Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tectonic Tuesday: Christina Aguilera

With Ramadan of 2010 coming to an end, we present another danger to the planet more severe than Global Warming. It is one of the women who keeps Iranian holy man Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi up and at night, and who prompted him to deliver this divinely inspired warning to all of us: "Many women who do not dress modestly [...] spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes."

And here's the proof.

Fifteenth Case Study: Christina Aguilera

Born in October of 1980, Christina Aguilera is the second earthquake-causing pop tartlet to emerge from the Mickey Mouse Club, appearing on the television program along side Britney Spears. In 1999, she first threatened the world when she shot to pop music super-stardom and started shedding her clothes in sex-charged music videos. By 2001, even her own grandmother was telling her to find something decent to wear, but it was too late. Aguilera caused the Gurajat earthquake that killed 20,000 people in India as that nation was starting its fifth full decade free of British rule.

By the mid-2000s, Aguilera was becoming a real challenge to Britney Spears in the race to earn the Biggest Skank of the New Millennium Award. Although she ultimately lost the race to the bottom, Aguilera is actually a bigger threat to global stability, because not only was the most immodest of the immodest, but she is also a gifted singer with a fabulous voice... a siren on land who is sure to doom men just as if she was on the sea. And in July of 2006, she brought destruction to the island nation of Java in the form of an earthquake, followed by a tsunami that injured and killed over 10,000 people.

In 2007, Aguilera gave birth to a son, and she subsequently became a little less of a danger to the world. However, it remains to be seen what she still has in store for us, as not only did she release a new album this year, but she is starring in the upcoming film "Burlesque". Will the earth once again tremble because of the immodesty of Christina Aguilera?

'Pieces' is lots of gory fun

Pieces (1981)
Starring: Christopher George, Frank Brana, Lynda Day George, Edmund Purdom, Paul Smith, Jack Taylor, and Ian Sera
Director: Juan Piquer Simon
Rating: SPLIT--4/10 if viewed as a straight slasher film; 7/10 if viewed as a comedy)

Someone is cutting up beautiful college girls with a chainsaw and carrying off pieces of their bodies to create the world's first full-sized, flesh-and-blood person puzzle. The police (George and Brana) are stumped, so rather than conduct a full investigation, they recruit random faculty members to help with investigation and ask a random student to keep an eye on an officer who is sent in under cover as the school's new tennis instructor (Day). Who is the killer? The effeminate anatomy professor (Taylor)? The brutish groundskeeper (Smith)? The randy Big Man On Campus (Sera)? Or the quirky University Dean (Purdom)? Who's got bodyparts and a chainsaw hidden in their closet?

Some films are so bad they become unintentionally funny, and they end up being more funny than supposed comedies. "Pieces" may be an awful horror movie--hence the Four Tomato rating--but if it had been a slasher movie spoof, it would rate Seven Tomatoes. From the most incompetent cops ever put on film (not only do they recruite a possible suspect to watch their undercover officer, but they give him access to police files), to the least subtle serial killer to ever roam a heavily populated area (it's a residential campus, and he uses a chainsaw to kill people), to the Kung Fu fighter who shows up out of no where to attack the undercover cop for no reason what so ever, to the date-rape drug-fueled climax, "Pieces" gets funnier and funnier as it progresses. The lame, wanna-be "Goblin"-style electronica score only heightens the fun. (I'll grant the filmmakers one good scare, though. There's a bit near the end that I didn't see coming at all, and it made me jump.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

The first great 'Rizzoli and Isles' episode

Rizolli and Isles 1.7: Born to Run (2010)
Starring: Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander, Bruce McGill, Lee Thompson Young, and Jordan Bridges
Director: Matthew Penn
Rating: Eight of Ten Star

Seven episodes in, TNT's new detective show "Rizzoli and Isles" finally delivers something new and unpredictable with "Born to Run," the episode that aired on August 23. They've come closest to excellence previously with "The Boston Strangler Redux" on July 19, but the series debut episode--which started in an odd sort of in medias res place with Rizzoli being haunted by a serial killer who almost cost her life and who scarred her both physically and mentally--and the other ones so far have all had a been-there, seen-that feel to them. Which is a shame, because this show has a great cast.

"Rizzoli and Isles" centers on a tomboyish, tough-as-nails homicide detective from a working-class Italian background (Harmon) and an overly bookish, somewhat socially maladjusted coroner of an upper-crust, Boston First Family background (Alexander), co-workers and best friends despite their different personalities. They are supported by a great collection of actors with been-around-forever Bruce McGill being particularly fun as a gruff veteran detective and Rizzoli's ex-partner who's caused so much trouble that he's on permanent desk assignment.

For the most part, the show plays as an inferior copy of Fox's long-running "Bones," with the odd couple of Rizzoli and Isles being an almost direct rip-off of Boothe and Bones from the other show. The main difference here is that the focus is mostly on the police work, with Isle's lab activities being about as central as Quincy's lab work as on that show. However, the way Rizzoli's family plays into the story lines adds a slightly different flavor to the show... not quite enough to bring it out of the shadow of "Bones," but enough to make it somewhat distinct.

Perhaps if I were familiar with the Jane Rizzoli-starring novels the series is based upon, the differences between this show and "Bones" would be more evident. But a good adaptation means I should be able to come to the series with no prior knowledge whatsoever. And coming to it cold, the show mostly feels like a run-of-the-mill detective show that's copying "Bones" and trying to sell itself on the fact it's got two women as its main characters. For the most part, this hasn't been enough for me. And I was about to give up on the show.

With episode #7, however, the writers finally delivered an episode that wasn't predictable and that didn't make me think of "Bones" every five minutes. In "Born to Run," Rizzoli is badgered by Isles into signing up for the Boston Marathon, so the two can something together as friends. This being a cop show, a couple of runners get shot, and Rizzoli must solve the mystery while trying to keep the shootings secret in order to prevent a mass panic. The story was unpredictable, the setting was unusual, and the way the various characters worked to solve the crime on many different levels, both police-wise and management-wise, was very nicely done. The red herrings subtly tossed into the mix were also nicely executed; I thought I knew who the killers were because of them, but thankfully I was wrong. I also appreciated the way Rizzoli's family played into the story... they emerged as characters rather than just flavoring in this episode.

I'm going to give "Rizzoli and Isles" a few more episodes before I make up my mind. It would be nice to see Angie Harmon in a new series that lasts more than a couple of seasons. She's an interesting and quirky actress who deserves a higher profile than the one she currently enjoys. It's also nice to see Sasha Alexander again... I enjoyed her very much on "N.C.I.S."

"Rizzoli and Isles" currently airs on TNT on Monday nights, with a second airing on Tuesdays.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

'Prey for the Beast' is not worth digesting

Prey for the Beast (2008)
Starring: Ray Besharah, Lisa Aitken, Mark Courneyea, Brett Kelly, Anastasia Kimmett, Amanda Leigh, Sonia Myers, Jodi Pittman, and Lenard Blackburn
Director: Brett Kelly
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Visitors to a remote corner of Canada's grand wilderness are stalked and killed by a cunning monster with mysterious powers. Two groups of campers--one consisting of all-male Beautiful People and one all-female Beautiful People--join forces in order to survive.

