Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saturn 3 (1980, Kirk Douglas)

Late 70's/Early 80's Sci-Fi has interested me since I was a wee lad. One of the first films I saw in the theater at four years old was The Last Starfighter. I was also a big fan of Star Wars and many other Sci-Fi films of the time. Saturn 3 I had never heard of until recently and though it would fit fine with those other films, this is definitely not a kid's film.

Sometime in the future, there are two lovers/researchers named Annie (Farraw Fawcett) and Adam (Kirk Douglas) who are the lone residents of a research station on one of Saturn's moons, Saturn 3. Their purpose is to find a way to make food for an overcrowded planet called Earth (you may have heard of it). They are visited by Benson (Harvey Keitel), a crazy pilot impersonating a different pilot that he killed before take off. He brings an experiment, a robot named Hector who has a real brain made of a fetus' brain tissue. Adam and Annie soon discover that Benson is crazy and that he and Hector are very dangerous. After being hooked up to Benson via a socket on his neck, Hector begins to target Benson as an enemy because he is a murderer, but not before attaining Benson's attraction to Annie. The older Adam has to figure out what he needs to do before becoming 'obsolete' while Annie needs to save herself from the dirty minds of Hector and Benson.

Saturn 3 is kind of cheesy, but in a good way. The production design is killer, the four characters are great and the story is full of plot twists. Keitel does a great job as the ultra creepy Benson, while Kirk Douglas and Farraw Fawcett (topless or in various skimpy space outfits) are both fun to watch, despite the fact unlikelyness of them being lovers. Hector is one of the scariest robots I can think of and the film almost reminds me of Alien, for some reason.


Hitch-Hike (1977, Franco Nero)

Have I mentioned yet that I love Franco Nero? Well I do. Not like that, but you know he's just one of those actors that is mesmerizing to watch. Like Marlon Brando, Ray Winstone or Oliver Reed, three of my other favorite actors.

Hitch-Hike (or Autostop Rosso Sangue) is a film about the Mancini's, an unhappily married couple embarking on a cross-country trip. The husband Walter (Franco Nero) is a washed up reporter and alcoholic while his wife Eve (Corinne Clery) comes from a rich family and for some unknown reason puts up with Walter. On their trip, they pick up a hitchhiker named Adam (David Hess) who turns out to be a killer on the run with a suitcase containing two million dollars. Adam kidnaps them and decides that he wants Walter to interview and write a book about him, in exchange for one hundred thousand dollars. The Mancini's are skeptical of Adam's plan, unsure of whether he will follow through or just kill them when they reach Mexico.

Hitch-Hike has some very uncomfortable moments and is just a brutal movie. The relationship between the three main characters is very interesting though and you can never quite tell what's going to happen. This is the film that I discovered Franco Nero and it is still one of his best roles. David Hess is in fine form as well as the psychopath, not too far off from his roles in Last House of the Left and House on the Edge of the Park. Corinne Clery is beautiful and a very unique character. Hitch-Hike definitely delivers in all departments and will keep you glued to your seat until the end.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Repo Man (1984, Alex Cox)

Repo Man. Another film that I saw a long time ago and didn't really like it. It really wasn't until I started listening to the soundtrack several years later that I decided to give it another chance. I mean, what movie with Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Fear, Iggy Pop and Suicidal Tendencies (plus more) could be THAT bad?

Repo Man follows (a young) Emilio Estevez, who plays Otto, a teenage punk with no real plans for his future. His parents are hippies who give all their money to a televangelist, he works at a supermarket and his friends are all hoodlums. Until one day when he is duped into helping a repo man repossess a car, do things start to change. He becomes a full time repo man with his new partner Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) and soon learns that a car they are trying to repossess, which is worth $20,000, may have Aliens (or something far more deadly) in the trunk. Who will reach the car first? Bud and Otto, an opposing group of repo men or government special agents?

Seeing this film again was a wise decision. The first time I watched it as a teenager, I liked the first half but the second half was just too weird. Watching it now, I still love seeing Otto's character develop and seeing how he became a repo man. This time though, I really liked how the story unfolded. It was a little silly and a lot strange, but the whole conspiracy direction the film went was fun and entertaining. The actors were all fun to watch too, especially Estevez, Stanton and Cox regulars Sy Richardson and Dick Rude. I'll give another shout out to the soundtrack too, one of the best of all time (assuming you like punk).


Monday, November 17, 2008

Mother, Jugs and Speed (1976, Bill Cosby)

The title pretty much says it all. I had actually never heard of this movie until I saw it on the shelf of my local dvd retailer about 5 hours ago. I put the gift card I got for my birthday to good use and picked it up. I am a slave to compulsion.

F & B, a private ambulance company is full of characters, from the perverted lowlife Murdoch to the cowboy Rodeo. The baddest sumbitch of them all though is Mother (Bill Cosby). Along with dispatcher-turned driver Jennifer aka Jugs (Raquel Welch) and ex Cop Tony aka Speed (Harvey Keitel), this motley group of ambulance drivers do their best to help those in need. They also pay off cops, make whoopie in the back of their ambulances, receive erotic vibrator massages and scare nuns. Will the rival ambulance company Unity take over their turf or can F & B get it together enough to stay in the game?

This movie is exactly what I was expecting. There were some funny parts and the cast was great. Bill Cosby Himself is one of the funniest stand up performances of all time and Keitel is a recent favorite (mainly due to four of his early Scorsese films: Who's That Knocking at My Door?, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Mean Streets and Taxi Driver), so I had to see what they would bring to this. Raquel Welch was very sexiful, making the film even easier to watch. There were some tender moments too, which helped break up the zaniness. Not a classic, but a fun movie for sure. My one complaint is that it was rated PG. There were scenes that were obviously toned down, like one scene where a character mouths Fuck You, but you hear Up You. Up You? I don't know what that means, but I'm going to start saying it.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Two-Lane Blacktop (1971, Monte Hellman)

There's this band, you might've heard of them. They're called the Beach Boys. Well anyway, about a year and a half ago I decided to give the Beach Boys' music more than just the casual listen. Well, 29 or so albums later, I was hooked. I even ended up seeing them play a free concert in Boston that summer, with special guest John 'Have Mercy' Stamos. It was rad. I started following the adventurous life of Dennis Wilson, the Beach Boys' infamous deceased drummer, which led me to his one starring role....Two-Lane Blacktop. Luckily Criterion released this film shortly after with more bells and whistles than you could shake a stick at. Wait, what? You know what I mean.

Two-Lane Blacktop is really about two cars more than any human characters. A GTO, driven by..well, he has no name, but the credits list him as GTO (Warren Oates). The other car, a '55 Chevy is driven by (here we go again) The Driver (James Taylor in his one starring role) and The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson, see above). They are all just out cruising the country with no real destination. The driver and the mechanic stop and race cars for money when they need food or gas. They eventually meet up with GTO and decide to race to Washington D.C. The prize? Whoever loses gives their car's pink slip to the opponent. Along the way, a young hitchhiker tags along and ends up going back and forth between the quiet Chevy and the boastful GTO. Will she distract the drivers from the prize?

The thing that makes Two-Lane Blacktop so great is the fact that it is like no other movie out there. The musicians-turned-actors (James Taylor and Dennis Wilson) really don't have to try too hard to act because their characters have so little dialogue. The film deals more with the cars and the beautiful western landscapes than the characters. GTO and the hitchiker babble on about nothing, while the Mechanic and the Driver are virtually silent, keeping the characters very simple, yet mysterious. Warren Oates is great as the fast talking GTO and Laurie Bird's wandering hitchhiker is very interesting and different. The originality of the film, along with the cinematography and the thought provoking characters make this film a classic road movie. It may not be everyone's taste, but if you "get it", it's well worth the trip.


Heroes (1977, Henry Winkler)

Have you ever stumbled upon a movie you never even knew existed and it ended up really moving you? I came across Heroes that way. I must say that i am grateful for it.

Heroes is the story of Vietnam vet Jack Dunne (Henry "the Fonz" Winkler), who escapes from a Veteran's Hospital with a crazy plan to start up his own business using money from his fellow inpatients. Jack sets out on a cross country bus ride to visit three of his buddies from 'Nam, who are also prospective partners in Jack's new business venture. On the way he meets Carol (Sally Field), a runaway bride who can't decide whether she should go back to her fiance or tag along with Jack. Will Jack's plan work out or will his traumatic past get the best of him?

Heroes is another film that I'm surprised I had never heard of before discovering it recently. The cast is what made me take a chance on it and I was not disappointed. I loved Henry Winkler in Nightshift and I wanted to see more of his films from that era. Sally Field also gave a great dramatic performance, as did Harrison Ford in one of his early roles. Heroes is funny and sad, but most of all very touching. You can't help but feel sorry for Winkler's character and really hope he can fulfil his dream.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Once (2006, John Carney)

Don't worry, you are still at the B Movies and Beyond blog. No, I have not gone completely batshit for writing about this movie. Occasionally you'll see me review films that are not typical "B movies". These would be the "Beyond". Anyway, I remember hearing about Once shortly after it came out and I instantly knew it was something I'd enjoy. Unfortunately, it took about two years to finally get to see it.

Once is the story of a musician/vacuum cleaner repairman who meets, what seems like, his perfect soul mate. She is a musician too and together they begin to collaborate and write songs together. In the meantime it is revealed that they both have other people in their lives that make it impossible for them to be more than just friends. As they become inseparable, they put a band together to record some songs in a studio before they go their separate ways. Will their feelings for each other get in the way on their last few days together?

Once is everything I was hoping it would be and then some. The fact the lead actors in the film are actually musicians and not actors is no small feat. They are so believable that you would swear they were professionals. The emotion portrayed in Once is rarely seen in any film. I'll admit that I got teary eyed during a few parts, not necessarily because of sadness. The film just moved me beyond words. Best of all though was the music, which was excellent and could not have accented the film better.


Nil by Mouth (1997, Gary Oldman)

I've been reviewing a lot of horror films lately, what with Halloween passing and whatnot. Nil by Mouth is no exception. Though you won't find it on the shelf at Blockbuster squished between Night of the Living Dead and Nosferatu, this film can easily be called Horrific.

Nil by Mouth follows Ray, a drug/alcohol abuser, father, wife beater (among other things) with a mouth like a poopy toilet. Seriously folks, according to IMDB, the word "fuck" and its variations are used 522 times, an average of 4.25 times per minute in this movie. Ray lives with and abuses his pregnant wife Val and lives next door to Val's drug addicted younger brother Billy and mother. The day to day life of these working class folks is depressing and appalling, from the violence, debauchery and worst of all, denial. Will the family be able to stay together or will it continue to spiral out of control?

Nil by Mouth is one of the most depressing films I have ever seen. Gary Oldman, in his writing/directing debut, paints a horrendous portrait of a dysfunctional family about to self destruct. Ray Winstone (my new favorite actor) is so believable in this role that you just want to up and smack him. The whole cast is great and the film's darkness really lends to the story. Definitely not a "feel good"movie, but just fascinating nonetheless.


Pieces (1983, J. Piquer Simón)

Bare with me here, I'm going to reminisce. Picture a skinny 16 year old kid walking into a small hole in the wall video store. As you walk in, you are greeted by a short bald guy with a beard named Morris, the store owner. In the back of the store, a group of kids with wizard hats and dental headgear are playing that role playing card game Magic. You pass by the new releases and the action films and head to the far right of the store. There lies my favorite section: HORROR! I scan the alphabetical titles. Anguish...Basket Case...Carrie....seen 'em. As I make my way to the P's, something catches my eye. Pieces. Haven't seen that one before. Looks like a Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired whodunit slasher. I'll give it a shot.

Pieces opens with a boy butchering his mother with an axe after she catches him with a puzzle of a naked woman. 40 years later, a series of murders begin at a University in Boston, the same town the boy killed his mother in. Girls are mysteriously being murdered and dismembered. The strange thing though is that after every murder, a piece of the body is missing. Could it be cannibalism like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre? A pair of detectives, a student at the college and an undercover tennis player (wtf?) are all trying to find out the truth, but will they survive...or end up in Pieces?

Like I said above, Pieces was a film I first saw in my teenage years. I remember dubbing a copy of it from two VCRs and watching it several times. It must have been a great movie, right? Well...not exactly. The acting is terrible. The dubbing is terrible. The budget is non-existent. However, the film's story is original and the gore are top notch. Not to mention, Pieces also has oodles of nudity. Even watching it now, I was wincing during some of the killings...and even more so during some of the dramatic scenes (the infamous "Bastard!!" scene instantly comes to mind). Pieces is definitely not for everyone, but if you're looking for a cheesy exploitation/horror film, then this one is perfect. Also, the ending is one of the best in Horror history. It totally creeped me out the first time I saw it.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Hell Ride (2008, Larry Bishop)

Hell Ride is a film I first heard of through its association with Mr. Quentin Tarantino. After seeing a trailer online I knew it was something I'd be interested in , basically an over the top, violent, exploitation/biker film.

Here's where I give a brief synopsis of the film. A group of bikers called the Victors, led by Pistolero (Writer/Director/Co-producer Larry Bishop) go in search of...wait, what were they searching for? I remember there was a box or something. Oh and Dennis Hopper and David Carradine appear too. Vinnie Jones is super bad-ass as the rival gang's leader. Michael Madsen as Gent and Eric Balfour as Comanche are very good too, as Pistolero's right hand men.

As you can tell, I don't really know what the film is about. But you know what? It doesn't really matter. The film succeeded in accomplishing what it was trying to: make a modern day exploitation biker film. I knew Hell Ride would be extreme, but I wasn't expecting this. The only thing more shocking than the amount of violence, profanity and (soft-core worthy) nudity is the fact that the film received an R rating and can be purchased at your local Walmart. I have seen plenty of sleazy films, many have been banned all over the world and few of them can hold a candle to Hell Ride. With all that being said, I really enjoyed the film. Hell Ride is chock full of many genre veterans, all of which are in fine form here. I'll admit that I had never heard of Larry Bishop until this film, but I can promise I'll be seeking out more of his works. I guess you could call the muddled story a little disappointing but the film makes up for it in many other ways.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

Dune (1984, David Lynch)

I remember pretty clearly when Dune came out. I was only about 4 years old. I used to see the action figures and playsets at the local Child World. The film was definitely within my radar but it wasn't until I was about 15 that I finally experienced Dune. And here it is, 12 years later that I am experiencing it again.

Dune is the story of...okay, does anyone really get this movie? When the film was first released in theaters, the audience was given cheat sheets listing many of the terms used in the film (characters, planets, etc.). My dvd also has a cheat sheet, which I'll admit helped out a bit. Anyway, I'll give it a shot. In the far away future (like 8 bizzilion AD or whatever), two opposing families, the Atreides and the Harkonnens, fight to gain control of the almighty spice, found in abundance on the planet Arrakis, aka Dune. Young Paul Atreides is soon acknowledged as the new messiah and targeted by the Harkonnens as their main threat. Can Paul and his allies conquer Dune or will the Harkonnens triumph? Or, will those crazy ass sandworms eat them all for breakfast?

That's my best shot at explaining the plot of this classic sci-fi film. The great thing about Dune is that you don't really need to understand everything that's going on to enjoy the film. Between the detailed set design, futuristic costumes, dazzling special effects and frightening creatures (courtesy of E.T. designer Carlo Rambaldi), the story is almost an afterthought. you can't deny that the wacky story and the world created in Dune is incredible, just a little hard to follow at times. Still, few sci-fi films can rival the originality of Dune.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Suburbia (1984, Penelope Spheeris)

Penelope Spheeris' first film, The Decline of Western Civilization, is one of the greatest documentaries of all time. Few other directors have captured a moment in time so perfectly, that moment being the late 70's/early 80's L.A. punk scene. You really felt like you knew the characters and were there. So instead of following The Decline with another documentary, Spheeris did the next best thing: she scooped up some young punks and made a fictional story that itself could be mistaken for a documentary.

Suburbia is about a teenage boy named Evan who runs away from his alcoholic mother to live with a bunch of punks in an old abandoned house. The punks, or T.R. (The Rejected) are generally innocent kids who have no place to go and spend more time defending themselves against small minded jocks and adults than causing real trouble. Surprisingly, one of the only characters to treat them fairly is one of the kids' fathers, who is also a cop. Eventually Evan's young brother Ethan comes to live with them after his mother is arrested for DUI and the two struggle, along with the other T.R., to survive in a violent world where they are outcasts who just don't fit in.

Suburbia is another personal favorite and classic for any punk lover. Spheeris does a great job making her fictional story of rebellious youth feel like a documentary. Yes some of the acting is not very good, but these were kids just plucked off the street to basically play themselves. The story doesn't glorify the punks as being angels, but shows them as they really are: rude, obnoxious and very misunderstood. Another highlight is the concert performances by punk greats D.I., The Vandals and T.S.O.L. Also, look for Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers as Razzle, a punk with a pet rat who likes to destroy stuff.


Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1981, Diane Lane)

Until this film recently made its debut on DVD, I had never even heard of it. Even with its obscurity, I am still shocked that I managed to miss this great story of media manipulation in the music industry.

The film follows Corinne "Third Degree" Burns (a 15 year old Diane Lane), a small town rebel with a big time plan. After being featured on national TV, Corinne, her sister and her cousin (a young Laura Dern) start an all girl band called the Stains. They quickly find a gig opening up for an aging glam band called the Metal Corpses, fronted by burnout Lou Corpse (The Tubes' Fee Waybill) and punk band the Looters (featuring Steve Jones and Paul Cook from the Sex Pistols as well as Paul Simonon of the Clash). After the Metal Corpses leave the tour, the Stains start receiving mass amounts of attention, thanks to an over-zealous newscaster. That, along with a love affair between Corrine and Billy, the lead singer for the Looters (Ray Winstone), causes major tensions between the two remaining bands.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this film fucking rules! First of all, the cast is perfect. Ray Winstone is so believable as a british punk, Fee Waybill as an Alice Cooper wannabe and Diane Lane as underage punk princess, there were times you'd swear you were watching a real documentary. The music in the film is great (I wish they'd release the damn soundtrack, like they were originally planning) and the story of how the media can be a double edged sword is fantastic. I really can't say enough good things about this movie. I saw it for the first time less than two months ago and already it ranks with some of my favorites.


Scum (1979, Ray Winstone)

Ok, Halloween is over. Now I'm going to branch out a little and review some non-horror films. People keep asking "so are you going to strictly review horror movies?" Well, this review should answer that question.

Ray Winstone is an actor that only recently came to my attention with his roles in The Proposition, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (review coming soon), The Departed and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I read about an early role he did in a controversial film called Scum and decided to check it out. The fact that it was released on the great Blue Underground helped seal the deal.

Ray Winstone plays Carlin, a young delinquent thrown in a juvenile detention center with a bunch of violent and troubled hooligans. After being attacked by some of the inmates, he decides things are going to change. Soon Carlin takes charge and actually makes things worse the others, changing nothing for the better. The other inmates have their own struggles to deal with, including suicide, racism, violence and rape.

Scum is a bleak and depressing film. I kept expecting Winstone's character to rise above the brutality of his fellow "Screws" and "Cons". I think the fact he ends up adding to the problem is what makes the film so raw and powerful. My only real complaint with the film are the scenes with the vegetarian Atheist, Archer and the unnecessary focus on some of the lesser characters. If Winstone was in every scene, the film would have only benefitted from it.


What were you for Halloween?

Halloween. Easily my favorite time of year. Too bad it had to end. Oh well, at least I got to embarrass myself at work again with a stupid costume that no one knew what I was. Last year I was Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing. My co-workers thought I was either the Wolfman with a wife beater or the guy from Lord of the Dance. Oh well. This year, as I'm sure you can tell from the picture, I was Charlie Brown in his ghost costume from It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Shame on you if you didn't know that.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Seed of Chucky (2004, Jennifer Tilly)

It's only logical that the Child's Play series would follow the winning comedic horror formula of Bride of Chucky. Not that the original Child's Play didn't work but that had already been copied in the first two sequels.

At the end of Bride of Chucky, Tiffany popped out a little killer monster baby doll. The doll survived and has been in England as a freak show performer named Shitface. Shitface escapes from the freakshow to search for his real parents and ends up in Hollywood, where there is a film being made about the Chucky legend. The young doll resurrects his parents and the murders begin, though Shitface (now called Glen) doesn't want anything to do with killing. Will Chucky and Tiffany swear off killing to win the affection of their son or will their murderous ways continue, eventually pulling Glen in?

Seed of Chucky is a clever concept and has several funny scenes (the best of which feature the brilliant John Waters). As a horror film, it's lacking the suspense of the original and the movie within a movie subplot (featuring rapper Redman and Jennifer Tilly herself) is pretty bad. The film could have been better but there are enough things going for it to make it worth watching at least once.