Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Herschell Gordon Lewis "Month" hits the homestretch with The Gore-Gore Girls (1972)

This is Lewis's last credited work until the newly completed Blood Feast 2, and it appears he wanted to go out with a bang. So he upped the gore quotient by leaps and bounds while taking cues from the then-fairly-new giallo genre as well as old-style detective flicks. (Sidebar: For those of you who don't know, a giallo is a style-heavy and often quite brutal slasher genre practiced mainly in Italy. Most of the best-known ones were made by Dario Argento. The plots to gialli tend to be nonsensical; HG Lewis one-upped the Italians by making his plot nonexistent.) What this all means is that this is one seriously fucked-up movie. Even by HG's standards, there's shit in here that goes beyond the pale. (It's popular to read this as a misogynistic film; I don't see it that way, but it's easy to see how someone could believe that.) Still, what makes it bearable is twofold. First, Lewis's crackpot sense of humor is in full flower here -- fer crissakes, one woman bleeds to death after her naked rear end is repeatedly hammered upon with a meat tenderizer! (This inspires a classic line of dialogue from an enthusiastic-but-dumb-as-rocks cop: "And this one had her ass beat in.") Great closing title card, too. Second, the acting, while not excellent, actually seems semi-professional here. (Once again, NO CONNIE MASON! YAY!) I don't even think the film is as good as Blood Feast (it tends to get kinda dull when nobody's dying, and the Sherlock-Holmes-style-coda is stupid), but for HG cultists, it's worth a look-see. (Incidentally, Andrew Borntreger's review of this film is fall-down funny. Especially the "Things I Learned" section. Check it out for yourself here, buckos. Be forewarned, though, that he reveals the killer's mystery identity. Like it really matters.)

Grade: C+
The Attic Expeditions (2002)

I wish I could recommend this one enthusiastically, but I couldn't quite bring myself to like it. It's odd -- it seems practically made for me: a sex-and-violence laden headtrip with no easy answers, an ambiguous ending, a lot of uncertainty about the reality of the situation and supporting roles for Jeffrey Combs and Ted Raimi. Problem is, the film's grasp of plotting vis-a-vis the headtrip genre needed work; the script tips its hand on what should be one of its main surprises real early on, which kind of defuses a lot of the attempts at mindfuckery, and at least one major plot point (the import of the ritual) was never clarified enough -- ambiguity is one thing, but there comes a point where it just feels like needless obfuscation. Still, there's enough good stuff here (lots of neato imagery, and Seth Green is quite impressive, much more so than the film's bland lead) to where I nearly gave this a recommended grade, and I just might change my opinion if I get a second viewing in.

Grade: C+
No Such Thing (2002)

I suppose it's a matter of taste (the reviews certainly weren't kind), but I was hooked from the get-go by a clever prologue that ends with a gag timed so perfectly that I spent much of the credits giggling uncontrollably. What follows is an ambitious and entertaining tweak on the monster movie. Part of its appeal is that it mulls over a simple question that doesn't even occur to most standard genre efforts: In today's world, could monsters exist? (And if they did, would we be frightened of them?) The film doesn't offer up easy answers, either. It does, however, offer Hal Hartley's trademark deadpan sense of humor and two great central performances by Sarah Polley and Robert John Burke. Burke in particular is fantastic as the Monster, a splenetic and misanthropic drunk who would kill himself if only he wasn't immortal. It's a meaty role, and Burke sinks his teeth into it. Great makeup, too. I very nearly gave this a B+ until it swung for pathos at the end and whiffed. And, as practically everyone else who's seen it has pointed out, it's pretty messy, especially in the final ten. (The media-satire thread peters out without much of a punchline.) But I still recommend it enthusiastically.

