Thursday, December 31, 2009

In short: Graveyard Disturbance (1987)

After stealing food and assorted stuff from a grocer, a group of horror film young people races away in their airbrushed van o' doom. Somewhere in the country, their vehicle decides that it's time to stop working.

Followed by mysterious animals making mysterious animal noises, our heroes soon find some ruins and decide to spend the night there. Nobody around here is all that bright, so nobody thinks it strange when some sort of medieval tavern (although with a neon sign and a TV) suddenly teleports in and opens. It can certainly only be a good idea to take a bet with the tavern owner with the blinking red eyes to spend the night until the break of day in the local cursed crypt to win a pot of gold.

Our nincompoops are surprised that the crypt is full of ghosts and ghoulies and that it is far more difficult to escape the crypt than it should be. At least the grim reaper will turn out to be not all that he's said to be.

I have to admit that I like most of the films Mario Bava's less talented son Lamberto made. While most of them aren't exactly art, the younger Bava usually manages to make his films fun.

The made-for-TV Graveyard Disturbance is unfortunately barely fun. Blame the script by Bava and enemy of logic Dardano Sacchetti, blame the lack of gore or the lack of much of anything happening for most of the movie, the fact is that there's just not much to be found on screen that has any entertainment value. Sure, the crypts are kinda nice in their cheap cardboard way and the monster make-up isn't too shabby, but those are really the only things which recommend the film.

It's like a Scooby Doo version of Bava's Demons, promising the cheesy but fun heavy metal record cover aesthetic of those films (and the van o'doom), yet only delivering scene after scene of non-characters waddling through the sets, from time to time screeching about the cuddly and harmless monsters they meet.

Thanks to the TV-heritage of the film, there isn't even any sleaze to keep the viewer awake, and the only thing shocking on display are a lot of worms and maggots.

I don't necessarily have a problem with harmless films, but Graveyard Disturbance is just too harmless to hold my interest for any amount of time. On the other hand, how often do I have the opportunity to declare a Lamberto Bava/Dardano Sacchetti cooperation to be harmless?

 

From Twitter 12-30-2009



  • New blog post: From Twitter 12-29-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-28-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-27-2... http://bit.ly/78D38K
  • New blog post: Lie Still (2005): aka The Haunting of #24 John Hare's (Stuart Laing) girlfriend Veronica (Nina Sosa... http://bit.ly/8GIhTP
  • Holy crap, KatieJane Garside sings Townes Van Zandt!
  • Rowland S. Howard RIP
  • Buy a CD at Best Buy and get a spammy version of a certain Twitter app (which is always free) for free! Or not. http://tinyurl.com/ycqd24g


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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lie Still (2005)

aka The Haunting of #24

John Hare's (Stuart Laing) girlfriend Veronica (Nina Sosanya) has broken up with him and also seems to have kicked him out of their shared apartment for reasons never really explained to us. Since he's out of a job and more or less broke, he rents a room in a cheap and nasty looking building owned by a much too affable man (Robert Blythe).

John's new place has other drawbacks beside looking like depression central. There's the peculiar fact that, although the house is supposed to be full of other tenants, John only ever meets or hears the mad old crone from next door who likes to hint at the stuff mad old people in horror films usually hint at with an added dose of sexual harassment.

Then there's the gravestone marked "Lie Still" in the backyard (whatever will the health department say?), the nightly scratching and hammering at John's door, the disturbing faces staring at him from his TV. A man could start to think he's living in a haunted house he can't leave because he can't afford it.

Life's getting worse and worse for John, until the only thing he can think of is calling for help from his ex-girlfriend. Veronica thinks he's just having a nervous breakdown, but disappears without a trace while watching over her ex's troubled sleep. After that, John can't even leave the house anymore. All exits only ever lead him back inside.

I don't think that Lie Still is half as bad as parts of the Internet make it out to be. It is a slow, competent little ghost story, trying to put something in the style of M.R. James' ghost stories into a less academic, modern yet still decidedly British urban background while splicing its DNA with a bit of Dionaea House, and as such, it was more or less made for me.

One has to admit the film isn't completely successful at what it is trying to do, yet its director Sean Hogan does succeed more often than he doesn't. The film has a handful of scenes I found very satisfyingly creepy, even if they aren't exactly original. We're talking things like silent unmoving faces staring out of a TV in a dark and dank room or houses trapping their inhabitants by bending the laws of physics here. Things like that seldom fail to work for me, and Hogan has a certain knack for keeping these happenings low-key enough to let them speak for themselves instead of always pointing and shouting at the viewer not to miss them, something which does the film's mood a world of good.

Of course, some of the supernatural tricks are even older than the TV bit. Even for me, it is a little difficult to get even mildly excited by loud knocks on a door or the olde "figure in a photograph moves when we're not looking" bit, even when they are less classicistically realized than they are in Lie Still.

I'm also not fully convinced by Laing's acting. He's not bad in the role, but I thought he was laying it on a bit thick in some of his breakdown scenes. Of course, seeing how tolerant I usually am when it comes to overacting, it's not exactly fair to single Laing out when more than one famous scenery-chewer gets a free pass from me.

More problematic than Laing's performance is the fact that the film never truly explores the thematic connection between the state of mind of its protagonist as someone who is lost and going nowhere and his position as victim of other lost souls trapped in another version of nowhere wanting to devour him and keeping him lost. Lie Still doesn't do anything with this; I am in fact not even sure if Hogan realized that he had this theme to work with.

On a visual level, the film goes for the grey, drab and gritty look the more clever low-budget filmmaker chooses instead of piss-coloured digital filters, anchoring the supernatural and fantastic - although the fantastic here too has a certain fitting greyness about it  - in contemporary reality. It is cheap and it surely isn't beautiful, but it isn't supposed to be.

Fortunately for me, I tend to like fictional things described with the words "urban", "grey" and "ghost story", and had a good enough time with the film. People with comparable interests could do worse than keep an eye out for Lie Still.

 

From Twitter 12-29-2009



  • New blog post: From Twitter 12-28-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-27-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-26-2... http://bit.ly/6XboxS
  • New blog post: Three Films Make A Post: In Da Hood: Murderlust (1985): A seemingly mild-mannered Sunday school teac... http://bit.ly/60y9Hs
  • Worst thing about "Deadgirl" is not how disappointing the movie is (and it is), it's those reviewers who congratulate themselves for how
  • politically incorrect they are for liking it. Because being misogynist is something to be proud of, obviously.
  • Thanks to the weather goddess responsible for the exceedingly pretty fog/frost combination.


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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Three Films Make A Post: In Da Hood

Murderlust (1985): A seemingly mild-mannered Sunday school teacher and watchman kills prostitutes and dumps them in the Mojave desert in his free time. He has a splendid time with it, until his state of mind begins to influence his job performance.

