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Tuesday, August 31, 2010


If you're a fan of violent mainstream action films, it's a good bet you enjoy yourself a Dirty Harry movie or two and no doubt know the following quote by heart:

I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

Clint Eastwood's always been cool as fuck, but none of the badasses he's played in his impressive career have attained the downright iconic status held by Inspector Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department (although there's a case to be made in favor of the Man with No Name in those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns). Spanning a series of five feature films, the series kicked off in 1971 with the eponymous DIRTY HARRY and its box office success guaranteed a sequel would appear not long after. But like most film series it soon fell victim to the dread disease of "sequelitis," in other words the subsequent films just couldn't hold a candle to the root entry. That said, let's examine the five films one by one.


Director Don Siegel — who helmed the excellent 1956 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS — crafted a tense thriller with this first film, and the results are justly considered one of the classics of the genre. We meet "Dirty" Harry Callahan (so called because he gets "stuck with every dirty job that comes along") as he hunts Scorpio (the superb and completely underrated Andrew Robinson, later former Cardassian spy Elim Garak on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE), a serial-killing sniper who has no agenda other than to cause terror and murder innocent people.

Andy Robinson as the chilling serial killer Scorpio.

Over the course of the film we see Harry's rather cynical and nihilistic worldview through the eyes of his new partner, Chico Gonzalez (Reni Santoni), the latest in a line of partners who never last long, and in no time we realise Harry's pretty much the old school, tough as nails western sheriff transplanted into the modern day of the Vietnam era, and as such he's the walking antithesis to the "peace and love" generation. Harry's psychologically agonizing battle with Scorpio is a nerve-wracking back-and-forth conflict of equally clever and tough opponents, with Scorpio having a slight advantage by virtue of his sociopathic insanity, and as it plays out we see that Harry's outright savagery in his handling of matters is the only thing that can possibly bring down the psycho in question. Waging an endless war against the "creeps" and "punks" that infest his city, Harry simply does not give a fuck about such piddling considerations as due process or even basic human rights when it comes to criminals, and the audience is right there with him because the judgment he passes down upon those he blasts into oblivion with his expertly-wielded Smith & Wesson revolver is never wrong. And let's face it, people understandably hate vicious criminals who prey upon society, and the figure of the righteous Harry Callahan "taking out the trash" is bound to strike a chord within the viewer, no matter how seemingly fascistic such a character may come off as. I'm not in any way down with vigilante cops in real life, but when it comes to fantasies writ large across the big screen, I'm glad to know Harry's there to do what the legal system can't — or won't — due to its own bureaucracy and respect for its own sometimes self-restricting legal statutes. An extremely odd film to have come out when it did, DIRTY HARRY pretty much invented and defined the "cop on the edge" archetype that has since been beaten to death (even within the series itself) and is one hell of an engrossing cinematic effort. If you only see one film in this series, the initial DIRTY HARRY is the absolute "must see" of the lot.


Following the events of the first film Harry is no longer working homicide and is instead stuck doing stakeout duty (with new partner Felton Perry, who would later turn up in ROBOCOP), but Harry's a veritable trouble-magnet, so when assorted "untouchable" criminals and assorted other human vermin keep turning up very dead, Harry comes to realize the victims were dispatched by a motorcycle cop, someone the victims would not have anticipated as a potential murderer. At first the spotlight of suspicion falls on one of Harry's old cop pals, but it soon becomes obvious that a quartet of motorcycle cops with extraordinary marksmanship skills have taken it upon themselves to mete out vigilante justice as they see fit and, seeing Harry's way of thinking and acting as being in line with their own, the psycho cycle fuzz ask Harry to join their cause (oh, and by this point Harry's been brought back into homicide). What they definitely don't count on is Harry not being down with their murderous plan, and once he refuses their offer it's only a matter of time until he becomes number one on their hit list... There's more going on behind the scenes with the "magnum force," as Harry discovers to his horror, and this entry is hands-down the most visceral and violent of the bunch. It's also sadly pedestrian in its direction, especially when considering how intriguing the premise is and how it tests Callahan's own code of ultra-violent justice with a story by John (CONAN THE BARBARIAN and RED DAWN) Milius and screenplay by Milius and Michael (THE DEER HUNTER) Cimino. While not brilliant, the film's moral ambiguities and shattering, exploitation movie-style ultra-violence make it my favorite of the sequels.


Here's where the sequels' precipitous nosedive in quality commenced, or rather the sequelitis began its insidious infection in earnest. THE ENFORCER feels like the pilot for a Dirty Harry mismatched "buddy cop" TV series, thanks largely to a by-the-numbers threat — a motley terrorist organization called the People's Revolutionary Strike Force — and Harry's latest partner, Inspector Kate Morse (played by Tyne Daly of THE ROOKIES and later CAGNEY & LACEY renown), a nine-year veteran of the Personnel department with no prior homicide experience who is included to provide Harry with endless opportunities to display a sexist attitude that predictably mellows as he warms to his sidekick's pluckiness.

Tyne Daly as Inspector Kate Morse.

As this was the mid-1970's, Morse is very much in "I am Woman, hear me roar" mode, and in those days I'd guess the character was somewhat revolutionary for a mainstream action movie (but certainly not for the exploitation genre, which had cornered the market of tough females not long previous), but now the earnest stridency and gumption the screenwriters gave her is dated, trite, and kind of embarrassing to endure. Plus, since she's one of Harry's partners, she's the equivalent to a "red shirt" on STAR TREK, so it's much ado over an inevitable casualty; at least her dying words weren't "I love you," because that would have made the average viewer puke and sent the action movie fans in the audience into a litany of booing and Bronx cheers. THE ENFORCER is watchable, but only just, so approach with discretion.


