Monday, August 21, 2017

Tuesday Wednesday Break My Heart, or Thoughts on What Happened to Monday

You should know by now that I’m not usually a fan of green screens and actors reacting to tennis balls on sticks but if it means I get 7 Noomi Rapace performances at the same time, well, let’s just say that life is full of exceptions and leave it at that.  And speaking of Noomi Rapace, in What Happened to Monday (2017) she plays 7 identical sisters in a dystopian future where the state deals with overpopulation and a surplus of children by cryogenically freezing them instead of, say, eating them like in Soylent Green  (1973, sorry if I just spoiled a 44 year-old movie for you).  Think Orphan Black (2013) and Gattaca (1997) with a dash of The Parent Trap (1961) and The Hunger Games (2012).  Why, you may want to know, are there 7 identical daughters in the first place?  It has something to do with genetically modified crops, but the short answer is, it's the future, and it's best not to dwell on logistics and just move along.
At home, the sisters are named after the days of the week, which corresponds to the the actual day they’re out in the real world, sharing the same identity and job as Karen Settman.  Glenn Close does her best Dolores Umbridge impression as Dr. Cayman, the head of the Child Allocation Bureau and chief bad guy, while Willem Dafoe is the father figure.  I have to say it’s nice to see Willem Dafoe not playing a vampire for once or an evil genius, but rather a kindly grandfather genius who comes up with the novel deception and all the gadgets necessary to raise his seven identical grandchildren.
From director Tommy Wirkola, What Happened to Monday is surprisingly gory in places for a dystopian sci-fi film, but I would expect no less from the director of Dead Snow (2009).  These Netflix productions are hit and miss, but they are always ambitious and creative; I think the movie would have benefited from the extended timeline of a mini-series, maybe with an episode devoted to each day of the week.  But then again, that would just be Orphan Black starring Noomi Rapace, and Tatiana Maslany has already made that TV series.








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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Exterminating All Rational Thought, or Thoughts on David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch



Yes, technically it’s William S. Burrough’s  1959 The Naked Lunch, of which Naked Lunch (1991) the movie is based upon, and don’t think I’m not one of those annoying people who have read the book and insist on telling you how much the book is better than the movie, because in my heart, that’s who I am.  However David Cronenberg’s 1991 adaptation tightens the novel’s loose assortment of plots and adds a surreal and disturbing undercurrent that lingers with the viewers for days afterwards, much like a bad high, which is, ironically, one interpretation of the movie.
Peter Weller is William Lee, a failed writer and travelling exterminator in 1950’s New York.  After shooting up his bug spray in search of a “literary high” his life descends into a conspiracy of talking bugs, lizard men and secret agent missions that lead him to the Interzone in North Africa.  Like I said earlier, one interpretation is all this is a response to injecting roach poison.  But the other, more intriguing interpretation (and you know the one I prefer) is David Cronenberg’s decadent, visionary and stylish misadventure featuring a host of actors at the top of their game including Ian Holm, Julian Sands, Roy Scheider and Judy Davis as Bill’s wife Joan.
The film is arguably David Cronenberg’s best, or at least in his top three, and certainly his best work from an adaptation.  His surreal direction coupled with extremely high production values help visualize an alternate mid-century New York, a fully realized world where working men hang out in diners straight out of an Edward Hopper painting and you know, receive secret orders from talking scarabs that are addicted to bug powder.

Pay special attention to the updated Saul Bass inspired opening credits, along with the Coltrane-ish jazz soundtrack by Howard Shore.  The camera loved Peter Weller; his angular face cast long shadows like a young Clint Eastwood, and in Naked Lunch he plays William Lee like a protagonist in a particularly subversive film noir, where everyone’s guilty and no one gets out alive.







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Friday, August 18, 2017

Nic Cage, Back From The Dead and on An Irascible Jaunt, or Thoughts on Drive Angry

Drive Angry (2011), from director Patrick Lussier of Dracula 2000 (1999) is a hard drinking sex and drugs and rock and roll horror movie (make that Southern Rock) featuring Nicolas Cage as John Milton (um, ok), who escapes from hell with the Devil’s gun (bear with me) and returns to earth to save his daughter from a satanic cult.  On the way he meets Amber Heard from John Carpenter’s The Ward (2010) driving a ridiculously cool 1969 Dodge Charger, and has a lot of topical jokes about flip phones in between ass kickings. 
If this sounds bad, or like an R-rated Supernatural episode, well, you’re not wrong, but in the movie’s defense it’s an original screenplay; this isn’t a remake or something based on a comic book, though it’s essentially a Ghost Rider (2007) without the motorcycle and flaming skulls.  I mean, you’ve been asking for more original content, haven’t you?
Watch out for one of my favorite character actors William Fitchner, who you will remember as the bank manager in The Dark Knight (2008) and also appearances in Prison Break, and Armageddon (1998), and an IMDb page of over 80 credits (and counting) as The Accountant, a demonic civil servant.









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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Another Zombie Panic At The Drive-In, or Thoughts on Chillerama



When a horror anthology starts with some drunken grave robbing that rapidly escalates to zombie necrophilia, the audience should have a general idea of where Chillerama (2011) wants to take you.  You have been warned, and proceeding further will only cause embarrassment for you and I.  A lighthearted, bawdy and affectionate portrait of the drive in movie experience and the horror genre, the movie is more fun than it has any right to be with excellent production values abused to make deliberately bad movies.  It’s a fine line, a delicate balance to make one of those so bad it’s good films, and the filmmakers of Chillerama have no problem jumping over that line and covering it in various body fluids.
The wraparound story is set at a drive in showing the movies, where the grave-robbing necrophilia works.  In the first feature, aptly named Wadzilla, a giant I believe the medical term is spermatozoa, runs amuck in the big city.  He’s a stop motion creature related to Seymour from Little Shop of Horrors (1986), but he doesn’t talk.  Watch out for cameos by Olivia Taylor Dudley as a buxom nurse, and Eric Roberts as General Bukkake which is either genius/hilarious or embarrassingly cringey. Either way, it’s a metaphor for the entire movie.
The second feature, I Was A Teenage Werebear is a gay coming of age surf musical on the beach.  Think West Side Story (1961) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) with a dash of High School Musical (2006) and you’ll get the idea.  My nomination for the best and worst title in the history of American Cinema, The Diary of Anne Frankenstein, is in black and white and in German.  Reminiscent of Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer during Planet Terror  (2007) with a dash of Young Frankenstein (1974), in which Hitler steals Anne Frankenstein’s lab notes and creates a Jewish rabbi monster, as portrayed by Kane Hodder.
Directors include Adam Green of  and writer Joe Lynch from Everly (2014).  Oh, and there’s zombie virus in the popcorn butter at the drive-in.  Please don’t ask me how it got there.








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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The First Rule of Lady Fight Club, or Thoughts on Raze


To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the rich are different than you and me, but are they really kidnapping women and making them fight in secret underground bunkers?  Because that’s the basic premise of Raze (2013), and the larger question is if rich people are kidnapping women from kickboxing classes (to eliminate training montages) and betting on them for casual amusement, what does that say about us, as an audience, watching a movie like this?  But hey, I watched it, because who doesn’t like watching girls fight?
Fight Club (1999) with a dash of Saw (2004), Raze takes advantage of New Zealand actor Zoë Bell’s well established fight-cred as Lucy Lawless’ stunt double in Xena, Uma Thurman’s stunt double in Kill Bill (2003), and hey, Six-Horse Judy in The Hateful Eight (2015) in her portrayal of Sabrina, the current champion.  (Not that it matters, but she fights because her daughter's being threatened).  There are lots of quick cuts and fast edits, which I’m not a fan of in my fight scenes, (you can hide a lot of sins and mis-steps with a quick cut), but it’s still a brutal, violent movie that some will find uncomfortable because of the gender twist.
Watch out for frequent Guillermo del Toro collaborator and professional skinny guy Doug Jones without makeup, you’ve seen him as Abe Sapien in Hellboy (2004) or random ghosts in Crimson Peak (2015) as Joseph, the host/coordinator of the whole thing and Death Proof  (2007) co-stars Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms as random fighters.







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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How About an Arm Bar With Your Coffee, or Thoughts on Haywire


Before Hollywood discovered Ronda Rousey they were sweet on MMA fighter Gina Carano (and way before then was Cynthia Rothrock), and in Haywire (2011) she portrays Mallory Kane, a black ops private contractor betrayed by her employers and uncovers an elaborate international conspiracy, which is primarily a premise to set Gina Carano up and let her do what she’s best at, which involves joint locks, arm bars, snap kicks and choke holds.
Director Stephen Sodenbergh is essentially a high-end Quentin Tarantino; he enjoys those verbose screenplays and complicated plots and has developed a singular narrative style with graphic transitions, black and white segments and exotic locales, all set to a peppy electro-jazz soundtrack.  With an Ocean’s 11 amount of stars (see what I did there, not my best work) including Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas and Channing Tatum.
It’s easier to train an actor to fight (see Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, Kate Beckinsale in Underworld or Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil) than teach a fighter how to act (see Jean Claude Van Damme, Ray Park, Ronda Rousey) or in this case, Gina Carano.  She’s a joy to watch when she fights, but her on-screen presence diminishes once she calms down.  However her most recent role of note was as Angel Dust in Deadpool (2016), so it looks like she’s here to stay.






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Monday, August 14, 2017

Nightmare Control to Major Tom, or Thoughts on Galaxy of Horror


The horror anthology film lives and dies (see what I did there) on the wraparound story, and the Canadian production of Galaxy of Horror (2017) has a clever one: Mr. Brown awakens from cryosleep, trapped in his pod and arguing with the computer who insists on showing him entertainment programs based on his browser history, i.e. horror sci-fi.  What follows is a series of short movies orbiting the sci-fi horror theme with a variety of production values ranging from thrifty low-budget indie to sophisticated CGI and gory analog old-school special effects. 
The first segment is Eden, one of those dystopian societies where everybody wears gas masks and there’s zombies.  In Iris, a hitman in the woods argues with his phone, which has a moral compass.  Flesh Computer is a David Cronenberg inspired short reminiscent of Videodrome (1983) and Naked Lunch (1991).  Pathos, an Italian short filmed in Italiano is like a Heavy Metal comic book come to life.  In Eveless, after a plague kills off all the women, two men attempt to repopulate the world with a pizza cutter and They Will All Die in Space is an updated Donner Party story on a space ship.  Entity plays like the last segment of 2001 (1968) but with a Russian cosmonaut while in the German Kingz, a drug deal goes wrong with Matrix-y martial arts fight scenes.
In between the shorts Mr. Brown argues with the computer, tries to remember his password, and get out of the pod.  It’s a variation of the buried alive theme, an almost universal fear that never gets old.  In Mr. Brown’s case the movies also drain his life support, so in a nice twist our entertainment is actually accelerating his demise. 







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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Lady Butch and Sundance, or Thoughts on Bandidas

Luc Besson, the French action movie auteur and director of La Femme Nikita (1990), Leon: The Professional (1994) and The Fifth Element (1997) has built his career on female-centric action movies, or let’s be honest, girls who kick ass, so when you hear that he wrote and produced Bandidas (2005), starring Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek, you should have an idea where this movie is going to go before it even begins.
Penelope Cruz is Maria, a farmer’s daughter and gunslinger while Salma Hayek portrays Sara, a wealthy landowner’s daughter and knife expert (it’s a Luc Besson movie).  After Sara’s father is killed in a land grab by a railroad company the two senoritas join forces to rob banks and save all the villagers who were displaced by the evil railroad company.  Also with Steve Zahn as Quentin Cooke, a New York detective and proponent of the fancy new-fangled science of deduction and Dwight Yoakam as Tyler Jackson, the bad guy.
Like all buddy comedies the movie is built on the chemistry between the stars, and Salma and Penelope have a believable onscreen rivalry without letting it overwhelm the plot; a tricky balance that works well with the whole accidental desperado Robin Hood premise.  If watching Salma Hayak and Penelope Cruz shooting guns, riding horses and jumping into rivers is your thing (and why wouldn’t it be), this is the movie for you.








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Friday, August 11, 2017

Now That Everybody Loves Wonder Woman, Let’s Watch Red Sonja


 At 6’1”, 21 year-old Swedish model Brigitte Nielsen was three inches taller than Gal Gadot in her big screen debut as Red Sonja (1985).  That’s only an inch sorter than her co-star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who got top billing, literally “Red Sonja, Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and introducing Brigitte Nielsen”, a regrettable lack of faith in the leading lady.  But hey, it was the 80’s, and this isn’t a gender politics blog, it’s a movie blog, and don’t ever forget that.
Directed by Richard Fleischer of Soylent Green (1973), Red Sonja is based on the Robert E. Howard’s 1934 character and subsequent Marvel comic book hero.  Brigitte Nielsen doesn’t wear Red Sonja’s signature chainmail bikini in this incarnation, but she does sport a snakeskin corset and a rockin’ mullet, if you’re into such things.  Arnold plays travelling swordsman Kalidor, but let’s face it, he’s Conan, I mean look at him.  Red Sonja’s on a mission to destroy a glowing green talisman stolen by Queen Gedren, as portrayed by Sandahl Bergman, who you will remember as Valeria in Conan the Barbarian (1982).  In an extraordinary coincidence Queen Gedren also burned down Sonja’s village and killed her parents in an extended flashback introduction that makes the viewer feel they’re watching the second movie in a trilogy that was never made.

With a rousing martial soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and very analog, old school stunts.  There’s no wire work or spinning around here; it’s just brutes hacking at each other with swords.  The movie relies on the physical presence of the actors to relay the action; Brigitte Nielsen is all arms and legs, towering over the Italian stunt men, and Arnold was a seven time Mr. Olympia.  All he had to do was pick up a sword and let his arms fill up the screen.







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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Santanico Pandemonium vs. The Yakuza, or Thoughts on Everly


Salma Hayek, no stranger to the gun fetish action movie with Desperado (1995) returned to the genre as Everly (2014), a high-class hooker wanting out of The Life.  Essentially a one-room play, Everly has to fight her way past waves of Yakuza hit men and rival prostitutes (there’s a bounty on her head) in ever-increasing scenarios of masochistic violence and brutal gunfights.  Fortunately for Everly there’s an assortment of firearms, katanas (Yakuza, remember) and improvised weapons scattered around her downtown loft apartment.
Directed by Joe Lynch of Chillerama (2011), the movie plays to Salma Hayek’s strengths and on-screen charisma by not making her an impossibly skilled bad-ass like John Wick or more recently, Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde (2017).  She fights back, and she’s brave when the situation calls for it, but Everly’s what I would call an accidental killer.  There’s a lot of lucky shots in Everly which requires a certain suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part but hey, if you’re willing to accept vampires and the dead walking the earth craving brains, you shouldn’t have a problem with Salma Hayek running around in lingerie shooting up the screen.