This is one of the unending mass of US serial killer movies, here done in a local independent style, but without anything to distinguish it from all those other serial killer films, unless you always wanted to see one which is too timid to show the viewer anything untoward or interesting. No actual exploration of psychic or physical abysses here, but at least there's slow and affectless acting to help you find some sleep. Oh, and a neat Sunday school sequence, of course.

 

Bloody Beach (2000): A bunch of young and characterless young people who know each other from a chatroom go on a beach vacation together. But there is dark chatroom drama in their past. Could that have anything to do with the guy who sloooooowly slashes and stalks them in a not very interesting manner?

South Korean director In Soo Kim proves that he can make a boring, completely generic slasher movie in which nothing exciting or suspenseful happens as well as anyone else. I have of course seen much worse slashers, but those weren't as boring as Bloody Beach. Congratulations, director of generic slasher movie #2457.

 

Det Okända (2000): A quintet of Swedish grad students (biology? geology? who knows?) make a field trip into the deep dark woods. All is well except for the incessant bickering until a specimen that looks like a badly made roast sneaks into a woman's belly to start its own little invasion of the body snatchers. Aesthetically, this is one of the children of Blair Witch Project, just without an in-plot reason for the shaky cam and a lot less sense for creepy mood. It's not bad, especially in the last half hour or so when the body snatching really begins, but the script is problematic (why exactly aren't these people just leaving?) and the photography never as good as the woods the film takes place in deserve.

 

From Twitter 12-28-2009



  • New blog post: From Twitter 12-27-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-26-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-25-2... http://bit.ly/8jVppR
  • New blog post: Music Monday: Memory Diving Edition: Technorati-Tags: music,music monday,robert forster http://bit.ly/5Ve96E
  • So, there's 3 different versions of Paranormal Activity? And the director's preferred one is not on an official DVD release? Ah, Hollywood!
  • Ah, the Field Guide. Makes me nostalgic, too. http://tinyurl.com/y9txtlh


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Monday, December 28, 2009

Music Monday: Memory Diving Edition

From Twitter 12-27-2009



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  • New blog post: Rambo (2008): Having broken all records for serial killers and mass murderers in his first three fil... http://bit.ly/5EYNX0
  • No favorite music list for me this year. My listening habits have been way too erratic for that, but
  • favorite album of the year still is The Mountain Goats "The Life of the World to Come"
  • I foresee a high placement for Los Campesinos! next year.


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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rambo (2008)

Having broken all records for serial killers and mass murderers in his first three films, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) hides from his oh-so-dark nature in the jungles of Thailand close to the Burmese border, earning a living hunting snakes and driving a boat up and down the river.

When a small group of American missionaries and doctors tries to hire him to get them into Burma where they plan on giving the civil war haunted civilian population the dubious blessings of christianity and the more practical blessings of medicine (without carrying any visible amount of medical supplies with them, mind you), Rambo declines at first, unwilling to help these nice white people commit suicide and explaining himself by mumbling stuff like "things don't change". But the conviction of girl missionary Sarah (Julie Benz) changes his mind, and he delivers the group where they want to go, if not without a run-in with some rather nasty people Rambo dispatches with panache.

A few weeks later, another guest visits his hut. Turns out that Rambo's missionary friends have been captured by a warlord and their church has hired a small unit of mercenaries to get them out, as churches do.

The ex-soldier agrees to get them there, and although he is just supposed to be the group's boatman, takes quite a personal interest in rescuing the hostages before they are eaten by pigs. He also seems to enjoy slaughtering a lot of people.

Rambo is a schizophrenic little film. While it is obvious that Stallone (directing, writing and acting, of course) is trying hard to make a film that says something profound about human nature and violence, I have a hard time to puzzle out what exactly it is he thinks he is saying. "Violent people are good at being violent"? "Rambo needs a good therapist"? "Blood is red"? These are all good possibilities, if you ask me, and I could list arguments for all of them, but watching the film, I very soon found myself no longer caring what profound messages Mr Stallone has to convey.

Instead, the physical impact of the film's action hit me, the classic adrenaline exhilaration of a good action film. Those feelings easily add up to the message "Pretend violence is cool. And look how merrily the body parts fly!", which is most certainly not the message Stallone is going for, but the reaction the loving depiction of people ripping each other to shreds in creative and exciting ways usually produces in heartless and decadent people like myself. It's not the director/writer's fault, really, unless you want to blame him for the fact that action films are exceedingly bad at making points against violence, because pretend violence is what they are build on. I have to say that I admire Stallone a bit for at least trying, as I admire his attempts at making a film whose hero shoots a lot of Asian people that isn't racist to its core. Again, his success in that point is rather dubious, seeing that each and every character is just as deeply characterized as is useful for cannon fodder, but compared to many of the Italian jungle action films I have seen, this is golden.

So, if Rambo isn't all that effective as a message film, how good is it as an action film? Good for an American action film, I'd say, which means that it lacks the strange elegance of martial arts cinema, the relentlessness of classic heroic bloodshed era Hong Kong film or the outright insanity of contemporary Thai action film and replaces them with as much blunt, visceral impact as possible. That method often doesn't work too well for me, but in this special case I find the film's bluntness quite striking. It certainly helps that - say what you will about Stallone - the man in his roles as a director and scriptwriter knows how to pace a film, how to do escalation right and how to have his film edited for maximum physical impact, all very useful things when it comes to a supremely physical genre like action cinema.

Then there's the fact that Stallone is by far not as bad an actor as mainstream film critics like to say. He of course has only a very limited range of expression, but he seems conscious enough of his own limits to avoid making a laughing stock of himself, something that puts him far above people like Seagal, Schwarzenegger or Cruise. At the very least, he knows how to use his (admittedly by now rather disturbing) physique to get across raw presence on screen. And what more do you need in action cinema of this type?

All in all, I had more fun than expected with Rambo. Of course, when you are looking for a film that is truly as profound as this would like to be, you're probably better off avoiding it completely, but do people honestly go into the fourth Rambo film expecting to learn something new about human nature (whatever that even means)?

 

From Twitter 12-26-2009



  • New blog post: From Twitter 12-25-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-24-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-23-2... http://bit.ly/7ZLbHE
  • One returns home & to the net & one finds Mark E. Smith reading Lovecraft. Life is good. http://tinyurl.com/yez7ef5
  • Also & of course: appropriate holiday greetings to everyone!
  • New blog post: In short: Blow Job (1980): The penniless but pretty couple of Stefano (Danilo Micheli) and Diana (An... http://bit.ly/4Vd5z8
  • Wow, I always said Rupert T Davies is a bad writer, but that? Have his brains been eaten by zombies? Does he hate his audience so much?


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Saturday, December 26, 2009

In short: Blow Job (1980)

The penniless but pretty couple of Stefano (Danilo Micheli) and Diana (Anna Massarelli) is thrown out of their hotel room. Fortunately, a woman jumps out of the window of the room above them, so they are able to escape with their personal effects.

Since they are in dire need of money, the pair's next stop is a racing track. There, a rather weird one eyed woman (Anna Bruna Cazzato) promises Stefano to point him at the winning horse of the next race if he in turn promises to help her cross a mysterious gate. Stefano is either fascinated or just really really gullible and agrees.

The horse wins and Countess Angela, as is the mysterious stranger's name, brings Stefano and Diana into her mansion and into the realm of surrealist, magickally inclined weirdness. Soon another mysterious woman (Mirella Venturini) appears, and there will be a lot of sex, naked dancing and dire danger for Stefano's life energy.

Blow Job is a difficult film to evaluate. It is a cheap piece of exploitation with ambitions of home-made surrealism that holds (and keeps) all the promises of people dropping their clothes and declaiming bizarre dialogue this sort of film (when coming from Italy) usually makes. In other words, it is as mind-boggling, weird and mind-bogglingly sexualized as some of my favourite films. However, director Alberto Cavallone seems determined to give the naked jazz dancing and the weird-acting people a grounding in magickal theory and esoteric thought. I take Cavallone to be a true believer, and as it goes with the works of true believers, there's a lot of stuff in the film only another true believer will care about. It is nice that an Italian weirdo exploitation horror for once is trying to explain what's going on in it, but its new age babble mostly tends to weaken the pure effect the unexplained weird would have achieved.

This doesn't mean the film is unwatchable. Or rather, it will certainly be completely unwatchable for people who already capitulate when confronted with the much milder and a lot more logical films of someone like Jess Franco, but that's really not my problem.

There are enough moments of cheap, dream-like beauty and an excellently silly orgy sequence to make up for the magickal theory, and I for one find it hard to criticize a film too much when it is so determined to be exactly what its director pictured in his mind, even if what that director pictured is a little stupid and quite insane and will drive half of any potential audience away.

It's just that I think Cavallone should have followed the advice he gives his characters in the film and should have just let go of all those explanations.

 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yeah, I wasn't there

That's what a PC making a Christmas present out of suddenly breaking will do to you.

I'm still not really here, so you - oh digital audience - will have to wait until the 26th until I provide more and improved rambling on movies, movies, and more movies.

And, of course, Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

From Twitter 12-18-2009



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  • New blog post: On WTF: The Screen at Kamchanod (2007): Yeah, I know, Asian horror is out and I'm supposed to only w... http://bit.ly/4AhASm


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Friday, December 18, 2009

On WTF: The Screen at Kamchanod (2007)

Yeah, I know, Asian horror is out and I'm supposed to only write jaded and borderline racist reviews about the films I get to see, but you know what? There might be a lot of crap coming from Asia, but not more crap than from any other part of the globe and when something good comes along, I'll call it good.

As is the case with this week's review on WTF-Film, concerning a very fine piece of filmmaking from Thailand.

 

From Twitter 12-17-2009



  • New blog post: From Twitter 12-16-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-15-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-14-2... http://bit.ly/7cfatw
  • New blog post: In short: The Final Executioner (1984): A surprising amount of people has survived the inevitable nu... http://bit.ly/5EVpT2
  • $60 is the price of "an affordable hardcover"? I don't think so.


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Thursday, December 17, 2009

In short: The Final Executioner (1984)

A surprising amount of people has survived the inevitable nuclear blow-out. The rich, evil as always, have kept themselves safe from radiation in their evil rich people bunkers underground. But living in a bunker gets boring, so they invent the best hobby ever (just ask Count Zaroff) - hunting the irradiated poor on the surface for sport, well nominally to "cleanse the Earth", but you know how it goes.

Decades later, the electronics expert Alan Tanner (William Mang) finds out that there's really no reason for hiding underground and holding manhunts anymore. The sick and irradiated have long been killed off, so there's no danger for humanity anymore (it's The Future, so don't try to understand his ideas with your puny contemporary mind). Alas, Alan is not getting a reward for his revolutionary insight, but is declared a hunting target.

Transported into a hunting zone on the surface, Alan witnesses the gang rape and murder of his wife by the hunting group of a certain Edra (Marina Costa) and her rival Erasmus aka He-Who-Weareth-Leather (Harrison Muller Jr.). With luck, the gravely wounded man escapes and is found by the aging post-apocalyptic badass Sam (Woody Strode) who goes all martial arts sensei on him.

After much running through flames and crawling under barbed wire, Sam declares Alan ready to take his vengeance.

So Alan sneaks back to his enemies' base in a nice old villa, and begins his slasher style slaughter of justice. Hurray.

Romolo Guerrieri's The Final Executioner doesn't exactly rock my world. While the basic idea of doing a post-apocalyptic version of the old The Most Dangerous Game trope is sound, the film lacks the charm and the overabundance of silly yet fun ideas I love about the Italian post-apocalyptic action film. The world building is rather bland and unexciting and definitely missing in cyborgs, mutants and Fred Williamson dressed up as gay disco Robin Hood.

"Bland" is also the description that fits the film's characters a little too well. When Woody Strode is your most memorable actor, your film has an excitement problem; when a non-descript guy in leather wearing a white scarf is the most creative your baddies get, your excitement problem isn't exactly getting smaller.

Having said that, I don't want to come down to hard on the film. Guerrieri might not have made the most colourful post-apocalyptic action film, but the pacing is not too bad and the final cruel slaughter our supposed hero commits may not be too exciting, yet it also isn't boring. It's just like everything else in the film - a little too low-key for its own good.

However, if you can keep your expectations under control, you can probably have a mildly good time with The Final Executioner. After all (and alas!), they can't all be Warriors of the Wasteland.

 

From Twitter 12-16-2009



  • New blog post: From Twitter 12-15-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-14-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-13-2... http://bit.ly/4Nc4mz
  • New blog post: Bach Ke Zaraa (2008? 2009?): An archeology professor has found an evil book of magic - the sort that... http://bit.ly/92Fi7Q
  • I wish The Internet would learn that "I don't like it" does not equal "It is shit".
  • Author meltdown on Amazon, with !bonus "Harriet Klausner is a great reviewer" bizarreness. http://tinyurl.com/yjg3qa7


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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bach Ke Zaraa (2008? 2009?)

An archeology professor has found an evil book of magic - the sort that's only genuine with its own face -  on an excavation. He takes it with him to his house in the woods and after making sweet sweet Bollywood love to his wife, decides that it is a good idea to read a conjuration from his new book aloud. Wouldn't you know? The spirit of evil possesses his wife who is now very eager to kill him. The professor turns out to be the better knife fighter of the two, though, and then does what comes natural - bury his wife in a shallow grave in the garden. He didn't expect her to rise again and end project "husband" with an axe, I suppose.

Years, days or weeks later, a quintet of adorable young people with adorable names like Sunny and Sweetie arrives in the same patch of woods to do more Bollywood sex and freeform frolicking.

Sweetie, who is there without a partner, follows a musical number sung by the professor's wife's ghost to the house where the beginning of the film took place. The building then proceeds to have a good laugh, royally freaking the girl out.

She returns to camp, only to find that her know-nothing friends care nothing about her story. Not even the sudden appearance of the local mysterious madmen uttering dire warnings can drive these young people away. Quite the opposite, being warned that entering the house means certain death only makes our "heroes" want to enter it in the first place.

Once there, the film stops even the slightest bit of pretension that it isn't an inferior copy of The Evil Dead and steals the rest of the older film nearly scene by scene, even including the sexually deviant tree.

Bach Ke Zaraa leaves me very much in two minds. On one hand, I very much approve of every attempt to shake up the terrifyingly conservative Hindi cinema to get a worthy exploitation cinema going again, and using The Evil Dead as a blueprint certainly is an agreeable enough idea, but Bach Ke Zaraa takes the theft of ideas much too far for its own good.

It is one thing to steal the basic plot of a classic, yet holding as slavishly to the script of the classic you copy as Bach's director Salim Raza does only lead to unfortunate comparisons the newer film should not wish upon itself. Basically, the second half of the film is exactly like The Evil Dead, just worse in every aspect, be it acting, effects or the extremely important timing of the shocks, leaving me with an intense need to dig out my DVD of the original.

It's just too bad, especially because that thing Raza should have learned from Raimi's original is how to make a film in one's own way, with energy and creativity taking the place of a budget. Of course, just outright stealing other people's ideas is less strenuous.

The only thing Raza does differently after the set-up lies in the amount of blood and pus he decides not to show, and that is of course less an actual creative decision than a spineless acceptance of censorship.

Having said that, I still think you can have quite a good time with the film. There's the endearingly stiff "sexiness" of the early parts not stolen from Sam Raimi, terrible actors who just happen to be terribly enthusiastic as well, and a handful of moments when Raza's inept carbon copy turns into a technically accomplished one - all things that make it difficult to outright hate Bach Ke Zaraa.

In a sense, you also have to admire the utter shamelessness of the film's intellectual theft that doesn't stop where Roger Corman or an Italian director of the 70s or 80s would have stopped - namely at the border of what I like to call "outright plagiarism" -, but instead blithely and enthusiastically flaunts its own creative bankruptcy, as if nobody working at the production had ever heard of lawsuits. Now that I think about it, Raza has managed to make a true exploitation film. Unfortunately, I can see little future in this style of filmmaking.

 

From Twitter 12-15-2009



  • New blog post: From Twitter 12-14-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-13-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-12-2... http://bit.ly/4TEHeU
  • New blog post: In short: Hero Dream (1992): aka Naked Huntress After some altercations with Thai smugglers in his ... http://bit.ly/6ImHYC
  • Who the hell cares about Rage Against the Machine or Simon Cowell? And honestly, dear Brits, who cares about the Christmas number one?


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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

In short: Hero Dream (1992)

aka Naked Huntress

After some altercations with Thai smugglers in his home town, Hong Kong cop Ho (Chin Siu-Ho) takes it to be a brilliant idea to pack his freshly pregnant wife Kiki (Carrie Ng) into an airplane and go on vacation in Thailand with her.

More or less by accident, something that belongs to the powerful Chiu gang lands in the couple's luggage, and faster than you can say "it's just a mix-up", said gang kidnaps Kiki.

Obviously, the only thing Ho can do now is to pick a machine gun, a bazooka and a car in rally colours from a neighboring pocket dimension and try to break his wife out. Not surprisingly, she doesn't survive the attempt. Ho swears vengeance (not against himself, against the Chiu gang), and falls in with a gangster named Lok (Chin Kar-Lok) and his transvestite friend Fa who work for a competing gang of transvestites lead by a woman with slight sadistic tendencies named Yi (Michiko Nishikawa), but are a tangled up in some internal problems that are as pointless as they are complicated there.

In the end, Fa will sacrifice himself/herself for the hero he loves like a good movie transvestite, Lok and Yi will fight the final fight with Ho and our hero himself will have found a new girlfriend before his wife's body is even cold.

Hero Dream is an incredibly sloppy film, missing useful transitions or needed explanations (how does Ho get his weapons? how does a certain character in the final fight die?). There's a good chance the whole mess didn't have a script at all but was just made up during shooting based on genre traditions aka cliches and the food the director ate the evening before a scene was shot.

Besides not having anything like a coherent narrative, the movie also suffers from a tendency to just stop its plot dead and incorporate an overabundance of gratuitous nudity and overly long sex scenes that aren't too pleasant to look at.

On the plus side, the film's action scenes are driven by the curious form of insanity that started to hit Hong Kong cinema in the 80s, where no stunt seemed too dangerous to do and no idea to outlandish to realize. This is the cheap-skate version of it, of course, but still, once the action gets going all this violent and relentless movement helps one forget many of the film's flaws.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the way Hero Dream portraits its transvestites and transsexuals. While the transvestite sacrificing herself so that the hero can live isn't exactly a great direction to go in, it is still a lot better than the contempt most other film's outside of explicitly gay cinema show them. At least these trans people are treated as humans with as much dignity as a cheap action flick like this has to offer to anyone.

 

From Twitter 12-14-2009



  • New blog post: From Twitter 12-13-2009: New blog post: From Twitter 12-12-2009: RT @matociquala: RT @tobiasbuckell ... http://bit.ly/8RUcDo
  • New blog post: Music Monday: Sweet Jane Edition: Technorati-Tags: music,music monday,cowboy junkies http://bit.ly/8SbanU
  • RT @johncoulthart: Italo Calvino should have lived to see a politician attacked by a cathedral.
  • I'd be glad if someone would shoot me, should I ever use the phrase "a mischievous twinkle" in anything I write.
  • Yes, let's let fucking Edmund Wilson make our literary judgements for us, why don't we?
  • And another attempt at getting into Alain Robbe-Grillet's films has failed. I don't think I'll ever come around to them.
  • OMG it's an RPG-Maker-made Lovecraftian PC RPG! http://tinyurl.com/y9r8hyj


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Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Unseen (1980)

After a ridiculous staring contest with her boyfriend (Douglas Barr) that sets the tone for all human interaction in the film, TV journalist Jennifer Fast (Barbara Bach) packs her two (and I quote) "girls", which is supposed to mean "her all-woman mini TV crew", into her car and drives off to the town of Solvang to film a puff piece about the Danish festival there with their magically appearing and disappearing camera.

Alas, since they are working for TV and aren't used to foreign concepts like planning or thinking, they forgot to reserve a hotel room beforehand and now find out that a small town with a popular festival does not have infinite space for "journalists". Fortunately, a rather bizarre older gentleman (Sydney Lassick) invites the trio into his old dark house where he lives alone with his sister (Lelia Goldoni). Virginia, as sis is called, is rather frightened by the presence of strangers in the house. She has her reasons, too. The old dark house has a terrible secret that manifests itself in form of something or someone crawling through its ducts and crawlspaces, and beginning to kill off the trio of visitors until only Jennifer survives to learn the oh so terrible (which is to say, hilarious) truth everyone has expected.

One's satisfaction with The Unseen will probably be coloured by how much one is willing or able to laugh about a film made in complete earnestness and meant to be dark and frightening that only achieves the dubious heights of the unintentionally funny. It is a little sad when a film is made with such obvious conviction of its own creepiness, yet never manages to get any other reaction than laughter.

On the other hand, this is a movie whose "monster" turns out to be a mentally disabled guy in shabby underwear and his incestuous, scenery-chewing dad, so you can't say it doesn't deserve what it gets.

There is just so much wrong with the film. Firstly, there are the little running-time filling soap-operatic discussions between Jennifer and her boyfriend which would probably be more effective if we'd give a toss about those people. Too bad we don't.

Secondly, there's Jennifer herself. Sure, Barbara Bach is nice to look at, but she plays the sort of horror film heroine who spends the last half hour of her film crawling around on her belly although she isn't hurt or tied up. Perhaps the view is nicer down there? She's also the sort of heroine who rather escapes into a chicken coop than into a well-maintained car, I suppose in the hope of the Big Chicken In The Sky's protection.

And then there's the scenery chewing competition between Stephen Furst (who plays The Unseen aka Junior), Sydney Lassick and Lelia Goldoni. Lassick and Furst are just dreadful, having never met an emotion not worth shouting and mugging about, robbing any scene they are in of even minor chances to work as advertised.

Not that director Danny Steinmann (here going under the pseudonym Peter Foleg, supposedly because the producers ruined his film by leaving out all the good material, leaving me with the horrifying thought of a version of the film that's even longer and slower) isn't responsible for a lot of wrongness even without their help. He really has a hand for the telling detail, if "telling" means something that pulls everything down into the realm of the dumb and ridiculous. See the "clever" way the death of a chicken is intercut with the first murder! Marvel at how the fat killer gets into an airduct! Watch the cherry death squish! See Junior hide in a heap of rags! Try to puzzle out the physics of the murders!

If there's a way to ruin a perfectly good scene, Steinmann will surely find it.

Still, while I like my unintentional humor just fine, I could never really warm to The Unseen as much as to other movies of its species. The film's obvious conviction of its own quality, scariness and possibly even importance might sound funny in theory, but at times I also found it grating, getting on my nerves as if it were a self-important high-schooler or one of Jehovah's Witnesses.

 

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

In short: Toy Reanimator (2002)

A young woman tells a strange, true story to a high schooler who works in a toy shop that looks more like a toy museum. The story pertains a strange creature of the woman's childhood, living in something that looks like a large gas tank in the woods, repairing children's toys magically, but only after exact explanations, just as if the one doing the repairs wouldn't completely understand how the world outside of its tank works.

One day, the girl has an accident when she goes on a walk with her baby brother that leaves her brother dead and herself blind on one eye. Of course, she goes to the toy-fixer to get herself and her brother repaired, but sometimes, parts get mixed up. And what if a person doesn't get the heart she or he needs to be fully alive?

Toy Reanimator was obviously shot on much hated (by me) digital and features mostly CGI effects to boot, but does nonetheless look rather nifty. There is something to be said for a director having an actual vision of how his film is supposed to look, even if the soft focus photography is so soft that it nearly crosses from "dreamy" into "David Hamilton" territory. At least there is a good aesthetic reason for the way the film looks apart from "I thought it would be cool", so I'm rather alright with it.

The Japanese short film directed by someone going under the name of Hakubun is an urban fairy tale, you see, and as such, naturalism has to stay as far away as possible from its realization. The film's style and tone fit its fairy tale aspirations perfectly, hitting the sweetspot between the weird, the wonderful and the slightly terrifying it is aiming for. In its execution Toy Reanimator reminds me of the good moments of contemporary primary world fantasy writers - exactly the sort of thing cinema has chosen to ignore nearly completely. Fortunately, we have random pseudonymous Japanese directors to make up for it.

 

From Twitter 12-11-2009



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Friday, December 11, 2009

On WTF: Lady Stay Dead (1981)

Australian Terry Bourke's excellent thriller is - like its director - undeservedly obscure on WTF, I explain why more people should see the film and why Bourke avoided dialogue scenes.

 

From Twitter 12-10-2009



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Thursday, December 10, 2009

In short: The Last Match (1990)

Susan (Melissa Palmisano), the daughter of star quarterback Cliff Gaylor (Oliver Tobias), is arrested for drug smuggling when she tries to leave the South American (or is it Caribbean, as the plot description on IMDB says?) country she is vacationing in with her boyfriend.

Shortly after that, her father arrives in the mysterious country, willing and able to buy his daughter out with the good ol' American dollar. Alas, his money doesn't get him far. Neither do the American consul (Charles Napier), nor a sleazy local lawyer (Martin Balsam). It seems as if there is a certain degree of anti-American feeling in the air. Worse for Susan, her jailor is the mean and sadistic warden Yashin (Henry Silva), who likes the US even less than anyone else there.

Fortunately, Gaylor's football team (coached by Ernest Borgnine) arrives loaded with money to help him bribe his daughter out. No, sorry, I was joking, that would make sense. They arrive loaded with money to buy weapons to break their quarterback's daughter out. This will most certainly turn out well.

Quite at the end of the Italian jungle action cycle (chronologically as well as in quality), Fabrizio De Angelis produced this experiment in making a jungle action film without a jungle and without any action, and if that was his goal I have to say he succeeded admirably.

The Last Match is best known in cult film circles for some awesome stills of guys in football uniforms (including helmets) brandishing automatic weapons, and I won't say these pictures are lying. There are in fact at least ten minutes of uniformed footballers shooting people in here. The problem are the other 80 minutes of movie, 80 very long minutes someone less cruel (or cost-conscious) than De Angelis would have cut back to about 10 minutes. I can't even call it filler anymore, because the term "filler" suggests that something is in fact used to fill the running time between more exciting scenes, which would be stretching the truth a bit too much for the way The Last Match plays out.

What we get to see are endless scenes of airplanes landing and Oliver Tobias showing his single facial expression in scenes of him talking at excruciating length to aged actors who have seen better days and aren't even willing to pretend to be on screen for anything else than a paycheck. Not even Henry Silva seems awake in this one, and Martin Balsam was obviously already dead and performed his role as a zombie. The only one trying is poor old Ernest Borgnine. He is - of course - utterly dreadful, but at least in his usual interesting manner.

And that's all there is to say about The Last Match. It is best not to watch it, but to look wistfully at the machinegun footballer stills and dream of the silly entertaining piece of crap the film should have been, instead of the boring piece of crap it truly is.

 

From Twitter 12-09-2009



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  • Horror fans: people who are happy that the new Wolfman film is getting an "R" rating in the US and would have cried foul at a "PG-13". Who
  • cares about a film's quality, as long as it has gore.
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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Headspace (2005)

When he was a child, Alex Borden (as a grown-up played by Christopher Denham) and his brother witnessed how their mother (Sean Young) started to act extremely strange in the night of Alex' tenth birthday. Going all yellow-eyed and trying to kill one's family is at least not the sort of birthday present I used to get from my mother when I was small.

Fortunately (more or less), the boys' dad (godfather of contemporary indie horror Larry Fessenden) has a gun and is willing to blow his wife's head of with it. Afterwards, he gives his children up for adoption and is never seen again.

As a twenty-something, Alex doesn't remember much about that time of his life anymore, it's not even clear if he remembers ever having had a brother. He works as a house sitter in New York, living the original slacker dream until one day, things for him start to change.

At first, it is only headaches, but soon enough he develops a mean case of speed-reading memory tricks and flashes of his past begin plaguing him, followed by nightmares and visions of demon-like creatures who seem to be after him. Alex seeks help, but neither the chess player in the park (Erick Kastel) he feels drawn to nor his only friend, nor a psychiatrist (Dee Wallace-Stone), nor the unorthodox psychologist Dr. Murphy (Olivia Hussey) are able to help him.

Things get even worse when a series of murders begins, all victims people Alex knew, all ripped apart by someone or something the increasingly erratic man is convinced are the demons from his visions.

Alex gets so desperate he even tries to seek help in a church priested by Udo Kier, but only manages to see the priest die.

Finally, Dr. Murphy sends Alex to an even more unorthodox psychologist (Mark Margolis) who exposits the whole business for him.

After the thrashing I gave his later Offspring, Andrew van den Houten's directorial efforts here came as quite a surprise to me. Calling his direction excellent would take it too far, but in the first hour of Headspace van den Houten shows a steady and knowledgeable hand, very cleverly avoiding to show more than his budget allows and trusting his actors to do their thing without him needing to be flashy.

On paper, the film's cast looks a bit too much like stunt-casting, yet most of the "name" actors are taking their parts here as seriously as any good professional should, acting instead of just popping their more or less famous faces into the camera. The less experienced lead Christopher Denham for his part shows exactly the brittleness needed for his role and carries the film as far as the script lets him.

And there lies the problem - what works nicely as a relatively subtle, slightly head-trippy horror film for the first hour, turns instantly ridiculous with the appearance of Mark Margolis, his crappy Russian accent, his ill-advised scenery-chewing and his just plain stupid bit of exposition. From that scene on, Headspace is on a downward spiral into bad horror movie cliché with a big piece of bad melodrama.

It is quite impressive how fast the film breaks down. One minute, we're seeing Udo Kier being ripped apart after a nice and intense performance, and the next we're watching badly staged footage of secret Russian experiments while Margolis tortures our ears, leading up to a not at all surprising plot twist, and way too much bad rubber monster costume in full view. It is as if van den Houten didn't realize how damaging shoddy monster costumes can be if you're trying to make a serious horror film, especially when there is no good reason to show the monsters at all.

I'd love to tell you that Headspace is still worth watching for the more than solid first hour, the final third of a film however isn't just worse than the earlier two thirds, it is so bad that it retroactively ruins what came before in a neat if unfortunate magic trick, much like a magician conjuring up flames only to burn down his own house.

Of course, one can always just watch until Margolis appears and make up one's own ending.

 

From Twitter 12-08-2009



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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In short: God Forgives: His Life Is Mine (1968)

aka God Made Them...I Kill Them

A muddy frontier town is shaken by the robbery of the local bank. The perpetrators have left no trace behind the town's rather timely absent Sheriff Lancaster (Piero Lulli) might be able to follow. The local notabilities are nonplussed and decide to bring outside talent into town to help solve the problem.

They decide on hiring Slim(y) Corbett (Dean Reed), womanizer, dandy and gun for hire. For a guy looking like Dean Reed and driving a coach with an on-board bar, Corbett is rather clever and soon realizes that neither the Sheriff nor the stinking rich pillar of the community Don Luis (Pietro Martellanza) are as law-abiding as they'd like to appear.

Before Corbett can find time between bedding every woman in town, dancing, and drinking to do much about his suspicions, the bad guys attack a gold transport. An attack on our hero's life fails, so Don Luis decides to blame the gold theft on Corbett.

God Forgives is on the lighter side of the Spaghetti Western spectrum, I'd even call its first hour fluffy, or at least as fluffy as films with a high body count and Dean Reed's face can get. There's something deeply silly, even chirpy about the beginning of the film that connects it - although more in feeling than through anything more concrete - with the Eurospy film. The film oozes the same "what the heck - let's just have some fun" attitude as the Eurospy film. Unless you're Alex Cox and need your Spaghetti Western to be deeply earnest, this is far from a bad thing - I'm certainly not going to complain about a film trying to be fun.

What took me a little by surprise here was the nimble way in which God Forgives changes mood for its last third, the lightness suddenly turning into tension, the before solid but unremarkable direction of Paolo Bianchini getting a little more adventurous.

We can probably thank the film's traditionally great writer Fernando Di Leo for the expertly done shift in tone, something he always excelled at.

My problems with the film mostly lie with the acting department. While the supporting cast (consisting of some of the usual character actors of Italian genre cinema) does a good job, I never really warmed to Reed, or rather, I could never help but feel slightly disgusted by him.

He might have the look of the foppish yet competent dandy, but he also projects the charm of a nasty and very very slimy creature that's trying to hide under someone's boot. It might just be me, of course.

In the case of Pietro Martellanzo's performance as Don Luis I'm pretty sure that it is not just me hating on an actor, but someone doing an atrocious job at playing an evil mastermind (not even the mandatory midget henchman helps). Outside of the torture scene where Martellanzo still isn't all that great to watch, he reminded me of nothing so much as of a five year old playing at being a Bond villain.

Fortunately, God Forgives isn't really a film that needs strong acting to work. As long as Bianchini just keeps the film moving (as he does) and enough people are shot (as they are), there's just no time to be too disgusted with Dean Reed.

 

 

From Twitter 12-07-2009



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  • Mainstream film people are weird.


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Monday, December 7, 2009

Music Monday: It Is The Season For Better Or Worse Edition

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From Twitter 12-06-2009



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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Deadline (2009)

Screenwriter Alice (Brittany Murphy) has lived through some hard times with her ex-boyfriend Dan. During the course of their relationship Dan developed a very unhealthy amount of jealousy and finally tried to drown Alice in the bathtub, killing their unborn child in the process. She survived, but has had a major breakdown, and doesn't remember anymore what exactly happened between her and Dan, only how hard it hit her.

Now, after some time (and presumably a lot of therapy), Alice has decided it's time for her to start working again. Her new girlfriend Rebecca (Tammy Blanchard) doesn't seem all that convinced, though. Be that as it may, Alice is positive that spending a writing week alone in a Victorian mansion somewhere in the boons is just what she needs to find back to her old self again.

Once she arrives at the mansion, it doesn't even take a whole evening until the first strange things begin to happen. It is your typical ghostly stuff - strange voices, wet footsteps, a mysteriously self-filling bathtub, the shadowy figure of a woman, the works.

While she is freaking out more and more, Alice distracts herself with some camcorder tapes the ghosts have lead her to find. On them, she witnesses the deterioration of the marriage of Lucy (Thora Birch) and David (Marc Blucas) Woods. At first, the relationship seems healthy enough, but David's love passes the point of obsession and dangerous jealousy. That, just as it was in Alice's case, a baby is on the way only seems to make the problem worse.

Alice identifies herself more and more with Lucy, until she has trouble telling reality and dream apart, quickly reaching a point of crisis.

Sean McConville's Deadline is a very traditional ghost story, perhaps trying a little too hard to be also an artsy drama. You could argue that the film's ending betrays the ghost story for pure melodrama, although I think it keeps everything admirably open, never exactly defining how much of what we have seen has happened in Alice's head and how much outside of it.

McConville's directorial style is slow, moody and a little conservative. There are no flashcuts, no whooshing noises and no shaky cam to be found anywhere (even the home videos are shown as conventional film scenes), and it is the right way to direct for the story the film is telling. There's the characters and a little plot, and McConville is intelligent enough to not get between the audience and those.

Deadline concentrates much more on Alice's mental state as mirrored in Lucy (or is it the other way round?) than on being all that scary, so people only looking for scares in their horror will probably be quite disappointed by it. Instead of trying to frighten its audience, the film uses its ghosts as amplifiers of Alice's mental state, which doesn't mean that there are no disconcerting scenes to be found at all. The second half of the film has some moments that make good use of the psychological horrors of the tale to unsettle the viewer.

I was pleasantly surprised by the actors. I don't necessarily expect great work from Brittany Murphy, but her performance as the brittle woman getting more and more disturbed is really quite good. Not as surprising, but equally convincing is Thora Birch; even Marc Blucas' typically flat affect fits nicely into his role here.

For some, Deadline will probably be boring - there's no action to speak of, the spooking is very conservative and the film is interested in character and not much else. I for my part think that this is a good direction for a ghost story to go in. There should be space enough for something a little old-fashioned among the gore and the spring-loaded cats that seem to be making up much of the horror genre today.

 

From Twitter 12-05-2009



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Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Stranger And The Gunfighter (1974)

The thief and expert safe-cracker Dakota (Lee Van Cleef) is trying to steal the fabled riches of the Chinese-immigrant businessman Wang. To his disappointment, Wang's safe only contains four pictures of the backs of Wang's four mistresses. Worse still, the pictures' owner stumbles onto the burglary and falls down dead (I suspect four mistresses weren't such a good idea for a man of his age). Poor, semi-innocent Dakota ends up sentenced to death for murder.

A little later somewhere in China, a warlord presses Wang's nephew, the martial arts expert Ho Chiang (Lo Lieh), into his service to travel to America and get him his uncle's money. The fabled riches weren't actually Wang's own, but belonged to the warlord who used Wang as intermediate to invest money in the US. Now, the rather rude man has gotten impatient and gives Ho Chiang exactly one year to return with his money, or the fighters' father and sister will die.

Once arrived in America, Ho Chiang soon realizes that Dakota didn't steal his uncle's money. It also becomes clear that uncle Wang was quite the fetishist and had the whereabouts of his treasures tattooed onto his mistresses backsides.

Since Ho is a nice guy and thinks himself in need of a traveling companion who knows the lay of the land, he frees Dakota from the gallows and offers him a little money for his help. Dakota agrees to the proposal, very un-Spaghetti-like without showing any sign of ulterior motives.

Together, the two men travel the land to stare at female asses everywhere. It's just too bad that they aren't all that good at secrecy, so they soon have to compete against an insane preacher only known as The Deacon (driving a mean mobile church) to get at the behinds.

As the film's fascination with female backsides (not that it is actually showing any of them) should demonstrate, The Stranger And The Gunfighter is not to be taken seriously. It's a film built - in the glorious Italian tradition -  to cash in on the short popularity of Lo Lieh in American grindhouses as a martial arts hero (which of course blissfully ignored the fact that he more often than not played the bad guy in his Hong Kong films) and the absolute willingness Lee Van Cleef's to do any damn thing for a movie (see also Captain Apache), and it succeeds admirably as a silly piece of fluff.

Many among the surprising number of Spaghetti Western/martial arts crossover films aren't too entertaining to watch, but most of these films weren't directed by house favorite Antonio Margheriti, who always had a sure hand when it came to directing silly adventure movies. And at heart, The Stranger And The Gunfighter is a deeply silly adventure movie outfitted with the trappings of a Spaghetti Western and a little Kung Fu more than it belongs to those other two genres.

Watching the film, I found it hard to shake the feeling that everyone involved had a hell of a time - Van Cleef shooting, singing (alas) and drinking and Lo Lieh staring at female bottoms with scientific earnestness and a looking glass and kicking male asses when necessary. I imagine Margheriti giggling with glee behind his camera, as I often do when watching the man's films.

All this is obviously far from that mysterious thing experts call "good taste", but I stopped caring about that a long time ago when I decided that I'm not that bourgeois. While the bottom business and the not completely enlightened interpretation of Chinese culture (which isn't as bad as in other films I've seen, mind you) might offend some people, that will mostly be a problem for those looking to be offended.

For my tastes, the film is much too good-natured and light to deserve anything but laughter, and much too fast-paced and silly not to be entertaining.

 

From Twitter 12-04-2009



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Friday, December 4, 2009

On WTF: A Coffin For The Sheriff (1965)

Sometimes, you just want a Spaghetti Western that's satisfied with just being a Spaghetti Western. At times like that, films like this one are indispensable. My review on WTF-Film will tell you why.

 

From Twitter 12-03-2009



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  • So, the German DVD of Johnnie To's "Sparrow" only has a German language track, no Cantonese with subtitles? What is wrong with those people?


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Thursday, December 3, 2009

In short: The Final Destination (2009)

A group of movie young people - Hero Guy, Hero Guy's Girlfriend, Asshole  and Asshole's Girlfriend - goes to the car races. (I miss our old friends Practical Joker and Slut here, but what can you do?)

Death, being the nice being that it is, wants to spare us time with these non-entities and arranges for a crash that should leave a nice part of the racing audience dead. Alas, Hero Guy has a vision of the impending moment of joy, and leads his friends (and some future cannon fodder in form of our old friends Black Security Dude, Redneck Racist, Joe the Mechanic and Soccer Mom) to safety.

Of course, this being a Final Destination film and all, our friend Death now attempts to get rid of the lot of them in freak accidents taking place in exactly the order they should have died initially. Unfortunately, Hero Guy has unclear visions of everyone's future demise and tries to break the chain of killings to save the life of himself and his friends.

While I take the first Final Destination to be as fun as teen-oriented horror gets, its sequels have been steadily getting worse. This one is the fourth film in the franchise (and it is a franchise aka money-making machine only now, not a series of films telling a story) and has about the level of quality even the Friday the 13th films only sank to with their eighth film, Jason Takes Manhattan.

In other words, it is utter shite made by people who don't care about making anything watchable.

The acting in here is as bad as it gets in a non-backyard film. The "actors" (and I use the word loosely) are visibly struggling with their lines and/or are declining to emote at all.

Of course, as bad as the dialogue is, it would be hard for even a decent or better actor to make something out of it.

And just don't get me started on the absence of a plot or a dramatic arch or really, anything that resembles actually screenwriting.

I can't even go and praise the film's creative death scenes, because Death seems to have worn out his brains in the first three films and has become an utter bore, leaving any sense of humor and suspense(you know, the things which made the deaths in the first film so much fun) behind. Everything is just there to give the film a reason to show off its only selling point: 3D effects I couldn't care less about. It might come as a surprise to the makers of this thing, but eyes and pointy objects jumping at the camera do not a movie make. In fact, they don't even make for a carnival ride.

 

From Twitter 12-02-2009



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  • Dead Space: Slick, professional, and spectacularly lacking in imagination. Really helps me appreciate Silent Hill IV.
  • Further proof for the fact that music labels are, in fact, evil. http://tinyurl.com/yggp6o4


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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot! (1967)

A guy nobody ever calls Django (Tomas Milian), takes part in the attack on a gold transport. Afterwards, his partners realize that not-Django and his Mexican friends aren't part of their beloved Aryan Brotherhood and so decide to keep all the gold in their own evil white hands.

Turns out that it wasn't a good idea to sloppily shoot their old partners and let them rot in a self-made grave in the desert, because not-Django claws himself out of the grave to be rescued by two very Italian looking Indians. These Indians are really nice guys. If The Artist Never Known As Django tells them what awaits after death, they'll be his obedient servants. To prove their enthusiasm, they have already made him bullets from the gold that really shouldn't be lying around there, seeing that not giving him and his friends any gold was the point of killing them.

While our hero recuperates, the bandits arrive in a nameless desert town I like to call Bucket O'Doom, while the Indians call it just The Unhappy Place.

Too bad the bandits didn't have these subtle hints to guide them, and so fall victim to the gold-greedy lynchmob that makes up the population of Bucket O'Doom.

When TANKAD arrives, he just barely has the opportunity to kill the bandit leader quite dead. For no reason I could fathom, and despite the obvious bloodthirsty madness of everyone around him, he decides to stay in town for a while afterwards.

Very soon, the place's various factions kill and betray each other to get the gold. Somehow, everyone still finds time to kidnap and torture Mister Passive, who really seems quite thankful for the attention.

Wow, did you know that people are mean and greedy? If not, If You Live, Shoot will tell you as often as anyone could wish for. It's just too bad that freeform misanthropy is the only thing of interest the film has going for it. While director Giulio Questi (perhaps best known for his brilliantly titled bizarre giallo Death Laid An Egg) has a certain sense for arresting images, I'm less than enamored of what he decides to use it on. There's really just this much you can do with basic misanthropy until it becomes not deep and profound as the film takes itself to be, but monotonous and a little ridiculous. I already understood that people ain't no good after the first thirty minutes of film, giving me 90 minutes more of the stuff is mostly just numbing and more than a little boring.

It's interesting to compare this to Sergio Corbucci's also incredibly dark and pessimistic The Great Silence, a film that works much better than Questi's thanks to Corbucci's interest in people as actual people and not just as robots that commit the atrocities we see to make a point about the director's philosophy. Which of course doesn't make the things happening in The Great Silence that much more pleasant, but the film is as interested in the (social and psychological) reasons for cruelty as in the cruelty itself, something that would go right over Questi's head, it seems.

If You Kill, Shoot mostly wallows in its own unpleasantness and earnestness, never realizing that it has long passed the point where it will be able to affect its audience emotionally.

It really doesn't help that Milian's character is a complete cipher without a past or much humanity himself - he's just there to be a stand-in for the film's viewer's, never more than superficially trying to influence anything that happens.

Even as a shock picture the film falls rather flat for me. At no point does Questi bother to show his characters as actual people with thoughts, hopes and idiosyncrasies, making it impossible to get any emotional reaction for their bloody demises from me. They are just very flat pictures on celluloid, after all, never meant for anything else than dying with a lot of red paint thrown over them, never giving me a reason to care about them (they aren't even archetypes, much less people, after all).

To put it in a different way, Django Kill...If You Live, Shoot! just lacks soul.

 

From Twitter 12-01-2009



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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In short: Ninjutsu Gozen-jiai (1957)

aka Torawakamaru the Hoga Ninja

Being a magical ninja ain't easy. If you are Ishikawa Goemon (Nakajiro Tomita) of the (in this film) rather evil Iga clan, you might be able to ride clouds, teleport, jump really high, make yourself invisible and cut down trees via telekinesis, but your annoying son Goroichi (Motoharu Ueki) has missed every lesson in Being Evil School and your henchwomen like Sagiri (Hiroko Sakuramachi) are so fragile in their evilness that having one good deed inflicted upon them will turn them into do-gooders themselves.

Not that the rather good ninja of the Hoga clan (also known as the Koga clan) have it easy. First and foremost, there aren't exactly a lot of them left, and their youngest and brightest Torawakamaru (Sentaro Fushimi) might be able to do all those sexy things Goemon can plus turn into a big toad, but he also has the laughter of an especially ill-mannered goat. And, you know, who wants to turn into a big toad?

When the Iga decide to throw their lot in with Tokugawa, the Hoga obviously side with the Tokugawa's main enemy, the Toyotomi. The groups are fighting about the plans for new-fangled castle fortifications the Toyotomi are planning to build and use all the silly tricks a good ninja knows.

But not even the kidnapping of the adorable/annoying little Toyotomi daughter Nene is enough to end the difficulties. In the end, only a ninja duel between Torawakamaru and the Iga boss of bosses Momochi Sandayu (Ryunosuke Tsukitaga) can decide who will build a fortification and who will be (quite literally) cooked.

The short programmer Ninjutsu Gozen-jiai was conjured up in the same spirit of silliness that would later produce the best Japanese film of all times, The Magic Serpent. Obviously made for children, and containing the important moral lessons that evilness is not genetic, and that fire-breathing snakes look much cooler than big frogs, the film's naive charms are large enough to make it an excellent Sunday morning choice of film for people receptive to its charms, namely me.

There is probably not all that much technical merit to the film (although its director Tadashi Sawashima manages to smuggle in a very beautifully shot swordfight in the rain right at the start of the movie), but it runs along nicely, from time to time stopping for the nauseating children and some painful humor.

Fortunately, there is always some new magical ninja silliness waiting around the next corner - not as much of it as in, say, Taiwanese productions of the next two decades, yet enough to satisfy me.

The final duel (in the clouds, with people changing into various ugly animal suits) is especially satisfying and reminds of the best animal themed Halloween party that never happened in historical Japan.

 

From Twitter 11-30-2009



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Monday, November 30, 2009

Music Monday: One Of These Days Edition

From Twitter 11-29-2009



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