Grade: B

Saturday, August 17, 2002

The First Nudie Musical (1976)

With a title like that, you pretty much know to set your expectations at Lowbrow going in. The good news is that the title more or less represents the product: a cheesy, amiable musical with lots of nudity. (Since it's from the '70s, you do get to see some naughty bits -- male and female.) It's a one-joke concept, to be sure, and rare is the film that can sustain one joke for ninety minutes. But the demerits this movie racks up are overcome by some surprisingly toe-tapping songs and the project's genial, friendly air. (This may be the most gee-whiz innocent raunch flick ever, save for possibly Orgazmo.) If nothing else, it's the only mainstream movie in history with Dancing Dildos. Star watchers take note: Cindy Williams is in the cast, and while she doesn't take her clothes off, she does utter a few phrases that you'd never hear on "Laverne and Shirly". Ron Howard cameos, too -- fortunately, he also stays fully clad. (In fact, a quick scan of the credits reveals that a number of the principals did time on either "Happy Days" or "Laverne and Shirly"... must have been a clandestine rebellion...)

Grade: B-

Monday, August 12, 2002

Jason X (2002)

Well, it's not a good movie. But who was expecting this to be good? It's freakin' Friday the 13th Part Ten! The only thing that matters is if it works as a Friday film. And, in my eyes, it's the best Friday since the original. (Of course, I don't think that well of anything after Part 1...) Its biggest problem, besides the high-school-drama-class acting, is the screenwriter's insistence upon ripping off damn near every single plot point of Aliens. I mean, seriously. Somewhere, James Cameron is preparing a lawsuit. But it's better paced than practically every single Friday sequel, plus there's a few neat kills and some refreshingly intentional laughs. (The scene at "Camp Crystal Lake" is worth a rental in and of itself.) Still not remotely a quality film, and probably not for anyone who isn't a Friday cultist already, but you knew that.

Grade: C+
The Wolves of Kromer (2000)

Maybe I'm too hard on this film. It is, after all, made with good intentions. Good intentions, however, are not enough to make a film worth watching. Especially if said film is an aggravatingly pretentious fantastical allegory about homosexuals and their societal status as outcasts. No evidence of any deep thinking exists in this film -- the filmmakers thought of their thesis (wolves = homosexuals) and filmed it as is, using a stock plot reduced to its barest elements. Anyone who's conscious and of sound mind should take about ten minutes to figure out where this is going and what every character represents in the schematic. What makes it even worse is that the film is so sincere and so convinced that its message needs to be heard (because nobody else has ever made a movie in this fashion... oh, sure, hundreds of Queer Cinema films have made films about societal intolerance, but none of them ever thought to make their protagonists wolves!) that it really crosses the line and starts feeling like hectoring. It's capital-A Art gone bad. Nobody should have to bear witness to that. (The Loss of Sexual Innocence, anyone?)

Grade: F
The Operator (2001)

Not-bad debut film about a guy whose life goes to hell when he insults a vindictative (and apparently omnipotent) telephone operator. Works as a creepy persecution thriller for about an hour-plus; eventually, it loses its bearings and mutates into a Christian moral fable, but you can't get everything right your first time out. No naked Christa Miller though, what a gyp.

Grade: B-
Herschell Gordon Lewis "Month" trudges along with She-Devils on Wheels (1968)

Wow. And I thought Something Weird was bad. At least that, while unbearable, was still recognizably a HG Lewis film; this thing looks like it coulda been done by any hack with a camera and access to a lot of hogs. Most noticeably, it's missing Lewis's half-cocked sense of humor -- and Christ, this film needed some humor. Even unintentional humor would have helped salve the bleeding. Notable only for a weirdly abrupt ending which cuts the movie off about twenty minutes short of the running time listed on the DVD. Thanks to whatever higher powers may be for small miracles like that.

Grade: D-

Friday, August 09, 2002

Minority Report (2002)

Sweeeeeeeeeeet. When the dust from this honestly-quite-disappointing summer settles, this little number will rate as one of the few exciting and involving movies to rise above the flotsam. It's strikingly weird, too, maybe the strangest big-money vehicle ever conceived -- I would have never expected Tom Cruise to star in a film that called for him to, among other things, chase his own eyeballs down a hallway. I was also unaware that Spielberg's sense of humor skewed so far towards the bizarre -- some people have found this off-putting, but I'm a big fan of dryly digressive humor, especially when used as effectively as it is here. (See also: Signs.) Has a few less-than-impressive scenes (I found at least one element of the climax far too convenient, and the bit in the greenhouse rates down there with the boat ride in Dark City as one of the crappiest pure-exposition scenes to ever mar an otherwise-super movie), but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Grade: B+
Brother (2001)

Now I REALLY need to see Fireworks and Sonatine. If they're better than this, Takeshi Kitano's thoughtful and compelling meditation on loyalty in its many forms, then they must truly be some world-class cinema. Maybe I'm overrating this one some (due mainly to my above-professed ignorance of Kitano's acknowledged seminal films), and yeah, the narrative slackens in the second half, and yeah, the coda feels like an acquiescense to Hollywood-style filmmaking (reportedly, the original finale shown at the 2000 New York Film Festival was even worse). That doesn't mean that the film as a whole isn't a brutal, riveting, dryly funny and ultimately unmissable work of art.

Grade: B+
Electra Glide in Blue (1973)

Did every movie in the '70s lack a narrative? Or am I just getting unlucky? Film tries hard and occasionally works (especially in the first half), but it's ultimately the kind of film that gets called an "interesting failure". Robert Blake is very good, but it says something that this isn't even his best '70s-disillusioned-cop-downbeat-drama (Busting is far better). I would have to imagine that the resigned, fatalistic ending was becoming a cliche even by 1973; nowadays, it's damn near eye-rolling.

Grade: C+

Monday, August 05, 2002

Scooby-Doo (2002)

Not as bad as I expected. Then again, I was expecting a soul-sucking monstrosity, so I was overjoyed when I merely got crap. Considering the semi-satirical bent and the brainwashing plotline, this could be seen as the cut-rate version of Josie and the Pussycats. Which, if you think about it, is pretty sad. Still, if you hate Scrappy-Doo, you might consider renting this on a slow night. Matthew Lillard's impersonation of Shaggy is uncanny.

Grade: C-
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Rick Rosenthal can lick my nuts, the incompetent pretentious hack.

Grade: F
Signs (2002)

All the grousing about the film's religious content seems like misdirection on the part of the critical mass: whether or not Shyamalan's examination of faith bothers you (didn't bother me, and it's no more ham-fisted than, say, Breaking the Waves), or whether or not you buy a crucial last-minute plot point (I did -- it's hokey, but it works), the fact remains that this is expertly directed and incredibly creepy. Pretty touching, too.

Grade: A-

Saturday, August 03, 2002

American Nightmare (2002)

Whenever the studios fuck slasher pics up all to hell and everyone proclaims the meat movie dead, some indie director with a Super-8 camera comes along and proves that there's life left in the genre after all. You can bet money on it. Here's the latest example of such indie quality -- a neat pic that, while it does suffer from rote plotting and occasional iffy acting, provides a goodly amount of chills and showcases a fierce performance from B-queen Debbie Rochon. Really, she's pretty freaky. Shame about the ending (there's such a thing as too little closure), but it's a debut. Me forgive. I look forward to what writer/director Jon Keeyes offers next.

Grade: B-
Kid Blue (1973)

Apparently, in the '70s, it was possible to make a movie with no plot at all if you had a bunch of good actors and a hip vibe that said, "Hey, we're exploding some genre tropes!" even if you were just aimlessly wandering through genre trapping and pretending at deconstruction and too high to know that you were actually making some boring, full-of-shit, wasting-some-good-performances-and-some-decent-scenes piece of celluloid to be released, forgotten and never put out on video for a good reason. Good to know.

Grade: C
Rollerball (2002)

About 35 minutes into this film, the Rob Zombie song "Feel So Numb" poured onto the soundtrack. And all I could think was: Yeah, I know how you feel. This is the event-movie as blunt instrument, with plenty of loud noises and flashing lights to fool the viewer into thinking something is happening in front of him -- indistinguishable from your average July 4th fireworks display, except that the fireworks make more sense and are over sooner. Oh yeah, sense... I know narrative coherency isn't exactly something you expect from a film centered around a game so complicated that the film doesn't know how it's actually played, but during the big climax, the film actually starts making negative sense. Seriously. It not only contradicted and doubled back on itself but actively made me question the logic behind movies I'd already watched, filed away and forgotten. Pretty jumbled shit, really. One amazing fact I learned: Nighttime in the Kahazazakistaniblaminastian desert makes everything glow green!

Grade: D