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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

BIG TITS ZOMBIE (2011)

"Idiot. I've always hated you. Now I'll step on your face. With a shoe full of dog shit."
-Goth stripper Maria, once she's learned how to control the undead and decides to get revenge upon her former colleagues for no adequately explained reason.

Based on the manga series KYONYU DRAGON, this flick is another in the ongoing wave of intentionally over-the-top satirical horror/exploitation flicks to make their way to the Japanese screen, and among that lot it's rather a minor entry.

WARNING: HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.

Given an admittedly great/stupid title for its Western release, the film relates the adventures of five down-on-their-luck dancers who toil at a rinky-dink strip joint in a desolate town in the middle of nowhere. There's the recently-returned-from-Mexico sombreroed/western-themed main heroine Lena Jodo (played by adult film star "Aoi Sola," whose nom de porn translates as "Blue Sky"), morose ex-con Ginko, Goth girl Maria, Neneh, an aging dancer who reads tarot cards and is close to retiring to Tokyo to run a noodle shop, and money-hungry Vietnamese chick Darna, who's working to support her impoverished brothers and sisters, and during the film's first half hour we get to know them and see them get continually screwed over by their shady boss.

Our heroines: (L-R) ex-con Ginko, Goth girl Maria (with the unnatural red hair), cowgirl Lena, soon-to-be-retired Neneh, and money-grubbing Darna (kneeling in front).

They're all fun and interesting to varying degrees, but one does not approach a film entitled BIG TITS ZOMBIE in search of a look into the crapsack lives of exploited strippers, so just as the film passes the half hour mark, the girls discover their dressing room houses a concealed door that leads into the basement of the abandoned house across the street, a place where the previous owner mysteriously committed suicide. Upon entering the basement, the girls find the dead man's creepy inner sanctum filled with arcane artifacts and an impressive collection of rare occult books, identified as such by the Goth chick (natch), who grabs an authentic copy of the Book of the Dead and of course reads aloud from it. The results are not immediate but when the spell takes effect, all hell literally breaks loose and in no time the nation is overrun by the undead from many periods of history, all of whom have escaped from the conveniently-located Well of Souls in the basement. From there it's a cavalcade of re-animated and aggressive sushi, the requisite zombie cannibalism, weaponized wasabi paste, an interesting attempted variant on the old tentacle-rape standby, beheadings, disembowelings, two of our heroines taking on a horde of zombies while wielding a samurai sword and a chainsaw and eventually ending up topless as their twins are rendered a deep shade of red as they are showered by geysers of arterial spray, and the unforgettable sight of the geisha-costumed and newly-zombified Neheh's pussy mutating into something resembling a lamprey's maw that spews fire with range and dispersal equivalent to that of a standard military flamethrower (by far the film's highlight).

Lena takes on all comers with her handy McCullough.

Ginko and Lena, mere moments before their twins are reddened by copious arterial spray.

All of this madness is achieved in a short running time of seventy-three minutes, so it never really gets boring (though the first half hour is definitely slow going), but with a title like BIG TITS ZOMBIE, the film contains far less nudity than one would rightly expect, and the two pairs of dairies on display — specifically Lena's and Ginko's — range from about Japanese-standard proportions to around a C-cup, so we're talking appealing, but not "big" like the title promises. (Well, not by U.S. standards, anyway.) And while the gore is plentiful when it comes, it's definitely a comparatively short blast and the movie is over well before the viewer expects it to be, so there's a profound sense of getting ripped off.

I've certainly seen far worse zombie films, but I've also seen far better in both the serious vein and the zom-com variety, so this flick is only recommended for zombie completists, those who are looking for a short diversion with gore 'n' (brief) tits, and desperate adolescent boys. However, the flamethrower pussy has to be seen to be disbelieved.

Monday, June 27, 2011

MY TOP 25 ALL-TIME FAVORITE MOVIES (as of June 2011)

NOTE: parts of this article were cribbed from a similar piece I ran six years ago, plus one or two others that featured films discussed after that post. I had intended to do an all-new one but I remembered the old version, looked at it, and realized several of the films listed there still made the list, so I re-used the pre-existing entries with a little minor tweaking here and there. The rest, including a few new photos, is fresh.

Dear fellow Cine-Miscreants-

As fellow movie goons, you know a person's favorite films change as they go through life and sometimes films that one once loved immensely are relegated to the status of fondly-recalled footnotes in your moviegoing life. Such films for me include JAWS, 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and of course STAR WARS, all good films but at the time they each filled a certain need that I had before I discovered other things (translation: girls). I still enjoy them and may tune in when they turn up on the TV (which JAWS seems to do every other weekend; I'm not exaggerating. Channel 55 out of Long Island once had it on its syndicated schedule three times in one month alone!), but they just don't have the same resonance that they once held during my formative years.

Now, as a jaded 46-year-old movie addict, there are a handful of films that have stood the test of time and that I will watch from start to finish no matter what hour of the day or night they may be airing. What follows are, (in almost no particular order) my top 25 all-time favorite movies, and I realize that by divulging this information I will probably lose your respect, but, what the hey? A man's gotta stand up for what he loves, be it a beat-up car, a woman he knows is bad for him (but he just can't help himself), or a dumbass film that anyone in their right mind would have burned years ago. Enjoy, and feel free to send back your own list of what rocks your cinematic world.

