Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, June 28, 2010

She Shoulda Said 'No'! (aka Wild Weed) (1949)

dir. Sam Newfield

While reading Eric Shaefer's seminal book on exploitation films Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!, I have been continually reminded of the fact that I take technology for granted. It took Shaefer a decade to research and write his book, publishing it in 1999. Although not far removed from the present day (I was in my teens), this decade was the ancient past as far as movie viewing was concerned. Yes we had videotapes, but the possibilities for research and home consumption had yet to reach their full potentials. Because of the advent of DVD, Netflix, and online video streaming we now have more access to pop culture than any preceding generation.

Shaefer had to cross the country many times over, visiting film libraries at every stop, just so he could view the few remaining classic exploitation flicks available. Some companies (notably, Something Weird) had released many of these movies on videotape, but the costs of doing so ensured that these unpopular flicks would not bring much of a return on investment. With the process of mass producing DVDs and streaming old public domain movies being cheaper and quicker, home video companies (such as Something Weird and Alpha Video) don't have any reason not to release all these disreputable pictures. The world is now at our fingertips.

Leonard Pierce, in a piece for The AV Club, posited that we are living in a pop culture golden age, sure to only improve. I don't know if I necessarily agree that our art is better now than at any point in the past. Sure, over time, we continually build on the art of the past, refining our film-making skills, but how do you explain the works of Friedberg/Seltzer or Uwe Boll. For every No Country for Old Men, there is a The Hottie & the Nottie. We have a wide swath of classic films to build on, but we will also always have lazy directors. Although I have continually stated a preference for seventies film, I do believe that the ratio of good to bad films has always been a constant. I prefer seventies films more for aesthetic reasons. I do agree with Pierce, however, that we are living in a golden era for consumption. Although many movies are unfortunately lost forever, those that have not disappeared are more likely than ever to be available for home viewing.

Which brings me back to Shaefer. As much as I thought I knew about exploitation flicks, I now realize that I have so much road ahead of me. Sure, I have a general knowledge of the history but I have been unaware of many of the important pictures. The films of the classic exploitation period belong mainly to four categories: Sex hygiene, drug scare, vice, and nudist/burlesque films. Although I enjoy all these subsets, the drug scare films have always been my favorites. Most modern audiences are perhaps aware of Reefer Madness but they may not realize that this is but one film in a long, storied sub-genre. And honestly, it's not even my favorite of the bunch. For a time, Dwain Esper's Marihuana held sway at the top of my Drugsploitation pantheon. After viewing Sam Newfield's late forties, Lila Leeds starring She Shoulda Said 'No'!, however, I have a new contender for the throne.

Those with a thorough knowledge of classic Hollywood history may recognize Lila Leeds as the name of the actress with whom Robert Mitchum was arrested for possession of Marijuana in 1948. It speaks to the times they were living in that while Leeds was relegated to performing in a shitty drug scare movie, Robert Mitchum was forced to do stuff such as this at the Cannes Film Festival in 1954:

[Side note: You know who's cooler than Robert Mitchum? No one, that's who.]

Whether Leeds' arrest imparted on her an important lesson about her flirtation with the weed with roots in hell I cannot attest, but her work on this film undoubtedly scared her straight. Leeds stars as Anne Lester, a dance hall girl who falls in with sinister hood/drug-peddler Markey (Alan Baxter). Like Cher and Madonna, Markey has no need for a last name. Last names are for pussies, and his ass aint no pussy. His ass is a fucking champion.

At first unaware that the oozing-with-sleaze Markey has nefarious intentions, Anne soon discovers that the gangster would like her to toke at a hood-filled party. The reluctant Anne soon gives in and gets hooked but good. Her first dance with the devil-weed is conveyed with extreme close-ups and spooky theremin music. There's no hope for this fallen harlot now. She soon screws up at work and runs afoul of her boss, which wouldn't be so bad if she didn't need her income to put her brother through school. Not to worry, however, because when her straight-arrow sibling finds out that Anne's been making love to Mary Jane, he goes and does this to himself.

That's right, he hangs himself. Goodbye college tuition payments. Anne would be free to smoke weed every day if it wasn't for the fact that the cops now need her to work undercover in bringing down Markey's weed organization. Because she refuses to snitch, Five-O throws her in the pokey for sixty days to show her what a life of dope smoking leads to—premature aging, VD, criminality, prostitution and insanity. After Anne agrees to work for the fuzz, She Shoulda Said 'No'! takes the form of a standard organized crime potboiler.

Sure, most other drugsploitation flicks are more hilariously inept, but Newfield's picture is hard to top in terms of histrionics. That's not to say that She Shoulda Said 'No'! doesn't contain the occasional bit of hilariously shoddy film-making. The best moment occurs in the last scene, after Anne has brought down the organization and chats with the cops in the police station. After they thank Anne for her help, she thanks the police. Then, Anne turns to give a speech directly to the camera. The camera elegantly sweeps in to a close-up of Leeds as she begins her speech thusly, "It hasn't only been my fight alone but everybody's-". Although she continues to talk, her dialogue is silenced and replaced by music as this text appears and extremely slowly scrolls on the screen:

Of course, this could have been intentional. Almost every exploitation film contained such a warning text at the beginning and sometimes end of the picture (in this case both). I'd like to think, however, that while filming this scene, the microphones stopped working, and none of the crew had the heart to tell Leeds. Instead, they let her deliver her long monologue. Although a Hollywood studio would re-shoot such a scene, the exploiteers who made this film knew that the audience already got the thrills it was seeking and wouldn't care how shoddy the ending, or indeed any part, of the film was. It was easier just to slap some text on the screen. A film-maker's contempt for the intelligence of his audience is rarely so entertaining.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

Watchmen (2009)

dir. Zack Snyder

While watching Zach Snyder's Watchmen, thought's of Woody Allen's Annie Hall ran through my head. Near the end of Allen's film, Woody, as Alvy Singer, reluctantly visits his sleazy friend Max in tinsel-town. Max boasts that he recently, among other things, visited the Playboy mansion. "And the women, they're like the women of Playboy magazine only they can move their arms and legs." What a novelty. Things that were inanimate on paper have now come to life. Who cares if there's no substance behind the nubile bodies. This, in a nutshell, is what Zach Snyder has achieved in his comic to screen adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen.

Using the comic as a storyboard, Snyder astounds with his meticulously faithful recreations of Gibbon's iconic images. Hey, look, it's just like that sequence in the book when Jon Osterman transforms into Dr. Manhattan, only this time it's moving. Being the fan of the comic that I am, I dug the novelty of seeing the static images of the book move around. And yet, this is a surface only adaptation. Snyder took painstaking care emulating the look of the comic, but forewent everything else that made the book great. Indeed, his film proves that such slavish recreations are not always a good thing.

Snyder's emotional and filmic maturity are best represented in the sex scene between Nite Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman), which is set to Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah". This is a scene that would make the director of a late night Cinemax Shannon Tweed movie bemoan cinema's current lack of artistic integrity. In terms of sheer eroticism, it ranks somewhere between the shots of Tommy Wiseau's thrusting steroid ravaged ass in The Room's sex scenes and Requiem for a Dream's ass to ass scene. I would have been more pissed off at the immaturity and inanity of it, (and of Snyder's low opinion of his comic book nerd audience) if I wasn't too busy gut-laughing. Whether Snyder intended it or not (likely not), his Watchmen as a whole is a piece of high camp.

One of the many novelties of Alan Moore's book was that it de-mythologized the superhero mystique. With the exception of Dr. Manhattan, these are real people with real problems and real personalities [Side note: real.] In Snyder's hands they all become invincible super-beings capable of taking beatings that would kill Mike Tyson and dishing out the sort of beatings that the Man of Steel would solely be capable of. Indeed, most of the battles in Snyder's film resemble those colossal super-beast wars of Superman II. [I know, I know, it is rather silly to complain about a lack of verisimilitude in a film that devotes a hefty portion of screen time to a glowing blue penis.]

Of course, the ludicrous action scenes could be forgiven if Snyder took more care with drawing decent performances from his actors. Watchmen is material that begs for, at the very least, competent acting. One gets the feeling that when Snyder directed his non-action scenes, he was jumping up and down, shaking his hands with all the energy of an ADD-addled twelve year old on a pixie stick binge, and screaming, "Where's the compound fractures? I want breaking bones." In the book, the action took a back seat to the narrative. Snyder, on the other hand, just likes seeing stuff go boom.

It is perhaps unfair to continually compare the movie to its source material. It should stand on its own merits and short-comings. Still, I don't know if I would be much of a fan of Snyder's film even if I never read the book. The film is sporadically entertaining in spite of Snyder's wanky slo-mo shit. [God, when is that cliche gonna end?] Even his action scenes, though, weren't as visceral as he perhaps intended. These were so over the top that I tended to laugh more than get drawn into the action. I felt the same way I did when watching Braveheart the first time. "You guys don't actually think this is a good movie, do you? This is some 'Monty Python' shit, sans the knowing humor, of course."

"Don't say sans, you faggot."

Not only did I get the feeling that Snyder thought of his audience as a bunch of brain dead fan-boy rubes, but I felt dumb while watching his film. It made me re-think not only comic book movies as a whole but also, legitimately intelligent ones like The Dark Knight. Snyder's imitation of comic book hero de-mythologization is merely surface dressing for lots of "dude did you see that fucking bone break, man? Fucking gnar shit" action. Maybe these movies are just for kids.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, June 18, 2010

It's Headache Powder Time

A while back I reviewed the 30's exploitation flick The Cocaine Fiends. If for no other reason than that this movie is funny as fuck I thought I'd post some random clips.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Troll (1986) [Twitterized Review]

dir. John Carl Buechler

Harry Potter comes under the tutelage of a wise, mystical elder in order to fend off mythological creatures.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Troll 2 (1990)

dir. Claudio Fragasso

Italian director Claudio Fragasso's Troll 2 has become legendary as one of the worst movies ever made. A recent documentary, Best Worst Movie—which I have yet to see—chronicles the unlikely rise to fame and staying power of this schlocky film. Although it certainly ain't the worst thing I've seen, Fragasso's film certainly gets an A for bad movie effort.

Fragasso's film commits every bad movie crime: stilted dialogue, wooden line readings, cheap effects, low production values, etc. Famously, at least for those in the know, Troll 2 is not even a sequel to the earlier semi-successful Troll. Indeed trolls are nowhere to be seen in Troll 2. Hoping to cash in on the earlier film's name-recognition (as we all know, the world was in the grips of a four year long Troll fever at this point), the troll name was tacked onto this goblin movie. Although the layman may not be aware, a world of difference exists between trolls and goblins. Trolls are ugly dolls a few inches in height with large tufts of brightly colored hair. Goblins, on the other hand, are potato sack and bad-dollar-store-mask wearing midgets. Glad I could clear that up for you.

Troll 2 possesses perhaps the greatest premise in movie history. As we all know, goblins love to feast on the flesh of humans. What few folks realize is, goblins need to turn these delectable humans into plants, or green goo when the mood so strikes them, before they can chow down. These are vegetarian creatures and can not eat human or animal flesh. Of course, they could just eat all the greenery in the forest, but then they wouldn't get to kill people. Their plan for turning people into plants is rather ingenious; give the humans green food and drink to consume after which the stupid humans melt or turn into plants. Let's hope the Waits family can learn of this goblin plan before it's too late.

The Waits family, looking for a little relaxation, travels to the quaint town of Nilbog (you'll never guess what that spells backward. The answer may surprise you.). Problem is, Nilbog is overrun with Goblins. Alas, the parents do not heed their son Josh's warnings of not eating strange foods. This could be because Josh received his warnings from his dead Grandpa Seth. Whenever they hear that Joshua is conversing with his dead grandpa they give him a scolding but good. No one talks to dead people in this house, not while I'm in charge.

Of the many criteria for inclusion in the bad horror movie pantheon, stupidity of the characters ranks near the top. It's been scientifically proven that the stupider the characters, the greater the awesomeness quotient of the picture. And Troll 2 has character stupidity up the wazoo. Near the end of the film, the Waits family finally becomes aware of the true nature of the Nilbogians, after they are surrounded outside their home by about 30 or so Nilbogians of Nilbog. Instead of killing the family, the goblins of Nilbog stand and watch as the family slowly backs into its house. [Holy shit, I just got that. Nilbog is goblin spelled backward. This family is in trouble.]

Then after the family has been in the house for an absurd length of time, planning an attack (and without boarding the windows or locking the doors), we watch as the Faulknerian idiot man-children Nilbogians wait for something to do. One townsperson expresses concern that the family has been inside too long. He doesn't like this. No he doesn't like it one bit. If only there was a way to get inside a house to get to the people you need to eat. What a confusing dilemma. Such conundrums abound in this picture.

Although Troll 2 is awesome in every way, I wouldn't put it at the top of my bad movie pantheon. I'm not even sure what I would rank at the top, but Birdemic would rank higher than Fragasso's film. Troll 2 is fucking Citizen Kane compared to Birdemic. Nevertheless, Troll 2 reminds me why I love I love movies so much in the first place. Few movies I've seen this year have entertained me as much.

[Here is Troll 2's most famous line reading (and justifiably so):]

[A funny trailer for the film:]

[The actual trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (2005)

dir. Jacques Audiard

With only four feature's under his belt—his debut is the only one I've missed—Jacques Audiard has already built a career to rival the best genre film-makers working today. This Frenchman's attention to character, and obsession with even the smallest details, have set his films apart from his merely skillful contemporaries. Of course, none of his movies hew to any particular genre, and a casual viewer could be forgiven for mistaking his pictures for detailed character dramas, which they also are.

With The Beat That My Heart Skipped, Audiard reworks James Toback’s directorial debut Fingers. Remake is not the right word for what Audiard does here. Unlike the recent slew of American remakes, Audiard does not blindly regurgitate an earlier film using today’s actors, styles, and slang. What Audiard does is more akin to a talented musician re-imagining a previous artist‘s great song. The basic structure remains the same, but everything else is distinctly Audiard.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Toback’s film, but I dare say I prefer The Beat That My Heart Skipped. I remember enjoying Fingers but not loving it. It was quite good, it just didn't stick with me. Audiard’s picture gripped me the whole way through. In a nutshell, the story concerns Tom’s (Romain Duris) attempts to extricate himself from his gangster-tainted business dealings, and pursue his piano playing dreams. [Wow, that‘s a really bad description. This sounds like a fucking Hallmark movie.] Tom is close to thirty, however, and realizes, whether subconsciously or not, that a career as a classical musician is, at this point, a rather delusional goal—hence his mounting frustration and anger. He even delays and perhaps unconsciously sabotages his own piano rehearsals, fearing the eventual rejection.

Tom’s obligations (work and family) further complicate matters, pushing him from realizing his dreams. His father, in particular, continually pulls Tom toward criminal enterprises. At this point, Tom has, in essence, taken on the father role. Assuming himself his father’s protector, Tom even attempts to break up his father’s newest relationship with a younger woman, a woman whose motivation he perhaps wrongly assumes is purely mercenary. Tom has much to learn from and about women (his business partner's wife, his piano teacher, his dad's enemy's mistress, etc...) throughout the course of this film. [Why are my descriptions sounding so cheesy?]

Despite Tom’s age seemingly negating this being classified as a coming-of-age picture, The Beat that My Heart Skipped nevertheless chronicles the story of Tom’s growth and maturity—a rite of passage film in a way. He is in desperate need of change, and realizes that time is running out. His pent-up frustration with his artistic failures finds a perfect outlet in his father’s shakedown business—the business that he wishes to escape. Unfortunately, it complicates his relationships with women and his personally fulfilling art.

Audiard asks us to examine the possibility of change. He also asks us to spend the entirety of his film with a character who is hard to sympathize with. Except when erupting in anger, Tom is rather emotionally shut-off. Not since the American cinema of the seventies has a director succeeded so well at sneaking so much art into seemingly commercial fare (or at least as commercial as French movies can be).

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

That's What She Said: Hitchcock Style

From sound tests for Blackmail.

Movies I'm Anitcipating: The Killer Inside Me (2010)

dir. Michael Winterbottom

In Michael Winterbottom's upcoming adaptation of the classic Jim Thompson novel, Casey Affleck appears to be continuing his current winning streak. Ben sure got the short talent straw in the Affleck family.

[The Trailer:]

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Every now and then I like to post a list of the top word searches that bring readers to my site. It's been quite a while since I looked this stuff up and after doing so this week I became quite disappointed with myself. I haven't been doing enough satiate my readers' needs for both hot, non-stop girl-on-girl action, and Sylvester Stallone cock. I swear I will remedy this in the future. Here is but a partial list of the soon-to-be-no-longer-misleading search phrases bringing folks to my site:

hot lesbians

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hot lesb

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requiem for a dream ass to ass

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stallone naked

lesbian hot sex

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post apocalyptic wasteland

sylvester stallone naked

lesbian hot women

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lesbians hot

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animals fucking girls

[Side note: I need to take a shower now. My soul feels dirty.]

Monday, June 7, 2010

JCVD (2008)

dir. Mabrouk El Mechri

I have never been much of a Jean-Claude fan. Sure, being the the all-American youngster that I was I watched and loved his dumb action movies in my formative years. I always preferred Stallone and Schwarzenegger, though (obvious much?). I thought Van Damme was too much of a pretty boy to be taken seriously as an action star. After watching Mabrouk El Mechri's recent pseudo-biographical action comedy JCVD, I now realize that Van Damme is also too talented an actor to be taken seriously as an action star.

El Mechri's film opens with a spectacular single shot action sequence. In a non-descript, snowy setting, Van Damme karate chops his way through a series of faceless baddies. Despite the virtuoso camera-work, this sequence is purposefully cornball. It is also dotted with the occasional purposeful mistake (missed punches and the like), but is not so over-the-top in its cheesiness that it veers into parody. It could very well be mistaken for a scene from one of Van Damme's cookie-cutter action films. As the scene ends, reality enters. Van Damme complains to his young director that he's too old to perform these stunts in one take. The dismissive Asian director, through his translator, shoos away the old action star. We next see Van Damme at a child-custody battle in which his previous violent movies are used as evidence against him being a fit father. Wow, what an interesting, unexpectedly, unashamedly introspective role for Van Damme.

The first few scenes promise so much more than the film eventually delivers, however. After traveling to his home country of Belgium, Van Damme inadvertently walks in on a robbery. The cops soon mistake him for the perpetrator and hijinks ensue. Much to his chagrin, Van Damme finds himself stuck in one of his movie scenarios. Problem is, the robbery section of the film is nowhere near as engaging as the the other more introspective elements of JCVD and only slightly more so than the action/thriller movies it emulates. It is pretty standard hostage movie stuff.

This section does have one helluva Van Damme monologue delivered directly to the camera, however. In it the aging star laments all his mistakes, and wishes for his old life back. He wants to be with his parents. He is afraid of dying. Although this sort of scene has great potential for pretentious wankery, it is surprisingly affecting. [My girlfriend mocked me when I got a little misty-eyed, but I swear I just had something in my eye.] All credit is due to Van Damme's performance. This is a speech straight from the heart. It actually brings to mind Bela Lugosi's "I have no home" speech from Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster.

Although JCVD skirts greatness, it never quite finds a home there. El Mechri et al are too enamored of Van Damme's previous efforts to stray too far from the action movie tropes they seek to deconstruct. Nevertheless this will undoubtedly be The Muscles from Brussels' last really good movie.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Siskel & Ebert Review Blue Velvet

I still miss Dennis Hopper. While looking up clips and such from his films, I found this. I'm really glad so many of the old Siskel & Ebert episodes are available online. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009)

dir. Juan Jose Campanella

Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), a struggling author, cycles through a series of possible openings for his novel, satisfied with none. He then visits his Judge friend, and former colleague, Irene Hastings (Soledad Villamil) and informs her that he is writing about their big case from 25 years prior, but doesn’t know where to begin. He remembers seemingly insignificant details but doesn’t think that they belong in the story. She replies that he should include everything, whether or not the details are relevant to the story.

Oh God, I thought while watching the first few scenes of Juan Jose Campanella's Argentinean film The Secret in Their Eyes, not another one of these meta pictures. You don’t have to comment in the film on what you are doing in the film. Just do whatever you want to do and let the audience suss it out. As for the former criminal investigator turned writer Benjamin penning a novel about his most important case, why not just cut out the middle-man and focus the entire movie on the case? I assumed that Campanella would not be able to win me back after these first few scenes. As the perfectly detailed story unfolded, however, I slowly allowed myself to forget about the writer-telling-a-story trope. Indeed, I soon realized that all of the cliched tropes Campanella utilized, worked in the context of this story.

After their important case of 25 years previous, Benjamin and Irene lost contact with each other. During this time, Benjamin had pined for her. 25 years earlier, his obsession with their case prevented him from making a move. Or maybe he just feared rejection and used his obsession with the case as an excuse. Whatever the case, as Benjamin and Irene revisit the earlier case in the present day, old suppressed feelings reignite. As much as non-chronological story-telling is frequently abused by hack screenwriters hoping to imply complexity in their flimsy stories [I‘m looking at you, Guillermo Arriaga], it works in Campanella's picture. Had this story been told chronologically, the emotional resonance would have been lessened.

This love story, of course, shares equal time with and compliments the criminal case at the center of this picture. In the case from 25 years prior, a young woman is raped and murdered. Both the woman’s husband as well as Benjamin make it their life’s obsession to hunt down this killer (echoes of David Fincher‘s masterpiece Zodiac abound). I dare not say much more about the plot for fear of ruining some of the film’s genuinely surprising twists, except that these twists are well earned.

As engaging as the story is, most viewers will likely remember above all else the virtuoso single shot scene in the middle of the picture. Beginning with a blimp-level shot, the camera gracefully swims down into a Soccer Stadium where it follows Benjamin and his partner as they attempt to locate the murderer in a sea of screaming fans. This single shot scene—though I detected some CGI cheats—is quite a thing to behold. As thrilling as it is, however, it is too much of a show-off piece. It is incongruous with the look and feel of the rest of the picture—which is rather generically shot. It is here that Campanella screams, “Notice me. Look at what I can do.” It is a heck of a lot of fun to watch, though.

The Secret in Their Eyes won the best foreign picture Oscar this year. It beat out, among other movies, Haneke’s The White Ribbon (which I haven‘t seen) and A Prophet (which made me cum). Sure The Secret in Their Eyes is a well-executed, smart genre piece, but A Prophet exceeds its genre. It is a thing unto itself. Campanella's type of smart thriller is regularly screened at multiplexes every award season. It‘s not that The Secret in Their Eyes is undeserving of such an award—Hollywood regularly rewards these types of movies—A Prophet just made a stronger case for itself. [Side note: Sorry for the rant. I suppose it doesn‘t have a place here. I just really love A Prophet and want people to watch it.]

Campanella managed to introduce many appalling screenwriting clichés and then deftly maneuver around them, in the process churning out a smart, engaging, effective romance/thriller. Let’s hope that in the future he can avoid the clichés altogether.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating: