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January 1, 2021

A Binge too Far #14: Film Heritage (1968 – 1975)

Spirits of the Dead (1968) European poster



Recently, I purchased and read the entire Midnight Movie Monographs series by PS Publishing’s Electric Dreamhouse subdivision – namely Jez Winship’s (2016) take on Martin (1977); John Llewellyn Probert (2016) on Theatre of Blood (1973); Sean Hogan (2017) on Death Line (1972); Maura McHugh (2017) on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992); John Connolly (2018) on Horror Express (1972); Tim Lucas (2018) on Spirits of the Dead (1968); Tim Major (2018) on Les Vampires (1915); Kit Power (2019) on Tommy (1975); and Stephen R Bissette (2020) on The Brood (1979). What makes these publications unique is that each one of them are so different from each other in their approaches to the subject on hand (there seems to be no standard format and each writer went his original way), resulting in keeping my interest throughout despite reading them all in less than a couple of months. These books were so fun to read while also remaining very in-depth that I will obviously buy any future volumes and let you know all about them via this column, so stay tuned! Until then, we are now about to take a brief look at two of the films tackled in the series…

 

Reviews:

 

Spirits of the Dead (1968)

 

Spirits of the Dead (1968) U.S. one-sheet

As you probably already know, this co-production between Italy and France, gathers three European art-house directors and lets them tackle as many Edgar Allan Poe stories, resulting in an anthology-formed 2-hour epic that is loved by many and hated by me.

 

First, Roger Vadim directs ‘Metzengerstein’, starring Jane Fonda and Peter Fonda, and it is the most decent episode in the film, as it resembles a Poe adaptation in the vein of Roger Corman’s similar opuses from the era, if nowhere near as good.

 

Then, Louis Malle directs ‘William Wilson’, starring Brigitte Bardot and Alain Delon, a segment full of misogyny and violence, from uncomfortable scenes of whipping to utterly disgusting scenes such as the one in which the lead lady is tied naked and ready to become the subject of an experiment by fully-dressed male doctors, all in the name of science.

 

Finally, Federico Fellini directs ‘Toby Dammit’ starring Terence Stamp, and as is always the case with Fellini’s films it fails because it tries so hard to be artistic, resulting in a most annoying viewing experience.

 

This was distributed in the U.S. by American International Pictures, and a narration by Vincent Price was also added.

 

Tommy (1975) poster
Tommy (1975)

 

Another film that has a place among many ‘100 films you must see before you die’ lists and that I don’t particularly like is this rock opera by The Who (a major band that I am not very fond of) and writer/director Ken Russell (a major figure amongst art-house aficionados that I am not very fond of either).

 

Cult film material since its inception and impossible to define and therefore market, this is essentially a failed experiment (Pink Floyd and Alan Parker did it better in 1982), albeit one that is somewhat salvaged by its impressive cast (main star Oliver Reed is quite amazing).

 

The end result is not without its merits as the endless bombardment of images has you glued to the screen and nauseating. There is also an air of importance about the proceedings especially in scenes such as the Marilyn Monroe worshiping one. This is high art; if your expectations are low.


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December 17, 2020

Movie Review: "The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee" (2020, Transmission Films/Lionsgate)




...ya' know, folks?? There's a classic line from the 1985 apocalyptic actioner, "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome", where the Tina Turner character, Auntie Entity says 'tsk, tsk' resignedly to Max..."...my, how the world turns, doesn't it?? One day...cock of the walk...and the next, a feather duster...". Now, I only mention that line in parallel with "The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee", in a sort of positive, albeit melancholy way. After all, until he surprisingly showed up in an Australian travelogue Super Bowl TV commercial spot, a couple years ago (...a delightful piece of comical whimsy, which rampantly sparked a rumor of a fourth 'Dundee' movie), most folks out there probably assumed that Paul Hogan had quietly retired, faded away, and even outright let loose his mortal coil. Which makes THIS lightweight, slapstick funny 'slice of life' (...what was the line in Blake Edwards' 1988 mystery/comedy?? Something like '...hey, it's all true...give or take a lie or two!!'), all the more surprising...and well, quite amusing actually...

...yes, folks...Paul Hogan proves himself still quite well alive and kicking (...expressively, Paul Hogan and his inescapable 'Crocodile Dundee' character have never really been that far removed from each other...albeit, the latter had the more daredevil/thrill-seeker side to him), and herein this film...playing himself, of course...totally realizes that his legendary 'Crocodile Dundee' celebrity glory days are long-since past (...there ARE the occasional ribs 'n' pokes, here and there, aimed at his other films...and despite the critical naysayers...hey, I LIKED "Lightning Jack", thank you very much!!). All he seems content to do, by this time, is to fully retire, relax, embrace his golden years, and in the course of this film's events, try to make an appearance at his loving grand-daughter's holiday school recital...


