain-smoking mainland doctor, Gabrielle Martin (Anny Duperey), moves to a remote island to take over the role as village doctor from Dr. Marshall (Jean-Claude Brialy), who is neither liked, nor trusted by the locals. As a string of bizarre appliance accidents sweep the island, it becomes obvious that Dr. Marshall has no plans of leaving and is working on some very strange medical research involving endocranial disease. Writer-director Francis Leroi, whose other credits almost entirely consist of soft and hardcore erotica, takes a while setting the stage and once he does things get very interesting and bloody. Being French, he has no problem leaving things very ambiguous. He drops hints, but never bluntly tells the audience motivations and explanations. I actually liked it that way, to be honest. The way Leroi builds up to the bits of graphic nastiness is very well done, with the tension being cranked and mis-directional cues perfectly executed. Will it make everyone happy? No, but I really enjoyed it and maybe that's because of all of the completely lifeless swill I've been sucking down this month.

QUEEN BOXER (1973): First time director Yue Fung-chi’s fun, period kung fu flick, was at one point reportedly in violent in the realm of Sonny Chiba's STREETFIGHTER (1974) before it was heavily censored. After a local crime lord kills a would-be hero, his family comes to town looking for him. Just to show 'em who's boss, the boss has them all slaughtered in the street! That'll learn 'em. All, except for his sister, Su Chen (Chia Ling aka Judy Lee) who sure seems pretty and unassuming. A local tea merchant and martial arts badass (Yeung Kwan) has been waging a one-man war against the crime boss after his not-so-badass brother was murdered and it isn't long before the two team up to take the bastard down. She may not be Angela Mao, but Ling's graceful martial arts moves come from formal ballet training and it makes watching her fight scenes pretty riveting stuff. Definitely more than they might otherwise be, considering almost all of the graphic violence is missing from even the longest of available versions. Rumor has it that an uncut, widescreen German DVD was in the offing, but that was months ago and either it was another one of those super-limited pressings that came and went over night, or it's another vapordisc. If anybody has any info on this, I'd love to hear it.

BLACK DOG (1998): Arguably the last of the real, honest-to-fucking-god metal-crunching vehicular mayhem flicks ever made. Ok, maybe someone will come along and make another one, but I doubt it. Using real cars and trucks is like, hard work and stuff! It's so much easier to sit at a computer in an air-conditioned office... eating Funyuns and playing with your 'puter. Jack Crews (Patrick Swayze) is an ex-con looking to make a fresh start in the world of trucking. Like so many of us, he picks a soulless ratfuck bastard to work for and suddenly finds himself trucking illegal weapons through interstate lines with a small army of goons shootin' lead up his tailpipe. That's pretty much the long and the short of the plot. Sure there are some sub-plotty things about how they got his wife and kid, the Feds trying to bust 'em, a traitor in the midst, a fox in with the chickens, and so forth. Plus our good ol' boy gets double-crossed by one Mr. Meat Loaf in what may be his best film role ever (not saying much I guess) and certainly the best work he's done since attempting to sing some song while completely shitfaced at some sort of political thing. Speaking of singing, Randy Travis is also along for the ride as a two-bit loser that wants to sing country, but has no talent. But screw all that. No, no, what we care about here is the stunts, oh the beautiful stunts! Not content to just wreck cars on what is essentially an extended chase scene taken straight out of the mid '70s, writers William Mickelberry and Dan Vining (who have sadly done nothing since) make this a badass trucker movie straight out of the mid '70s as well. Ok, so it's a truck chase movie, but these trucks, smash, crash, explode and get air! Constantly! I am a sucker for a good car stunt, but great stunts with huge 20,000 pound metal, glass and rubber beasts, like semis, flying through the air is nothing short of spectacular. Creating an entire movie around such events? Genius, pure, unadulterated genius.

COP OR HOOD (1978): Considered to be one of Jean-Paul Belmondo’s best films, it certainly is slickly produced, if nothing else. A charmingly roguish criminal Antonio Cerutti (Belmondo) finds out that his prostitute sister was gunned down while having a hotel liaison with a police commissioner, he vows to get to the bottom of it. Except he isn't Cerutti, he’s actually Stanislas Borovitz, head of internal affairs, and he’s going to nail the killers and the dirty cops his way! How? By being incredibly charming, witty and sticking his 6" Colt Python in everybody's face. Yeah, I know, it looks like it's a 12" barrel when he's holding it, but that's just because he's French. Oh and at the same time romancing a wealthy author and dealing with his neglected 14 year-old daughter who, realistically, has every right to be resentful of this self-absorbed jackass.
Clearly Belmondo had reached the “Jack Nicholson phase” of his career and could just show up and completely “jamon” his way through a movie without a backwards glance.
Many of his scenes involve broad physical gestures such as snapping his collar with a flourish, doing pirouettes on the heels of his boots and whipping open his coat to show off his gun, always with a big goofy grin. On the plus side, the movie does have a few really great set pieces, such as when Belmondo jacks a driver’s license test car in an attempt to evade his pursuers. I can imagine Jackie Chan watching this in the theater and getting inspiration for some of the car gags in the LUCKY STARS movies. There are even a couple of explosions, nice cinematography (if a bit over-lit) and some split-screen work, too. Even so, it's only mildly enjoyable and kind of feels like if you've seen one Belmondo flick, you've seen them all. I guess it really seems to rest on how much you enjoy Belmondo’s obvious enthusiasm for himself and don’t mind the all-too-brief action sequences being few and far between.

BUBBA HO-TEP (2003): After being slightly underwhelmed by Don Coscarelli’s latest film, JOHN DIES AT THE END (2012), a friend of the VJ family said that my expectations were probably set a bit too high. It didn’t really occur to me in the moment, but he was right. They were set pretty high. Why was that? Well, yeah, there’s the whole PHANTASM thing, (which, trust me, will be rambled about at another time), but PHANTASM IV (1998) was err, disappointing. But there’s also BUBBA HO-TEP. Based on a Joe R. Lansdale short story, Coscarelli creates what is probably the best film of his career about an aging Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) and a black JFK (Ossie Davis) in an East Texas rest home that is being stalked by a cursed mummy that sucks the souls of those about to die. I mean, does that even sound all that great? I’m not even a big Bruce Campbell fan, but he can go to his deathbed proud of his work in this film. It’s clearly a labor of love and it not only has a multi-layered story, but it also has multi-layered performances, multi-layered visuals and a multi-layered score that works beautifully with a film that effectively mixes comedy, drama and horror. BUBBA HO-TEP is also richly detailed, holding up to repeated viewings, so much so, that I actually enjoyed it even more coming back to it almost a decade later. I think that is why my expectations were so high. Coscarelli set the bar out of arms reach.
I guess I have to mention the cringe-inducing proposed prequel, BUBBA NOSFERATU: CURSE OF THE SHE-VAMPIRES. Written by Stephen Romano and Coscarelli, the plot is supposed to be about Elvis shooting a movie in Louisiana only to find himself battling a coven of female vampires. Campbell refused the role several years back (the guy is obviously smarter than I give him credit for) and the project was thought dead. Post JOHN DIES AT THE END, however, we have had Paul Giamatti resurrecting the project in interviews, saying that is it's on the front burner and he has been cast as the Colonel Parker character (presumably if it ever gets made). Just let it go Don, let it go.

3 Reactions:

  1. Well, for the record, you absolutely trounced me in the totals. (I think I racked up an even 31 flicks for January.) Well done, indeed.

    Clearly, I need to see DREDD. I remember when PUNISHER: WAR ZONE came out a few years ago, it was one that was dismissed and then got rediscovered by word of mouth of people saying, "HOLY SHINOLY, THAT'S SOME VIOLENT SH!T."

    I really don't want them to try and cash in on the BUBBA HO-TEP thing either. This accursed need for sequels. Can't we just let a perfect thing remain a perfect thing?

    I'm reluctant to admit it, but I've never seen BLACK DOG or even ROAD HOUSE, so clearly my Swayze ticket (and my nose) need to be punched hard and soon.

    I'll be seeing LIVIDE at some point. I've heard mixed, but I'm going in clean with no preconceptions. Keep you posted.

  2. I definitely see what you are saying about BLOOD BEAT, but I kinda enjoyed it for how absurd it is. It fell right into "so bad, its good" for me. That said, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. That is some killer poster art you dug up. It would have been nice if Apprehensive films would have used it.

    You got me interested in DEMON OF THE ISLAND (1983). Where is the best place to track down copy?

    I had no interest in DREDD until now. Thanks

    40 titles in January for me. That was unusually high for this time of year.

  3. @Jason:

    Oh yeah, I wouldn't have even bothered to talk about BLOOD BEAT if it didn't have something that made it worth watching if you are in a particularly masochistic state of mind.

    There are some grey market dealers out there that offer DEMON OF THE ISLAND with English subs. Try asking around on message boards like

    40 titles, nice job! I think this nasty flu season made it easier to rack up the views, well, at least in my case it did.


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