Thursday, November 3, 2011

Listomania!: Thomas' October 2011 Viewings

FELONY (1995): Pheewwwww! Bad by even our humble standards, but not for a lack of casting. A truly amazing cast in a truly braindead DTV actioner. A group of rogue CIA agents are caught on tape shooting down a dozen DEA agents during a drug bust and now everyone is after that tape. Directed by David A. Prior and stars (*deep breath*) Jeffrey Combs, David Warner, Lance Henriksen, Ashley Lawrence, Joe Don Baker, Leo Rossi and Charles Napier! This is probably the best part of the movie which has to be THE most implausible escape from a bunch of badguys EVER committed to celluloid. Well, temporary escape anyway. The driver looks like one of the hitmen from 15 minutes earlier in the film, so conceivably, he could have been shot because he was recognized and the escape was just happy happenstance. The only problem is… the shooter never encountered that hitman before and even worse, the hitman was already killed by Joe Don Baker that same 15 minutes earlier! Some hilariously braindead moments aren't enough to make up for the lack of everything else, including (sadly) stuntwork. The lack of financing (and maybe the cast's combined wages) meant that the one stunt included is simply stock footage and even worse, the cast is somewhat misused as well. Why did someone think it was a good idea to have David Warner play Lance Henriksen's monosylabic, gum-chewing henchman? I'm pretty sure that is the source of the film's title.



MAN FROM MAJORCA (1984): Bo Widerberg's second police thriller following the classic MAN ON THE ROOF (1976) and it is quite the corker. Loosely based on a story ripped from the headlines and written by someone who was close to the scandal, the film starts with the robbery of a Stockholm post office, evolves into murder and suspicions of corruption at a high level. In addition to all of the normal elements of a taught thriller crafted abnormally well, we get some great character moments with the two detectives, including a sudden decision to only eat Swedish food. Based on Leif G.W. Persson's novel of the same name, this will either infuriate you or captivate you, as Widerberg presents the story almost as a slice of life and doesn't go out of his way to really explain anything to the audience. The viewer is left to puzzle over all the clues while following the detectives and even in the end you will probably have to watch the film again to figure it all out. Gritty and realistic without resorting to cheap tricks, such as excessive hand-held camerawork, I’m saddened by the fact that Widerberg didn’t make a trilogy of police films.

THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1978): Smut-free Radley Metzger! Who would have thunk it? Opinions are deeply divided on this fourth film version of the 1922 play by John Willard. Yes, some of the cast deliver their lines as if they are in their first high-school play, but when do you ever have Honor Blackman, Olivia Hussey and Wilfrid Hyde-White in the same movie? A group of estranged family members meet for a will reading at an eccentric relative's mansion. The will reading is unusual, not only for the fact that the deceased reads the will himself, via film and synched wax recordings, but for the fact that the benefactor will change the next morning, if the heir proves to be mentally unsound or stops living. During a violent thunderstorm a doctor (Edward Fox) from the local asylum stops in to warn them that a psychotic killer who thinks he is a cat is on the loose and could visit this very house! Of course, he does. Wouldn't be much of a movie if he didn't, would it? The film feels a bit stagey, and that may be intentionally so, but while I usually find that sort of thing off-putting, here I rather enjoyed it for some reason. The dialogue (of which there is a lot) moves along at a brisk pace and there are plenty of effective moments. For what it's worth, I thought it was a lot of fun and a perfect antidote to some of brutally braindead stuff I suffered through in October... though you'd never know it from this trailer:



GRIEVOUS BODILY HARM (1988): Slick, twisted thriller that separates itself from the standard '80s Cinemax fodder by being stylish, well acted and Australian. A school-teacher (John Waters in another well-controlled performance) mourning the death of his wife, begins to suspect that she may not actually be dead and that their mutual friends with benefits might be trying to hide him from her, causing his grief to turn to homicidal rage. A crime reporter (Colin Friels) stumbles across the mileu after borrowing some stolen money from a crime scene, while a detective (Bruno Lawrence) tries to figure it all out. There's a lot more to it than that, but telling would ruin the fun. Bits of the plot are uncovered slowly as a the story progresses, but it moves at a fast pace and like many Aussie thrillers allows the audience to piece things together. Drawing inspiration from Italian giallos, the film injects style, atmosphere and characters whose motives and agendas shift as the plot rolls out. Great stuff that would never be made the same way in Hollywood.

HAMMERSMITH IS OUT (1972): Amazing, even in it's cut form, that this ever got made at all. The power of Liz n' Dick, I guess. Peter Ustinov's notorious and notoriously obscure retooling of the "Faust" legend into a black comedy with of the era social satire. Small-minded slob Billy Breedlove (Beau Bridges) does the one thing everybody in the asylum tells him never to do, he listens to Hammersmith (Richard Burton, flawlessly cast). Hammersmith is an inmate who promises anyone who will listen that if they get him out, he will make them "rich and strong, strong and rich". Breedlove, not being the brightest bulb in the pack, sets him free and with an equally deficient waitress (Elizabeth Taylor) they set off to achieve Billy's dreams of richness and strength, without realizing that Hammersmith is a homicidal psychopath with his own agenda. That description doesn't even scratch the surface of the bizarre, twisted insanity that is this film. One great scene has the now wealthy Breedlove's poolside while Hammersmith, in ridiculously giant chef toque, is roasting "baby pigs" with a subtle malicious glee that only an accomplished actor like Burton could pull off.
Independently financed and distributed by John Cornelius Crean, a Fleetwood trailer mogul who decided he wanted to get into the motion picture business, it was critically well received, but a financial flop. Crean only released one other film (the 1971 Bill Cosby drama MAN AND BOY) before folding his tent. Originally released with a 120 minute running time, in spite of the good notices, it was undoubtedly considered too damn strange for the general public and was subsequently cut down to 117 minutes and finally edited to the 108 minute version that can be found on long out of print VHS tapes. According to those who recall seeing the full version in theaters at the time, the deleted footage was some even more bizarre comedy bits, and it seems that those deletions may be permanently lost. There was a rumor that the original pre-cert UK VHS release had a longer cut of the film, but after years of hunting and finally shelling out a fair chunk of change, I can tell you that is definitely not true. Even so, if you like Ustinov's cracked sense of humor, or just enjoy movies that would never be made the same way these days, this is well worth tracking down. It will make you rich and strong... strong and rich...

SHERLOCK - Season 1 (2010): Both gratingly hipsterish and occasionally clever, this BBC updating of classic stories and all new ones manages to be a roller-coaster of cringing youth pandering and occasional moments of quality entertainment. On the plus side, you have Stephen Moffat & Mark Gatiss' years of experience and abilities to craft plots and snappy dialogue, on the other hand you have these two talented men shovelling on the obligatory youth market crap including constant use of cellphones, laptops and that new fangled thing called "blogging" (whatever that is). Not to mention the rampant (and apparently successful) attempts at appealing to the gay demographic (I'd recommend not Googling this show lest you see a lot of fan art depicting things you really don't want to see - unless you're into that sort of thing, not that there is anything wrong with that). The acting is relatively decent, I actually kind of like Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, and Martin Freeman is fine as Watson, though it's hard to shake his "Office" persona. Then there is Moriarity, who with a master-stroke of self-aggrandizing idiocy is played by Mr. Gattis himself who flamboyantly camps it up to levels that would make Lady Gaga blush.
Director Paul McGuigan (responsible for 2006s LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN, if anyone remembers that mess), desperately tries, like all of the other modern filmmaking fourtysomethings, to suck up to the skinny-jeans crowd with rapid edits, slick visuals and text graphics across the screen instead of cutting to a shot of a note or (groan) another freakin' text message. There is some good stuff to be found, like Moffat's penchant for fast-paced, punchy patter, but the constant jokes about Holmes and Watson's questionable ummmm... "orientation" (thank you Mr. Gatiss) and obsession with cell-phones makes this series reek of the desperation of men desperate to retain their youth(market). There is potential for greatness here, and I have no qualms with doing a modern day adaptation, more with the fact that Holmes uses his cell phone more than his brain to solve crimes. That would be like a world-class surgeon checking Web MD before every operation. Some of this is tolerable, but the first episode in particular is total overkill. And speaking of overkill, seriously Gattis needs to be banned from ever appearing on television or film after this ludicrously self-indulgent, over-the-top, cartoon-inspired performance. Dude, this is not a claymation comedy, that behavior is not ok and yes, you are gayer than Christmas (not that there's anything wrong with that).

FROSTBITEN (2010): I'm not sure whether this is proof that the entire planet is in a creative cinematic slump, or just that distributors won't take a chance on anything other than the most obvious wannabe Hollywood films. The opening scene, set during WWII, features a squad of German soldiers taking refuge in a recently abandoned, snowed in cottage. In the middle of the night they realize that if the cottage is snowed in, how did the residents get out? A creepy, atmospheric segment that could have been the springboard for a fantastic film. ...and isn't. All the elements for a great little vampire flick are handed to us and after the set-up it's your standard teens-in-highschool flick that would be right at home in the US (which is probably why it got distribution here). Add a bunch of sit-com set-ups, (how funny is it if you are turning into a vampire and have to meet your girlfriend's parents for the first time? Ummm... not very) and teen comedy and you have a very banal outing punctuated a few glimpses of potential.  What little vampire stuff there is, is either stuff we've seen a million times before (teens with big fangs and glowing contacts growling and snarling like they are pretending to be wild animals on a Mutual of Omaha series), or we've seen it a million times before and it's badly done (cheap CGI, yes!). As we all know, turning into a vampire means animals will talk to you and apparently your enjoyment of this film depends solely on how funny you think foul-mouthed talking dogs are. Damn, that pre-credit sequence was good, though, and this trailer sure makes it look promising, doesn't it?



THE RETURN OF THE WORLD'S GREATEST DETECTIVE (1976): Surprisingly well made TV outing that pretty much rips-off the George C. Scott vehicle THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971). Larry Hagman is Sherman Holmes, a bumbling motorcycle cop who spends more time reading Doyle than catching crooks. After his motorcycle falls on his head, he suddenly believes himself to be Sherlock Holmes and enlists the help of Joan "Doc" Watson (Jenny O'Hara) to help him solve a series of murders. Feather-weight, in tone and budget, it still is still a lot of fun with Hagman turning in a fine performance and even Sid Haig popping up at the end.

COUNTRY CUTIES BARNYARD BASH (1989): We had this at the video store I worked at back in the day and when we got this in, for some reason, the owner decided it should go in the "Special Interest" section along with the 20 or so Jane Fonda work-out videos that we had. Hey, it's got girls who look kinda like they are dressed for some sort of aerobic activity, right? Shot on the cheap in Ft. Lauderdale (of course!), this is basically a series of Southern-inspired team competitions between girls with teased hair and skimpy blue or pink outfits that frequently have trouble covering up the goodies. Sporting an introduction by a talking horse, a biker announcer, some mulleted refs that essentially do nothing more than stand around with (understandably) goofy grins, and a token black girl for those redneck "plantation" fantasies (err, did I just go there?). The "games" include catching a greased pig, sack races, mud-wrestling, tug-o-war and a variety of other dignified events that would be sure to give Gloria Steinem a myoclonic seizure. Think white trash "American Gladiators" without the budget and with lots of jiggling nekkidity. Tasteless and gratuitous in every conceivable way, this even includes an intermission where some of the girls play country songs topless with the live band that is on hand for no apparent reason. Total moronic trash. God, I wish they had made a sequel.



Moments of Clarity:

1 Reactions:

  1. I love stupid trash like COUNTRY CUTIES BARNYARD BASH. It looks fantastic. I have got to track down a copy.

    About a decade ago I picked up NUDE BASKETBALL/NUDE FOOTBALL at Best Buy. Its just dumb fun with most un-athletic topless chicks you've ever seen. If memory serves, the flag football is played in what I assume is the Director's back yard and the basketball is played with a hoop lower to about 6'. Most of the girls are so top heavy they can't/won't even attempt to run.

    NUDE BASKETBALL/NUDE FOOTBALL can be found on Amazon (ASIN: B00002CGG5).

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