Saturday, July 5, 2014

What I Watched - June 23-29 2014

Note: A quiet week without much in the way of movie viewing, but busy enough in other areas of my life that I didn't find time to write any full reviews. Tune-In June was finished off with three made-for-TV movies and the pilot of a TV show. 

WHAT I WATCHED: June 23-29

TUNE IN JUNE: Killdozer (1974) AVI
- This ABC Movie of the Week has a ridiculous-but-awesome concept - on a small Pacific Island an alien force takes over a bulldozer and begins killing off members of a small construction crew. These days it would be played completely for laughs, but there's not even a hint of humour here. Everything is played completely straight. Directed by Jerry London (who also helmed a TV movie I watched in May, MANHUNT FOR CLAUDE DALLAS), it has a good cast, including Clint Walker (TV's CHEYENNE), Neville Brand (EATEN ALIVE) and Robert Urich (TV's SPENSER FOR HIRE). The concept is better than the end result, but for the sheer fact of getting to see people fighting for survival against a driver-less bulldozer, it's worth checking out. 

TUNE IN JUNE: Moving Target (1988) VHS
- Fairly innocuous 80s made-for-TV movie about a teenager (Jason Bateman in the midst of his rise to fame on TV's VALERIE) on the run from organised crime. You know the kinds of shenanigans that come with this kind of movie, but the writers and director Chris Thomson (who, like me is a New Zealander) throw enough balls in the air that it stops from being completely predictable. Shockingly, Bateman isn't obnoxious (I can't stand the guy usually), and the rest of the cast are good, from his love interest, Chynna Phillips (of 80s music group Wilson Phillips), to his dad (Tom Skeritt, ALIEN), the hitman (Jack Wagner) and the main bad guy (Richard Dysart, THE THING).

TUNE IN JUNE: Calendar Girl Murders (1984) Netflix
- Back-to-back Tom Skerritt, but here he's the main protagonist in this made-for-TV movie about, well, a string of calendar girl murders. It's fairly basic fare but the acting is really what makes it stand out (a constant pattern with these 70s and 80s TV flicks). Skerritt is always great, and there are prominent roles for Sharon Stone and TV regulars Robert Culp (GREATEST AMERICAN HERO) and Alan Thicke (GROWING PAINS). Stone's role as a model caught in the middle of a murder mystery, trying to seduce a straight-laced cop, make it impossible not to think of Basic Instinct, minus the edginess obviously. You'll see the ending "twist" coming a mile away though.

TUNE IN JUNE: Warehouse 13 pilot (2009) Netflix
- I've been meaning to check out this SyFy TV series for a while, so finally got around to watching the movie-length pilot. The concept (male and female secret service agents are invited to join a secret government organisation which tracks and warehouses all of the world's magical and supernatural items) is reminiscent of TV's Friday the 13th: The Series, with aspects of The X-Files, Supernatural and Men in Black thrown into the mix. I like the concept, but it's handled in a more comedic way than I'd like, making everything a bit goofy, but I'll be checking out some more episodes at some point.

Whore's Glory (2011) Netflix
- Fairly interesting documentary that follows the daily life of prostitutes in three different countries (Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico). Some very eye-opening stuff. Be warned - for the most part it is frank without being graphic, but towards the end there's some graphic sex involved.

Transformers: Age of Extinction 3D (2014) Cinema
- I know, I know. Why the hell did I go to the cinema to see the fourth Transformers movie? I'll tell you why. I had free tickets to a fancy theatre (leather recliners, meal service etc) that expired at the end of June. This was the only thing showing on the last weekend of the month, so this is what I ended up seeing. I went in with extremely-low expectations, and ended up actually enjoying it. It could be that I saw it without having to pay any money or it could be that I saw it in 3D (my first ever 3D cinema experience), but I found Age of Extinction entertaining enough. I like Mark Wahlberg (yay no more Shia LeDouche!), the Dinobots were cool, the action was easier to follow and a lot of the dumb comedy from the earlier movies was gone. Definitely the best of the series so far.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What I Watched - June 16-22 2014

Note: A busy week of movie watching, including three more entries in Tune in June, a number of documentaries and plenty of Netflix viewing (after being without Netflix for a month or so I've been catching up).

WHAT I WATCHED - June 16-22:

Eyes of the Mothman (2011) Netflix
- Documentary about the Mothman legend of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, made famous by the 2002 Richard Gere movie, Mothman Prophecies. Fairly interesting, with a lot of interviews with local townsfolk, college professors and the like. Definitely worth watching if you're interested in unexplained phenomena, whether you're a believer or a sceptic.

Cashback (2006) Netflix
-  With a concept like this (guy learns how to stop time while working late nights at a supermarket), the easy route would be to turn it into a teen comedy full of toilet humour. Instead English director/writer Sean Ellis crafts a funny-but-heartfelt romantic comedy full of fantastic acting performances, particularly from leads Sean Biggerstaff (HARRY POTTER movies) and Emilia Fox. Yes, there is plenty of nudity, but it is handled in a smart way, while leaving room for plenty of humorous moments.

Open Season 2 (2008) Netflix
- Father-son movie night. I haven't seen the first movie, but this one was adequate enough and my son enjoyed it (to be honest there's not much animated that he doesn't like). The highlight was the little creature voiced by Scottish comedian Billy Connelly.

TUNE IN JUNE: Condor (1986) Netflix
- See full review here.

TUNE IN JUNE: Time Trax (1986) VHS
- See full review here.

Of Two Minds (2012) Netflix
- Documentary about bi-polar disorder, focusing on several individuals with it. Doesn't go too much into the science, instead shining the spotlight on what it's like to live with mental illness, both for the sufferers and their family and friends. A decent enough time waster.
Only God Forgives (2013) Netflix
- I'm a huge fan of Drive, so when I heard that director Nicolas Winding-Refn and star Ryan Gosling were getting back together to make another movie, I was excited. Unfortunately I was disappointed by Only God Forgives. I wanted to like it, I really did. But what was great about Drive (long periods of contemplative, beautifully-shot scenes mixed with brief moments of intense violence) comes off here as over-indulgent. The Thailand setting is refreshing, and Gosling continues to be badass, but Only God Forgives seems to be trying too hard and falls short.

Madhouse (2004) Netflix
- A horror movie set in an insane asylum starring a trio of late-90s, early-2000s "stars" (Blair Witch Project's Joshua Leonard, American Pie's Natasha Lyonne and Cabin Fever's Jordan Ladd). Like Shutter Island there's a mystery to solve (who is killing patients?), but on a far lower budget. Some nice stylistic touches and a decent twist ending, and it's always good to see Josh Leonard getting work.

You're Gonna Miss Me (2005) Netflix
- Music doco about psychadelic rock pioneer Roky Erickson and his downward spiral from musical success in the 1960s and early 70s, to institutionalisation and then ending up as a shell of his former self, living with his mom in poverty. Less a documentary about music and more a frank look at mental illness (a theme I can't seem to get away from at the moment!) and the effects of bad parenting.

TUNE IN JUNE: Brian's Song (1971) AVI
- When I decided to do Tune in June I looked up lists of the top made-for-TV movies, and this one was mentioned on a lot of lists. I'll admit that I knew nothing about it, other than it was about an American Football player who died young. That's the crux of it, but what makes this so special is the great acting by James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, and the way they're able to bring the true-life friendship of Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers to life. Truly touching.

The Tall Man (2012) Netflix
- I think Pascal Laugier's Martyrs is one of the greatest horror movies of the last decade. It's suspenseful, brutal and I was left thinking about it's content for days afterwards. I was excited to hear that Laugier had followed up with this tale of children going missing in a small US mountain town. Whereas Martyrs is a decidedly French movie, this moves to English language, an American setting and American stars, headlined by Jessica Biel. The result is not as brutal as Martyrs but just as thought provoking and suspenseful. Get this man more work!

Strongman (2009) Netflix
- Another documentary, this one about Stanless Steel, a powerful middle-aged showman strong enough to bend pennies with his bare hands. But he's living in poverty, his family is messed up and his relationship with his live-in girlfriend/announcer is hardly ideal. There's no real point to this doco, no real point that it builds to, but it's a frank and honest look at a man who thinks he should be famous but isn't.

TUNE IN JUNE: Time Trax (1993)

Note: Here on Shlock to the System, June is TUNE IN JUNE, which is really just an excuse for me to catch up on some TV series I've been meaning to watch for a while. But I will also be watching a number of TV movies, particularly ones from the hey-day of the TV movie, the 70s and 80s.

Time Trax (1993)
Director: Lewis Teague
Starring: Dale Midkiff, Mia Sara, Elizabeth Alexander, Michael Warren, Henry Darrow
Format: VHS

Plot: Captain Darien Lambert (Midkiff) is a police officer in the year 2193, in the elite fugitive retrieval unit. He learns that a prominent scientist has developed a time machine called Trax. For a large fee, he has been sending dangerous criminals back to the year 1993, where they are safe from capture. When Darien corners the scientist, he escapes into the past. Darien also travels to 1993, vowing to retrieve all fugitives and send them back for punishment. Armed with a computer that looks like a credit card, named SELMA (Alexander), and a high-tech laser weapon disguised as a remote car alarm.

This is the two-part pilot of a TV series that apparently lasted two seasons (although I've never seen it, or in fact heard of it before I bought this pilot/movie on VHS). But I quite enjoyed it, and will hopefully come across the series one day and be able to check it out (as far as I can tell it's only available as part of Warner's MOD program, and sells at ridiculous prices).

Because this is a pilot movie, a good portion of it is spent setting up the characters and scenario, which does drag out a bit, but the action really ramps up towards the end, with an exploding boat, a chase through a jungle and someone falling off a massive waterfall. And it's no coincidence that things improve overall once the setting shifts from 2193 to 1993, because the portion set in the future isn't very convincing, or interesting for that matter. The "fish out of water" stuff in 1993 is much more fun.

