Thursday, June 20, 2002

Herschell Gordon Lewis Month continues with Color Me Blood Red (1965)

The third film in Lewis's "Blood Trilogy" and generally considered the least impressive. But I'll say this with pride: I was entertained as all hell watching this. It's at least superior to Blood Feast -- it's better acted (no Connie Mason!), better written, better directed and the gore scenes aren't at right angles to the rest of the film. (Do keep in mind, though, that by "better" I'm merely referring to gradations of "bad".) This one too, like Two Thousand Maniacs!, seems to have an intentional sense of humor, which helps immensely. And unlike Blood Feast, this doesn't drag ass -- no sir, this puppy moves. I also got a kick out of the peppy jazz score. All crap should be at least this good. (Apropos of nothing, the trailer featured on the DVD of this is one of the greatest trailers EVER.)

Grade: B-
Nomads (1986)

The opening sequence to this film is pretty damn cool. It's a loooooooong way down after that. Plain and simple, this movie beat the crap out of me. I tried to run, it knew where I lived. I tried to hide, it smelled my fear. I tried to stand up and fight, it knocked me over and bit my dick off. And then it made me watch the rest of itself, which is really hard to do when you're bleeding from the crotch. Apparently, the lesson of this movie is don't mess with malicious Alaskan demons. And don't let yourself get bitten by crazed French anthropologists. Good life lessons there. Pierce Brosnan is simply atrocious (who told him a French accent was a good idea?).

Grade: D
The Deer Hunter (1978)

I find myself conflicted on this film and standing outside of it. It's a very good, extremely well-made and occasionally quite harrowing 'Nam flick. Very well-acted, too -- Walken EARNED that Oscar. Problem is, it's also made from the vantage point of the shell-shocked and the damaged, which leaves the film feeling somewhat remote. Thus, when near the end of the film, Robert De Niro says "I'm feeling distant", I can believe that -- not because of what he's been through, but because the whole film has been that way. Hindsight also lets us see the nascent traces of the tendencies towards the self-indulgent and the extravagent that would eventually wreck director Michael Cimino's career. (Did the wedding scene really need to be forty minutes long?) It's a hell of an accomplishment, and I admire and respect the film. I just don't like it that much.

Grade: B

Monday, June 17, 2002

To celebrate the birthday of my most vocal reader (HAPPY (belated) BIRTHDAY, MS. SEKWA!), I decided to spend the weekend watching a couple of films that she's managed to recommend to me over God knows how long. Here's the four I picked.

Tonight's reviews: Angel Heart (1987)

Over-the-top horror noir is astonishingly, spectacularly unsubtle. (It is, after all, an Alan Parker film.) But somehow, that seems to be the perfect approach to the material -- a more guarded film wouldn't have been nearly as effective. It's not like Parker is trying to disguise where the film's headed, either. Knowing the twist at the end won't help, though; even though I went in with full knowledge of how it all wrapped up, the climax still connected like a frying pan between the eyes. Noir has always been one of the most despairing of genres, and when coupled with supernatural horror and served at a frenzy, it becomes painfully, existentially nihilistic, like Dashiell Hammet writing Sartre's No Exit. Not even remotely a feel-good movie, but a forceful and disorienting one by a filmmaker at the peak of his powers. Mickey Rourke demonstrates yet again why he's one of the most underrated actors of our time -- the role is more or less unplayable by anyone other than him. Demerit: Has possibly the dumbest character names of any movie ever.

Grade: B+

Nighthawks (1981)

Another perenially underrated and underutilized actor is Rutger Hauer. He's a bit limited in his range, but he's very good at what he can do, and he's often the best thing about less-than-stellar movies. Which is the case here. It's competently made and commendable to a point but not particularly gripping or interesting, save Hauer's compelling performance and a solid climax. Stallone doesn't suck, happily. The last few minutes are also quite clever.

Grade: C+

Dominick and Eugene (1988)

When Bad Endings Happen to Good Movies: Excellently acted, sensitively directed, warm and human drama is a fine film... right up to the point where Tom Hulce sees something he shouldn't. At this point, the film goes hackneyed and ridiculous on us. Now before someone mentions it, I understand the reasons behind the climactic crisis, and the emotional breakthrough is touching and overwhelming as it should be. (Ray Liotta has a monologue that'll getcha right in the heart.) But geez... there HAD to be a better way to achieve the catharsis. Any way, any way at all, would have been preferable to the soggy and melodramatic hash that got whipped up here. And I thought the loose, unresolved plot strands were going to be this film's biggest problem. Still a good film worth seeing, but man... what a letdown.

