Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

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.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


I am not going to screw around here. No beating around the bush. The Swedes have let me down. Hard. HAMILTON 2 is an absolutely terrible sequel to one of last years big surprises and quite possibly the disappointment of the year.

Hamilton (Mikael Persbrandt) finds himself helping out during a small crisis in Stockholm where a known terrorist is clumsily attempting to assassinate a visiting Palestinian politician. After Hamilton helps to foil the most dunderheaded of assassination attempts with a simple clothesline, the press starts attacking Ewa Tanguy (Frida Hallgren), the head of Säpo (the Swedish secret service), with the help of propaganda from Abdul-Rahman (Milind Soman), the head of an Al'Queda-esque terrorist network. The terrorists decide that if they can undermine confidence in Ewa, they can achieve something that is not made terribly clear.

Predictably enough, Ewa's daughter is soon kidnapped by some ex-SAS operatives and Hamilton is on the case. Even more predictably, this time it's personal, as Hamilton is the godparent of the kidnapped girl.

Writer Stefan Thunberg, who also wrote the first HAMILTON (2011) movie and THE HUNTERS 2 (2010), stumbles through this non-adaptation of the novel, with almost no action, canned dialogue and the most simplistic of plots artificially made complex by lots of pointless scenes that do little more than pad out the film. Matter of fact the script is so disjointed that I'm not even really sure if Hamilton does anything very effective, except perhaps rescue a cat, and it doesn't even focus on a villain for him to face off with. Yes, I said "rescue a cat".

Even James Bond never rescued cats from trees.
Made quiche in a tux, yes, but never a cat from a tree.
The main villain is Abdul-Rahman, but he is only in a few scenes and while he is something of a pompous prick, he hardly seems villainous in the James Bond sense. Sure, he kidnaps a little girl, but he has no intent to harm her. He merely dresses her in a burka and has her read some of his religious propaganda. Granted this isn't very nice and there are better ways to navigate cultural differences in the modern world, but this puts him in the category of "religious creep" rather than, say "Ernst Blofeld". When it comes right down to it, Abdul ain't even fit to sharpen Rosa Klebb's shoe.

Obviously realizing that the villain is rather weak, Thunberg decides to throw in a few minor villains who have even less of an impact, such as a CIA agent who is supposed to be working with Swedish intelligence, but is in fact working with the terrorists. Why is this? Thunberg seems to be using the Bush family's relationship with the Saudi bin Laden family, but in a completely and totally fictional way. Why is that being brought up again with Bush Jr but a distant memory? Who knows? It doesn't bother me if they are going to make the CIA the bad guys, hell, we do it in Hollywood movies all the time, but at least offer some sort of reasoning for it. I'm guessing it's an oil connection, but the script never even hints that might be the case. Perhaps it is simply because The Royal Film Commission of Jordan was involved in the financing of the film, which would explain why the whole Arab terrorist sections of the plot are not only soft-pedaled, but presented as the slightly more aggressive side of a perfectly reasonable political agenda. I'm not saying Islam should be painted in broad strokes, what I'm saying is that there is nothing wrong with making a bunch of violent men with military hardware who kidnap little girls bad guys that a hero (or anti-hero) can prevail against. If your script has only the vaguest pretensions of depth, just leave Islam out of it and make a popcorn movie. There is no shame in that.

The cast seems to have not been handed a copy of the script as there are long pauses during the dialogue, that I'm assuming are substitutions for real drama, where the actors seem unsure of what exactly is going on in the scene and could at any moment break and call for the line. Some of the actors actually seem lost, as if they were not even sure what movie they were in, much less what scene. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that their actions made little sense (one of the kidnappers who Hamilton previously beat up, is now being paid by Hamilton’s boss to help with the rescue mission) and several of the returning characters, such as Mouna (again played by Jordanian pop-star Saba Mubarak), are simply used as window dressing. In the last film Mouna was a dynamic character, every bit Hamilton's equal. Here she gets the wallflower treatment, existing mainly to be framed for shots that look like advertisements for "50 of the World's Most Romantic Melodies" and gaze fondly into Hamilton's eyes whenever the sun sets. I'm beginning to think that Danish director Kathrine Windfeld had more of a hand in the first film's script than she is credited with.