Prior to the days when the house where I grew up had a VCR, this was the first Dirty Harry movie I ever saw and I was curious to see what the big deal about the character was. Following what I saw here, I'm surprised I was interested enough to delve back to the series' origins. The only film in the series to be directed by Clint Eastwood, this is an ugly throwback to the rape/revenge movies that were popular in the grindhouses during the previous decade and is considered by many to be the most violent film in the franchise (my vote unequivocally goes to MAGNUM FORCE in that department). Looking like a garden variety exploitation actioner from a company like Golan-Globus, SUDDEN IMPACT finds a fifty-something Harry on the trail of a revenge killer (Sondra Locke, who was romantically involved with Clint Eastwood for some fourteen years) who's blowing the genitals off her male victims before murdering them outright in retaliation for a gang-rape that she survived while her sister was so traumatized that she was left catatonic. Once the gang of rapists and their stereotypical dyke cohort figure out that they're targets, it's only a matter of time until a final showdown, with Harry on the fence as to whether he should allow the killer retribution or bust her along with the rapists. This film is routine in every way and is notable only for Harry's new gun, a hand cannon called an AutoMag, and for introducing the catch phrase "Go ahead, make my day" to the lexicon. Wildly popular and deeply unpleasant — not that one would expect a Dirty Harry movie to be pleasant, but you know what I mean — this one is best enjoyed by sadists, those who get off on sordid rape fantasies, and folks who have no better action film to watch at the moment. More like SODDEN IMPACT, if you ask me. Or as the British might say, "SODDING IMPACT."


The final film in the Dirty Harry cycle sees the series fizzle out utterly as our hero finds himself on "the dead pool," a list of famous people whom participants in the game predict will die. This film is just more of the same, to ever-diminishing returns, and is worth seeing only to note Liam Neeson in a Dirty Harry movie, and an early appearance of a then-unknown Jim Carrey as a junkie rock star asshole who lip-synchs Guns 'N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle."

A young Jim Carrey (credited as "James") as junkie rock star asshole Johnny Squares, two years before his breakout work on IN LIVING COLOR.

But when all is said and done, this series really should not have continued past the initial entry because once it had invented the archetype where else was there for the series to go? MAGNUM FORCE made a valiant attempt at doing something interesting, scriptwise anyway, but from there on the patient succumbed to a virulent case of sequelitis and could not be saved. Or at least that's my take on it. What sez you?

"Keep reading CINE-MISCREANT, asshole, or I'll blow your head clean off!"

Thursday, August 26, 2010


The spectre of the late John Hughes looms large over American cinema of the 1980's, with the writer/director often cited as "the voice of a generation." Personally, I never bought into that assessment of the guy's work because his films about the teenage condition were really no different than similar fare that came in previous generations, with the sole difference being that Hughes' films were fortunate enough to happen at a time when Hollywood movies could be more honest about youthful sexual longings, insecurities and the distinctly post-1970's suburban partying excess that defined much of the MTV decade (or at least that defined the goings-on when and where I grew up). I'll also grant that Hughes' strong suit was that not one of his protagonists was what would usually pass for the idealized "glamorous" teenager (with the possible exception of Molly Ringwald in THE BREAKFAST CLUB), instead populating several of his stories with dorks and losers of both genders, something that insecure kids could easily identify with. While the majority of Hughes' teen flicks were, I believe, aimed at girls, WEIRD SCIENCE was a straight-up adolescent male fantasy writ large, and as such it's my favorite Hughes movie and one of my favorite films from its era.

In case you somehow missed it, WEIRD SCIENCE follows Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) and Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall), two nerdy high school losers who are the butt of constant abuse from bullies (including a young and embarrassingly new wave-looking Robert Downey, Jr.), Gary's meathead asshole of an older brother, Chet (Bill Paxton, in perhaps his most definitive role this side of Hudson in ALIENS), and can't get the time of day from any living female. When Wyatt's parents leave for the weekend, Gary offhandedly suggests that the pair use Wyatt's computer to simulate the ideal woman, feeding the computer with every bit of data that could facilitate the fantasy. What they did not expect was the program and a half-assed voodoo ritual actually working and coming up with Lisa (former fashion model Kelly LeBrock), a total knockout redhead with amazing, godlike superpowers.

The arrival of Lisa (Kelly LeBrock): the '80's answer to Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus."

Sweet, British-accented, funny, genius-level smart, smokin'-hot and completely willing to acquiesce to her creators' sexual whims, Lisa is a literal genie let out of the bottle, and the rest of the movie chronicles her successful efforts to make confident men out of a pair of pathetic losers who hadn't seen a trace of pussy since they slid out of their mothers'. It's a noble and utterly selfless quest that's fueled by the movie throwing all logic and realism out the window and embracing the sensibility of what is essentially a live-action cartoon, an aspect cited by many viewers as what makes this their least favorite of Hughes' "big three" (the other two being THE BREAKFAST CLUB and the achingly funny SIXTEEN CANDLES).