KING KONG (1933)

This is the film that I can state is without a doubt my favorite movie. Let's face it, it has everything! A violent giant monster (in fact a whole island swarming with dangerous beasties of every description), a bunch of arrogant assholes who think nothing of the possible repercussions of removing said monster from its home, a hot heroine who spends much of the film in her torn undies, a fun story that's straight out of a boy's adventure pulp, Kong on the loose in Manhattan (which wouldn't cause much of a stir nowadays), the battle with planes atop the Empire State building and those poignant final lines. Sheer movie magic. In fact, I got to see the restored print (most of the violence put back in after almost 40 years of re-edits for re-releases) on the big screen when I was eight-years-old and I've been a fan ever since. My mother insisted I see it and I bless her ever day for that bit of parental wisdom. And I'll always know how old she is since KONG was released during the year of her birth.

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975)

Sure, LIFE OF BRIAN is a much better film, but this movie just kills me for the sheer lunacy of it. The jokes are all over the place and don't make sense much of the time, but who cares? If you laugh, it has succeeded, and this film may be the one that I have voluntarily sat through more than any other. Not much else to say on this one really, since nearly every person on the planet has seen it at least once. I still love my mother's reaction the first time that she saw it: "What the hell is this? Are the knights supposed to be retarded or something?"

PINK FLAMINGOS (1972)

Easily the most tasteless and offensive comedy ever made, this film had a major impact on my sense of humor when I first saw it back in 1982. If you haven't seen it, it's probably the most low-budget, technically inept and poorly acted film you'll ever witness, but it is absolutely fucking hilarious. The "plot" centers around a war to claim the title of "Filthiest People Alive" as waged by the heroic (?) family of Divine (the late 300-pound transvestite, Glenn Milstead) against the evil Connie and Raymond Marble. Divine and family are indeed pretty filthy — what with engaging in cannibalism to rid themselves of obnoxious police officers, a son who forces his date to fuck him while he thrusts two live chickens between their furiously rutting bodies (much to her chagrin), shoplifting raw meat in their crotches, throwing the sleaziest birthday party ever committed to celluloid (witness the singing asshole to truly understand horror), and many other offenses — but the Marbles believe themselves to be worse (they are merely dope dealers, pornographers, and kidnappers who impregnate young girls and sell the resulting babies to lesbian couples. Fucking poseurs!) and will stop at nothing to prove it. Needless to say, they don't stand a chance. Definitely not for all tastes, this movie makes me smile at the mere thought of it, although I could have done without the infamous final sequence in which Divine actually eats a freshly-laid dog turd on camera. But then again, I've since seen "German" porn, so the dog turd wouldn't begin to register these days... Anyway, hooray for John Waters!!!

SORCERESS (1982)

Starring absolutely no one that anyone's ever heard of and made for a budget of about $500, this is a strong contender for the dubious title of "stupidest barbarian flick ever made." Directed by Jack Hill, the mad genius behind the equally unbelievable SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975), SORCERESS tells the story of two nubile twin sisters (who believe that they are boys) who seek to kill their evil sorcerer father with the aid of three ludicrous sidekicks (obligatory barbarian hunk, bikerish Hagar the Horrible lookalike, and a bargain basement goat-man). Loaded with nudity, ridiculous fights and some of the worst special effects ever created, this couldn't possibly be funnier if it were intended to be, and if I had to get rid of every movie in my collection except for three, SORCERESS would make the cut. Oh, and this is sadly not available on DVD, so look for it on cable or on the now-gathering-moss shelves of your local VHS rental store (if one somehow still exists in your town).

TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934)

The best Tarzan movie ever made. I've written on this one before at length, so for the purposes of this post let it suffice to say that never before or since has a film so chock-a-block with sex and violence been so wholesome.

ALAKAZAM THE GREAT! (1960)

Legendary Japanese Manga god Osamu Tezuka (ASTRO BOY, KIMBA THE WHITE LION, PHOENIX 2772, DORORO and about a thousand other nuggets of excellence) tackles Wu Cheng-En's sixteenth century literary masterpiece JOURNEY TO THE WEST in this lively animated musical. It follows the adventures of the legendary monkey king and his companions, and has an almost hallucinatory feel to it. As usual, Tezuka wears his Disney influence on his sleeve, but once you learn to ignore the saccharine songs (not an easy feat), you'll be drawn in by the incredible visuals and endless fights against monsters, magicians and gods. You also get to see the hero go from being a total asshole to being a great king, and the sweet love story between him and a cute girl monkey named Dee Dee is actually quite touching (although she does allow herself to be somewhat of a doormat).

ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

My favorite horror movie. One of the most faithful adaptations of a novel ever made, this is the movie that I feel best captures the flavor of Manhattan's Upper West Side. An utterly believable tale of supernatural and nuptial violation of the worst kind, this is one slow-burning, paranoia-inducing mammajamma. There are those who prefer THE EXORCIST, but this is a thousand times more subtle and you aren't really sure whether Rosemary is insane or not until it's too late.

MOTHRA(1961)

Clearly influenced by the basic plot of KING KONG, MOTHRA is the finest of the many Toho studios monster/fantasy epics. When an unscrupulous businessman kidnaps two foot-tall native women from a previously-unexplored island in the Pacific and presses them into a life of exhibition as freaks, he doesn't reckon with the fact that they're actually magical priestesses of the goddess Mothra — and the goddess does not take kindly to those who would harm her priestesses. An orgy of Tohoscope destruction ensues as the military is thwarted at every turn (even atomic cannons are useless), and they slowly come to realize that they really are dealing with a pissed-off deity who defies the laws of man's science. Avoiding the usual pitfalls of this genre, MOTHRA has a tight script, characters you care about, and a villain who is an utter piece of human trash (and obviously meant to be an American, although they don't come straight out and state it). And who can forget the song that the twin fairies sing constantly? Onlookers think it's just some wistful island melody, but don't realize it's the song that gives Mothra an unerring bead on their exact location, the beauty of which is that the girls are encouraged to sing, thereby ensuring the doom of untold thousands. A fucking masterpiece and the Mothra characters have not been used as well since, with the exception of 1964's GODZILLA VS. MOTHRA, which some hail as the best of Toho's classic-era giant monster cycle.

SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980)

It's rare when a distributor can edit together highlights from two films and create a movie that endures in the hearts of martial arts fans and gore addicts for nearly thirty years. Of course it doesn't hurt when the two films in question are the first installments in the classic six-film series based on the LONE WOLF & CUB samurai comics. This film is a visual feast with cinematography and colors that will make you drool, to say nothing of an interesting plot which is chock full of wall-to-wall slaughter and dismemberment! I first saw this one in 1985 and was totally blown away. I'm very hard on the quality of the fight scenes in martial arts films — especially the swordsmanship — and the fights here are among the finest I've ever had the joy to witness. Tomisaburo Wakayama stars as Lone Wolf, a man of impeccable honor and skill who is framed for treason against the shogun. Taking his infant son along with him "down the road of vengeance," Lone Wolf proceeds to kick so much ass that it's impossible to keep a body count. And if you like bloodshed, the red paint flies quite generously, even hitting the camera on occasion (seriously!). But the real star here is the skill of Wakayama; his utter mastery of the katana is evident in every frame of the film. Trust me on this one and keep in mind that there are maybe ten minutes total in the entire running time where there's no fighting!

SEVEN SAMURAI (1952)

Not just Kurosawa's masterpiece, but also the quintessential samurai film and one of the greatest motion pictures ever made.

THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)

This is the martial arts film that earned the whole genre its largely undeserved rep for outrageous gore and violence. THE STREET FIGHTER follows the adventures of Terry Tsurugi ("Takuma" in the original Japanese version), one of the hardest dudes in screen history, as he takes on seemingly impossible assignments of a questionable nature for whomever will pay his price. This guy is one ultra-nasty customer who will tear off any part of you that gets close enough (the fate of a would-be rapist is a highlight), and he won't hesitate to do whatever it takes to get paid. When a brother and sister who hired Tsurugi to rescue their brother from his appointment on death row reveal that they don't have the rest of the money they owe him, Tsurugi immediately announces that he'll put the sister out on the streets as a whore until he gets his cash. This leads to the brother's accidental fall to his death from Tsurugi's penthouse window. The sister ends up as a heroin-addicted prostitute in Hong Kong (after suffering a horrible — but thankfully off-camera — gang rape) and just happens to run into her escapee brother, who of course vows to kill Tsurugi for his younger brother's death and his sister's current shameful status. Next, our "hero" refuses a Yakuza kidnapping assignment because it would bring him into conflict with the one man that he respects: his father's old karate training buddy, Masaoka (a tiny, fat badass). This puts him on the Yakuza's shitlist as well. The rest of the movie details Terry's constant — and brutal — encounters with the two pissed off parties and ends in a blood-soaked hand-to-hand battle that finds the vengeful brother minus his larynx (he turns up in the sequel with bionic vocal chords). Not for the squeamish, scenes from this turned up in the Tarantino-scripted TRUE ROMANCE. Fuck ENTER THE DRAGON, this is the real deal. Yes, your Bunche actually said "Fuck ENTER THE DRAGON." If you know me at all, you know I don't say that lightly.

FORBIDDEN ZONE (1980)

Definitely not for all tastes, this is a positively lysergic live action cartoon that's not for the kiddies. Featuring Herve Villechaize as King Fausto of the 6th Dimension, more impressively bizarre characters than any one movie has the right to include, and the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (that's band frontman Danny Elfman as Satan in the photo), FORBIDDEN ZONE brings to mind what would have happened if Max Fleischer made a cartoon short while out of his mind on some seriously good peyote. Funny as hell and unfortunately still rather obscure, I strongly urge you to seek this one out. (NOTE: this is available in its original black & white and in a colorized version. Stick to the original.)

JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

The best mythology movie ever made and the best of many classics from Ray Harryhausen (in my opinion anyway; there are those who make a valid case for THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, but I go with this one for its slightly more "adult" approach). Motherfuck CGI, this is how special effects are supposed to look! Too many great scenes to recount, but I will say that the theme tune, with the pounding rowing rhythm, makes most of John Williams' tiresome Wagner knockoffs look like the derivative crap that they are.

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

A compelling story, interesting characters, a no-win scenario and boatloads of gore all add up to make the best zombie ever made, or that will ever be made, for that matter. This warped a lot of young minds back in '78, boy... And the cool black guy lives at the end! (Perhaps as a nod to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD's unforgettable downer of a conclusion.)

THE HUMAN TORNADO (1976)

Simply put, the funniest black exploitation film ever made. This is the sequel to the nearly unwatchable DOLEMITE (1975) and out-does its predecessor valiantly. For those not in the know: Dolemite is a character whose exploits have been passed on through folk tales and rhymes in American black culture since at least the early 1900's. He's basically Super-Nigger, since he's the greatest badass/ pimp/comedian/lover/fancy dresser ever to walk the Earth! Sample line from the epic poem about him:

Dolemite went to New York City,
Kickin' ass 'til his boots were shitty.