 "Right," I hear you say, "it doesn't have to be all about characters and plot, it's an action movie!" You would think that, wouldn't you? The only action to be found in the film are two hand-to-hand fight scenes and both were over in two seconds and contained so many hand-held close-ups that were rapidly edited together that I have no idea what happened in them. I think there were some kicks and punches, but I can’t say for sure. The only other action is a really brief firefight during the finale which is started because Hamilton makes a rash, out of character decision to fire a shotgun at a terrorist who is within arms reach during a stealth raid, instead of taking the guy out silently. Hamilton, the ne plus ultra of special intelligence agents, puts the entire operation in jeopardy, but if he hadn't, we would have never had a shootout. Not that it actually matters because these three action sequences are so badly directed that they end up being completely unexciting, uninteresting and not in the least bit engaging in any way. The firefight at the end is a few flower-pots short of an '80s TV show.

Instead of keeping Windfeld on board after the success of the first film, for some inexplicable reason the producers decided to hand the sequel over to the Swedish Tobias Falk whose most recent work was on the reasonably-well received video game "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" (2010). Yes, they ditched the class act and went with a video game guy. Everything about this sequel seems like a cheap rush job, that I suspect was shot back to back with part 1. With so little production time between movies (less than a year), I suspect that script pages were falling like the autumn leaves of the September release date. This would explain the script, which feels as composed as a Jackson Pollack painting, and the complete lack of production values (not even a foot chase to liven things up). Fortunately HAMILTON 3: ON HER MAJESTY'S SERVICE, which went into production in August of 2012 with a new writer, has a release date of 2014. Fingers crossed that the producers realized what a turkey part 2 is and are going to use that extra production time and new writer (Petter Skavlan who wrote the acclaimed 2012 film KON-TIKI) to do some serious justice to the series. They have a lot of good will to make up after this stinker.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Heinous for the Holidays: 35-16 FATHER CHRISTMAS CODE (1989)

I rambled a little bit about subversive Christmas movies, but I think this one might be the actually the most subversive of the lot. Fun, dark and surprisingly edgy French film that I think may have been aimed at the family crowd. I say, "I think" because there is so much in this movie that would absolutely horrify American parents (who flipped out over something as innocuous as PARANORMAN), that at times I wonder what the target demographic actually was. Of course, these are the French we're talking about, so they probably felt it would be character building for their kids to be exposed to the darker side of Christmas. Good for them.

Ten year-old Thomas (Alain Lalanne), son of single mom toy store tycoon, is left alone in the mansion on Christmas to mind after grandpa and the dog while mom takes care of business on the holiday. Thomas, like all boys of that name, is a suuuu-per genius and can fix cars, write computer programs, dresses up like Schwarzenegger from COMMANDO (1985) and plays war-games around the mansion with his dog. Mom, to make sure he goes to bed by himself, tells Thomas on the phone that "you mustn't try to see Santa or he will turn into an ogre!" Uhhh, thanks mom, I'll sleep just fine now.

After his friend tells him that Santa isn't real, Thomas decides to prove him wrong, hops on a BBS (the precursor of the internets) and chats with someone who claims to be Santa. Thomas may be a genius, but damn that boy ain't too smart! Of course this Santa is deranged lunatic using a public pay-phone style PC (the future!). After craftily finding out where Thomas lives, enters the house through the chimney with soft lights and tinkling Christmas music and stabs Thomas' dog in the throat, in front on the boy. Holy crap! This movie just stuck it's thumb in Christmas' eye! Thomas gears up for war and a cat and mouse "game" through the mansion is on.

This stylish, subversive outing is almost a bullet list of how not to make an American film. The film opens with a snow-globe containing the Eiffel tower being crushed under a tire while Christmas music tinkles in the background - imagine if that had been the Statue of Liberty. In TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 13, sure, no problem. In a family Christmas movie? Yahoo movie reviewers would be screaming "pinko socialists" before the end of the first reel. The single mom as a successful, wealthy business magnate? Yeah, right! Never happen in Hollywood. Single moms are usually on the poverty line, or maybe working for the man, but are always struggling, waiting for the right guy, and they never put the job before their adorable child, who probably has some sort of medical affliction. Family pet stabbed in the throat by Santa Claus on Christmas? In a family movie? Never, ever, ever happen. Ever. A ten year old using a dead policeman's firearm to shoot someone? No way. At one point Thomas is stabbed, complete with blood gushing from the wound and during a surprisingly intense sequence, Thomas must avoid Santa while trying to find some insulin for his diabetic grandfather who is on the verge of death and trapped inside a suit of armor. Not exactly the wacky holiday hijinx you'd expect from a Christmas movie.

