Friday, June 30, 2017

Spanish Vamps in The Woods, or Thoughts on Vampyres

 You would think that if you’re driving in a haunted woods in Spain and you pick up a beautiful woman in a black velvet hooded cape with a vaguely Eastern European accent and she invites you back to her abandoned house where all the mirrors are covered your fight or flight instinct would kick in and you would get the heck outta there.  But much like their American counterparts, the men in the erotic horror movie Vampyres (2015) have never heard of the dead that drink the blood of the living, and are happy to succumb to their charms.
A remake of the far superior 1974 film of the same name, it’s definitely not for the haemophobic, but then again, why would you be watching a vampire movie?  Fran and Miriam troll the road for drivers and random hikers and bathe in their blood in antique claw foot tubs like they’re Elizabeth Bathory.  Very nice visuals if you’re into that sorta thing (and who isn’t), but it’s a slow movie with an indie, 70’s feel without actually capturing the sensual eroticism of the original.  Filmed in English with a Spanish cast, the dialogue seems awkward and forced, while the plot doesn’t extend farther than lesbian vampires in the woods.
However, watch out for the Caroline Munro cameo as a hotel owner who knows more than she lets on.  And if you don’t know who Caroline Munro is, I don’t know if we can hang out anymore.









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Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Trippy Astral POV in Tokyo, or Thoughts on Enter The Void

A movie version of The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up (1997) video with CGI astral projection, Enter The Void (2009) is a surreal and hallucinatory experience, visionary in a sordid, depressing manner, and I’ve seen movies about sewing people into one long intestinal tract.  From French director Gaspar Noé of Irréversible (2002), the movie opens with some seizure-inducing opening credits along with a matching trippy electro-pop soundtrack to effectively set the mood and tone of the next 161 minutes.
Enter The Void follows the life and death of Oscar, an ex-pat DMT dealer in Japan, and his sister Linda, played with her usual leggy salubriousness by Paz de La Huerta.  After some quick exposition concerning the Tibetan Book of the Dead (which Oscar hasn’t read) he dies in The Void, a seedy Tokyo dive bar.  But Oscar lingers, along with the audience, in the form of the innovative POV filming style that includes blinks, narrative voiceovers and psychedelic CGI drug trips.
 A hallucinatory and hypnotic ghost tour of the Tokyo underworld, the movie is heavy on visuals while suffering from a lack of character, both in the cinematic and moral sense.  This ain’t POV Drugstore Cowboy (1989) or POV Trainspotting (1996), and the leisurely mise en scène doesn’t generate any goodwill or caring for the characters.  Audiences need someone to love or hate, and all I got from Enter the Void is a feeling of indifference, and a slight headache.







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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sean Connery’s Brave New World, or Thoughts on Zardoz

The time has come to explain Sean Connery’s goofiest role, (that is until he portrayed Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez 12 years later in Highlander) in Zardoz (1974), a movie that is more remembered for his outfit; thigh-high boots, red loincloth and crossed bullet bandoliers.  The look is highlighted by his hairy chest and unapologetically masculine screen presence.  He has an athletic but natural physique that looks soft by contemporary standards, but while there’s no way you can imagine Sean Connery ever waxing his chest or doing ab crunches, I’m certain audiences also had absolute confidence in his abilities to throw a punch and charm the ladies.  As for the outfit, it’s a literal translation of a comic book aesthetic on a regular body, straight out of a Heavy Metal cover and reminiscent of He-Man.
Sean Connery is not Zardoz, he is Zed, a warrior/priest for Zardoz; a giant floating stone head that spits weapons in post apocalyptic 2293 Earth (and that’s not the weirdest thing in a very weird movie).  The film may have been released in 1974, but it has a 60’s feel both in visual style and philosophical tone.  Zed is a member of the Brutals, who live in the Wasteland and supply grain for the more advanced Eternals, who live in the Vortex.  The movie takes a turn towards Huxley (see title) as the barbarian Zed invades the idyllic Vortex, where he is studied and enslaved for the Immortals' amusement.  But Charlotte Rampling is also there as Consuela, so it’s not all bad.
Written and directed by John Boorman of Deliverance (19xx) and who would go on to direct Excalibur  (1981). Equal parts Planet of The Apes (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Tommy (1975) and with a dash of Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973), Zardoz is a surreal, hallucinatory experience and offers a uniquely British version of a dystopian future.  That is, if you can get past the loincloth.  And did I mention Sean’s ponytail and Freddie Mercury-esque mustache?  Because there’s that. 