Anyway, this installment sees our hero (played by the hideously middle-aged and out of shape Rudy Ray Moore) evading a Southern sheriff after said sheriff finds out that his wife has been paying Dolemite to fuck her (her line to our hero while in post-coital bliss: "Dolemite, you're worth every cent I pay you!"). Dolemite and his friends (including a young Ernie GHOSTBUSTERS Hudson) flee to California after carjacking the most outrageous homosexual character in celluloid history (he's glad to be hijacked since he always wanted to go to California anyway, and he gets along just fine with his abductors), and find out that the local mafia are moving in on Dolemite's nightclub. Well, Dolemite ain't havin' dat! Much lunacy, bad '70's outfits and terrible martial arts ensue, and just wait until you see the musical numbers! My only warning is that you skip the standup comedy scene just after the insane credits sequence; it really sucks, and seems like it's setting the viewer up for a repeat of the original DOLEMITE's anti-charms.

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)

Superior to DR. NO (1962) in virtually every way, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE was one of the two films that really established the template from which the James Bond films would define themselves (the other being GOLDFINGER). The international scope is increased, the violence is nastier, the sexual content is extremely tawdry for its day (007 and Tatiana unwittingly starring in a porn reel being perhaps the most obvious example), the bad guys are perfect Cold War antagonists (Lotte Lenya's Rosa Klebb being an especially creepy standout) and the series' signature gadgets make their first (and relatively realistic) appearance in the form of Bond's well-equipped briefcase. Connery's cooler than the Abominable Snowman's dick and his fight with Robert Shaw as SPECTRE psycho Red Grant is one of the most realistic on record, so if your taste in 007 runs more to the non-over-the-top flavor, you cannot go wrong with this, the best of the James Bond series.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980)

Often compared with THE GODFATHER PART II as being one of the minute number of sequels that surpass the original, this second STAR WARS film remains the strongest of the bunch thanks to it taking the time to flesh out its characters a bit (well, as much as you can in a space opera anyway) and dazzle the eye with sequence after sequence of briskly-paced latter day Saturday afternoon serial thrills. We get the budding romance between Han Solo and the Princess, Luke's early Jedi training under Yoda (back when the tiny Jedi master was still awe-inspiring and full of genuine wonder), the battle on Hoth, the Millennium Falcon hauling ass all over half the galaxy and getting into a number of memorable scrapes (chief among which is undoubtedly the asteroid field chase)...the list just goes on and on. But the real genius of the film lays in the decision to make it Darth Vader's movie and give the bad guy a showcase worthy of his towering evil. Killing off failed subordinates at a rate that's almost comical and being simply amazing as the most pimped-out villain in the history of deep-space nefariousness, Vader rocks this one like a motherfucker, capping it off with his now-immortal revelation to Luke Skywalker near the picture's end. Some make the point that STAR WARS was a perfect stand-alone film and that both THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) can't necessarily be enjoyed as a satisfying whole without seeing the original, but in the case of EMPIRE I could not disagree more, and nearly thirty years after the fact it remains my hands-down favorite of the entire STAR WARS series and is the only one I will ever sit through again and again.

MANDINGO (1975)

It took me a long time to finally come to grips with it, but considering how fascinated I am by its source novel and the big-screen translation thereof, I finally reject my guilt over the subject and admit that this world-class offender is a flat-out favorite. If you were horrified by the more vile truths about some of our fair nation's history that were made plain in ROOTS, don't ever watch this slavery-era soap opera. I find it to be an apocalyptic moment in the annals of bad taste cinema and as such I find its acting and plantation soap opera histrionics so over-the-top that it's frequently hilarious — the performances by Susan George and James Mason are simply impossible to keep a straight face through — but its frank depictions of the worst realities of slavery is no laughing matter and is indeed horrifying to witness. I don't think mainstream Hollywood has produced a major motion picture as vicious or offensive before or since, and if this were released today there would be full-on race riots in the streets. Click here to read an earlier, more in-depth Vault post about this one.

THE COURT JESTER (1956)

I always loved Danny Kaye's live-action cartoon appeal, and nowhere is it seen in fuller flower than in this musical sendup of colorful swashbuckler movies. Kaye stars as Hawkins, the musically talented entertainer among a cadre of forest-based outlaws led by a masked Robin Hood type called The Black Fox, and all Hawkins wants to do is fight alongside the hero in his war against King Roderick, usurper to the English throne. That chance comes when Hawkins is assigned to escort the infant actual heir to the throne to safety, lest the babe fall into the hands of the bad guys, and he's accompanied by the Fox's lieutenant/daughter, Jean (Glynis Johns, better known as Mrs. Banks in MARY POPPINS, who was absolutely gorgeous in her youth), with whom he is in love and the feeling is mutual, but romance must wait in the face of patriotism. From there grows a tangled comedic web, rich with laugh-out-loud gags, ridiculous situations, anachronistically clever dialogue — the legendary "vessel with the pestle/flagon with the dragon" bit in particular — and even one of the most spectacular (and funny) swordfights you will ever see. Even if you hate musicals, you owe it to yourself to see this one.