...however...Hollywood itself (...gotta love that gawl-darn city of dreams) absolutely loves nostalgia, and equally loves a comeback. And so, with the help of a doting, closely attending, though quite insistent agent (...a sort of 'hand-me-down' agent, actually...the 'daughter' of Paul's supposed original agent), Paul is reluctantly convinced into not only a proposed knighthood by the Queen of England (...seems that "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles" is her favorite movie), but the prospects of yet another 'Dundee' movie (...quite candidly, I loved the bumbling 'faux' movie sequel concept, in that Super Bowl ad...hell, bring THAT on!!). And it's the slapstick aftermath of the announcement of those two lucrative prospects, which Paul finds himself inexplicably caught up in, that invariably ensues...


...what's quite interesting about this film...it's not only about an almost forgotten 'legend', chasing down his glory days (...uh, nope, probably the wrong term...something more like '...for good, or for bad...being reluctantly pushed back into the limelight'), it's also about how our dearly dedicated, albeit quite invasive press and media, just LOVE to exploit a reportable situation...especially if it's not in the best of light. Comeback news is good news...but as history has often dictated, negative comeback news and negative behind-the-scenes behavior makes for even better coverage, as far as journalism goes. And so, with each and every slapstick pratfall, which Paul gets caught up in, the press invariably twists each of the accidentally instilled incidents, so that it makes Paul look like...well, makes him look like an asshole. Something which Paul and/or 'Dundee' himself might have simply shoulder-shrugged off, with a resounding 'eh'...if not for the fact that the negative press is threatening to adversely affect how his dear grand-daughter sees him...



...here...naturally looking older, more weathered (...like, as if he didn't already look weathered enough, some 30-plus years ago), and somewhat slower...nonetheless, Paul Hogan's irreverent, down-under savvy, charm and personality still manages to exude an embraceable sense of both nostalgia, as well as the welcome notion of 'yeah, I might be older and more weathered, but hey...I'm still kickin'. Actress Racheal Carpani is typically affecting enough as Paul's frazzled, albeit dedicated agent/manager, without going overboard on the standard character (...as opposed to the ol' stereotype of '...daw-leen...you look faw-bulous'), as she repeatedly/exasperatedly buries her face in her hands, with each and every bit of trouble that Paul inadvertently gets into. Nate Torrance, as a bumbling photographer, trying to get any inside 'dope' on Paul, and instead ends up palling around with him, seems sort of negligible in the sense that he appears to be playing the same type of bumbling character that actor Jonah Hill used to play, early in his career. And upcomer Jacob Elordi is charming, albeit somewhat ill-used as Paul's live-in son, who seems to come off here looking like a handsome yuppie adult version of John Cusack's smarmy and talented lil' brother, in the 80's flick, "Better Off Dead", with Paul (...who accepts and loves the lad, but really doesn't know a lot about him) inadvertently walking in on him, or bumping into him, entertaining the ladies in his room, or cooing poolside guests with a light-strumming guitar riff...


...but then, the overall sense of nostalgia in this little trite of a film, amusingly stretches beyond that of Paul Hogan himself. Playing themselves...Olivia Newton-John, Wayne Knight (...as an unexpected house guest of Paul's), and Reginald VelJohnson (...remember 'Gus', the limo driver in the original "...Dundee"...and of course, his cop role in "Die Hard"??) seem little more like quick '...hey, that's (fill in the blank)' roles, but it was still rather fun and nice to see them. The funniest cameo bits here, however, can be attributed to Chevy Chase...here, exaggeratedly playing up the supposed 'asshole' persona that the press has often reportedly attributed him as...and at the same time, he's amusingly thumbing his nose at the notion...as well as John Cleese, herein exasperatedly resigned to string out his remaining post-comedic twilight years as an unlicensed, chase-happy Uber driver. Heck, even fellow Aussie Mel Gibson gets in a quick jab, in a fleeting piece of what appears to be recent archival interview footage, with Mel looking as if he just stepped off the set of his recent irreverent Christmas flick, "Fatman"...


...having foregone and bypassed any sort of theatrical release...uh, thanks to the wretched pandemic..."The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee" has instead been unceremoniously dumped onto streaming venues. which is a bit of a shame, as it may not find the whole of the audience who would appreciate the overall warm sense of nostalgia, which the film assuredly has. As such, this trite and warmly affecting bit of comical muse...may well pass by with little notice. On the whole, 'Excellent' might well be too strong a word for this one...perhaps more like a funny and charming tip of the hat...and that makes it good enough to warrant checking this one out.....




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December 1, 2020

Static Age #13: Les Vampires (1915)

Haunting image from Les Vampires (1915)

This Static Age’s spotlight goes to the (beautifully restored from Kino Lorber) silent classic French serial Les Vampires (1915), written and directed by Louis Feuillade, which is about a mastermind criminal organization that is baffling the police both with its antics (the detectives are continuously mocked via messages) as well as successful robberies. Presented in ten chapters of various running times, resulting in an absolutely thrilling 7 hour marathon for connoisseurs of hundred-year-old genre fare; the finale alone, is quite possibly the most spectacular ending in silent film history.