In my humble opinion, it's that very cartoonishness that makes WEIRD SCIENCE a gem, and some of its elements would be right at home in a comic book or a particularly good issue of MAD. It's also a strong contender for the title of "Best Male Fantasy Movie Ever Made" and some of its qualifying characteristics include the following:
  • Kelly LeBrock's Lisa is not at all what one might expect from a film like this. Sure, she's fine enough to make the corpse of Liberace claw its fetid way from the grave and loudly proclaim a newfound heterosexuality, but though she plainly states that Wyatt and Gary made her and can therefore do with her whatever they chose — meaning exactly what you think it does — she is in no way a mindless sex-puppet. She's smart — positively brilliant, actually — fun, adventurous, and supportive of the boys. In fact, her commitment to seeing them "man up" is quite single-minded, even realizing that her sex-goddess-made-flesh factor intimidates the boys and then adjusting her plan to make them of interest to the rather bland girls they are attracted to (girls who tellingly lack virtually all of the desired elements that they made sure to imbue Lisa with). As previously mentioned, Lisa also possesses superpowers, and they are indeed formidable. In fact, Lisa's ability to bend the fabric of reality to her will with zero effort would have been horrifying in the hands of most other characters, and her creators should be commended for having some of their own goodness manifest in her personality. Instead of a world-destroyer, she's a benevolent and fun-loving Aphrodite for the then-nascent digital age.
  • The lunacy that transpires over the weekend of Wyatt's parents' absence is epic and much of it has become the stuff of fond reminiscence for those of us who saw it when it first came out, but the one sequence that still reduces me to near-incontinence is when Lisa takes the obviously underage boys to a waaaaay ethnic blues bar and encourages them to get their drink on. At first quite uncomfortable and terrified by the place, the boys allow alcohol to work its magic and in no time they find themselves genuinely befriended by a pack of hard, old school Greek, Hispanic and black dudes, all of whom are amazed that they appear to be sexually involved with Lisa (who does nothing to correct their assumption and actually bolsters it). The whole sequence is funny, but it becomes hilarious when the scene skips forward by several rounds and finds Gary completely shitfaced, now sporting a pair of shades and a pimp hat, and channeling an old school black dude's conversational style to incredibly un-PC effect.

Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) inexplicably becomes the blackest man in the known universe.

That sequence fucking kills me and is so over-the-top offensive that it does a complete one-eighty, becoming a satire of its own outrageousness. It's a classic moment and reads just like the twisted John Hughes I first encountered years earlier during his days as a writer for NATIONAL LAMPOON, a Hughes whose incredibly filthy and mean-spirited bent was considerably sanitized for Hollywood deployment.
  • Bill Paxton's turn as Chet is a study in the comedic asshole and he is nothing less than fantastic.
Behold the testosterone-fueled majesty that is Chet (Bill Paxton).

Infinitely worse than the pussified new wave bullies Max (Robert Rusler) and Ian (Robert Downey, Jr.), Chet is a shotgun-toting, jarheaded douchebag of the highest order and he's that rare bad guy that you just love to hate.
  • The aforementioned new wave bullies serve to point out just what a couple of pussies Wyatt and Gary are. Rather than being in any way physically threatening, Max and Ian are more of an annoyance than a physical threat, and even the biggest milquetoast could most likely kick the living shit out of both of them with little effort.
Max (Robert Rusler) and Ian (Robert Downey, Jr.), two bullies who are un-threatening but assholes nonetheless.

But the real point of these limp bullies is to illustrate what Wyatt and Gary would be like if they were themselves assholes. Max and Ian are the dark reflection of our dorky heroes, only a tad more posh and romantically connected to the girls Wyatt and Gary like, girls the bullies would ditch in a heartbeat for a shot at Lisa. Perhaps my only complaint about this film is that Wyatt and Gary did not get in at least one shot to the kisser on these pricks. Chet would kick their asses if they attempted it with him, but these escapees from A Flock of Seagulls? I'd call it a fair slap-fight.

And on top of all that, the boys get to drive fast and fancy cars, throw a kickass house party, rout a gaggle of post-apocalyptic biker mutants — including Michael Berryman, the black punker chick from REPO MAN and Vernon Wells, pretty much reprising his role as Wez from THE ROAD WARRIOR — get the girls of their dreams (dull though they may be) and, last but definitely not least, get to see Lisa naked (which we don't, unfortunately).

Re-examining WEIRD SCIENCE after so long was like a welcome trip back to some of the favorite parts of my very much misspent youth with an old friend I had not seen in a very long time, and I gotta tell ya that it felt quite good. Do yourself the favor and check it out, either for the first time, or for the hundredth.

Yes, this is real.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I've said many times before that while I may think Rob Zombie can't direct a turd out of his own asshole, let alone a movie, I can't quite bring myself to despise the guy and what he does because it's so obvious that he knows and really loves all the same horror, sci-fi and exploitation movies that I do. The guy's heart is definitely in the right place, but his feature films to date have been either highly derivative or remakes or a combination of the two, and I swore that his animated feature, THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO, would be the make-or-break movie when it came to me ever wasting time or money on another one of his efforts. Well, now I've seen THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO and I have to say I found it incredibly frustrating. Not an outright piece of shit like the three previous Zombie films I've seen (I refused to see HALLOWEEN 2), but very frustrating for a number of reasons.

Taking place in a world where monsters and other denizens of horror/sci-fi/exploitation films exist as a facet of everyday life, the film follows the adventures of El Superbeasto, a comedic take on the masked Mexican wrestling heroes of yore like El Santo and the Blue Demon. He's an obnoxious, sex-obsessed egomaniac whose glory days in the ring are apparently over, and he currently spends his time starring in porno movies when not hanging out at the monster-infested Haunted Palace nightclub. A little of El Superbeasto goes a very long way and after about five minutes I'd already had enough of him; he just isn't that funny, and the wearing of a luchador mask does not automatically guarantee laughs (did no one learn from NACHO LIBRE?). Luckily we have his sexy crimefighting sister, Suzi X, on hand to hold our interest.

Suzi X , gorily putting foot to much Nazi zombie ass.

Amusingly voiced by Sheri Moon, Suzi X is a ribald adventuress who is an over-the-top sendup of scantily-clad action movie heroines, and with her love/lust-struck robot sidekick/vehicle Murray (Brian Posehn), she steals the movie and renders El Superbeasto pretty much superfluous. If not for him being hornily motivated to rescue the ultra-ghetto, big-titted and topless exotic Dancer Velvet Von Black (Rosario Dawson in full-on-and-foul "No he di'in't" mode) from becoming the bride of Dr. Satan (Paul Giamatti), The movie could have (and should have) been a solo Suzi X adventure. Anyway, here's all you really need to know about THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO:
  • The movie is packed to the rafters with in-jokes for those of us who have loved and absorbed the lore and minutia of multiple cult movie genres, and you'll need to have your DVD remote handy so you can freeze-frame and catch all the familiar characters. My favorite geek-service moment was when Varla from FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! showed up, voiced by Tura Satana, the icon who breathed life into the live-action version of the character back in 1965.
The brief and thoroughly welcome return of Tura Satana as Varla from FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!
  • Some of the character bits with the assorted monsters are very funny — the Metalunan mutant from THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955) officiating a wedding being splendidly silly — and I particularly enjoyed the submerged cunnilingus interlude between the Bride of Frankenstein and an all-too-obliging Creature from the Black Lagoon stand-in.
Think about it for a minute: a horny amphibious humanoid eating the pussy of a woman constructed from the sundry parts of random dead chicks? Now that's comedy!
  • The movie is loaded with original songs by the Los Angeles comedic musical duo Hard 'n' Phirm, each a direct commentary on the narrative and many of them flat-out hilarious, especially one taking place during a vicious and clothes-ripping cat fight that lets us know it's okay to masturbate to animation because "the Japanese do it all the time," so we should "rub one out for the U.S.A."
  • If you thought the idea of a live gerbil up a guy's ass was bad, wait'll you see one character's amazing colonic capacities involving a seeming legion of rats.
  • When Dr. Satan marries Velvet Von Black, he is granted vast evil powers and transforms into a gigantic demonic monster who goes on the kind of evil rampage guaranteed to put a smile on the viewer's face. Once fully empowered, the guy does not give a fuck and proceeds to wander about eating babies and such, and it's a riot.
As previously stated, Suzi X is the real treasure here and when she's not onscreen the movie suffers for her absence. Apparently a number of animators from Spumco were on hand for this one and even if one didn't know that for a fact, the film reeks of their stylistic influence and looks like an especially dirty, mega-profane and ultra-violent episode of THE REN & STIMPY SHOW. I don't know about you, but I loved that show when it was firing on all cylinders and traces of that insane energy can be found here and there during THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO's running time, but those flashes of brilliance are tantalizingly few and make the viewer realize just how good this movie could have been if a little more polish had gone into the script instead of the filmmakers being content with a half-baked cult movie lampoon. When you have a protagonist whose non-appeal nearly overwhelms the movie, that's a big problem, one endlessly compounded with gags that fall flat from start to finish, especially an ill-advised bit at the end where El Superbeasto performs (lip-synchs, actually) Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend."

El Superbeasto belts out Loverboy's "Working for the Weekend." Why?

Why did any of the writers think having him do that oh-so-eighties chestnut would be in any way funny? I assure you that it isn't. And speaking as a person who hated all of the previous Rob Zombie movies I've seen, I wasn't as tickled as I was supposed to be by the inclusion of an animated version of Zombie's would-be psycho icon Captain Spaulding.

HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and THE DEVIL'S REJECTS psycho Captain Spaulding gets animated and does his lecherous thing.

Spaulding wasn't much of a presence when compared to such creations as Leatherface, Michael Meyers, or even Jason Voorhees, but I guess this was just about the only chance Zombie would get to put the character onscreen in animated form, voiced by his live-action counterpart, exploitation movie veteran Sid Haig. Meh, whatever...

The bottom line on THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO is that it's not an agonizing way to kill some time until something better comes along, but don't go in expecting the crazed heights promised by the trailers. Oh, and at the end there's a title card promising another adventure of El Superbeasto "next summer," so let's hope the filmmakers learn some valuable lessons from this film's misses. (I'm not holding my breath).

Monday, August 23, 2010


Okay. I'm sure by now you've heard that the new Wolverine movie sucks ass like the king of all felchers, and I have to say it's by no means what I'd call great cinema. But what the people panning the film haven't bothered to take into account is that the makers of X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE obviously knew the last X-Men movie bit the big one and if there was any chance of making a dime off of another entry in the series, it would be a smart move to ditch all of the other X-mutants and focus on Hugh Jackman's popular and fun portrayal of Wolverine. Jackman's a crowd-pleaser and is frequently singled out as "the sexiest man alive" by the tabloids, so the latest film is surprisingly geared to appeal to fans of Jackman as beefcake eye-candy, namely straight women and gay dudes. If you think Hugh Jackman is hotter than shit, then you will kick yourself if miss this in the theater since it contains wall-to-wall shirtless, totally ripped, hairy, manly Jackman in what's essentially a feature length fantasy photo shoot calendar brought to life. Wanna see Wolverine employed as a sweaty lumberjack who wields an axe and a chainsaw? Ever long to stare at a mutton-chopped Jackman dressed in a wife-beater and leather motorcycle jacket while straddling a revved-up muscle-bike? Or how about the image of a completely nude Wolverine getting washed over a steep waterfall only to end up running around the Canadian countryside before taking refuge in a barn? All this and more can be had in this film, and let me assure you that Jewish Warrior Princess practically had to be hosed off when the lights came up. I was quite amused by her repeated utterances of, "Oh, my God!" throughout the film's running time, and early on I settled in and accepted the unthinkable: this was a straight-up chick flick about Wolverine, with some small amounts of violence and shit blowing up real good to keep the lads in the audience interested.

So the simple fact of the matter is this: If you're going looking for a movie made to appeal to comics fans, you'll be shit outta luck. But if you're looking for what's destined to be a multiple-repeat-viewing spank material perennial on DVD for fans of uber-buff, shirtless, hairy dudes, you cannot possibly do better within the parameters of a PG-13 film. This was in no way what I expected from a Wolverine movie but I took it for what it was and found myself highly amused at this unashamed example of all-too-rare exploitation of a hot and actually manly dude, rather than some assembly line male ingenue replicant. Bite the bullet, guys, and haul your women-folk to the multiplex so Hugh can get them all lathered up and ready for you after the flick ends. Trust me, you're gonna want to thank the guy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

IP MAN 2 (2010)

The fictionalized chronicle of the life and career of the guy who set Bruce Lee upon the path of badassery continues with mixed results, but this film is better than the garden variety sequel and yields several very impressive fight sequences. And when we get right down to it, that's what we're here for, soapish melodrama be damned!

Having relocated to Hong Kong from Foshan after WWII, Wing Chun master Ip Man (Donnie Yen) struggles to make enough money to support his family and pay the rent. His wife is expecting a second child, his son needs money to pay for his schooling and Ip can't get any students for his newly-opened Wing Chun school, so the narrative is pretty much one of those Chinese melodramas in which the audience is meant to draw inspiration from the put-upon, "perfect" protagonist and endure along with him as he moves from one treacly soap opera trope to another. Luckily, before things get boring/sappy, Ip's skills are tested by a young punk (Xiaoming Huang) and his pals, and so impressed are they by the ass-kicking they receive, they become his students on the spot and spread the word about the master's excellence. Unfortunately for Ip and his students (but fortunately for the viewing audience), the school catches the attention of the local kung fu community and Ip's top student runs afoul of some students of Master Hung (my boy Sammo Hung), a fierce proponent of Hung Gar kung fu (that the "five animals" style, for the layman).

My boy Sammo Hung as Master Hung, restoring glory to modern kung fu cinema.

The set-to between Ip's student and Hung's boys — which degenerates into a totally unfair three-on-one beatdown that Master Hung's boys lie about — swiftly escalates into a war between schools (which Ip does not condone) and Ip is made aware of the corrupt local "old masters" system, in which he would first have to defeat all masters who challenge him before being granted the right to teach, after which he would also have to pay a fee to keep practicing. After vanquishing two of the elder masters, Ip must face Hung, and what results is the highlight of the film, a fight that proves Sammo's still got it in no uncertain terms. Good lord, the hands in that fight...

Duel of the masters: Ip versus Hung.

Once that fight is settled (an impressive and quite serious draw), Ip is allowed to teach but he immediately states that he will not pay any fees for that right, thus instigating more shit between his and Hung's schools. That shit eventually sorts itself out in the name of Chinese solidarity, which is a good thing because the British assholes have gotten so out of control that they need a serious Chinese foot shoved straight up their collective ass. One of the local occupying police is particularly heinous, treating the local Chinese like less than dogshit while extorting money from the area's martial arts masters (the fee that sifu Ip called "bullshit" upon), and in his cadre of scum is a western-style boxer (Darren Shahlavi) who does some seeeeeeeeriously vile shit during an exhibition match pitting western boxing against Chinese boxing (aka good old wholesome kung fu) that requires Ip Man to step into the ring and bring the hurt after a film's worth of misery and abuse.

Sifu Ip versus a British piece of ambulatory feces (Darren Shahlavi).

Now, from what I've heard, this flick was supposed to skip straight to when sifu Ip began training a young Bruce Lee, but apparently there were difficulties with securing the right to do so from Lee's estate. Instead, we get what is pretty much an average kung fu flick with some admittedly good fights and as such it's worth sitting through, but the Lee angle would have been awesome to see. Instead of straight-up Brucage, we get an obviously tacked-on ending where a perhaps-twelve-year-old Bruce shows up and demands to be Ip's student, only to be politely advised to come back when he's older. The kid playing Bruce looks the part and rocks Lee's signature cockiness and gestures to a degree that is both accurate and snigger-inducing, and I hope that if there's another Ip man flick it will deal with the master's tutoring of Lee Siu Lung.

The wee Bruce Lee demands to learn from the best and gets rejected...for now.

The only real difference between this film and the first one is that this time the villains are some vile British assholes instead of some vile Japanese assholes, and each and every one of the actors they got to play the nasty white guys gives an over the top and awful performance that borders on the unintentionally comedic, especially Charles Mayer as the corrupt colonial officer. But, fuck it. If you've bothered to read this, then you're already a martial arts movie goon and will put up with the film's soap opera/weepy aspects in order to see the ass-whuppin', and what's on display here is definitely work your time. Not great, but worth a Netflix rental.


