RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: February 2013

Dead Space: Aftermath (2011): For Gamers Only

Dead Space: Aftermath (Mike Disa, 2011)

 

photo credit: geektyrant.com

Don’t blink…

As of yesterday morning, I had fifteen movies on my Netflix queue rated less than two stars. I have since watched four of them, and have only agreed with one (Hellraiser: Revelations). I liked, give or take, the first animated Dead Space movie, and I liked, give or take, Aftermath (current Netflix rating, according to my instant-streaming page: 1.9), which covers the events between the first and second games. Understand that “liked” is a term I’m using loosely here. Animated movies have to be judged on a different set of criteria than live-action movies do. You have to expect overacting from the voice characters, you obviously don’t have to worry about cinematography, lighting, etc., and the most important guy behind the camera isn’t the director, it’s the lead animator. In this case, I can’t quite be sure who that is; the credits list “key animation director”s, but only for two of the sequences (there are five, four flashbacks and a wraparound). For what it’s worth, the two listed are Jung-eun Kim (Millennium Actress) and Eun-kyung Kwon (in is feature debut). Is it these guys I should be yelling at? I got no clue.

Spoiler Alert!

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t played the games, the plot summary contains major spoilers for the film (I assume most people interested in watching the movie will be fans of the game, so I’m not terribly concerned about spoilers). If you have not yet (a) seen Aftermath and/or (b) played Dead Space 2, which by default gives away the end of the movie, skip the next paragraph.

 

photo credit: tumblr

Three of the four survivors, looking haggard.

Plot: Aftermath takes us through the events that get Nolan Stross (voice of Ghost Game‘s Curt Cornelius, who also voices Nolan Stross in Dead Space 2) into captivity next to Isaac Clarke, protagonist of the original Dead Space, in The Sprawl. As we open, a rescue team is boarding the O’Bannon to look for survivors. They find four: Stross, Isabel Cho (voice of Heathens and Thieves‘ Gwendoline Yeo), Alejandro Borges (voice of Piranha 3D‘s Ricardo Chavira), and Nickolas Kuttner (voice of The Dark Knight Rises‘ Christopher Judge). Two scientists, an engineer, and a security officer. They are taken back to The Sprawl and questioned, one by one, about what happened on the O’Bannon; the story each tells fills in another piece of the puzzle of what happened on the O’Bannon (and on Aegis VII’s mining colony).

photo credit: xenomorphosis.com

It’s Dead Space, you idiots, WE WANT THESE.

 

Ultimately, there are two main problems with Aftermath. The first is… we don’t see a necromorph until forty-five minutes into the movie? What? Granted, that’s probably only going to be a problem for the gamers, but then like I said, I assume most everyone watching this will be familiar with the games. The second is the animation. It’s okay for a computer game, but… well, let me put it this way: we’ve had some movies over the past decade or so with great animation, but ridiculous stories, when the stories even exist (Final Fantasy and Immortel: Ad Vitam come to mind immediately). Here we have the opposite problem. You combine that animation with these compelling stories and you’re going to get a movie that will wow people pretty hard. (Assuming you add some necromorphs earlier on, that is….) As it is, though, I think this is only applicable to hardcore Dead Space gamers, and even a bunch of those are going to be disappointed in this. **

 

Trailer.

50 Million Frenchmen (1931): …Could Be Wrong…

50 Million Frenchmen (Lloyd Bacon, 1931)

[note: review originally published 12Jul2010]

 

photo credit: moovidadb.com

Olsen and Johnson, with a side of Bacon.

50 Million Frenchmen is kind of the story of the little men that couldn’t. First off, there’s director Lloyd Bacon, a man who made one hundred thirty films in his career and managed to get a single award nomination. (In Venice, not Hollywood. And he didn’t win.) Then there were Olsen and Johnson, Vaudeville comedy team par excellence who, unlike a number of other Vaudeville stars (George Burns comes immediately to mind), never really made the jump to film successfully (with the arguable exception of Hellzapoppin’, which is a great film, but didn’t garner nearly as much commercial success as the stage play). While Olsen and Johnson were top-billed, the actual central character of the flick is played by William Gaxton—who, in contrast to Bacon, made just ten films in his career, and this at a time when actors were still on studio payrolls, and often showed up in a dozen films a year. (Especially character actors.) Like Olsen and Johnson, Gaxton was a vaudeville man trying to break into film, with the results we see on his IMDB page. Then there’s the female lead, Claudia Dell, stunning but couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag. She was one of those dozen-films-a-year character actors for about a decade before vanishing in 1939. (She would eventually appear in a few movies in the mid-forties before getting out of the business entirely and taking a job in a beauty salon.) They didn’t even manage to credit the film’s biggest star (Bela Lugosi, who does a hilarious turn as a magician.) It has all the hallmarks of a spectacular failure. Was it? I will cede the floor, briefly, to the Wikipedia article on Chic Johnson: “[Olsen and Johnson] were given contracts by Warner Bros. in 1930 to appear as the comic relief in a number of musicals including Oh, Sailor Behave (1930), Gold Dust Gertie (1931) and a lavish Technicolor version of Fifty Million Frenchmen (1931). Unfortunately, 1931 saw a backlash against musicals, and their last two pictures were released sans music. It didn’t help.” I should note in passing that the cut I viewed was in black and white.

photo credit: rsmoviedownloads.com

Never an English speaker around when you need one.

It’s the old story: boy (Gaxton) meets girl (Dell). Boy is still involved with other girl (Helen Broderick), but dumps her to pursue girl. Boy is bet that he can’t get girl to accept marriage proposal in two weeks, with an added stricture: he is not allowed to draw on any of his cash reserves. Cummings (Registered Nurse‘s Jack Halliday), who makes the bet with him, then hires freelance private investigators (Olsen and Johnson) to make sure he doesn’t cheat on the bet.

photo credit: travsd.wordpress.com

“No one will notice us if we just stay behind the pillar…”

It’s your basic thirties comedy flick, with less a plot than a bunch of comic set pieces loosely tied together with a frame. It’s the same problem I have with so many thirties comedies, especially when I think about the fact that coherent comic films were already being made by Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and other folks like that. It’s also hard not to apply hindsight, because later on, the two types of comedy would be combined in some phenomenally successful films (the two obvious examples being It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Airplane!; for that matter, even Hellzapoppin’ does it better, though not as well as those two); I realize pretty much everyone working on this flick was a Warner Brothers hack attempting to churn this thing out as fast as possible, but seriously, one more rewrite and it might have been gold. Still, if you’re a fan of any of the principals, it’s worth checking out. ***

 

Taaaaaaaaaaaah-RAILAH!

Shauna: Every Man’s Fantasy (1985): One of the Most Offensive Movies Ever Made

photo credit: Oregon State University

Shauna: Every Man’s Fantasy (Roberta Findlay, 1985)

[note: review originally published 1Dec2008]

photo credit: ebay

Nothing says greenbacks like Dead Porn Star.

The most surprising thing about Shauna: Every Man’s Fantasy—the movie Roberta Findlay created to cash in on the publicity surrounding the suicide of porn star Shauna Grant—is its screenwriting credit. (Who knew porn films had screenwriting?) The script was turned in by one John Fasano, doing his first work in Hollywood. The name might not mean much to you, but Fasano did the one thing everyone in porn wants to do, and so few ever achieve: he went from the adult industry into the mainstream. Three years after this, he directed Black Roses, one of my favorite really, really awful rock and roll horror films of the eighties. Soon after, he would give up directing and go back to writing, but not in the adult industry; Fasano has written the scripts for, among others, Beverly Hills Cop II, Saving Jessica Lynch, and, in the height of irony, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2. From porn to Christian proselytization. Brilliant.

photo credit: me

One of the very few screencaps that can be taken from the film showing Grant fully clothed.

Findlay, never one to shy away from doing what would make her the most money, intercuts archive footage of the late Grant’s films with “investigative journalist” Michelle Maren (who never worked in film again after this despite a promising porn career in the early eighties) asking questions of people in the adult film industry who worked with Grant over the course of her very short career. Most of them center around the question “can porn kill?”, and are answered about as you expect.

Interestingly, however, the fact that there was a screenplay shines through at every opportunity here, as all of the interviewees come off as if they’re reading off teleprompters. (If you ever wondered why so few adult film stars can break into the mainstream business, this is actually a really good overview, given the number of folks interviewed.) And, of course, there are other random sex scenes thrown in for no good reason, as there are in just about every porn flick I’ve ever seen.

photo credit: yours truly

Hard-hitting interview techniques pay off.

In other words, as you could probably surmise by reading between the lines of this review, the actual amount of Shauna Grant you get in this movie is minimal at best. I’ve been listening to twenty years of hype about this since its release, but never got around to seeing it until now, and I’ve gotta tell you, it ain’t worth it. *

The worst thing? A youtube search for “Shauna Every Man’s Fantasy Trailer” comes up with stuff that’s even worse than this. Trust me, you don’t want to go there.  Instead, CUTE BABY ANIMALS.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009): Werner Herzog: Port of Crazy Nutzoid Filmmaker

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (Werner Herzog, 2009)

 

photo credit: impawards.com

You can find roughly eighty different movie posters for PoCNO online; this is my favorite. Wonder why?

There are a lot of rumors floating around about this movie. If I’m reading between the proper lines, here’s the story that seems right to me: Werner Herzog had a script about a crazy cop going on a rampage. It was called Port of Call: New Orleans. The movie’s producers had the rights to the name Bad Lieutenant, and were trying to turn Abel Ferrara’s masterpiece—which Herzog had never seen (and to my knowledge still hasn’t)—and thus insisted on the title having Bad Lieutenant in it somewhere. Herzog’s compromise was to simply use both titles, ignore the Abel Ferrara connection altogether, and go ahead and make the movie he wanted to make. Thus, the correct way to approach PoCNO is to ignore the title altogether and go into it with no expectations. And if you do this, you are almost guaranteed one hell of a good time.

photo credit: dailytrojan.com

“Wow, I never even knew I liked rap music before!”

Plot: Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage in the role he was born to play) is a police officer in the city of New Orleans. He is so corrupt that the very word “corrupt” has ceased to have meaning, as it relates to Terence McDonagh; he lives in a world of his own. Assigned the case of five murdered illegal Senegalese immigrants in what may have been a drug deal gone wrong, McDonagh finds himself in close with Big Fate (played by rapper Xzibit), a New Orleans crime lord who realizes as much as McDonagh does that a partnership between the two could be mutually beneficial…

photo credit: weirdmovies.com

This has become the most famous scene in the movie. Probably because it makes NO GODDAMN SENSE.

Plot, here, is secondary; this is a movie about Nic Cage doing massive amounts of drugs, wandering around New Orleans in a haze, encountering criminals and rogue iguanas, and once in a while attempting to do his job (and doing it so ineptly that he can’t help but be promoted, as we see in the opening scene). If you’re looking for some sort of coherence, you’re in the wrong movie; this is an impressionist romp in the same vein as, say, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser or Even Dwarfs Started Small rather than the kind of movie Herzog has become known for over the years (either the brilliant documentaries or the obsessive, driven fictional films like Invincible or the films he made with Klaus Kinski). It’s not meant to be anything more than a hefty dose of fun, and as long as you take it on its own terms, you’ll have a blast with it. *** ½

 

I understand Xzibit’s new album is going to be called Return of the Stoned Iguana

Mykonos Illusions (1978): Greece Is the Word, Is the Word that You Heard

photo credit: Oregon State University

Mykonos Illusions (Stratos Markides, 1978)

[note: review originally published 5May2011]

 

photo credit: scv.nu

The cover art may be the most erotic thing about the movie.

If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you’ll have heard me harp on time and again about the death of the porn industry as we knew it and how seventies porn is, in the main, much much better than the plotless silliness that passes for porn today. Well, having now seen Mykonos Illusions, I am willing to admit there are exceptions to every rule. It almost seems as if Markides, now a successful TV director, and screenwriter Vasilis Manousakis (who also made the successful leap to TV before passing away in 1998) could see the path the porn industry was taking, and wanted to get there before everyone else, but weren’t quite sure how.

 

photo credit: me

“Please, I desperately require your help…with my make-up.”

…which is to say that this movie is light, very light, on plot. What there is is thus: Suzan (Patricia Donaldson, whose only other big-screen role was a bit part in Mr. And Mrs. Smith… no, the Brad Pitt remake from 2005), a hooker, gets into a fight with her pimp that ends up with her shooting him. On the run from the cops, she flees to the island of Mykonos, where her old friend Petros (Far Away from Here‘s Rui Gomes) and his new business partner Katia (Real Pleasure‘s Christina Armora in her final film role) reside. The two of them take her in, but she soon begins to suspect ulterior motives in their having done so.

photo credit: me

“No, I’m not Mick Jagger. But if you pay me enough, I could be.”

 

In some ways it’s like an odd amalgam of Performance and one of the stranger, more arty seventies porn films (think Baby Rosemary, maybe). Nothing that’s going on ever really makes sense, and when the Big Reveal(TM) that’s supposed to give us all the clues to the mystery happens, it doesn’t work—we’re still wondering how half the movie fit in at all. If it did; I’m still not one hundred percent sure it was all the way it was supposed to be. If you like your porn natural (which is, of course, the other part of the death of the industry—widespread access to cheap plastic surgery) but plotless and oddly un-explicit, you might get something out of this mess. Otherwise, look elsewhere. *

 

No clips online. Thus, a “visit Mykonos” travel agent video!

Goon (2011): Got Any Percocets?

Goon (Michael Dowse, 2011)

photo credit: IMDB

Disney on ice this ain’t…

IMDB reports the release date of Goon as 2011 (specifically, it seems to have premiered at TIFF on September 10, 2011), but most of the world didn’t get it until 2012. Which is why I’ve seen it popping up on best-of-2012 lists around the Internet all year. I agree 100% with these assessments—hilarious and heartbreaking by turns, Goon is another of those movies that makes me wonder why I find myself so in love with sports movies when, in general, I can’t stand sports.

Read the rest of this entry

Panggil Namaku 3x (Say My Name 3x) (2005): Candygirl, Candygirl, Candygirl

Say My Name 3x (Koya Pagayo, 2005)

[note: review originally published 1Dec2008]

 

photo credit: mohtarefon.com

Everyone needs a hug once in a while.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if an enterprising director decided to combine Candyman with Mean Girls? Well, you need wonder no more, for Indonesian director Koya Pagayo has done exactly that in Say My Name 3x, an atmospheric, kinda fun, but ultimately directionless attempt at comedy-horror.

 

photo credit: me

“We have got to get someone in to look at the mirrors in this house…”

Lara (Hayria Lontoh) is the class outcast, the butt of the jokes played by the popular kids. She finds herself with a chance to turn the tables, if only she’ll call Rosemary Marian into existence. All well and good, except as they usually do, the ghost also has an agenda of its own, and wants to use Lara to achieve it.

photo credit: me

“I can’t help you. But I’m very good at making the serious face that makes you THINK I can.”

 

I find it kind of interesting that none of the other reviews I’ve seen for this one have said anything about the comedy aspect of the movie. If you take it as a straight horror film, it comes off as silly, derivative tripe. But if you look at it more as a comedy, it looks a good deal fresher. And it really is funny, which was something of a surprise. Still, it’s predictable, given that you’ve seen variations on this plot so many times before, so if you’re looking for something that will surprise you, go elsewhere. But for killing time some night when you’ve got nothing better to do and you’ve seen all the Asian horror flicks you own already too many times? Track down a copy of this one. It’s fun. ***

 

The first part of the full movie on Youtube–the rest of the pieces are linked in the sidebar.

Sex with a Stranger (1986): A Poster Child for Bad Porn

photo credit: Oregon State University

Sex with a Stranger (Chris Monte, 1986)

[note: review originally published 29May2011]

photo credit: yours truly

Obviously, much of the budget for this picture went into title design.

The mid-eighties were the time when everything went to hell in the porn industry. There were still a few lame attempts to put out plot-based porn, and a few of them are halfway worth watching (e.g. Star Angel, with Taija Rae), but it seems that by ’86, directors had seen which way the wind was blowing and were sacrificing more and more plot for outrageously extended sex scenes. I’ve never seen a film quite as missing-link in this regard as Sex with a Stranger; one might even be inclined to call it the Piltdown Man of porn. Not only because it’s a kind of link between what we shall call “the time when porn was actually good” and “the time when porn was absolute shit”, but because in many ways, this movie is about as authentic as your great great grandmother’s teeth.

photo credit: me

“But if both of your hands are on the table, what’s that up my skirt?”

Sex with a Stranger does distinguish itself by being one of the most recent porn films I’ve ever seen that tries to make a stab at being plot-based with a straight face that isn’t based straight off one single film; I grant you it’s still painfully derivative (when there’s any plot to be had), but at least it’s derivative of multiple films. The most obvious antecedent is And Then There Were None, but one can catch The Wrong Box, April Fool’s Day, Clue, and a handful of other flicks in there as well. Basic plot: a bunch of strangers get mysterious invitations, each of which involves half a thousand-dollar bill and half of some item the owner would like all of (a script in the case of an actor, a Vogue contract for a fashion model, etc.), to a mansion. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself; first, there’s a quick (for this movie, anyway) scene-setter with Sheena Horne (the most beautiful actress in the bunch, and ironically the only one of them not to have been a household name in porn-fan households at some time in the past twenty-five years), who’s already at the mansion, and whose proclivities give them movie its title. In any case, when Horne drops in on the parlor, she finds the rest of the crowd has gathered. (I’m sure they all had names in the film, but I didn’t notice.) There’s the aforementioned fashion model, played by Nina Hartley, who’s since become a behind-the-cameras mover and shaker in the porn world; a doctor, played by Keisha; a professional girlfriend, played by Ebony Ayes; a salesman, played by Randy West; an actor and a clothing inspector, played by Greg Derek and Scott Irish, and with IMDB not giving me headshots I can’t tell you which is which. In any case, Horne reveals the reason they were all summoned (I’m not going to tell you), and then, in between sex scenes ranging from the relatively steamy to the outright “what on earth were you thinking filming this?”, members of the, ah, party start being killed off one by one.

photo credit: me

Is it still voyeurism if they’re dead?

Don’t get me wrong, this COULD have been done very well. But when you’ve got Keisha and Horne messing around on a bed where two dead bodies are sprawled on the other half, at the very least you’ve got to question the taste of the scriptwriters, if not their outright sanity. If you’re looking for thoughtful (though one would hesitate to cross the line into “intelligent” in most cases) porn, you’re going to need to go farther back in time than this. As a curiosity, it may have some archival value in that it’s about as tasteless as mainstream porn gets in places. One way or the other, know what you’re getting into before popping this one into the player. * ½ 

No clip. Instead: Admiral Angry!

The Living Impaired (2005): A Plot to Murder Your Brain Cells

The Living Impaired (Michael Fox, 2005)

[note: review originally published 13Dec2010]

 

photo credit: me

Is it me, or does this look like something from the opening of Magnum PI?

This is the third time this week I’ve found myself wondering what the hell I was thinking continuing to watch a movie. Which is way too much for one week, I have to say, It’s almost enough to make me want to stop watching movies for a while. And maybe I’m just seeing the wrong ones, but why is it that while every other country seems to be making great low-budget zombie flicks these days (off the top of my head, in the last five years I’ve seen wonderful no-budget zombie flicks from Norway, Greece, Korea, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Thailand, and of course Italy), the last two I saw from Canada have hit my 100-worst-movies-ever list before I was even done watching them. Cone on, Canada, you can do a whole lot better than that.

 

photo credit: moi

keep the kiddies out of the make-up cabinet!

I will give this one thing over the execrable Zombies Ate My Neighbours: The Movie: this does have a plot, however boneheaded it may be. A bunch of drunk high school students decide to get together and have a party at the house of a co-ed whose parents were murdered the week before. (Yes, that’s the level of comedy to be found here.) On the way to the party, the first band of students get attacked by a zombie. You know how it goes from there, but the screenwriter (the movie isn’t listed on IMDB and I wasn’t taking notes, so I don’t have names, sorry) did throw vampires into the mix later on, along with the least effective monster hunter since Brad Dourif in I, Desire. The difference, of course, is that Brad Dourif is a fearsome actor. This guy… isn’t.

photo credit: mememe

An example of the make-up the kiddies are not supposed to see. Are you scarred for life now?

 

This was quite obviously a labor of love, shot on a shoestring at best, but the market is so full of no-budget horror flicks now that strata have appeared, and it’s perfectly acceptable to judge these labors of love on their technical merits as well as the amount of enthusiasm the filmmakers put into the movie. When you’ve got stuff out there like Lockout and Baby Blues, or even negative-budget but still watchable stuff like Twisted Issues (Charles Pinion’s first movie), why would you waste your time on something like this that’s badly-acted, badly-shot, and that will make you want your money back even if you watched it free on Youtube? I’ll give it this: it’s not as outright incompetent as Sigma Die!, the worst movie I saw this week, but it runs a pretty close second. ½ 

 

When I wrote that review, as far as I know, you couldn’t actually watch the entire thing free on Youtube. You can now.

The Adventures of a South Pole Pig (2013): FLORA!

Chris Kurtz, The Adventures of a South Pole Pig (Harcourt, 2013)

Full disclosure: this book was provided to me free of charge by Amazon Vine.

 

photo credit: fourthmusketeer.blogspot.com

Punch. It needs more punch.

Sometimes I wonder if folks are even trying any more. Look at that title. There’s no punch there at all. I’d expect it on a book from a century ago, especially a kids’ book. Actually, scratch that: I read Charles Clark Munn’s Uncle Terry: A Story of the Maine Coast last summer. That title has punch—it gives you a name, which identifies you with the character immediately (even if Uncle Terry is, ultimately, only a minor character in the novel), and then gives you an informative subtitle along the lines of, well, “the adventures of a south pole pig.” Uncle Terry was published in 1900, The Adventures of a South Pole Pig in 2013. We’re going backwards, folks, when it comes to roping readers in.

This is, however, one of those cases where you don’t want to judge the book by its cover too much. The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, despite its mouthful of a title, is a pretty fun middle-grade reader. It gives us the story of Flora (Flora!: The Adventures of a South Pole Pig. PUNCH!), an inquisitive piglet who gets loose one day and happens upon a group of sled dogs training. She gets it into her head that she wants to become a sled pig, and when the opportunity to head out to ship arises, Flora jumps at the chance—but as the head sled dog and a press-ganged ship’s cat keep telling her (without actually saying why she’s part of the expedition), Flora’s place will ultimately not be pulling a sled. Yet she keeps showing her ingenuity enough to have the captain stop the cook from turning her into bacon, but her inability to communicate with humans will have readers guessing right up to the end: will she ever really be a sled pig?

I’m impressed with the way Kurtz handles some pretty tough subjects here; this is much more comparable to seventies middle-grade lit (the obvious comparison here is to Peck’s A Day No Pigs Would Die, though from the pork’s POV) im many ways than it is to stuff being produced today. On the other hand is the flip side of that argument; if the book begs comparison to books being written forty years ago, when far more was expected of the average middle-grade reader than is today, based on what I’ve read in the genre (hell, most of the YA/high-school-aged books written in the past decade that I’ve read couldn’t hold a candle, substance- or thick-language-wise to middle-grade readers I was assigned in the seventies like Ethan Frome or The Contender), then it comes up rather short. I’m not going to penalize the book much for that; after all, it was released in 2013, not 1973. But the juxtaposition of fluffy writing and heavy subject matter never quite gelled with me during, oh, the middle third of the book or thereabouts. It came much more into focus in the final third (which is about all I can say about that without spoilers). Could certainly be used as a way to dive into deeper topics with the third- or fourth-grade set, but you may want to skim this one yourself first to gauge its reading level. ***