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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

More Like Shadows In, or Thoughts on Lights Out

Psychological thrillers don’t need supernatural twists (and vice versa); it’s distracting and unfocused.  However, Lights Out (2016) has a moody, atmospheric start as a shadowy figure stalks a textile warehouse after hours.  It’s stylish and intriguing, with most of the scares coming from clever usage of sound and lighting that preys on our natural fear of the dark.  It’s one movie I regret not seeing in the theater; being surrounded by all that darkness would have enhanced the experience.
I’m usually not one to complain over an abundance of plot, but it’s a complicated story that falls apart under its own weight.  Maria Bello is Sophie, suffering from schizophrenia and talking to an imaginary childhood friend, Diana.  Theresa Palmer from Warm Bodies (2013) is Rebecca, her adult daughter, and the movie, confusingly, is related from her perspective.  It’s an odd directorial decision considering what a class act Mario Bello is.  Maybe they didn’t have the budget for her, and shot all her scenes in one day.

From first time Swedish director David Sandberg and produced by James Wan, it’s never exactly clear if Diana is a ghost or a demon or some psychic manifestation of Sophie’s.  We do know that she’s sensitive to light, likes to hide in the shadows, and really likes to kill.  Sometimes that’s enough for a movie, and Lights Out had a huge box office of over $150 million and currently holds a rating of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. 








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Monday, June 26, 2017

They Eat Ham, and Jam, and Spam a-Lot, or Thoughts on John Boorman’s Excalibur



John Boorman’s visionary Excalibur (1981) sticks close to Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur and is revisionist only in the modern presentation of the sex and violence inherent in the story and the fantastic, full plate armor design which looks even cooler from a modern perspective because it’s all hand made and actual steel; the armor moves correctly, it feels heavy on screen.  Other than that it’s your boilerplate Arthurian legend; there’s a wizard, a king, and a sword in a stone.
However the world the film creates is immersive, with a reality and a leisurely narrative that seems reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings (2001), but for the fact that it preceded the movie by 20 years.  I’m surprised Peter Jackson hasn’t cited Excalibur as one of his references, because his vision of the trilogy was obviously influenced by it.  Most remembered for Nicol Williamson’s witty performance as Merlin and Helen Mirren, 35 at the time of filming, as Morgana le Fay, the movie is a far more mature and nuanced film (but still chock full of the requisite boobs and blood) than the more recent King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017).  
Also with Gabriel Byrne as King Uther Pendragon, Liam Neeson in one of his earliest films as Sir Gawain, Ciarán Hinds as King Lot, and Patrick Stewart with hair (well, some hair) as King Leondegrace.  English director John Boorman is arguably most remembered for Deliverance (1973) but also directed Point Blank (1967), Zardoz (1974), Hope and Glory (1987) and The Tailor of Panama (2001).

Nicol Williamson’s last film appearance was in Spawn (1997) as Cogliostro, which I will probably review at some point, because you people love your comic book movies. 








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Saturday, June 24, 2017

He Has to Push the Pram a Lot, or Thoughts on King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

When Guy Ritchie comes to mind the conversation inevitably turns to Cockney gangsters and Snatch (2000) or his Sherlock Holmes (2009).  Everybody forgets that he also made Swept Away (2002, I saw it, asking the question "how bad can it be?" And the answer is, pretty bad).  His track record isn’t as confusingly inconsistent as, say, M. Night Shymalan, but a revisionist Arthurian historical action movie seems like a challenge, especially when measured against John Boorman’s Excalibur (1981).
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) stars Charlie Hunnam as Arthur, doing his best Jason Statham impression in a vague and noisy adaptation T.H. White’s The Once and Future King.  It’s a Guy Ritchie movie, and if there’s one thing Guy Ritchie loves more than Cockney rhyming slang it’s a good montage, so you get young Arthur learning how to fight on the mean streets of Londinum, various capers being planned and executed against Jude Law’s Vortigen, the evil king, and Arthur learning how to harness the magic of Excalibur.
Excalibur is now a twirly-magic-nuke sword, and Arthur fighting the king’s men with it is no different than Neo fighting multiple Agent Smiths in The Matrx Reloaded (2003), and at least that scene was visually impressive because in 2003 we had never seen it before.  At times this movie seems like three movies jammed into one, but that might come down to Guy Ritchie’s fast-paced narrative style, and the inevitable over-reliance on green-screen video game action sequences that audiences have come to expect from this sort of movie.
England and the UK have a rich historical tradition to draw from and I applaud the effort to make a revisionist and inclusive King Arthur that modern audiences will find cool and relevant.  There’s really nothing in America to match it; we’re such a young country from a historical perspective, we didn’t have knights, we had cowboys.  Batman was created in 1939, King Arthur has record beat by about 1500 years, in addition to being based on actual historical figures. 
According to Wikipedia there’s a cameo by David Beckham, but I missed it.