Okay. Let's start this off with me declaring up front that I do not think SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is a bad movie. Not by any means. The commitment that all involved with its creation put into it is fully evident on the screen and it moves at a pretty lively pace. The performances are mostly pretty solid, the special effects are both cool and interesting, the music's pretty good and the film has several outrageously-superhuman kung fu fights. Yet despite all of that I was disappointed and after a while kinda bored by it, and I think that's because I am in no way the audience this movie is aimed at.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is based on the six-volume graphic novel series by Brian Lee O'Malley (a series I did not read because I couldn't get past its pseudo-manga artwork) and tells the story of the titular Canadian slacker (played quite well by Michael Cera), a twenty-two-year-old garage band bassist who shares a minuscule flat with his cool gay roommate (Kieran Culkin, who steals every scene he's in). Scott is dating a sweet and rather immature high school girl named Knives Chau (Ellen Wong), a romantic state disapproved of by everyone he knows, but that relationship gets derailed when Scott encounters the mysterious Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and falls head over heels for her. Though too much of a chickendick to do the right thing and break up with Knives, Scott feebly pursues Ramona, but the shit hits the fan when the pair start dating and Scott finds out that if he's going to be with Ramona he must first defeat her Seven Evil Exes, all of whom display the super-powers one finds in "fighter" video games.

The Seven Evil Exes.

Each succeeding ex is more powerful and vicious than the one who came before, so Scott, who was shown to be quite adept at video game combat, is in for the battles of his life, all in the name of love.

Director Edgar Wright, he of SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ renown, keeps things light and very animated, but I grew weary of the whole thing around halfway through for a number of reasons:
  • Ramona has nothing at all to her personality, being there solely to be mysterious and punk rock pretty, but that's all. I kept asking myself "Why the fuck is this guy going through all of this bullshit for this walking void of personality?" Ramona is not so much a character as she is a MacGuffin, a term popularized by the late Alfred Hitchcock, that refers to "a plot element that catches the viewer's attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction," and as a result there is nothing to her other than being the spur for Scott's kung fu fights with her exes. I like a good love story but at no point could I see what it was about Ramona that so moved Scott, and if I don't give a fuck about the romance in a story where every action in it is allegedly motivated by said romance, that's a "fail" in my book. However, to be fair, I have it on good authority that much of what's missing character-wise in the film is all there in the graphic novels, so what we're getting in essence is a Crib Notes version of the story.
  • Though I was part of the first generation to grow up with them, I have never been a great fan of video games, unlike damned near everyone else I know, and this film is very strongly aimed at video game addicts. From the film's opening moments it is made clear that what we're watching is essentially a video game as narrative, complete with various plot points being highlighted by notes and indicators common to the video game experience. When Scott defeats an Evil Ex, the vanquished villain de-materializes and the number of points Scott accrues with his victory is visibly tallied, as well as each "power up" being displayed.
It's a cute gimmick but it lost its novelty to me very quickly and the set-to's mostly suffered from a sameness that grew very repetitive.
  • I have bitched for years about how when I see CGI-heavy films I feel like I'm watching someone else playing a video game, and SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD is a nearly two-hour example of that. In other words, my worst moviegoing nightmare, despite how engaging some of the film's elements are.
As for the things I liked about the film:
  • The soundtrack hit all the right notes in evoking the story's Canadian slacker vibe.
  • The quirky effects that blended the live action with the video game-styled kung fu were exceptional (reminding me a lot of what a properly-executed live action FIST OF THE NORTH STAR might look like) and the martial arts choreography was blistering.
  • Michael Cera once more trots out his lovable/pathetic schtick and it works quite well here.
  • The one moment where I gave a damn about Ramona was when she engaged in brutal combat with Roxy Richter (Mae Richter), one of her Evil Exes.
That fight is totally kickass and it may be the first time, even after literally hundreds of martial arts movies, where I've seen a woman wield a warhammer.
  • Chris Evans, so fucking odious as Johnny Storm in the awful FANTASTIC FOUR movies (and soon to be seen as Captain America), is hilariously douchey as Lucas Lee, Ramona's extreme skater/action movie star Evil Ex.
Behold the face of a true douchebag.

The worst of Hollywood pretty boy ego personified, Lucas was my second-favorite evil ex, second only to...
  • Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram, the Evil Ex who plays bass in a band fronted by Scott's heartbreaker of an ex-girlfriend.
He's incredibly super-powerful and gets his abilities from having gone to the "Vegan Academy," something he self-righteously throws into the faces of all present, thus making him that much more of a complete and utter tool. Routh was the only good thing in the disastrous SUPERMAN RETURNS (2006) and has since gone on to prove himself in memorable roles like his part in ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO (2008), and I hope he continues to do comedy roles because the guy is a hoot.
  • Kieran Culkin is scene-stealingly hilarious as Wallace Wells, Scott's roommate.
Wallace Wells (Kieran Culkin) is the dude with the coffee.

Wallace is the gossipy friend of Scott's bitchy sister and he's perhaps the most significant voice of reason in Scott's world. Not at all a gay stereotype, the character is just plain funny and I would have loved to see more of him.

So as you can see, there is much to recommend about SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, so by all means check it out if the aforementioned skewing toward a twenty/thirty-something video game-loving demographic appeals to you. But if you're like me and aren't into that kind of thing, I advise either giving it a miss altogether or waiting for cable.

So, it looks like this movie is a box office flop and the pundits are weighing in with explanations as to why. Go here for a good article on all of this.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

3 DEV ADAM (1973)

There are those who say it's a toss-up between the Japanese and the Italians for being masters of the celluloid ripoff, but I strongly disagree. That title goes hands-down to the Turkish film industry, purveyors of some of the most shameless and potentially-illegal films ever released, such as ripoffs of STAR WARS, STAR TREK and SUPERMAN, in which they took the actual effects footage from the real productions without a hint of permission and cast local "talent" in the familiar roles of Chewbacca, Mr. Spock, and other beloved heroes. So how could I not want to see a film that not only features Spider-Man as a bad guy, but also has an opening scene in which he orders his henchmen to murder a woman who's been buried up to her neck on a sandy beach by shoving the whirling propeller of an outboard motor into her face, an act that showers blood onto the legs of some of the smiling onlookers?

