Formerly "Dave's Blog About Movies and Such"

Monday, January 31, 2011

Commando (1985)

dir. Mark L. Lester

And so continues the rewatchin' of the old favorites. Just as a rewatchin' of John Landis' horror classic proved to me that An American Werewolf in London is still very much the shit, so too did a rewatchin' of Commando prove that the Schwarzenegger action flick is still one of America's finest achievements in shit. Significantly, Class of 1984 director Mark L. Lester opens his Commando with a trash truck ambling down the street of a peaceful suburb. All seems well in the world of the home of the man who lives with his wife on the street in the town where the trash truck has arrived. And everything is well. That is, everything is well until the trashmen on the trash truck gun down the suburban man on his driveway. Has any opening scene ever made as beautifully elegant/blunt a metaphor for the artistic/thematic/tonal intent of the film to come. The bland, safe, respectable world of middle-class suburbia (middle-brow films) has been obliterated by trash men (trash films). Lester is saying here, and I quote, "That's right, motherfuckers, Garbage Day!" [Side note: Not an actual quote.]

It's amazing the turnaround in appreciation I've had when it comes to movies like Commando. It's quite the same as my reaction to metal. As a young'un, listening to angry music and watching hyper-macho action flicks produced the same visceral response: angry/joyful, fuck yeah-gasms. Now when I watch and listen to such movies and music, I mostly just laugh a fuck-ton. Wow, I can't believe I used to find this stuff so "fucking, unbelievably hardcore and like badass and stuff, motherfuckers. Fuck yeah." Revisiting metal and over-the-top eighties action, I now realize how delightfully dumb and campy this shit is. Considering how much entertainment cheese I consumed as a youngster, it's no wonder I used to have such severe constipation.

And yet I enjoy said entertainments with just as much enthusiasm as I did as a wee lad. Sure my emotional response has switched from triumph to laughter, but ain't much of a gulf exists between these two feelings.

Everything about Commando is ludicrous to the breaking point. Take the story: ex-commando (hey, that's the name of the movie) John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is dealt an ultimatum by the thugs who recently offed his old partners and kidnapped his daughter Jenny (Alyssa Milano): assassinate the leader of the Latin American country Val Verde or the thugs will kill Jenny. Ol' Matrix won't stand for that bull-manure, however. No sir, no how. As his plane to Val Verde begins take off, Matrix casually murders the goon guarding him in the adjacent seat, surreptitiously walks to the back of the plane—past the other passengers, past the bathroom, past the cargo hold—and onto a wheel. From here, motherfucker drops hundreds of feet to the shallow pond below, dusts himself off and walks away. Shit, ain't no thing.

Matrix is free, on the warpath, and very hungry. Mastermind Arius (Dan Hedaya)—he of the "even though my native tongue is Spanish, my Spanish accent while speaking English is about as convincing as a racist comic who's had a few too many" variety—and his henchman Bennett (Vernon Wells) had better learn to become a lot less appetizing, because what Matrix has an appetite for is murder, and they're the main course. Before getting to them, of course, Matrix is more than happy to snack on an endless sampler tray.

Although single-handedly fighting through an endless sea of baddies would be an insurmountable task for mortals, Matrix luckily has an invisible force-field protecting him from any of the heavy artillery fire coming his way, and guns that can fire hundreds of rounds without reloading. As can be guessed, Commando's conclusion ain't surprising in the least. Arius and Bennett kill Jenny, and Matrix kills himself. (Just making sure you're still reading.)

Is Commando the crowning artistic achievement of Western Civilization? Yes. Yes it is.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Holy Alternate-Universe Time-Warp, Batman

I love dicking around on youtube. I just found the below embedded videos from the Letterman show back in 2000 when Dave had heart surgery and guest hosts filled in for him. Although I vaguely remember of this period of The Late Show, I didn't see any episodes at the time because I was in college, sans TV. In this episode, comedian (and my teenage celebrity crush) Janeane Garofalo invited guests Bob Odenkirk, David Cross, and Zach Galifianakis. Wow. I love that instead of the usual celebrities-hawking-new-movies guests, The Late Show folks just let Janeane invite some of her comedy friends—strangers to most of the audience.

Monday, January 24, 2011

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

dir. John Landis

While recently in California for to watch the nuptials of my writing partner and his fiancĂ©e, I had a discussion with said writing partner and a few other folks about the awesomeness that is An American Werewolf in London. As with all monumental events, I still remember where my teenage self was when I first saw John Landis’ best movie: in front of a TV. My family rented the werewolf movie along with Heathers and Sophie's Choice. [I can’t remember the exact reason but I’m assuming we rented Sophie's Choice so we would feel guilty about the fun time we had watching the other two movies.]