 

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent series…

 

Doctor Who - Season 6 art

The 6th season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) offers more of the same (albeit with heavier horror undertones), as The Doctor (the always comedic Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (the always gorgeous Karen Gillian) indulge to more adventures. ‘The Impossible Astronaut’ is set in 1969 America when and where all sorts of weird things happened, while ‘Day of the Moon’ continues that storyline and takes it many steps further by introducing world domination by aliens conspiracy theories and President Richard Nixon (Stuart Milligan). The Doctor and Amy go all-out pirates in ‘The Curse of the Black Spot’, an episode that is boasting excellent CGI. ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ concerns a female Doctor that endangers the Tardis. ‘The Rebel Flesh’, ‘The Almost People’, and ‘A Good Man Goes to War’ are about a mysterious liquid that copies your facial features and your – you guessed it! – flesh in general, making a perfect (but evil) replica of yourself. ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ takes the action to Nazi-era Germany. ‘Night Terror’, the series’ most eerie and frightening episode is about a young boy’s cupboard and its very real monsters as well as a beautiful story about child neglecting and psychosis. It’s present day Amy vs. old Amy in ‘The Girl Who Waited’! Taking into account how far back I am with catching up with recent series, it is no surprise that while nowadays everybody has switched to podcasts, I still blog for the very few people that are patient enough to read me.

 

Ratched - Season 1 poster art

Created by Ryan Murphy and Evan Romansky, the 1st season of Ratched (2020 – present) is set in 1947 and is about the titular nurse (the gorgeous Sarah Paulson) who talks her way into getting hired in a major psychiatric clinic, where her inner darkness will shine. Containing some of the best set and costume design, as well as excellent cinematography, this Netflix series is a winner. Also starring Sharon Stone, this is a stylized exercise in violence as well as a LGBTQI+ manifesto.

 

On the mainstream movie front, I caught up with the following…

 

Based upon Roald Dahl’s book and Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 film with Anjelica Huston, The Witches (2020) is a surprisingly terrible remake that fails in almost all fronts, despite having amassed great talents both behind the camera (directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also co-wrote with Guillermo del Toro) and in front of it (starring Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, and Chris Rock). In terms of tone, the magic of the source material as well as the original film is completely lost, whereas the terrible CGI that hijacked the project are of the SyFy channel variety. The only salvaging elements are the excellent costume and set design, and the African-American culture background during the first few scenes.

 

The Craft: Legacy (2020)

Staying on the same subject – that of witchcraft – you should also check out Blumhouse Productions’ The Craft: Legacy (2020), which like the 1996 original is about the parallels between wiccans and feminism. Writer/director Zoe Lister-Jones’ offering follows the story of Lily (the diverse beauty Cailee Spaeny) who has special powers but also trouble getting along in school as a misfit teenager. Things improve when she meets three other young witches, but happiness doesn’t last long as her boyfriend commits suicide. What’s more, her stepmother’s boyfriend (David Duchovny) appears to be an evil warlock who is after her powers.

 

Although Crime is one of my least favorite genres when it comes to fiction, I love True Crime in all of its forms, from books to podcasts and everything in between I am very fascinating with the genre. So this time around I checked out the Audrie & Daisy (2016) documentary on Netflix, which is an absolutely captivating piece on the cyber bullying of several teenagers that resulted in sexual abuse and suicide. Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, this award-winning film is combining archival footage with newly acquired interviews and results into a stomach-churning experience that will wake the feminist inside you – if she’s not already waken! I also watched Skye Borgman’s Abducted in Plain Sight (2017), another documentary on Netflix, this time about a master manipulator that managed to talk his way into having sex with a couple (separately and sans the knowledge of each other’s actions) and kidnap their 12-year-old daughter and mind-wash her so much that she believed she was abducted by aliens!

 

The New Mutants (2020)

Back to fiction, and this time of the superhero kind, Marvel’s The New Mutants (2020), directed by Josh Boone (who also wrote the screenplay with Knate Lee) is about five – you guessed it – young mutants that are held against their will in a secluded facility by a female doctor, in a setting that resembles your nightmares’ worst version of a psychiatric ward. Reminiscent of the best works of Stephen King, this reportedly troubled production gets many things right, including its commentary on lesbian romance and teenage angst.

 

And finally, I enriched my bookshelf with the following additions…

 

More Sex, Better Zen, Faster Bullets: The Encyclopedia of Hong Kong Film (2020, Headpress) by Stefan Hammond & Mike Wilkins, with foreword by Jackie Chan and preface by Michelle Yeoh, is offering many chapters that introduce us to the subject’s various subgenres and offer plenty of reviews as well. A really beautiful hardback tome that is as informative as it is entertaining.

 

Being a big fan of David Cronenberg’s entire body of work, I finally got around to reading William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch: The Restored Text (1959, 2010), an exceptionally penned descent into hard drugs and homosexuality.