Director René Manzor started his career with THE PASSAGE (1986), an attempt to re-invigorate Alain Delon's career, before descending down into the American and French television abyss. I wonder if even Manzor knew exactly what he was going for in this film, alternating between a pre-teen DIE HARD send-up (Thomas is barefoot during the entire event braving broken glass and snow) and a twisted home-invasion horror film. It feels difficult to navigate at times with wide swings in emotion taking place on a regular basis. One thing is for sure, it is definitely not a fluffy, feel-good Christmas comedy that would inspire merchandising for years to come... Not, at least, until Hollywood got a hold of it.

Hey! What is Nick Kitley doing in this movie?
There are no two ways about it; Chris Columbus and John Huges blatantly ripped this flick off for HOME ALONE (1990). Of course they scrubbed and sanitized every single square inch of this concept until it glistened like tinsel on a Macy's tree and was completely safe for American consumption. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the numbers in the title are the French information. In the US we could dial 411 for information, in France you would dial 3516. I guess that's why the title was changed where ever it was released. So, awkward title and a very non-Fox and Friends idea of the Yuletide, and it's no surprise that it has never seen the light of day in the US. It's a shame a genre-friendly DVD purveyors haven't picked this up, it will definitely be part of my annual Christmas movie rotation.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Listomania: Will's End of 2012 Listocolypse

A great philosopher once said, “2012 is gonna be hell” but it was alright for my movie viewings.  My total was 344, up from last year's total of 308. I’m trying to make a concerted effort to watch stuff I’ve never seen before and think I did alright.  283 were films I had never seen before and 61 were revisits.  Of course, we know folks who were getting in 600+ viewings in a year, so I feel like a slacker.

First film seen in 2012: THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957)
Last film seen in 2012: POPATOPOLIS (2009)
Films seen in theaters: 10 (same as last year)
Best film seen theatrically: LOOPER (2012)
Worst film seen theatrically: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Double features in theaters: 0
Biggest surprises in 2012: FANGS (1974) and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012)
Biggest disappointment in 2012: KILL LIST (2011)
Oldest film seen: SH! THE OCTOPUS (1937)

Video Junkie Moment of the Year:

I know I will sound redundant, but I’m still an extremely proud papa of the “Never Got Made” series.  This year I made a more concerted effort to contact filmmakers and ask them about the projects that got away.  Mid-way through the year I had an absolutely astonishing breakthrough on one of them.  I haven’t even posted it yet, but it was such a rewarding experience that I thought, “This is really worth doing.”  Especially since every magazine I offered this work to rejected my stuff.  2013 will have some fantastic new entries, I promise.

Video Junkie “What were we thinking?” Moment of the Year: 

Every time I do a framegrab nowadays, my wrist will twinge with pain.  I did the comparison of the theatrical and TV versions of TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976) and grabbed over 60 shots to highlight the differences.  It proved to be a popular post (who knew the movie had so many fans?) that I decided to test my limits and finally do the EARTHQUAKE (1974) comparison I’d been planning for years.  I took even more framegrabs there; to the point I shaved a few years off my life.  I actually had a third one planned (Chris Poggiali from Temple of Schlock hooked me up with the TV version of THE CONCORDE…AIRPORT ’79) but that proved to be even more complex so I put it on the back burner for a while.

Most in one month:
October: 39
Least in one month:
July: 23

Films watched more than once:
-EARTHQUAKE (1974) - twice
-TWO-MINUTE WARNING (1976) - twice
-RUBY (1977) - twice
-THE CONCORDE...AIRPORT '79 (1979) - twice
-COURIER OF DEATH (1984) - twice
-FOXFUR (2012) - three times

Directors most watched (individual films):

-Nick Millard (6)
-Anders Nilsson (5) - the Swedish Johan Falk movies
-Shusake Kaneko (4) - GAMERA trilogy & a GODZILLA film
-William Malone (4)
-Takao Okawara (4) - GODZILLA films

Best films that I saw for the first time in 2012:

-THE OUTFIT (1973)
-FANGS (1974)
-DEMON SEED (1977)
-TEN & VENUS (1991)
-WIN WIN (2011)

Worst films that I saw for the first time in 2012:

-QUINTET (1979)
-REC 3 (2011)

Best “the kind of cinema I live for” I saw for the first time in 2012:


Friday, January 4, 2013

Listomania: Thomas' 2012 End of Year Brain Drain

Damn, what a year! Personally it was a complete trainwreck for me with events that I hope I will never, ever have to repeat again in my lifetime and would not wish on anyone. On the plus side, the economy seems to be picking up and best of all, independent film seems to slowly be returning to its roots, spawning movies driven by creativity and passion, rather than cynical compendiums of cliches and empty promises. Don't get me wrong, they're still out there en masse, but with films like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012), which by all rights, should have been released theatrically, and THALE (2012) raising the bar for DTV and SOV movies, I see great things on the horizon.

