Shot by the Bat Merch Gun

If there is one thing that Facebook’s “Memories” function does – besides reminding you of dead friends and beloved pets – is allow you to discern patterns in your life. For me, that’s an unneeded reminder that this time of year is crazy for me.

For example.

Despite the fact that I didn’t go into education like a lot of people thought I would – I always say that it’s because I’m not allowed to shoot a student on the first day to show the others I mean business – my life is nonetheless tied into the academic life cycle. Some people marry into The Church. I married into The School. Besides prepping the technical aspects of the graduation ceremony for my wife’s school, I’m also running audio support for seemingly endless School Board meetings for my Day Job (ironically in the evenings).

This hasn’t left a whole lot of time for watching movies. And what time there was got stolen away by that devil TV. Holy cow, who knew, right? I’ve spent years not visiting the Glass Teat, and here I am sucking down The Expanse and American Gods. Twin Peaks’ first episodes sit on the DVR, and I have no earthly idea when I am going to get the hours together to watch them. I’ve seen David Lynch’s last three movies, and I am not expecting the funhouse mirror of daytime TV that was the first go-round. I am expecting something stranger and darker, and downright weirder. That’s not something I’m going to try to take in a half hour here, a few minutes there. As Dale Cooper once said, you must always pay attention.

But dammit, I managed to watch The Lego Batman Movie, and by God in just the first ten minutes it kicks the living hell out of Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. The Lego Movie was a surprise for me back in 2014, and that flick’s meta humor is bat-kicked up to 11 in Lego Batman. I don’t think you have to be a fanboy who’s experienced every single iteration of the character to enjoy the movie, but that certainly enhances it.

Lego Batman does unfortunately preserve a shortcoming of its predecessor in that it feels the need to inject some seriousness in its second half, though that doesn’t annoy me near as much this time – the tone shift isn’t near as drastic. I am also prone to be more forgiving to a movie that not only gives me an Egghead cameo, but also finally allows Billy Dee Williams to play Two-Face, as God and Tim Burton intended.

Yes, you’re right – I am being deliberately coy about the plot. That is because there is so much joy to be found in discovery in this flick, and I want you to have that joy for yourself.

Also, my time is very limited this week, as mentioned earlier. I look forward to some breathing room next week. Then, holy crap, I will likely be braving the scourge of my fellow man (oooh how I despise them) to go to an actual theater to see Wonder Woman (as you may have noticed in the verbiage above, I’ve felt burned by DC movies thus far, but hopes springs eternal and dammit, it’s Diana!), and I am feeling the uncomfortable urge to spring for the 3-D version of Valerian. What have I become?

See you later, fellow nerds.

Buy The Lego Batman Movie on Amazon

I mean look at this, there are colors besides blue and grey in it.

OMG OMG OMG

Hey, That’s MY Mythology!

Well, here it is. The post that was giving me problems. The post that gave me writer’s block for over a month. Let’s see if I can actually finish the sucker. Perhaps being quick and brutal will work?

I honestly do keep intending to get back to the edifying side of cinema, but I still find myself being self-indulgent about my viewing choices, if only to maintain my sanity. The return of the Daily Grindhouse Podcast is partially responsible for that, but I’d be lying if I said escapism wasn’t a major contributing factor. What I am finding is that I really enjoy the latest crop of overblown spectacle movies made possible by advances in CGI technology, and I am eating them like candy. Sweet, sweet over-produced candy. What this says about me as a cinephile, I am not sure. Am I a problem, rather than a solution?

Who cares, I’m enjoying myself.

I’m thinking this started with the two Monkey King movies and was cemented by League of Gods (and bolstered by my previous love affair with Stephen Chow’s Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons). What I am finding is that the Chinese are very good at making this sort of thing, and making them entertaining, but the American movie industry… not so much. There are exceptions, of course, like the Wachowskis and James Gunn, but the important difference there is they are essentially dealing with their own mythologies (Marvel’s, in the case of Gunn), while the two movies setting this column off indulged in cultural appropriation for their mythologies, and bungled it.

From that last sentence, you might assume that we’re starting with the 2013 47 Ronin, and you would be right.

The story of The Loyal 47 Ronin is one of the great tentpoles of Japanese culture; the intro to this movie assures us that “the story of the 47 ronin is the story of Japan,” and to a point, that is correct, if overly general. The trouble is that the movie then proceeds to take that story and alter it so unmercifully and cavalierly that it’s kind of amazing that it didn’t spark off an international incident.

The actual tale of the 47 ronin concerns a clan of samurai whose lord, Asano Naganori, is driven by a venal court official to assault him, and is compelled to commit seppuku for that offense. His clan is dissolved, and those 47 retainers lie in wait for a year to visit their vengeance upon the man responsible for their lord’s downfall. It’s a great story, and there are many, many book, play and movie versions of it – the one I’ve seen is the 1962 Chushingura, directed by Hiroshi Inagaki.

And now, with this version, after that Japan-centric intro, we meet Keanu Reeve’s character as a child, leading into the adult Keanu aiding his adoptive father Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) in a hunt for a strange beast straight out of Princess Mononoke. These beginning segments in what we are told is “the story of Japan” seems to me similar to being told that Bram Stoker’s Dracula was “the most faithful adaption of the novel” ever and then sitting through a lengthy pre-credit sequence that occurs nowhere in that novel.

Keanu is Kai, a half-Japanese orphan raised by the Tengu bird demons in a cursed forest. Lord Asano will still be duped into attacking another lord, but this time it’s due to the evil Lord Kira (Tananobu Ason)’s consort, who is a witch (and Rinko Kikuchi, to boot). Lord Asano’s eldest son, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), is thrown into a pit for a year, then released and exiled a week before his sister, Mika (Ko Shibasaki) will be wed to Kira. So that year-long plot to avenge the fallen lord is replaced with a rushed, artificial deadline, and Oishi must find the despised Kai, who was sold to a coastal fight arena before Oishi was thrown into the pit. Because he knows Kai loves Mika and will do anything for her.