Dale Midkiff is a likeable enough leading man and he has good chemistry with his love interest, the always-beautiful Mia (FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF), who plays dual roles - a woman in the future who Lambert falls for, and her great-granddaughter in 1993. A year after this she would also star in another time travel story, Jean Claude Van Damme's TIMECOP. Another piece of trivia is that both Midkiff (PET SEMETARY) and director Teague (CUJO) had previously worked on Stephen King adaptions, althought not together.

The hologram companion, coupled with time travel, did make me think of QUANTUM LEAP, with it's similar construct, but Time Trax doesn't have the wry sense of humour of Dean Stockwell's Al.

In summary, if I'd caught this Time Trax pilot back in the day, I'd be tuning in to catch the series to see if it develops well. The concept is interesting and any excuse to look at Mia Sara on a regular basis, am I right?

TUNE IN JUNE: Condor (1986)

Note: Here on Shlock to the System, June is TUNE IN JUNE, which is really just an excuse for me to catch up on some TV series I've been meaning to watch for a while. But I will also be watching a number of TV movies, particularly ones from the hey-day of the TV movie, the 70s and 80s.

Condor (1986)
Director: Virgil W Vogel
Starring: Ray Wise, Wendy Kilbourne, James Avery

Format: Streaming (Netflix)

Plot: In futuristic Los Angeles, a crime-fighting organization known as Condor goes up against the Black Widow, a female master criminal. The Black Widow steals the national security code and threatens to blow up Hollywood unless her old enemy, Proctor, a Condor operative, is turned over to her.

This ABC made-for-TV movie was intended as the pilot for a TV series, but it never happened. Which is a shame, because if this was a series, I'd watch it.

Sure, Condor is pretty damn cheesy but it's also good fun. Most of its appeal is due to leading man Ray Wise (it's hard to believe this is just four years before he'd portray Laura Palmer's dad on TWIN PEAKS), who plays a suave and wise-cracking detective, Proctor.

Attractive blonde Wendy Kilbourne (TV's MIDNIGHT CALLER) is his android partner, Lisa. Naturally Proctor doesn't like having a robot for a partner, and they constantly bicker, as is usually the dynamic in these sorts of shows. Proctor's prejudice against his android partner reminded me of the dynamic in the TV series Alien Nation (as well as Wise's minor resemblence to that series' star, Gary Graham). The late James Avery (Uncle Phil on FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR) turns up in a minor supporting role.

Aside from the good work by Wise, the main reason to watch this is to see how they handle "the future" in 1986. There's plenty of hokey "future" scifi stylings (hands-free driving, robot servants, laser guns, androids, hologram TV) and while the clothing might have seemed quite futuristic at the time, 30 years later it just seems like a slight variation on awful 80s fashions. One funny moment is when Lisa asks Proctor where his PC is. "My what?" he asks, and she replies "Personal Computer". In 1986 this was probably futuristic speak, but today it just seems quaint.

My only real complaint is with the pilot's villain, Rachael Hawkins (Carolyn Seymour), who is as bland as they come. A stronger antagonist might have helped this series get picked up.

Condor isn't anything special, but I was a kid of the 80s who grew up on the TV of the time. This reminded me of any of the various early-80s scifi/crime shows (Street Hawk, Automan, Knight Rider, Airwolf), minus the cool vehicle, but with the overall same sort of vibe. For that reason I enjoyed it, although it's probably not to everyone's tastes.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What I Watched - June 9-15 2014

Note: This was a very slow week in terms of movie watching, with a lot of other stuff going on. But I did manage to take in two more entries for Tune In June as well as a few other random flicks.

WHAT I WATCHED - June 9-15:

Watership Down (1978) DVD
- I first saw this movie (an animated tale about rabbits venturing away from their home) when I was about 6 or 7 years old, at the cinema as part of a class trip. I hadn't seen it since, although some scenes remained vivid in my memory, as did the fact that I cried during some of the sadder moments. I rewatched it with my four-year-old son after all these years and found it to be beautifully-animated and quiet touching. Great voice work by the likes of John Hurt, Richard Briers, Roy Kinnear and Denholm Elliott. Not as sad as I remembered (my young mind must have misinterpreted some of the scenes), although my son said he found some of it a bit scary.

TUNE IN JUNE: Hawaiian Heat (1984) VHS
- I had planned on giving this 1984 TV movie a full review, but somehow I lost my notes. This was the pilot for a TV series that lasted one season. Two Chicago cops (one of whom is Robert Ginty from THE EXTERMINATOR!) move to Hawaii and move in with a group of beautiful women (including Tracy Scoggins from BABYLON 5). They end up working as cops in Hawaii and with all guns blazing take down a drug syndicate. This has a good supporting cast, with the likes of John Fujioka (AMERICAN NINJA), Mako and Branscombe Richmond (RENEGADE). I guess the 80s were a time for shows featuring cops in warm climates, but this is no Magnum PI and it sure isn't Miami Vice. It's corny, blandly shot and has uninteresting leads. Easy to see why it got cancelled after one season.

 Tentacles (1977) Netflix
- My Netflix is working on my main TV again! Woohoo! Upon discovering that fact, I dived into my to-watch list, starting with this Italian-American co-production monster movie. It's obviously an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Jaws two years earlier, with a giant shark replaced by a giant octopus. The effects are good cheesy fun, but what elevates this from z-grade status is the cast, with legends John Huston and Henry Fonda, the rugged Bo Hopkins and the hammy Shelley Winters in great form. Directed by Ovidio G Assonitis (BEYOND THE DOOR).

The Imposter (2012) Netflix
- Intriguing documentary about a French man who impersonated an American teenager who went missing in the early 90s. Travelling all the way from Spain, he is "reunited" with the boy's American family, somehow passing off as the missing boy. It sounds implausible, but as the story unfolds even darker motives are uncovered. This is well put together, mainly from the point of view of the French man, the American family and the authorities.

TUNE IN JUNE: Fortress (1985) AVI
- See full review here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TUNE IN JUNE: Fortress (1985)

Note: Here on Shlock to the System, June is TUNE IN JUNE, which is really just an excuse for me to catch up on some TV series I've been meaning to watch for a while. But I will also be watching a number of TV movies, particularly ones from the hey-day of the TV movie, the 70s and 80s.

Fortress (1985)
Director: Arch Nicholson
Starring: Rachel Ward, Marc Aden Gray, Rebecca Rigg, Sean Garlick
Format: AVI

Plot: In the Australian countryside, a school teacher and her students are kidnapped by masked men. She and the children fight for their lives and try to escape from their captors.

This Australian made-for-TV movie stars the beautiful Rachel Ward, who was fresh off a series of American big budget movies (SHARKEY'S MACHINE, DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID, AGAINST ALL ODDS), and a supporting cast made up mostly of children actors.

Teacher and children are the focus of the movie, from the moment they're snatched from their classroom and taken into the Aussie bush for ransom, through their escape from a cave, to another run-in with their captors and climaxing in a final, deadly showdown that sees the kids becoming feral warriors, ala Lord of the Flies, but with bad guys on the receiving end instead of other children.

The fact that this is a made-for-TV movie might suggest that the violence is muted. But remember, this is Australian TV, not American. Whereas American network TV is highly censored, that's not the case in Australia (or here in New Zealand). With a story like this, that's an important difference, because the violence is an important part of proceedings and doesn't have to be kept off-screen.

But in saying that, some of the violence is still quite shocking, being that it involves children. And not children as victims, but children as perpetrators. These kids are pushed over the edge and they fight back in a big way.

The kidnappers are kept faceless for all but a brief moment, and their masks really add to the tension. Like in a more recent move, You're Next, seemingly-friendly masks become instruments of terror. Here it's also animal masks, but the ringleader wears a Santa Claus mask, which is all kinds of twisted.

Ward carries the bulk of the acting load (as well as getting her kit off), but most of the children also do a great job of acting terrified and bewildered and then, towards the end, vengeful. None of the young actors went on to become a Heath Ledger or Naomi Watts, but for most part they've all kept working in TV and movies since.

Fortress is a prime example of a made-for-TV movie done right. At just short of 90 minutes it never feels overly-long. Unencumbered by the censorship issues of an American production, it doesn't pull any punches and weaves an entertaining and suspenseful tale which will have you cheering along as the kids mete out their justice.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What I Watched - June 2-8 2014


Lone Survivor (2014) AVI
- Big-screen account of the true-life navy seal operation to kill a Taliban leader in Afghanistan, which as the name suggests didn't go well. From the start you know that only Mark Wahlberg's character will survive, which takes away some of the emotional impact. Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster are all excellent actors, but don't have much in the way of character development to work with here. But the action is exhilirating and there are enough twists and turns to keep things exciting (an important one prevents this from becoming an exercise in anti-Muslim sentiment). A good watch for action fans.

 Win Win (2011) TV
- I caught this late at night on TV and kept watching mainly due to the presence of Paul Giamatti, who is excellent in everything he does. Giamatti plays a small-town lawyer down on his luck and looking to make a buck by double-crossing an elderly client, until that client's estranged grandson comes to town. Giamatti, a high school wrestling coach, and his family take in the boy, who turns out to be a talented wrestler. Heartfelt and funny, this movie will fly under the radar of many but is definitely worth catching if you get the chance.

Toy Story (1995) Blu Ray
- Father-son movie night and time for another Disney classic. My son has a Buzz Lightyear doll and knows a few of the other characters, but had never seen the movie. This looks great in HD, and of course is one of the all-time great family flicks.

TUNE IN JUNE: Gargoyles (1972) AVI
- See full review here
American Hustle (2013) AVI
- David O Russell's latest offering has an all-star cast (Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper etc) and is very good. I still like The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook better, but there's a lot to like about this one too. The 70s setting allows for outrageous fashion (the overall look of this film is dazzling) and some fun moments (like Bale getting an early microwave and his wife accidently blowing it up). Bale and Adams are excellent as two con-artists caught by the FBI and trying to find a way out while helping the feds catch other crooks. The plot does drag slightly in the middle, but the payoff is worth it. 
TUNE IN JUNE: Deadwood Season 2 (TV series, 2005) DVD
- See full review here

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

TUNE IN JUNE: Deadwood Season 2 (2005)

Note: Here on Shlock to the System, June is TUNE IN JUNE, which is really just an excuse for me to catch up on some TV series I've been meaning to watch for a while. But I will also be watching a number of TV movies, particularly ones from the hey-day of the TV movie, the 70s and 80s.

Deadwood Season 2 (2005)
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Brad Dourif, William Sanderson, Powers Boothe, Jim Beaver
Format: DVD
I thoroughly enjoyed season 1 of Deadwood. I do love a good western and I quickly found myself enthralled with the fictional tales of life in what was a real life mining camp in the days of Wild Bill Hickock (who featured in the first season).

Season 2 picks up where the first season left off. Life in Deadwood is a constant gamble. I haven't yet seen Seth McFarlane's comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West, but the concept could easily apply to life (and death) in Deadwood. If you're not cut down by a bullet fired in anger, then there are a thousand illnesses waiting to knock you over, or maybe an out-of-control carriage might crush your skull. Life isn't something you can take for granted.

At the heart of the show remains Timothy Olyphant's Bullock, who in Season 2 becomes sheriff of the mining camp. There's a lot of politicking going on, mainly by the dastardly saloon owner Al Swearengen (Ian McShane), and his business opponent Cy Tolliver (Powers Boothe), but amongst the numerous subplots are a love triangle, racial tensions, the struggles of a whore trying to better herself, a wedding and a funeral that the whole camp attends (so you know it's something big - for the most part dead bodies get fed to the pigs on this show). The over-arching sub-plot involves the government wanting to take over the running of the town, and a mining big-wig buying up claims all over.

The acting remains excellent across the board. Olyphant continues to play the quiet, brooding type to a tee, William Sanderson slithers about as the conniving mayor, Brad Dourif is excellent-as-ever as the town doctor, and Robin Weigert is a revelation as Calamity Jane, who provides most of the comedic value. But the all-star acting prize goes to Ian McShane, whose Swearengen is on the surface a backstabbing, scheming game player, but who begins to show a more sympathetic side during this season, albeit while killing and plotting away gleefully.

One development that had me scratching my head was the return of Garret Dillahunt (most recently seen on TV's excellent RAISING HOPE). When he showed up I was confused, as he'd played a different role in the first season. I was expecting it to be revealed that he was back in disguise, but not so. His role this time out is definitely one of the highlights of the season - mining company representative Francis Wolcott, who has a penchant for slashing the throats of pretty girls.

In fact, the episode where Wolcott's fetish is unleashed in all its bloody glory (Ep 6 "Something Very Expensive") is the highlight of the season. While everyone in Deadwood seemingly has a dark side, Wolcott's bloodlust makes him the series' true villain. The weakest episode is Ep 4 "Requiem for a Gleet", which mostly deals with Al Swearengen's battle with near-deadly gallstones. It's slow and mostly uninteresting.

Part of the appeal of this show, apart from the magnificent acting and writing, is that you never quite know who might end up dead next. Much like life in the mafia (The Sopranos) or a zombie apocalypse (The Walking Dead), staying alive in Deadwood is easier said than done.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

TUNE IN JUNE: Gargoyles (1972)

Note: Here on Schlock to the System, June is TUNE IN JUNE, which is really just an excuse for me to catch up on some TV series I've been meaning to watch for a while. But I will also be watching a number of TV movies, particularly ones from the hey-day of the TV movie, the 70s and 80s.

Gargoyles (1972)
Director: Bill L Norton
Starring: Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt, Scott Glenn, Bernie Casey
Format: AVI

Plot: An anthropologist and his daughter travel into the desert of the southwest US to investigate a report of strange goings-on, and stumble upon a colony of living, breathing gargoyles who live in nearby caves. When the gargoyles attack, father and daughter must fight for survival.

Ah yes, the TV movie. Before the advent of the VCR, the only way most people could catch a movie was either at the cinema or later when it was broadcast on TV. During the 1960s, a new term was coined, the Made-for-TV movie. Throughout the 70s and 80s, the likes of the ABC Movie of the Week and NBC Saturday Night at the Movies became ratings winners.

Made-for-TV movies usually had low budgets, a small cast and a pacing all of their own, based around needing mini-cliffhangers running into commercial breaks. Some were good, plenty were bad, and some were controversial, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable on television.

Being that I was born in 1974 and outside of the US, I missed a lot of the 70s and early 80s made-for-TV movies. When I decided to do this theme for June, I turned to the internet to find what people considered some of the best of the genre. 1972's Gargoyles (which apparently premiered on CBS in the US) sprang up on a few lists, so I hunted it down.

It is directed by Bill L Norton, who went on to direct a lot of TV movies and series, everything from Tour of Duty to Angel to The Unit. It is written by TV movie vets Stephen and Elinor Karpf (ADAM AT SIX AM, TERROR IN THE SKY, DEVIL DOG: HOUND FROM HELL etc).

The cast is a good one. Cornel Wilde (something of a star in the 40s, 50s and 60s) is an adequate leading man, while attractive Jennifer Salt (who would go on to star on TV's SOAP) does a lot of screaming as his daughter. Scott Glenn (APOCALYPSE NOW) is a young dirt-biker who helps them battle the gargoyles, while former NFL player Bernie Casey is the head gargoyle (under heavy make-up and with vocal effects added by another actor) and former TV star Grayson Hall (DARK SHADOWS) is a hard-drinking motel owner.

Gargoyles is nicely shot, with the desert setting adding a level of suspense and creepiness to what is otherwise a rather-corny monster flick. Because it's a 70s made-for-TV movie we can cut the special effects some slack, but they're bad - the Gargoyle make-up kind of reminded me of the Sleestaks from the Land of the Lost TV series. I was surprised to read on IMDB that the make-up was done by the legendary Stan Winston, here making his debut.  But I guess everyone has to start somewhere.

Norton tries his best to give proceedings an air of suspense, with touches such as doing the gargoyles' scenes in slow motion. It's an attempt to make their movements seem other-wordly, but because the backgrounds go by in slow-motion too, it ultimately fails. One other thing of note is that the opening credits have a "green ooze" font, which instantly reminded me of the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror credits (I was half expecting to see… Directed by Boogeyman Bill Norton).

If this movie was made today it would be hard to describe it as anything but mediocre. But given the era it was made, and the fact it was made for TV, I'm willing to cut it a little slack and give it a mild recommendation. I suspect it will mainly appeal to anyone who watched it as a kid, for nostalgic reasons.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What I Watched - May 26-June 1 2014

Note: I had intended to full reviews of at least two of the movies I watched during this week span, but ran out of time. So here is my weekly update of everything I watched, with a few brief comments of how I feel about each title.

WHAT I WATCHED - May 26-June 1:

 MAY-DE TO BE MOCKED: Shocking Dark (1989) AVI
- The final entry in my mockbuster marathon. After enduring so many shitty Asylum efforts, I went back to a Bruno Mattei Italian-Philippine shlocker to finish things off. Although this one was also titled Terminator 2, to fool people into thinking it was a sequel to James Cameron's original, it's actually a rip-off of another Cameron movie, Aliens. Like with Robowar and Strike Commando (which I reviewed earlier in the month) whole scenes and lines of dialogue are lifted from the movie it is copying. This one's not as good as those two Mattei flicks, but still a fun watch.

 Speed Racer (2008) Blu Ray
- Father-son movie night. I've never seen the original TV cartoon series, so went into this with no preconceptions. My son really enjoyed it and at four years old he's probably the target audience. Lots of bright colours and kiddie-friendly goings on. I didn't dislike it, but got bored with it. Definitely style over substance.


 True Detective Season 1 (TV series, 2014) AVI
- I missed this when it was on TV so downloaded it to catch up, which I did in the space of two days. All I can say is wow. This is one of the best TV series I've ever seen. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are excellent as detectives investigating murders in Louisiana amidst police corruption, religious cults, inbreeding and incest. The story jumps between three time periods, 1990s, early 2000s and current day. Brilliant acting, great writing, spellbinding cinematography, and an array of intriguing swamp people background characters. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Hitman (2007) DVD
- Having recently taken in the first season of the TV series Deadwood, I've become something of a fan of Timothy Olyphant, the star of this video game adaption. Just like in Deadwood he plays a silent-type character and does a lot of acting with his eyes/face. I've never played the video game this is based on, so again had no preconceived ideas. Enjoyable enough, with a lot of fast-paced action and dazzling visuals, but ultimately another exercise in style over substance.

Compound Fracture (2013) AVI
- Low-budget horror flick written by the husband-wife duo of Tyler Mane and Renae Geerlings (who also star as a couple). Lightweight supernatural slasher about a man who returns from the dead to hunt down his remaining loved ones, who are holed up in a survivalist-type compound (get it, compound fracture?). Mostly predictable but enjoyable enough. Also noteworthy for featuring three actors who've played villians in horror franchises - Mane (Michael Myers in Rob Zombie's Halloween series), Derek Mears (Jason in the F13 reboot) and Muse Watson (Ben Willis in I Know What You Did Last Summer and its sequels). [Note: I really wish I'd added the word "DVD" to my Compound Fracture google image search. Yikes]


Justice League: War (2014) AVI
- Another father-son movie night viewing. My son loves anything superhero related. In line with the New 52 reboot of DC comics, this retells the formation of the Justice League as they battle Darkseid and his alien invasion. Not as kiddie-friendly as some DC offerings (a few swear words, some brutal violence), this one is still well worth watching for any superhero fans. My only gripe is that I really can't get into animated Batman without Kevin Conroy voicing him.



Carrie (2013) AVI

- I've said before that I'm a big fan of Stephen King's books. I've read everything he's written. Like most horror fans I enjoy the 1970s movie adaption of Carrie. However, I still tried to put aside all of that and enjoy this new adaption. I think Chloe Grace Moretz did a good enough acting job, and some of the special effects were good (especially a scene involving a face and a windscreen), but it was hard not to keep thinking back to the original movie. Ultimately this one fails to create the same creepy vibe of Brian De Palma's movie.

Kick Ass 2 (2013) AVI
- I downloaded this one a while ago but after seeing a lot of the negative reviews I've been putting off watching it. I really enjoyed the first Kick Ass movie, and found myself enjoying this one too. It's not as good as the original and for some reason has really ramped up the harder-edged content (swearing and gore). The most fun comes from the menagerie of other wannabe superheroes and supervillains. Pure escapism but a rollicking good time.

Friday, May 30, 2014

What I Watched - May 19-25 2014

Note: I've decided to do weekly updates of all of the movies I watch. Any that don't get full reviews (either because they're not schlocky enough or because I don't deem a movie worth a full review) will have a short write-up of my overall feelings about that movie.

 WHAT I WATCHED - May 19-25:


 Manhunt for Claude Dallas (1986) VHS
- See full review here

 The Lego Movie (2014) AVI
- The latest father-son movie night offering, which we both enjoyed. My four-year-old son loves Lego and it was fast-paced enough to keep his attention, while I enjoyed all the in-jokes and clever little moments, which there are plenty of. Excellent family movie. 

 A Night in Old Mexico (2013) AVI
- Above-average drama about a grumpy old man (Robert Duvall) forced off his family land, who decides to head to Mexico for one last night of drunken debauchery, with his grandson along for the ride. Has elements of the crime, action and thriller genres, but in essence it's a story of estranged grandfather and grandson getting to know each other. It's just great to see Duvall in action again.

 Mad Mission 4 (1986) VHS
- See full review here

 Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001) AVI
- Extremely low budget comedy offering that is actually very well done and, surprisingly, very funny in parts. I mean, who can resist a movie that pits Jesus Christ and Mexican wrestler El Santo (obviously not really him, just a guy in a Santo mask) against vampires? Worth watching just for the scene were JC and Santo kill vamps using whatever they can find as stakes (drum sticks, stool legs, even toothpicks!). This one's obscure, but hunt it out.

 Angel's Revenge (1979) Youtube
- See full review here

 Deadwood Season 1 (TV series, 2004) DVD
- I've been meaning to check this TV western series out for a while, having heard good things about it. I finished the 12-episode first season in the space of a few days, and I'm looking forward to moving on to Season 2. Brim full of great actors (Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Brad Dourif, William Sanderson and more), this is a fictional telling of the real life lawless gold rush town of Deadwood, most famous as the place where Wild Bill Hickock was killed. It's an HBO series so it doesn't skimp on the violence and nudity.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

MAY-DE TO BE MOCKED - Angels Brigade (1979)

 Note: Throughout the month of May I will be watching Mockbusters, those low-budget movies which are made purely to cash in on a recent successful blockbuster. I call this May-de to be Mocked!  

Angels Brigade (1979)
Director: Greydon Clark
Starring: Robin Greer, Susan Kiger, Jack Palance, Peter Lawford
Format: Streaming (Youtube)

Plot: Meet six women and a teenage girl who never expected to risk their lives fighting for justice. A schoolteacher had seen one too many kids succumb to drugs. A Las Vegas entertainer learned her brother had been beaten by a drug pusher. A martial arts teacher knew how insidious drugs were among children. A top model knew that drugs were destroying her life. A stunt driver was in shock when her brother overdosed  on drugs. Add a nosy schoolgirl and a policewoman and you've got the Angels Brigade who strike back against the evil fat cats pushing drugs to kids.

AKA Seven from Heaven, Angels Revenge

In the late 1970s Charlie's Angels ruled the TV screen, with it's lightweight tales of three beautiful women fighting the bad guys and solving crime, all the while striking poses in bikinis and perfectly-coifered hair. Sensing a chance to cash in on this, B-grade actor-turned-director Greydon Clark took this concept to the big screen.

But we all know that taking a TV show to the movie screen you need to make everything bigger. Charlie's Angels had three bimbo crimefighters? Well, let's double that! And then add one more! Yep let's have seven girls! And those TV Angels don't really cover the demographics very well, they're too white. So let's add in an Asian girl (a martial arts expert, naturally) and a black girl (a take-no-nonsense sassy stunt driver). The others can be a cop, a pop star, a schoolteacher, a slutty model… hell, let's throw in the cop's little sister to cover the teenage girl demographic!

Once our seven girls are assembled (rather briskly one must add, let's not let plot get in the way of things here), they soon target an assortment of drug pusher baddies. The big boss is ex-Rat Packer Peter Lawford (so sozzled he has to sit for most of his scenes), and his head henchman is scene-stealing bad guy par-excellence Jack Palance. Add in an abundance of machine-gun-toting, generic bad guys, and we're good to go.

Let's face it, you don't watch this kind of movie for the plot, dialogue or acting. Which is just as well, because all three are frankly awful.

Nobody behaves in the least bit logically. Two of the Angels break into a baddie compound and are walking out in the open when two baddies turn a corner. What do the girls do to avoid detection? They stand perfectly still, right out in the open, in daylight. And it works!

The lines are soap opera-level and except for some good supporting performances (from seasoned character actors like Palance, Jim Backus, Neville Brand and Pat Buttram), all of the acting from the lead bimbos is so bad it's unintentionally humourous. The worst perpetrator is the late Jacqueline Cole, who plays the schoolteacher. Her acting is so bad I looked up the credits to find out who she was sleeping with to get her (prominent) role. Sure enough, she was married to director Clark. Enough said.

But as I said, plot, dialogue and acting aren't overly important here. What really saves this movie is that everything is so corny, over-the-top and, well, "70s", that it gives it a certain charm. The lead girls are all attractive and it helps that they get to kick butt, even busting out a souped-up van full of hidden weapons that's like something out of an episode of the A-Team.

In fact, that's probably the best comparison I can make - Angels Revenge feels a lot like an extra-long episode of a Stephen J. Cannell TV show. I never really saw Charlie's Angels so can't compare there, but I grew up on 80s TV and this feels as fun and harmless as anything from The A-Team, Knight Rider or Macgyver.

Mad Mission 4: You Never Die Twice (1986)

 The cover of my VHS copy of Mad Mission 4

Mad Mission 4: You Never Die Twice (1986)
Director: Ringo Lam
Starring: Samuel Hui, Karl Maka, Sally Yeh

Format: VHS

Plot: Nancy Ho (Sylvia Chang) is kidnapped by villains who want to obtain a hi-tech prism, created by a Hong Kong professor, that can grant superhuman powers. In exchange for her return, Ho's husband Baldy (Maka), his buddy Sam (Hui) and the professor's daughter Sally (Yeh), joined by Baldy's son Baldy Jr, fly to New Zealand to deliver the hi-tech prism to the crooks. However, not allowing to let the crooks succeed, they must band together to prevent the prism from being used.

I haven't seen any of the prior three Mad Mission movies (which I understand were originally titled Aces Go Places). I picked up this VHS a couple of years ago and have been meaning to watch it, mainly because it's a Hong Kong action movie which is partly filmed in my home country, New Zealand.

This movie will mainly be of interest to fans of Jackie Chan-style martial arts action/comedy flicks, but has added appeal to New Zealanders like me. It's fun seeing some familiar sights (downtown Auckland, downtown Wellington, Auckland airport, Huntly Power Station etc) and how they were in 1986. Any Kiwi will easily pick up on the goofy geography used here - during a single, short car chase, our heroes leave Auckland Airport, drive over the Auckland Harbour Bridge and are suddenly in Wellington (which is at least an 8-hour drive from Auckland).

As I already mentioned, this looks and feels like one of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong movies, and leading man Hui even looks and fights like Chan (and has the same goofy facial expressions). His fighting isn't as intricate as Chan, but Hui still holds his own during the action scenes and is likeable enough.

Karl Maka is his bumbling sidekick Baldy (although the English language dubbing calls him Cody throughout), a role he plays completely for comedic value. Maka's goofy antics wear thin after a while - the best stuff happens towards the end when he's held captive and Hui and Yeh are allowed to operate without him.

The supporting cast also has some familiar faces, such as main baddie Ronald Lacey, the Nazi with the disfigured hand in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The script even plays homage to that particular role during the climax. Kiwis will also recognise prolific NZ actor Peter McCauley (LOST WORLD TV series) in the role as Lacey's head goon.

Movies like this fall or stand on their action set-pieces, and there are plenty of good ones (helicopter-speedboat chase, bazooka fired from helicopter, car jumping between high-rise buildings etc) showcased here. Director Ringo Lam would go on to helm a string of Chow Yun-Fat movies as well as a couple of late-90s JVCD flicks (Maximum Risk and The Replicant), and during this early effort he shows a good eye for fast-paced action. Sure, things get goofy Hong Kong-style, including a series of insane stunts involving a toddler falling off a skyscraper, but for the most part Lam keeps it from getting too groanworthy. The only major mis-step is a scene at an ice hockey game, which is played for pure comedy but isn't really funny.

In keeping with the Jackie Chan comparison, the end credits even feature bloopers and behind-the-scenes footage, something that Chan's movies are well-known for.

Mad Mission 4 is a lot of fun. Highly recommended for martial arts fans and those who enjoy their action mixed with wacky comedy.