Saturday, November 27, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Molly Ringwald

Molly Ringwald is a talented actress with more of a talent for crying than screaming. She was at the height of her fame and acting career when she starred in the 1980s classic teen romantic comedies "The Breakfast Club", "Pretty in Pink", and "Sixteen Candles". She struggled to make a successful transition into adult roles, but she eventually managed to get her acting feet back under her and currently stars in the ensemble series "The Secret Life of the American Teenager".

Along the way, she made several thrillers and a couple of horror films in which she was the best thing they had going for them. She starred in the Australian slasher flick "Cut"; the black comedy "Office Killer", the thrillers "Teaching Miss Tingle", "Malicious", and "Requiem for a Murder"; and the first television mini-series based on Stephen King's "The Stand".

Ringwald's only announced current project is "The Secret Life of the American Teenager", but hopefully she will return to horror films and thrillers soon, because she was the only decent thing about several of the ones she appeared in.

'Cut' doesn't make the grade

Cut (2000)
Starring: Molly Ringwald, Frank Roberts, and Kylie Minogue
Director: Kimble Rendall
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Scream Queen and TV actress Venassa Turnbull (Ringwald) returns to finish a slasher flick that saw production stop after one of the actors went nuts and murdered the director and tried to kill her. As the new crew of film-students (including one played by pop star Kylie Minogue) looking to make a name for themselves start production in an isolated area on the outskirts of one of Australia's big cities, someone dressed in the costume of the film's burn-scarred mad killer starts butchering them, one by one.

If most of that summary sounds familiar to you, then that's because there's nothing new that this film brings to the table--other than having Ringwald in a rather amusing role as an actress whose demands and ego outstrips her starpower. What's worse, the film, probably in an effort to offer what the script writer felt was deep and insightful commentary, presents us with the rather foolish notion that the film and all its prints are cursed--whenever they're screened, the shears-wielding killer manifests himself in the real world, brought forth by all the "creative energy" put into making the film. Why are the prints cursed? Who knows? The film doesn't bother to provide an explanation that seems credible. Maybe the filmmakers were trying to be satirical--Ringwald's character and some of what the film crew do get up to some funny stuff--but whatever their intent, it's obscured by a script that's bad in just about every way.

While refreshingly light on "stupid character syndrome," and filled with a cast of attractive and talented Australian actors and actresses, not to mention plenty of gore and the always enjoyable Ringwald, the script is both so tired AND ludicrous that "Cut" is a must-miss unless you're a hardest of hardcore slasher flick fans.

(I saw a reference somewhere that this film was planned as the first of a trilogy ala "Scream." Since it's been ten years since "Cut" was released, it's safe to assume that it didn't make a enough money to warrant a follow-up. That's a shame, because there are far worse movies that have spawned sequels.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

'Dream Stalker' is not worth losing sleep over

Dream Stalker (1998)
Starring: Valerie Williams (aka Diane Cardea), Mark Dias, John Tyler, and Pamela Hong
Director: Alan Smithee
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

As Brittany (Williams) tries to move on following the accidental death of her violent and domineering boyfriend (Dias), he reaches out from beyond the veil of death to make sure that if he can't live with her than no one will.

"Dream Stalker" deals with the ultimate possessive boyfriend... one whose domineering ways isn't even stopped by death. It is fairly good when compared to other ultra-low budget horror flicks shot on video. The acting is slightly better than average, the camera work is mostly okay, and what effects and make-up it features aren't bad either. The pacing is mostly pretty good, and, although the script could have done with another draft or two to make the dialogue a little better, there aren't too many characters behaving stupidly or illogically due to plot dictates.

That said, the film is marred by some of the worst sound work I've ever witnessed. In several scenes, the dialogue is drowned out almost completely by background noise, as if the crew was using microphones on their video cameras instead of mikes on the actors or booms. It's certainly obvious that the filmmakers never heard of the concept of tracking/rerecording dialogue in post-production.

Even with that annoying techincal flaw, "Dream Stalker" might have earned Four or Five Stars if the last quarter of so of the story hadn't started to fall apart when it should have been building to its climax; it was almost as if the writer or director traded in story for wild hacking and slashing.

Trivia: Alan Smithee is the name a director puts on a film when he wants to disavow himself from it. Someone didn't like the way "Dream Stalker" turned out so he or she is probably thrilled the film will probably never make the transition to DVD!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

'The Reptile' is Hammer at its most gothic

The Reptile (1966)
Starring: David Baron, Jennifer Daniel, Noel Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, and Michael Ripper
Director: John Gilling
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A retired military officer and his wife (Baron and Daniel) inherit a cottage in a small Cornish village after his brother dies under mysterious circumstances. When he moves there with his wife (Daniel), he discovers that there has been a rash of deaths and that all of them can be attributed to a rare poisonous animal found only in far-away India. The obvious perpetrator behind these dastardly deeds is the reclusive doctor of theology (Williams) who has made a career out of studying obscure religions in the Far East and who keeps his daughter a virtual prisoner in their manor house. But throw in a mysterious swarthy fellow, the daughter’s strangely hypnotic effect on her father when she plays the sitar, and things are a little less clear. Will the newly arrived couple’s only ally in the area (Ripper) help them stop the spreading evil before it consumes them all?

“The Reptile” is the most strongly gothic-in-genre of all the Hammer horror flicks. There’s the ogre-like father and the oppressed daughter; there’s the mysterious Outsiders who are bringing a corrupting influence to wholesome British society, and there are curses and victims and victimizers who may not be what they seem. It’s a well-mounted film that contains several moments of genuine chills.

“The Reptile” would have gotten an 8-Star rating if not for the inexplicable over-acting displayed by all the principles in the first half of the movie; inexplicable because the leads in the film director John Gilling helmed immediately prior to this one (“Plague of the Zombies", which even used many of the same sets) was blessed with beautifully restrained performances that made the film even creepier and more believable. It’s even odder because Michael Ripper gives the same type of understated performance he did in “Plague.”)