Yes, kiddies, it's 3 DEV ADAM (loosely translated as "Three Mighty Men"), a film that would more honestly be entitled COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT: THE MOVIE, featuring as it does the aforementioned Spider-Man, a bargain basement Captain America, and even some guy as Mexico's most famous wrestler/superhero, El Santo.

When the evil Spider-Man's counterfeiting activities careen out of control, the police of Istanbul outsource and bring in Captain America (with girlfriend Julia, but minus shield) and El Santo to sort the shit out. That's basically what passes for a plot here, since the action swiftly becomes ludicrous and incomprehensible despite the presence of subtitles. No bullshit, I have no idea as to what most of the plot particulars are; one moment you have Captain America rescuing his girlfriend by shoving his hands through a cardboard wall at exactly the right location for strangling a crook and kicking cheapjack ass, and then the shot jarringly cuts to an unrelated scene of some random old man talking to some unidentified guys in suits. ??? It's totally incoherent amateur hour filmmaking and as such it's quite entertaining, and will give you a newfound respect for Ed Wood's body of work, although you may have to watch it in chunks because after about ten minutes of watching 3 DEV ADAM your brain will cry out for a rest. I mean, just look at this shit:

Spider-Man oversees a gruesome murder while decked out in a getup that doesn't even pass muster as longjohns.

El Santo and Captain America, both looking like they're in sore need of a serious dump.

Thrill (or not) to the blistering hero versus villain action!

Gaze in wonder at Spider-Man's awesome mask!

It's obviously a huge, steaming pile, but how could I not add it to my collection? And, unlike another horrible festival of copyright infringement, namely the Filipino ALYAS BATMAN EN ROBIN (1993), 3 DEV ADAM certainly isn't boring.

ALYAS BATMAN EN ROBIN: actually worse than all three of the new STAR WARS movies combined.


Sunday, August 8, 2010


The 1984 KARATE KID has become one of the indelible favorites of those who were there when it came out and of those who discovered it later via cable or VHS, which only makes sense due it being a "rah rah" feelgood tale of an underdog who becomes a winner thanks to his relationship with an aged martial artist mentor. Feeling very much like ROCKY — which also made sense because both films shared a director — , THE KARATE KID was a good flick for its time and deserves its fondly-remembered status, largely for the touching and inspirational chemistry between stars Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita, but, to me, it has dated badly and now feels like just another of the legion of classic '80's movies that I really don't need to see again. Since the original there have been two straight-up sequels and one failed attempt at a series reboot starring Hilary Swank (the less said of those, the better), but by then it was clear that the tit had run dry.

As has been clearly illustrated over the past decade or so, the American moviegoing audience loooooves the familiar, hence the deluge of sequels, "re-imaginings," reboots and remakes, so perhaps it was inevitable that THE KARATE KID would be up for such re-consideration. The kids of the '80's have had their beloved G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, A TEAM and, soon, THUNDERCATS kickstarted for the big screen to varying degrees of success, so why not THE KARATE KID?

Re-tooled as a starring vehicle for young Jaden Smith (the spawn of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett), this new version keeps the basics of the original but ups the ante considerably in various aspects. Twelve-year-old Dre (Smith) moves to China when his mother gets a new job (exactly what her job is remains unexplained) and finds himself dropped head first into an alien culture where he does not speak the language and sticks out like a sore thumb (his race is not explicitly presented as an issue in the script, but the implication is there). On top of being miserable over being ripped from his familiar turf and friends in Detroit, Dre is soon targeted by a gaggle of young kung fu students, the baddest of whom, a kid named Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), does not like that Dre has an innocent crush on local girl Mei Ying (Wen Wen Han). After being on the receiving end of a savage beatdown from Cheng, Dre is spectacularly rescued by his building's maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan, whose character is perhaps unintentionally named after the villain from ENTER THE DRAGON) and begins a regimen of martial training that will allow him to compete in an upcoming open kung fu tournament and theoretically win his enemies' respect. There are of course other minor complications, but you get the idea: this is the KARATE KID story transplanted to a different place and culture, and if you ask me it's all the better for it (despite the idiotic titling; there is no trace of Japanese arts in this film and I find the titling choice both insulting and culturally offensive, but what can ya do?).

Jaden Smith: a surprise and a revelation as the remake's protagonist, leaving Ralph Macchio's Daniel LaRusso in the dust.

The original film's narrative was fun for what it was, but the remake ups the ante in several interesting ways. Dropping Dre into a totally different culture from his own is enough of an obstacle for the character, but, unlike Ralph Macchio's Daniel LaRusso, Dre does not speak the language and is also obviously visually different from the natives of China, which, while not explicitly stated, is certainly implicit in his struggle against Cheng, his douchey buddies, and, by association, their complete balls-out fucking asshole of a sifu (who offends my own martial sensibilities waaaaaaaay worse than Martin Cove's admittedly assholish Cobra-Kai sensei in the original). Dre's awakening to his path of martial enlightenment is also superior to Daniel LaRusso's by virtue of him being in the land that is the very heart and soul of kung fu, with Han's taking him on a journey to a sacred mountain that blows the nuts off of any Jedi training we've seen in the STAR WARS films. As Dre makes his way up the mountain, he witnesses firsthand several individuals who have given themselves utterly to becoming one with the martial/spiritual way and it moves him to his young core. Of particular interest is an unbilled moment when Michelle Yeoh — she of YES, MADAM and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON fame — is glimpsed by Dre as she portrays an adept who, precariously perched upon one of the mountain monastery's outcroppings, executes some serious non-violent crane-style technique with a king cobra as a participant. If I saw that shit it would have totally re-arranged my thinking, and that's exactly what happens to Dre.