As important as Landis’ movie was to me as a young’un, though, I realized during my recent discussion that I hadn’t seen it in about a decade. I started to worry that I might no longer dig it. Well, there was only one way to find out; as painful as it might be, I knew I had to rewatch it. You see, I’m always a little hesitant to revisit beloved pictures from my youth. It means flirting with the risk of discovering that an important movie isn’t what it was cracked up to be (I’m looking at you, The Neverending Story). This in turn taints the cherished memory. More times than I'd like to remember, I've realized that if I had left well enough alone I could’ve just lived with an awesome movie memory. [Side note: I should start a “Movies of My Youth” feature.]

Of course, lately, I haven’t rewatched anything, be it a childhood movie or otherwise. I’ve been in a “live every movie-watching-moment as if it were my last” mode. Not that I’m really afraid that any moment could be my last, mind you. I guess this is just a part of the aging process—you know, that whole awareness of my own mortality thing and whatnot. Time spent rewatching old favorites could be better used viewing straight-to-video early nineties trash. Damn my obsessive nature.

After rewatching An American Werewolf in London, however, I’m remembering just how essential it is to revisit these flicks. It keeps me cognizant of why I’m such a movie addict in the first place. Yes, not only do I still dig the werewolf movie, but I may appreciate it even more than I did as a young’un.

Landis’ mastery of tone knocked me for a fucking loop this time around. He bounces back and forth between clever, character-based humor, and startling horror so effortlessly that I’m surprised his good-movie period wasn’t longer lasting.

For those unfamiliar with An American Werewolf in London, David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne)—two American collegiate types—hit a bit of a snag while backpacking through Europe. And by "a bit of a snag" I of course mean, a sudden werewolf attack in the moors of Northern England leaves Jack dead (well, at least undead) and David a bloodthirsty werewolf. David and Nurse Alex—the woman tending to David's werewolf wounds—soon get they Florence Nightingale Syndrome on, and the young American moves into the nurse's flat. David, with the help of undead Jack, comes to grips with the fact that he's now a lycanthrope who must devour the flesh of the living to get his rocks off. No biggie.

Much ado was rightfully made at the time of An American Werewolf in London's release about Rick Baker's special effects—the werewolf transformation sequence in particular. Although the effects are slightly clunkier than I remember, they are still infinitely superior to any of the non-physical CGI effects we get bombarded with today. It was indeed quite a shock to me at the time when the nineties gave birth to the CGI laden sequel An American Werewolf in Paris. I was horrified that they took the best thing about the original and threw it out the window. [Although I haven't seen this sequel I can only imagine how cheesy the still primitive computer effects must look.] Of course, although I still greatly admire Rick Baker's work, this time around it was Landis' tonal achievements that I admired.

In the opening scenes, Jack and David run afoul of surly locals at the uninviting pub "The Slaughtered Lamb". [Side note: There's a "Slaughtered Lamb" pub here in the NYC, which I have yet to visit. I'm assuming it was inspired by this movie.] This character-centric fish-out-of-water comedy could fit quite well in one of Landis' comedies. Just as we think it's safe, however, Landis goes for the jugular. After leaving the pub, the Americans wander off the road and get attacked by a werewolf. Landis could have very easily turned this scene into an Evil Dead-esque splatter slapstick piece. Instead, he plays it straight as fuck. I was amazed how shocked I still was by this scene. It is even more shocking, of course, because we feel that we have come to know these characters in their few brief but revelatory moments together.

As I already mentioned, the rightfully lauded transformation sequence is just as masterful as I remember. What amazed most about it this time, however, was Naughton's performance. Turning 180 degrees from the Lon-Chaney-calmly-sitting-in-a-chair lap-dissolves used in The Wolf Man, Landis shows every excruciating transformation moment. Rather than calmly waiting as his body morphs, David is in complete, screaming agony. This is probably how it would feel to have your body transformed into a werewolf. It wouldn't be pleasant.

And the ending—as one character reacts in horror and sadness to a sudden act of violence, ending credits accompanied by the Marcels' bouncy rendition of “Blue Moon” quickly cut short the scene—why it's just as abrupt and shocking as I remember it. Landis was at the top of his motherfucking game.