"Prey for the Beast" features a great creature. I often knock low-buget horror films like this because they include monsters that look cheap and goofy instead of impressive and scary.That's not the case here. The monster in this film is very made, its attacks are convincing, and it holds up nicely to the extended shots that its featured in. It's a rareity among films at this production level, and I congratulate Kelly and his special effects team of Ralph Gethings (who did the gore effects and make-up) and Matt Ficner (who built the monster suit) for excelling in this area.

The script for the film is also pretty decent. Its characters are a bit on the generic side for the most part, but its got some nice concepts and a climax is well-paced. It also gives the creature a suite of unexpected powers, such as the ability to animate the corpses of victims it doesn't fully consume and a venom that causes paranoia and hallucinations in those who survive its attack. One is also left with the impression that the creature has the ability to teleport itself from place to place and turn invisible at will, but I don't think that was intended by the filmmakers. Rather, I think the creature's amazing ability to stand unseen directly behind its intended victims is a reflection of the Ed Wood Problem as it is manifested in "Prey for the Beast".

"The Ed Wood Problem", so named because it was an ever-present elements in the movies and written by Edward D. Wood Jr., is what occurs when the script calls for a certain kind of location, the actors behave and deliver their line as if they're in that location, but even the most unobservant viewer can recognize that what's on the screen and what the actors are describing or reacting to are two different things. In an Ed Wood picture, this problem would typically manifest itself through characters commenting on how fancy or opulent a room was while standing on a set that made a flophouse look luxurious.

In "Prey for the Beast", the Ed Wood Problem has a script that calls for a wilderness far removed from civilization, a deep, dark forest that is hard to access and in which human feet rarely tread. What we have seems more like a place that's no more than 100 yards from the visitor's center of a national forest or large city park. (The Problem starts maniesting early in the fllm with the film's mail title credits running over stock footage of a mountainous forest and wild giver, intercut cut with four of our soon-to-be-beast-prey charaters pulling across a placid lake in a rowboat; by none of the characters possessing any camping gear worth noting; and by the survivors of the beast attack reaching a road, a shack, and ultimately a picnic area, within no more than half a day's worth of hiking.)

The setting for the film doesn't feel as remote and isolated as it needs to, and this is a major strike against any real suspense and terror being generated as the film unfolds. It also leads to seeral eye-rolling moments of unintentional hilarity when the monster is lurking a mere two-three feet away from its victims, yet they do not see it. This is because the action is supposedly taking place in thick, old-growth forest and not among the thin forest the actors are actually performing in. It keeps the viewer from taking the film seriously and it keeps the film from having any real impact, despite the effective creature design and well-done gore effects.

Actiing that is more suited for stage than film on the part of most of the cast, and illogical behavior on the part of several characters (because if they didn't do something stupid, the monster wouldn't have a chance to kill them) also serves as a drag on the overall level of enjoyment derived from watching the film. The only castmembers who didn't have me cringing at some of their line-readings was director Brett Kelly, Anastasia Kimmet, and Lisa Aitken.

If you're a fan of low-budget monster movies, "Prey for the Beast" is worth checking out for its well-done monster. The rest of the movie is fairly mediocre. There are a couple of jolts here and there, but even at its scant running of just over an hour it feels over-long and there are more than point where you'll wish for the pace to picked up a bit.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Sienna Guillory

British actress Sienna Guillory has been working steadily since landing her first big role at the age of 20 on the television series "The Buccaneers" in 1995. Although she has appeared mostly in historical dramas, her starring turn as Jill Valentine in "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" earned her a spot in the hearts of horror fans (even if the overall movie wasn't all that good).

Scheduling conflicts made it impossible for her to appear in "Resident Evil: Armageddon," but she returns to the series with "Resident Evil: Afterlife," which is slated for release next month.

Friday, August 27, 2010

'The Last Exorcism' all but ruined by ending

The Last Exorcism (2010)
Starring: Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell, and Louis Herthum
Director: Daniel Stamm
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A professional minister and exorcist who has lost his faith in God (Fabian) cooperates with the making a documentary intended to expose exorcists and exorcisms as the frauds they are. However, with a two-person film crew in tow, he comes face to face with a girl (Bell) who may truly be possessed by a demon.

"The Last Exorcism" is, for most of its running time, a well-executed horror film in the "Paranormal" or "The Blair Witch Project" mode. The documentary feel is scrupulously maintained, and there's nothing shown in the film that couldn't have been captured by the camera carried by the documentary filmmaker. The script is lean, tightly focused, and it sets up everything that occurs in the picture nicely.

The film also benefits from a main character, Reverend Cotton Marcus, who, despite admitting up front to having turned from preacher to conman and trickster, is a sympathetic throughout. Even better, Cotton Marcus is a character who has a conscience and a heart--and perhaps more faith left in God than he realizes--and he tries his best to help a young girl in serious trouble, first exploring every possible logical explanation for her condition... and ultimately exploring supernatural ones. He transformation from huckster to hero that Marcus undergoes makes him a character that the audience is rooting for more strongly than most horror movie characters. Of course, it helps immensely that Patrick Fabian is perfectly cast in the part.

Also perfectly cast is Ashley Bell. She's in her mid-20s, but she nonetheless passes just fine as the 16-year-old she is playing. She also shows that maybe she is being wasted in the primarily voice acting roles she's played up to this point, as she is fabulous as Nell, being equally sweet, sinister, or absolutely bat-shit crazy depending on what is called for vis-a-vis portraying a girl who might be demonically possessed. Louis Herthum as her deeply Christian father is likewise excellent in his part, seeming likeable but with just enough of an edge that the audience can buy into the suspicions that start to form around him halfway through the film.

Unfortunately, all that is good about "The Last Exorcism" is undermined by its absolutely awful ending. It's an ending that's carefully set up as the film unfolds, and it's to be expected given the genre and the general tend for horror movies to be home to various degrees of irony and "poetic justice", but in this specific case the ending destroys the carefully constructed illusion that we're watching a documentary. As the end credits start to roll, even the most unquestioning and generous-minded viewer will be asking with some irritation, "Given what just happened... who made the movie?"

I don't know if this was the filmmakers intent, but what they ended up doing was the modern-day equavenent of the ending on "The Mark of the Vampire" or "The Ghoul" where the 1930s filmmakers ended their films by reassuring audiences that there is no such thing as the supernatural. With "The Last Exorcism," the filmmakers do the same by completely destroying the pretense that everything we've just seen unfold on film was just so much make-believe, reassuring us that there is no such thing as the supernatural. However, in the case of the classic horror films, the entirety of what had been built up was not swept away as it is here.

If "The Last Exorcism" has been five-ten minutes shorter and/or given an ending that was in keeping with the illusion of reality the film had set up--even if that ending involved demons taking on physical form--this could have been a great horror movie. Instead, it ends up barely rating as average.

'Sound of Horror' brings little, not even fury

Sound of Horror (1964)
Starring: Auturo Fernandez, James Philbrook, Soledad Miranda, Ingrid Pitt, Lola Gaos, and Jose Bodalo
Director: Jose Antonio Nieves Conde
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A group of treasure hunters blast some openings in a series of caves and unleash invisible, flesh-eating dinosaurs that have been dormant for thousands of years.

"Sound of Horror" shows some degree of cleverness on the part of the filmmakers and their answer to the question, "How do you make a monster movie with you don't have a budget to create decent-looking creatures?" (Their answer wasn't "Don't do it", their answer was "Make the monsters invsible!")

It's an answer I can appreciate. Too many filmmakers have embarrassed themselves over the years by making movies that had concepts beyond the available budget. At least the filmmakers here had a keen enough understanding of their craft to know their limitations... and for that I applaud them. No one embarrasses themselves in this production... except perhaps Ingrid Pitt and Soledad Miranda with their back-to-back dance routines of questionable quality.

During its second half, with shocking gore effects and some real suspense once the characters realize they need to find a way to fend off what they can't see or be reduced to monster-chow, this film features some pretty effective moments. Unfortunately, the sound you'll be hearing during the film's first half isn't one of horror, but one of the guy next to you snoring because boredom has put him to sleep.

The overly slow pace of the early part of the film is bound to put off most viewers before the action gets going. And I'm not even sure it gets good enough to warrant sitting through the shots of an empty cave set (which, I suppose, are there to show us the... um... invisible monsters) and the aforementioned dance routines of Miranda and Pitt.

The only people I can recommend this film to is to hardcore fans of the film's two leading ladies--it's of particular note for Pitt's carreer as it is her film debut--but everyone else should probably take a pass on it. It might be entertaining to view if you have friends who are able to carry on a MSTK-3000 style banter, but otherwise the first half of the film almost unbearably dull.

Note: "Sound of Horror" is among the movies covered in my forthcoming book, 150 Movies You Should (Die Before You) See. If you've enjoyed my reviews on the Cinema Steve blogs, please check it out.

'Resident Evil: Apocalypse' is a failure

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory and Oded Fehr
Director: Alexander Witt
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

This film is a direct sequel to the original "Resident Evil," and it sees Alice and a small group of survivors struggling to escape zombie-infested Racoon City before the city is destroyed by a nuclear blast intended to prevent the spread of the dead-animating T-virus and to hide the evidence of Umbrella Corporation's massive screw-up. Along the way, they have to defeat the company's latest superweapon, which it released in the city as a final field test.

I enjoyed the movie on a "sit back and watch the fight scenes and mayhem" level, but it fails as a horror movie or even as an action film. The plot had holes in it that you could fit a dump truck full of zombies through, the scares were mostly predictable, and the dialogue was at times so awful that "insipid" is a mild term for it.

In fact, think the potential in the sequel set-up at the end of the film is more exciting than the movie that led up to it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

'The Silencers' is a fun spy spoof

The Silencers (1966)
Starring: Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Daliah Lavi, Victor Buono, and James Gregory
Director: Henry Levin
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Retired secret agent turned fashion photographer Matt Helm (Martin) is coaxed out of retirement by his sexy former partner (Lavi) to help find the mole who has been feeding information to the enemy, and to stop a nefarious scheme to start World War III.

"The Silencers" is one of the films that Mike Meyers was trying to copy/spoof with his Austin Powers films, itself a tongue-in-cheek spoof of the James Bond series... as well as Dean Martin's image as a hard drinker and a womanizer. Of course, a sure-fire way to make an inferior picture is to attempt to spoof a spoof, so it's not surprising that this movie is superior to anything Meyers attempted in every way. (Except Dr. Evil and the various characters in his orbit. Dr. Evil is Meyers' singular great creation.)

If you have a high tolerance for slapstick spy antics, a steady stream of off-color jokes and puns, dream sequences narrated by a singing Dean Martin, and 1960s-style sexism and swingin' life styles, you'll enjoy this film. You'll enjoy it even more, because in addition to being a fun comedy, it's got a well-crafted script at its core that offers a few genuinely surprising twists and even more startling and well-timed moments that many serious spy movies can't match.

And then there's the fact that Matt Helm is probably the only spy in the world who has a tricked-out station wagon that converts to a love-nest on wheels, complete with mini-bar.

The cast is also amusing to watch, with Dean Martin excelling in the part of the reluctant hero who would rather be at home enjoying his models, sexy personal assistant, and hi-tech bachelor's pad; Daliah Lavi as a sexy secret agent that gives some of the best Bond Girls a run for their money; and Stella Stevens as the clumsiest femme fatale to ever bumble her way across the screen. Victor Buono also manages to strike a nice balance between creepy and outrageous as an overweight Fu Manchu-style villainous mastermind.

"The Silencers" is available on DVD along with the other three Matt Helm movies from the 1960s. Check them out, in time for the character's return to film in 2011.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Beautiful Horror from Estaban Maroto

If I made a list of my Top Twenty favorite artists, Estaban Maroto would be somewhere on it. Whether seeing his pen illustrating romance comics or horror comics, I've loved his style since I first encountered him. In case you haven't had the pleasure, here's an opportunity.

I've linked to several posts at Joe Bloke's excellent Grantbridge Street & Other Misadventures blog where you can read a couple Maroto-illustrated stories in their entirety. (I'm too lazy to do all that scanning, so we can thank Joe for his industriousness!)

Wolf Hunt (from Vampirella Magazine #14)
(The sexy werewolf on the title page on this bears a striking resemblence to the one onthis poster for "Werewolf Woman". I wonder who was swiping from whom.)

Gender Bender (from Vampirella Magazine #20)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

'Teenaged Exorcist' shoulda stayed in school

Teenage Exorcist (1994)
Starring: Brinke Stevens, Oliver Darrow, Eddie Deezen, and Michael Berryman
Director: Grant Austin Waldman
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

Brinke Stevens stars a Good Girl who rents a house that a demonologist has transformed into an eternal vessel for his evil soul and miscellaneous other demonic and undead riff-raff. She is soon possessed by an evil, over-sexed demon and transformed into the ultimate Bad Girl. Can her sister, her ultra-straightlaced brother-in-law, and a dim-witted pizza boy save Brinke' soul (and the neighborhood's property values)?

This is intended as a horror comedy, but it is mostly unfunny due to a lack of comedic timing on the part of most of the actors, and the simple fact that many of the jokes just aren't that funny. The horror side is also markedly un-scary. The only reason to watch this film is the opportunity to see Brinke Stevens wander around in skimpy outfits--but you can get to see her do that in better films than this one.

Tectonic Tuesday: Special Ramadan Edition

Given the controversy surrounding my efforts to raise awareness of the dangers posed by immodest women and their naked flesh to the safety of us all (as revealed to us when the great and wise Imam of Imams Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi stated in April of 2010 that "women who do not dress modestly ... spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes"), I am once again refraining from posting a Tectonic Tuesday Case Study.

I want the most holy Imam Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi to be able to enjoy the Holy Month of Ramada with a calm mind, not having to worry that my calling attention to immodest, earth-shattering women might be increasing the problem rather than elevating it.

Instead, here are tips for those ladies out there who want to go to beach and enjoy the sun, sand, and sea without the risk of causing earthquakes.

Modesty by the Sea:
Tectonic Tuesday Ramadan Special Report

First, let me stress that there is no doubt what so ever than large number of women prancing about immodestly in bikinis is a danger to the planet. The Chinese proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt in 2008 when their stunt to create the Olympic Rings out of bikini-clad women gathered over 1,200 of these immodesty females in one place, triggering earthquakes in Oregon, California, and China's own Sichuan Province.

But how then can a woman of conscience avoid being the cause of such disasters while still enjoying summer sea-side activities?

One option is the Burkini. This is swimwear developed to ensure that no woman will ever cause an earthquake while on the beach. Of course, numerous instances of women in Burkinis being shot with tranquilizer darts and shipped off to the mysterious land of the Teletubbies in tragic cases of mistaken identities show there's a different sort of risk that arises from the Burkini.

The ideal situation is to strike a middleground, being modest in your dress while not looking like a Teletubbie or an extra from Cirque de Soleil on a smoke break.

Laurin here had the right idea. As Imam Slammy (as the all-wise Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi is known to his friends) would undoubtedly confirm, the second biggest threat from immodest women is their uncovered heads and that sexy, sexy hair! But she isn't wearing a top. Going topless at the beach isn't very modest. (Of course, by going topless, women will make it easier for men to engage in the fatwa-approved adult breast feeding recommended by Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini of Saudi Arabia, a great man who is almost as wise as Imam Slammy himself. But the risk of earthquakes is probably not worth it.)

The Tectonic Tuesday staff recommends the Burkini design to the left is the only solution that allows women to enjoy the beach while avoiding the risk of being mistaken for a Teletubby and hunted down by animal control, or spreading adultery and (consequently) increasing earthquakes. It is actually more modest than the Burkini, as it covers the face as well as the hair and arms. The only possible way to improve this design was to have the woman wear parachute pants along with it.

Another option would be for women who insist on wearing immodest swimwear to frequent women-only beaches. There are a few of those around the world. Adventuress (and notoriously immodest woman) Lara Croft recommends the one in Italy's Riccione Resort.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Two ladies of the night at their best

Catwoman & Vampirella: The Furies (DC Comics, 1997)
Writer: Chuck Dixon
Artists: Jim Balent and Ray McCarthy
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When Gotham City is plagued by a string of violent, cat-themed break-ins, everyone assumes that Catwoman--legendary thief and adventuress--has gone psychotic... except Catwoman, who wants to retore her bad reputation to its proper place. But before she has that chance, a mysterious, batwinged avenger known as Vampirella--dedicated foe of the Cult of Chaos and evil vampires everywhere on this world and any others--swoops down upon her, dead-set on stopping her before she commits any further evil acts.

"The Furies" is one of the best Vampirella comics to be published since Harris Publications revived the character in the early 90s, produced by a team that I am certain will be looked back on as being part of the very best stories featuring DC Comics' Catwoman. When this book was published in 1997, Vampirella was beginning to seriously flounder under Harris, while Catwoman was at a glorious height that I don't think the character will ever be at again: She was cast as a complusive thrill-seeker and adventuress for whom staging elaborate capers and impossible crimes were almost an end unto itself, and this team-up with Vampirella (once the misunderstandings between them are cleared up) works because of the generally lighthearted tone that pervailed in the Catwoman series at the time.

The book is particularly fun to read because of the amusing banter between Catwoman and Vampirella, as they beat up thugs and confront the ever-scheming Penguin in their search for the werepanther.

"The Furies" is a comic book I recommend highly to fans of classic Vampirella. I think you'll enjoy it immensely. Similarly, if you liked Catwoman back when Chuck Dixon and Doug Moench were writing the series, you'll also find this to a very entertaining read.

For more reviews and drawings of Vampirella, click here to visit my Shades of Gray blog.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bad management can lead to the most unexpected of problems

Scorched (2002)
Starring: John Cleese, Paulo Costanzo, Rachael Leigh Cook, Woody Harrelson, Joshua Leonard, Alicia Silverstone, and Marcus Thomas.
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Three tellers at a small branch office bank (Costanzo, Harrelson,and Silverstone), each with their own reasons for feeling disgruntled and put-upon decide independently to rob their employeer. Each has their own plan, each intends to target a different part of the bank, and each chooses to commit their larceny on the same weekend. And that's when things start getting really crazy.

This ensamble comedy features a strong cast (more comment on this below) and likable characters that move back and forth through four overlapping storylines--the three heists and a fourth involving a pair of geeky roommates who are trying to land one of them a job he can keep for more than a couple of hours. It also features a surprsingly tense roulette scene during one of the larcenous tellers' trip to Vegas. Some of the lines are a bit clunky and there are one or two scenes that could do with some punching up, but overall this film is pretty darn good and extremely entertaining.

I also think it's a film old-school roleplaying gamers might enjoy. Several of the film's characters are in a D&D gaming group, and I think we all might recognize some of the character types at the table. Cook's character is a particularly cute parody of the 'gamer chick.'

Speaking of Rachel Leigh Cook, it's probably a good thing that she and Alicia Silverstone don't actually share any scenes. I've never been a big fan of Silverstone, but seeing her in a film with an actress that is so full of charm and energy makes me feel even more underwhelmed by her talent and screen presence. While both actresses did a fine job, I think it is probably a casting mistake to put them in the movie; it makes Silverstone look bad.

Saturday Scream Queen: Milla Jovovich

This is the second time Milla Jovovich has been featured in "Saturday Scream Queen," because she's just that good. Well, that and she'll be starring, starring and starring in the soon-to-be-released "Resident Evil: Afterlife," so I figured I'd play my part in making sure she's found everywhere you look. (Unfortunately for her fans and the movie-going public, it's yet another one of those 3D abominations. I can't wait for a couple of those to bomb so this craze will end. I suppose it might even be unfortunate for Jovovich... see if you can figure out why.)

(If you want to see more of Milla Jovovich, click here. She's been featured a couple of times on "Picture Perfect Wednesday" at Shades of Gray. You can also read about a couple of her movies at The Universal Horror Archive.

'Marlene' is a top-notch horror comic book

Marlene (Slave Labor Graphics, 2005)
Story and Art: Peter Snejbjerg
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

One sveltering Danish summer, police detective Michael Joergendsen is assigned to investigate the murder of a peeping tom. As the case progresses, he discovers the woman being peeped at--a radiantly beautiful model named Marlene--seems to be the center of many strange events and dissapearances. As his obsession with both the case and Marlene grows, the main mystery becomes: Is Marlene the target of a stalker, or is she herself something more sinister?

Slave Labor Graphics may be small publisher, but they put out some seriously high-quality comics--"Halo and Sprocket", "Skeleton Key", "Private Beach", "What's Up Sugar Kat?", and "Street Angel, just to name a very few. With the English-language release of "Marlene", they added yet another fabulous comic book to their catalog.

"Marlene" is a 48-page one-shot that if it wasn't saddle-stitched would deserve to be called a graphic novel. And, frankly, it's of high enough quality that it would warrant a more durable format with a spine and cardstock covers.

Snejbjerg's tale is a perfectly paced horror tale, from the first shadowy appearance of a monstrous killer, to the final stand-off between Michael and his quarry. Snejbjerg also manages to swiftly establish his main characters as fully realized, three-dimensional personalities, and, like any good example of this kind of story, keeps some of their natures in doubt until almost the end.

Snejbjerg also shows himself to be a master of the craft of a comc book artist, something that distressingly few artists that have emerged in the past 15-20 years have been. His layouts are clean and easy to follow, his linework is crisp, and he has a great command of shadow and light. What's more, he seems to have a clear sense of the finer points of pacing a comic book story. (Hint to aspiring comcs artists and writers: Pay attention to what happens between the last panel on one page and the first panel on the following page. Get that sort of rhythm going in your work, and you'll be on your way to producing a decent comic.)