INFRA MAN (1975)


Though not adapted from any pre-existing comics source, this film gets my vote as the second-best superhero film ever made (narrowly missing the #1 position thanks to the existence of THE INCREDIBLES). An out-of-its-mind fusion of Shaw Brothers kung fu flicks, Toho rubber-suit monster movies, and a liberal dose of Ultraman, INFRA MAN is one of that rare number of films that looks and feels exactly like what one would think a little boy's idea of the perfect movie might be. It's colorful, features almost non-stop action and mayhem, displays virtually zero logic or attention to reality, and the icing on the cake is some of the worst/best dubbing in the history of films imported from Asia, but the film will always have a very special place in my heart thanks to its villain, the one and only Princess Dragon Mom (Terry Liu, seen above). She's tits-out evil, positively loves being tits-out evil, and has nothing on her mind other than the complete and utter destruction of all humankind, but first she and her ragtag legion of bargain basement monsters must eliminate mega-badassed and utterly invincible bionic superhero Infra Man. (Yeah, good luck with that.) I was fortunate enough to see INFRA MAN in the theater during its 1976 U.S. release and I have been a hardcore fan ever since (so is Roger Ebert, believe it or not). It's available on DVD in a gorgeous uncut widescreen transfer that gives the viewer the option of watching it withy the ludicrous dubbing, and while I'm usually a "subs over dubs" guy, this is one of the rare exceptions to that rule and I cannot recommend the dubbed soundtrack enough. My full-length love letter to this completely bonkers film can be read here.

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY-THE UNBEARBLY LONG, SELF-INDULGENT DIRECTOR'S CUT (2007)

I was not a fan of the theatrical version of this film, but the waaaay longer director's cut available on DVD is a totally different animal. A knowing sendup of just about every rags-to-riches music industry biopic (using the Johnny Cash biopic WALK THE LINE as its launching point), WALK HARD is a tour de force of played-straight hilarity chronicling the career of country legend Dewey Cox, who crosses over from C&W into rock 'n' roll and beyond, and the results are simply hilarious. The long version fully fleshes-out the characters and narrative, allowing star John C. Reilly to really show us what he's made of as an actor, and plays like an American music epic on nitrous oxide, so by all means check it out and be ready to laugh your ass off.

ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979)


I wrote a whole piece on this classic a while back, but let it suffice to say that it's the perfect expression of the interconnected joys of rock 'n' roll and teenage rebellion.

THE WOLF MAN (1941)

Werewolf stories are my favorite in the horror genre, and much of what we now accept as the template for tragic lycanthropy tales comes from this cinematic Rosetta Stone. One of the crown jewels of the Universal horror cycle of the 1930's/1940's, THE WOLF MAN is packed to the rafters with fog-laden black & white atmosphere, ominous gypsies, and that unique flavor of Universal horror, but what sets it apart from its brethren is Lon Chaney Jr.'s indelible performance as the utterly doomed Larry Talbot. The character would return in several sequels alongside the Frankenstein monster and Dracula, but his subsequent appearances bear none of the heartbreaking tragedy found here.

SWITCHBLADE SISTERS (1975)

Another classic from Jack Hill, the mad genius behind SORCERESS, this one's kinda like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE starring a bunch of '70's-era gang chicks straight out of an ABC Afterschool Special and with a script like something written during a three-day tequila and uncut cocaine bender. Taking place in a world so far removed from any recognizable reality that it may as well be set on the planet Qxzzblnzrg, the film follows the adventures of the Dagger Debs, a high school girl gang auxilary to the waaaay overage Silver Daggers, and what happens when their power structure is upset by the arrival of new girl/badass in town, Maggie (Joanne Nail). Maggie catches the eye of the Silver Daggers' leader, Dominic (Asher Brauner), which does not sit well with Lace, the head of the Dagger Debs (Robbie Lee, whose performance redefines the concept of "chewing the scenery"), and from there things veer straight into "I cannot fucking believe I'm seeing this" territory. A delirious mash-up of 1950's J.D. movie tropes, REEFER MADNESS-level inaccuracy regarding what it depicts, and shameless exploitation, this is the kind of film that they just don't make anymore and thank the gods that it's preserved on DVD.

GET CRAZY (1983)

From the same people who made ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL, this is more or less the same kind of movie — a live-action rock 'n' roll cartoon — only geared for a majorly-stoned R-rated audience. The plot is pointless to recount since there pretty much isn't one, but what passes for such springs from the backstage preparations for the New Year's Eve 1983 celebration at the fictional Saturn Theater live music venue (based on the real-life Filmore West) and the insane assortment of stars who converge on the place when its beloved owner is believed to be on his death bed. It's a head-on collision of blues, glam, punk, hippy-dippy junk and just about everything else under the sun in a cornucopia of gags that come flying so fast that you'll need a batting helmet. Featuring Daniel Stern, Ed Begley Jr., Malcom McDowell (hilarious as David Bowie/Mick Jagger fusion Reggie Wanker), Lou Reed (as the reclusive and Dylanesque Auden), and a plethora of lunatic character actors, this overflowing craziness is further gilded with many fun musical performances, several of which are crazy takes on "Hoochie Coochie Man" (most notably the version performed by Lee Ving of the legendary L.A. punk band Fear). In short, GET CRAZY is a perfect party flick and a true crowd-pleaser. Why the hell this film isn't on DVD is totally beyond me (although it most likely has to do with the music rights), so the only way to see this now is via a rare airing on cable or on an old VHS tape.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

GREEN LANTERN (2011)

"In brightest day, in blandest night..."

So I saw the long-anticipated GREEN LANTERN last night and I did not hate it it, probably because I went to it with zero expectations after the lambasting it got from all sides, which is not to say that I thought it was good. In fact I can't even bring myself to get at all worked up about it because it was so bland and lifeless that it is not worth getting worked up about. It just existed there on the screen in a state of cinematic lethargy that in no way engaged the audience.
When it comes to movies, I enjoy having some kind of passionate response to them, but in this case my apathy supersedes any sense of apoplexy.