Apparently this version of 47 Ronin started as a straight historical drama like, say, Gladiator. But somewhere in the pre-production process, the suits decided they wanted a magical fantasy adventure for some of that sweet, sweet Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings money. And so the torturing of the storyline to accommodate mythical monsters and magic and Keanu Reeves began.

Now, I was a Keanu fan even back when everybody was still making fun of him for Johnny Mnemonic. It is probably his presence that got the project the greenlight. His inclusion as a half-breed alone wouldn’t have derailed the movie too badly. But past that, 47 Ronin stands as a monument to wrong-headed studio interference, with an increasingly chaotic storyline and least one obvious snipping out of a subplot and character (Yorick von Wageningen’s Kapitan, the pirate with the full-body skeleton tattoo who is on the poster for God’s sake) for the sake of more weirdness and at least one battle scene that changes nothing going forward.

In trying to put myself in the place of someone Japanese seeing this Hollywood mangling of my history, the best I could come up with (as a lifelong Texan) is a movie stating that Santa Anna and Sam Houston grew up together and the Battle of the Alamo was all due to a witch’s interference and Davy Crockett was a werewolf. Also for some reason the history books don’t mention the samurai warrior with power armor fighting alongside Jim Bowie. (Hollywood, you still haven’t returned my calls)

There were a few things I liked about 47 Ronin. The Tengu were neat. It was nice to see so many Asian actors in a Hollywood movie. They did not Hollywood-up the ending too much, everybody still had to commit ritual suicide. Those few things are still not enough to warrant a recommendation to any but Keanu completists. I am legendarily forgiving toward movies, but this one is just not very good.

This experience did not exactly make me look forward to seeing Gods of Egypt, even though I found it a superior movie in almost every way. In it, we told the Gods of the title are alien beings with certain powers, golden blood and who are half again as tall as humans. Osiris (Bryan Brown) is handing over the kingly crown to Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), only to be murdered and usurped by Set (Gerard Butler). Set takes Horus’ eyes, the focus of his power, and banishes the blinded god. It is going to take a human thief, Bek (Brenton Thwaites), egged on by his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton), still faithful to Horus, to get the god back his eyes and overthrow Set, whose main purpose (besides the usual grinding of the faces of the poor) is to assassinate their father, Ra (Geoffrey Rush) and bring eternal darkness to Earth.

Looking at that synopsis and that cast, there is one thing that is going to jump out at you, and that is the major criticism of the movie: its very whiteness. The overwhelmingly Caucasian population of this Cradle of Civilization feels like something out of the 1950s Biblical Epic era.  Ridley Scott, defending the casting in Exodus:God and Kings, rather (in)famously pointed out that the movie would not be financially viable without white actors. There’s a good deal of actual controversy on the actual skin tones of the ancient Egyptians, but the truth of Scott’s statement, though ugly, is inescapable.

The story of Gods of Egypt, past your standard action adventure boilerplate, is strange and exotic enough that I think I could have enjoyed it as much if not more if posited as a tale of some strange fantasy lands, like League of Gods, without the hijacking of another culture’s history and mythology.

Nice job turning humans into hobbits, though.

But if we’re going to talk about hijacking another culture’s history and mythology, though, we’re going to have to continue on to The Great Wall, which I had actually been looking forward to seeing.

Matt Damon plays William, a medieval mercenary who journeys to China, chasing rumors of an explosive black powder that would make his work much easier. What he finds is that titular Wall, and it turns out that the reason it was built is a meteor crash-landed in the nearby mountains, and every few years the inimical life forms that it brought swarm, attack and eat anything in their path. William will immediately throw in his lot with the elite troops trying to turn back this alien horde, and maybe even defeat it for all time.

After the last two movies in this post, one might be forgiven for looking askance at Damon’s role in this movie, but he provides a time-honored device: the audience surrogate, the outsider to whom things must be explained, so the audience gains necessary information somewhat painlessly. William does provide an interesting clue to fighting the monster, correctly interpreted by the Chief Strategist Wang (the always welcome Andy Lau), leading to a master plan that, according to the rules of fiction, requires one last desperate shot at the very last moment, the climax of Star Wars if it involved lots of gunpowder and an alien queen.

It’s the predictability of that plot that is the only thing that truly works against The Great Wall. It’s a well-built story, the characters are interesting, the monsters are pretty unique and well-designed. I love the fact that there is a strong female leading the troops (Jing Tian, looking so beautiful and perfect that whenever she has a close-up, I find myself waiting for the cut scene to end so I can get back to playing Final Fantasy). But the only thing that can be truly called unique in its setup is that the Chinese apparently invented weaponized bungee-jumping.

There are six writers credited overall for The Great Wall, and none of those names are remotely Asian. I suppose that puts us back at my earlier, blasphemous re-telling of the Alamo, with a very important exception: the director is Zhang Yimou, one of best and most prestigious of Chinese directors. Damon isn’t a white savior, he is one cog in a group that comes together to defeat the enemy. There is heart in this movie, and that heart is not overwhelmingly Caucasian.

Though I really would have liked to know Zhang’s thoughts on the movie’s central concept.

In the midst of all this the movie version of Ghost in the Shell came and went, and with it the subsequent furor over the practice of “whitewashing” which was more or less the basis of this column (and one of the Daily Grindhouse podcasts. If you listen, you can hear me grunt a lot, because it was recorded at Jesus o’clock on a Sunday morning). I still haven’t seen it, but I’m told the ghost in Scarlett Johnnson’s shell is actually Asian, but even with that we’re still in Ridley Scott territory. I’ve been too busy with personal drama and my country’s imploding structure to actually keep up with any finger-pointing at the failure of that film at the box office, but my money’s on “action movies with females don’t sell” more than the whitewashing controversy or the very idea that people might not  want to see an Americanized, live-action version of anime. There is a very strong fanbase for anime here in the States, that is undeniable – but that doesn’t mean that fanbase actually wants to see their stories in another medium, or that any other demographic can be bothered to go see it, no matter how many anime-adjacent movies like Pacific Rim are actually successful.

At least this might finally put paid to that Americanized version of Akira. Though, really, I wouldn’t put any money on that. We white folk love our little cultural thieveries.

Buy 47 Ronin on Amazon

Buy Gods of Egypt on Amazon

Buy The Great Wall on Amazon

Buy Ghost in the Shell on Amazon

Crapfest: Flashbacks, Floyd, & Frankenheimer

Hi there. Long time, no see.

April was an especially intense month for me. It tried to sneak in one last blow by not letting me make any money in the last weekend, but I instead flipped Destiny the bird and managed to get everyone to agree to a Crapfest.

All the faithful were there: Host Dave, myself, Alan, Paul, Rick and Erik. Erik had honed his burrito bowl game down to a science, getting everything set up with the alacrity of an 80s action hero strapping weapons to himself. Just as good as last time, if not better; I grazed that buffet all evening and think I somehow still lost weight.

First for some backstory, a flashback, if you will (appropriate, given the “entertainment” on display that evening): in the weeks running up to the fest, a YouTube video gained sudden currency on Facebook:

Rick does not do Facebook, but I made sure this crossed his radar, as he is likely the biggest KISS fan I know. This video led to a lively discussion in our e-mail group, mainly about how much we loved Lynda Carter and yet found this excerpt from her second TV special largely disastrous. Rick found a site that had three of her specials on DVD, and he openly pondered purchasing it.

This led Dave to employ his Satan-spawned abilities to track down a copy of a Lynda Carter variety special and open Crapfest with it. Initially, there was joy and laughter at this development, while Dave and I giggled like the Riddler. Paul opined that even if the music was dreadful, he could get through this simply by looking at her.

Now, if you look up hubris in the dictionary, you will see this picture illustrating it:

Paul opined that even if the music was dreadful, he could get through this simply by looking at her.

This was proved demonstrably false by the special’s halfway mark, when cries of “No, not the blues! You leave the blues alone!!!” echoed through the mancave. As the entire special was sponsored by the Texise Corporation, the endlessly repeated commercials for various sprays and unguents only added to the misery. This was, incidentally, the last of Ms. Carter’s specials, 1984’s Body and Soul, and – the IMDb  informs me – the only one “made without the help of her ex-husband ‘Ron Samuels’.” Afterwards, I showed this clip from an earlier Carter special, where she sucks all the soul out of “Rubberband Man” and replaces it with sweet vanilla syrup:

This was judged to be “100% better” than Body and Soul, and I don’t think that was because of the song – it’s because she’s showing 100% more leg than she did in the entirety of the later special. We are a vulgar and base lot, after all. And we still love you, Ms. Carter, especially if you leave The Blues alone.

I had thought that our gathering could not be any more depressed after my statement that “If this were a Cheri Caffaro movie, this torch song would end with a strip tease,” but Dave would prove me wrong:

This was, once again, for the benefit of Facebook-less Rick – Dave had inflicted it on the world in the previous week. It is definitely the 12″ single version. But the pain of Disco Floyd is alleviated by the fact that at the three minute mark it somehow switches to Soul Train. Since this did not produce the expected agony – more like some bewildered groans – Dave pulled out a trump card, a trump card I had nixed several times before, but now it was time. Mainly, it had been enough years since I had last seen Mesa of Lost Women, and I could finally tolerate watching it again.

Mesa is so packed full of inept B-movie weirdness that for years it was suspected of being a lost Ed Wood movie, but it’s not – it’s an unfinished movie by a madman named Herbert Tevos, finished by Ron Ormond, who is himself no stranger to Crapfest (Please Don’t Touch Me! and If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do). Jackie Coogan is Dr. Aranya (“Aranya! That’s Spanish for spider!”), who is up on the titular Mesa creating indestructible spider women and leering dwarves. And you only wish that was what the movie was actually about.

It all starts with our two “stars” (Oh, all right, Richard Travis and Paula Hill) wandering in from the Muerto Desert (“Muerto! That’s Spanish for Death!”) while Lyle Talbot does his best Orson Welles in a confounding voiceover. Rescued and recovering, Travis will start his story, but then Lyle will inform us that instead we are going have a flashback courtesy of a background character, Pepe (“Pepe! That’s Spanish for Pepe!”). This confoundingly tortured story structure will continue for some time, leading to many debates as to exactly whose flashback we were witnessing at any given moment. AY!There were, in fact, many times throughout the evening that no matter which movie we were watching, we were pretty sure we were still stuck in Pepe’s flashback.

But the real reason Dave wanted to play it was the infernal, maddening guitar soundtrack (which was also employed in Ed Wood’s Jailbait, further inflaming that theory), which he knew would drive Rick insane. Which it did. He can visited most mornings from 9am-11am. Do not bring any sharp objects.

Dave was emboldened to inflict Tarantella and her phantom guitar upon us because Erik was currently involved in moving, and his movies were all packed up, so the entire program was up to us. So Dave pulls out fake Ed Wood, while I, on the other hand, pass out 3-D glasses and play The Three Stooges’ Spooks, because I am the Nice Guy. I can’t hand you some cheap Chinese cardboard glasses, so here, have the one good joke without the red and blue overlay:

It’s surprising how uncomfortable Moe’s slapstick abuse makes me these days. I had found something else for the audience, who, I remind you, is base and vulgar – something called Nude 66. Once again, red-blue anaglyph, a “Playboy digital pictorial” without any connection to that magazine (although Paul, our local Expert On Such Things, did identify one of the ladies as an actual Playmate). In fact all the credited personnel at the end seem to be Japanese, and I have not been able to find out any other information whatsoever about it. It’s 25 minutes of rock-n-roll cover tunes and somewhat artful nudity. That and the 15 minutes of Spooks were about all the 3-D my aged eyes could take, anyway.

Quick, boy! Where are those damned 3-D glasses?

So, having had enough of Being Nice, I slapped in Dangerous Men.

Man, Stan Lee is in EVERYTHING.

Ideally, all you need to know about Dangerous Men is it is produced and directed by John S. Rad. It is also written by John S. Rad, who also wrote the music, edited the movie, and did the sound design. Also, John S. Rad’s real name is Jahangir Salehi, if that matters at all. He started shooting this sometime in the 70s and didn’t finish it until the mid-90s. He finally rented four LA cinemas to play the movie for a week, resulting in total ticket sales of around $2000.

It’s hard to know where exactly to start with Dangerous Men. The first part of the movie is basically a distaff Death Wish, with Melody Wiggins playing a woman whose fiancé is murdered by a biker, causing her to launch a career as an avenger killing such DANGEROUS MEN. There is one attempted rapist she does not kill, but only takes all his clothes and leaves him in the middle of the desert, so we spend the next seven minutes or so with a naked Englishman wandering the desert, endlessly monologing about how humiliated he is. This tells me that during one of the lulls in filming when he ran out of money. John S. Rad saw a Jodorowsky film.

“Who the hell puts an enormous potted plant in a narrow hallway?”

Wiggins’ character suddenly gets arrested at about the halfway mark, and her dead fiancé’s cop brother takes up the reins of the story, tracking down the man responsible for the bikers’ reign of terror, the kingpin Black Pepper, who is about the crappiest Moriarty one could hope for. To accomplish this, he has to knock out a Biker on two separate occasions with the same attack. In the resulting raid on Black Pepper’s stronghold, Black Pepper nearly beats the cop brother to death (in a fight scene that uses the same sound effect over and over, no matter who’s getting hit) and it’s up to The Chief, a character introduced only a half hour before, to wind up the movie, quite suddenly, and at the 90 minute mark. The movie doesn’t end so much as stop.

“Why do I keep hearing men screaming ‘what the fuck’?”

There are all the usual technical bobbles of a one-man operation that either can’t afford or doesn’t want someone else to handle the technical aspects (thankfully, Rad had someone else shoot the movie, it’s at least in focus). The sudden departure of Wiggins’ character was due to her breaking a leg during the shoot and Rad refusing to pay her medical bills; further investigation by the guys at Drafthouse Films alleges that she was paid something like a dollar a day and some MacDonalds for her work. Exactly why the cop brother had to be written out is lost to the ages, but overall, Dangerous Men plays out like Robert Altman had decided to do a gritty crime drama but had also suffered a traumatic head injury.

Ergo, it is highly recommended.

(We almost had Samurai Cop and Dangerous Men back-to-back at the last Crapfest, which would have caused seizures and/or riots, I am sure)

So, back over to Dave, who trots out Claws, a 1977 killer bear movie that manages to rip off two other Jaws rip-offs, Grizzly and Orca. Some hunters shoot and wound a Grizzly, and when he runs off, proceed to kill the female who stayed behind. The wounded bear proceeds to terrorize the forest for the next several years, becoming known as “The Devil Bear” and finally causing some folks to track him seriously, with varying degrees of failure and death. Given that we referred to the beast as “The Stock Footage Bear” for most of the running time and the general tedium as the story unfolded, I was willing to bet that this was a TV movie, but apparently I was wrong (really, my first clue should have been that the damned thing runs an hour and forty minutes). Apparently it ran in some theaters under the rather desperate title Grizzly 2.

I would liked it much more had they gone with the whole Devil Bear concept, and we had found the betrayed bruin had struck up a deal with Old Clootie to get revenge for his murdered mate. Hollywood, call me, you bastards.

The ideal cap to the whole experience was when the movie was over, Dave blinked at the screen and wondered where the scene where the bear attacked the helicopter went. “That’s Grizzly,” I said.

So. Dave made us watch the wrong killer bear movie, and now you just know he is going to make us watch another fucking killer bear movie.

(Then, he might not, when he discovers that Grizzly features his archenemy, Richard Jaeckel)

There don’t seem to be any trailers online, so let’s all go Token noble Indian character, nooooooo!

Back to me, I guess, because the movie was one Rick and Alan had requested, Frankenheimer’s version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. This had happened mainly because Rick and I had watched the fascinating Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau, a documentary that pretty much lays it all out in it’s title. A movie with a modest budget suddenly signs on two major but difficult names – Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer – budget balloons, stars act up, director gets suddenly replaced.

John Frankenheimer is similarly no stranger to Crapfest, as we had earlier watched his killer bear movie, Prophecy. He took the job only as part of a multi-picture deal, so at least we got Ronin and Reindeer Games, two decent action flicks, out of it. Likely the only scene that remains from Stanley’s concept is when David Thewlis witnesses the birth of one of Moreau’s hybrids – that one still packs a punch. But the rest, bowing to the whims and eccentricities of Brando and Kilmer, settles into typical, bland, expected tropes. Moreau isn’t really a bad movie, it’s just a terribly unnecessary one. The only reason to watch it is Brando’s strange portrayal of Moreau, and once that character is killed – oh yeah, spoiler alert for a twenty year-old movie – there is simply no reason to watch anymore.

(Well, yes, there is the typically excellent makeup effects of Stan Winston, but…)

It was midnight at this point. We had lost Paul at the beginning of Moreau, and Alan left, but we, the hardcore, were not beaten. Into the magic lightning box went The Devil’s Express. 

