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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


As you've probably gathered after reading enough of my reviews, I'm a tough audience and that critical eye certainly extends to the cheesy stuff I sit through. I love low-budget/B movies, provided they entertain me and provide me with something fun to sit through. In the case of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRE WOMEN, I did not think it was terrible, but I cannot say I enjoyed it or that I would recommend it.

The plot follows a crew of infamous space pirates who rob an orbiting casino/brothel of cash and an antique space cruiser, and what befalls them when they are subsequently pursued by a dogged police officer (Jawara Duncan). After unnecessarily spending a half hour leading up to the heist and providing viewers with a bevy of nekkid titties, the pirates head to a mysterious planetoid where their captain (Paquita Estrada) is possessed by a strange parasitic entity that turns her into a vampire (which is convenient since she already looks like a Goth dominatrix, only she's black). After killing one of her crew (who subsequently rises as a vampire minion), the captain escapes the ship and heads for the mysterious ruins on the planet's surface, where evidence of an advanced but extinct civilization reveals how disembodied vampiric presences wiped out the indigenous populace. More vampirism ensues as the remainder of the crew pursues the captain and eventually discovers the secret of the parasitic entities and realizes that the creatures must not be allowed to venture from the planet lest they spread throughout the universe.

That setup is rife with promise and could have made for quite a memorable little bit of fun, but the key problem here is pacing that redefines the word "lugubrious." The first half-hour was padded out to a merciless degree and considering the setup of the heist and the need for exposition on who the characters are, all of that stuff leading up to and including the crash-landing could have been accomplished in ten minutes rather than thirty. Gratuitous nudity is always fun and chase scenes can be entertaining, but not when they're so clearly being used to cover up the fact that nothing is going on in the narrative for long stretches.

Once the crash has happened, it was yet more drugged-Brontosaurus pacing that went nowhere. That was a shame because even with the minimal exposition and characterizations, we were given enough info about the main characters to get that they could have been much more interesting if they had been served by a tighter script. A movie like this could get by with having its characters engaging in interesting/clever dialogue while running around on that hostile planet, but what there was of the dialogue was too sparse and did nothing to alleviate the drag factor. The only characters who truly generated interest were former-Marine Maldonado (Liesl Hanson, looking very butch-cute), cyborg Automatic Jones (Keith Letl), drug-addicted and officially disgraced Doctor Calaveras (Stephen Vargo) and Astrid Corvair (Stephanie Hyden), a smart and sunny pleasure-clone with the ability to change her appearance with a suggestive flick of her hips (whom I liked rather a lot, despite her being a less-gratuitous and comparatively non-violent Cutey Honey knockoff), and the four of them could have easily carried a whole movie without having to resort to the whole staler-than-stale vampire trope. For example, when questioned about displaying what seems to be an uncharacteristic and considerable amount of knowledge about alien archaeology, the bubbly Astrid, who up to this point seemed to be little more than a dumb blonde stereotype with a gimmick, cheerily replies, "There's a lot of down time between all the fucking and sucking. I read a lot." If only the rest of the script displayed such wit.

Exploring the mysterious planet.

I could go on, but I won't. The effort that went into it was all there on the screen and its low-budget in no way detracts from its potential. In fact its DIY qualities added to its charm, giving it a feel like a gene-splicing of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES, ALIEN, RED DWARF, JASON OF STAR COMMAND and the third season of LOST IN SPACE, with acres of tits thrown in for good measure. So basically my problems with it all come down to terrible pacing and a script that needed a lot more work. When seeking to overcome budgetary limitations, a script for a story like this needs to either be as serious and taut as a heart attack, or else it needs to be flat-out funny, and this script did not have enough of either to fully work for me. But, as previously stated, I'm a tough room and I am also not clairvoyant, so I can't predict how well PLANET OF THE VAMPIRE WOMEN may work for you.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


NOTE: The mythos of the Green Lantern Corps has a loooong history and many aspects that need more detailed explanations than I can provide in a simple DVD review, so I'm approaching this hoping you already know what I'm talking about. Trust me when I say that all of this stuff is explained quite well in the film itself, but me doing so here would derail this article onto too many tangents and render it too long for its own good.

At first it seemed as though this straight-to-DVD animated was nothing more than a naked cash-grab to capitalize on the buzz over the upcoming GREEN LANTERN live-action film, but I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised to find it the perfect prerequisite material for seeing the summer blockbuster. This animated effort is basically several "Tales of the Green lantern Corps" short stories brought to life, and the tales contained herein are entertaining as hell and offer the layman a very accessible crash course on the whole Green Lantern thing. In fact, I'll even go so far as to state that this DVD comes from out of nowhere to be a strong contender for the title of "best DCU direct-to-DVD feature."

Rookie GL Arisia, about to experience some very dire on-the-job training.

The film's framing device takes the audience along with high school-aged rookie Green Lantern Arisia (Elisabeth Moss) as she is thrust headlong into an emergency combat situation on her first day as a ring-slinger, and she's understandably nervous because she has yet to receive any kind of proper training. During the waiting time before the threat is met by the entire Green lantern Corps, Hal Jordan (Nathan Fillion) fills Arisia in on some of the lore of the Corps, and the stories chosen are for the most part winners. Here's what we get:

"The First Lantern"

The story of Avra, a mere scribe who was present to chronicle the birth of the Green Lantern Corps and who became the first GL to figure out the use of the ring's "constructs." The sequence where he implements his willpower as directed through his ring against an armada of heavily-armed star-cruisers is a seriously cool "Holy shit!" moment.


Based on the story "New Blood" by Peter Tomasi and Chris Samnee, this one's a look at the boot camp days that forged the Kilowog we know, love and respect. In an interesting casting choice, Henry Rollins gives voice to Kilowog and I'll be damned if his patented intelligent intensity is not exactly the interpretation the character needed.


Based on "What Price Honor?" by Ruben Diaz and Travis Charest and adapted for the screen by DC Comics editor Eddie Berganza, this segment relates how GL Laira, a royal family member from a planet whose martially-oriented culture bears a strong resemblance to imperial China, is sent to her homeworld to determine why the place has become a hostile "outlaw" world for seemingly no reason. I found this segment to be the weakest in the film, but that's not to say that it's bad. It feels like a Shaw Brothers period piece martial arts film transplanted to deep space and I don't think the two stylistic elements really jibe, but the segment scores extra points for Laira's very creative use of her ring's constructs to form weapons that alter their shape as needed during her wuxia-style set-to with her warlord father, including an impressively-choreographed deployment of a rope dart (pictured) made of sheer will.

"Mogo Doesn't Socialize"

Based on the classic short story by Alan Moore (whose name was not in the credits, probably at his request) and Dave Gibbons (who wrote the screenplay) — which just so happens to be my all-time favorite Green Lantern Corps short story — this is a slightly-retooled version that put an ear-to-ear grin on my face. I won't tell you what's it's about so as not to give away the punchline, but this and the Kilowog segment were my favorites in the film. With wrasslin' legend Roddy Piper as the voice of Bolphunga the Unrelenting.

"Abin Sur"

Based on "Tygers" by Alan Moore (again uncredited) and Kevin O'Neill, with a screenplay by superstar GL comics-scribe Geoff Johns, this is another re-tooled version of a classic GL Corps short story that adds Sinestro and a vision of the Sinestro Corps War to the story of Abin Sur's run-in with a malevolent and precognitive entity named Atrocitus.

It's a very solidly-packed eighty minutes and the visual scope is much more epic than I was expecting. The short story format also greatly works in the film's favor, allowing for brisk pacing that precludes any slow spots. I enjoyed the earlier direct-to-DVD GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT, but this entry blows it out of the water in terms of visual spectacle, action, a cornucopia of geek-candy. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, so snag it when it comes out on June 7th.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


The toothsome Alex Kingston as the title character.

British actress Alex Kingston made one hell of an impression on me with her appearances as the enigmatic River Song in recent years on DOCTOR WHO, so, spurred by my enjoyment of her in those, I researched her filmography and found out she'd appeared in a reportedly lusty adaptation of Daniel Dafoe's 1722 novel THE FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF MOLL FLANDERS. As a British friend of mine put it, "the British love 'sauce'," so I was eager to see just how saucy this bit of MASTERPIECE THEATER fodder was. Well, lemme tell you in no uncertain terms that it's the most lurid and engrossing item to appear on that show since I, CLAUDIUS originally aired and it's loaded with Restoration-period costumed romance, humor, and surprisingly graphic sex. In short, it was not at all what I expected from MASTERPIECE THEATER.

The story, told in four episodes, is recounted by the title character (who frequently breaks the fourth wall to directly address the viewer) while she languishes in prison, awaiting her imminent date with the hangman. Born to a criminal mother in the very jail where she later ends up imprisoned, the infant Moll is taken from her mother (who is deported from England to the Virginia colonies) and spends her first eleven-or-so years raised by gypsies, after which she's adopted as a servant into the family of a pious mayor. Moll's servitude goes well enough, until she blossoms into lush young womanhood and catches the eyes of the mayor's sons. In no time, Moll embarks on what becomes an unusually epic sexual and criminal journey for a woman of the eighteenth century, initiated into carnal adventure by the elder brother, who promises to marry her when he receives his inheritance.

Moll's adventures begin in earnest. Remember, kids, this is MASTERPIECE THEATER.

Upon discovering that her first love never really intended to wed her, Moll launches a campaign to marry well, but on her own terms, and from there it's a chronicle of serial marriage and gold-digging, accented by the inevitable abandonment of the numerous children she bears (around seven by my reckoning) to her five husbands. There are numerous shakeups in Moll's level of social status and respectability and along the way we are treated to shocking cuckoldry, the game of "Mind the Pistols," forays into professional thievery and prostitution, a poignant lesbian dalliance (that's markedly less explicit than the heterosexual encounters), by-name mentions of fellatio and cunnilingus, polygamy in that she is not actually a widow as she repeatedly claims to be, an unexpected reunion and even incest. The TV version's content is supposedly the closest adaptation of the novel to date, so I'm amazed that Dafoe got away with this kind of thing in the early 1700's.

And while Moll Flanders is indeed a woman of lusty adventures and considerable amorality, she's also a very likable character and I found myself rooting for her despite some of her more distressing actions (the repeated and quite unrepentant abandonment of her kids being the worst of it). When things are going well for her, she's very sweet, quite cute — I love her soulful eyes and out-of-control mop of hair — and an unabashedly sensual creature, and I genuinely envied all of the men whom she took to her bed. And while she always married with an eye on financial security being the goal rather than actual love, she did manage to get with one man whom she considered the love of her life: Jemmy (Daniel Craig, aka the most recent man to play James Bond), a handsome fellow who genuinely loves her. Sadly, Jemmy is in actuality deeply in debt and marries Moll for money he believes she has, but upon finding out she's penniless he leaves her after one day of marriage to become a highwayman.

Moll (Alex Kingston) and Jemmy (Daniel Craig), the self-admitted love of her life. Yes, geeks, it's River Song and 007 getting it on, the kind of thing that "fanfic" is made of.

But don't be too sad; the two meet again a few times, most notably in the funniest highway robbery scene since the BLACKADDER III episode "Amy and Amiability" (though minus anything as caustically hilarious as that episode's immortal line, "Aaah, shut up, you pregnant junkie fag-hag!").

Moll's story is a roller-coaster ride that's a women's answer to the many male rogues' adventures set during the same period, and while there's no fighting or swashbuckling, it's every bit as exciting and involving as any of those tales and a damn sight better than a lot of them. There have been other films about ladies of questionable virtue and morals taking place in those days, but this is the one I enjoyed the most and this adaptation has gotten me interested in reading Dafoe's novel, making it one of three MASTERPIECE THEATER series to so intrigue me. (The other two were I, CLAUDIUS, which was adapted from the titular novel and its continuation, CLAUDIUS THE GOD, while the other was WHITE TEETH.)

So I heartily recommend THE FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF MOLL FLANDERS, a totally entertaining (and enjoyably sexy) way to spend 190 minutes. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

After filming, Daniel Craig's wig was released into the wild, where it maimed and devoured several rustic villagers before being put down by a special task force deployed by the SAS.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

THOR (2011)

Marvel Comics' most badassed A-lister makes the transition to the live-action screen in the form of Chris Hemsworth.

When I was but a wee Bunche of about four years old, my first introduction to the Marvel Universe was daily airings of the 1966 THE MARVEL SUPERHEROES cartoon show, a (mostly) faithful assortment of adaptations of the adventures of Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, the Sub-Mariner, and the mighty Thor. To call that show's animation "limited" would be a gross understatement, but it was colorful, it looked just like the panels of a comic book (which only made sense because the images were static art straight from the comics, with minor details like a character's speaking mouth or pointing hand being crudely granted motion by the so-called animators), and it fired my developing imagination. I enjoyed the show as a whole, but my favorite segments were those telling stories about Prince Namor, aka the Sub-Mariner — a regal and nearly-naked Mr. Spock lookalike who ruled Atlantis and displayed an incredible arrogance — or Thor, the Viking god of thunder who fought far-flung mythology and sci-fi-based villainy in the modern day. The characters of Namor and Thor were not dissimilar, what with both of them being haughty princes of fantastic realms who spoke in stilted, faux-Shakespearian dialogue while handing out severe ass-whuppings, and I have loved both of these heroes since first encountering them in 1969. I would have loved to have seen the Sub-Mariner make the leap to the Hollywood screen first, but Namor never achieved the level of exposure or popularity held by his Norse stablemate, so Thor's transition was inevitable once the wave of Marvel Comics-derived movies began to rake in vast amounts of cash at the box office.

Having eagerly anticipated an adventure of Marvel's original answer to Superman (a role usurped in recent years by the unspeakably boring Sentry), I was the built-in audience for a Thor movie from the get-go, and last night I finally got my wish and checked out Thor's big screen debut at Manhattan's venerable Ziegfeld movie palace, accompanied by my usual pack of friends — most of whom are tasty chicks — who aren't comics fans, but who always go to the big superhero films on opening night. Part of the fun of these expeditions is that we hit a nearby bar for post-movie eats, alcoholic libations and erudite discussion of the film's merits and the relative hunkiness of the super-powered protagonist (there was much lusty commentary after IRON MAN), with Yours Truly acting to field questions about how faithful the movie was in relation to its source comics. At times, being the go-to geek is the thing to be, boy...

So we all went to see THOR, and here's the skinny:

The film updates and rewrites the origin of Marvel's version of the Norse god of thunder and opens with the blonde super-hunk's unconscious form crash-landing in a remote desert expanse in New Mexico, where he's found by astro-physicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), her Swedish colleague and mentor (Stellan Skarsgard) and an annoying student (Kat Dennings). Upon asking aloud how he got there, the scene flashes back to Asgard, the other-dimensional realm of the ancient Norse gods, and the coronation day of Thor (Chris Hemsworth). His aging father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins), intends to pass his rule on to his firstborn son while Thor's frail and dark-aired brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), remains on the sidelines. Just before the ceremony can be completed, the security of Asgard is breached by a trio of Jotuns — aka Storm Giants — who seek to steal an ancient and powerful artifact. When that plan is thwarted, Thor proposes to move against the Jotuns and disobeys his father's direct order to just leave that shit alone. From that act of rebellion, aided by Thor's old pals, the Warriors Three and the warrior-goddess Sif, spirals the threat of all-out war, so Odin strips his favored son of his powers and enchanted war-hammer , Mjolnir, and banishes him to the Earth. It is on Earth that Thor, the toughest of all Asgardian warriors, must learn humility and at least a modicum of wisdom, while his absence leaves the gate open for intrigue back on Asgard that starts closer to home than any of the immortals suspect...

That's all I'll say in regard to the plot, but I totally dug the flick and proclaim it my favorite of the Marvel films released thus far. It was not overlong (it's just shy of two hours), moved at brisk pace, and did not suffer from a weak final act (unlike IRON MAN), so apparently lessons have been learned from the previous Marvel film adaptations. The only thing I did not like about the film was the unnecessary character played by Kat Dennings, the aforementioned annoying student, but even she did not get to Jar-Jar-level annoying because her screen time was wisely limited. As for the highlights, here's what stoked me about this flick (I advise Googling any names in the following list that you are unfamiliar with; explaining stuff here would take up to much space and time):

  • Chris Hemsworth, perfectly cast as Thor.

  • The fact that there are Asian and black Asgardians is actually not a big or incongruous deal, thanks to it being made clear that the Asgardians are aliens. The point being that though they were worshipped by the ancient Norse, who interpreted their spectacular powers and abilities as magic, Thor and his people are not themselves ethnically Norse, so the diversity simply is.

  • Thor explaining that where he comes from, magic and science are one and the same, a point bolstered by Jane invoking Arthur C. Clarke's adage about there being no discernible difference between magic and a sufficiently high level of technology.

  • The reactions of my female friends and gay pals when they witnessed Thor shirtless.

  • Getting to see the Warriors Three in live-action. (Although Volstagg is waaaaaay too thin.)

  • Thor's power and sheer badassery translating perfectly to the screen.

  • The palpable chemistry between Thor and Jane.

  • Academic Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) coming face-to-face with the living gods that he'd heard about in stories told to him as a child.

  • What may be the first screen appearance of Odin's completely awesome war horse, Sleipnir. I nearly shat myself when I saw him in all of his eight-legged mythological glory.

  • Asgard itself being exactly the right fusion of the ancient and the science-fictional.

  • Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that allows the Asgardians access to the various realms of existence, re-imagined as a believable technological construct.

  • The all-too-brief appearance of Clint Barton.

  • Tom Hiddleston's letter-perfect portrayal of Loki.

  • A blink-and-you-missed-it cameo by Walt Simonson, the guy whose '80's run on the Thor comics is second in classic status only to the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby era.

  • The Easter egg during the end credits that sets up a major element in the upcoming CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.
I could go on and on, so I'll just stop here and urge you see THOR immediately. The only thing I would advise against is wasting the extra money on seeing it in 3-D. The 3-D effects don't really "pop" all that much and seeing it in 2-D will rob the film of not one iota of its fun and wonder. Verily, TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I was just fourteen when writer/director Don Coscarelli's PHANTASM first hit the screen, and its memorable TV commercials greatly intrigued me. Loaded with atmospheric imagery and the mysterious (and murderous) flying chrome ball, the ads were the perfect come-on to a young lad who was crossing over from childhood into young adulthood, displaying a tone not unlike some of the previously-encountered "kiddie" horror offerings, but it was rated R and therefore appeared guaranteed to deliver some true scares. It would be perhaps another two years before I actually got to see PHANTASM on cable, by which time the infamous "slasher" boom of the early-1980's was in full, gory swing and after being exposed to the avalanche of those orgies of unabashed gore, PHANTASM was perceived as something of a disappointment by many of my peers and even to this day the film is often cited as being an 88-minute load of bullshit that makes not a lick of sense. On the other hand, it is also considered by many to be very deserving of its considerable cult following, so what's the deal with this little low-budget horror offering that so polarizes viewers?

PHANTASM is less of a coherent narrative than a dreamlike stream of weird ideas and images that raise more questions than they answer. It's about an escalating series of eerie events as experienced by thirteen-year-old Mike Pearson (Michael Baldwin), whose parents have been dead for a couple of years and is being raised by his twenty-something brother, Jody (Bill Thornbury), and when the story opens we're told that the town has been plagued with a number of mysterious deaths. When Mike witnesses the creepy mortician, the Tall Man (Angus Scrimm), apparently stealing the body of a recent corpse and using superhuman strength to do so, he begins an investigation of the type common to kid's horror stories and Scooby-Doo cartoons. But in this case his world is turned into a never-ending nightmare of encounters with an aged, mute telepathic fortune teller who communicates through her pretty granddaughter, strange dwarves in monk robes, visits to a surreal mortuary that looks and feels like something straight out of a Ken Russell film, dreams that may or may not actually be happening to him, antique photographs that come to life and stare back at the viewer, and more freaked-out goings-on than one can shake a stick at. All of this stuff is followable in a linear fashion and it is a fascinating and visually creative cinematic journey, but nothing is ever explained to any level of real satisfaction. Is Mike actually experiencing all of this shit, or is he going insane? Who is the Tall Man? Exactly why is he stealing corpses to transform them into diminutive robed zombie slaves? Is he an alien? Is he from another dimension? Is this a horror movie or actually a bizarre science-fiction film in disguise?

Is this another planet? Another dimension? Both? Who the fuck knows???

And what exactly is that lethal flying ball, and why is it equipped to exsanguinate anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves its target?

The mysterious ball goes to work.

Fuck if I know, but I can tell you this: PHANTASM is something you should definitely check out at least once, because it's unique in the annals of horror cinema. It's not what I would call actually scary — although it could definitely fuck-up the under-tens if they sat through it — but it is creepy as hell, and its stark, almost fairytale-like vibe make it feel like a film imported from some off-kilter netherworld, a strange alternate place where everything seems just one step slightly removed from reality as we are familiar with it.

Coscarelli was only twenty-three when PHANTASM went into production and he was twenty-five when it was released, and I think that his youth had a solid impact on how different and completely unpredictable this film is, resulting in an odd fusion of the late-1970's horror aesthetic and an art film sensibility. It also displays healthy lashings of pre-EVIL DEAD blending of horror and humor in some of its sequences, especially the business with the severed finger that transforms into a very aggressive fly-monster puppet, and it treads that fine line with great aplomb. As for his intent when crafting the film, Coscarelli has stated he simply wanted to make a horror film with lots of creepy shocks, and that the details cited by some fans as having deeper meaning are simply just there and bear no symbolic significance (for example, the presence of a copy of Roger Zelazny's novel MY NAME IS LEGION on the desk in Mike's bedroom; it was selected "because it had a neat cover and looked good"). I, for one, think he created a thought-provoking study in mood and almost-hallucinatory nightmarishness, and while it may not be scary per se, it has stuck in my head for thirty years and it continues to please something deep within me. It works on what I refer to as "kid logic" and its childlike sensibility kind of makes me think of what would have happened if the adventures of Gumby and Pokey had been directed by a madman. I love it for that. However, those of you who would approach this film in search of genuine balls-out horror, scares, or outright gore are likely to be sorely disappointed and wonder what the fuck the big deal is, but I urge you to set aside whatever preconceptions you may have and meet it on its own terms.

PHANTASM was successful enough to spawn three sequels, of which I only saw the second, and I don't remember much of it so I can't tell you if any of the questions raised in the first film are in any way answered. But, having recently sat through the original for the first time in over two decades and finding my fascination with it re-kindled, I'm curious to check them out.

Poster from the original theatrical release.