Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

So Much Writing to Do, So Little Time

Today I was going to write a review of Exit Through the Gift Shop (my favorite movie of the year so far, in case you're wondering) but my piece turned into a long, rambling, pretentious, incoherent mess explaining why art is bullshit. I realized that I didn't offer any new insights and that a reader would be better off just watching the movie. Frustrated with my review-attempt failure, I decided instead to work on some screenplay shit instead. [In case anyone's wondering, I usually opt not to post about a third of the reviews I write.] Honestly, screenplaying's what I've been devoting most of my writing time to lately. I get a pretty equal enjoyment from blog and screenplay writing, but lately my writing partner and I have been on a bit of a roll, so it's gotten a bigger priority.

I figured, blog-wise, I could at least write a quick, funny piece about a random, ineptly hilarious schlock picture from the seventies; unfortunately I didn't watch any other movies this week—a rarity for me. Now I've got a bit of a problem. I ain't got shit to write about and little time to do it in. I already posted a lazy piece yesterday so I want to have at least a little bit of writing up in here today. While waiting for some longer posts from me—which I assure I'll write soon—why don't you enjoy this trailer for Satan's Cheerleaders, a flick I'm likely to watch and review at some point in the future.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in Heaven

I apologize for the lazy post today (what do you want? It's the fucking holidays). I'll try to put up something semi-substantial at some point this week.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Fucking Christmas

dir. Lewis Jackson


The opening scene and then some from the unheralded holiday masterpiece Christmas Evil.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

When Trailers Reveal Too Much: Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970)

dir. Don Siegel


[As is probably ridiculously obvious, given the name of this feature, this write-up will reveal a lot of spoilers about the movie.]

A long time back I wrote the first and only entry in what I thought would become a regular feature: "When Trailers Reveal Too Much". The spoiler-revealing trailer has long been a pet-peeve of mine. As Roger Ebert has said many times before, a comedy trailer usually spoils the best jokes in the movie and a thriller trailer generally reveals too many of the twists. It ain’t a coincidence that my favorite trailers are those that generally show little-to-no footage from the actual films. An ideal trailer is one that gives a taste as to the tone and feel of the film, and (as I just said and can’t emphasize enough) shows little-to-no actual footage from the movie.

Although most trailers fall into Ebert’s revealing-too-much category, many defy the awful-trailer rule and stand alone as pieces of art. Sure I’ve showcased some of them here, but rarely have I gone in-depth, dissecting these trailers. [Hey, dear reader, while you’re at my blog, why don’t you take some time away from my blog and check out some other stuff from my blog.] I find it just as difficult to write about quality trailers as I do to critique great movies. Instead of attempting and failing to write a great piece about a great trailer, I opt instead to simply post trailers I dig—the coward’s route.

Give me a sufficiently shitty trailer, however, and whoo boy, I’m in hog heaven. This, of course, makes it extra surprising that I abandoned the shitty trailer pieces. I wish I had a better reason other than that I just kinda forgot that I was going to make this a regular feature. And yes, this feature would have been lost forever—gone the way of Beta, HD DVD, and Randy Quaid’s sanity/dignity—were it not for a little trailer for an unheralded Don Siegel/Clint Eastwood picture. After watching Two Mules for Sister Sara I was going to write one of my standard-issue, cum-inducingly hilarious reviews of the movie…but then…but then I watched the trailer. There are shitty trailers and there are shitty trailers...and then there are trailers existing so far in the stratosphere of crapitude that words can do no justice (nevertheless, words will I use, and many at that). Although I didn’t see the Two Mules for Sister Sara trailer until recently, I now realize that it was the reason I started this soon-to-be-resurrected feature. It is the holy grail I was looking for.

Since a full appreciation of the shittiness of this trailer requires at least a cursory knowledge of the film, I will treat you to a capsule summary of Siegel’s picture. Gunman Hogan (Clint Eastwood), while traveling the Western countryside, comes across a gang of ruffians attempting to gang-rape Sara (Shirley MacLaine). Hogan, of course, smokes them bitches but good. Hogan is then shocked to discover—after Sara has clothed herself—that the woman is a nun. He soon reluctantly agrees to travel with her. The two develop a contentious relationship. When Hogan finds out that Sara is also a revolutionary fighting against the Imperial French, he decides to join her in attacking a fort. He is not an idealist, mind you, he just wants to capture some of that fancy French loot. When they arrive in the town of the said fort, Hogan discovers—in a final act plot-reveal—that Sister Sara is no nun at all; nope, the woman is a common, old-timey, Western, lady-prostitute. After Hogan helps the rebels overtake the French fort, he sexes Sara proper.

Two Mules for Sister Sara’s trailer veers so far into the wrong direction that it brings into question the intellectual development of its creators. First of all, this trailer misrepresents Two Mules for Sister Sara as "the most exciting Clint Eastwood picture ever made." There's action to be had, for sure, but Siegel's picture is more a character piece focusing on the relationship between these two bull-headed people—a weird sort of Western/Romantic Comedy. This problem, of course, is not unique to this trailer. Many trailers misrepresent their films' genres, or at least emphasize aspects that are underplayed in the actual film.

Nay, the biggest problem with the trailer: never once does it mention the fact that the Sister Sara of the film’s title is a nun. Let me repeat that because I think it’s worth noting: never once does it fucking mention the fucking fact that the fucking Sister Sara of the film’s title is a fucking nun. This trailer opts instead to show only those scenes in which Sara is not dressed as a nun. It focuses on steamy scenes between MacLaine and Eastwood—even the final scene of the movie, in which a fully clothed Eastwood hops into a bathtub with the nekkid MacLaine and kisses her passionately, is shown in the trailer.

This aspect of the trailer is troubling for a few reasons. Yes, it turns out that MacLaine’s character is not actually a nun but a prostitute, but this is not revealed until the end of the fucking film. Not only does this trailer reveal a giant plot-twist spoiler but it ignores the entire thing that the twist was twisting from. It would be like making a trailer for The Empire Strikes Back that consisted of a two-minute loop of Darth Vader telling Luke, "I am your father"—never explaining who Darth and Luke are or why this revelation would be such a big deal.

More troubling than this bone-headed plot-reveal, however, is the implication that it lends to the film’s title. As I’ve said before and will repeat again, this trailer does not show Shirley MacClaine doing nun stuff nor dressed up in nun gear. It just shows her getting all passionate and such with her co-lead Eastwood. Not knowing about any of the nunniness of the film, a viewer might assume that this film is called Two Mules for Sister Sara because Sara is Hogan’s sister. Jesus sister-fucking Christ, I'm going to throw up now.

This trailer has board-meeting, group-think written all over it. The studio-head—likely a boorish, cigar-chomping douche—probably sat at the head of an enormous conference table and berated his timid underlings.

“Goddamnit, men, we’re a fucking movie studio not a dick-sucking factory. Give me a fucking trailer that puts asses in the seats."

After a long silence, Don, a fresh-faced newcomer, piped in, "Well, I was thinking about it and I think that this is a pretty unique twist on the Western. A subdued romance between a cowboy and a nun. A little controversial, yeah, but controversy sells. Men are already gonna come for Clint; we play up the romance angle and we get more women as well. And of course, the whole romance with a nun thing will pull in all the arty, art-house types. They like that kind of sacrilegious stuff. I think it'll go over like gangbusters."

"Don, are you familiar with Preminger's movie The Moon Is Blue?"

"I don't see what this-"

"Just answer the question, Don; have you seen The Moon Is Blue?"

"Um, no, I don't-"

"Well, let me give you a rundown: It's a talky picture about two men who try to bang the same broad. Nothing happens. She decides to stay a virgin until she's married."

"Sir, I still don't see-"

"Now, Don, do you know what happened to that tame movie?"

"I don't know."

"It was condemned by the Catholic church. Do you know what that means?"

"I don't know."

"It means that they considered this movie so evil, so vile that anyone who watched it was condemned to an eternity of Satan-rapings. And I suppose, the actual film, were it die, would also be condemned to hell. Fortunately, for the picture, I don't think it was filmed on nitrate so it'll probably be ok. Now, Don?"

"Yes."

"Knowing what you do now know about The Moon Is Blue, do you know what would happen if we advertised our picture as the one where Clint pokes a fucking nun?"

"But, sir-"

"I'd have the Legion of Decency so far up my ass-"

"Hey, any press is good press."

A nervous hush fell over the room. The studio-head glowered at Don. After a long silence he approached the now trembling underling. The studio-head looked deep into his eyes and slapped Don with enough force to knock him from his seat. Don, cowering and crying, could not muster the emotional strength to return the studio-head's gaze. The studio-head, chest heaving from his alpha-male triumph, returned to his position at the head of the table.

In an angry, yet measured, tone the studio-head continued to address his men, "Gentlemen...I...need...ideas. I don't care what you tell me; just tell me what I need to hear, what that godforsaken, mouth-breathing public needs to hear to part with its cash and watch our fucking movie."

After another nervous silence, Randy, the studio veteran sitting next to Don, chimed in, "Ok, the way I see it, we just dump the whole nun angle. Just gonna bite us in the ass."

The studio-head nodded in agreement, "I like the way you're thinking."

"Instead we just focus on getting as many men and women to the movie. I know the movie's not wall-to-wall packed with action, but we can still take the most exciting parts and shove 'em all in the trailer. Then, we just inter-cut that with all the steamy Clint/MacLaine scenes. By the time we're done with this trailer, it'll look like The Dirty Dozen and An Affair to Remember fucked and had a kid...and this movie was that kid."

"I love it. I love it. I love it. Goddamn if that formula don't work every time. Randy, you deserve a fucking promotion. Alright, gentlemen, we've got a winner here. Now if there are no other ideas or objections I think we can get started."

A nervous Don timidly rose his hand before speaking up again, "Guys, I hate to be a downer but the name of the movie is Two Mules for Sister Sara."

The irate studio-head rolled his eyes, "So."

"Well that's the thing; our movie is called Two Mules for Sister Sara. You see, if people don't know that she's a nun, won't their assumption be that she's Clint's sister? I mean that would mean that they'd think these two siblings are banging each other. Don't you think-"

The studio-head pulled a handgun from his breast pocket, calmly placed it on the table, and slid it across to Randy. "Pick up the gun, Randy."

Randy reluctantly picked up the gun.

"Randy, shoot Don."

"Sir, I don't-"

"Randy, this is not an option. Point the gun at Don and shoot him."

Randy pointed the gun at the trembling Don. Don looked him in the eyes, "Randy, you don't have to do this."

The studio-head shouted him down, "Shut it, Don. You're opinions are all used up. Randy, do as I say. I will not be trifled with."

"I can't."

"Randy, you will follow instructions. Shoot. Don. In. The. Head. Now. I will not repeat myself."

Randy closed his eyes as he pulled the trigger.

BANG.

Silence.

The delighted studio-head again addressed his men, "Alright, gentlemen, seeing as we're now all in agreement, let's go out and make me some fucking money."

[The trailer:]

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Hidden (1987)

dir. Jack Sholder


[SPOILER ALERT: Be warned this review will…yadda, yadda, yadda.]

Security cam footage: ordinary man walks into bank; bank guards and patrons surprised when ordinary man shoots them; ordinary man grabs bags o’ cash, smiles and shoots security cam. High speed pursuit. Cops cannot catch up with ordinary man’s Ferrari—metal blaring from tape deck. Numerous obstacles: road crews, citizens in other cars, man in wheelchair, two men hauling plate-glass window across street, police car blockade—ordinary man plows through that shit. Ordinary man riddled with bullets; doesn’t go down. Cops destroy car—ordinary man blown away by explosion.

If there’s been invented a better way to start a movie, I have yet to see it. The opening scene to Jack Sholder’s The Hidden stacks up against the best Sam Fuller opening scenes. The Hidden is a movie that recognizes the need to grab the viewers by the balls right away—not that these sorts of openings don’t carry their own problems. The difficulty with these scenes, at least from the point-of-view of the movie creators, is that it’s mighty hard to fill the rest of the movie minutes with equally compelling moments. With The Hidden, Sholder et al. largely succeed with the task.

Kyle MacLachlan, playing a variation of his usual weird type, is FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher, a man sent to LA to help Detective Tom Beck (Michael Nouri) solve the mystery of the recent spate of crimes committed by previously stand-up citizens. As we soon find out, an alien, bug-like being has invaded the body of a human so that it can steal shit and kill people. As soon as its human form gets killed, it slithers out and into another human so that it can continue on its larcenous rampage. What we soon discover is that Lloyd has also been taken over by an alien creature—this one, of the law-abiding variety. It came to earth to hunt down the criminal alien for having previously offed his partner and family. An intergalactic, Sci/Fi cop picture? Yee-haw.

Movie aliens generally fall into one of two categories: evil fuckers intent on destroying our planet and everyone on it, or benevolent super-beings whose superior ways can put an end to our foolish, foolish war-like human ways. Comparatively speaking, the goals of the criminal alien in The Hidden are rather mundane: steal Ferrari’s and lots of cash. Sure, this alien’s a deadly motherfucker but that’s only because some folks are foolish enough to stand between it and its coveted Ferrari’s and cash. Rarely do we get to see aliens who just happen to be thieving—and yes, murdering—assholes.

In addition to containing a novel concept, The Hidden also gets points for its constant one-upsmanship. It continually exceeds the expectations set forth by its opening scene. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million times more, you can never go wrong with gun-wielding strippers. At the risk of spouting review cliches that make my skin crawl, The Hidden is the wild, high-octane, adrenaline-fueled, roller-coaster event of the year. [I just died a little inside.]

[The trailer:]


Dave's Rating:

Monday, December 13, 2010

Yogi Bear Parody

This is just amazing. Watch it right fucking now.

Sugar Hill (1974)

dir. Paul Maslansky


[This review is part of Final Girl's Film Club]

Goddamn, I love AIP. Few studios (mainstream or independent) since Hollywood's golden age, maintained such brand control. Much like a Disney film, I can jump to any scene in AIP picture and recognize it as an AIP production. No matter the subject matter, genre, plot, stars, crew; I know I'm in store for an efficient, entertaining picture. There’s an indescribably delightful sameness to these movies. Sure the budgets may have been smaller than studio pictures, but the craftsmanship was always competent.

Of course, as with every studio, AIP had just as many masterpieces as stinkers. Because of the strict quality control, however, the range wasn’t that vast between the extremes. Even those films with the hokiest premises were usually produced with efficient craftsmanship. Of course, as with any other studio, the majority of films existed somewhere in the middle. Not that these average films weren't worth the price of admission, but when you go into an AIP movie expecting either ridiculous awesomeness (motherfucking Coffy) or ridiculously awful awesomeness (Wild in the Streets), just good enough sometimes ain't good enough.

When I saw the AIP logo in the opening credits to Paul Maslansky's blaxploitation/zombie picture Sugar Hill, the dopamine receptors in my brain kicked into high-gear. Alright, whatever else this is, it’ll be entertaining. With such films as Blacula (Black Dracula), Abby (Black Exorcist), and the Jack Hill/Pam Grier masterpieces Foxy Brown and motherfucking Coffy; AIP proved a master at cashing in on blaxploitation. This production house, of course, never met a genre or trend it couldn’t co-opt like a motherfucker. Sugar Hill thus was a film of great potential.

The Sugar Hill (Marki Bey) of the movie's title is girlfriend to club-owner Langston (Larry D. Johnson). Langston is enemy to mobster Morgan (Robert Quarry), a man unsuccessful in his attempts to buy the nightclub from Langston. Morgan makes Langston a final offer. Langston refuses. Morgan's henchmen beat Langston. Langston dies. Sugar retaliates the only way she knows how—employment a voodoo mama (Zara Cully). The voodoo mama takes Sugar to her swampland where she uses bling to conjure the gold-toothed, living-dead wrangler Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley). Baron Samedi gives Sugar control of a group of former-slave zombies. Sugar soon corners one of the goons in a warehouse and her zombies do the rest. After the first murder, it is obvious that the rest of the movie will be a series of scenes in which Sugar meets each of the goons individually and her voodoo zombies dispose of them.

As much as it pains me to admit, Sugar Hill falls somewhere in the middle of the AIP quality curve. It’s got a whole mess of craziness to be sure, but the repetitive nature of the plot really burdens it. Sugar Hill belongs to a genre I have dubbed the SNL film. This designation has nothing to do with whether a film is spun-off from an SNL sketch or even whether it is comedic, mind you. As opposed to a layered, continually evolving narrative; an SNL film is a picture that front-loads the premise rather early on and then repeats it a bunch of times until the running time is over. Many genre films—slashers foremost among them—belong to this group. The value of these films depends on viewers' desires to watch said premise repeat itself.

This isn't to say that S ugar Hill doesn’t have much to recommend it. Some of the kills are rather inventive. In one of the best moments, Sugar uses a voodoo doll to force a man to stab himself—no doubt a reference to the famous scene from the previous year's The Mack in which Max Julien and Richard Pryor force a rival pimp, at gunpoint, to stab himself.

Sugar Hill also gets points for its use of classic zombies. Flying in the face of the current trend of Romero flesh-eaters, Maslansky’s film utilizes the old voodoo zombies of old. Sure, I prefer Romero zombies, but I also dig attempts at classicism. The zombie look was also a nice touch—silver orbs in place of eyes. As I've said, Sugar Hill is not a film without flaws, but at least we get to watch some racist honkies get done in.

[The trailer:]


Dave's Rating:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Class of 1984 (1982)

dir. Mark L. Lester


Juvenile delinquency—shit's a bitch. Although young'uns have always been cursed with assholism, it wasn't until American high school education became mandatory in the lesser half of the twentieth century that those of the youthful persuasion had occasion to congregate in numbers large enough that their combined powers of dickishness could pose a threat to our lady liberty. Sure, our focus on education allowed 'Merica to become a dominant superpower throughout much of the previous century, but at what cost: backseat necking; heavy petting; blue jeans; leather jackets; rock and roll; chicken races; and elaborately choreographed, all singing, all dancing, switchblade fights. In a word: complete and utter, absolute, motherfucking, jaw-dropping, pants-shitting bedlam.

Understandably, square 'Merica recognized the pickle it had gotten itself into by dumping all these teens together, and discovered a solution to the problem: scare movies. Problem solved. You're welcome. Although most teen scare movies were initially churned out solely by the exploitationeers of the twenties, thirties, and forties; even the mainstream soon caught on to the need to address this problem. By the 1950s numerous studio pictures—foremost among them, Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause—tackled the issue.

You'd think that these pictures would have nipped the problem in the bud, but oh no, that guldang counter-culture movement of the 1960s had to come along and spoil everything. If adult fear of youth culture was bad in the fifties, the backlash to hippie-dom in the sixties and seventies was imbued with a sense of urgency theretofore unknown. And the punk movement of the late seventies and eighties only underlined the need for a new breed of no-nonsense, hardcore, movie solutions.

Enter Class of 1984, director Mark Lester's no-holds-barred attempt to put a nail in the coffin of teenage delinquency once and for all. With this film...honestly, you know what, Class of 1984 ain't that far removed from Blackboard Jungle. Sure the styles may have changed but the core remained. Really what else could you add to the age old story of adults containing the douchey nature of rebellious teens? Wait, that's right, setting people on fire and hacking off limbs with table-saws—the stuff that Richard Brooks and Nicholas Ray were to pussyish to put in their movies—they could add that.

Idealistic music teacher Andrew Norris (Perry King) decides to slum it in an inner-city public school where he hopes to enlighten the youths and change lives. Oh, you naive fool, what were you thinking? Don't you know you're just gonna get your life destroyed, and your pregnant wife attacked and kidnapped? Although most of us would have taken such dangers into account when applying for such a position, Norris threw caution to the wind. Indeed, not only does his attempt to reform the young punks who rule the school prove calamitous for him and his family, Norris also inadvertently ruins the lives of a few of the good kids at the school.


Take Arthur, a young lesbian played by Michael J Fox, who is beset by the gang of punks led by the musically gifted Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten).



When Norris attempts to get Arthur to drop a dime on the hoods who peddled the wacky powder that caused a classmate to climb a flag-pole and get his ass done in, Arthur gets motherfucking stabbed. Thanks a lot, Mr. teacher. Class of 1984 is yet another revenge film in which the protagonist, despite numerous opportunities to stay out of trouble, puts himself in situations that threaten the safety of him and those close to him.

Although Norris initially believes that civil means cane be used to deal with the punks, he soon learns the important lesson from fellow teacher Terry Corrigan (Roddy McDowall) that the only advisers these kids need a visit from are Messieurs Smith & Wesson. In one of the most cathartic scenes of its kind, Norris metes out some motherfucking justice to the punks in the film's thrilling climax.

Class of 1984 treads a fine line between social realism and meat and potatoes revenge exploitation. Indeed, despite the ridiculously hilarious nature of my write-up, inner-city juvenile delinquency was and still ain't a laughing matter. No doubt, Class of 1984 was borne of a time in which juvenile criminality proved a serious problem. Whether its creators were genuinely worried about the problem, or were just cashing in on the latest new thing, it is undeniable that the fears of the time permeated this film. Nevertheless, the over-the-top climax removes this Class of 1984 from any kind of reality. It does this, however, in the best, most satisfying way possible. Few films of its ilk have done such a good job of getting its audience to bay for blood. As a problem film, Class of 1984 doesn't fully work, but as an exploitation picture, Lester's film is a masterpiece.

[The trailer:]


Dave's Rating:

Thursday, December 2, 2010