Devil’s Express is a delicious gumbo of trash film tropes from the 70s. Good old bad old New York, Blaxploitation, stickin’ it to The Man, kung fu and monsters. I’m kind of surprised I hadn’t sneaked this in earlier.

As if all this were not enough, it stars Warhawk Tanzania (who knew that the breakout star of Force Four would be Warhawk Tanzania? My money was on Malachi Lee!) (Also, Crapfest attendees, you are really going to have to piss me off to make me show you Force Four) (Where was I? Are we still in Pepe’s flashback?).

ANYWAY. Warhawk and his student Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan, also in Force Four, but never mind that now) travel to Brooklyn Hong Kong to perfect Warhawk’s kung fu, but the shady Rodan steals an amulet he finds in a pit. Those of us who saw the prelude know that something evil was being kept in check by that amulet, and now it stows away on board a freighter to New York to find the amulet and destroy it.

It does this by possessing some guy and making him wander around with eyes painted on his eyelids. It shouldn’t work as well as it does, but it does (mainly because the dude with the painted eyelids, Aki Aleong, really sells it) (Tim Lehnerer at Checkpoint Telstar informs me that Aleong also wrote “Shombalor“, so he’s ten times more awesome than I originally suspected). Said monster proceeds to chow down on unwary people on the subway, making this a weird New York underground version of Blood Beach. Meanwhile, Rodan’s drug dealing leads to a minor gang war with a Chinese gang, which allowed the distributors to re-title and re-release this under the title Gang War when The Warriors hit it big.

Your typical wise Chinese gentleman (who is wearing the worst fake Asian makeup ever applied or shot on film, squandering any goodwill from that painted eyelid job), tells Warhawk what’s up, so he can don his gold lame demon-fightin’ overalls and descend into the subway to kill the demon while Brother Theodore distracts the cops.

Oh yeah, that just one more reason to watch The Devil’s Express. Brother Theodore plays a priest who is there to deliver last rites to murder victims (I guess) and who is apparently driven mad by the horror he witnesses, as he starts shouting to the crowd outside a barricaded subway station about “Rrrrrrrrats! PESTILENTIAL rats!” Well, maybe he wasn’t driven mad, maybe he was driven to become Brother Theodore. Maybe this is all a complicated origin story.

ANYWAY. Good times, good times.

At this point, we decided, it was likely best to pack it up. It had been a long day, a day of multiple horrors attacking from all directions, and somehow we had managed to survive it, through dint of good companionship, good humor, and burrito bowls.

We’ve been doing this for ten years, and we’ve still barely scratched the surface.

Sleep well.

(Creaking door slams shut)

Buy Mesa of Lost Women on Amazon

Buy Spooks! on Amazon

Buy Dangerous Men on Amazon

Buy Claws on Amazon

Buy The Island of Dr. Moreau on Amazon

Buy The Devil’s Express on Amazon

Can You Put Time on an Amazon Wishlist?

There is a confluence of unrelated incidents mucking around with my life right now, and amazingly, most of them are unrelated to the current administration freakshow.

The first is my recent vacation. With no obligations (past a couple of last-minute “hey can you do this tomorrow” gig offers while I was on the road, thanks guys), I watched a bunch of movies on the laptop. So I had a movie hangover when I returned to reality. I find I can’t concentrate on anything longer than the average TV episode, which these days is 40 minutes.

(There was also a severe lack of internet that week. I found one shop with wi-fi who graciously shared their password, which allowed me to clear out e-mail and find out that a company that had responded to my constant resume-sending had noticed my age and would not be pursuing our relationship any further. Again, thanks guys)

Not that I have the time to watch movies. My day job (still part time) insists on getting everything tightly scheduled out to the end of the season; I understand the need, I just resent the constant pressure that engenders. I can only reasonably handle my life one week at a time. It feels like I finally figured out how to juggle five balls at once and my instructor just tossed balls 6, 7 and 8 into the pattern. I’ve picked up some extra meetings – and when I asked the Universe for opportunities to make more money, I did not mean by spending more of my time listening to bureaucrats and politicians bloviate. Two evenings of every week must be reserved for The Show, which is a vital supplement to that part-time job. Please excuse all typos, I’m trying to get this posted before I head to tonight’s show.

The Daily Grindhouse Podcast is a going thing again. And – this is a personal failing, I feel – I find talking about movies easier than writing about them, so why write? It’s certainly faster – an hour or two of my time as opposed to eight to twelve hours crafting a typical column here. We’re casting our nets wider this time, so I find myself watching two or three movies for each episode. Then I come here and stare at a blank page because I haven’t watched anything else. There is a lengthy diatribe I am working on, but that means I have to have a suitable chunk of time to work on it.

Arrow Video was nice enough to send me screeners for their new Arrow Academy line, and I have got to get on those sooner rather than later. In my copious free time.

This besides the other meetings that people call me up for, wanting to pick my brains. Sometimes I even get lunch out of it.

Sleep factors in there somewhere. I’m told.

Better times and content next week, I hope.

 

 

 

That Movie a Year Thing

So the current Twitter game is listing a movie for every year you’ve been alive. The default seems to be toward “favorite” rather than “best”, which is going to explain quite a few of the entries on this list. This exercise puts you into Tough Choice mode – how to choose between Andrei Rublev, Chimes at Midnight and To Kill A Mockingbird? Well, what movie have you voluntarily watched the most times? Fantastic Voyage for 1966 it is, then.

It intrigues me that I did this as a Letterboxd list two years ago. I called it “A Life in Movies“, and the list I came up with last night has only a few variations. I contemplated updating that list, then decided against it – let it stand as a document of where I was then.