The film's plot modernizes the familiar tale of how test pilot Hal Jordan (a miscast Ryan Reynolds) is chosen by a dying alien to replace him as a member of the Green Lantern Corps, an inter-galactic peace-keeping organization comprised of 3500 sentient and wildly diverse alien races, and thrown into that hero's journey are the threat of world-destroying fear entity Parallax and the bitter, gigundo-headed telepath/telekinetic Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), plus Hal's sorta-tense relationship with his boss and former-lover, Carol Ferris (a miscast Blake Lively). There are aerial bits involving fighter planes, Hal figuring out how to properly wield his ring, the seeds of an antagonistic rivalry with fellow Green Lantern Sinestro (Mark Strong, who was definitely not miscast), the exotic setting of the GL homeworld, Oa, and all manner of spandex goings-on to be had.

Mark Strong as Sinestro, the one thing I really dug about the film.

All of those elements could have — and frankly should have — meshed to create a dazzling sci-fi/superhero hybrid full of excitement and romance, but there was not one moment of genuine thrills to be had in the entire film. Ironically, by trying to hew so close to its source (though admittedly in a modernized fashion), the whole shebang became hidebound to the point of being moribund. From what I hear, the film is not doing well at the box office and that saddens me greatly, both as a lifelong Green Lantern booster, but also because the film sets up a sequel that would lead into the Sinestro Corps War, my favorite GL story arc from recent years. With the drubbing the film is taking on both the critical and money-making fronts, that potentially awesome sequel looks unlikely to happen.

As for the film's visual effects, the eye was presented with a ton of potentially neat stuff to absorb, but even with its budget clearly visible onscreen, it all amounted to a huge "so what?" Everything that took place before the introduction of Hal Jordan looked like one of those short "films" that serve as the opening for a video game — the CGI animation on Abin Sur (the GL who passes his ring on to Hal) as he was escaping Parallax was truly appalling — and one of my biggest problems with the film was an over-reliance on CGI to the point where nothing looked even remotely organic. To me it was simply an over-long toy commercial — everyone and everything on Oa looked like a well-populated action figure playset, and I didn't even give a shit about either Tomar Re or Kilowog, two of my favorite alien GL's, being present — that did not make me care about anyone in the film, with the notable exception of Sinestro. And I believe the film would have been a lot stronger if they had excised the completely superfluous Hector Hammond B-plot in the scripting stage and just concentrated on Hal learning the ropes of the GL gig. And I don't know about you, but I would have definitely shown a hell of a lot more emotion and sense of wonder than Hal did at suddenly having my life turned completely upside down as I was given the powers of a science-fiction demi-god and tasked with protecting a whole sector of outer space and getting to regularly interact with fantastic beings, many of whom don't even bear the slightest humanoid aspect.

To sum up, I did not hate GREEN LANTERN but to me it just kind of lay there on the screen like a dead cat on the side of the road.
Dull and a sad squandering of so much to build a franchise from. It was pretty to look at, but overall I found it to be the cinematic equivalent to cotton candy, a potentially satisfying treat that offers no substance. I have definitely seen far worse superhero films, but I cannot recommend this to anyone other than Green Lantern completists who are compelled to see it out of sheer obsessive fandom. If this and last year's JONAH HEX debacle (which I admittedly refused to put myself through) are examples of how DC plans to approach adapting its catalog of characters, things do not look promising...

(NOTE: In my opinion, FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER still stands as the nadir of the current wave of superhero movies for a slew of reasons, but mostly because they got everything about the FF wrong (with Ben being the lone exception), a factor that also made the first one unendurable.)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

KUNG FU PANDA 2 (2011)

Has it really been three years since the first KUNG FU PANDA? I loved that film and I'm glad to say that the wait for the sequel was worth it, although the new installment is something of a step down from the first film's considerable charm and wit. The first film was an involving tale of a misfit's realization of his dreams of martial arts heroism, so where could the writers go with the character's story after he reached his goal?

This time around, it's long enough after the first story to find Po (Jack Black) firmly established as one of China's great martial heroes, perhaps even the greatest, and he and his colleagues — the Furious Five — defend the general public when not honing their skills with Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman). But China's fate is threatened by the decades-long machinations of Lord Shen (Gary Oldman), an evil peacock who has developed cannons with which he seeks to conquer the country and eventually the world, and Shen's future defeat was predicted by a soothsayer (Michelle Yeoh) who stated his downfall will be brought about by "a warrior who is black and white." Thus forewarned, Shen launched a campaign of genocide against the panda population, a pogrom that led to the infant Po being the last survivor of his village and eventually being found and adopted by noodle chef duck Mr. Ping (James Hong). As Shen's wolf soldiers raid a village for metal to craft more cannons, Po and the Five come to the rescue and it is then that Po sees Shen's insignia, which triggers flashbacks to his mother seemingly abandoning him. Those visions lead Po to ask his adoptive father where he came from — after all, it is more than a bit odd that a panda would be the son of a duck — and his quest for that answer forms the compelling B-plot, with extra fuel added by Mr. Ping's deeply felt fears that Po getting those answers may lead to him losing the son he loves very much. So our hero and his colleagues must win the day against a vicious villain whose victory would literally signal the death of kung fu — the statement of which nearly elicited a sincere "Oh, HELL no!" from me in the theater, but I reigned it in for the sake of the kiddies — while Po wrestles with a genuine emotional crisis that could change his world forever. Unbeknownst to Po, the answer to all of the story's conflicts rests in taking to heart Master Shifu's serene lesson about striving to obtain inner peace...

I enjoyed KUNG FU PANDA 2 and I certainly recommend it, but it couldn't hold a candle to the original.
It registered to me like one of the Shaw Brothers' somewhat-lesser sequels to one of their instant-classic wuxia flicks, and while that was not necessarily a bad thing, much of the movie magic found in the first film is missing here. The plot about Lord Shen and his use of firearms as a potential kung fu-ender was handled to classic effect in the Shaw Brothers film LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA (1982) and that much-better movie was all I could think about once that element was introduced in KUNG FU PANDA 2. (If you haven't heard of or seen LEGENDARY WEAPONS OF CHINA, please take my word for it and add it to your Netflix queue).

The plot involving Lord Shen was serviceable in a standard kung fu movie way, but for me the film's strongest element was the father/son stuff. I'm in my mid-forties and I'm still dealing with some heavy "daddy issues" that I've had since childhood, so that kind of stuff always hits me right in the heart, and I have to admit that tears rolled down my face when Mr. Ping told Po how the presence of his son had made his life all the better. That and when father and son embraced and told each other how they felt at the end. That scene would not leave my head on the bus ride home and I was on the verge of tears the whole time as I contemplated my own past and wondered what that kind of father/son mutual caring must feel like.
But enough of my weepery. The only "problem" with the story is that once Po's origin as a hero was over and done with (the first movie), it would be hard for the film to end up as much more than a rote sequel unless they could find some other angle, which is what they did with Po searching for where he came from. And I loved the touch where Po dejectedly explains his situation to his martial colleagues, stating that "Hardcores like you wouldn't understand," only to have Tigress unexpectedly and firmly give him a long, silent hug and state that he is wrong and that she does understand. That reaction is not explained in the movie, but its cause was related in moving detail in the straight-to-DVD film SECRETS OF THE FURIOUS FIVE (2008) and to those of us who saw it, that sequence in this sequel was a deep and heavy moment.

The returning characters are all fun and they each have a number of cool moments — Master Shifu's discussion of the value of finding inner peace, as accompanied by a stunning bit of animated "soft" kung fu, is of particular note — but I have to ask
why do they keep paying Jackie Chan to voice Monkey when he only has perhaps three lines? That was the case in both films, but the simple fact of the matter is that literally anyone could have voiced the character and it would not change a damned thing.

If Tigress (voiced by Angelina Jolie) is coming for you, that's your ass.

Also like the first film, I was fascinated by Tigress (again voiced by Angelina Jolie). The very hardest of the Furious Five's hardcore warriors, Tigress, as you may remember from the first film, was the most likely candidate for the title of Dragon Warrior that the prophesied Po ended up bearing, and if you ask me she's still best suited for that role. In many ways the most perfect representation of the classical wuxia hero among the Five's ranks, totally focused, possessed of utter mastery of her body and skills and with her gender having no bearing on the story at all, Tigress could easily carry a straight and totally serious martial arts narrative on her own and that's exactly what I want to see by way of a spin-off film. To Dreamworks: More Tigress, please!

Lastly, I went to the theater intending to see the film in 2-D but the show I planned to attend was sold out, so I ended up seeing it in 3-D (and consequently paying an obscene $13.50 for that "privilege" at what is usually a bargain matinee). While the 3-D was very well done and, unlike some other recent 3-D efforts, the effect was not dark or murky, it was not in any way necessary to the overall enjoyment of the film and did not feature even one moment that really milked the effect. Instead it provided a very believable depth of field, but naught else. Save your hard-earned cash and stick with the 2-D version.
Those of you with kids who are reading this may be wondering about this film's violence quotient since it is, after all, a martial arts story, so allow me to reassure you and state that KUNG FU PANDA 2 is absolutely suitable for kids around five and up. It is not, however, suitable for the legion of infants in arms and toddlers that their mothers insisted on bringing to see it when I attended. It's not offensive or anything, but the plot does require an attention span that kids that young simply do not yet possess, and their loud, mostly pre-verbal exclamations really ruins the experience for other viewers, so I suggest waiting for DVD before showing it to the under-fives.

And speaking of the wee ones, the best talk-back to the screen during the showing I attended was supplied by a little black kid who could not have been more than four years old. When Po was wrestling with his yearning to find answers about his origins and mused to his father "Who am I?", the kid's voice said, at normal conversational volume and with utmost gravitas, "You're Kung Fu Panda, nigger!" Hearing that kind of language out of a kid so young is certainly appalling, but I swear it was fucking hilarious.

My favorite of the film's several pre-release promo posters.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

BEAT GIRL (1960)

A classic example of early U.K. exploitation filmmaking, 1960's BEAT GIRL, aka WILD FOR KICKS, is a fascinating (if rather caricatured) time capsule of post-war England and its head-on collision with the newly-minted rock'n'roll youth culture.

BEAT GIRL takes place in 1959/1960 and relates the story of a hateful and ultra-cunty high school-aged spoiled rich brat named Jenny (the Brigitte Bardot-esque Gillian Hills) a completely unlikeable, unsympathetic asshole of the highest order.

Gillian Hills as Jenny, a real rotter of girl who could use a good, swift kick in the box with a steel-toed Doc Marten.