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Friday, June 23, 2017

Stuck on a Cruise Ship With Famke Janssen and Some Sea Monsters, or Thoughts on Deep Rising


I imagine the pitch meeting for Deep Rising (1998) went something like “Let’s take all the most obvious elements from Die Hard (1988), Alien (1979), Predator (1987) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and somehow make a movie out of the result”.  Treat Williams portrays Finnegan, a friendly smuggler transporting a group of mercenaries out to hijack a cruise ship, (though this being the high seas these guys are literally pirates), but (plot twist), the cruise ship has already been attacked and eaten by a bunch of deep-sea spikey tentacle creatures. 
Fortunately, Famke Janssen from House on Haunted Hill (1999) and Hansel& Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013) is Trillian St. James, (because the name Hottie McSupermodel was too subtle), one of the survivors and on-board jewel thief/card shark/pickpocket.  The rest of the movie plays out as you would expect; guns, blood, skeletons, explosions, more tentacles, and jet skis.

From Stephen Sommers, who would go on to direct The Mummy (1999), the pirates include Wes Studi, Djimon Honsou, Cliff Curtis, who would appear in Virus (1999), essentially the same move, and Jason Flemyng from Snatch (2000) and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998).  Also watch out for Kevin J. O’Connor from Lord of Illusions (1995) and The Mummy (1999) as Joey, the mechanic.







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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Laurie Strode and President Snow Fight Some Russian Terminators From Outer Space, or Thoughts on Virus

 Virus (1999) employs a premise that Ghost Ship (2002) would assimilate (a Borg reference), except this movie had more high profile stars and was about an alien invasion on an abandoned ship, instead of, you know, ghosts.   Donald Sutherland appears as Captain Everton, who along with Jamie Lee Curtis as Kit Foster, the first mate, find a Russian research vessel in the center of a hurricane and attempt to claim it for salvage.
The mystery of course, is what happened to the original Russian crew.  Jamie Lee Curtis quickly discovers an alien virus in the ship’s mainframe that’s turned the crew into killer cyborgs, and spends the rest of the movie fighting them while making sure the virus doesn’t escape.  Which when you think about it, is business as usual for Jamie Lee Curtis.
With a slightly better exposition on maritime salvage law than Ghost Ship (2002, along with a clever twist) and appearances from Daniel Baldwin and a very young Cliff Curtis from Fear the Walking Dead with a Chakotay tattoo (let’s keep going with the Star Trek references) as Hiko, the Maori deckhand.  The movie was unfavorably compared to 1998’s Deep Rising, and currently holds an impressive 9% on Rotten Tomatoes.








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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

No TSA Screenings For Zombies, or Thoughts on Quarantine 2: Terminal

How, you may ask, can we skip ahead to a review of Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011), without mentioning the Quarantine (2008) with Jennifer Carpenter, Deb from Dexter (I never watched the last season) or the Spanish REC (2007) series they’re based on?  All I can tell you is I pretty much just write about whatever movie I watched the night before, and I like to link the posts together to previous references.
From director John Pogue, who would go on to make The Quiet Ones (2014), the sequel takes place during the same night as the first movie and charts the zombie rage virus as it escapes Los Angeles on a plane.  The movie diverges from the events of the REC series in an entirely new direction (which ultimately goes nowhere as the franchise was abandoned) and no longer found footage, but it is still filmed in that shaky POV style, where the camera follows the characters and forces the audience into becoming an unwilling and helpless participant.
The virus, passed by animal bites, gets on a red-eye flight filled with your typical cross-section of heroes and potential zombies; the honeymoon couple, the first child pregnant couple, the Alzheimer senior couple, the black yuppie, the drunk fat guy, the army medic home on leave to see her fiancé that she hasn’t seen in a year, and the sullen broken-home teen flying by himself.  It’s a relatively anonymous cast, though it did include Mercedes Mason, currently portraying Ofelia in Fear the Walking Dead as Jenny, one of the flight attendants.
Only the first third of the film is on a plane, there’s one outbreak and then the plane lands in a seemingly abandoned terminal like they’re in The Langoliers (1995), only the airport’s been quarantined and evacuated.  The government has no cure, and the rest of the film, like the first movie, has the cast fighting each other and the soldiers guarding all the exits as they try to escape before the inevitable zombification.  It puts the audience in an odd moral place; we’re essentially rooting for a zombie apocalypse because we want these guys to escape.  The soldiers on the outside are protecting us, the audience, but in this movie they’re the baddies.  There’s a certain sense of futility in most zombie movies and TV shows these days, reflecting the current political climate, so from that perspective Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011) was ahead of its time.





look at me, writing 418 words on a forgotten zombie movie.
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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Jacqueline Bisset's California Gothic, or Thoughts on The Mephisto Waltz

