Thursday, July 28, 2011
The Woman (2011)
Director: Lucky McKee
It's a rare occasion that I head out to the cinema these days. Before I head off into a grumpy old man grumble about talking teenagers, cellphones etc, let's just say one of the reasons I set up a home cinema in my basement was because I had my fill of "public" cinema experiences.
That being said, my wife and I do venture out of the basement once or twice a year to check out some of the offerings at the New Zealand Film Festival. Two years ago we saw the schlocktastic Troll 2 on the big screen, which remains easily my favourite cinema-going experience, right up there with going to see ET at the age of six.
This year we picked two movies, the first being Lucky McKee's infamous The Woman. I picked it because of McKee's name being attached to it and because the synopsis sounded interesting. The controversy over some douche walking out of a Sundance screening (and bellyaching about the film being misogynistic - check it out on youtube) wasn't a major factor in the decision, but definitly added to the intrigue.
The Woman tells the story of a feral, animalistic woman who is captured by the patriach of what appears to be an average American family living in suburbia on the verge of a forest. The father chains her up in the barn, as he and his family seek to "civilise" the woman.
But under their shiny facade is a less-than-healthy family dynamic. Mom is a meek victim of constant verbal, emotional and occasionally-physical abuse. Teen daughter is keeping a pregnancy secret - could dear old Dad be the father? Pre-teen son is a sadistic psychopath learning his dad's bad habits.
The Woman is based on a Jack Ketchum novel. I have to confess I've never read a Ketchum novel, or, until The Woman, seen a film adaption of one of his books. I have read an article or two about The Girl Next Door though, and understand that one's quite sadistic. My impression after watching The Woman is that Ketchum is one messed up guy.
Alright, so the hype about The Woman is that it's shocking. It probably is to some people, but if you've seen the likes of Takashi Miike's Audition or Lars von Trier's Anti Christ, you won't be shocked here. There is sadistic violence, sure, but nothing verging on "torture porn".
What makes The Woman work so well are the characterisations and the acting of them. Sean Bridgers, while eerily looking quite like Will Ferrell, is great as the twisted Dad. Angela Bettis (McKee's leading lady in the great MAY) gives a sedated performance as the much-maligned Mom. But stealing the spotlight is Zach Rand as their son Brian, easily the most messed-up of the characters. Rand gives off a creepy vibe with a magnificently-subtle performance. And just as Bridgers kept reminding me of Ferrell, Pollyanna McIntosh, who plays The Woman, looks quite like Milla Jovovich.
Is The Woman horror? Not really. There's not much in the way of suspense at all. It is definitely a comedy, albeit a dark and twisted black comedy. Any movie that can show a husband beating his wife mercilessly and then have you laughing out loud seconds later is hard to pigeonhole. But it works because the father's actions are so ludicrous, but at the same time quite believable.
The Woman won't be to everyone's liking, but if you've got a messed up sense of humor it might just hit your funny bone. It did mine.
Saturday, July 23, 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Dead Space (1991)
Director: Fred Gallo
Format: VHS (Video Box Office)
If you've been following my blog for a while, you probably know that I'm an unashamed fan of Roger Corman (as shown by my Cormania movie marathon), as any true b-movie fan should be. The King of B Movies is, was and always will be the man when it comes to cutting corners and getting results on low budgets.
Dead Space is a prime example of Corman's recycling abilities. Not his skill at deftly sorting plastic and glass ahead of trash day, his ability to take his earlier projects and reuse footage/scripts/ideas time and time again.
To the uninformed Dead Space plays like a straight forward ripoff of Alien. Heck, Alien and Aliens have been ripped off (badly) so many times, it's a safe bet to think Fred Gallo went that way here, right?
Wrong. What we have here is in fact a remake of an Alien ripoff, which reuses footage from a Star Wars ripoff. Got all that?
Roger Corman is the common thread. He's Executive Producer here and Dead Space is a remake of his 1982 effort Forbidden World (which was clearly inspired by Alien). There's spaceship fight scenes lifted from Battle Beyond the Stars, another Corman masterpiece.
This is the feature film debut of director Fred Gallo (who went on to helm such quality fare as DRACULA RISING and STARQUEST II). It stars Marc Singer (BEASTMASTER, V) as a Han Solo-esque wise-cracking spaceship commander named Krieger (who instead of a Wookie companion has a robot buddy named Tinpan). They respond to a distress call and travel to a planet where scientists have created a kind of mutant virus that has broken free and is out of control.
The virus quickly takes monster form and it's up to Krieger and Tinpan to help the scientists survive. Among them is a pretty female scientist who quickly becomes Krieger's love interest (played by Laura May Tate of SUBSPECIES) and another played by future TV star Bryan Cranston (of Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad fame).
Dead Space does it level best to be Alien, but of course it falls short. It's a copy of a copy and like a third-generation videotape it's watchable in parts but unwatchable in others. Singer is as solid as ever, the support cast is good enough, and there are fleeting moments of claustrophobic dread, but what really lets Dead Space down (but also adds to the cheese factor) is the alien/monster effects.
Whereas Alien and its sequels had top notch monster effects, here you get rubber puppets with barely any movement. It's impossible to take it seriously and it pushes Dead Space from scifi/horror to unintentional comedy pretty quickly.
It's a shame, because there's nothing overly campy or cheesy about the rest of the movie. Decent monster effects could have made this a good movie. Instead it's stuck halfway between being good and being so bad it's good. I guess that leaves it being just plain bad, but at the same time there's a certain charm to Dead Space and it's not a complete waste of time.
Previews on my VHS: Double Impact, The Taking of Beverly Hills, Boyz in the Hood, The Unborn, Disturbed, Mystery Date
Monday, July 18, 2011
Director: James Gunn
This is one of those movies I've seen around a lot over the past five years and have always been intrigued by the great cover art, but our paths just haven't crossed. I bought it on DVD a few weeks back and tonight popped it in seeking a fun, popcorn movie night for me and the wife.
And boy we weren't disappointed! What a great, fun movie. It's a clear homage to the scifi movies of the 50s and 60s, with lots of humour and gore. There's so many influences it'd be hard to list them all, but the best I can do is describe it as Night of the Creeps meets The Blob meets Night of the Living Dead meets Tremors.
A comet crashes to earth and some kind of slug-like creature emerges to wreak havoc on a small rural American town. The colourfully-named Grant Grant (Michael Rooker, HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER) is infected and begins changing into a blob-like creature that feeds off stray animals. Determined to stop him are his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks, SPIDERMAN) and her childhood flame, now the town sheriff, Bill (Nathan Fillion, SERENITY). But soon thousands of alien slugs are scurrying around town, slithering into the mouths of people and turning them into zombies.
Rooker is as great as ever, Banks does a good job as the attractive damsel in distress and I actually liked Fillion in this. I haven't seen Firefly or Serenity, but I find him gratingly smarmy in his TV series CASTLE. Here his dry humor works with the outrageous things happening around him. The highlight of the acting is definitely the performance of Gregg Henry (RAISING CAIN) as the weaselly town mayor.
Writer/director James Gunn (the screenwriter on the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake) has to be commended for making this so much fun without making it overtly silly. Sure, there's some wacky stuff that goes on, but mostly it's played straight with moments of humour. There's no T&A, but oodles of gore (a man gets split in half, a woman explodes etc).
All in all this is one of the most fun movie nights I've had in a while.
American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993)
Director: Boaz Davidson
Format: VHS (Cannon)
Just one of many in a long line of low budget early 90s scifi actioners directly inspired by Terminator 2: Judgement Day, this clumsily-titled flick is an above average effort, filmed in Tel Aviv, Israel by Palestinian director Boaz Davidson.
It's one of two scifi movies Davidson helmed in the space of three years, the other one being the Michael Pare vehicle Lunar Cop (which I've previously reviewed). This one is a major improvement over that - my major gripe with Lunar Cop was its unfuturistic future sets, but here the sets are dark and dirty as they should be in a post-apocalyptic tale.
The male lead, Joe Lara, is also a big improvement on Pare. Lara's not going to win any acting awards, but he's believable as a brooding action hero.
After derivative opening narration that fills us in about mankind going sterile and cyborgs now ruling the roost, we meet Mary (Nicole Hansen). She's humankind's last hope, a pregnant female (although her creepy-as-hell fetus is out of her body and riding around in a plastic jar). She needs to get to the port of the ravaged city to catch a ride to Europe, but out to stop her is a cyborg (John Saint Ryan, DELTA FORCE 3).
To Mary's rescue comes street warrior Austin (Lara, STEEL FRONTIER) and together they battle their way through the city to get to the port, encountering various cyberpunk-esque characters along the way and battling the chasing cyborg. Naturally they fall in love in the process and there's a nice plot twist towards the end.
The acting is good for a movie with such a low budget (and missing any big name actors) and, as I previously mentioned, the post-apocalyptic cityscape sets are nicely done. The fight scenes are good enough, mainly consisting of gunfights and martial arts. My only real gripe is that the cyborg could have been more menacing - he just plain sucks at shooting people only a few feet away and struggles to beat a puny guy like Austin in hand-to-hand combat. He does have a nice spin kick though, something Arnie never had.
There's no gore to speak of and the closest we get to T&A is Hansen showing off some decent cleavage and pouring water over herself. This movie rates low on the unintentional humour front and there's not much in the way of cheesiness. It's just a solid low budget scifi actioner which did enough to keep me interested from start to finish.
Previews on my VHS: Stalin, The Bodyguard, Unforgiven, To The Death, Tommyknockers
Death Cheaters (1976)
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Format: VHS (Syme Home Video)
Director Brian Trenchard-Smith is a cult favorite when it comes to Australian movies. In the early 80s he helmed a couple of Ozploitation classics in 1980's Stunt Rock and 1982's remarkably offbeat Turkey Shoot (known in the US as Escape 2000 and in the UK as Blood Camp Thatcher), before turning to more family-friendly fare like 1983's BMX Bandits (starring a teenaged Nicole Kidman) and 1986's Frog Dreaming. By the 90s he had made his way to Hollywood, only to be stuck with dreck like Night of the Demons 2 and Leprechaun 4: In Space.
But before taking on any of the aforementioned films, Trenchard-Smith directed, wrote (and had a cameo in) this 1976 Australian actioner. Essentially it's a series of stunt set-pieces - car chases, abseling down inner-city buildings, furniture-destroying fistfights, guy getting run over, explosions, hang gliding etc - strung together by a flimsy plot.
Mustachioed Steve (John Hargreaves, LONG WEEKEND) and Rod (Grant Page, ROAD GAMES) are two Vietnam vet stuntman buddies who are hired by a spy named Culpepper (Noel Ferrier, TURKEY SHOOT) to go on a covert mission to the Philippines. They have to steal some secret papers or something of that nature.
Before that they undergo training (more excuse for stunt set pieces) and then catch a ride in a submarine. When they get to "The Philippines" (actually filmed in Australia) the action is restricted to some cliffs and a factory/mill, as they battle hordes of baddies, with plenty of nice, big explosions.
Everything is played tongue-in-cheek, with the two leads kidding around like they're in some kind of stuntman buddy movie. It works for the most part, just don't expect too much in the way of plot. The biggest problem is the lull in action that occurs midway through, but aside from that there's enough action to keep things interesting.
There are some unintentional laughs to be had - look out for the hilariously outdated gym equipment and the 70s fashions (Rod's array of pirate-like puffy shirts in particular).
But of course the high point is the stunts. Much of the credit for that falls to Grant Page, an experienced stuntman with 56 films under his belt. He was stunt co-ordinator for the first and third Mad Max movies.
Trenchard-Smith went on to create much better fare than this, but Death Cheaters is worth a watch to see this Ozploitation legend's early work.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Friday, July 8, 2011
One Tough Bastard (1996)
Director: Kurt Wimmer
Format: VHS (Video Box Office)
In the late 1980s, Brian "Boz" Bosworth and MC Hammer were seemingly on top of the world. College football standout Bosworth signed what at the time was the biggest rookie contract to play in the NFL, and Hammer was a successful rapper on the verge of superstardom via U Can't Touch This.
Fast forward a few years to 1996 and both men had fallen from grace in a big way. Bosworth's NFL career ended after three years where he was more famous for his off-the-field antics than his playing and Hammer's chart success didn't stretch beyond the initial buzz.
But hey, it's a good thing for us that it turned out that way, because otherwise they wouldn't have ended up acting together in this direct-to-video action revenge flick!
Also known by its TV-friendly title of One Man's Justice, this is director Kurt Wimmer's debut (he has since helmed two more movies, the latest being the 2006 Milla Jovovich vehicle Ultraviolet).
Boz - trading in his trademark spikey mullet for a more conventional do - is Sergeant John North, an army drill sergeant and hand-to-hand combat expert whose wife and daughter are murdered after stumbling on a shady arms deal. North discovers the man who murdered them, Marcus (Jeff Kober, ALIEN NATION) is working for crooked FBI agent Karl Savak (Bruce Payne), who in turn is working for crime kingpin Dexter Kane (Hammer!).
North naturally wants to mete out some good ol' revenge, while Savak and Kane want a stolen shipment of special guns. Also thrown into the mix is a young streetsmart kid (DeJuan Guy, CANDYMAN) who is running drugs for the gang, but who North takes under his wing. North ends up in jail but busts out, the bad guys double and then triple cross each other, and naturally everything leads to a final showdown between North and the men who killed his family.
The plot, acting and action in One Tough Bastard is all pretty good, but what really makes it fun is the hammy performance of Payne, sporting a nose ring and a blonde mullet (perhaps Boz's missing locks migrated to Payne's scalp) and half-whispering his lines with sarcastic evil.
While Bosworth isn't very good at emoting, he's an above-average action star and handles his role well enough, including the fight scenes. The supporting cast is good - Kober always makes a good sleazy bad guy and even Hammer is enjoyable with his curse-riddled performance (I always thought he left music to become a minister - I guess not). Look out for familiar character actor MC Gainey (CON AIR) in the briefest of on-screen appearances early in the movie, and Neal McDonough (WALKING TALL) in an early movie role.
There are better action movies out there but this one's worth seeing to witness Bruce Payne's performance. And hey, it's not every day you get to watch a movie starring both Brian Bosworth and MC Hammer, right?
Previews on my VHS: SFW, Money Train, Mute Witness, Chicken, Devil in a Blue Dress, Death Machine, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, Jumanji.
Monday, July 4, 2011
On the Line (1984)
Director: Jose Luis Borau
Format: VHS (CBS/Fox)
Don't be fooled by that cover - this US-Spanish-Australian production is more of a love story than an action movie. And David Carradine? He's in it for less than a third of the movie's 98-minute running time.
This rare English language outing for Spanish director Jose Luis Borau was filmed in Australia (doubling for the US-Mexican border). It has some moments of good action, but they are few and far between in a script that is essentially a Romeo & Juliet tale set in the grimy border town of Laredo.
Chuck (Jeff Delger, making his one and only movie appearance) and Jonathan (Paul Richardson) are a pair of young guys who head to the border town in search of a bit of excitement. They meet up with Chuck's uncle Bryant (the late David Carradine, KILL BILL), who makes his living as a coyote (people smuggler). They also meet Mitch (Scott Wilson, YOUNG GUNS 2), a border patrol cop, who likes to use his small plane to catch immigrants.
The young duo train to be border patrol officers but end up in a sticky situation when Jonathan unknowingly shoots at Bryant as he busts through a blockade, which gets Bryant arrested and an illegal immigrant killed in the process. Meanwhile, Chuck falls in love with a Mexican hooker named Engracia (gorgeous Spanish actress Victoria Abril) and soon learns that while his uncle is a lawbreaker, Mitch isn't much of a stand-up guy himself.
Chuck marries Engracia but Mitch - who lusts after the lovely lady himself - is out to stop them from ever finding happiness. Can they escape his clutches and live happily ever after or is this cross-border love affair forever doomed?
Once I realised the action flick the cover had promised me wasn't materialising, I enjoyed this movie for what it was - a tragic love story set amidst the interesting backdrop of the US-Mexican border. Life for those caught up in this daily cat and mouse game makes for fascinating plot fodder.
The acting is good. Carradine is his usual brooding self. Abril is beautiful and convincing as the hooker with a heart of gold and Delger starts off wide-eyed and gets stronger as the movie goes on (why did this guy not make any more movies?). The main couple do an adequate job of making us care about their plight. Wilson is the glue that keeps it all together, playing Mitch as flawed by not cartoonishly evil.
Look out for supporting roles by legendary character actor and former Hollywood blacklist victim Sam Jaffe (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL) in his last movie role before his death at the age of 93, and X-FILES regular Mitch Peliggi as a border cop.
This movie is on DVD, but all the reviews I've read indicate the DVD is cut to shreds (including slicing out the few scenes of nudity). The VHS seems to be the way to go to see this as it was intended, although I'm not too sure how easy this one is to track down.
Previews on my VHS: Enemy Mine, The Right of the People, Recruits (oh boy, this Police Academy rip-off looks dreadful).
Director: Mansour Pourmand
Format: VHS (CBL)
This low-budget flick can't make its mind up whether it wants to be horror, action, romance or a cop flick. Ultimately it fails at all of them.
Mansour Pourmand wrote, directed and produced this, his only filmmaking credit, which stars a bunch of unknown actors and was shot on video on a low budget.
Dona Adams (making her first and only movie appearance) is Lisa Ryder, a go-getter female cop who is promoted to detective by a vote-hungry female mayor. That pisses off most of the male cops she works with, but she doesn't have time to worry about that, because there's a killer in a gimp mask knocking off hookers.
That's pretty much all there is to the plot. Lots of other characters are thrown into the mix - including Michael Walker (Jonathon Mandell), a photographer who Ryder falls in love with; Ryder's partner Harry Shine (David Clover, LOCH NESS MONSTER); and chauvanistic cop Scalia (Richard Vidan, SCARECROWS) - but they're mostly there to act as red herrings.
The acting is for the most part atrocious, with Adams the main culprit. It's not hard to see why this is her only credit. The few special effects are Z-grade (including a laughable decapitation effect). The music is a Richard Band-esque keyboard musical score by Jim Halfpenny (who went on to score such masterpieces as Little Bigfoot 2: The Journey Home). And the fact it's shot on video gives it that distracting TV movie look.
My main complaint is that for a movie about a killer in a gimp mask, it's just not sleazy enough. There are lots and lots of scantily-clad women but only Adams gets her kit off (for run-of-the-mill sex scenes) and everything else is just too PG-rated for a movie of this kind. Sleaze it up people!
There are some moments of unintentional humor, mainly from the dialogue (which features such great back-and-forth patter as "You like being a cop?", replied with "Yeah"), but they are few and far between. It's all a bit ho hum really and the only thing that'll probably keep you watching to the end is the mystery of who's behind the mask. Trust me, even that's a let down, so feel free to skip this one.