Grade: B-

...And Justice for All (1979)

Smug. Obnoxious. Overwrought. Irritating. Self-righteous. Full of shit. Arrogant. Inane. These words and others flew through my mind at a dizzying rate as this pap unspooled in front of me. There's a few good scenes, and Al Pacino is as good as ever... but Christ almighty. Is this facile, crude junk really what Hollywood liberals think of as "social criticism" or "satire"? Biggest surprise: It was co-written by Barry Levinson. Compare this overrated rot to, say, Levinson's Wag the Dog, which is just as snide and self-important but also A) is really sharp and funny, and B) stays relatively grounded in reality and doesn't give in to the temptation to leap headlong into inappropriate black absurdism.

Grade: D+

Saturday, June 15, 2002

Herschell Gordon Lewis Month continues with Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)

Now, THIS film I have no qualms about giving a recommended grade. Beacuse it's DAMN cool. Many of the flaws evident in Blood Feast have been corrected with this second outing for Lewis -- the acting, for one, is better all around. Even Connie Mason improves (that isn't saying much, mind you). A super-duper-special hugs-n-kisses go out to Jeffery Allen, who plays the Mayor with so much gregarious malevolance that you have to like the guy even when he's holding down a screaming woman so her arm can be hacked off. The budget is higher, so the film actually looks pretty polished and professional. The music this time around is fun, too -- just TRY getting that theme song out of your head. (Lewis not only wrote it, he SANG it -- told you he was a multitasker...) And the best thing? Many of the laughs this time around are wholly intentional! It's a comedy, a good-natured gore flick that realizes its own absurdity and has fun with that. It still isn't perfect (no sympathetic characters here, and the "love" plotline still feels forced and arbitrary)... plus, it's still essentially crap. But as crap goes, it's a hell of a whoopin' good time.

Grade: B

Friday, June 14, 2002

Herschell Gordon Lewis Month continues with Blood Feast (1963)

Yep, this is it -- the one that kickstarted the gore genre! It's probably best worth remembering merely for its influential status than any actual worth as a film. 'Cause honestly, it's pretty putrid. It's got no production values and a horrid script that just barely serves as the framework for some very gruesome goings-on, plus it's also got some of the worst acting in the history of cinema. And it's got a musical score (also the work of HG Lewis -- he's a multitasker!) that is so bizarre and cheesy that it practically becomes another character, and one that's more interesting than anyone in the film too boot. But that's not to say it's not entertaining -- rather, it's all these faults that make it the goofball laugh riot that it so undeniably is. Watching Connie Mason and Thomas Wood act out the "love" plotline in this film (and, at a lean 67 minutes, it's surprising HG found time to sketch a love story) is more or less like watching two cigar-store Indians try to get into each other's wigwams. And they aren't even the worst actors in the film! The only actor really worth paying any attention to is Mal Arnold, who kitsches and twitches up a storm as the insane murderer. His eyebrows alone are worth the price of a rental. The script is filled with howlingly bad lines, made even more glaringly so by the craplicious acting. (Great Moments in Dialogue: "Call the Fremonts, quick... and for Pete's sake, don't let them eat anything!") And the notorious gore effects... oh, Nelly! Most people cite the tongue-rip or the brain-scoop as their favorite, but I have to say this: When Ramses picked up a whip with flails obviously made of cloth and began whipping an unfortunate lass, with the blood just appearing on her back since the "whip" had obviously been soaked in cranberry sauce or something.... folks, it just doesn't get any more inspiring than that. I wish I had the gumption to give this film a minor-recommendation-level grade, seeing as how it entertained the hell out of me, but I just can't force myself to do it. I can come close, though. (But one note of actual praise before I finish -- considering the budget and time constraints as well as the get-the-shot-and-run modus operandi, the film, surprisingly, sports some quite decent direction from Lewis. I consider this doubly surprising, seeing as how he made a total botch of Suburban Roulette.)

Grade: C+

Thursday, June 06, 2002

The ABCs of Love & Sex: Australia Style (1978)

I found this hiding on the Comedy rack at my favorite video store, a treasure chest of never-heard-of-it and can't-find-it stuff. After viewing this movie, I hate to say it, but somebody at that video store's gettin' a beating. Comedy, my ass -- this thing's as straight-faced and serious as your average "based-on-a-true-story" TV drama. If a '70s-style softcore stroke flick and an educational film reel got into a head-on collision at ninety miles an hour, you might end up with this crooked-dicked mutant of a movie. It's the kind of thing you'd hope to see in Sex Ed class when you're fourteen and just dying for a peek at some naked gazongas; however, if you were in the mood for a proper film and not a collection of sex scenes with incongruously dry narration laid on top of it, it's torturous. Even the nonstop nudity gets boring, and that's something I never thought I'd say. What's up with the Swedish sexologist chick, anyway? Why the hell is she in this film mucking up the naughty bits?

Grade: D-
Big Fat Liar (2002)

If you bother to see a movie with this title, you deserve what you get. Kiddie-matinee fodder isn't particularly bad in any specific way; rather, it's just rote and uninspired throughout. It's very TV-calibre, actually -- no big surprise that most of the behind-the-camera talent is from the small screen (as well as its two teen stars). Paul Giamatti, God bless his soul, does all he can with his role and actually manages to wring a few chuckles out of the meager material.

Grade: C

Wednesday, June 05, 2002

The Blood on Satan's Claw (1971)

No, this film doesn't have anything to do with HG Lewis. I kinda wish it did, though. Instead, it's one of those high-class British horror dealies that were made so popular by Hammer Studios in the '60s.This particular one is well-staged and atmospheric as heck, and it has some fairly potent moments. But the plot is an absolute mess -- the pacing is off, characters appear and disappear at random, motivations change from scene to scene and the characters are forced to do some glaringly stupid things all in the service of pushing the story forward. By the big firey climax, I had more or less stopped caring.

Grade: C
In honor of the completion of Blood Feast 2, I've decided that, in addition to my normal crop of reviews this month, I'm gonna devote a lot of time to the oeuvre of one Herschell Gordon Lewis -- the Godfather o' Gore! So let's kick off HG Lewis month with a review of one of his less typical films...

Suburban Roulette (1967)

Yes, folks, welcome once again to that magical place where there's always a jazz song in the background, people make love while still wearing their underclothes and milk exists solely to be thrown about kitchens by children and belligerant drunks... boys and girls, ladies and gentleman, it's time for your new favorite game, SUBURBAN ROULETTE! Now, let's meet tonight's poorly-acted contestants: Margo and Ron, Cindy and Burt, Fran and Marty! We'd ask them to tell us a little something about themselves, but since they're completely without personality they'd have nothing to say! *APPLAUSE, LAUGHTER* Now, I'll explain the rules for those of you tuning in for the first time: Our six contestants, being the squarest swingers on the face of the earth, will sort of hint towards group sex and wife-swapping and all other manner of tawdry doings. But when they actually do these things, the moralistic weight of the universe will press down on them and their lives will go to hell in a handbasket! FUN! Now, are we ready to be bored out of our minds? Theeeeeeeen... GO! Oh, now look at them, the poor dull souls. Too timid to even try to titilate us. I guess the real losers here are the audience members. Sorry, folks... better luck next week!

Grade: C-

Saturday, June 01, 2002

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968)

A cinema-verite New-Wave experimental doc-fiction hybrid (now THERE'S a small subgenre) wherein director William Greaves more or less intentionally buggers up his direction of an on-location film so he can document how the cast and crew will rebel against him. Intriguing and fascinating for a while, until interest tapers off after the 45-minute mark (at that point, we've seen all the revealatory stuff we're gonna see; the rest is filler and repetition). Still a decent experiment, and it does have some memorable moments -- especially during the after-hours bullshit sessions between the principal crew members. Greaves comes off looking fairly well, considering the circumstances.

Grade: B-
Dragonfly (2002)

It took me roughly ten minutes to figure out the big twist at the end of this crapwagon. I only sat through the remainder of it to see if my suspicions would be confirmed (which they were). Transparently a Sixth Sense ripoff, and a laughable and stupid one at that; wasn't it only ten years ago that a new Kevin Costner movie was something to look forward to?

Grade: D