I suck at writing conclusions for these pieces.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Yet Another Great John Waters Interview

I can never get tired of watching John Waters speak. By the way, if you haven't seen John's hilarious sorta-stand-up special This Filthy World, watch it immediately.

Monday, January 17, 2011

California Trip (Part Deux)

Hello faithful Dave'sBlogAboutMoviesandSuch-ites. As much as I'd like to regale you with my thoughts on movie shit this week, I'm afraid this week is not the week. It'll have to wait a week. I'm living it up in California for a few days. I'll resume my writing duties relatively soon.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Church (1989)

dir. Michele Soavi

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

[By the way, as is sadly becoming my norm of late, I will jam-pack this review with spoilers. Honestly, though, do you really care if I spoil this movie? Anyway, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Second spoiler alert: I got a little hyphen-happy with this piece.]

Repetitive, synthesized, Philip Glass score accompanies fluid camera moves—Medieval Teutonic Knights lay waste to a peasant village. As knights throw the lot into a mass grave, a mysterious basket-headed individual slinks off. Corpses stir; dead are possessed—dirt quickly thrown atop them. Basket-headed person revealed—young Asia Argento—quickly killed. It is decreed that a church will be built on the evil, demonic-possession burial ground. No bad could possibly come of this.

Cut to: present day—everything jim-dandy at church. Church librarian Evan (Thomas Arana) becomes smitten with church renovator Lisa (Barbara Cupisti); the two soon form a happily-ever-after relationship. SPOILER ALERT: Evan gets pulling-own-heart-out-of-chest-crazy possessed; Lisa knocks boots with the prince of motherfucking darkness. Ruh-roh.

Building on burial grounds—when will movie people learn that this is not a good idea? Unfortunately for the folks in Michele Soavi's The Church, the foolish, centuries-old actions of long-dead knights, have screwed them but proper.

Initially planned as the third entry in the Dario Argento produced Demons series, Michele Soavi's The Church is certainly the nuttiest of the bunch. [The official third entry, 1991's Black Demons, is the only one I haven't seen. Although not officially a member of this series, for the purposes of my review, I'll refer to The Church as the third Demons movie.] The Church generally follows the Demons formula of shoving a disparate group of people in a confined setting, and documenting, cinema-veriteily, the folks as they come to grips with/slowly get their asses done in by the rampant demon possession going on. With The Church, however, the train has completely flown off the rails, destroying everything in its path, including the already-tenuous logic of this film series. Indeed, The Church is an almost avant-garde deconstruction of not only the Demons series but also of the people-stuck-together horror genre typified by zombie movies as a whole. Either that, or no one involved knew what the fuck they were doing. A fine fucking line these people were walking.

With The Church, director Michele Soavi took a long, hard look at logic, bitch-slapped the fucker; and issued a restraining order, disallowing it to come within 100 yards of his production. Once the shit goes down in the church (hey, that’s the name of the movie), anarchy prevails. I do not throw these phrases around lightly. Truly, none of the scenes in the Demon-mind-fuckery section of the film lead logically into each other. Item one: a group of folks helps a young bride free herself of her caught-in-the-church-door wedding dress. Another woman wanders the area looking for her glasses. Wrought-iron-gate-wielding possessed-fucker throat-stabs glasses-woman. Cut to: people lounging in the pews, a few falling asleep. "Hey guys, did you not see that woman getting fucking throat-stabbed? What the fuck is wrong with you?" "Ugh. That was so two seconds ago."

Considering that the movie up until the demonic possession mishigas is relatively straightforward, I think it’s safe to say that the incoherence of the last third of The Church is rather intentional. You see, the movie-logic could have remained tethered to reality, but no, those durn demons had to come and ruin everything. Although Evan's late-night-trek-to-the-basement-wherein-he-accidentally-loosens-a-cross-in-the-floor-causing-the-demonic-bodies-below-to-bathe-him-in-blue-light-and-cut-his-hand-which-in-turn-transforms-him-into-a-demon-possessed-killer/attempted-rapist is supposedly responsible for the demonic outbreak, I'm gonna say it was just a coincidence.

As is always the case when folks find themselves trapped in a confined/haunted space, no attempt is made to befriend or even talk to the other people. As for trying to understand the crazy shenanigans, or, at the very least, casually mentioning that mind-fuckery is going on; these folks would rather randomly walk around, separating themselves from those around them. "You're gonna have sex with a demon? That's cool. I think I'm gonna check out this crawlspace by myself. What else am I gonna do?"

