Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Picture of Dorian Gray (2004?)

Repost from 2010, when I was working on my undergrad thesis on the film adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray.



Dir. David Rosenbaum || 2004 || USA(?)

If you can withstand the first two minutes of the 2004 film The Picture of Dorian Gray without having to reach for whatever alcohol is handy, you are a stronger person than I am. This makes Pact with the Devil look like a masterpiece. The film tries to set the story in the mid-20th century with some vague notion that the Gray family was inherently cursed because Dorian's grandfather created the atom bomb. This notion is only vaguely and occasionally followed through in the film. The acting is horrible across the board, with the actors reciting lines from the novel in a wooden and unintentionally hilarious manner, as evidenced in the video above. The film becomes tedious within the last half-hour, when the fun and alcohol wear off. Unlike most of the other Dorian Gray adaptations, which at least make a point to either subtly or unsubtly point out Dorian's pansexuality, this adaptation's take on it is to mostly make Dorian a heterosexual cad ("I spoiled your bride on your wedding day!") involved in a hetero love triangle between the (female) painter Basil Ward and Harry Wotton; whilst having Josh Duhamel parade around in skimpy bikini briefs for 10 minutes of the film, with at least three of those minutes being shot over his ass while he's laying in bed. Also unlike the other adaptations which actually try to have the portrait done by a real artist on the production team, the painting in this one looks as though it was done by a first year art student whose strong suit is not painting. The degenerated portrait is pretty much James Cameron in a swimsuit (meant to be Dorian's grandfather, I think), not a hideous monster.

Unlike Pact with the Devil, or any other Dorian Gray adaptation, there is no good actor or interesting performance in the film to give comfort or make watching it somewhat worthwhile. Some people will want to watch this because of Josh Duhamel, but it's not a good reason because he is just as awful as all the other actors in this film. He's not even inoffensively passable, like he is in everything else he acts in. He even looks awful, with his badly dyed blond hair.

There is probably a lesson to be learned here, by the time I am done with this paper, since I generally avoid film adaptations of books. I get the feeling it's to just be happy when a film adaptation of a good novel is watchable at all. I think I am mostly happy that I did not choose the film adaptations of Dracula, which are numerous and are also likely to have more bad adaptations than good ones.

This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray is only available on Youtube, via the playlist of favorite movies of what is likely a 15-year-old girl. After the conclusion of the movie, it goes immediately into a 3-year-old video preview of the Twilight film adaptation with some commentary, which I imagine is hell for some people, but was actually a passive improvement for me to listen to while I stared off into space for a few minutes. This version of The Picture of Dorian Gray has never been properly released because it's awful or maybe because Josh Duhamel is rich enough now to have it suppressed, but you can occasionally find an overpriced DVD version of it on Ebay or at libraries.

(Apologies if this post isn't very coherent. I have fairly coherent notes and drunk texts to a friend that I made while watching this last night, but these posts are increasingly becoming an excuse to vent.)

(Adverbs, motherfucker!)

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (II) (1997)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Steven Spielberg || 1997 || USA

According to Wikipedia, the reason why there has yet to be a Jurassic Park IV is because Steven Spielberg has yet to find a script he is satisfied with. One wonders why he did not use the same discretion for The Lost World: Jurassic Park II and I am assuming Jurassic Park III as well. The Lost World is a sequel that sort of chips away at any goodwill one has towards the first Jurassic Park film. It worst of all suffers from plotholes and having so many characters that one is never sure of some of the secondary character's names, nor why they are there to begin with.

In The Lost World, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is forced into a Ripley-like position of having to head a second exposition to the "Plan B Island" of the original Jurassic Park. His only reason is to save his paleontologist girlfriend, Sarah (Julianne Moore), who fancies herself a Diane Fossey amongst dinosaurs; and who wants to prove that dinosaurs, T-Rexes in particular, did take care of their young instead of leaving them to fend for themselves not too long after birth. Along for the ride is a documentarian (Vince Vaughn), a beardless Toby from The West Wing (Richard Schiff); and inexplicably, Malcolm's pre-adolescent daughter, Kelly, because there always has to be at least one child in supreme danger in the Jurassic Park films. Kelly sneaks into a high-tech caravan in California, which is put on a boat that I am assuming was at sea for at least three days. Why Malcolm did not make sure his daughter did not get in a car or taxi with the nanny he wanted her to stay with while he went to the islands, I do not know. By the end of the film, she does get to kick a raptor through a window using her skills as a gymnast, so she fills that absurd purpose besides being the endangered child.

Not too long after arriving at the island, they do find Sarah, who is nearly killed by a stegosaurus while trying to photograph them. Malcolm is failing at trying to convince her to leave the island, and we learn more of Malcolm's bad boyfriend and fathering skills. Much like the first Jurassic Park film, Jeff Goldblum does not do much; but in The Lost World he is not even allowed to be funny or charming. I guess PTSD does that to a man. Then helicopters arrive bringing a group of hunters to the island, courtesy of the new head of InGen, who I will call "British Bob Balaban". I do not know why this happens, but the hunters immediately proceed to hunt dinosaurs. Pete Postlethwaite is there to hunt a T-Rex, although no one ever considers how the hell you are supposed to haul a T-Rex back home. They capture some dinos, including a baby T-Rex. Vince Vaughn is there not only to document the island, but also serve as a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs, so that night, he and Sarah free all the captured dinosaurs who then wreak havoc at the hunter's camp, destroying their equipment. He and Sarah can also work as Dinosaur Veterinarians, because they then take the injured baby T-Rex back to the caravan where they try to repair its leg until mama T-Rex arrives, knocking the caravan over a cliff after they give her the baby back. It's like a bad, overlong version of the Land Rover in the tree-scene from the first film. It's nice how Sarah proves her theory that T-Rexes cared for their young, but simultaneously forgets the damage it would cause to herself and others if she decided to treat an injured baby T-Rex. She also wears her jacket that is stained with baby T-Rex blood for the rest of the film, leading the mama T-Rex to the path of where her team and the hunters are going to try to get off the island since everyone's high-tech equipment is destroyed. Many deaths ensue. She really is no Dr. Grant or Dr. Sadler. We also learn that the Island B raptors do not know how to open doors, unlike the raptors in the original Jurassic Park. But they can dig holes under the doors like dogs!

The baby T-Rex is captured and brought to San Diego to be a part of a Jurassic Park exhibition at the San Diego Zoo, because British Bob Balaban never saw King Kong. Inexplicably, mama T-Rex manages to hijack a freighter ship and makes her way to San Diego just in time for the unveiling. Crappy jokes ensue, such as a poster of Arnold Schwarzenegger starring in MacBeth, Asian businessmen running down the street away from the T-Rex, and the 76 gas station logo ball careening past Malcolm's bitchin' vintage Cadillac.

Of course a film that I highly disdain brings me out of my blogging break. I think the only reason this film was made was because Steven Spielberg and Jeff Goldblum needed to buy new vacation houses. I guess this film made Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite and Peter Stormare into slightly higher profiled actors, but that is not saying much. I think it would have been more interesting to watch how a T-Rex hijacked a freighter ship, including lowering itself into a cargo hole. Or watch Vince Vaughn work as both a Dinosaur Veterinarian and a representative for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Dinosaurs (PETD).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made (2004)

Repost from 2010. I now realize that this movie is a listicle in moving image format.

Dir. ???? || 2004 || USA

The Netflix Autoplay function is a both a blessing and a curse, particularly for its latest platform on video game systems such as the Wii. The game systems versions give you a limited amount of options, which means you still have to rely on the Netflix website to add films you want to watch on the game systems. There is no search function on the Netflix Wii. While you can of course access your instant queue, it's not like the options on the game system is giving you a ton of good movies to choose from. You may see a few of the films from the Criterion Collection, some actual enjoyable films, and actually a lot of pretty good TV shows; but mostly, you're seeing stuff you've never heard of and/or some truly bad movies. So it's really the equivalent of walking through a Blockbuster video store, just without the entire walls featuring fifty copies of whatever last summer's big movie was. That and I get the feeling that even Blockbuster would not even carry some of these films.