As the film evolves, the over-blown performances start to fit with the tenor of the going-ons, but they seem so out of place early in the film that it’s an irritant. The movie’s resolution is also a bit weak, with the title creature going down without much of a fight. The combination of the overacting in the first reel and the shaky climax were enough to knock off a Star. Still, it’s an entertaining film if you enjoy Hammer-style movies or gothic tales.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

I am thankful for the roof over my head, and for the fact that I have enough money to keep it there. I am thankful that I have good friends to spend this day with. I am thankful that I live in the United States where I have the luxury and freedom to watch and review whatever the heck I want in my various blogs, not to mention the freedom to write whatever I want on other subjects. I am thankful for all the men and women in law enforcement and the armed services who are protecting my rights and ability to be frivolous.

And I am thankful for all of you reading this and to those of you who have or will be picking up 150 Movies You Should [Die Before You] See. Writers may write, but we also hope to be read.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers!

I hope you all are having a wonderful day, enjoying the time with family and friends and considering how fortunate we are. Even when things are at their worst for us here in the United States, we are better off than many, many people around the world.

Here's a bit of fun by way of a Thanksgiving pageant with Wednesday Addams in the role of Pocahontas (from "Addams Family Values"):

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

'The Big Empty' is a little bit of weirdness

The Big Empty (2005)
Starring: Selma Blair, Elias Koteas, Richard Kind, Gabriel Mann, and Hugh Laurie
Director: J. Lisa Chang
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When its discovered that Alice (Blair) has a vagina that serves as the gateway to a vast, frozen wasteland, the doctor who makes the discovery (Koteas) takes her on the lecture and talk show circuits, using her as his own ticket to fame and fortune. But an encounter with a caring young man (Mann) may finally alleviate the painful, cold aching inside her.

I'm not sure what to make of this 21-minute film. My first thought was that maybe it was the story of the pain a woman unable to have children might feel, but toward the end I thought it might be about the emptiness and heartache one feels living without love in one's life. Perhaps the message in this film is a Woman Thing, because I'm left scratching my head.

Despite my uncertainty of what the filmmakers are trying to say, I am impressed with the creativity (and touch of craziness) in the idea of this film, as well in its execution. The oddness of the film isn't restricted to its subject matter, but also to its costume and production design which is a mixture of modern-day and 1950sh sort of look that gives it a timeless, dreamlike quality. It's also impressive that, despite the sad tone that runs through the piece, the filmmakers bring on a high number of laughs as it unfolds, with the cameo appearance by Hugh "Dr. House" Laurie being funny just because of who he is. The concluding special effects shot is also jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

All in all, this is a film that's a fitting work product for all the movie heavy-weights involved, ranging from the well-known actors to executive producers George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh.

You can watch "The Big Empty" in its entirety via this very post. Just click on the arrow below. I hope you enjoy the film, and I hope you'll share your opinion of it.

(This is actually the first of two films titled "The Big Empty" that I'll be reviewing before November has run its course.)

Picture Perfect Wednesday: Thanksgiving Birds

Getting a turkey for the traditional American Thanksgiving dinner wasn't always as easy as Marilyn Monroe makes it look.

The early settlers in the United States, the Pilgrims, had to struggle for food and survival. If left to their own devices, they might well have starved to death.

Fortunately, the Wampanoag Indian tribe came to the aid of the Pilgrims. In 1621, the two communities shared a Thanksgiving feast that started a tradition that continues nearly 400 years later.

On the fourth Thursday of November, Americans gather with friends and families to give thanks for the bountiful blessings in our lives and to admire great-looking birds.

I hope all my American readers have a pleasant and safe Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family tomorrow. The hope of a safe day goes double for the men and women in the military and law enforcement who put themselves on the line to protect the rest of us.

Monday, November 22, 2010

'Devil Hunter Yohko' is weakened by too much sexual content

Devil Hunter Yohko, Episode One (1991)
Director: Katsuhisa Yamada
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

In "Devil Hunter Yohko," a typical (well, typical for late 80s/early 90s Japanese cartoons) 16-year-old girl discovers that her birthright and duty is to assume the role of "devil hunter" and turn back an impending demonic invasion of Earth.

"Devil Hunter Yohko" is an early 1990s direct-to-video animated series from Japan. There are some glimmers of cool ideas in the 45-minute first episode, but they are overwhelmed by a crass, hypersexual attitude that runs through the story. The episode starts with Yohko waking up from a prophetic wet dream, and it continues through her friends being corrupted by "lust demons" who want to make sure she loses her virginity before she awakens to her devil hunter powers--because they only manifest if the girl is pure in mind and body. That stuff is sort of tasteless and leads to a softcore cartoon porn scene between a couple of teenaged characters--one of them possessed by a demon--but the show is very crass and tasteless in its portrayal of Yohko's mother who seems to want to see her daughter sleep with any available male... doesn't care who, so long as Yohko is spreading her legs.

Although I imagine that this series would be highly placed on any Top Ten Anime Series list compiled by Gary Glitter or Roman Polanski.

I am not a prude, but the sexual references and themes in the first episode of "Devil Hunter Yohko" were just too tasteless for me. I understand the series gets better, so I may give the next installment a try.

Numa-Numa covered by Alina

With a video that's almost as incoherent as the song itself, here's a cover of "Numa-Numa" titled "When You Leave." The performer is Alina Smith--who is mostly uncovered as she covers the song--and it was released in July of 2009.

I'm not sure what makes more sense. Some of the parody lyrics I've posted in the past, or this Alina song.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

'The Mystery Train' deserves attention

The Mystery Train (1931)
Starring: Marceline Day, Hedda Hopper, Nick Stuart, Al Cooke, Carol Tevis, and Bryant Washburn
Director: Phil Whitman
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Sociopathic socialite Marion Radcliffe (Hopper) helps Joan (Day), a beautiful convicted criminal, escape from custody and makes her part of an elaborate scheme to force her to marry millionaire bachelor Ronald Stanthorpe (Stuart). Marion hopes to gain control of Ronald's fortune to replace her own lost fortune, but her plans start to unravel when Joan and Ronald truly fall in love, and it turns out that Joan was actually framed for her supposed crime and the authorities are not seeking her to put in her prison but to exonerate her.

"The Mystery Train" is an intrigue- and action-packed tale that packs more romance, comedy, and suspense into its 62-minute running time than many movies with twice the length manage to offer. The script is tight and lean, with not a scrap of padding in evidence as its characters move through the effectively paced and well-filmed scenes and story twists involving a train wreck, blackmail, cat-and-mouse with police detectives, stolen jewels... all of it leading to a suspenseful climax on a runaway, decoupled passenger train car that is carrying both heroes and villains to a certain doom.

Hedda Hopper does a nice job playing the vicious, scheming Radcliffe and Marceline Day is perfect as the innocent girl she is trying to use as her way back to unlimited wealth. Nick Stuart is a notch above the usual male leads in films like this, coming across as likable and charming rather than annoying or bland as is typical. The comic relief has even held up better to the passage of time than that in most B-movies of this vintage, with Al Cooke and Carol Tevis playing a pair of train-riding, barely newlyweds whose marriage is already on the rocks.

But this film isn't as good as it is just because because of the talented cast being served by a well-written script. Unlike many other films from this period set on trains, some effort was actually made by the director and effects people to make it seem like the actors are actually onboard a train. Using sound and motion, and even some unsteady steps as actors move through hallways, laudable and successful attempts to create the illusion of being on a moving train are made.

All in all, "The Mystery Train" is one of the many movies from the early days of talkies that doesn't deserve the obscurity it fell into. I recommend it to lovers of classic detective stories and dramas.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Hazel Court

British actress Hazel Court brought beauty, grace, and even a little menace when she starred in a string of horror and suspense movies between the years of 1952 and 1964, after which she retired from acting to focus  on her family and a career as a sculpture. Before appearing in "Ghost Ship" (1952), she had been on  the path to be a more traditional leading lady-type actress, but horror fans are forever grateful for the turn her career took at that point.

Among the two dozen or so horror pictures she appeared in are superb films like "The Curse of Frankenstein" and "Masque of the Red Death" and "classics" like "Devil Girl from Mars."

Hazel Court passed away in 2008 at the age of 72.

Friday, November 19, 2010

'The Maltese Falcon' is a mystery classic

The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Gladys George, and Elisha Cook Jr.
Director: John Huston
Rating: Ten of Ten Starts

When private detective Sam Spade (Bogart) tries to solve the mystery surrounding the murder of his partner, he finds himself drawn into a struggle between eccentric treasure hunters (Greenstreet and Lorre) and a beautiful con artist who may or may not also be a coldhearted killer (Astor). At stake is the Maltese Falcon, a treasure of almost unimaginable value.

"The Maltese Falcon" is one of the few movies that truly deserves the label "classic." It's a perfectly paced detective story, with just the right mix of suspense and humor to bring out the maximum effectiveness of both elements as they play off each other.

The characters are quirky and unpredictable to the point where the final outcome of the story remains in question until the final few minutes of the film, and each actor is perfectly cast in their role. Even better, every line of dialogue is perfectly crafted and delivered with spot-on timing.

In fact, everything in this film is about as perfect as a film could possibly be. If you're a fan of the hardboiled detective genre or mysteries in general and you haven't yet seen this masterpiece, you owe it to yourself to change that.

Humphrey Bogart as the deeply flawed hero Sam Spade is particularly excellent in the part, as a man with questionable moral values yet a firm personal code of honor who finds a woman (Mary Astor's Brigid O'Shaughnessy) who at first seems capable of bringing out the best in him, but who ultimately may end up bringing out the absolute worst in him. While Spade is constantly fighting verbally and physically with the Lorre, Cook and Greenstreet's villains, it is Brigid who is Spade's main foil and she turns out to be one of the screen's greatest femme fatales, because Astor brings a vulnerability to a character who may be the hardest of any of the hard cases that populate this story that goes a long way to keeping the mysteries swirling through the plot open questions until the very end. As amusing and dramatic as Lorre and Greenstreet's performances are, it is Astor who is the true driver of the story, providing a great portrayal of a character that is almost as important as Bogart's Sam Spade when it comes to the success of this film.

There are only a handful of movies that I've watched more than once. "The Maltese Falcon" is one of those. Check it out, and I'm sure you'll see why.

Trivia: "The Maltese Falcon" was the third adaptation of the Hammett novel by the same title. This goes to show that not all remakes are bad. Some are even improvements on the original film. (Although, by all accounts, the 1931 and 1936 versions are pretty good, too, with the 19365 version being a spoof. I haven't seen either of those older movies yet, but both other versions are included in the DVD edition I've linked to above while the Blue-Ray edition only includes the 1936 comedy version, "Satan Met a Lady".)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Satan strikes at Trinidad school?

There's a movie in this... the question is whether it's "The Exorcist V: The Trinidad Ritual", "Satan's School for Girls 2: Caribbean Demon Queen", or "All the Little Girls", a gritty, modern-day version of the Salem Witch Trials.

The Trinidad Guardian: Panic after ‘Devil attack’ at school

Click here for more by this artist
Whichever it is, maybe we can get Oprah to fund the picture in exchange for an executive producer credit?

Monday, November 15, 2010

''Watching the Detectives' not up to legacy

Watching the Detectives (2007)
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Lucy Liu, Michael Panes, and Jason Sudeikis
Director: Paul Soder
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Neil (Murphy), a self-professed film geek and owner of a small video store, has his life turned upside-down when he falls in love with a thrill-seeking woman who may actually be certifiable insane (Liu).

While I was watching "Watching the Detectives", my mind kept flashing back to "Bringing Up Baby", a movie where a decent guy finds his life demolished by a crazed prankster but who finds himself in love with the girl and the excitement she brings to his days. The same dynamic is in effect here, but transplanted to modern-day and set a little bit further down the social latter.

Unfortunately, whenever "Bringing Up Baby" came to mind, this movie was found lacking. Now, it may not be entirely fair to compare anything to one of the greatest romantic comedies ever created, but almost everything that made that movie so great is what's missing in "Watching the Detectives".

"Bringing Up Baby" had a rapid-fire, never-stop-for-breath pace which made the craziness seem even crazier and even the calm moments seem like the characters were running a mile a minute. It was lean with not a second on the screen that was wasted. This movie is nowhere near as swift or trim, and it seems to be jogging from joke to joke rather than sprinting. The pacing of the film is far to languid for the kind of movie it wants to be, which is a modern screwball romantic comedy.

Another bigger problem with the film is that Lucy Liu is no Katherine Hepburn. While Liu is a fun and sexy actress who I've enjoyed even in parts that I felt were badly written (such has her role as the love interest in "Lucky Number Slevin"), she just doesn't have the charisma needed to pull off the sort of character she portrays in this film. She has more energy than a nuclear reactor, tons of sex appeal, and, like always, there seems to be a little bit of crazy lurking just below the surface, but without the charm and grace of a Hepburn, her character comes across as mean-spirited and vicious rather than just a little over-the-top and ultimately loveable. Heck, if Liu had been able to project innocence and naivety like Heather Angel in "Half an Angel" was able to do, she might have worked in the part... but that is even more remote a quality in Liu's bag of acting tricks. While Cillian Murphy is just about perfect in his role, his falling for Liu and tolerating her placing him in real danger just isn't believable, because she doesn't have the "right stuff" for her part.

It also doesn't help that the script never draws back the curtain on the mystery that is Lucy Liu's Violet. She remains as strange and distant to the audience at the end of the film as she was when she first appears in the video store. If the screenwriters had allowed Neil, and the viewers, to get a real glimpse into her world instead of always seeing the results of her lies and manipulations, the character would have seemed a bit more sympathetic and Neil's falling for her a bit more credible. As it stands, the fact Violet remains a cypher makes Liu's lack of charm all the more damaging to the film.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is that it's trying to modernize a type of film that simply can't be made today. The more films I watch, the more convinced I become that actors simply aren't trained in ways that allow them to effectively play the sort of characters found in the old Howard Hawkes-type comedies.

"Watching the Detectives" might be worth seeking out if you're a huge fan of Lucy Liu or Cillian Murphy, but if you are attracted to it, because of the promise of a modern-day screwball comedy, you're going to be disappointed.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Saturday Scream Queen: Debbie Rochon

Since her film debut in the late 1980s, Debbie Rochon has been a familiar and much-loved face (and body) for watchers of cheap horror movies and even cheaper erotica. She has appeared in over 160 films from the likes of Lloyd Kaufman, Charles Band, JR Bookwalter, and John Bachus. From soft core porn spoofs of popular horror movies, to slasher films, to thrillers, to sci-fi, Rochon has appeared in just about every conceivable kind of low-budget movie. Her better roles so far have been in the films from Band and Kaufman, however.

Now in her 40s, Rochon remains one of the busiest Scream Queens working today. She is featured in 15 forthcoming films that are in varying states of completion, such as "Mark of the Beast, an adaptation of a Ruyard Kipling story in which she co-stars with Ellen Muth; and "Don't Look in the Basement!", a remake of the 1970s proto-slasher flick.

Friday, November 12, 2010

'Stone' should sink like a rock

Stone (2010)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Milla Jovovich, and Francis Conroy
Director: John Curran
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

A sociopathic arsonist (Norton) and his wife (Jovovich) set into motion a scheme to manipulate a prison parole officer (De Niro) to secure his release from prison.

Take a half-baked drama inspired by classic film noir pictures, tack on some poorly developed ideas about redemption and the transformitive power of spirituality, and conclude the story with a limp and overly vague montage in an attempt to hide the fact that no one really bothered to come up with a solid story arc or real motivations for any of the characters in the film, and you have "Stone".

I've said many times that a good actor can elevate a bad script, but they seen something to work with. Despite the fact we have three good actors in this film, there's really nothing for any of them to do a whole lot with, other than to speak their lines and hope no one notices the only thing consistent about this film is that it is unrelentingly boring. Every time it looks like it might finally be building some momentum, we're treated to another scene of De Niro driving in his car and listening to Christian talk radio, or a shot of the prison at dawn with Christian talk radio heard on the soundtrack.

There was the potential here for this film to a good old fashioned thriller with De Niro as the man facing destruction after being manipulated into making a bad call, Jovovich as a borderline psycho femme fatale, and Norton as the mastermind behind it all. It could even had possessed a nice twist, as Norton's character finds spiritual redemption but his crazy wife won't stop the plan and the now-desperate parole officer won't believe his new-found good intentions. But the filmmakers here were obviously not content with making a straight-forward potboiler, and they had to throw in a bunch of "deep" material that required far more real character development and just plain characterization than the stereotypes in this get. (Norton and Jovovich are playing to the material; their performances are good but not spectacular or anything we haven't seen them do before. De Niro seems to be giving his part all he can, which is almost a shame because he's better than this movie deserves.)

"Stone" is a film to either rent on DVD, or wait for it to show up on television. It's not worth the bother of going to the theatre, and it's certainly not worth a paid admission.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Japanese demons run wild in 'Ninja Wars'

Ninja Wars (aka "Death of a Ninja", "Iga Magic Story" and "Black Magic Story") (1982)
Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada, Noriko Watanabe, Akira Nakao, Jun Miho, Mikio Narita, Noboru Matsuhashi, and Sonny Chiba
Director: Mitsumasa Saito
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A feudal warlord (Nakao) allies with a demon (Narita) and the five monks in his service after it is prophesied that if he wins the heart of a beautiful princess (Watanabe), he will someday rule the world. To ensure their success, the demon monks kidnap the princess's virginal twin sister (also Watanabe) who was being secretly raised as a ninja, and from whose tears they hope to brew a love potion. But they didn't take her fellow ninja and sweetheart Jotaro (Sanada) into account, nor the ferocity with which he would attempt to rescue his love.

"Ninja Wars" is a big-budget, epic fantasy movie set during the Warring States period of Japan's history. It's got a wild, twisting and turning plot that the above-summary only touches on part of, because to say more would ruin some of the film's surprises. It's got romance, spectacular battles, and black magic applied in bizarre ways. It's got pure-hearted virgins, brave ninjas, honorless nobles, and Samurai who are more than what they seem. It's a film that will surprise you, because scene after scene will have you saying, "No... they didn't just do THAT, did they?!"

The version I watched (which was titled "Death of a Ninja") featured some dodgy dubbing--with weak acting and clearly mistranslated dialogues--but the superior quality of the film still shined through that hobbling. It's nearly perfectly paced, and it keeps the viewers attention through fast action and a steady stream of unexpected developments. The only two things that annoyed me about the film was a flashback sequence that flashed back to things we had just seen on screen some ten minutes earlier, and the somewhat unsatisfying ending. (It's a fitting end, but it wasn't strong enough for my tastes.)

Fans of tales set in 15th through 17th century Japan, fans of Samurai epics, and fans of quirky martial arts and fantasy movies should find much to enjoy here. And horror fans will certainly enjoy the bizarre demonic machinations and certain shocking scenes I don't want to detail, because I will spoil their impact.

The deadliest of blogathons....

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Machine gun weilding girl vs bullies and ninjas!

The Machine Girl (2007)
Starring: Minase Yashiro, Asami, Honoka, Kentaro Shimazu, and Nobuhiro Nishihara
Director: Noboru Iguchi
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

When her brother and his best friend are murdered by the spoiled sons of corrupt cops and the local Ninja and Yakuza clans, a high school girl (Yashiro) goes on a gory, revenge-driven murder-spree. After the Yakuza hacks off her left arm, a creative mechanic/gunsmith replace it with a custom-made machinegun, and the mother the brother's friend (Asami) joins her for a final, bloody showdown against Ninja, blood-crazed agents of the Yakuza, and ultimately the queen of the ninja clan and her bully son (Honoka and Nishihara).

"The Machine Girl" has all the prevelant elements of Japanse action films and cartoons crammed into this movie: cute high school girls kicking butt in their school uniforms, Yakuza, Ninja, a quest for righteous revenge, lots of dramatic posing and speechifying before fights can begin... but then it adds almost unimaginable moral bankruptcy, depravity, dismemberment, murder and enough geysers of blood and gore that it will sate the need of even the most hungry gore hound. And it combines all these elements into the funniest send-up of Jap-sploitation films you'll ever see.

This is an insanely gory film. Think "Dead Alive" except with Ninjas and a Japanese high school girl with a machine gun instead of zombies and a nerd with a lawnmower. That's the level of gore this film displays, as well as the level of cartoony-ness. (In fact, this film goes even further than "Dead Alive", as I don't think anything there really compares to the drill-bra mastectomy near the end of this film.)

Yes, this is an incredibly violent movie, but only the most ill socialized adults will mistake anything that happens in this film for reality. There's one scene where our heroines hammer several nails into the head of a Yakuza agent in order to get him to talk, yet he is up and walking around in the next scene. Ami's arm is deep-fried in tempura batter, yet she suffers no burns. Ami gets her arm chopped off, yet she doesn't bleed to death, despite a complete lack of medical attention. (In this movie, loss of blood and limbs only leads to shock and/or death when it's dramatically appropriate.)

This is definitely not a movie to let the younger kids see. It is also not a movie that you should watch if you're at all squeamish when it comes to movie blood or violence on-screen. You might also stay away from nihilism upsets you. I almost stopped the film before it kicked into high gear--just after Ami is almost killed by a crooked cop and his wife for seeking help with bringing her brother's killer to justice--because I found myself thinking, "Wow. What a twisted world this movie exists in... I'm not in the mood for a film with an outlook THIS horrible."

But then Ami went on her first killing spree and once the severed head bobbed to the top in the stew-pot, I was onboard for the rest of the ride.

There's a line between depressing nihilism and stirring (if gory) black comedy. Once "The Machine Girl" crossed that line, it had me laughing and going "eeew!" at the same time. (The only other moment where director/screenwriter Noboru Iguchi almost lost me again was with the final fate of Ami's best friend from school. It's a shocking scene--so I won't go into details and ruin it in case you decide to see the movie--but he went just a little too far for my sensibilities. I think most viewers will feel that way, too.)

If you're looking for a revenge flick with a serious message about an expanding cycle of violence, social responsibility and man's alienation from what makes him human, you need to look elsewhere. While "The Machine Girl" has that, it sort of turns the message inside out and pokes hilarious fun at those sorts of movies. The "expanding cycle of violence" in this movie leads to the creation of the Yakuza-funded, Power Rangers-like Super Mourner Revenge Squad made up of the parents of the Ninja and bullies that Ami and Miki kill. and Ami's alienation from her kinder self gets her an ally in Miki AND a machine gun that shoots enough rounds in a second to cause a human body to evaporate into a fine red mist.

For what is perhaps the goriest movie of the decade just past, as well as a hilarious send-up of Japanese action flicks, check out "The Machine Girl"! Just don't expect to eat dinner while watching it.

The deadliest of blogathons....

Saturday, November 6, 2010

'Suburban Sasquatch' is great gory fun

Suburban Sasquatch (2004)
Starring: Sue Lynn Sanchez, Bill Ushler, Dave Bonavita, and Juan Fernandez
Director: Dave Wascavage
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

If you like old time comedies, horror movies and adventure flicks like I do, you've undoubtedly noticed that extremely fake-looking gorilla suit that seems to appear in every third movie from the 1930s and early 1940s.

Well, sixty-plus years later, the old monkey suit appears to still be in service. You can see it on display with some minor alterations in Dave Wascavage's "Suburban Sasquatch"!

In "Suburban Sasquatch", a Sasquatch (aka a Bigfoot if you're in the American Northwest, or Abomniable Snowman if you're in the Himilayas) goes on a rampage in a new housing development, because humanity has either encrouched too close to its natural habitat or because the hairy beast has a personal vendetta against John Rush (Bovavita), a police officer who moved to here after Bigfoot killed his wife some years ago. A young Native American, Talla (Sanchez), is equipped with magical arrows and handaxes and set to kill the beast before the life-force he's absorbing from his victims make him unstoppable and unkillable. Along the way, she manages to find love in the form of a reporter (Ushler) who is also on the trail of the Sasquatch.

"Suburban Sasquatch" is a campy, low-budget monster flick that brings to mind numerous drive-in movie "classics" and a number of B-movies from the 1940s and 1950s--and not just because of the cheap gorilla suit that serves as the Bigfoot costume in the flick. The acting is as bad as it was in most of those flicks, the special effects are as dodgy (even if they're 21st century dodgy... such as CGI effects that are so horrible they've obviously been MADE to be horrible), the story poorly thought out, the dialogue is delightfully cheesy, and the characters hilariously cliched.

This film is far more fun to watch than the ones it emulates, because there's a sense here that that actors and director weren't trying to make a movie we're supposed to take serious, but were instead making the exact sort of goof it turned out to be. No one part of this film is more laughably bad than any other part, and this consistency, coupled with the fact that most of the film moves along at a fast pace--it is blissfully padding-free!--makes this fun to watch if you have a soft spot for B-movies. Plus, how can you not enjoy a movie where Bigfoot rips a guy's arm off and throws it at another victim? (Of course, if Wescavage and Friends WERE making a serious monster movie, then they came up with the perfect fusion of crapitude and created an accidental piece of art.)

This is not the perfect Bad Movie, however. Although the film moves quickly in most spots, there are times where it grinds to a near-complete stop, such as when our intrepid (yet whiny) reporter is having redundant meetings with his editor or redundant badgering sessions with the cops, or when he whines to Talla about how he's a storyteller and she's a warrior. In fact, just about any scene with the reporter that doesn't also involve Talla shooting badly done computer-animation arrows at Big Foot, or Big Foot trying to rip someone limb-from-limb are dead spots that drag the film down.

Another weak point is the back story involving John Rush and his previous Big Foot encounter. The film would have been stronger if the simple approach that the new housing development was built too close to the Sasquatch's hunting grounds had been what the film had offered up. It's one that's more in keeping with the whole Native American angle, and it's one that makes more sense than the Sasquatch trailing John from his old home to his new one. (Yeah, I know I just asked for a film titled "Suburban Sasquatch" to make sense....)

For all of the low-budget badness (and, despite the fact that I'm tickled by it, it is still bad) there is one aspect of the film that impressed me. I was very impressed with the actor wearing the monkey-suit, particularly in the medium and long shots where he adopts a gait that is exactly like the creature that appears in that famous blurry footage of a Bigfoot crossing a rocky clearing (or a stream or something). The low-budget camera-tricks of the "teleporting" mystically charged Bigfoot also work in the context of the film, and they even manage to bring a little spookiness to the proceedings.

Is "Suburban Sasquatch" a film you should seek out? I think I have to come down on "no", unless you pick it up as part of of a DVD multipack (such as "Depraved Degenerates" six-pack, available from for $7, or the "Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares" 50 movie pack, which can be from for a mere $13), because I think getting the film as a stand-alone might mean you're not getting your money's worth. As much as I admire the consistent level of badness here, and the fact that Wescavage avoids many of the faults typically found in films at this level, I still can only give it a low 5 rating... and that might even be a bit generous. (I may be kinder to this film than I should be, becuase I so loved Wescavage's utterly wild "Fungicide". This movie isn't nearly as insane, however.)

If acquired economically, "Suburban Sasquatch" would be an entertaining secondary feature for a Bad Movie Night. It might be even more amusing if you have someone in your circle who is ultra-PC. (I can imagine how some of the more hysterical, super-liberal and super-sensitive types will react to the miniskirt-wearing mystic Native American warrior chick in this film.)

"Suburban Sasquatch" is currently available as part of the "Depraved Degenerates" and the "Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares" collections from Pendulum Pictures.

For more movies with guys in bad ape suits, click here to visit Shades of Gray.

Saturday Scream Queen: Anna Paquin

Born in Canada, but raised in New Zealand, Anna Paquin made a big splash with her very first major film appearance in "The Piano". At the age of 11, she won the 1993 Best Actress in a Supporting Role, becoming the second youngest person to win an Academy Award.

Paquin appeared in a string of acclaimed dramatic pictures, but made the move to the sci-fi/fantasy genre when she portrayed comic book hero Rogue in the "X-Men" movies. She the stepped over into the horror genre, beginning with the misfire "Darkness", following up with the much-better "Trick 'r Treat", and eventually starring in the very popular sci-fi/horror television series "True Blood", where she plays a psychic waitress who has a relationship with a vampire.

In recent years, Paquin has been balancing her screen career with stage acting. On the horror horizon, aside from starring in at least one more season of "True Blood", Paquin has a small role in Wes Craven's "Scream 4".

Friday, November 5, 2010

In observance of Guy Fawkes Night...

V for Vendetta (2006)
Starring: Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, and John Hurt
Director: James McTeigue
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

In the chaotic world of the near future, Great Britain is ruled by a facist government led by the charismatic Adam Sutler (Hurt). Sutler's government controls everything from top to bottom--the schools, all media outlets, the police, everything--but when a radical, flamboyant terrorist known only as "V" (Weaving) starts a one-man war against the government, Sutler senses the danger and unleashes the might of the government against him. But "V" outsmarts the authorities at every turn, including the loyal civil servant Chief Inspector Finch (Rea). But as Finch investigates "V", he uncovers such dire implications about his government that he finds himself wondering if "V" may not be in the right.

When this film was first released, I saw many people refer to it as an instant classic. I didn't believe that to be the case then--even setting aside the fundamental stupidity of the statement--and I believe it even less now. The movie adaptation has the same problem the graphic novel upon which it is based had... too much of both are ham-fisted screeds against political trends of the moment (the graphic novel railed in a nearly hysterical fashion against British politics of the 1980s, and the movie goes out of its way to take juvenile and simpleminded jabs at American politics of the early 2000s) with too little timeless commentaries on the issues of government vs. personal freedoms and what is right and wrong in politics and society.

(That said, the world of the movie does feel as if it's a tiny bit closer now, at least as far as the absolutely worthless media goes, especially here in the United States. Never have so many journalists been so eager to do the bidding of the politicians.)

Having recently "V for Vendetta", though, I remain confused about why Alan Moore (the writer of the graphic novel) hated it so much. The film captured the essense of the original book just fine. Is it because the filmmakers fleshed out the character of Evey (Portman) with a somewhat overly melodramatic backstory? Is it because the movie was so faithful to the core of the graphic novel that they turned out an adaptation as dated as the original book is, thus showing that the Emperor wasn't wearing much in the way clothing? (Don't get me wrong... "V for Vendetta" is well-written, and I enjoyed reading it, but it's no different than the "Captain Marvel Jr." comics of the 1940s as far as the relevance it's going to have to future readers. Heck, it might even have less, because David Lloyd is no Mac Raboy.)

At any rate, the film features some nice performances--Portman and Rea are particularly excellent in their parts--and its few action scenes are well done as well. Unfortunately, the film exposes a difficulty in translating a comic book character to the screen... what looks cool on a printed page can come across as lifeless or silly when its set in motion. This is the case with "V", the vengeful terrorist at the center of the story. The Guy Fawkes mask and pilgrim get-up was spooky in the comic, but it borders on goofy here.

This isn't a bad film, but it's going to be embarrasingly dated in just a few years. (Come to think of it, the movie will be even more dated than the graphic novel because it's even more ham-fisted and simpleminded in its criticism of increasingly distant blip in history.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ninjas strike in 'Empowered'!

Empowered, Vols. 3 & 4 (Dark Horse, 2008)
Story and Art: Adam Warren
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

"Empowered" is a series of graphic novels written and drawn by Adam Warren in his one-of-a-kind "manga-esque" style. The books detail the adventures and misadventures of the title character, a superheroine that is insecure in just about every conceivable way, except in her sense of right and wrong, and her unwavering impulse to always do whatever is most heroic and selfless in just about any given situation. In every other way, she's a neurotic mess, especially when it comes to her body image... and it doesn't help her that she gets her powers from a skin-tight suit that is easily damaged. Fortunately for her, she's got her boyfriend--a reformed criminal known as Thugboy--and her best friends--Ninjette, a ninja princess on the from her ninja clan, and the Caged Demonwolf, an extradimensional god who lives on her coffee table--to support her and help her through her troubles.

"Empowered" is one of the best superhero spoofs to ever come along. According to creator Adam Warren, the strip got its start as a series of bondage/fetish gag cartoons, which is why poor Empowered is captured by the villains and tied up again and again. The purely off-color origins were very obvious in the first volume, and there continues to be a relatively high degree of jokes and other content based around bondage and sexuality, but Adams continues to develop characters with emotional depth and superhero-themed story-lines that are as dramatic as they are funny. Although these are a series of books that most certainly have fun with just about every superhero trope you care to mention, they present stories far better than what you'll find in the average "real" superhero comic.

In Volume 3, in between Emp's part-time job impersonating herself as part of a band of cos-payers who perform at malls, her encounter with a new ongoing character (Ocelote) who will become her greatest "frenemy", her struggles to impress other heroes on the Superhomey team and avoid drawing the wrath of Sistah Spookey--who hates Emp for just being Emp--the book is driven by a plot line that sees Ninjette stalked by vengeful members of the ninja clan she turned her back on. They have come to return her to the fold, dead or alive, and it will take not only all of Ninjette's ninjitsu skills and magic, but also assists from Thugboy and Emp. And still, they might not succeed in saving her, because the ninjas in the "Empowered" universe have great magical power and a vicious ruthlessness that would make the ninjas in most Godfrey Ho movies tremble in fear. As Ninjette struggles for survival, the reader can easily understand why someone of her cheerful disposition ran away from home, as well as why she drinks as much as she does. Readers will also be treated to some truly dark and suspenseful storytelling, as Warren continues to guide "Empowered" away from "adult entertainment" and toward "mature entertainment".

In Vol 4, the aftermath of Ninjette's encounter with her fellow ninja color the first half of the book while the second half is devoted to Empowered being nominated for a Capey Award. It's with this book that Warren manages to completely move past the series' origins and a full-fledged superhero universe every bit as vibrant as anything you've seen before emerges. Yes, it's still a satire of superhero comics, and there is still a high degree of sexual content and humor, but almost every character but the most minor figures feel fleshed out and real within the context of the what superheroes were assholes just like most people?" world of "Empowered".

While the plot with Ninjette is interesting, and the continuing development of Thugboy's back story and the growing menace of super-villain Willy Pete lend additional weight to the book, it is the subtle, interwoven build-up to the book's cataclysmic final chapters that really show Warren't story-telling genius. The man has an ability to use foreshadowing--both in and across individual volumes--that few other comic book story tellers have. One of the best aspects of this book, and which makes it worth reading a second and third time, is the way the funny adventures of Empowered and the rest of Superhomeys--including an eight page color story--all add up to making the suspense and unbridled superhero action of the book's final few chapters seem even greater. Finally, Empowered comes into her own, and she ends up saving the day on a massive scale. (The final chapters also show more of Warren's talent for dark story telling, as he balances action, humor, and outright horror with a deftness few creators are able to do.

If you're a fan of manga, superheroes, and just great storytelling, "Empowered" is a series you should be reading. It's terrific, terrific stuff (for adults, both because of the sexual content and because I don't think most kids will get the subtle humor, pathos, and charm of much of the book's cast.)

Click here to read my reviews of "Empowered" Vols. 1 & 2.

If you like traditional, paper-based roleplaying games (specifically, the classic "Big Eyes, Small Mouth" game, click here to see how Ninjette looks in that system.

The deadliest of blogathons....

Those wacky Ninja and their wackiness!

Ninja Champion (1980)
Starring: Nancy Chang, Bruce Baron, Jack Lam, Richard Harrison, and Pierre Tremblay
Director: Godfrey Ho
Rating: One of Ten Stars

A rape victim, Rose (Chang), infiltrates a diamond smuggling ring so she can more effectively stalk and kill the three men who raped her (as well as uncover who ordered them to do it). Meanwhile, the Good Ninja (Baron), who also happens to be an Interpol agent, is attacking and killing the followers of the Evil Ninja (Tremblay) because... um... well, just because. It might have something to do with the diamond smuggling, but, then again, it might not. Who can tell with these cazy ninjas?

"Ninja Champion" is one of the most inane, muddled martial arts movies I've ever seen. The plot with rape victim is fairly trite, but comprehensible in and of itself, even if the whole diamond smuggling bit is rather farfetched and rediculous. The ninja stuff, however, is so stupid that it doesn't make any sense even after the Evil Ninja (who is named Maurice, so it was obviously the cruelty of his parents that made him choose a life of crime and evil) explains his plot the the Good Ninja. It understandable the Good Ninja wants to kick his ass... I wanted to do the same to the writer/director who came up with this crap.

This is a One Tomato movie that I'm nonetheless awarding Two Tomatoes for, due to much unintended hiariity in the bad dubbing and the bizarre final battle between the Good Ninja and the Bad Ninja.

I can't really recommend this movie to anyone, because I think I felt the braincells dying as I was watching it. However, it might be good for a Bad Movie Night if you've got someone in your crowd that's good at quipping while a film unfolds.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Case of the Fake Sienna

For the past many weeks, the Saturday Scream Queens profile of "Resident Evil"-star Sienna Guillory has been sporting the picture immediately below. Although I think that looks like Sienna Guillory, I have been misleading literally tens of thousands of Googlers.

That is not, in fact, a picture of Sienna Guillory. It's underwear model Alessandra Ambrosio. She isn't even an actress, but is quite literally an underwear model. I think I must have mislabled the photo while searching for suitable subjects for the Tectonic Tuesdays series. (And they don't come much more suitable than Ms. Ambrosio. We'll be seeing more of her in 2011, I'm certain.)

The photo to the right is one of Sienna Guillory. The two ladies look somewhat similar, so I'm not as embarrassed by the mistake as I might otherwise have been. But I do feel bad for all those wrong Google hits. (On the other hand, it gave me another excuse to post photos of beautiful women, so it's not all bad. And maybe Guillory will also have to be the subject of a Tectonic Tuesday profile when they start up again.)

Street Angel never cuts Ninjas a break!

Street Angel, Vol 1 (Slave Labor Graphics, 2006)
Story and Art: Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

In the ninja-infested slums of Angel City, one name strikes an equal mix of fear and irritation in the hearts of ninjas and law enformcement alike: Street Angel.

Street Angel is Jesse Sanchez, a homeless, teenaged orphan who has grown up on the meanest streets of Angel City. She has spent her young life battling corrupt city officials, dirty cops, bizarre supervillains, truant officers, and lots and lots of ninjas. Armed only with her world-class skateboarding skills, superior martial arts abilities, fiery temper, and sardonic sense of humor, she is an unstoppable force for justice in a city where justice can usually only be obtained with cash or credit cards.

"Street Angel" Vol 1 reprints all the individual comic books published by Slave Labor Graphics, along with cover reproductions, pin-ups by range of different artists, and never-before scene conceptual art by series artist Jim Rugg Street Angel appeared in a comic book series of the same name from Slave Labor Graphics. The stories are all fast-paced, well-drawn, and full of chuckles, despite the apparently depressing set-up.

I recommend the "Street Angel" collection highly if you are a fan of quirky superhero comics with a Golden Age flair and a touch of nuttiness. Street Angel's team-up with retired Seventies black superhero Afrodesiac is not to be missed!

(If you like the "Big Eyes, Small Mouth" roleplaying game, you want to check out my adaptation of Jesse "Street Angel" Sanchez to that system.)

The deadliest of blogathons....