A full year before MASH would change his life and typecast him as a smartass doctor, Alan Alda showcased his naturally amiable and preppy screen presence in The Mephisto Waltz (1971), a dark occult thriller about body-swapping pianists.  Call it a Satanic Freaky Friday (which would have been a great title for this post), where Alan Alda portrays Myles Clarkson, a music critic with the right hands who interviews Curd Jürgens, Karl Stromberg from You Only Live Once (1977), as Duncan Ely, a dying classical pianist, mad genius and satanic practitioner who admires Alan Alda’s octave spread. 
The movie is carried in large part by British actor Winifred Jacqueline Fraser Bisset, better known as Jacqueline Bisset (Did somebody mention screen presence?), who portrays Paula, Myles’ suspicious wife, who doubts their new friend’s generosity because you know, he worships the Dark Lord.  You know Jacqueline Bisset from her performances in Bullitt (1968) and The Deep (1977), though she has worked consistently since the 60's and has an impressive IMDb page of over 90 credits.
A horror movie with no makeup or special effects, the movie is an old-school drama told with camera editing, performance and an eerily atmospheric soundtrack by veteran Hollywood composer Jerry Goldsmith.  Equal Parts Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and House of the Devil (2009), complete with a swinging 70’s New Year’s Eve party that degenerates into a Shining/Eyes Wide Shut orgy.








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Monday, June 19, 2017

Arnold’s Terminator Exorcist, or Thoughts on End of Days

Arnold Schwarzenegger always seemed more comfortable with the sci-fi genre, it was very good to his career, but he did get his start in supernatural fantasy action movies with Conan the Barbarian (1982), still one of his most beloved and iconic characters.  End of Days (1999) still seemed like an odd choice, coming after Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin (1997) it was one of Arnold’s darkest roles.  As Jericho Caine, the emotionally broken, suicidal ex-cop bodyguard who finds himself trying to stop the birth of the Antichrist on New Year’s Eve of 1999, the movie seemed more downbeat and pessimistic than what audiences had come to expect from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.
Don’t get me wrong, you still get two movies in one; Arnold’s extensive gun fetish, explosions, and scenes of Arnold zip-lining from helicopters, in addition to your generic satanic conspiracy, catholic mumbo-jumbo prophecies and rogue priests from secret Vatican councils.  Gabriel Byrne is perfectly cast as a charming devil, or rather, the charming devil, who Arnold fights with his trusty Heckler & Koch MP5K submachine gun.  It goes about as well as you’d expect.
Also with Robin Tnney, CCH Pounder, Udo Kier and Miriam Margoyles, who will always be Nursie from Blackadder to me.  The role of Jericho Caine was originally written for Tom Cruise (I guess in the same sense that Beverly Hills Cop was written for Stallone).  Director Peter Hyams was also no stranger to science fiction, with movies including Capricorn One (1978), Outland (1981), 2010 (1984) Timecop (1994), and The Relic (1997).  End of Days fits in well with the general 1999 millennium panic zeitgeist and dovetails nicely with Keanu Reeve’s The Devil’s Advocate (1997) and Johnny Depp’s The Ninth Gate (1999).








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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Gabriel Byrne and The Haunted Love Boat, or Thoughts on Ghost Ship

A variation on the haunted house theme but with the additional threat of drowning, the ghost ship genre has largely sunk under its own weight (see what I did there) and fallen out of public favor.  I blame the airline industry.  Produced by Dark Castle, the same company that brought out Thirteen Ghosts (2002) and House on Haunted Hill (1999) but not based on a previous William Castle film, Ghost Ship (2002) follows brooding Irish actor Gabriel Byrne as brooding Captain Sean Murphy, who finds an abandoned cruise liner in the Bering Sea.  He immediately sees dollar signs from the salvage rights if he can tow her back to port but you know, ghosts.
Most remembered for the fantastic opening scene where all the passengers of the SS Antonio Graza are all chopped in half, however this scene is set in 1962 and while the singer (Francesca Rettondini) has a period correct Shure 55SH microphone (the “Elvis mic”), the mic cable has a very modern 3-prong to 1/4” adapter.  It’s the little details that take you out of the story.
Gabriel Byrne has starred in two of my favorite movies from the ‘90s, The Usual Suspects (1995) and Millers’ Crossing (1990), in addition to the Devil in End of Days (1999, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, no less) if you pay attention to such things, and how could you not?    Watch out for Juliana Marguiles and a pre-Lord of The Rings Karl Urban as Munder, the grungy 90’s mechanic.  Also be on the look out for a very young Emily Browning, currently Laura Moon in American Gods, as Katie, a ghost girl, in one of her first movie roles.
I actually googled maritime law for the purposes of this review (the things I do for you people), and technically, if you are able to recover the vessel you can claim a reward commensurate with the value of the ship and cargo from the original owners.  However it’s easier for the owners to just give you the ship than pay you off, so that’s where you get the myth of free boats in international waters.  Still, it’s part of the romance of the high seas, another theme that has been sorely neglected, that we can also blame on the airline industry.








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