I recommend "Marlene" highly to lovers of good comic books and horror stories.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A fact about "adult" anime....

'Diary of a Big Man' is a funny tale of bigamy

Diary of a Big Man (1988)
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Sally Yeh, and Joey Wang
Director: Chor Yun
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

In something of a change of pace, action star Chow Yun-Fat takes the lead in a romantic comedy as a stockbroker who stumbles his way into marriage with two different women after he can't bring himself to break either's heart. With the help of a loyal friend, he attempts to balance both marriages, but eventually something has to give....

This film takes all the twists and turns that one expects a romantic comedy to take, but it does it with a certain style and flair, and it explodes into completely unexpected over-the-top and hilarious insanity. The performances by Chow Yun Fat and Sally Yeh are particularly fun to watch as the antics unfold.

One complaint I have is that the subtitles are... well, brittle. They are more difficult to read than average, something which is frustrating in a film where the patter is flying fast and furious. On the upside, there aren't many examples of the bizarre literal translations that are so common in Hong Kong flicks. Another subtitle complaint is that the featured song in the film is subtitled in Cantonese but not in English.

Despite these technical gripes, this is a fun little movie that's worth watching.

'Resident Evil' moves into the neighborhood

Resident Evil (2002)
Starring: Milla Jovovich
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

If you like action flicks AND are a fan of the classic horror flick "Dawn of the Dead," you're going to love "Resident Evil."

In a future where the global trade and politics is dominated by Umbrella Corporation, something goes terribly wrong at a top secret research installation under a major metropolitan area. A crack commando team is sent in to discover what happened... and come face to face with ravenous hoards of undead and other nasty critters created by the corporation's military/health research department. Meanwhile, a young woman, Alice (Jovovich), is trying to recover her memory and learn how she might be connected to the outbreak... and if she might be the key to stopping it.

The scares are neat, the action is non-stop and well-conceived, and, while the plot doesn't really stray from the "science goes horribly wrong and now the dead walk!"-type plot, it is very well executed and there are a couple of nice twists and interesting moments.

And some scary moments, too. The infected dogs are horrifying and the revelation of who Alice is very well done and it give Milla Jovovich a chance to actually act instead of just look tough and sexy.

Even better, although I've never played the video games this film was based upon, I could see the "levels" and the "challenges" of the game play out on screen without seeming too hokey. It's nice to see something that remains true to the nature of its source material, yet still create an adaptation that works in the new medium.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

'Demolition Man' delivers action and satire

Demolition Man (1993)
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sandra Bullock, and Wesley Snipes
Director: Marco Brambilla
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When a psychotic killer (Snipes) is released from suspended animation into a utopian Southern Californian society some 40 in the future where violence is virtually unknown, John Spartan (Stallone) a renegade 1990s cop, who is almost as violent and only slightly less blood-thirsty, is also awaked from stasis to stop him. Together with a dorky future cop (Bullock), he sets about hunting the mad killer before he destroys peaceful, if ludicrous, future society.

"Demolition Man" is a goofy sci-fi satire that pokes an equal amount of fun at action films, sci-fi movies, and the way Californians liked to think of themselves during the 1980s and early 1990s. It's a movie that knows it's silly and that revels in its silliness, from its over-the-top and violent action scenes to the extreme politically correct society of San Angeles. (Personally, I think this film has such a bad reputation because some of the social satire hit a bit too close to home for some of the Hollywood types and those who like to write about and hang out with them.)

The film's got a fun script that gives Wesley Snipes free reign as a truly evil bad guy, lets Stallone play the cartoony action hero he's best at, and has Bullock shining in a very funny part where she gets to present a slightly different spin on the "beautiful nerd" character she's best known for. (She even gets to be quite a bit sexier here than she is in many of her films, even while being howlingly funny.)

This movie is great fun, and it's one of the best movies that either Snipes or Stallone have appeared in. Heck, it might even be the career high for Snipes.

Destined to make you look at the clock

Destined to Be Ingested (aka "Holocaust Holocaust") (2010)
Starring: Kitty Cole, Kris Eivers, Noshir Dalal, Theodore Bouloukos, Manuel Fihman, Suzi Lorraine, Bill Weeden, and Randall Heller
Director: Sofian Khan
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

In 1987, four Yuppies (Bouloukos, Cole, Eivers, and Lorraine) were stranded on a South Island. The title of the film gives away part of what happens next--and even if it didn't... has there ever been a south sea island that wasn't home to cannibals or people-eating monsters?--but it won't prepare viewers for the Tarazan-esque love story, nor the arrival of the zombies.

First off, let me admit that I may be ill-equipped to review this film. I may even be committing the sort of Reviewing Deadly Sin that I ranted about in this article(and numerous others), because I have seen very few of the movies in the cannibal horror/jungle savage subgenre this movie belongs to,and I've reviewed even fewer.

And that could be the reason why I'm not entirely sure how I was supposed to take "Destined to Be ingested". The title and the preview for the film both scream comedy, but the execution is straight-laced and so restrained that I can't help but think it was intended to be viewed as a straight horror movie, perhaps even a homage to films like "Cannibal Holocaust" and "Slaves of the Mountain God". The fact its set during the 1980s--when many such films were being made--can be used to support either approach, as can the sound mixing. Like many films where quick and cheap dub jobs were done, the dialogue is crystal clear and obviously recorded in studio; either the filmmakers were doing it intentionally, or the soundtrack needed to be mixed better.

Whether it's to be taken seriously as a homage to the cannibal and zombie pictures of the 1980s, or viewed as a spoof of those movies, the film's flaws are the same. First off, it takes entirely too long in getting to the violence and mayhem everyone knows is coming--nearly one-third of the movie's barely over an hour running-time. The movie spends one-third of its running time on setting up characters that never rise above the level of cliches, setting up sex scenes that we don't get to see because the scene cuts away, and setting the stage for some of the most tepid violence you'll ever see in a horror flick featuring cannibals (unless the Hallmark Channel decides to make one).

But even when it gets going, it moves in fits and starts. We have a burst of violence and suspense as the cannibals make their first attack on the hapless Yuppies, but then we're treated to another stretch of nothing... where boring characters wander around doing boring things. Even though in theory there are vicious cannibals in loin clothes and body paint lurking nearby, we get the feeling that the greatest threat facing the characters is that they'll run out of beer before they are rescued.)

It isn't until one of the cannibals falls in love with Kitty Cole's character in violation of the traditions of this culture, and gets her knocked up, that the film starts to get interesting. By this time, however, the film's well over half gone, and there's really no saving it. It gets even more interesting with the hints dropped about the background of the cannibal tribe's chief, but nothing at all ends up coming from that.

The film's one redeeming feature is the way it introduces the zombie aspect. As I do with the vast majority of films I watch and review, I came to this one with no real knowledge of what it contained beyond a little blurb supplied by the distributor. I truly did not see the zombies coming, until they were chowing down on the cast members. (Yes, they're set up their arrival through ominous dialogue about the village being cursed because of Kitty Cole becoming a baby mama instead of a human sacrifice/finger food, but I hadn't expected the curse to be manifested as zombies.)

Unfortunately, the zombies also come to represent the film's biggest inconsistency and the most clear example of how its various pieces--cannibal horror, love story, zombie rampage--don't quite fit together. It's hinted that the cannibal chief is a product of a forbidden union, just like the child his son's outsider love will give birth to. But if this is the case, then why didn't the zombies destroy the village then? Did the curse come to be later? The film doesn't even provide a clue to that question, so as enlivening as the sudden appearance of zombies were, they ultimately end up making the experience of viewing this movie an unsatisfying waste of time... the only benefit you'll gain from this film is the opportunity to check your watch. First, you'll be looking to see if it's working because time seems to be passing slowly, and when the end credits start to roll, you'll be double-checking the movie's length, because it has to be longer than an hour. (It's not, though.)

And that's too bad, because "Destined to be Ingested" is actually a fairly well-done movie as far as the cinematography goes, and the acting is pretty decent all around. With a more focused and better developed script, this could have been a decent movie. (Unless I'm missing something, due to my basic unfamiliarity with the cannibal horror genre.)

"Destined to be Ingested" has been kicking around since 2008, but it will receive wide distribution on DVD through Midnight Releasing on October 5, 2010.

What's missing in this picture?

Can you solve the first-ever Cinema Steve brain-teaser? It's fun for the whole family!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tectonic Tuesday: Special Ramadan Edition

In recognition of the Holy Month of Ramadan, I will refrain this week from posting pictures of dangerous, immodest, earthquake-causing women. Sources tell me that the all-wise, all-knowing Imam of Imams Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, who revealed to us the danger women prose to the world when he said "Many women who do not dress modestly ... spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes," is concerned that my efforts to spread his word might in itself be causing earthquakes.

So, to make sure that the most holy and wise of the Imams can have a restful Ramadan, I am skipping this week's case study in favor of showing pictures of properly modest women (and others) in burkas.

First up, a properly modest woman showing that it IS possible for a fanatical Muslim to also be a patriotic American. Can anyone reading this say that they have ever wrapped themselves more thoroughly in the flag than Aisha Khan here? (I think that's Aisha under there. It could be her brother Ali... he likes to dress in women's clothing.)

These burkas will be on sale at the gift shop when the Cordoba House mosque opens in lower Manhattan, a clear demonstration that the effort is not a giant "fuck you" to the United States of America.

Speaking of Ali, this is definately him, enjoying himself in one of Aisha's burkas. It is said that a cross-dressing man isn't necessarily a homosexual. This is not the case in Islamic society, however. Hamas, al-Qaida, Fatah, and other Muslim-based terrorist groups are comprised mostly of homosexuals, and those who cross-dress are the biggest queers of them all. Before missions of suicide bombings and murders, it is a tradition--one that reportedly goes all the way back to Mohammed--for the Lions of Islam to ass-rape one another while screaming "Alluh Akbar!" as loud as they can. But only after the moon has risen during the Holy Month of Ramadan.

By way of contrast, here's Paris Hilton--presenting herself as modest as she ever gets--surrounded by properly modest women. None of these women caused earthquakes on the day this picture was taken, but only the Grand Imam Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi knows if Hilton was wearing the wrong hair.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mike Oldfield and the Moonlight Shadows

Here are some videos for and covers of one of the best songs from the great Mike Oldfield. Although his past two releases have disappointed me, I hold out hope that he will rediscover the creative well-spring that brought the world "Hergest Ridge," "Ommadawn, "Five Miles Out," "Crisis," "Discovery," and numerous other great musical works.

First, here's the original video for the original single version of "Moonlight Shadow." Part of it seems to work contrary to the dark nature of the song, but overall the music and the visuals compliment each other nicely.

Here's a remix of the song by Italian producer and DJ Gigi D'Agostino. More often than not, remixes are inferior to the original song as they stretch it out and dilute it, sapping the life from even the greatest of music. Not so with this effort. D'Agostino brings a freshness to "Moonlight Shadow" that is worthy of the original.

Here's a cover by Aselin Debison set to a homemade video by a YouTuber. Not a bad cover, with a Celtic flavor that I think Oldfield would appreciate.

Polish metal band Pathfinder covered "Moonlight Shadow," providing us with a version so overblown it seems like a parody. Still, the durability of this great song is evident, and you'll be entertained. (I don't know if you'll be as amused as I was, but I hope so.)

Finnish speed metal band Deathlike Silence slowed down a bit when they covered "Moonlight Shadow." It's not a bad version, but they made the mistake of replacing the guitar solo bridge from the original song with some mess of their own creation.

Here's a techno version of the song by E-Rotic. It's apparently very popular with anime fans--there are literally dozens of different YouTube videos featuring this version with everything from anime stills to clips from computer games or anime used as visuals. Of the ones I checked out, I liked this one the best. It uses footage from "Vampire Hunter D."

Finally, bringing us full circle, we have Mike Oldfield's original song again, this time set to clips from the Dr. Who episode where Billie Piper's character Rose got stranded in an alternate universe. If you didn't know better, you might the music and the visuals were created to go together.

Fun Fact: Mike Oldfield has explained that the song was inspired by the movie "Houdini," starring Tony Curtis.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Naomi Watts

Australian actress Naomi Watts has appeared in films of almost every mainstream genre in the two decades that make up what will hopefully be only the first half of her career. A number of these have been in horror genre, such as "The Shaft," "The Ring," and the horror-tinged sci-fi television series "Sleepwalkers."

Watts stepped into the slippers and torn dress of the original Scream Queen Fay Wray when she starred alongside much CGI in Peter Jackson's remake of "King Kong." Her name has also been mentioned in connection with an upcoming remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," so we'll presumably see her step into the place once occupied by Tippi Hedren.

You may feel like you've been shaftedafter watching 'The Shaft'

The Shaft (aka "The Lift" and "Down") (2001)
Starring: James Marshall, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, and Michael Ironside
Director: Dick Maas
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

The express elevators in New York City's famous Millennium Building suddenly develop minds of their own... and they are minds bent on murder! Will a slacker ex-Marine hunk turned elevator repairman (James Marshall) and a sexy, plucky girl tabloid reporter (over-acted by Naomi Watts) uncover the truth of what's happening, or will they fall victim to elevator industry cover-ups, mad scientists delving in Elevator Technology Man Was Not Meant to Know, and renegade killer elevators?

This often unintentionally funny horror movie features a script that should have gone through a draft or two more; copious overacting (everyone is SO over the top here that Michael Ironsides--featured in a small but pivotal part--seems subdued and restrained); and too many 'because the plot requires it' moments to count. There's enough interesting things here to keep the viewer's attention, but ultimately the movie is unsatisfying and lame, mostly because it has the killer elevators perform truly amazing and physically impossible feats without even bothering to attempt to explain how they manage to do it. (Sadly, one of my favorite killer elevator scenes is tied into one of these... the death of the obnoxious rollerblader. While I'll buy into the building's express elevators developing a mind of their own through the wonders of mad science, I can't accept that lets them completely ignore the laws of physics.)

A fun film, if you can get it cheap or for free... and if you have absolutely nothing to do, or nothing better to watch.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

'Get Smart' is a great update of classic show

Get Smart (2008)
Starring: Steve Carrel, Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, Dwayne Johnson, Terence Stamp, Ken Davitian, and Dalip Singh
Director: Steven Segal
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

When the international crime syndicate and freelance spy-ring KAOS gains a complete roster of field agents working for the most secret branch of the United States intelligence services, CONTROL, the Chief (Arkin) promotes eager-beaver analyst Maxwell Smart (Carrel) to field agent. Together with the only other agent not compromised by KAOS, Agent 99 (Hathaway), he sets out to discover what notoriouls KOAS agent Seigfried (Stamp) intends to do with stolen radioactive materials.

When "Get Smart" was released in 2008, it got bad reviews. As with several other comedies from around that time--"Balls of Fury" and "Nacho Libre" spring to mind immediately--the bad reviews were more a reflection of critical cluelessness than any probems with the movie itself. Too many movie critics had their heads too far up their asses to see that this film provided a fun update of the 1960s spy spoof that modernizes the characters and conflicts without feeling the need to denigrate and mock the original show (as was done in movies like "Starsky and Hutch"), or all but ignore the original show, except for a little lip service (as was done with the "Mission: Impossible" movies). This film takes all that was good about the TV series, even to the point where some of the spirit can stil be felt, and delivers it in a package that both those who love the old show and those who have never even heard of it can enjoy.

While I will grant the criticsm that the movie never gets quite as crazy as the TV show could be at its finest, and that only a few of the dialogue exchanges approach Mel Brooks and Buck Henry level writing (like the "if you were CONTROL you'd be dead" scene between Maxwell Smart and Seigfried, as featured in one of the previews), but the movie would have been a miserable failure if it had aped the old show. There is only one Mel Brooks and whenever writers try to copy him, they always fail spectacularly.

The actors portraying the various familiar characters are not attempting mimic those who have come before. Like Roger Moore didn't do a Sean Connery impersonation when he took over as James Bond, nor does Steve Carell do Don Adams when he plays Maxwell Smart. The character is obviously the same character, but the Carell gives his own spin on him. The same is true of Anne Hathaway as Agent 99 and Alan Arkin as The Chief. The characters are recreated, but still recognizable.

Another very smart move done by the film's creators (particularly score composer Trevor Rabin) was to retain the old "Get Smart" theme and weave it throughout the soundtrack music. They were smart to enough to recognize that the "Get Smart" theme by Irving Szathmary is one of the best pieces of television music ever written and that a "Get Smart" update wouldn't be complete without it. Just like the actors took the characters and reinvented them, so did Trevor Rabin take the spy music second only in fame to the "James Bond Theme" and make it his with a number of playful and thrilling variations as the movie unfolds. (The soundtrack music is available from Amazon.com, and the disc contains several more of Rabin's variations on the theme that don't appear in the film but which are very creative and worthwhile. Even if you don't see the movie, the soundtrack is worth owning, because this fun music stands just fine on its own.

From the first teaser ad for the "Get Smart" film, I was looking forward to seeing it. As longer previews appeared, I started getting concerned that it was going to be another adaptation/update that was going to be intended more as an excersize in mocking the original show, or too mean-spirited to really capture the "Get Smart" feel. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded, and the film turned out to be a fun, breezy upate of the classic TV show... a laugh- and action-filled spy spoof that's well worth seeing. (It may not be perfect--there are a couple of instances I found myself thinking, "Waitaminnit... why isn't Smart reacting to that comment?" and "Why did the leap to THAT conclusion?"-- but the flaws are few and minor.)

How can you tell it's 'the wrong hair'?

Under most circumstances, I couldn't care less about Paris Hilton and her hair, but this article caught my eye.

Paris Hilton sued for wearing the wrong hair

If you don't want to waste your time reading about Hilton, she's being sued for allegedly failing to wear a particular brand of hair extensions after being paid US$3.5 million to do so.

And I am left wondering: How can the company that believes they were wronged tell Hilton was not wearing THEIR hair extensions? Do you women folk swap hair extension tips while you luxuriate in public rest rooms? Was Hilton's failure to honor her contract discovered because there is a way to tell virgin hair from non-virgin hair? (Apparently, the product Hilton agreed to lend her name and face to is made from the hair of European virgins--or so the online listing for Hairtech International products imply, as the first paragraph on this random page shows. Maybe she was busted because virgin hair would look decidedly unnatural on someone as well-used as Paris Hilton?)

Please help educate a curious bachelor whose female friends would just turn away and laugh. How can you tell if Paris Hilton is wearing the hair of a virgin in this photo from a 2008 media event held specifically to promote the Band-It hair extension product from HairTech International?

(While contemplating the mysteries of telling one brand of hair extensions from another, perhaps you would be interested in reading reviews of movies featuring Paris Hilton at Terror Titans.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tectonic Tuesdays: Anna May Wong

Immodest women are nothing new, and neither is the devastation they bring... they've been causing chaos since it was just Adam and Eve. It took the wisdom of the Great Imam Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi to realize the connection between their wicked ways and earthquakes--a connection described here--and it is this series of posts that prove he is right.

Fourteenth Case Study: Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong was not only one of early cinema's legendary great beauties, but she was also the first Asian-American movie star. Wong overcame the naked racism of early Hollywood to gain worldwide popularity with movie audiences, but she also put her body on display in sexy outfits in many of the 35 silent movies she appeared in between the years of 1919 and 1929. As a result, a 1929 earthquake off the eastern coast of Canada triggered a tsunami that left tens of thousands of residents of coastal towns homeless.

After spending a few years making movies in Europe, and making a successful transition from silent movies to talkies, Wong returned to the United States to not only use her immodest ways to inadvertently threaten the world with earthquakes, but to more directly assist the Allied effort to defeat the Japanese Imperial Army and liberate her ancestral homeland of China. In 1942, starred in two movies highlighting the brutal nature of the Japanese occupation of China. However, that same year, her cinematic displays triggered earthquakes in Guatemala and Turkey, with over 1,000 people dying in both locations.

And all because of the immodesty of Anna May Wong.

A Voyage Not Worth Taking....

Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women (1968)
Starring: Mamie Van Doren, Peter Bogdanovich, Mary Marr, Paige Lee, Aldo Romani, James David, and Roberto Martelli
Director: Derek Thomas (actually Peter Bogdanovich and Pavel Klushantsev)
Rating: Two of Ten Stars

After an expedition gets stranded on Venus, a rescue mission is lauched. Both run afoul monsters, and when they kill the creature they worship as a god, beautiful alien sirines with telepathic powers and the ability to control the elements.

"Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women" is a sci-fi adventure flick that was cobbled together with clips from a Russian sci-fi film that producer Roger Corman had acquired the rights to, and original sequences shot by Peter Bogdanovich; the storyline with the sexy, idol-worshipping, hip-hugger-and-seashell-top wearing sirines. There's a reason our astronaut heroes only hear the telepathic song of the aliens instead of coming face to face with them--the scenes were shot years and thousands of miles apart.

I don't know how good or bad the original Russian film was, but the result here is pretty boring and nearly pointless,and the segments featuring the astronauts is jumbled and with a plot that seems to unfold at random. It's a shame that the idea of the Venusian sirines was wasted in this effort, because taken by themselves there are some rather neat ideas and viduals involved. (The way they adapt and reject their gods even comes close to making an interesting statement.)

If you see this movie on the content listings of a DVD multipack containing ten or more movies, it should be viewed as a "bonus feature" to the package. In any other case, you're probably paying too much to own it. Although I like the space sirine idea, this is not a movie that's worth your money or your time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

'Don't Look in the Basement' is average low budget

Don't Look in the Basement (1973)
(aka "The Forgotten", "Death Ward 13" and "Don't Go in the Basement")

Starring: Rosie Holotik, Annabelle Weenick, Bill McGhee, and Gene Ross
Director: S.F. Brownrigg
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Beautiful Charlotte (Holotik) comes to work at the Stephens Sanitarium, hoping to be part of Dr. Stephens' revolutionary treatments for the mentally deranged. Soon after her arrival, terrible, violent events occur, and she starts to fear the insane are literally running the asylum.

"Don't Look in the Basement" is a cheaply made horror film that has "amateur" written all over it. The acting is about average for a low-budget horror flick, the camerawork is dodgy and the lighting even moreso. However, as the film unfolds, an evergrowing atmosphere of strangeness and dread start to fill it, and this helps overcome the shortfalls and draws the audience in.

The film is also helped by its straight-forwardness. It keeps to its mystery-oriented, proto-slasher movie plot, making some nice attempts to keep the audience from guessing what is really going on at Stephens Sanitarium but still playing fair with those who are paying attention. Entirely too many modern horror movies fail to properly set up their "suprise twists" in the third act; here, we are given all the clues up front to the true state of the asylum and its doctors, so when the Big Reveal happens, it doesn't feel like a cheat. Instead, for those who have been paying attention (or those who have seen waaaaay too many films of this genre), it's a satisfying one, and for those who haven't been, it's a shocking suprise that they will feel like they should have seen coming.

"Don't Look in the Basement" is a staple of the DVD horrror and thriller multipacks, and it should be considered a value-adding feature to any one it is included in. (I'm not sure I'd recommend getting it any other way, but it is a film that anyone thinking about making a slasher or mystery film should take the time to see. The plotting is well-deserving of being a textbook example.)

By the way, this was one of the 70+ movies that made up a list of movies banned in Great Britain (known as the "Video Nasties."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

'Shock-o-Rama' has old school chills, laughs

Shock-O-Rama (2005)
Starring: Misty Mundae, Rob Monkiewicz, Caitlin Ross, David Fine, A.J. Kahn, Julian Wells, Duane Polcou, Michael Thomas, and Sylvainne Chebance
Director: Brett Piper
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

I love anthology films, because even if I don't care for the segment I'm watching, I know there's another one coming shortly that will hopefully be better. Plus, a well-made anthology film is like getting three or four or even five movies for the price and time-investment of one! So, whenever I discover a new anthology film, it usually goes to the top of the Stack of Stuff.

Which brings me to this review of "Shock-O-Rama". When I sat down to watch this film, I had low hopes. I associate most of its stars with low-budget softcore lesbian porn with horror themes--and I think Misty Mundae has appeared in more films I've assigned Zero-ratings to than any other single performer--but my expectations rose with a nifty, retro-style opening credits sequence... and as tales unfolded, I found myself enjoying an unexpected treat.

"Shock-O-Rama" is a comedy-horror anthology film that consists of three stories that are kinda-sorta interwoven in a fashion that brings to mind great anthology pictures like "The House That Dripped Blood" or "Charade", and with a fun, light-hearted style that's reminicent of the equally great anthology picture "Creepshow".

The movie starts out with "Zombie This!", the main story that binds the film together, as it unfolds around and inbetween the other elements in the package. In it, low-budget Scream Queen Rebecca Raven (Mundae) is fired by the slimey executives (Fine and Thomas) in charge of the studio that has produced all her movies so far over creative differences and a dispute involving Rebecca's cup-size and her refusal to get surgery to make increase it. She's burned out on garbage horror movies anyway, so Rebecca is happy to for the vacation and retreats to an isolated country house for peace and quiet. The traquility is shortlived, however, as Rebecca accidentially animates a zombie (Polcou) that comes after her, hungry for flesh.

Meanwhile, back at the studio, the execs are realizing they don't have an actress to replace Rebecca in a film that starts shooting Monday--a pre-sold film at that! They watch a couple of movies from other studios, hoping to find the fresh talent (and breasts) to replace their former star. The films they watch are the other two stories featured, so "Shock-O-Rama" ultimately becomes an anthology film that features movies within a movie about a horor movie star for whom the horror becomes all too real. The rampant self-referentialism and mockery of the sorts of movies that Mundae and the target audience for them that it adds up to will either make you howl with laughter or become purple with rage, depending on your sense of humor.

The first film the studio execs watch is "Mecharachnia", a goofy sci-fi thriller where a tiny, psychopathic space alien crashlands in a junkyard and proceeds to toroment its obnoxious proprietor (Monkiewicz) and his shrewish ex-girlfriend (Ross).

They then check out "Lonely are the Brain", the segment that comes closest to delivering what I expect to see in a movie where Misty Mundae, Julian Wells, and A.J. Kahn have top billing. In it, a volunteer in a sleep study (Khan) comes to discover that creepy Dr. Carruthers (Wells) and her secretive research partner are is as dangerous in real life as they are in sexually charged nightmares about lethal lesbianism.

The quality level across all three segments is pretty consistent, with a decent acting and fairly light-hearted scripting throughout. The special effects are as retro as the feel of the movie--with stop-action animation and model spaceship battles the likes of which we haven't seen since "Return of the Jedi". (I'm not saying the special effects are par with what ILM created, just that the methods are the same and that it's nice to see the old standbys in this day of CGI overkill.)

Usually, in these reviews, I provide a rating for each segment, but that's not necessary here, because everything here rates a solid Six. "Zombie This!" is the strongest of the three stories on both the acting and writing front, but the movies-within-the-movie are almost equally fun.

The only real complaint I have about the film is that "Mecharachnia" could have done with a little more polish, both script- and editing-wise. It needed to be tightened up, as the bickering between the junkyard owner and his girlfriend get redundent (so much so that it feels as if both takes of an insult exchange were included when the director should have chosen the best one) and the running battles between Man and Space Invader feel sluggish because of repeative establishing shots, build-ups that needed to be trimmed.

However, these minor flaws are more than made up for by the zany humor and real moments of terror in "Zombie This!". Although Mundae's co-star in that segment--Duane Polcou, who vasilates easily from scary to funny; wait until you see the "zombie jig" that got me laughing so hard I paused the DVD so as to not miss the action that followed--Misty Mundae's performance is what really makes the segment stand out.

I saw that Mundae might posses a glimmer of comedic talent in the awful "Mummy Raider", but in this film she shows that she actually might have the talent for far more than horror-themed lesbian nookie fests. She proves she has range, comedic timing, and a healthy dose of charm and charisma that shines very bright when she has a good script to work with. (Up until now, the only "Seduction Cinema" regular that I thought had any dramatic talent--or even enough presence to succeed outside of low-budget skin flicks--was Julian Wells. Now, I need to add Misty Mundae to that list. I hope to see more of her in movies like this (even if she keeps her clothes on).

"Shock-O-Rama" is a fun anthology flick that's equal parts tribute to old-school horror movies like those Amicus and American-International used to produce, and send-up of modern low-budget horror/skin flicks. Lovers of both kinds of films should get a kick out of this one. (The only dissapointed viewers will be those who, as Rebecca Raven would say, live in their parents' basements and watch with the remote in one hand and their pecker in other.)