It's bad enough that she's rude and generally nasty — in other words the total antithesis of what a nice British girl is supposed to be — but her sizable mean streak is aimed squarely at Nicole (Noelle Adam), the new 24-year-old French bride of her architect dad (David Farrar), a man who's too focused on designing the ultra-modern and sound-proofed "City 2000." When dad brings his newlywed Gallic sweetie home to his posh Soho house after being away from his daughter for five months, Jenny is not at all pleased to meet the woman who is taking the place of her presumably-dead mother (her mom's absence is never explained, but it's obvious that she's history), and from the instant they are introduced, Jenny is at all-out war with her step-mom. When not verbally abusing her step-mom, Jenny whiles away her time at the local "beatnik" club, the Off-Beat (which is located across the street from a seedy strip joint called Les Girls), with her cadre of too-cool-for-school chums, all of whom seem to have escaped from some mis-translated Anglo version of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE or a garden variety Elvis time-waster.

As the story (such as it is) progresses, the central point is Jenny's cruelty toward Nicole and her discovery of Nicole's past as a stripper and occasional prostitute in Paris, facts she uses to blackmail her stepmother into staying out of her life and stop trying to make friends with her. As it becomes clear that Nicole is determined to win both her favor and her respect — a losing battle if ever there was one — Jenny's rebellious intentions become further skewed upon investigating her step-mom's past association with a stripper named Greta (Delphi Lawrence), which brings her into direct contact with Kenny (Christopher Lee), the oily owner of Les Girls, who immediately sets his vile sights on the underage and not necessarily disinterested Jenny. All of this is interspersed with looks into Jenny's self-destructive social life, featuring "wild" dancing to "jive" music (in actuality that jazz/early guitar rock fusion common to Britain of the late-1950's), drunken speeding, Jenny and friends playing "chicken" by resting their heads on a train track as a speeding locomotive approaches, unauthorized house parties, stylistically-inaccurate Teddy Boys, wanton destruction of property, strip-teasing, and eventually murder, and it all entertains in that uneasy way found on U.K. sleaze flicks of the period, like HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959) and the epochal PEEPING TOM (1960).


The rather risque striptease sequence edited from the U.S. release of BEAT GIRL.


Much like American-made films that milked juvenile delinquency, hippies, bikers, black people and punks for exploitation fodder, BEAT GIRL does likewise with its late-1950's British "youth gone bad" and the results, though rather tame by today's standards, must have been a solid punch in the guts to its contemporary audience (or those among the audience who took it as an accurate representation of reality). With its ludicrous aping of American beatniks and their "hip" lingo, the film comes off as not unlike REEFER MADNESS for the British rock scene of the pre-Beatles era, especially in the scenes involving Jenny's friends, who are sort of led by the uber-douchey Adam Faith as Dave, the would-be rocker of the crew, and as such he's both tepid and kinda THUNDERBIRDS marionette-looking.

Adam Faith, part of the wave of post-Elvis/pre-Beatles U.K. rockers in the Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele mold. All that this guy's missing is a blue International Rescue flight suit and cap.

The thing that renders him so grating is his exaggerated attempts at laid-back "cool" that only make him come off as a dick who you just want to punch in the face as hard as you can. (It always brings a smile to my face when three Teds take his ever-present acoustic guitar and smash it to pieces as a challenge to fight, which he predictably pussies out of.) And as for Jenny, she's perfectly brought to vicious life by Gillian Hills, who enacts her with all sly looks, haughtiness and verbal abusiveness that makes one wonder how any of her friends can tolerate her at all. To the British of the time, her behavior must have been some pretty shocking stuff, what with a theoretically-"proper" upper class spawn like Jenny aggressively and stupidly chucking her father's wealth and position in favor of hanging out with unsavory types who directly prefigure the punks of the 1970's by a generation. Their look may be more proto-preppy than post-apocalyptic tribal, but the mindset is exactly the same, as is the self-pitying whining, only this time it's coming from a bunch of kids who were born during World War II and feel (incorrectly) that they have nothing to live for other than "kicks."

The thing that got me interested in this film in the first place was the early soundtrack work by John Barry, the guy whose music indelibly set the tone for the Connery-era James Bond films and is one of my very favorite composers, for film or otherwise. I'd heard of the movie ages ago, but what steered me toward Barry's soundtrack for it was discovering the film's theme tune as covered by The Damned on the B-side to their 1986 12" single for their cover of "Eloise." (The Damned loved doing covers.) Upon hearing the tune I said to myself, "Holy fuck, that sounds like a John Barry tune from an early James Bond movie!" so I looked at the songwriting credit on the vinyl's label and, sure enough, there was Barry's name. I filed that bit of info away for future soundtrack hunting and eventually got my hands on the CD in the early-'90's, and the wait proved to be well worth it. I didn't see the film itself until sometime later, and it was then that I discovered that the album versions of the soundtrack's music were slicked-up re-recordings, but I didn't mind because all of it was one short evolutionary step away from the signature sound of '60's 007 music. Just check out the studio version of the title track and you'll see what I mean:



Adam Faith's Dave in action, with a very young Oliver Reed as "Plaid Shirt" (which is how he's listed in the credits).

Now, is that or is that not pretty much a dry run for the whole Bondian musical aesthetic?

So I recommend BEAT GIRL as a curiosity for those interested in U.K. exploitation movies and most especially for those who are only familiar with John Barry's James Bond scores. Either way, it's a win for the viewer. Oh, and while doing a search of her filmography, I just found out where else I've seen Gillian Hills before: she's the blonde in the record store sequence in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

Gillian Hills (the blonde), still associating with savory characters in the classic A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971).

Poster from the original British theatrical release.