 

Additionally, Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door (1989, 2000, 2018), the shocking story of a perverted mother figure and her many young minions that tortured a teenage girl to death, is one of the best books I’ve ever read and it remains stomach-churning throughout.


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November 1, 2020

A Binge too Far #13: Vera Farmiga duo (2019)

Warren (Vera Farmiga) in Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Reviews:

 

Godzilla: King... (2019)

Godzilla: King Of The Monsters
(2019)

 

The screenplay written by Michael Dougherty (who also directed) and Zach Shields (based upon the story that the duo penned with Max Borenstein) is about the new adventures of crypto-zoological agency Monarch and its battle against the titular monster and several other creatures from Toho’s golden years, including Rodan, Mothra, and the three-headed King Ghidorah. After the success of Godzilla (2014) the fans demanded that Japan’s super-famous monster to go to war against our favorite opponents, and Warner Bros. delivered just that.

 

The film is an epic extravaganza (running at over two hours long) featuring the best CGI money can buy (which is to be expected with a budget of $200 million), but like most good monster movies, the show is not exclusively about the monsters themselves (despite how spectacular those are here), but also about the importance of the human element. Sometimes such philosophical endeavors can be a bit taunting, but they work in spades within this context. However, the film does not get you to think solely about the sapiens’ stand and depth in the planet or in nature, but discuss is encouraged on the topic on whereas the creatures on display are actually animals or monsters.

 

You could simply not deliver such great drama without competent casting, and be assured that the film is featuring all your current genre film favorites, including Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown amongst several others. On the other hand, the film is also full of jump scares, and although many of them may be a bit predictable, they only add to the overall rollercoaster experience. Essentially, what we have here is a thinking man’s monster movie combined with pretty much everything a fan could possibly want to see, and that, by definition, makes perfection.

 

This is the third film in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse filmic universe (I previously reviewed the others in this column), and it started development as soon as the first one was in theaters, with Edwards set to direct, although he was quickly replaced by Dougherty. It was shot from June 2017 to September of that same year. It was released theatrically in May 2019 and now enjoys a healthy life via a variety of home video platforms.

 

Annabelle Comes Home (2019) poster art

Annabelle Comes Home
(2019)

 

Paranormal investigators Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga, see above) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson, no introduction needed) are about to leave their home for a few days, and they hire Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) to babysit their daughter Judy (television child actress Mckenna Grace). However, due to their curiosity, they enter the room of the haunted wonders that the Warrens keep in their house, one thing leads to another, and the titular demonic doll gets unleashed in order to spread terror. Yes, this time around it is not the Warrens that will fight evil, but rather their kid and her friends, in the vein of Home Alone (1990), or maybe not so much.

 

Surprisingly for a film in The Conjuring universe (2013 – ongoing) and produced by James Wan (and Peter Safran), this comes with not too many jump scares (which I guess is a disappointment for fans of this sort of thing), and opts mostly for atmosphere and slow build-up. It is the directing debut of Garry Dauberman (who also penned the screenplay), who made a name for himself writing many of your favorite recent horrors, such as It (2017). Made on a $32 million budget, it grossed $225.2 million, so you should expect even more ghosts.


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October 1, 2020

Static Age #12: Battlestar Galactica (1978)

Battlestar Galactica (1978) poster art

 

This Static Age is focusing on Battlestar Galactica (1978), created by Glen A. Larson and its sole season consisting of 21 episodes. Taking its cue from George Lucas’ then-recent Jedi epic (the titles as well as Stu Phillips’ score are almost identical, but further inspiration can be found to have come from old serials), this is the classic that spawned the television franchise, but whereas it is now mostly remembered for its drama (and even its humor), for me its real strength lies on its groundbreaking special effects that are a joy to watch and make you feel as if you are inside a 1980s sci-fi video game; a great experience indeed. Starring Ray Milland, the feature-length ‘Saga of a Star World’ (which was in fact edited into a feature film release as well) is set a thousand years after the War and finds the Twelve Colonies’ human population attacked by the evil Cylons, whose murderous spree left only the titular ship standing. Battlestar Galactica is now on a mission to find the notorious planet Earth. Colonial Warriors are mysteriously infected in ‘Lost Planet of the Gods: Part 1’, which leads to the discovery of the planet Kobol in ‘Lost Planet of the Gods: Part 2’. In ‘The Lost Warrior’ Cylon fighters force Apollo to crash on Equellus, which is basically a planet that resembles a Western movie. All common sense should be suspended in order for the viewer to believe ‘The Long Patrol’ in which Lieutenant Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) finds himself in the Proteus a prison planet where the hostages are kept in unlocked cages for generations, yet they have developed some very social skills such as cheering when drinking; other gags in this otherwise memorable episode include the introduction of CORA (Computer Oral Response Activated) which is a futuristic Alexa, and Starbuck womanizing both Cassiopeia (Laurette Spang) and Athena (Maren Jensen) at the same time. Starring Britt Ekland, ‘Gun on Ice Planet Zero: Part 1’ and ‘Gun on Ice Planet Zero: Part 2’ take the action to planet Aracta and are reminiscent of a certain alien takeover in the snow classic sci-fi film from the 1950s that was remade by John Carpenter in the 1980s, as well as the 1970s avalanche epics from Roger Corman. The western-like ‘The Magnificent Warriors’ is featuring ugly alien dwarfs riding some horse-like creatures and it is quite creepy as well as among the best episodes in the series. The title of ‘The Young Lords’ is referring to a bunch of children that rescue Starbuck when he crashes to planet Attila. The Battlestar runs short on fuel in ‘The Living Legend: Part 1’ and ‘The Living Legend: Part 2’, when it has to attack planet Gamoray in order to continue its journey. ‘Fire in Space’ is about Cylon arsonist-style suicide attacks. ‘War of the Gods: Part 1’ and ‘War of the Gods: Part 2’ find the Battlestar crew landing on a red planet, which gives the cinematographer a chance to pursue some very unusual and gorgeous lighting options. ‘The Man with Nine Lives’ is about an old con artist who claims to be Starbuck’s father. Starbuck is framed for murder in ‘Murder on the Rising Star’ and he and his friends spend the entire episode trying to clear his name.

 

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent series…

 

Doctor Who - Season 5

The 5th season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) is introducing Matt Smith as the eponymous character (a more tongue-in-cheek and quite playful approach by the actor is on hand) and the drop-dead gorgeous Karen Gillan as his sidekick Amy Pond. The series appear to having grown up at least visually as is made apparent by the re-designed titled (now looking more mature) and the cinematography (that is echoing a certain Chris Carter sci-fi show from the 1990s). The hour-long ‘The Eleventh Hour’ brings the dynamic duo against the evil Atraxi aliens that resemble the familiar otherworldly creatures from a well-known Ridley Scott film from the late 1970s. ‘The Beast Bellow’ finds The Doctor in a U.K. starship in the future where he comes against the creepy-looking Smilers, some human-sized mannequins that are a predecessor of the recent horror films’ eerie dolls and the like. Set in WWII, the ‘Victory of the Daleks’, The Doctor and Amy join forces with Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) in order to defeat the Daleks, now disguised as British soldiers. ‘The Time of Angels’ and ‘Flesh and Stone’ mark the return of the creepy Weeping Angels, this time amidst a Byzantium spaceship setting. ‘The Vampires of Venice’ sounds promising, both due to its setting (in 16th century, no less) and its monsters, but the former leaves much to be desired as the actual shooting was mostly studio-bound. ‘Amy’s Choice’ is a fascinating episode about scary old folk that are alien within; starring Toby Jones. Silurians, the ancient reptile-like monsters, are featured in the ultra-creepy ‘The Hungry Earth’ and ‘Cold Blood’. The very sweet and emotional ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ is about master painter Vincent Van Gogh (Tony Curran) fighting his (alien) demons. The Tardis has escaped The Doctor, who must now find it in ‘The Lodger’. The titular Van Gogh painting in ‘The Pandorica Opens’ is found during WWII in France as it was meant for Prime Minister Winston Churchill; the action then moves to Roman Britain and Stonehenge in particular where the work of art’s prophecy of the exploding Tardis comes true as all sorts of villains from the Doctor’s past (including the Daleks, of course) are conspiring for his destruction. The story as well as the season conclude with ‘The Big Bang’, which had me thinking that had creationists been ever a little bit clever, they would have by now turned the term into a punch-line of pornographic jokes. Jokes aside, this season is offering one of the most intelligent and condescending approaches to love triangles ever seen on television.

 

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 7

The 7th (and final) season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013 – 2020) concludes the adventures of the titular heroes and their battle against the evil forces of Hydra, this time-traveling to the 1930s prohibition-era New York in order to change or maintain history (whichever is more suitable) amidst a cultural chaos of misogyny and racism. The series eventually go back and forth in time, namely in the 1950s and 1970s (when the appropriate title cards are also appear) when things are not that much better. The state-of-the-art special effects of the show are only matched by the impressive costume design.

 

On the mainstream movie front, I caught up with the following…

 

The War with Grandpa (2020)

Director Tim Hill’s The War with Grandpa (2020) is a lousy attempt at emotional comedy, in which a kid (Oakes Fegley) and his grandpa (Robert De Niro) fight for the same room in a big house. The film benefits from some very high profile star actors (Uma Thurman and Christopher Walken) but is suffering from some very tired gags and a predictable script. You will laugh a couple of times, but you’ll forget ever seeing the flick quickly after it’s over.

 

And finally, I enriched my bookshelf with the following additions…

 

Kier-La Janisse’s already landmark House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (2012, FAB Press) is about the author’s journey from foster homes to abusive relationships and from pill-popping moments to festival screenings organizing, all through the support of viewing several horror and exploitation classics. Having suffered many stigma-inducing situations, it is a joy that the book makes it apparent that salvation can come via the aid of our favorite genre films. The first section reads like an autobiography (albeit one offered through the eyes of a person obsessed with cinema, like the readers) while the second section contains dozens of capsule reviews of the films already discussed and other related outings. In my entire life of reading film related books, this is the most original I ever come across, and the fact that it is also so well-written makes it an undeniable masterpiece.

 

Jasper Sharp’s excellent and astonishingly well-researched Behind the Pink Curtain: The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema (2008, FAB Press) is divided onto several chapters, each one of them dealing tackling tent pole topics of the evolution and triumph of the notorious Pink genre of erotic cinema. The amount of detail and work that went down is apparent, as well as the crisp writing talents of the author, resulting in a work like no other that is unacceptable to be missing by any exploitation movie fan’s bookshelf. What’s more, the book also proves that in order to understand cinema (and society and history as well) you can never underestimate the importance of porn. And although it becomes clear that the genre tackled within the pages of the book is not all about rape and torture (as many people falsely believe), you will still need a good shower after reading it.

 

Edited by Robin Bougie (and otherwise written mostly by him, save for the contributions of a few talented writers), Cinema Sewer Volume Seven (2020, FAB Press) consists of two issues of the author’s same-titled magazine as well as 80 previously unpublished pages, making for a good 180+ pages of sleaze. From underrated 1990s flicks to – ahem – fisting epics, this volume has you covered, but it really shines when it tackles whatever that has to do with 1970s New York porn, where it is apparent where its heart is.

 

Part memoir and part film review book, fanzine editor and online columnist Nick Cato’s Suburban Grindhouse: From Staten Island to Times Square and all the Sleaze in Between (2020, Headpress) is taking us on a journey through various exploitation movie classics. The author is writing strictly from memory, making each review unique.

 

And finally, I had the chance to tackle the Frightfest Guide quadruple bill (all published by FAB Press) which includes Alan Jones’ Exploitation Movies (2016), Michael Gingold’s Monster Movies (2017), Axelle Carolyn’s Ghost Movies (2018), and Gavin Baddeley’s Werewolf Movies (2019). Lavishly illustrated and gorgeously designed, these books are not in-depth as their back covers claim as only one paragraph is dedicated to each capsule film presentation, but for pop items they do their work as they’re fun to read through both for newbies (who without doubt will learn a thing or two and will also be introduced to an amazing new world) and those in the know (who will have fun revisiting the classics).


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September 1, 2020

A Binge too Far #12: John Travis duo (1990 – 1991)

Ronald L. Marchini as Omega Cop (1990)
John Travis (Ronald L. Marchini) in Omega Cop (1990)

The main issue I have with most ‘beat them up’ actioners is that they feel unrealistic because in real life you don’t just kick people’s asses and the problems automatically solve themselves. If you are keen on using violence, most likely this violence will come back to haunt you and so on; the problem/s won’t go way. Additionally powerful people have found more effective ways in answering violence and it is called money. It is not that the most muscular guy will win, but rather the most rich. But, aside from this analyzing, I enjoy these actioners as much as the next guy, and here I offer you my sincere views on the John Travis duo (1990 – 1991).

Reviews:

Omega Cop (1990) poster
Omega Cop (1990)

This is set in the futuristic 1999 when people still had audio cassettes because apparently the apocalypse happened thirty years ago; which chronologically still doesn’t make sense. Many things don’t make sense here, as this has to be the post-apocalyptic genre’s poorest offering [the notorious Warrior of the Lost World (1984) is nowhere near as bad]. It is about the titular cop (Ronald L. Marchini,who looks nothing like an action hero, yet had just such a career in the 1990s when he starred in about a dozen such epics) whose next big mission is to eliminate an evil operation of slave traders, only to discover that their web of corruption runs way too deep.

 

Featuring one-liners that could have only been written by school kids (and possibly mentally challenged) and uttered by people that appear to be non-actors, this entire attempt at an actioner is salvaged by director Paul Kyriazi [Death Machines (1976)] who – in all honesty – appears to have put at least some (ultimately unnecessary) effort into this. At least, the big spaces and buildings as well as the uniformed men with guns (not to mention the occasional shootout or explosion) make this resemble a real movie, even if it looks like Troma’s idea of a post-apocalypse outing (the aesthetics are often too similar to those of a Lloyd Kaufman vehicle from the era). In the end though it all falls apart because plenty of scenes are simply about people running or driving from one place to another, seemingly in order to stretch this into feature-length. I don’t know how stars like Adam West and Stuart Whitman were convinced to join the cast.

 

Karate Cop (1991) poster
Karate Cop (1991)

Ronald L. Marchini returns as ‘Special Police’ (as per the badge on his uniform) officer John Travis (in reality acting more like a soldier in a warzone), and this time he has to employ his karate skills (as per the title) in order to eliminate arena-fighting martial arts gangs.

This sequel was helmed by Alan Roberts [The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980)] and it must be noted that at least some effort was put into set design and costumes, although the end result is still very ridiculous, especially when we are introduced to a teleportation device (don’t ask me, I don’t know). David Carradine makes an extended cameo as a bartender.

 

Afterword

 

A Binge too Far is offering you everything, from the glamour and slickness of Hollywood releases (recent and classic) to the seedy and unpredictable world of exploitation cheapies. So, come on next time to check out what we’ll have in store for you.


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August 2, 2020

Static Age #11: The Green Hornet (1966 – 1967)

Van Williams and Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet (1966 - 1967)
This Static Age is focusing on The Green Hornet (1966 – 1967). Created by George W. Trendle and based upon the same-titled D.C. comic books and superhero, this series lasted a mere one season (consisting of 26 episodes, originally aired on ABC) eclipsed by the much better and more campy Batman counterpart. Van Williams plays newspaper publisher Britt Reid whose crime-fighting alter ego is The Green Hornet and his sidekick is Kato, played by Bruce Lee. The problem of many of these series is that they are very much of their time, essentially 1960s television producers’ idea of a comic book adaptation rather what could ideally be achieved (in movie theaters for example) and as such they may be difficult to resonate with millennial audiences; although the very same reason (those era and aesthetics specifics) are pretty much why people like us do find this stuff so charming.

‘The Silent Gun’ is about an exquisite silent gun and an overall James Bond-like plot. In ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope’, Britt Reid has to get rid of an obsessive female reporter and at the same time expose a fraud injury insurance gang. ‘Programmed for Death’ is about a conspiracy that involves death by a tiger and a fake diamonds smuggling operation. In ‘Crime Wave’ Abel Marcus (Peter Haskell) is a sophisticated (at least for the 1960s) ‘computer operator’ (as per the words of Green Hornet) that commits a series of heists (presumably based on some ancient form of engineering and programming) that he is trying to pin on the show’s superhero. The past comes to haunt the Green Hornet in ‘The Frog is a Deadly Weapon’ when the gangster that might have framed and killed the superhero’s father seems to have returned from the grave. An alcohol bootlegging gang is terrorizing liquor store owners by bombing and other means of crime, in ‘Eat, Drink, and Be Dead’. ‘Beautiful Dreamer: Part 1’ and ‘Beautiful Dreamer: Part 2’ are about a series of crimes committed by citizens above suspicion that have no memory of performing them, because in reality they were programmed to do so by an evil mastermind. Helmed by William Beaudine (one of my favorite directors of 1940s cheapies) ‘The Ray Is for Killing’ is about a gang of thieves that employ a laser beam weapon in order to steal expensive paintings from the protagonist’s home. In ‘The Preying Mantis’ a Tong war has just begun in Chinatown, and naturally Kato wants to take the gangsters out by himself. In William Beaudine’s ‘The Hunters and the Hunted’ some gangsters are getting murdered by an unknown assailant that employs bizarre weapons. A series of robberies in ‘Deadline for Death’ seem to be somehow connected with Reid’s employee Mike Axford (Lloyd Gough) but there may be more to it than what meets the eye. ‘The Secret of the Sally Bell’ finds the heroic duo battling the – quite adult for the show – war against drugs. ‘Freeway to Death’ is another daring episode (the opening scene is very violent, considering the television standards of the time) about a construction company insurance racket.May the Best Man Lose’ is set during the election time, and one of the few people that know The Green Hornet’s true identity, District Attorney Frank Scanlon (Walter Brooke), is set up for assassination. My favorite episode in the series is the very dark ‘The Hornet and the Firefly’, in which our superhero has to stop an serial arsonist that sets fires (insert stock footage of real fires here) to several locations with unpredictable methods, unfortunately the same cannot be said of his identity as well, which becomes apparent very early on. On the other hand, ‘Seek, Stalk and Destroy’ is much too ridiculous as The Green Hornet and Kato have to fight a tank, operated by a small army of veterans; it’s as if the filmmakers had a tank at their disposal and wanted to make the most of it and fit it in the series somehow. ‘Corpse of the Year: Part 1’ is a fascinating episode about a Green Hornet impostor that unleashes a series of terror attacks against the Daily Sentinel newspaper, but it is mostly curious for having our superhero checking ever so blatantly an exotic waitress’ ass, as well as including the unbelievable Scanner gadget which is basically a proto-drone; it was concluded by ‘Corpse of the Year: Part 2’. In ‘Ace in the Hole’ our superhero tries to prevent two gangster families from connecting in order to become one giant mob. ‘Bad Bet on a 459-Silent’ is about corrupt beat cops that when they investigate robberies, they keep some of the loot for themselves.

And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent series…

Doctor Who - Season 4 poster art
The 4th season of Doctor Who (2005 – present) is featuring once again the excellent David Tennant as The Doctor, while Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) becomes his (quite unlikely) sidekick. ‘Partners in Crime’ may well be the series’ best episode so far and it is about Adipose Industries that mass produced a weight-loss pill that really does work miracles (customers are spared of their extra weight in record time), but unfortunately it is connected to an evil alien scheme involving little fat monsters jumping off the consumers’ bodies. ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ is such a boring episode (due to a bad script) that it is a pity that loads of money were seemingly wasted on CGI. ‘Planet of the Ood’ might well be the most emotional episode of the season, as it tells the story of the titular scary-looking but good-hearted aliens that have been taken advantage and led to slavery. ‘The Sontaran Stratagem’ sees the return of Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman), this time assisting the Doctor in the investigation of the ATMOS System, employed by every car on Earth, and created by Luke Rattigan (Ryan Sampson). ‘The Poison Sky’ continues from where the previous episode left, providing further boredom. The appropriately titled ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’ is about – you guessed it – the Doctor’s daughter, played by the gorgeous Georgia Moffett, who turns out to be so militant that she has to learn a thing or two about life (and death). ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’ takes place in 1926 when a dinner party turns into a whodunit, in the presence of none other than acclaimed author Agatha Christie. ‘Silence in the Library’ and ‘Forest of the Dead’ are two eerie episodes set in a futuristic library. In ‘Midnight’ the Doctor takes a vacation to the titular planet, but he is entrapped in the airplane with a group of people and a mysterious alien entity whose intentions are not good; the episode being a love letter to classic sci-fi films from the 1950s. ‘Turn Left’, an episode that is taking a look to alternate realities and possibilities within and outside the already established plots, is also asking us to think of the scenario in which The Doctor is dead; it marks the return of Rose Tyler (Billie Piper), but Donna Noble is stealing the show with the beetle that is crawling on her back and is representing the things in life that we either postpone or don’t do. ‘The Stolen Earth’ is a masterpiece in which the Daleks manage to vanish planet Earth and Richard Dawkins provides the show with a cameo.

And finally, please allow me to speak a word or two about some recent mainstream films…

This time around I enriched my bookshelf with the following additions…

Troy Howarth’s So Deadly, So Perverse: Giallo-Style Films from Around the World, Volume Three (2019, Midnight Marquee Press) which is the final chapter in Howarth’s massive research on the giallo film, this tome dedicated to non-Italian efforts from the world over. Following introductions, the main core of the book is dedicated to length reviews of these films, many of them ultra-obscure. A worthy volume that needs to be part of all genre film fans.

I bought the limited edition hardback version of Dario Argento’s Fear: The Autobiography (2019, FAB Press), the design of which is simply stunning. Argento’s book is small (amounting to only 280 pages, it could have easily been double that and never become boring) but his storytelling skills shine throughout as he takes us on a long journey of his adventures in his Italian world of gialli and other escapades. My favorite story is the one in which Luigi Cozzi and Michele Soavi slapped an Argento impostor when he had become threatening.

Now a classic, Louis Paul’s excellent guide Italian Horror Film Directors (2005, McFarland) is divided in two main chapters; the first is tackling in detail the careers of the ten Italian directors more associated with the horror genre, and the second takes a brief look at the careers of various other directors that contributed to the genre. Filled with detail and passion, and rounded up by forewords by Jess Franco and Antonella Fulci, this is a must have for all connoisseurs of European exploitation cinema.

Josh Alan Friedman’s Tales of Times Square: Expanded Edition! (1986, 2018, Feral House) is exactly what it promises to be; namely an odyssey of adventures as lived and/or witnessed by the author during his days in New York’s sleazy 42nd Street and its surroundings when pimps and prostitutes as well as grindhouses that screened pornos or kung fu epics were the order of the day, before Disney managed to buy-out even the organized criminals that ran these seedy places. It is a postcard or a love letter to another time and another place, and considering how much we all here at CHC love this era of depravity, we can only cherish this classic.

Written by William Fowler and Vic Pratt, the people that curate the BFI Flipside screenings and DVD & Blu-ray releases of underground and unknown U.K. genre films that have rescued and showcased the unknown story of British celluloid, The Bodies Beneath: The Flipside of British Film & Television (2019, Strange Attractor Press) is a book like no other, and one that we most definitely needed as it takes us on an enjoyable journey full of information about the missing links of both the big and small screens.

All I ever wanted to know about celluloid filone, I learned from the McFarland’s wonderful trilogy Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1957 – 1969 (2015), Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1970 – 1979 (2017), and Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1980 – 1989 (2019), penned by Roberto Curti, the world’s authority on Italian genre cinema and possibly the best writer our wonderful community ever had.


Finally, I very much enjoyed two small books from the Cinema Classics Collection; Mark Schilling’s No Borders, No Limits: Nikkatsu Action Cinema (2007, FAB Press) and Kier-La Janisse’s A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (2007, FAB Press). Short and sweet, stunningly designed, and brilliantly researched, they both work as excellent introductory pieces to their respective subject matters.

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