Total Movies Watched:
303 (that is 62 missed opportunities!), of course that doesn't factor in Scandinavian crime novels read. Although I can't even use books as an excuse with Mary McKee throwing around crazy-ass shit like THE DEATH OF THE FUHRER!

Total Theatrical Movies:
3 (two more than last year!)

PROMETHEUS (2012): Completely overblown, badly written, embarrassingly acted mess that pretends to toy with the audience over whether it is or is not a prequel to ALIEN (1979), when in fact, it has no clue. The apologists claim that it's visually stunning, and that is absolutely true, but this is Ridley Scott. That's what he does. Even when dealing in marginal product (say, 1987s SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME), the visuals are always arresting. Arresting visuals doth not an awesome movie make, quoth The Bard. It does make for a nice Imax 3D viewing experience, but then again, it sure would have been nice to have something closer to a complete package. The most interesting thing about it post-release is that it apparently was to be a much more ummmm, "down to earth" project with a reinvented chest-burster and human-to-alien transformations, which would have not only been cooler to see, but would have made a lot more sense in the context of the story. Too bad all concerned seemed to get high on their own fumes and decided to aim for more pretentious goals.

THE AVENGERS (2012): Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the film. I saw it in Imax 3D and had a good time, but... really? Was it that amazing? Peeps be goin' batshit on this flick, fo' realz! The bar was definitely raised in the CGI department, but greatest movie ever? I dunno about that. It was fun, but the aliens looked like they were stolen out of a Michael Bay film and the only thing that was ever cool about Hawkeye was his whiskers, and they decided to drop those since presumably Jeremy Renner can't grow them. On the other hand, I really wish Whedon had directed THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN or the new SUPERMAN flick which looks stunningly pretentious. I gotta hand it to Joss, he turned in a good time, and honestly I truly do appreciate him giving us a close-up of Scarlett Johansson's marvelous tush in 3D on a 30 foot high screen.

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981): It's RAIDERS! It's in our modern, scaled-down version of IMAX! Restored print? Nope! But we do get a new font for the titles. Then again, does it really need to be remastered and all hi-def? Nope. It's still a great movie that would never be made the same way today. Matter of fact, we can see what it would be like if it was made today. It's called INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. Yeah, I had to go there, didn't I?

The First Film of 2012:
FROM NOON TIL THREE (1976): Oh my lawrd, Charlie, what the hell are you doing? I guess there's a reason this Charles Bronson western has been hard to come by for so many years. Man, this is rough stuff. A group of bankrobbers find themselves short a horse, so odd man out Graham (yes, Bronson's character is a Graham) must stay at a remote mansion inhabited by a young widow (Jill Ireland, of course), named Amanda. The gang is going to return for him at 3pm, so from noon-til-three the two become romantically entangled in what is supposed to be a charming, amusing way (it's not). The whole thing takes a bizarre turn when the gang is caught, Graham is presumed dead and Amanda becomes world famous for her highly embellished dramatization of her love for a bank robber. I'd really like to give it props for going completely off the rails in a direction I never saw coming (she doesn't recognize him, but recognizes his penis - whaaa?), but the fact is that this is just a painfully bad movie that was only greenlit because of the star-power behind it. If you've worked your way through everything else or you've ever wanted to see Charlie in a tux doing some ballroom dancing... err, this is for you.

The Last Film of 2012:
35-16 FATHER CHRISTMAS CODE (1989): Fun, dark and somewhat edgy French film that I think may have been aimed at the family crowd. I say, "I think" because there is so much in this movie that would absolutely horrify wimpy American parents (who flipped out over something as innocuous as PARANORMAN), that at times I wonder what the target demographic actually was. Of course, these are the French we're talking about, so they probably felt it would be good for their kids to embrace the darker side of Christmas. Good for them. Chris Columbus and John Huges blatantly ripped this flick off for HOME ALONE (1990). Of course they scrubbed and sanitized every single square inch of this concept until it glistened in the Christmas sun and was completely safe for American consumption. It's no surprise that it has never seen the light of day in the US. Review forthcoming.

The Biggest Surprise of 2012:
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012): This completely whacked, hallucinogen-fueled, bare-knuckle re-working of APOCALYPSE NOW blew my freakin' mind. Even the red-band trailer doesn't prepare you for the brutal, bloody left-field insanity that John Hyams blows in your face at 250 miles an hour.

The Biggest Disappointment of 2012: Tie!