So this is where I am now:

1957 – The Seventh Seal
1958 – Touch of Evil
1959 – Sleeping Beauty
1960 – Psycho
1961 – Yojimbo
1962 – The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
1963 – Jason and the Argonauts
1964 – I Am Cuba
1965 – Help!
1966 – Fantastic Voyage
1967 – In the Heat of the Night
1968 – Yellow Submarine
1969 – The Wild Bunch
1970 – Tora! Tora! Tora!
1971 – They Might Be Giants
1972 – The Godfather
1973 – The Holy Mountain
1974 – Blazing Saddles
1975 – Death Race 2000
1976 – Master of the Flying Guillotine
1977 – Star Wars
1978 – Dawn of the Dead
1979 – Alien
1980 – Altered States
1981 – Raiders of the Lost Ark
1982 – The Thing
1983 – Videodrome
1984 – Ghostbusters
1985 – Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
1986 – Aliens
1987 – Evil Dead II
1988 – Powaqqatsi
1989 – Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
1990 – Tremors
1991 – The Fisher King
1992 – Baraka
1993 – Matinee
1994 – Pulp Fiction
1995 – The Quick and the Dead
1996 – The Wind in the Willows
1997 – Men in Black
1998 – Ringu
1999 – The Iron Giant
2000 – Memento
2001 – The Fellowship of the Ring
2002 – The Two Towers
2003 – Kill Bill Pt. 1
2004 – Primer
2005 – Constantine
2006 – The Prestige
2007 – Shoot ‘Em Up
2008 – The Dark Knight
2009 – Black Dynamite
2010 – Scott Pilgrim vs The World
2011 – Samsara
2012 – The Avengers
2013 – Gravity
2014 – Guardians of the Galaxy
2015 – The Force Awakens
2016 – Arrival

 

Traveling Music, Maestro

I had really hoped to have something ready for you folks before I hit the road.

For the first time in years, instead of sitting around the house on Spring Break, moping about the unpaid vacation, I am going with my wife and son and niece to visit my sister-in-law in West Texas, where cell towers are rare and the Internet is just an ugly rumor.

I’ll have a laptop with me. I have much to share with you, and I’ll be writing without access to my usual channels of research, but I think that going old school – odd to think of writing in a text editor and then transferring it over to WordPress seems Old School – will be good for me.

I should also pack an extra pair of earbuds because modern forms of communication may be out, but there’s still TV, which means I will continue to be bedeviled by the current administration and reality TV, which are apparently much the same thing these days.

Christ only knows what the world will be like when I return from the wastelands late this week. It’s tempting to bring along my leathers and spikes in case everything’s all Fury Road when I get back, but I’m trying to pack light.

So party on, be excellent to each other, and if y’all would fix everything while I’m gone, I’d certainly appreciate it.

Crapfest: Plot? Who Needs a Plot?

How long has it been since we had a Crapfest? I’ll tell you how got-dang long it was: it was last June. It was a different world back then.

So the chivvying and bullying began, and we finally lighted on the same Sunday as the Academy Awards. I can only speak personally, but I haven’t watched the Oscars this century anyway, and saw no reason to change that practice. So, Warren Beatty, your reputation is still spotless with me.

In attendance: myself, Host Dave, Erik, Rick and Paul. Alan was closing a show and arrive late, hoping that he would miss the worst. This, however, is an event known as Crapfest, so we can all sit in judgement of that strategy.

gizmo_Dave put on an old favorite of his, 1977’s Gizmo! for noise purposes, not intending it to be the first movie of the day, so of course – it became the first movie of the day. Gizmo! was a big favorite back in the early days of HBO, and for some reason only ever had a VHS release. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it might be because of music rights, because there’s a lot of songs tying together an hour and fifteen minutes worth of newsreel footage. Supposedly a documentary about invention and innovation, Gizmo! is better described, as one writer put it, as “steampunk Jackass“. All sorts of people climb into all sorts of newfangled flying and driving machines and proceed to get chewed up by same. This is mixed in with footage of people playing music by making fart sounds with their hands and folks blowing themselves up with dynamite. And squeezing themselves through tennis rackets. And…

…it’s interesting how much of this stuff wound up in Arise! The SubGenius Video.

Truly fascinating are the bits of prototype technology that are actually being used today, for instance: dye packs to mark money stolen in a robbery. The guys flapping around with leather wings attached to their arms are the precursors of daredevils in wing suits, after all – is it really their fault they are also prototypes for Wile E. Coyote? Also fascinating was the idea that you could improve anything by attaching a propeller to it, eventually resulting in a device that was nothing but propellers… which went nowhere.

help-meHoward Smith’s only other director credit is for the documentary Marjoe, which is a great movie, never mind that we showed it at an earlier Crapfest (Marjoe Gortner is, after all, the patron saint of Crapfest). And every now and then you will be reminded that Smith is rather gleefully fucking with you. The best example is right at the beginning of this YouTube post – watch it quick, who knows how long it will last. Just watch the first 30 seconds. Then try not to get sucked into the madness. It’s not the whole movie – it runs fifteen minutes short – so I’m willing to bet there are several songs missing.

And this is where things began going south. Erik had a plan – a good plan – for our dinner that night. Two words: burrito bowls. Which I guess is best defined as the stuff usually in a burrito, except in a bowl? He had a bunch of the fixins already prepped in baggies, but the other things – most notably the beef and chicken fajitas – took unexpectedly long to cook. This left myself and Paul in the Mancave to our own devices. I had brought some cartoons, which we watched, intermittently journeying into the kitchen to check on progress, which seemed glacial. Then we would go back. We watched a Swedish art film which was 17 minutes of naked women doing odd things in the woods with a variety of headdresses and masks. Don’t ask me why, it was art.  One of the standards of Crapfest is gratuitous nudity (which was, I believe, actually the event’s genesis), so I had been saving it for a treat, but I was bored.

When things drug on, I put on my copy of Harvey Sid Fisher’s Astrology Songs, which I had sneaked into an earlier ‘fest, and was a big hit with everyone but Dave. It did manage to get some of our Galloping Gourmet cosplayers into the Cave to relive a few minute of former celestial glory, but then they would return to making artisanal guacamole.

Harvey ran through the entire Zodiac, and still no Crapfest. I decided to play with fire.

I put on The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Now, Alan had occasionally requested this blight on the cherished memory of our youth, only to be gently told by Dave and myself, “Fuck you, no.” So this was the extremity to which I was driven.

It had the desired effect of getting people into the Cave to gaze in awe at the Forbidden Fruit. Who could resist meeting Chewbacca’s family?

His wife, Mala! His father, Itchy!

vlcsnap-2017-03-02-13h42m20s357His son, Lumpy!

vlcsnap-2017-03-02-13h42m40s687And TV funnyman Harvey Korman!

vlcsnap-2017-02-27-22h43m21s481We got as far as Harvey before Dave turned it off, commanding me to sit in the corner and “think about what you’ve done.” At least the chair in the corner was comfier than the folding chair I had been occupying.

Well, we finally had our burrito bowls – they were extraordinarily tasty, and moreover actually GOOD for us. I was still full the next morning, I pounded down so much goodness. And, with a vodka martini mixed by Dave (my bartender of choice), we finally settled down to the Crapfest proper, which was a mistake.

warriors-of-the-wastelandDave led off with The New Barbarians. So apparently I was still being punished.

Also known as Warriors of the Wasteland, it’s yet another Italian Road Warrior rip-off – any doubts you may have about that will be dispelled in the first five – no, make that three – minutes. It’s the far-flung future of 2019, nuclear war has devastated the Earth, and tiny pockets of survivors are trying to find the promised land. Unfortunately, a bunch known as the Templars are dedicated to finishing what the war started, and are killing everybody they can find.

Yep, there’s no scavenging for oil in this wasteland (often one of the greenest wastelands we have ever seen) because these guys are running around in their tricked-out dune buggies 24/7. In a holdover from Gizmo, one guy has added a side mounted propeller to his buggy, so he can chase people until they obligingly fall to their knees to be decapitated. Pretty near all the money went to their vehicles, one feels, because the Templars have to make do with armor made of pool flotation devices.

Enter into all this Scorpion (Giancarlo Prete), who is apparently a former Templar now dedicated to messing with them as much as possible. My occupying the Seat of Exile had its drawbacks: the soundtrack alternated between quiet dialogue and EXTREMELY LOUD MACHINE SOUNDS and back to possibly significant but quietly delivered details AND THEN THE ROARING OF A THOUSAND ENGINES and back, but I’m also pretty confident that it all boils down to some ancient conflict between Scorpion and the Templar Leader with the singular name of One (Italian standard George Eastman).

By the time the art department got around to tricking out Scorpion’s ride, they had run out of aluminum panels and propellers, and had to make do with some dryer hose, a plastic skull, and a huge plastic dome left over from the Star Wars rip-off craze of a few years earlier. I think they were going for a sort of Batmobile look, but it just reminds me of the Alert Squad car from Darktown Strutters:

dat-carvlcsnap-2017-03-02-00h09m04s927And that is likely the most obscure reference I will make all day. No promises, though.

There was, at least, wild applause when Fred Williamson finally showed up with the inappropriate name of Nadir, though who the hell is ever going to tell Fred Williamson that he has a lousy name? Nadir drives a much more badass-mobile than Scorpion (naturally) and takes an extraordinarily long and dramatic time to aim his explosive arrows.

"I make this blow-up shit look good."

“I make this blow-up shit look good.”

The New Barbarians‘ major claim to infamy occurs when Scorpion is inevitably captured by the Templars and it is announced that it is time to “finish his initiation”. What this involves is a long, fairly fetishistically-drawn out scene of Buggery on the High Seas, if you substituted the Wasteland for the High Seas. Dave – who I will remind you chose this movie – skittered out of the room faster than a Congressman at a town hall meeting at the very start of the scene, ignoring my shouts for him to get back here and take his medicine. Wuss.

Anyway, Nadir rescues him – eventually – and finally they both take on the Templars just in time to rescue the last survivors, and Scorpion gets his revenge in a wholly appropriate and mechanically improbable manner, the end.

Honestly, the most amazing thing about The New Barbarians is that director Enzo G. Castellari still cares enough to pull off the occasional impressively arty shot. This will not be the case with our next movie.

Paul exercised his wuss clause and left early – in all fairness, he had warned us he would – and I moved up to his seat in the big couch, also known as the Front Row. Now I could at least keep track of the plot, I thought.

Wrong, because the movie was Erik’s choice – Samurai Cop.

What a time to be alive.

What a time to be alive.

There’s an Asian gang called The Katanas trying to take over the drug trade in L.A., so a cop is imported from San Diego (what?): Joe Marshall, nicknamed “Samurai”, because he was trained in the martial arts in Asia and speaks fluent Japanese. Or so the IMDb entry tells me, because I wasn’t getting much of that from the movie itself. Star Mathew Karedas sort of looks like a Sylvester Stallone muppet from the right angle, with Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon hair. Mark Frazer is Frank Washington, sassy black cop who specializes in reaction shots, and who is not old enough to be too old for this shit, so he doesn’t say it, but we say it for him anyway. And Robert Z’Dar (with impressive beard on that impressive chin) is the enforcer for the Katanas… Yamashita. Yamashita.

I think it is important that I simply let the movie speak for itself at this point.

Samurai Cop is a movie that is magnificent in its incompetence. Director Amir Shervan has 30 credits on the IMDb, and you couldn’t prove it by what you see on the screen. It all takes place during the day, because lights were too expensive. No attempt is made to control the color temperature of the film, so a lot of scenes are either way too blue or way too yellow (lens filters also cost too much, I guess). And the best part is that six months after he thought filming was finished, Karedas cut his hair. Shervan wasn’t finished, though, and you can frequently see him switch between his natural hair and a remarkably fake woman’s wig in the same scene.

ACTIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNGGGGGrrrrr

ACTIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNGGGGGrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

The action is pretty plentiful and fairly decent for the price – really everything else in the movie just elevates those scenes – and I hope a lot of guys got their stunt card out of it. Dave spent most of the movie complaining that the Samurai Cop wasn’t doing any samurai stuff (he did cut off one guy’s arm with a sword, which I referred to as the movie’s tribute to LucasFilms), while the rest of us spent our time wondering, “Will the redhead get naked again?” She did, a point in the movie’s favor, but this movie also has way too many men in speedos. If you ever wanted to see Gerald Okamura in a speedo, Samurai Cop has you covered, as it were.

I do kind of admire that Shervan the writer tried to give every character a little scene of their own – not that I think this movie wound up on a whole lot of demo reels.

Yeah, this needs to be seen to be believed. As the bug in the trailer points out, it’s free on Amazon Prime. Good choice, Erik.

At this point Dave tried to rush in his mandatory Edwige Fenech movie, but I was having none of it. It was my turn, and first things first:

Now, I consider myself the Nice Guy. I mean, sure, I’ve inflicted Things and Raw Force on the Fest, but I’ve also brought The Raid: Redemption. I refuse to show bad kung fu movies. I almost always watch what I bring to insure its (harrumph) quality.

league-of-gods_poster_goldposter_com_2So what I brought was League of Gods, a Chinese CGI-infused comic book that I had fallen in love with, and that it was likely no attendee had ever heard of, or would see under normal circumstances. League of Gods has more plot in its first five minutes than in the entirety of the first two movies (or even if you add in the last movie of the evening, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves). I did my best to boil it down for everyone who had consumed too much liquor to get through the anal rape and blue-tinted men in speedos, so let me try to do the same here:

There are two warring cities. One, we’ll call it Eviltown, is ruled over by a King (Tony Leung) who has joined physically with the evil Black Dragon to rule the world, and his consort, the demoness Nine-Tailed Fox (Fan Bingbing). The other city, Niceville, is trying to stop him from totally incarnating and bringing 18,000 years of darkness upon the world, and for that they need the Sword of Light.

This tale is told through the filter of constant CGI madness and action; as Rick said afterwards, “Well, that certainly wasn’t boring.” Rick had, in fact, read my earlier write-up on the movie and was really looking forward to “the talking baby”. This scene in particular; his favorite move is “Divine Thunder”.

Of course I had the right crowd for this flick: they immediately glommed onto the video game nature of the unfolding story, and easily spotted, “Ah, this is the platforming level”

“Man, I hate those”

“Oh, not a puzzle level! I hate those!”

Great fun, and I got to see it projected big and loud.

Okay, one last time for the trailer:

Now it was time for Dave to play his Edwige Fenech movie, and it was also time for me to go. With all the time spent on that amazing dinner, it was now after 11:00pm, and like Paul, I was expected to be productive early the next day. So yes, I exercised my own personal wuss clause, which in a way was okay, because that movie was Strip Nude for Your Killer, and as I left I saw the credit that let me know I was making the right decision:

FFFFFFFffffffffffff-

FFFFFFFffffffffffff-

I also knew that it was a bad idea because it meant I was going to have to watch it by myself later, in order to write about it. My main experience with Bianchi is through two movies – Burial Ground (urp) and a not-very-good version of Treasure Island, starring Orson Welles as Long John Silver.  And I hate giallo anyway. Mike Vanderbilt at Daily Grindhouse tells me that gialli are meant to be social occasions, with everybody laughing talking and drinking during the lengthy exposition scenes and presumably shutting up during the murder scenes. So I had left the ideal circumstances for seeing Strip Nude for Your Killer to instead watch it where I could grumble endlessly to myself in private.

strip-nude-for-your-killer-posterDid you get tired of all that plot during League of Gods? That’s fine, because here a fashion model dies during an abortion, and then somebody starts killing all the people at the fashion agency where she worked. There. That’s the plot.

Where to start, where to start. Well, it’s a giallo, so everybody is a different shade of loathsome, except possibly Edwige Fenech, who plays Magda, a plucky photographer’s assistant whose only dubious quality is she’s in love with our supposed hero and uberjerk Carlo (Nino Castelnuovo).  Police are never allowed to be competent in gialli, and Strip Nude certainly doesn’t break the mold in that respect. Suspects just keep getting killed until only Magda, Carlo and the killer are left, and the killer’s identity provokes a “Hah? Who?” reaction. I refuse to watch it again to find what scene that background character showed up in. If they even do.

vlcsnap-2017-03-01-00h21m55s344

STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER, FATTY

Dave tells me that Erik turned to glare at him every time a male character acted like a total cad, which must mean he didn’t get to watch 3/4 of the movie. As I entered my viewing of Strip Nude for Your Killer into Letterboxd, I finally gave it one and half stars – that one star is due only to Ms. Fenech, at the height of her weapons-grade cuteness, and certainly not shy about displaying her beauty in toto.

Edwige, no, you're better than this

Edwige, no, you’re better than this

I suppose, if nothing else, Strip Nude for Your Killer, like The Dude’s rug, tied the evening together; not only does it start with far too many men in speedos (Carlo included), but it ends with the promise of anal rape. (“Still more tastefully done than Kingsman!” Dave offers)

And I totally forgot about the abuse of the musical saw until I saw this trailer:

Buy The New Barbarians on Amazon

Buy Samurai Cop on Amazon

Buy Strip Nude for Your Killer on Amazon, you perv