Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Oliver Reed Fights Some Canadian Mutant Killer Kids, or Thoughts on The Brood

From writer and director David Cronenberg of Scanners (1981) and Rabid (1977) The Brood (1979) featured British Legend Oliver Reed  as Dr. Hal Raglan of The Somafree Psychoplasmic Institute.  Dr. Raglan has a controversial therapy technique where he causes his patients to manifest their repressed emotions physically, usually in the form of hives or pustules (which is icky enough) but in some more extreme cases, (and because this is a David Cronenberg movie), in the form of mutant killer kids on a rampage against anyone the patient happens to resent.
Samantha Eggar is Nola, Dr. Raglan’s star patient and the mother of those aforementioned killer kids, who run through Toronto like a pack of Don’t Look Now (1973) dwarves in snow suits.  The evil child genre has never appealed to me personally but it’s a popular one thanks to all you parents, and when grafted (see what I did there) onto Cronenberg’s favorite themes of biological mutation and psychological horror, becomes a most disturbing portrait of motherhood and procreation.  A variation of Village of the Damned (1960) with a dash of Videodrome (1983), The Brood also features an atmospheric Bernard Hermann inspired soundtrack by Howard Shore in his film debut. 





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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

But I Thought Piranhas Were Native to South America, or Thoughts on Piranha 3DD


A Sequel to Piranha 3D (2010), which was in turn a remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 Piranha, Piranha 3DD (2012, “Twice the Terror, Double the D’s) and absolutely no apology to Russ Meyer, takes the tried and true summer movie formula of bikinis and blood and sets it in an adult-themed water park complete with stripper lifeguards.   The movie opens when fishermen Clu Gulager from Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Gary Busey find an exploding dead cow full of piranha eggs (hold on).  The eggs hatch in the lake (of course) and are somehow attracted to chlorine (science?), swim through the sewers and make it into the topless water park, and there’s your movie.  Where did those piranha eggs come from?  Does it really matter?  What more do you want, it’s summer.
David Koechner from Anchorman (2004) though you probably know him as Todd Packer from The Office is perfectly cast as the sleazy owner of the sleazy water park.  Also with Katrina Bowden from Nurse 3D (2013) and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) as Shelby, who goes skinny dipping and gets a piranha up her hoo-hah (I believe that’s a medical term), and loads of  cameos ranging from David Hasselhoff to Ving Rames.







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Monday, May 29, 2017

The Girl With the Xenomorph Tattoo, or Thoughts on Prometheus


Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) suffered from an overabundance of movie stars, special effects, and a far-reaching mythology concerning the origin of life and the nature of humanity.  The movie was also released in 3D, in case you needed even more distraction, and sought to answer all the nagging questions left from the 1979 original, starting with the Space Jockey, and ending with what all those eggs were doing there in the first place.
Swedish actor Noomi Rapace, the original Lisbeth Salander, is space archeologist Elizabeth Shaw in this prequel to Alien (1979) and presumably the first to encounter the xenomorphs.  Charlize Theron is Merideth Vickers, a Weyland Corporation executive and probably an android, while Michael Fassbinder is David, the actual android the latest in a line that included Ian Holm as Ash, Lance Henriksen as Bishop and Winona Ryder as Call.  The self-surgery medical pod scene remains a highlight and personal favorite, but is still no match for the original chestburster spaghetti dinner.
Also with Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, and 7' 1" Ian Whyte, Wun Wun from Game of Thrones as the Engineer.  The movie also introduces the black goo/spores in addition to the eggs and face huggers as new infection sources that only serve to confuse the audience in new and less visceral ways.
David’s contempt for humanity seems more obvious upon a second viewing, especially when juxtaposed against his actions in  Alien: Covenant (2017).  His first scenes, alone on the ship and watching Lawrence of Arabia (1962) seems like a big clue (for a film entitled Prometheus); it’s a movie about a charismatic and rebellious British Army officer who unites the Arab tribes against the Turks (in David’s eyes, we’re the Turks).  Ridley Scott’s androids with a hidden agenda theme has always been overshadowed by the alien threat, but the malfunctioning androids, (or rebellious ones if you’re into synthetic human rights) are the real baddies in the Alien franchise, the xenomorphs are just following their nature, they’re no different than a pack of wolves.





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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Are We Not Men, or Thoughts on Island of Lost Souls

English actor Charles Laughton, most remembered for his performance as Captain Bligh in Mutiny on The Bounty (1935) portrayed the first version of Doctor Moreau in Island of Lost Souls (1932), which also starred Bela Lugosi, fresh off Dracula (1931), as the Sayer of the Law.  A fast-paced, 71-minute film that is surprisingly dark, The Island of Lost Souls focused on the surgical alteration of animals into the semblance of humans, and was controversial at the time for the blasphemous dialogue and (implied) vivisection scenes.  Which seems charmingly naïve now that we make movies where mad doctors sew people together to create one long intestinal tract.
All the creatures look like hairy stuntmen in werewolf masks, though Bela is immediately recognizable because of his iconic accent.  Even as a beast-man, he will always sound like the Count.  Watch out for the handgun scene, which Marlon Brando recreates in the 1996 version.  Also watch out for Kathleen Burke, a dental assistant from Chicago who won a movie magazine contest and made her big screen appearance as Lota, the Panther Woman.







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Friday, May 26, 2017

When Mom is Zombie Dexter, or Thoughts on Santa Clarita Diet

The Addams Family lived in a spooky house in a suburban neighborhood and made no effort to fit in, whereas Joel and Shelia Hammond in the Netflix horror comedy series Santa Clarita Diet (2017) live a spooky lifestyle in a suburban neighborhood and spend every episode hiding it from the neighbors, who unfortunately, happen to be cops.  There’s an obnoxiously alpha LA County sheriff on one side and a less-obnoxious but equally alpha Santa Monica police officer on the other.
Drew Barrymore is Shelia Hammond, a successful realtor who comes down with an unexplained virus that causes extreme vomiting, heart cessation and an uncontrollable urge to consume human flesh.  Timothy Olyphant is Joel, her realtor/business partner/husband who is just trying to keep up with the changes in their relationship.  Shelia is more like an iZombie (2015) zombie; she retains her consciousness and personality, but also gains a new self-confidence due to lowered inhibitions and impulse control.  They’re also one of the happiest couples since Gomez and Morticia in their matching American Psycho (2000) murder ponchos because Joel and Shelia are one of those couples who do everything together.
The high school sweethearts do their best to kill and eat only bad people, folks who deserve to die; “Someone like a young, single Hitler/We’d be heroes!”  From Victor Fresco of My Name is Earl (2004), the series has a witty, breezy script and lots of banter that is balanced against all the finger munching and f-bombs; I’ve never heard Timothy Olyphant swear so much, and I’ve seen Deadwood (2004). 
Santa Clarita Diet features an impressive array of guest stars including Nathan Fillion, Thomas Lennon, Patton Oswalt, Portia de Rossi and Grace Zabriskie.  Also starring Mary Elizabeth Ellis, the waitress from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005) playing a character with an actual name and Richard T. Jones from Terminator: The SarahConnor Chronicles (2008) as one of those cop neighbors.









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Thursday, May 25, 2017

I’ll See You Again in 25 Years, or Thoughts on David Lynch and Twin Peaks

A David Lynch movie has always been more about mood and tone than traditional narrative, and his TV series Twin Peaks is no different.  Learning who killed Laura Palmer was never the point of Twin Peaks; it was a quirky and surreal labyrinth deliberately intended to the viewer and carry the audience to a dark place.  The fact that these familiar and now nostalgic and sentimental characters and scenes inhabit a murder mystery is secondary, and a distraction. 
However David Lynch’s mid-century style, dialogue and juxtaposition of beauty and violence also reveals a disturbing trend of misogyny that has become more prevalent in his later films.  The brutality of someone like Frank Booth or Bill can now be fully realized in high definition; you don’t have to imply anything, you can show it.  That’s not necessarily a good thing when you’ve built your career around exploring darkness; there’s a subtlety and nuance that will be lost amidst all the beatings and headless miss-matched corpses.  We’re not finding ears in the park anymore, we’re finding whole heads; and that amped up savagery is reflecting our cultural climate, what we see in the news, and our world view.

It’s great to catch up with Dale Cooper and Sheriff Truman; it’s nice to see Lucy still working at the Sheriff’s office after 27 years and even Angelo Badlamenti’s haunting theme song returns.  Season 3 picks up where Season 2 left off; time doesn’t pass in the Red Room, but it does for us, and TV has caught up in terms of presenting more complex narratives and finding audiences to appreciate them.  There are so many TV shows that owe their inspiration to the 1990 series, including The X-Files, Lost, and True Detective.  In many ways modern audiences are more patient and able to appreciate a third season of Twin Peaks, but understand that by design you will get no answers, and will only be left with more questions.