THE HOLE (2009): Damn, Joe Dante, what happened? A family moves into a new house that has a deep, dark secret in the basement: A trap-door covered hole that is locked down and clearly not meant to be opened. Of course the kids just have to open it and as it turns out, the hole contains fear itself. Dante does a beautiful job setting up the story with some great touches, such as a nutty Bruce Dern as the former house owner who is now terrified of the dark. Sadly, as soon as the characters fears come to life they are neither scary or unique. I realize that this is supposed to be safe for ankle biters, but the drunken/abusive father segment is painfully cliched and delivers that lame '80s stereotype of guys with long hair being evil. Hey Joe? You used to have long hair, buddy. But digressions on coiffures not withstanding, the film starts on a very high note, and plummets quickly after the halfway mark. Even so, it's surprising that this never got released in the US.

SLEEPWALKER (2000): Easily the best videocamera thriller ever, well, at least for the first 80 minutes. This completely crushed me. I couldn't believe how brilliant this film was using a format that usually is the kiss of death. Then the twist end hit. You bastards.

Oldest Film Seen in 2012:
THE DRUMS OF FU MANCHU (1940): Lightning-fast paced, action packed and very politically incorrect serialization of Sax Rohmer's novel about the master criminal Fu Manchu. Here he is being pursued by Nayland Smith in Los Angeles (!). I've never seen so many giant, hulking Asians with European features. Tons of fun and seriously, Schwarzenegger and Stallone got nothin' on the body counts racked up here. More on Fu later in the month.

Most Movies Watched in One Month:
An almost Aaron Christensen-esque total of 46 in August. Runner up: 42 in October.

Least Movies Watched in One Month:
12 in November. Damn those night shifts!

Top 10 Favorite First Time Viewings in 2012:
This is simply a list of movies that I saw for the first time in 2012 that became instant favorites. There were so many that I had to pare down the list to just the top 10 most memorable.

The Johan Falk Trilogy - ZERO TOLERANCE (1999) / EXECUTIVE PROTECTION (2001) / THE THIRD WAVE (2003): Unquestionably the best police action thrillers of the past two decades. The story arc over three films won't even hit you until you are into the second film, when you will suddenly realize that you are knee-deep in a masterpiece.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008): An amazingly effective, disturbing and complex Swedish horror film that never hits a wrong note. Deserving of every accolade it's gotten and undeserving of the mindless, soulless Hollywood remake. If you were like me and procrastinated because of all the hype, don't put it off any longer.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (2012): Again, this should be everyone's must see list. Unless they are the kind of person that runs off to the theater for the latest Tom Cruise movie.

WELCOME TO THE GREAT ADVENTURE OF KENNY STARFIGHTER - KENNY BEGINS (2009): Great Swedish sci-fi comedy that runs a lot like a live-action Pixar film. Kenny ain't the brightest cloud in the nebula, but yearns to be a Galaxy Hero - mainly due to the fact that he doesn't want to get into the family business of hair dressing. While attempting to ticket a speeding Winnebago  Kenny's ship hits a black hole and crash lands on Earth and meets up with a couple of teens, one of whom has touched a crystal that has given him a perfectly healthy body and mind. That crystal, as it turns out, is the one thing that wheel chair-bound mega-brained Rutger Oversmart needs to rule the cosmos and he's a bit cranky that it has already been used. To fight off Kenny and steal the boy, Oversmart brings in his trio of assassins (sort of a spoof on the Three Storms), Earth, Wind and Fire (Wind has a fan for a head). Sure some of the jokes misfire pretty badly (Kenny in a dare-off with his brother drinks shampoo), but most of them are very clever and the production itself is fantastic, feeling like a satire of '80s PG-rated sci-fi flicks such as THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984). This was actually a tie for Favorite Comedy with RONAL THE BARBARIAN (2010).

ANGEL OF DESTRUCTION (1994): Quite possibly the finest example of '90s DTV trash action epicness from the master of the craft, Cirio H. Santiago. Ok, how do I even synopsize this? A trashy pop-star that is sort of like a SF strip club show meets Madonna on a budget is being stalked by psycho militia dude. A badass female cop (Charlie Spradling) attempts to guard her body, but only ends up getting killed, so her sister (Maria Ford in fine form) is now hell bent on some violent revenge. Hoooooly crap! Wall to wall sleaze and violent action plus some of the most hilarious bits of bad movie awesomeness this side of... well, another Cirio H. Santiago movie. Includes an instantly classic scene in which Ford kicks serious ass all over a house being over-run by killers wearing nothing but a thong. Ford that is, not the killers. A masterpiece of trash cinema.

THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS (2011): Just in case anyone missed me gushing about the unparalleled awesomeness of this indy production from Andrew Leman and Sean Branney last year, I'm going to mention it again, since technically I didn't see it until early January. One of the best, if not the best, H.P. Lovecraft adaptation.

KAMEN RIDER - THE NEXT (2007): Everything you could ever possibly want from a tokusatsu flick, much less a Kamen Rider movie. None of this crappy TV show video toaster FX and cheap action. This is the real deal. Big action, choreographed fights, massive explosions, twisted monsters, bloody horror, evil curses, crazy motorcycle stunts and even... nekkid boobs! Yes, that's right, one of Kamen Rider's nemeses actually has a topless scene (while still wearing her helmet). Am I a total nerd if I think that is totally hot? Sure there's some dopey tween romance thrown in, but that's about 1% of the total package. Review forthcoming.

THALE (2012): Maybe not as stunning as WHISPERER, but a captivating little film that deserves a lot of praise for overcoming the limitations of the digital video format.

FLODDER (1986): Quintessential '80s Dutch comedy from the venerable Dick Maas about the haves vs. the have-nots that fits right in place next to American classics such as CADDYSHACK (1980). The Flodder's, a low-class family of slobs, is used as a social experiment (one that we've had in America since this film came out). If you take them out of the slums and move them into an upscale neighborhood, perhaps they will become cultured, contributing members of society. Of course the Flodder's rain total havoc and chaos down on the posh new neighborhood, skewering social prejudices with both keen wit and crass shock value. It doesn't sound like much, but it is done with such a deft hand, a genuinely hilarious script and great production values, that it like CADDYSHACK transcends it's humble concept. Plus, we get one of the most massive-scale destruction/fire sets I have ever seen on film. I can't even imagine how long it must have taken to set up an entire subdivision so that it could be destroyed and set on fire all at once. Oh, and keep your beverages safely on a coaster when Danish Playboy Playmate Tatjana Simic is on screen or severe bobbleage may occur. Just sayin'.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Happy 2013th!

No big speeches here, but we here at VJ would like to wish you and yours the best of new years. We will soon be commencing with the obligatory year end wrap up - hey, we're fashionably late, ok? - and I promise there will be no mention of Oscars, Tom Hanks, or the insufferable idiots that are currently patting themselves on the back for plagiarizing all of their ideas from other movies and turning them into tedious tween fodder.

Thanks to everyone who actually reads our stuff, it's nice to know that there are still people out there who appreciate the finer points of drive-in movies, grindhouse sleaze and direct to video slasher films.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

December to Dismember: SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 4 & 5 (1990 / 1991)

I know Christmas was like, SO last year, but we are still full of the Yultide sprit... well, we're full of something anyway. So here is our final installment of this year's December to Dismember!


Back in the day this seemed like such mediocre DTV fodder that didn't even bother to have anything to do with the Santa slayer trilogy that it followed. Now, that seems like a really fine decision and makes for what I feel is a far better viewing experience.

While screwing her co-worker in a hotel room, wannabe journalist Kim (Neif Hunter) sees news coverage of an apparent suicide, in which a woman, on fire from the waist down, jumps to her death from a building. Deciding that this could be her big break and feeling some sort of weird kinship, Kim tackles the story in spite of her boss (Reggie Bannister) feeling that she is more valuable as a maker of coffee. This leads her into down the path to what might be madness, with bug infestations, weird faces in ordinary objects, a coven of lesbians, giant worms, murder and madness.

There are some really great little bits that most low-rent DTV sequels wouldn't even bother with shooting, such as the scene in which Kim questions the local Chinese butcher, who is caked in blood and struggling to maintain broken English. While asking him questions, she struggles with a candy machine. The butcher gives it a chop with his hand and scoops out all the candies. After offending Kim by gleefully commenting that the dead girl might have been a hooker, she walks away and is about to eat the candies when she notices they are covered in half-dried blood. They could have easily just made it a scene with Kim asking the butcher questions, but Yuzna actually takes the time to set up these neat little moments that add so much to something that could have easily been a major misfire.

Like the TALES FROM THE CRYPT sequels that came along after DEMON KNIGHT (1995), this obviously was derived from an unrelated script that simply had the SNDN brand slapped on top. Even the connection to Christmas is completely reliant on a Christmas tree being shoe-horned into a couple of scenes and Clint Howard flicking on the TV, which happens to be showing the opening nightmare scene from SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT III (1989). Twenty years ago this seemed like a cheap ploy to get video renters to part with their cash on a movie that would otherwise probably not even be made. That may still be true to a point, but that sting of deception removed from the equation, this is actually a really well made film that doesn't pander to expectations and really pushes the creepy, weird, paranoid atmosphere. Add Screaming Mad George's signature effects work and Clint Howard spouting lines like "Awwww, no fucking cheese!" when he finds a half eaten hamburger covered in ants, and you have something that is better now than it was 20 years ago.