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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Imperator Furiosa as an 80’s Jane Wick, or Thoughts on Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde (2017) is ostensibly a Cold War action movie featuring double and triple agents, but the real stars are the fight scenes featuring Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, the ice bathing, pill-popping, chain smoking, hard drinking, knuckle taping MI-6 agent for Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  An icy 80’s Hitchcock blonde who kicks ass, the story is told in retrospect during a tense de-briefing by her London spymasters after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
From director John Lietch, the co-director for John Wick (2014), and a stuntman on The Matrix Revolutions (2003), 300 (2006), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), the fight scenes are right in his wheelhouse.  There’s an underlying masochistic aspect to Atomic Blonde; she wears those bruises like her designer heels to show what a hard hitter she is.  The violence is no less brutal and unrelenting as John Wick or Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003), or even Rocky IV (1985, the one with Dolph Lundgren), but the female protagonist spin may be uncomfortable for some viewers.
A color film in black and white with splashes of neon, the sentimental 80’s soundtrack features David Bowie, Siouxsie and the Banshees, New Order, Depeche Mode, A Flock of Seagulls and of course, this being Berlin and all, 99 Luftballoons. 
Anecdotally, the garden hose escape has been used in multiple movies, including a really gory and spectacular variation in Machete (2010), and for your reference female-centric action movies in the 80’s looked more like Red Sonja (1985).  Charlize Theron is no stranger to the genre, a decade before Fury Road she was high kicking in Aeon Flux (2005).  There’s nothing new with this action-hero level of violence against a female protagonist; there’s La Femme Nikita (1990) and the aforementioned Kill Bill, Bandidas (2006, with Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayak), Everly (2014, with Salma Hayak again), Haywire (2011, MMA fighter Gina Carano) or Zoë Bell in Raze (2013), and look at me sneaking in links to the rest of the week’s content.









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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Vamping It Up With King Leonidas, or Thoughts on Dracula 2000

A modern adaptation taking all the essential elements of a traditional Dracula movie and mixing it up with Y2K scares and a loopy biblical origin story, Dracula 2000 (1999) featured Gerard Butler in one of his first feature roles as The Count.  So a bunch of thieves break into a vault under Van Helsing’s antique store and find a mysterious silver coffin and automatically assume that whatever’s inside it must be valuable and take it back to New Orleans, which seems to me to be a roundabout way to film another vampire movie on Bourbon Street, but ok.
From director Patrick Lussier, who would go on to direct My Bloody Valentine 3D  (2009) and Drive Angry (2011), Dracula 2000 featured Christopher Plummer from The Sound of Music (1965) and Sir Charles Litton in Return of The Pink Panther (1975) as Abraham Van Helsing, Jeri Ryan, Seven of Nine from Voyager as Valerie Sharpe, a news reporter who looks pretty good with fangs and Jonny Lee Miller as Simon, Van Helsing’s apprentice.  Also watch out for Nathan Fillion with glasses as Father David.








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Monday, August 7, 2017

One Flew Over the John Carpenter Nest, or Thoughts on The Ward


I wanted to call this post John Carpenter Interrupted, or Thoughts on The Ward, but as The Ward (2010) was basically his last movie before retirement, I didn’t want to get anybody’s hopes up.  Ghost of Mars (2001) is technically the last film he wrote and directed, The Ward was written by Shawn and Michael Rassmussen.  Part psychological thriller, part ghost story, part hospital conspiracy story makes for a fragmented, confusing and ultimately unsatisfying plot set in a 1960’s mental hospital for attractive young girls.
Amber Heard is Kristen, a runaway pyromaniac with a dark past; in her 60’s wardrobe and hair is reminiscent of a young Tippi Hedren.   She’s the leader of a group of girls in a psych ward who probably aren’t really crazy because this is the 60’s and they were horrible at treating mental illness back then (at least in the movies).
Because this is a John Carpenter film the audience is treated to long, low tracking scenes through ominous empty halls, perfectly symmetrical frames, overt Hitchcock references, (there’s even a shower scene) and Jared Harris as Dr. Stringer, acting like an updated, modern Donald Pleasance.  However, with the exception of Halloween (1978) and The Fog (1980), any supernatural element in a John Carpenter movie has had a science fiction or a Lovecraftian explanation, which of course is missing from The Ward as the director didn’t write it.  It’s a modern horror movie, with a modern explanation, and I suppose if anyone other than John Carpenter had been associated with it I would have enjoyed it more.
Watch out for the push button landline on Dr. Stringer’s desk; it should have been a rotary dial in 1966.  Push button phones weren’t introduced until the 70’s.  It’s the little details that take you out of the movie.









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