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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How About Quitting While You’re Ahead and Bringing Back Ripley, or Thoughts on Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant (2017) takes place ten years after Prometheus (2012) and continues director Ridley Scott’s insistence in over-complicating a claustrophobic monster in space horror movie with burdensome questions on the origin of life, the role of religious faith in a science fiction world, and a complex mythology explaining every mystery from the 1979 original.
Covenant is the name of a colony spaceship that picks up a transmission on the way to their new home.  Of course they investigate, and guess what’s on the planet?  Guess who breaks quarantine procedures?  And guess what gets back on the ship?  (There’s a clue in the title).
The CGI gooey/pointy xenomorphs will never be as scary as a guy in a suit because the actors are reacting to tennis balls on sticks; I don’t care how talented you are, as an actor you’re not going to transmit a proper sense of fear (and thus, frighten the audience) when you have no real idea what the monster will even look like.  But it is nice to see the dipping bird from the first movie is back (I suppose that counts as a cameo)/

Danny McBride may seem an odd casting choice for an Alien movie, until you remember Paul Rieser and Bill Paxton in Aliens (1986) and Harry Dean Stanton in Alien (1979).  As the pilot Tennessee Faris, he steals every scene he’s in and is really the only character who stands out, other than Michael Fassbender.  In many ways Michael Fassbender as David 8 and Walter from Prometheus has become the new Ripley in this prequel, and for some unexplained reason Ridley Scott wants us to follow this synthetic human’s story.  And all I can tell you is that he’s no Roy Batty, and after two movies I’m not really interested in what he’ll do in the next one.









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Tuesday, May 23, 2017

More Like Island of Marlon Brando, or Thoughts on The Island of Doctor Moreau



1996’s The Island of Doctor Moreau is remembered largely for being one of Hollywood Legend Marlon Brando’s last films, and it’s also ironic because one of the reasons Brando is a legend is that he actually purchased his own private Tahitian island in 1960.  The production was plagued with problems, many of them caused by Brando himself, but starting with the project being taken away from the original director and screenwriter Richard Stanley of Hardware (1990) and Dust Devil (1992).
Director John Frankenheimer of Birdman of Alcatraz (1962, starring Burt Lancaster, the 1977 Moreau) and Ronin (2001) was brought in at the last minute to cobble the film together into a semblance of a story, with unexplained footage shifts from night to day and a relatively unknown male lead because Val Kilmer decided he wanted to play Doctor Moreau’s assistant, Montgomery.  British actor David Thewlis, who you know as Remus Lupin and VM Varga in Season 3 of Fargo is plane crash survivor Edward Douglas, who is rescued by Montgomery and ends up on the titular island.
The 1996 movie is actually set 14 years in the future, 2010, with more of an emphasis on genetic manipulation.  Doctor Moreau has also been upgraded with a Nobel Prize.  David Thewlis does his best to hold his own against Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando, but it’s like match flames and forest fires in terms of star power and charisma.  Val Kilmer plays an effete variation of Jim Morrison for his indifferent portrayal of Montgomery while Marlon Brando is, well, Marlon Brando…
With an unrecognizable Ron Perlman as the Sayer of the Law, Temeura Morrisson as dog-human Azazello, Mark Dacasocos as leopard-human Lo-mai, and a very recognizable Fairuza Balk as panther-girl Alyssa, now upgraded to Dr. Moreau’s daughter.  You should remember Fairuza Balk from The Craft (1996), American History X (1998), The Waterboy (1998), and Almost Famous (2000).  Also watch out for miniature human Nelson de la Rosa Majal, the inspiration for Mini-Me.  Brando was fascinated with his diminutive stature and demanded that he be in every shot with him.  And whatever Brando wanted, Brando got.
It seems like everyone from the cast and crew took the job for the opportunity to work with Marlon Brando, and he spent most of his one week of production refusing to come out of his trailer until Val Kilmer appeared on set.  (To be fair, Val Kilmer also refused to come out of his trailer first).
Brando’s legendary contempt for his profession and the filmmaking process was only eclipsed by his equally monumental ego, which, for better or for worse was backed by his equally monumental talent.  He had incredible screen presence; even fat and bloated he dominates the screen and imbues the most insignificant gestures with meaning and depth.  It’s a very special talent that you can’t teach, and regrettably, one that Brando did not value.  He did not actively sabotage the movie but he was bored with the filmmaking process and derived a perverse pleasure from tormenting directors and pushing his limits.
There’s an interesting documentary covering Richard Stanley’s involvement and the doomed production, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014).  It’s reminiscent of the Apocalypse Now (1979) documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse (1991).  Coincidentally also starring Marlon Brando as Col Kurtz, another mad genius with a god complex, and based on the character from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, who in turn was accused of plagiarism by original author HG Wells for lifting the Kurtz character from Doctor Moreau. 