I can't really fault Brian Yuzna from backing off of the whole santa-slasher thing for his sequels. Not to flog a dead santa, but PART 2 was the cheapest, dullest and I'd say most cynical piece of crap, but Anchor Bay seems to have stolen that demerit for their "remake". Did I mention how much PART 2 sucks? Revisiting it after having not seen it since it came out on video in '89 brought the complete lack of fun all back. For the next sequel SNDN III took the concept to a completely ludicrous place (I would say that I would love to be a fly on the wall for those script meetings, except they probably didn't have any), so where to go now? Skip the Santa, but lets still focus on Christmas and turn it into a twisted reworking of... wait!

Sorry, I have to say this - MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

Where was I? Oh yeah, a twisted reworking of Pinocchio! No seriously. An old fashioned toy maker named Joe Petto (played by a frantic Mickey Rooney, no less) has fallen on hard times and in between slugging back whiskey, he slugs his son Pino (Brian Bremer), who seems to be a bit touched in the head. At the same time a loner in a motel room has been buying Joe's toys and turning them into little killing machines, or is he? Things start getting creepy when Pino takes a shine to one of Joe's last customers, single mom Sarah (Jane Higginson) and takes to stalking her, culminating with a truly twisted final sequence where we discover that Pino is not quite who we think he is and has a homicidal Oedipal complex in spite of a lack of genitalia.

Ok, so maybe the first half hour is pretty dry and the toy killings should have been scarier and gorier (the first one initiates a car crash another is simply jet-powered roller skates), it feels at times a bit like Charles Band should be lurking somewhere behind the camera. On the other hand you have Rooney absolutely shredding the scenery, obviously relishing his role as a sweaty, maniacal drunk who beats his son and keeps him in a basement. You also have Clint Howard, who is always welcome and the smokin' hot Neif Hunter returning as Kim (damn, she should just lock herself in the house around the holidays). Screaming Mad George's effects may be a little bit more low key than usual here, but again, that last 20 minutes is a doozie. I grant you that Brian Yuzna has been an embarrassment to himself and others since the mid-1990s (I like to pretend that 2000s FAUST and 2003s BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR never existed), but dismissing these sequels off hand is doing them a disservice. On the whole THE TOY MAKER may not be as good as INITIATION, but both films are well worth a revisit.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

December to Dismember: SILENT NIGHT (2012)

This review was originally supposed to be up in time for Christmas, but didn’t make it.  That’s okay because we’re breaking all the rules here at Video Junkie.  So you’re getting a December review in January.  Why did I miss my own deadline?  Well, it is a combination of utter laziness and SILENT NIGHT being the biggest lump of coal/shit you can ever imagine. This movie pissed me off so much that I started beating my kids…and I don’t have any kids!  So that means I was basically punching myself in the nuts for watching this utterly cynical and completely useless remake.

You know you’re in trouble right off the bat when non-talent Steven C. Miller opens his film with a SAW-tinged torture bit.  A killer Santa has a chick tied up and the guy she was cheating on her husband with wrapped in a bunch of Christmas lights in the basement. The guy pleads for his life but then realizes he isn’t dealing with his lover’s husband but some real “sick fuck.”  He comes to this realization a moment before being electrocuted.  And we are off!  Cut to Deputy Aubrey Bradimore (Jamie King) waking up lonely in bed.  You see it has been a year since she lost her hubby John and she is feeling down.  Not so understanding is Sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell), who demands she come in today, Christmas Eve of all days, because another deputy has gone missing (the guy from the opening).  It is a big day for this sleepy Wisconsin town because they are having their annual parade of Santas, where seemingly every man in town dresses up like ol’ St. Nick. Oh lawd, here we go.