Jackie Chan as Han is a breath of fresh air after over three decades of many good but self-repeating performances, as this film allows him to play serious and dramatic. I won't spoil it, but next to his work in the two classic DRUNKEN MASTER films, this is my favorite of his roles.

But the most interesting of the remake's tweakings is the level of brutal violence committed upon Dre by his tormentors, a level of savagery made all the worse by how young its perpetrators are. It's the skilled yet animalistic evil to Dre's beatdowns by another prepubescent that is frankly disturbing, a sense of innocence corrupted, all because of a teacher who has the moral/spritual grounding of a thinly-disguised sadist/sociopath.

I could go on and outline all of what I find fun and worthwhile about this remake, but I would prefer it if you got to experience it for yourself. Bad choice of title notwithstanding, this is my vote for the best film of the rather lackluster 2010 summer blockbuster season. TRUST YER BUNCHE and see it if it's still playing near you, or check it out on DVD and cable in the months to come.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Yer Bunche, in front of an original one-sheet for Ken Russell's infamous THE DEVILS (1971).

I just got back from what can only be considered a perfect day (okay, the heat and humidity sucked, but you know what I mean) and I am in one hell of a good mood. I hit my favorite comics shop — where I saw that the issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND containing my PREDATOR retrospective has come out; it's the July issue, so get yours today! — had dinner and drinks with the coolest woman I've been involved with since maybe ever (more on her as things develop), and then she and I took our buzzed asses over to Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater for a rare screening of director Ken Russell's balls-out insane masterpiece, LISZTOMANIA (1975) as part of a retrospective called "Russellmania."

My love of both Russell and LISZTOMANIA have been previously discussed, so I'll leave that out. Instead I would like to mention how cool it was to finally see the film projected after having seen it on VHS and a DVD-rom burned from the VHS (the film is not available on DVD in the U.S.) many times over the past twenty-five years, and also recently on the British Region 2 disc (get an all-regions player; you won't regret it!). Russell's "BIOGRAPHY on peyote" take on the life of classical composer Franz Liszt is a sumptuous visual madhouse that fairly explodes across the screen and the only way to truly appreciate its art direction and detail-crammed frames is to see it projected. Seriously, I could not have been happier to experience it all proper (as A CLOCKWORK ORANGE's Alex would no doubt say) and I was glad to be able to share the film with my new lady-friend, who had never seen it and came out of the movie with a look on her face like one would expect if she's been smacked in the head with a shovel. That's exactly how I felt when I first saw it back in 1985 while high and drunk out of my skull on bad ditch-weed and cheap white wine, and when I sobered up I watched it again and found that seen either sober or completely ripped to the tits, the effect was much the same. LISZTOMANIA is without question Ken Russell's most utterly bonkers major work — his most bonkers minor work would certainly be THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER — and one's enjoyment of its charms are contingent upon how much over-the-top shamelessly blatant "symbolism" the individual viewer can stomach, plus to say nothing of its heavy lashings of bad taste and offensiveness. That kind of stuff is right up my alley, so I guess my enjoyment of it was a given, but when I showed LISZTOMANIA to a group of friends in Westport over two decades ago, all of them practically turned on me and burned me at the stake in sheer outrage and dislike over the film, so keep that in mind before inflicting it on your pals.

When my lovely date and I entered the theater's lobby, I immediately spotted Ken Russell himself, seated on a chair and resting on his cane. My heart leaped into my mouth and I went over to him, speaking in a clam and quiet register so as not to disturb the frail post-stroke eighty-three-year-old auteur. I told him of my admiration for his work and the sheer elephant-balls he had for putting it onscreen, and he graciously allowed me to get a photo with him.

Fuck George Lucas: I got to meet Ken motherfucking Russell!!!

The audience seemed rather sedate during most of the film, but that's probably due to the fact that LISZTOMANIA is a film that only well-seasoned LISZTOMANIA fans were likely to venture forth to see on the big screen, and that theory was kind of proven during the after-movie Q&A session, in which the reverent audience asked mostly very intelligent questions that proved their familiarity with the material. My favorite moment was when the son of Holocaust survivors commended and thanked Russell for "having the balls" to depict the horrors of the rise of Nazism in his signature satirical fashion, a sentiment I share because I remember nearly shitting myself from the sheer shock of seeing the film's Frankenstein/Wagner/Hitler for the first time, an image I simply could not believe anyone could be mad enough to have come up with it.

No, you are not going insane: It's Frankenstein/Wagner/Hitler! (Double-click on it to see it large.)

I myself did not ask a question, but instead I told Mr. Russell how at the age of ten I dragged my bewildered parents to see TOMMY when it was released, an experience that made me a Russell fan for life, and I went on to thank him for making some of the most visually and intellectually challenging films ever made, a statement I made on behalf of all in attendance. That was met with a round of applause, and a very pleased Mr. Russell beamed as he offered his thanks to me. I felt like a kid who'd just been kissed by the cute girl next door, and my heart soared.

When the audience finally made its way out, I hung around and chatted with a couple of fellow film-minded friends who happened to also be there (including my old pal Scooter, who filmed the Q & A for posterity) and Mr. Russell was kind enough to autograph my copy of PHALLIC FRENZY, an excellent chronicle of the man's chequered career.

The simple fact of the matter is that Ken Russell is most likely not long for this world, and meeting him and getting to tell him to his face how much his films mean to me before he leaves us is one of the top moments of my life. Along with John Waters, Ken Russell is my favorite "filth elder" (as John Waters describes himself) and there will never be another like him.