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Monday, May 22, 2017

Now That You’ve Seen Guardians of the Galaxy, Let’s Watch Howard the Duck



Howard the Duck (1986) secured its place in American Cinema as producer George Lucas’ least successful film and most notorious box office bomb.  At it’s time it was a considered a chaotic mess about a cult comic book talking duck from an alternate universe that confused viewers and failed to find an audience, even as a cult film.  But in retrospect Howard is the eighty-est of 80’s movies with music by Thomas Dolby and an anarchic goofiness reminiscent of early Tim Burton (or contemporary Tim Burton, depending on your time traveling perspective) and Hollywood New Wavers that would easily be at home at the Tech Noir.
Howard is zapped from Duckworld, where he lives in a duck city, reads Playduck and has a poster for Breeders of the Lost Stork on the wall of his apartment.  He lands across the galaxy in Cleveland and saves Lea Thompson as Beverly, the lead singer of the New Wave band Cherry Bomb from a couple punk rock thugs, because he’s a master of the ancient art of quack-fu.  But hang on, then it get’s a little absurd.  The Dark Overlord of the Universe has also been beamed to Earth and has taken over Jeffrey Jones as Dr. Jenning and then, you know, duck puns and hijinks ensue.
The duck effects are Chucky-level animatronics technology, but mostly achieved by a guy in a duck suit.  Equal parts Buckaroo Banzai (1984) and Pee Wee Herman with a dash of Masters of the Universe (1987), Howard the Duck when viewed from a contemporary perspective comes across as a nostalgic alternate universe that would easily be at home in our Guardians of the Galaxy (ie, Marvel/Disney) saturated world.
With music by 80’s icon Thomas Dolby, and the first and to my knowledge only, human/duck love scene (very chaste and sedate, even for the 80’s).  Watch out for a  very young Tim Robbins as Phil Blumburtt, another scientist, and a cameo by Thomas Dolby, as a bartender.










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Saturday, May 20, 2017

When the Locals Are Afraid of You, or Thoughts on Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010) takes the back woods/Deliverance/Wrong Turn paranoia and flips it in a clever paradigm shift that plays with movie stereotypes and horror clichés.  Tucker and Dale, two simple-minded country boys in West Virginia buy a cabin in the woods that looks like it would fit in a Sam Raimi movie to you and me, but it’s their dream vacation home.  After rescuing a cute coed from drowning in the lake, which her friends witness and naturally leap to the conclusion that she’s been kidnapped, (this is a horror movie, after all), the movie becomes a fight to the death between city folk and country folk, or college kids vs. hicks.
There’s a series of misunderstandings that could happen to anyone, including accidental impalements, accidentally leaping into a wood chipper, and Tucker accidentally chain sawing a beehive and then running away from the bees waving a chainsaw.  Each murder (technically manslaughter) escalates the conflict, while Tucker still manages to tentatively romance Allison, the cute coed he managed to save.
Written and directed by Eli Craig, Sally Field’s son (you remember Sally Field; Gidget, The Singing Nun, Smokey and the Bandit, Mrs. Doubtfire) and featuring Alan Tudyk as Tucker, and Canadian actor Tyler Labine as Dale, the kind-hearted hillbilly who wouldn’t hurt a fish.  Allison is portrayed by Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock, Piranha 3DD (2012) and Nurse 3D (2013).








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Friday, May 19, 2017

Now That Everybody Loves James Gunn, Let’s Watch Slither

An old-fashioned and affectionate tribute to the 50’s alien invasion flick with less Cold War metaphors and updated with CGI tentacle monsters and some random f-bombs, Slither (2006) was writer and director James Gunn’s first movie.  Nathon Fillion portrays Bill Pardy, the police chief for the sleepy little town of Wheelsy, South Carolina, where the biggest event is the annual deer hunting festival, until a meteorite full of alien goo crashes in the woods.  Michael Rooker  as Grant Grant pokes it with a stick, gets stung, develops a taste for raw meat, grows some tentacles, and you can guess what happens next.
Shaun of The Dead (2004) is immediately mentioned when referencing a successful horror comedy but a more appropriate comparison might be to Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (2010 and coincidentally starring another Firefly alum, Alan Tudyk).  It has the same snappy dialogue that audiences have come to expect from the Guardians of the Galaxy director, but is closer in aesthetics and tone to Alien (1979), The Blob (1958) and especially Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). 
Watch out for a cameo from the director’s then-wife Jenna Fischer, you know, Pam from The Office, as Shelby, the police dispatcher and references to The Thing (1982) and The Toxic Avenger (1984).







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