So Aubrey swallows her hurt and gets into work. It is here that director Miller and screenwriter Jayson Rothwell offer up a stunning succession of scenes that showcase they just don’t care or live in a world completely populated by caricatures.  Aubrey runs up on the Mayor, who has a slutty daughter, Tiffany (Courtney-Jane White), who tells him to fuck off; we get a bratty tween who slaps her mother’s heart medication (!) out of her hands, demands to go to the mall and screams, “Fuck church! I want my new LV today” at her (she gets killed right after this); we get perv Reverend Madeley (Curtis Moore) coming onto Aubrey; and we get a belligerent Santa (Donal Logue) who likes to be mean to bratty kids and keeps a journal about Santa Claus.  Can you see how badass this movie is?  I’m willing to bet Miller sat in meetings and said, “We’re gonna fuck this holiday up.” And we’re just getting started with this bad boy attitude as now we have the first direct scene from the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984).  Oh, did you forget this is a remake? Randomly shoehorned in is a scene where Dennis (Erik Berg) is visiting his catatonic Grandpa at an old folks’ home.  He mentions he is dating Tiffany and says to his Grandfather, “I’m boning her pretty regularly now” (yes, really) as he steals money from his wallet. Apparently a screenplay scenario this bad is enough to get Grandpa to snap out of his trance and he delivers the “Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year” dialogue. *sigh*

Meanwhile, the cops have discovered the dead bodies from the opening in the Myers place…er, sorry…an abandoned house.  On the other side of town Tiffany is visiting some cokeheads doing a Suicide Girls-style shoot in a seedy motel. Seriously, fuck off.  After she leaves, the killer Santa shows up and offs everyone including throwing the topless girl into a wood chipper.  Aubrey suspects former mill worker Stein Karsson (Mike O’Brien) is the killer because 1. she’s never seen him before and 2. he is wearing work boots similar to the prints left on the scene.  She confronts him at a bar and he tells her a story he heard about a guy dressed as Santa who torched his wife and her lover with a flamethrower back in the day (a cynical working in of this real life Santa killer).  But it turns out Stein is just the local cocaine dealer, Mr. Snow.  Jesus, let me wrap this up.  Aubrey begins doubting her policing skills and calls her former cop dad, who says, “This isn’t the first time a Bradimore had to bring down a bad Santa” (more on that in a bit).  A whole bunch of people get killed in the last half hour (including a pathetic recreation of Linnea Quigley’s deer antler death from the original) as the cops run around looking for the right Santa and – MAGICALLY -- the cop doubting their skills saves the day.  Cue end credits with shitty metal version of “Silent Night.”

It is almost fitting that this flick ends with a really crappy cover of a Christmas carol because that pretty much encapsulates this film – an attempt to take something well known and make it hard, dude.  Now horror historians won’t be crowning the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT as an all-time great.  But I will!  It isn’t the best Christmas horror movie, but it is certainly my favorite.  I mean, it is infinitely quotable, has plenty of Christmas spirit, is highly exploitative (to the point of creating massive controversy) and, believe it or not, has some pretty damning commentary on a number of issues (yes, really).  The fact that this remake mostly focuses on the exploitation factor should let you know how concerned the filmmakers were with making a good movie.  This is a group that openly created something so contemptuous that they wanted people to get upset by it.  It doesn’t work that way and has all the power of a kid with a Mohawk saying “fuck the system” while manning the register at Hot Topic.

Of course, we’re dealing with some nitwits who think everyone will be blown away by their final twist.  If you don’t want it spoiled, stop reading now.  Turns out the Santa killer is the grown up son of the flamethrower toting Santa from that flashback story.  And who just happened to gun his daddy down?  Why it was Aubrey’s dad (hence his aforementioned “bad Santa” line). Okay, let me get this straight – a guy is killing people on Christmas Eve and not a single damn person in the town seems to remember that Mr. Bradimore once shot and killed a guy dressed as Santa on Christmas Eve a few decades ago? Yeah, I guess Aubrey is right and her detective skills really, really suck.  Instead of going “hey, remember that case a few years ago” the cops run around chasing every red herring in the town.  Furthermore, if the guy is out for revenge, why is he killing all of the naughty people and sending them lumps of coal?  And how does he even know they are naughty?  I mean, when he kills the little girl, how did he know she was being a bitch to her mom beforehand?  The original film had a very simple storyline – Billy snaps, sees people doing things he deems naughty and kills them.  They couldn’t even follow this simple set up.  Of course, one has to wonder why this was even called a remake.  Outside of two scenes (and a “garbage day” reference; groooooan), this has nothing to do with the original.  Is Anchor Bay cynical enough to believe that calling it a remake will do enough to bolster a few more sales of the original?  Seeing as they just re-released the original in time for the remake to hit the streets, I’d say so.  They figured slap together a film with a killer Santa, throw in a horror fave (does McDowell ever say no?) and profit.  To quote the store owner being held up by Santa in the original SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT: “I see not all of it is phony sentiment.  Some of it is genuine greed.”