The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made is a short "documentary" that is a list of yeah, the 50 worst movies ever made. It features no talking heads, just clips of these films with the occasional interesting factoid, such as the director of Robot Monster attempted suicide after realizing what a terrible film he made, or that Burt Reynolds auditioned for the lead role in The Crawling Hand twice, but was considered too terrible to be cast. The film mostly focuses on films from the 1940s through the mid-1980s, and at least a third of the films were films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 at some point (the narrator even sounds like J. Elvis Weinstein from MST3K and Cinematic Titanic, but it's not him). It lists no source as to where this list comes from or who decided that these were the worst films ever made. It lists Troll, but not Troll 2, which is known as being considerably worse. And the fact this was made in 2004 and cuts its choices off in the mid-1980s allows it to miss say, The Room, The Picture of Dorian Gray (2002/2004), Zombie Nation, Silent Night Deadly Night 2, and The Happening. Not even Manos: Hands of Fate is on the list. I kind of have to wonder if this list was partially based on what films they could get clips for.

The documentary holds a particular bias and disdain for bad films where the monster is just a guy in a cheap gorilla suit. The only film it claims to be "so bad it's good" is TNT Jackson, a blaxploitation-kung fu film from the 1970s. All in all, it is not a bad way to spend an hour watching if you're bored, and some of the film clips are kind of fun, but this is not a particularly groundbreaking documentary on bad films, or why people watch them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Padackles, I love you, but you're bringing me down. Also, if you keep this up, I'm really leaving you for Doctor Who.

Repost from 2010.

The Christmas Cottage (a.k.a Thomas Kinkade's Home for Christmas)
Dir. Michael Campus || 2008 || USA (seriously, what did you expect, does any other country have a guy who calls himself "The Painter of Light"?)

Devour
Dir. David Winkler || 2005 || USA


There needs to be some sort of Oracle-like Twitter or Facebook page that tells you in 140-160 characters just how bad a movie is before you watch it. It could say that a film is "worse than stepping in dog shit while you're already late for work, but not as bad as watching the cast of The Room simulate sex" (or vice versa, depending on your taste) and other vague things that would at least give an idea what one is in for when they watch certain films. Yeah, there is Google and reading blogs, but having something that could be sent as text message moments before you hit "play" is best. At the very least it would serve as an indicator of how many breaks you would have to take while watching the movie, or how much alcohol may be required to get through it. It would take a mass effort, and some sort of database, but someone should make this happen.

In stupid whims to best some of my more stupid and masochistic whims, for Bad Movie Night at my house, I watched The Christmas Cottage and Devour back-to-back because they star Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles from Supernatural. I knew these films would be bad going in, and neither of these guys have great track records in their forays into film (Padalecki's is a tad better, even if they're mostly horror remakes). I'm no apologist, and I'm certainly not one of those Stans that harbors insane delusions that I'm going to marry them or that they're going to marry each other. Supernatural is a highly entertaining show and Padalecki and Ackles are very pretty men, and that's about as far as my interest goes.

I'm not sure much can be said about The Christmas Cottage. The Christmas Cottage is a film based on a Thomas Kinkade painting, or his life, or something. It falls somewhere between a wacky comedy about a quirky small town and your average Christmas movie that's about finding the true meaning of Christmas with a large dose of "we gotta save the *(insert structure here)*!". I think almost everyone but Padalecki and the people with actual acting honors were told that this was a comedy, and it sometimes seems as if the scenes were shot around Padalecki due to the high angle-reverse-angle shot and montage ratio. Marcia Gay Harden, Peter O'Toole and Ed Asner are there to give the film some sort of gravitas, but any attempts at gravitas or sentiment just makes things worse. There are so many subplots in this movie that after 20 minutes, it's not worth keeping up with.

The only scene of any worth is below, in a video response shot by Dustin Rowles of pajiba.com, and who provides his own laugh track. This is why Ackles is the only one who is allowed to cry in the Pretty Man Tears/"hell, let me tell you about my time there" scenes in Supernatural these past couple of seasons, while Padalecki just looks constipated.




Devour is something else, and I mean that in the most sarcastic and borderline abusive way possible, because this is a less watchable film than The Christmas Cottage. Someone should have informed Jensen Ackles that it's never a good sign when your co-stars are Shannyn Sossamon without her trademark short and sassy haircut, Dominique Swain, and a guy who looks like the result of Willie Aames, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Brad Dourif's spliced DNA; ergo, making Ackles the best looking person in the film. The plot of the film itself is the spliced DNA of The Omen and the numerous horror films about video games, websites or software that are evil and want to control you and make you question your reality (eXistenZ, Stay Alive). Like most films about evil video games, websites, or software, the filmmakers have nothing to say about the matter really and instead pull the "you're the son of Satan" card with some equally weak add-in about free will and a twist ending that revolves around incest. Instead of you know, maybe formulating an idea about why the film's particular video game, website, or software is evil or perhaps an allegory about how video games, the internet, or software may be evil in general, if you really want to try to state such a thing.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Jane Eyre (1944)

Repost from 2010.


Dir. Robert Stevenson || 1944 || USA

Jane Eyre, while possibly one of my favorite books, is not a novel without some issues or critical debates that still surround it today, mostly in regards to feminist and post-colonial issues that surround Jane as well as Rochester's first wife, Bertha Mason, and Jane's cousin St. John's mission to India, which at the time the novel was written, was a colony of Great Britain.

The 1944 film adaptation of Jane Eyre does a pretty good job of cutting some of the fat away from the novel, although it takes some of the more Gothic elements away as well, such as Jane being locked away in the scary "red room" at her Aunt Reed's house before she is sent to Lowood School as a child. The entire St. John storyline is cut as well, which is a mixed blessing in the film. On the one hand, St. John is an insufferable and overly moral bore who tries to convince Jane to marry him solely to help him with his mission work in India. On the other hand, it is at the end of the St. John section of the novel where Jane comes into money and sees fit to attempt to return to Rochester as an equal. In the film, it is barely implied that Jane returns to Rochester with her own money because she is the last living heir of her Aunt Reed (whose brood was reduced to one child in the film, instead of three in the novel). Her redemption, so to speak, comes from caring for her dying aunt who was so terrible to her as a child.

Jane and Rochester's relationship is slightly less complicated than it is in the novel, although the film highlights Jane's need to befriend and be kind to the "friendless", Rochester does not put her through nearly so much testing before proposing to her. Rochester does not accuse Jane of being otherworldly nearly as much as he does in the novel either. The film does sort of bring into question why Jane would fall in love with Rochester to begin with, other than she is clearly the only woman he can trust, to an extent. Rochester is "friendless" and Jane can see a kinship there because she was orphaned and friendless for her entire life. But without St. John around as a comparison point to show why Rochester would be preferable, despite his faults, the film feels slightly rushed.

I did not realize until watching this film for a second time that Orson Welles is wearing a fake nose. It is quite distracting. I think Jane Eyre is one of those films that everyone seems to think Welles directed, although he did not. The night scenes are very shadow heavy and there are some disorienting slanted shadows and angles going on around the castle at times, but those call to mind The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari slightly more than Citizen Kane.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Othello (2001)

Repost from 2010.

Dir. Geoffrey Sax || 2001 || UK (made for TV)

The late 90s/early 00s were a time of modern day re-imaginings of William Shakespeare's plays. Hollywood in particular released at least three re-imaginings set in modern-day American high schools (although in the 1996 Romeo + Juliet, they were apparently home schooled). 2001's Othello cannot and should not be confused with O, also released in 2001. O takes place in an American high school and for some unknown reason stars Josh Hartnett in the Iago role, and the film revolves around the politics of high school basketball. 2001's Othello takes place in modern day London, revolves around the politics of Scotland Yard, and stars Christopher Eccleston in the Iago role (here re-christened as "Ben Jago").

Othello does not bother with attempting to adapt all of Shakespeare's language to the modern day. It comes in snippets, most notably from Jago. Scotland Yard is in turmoil because of while publicly stating that they plan to hire more Black and Asian officers, the commissioner is caught saying racist things right afterwards. In the meantime, Inspector John Othello has quelled a riot in a multiracial project he grew up in after a suspected Black drug dealer is beat to death by four white cops. Assistant Commissioner Jago, Othello's mentor, waits in the wings to receive the Police Commissioner position after the current one resigns. Othello, of course, gets it instead so Scotland Yard can basically kill two birds with one stone in a PR move. Jago plots his revenge on Othello, despite his claims of loving him, by planting doubts in Othello's mind as to the faithfulness of his new wife, Desi; and undermining the investigation of the four white cops who beat the suspected drug dealer to death.

It is a compelling, poignant, and fitting adaptation. However, I am not sure it will hold up well to a second viewing. While Christopher Eccleston does a pretty good job as Jago (and he probably kills this role on stage), his one soliloquy is shot as a hyper-edited temper tantrum in a hallway, which ends with Jago walking out of Scotland Yard and saying "well, that was dramatic, wasn't it?" to the camera. Constantly having Jago break the fourth wall does not seem as an attempt to make Jago charming or sympathetic, but it does make him come off as Bugs Bunny when Bugs says "ain't I a stinker?". Worst of all, Jago gets his wish by the end of the film. He is not hauled off and arrested, like in the play, and the sole source of comfort in the wake of all the bodies on the floor by the end (the death count is considerably less in this film). What the film is trying to say, I am not quite sure. Is it that manipulation is harder to prove in modern times? Is it that cunts are still running the world, to quote Jarvis Cocker? Evil will prevail? It is a depressing ending, made more so by the sinking feeling that I have that somewhere on the internet, someone has written fan fiction based on this film that has given Jago the "Draco in leather pants" treatment just because Eccleston was Doctor Who, a role where he divided his dramatic and apparent comedic talents well.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Over Her Dead Body (2008)

Repost from 2010. I think I only watched this because Misha Collins is briefly in it and this was at the height of my obsession with Supernatural...a show which I have not watched since 2011.

Dir. Jeff Lowell || 2008 || USA

Over Her Dead Body exemplifies the worst ideas and stereotypes I have of modern romantic comedies: that they are full of shrill, bland, unlikeable, and crazy people who I hope do not exist in real life. If I think about it too much, the idea that people pay $10 to see these things will make me an even bigger misanthrope than I already am.

Over Her Dead Body's plot is thus: Eva Longoria-Parker plays a bridezilla of sorts who gets crushed by her own ice sculpture on her wedding day. A year later, her still-despondent fiance, played by a slumming-it Paul Rudd, is convinced by his Manic Pixie Dream Girl-esque sister to start dating again and to see this acquaintance of  hers that is a psychic caterer, played by Lake Bell. While a psychic connection sort of fails, the sister gives the psychic caterer bridezilla's diary so that she can convince Rudd that she is psychic and can speak to his dead fiancee. The psychic caterer and Rudd fall in love, Eva Longoria-as-a-ghost wreaks havoc on the psychic caterer and they are torn apart by the reveal of the diary thing, and it ends with a reunion in an airport after Longoria realizes that she would want her fiance to be happy.

Again, Lake Bell plays a psychic caterer. It is never explained how or why she thinks she has psychic powers, and all we ever learn is that she is a lapsed Catholic, because she calls her priest to perform an exorcism at one point. It is also never explained whether she gets catering customers by using her psychic powers to tell them which competitors will give them food poisoning.

It's a pretty boring movie, and I only laughed once because of one of Longoria's pranks. Everyone in this movie, with the exception of Stephen Root, is bland or unlikeable. Paul Rudd manages to be both bland and unlikeable, which is unusual for him because he tends to have a lively presence in his films. His character is not interesting or funny and he seems to kind of hate his job as a veterinarian. He is just there for two women to fight over, and there is no reason to fight over him. You can tell that he doesn't want to be in this film, and that this is either a favor or that he needs money to put his kid into a good school. Lake Bell seems to be trying, but she is always bland, and I for one am always confusing her with the equally odd-named Piper Perabo, or Amanda Peet. Eva Longoria is just playing an extension of her character on Desperate Housewives. Jason Biggs is around as Bell's bland and unfunny catering business partner, who is a straight guy pretending that he is gay because he is in love with Bell's character and has been for five years. Even his comic pratfalls are awful. Ugh.

Over Her Dead Body has perhaps two things going for it. Rudd's character does call out the antics of his Manic Pixie Dream Girl sister, and accuses her of doing crazy things just because she wants to prove that she is right (this includes, after the diary reveal, kidnapping her neighbor's cat to bring it to her brother, the veterinarian because she thinks this will break the ice and make him not be mad at her anymore). And the actress who plays the sister is of course a ringer for Zooey Deschanel. And when Rudd flees to the airport to stop the psychic caterer before she flies to Las Vegas for a weekend with her not-gay business partner/best friend, he ends up paying over $1200 just to get a ticket to the gate because he pisses off the ticket counter lady. Although it is never explained how or why these characters know which carrier and which gate their beloveds are at when these things happen in movies.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dolls (1987) & Child's Play (1988)

Repost from 2010.

Dolls: Dir. Stuart Gordon || 1987 || USA
Child's Play: Dir. Tom Holland || 1988 || USA

Released a year apart from each other, Dolls (1987) and Child's Play (1988) both feature children from broken homes whom no one believes, murderous dolls; and at the very least, light criticism or jabs at the toy industry, Child's Play moreso than Dolls. Child's Play is the darker of the two films, while Dolls is more of a campy fairytale.

Dolls is meant to be an odd fairytale of sorts, what with its wicked stepmother, magical house with an old couple, and overall message about not losing one's childlike wonder, even in the face of death and destruction. It's a little too gory at times to show to children, but maybe pre-teens may not be too scared by it. Overall it has a lighter and campier nature, setting the stage for all the other evil doll films that Charles Band would later produce via Full Moon Pictures. Band produced this and most of Stuart Gordon's films in the 80s and 90s. The story revolves around Judy, a little girl who is vacationing in Italy with her inattentive and borderline abusive father and her new wicked and wealthy stepmother. Their car gets stuck in the mud one evening and they along with a nice guy and two Madonna-wannabes, find a house belonging to two elderly dollmakers. Only Judy and Ralph the nice guy marvel at the dolls and toys, so as predicted, everyone else gets to encounter the darker side of the dolls as the night progresses. Dolls takes a light jab at the manufactured toy industry early on, but mostly plays up the inherent creepiness of older and handmade dolls. While I believe the film peaks 10 minutes in with the brilliant killer teddy bear scene, it is a fun film to watch.

Child's Play is an odd film with a few tonal shifts that veer from satire, horror, and a vague and somewhat gritty realism. While I have not seen all of Child's Play 2 and 3, I have seen the more recent sequels Bride of Chucky and Seed of Chucky, which exist entirely on camp. The first film sets the tone a bit for the later films, especially in the beginning when the film shows the little boy watching the Good Guys cartoon that encourages children to beg their parents to buy the dolls and accessories, while he is already wearing Good Guys pajamas and eating their franchised cereal. The Good Guys dolls are clearly based on the My Buddy dolls that were popular in the 1980s and meant for little boys (the Kid Sister doll were meant for girls), although I don't remember if there was a cartoon associated with the doll. Those toys always seemed to be advertised to lonely children, without siblings or friends, and the film plays up that idea, as if a doll, even a large one, is a replacement for a friend or sibling.  Being that it is his birthday, he guilts his mother, who is a single widow that works at a department store, into buying him a Good Guys doll for his birthday. The dolls normally cost $100 (!!!), but his mother is able to buy one from a homeless guy in the alley of her store for the shocking low price of $30. It is after this scene that the film loses its elements of light satire and realism (because if the mom had been like mine, she just would have said, "no, I can't afford to buy you a doll that costs $100"), because of course, we all know that the doll the mother has bought is no ordinary doll, but a doll possessed with the soul of a serial killer who just happened to die in a shootout in a toy store the night before. Which, while kind of spooky, is also silly. I can see why the more recent films veered into pure camp, because killer doll movies are hard to take seriously.

Nonetheless, Child's Play doesn't go where I thought it would, which would be to have the other characters demonize the single working mom. That seemed to be a favorite past time of some groups in the 1980s, so score another one for the general open-mindedness of horror. The child is more demonized, at least by the other authority figures in the film; and he is placed in a psychiatric hospital. Mom eventually pieces it all together and convinces the cop to help (which he only does after being attacked by Chucky). It is also in the first film that the sequels are set up, since by the third act, Chucky begins his long and often interrupted quest to possess the soul of a human.

Child's Play has aged well, or better than it has any right to. I think it is due in part to having two Oscar-nominated actors in the cast, although you still have to wonder how the hell actors like Chris Sarandon and Brad Dourif got into a film about a killer doll. This wasn't Sarandon's first time at the horror rodeo; but unless you count The Eyes of Laura Mars, it was for Dourif. And he since become one of the go-to guys for horror, although he still has roles in higher profile or higher quality films. The film also stars Catherine Hicks as the mother, and while she isn't bad, this is mostly amusing because she later went on to play the mom on the WB/CW Christian family drama series 7th Heaven.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Slumber Party Massacre III (1990)

Repost from 2011. This really is the most fucked up film of the series. I think I refused to re-watch it during my research two years ago, it was that bad.

Dir. Sally Mattison || 1990 || USA

Somewhat mercifully, we come to the last film in the Slumber Party Massacre series. John Carpenter once said that Halloween was not intended to become a series of films, but if he had had his way, each film would have been a different story with different characters, not just Michael Myers, Dr. Loomis, and an occasional Strode family member (granted, the one attempt to do this, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, failed and only since the late 90s or early 00s has it been praised). Slumber Party Massacre is proof that sometimes having the constant presence or link to the original film is for the better, because the only thing that links this series together is girls and large drills. Much to my sadness, the third film does not focus on a math and science team full of teenage girls, just so the series can tackle one more area where girls and women are under-represented. Slumber Party Massacre III also suffers from the inverse problem of the second film: awful first 50-60 minutes, decent last 20-30 minutes.

The basic story opens with a group of teenagers who look like they have not seen the inside of a high school for 5-15 years playing volleyball at the beach. A grungy, gothy Swede watches and the girls decide he is creepy; a clean-cut med student watches, and they decide he is cute. Such are the days before Alexander Skarsgard. The girls plan a slumber party for that night apparently because one of the girls is moving away soon. The boys plan to crash the party. There is also a creepy neighbor. If you think at least one guy sees the girls topless through the window and this all ends in a showdown inside the house, you would be correct.

This movie is very big on red herrings and Chekov's Gun. However, it fails on both and especially the latter. I almost wish this movie was about a girls' math and science team that could figure out how to rig a gigantic swordfish from a fixture within 30 seconds to maim the killer as soon as he enters the room. Otherwise, why mention and show the gigantic swordfish? This could almost be forgiven, because someone is killed with a realtor's post and a plug-in vibrator. There is a harpoon shot to the leg, but that's not as awesome as the possibility of swordfish through the gut. Someone just needs to write an adaptation of the Teen Girl Squad cartoons, where I do believe someone was "swordfish'd".



Is this film feminist? I guess it gets points for implied cunnilingus and the appearance of a vibrator*, and girls lasting longer than the boys in the fighting the killer department, but that's about it. This film also has the most useless cops since Black Christmas, the awful joke being that they ignore the calls that the girls make throughout the night, even after the first murder. But as soon as the creepy (white) neighbor dude calls, the police say they'll be right on it. Nevermind the fact that the killer in this film is just as psychotic as the one in the first film, killing one girl in the middle of the street, and one guy on the front porch fairly early on in the film. I guess slashers are supposed to mystify the notion that the suburbs are safer than the city, but this is a bit much. I find it a bit hard to believe that on any given Friday or Saturday night, all adults or parents on the block are out of town or having a date night. Of course, this film has some points against it as to why it might not be a feminist film afterall.


[SPOILERS AHEAD]

I mentioned in the post on the first Slumber Party Massacre film that in Carol Clover's book, she mentions in the afterword that the screenwriter of Slumber Party Massacre III changed the script  a bit after reading an early release of the first chapter of Clover's book. The film does go into psychology a bit more than the other two films, but in the offhand way that the first film does. The killer, Ken the med student, is the nephew of a cop who recently committed suicide. It is implied by one of the stupid cops that he may have committed suicide because he was gay. Perhaps not to make the film seem too homophobic, the second cop responds something along the lines of "that's not a reason to kill yourself." Like the rest of the series, sex is a psychological issue. Ken is either 1) impotent or 2) a eunuch...like a Ken doll. It's implied that Ken was molested by his uncle, who raised him after his parents died. Or something. But if that's the case, it's a homophobic line to take, equating homosexuality with wanting to molest children. There are a lot of gaps because Ken is psychotic, but he is more verbal than the killer from the first film. He says odd things to the girls as he attacks them. In one of the more disturbing scenes of the film (or ever), the skinny girl with the Elvira hair, Maria, tries to appease him and get him to talk about what happened to him while he starts molesting her. The other girls just watch, although Ken has been blinded by bleach and has frequently been brained by lamps and other glass objects in the house. Maria does try to reach for a weapon while he's on top of her, but meets her death because she grabs for his crotch, thinking that it would appease him more. The surviving girls only use his blindness to their advantage after Maria is dead. Throughout the course of the last 20-30 minutes, the girls go out of their way to try to save or help one another, even if this usually means braining Ken with a large glass object while he looms over one of the other girls. So why the hell could no one help Maria while Ken was seriously looming over her? Is it because it is sort of implied that she's barely out of high school and working in seedy joints (either as a waitress or a stripper), being picked up by 50 year old men? Because she takes her clothes off? What? If the makers of the film went so far as to keep her alive until the last 5-10 minutes of the film, have her be clever enough to actually use some psychology on the killer, why not have her friends try to save her too? It tends to undermine the running theme of the series, which this film takes on more than the second film, which is girls helping each other in times of danger or need. Granted, the helping is futile in the series, but at least for Slumber Party Massacre III, the girls seem to make a better go of fighting and surviving longer than most.

The only other thing that could at the very least, link it to the first film is how absolutely devastated and shocked the girl who kills Ken looks after the other survivor girl stops her after she's driven the large drill into Ken's torso at least a dozen times, only to see that her best friend who was barely alive after Ken stabbed her, pass on next to him. It's not unlike Valerie in the first film. The irony is that the cops arrive after she has killed Ken for good, also not understanding that Ken managed to lock the girls inside the house so that they couldn't get out (save for one girl who threw herself through a glass patio door, only to injure herself before her murder). These films are not known for having stellar acting, but the lead actress does well in the final scene. You understand that this girl is not going to be all right ever again.

I say the last 20-30 minutes of Slumber Party Massacre III are decent because it's interesting, but almost interesting in a bad way just for all the messed up stuff that goes on. It really is a run-of-the-mill slasher film until the last half hour, then it drops one dude's disturbing psychological issues on you. Most other slasher series just dumped it on you in the first film, then stayed mindless for the rest of the series, however long it went on. Since there is very little consistency between the three Slumber Party Massacre films (other than how the second film is weakly linked to the first), it was as if the makers of each sequel was trying to re-invent the wheel in a slightly different fashion. Or they were just told by Roger Corman "I don't care as long as it has girls, tits, and a really big drill that serves as a metaphor for penises!"*

* What are words that are not going to help with the current onslaught my blog has gotten lately from porn site (spam)bots?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Slumber Party Massacre II (1987)

Repost from 2011.

Dir. Deborah Brock || 1987 || USA

Slumber Party Massacre II is a weird amalgamation of the first film, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Driller Killer, with a healthy dose of a fear of losing one's virginity and/or penises, I'm not sure which. It's perhaps only notable for starring Crystal Bernard of the late 80s/early 90s sitcom Wings, the lady who played Veronica Sawyer's mom in Heathers, and a smattering of people who acted in slasher films throughout the mid-80s.

The film begins about five years after the first film, and focuses on Courtney, the little sister from the first film. Valerie's in a psychiatric hospital, and Courtney has a lot of nightmares about that night five years ago, but still functions as a normal teenager. She's even in a rock band with three other girls. And while their band only has one song, their song is better than everything else on the soundtrack, whose definition of "rock 'n' roll" is bad 1950s doo-wop songs filtered through the 1980s need to recreate such songs. The band decides to go to the singer's parents' new condo for the weekend to practice their song(s) for the upcoming school dance. Throughout the weekend, which is also Courtney's 17th birthday, her nightmares that concern a rocker dude with a gigantic drill on his guitar get worse.

If Slumber Party Massacre gets called a feminist horror film based on its little details, then the sequel cuts those little details by at least three-fourths. The girls in the film are in a decent band in a 80s Go-Gos-Bangles sort of way, and whether they are faking it or not, they're not bad with playing instruments (Crystal Bernard wrote a song for Paula Abdul around this time that appeared on her first album). The few boys in the film actually seem to enjoy watching the girls practice their song(s). SPMII is surprisingly less given to copious T&A shots, unlike the first film. Like the first film, there isn't too much shaming going on when one character just wants to have sex with her boyfriend, even if her boyfriend is the most annoying person in the film with his bad valley or surfer dude dialect. Also like the first film, most of the kids are pretty nice or normal and try to help each other when the killer finally shows up, even if their attempts are the most short and futile out of all the films. And despite how little goes on in the film, the sequel a bit better paced than the first film, although it is not as technically adventurous. The shots are quite boring; and there quite a lot of perspective and "play to the camera" shots, to the point where it seems as if they just called in actors one or two at at time to shoot or re-shoot.

Where SPMII fails story-wise however, is that for much of the film, it is unclear whether the killer rocker guy is real; and that he is an awful, unfunny rendition of Freddy Krueger prone to ridiculous dance moves, even whilst stalking the teens (what rockabilly breakdances?). The film often tips its hat to other slasher films. In the one holdover from the first film, Courtney's last name is "Bates", but the Devereaux household's name is changed to "Craven". Two police officers who stop by the condo are named "Krueger" and "Voorhees". I'm not sure if these references were considered clever in the 80s. SPMII is not the first 80s horror film to do this, but I find the references annoying as an audience member 20+ years later. Anyway, the film is too short to build up an obvious world or idea that the rocker dude can shift between the dream and real world, or why exactly he is stalking the Bates sisters and Courtney's friends. Or why he is a rocker with a drill on his guitar rather than something resembling the killer in the first film. I almost would have preferred a more obvious cop-out that the film seems to set up more as it goes on, which would make Courtney the killer. When Courtney dreams of the rocker, it is also when she is dreaming of Matt, her crush who resembles a poor man's Guy Pearce. It gives play to the idea that Courtney is secretly afraid of losing her virginity or is afraid of penises. The rocker hints that he has killed Valerie in the hospital and that he is the only guy that Courtney is meant to "go all the way" with. It makes no sense, but I guess Deborah Brock is no Rita Mae Brown in the writing skills department, or maybe something else was going on for the film's ending to be so haphazard. We're never told if Valerie has died in the psychiatric hospital. Valerie's fate in general is sad enough, so it would be nice to know if she is dead. The film has two or three endings that all infer slightly different things while setting it up for a sequel featuring the rocker again.

Slumber Party Massacre II is not a bad film for the first 50-60 of its 70 minutes. There is one instance of pretty good special effects where one girl's imagined pimple grows to cover most of her face, then explodes. It just has a very confused story with perhaps some mixed messages about sex.



Thursday, May 29, 2014

Double Feature (on a disc!): A Real Friend & X-Mas Tale (a.k.a. Christmas Tale) (2006)

Repost from 2011.

A Real Friend 
Dir. Enrique Urbizu || 2006 || Spain

A Real Friend focuses on a lonely little latchkey girl named Estrella who loves horror stories and films; and whose imaginary friends consist of Leatherface of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a vampire. But as it turns out, the vampire may be real and dangerous. Estrella's mother is a nurse and soon men who either want to have sex with her or do have sex with her end up dead. While somewhat slow, the movie stays interesting until the final 10-15 minutes of its 75 minute run when the twist is further revealed. Then of course, it twists again, and it leaves more questions than answers. The twist and overall film is a bit more artfully done than say, Slumber Party Massacre II, but it's a bit messy leaving the questions of whether it was all in Estrella's overactive imagination, if any of the characters actually exist, or is this just a way for Estrella to deal with the fact that maybe her mom is still a prostitute? You know, things of that nature.

But points for having Leatherface be someone's imaginary friend. I know I would normally balk at the idea of Leatherface being anyone's friend, but it was kind of cute and well done.

X-Mas Tale
Dir. Paco Plaza || 2006 || Spain

X-Mas Tale is a film about a group of kids in the 1980s who watch way too many movies. It's a bizarre and dark take on films from the 80s where a ragtag group of kids takes on a bad guy like E.T. and The Goonies. A group of kids encounter a female bank robber in a Santa suit who has fallen into a hole in the woods where they play. They first try to go to the police, where they are ignored, only to discover that she is a currently wanted bank robber. A couple of the kids decide that they want to hold her hostage in the hole until she tells them where the money is, and the others reluctantly go along with it. It escalates badly from there, including attempting to deny the woman food and other care. The sole female member of the group tries to bring her food, but it is often taken by the meaner boys. The meaner boys after watching the film-within-the-film Zombie Invasion, perform a voodoo ritual over the hole one night. So after the woman does get out of the hole and starts stalking them with an axe, they decide that she is a zombie. And still, it escalates, and has a twist ending, but one not nearly as semi-hopeful as A Real Friend, although how you perceive the ending probably depends on how you look at things such as disturbed children.

Plaza is best known as the co-director of the [REC] films, and this film is a bit more visually dazzling than A Real Friend. He does capture the 80s retro style better than say, House of the Devil, which was primarily hyped as being an 80s throwback film based on the appearances of puffy vests, an early Sony Walkman, and squeeze bottle cozies. Plaza also captures the sheer loneliness of being the only girl in a group of boys. But this is an unpleasant film just because of how terrible most of the children are. Plaza does throw shades to the audience to acknowledge that these children are not old enough to have a definite moral compass, that their overwatching of films and TV is what is teaching them their moral compass since they seem to see little of their parents for some reason (the police are either shown from behind or from the waist down, but Plaza doesn't go as far as having the adults speak like the adults in Peanuts cartoons) and that perhaps police overhype how dangerous some people actually are; but he doesn't excuse the children's actions either. The fact that this movie takes place around Christmas holds little bearing. It is mentioned a few times, but there are no scenes of the children opening presents with their families or learning the meaning of Christmas. It is shown that most of the children, if anything, already own too many toys and things.

So neither of these films, while prominently featuring children, are actually meant for children to watch. A Real Friend does have brief sex scenes in it, and X-Mas Tale has a lot of cursing in Spanish. Both of these films were apparently made for Spanish television.

(And yes, because of X-Mas Tale, this had been in my Netflix queue since December, and due to a combination of my laziness with watching Netflix DVD's now and queue factors was this sent to me in February!)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Itty Bitty Titty Committee (2007)

Repost from 2011, when I was probably still working out my past in zines and feminist art collectives. I have been spending a lot of time lately reworking and rewriting a paper I wrote last year on Born in Flames and while I still think Itty Bitty Titty Committee is a cute, friendly film, it really is kind of gutless compared to Born in Flames. Then again, most things are.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dir. Jamie Babbit || 2007 || USA

Jamie Babbit's Itty Bitty Titty Committee at times feels like a lighter, more focused and coherent (and let's face it, whiter, especially for a film that takes place in Los Angeles) post-riot grrrl millenial version of Lizzie Borden's Born in Flames. The film focuses on a Los Angeles feminist art collective called Clits in Action (CiA) and their ambition to spread the word about feminism and their collective while dealing with a whole lot of lesbian drama. Having been in a few creative feminist collectives myself, I would say that the film does a decent job of displaying the frustrations of doing such activities; but at the same time, it's lacking a few elements, like haters who never do any work and meetings that just turn into long bitch sessions (not to be confused with Consciousness Raising). Former supermodel Jenny Shimizu strolls around once an act with a snide comment, but she's not a part of the collective, she just lives in their warehouse headquarters.

At the same time, I want to say that this is a truly escapist film for feminists and lesbians. There is a scene around the end of the second act or beginning of the third act where Meat, who supplies most of the art for the collective tells the other members that the only people looking at their website is them. The group is already tense due to an uptick in lesbian drama and the fact that their most outspoken member Shulamith got them in the news for brawling with a Christian woman at a gay marriage rally (where CiA went to try to tell everyone that marriage altogether should be abolished, thereby having the media portray them as anti-gay [marriage]). Of course the group disbands in the next scene, and of course our protagonist Anna comes up with an outlandish plan to get the collective back together as well as make it notorious. Parts of the last act of the film are eerily like the last act in Born in Flames, but much giddier and silly with presumably no deaths for the national monument that they destroy. The collective apparently grows and expands, everyone's happy! In real life, the entire group would be arrested on terrorist charges or the collective would not have banded back together at all to begin with. See, Itty Bitty Titty Committee is good escapist fare!

From an old organizer and promoter perspective, I think what the CiA lacked was self-awareness. They were a painfully insular group, and I say this having been in some painfully insular collectives and subcultures myself. They have zines and fliers made up promoting the collective, but the only new member brought in for the entire film is Anna and maybe Calvin, an honorably discharged female soldier and explosives expert they pick up on the way to the gay marriage rally in Sacramento. Then they complain that no one is paying attention to them and their acts of guerilla art, but they're not shown posting fliers around town. The zines that they have aren't even stapled or rubberbanded (but at least the insides looked like a real zine...and the film's opening credits are based on zine and '77 punk aesthetics). I know Los Angeles in the past decade has not been a bastion for zinemaking, but there are several scenes in the film where the women are at some punk bar that has shows with female musicians and are full of women. That element I know was somewhat true of Los Angeles in the past decade, so why not hand out fliers and zines there? For all the old riot grrrl music played throughout the film, you would think they would pick up on some old riot grrrl promotion tactics. To their merit, Anna does slip the CiA's zines into the beauty magazines in the lobby of the plastic surgery clinic she works at, which is an old riot grrrl tactic. But when she later tries to convince a client who wants a boob job (Melanie Lynskey from Heavenly Creatures) not to go through with it, she gets a blank stare. This film somewhat caters to some basic Feminism 101 ideas, so there are no gray areas for their to be room to say "well, if you're into letting a woman choose what to do with her body as far as babies go, then you kind of have to accept the idea that some women want to put silicone, collagen, and other weird things into their bodies too." And considering this film came out in the mid-2000s, let's face it, they needed a Myspace page. That's how you spread the word about stuff in 2006 or 2007, even if Myspace was on its way out by early 2008. But there was not even an obnoxious rant about how Rupert Murdoch owns Myspace and it is therefore a tool of the conservative patriarchy. But then again, having Myspace in your film is how you automatically date it, even 3 or 4 years later ('sup Diary of the Dead?).

Itty Bitty Titty Committee is a fun little film.  It's friendly to young feminists and lesbians while not being a total bore for ones that are a little older (if anything, some of Shulamith and Anna's behavior made me cringe - I remember being that obnoxious about certain issues in my early 20s). The only thing that grated on my nerves is that the soundtrack was too dedicated to two musical projects each by Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker. Radio Sloan of The Need "composed" the soundtrack. Yes, both women have had some cool bands (and some better than others - Le Tigre hasn't aged well) for the past 15 years, but there are other bands out there! It doesn't and didn't start and end with Kathleen Hanna and Corin Tucker!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dolly Dearest (1992)

Repost from 2011.

Dir. Maria Lease || 1992 || USA

Apparently made in the post-Child's Play glut of killer doll films, Dolly Dearest tends to fall flat and become quite dull when we're not watching the doll wreak havoc on the family or the Mexican people employed at either their house or the small rundown doll factory that the father owns and runs. Maybe this film is a metaphor for keeping work in the US instead of going to another country to take advantage of cheap labor and factories.

Much like Child's Play, the dolls are possessed, but not by a serial killer. They are possessed by the spirit of a child devil worshipped by a group of ancient Satanists.* Archeologist Rip Torn (sporting a weak Mexican accent until he has to forcefully yell at someone) investigates the tomb neighboring the doll factory after his friend and co-worker dies in the tomb. His death unleashed the spirit of the child devil via sub-Ghostbusters technology, and the spirit found its way into the doll factory, where the last owner left a dozen or so set of dolls that all looked alike. The family of the new factory owner settles into their house. Jessica, the daughter, is given a doll from the factory and becomes immediately attached to it. Then she starts displaying weird behavior. The film can never quite settle on whether Jessica is possessed or not. I get the feeling the child actress was hired primarily on her resemblance to Drew Barrymore when she was a child. The mom is the only one who notices the change. Poor mom is forced to stay at home all day and unpack their belongings.

Like I mentioned before, there is not enough crazy doll action to make this film worthwhile. The doll contorts her face and yells to surprise all her victims before attacking. It's funny. Also funny is that the doll's giggle sounds like the noise of blowing bubbles into a drink. Unfortunately, Dolly Dearest is too caught up in subplots for there to be much doll action at all.

At least the mom had some nice clothes:




*March is not only Women's History Month, but apparently Satanists month here at the blog. I'm going to have to create a tag before March is over.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sherlock Holmes (2010...no, not that one, the other one)

Repost from 2011.

a.k.a. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes || Dir. Rachel Lee Goldenberg || 2010 || UK & US

Oh, where to begin? To its merit, the 2010 Sherlock Holmes (released direct-to-DVD approximately a month after the 2009 Sherlock Holmes helmed by Guy Ritchie and starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law) is shorter than the Ritchie version (which was too damn long), has a color scheme, and a tiny T-Rex. It's co-produced by The Asylum, makers of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus and other cheap quickie cash-ins like the soon-to-be-released Battle of Los Angeles, a response to the new film starring Aaron Eckhart Battle: Los Angeles. The former stars Kel Mitchell (of the 1990s Nickelodeon show Kenan and Kel) and Nia Peeples, in case you were wondering where they went off to.

To its demerit...while I've seen very few Sherlock Holmes adaptations, I can pretty much trust that this film has the worst Sherlock ever. He's not authoritative, quirky, or awesome. He's a jackass with the wussiest English accent ever in the history of English accents, real or otherwise. He's not even an awesome jackass that you can respect like the two more recent takes of Sherlock by Downey or Benedict Cumberbatch of TV's Sherlock. I kept wanting Watson to dropkick him off of a cliff in retaliation to all of the bullying he suffers from the pipsqueak Holmes. But Watson just kind of quietly scowls at him, not even bringing the disgusted eyerolls like Law or Martin Freeman. At least tiny T-Rex bodyslams Holmes against a wall once, and causes smashed glass to injure his leg. Go, T-Rex, go!

The story and characterization is weak and not exactly canon as far as I can tell having just read Doyle's short stories on Holmes. Watson, forever getting the brunt in this film, is often mistreated and disrespected by Lastrade. Lastrade and Holmes get along better than they do in most stories, and Holmes treats Lastrade better than he does Watson.  Mycroft (or not Mycroft?) is given a lower status than he has in most adaptations and was a simple cop before he was injured. In his spare time, Mycroft apparently makes dragon robots, suicide bomber Victorian sexbots, and copper robot suits that resemble Iron Man's.

Much like Dolly Dearest, the film loses any sense of fun or awesomeness when the tiny T-Rex is not around wreaking havoc around London. Tiny T-Rex, like the doll in Dolly Dearest, tends to spring up out of nowhere, mouth agape, and kills brutally. In one scene, it appears that he has eaten the face off of a shopkeeper who resembles Karl Pilkington.

In case you were doubting my claims of a tiny T-Rex, here is the T-Rex springing into frame before it eats the shopkeeper:



 So it's not exactly the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, that's for sure.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tank Girl (1995)

Dir. Rachel Talalay || 1995 || USA

I remember liking Tank Girl as a teen in the 1990s, but looking at it now, it's easy to see what a mess this film is. It's not an odd or even fully enjoyable mess, and it's only occasionally amusing. It can't be chalked up to inexperience or disinterest in the source material, qualities that tend to factor into the better comic book films; because Talalay was an experienced director at this point and did like the material. But by all accounts, there was a lot of studio interference with the film because up until this past decade, very few people knew what to do with comic books or graphic novels as source material. The film is live action, but it also has clips from the comic books and animation sequences.

Most post-apocalyptic films tend to have a timeless quality to them, no matter what decade they were made in. Tank Girl is so 90s it hurts. The situation that the film takes place in is timeless - where a comet hit Earth and it hasn't rained in 11 years, so water is high in demand and only a select few has access to it. But everything else is 90s. Considering that one of the first places I was introduced to Tank Girl was an article in Harper's Bazaar, the fashion magazine (yeah, I read this as a teen, what?), the film is very high on costume changes (IMDB counts 18 for Lori Petty as Tank Girl) and it's all very punk-grunge-pseudo-riot grrrl. Even The Rippers dress in 90s clothing (flannel shirts and t-shirts, one Ripper looks like a half-man-half-kangaroo member of Color Me Badd). It's funny that in the comic's revival in the mid-2000s by IDW Publishing, Tank Girl was drawn as wearing a lot of 1980s power suits because the reasoning was along the lines of "a lot of people still dress like Tank Girl from the 1990s, it's no longer edgy." The soundtrack, supervised by Courtney (Love, Love-Cobain, whatever she's calling herself now) is sort of a mix of good 90s music and music that never made it past that decade, along with some bizarre covers (like Devo covering Soundgarden's cover of Devo's "Girl U Want", or something).

Tank Girl is an overwhelmingly cartoon-y film. And yeah, Tank Girl is a cartoon character even in the comics, but on film it's ridiculous. The film just meanders. The sense of urgency towards saving the little girl that lived with Tank Girl is never there because of all the side missions that are jokes and costume changes. It would almost be a parody if the film could settle on anything whatsoever, other than being a valentine to Tank Girl as a fashion icon of sorts, and occasionally her other positive attributes; like being a good friend or being a loud-mouthed and brave woman.

The one thing that I will give the film is that for much of the film, Tank Girl and Jet Girl (Naomi Watts!) have realistically post-apocalyptic water shortage greasy hair. Do you know how rare that is in post-apocalyptic films? Although Tank Girl's makeup rarely smudges, even when being in a torture chamber for what seems like a couple of days.



Monday, May 12, 2014

My New Favorite Bad Movie: Revenge of the Living Dead Girls (1987)

Repost from 2011.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dir. Peter B. Harsone || 1987 || France

Revenge of the Living Dead Girls is perhaps my new favorite bad movie. I have been watching some Jean Rollin films on Netflix Watch Instantly this summer, and RotLDG is likely just a trashier retread of his films (also lacking the atmosphere and melancholy that are in Rollin's films), with perhaps only a vague knowledge of how film zombies typically work. Granted, European zombies have always been a little different. The zombies in Italy's Nightmare City and Burial Ground: Nights of Terror work together to terrorize and catch their human prey, sometimes even using tools and weapons. A running theme through the Rollin films I have watched so far and RotLDG is that the dead were brought back to life via toxic spills, so there is the element of environmentalism to these films. RotLDG is part corporate espionage thriller, part zombie film, and part revenge movie that is almost constantly on the verge of turning into a softcore porn.

The version on Netflix Watch Instantly claims that it is the "Special Uncut Edition", which cannot be true. The film only clocks in at 73 minutes and the last 5-10 minutes of the film are extremely rushed and haphazardly put together; introducing not only Catholic priests who believe the zombie girls are the work of the devil, but random townspeople who are out to destroy the three zombie girls. There are disparities to how the zombie girls look (the main one has full makeup that covers her hands, while the sidekicks do not seem to warrant the full treatment and have living human hands), disparities to how they move (slow, then fast) - and such disparities are not limited to just the three zombie girls. The humans in the film seem to suffer from intelligence and motivation issues that vary at any given moment. In one of the weirder scenes of the film, our supposed human hero who is a chemist that works for the corporation, arrives to the house of his boss because he is having an affair with his wife. Little does he know that the zombie girls just dispatched her (for the zombies seem to run on the old adage, "I'll kill your family, then you"). Our chemist, not realizing anything is wrong, proceeds to drink one glass of champagne, gives a short monologue that seems to revolve around the fantasy that he and the boss' middle-aged wife are newlyweds and she's a virgin (it includes the line "I'm going to caress my expert hands all over your virgin body")...and he fucks the main zombie girl. For the rest of the film, he only has a vague notion of what may have happened and it's apparently not that big of a deal. A messed up hand that's becoming infected? No big deal! Your cute, but dumb wife manages to miscarry her near full-term pregnancy and/or the fetus and uterus turns itself inside-out? Crazy and disgusting; but since this comes in the last 5-10 minutes of the film, this is also no big deal. I know everyone has different tolerance levels for alcohol of any sort, but one glass of champagne typically does not lead to necrophilia.

It is sometimes easy to forget as an American just how good the Europeans are with making trashy films. Revenge of the Living Dead Girls does suffer from some pacing issues, which are basically most of the corporate espionage parts. The gorier and trashier parts (such as the zombie girls having a murderous lesbian sex scene with the prostitute in the film) are somewhat sprinkled throughout the film almost as an afterthought, as if the filmmakers and editors knew that the audience would get bored. Since I cannot find even a solid page on Wikipedia on this film, it is hard to tell if there are other versions of this film out there and if this is one of the many European horror films that were cut up several times in the 1980s and have several different edits to please whatever restrictions a particular country may have against gore, violence, necrophilia, hinted male rape and lesbian zombie group sex/rape onto a female human. I would be interested in hearing any information anyone may have on this movie. I do believe that there has to be a slightly better version of this film out there (and yes, the ending is somewhat bananas in the scheme of film zombies and what they can do).


George Romero did not in fact invent swimming and/or pool zombies. The odd and kind of cool thing about this scene is that the main zombie (the middle one) keeps splashing her hand in the water either as a sign of impatience, to signal the other two zombies as to when to attack, or to just see if the humans would hear. It is at least a sign that someone was trying.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)


Dir. Donald Petrie || 2003 || USA

Preface #1
One of my interests this past year-and-a-half has been how it is really becoming rather impossible to ascribe one type of ideology or another to a film. Most films, almost regardless of whether or not they are produced in Hollywood seem to attempt to espouse both conservative and liberal ideologies (to use the most basic dichotomy of ideologies). However, this is not to say that How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days has an ideology at all, because I am not even sure the film ultimately has a point.

Preface #2
About two months ago, I was traveling for work and staying in a hotel. Oprah's cable network was having a "Never forget that Matthew McConaughey made romcoms for several years" night by playing Failure to Launch and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days in succession. I did not catch much of the former, which seems to exist in a universe where people who look like Bradley Cooper, Justin Bartha, and Zooey Deschanel are the "loser" or even more "loser-y" friends. I watched maybe 2/3 of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days before turning it off to read and go to sleep. Curiosity got the better of me and I actually rented it this weekend, determined to find out what the "project" of this movie actually was, or if there even seriously was one. Well, a project besides product placement of (and in ascending order) Revlon, Budweiser, and the New York Knicks. I am pretty sure the Knicks alone financed at least half of the film.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, an 11-year-old film released in 2003, nonetheless seems like it was written and meant to be produced in the late 1990s. I cannot pinpoint why exactly, because it seems like people cared more about magazines or criticizing magazines then. But maybe I am projecting because I do not really see the point in the majority of magazines existing anymore, particularly in print. The covers of the magazine in the film, Composure, features non-famous women and models, in photos more along the lines of the pictures seen in "Women Laughing Alone with Salad". This is despite starring Kate Hudson, an actress who has probably been on dozens of magazine covers and having former supermodel of the 90s, Shalom Harlow, in a supporting role. The film fails to recognize the shift in actresses appearing on the majority of women's magazine covers now, above supermodels. It also maybe more late 90s-centric because it is one of those films that seems to erase 9/11 out of New York City on the basis that films are where people go to escape painful things and incidents. Also, it features a Ginblossoms song as chase theme music, which seems even more outdated in 2014 than it probably did even in 2003.

Kate Hudson plays Andie Anderson, a woman with a Master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University slumming at women's magazine Composure by writing a "How To" column on various trends or "lifehacks for the privileged" as they are sometimes called now. She aspires to write about politics and international relations, which her boss has shot down numerous times because of the inherent fluffiness of the magazine's content. Inspired by a co-worker's latest brief 7-day disastrous relationship, Andie begins her latest piece with the titular title. The film never seems to decide whether it wants to be subtle or broad in its characterization of Andie and her co-workers. Andie is supposed to be "different" because she has higher aspirations, likes to eat large hamburgers and go to New York Knicks games. She is actually called the "cool girl" at some point, which is another stereotype upon itself, a construct that some women feel they have to live up to so they are not seen as the "crazy girlfriend".*  Beyond its somewhat promising beginning, the film eventually decides to pack stereotypes upon stereotypes, and it never seriously questions too much that it is magazines and advertising that pushes these sorts of gender stereotypes.

McConaughey plays the also improbably cute-named Benjamin Barry, a fellow who works in advertising and feels stuck because his division only obtains the sports and beer accounts. He has recently snagged an account with a diamond company, with the idea that diamond rings should also be advertised to men as desirable accessories, or something - it's never made clear. Benjamin seems to be criticizing the diamond industry, knowing that it is an industry based on the false idea that diamonds are rare, and therefore valuable. And to an lesser extent he seems to be criticizing the sexist one-sided marketing of diamonds. But he is in competition with the division who typically receives the more women's-oriented accounts. A bet is made that if he can arrive to a party the company is throwing in 10 days with a woman who is in love with him, he will win the account.

Shenanigans and stereotypes ensue, almost endlessly for a a film that does not need to be 2 hours long. Andie behaves in the stereotypical (and seen through 2014 lenses, downright creepy) ways that men are supposed to hate. Benjamin relents because he wants to win the account. Both are frustrated. The reveals come at the big party, where inexplicably, female attendees are given diamonds to wear from a snack table, and feelings are hurt. Benjamin's partners show him Andie's article as he is working on the diamond commercial which still seems to be advertising to women, albeit to older women. Andie gets told she can write whatever she wants as long as its the typical fluffy stuff. She quits, decides to interview for a job in DC. Benjamin chases her cab through NYC and stops on the Brooklyn Bridge where they make up. And while Benjamin wins her over with the point that she can do the reporting she likes in NYC, we never learn if Andie succeeds. Can this film be seen as dark because it appears neither character actually succeeds in their careers? The ending seems entirely based in, "Well, they are attractive and they have each other."

The only time I laughed out loud was when Andie said Benjamin killed their "love fern" and he replies, "No honey, it's just sleeping." I think I might not be the right audience for these movies.

*Since Andie is a variation on what is typically a boy's name, maybe we can infer the Carol Clover theory that when male or borderline-gender neutral names are given to female characters, it is because that character is meant for male audiences to identify with.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Flesh for Frankenstein & Blood for Dracula (a.k.a. Andy Warhol's Frankenstein & Andy Warhol's Dracula) (1974)


Dir. Paul Morrissey || 1974 || US-Italy-France & Italy-France  

It is advisable to watch Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula back-to-back if possible. It is how they were made and both have the same main three actors (Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Arno Juerging) in similar roles - Kier as Dr. Frankenstein, then Dracula; Dallesandro as the proletariat servant-gigolo, and Juerging as Frankenstein and Dracula's assistants. Although the films appear to take place in different time periods, they also seem to be similar in atmosphere...and that atmosphere is bizarre, trashy, and campy. These are not adaptations to watch if you are looking for faithful adaptations of Frankenstein or Dracula. Both of these films seem to take place in some realm either before or after those stories, or almost a netherworld just outside of the original stories. It is a world that takes some adjustment because while it is laughable in Frankenstein that an actor with an Italian accent and Joe Dallesandro with his heavy New York accent are supposed to be lifelong friends who grew up together in some European countryside; by the time you get to Dracula you just kind of have to accept that Dallesandro is going to stick out like a sore thumb. Udo Kier takes some adjusting as well, although he fits into these films easier than Dallesandro, especially Dracula. For at least the first half-hour of Frankenstein, I could not shake the notion that Tommy Wiseau has been fooling us all along and is just doing a very extended impersonation of a young Udo Kier in Frankenstein. Except Udo Kier actually seems to be mentally present in his scenes, and not in space like Wiseau. 

While Flesh for Frankenstein ends on a note similar to Twitch of the Death Nerve, I find Blood for Dracula more interesting and prefer it a little more. In Blood for Dracula, Dracula and his assistant have traveled to the Italian countryside so that Dracula can find a bride, preferably a virgin. They take up with a family with four beautiful daughters who have fallen on hard times due to their father's gambling problems. They are able to keep their villa, but the daughters must do the farming. They only keep one servant - a handyman played by Dallesandro of course.  And of course the mother is insistent on allowing Dracula and his assistant to stay with them, although almost all of the daughters find him to be creepy and too sickly to marry. The family has two virginal daughters who are actually virgins; and two wild daughters who lie about being virgins, because they have both been having sex with the handyman, and apparently with each other. The wild daughters are steadfast about their lying, even when Dracula tries to insist that he does not mind if they are not virgins and that it is just something his family insists on. Dracula  finds himself poisoned as soon as he tries to drink the blood of the two wilder daughters.

What I find interesting about Blood for Dracula is that the daughters' situation or prospects is beset on all sides. Dallesandro's Socialist handyman character insists that the aristocracy is dying and perhaps the girls should learn how to work; which is not a terrible idea, except for the fact that Dallesandro's character is a rampant misogynist and a rapist. Blood for Dracula takes place in the early 20th Century, not the 19th, so it is a bit odd that there is the insistence of keeping up appearances with the mother, although it is often remarked that the family has not had visitors in years. If that is the case, then there is no need to worry about shocking society if the daughters do not marry an aristocrat or a wealthy man. The other side to this is that other than perhaps the youngest daughter, the daughters seem to be settled into the idea that they should marry up (just up, not middle or down or even for love really) and that there are no other options because that is how they were raised. The father (played by director Vittorio de Sica) leaves the film early on for London, leaving the mother and daughters to fend for themselves (i.e., remain willfully ignorant of how dangerous Dracula is). Only the handyman catches on to Dracula's nature which leads to the gory and over-the-top fight sequence at the end of the film. And Dracula is not a romantic hero, he is a conservative traditionalist and a rapist as well considering that he attacks the daughters often in mid-conversation. While one could find the end of Blood for Dracula a bit more hopeful than the ending to Flesh for Frankenstein (or see it as the Socialist/proletariat killing off one more crumbling aristocrat), I do not believe that the survivors are much better off with the handyman. The film seems to be more concerned with the Socialist argument with just a bit of subtext thrown in to acknowledge the changing times, but it does not appear that it wants to give the female characters in the film too much choice in the matter. 


And this is just creepy. 
(I am not commenting much on the hand that Andy Warhol had in making these movies, because it seems as if it was in name only; besides the presence of Joe Dallesandro, who was one of his people. If one was expecting a set of films with pop-art sensibilities, they would be somewhat surprised that both films were shot in neutral tones. I guess better to see the eventual blood, gore, and Udo Kier's blue eyes with.)