Although it would appear that all hope is lost, hope is not lost...well, for one character, anyway. Yes the young sacristan's daughter Lotte (Asia Argento again—wait a minute) is aided by the badass archer-priest Father Gus (Hugh Quarshie). It would seem that Lotte is a reincarnation of the basket-headed girl from ye olden times of olde, and Father Gus is a reincarnation of a murderous knight from that very same ye olden time. Ol’ Father Gus has a trick up his sleeve: destruction. Yes, he soon learns that the church’s architect built a sort of self-destruct mechanism in the church for just such an occasion (again, something that could have been avoided entirely by not building on the fucking demonic burial grounds. Duh, guys). Father Gus saves the day…and by saves the day, I mean he sets off the church-go-boom mechanism, destroying it and everyone in it just as a pile of naked, mud-covered people rises from the basement. Well, at least Lotte survives.

The Church is full of the thrilling camera-work and inventive visuals one expects from an Argento production. Even though Argento wasn't behind the camera, motherfucker's stamp is all over this picture. Indeed, this bears the usual Argento trademarks even more so than the first two entries in the Demons series. Most importantly, as with any great Argento movie, nothing makes a lick of goddamn sense.

[The trailer:]

Dave's Rating:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Superbeast (1972)

dir. George Schenck

And so I come to Superbeast, the second film—after Daughters of Satan—in my early-seventies schlock double-feature. These two pictures share few similarities, mind you—other than their shittiness, of course—they were just part of a double-bill when they were released in 1972. [They were also filmed back-to-back in the Philippines.] I was going to review only Daughters of Satan, but the only poster I could find online was the above embedded double-bill poster. Instead of trying to crop the poster, I thought, "fuck it, I'll just write about both the fuckers."

Luckily for me, Netflix has both of these movies available for streaming. Hooray. I don't even have to wait for the discs. Sorry for bringing up my love of Netflix again; I try to keep that shit to a minimum so folks don't think I'm getting paid to endorse the site. [Side note: In case you’re wondering, I don't make any money from my blog. You can rest assured that my opinions will never become compromised.] Honestly, I don't know why I'm afraid that people might think this. Is there anyone who doesn't know about Netflix? Why would the site pay a nearly unknown blogger to advertise its service? But I digress. No, I bring up Netflix not to continually heap praises on it—though I do love it—but to mention that it almost disappointed me this go-around. To find out what Netflix did, you'll have to continue reading this review. [The suspense must be killing you.]

Superbeast—a sub-standard, The Island of Dr. Moreau/The Most Dangerous Game knock-off—begins promisingly enough. After a crazy escapes from the Philippine jungles and runs amok in Manila, scientist lady Dr. Pardee (Antoinette Bower) travels to the jungle to find out what all the ruckus is about. She soon stumbles across the medical facility/island compound of Dr. Fleming (Craig Littler). Mad scientist in the middle of the jungle? I'm sure no abominations unto the lord are going on up in here. Nope, Dr. Fleming is merely testing out an experimental turn-good serum on criminals, which has the pesky side-effect of turning the men into ape-like, murder creatures. Uh oh. No worries, though, Fleming has hired big game hunter Stewart Victor (Harry Lauter) to hunt down the escaped, feral crazies.

After Dr. Pardee learns of all the manhunting going on, she...shit, what the fuck happened? The movie just stopped? Yes, for some reason, Netflix streaming has available only the first 72 minutes of this 90 minute movie. Why it would do this is beyond me. My best guess is that the Netflix software is in the process of rejecting this shitty movie. It is using antibodies in an attempt to destroy Superbeast before it can metastasize and take down the entire Netflix site. Let's keep our fingers crossed that Netflix wins this round.

You see, despite any strengths it might have, Superbeast is marred like a motherfucker by the post-Mondo Cane, exploitation film tendency to include actual horrors: animals getting killed and an actual cadaver being sliced open so that doctors can fumble with the innards. Jesus fucking Christ, what the fuck was wrong with people in the seventies? You know who says, "Hey, you know what this movie is missing: extended footage of an actual cadaver being disemboweled"? NO FUCKING ONE. That's who. In fact, if you do know someone who's uttered that phrase, call the authorities immediately. And never accept his invitation to check out his newly redecorated basement. Superbeast is the kind of batshit film I usually enjoy the fuck out of, but this unnecessary cadaver shit left such a bad taste that it ruined the rest of the film.

Normally, I would be irate that one of my favorite sites fucked up and prevented me from seeing a movie all the way through, but Netlfix gets—

Dave's Rating:

Monday, January 3, 2011

Daughters of Satan (1972)

dir. Hollingsworth Morse

[I will be reviewing Superbeast tomorrow.]

I am quite the pioneer. In my quest to advance the art of amateur, inconsequential, movie-review blogging I have experimented with many styles: the lazy review; the unduly wordy review of a nonessential movie; the stream-of-consciousness, barely related to the actual movie, review; and the made-up production-history review. Now I have discovered a previously virgin method of blessing the world with my one-of-a-kind review-gasms: the critique of the movie I was falling asleep while watching. Yes, although I have no proof to back it up, I can safely say that no one in the history of anything has ever attempted this. Ever. Ever. What the hell, here's another ever.

While fighting the urge to sleep during the intermittently dull, early-seventies witch/Satan flick Daughters of Satan, I would occasionally think that maybe I should wait to watch this movie when I wasn't so goddamn, freaking tired. Seeing as I was going to, you know, write about it and all, I thought it might help to, you know, remember the details of the movie and all. I fought that urge. I fought that urge like a motherfucker. No, my hordes of readers need to know what my drifting-in-and-out-of-consciousness brain thought about this mediocre horror flick. And so, in my borderline sleep state, I trudged through the picture. I knew the world would thank me for it.

In our introduction to museumer (or art collector, or art teacher, or something art-related) James Robertson (Tom Selleck)—henceforth referred to as Magnum Captain Awesome Mustache P.I.—
the man becomes smitten with a shitty painting that a creepy art-dealer attempts to sell for more than it's worth. Magnum Captain Awesome Mustache P.I. doesn't stand for that grifter shit, however. He gives the art-dealer what for, and hands the man the few bucks that he thinks the painting is worth. He's all like, "Hey, I'm Magnum Captain Awesome Mustache P.I., if you don't think this is good enough, you can like suck my dick and shit." The creepy art-dealer acquiesces.

[Something about this man's fu-manchu/forward comb-over combo just screams trustworthy.]

Why does Magnum Captain Awesome Mustache P.I. just have to have this painting, you may ask. Well, while looking at this centuries-old painting depicting three witches and their hell-hound being burned at the stake, Magnum Captain Awesome Mustache P.I. notices something: one of the witches looks just like his dear, devoted wife. "Damn, the missus sure is gonna love this. I'm just like the best husband ever."

A little word of advice, when your husband comes home and presents you with a painting depicting you as a witch getting burned at the stake, run. One way or another, this marriage will soon be over. In terms of passive-aggressively telling a spouse it's over, in the most serial-killery way possible, this is a notch above, "Hey, honey, I was walking along the beach, saw this dead shark and thought of our relationship. Happy two year anniversary."

For some bizarre reason, James' wife Chris (Barra Grant) reacts none too excitedly to this art acquisition. As we soon find out, her apprehension has nothing to do with the creepiness of the gift. Nay, it turns out the woman is either a reincarnated witch or an immortal witch; I can't remember which. Apparently, she also has amnesia. When she sees the painting, she is not sure why it brings up such bad feelings. It turns out that centuries ago she and her coven got their asses lit up by Magnum Captain Awesome Mustache P.I.'s ancestor. Now they spend their time killing Magnum Captain Awesome Mustache P.I.'s descendants, and then forgetting what happened, repeating the cycle with the next of his offspring. Or something like that.

Anyway, as Chris slowly starts to remember who Magnum Captain Awesome Mustache P.I. is, she comes to terms with the fact that she must kill her beloved husband. She soon comes under the control of the other two women in her coven, and devises the most ingenious plan ever: drug Magnum Captain Awesome Mustache P.I., place him in his car at the edge of a cliff, and place melting blocks of ice in front of the wheels. When the ice melts, Magnum Captain Awesome Mustache P.I.'s car falls down, goes boom. Wait, what? This is seriously the best plan they can come up with? They're fucking witches; they have all the powers of hell at their fingertips. They're the motherfucking daughters of Satan; it says so in the title of the fucking movie. Why would they resort to sub-Bond villain antics? Yet, somehow, despite being the most inept coven ever, this group always manages to get its man.

Daughters of Satan is a rather forgettable entry in the Satanic seventies movies pantheon. It's got some nudity and Tom Selleck's mustache, to be sure, but not much else. No matter what you semi-dream while dozing off/watching this movie, it is sure to be more entertaining than the actual movie.

Dave's Rating: