Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Frank Review of "Gods and Monsters" (1998)

The Short Version? Gay Frankenstein director trapped unwillingly in his own past.
What Is It? Docu-drama.
Who Is In It? Gandalf, George of the Jungle, Georgy Girl
Should I See It? Why, certainly, yes.



When I look at films in my DVD collection starting with the letter "G," I'm disappointed in myself that I don't own the widely acclaimed winner of the 1982 Academy Award for Best Picture Gandhi. I'm even more embarrassed to note that if I did, it would sit between Fright Night Part II and the 1977 Clint Eastwood flick The Gauntlet. A bit down the line though, I have Gods and Monsters, which makes me feel much better about my personal taste.

James Whale was a theater directer who moved on to Hollywood during its golden age, and offered it Journey's End, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, Show Boat, and The Man in the Iron Mask, among others. However, his film career was pretty much over by 1942, and his return to theater was cursed by misfortune. Whale took to hedonism for a time, but after a pair of strokes in 1956, he began a swift decline in health toward an early grave.

Christopher Bram's 1995 novel Father of Frankenstein concerned itself with a partially fictionalized account of Whale's latter days, and was adapted to film by screenwriter/director Bill Condon. The result is clever, droll, and engrossing. It's quite the gay affair, as Whale teases the pursuit of firm male flesh, whilst fleeing from his degenerating mental condition, disorienting flashbacks, and general dissatisfaction with his existence.

Ian McKellen's performance in the role is scintillating, even as his portrayal of Whale forces him to fall in and out of his own mind. Brendan Fraser plays Clayton Boone, the gardener who focuses Whale's amorous attention, nostalgic recollection, and drive to address his circumstances. Not only is it the finest work Fraser has ever done, but it is enough to make even the harshest critics of his checkered filmography reconsider his worth. Boone is straight, and struggles with Whale's cavalier sexuality, but both men have needs the other can fulfill that have nothing to do with the carnal. Fraser dances the fine line between innocent and opportunist masterfully. Lynn Redgrave is genially hammy as Whale's judgmental attendant Hanna, a stock character type from the director's films brought to life. It's no surprise most everyone earned a nomination for some award or another, and Condon won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Through the conceit of fictionalization, Gods and Monsters casts off any stigma it might have had as a biopic. While stylish in its use of non-linear narrative, theatrical lighting, imaginary interludes, the absence of color and more, it is all done in service to a rich life story, never compromising its integrity. The look of the movie is surprisingly sumptuous on a modest budget, and the score by Carter Burwell is lovely. This is one of those pictures where everything works exactly as it should, making it a simple joy to watch tirelessly again and again.

Of course, Gods and Monsters sits right by Eddie Murphy's The Golden Child, so I really might ought to get around to buying Gandhi already, if only to keep up appearances.

Extras?
This "Collector's Edition" DVD's has a clunky menu (accessible through your remote or after the movie autoplays) that makes it a bit of a relic. There's a bunch of laughable old school non-extras like web links, talent bios and production notes, all anchored to simplistic icons for the Luddites in the audience. Redeeming the advertising is a thoroughly considered commentary track with Condon, and the potent half-hour documentary The World of Gods and Monsters: A Journey with James Whale. Neither one is negated by the discussion of the other, and the doc is even narrated by producer Clive Barker.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Frank Review of "Day of the Dead: The Need To Feed" (2008)

The Short Version? Raccoon City has been infected with the Rage virus.
What Is It? Survival Horror.
Who Is In It? The American Pie/Beauty girl, the scrawniest chick from the 90210 remake, other embarrassed parties.
Should I See It? No.



Right off the bat, this film is technically just titled Day of the Dead. However, there's a might bit of confusion in associating it with George A. Romero's Day of the Dead, Day of the Dead 2: Contagium, Candyman 3: Day of the Dead, or Night of the Day of the Dawn of the Son of the Bride of the Return of the Revenge of the Terror of the Attack of the Evil, Mutant, Alien, Flesh Eating, Hellbound, Zombified Living Dead Part 2: In Shocking 2-D, not to mention the Mexican holiday. I mention this in such detail because I have lines to fill, and this derivative and dull dreck won't do it own its own. Besides, the distributors added the exceptionally dumb tagline to every version of the movie released (straight to DVD,) framed like a subtitle, so I'm going with it.

When Day of the Dead was announced, it had the air of a sequel to the surprisingly solid Zack Snyder/James Gunn reworking of Dawn of the Dead. Mena Suvari bares a mild resemblance to Sarah Polley, and what she lacks in comparative acting ability, she could potentially make up for in vaguely higher name recognition. Ving Rhames was "back," though as it turned out in a different, smaller role. Raptor Nick Cannon is certainly better known than Mekhi Phifer, if only as Mariah Carey's trophy husband. Also, while standing up to comparison with George A. Romero's 1978 Dawn was a tough row to ho, not only was the original 1985 Day underwhelming, but there had even already been a massively inferior pseudo-sequel. On paper, this could have worked.

Day begins with something like video footage (as did the Dawn remake, from another studio,) then careens into a teen makeout session in an abandoned military complex. Recalling Return of the Living Dead 3 isn't going to win anyone over, and also serves to remind that this flick was directed by Steve Miner, best known as the responsible party for the blandest entries in the notoriously banal Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises (2&3; H20, respectively.) Rest assured, you go from 0 to hating this group of characters in well under sixty seconds.

Cut to a military roadblock, as the area surrounding a shithole hick town is under quarantine. Mena Suvari begins her tour as the least convincing soldier in film history, while Marsellus Wallace in fatigues sleepwalks on. Cut to Ian McNeice as a morbidly obese, obnoxious lefty DJ having his broadcast monitored by a trooper. Cut back to the teens and the first boring, nearly bloodless, offscreen woodlands kill (see also Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, for a near exact model.) Cut back to the barricade, where we are introduced to Nick Cannon's poor man's Martin Lawrence impersonation as G.I. Douchebag. Transition to Stark Sands as "Bud," the next least convincing enlisted man after Arnold Epstein in Biloxi Blues. He's a non-violent vegetarian, and as the name indicates, one of the few characters who will eventually reflect the 1985 Day. Cut to blah, blah, blah, more stupidity, and a little bit of gore for twenty-three trying minutes.

Finally, money begins to be spent, as we see an insta-zombie transformation at the cellular level via CGI. Unfortunately, this flesh-eater is poorly designed, making me think of Michael Jackson's Reece's cup nose in The Wiz. Lacking any atmosphere and tension, this first onscreen attack sets the standard at "bland and uninvolving." Oh, and we've met the new Dr. Logan by this point, another young'un who looks fresh from a soap opera. Yeah, it's one of those films. The fit really hits the shan about here, both in terms of everyone turning into ghouls at once, and in the egregious abuse of digital effects, tired music video gimmicks, trampolines (see also: Jack Nicholson's 1994 farce Wolf) and varied film speeds. The movie aspires to 28 Days Later... but
more closely resembles Buster Keaton on crystal meth.

For no reason but to create a complication, Mena Suvari refused to load her gun while on duty, which I'm pretty sure is a court martial worthy act of insubordination. She spends half the movie play-acting like her pistol is loaded, and once she gets a useful gun she works it fine, so what the fuck? Bud gets turned-- but refuses to eat flesh, still follows orders, and even gets to play hero. Nick Cannon, Mimi's bitchboy, is supposed to be the resident badass. Ving Rhames is punked worse here than in The People Under The Stairs. AnnaLynne McCord, the CW's teen drama queen who can't keep her tits inside clothing not purchased from a children's department in real life, probably turns in the best performance as a tough chick. Like I said, it's that kind of flick.

falls short of . Well okay, it's not as amusingly bad as House, but Miner clearly shares .


All in all, the movie feels like a mash-up of Uwe Boll's notorious ineptpiece House of the Dead and Paul Anderson's Resident Evil, with aesthetic sensibilities leaning more toward Dr. Boll. It's alright when the focus is on action, and in the rare moments the humor doesn't grate, it's remotely gratifying. There are some decent effects, and you can see why this was at least considered viable for theatrical release. The primary fault is in the lackluster characters, none of whom you are likely to identify with or be endeared enough to be concerned about who lives or dies. The music is lame, and there aren't any scares to speak of. It's just a shade shy of professional quality, but the project seems to have been mercenary for everyone involved. This was a paycheck gig at every level, and these whores aren't even bothering to wait until you're not looking to check the time .

Extras?

  • Commentary Gets in the way of pretending this movie never crawled up from out of a gaping hole in Bulgaria.
  • Various Trailers None of interest.
  • Alternate Ending A really long edit of material you've already seen with some mild and unwelcome variations.
  • On The Set Zzz.
  • Photo Gallery Get a really good view at the incredibly emaciated undead Olsen Twins looking chick, as well as AnnaLynne McCord's costars, and zombie make-up. Fully appreciate the size of Mina's nostrils and Cannon's phoniness.
  • Interviews Do an alright job on selling the premise that the actors are too stupid to know how bad this film is from the script up.


Monday, October 26, 2009

A Frank Review of "Rosemary's Baby" (1968)

The Short Version? There's something very wrong with this girl's pregnancy.
What Is It? Thriller
Who Is In It? Woody's ex, Dr. Zaius, half of Old Hollywood's best character actors.
Should I See It? Yes.



Young couple Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse rent a new apartment in the big city, thanks to his work as a commercial actor. The elderly new neighbors are a bit much, a new friend comes to a bad end, and Guy's career takes a hit. One night, Rosemary wakes up from a night of rough sex and disturbing dreams to find herself pregnant. Her desirable condition brings with it increasing stress, illness, and paranoia. Rosemary suspects a nefarious conspiracy surrounding her baby, but is she just going out of her mind?

Whatever your feelings about Roman Polanski as a man, he remains one of the finest film directors of all time. Rosemary's Baby was his American mainstream debut, combining Hitchcockian tension with Kubrickian chilly satire. Lacking a uterus, the exploitation of prenatal anxiety doesn't hit me like it might female viewers, so the film works for me more on an intellectual level than a visceral one. The conception sequence is an exception, especially Rosemary's brilliant "oh shit" moment midway through. However, the film commits a cardinal sin of horror, keeping the leads at arm's length in terms of audience empathy, and the distance leads to more dark comedy than deep concern.

Based on the descriptions in the book, Polanski originally envisioned Tuesday Weld and Robert Redford in the leads. I daresay that would have made a better picture. Producer Robert Evans pushed for Mia Farrow, who naturally comes off as a space cadet, which hurts audience identification. Sickly thin in the Twiggy mode, Farrow easily sells the possibly Rosemary is just nuts, but even if she's right, you're not entirely confident in her parenting abilities. When push comes to shove, Farrow is just too weak to be appreciated in a post-feminist era. Meanwhile, as the baby's parentage and Guy's motivations become more questionable, you really need a handsome, earnest leading man to sell Rosemary's sticking by her husband for so long. Instead, John Cassavetes comes off as a sleazy creep, even when he's supposed to be the dream husband, so you're never rooting for him to stick around. However, the leads are buoyed by stellar supporting work from Ruth Gordon, Ralph Bellamy, Maurice Evans, Charles Grodin and more. Gordon in particular has an off-kilter delivery that's in turns obnoxious and overwhelming to the precise correct levels as needed, often foregoing anything resembling normal punctuation or inflection. Like Polanski's direction, it steers the viewer to an uneasy place perfect for the material.

As a horror film, Rosemary's Baby is bound to disappoint modern audiences. It works best as a psychological thriller with a strong vein of dark humor. It's lovely to look at, and enjoyable overall, with a damned fine ending.

Extras?

  • "Making of" featurette Too much archival footage for most tastes.
  • Retrospective Interviews Too short, given the overall quality. Well worth your time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Frank Review of "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" (1987)

The Short Version? Freddy's back! So's everybody else! Now with more dream power!
What Is It? Horror/Adventure
Who Is In It? Freddy Krueger, Morpheus, Medium, Dick Cavett, Zsa Zsa Gabor, the guy from Body Double and a few surprises.
Should I See It? Yes.



I saw all six Star Wars movies in their initial release, and as a child, my favorite was Return of the Jedi. It was the brightest, fastest paced, and most action packed. It wasn't until years later that I realized it was also the dumbest, most repetitive, and worst shot of the three.

Dream Warriors was either the first "Nightmare on Elm Street" movie I ever saw, or more likely, the first in a theater. I viewed "Part 2: Freddy's Revenge" around the same time, and the original thereafter. That was also my pecking order of favoritism for years, with none of the later entries meriting consideration.

Now, my primary male role models growing up were super-heroes, and I avoided horror movies until too late of an age. Watching the first two Nightmares was probably a bit much for me, as they stick with the formula of normal, vulnerable teens in way over their heads. I expect what I liked about "Dream Warriors" was that this time, you had a virtual super-team of heroes to offer the dastardly villain a genuine challenge. Sure, they were junkies, dorks, and nutjobs, with their headquarters a mental hospital, but they had a seasoned veteran from a previous movie to guide them toward their own fantastic costumes and powers. The murderous Freddy Krueger traded his creepy old house for a secret lair in some secluded patch of Hell, and bigger budget special effects gave him far more elaborate killing options than his rusty old knives. He may have been the star of the show, but as in Tomb of Dracula, the bogeyman would now share space with a group of adversaries set on destroying him once and for all.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but that sounds a lot more like an action movie premise. Hell, the writer of Dreamscape, the adventure oriented flipside of Nightmare released the same year, even directed this entry in the franchise. Where there was a total of about four victims in 1984's Nightmare, the mental hospital offers a fresh sacrifice about every quarter hour. That means characters are generally introduced, given a "hook" to catch your interest in place of a personality, and then butchered in an elaborate set piece. It's hard to get worked up enough over cannon fodder to fear for them, and without that identification, the primary point of interest is seeing how imaginative and well realized their tortures are. It makes for a fun ride, but not much for terror.

What works about "Dream Warriors" is that it has a strong story, very memorable effects, and overall much better acting than the earlier movies. The story greatly expands the mythology of Krueger, offering points everyone involved with the franchise have exploited at some point. The more you reveal about Fred Krueger though, the more familiar and non-frightening he becomes. Returning characters prove that despite the increased scale of mayhem here, Krueger's reach remains limited. As with "Freddy's Revenge," rules are broken, but for some reason this flick got a free pass where part two was pilloried. I guess "Dream Warriors," written with the kitchen sink quality of an intended final chapter in a trilogy, offers a satisfying if somewhat abrupt conclusive. It's an entertaining but overpraised flick, but ultimately not half as intellectually interesting as "Freddy's Revenge" (though light years away from the back five additional sequels to date.)

Extras?
I picked up the 4 Film Favorites edition, which offered early, stripped down DVDs in a single affordable case. Slim extras came with the savings.
  • Theatrical Trailer An extended, wholly original teaser with more mood and starts than the film it advertised.
  • Cast and Crew Bios from the 1987 press kit.
  • Audio, Aspect and Scene Selection bullshit


Friday, October 23, 2009

A Frank Review of "A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge" (1985)

The Short Version? Kill for Freddy, boy!
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? Nobody, really.
Should I See It? Yes.



Five years after the events of A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Walsh family move into Nancy Thompson's old house. Not long after, troubled son Jesse starts having terrible nightmares about the bogeyman Freddy Krueger, and this time, one night of playing with a teenager won't be enough. No, Freddy wants Jesse's mind, his soul, and most especially his body.

The much maligned Freddy's Revenge, easily the least applicably named of the series, has a special place in my heart. It was the first Nightmare I ever watched from beginning to end (and on video, after having caught part of Dream Warriors while theater hopping.) I was raised by women to be a pussy, but was unyoked from that fate by reuniting with my father and brother, after never having much of anything to do with one another. Aside from turning my head a few times when there was advance notice of gore, it was one of the first unedited horror movies I ever saw, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though I always retained a fondness for it, I doubt I saw Revenge again for a couple of decades. Revisiting it for this review was quite an eye-opening experience.

Compared to the original, the entire opening sequence of this first sequel is marinated in loss. The music is generic. The second title logo looks like a sticker off a cheap '80s skateboard, while the "Freddy's Revenge" subtitle is written in a metallic blue, as if Krueger were a crime lord in a lousy cop movie. In a poor attempt to reflect some "first day at school" anxiety on the part of the protagonist, he's depicted here (and nowhere else) as a flat-haired nerdy creep. There's zero tension, and the first two (offscreen) kills are faceless preppies who may be entirely imaginary. The visuals are way over the top, as though these schoolkids had ventured after Taylor and Brent into the Forbidden Zone. It even ends on a stupid pseudo-hip transition to the kid's mom slicing tomatoes.

The thing is, the movie gets better from there. The troubled protagonist is developed throughout the picture, and in fact may the most conflicted and complicated character in the franchise to date. His proposed love interest is also among the most sympathetic and simply human of the series. His supposed buddy is... well okay, he's an even more shallow version of Rod from the first film, and the kid's family is comparatively lame, and there are plenty of other flaws. Regardless, it's still a pretty good horror movie, and amongst the better sequels. Still, it's hated a lot more than other slasher flicks that aren't half as good. Where is the love? Ah, but I believe that's where the problem lies. The love in this movie is of the sort that once few would dare speak of by name, and will deny you marriage rights in most states. You see, "Freddy's Revenge" is queer as fuck.

Aside from a handful of appearances, Mark Patton's acting career seems to have begun and ended as Jesse Walsh. I know nothing about his life afterward beyond that he directed theater for some time. If Mark Patton himself isn't gay, Hollywood lost a real talent, because Jesse Walsh couldn't be a more obvious closet case. His inflection... hand gestures... feminine scream (yes, scream)... emotional outbursts... posture... physique. There couldn't be less sexual chemistry with his beard. He's that special, undeniable form of homosexual-- theatrical, emotional-- your basic tormented drama queen.

Then you look at what Jesse Walsh gets up to in this feature. He's constantly in a state of undress, usually briefs or less, and typically saturated by sweat or water. When a bully pulls down his pants at a ball game (*ahem*,) Jesse tries to strip the dude right there on the field. I'd guess Jesse willfully misinterpreted the gesture, because the two become close friends, and Lord knows he wouldn't be the first sister with the hots for a fit breeder. Speaking of which, he's close friends with the rich girl on his street, whose own friends tease her for the undeniable lust in her eyes, while Jesse seems far more concerned with snails than oysters. Early on, Jesse looks through a window outside his house and sees a raging fire in its cellar furnace. He tries to investigate, but once he opens the cellar door, he can't close it again to escape from its overwhelming heat. He calls out for his father, who never comes, and instead meets Freddy. Letting out a squeal, he awakens to the comforting arms of his mother. Or there's the dream he has in science class where he sleeps, blissfully unaware of the snake encircling his body. Or his fixation on Nancy's little pink diary. Or his giving his father comeuppance of a vague sort by cleaning his room while listening to pop-infused R&B, wearing silly Elton John sunglasses, and bumping his butt against drawers. In that same sequence, he brings a phallic toy to his mouth as a "microphone," then drops it to his crotch for a sexual pantomime. There's the time he almost has sex with a girl, where his pants never come off, and ends with him repulsed and the babe frustrated. There's the late night visit to the leather bar. I could go on and on, with much better, spoilery examples.

Finally, there's the movie itself. The evil gym coach who's a sadistic leather queen, and finds himself stripped fit-middle-aged-bare-assed-naked, assaulted by his own gym equipment (watch out for that barrage of balls!) There's the frequent male semi-nudity in general. There's the shift from a male-female competitive dynamic to a male-male/dominant-submissive relationship (more than one, in fact, as Jesse is the bottom to most every other male in the film.) Not only is this film brimming with gay subtext and homoerotic imagery, but it's fetishistic to boot! I can't believe critics largely missed this in the '80s, but it's all over the internet today, though there is one factor that I haven't seen addressed: this is a gay horror film. By that I mean that, taking all things into account, the movie is incredibly homophobic. Jesse's hardly ambiguous issues are associated with the perverted, demonic child murderer struggling to be set loose on a rampage. Nothing comes of Jesse's releases of the "deviance" inside him but violence and heartache. Hardly an advertisement for Exodus International, regardless of Jesse's attempts to suppress the terrible urges inside him and live a proper life, he has been irredeemably corrupted, and it would be better for everyone if he just killed himself. Whether you're a homophobe or a homofan, this movie has something to trouble you, and offers far more material to consider and debate than any other in the Nightmare series. Comedy exists to say things otherwise unmentionable through humor, while great horror films confront you with things you'd rather not face. In that case, Freddy's Revenge is pretty great.

Aside from fag fear, another point of objection for some is the liberties taken with the premise set forth by Wes Craven's original film. Personally, I've always been of the school of thought that if you've made a great film, a sequel should strive to match its quality, not slavishly recreate it with mild variations. The unoriginal path led to increasingly bland and repetitive installments in this franchise, the same fate suffered by all the other slasher series. Meanwhile, Freddy's Revenge maintains its antagonist's viability, as well as important features from the previous film related to the dreamscape. Then it goes off into uncharted territory that could stand on its own as a totally unrelated movie. The film has striking visuals, a more proper budget, and far better acting. It lacks for mood at times, is blandly shot and scored, and has a protagonist many found unrelatable. You take the bad with the good, and I'll call out the naysayers to state my case that Revenge was in fact the best Freddy sequel precisely because it breaks the rules in such a surprising fashion.


Extras?
I picked up the 4 Film Favorites edition, which offered early, stripped down DVDs in a single affordable case. Slim extras came with the savings.
  • Theatrical Trailer Pretty damned basic, right?
  • Cast and Crew Bios from the 1985 press kit. Whoopee.
  • Audio and Scene Selection bullshit


Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Frank Review of "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984)

The Short Version? Dream Bogeyman Kills Teens.
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? Fred Krueger Mom-- Fred Krueger! Also, Officer Tom Hanson and Roper from Enter The Dragon.
Should I See It? Yes.



A teenage girl has a dream about a terribly burned man wearing a tattered fedora and green and red sweater. Most importantly, he wields a gauntlet on his right hand with a knife attached to each finger. The girl tells her friends, who have been seeing the same figure in their dreams. Then, what happens in sleep begins to manifest into a sticky wet reality.

Right from jump1, A Nightmare on Elm Street screams "iconic." I mean even from the classic New Line Cinema logo animation, through the letterboxed title sequence of child murderer Fred Krueger constructing his finger-blade glove, to the extended credit nightmare, the original Nightmare logo and of course the unforgettable theme music by Charles Bernstein. You just know, at go, that this is going to be one of the greats of horror. Within five minutes, you've even got the little girls in clean white dresses slo-mo skipping rope while reciting the infamous Freddy rhyme. It's all there at the very beginning.

Also, like most great horror films, it achieves that status in spite of glaring flaws. Again, right from the start, you have an obvious twentysomething actress playing a teenager. You've got the "kids walking to school" exposition dump. The main characters consist of the aggressive oversexed jerk type, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, the preppie WASP couple, the stumbling alkie mother and the tough as nails cop. You've got a half dozen different accents running through the cast, with children sharing no physical nor vernacular traits with their "parents." The ridiculous "kids bonding through terribly staged comedy" bit. The lead actress that wouldn't be a convincing extra. It steals liberally from Psycho, Halloween, Phantasm, Jaws...

On the other hand, all the set-up has been dealt with before you're fifteen minutes in, and there's even another oft-copied effect just before that point. First kill's inside twenty, and it remains mighty goddamned impressive decades after the fact, done practical and on the cheap. From there, the hits never stop coming-- inspired, fucked-up imagery; unnerving music cues and sound effects; generally strong acting (Heather Langenkamp obviously excluded;) striking effects (loose wires and body doubles be damned;) and the seminal supernatural slasher, Freddy Krueger. Where it steals, it gives back something more effective and vital. Where it originates, it delivers a wind hundreds of impostors have sailed under.

There's something refreshing about revisiting the long-lived franchise in its pristine state. Robert England taunting the teens as you might a child; moving in a more stilted, awkward fashion than he would with experience, and offering little of the sarcastic, pun-laden one-liners that would eventually destroy the series' credibility. The nightmares are grounded enough in reality to have weight and consequence, but fantastic enough to inspire anxiety in an audience likely reliving night terrors in their own past. The editing and cinematography are pitch perfect, setting the right mood and segueing naturally in and out of the dream world to disturbing effect. The dialogue is quotable and pushes the narrative along like an engine. John Saxon is just an all around bad ass, yet his inability to confront the killer he pursues at the most basic level renders him just the right shade of impotent for a film driven by the antagonist. Johnny Depp was a pretty boy who could still deliver the goods, and it's refreshing that his girlfriend would struggle to fit in his jeans. Speaking of which, despite her deficit of talent, Heather Langenkamp has a wholesome girl-next-door quality that works for her role. She's the everywoman, a "final girl" with enough verisimilitude that you can actually respect and root for her (not to mention buy her as a virgin.)

A Nightmare on Elm Street isn't just a movie, but the birthplace of a mythology, and a milestone turning point in horror. Despite its flaws, it's essential viewing for its genre, and great fun besides. Wes Craven went the whole nine yards with an underfunded production that rarely seems slighted by the lack of resources. They are, after all, made up for by an abundance of imagination and craft.

Extras?
I picked up the 4 Film Favorites edition, which offered early, stripped down DVDs in a single affordable case. Slim extras came with the savings.
  • Commentary Track In lieu of a documentary or more extensive extras, this should satisfy most of your questions about the first installment of the franchise. Writer/Director Craven and actor Langenkamp are open and informative. Director of Photography Jacques Haitkin steps in occasional with technical and behind-the-scenes bits, while John Saxon is just there. If I recall correctly, this track was from some damned old laserdisc port from a few years out, but even if it's new for this edition, it's still no more recent than the late '90s.
  • Theatrical Trailer Woo-woo.
  • Audio and Scene Selection bullshit


1I said jump, down on Jump Street... You'd better be ready to, be ready to jump... 21 Jump Street.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Vampirella of Draculon" (September, 1969)



A lovely young woman was taking a shower-- but something was amiss. There were strange protrusions from her shoulder blades, and a bat-shaped birthmark on her right breast. Also, it seems that, rather than water, the liquid she bathed in was closer to the consistency of blood!

On the planet Draculon, "by a strange quirk of nature," the primary life-sustaining fluid was remarkably similar to hemoglobin. Vast, glassy cities had emerged on this planet of blood, as well as a vampire-like race whose sole sustenance was derived from the substance. "But, the blazing twin suns of Drakulon have caused a drought in the Rivers of Blood... Vampirella, like the rest of her race, is weak from loss of-- food!"

As Vampi writhed and moaned on her plush shag carpet, a pale man announced from a video screen "Vampirella! A spaceship from another world has crashed on the outskirts of Gosi-Bram!" She exclaimed, "Od's Bodkins! I'll check it out with wings on!"

Unsure she had energy enough to maintain altitude with the large, leathery, bat-like wings on her back, Vampirella barely made it to "The Arthur Clark Geosurvey Expedition No.3." As a pair of shaken astronauts exited their ravaged craft, Vampirella thought it best to conserve her strength and approach in the form of a large bat. The astronauts fired a laser at the shapeshifter, winging her. "I'll fix them for that!"

Vampirella turned invisible for a sneak attack, but weak from days without food, reverted to her very visible female form prior to making contact. Mistaken for an interplanetary ghost, Vampirella dive-bombed an astronaut, going straight for his throat. "My Drakarate Jab means business!!" The second astronaut met a similar end. "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorched!" Vampirella was shocked to find sustenance in the lifeforce of these "Men-things," and upon learning there were many more inside the spacecraft in suspended animation, cried "SMORGASBLOOD!!" Going from cylinder to cylinder in the "hibernation system," she gorged herself and dropped painful puns. A next issue blurb then warned, "Beware Earth! Vampirella is coming!"

The very first Vampirella story, written by Forrest J. Ackerman, set the standard for the titillating if somewhat embarrassing post-Silver Age anti-heroine. The plot is simple, silly, and dotted with atrocious dialogue. Hell, Vampirella performed a two page near-nude tease in a blood shower before complaining of a severe lack of the food-stuff. It isn't suppose to be high art, clearly. Good thing Tom Sutton starts things off right with the aforementioned Bill Ward-style strip tease, then follows up with some pretty zip tones and a strong Wally Wood vibe. The only thing sweeter than the art are Vampi's skintight hip huggers, a welcome deviation from the now quite familiar one-piece bathing suit/costume that was premiered on the cover (but not yet in the interiors.) The brief story originally appeared in Warren Publishing's Vampirella #1.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Frank Review of "Funny Games" (1997)

The Short Version? A family tormented 'til death.
What Is It? Horror/Drama.
Who Is In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? No. No. No.



So I keep going back to the psychotronic video, thinking I'm cool for handling this transgressive fare, and then running to my Netflix queue to chuck single and double stars at the shit. Why do I do this to myself?

Funny Games is a wretched waste of film and time. The story is about a mother, father, and their young son being tortured and butchered by a pair of sadistic psychopaths for their personal amusement. That may seem like a spoiler, but if you didn't see the ending coming before the credit sequence ended, you are at best naive. I watched the film with disinterest and nausea, assuming that an artist might have something to say at the end of this catastrophe.

It's bad enough I subjected myself to his smugly hateful piece of torture porn, but to have to then face the absolutely clueless director in the special features? Lord, grant me the strength to reach into my television and slap Michael Haneke. The German director has the gall to lecture about how his film gave me as a viewer several chances to sever my connection to the film, and my having completed it speaks ill of my character. He claimed his film was about the culpability of the audience in the production of violent films for their own sick entertainment. I say as a viewer I was nowhere near amused, am angered at having misplaced the benefit of the doubt, and that my wasted two hours of passive voyeurism are hardly as disturbed as his writing, casting, and filming of this abortion. After all, the audience really falls into two camps: those who "got" the joke in the first reel, and those getting off to the second and third. The former shouldn't be further injured by hoping for more than fodder for the latter.

The director claimed he made his film in response to suburbanite thrill-killers, and I say that his intention to guilt this potential audience is ill-considered. I try to be open-minded and give an artist a fair chance, but the type of individual the director seems intent on chastising has no moral compass to appreciate his work beyond the visceral and sardonic. The filmmaker thinks he's produced a Fight Club, but that's because his intentions and theoretical insights far outstrip his intellect, leaving us with a dullard stroking his ego to a horrific fantasy with no higher moral standing than "I Spit On Your Grave." Yes, he chose not to film probably the longest rape sequence in film history, but he also failed to offer closure while validating the travesty committed against his victims through the charisma and success of his predators. The film was being remade by the same director for a U.S. release, as I understand it, shot-for-shot. Twice to the well, and you dare point your finger at your audience? Who is the sick one here?

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Fashion Freak" and "Undo Redo" by Naked Ape

Written By: Naked Ape
Released: 2005/2006
Album: A Naked EP 12", For the Sake of the Naked Ape
Singles?: Yes.

Evil flesh-eating zombie chicks creeping your shit the fuck out while acting "hawt" over Swedish electronica. Happy anti-erotic Halloween!

Fashion Freak!


Lyrics:
Cutting edge
above eyelashes
lungs by Audrey Ang
at the cross left
fringed liver by
Alexander McQueen

Valentino sharpens up
soft pastels with these
slim silk genitals
shaped along sporty lines

Minimalism can still produce surprises
here Karl Lagerfeld adds
a discrete flash on skin to Chanel's floorsweeping draped entrails

Don't forget taking your skin off
because pink works
it's sophisticated and sexy
stands out as springs
hottest color

From behind the close up organs
From behind the close up organs

Watch out here they come
make them happen


Undo Redo


Lyrics:
She's the one you
She's the one who
She's the one you just can't see through

She's the one you
She's the one who
She's the one you
Undo Redo.

(repeat x10)


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Perversion for Profit (1965)

In 1965, Charles Keating and Citizens for Decent Literature, Inc. produced Perversion for Profit, a propaganda film railing against pornography. The unintended result was a campy permanent archive of fetish material of the era that has been embraced by the alternative sorts meant to be condemned. It now resides in the public domain, and can be downloaded for free here. The full film is embedded on this page, as are two sarcastic "remixes" that turn narrator George Putnam into a shill for smut.





Come Join The Fun!


George Putnum: Things I'm Into

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

1989 Pepsi/Madonna "Make A Wish/Like A Prayer" Ad

The infamous "Like A Prayer" music video controversy crushed this charming commercial spot, the full details of which can be found here



"Like A Prayer" by Madonna
Written By: Madonna, Patrick Leonard
Released: February 28, 1989
Album: Like A Prayer
Single?: #1 International hit, in 2004 was Rolling Stone Magazine's #300 Greatest Song of All Time.



Lyrics:
Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone
I hear you call my name
And it feels like home

[Chorus:]
When you call my name it's like a little prayer
I'm down on my knees, I wanna take you there
In the midnight hour I can feel your power
Just like a prayer you know I'll take you there

I hear your voice, it's like an angel sighing
I have no choice, I hear your voice
Feels like flying
I close my eyes, Oh God I think I'm falling
Out of the sky, I close my eyes
Heaven help me
[ Find more Lyrics on www.mp3lyrics.org/m6 ]

[Chorus]

Like a child you whisper softly to me
You're in control just like a child
Now I'm dancing
It's like a dream, no end and no beginning
You're here with me, it's like a dream
let the choir sing

[Chorus]

Just like a prayer, your voice can take me there
Just like a muse to me, you are a mystery
Just like a dream, you are not what you seem
Just like a prayer, no choice your
voice can take me there

Just like a prayer, I'll take you there
It's like a dream to me


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

President Bush's Anti-Zombie Budget

I finally got ahold of my long elusive "D" drive files, but due to internal errors, the extrication was a messy bit of business. As I'm forced to spend the coming months sorting it all out, and I've been AWOL here for a week, expect dated shit like this for a while.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Frank Review of "Zombieland" (2009)

The Short Version? Now that the zombies have taken over, what do you do with the the rest of your life?
What Is It? Zomedy
Who Is In It? The Natural Born Killer, poor man's Michael Cera, Little Miss Sunshine
Should I See It? Yes.



Zombieland is a mash-up of '80s miss-matched buddy action comedy, '90s ironic/meta sarcasm, and fast zombies. Thankfully, it cherry picks the best of those excessive and generally burnt out subgenres to form a very entertaining and exciting, if somewhat formulaic, time at the cinema. Early on, there are some rather wet and nerve-wracking encounters with the flesh eating undead. The Watchmen style credit sequence is full of slow motion carnage, and there are several episodes in the first reel that should have you at the edge of your seat. However, things settle down fairly early on, as geeky neurotic Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) meets total badass Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson,) and his newfound safety net extends security to the audience for the rest of the picture. They are soon joined by Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin,) antagonists turned love interest and foil (respectively,) and that's pretty much the only living cast for the rest of the picture. Woo is pitched, stars are crossed, mistakes are made, and we all learn a valuable life lesson in the end. My only complaint is a total cock slobbering extended celebrity cameo. I recall one good chuckle during this internet-hyped sequence, and really wish we'd seen a self-deprecating turn from Patrick Swayze instead (as originally scripted.) Still, it's all in good fun, and worth the price of a ticket.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Empowered Volume 2 (September, 2007)




Beginning with this second collection of Empowered stories, there's an obvious shift in the manner of storytelling within its chapters. After a single sheet primer, the book launches into a harrowing twenty-four page "issue" wherein Emp battles King Tyrant Lizard. There are numerous flashbacks, character introductions, and a building tension that's a far cry from the short gag strips which launched the series. This feels like a trade paperback compilation of a monthly comic that doesn't exist, with a more serious tone throughout. On the one hand, this is the only way to mature the heroine's adventures beyond repetitive set-ups and letdowns, saving her from becoming the Cathy of the long underwear set. On the other hand, you have to trade the simple, puerile fun of the first volume for a more adult read.

Given the dour landscape of modern comics, I'm not sure I would have made the switch if given the choice, but it still leaves Empowered as among the best super-hero books going. There's steady, natural progression in the individual characters' narratives, and they react to the circumstances these types are prone to face in a truly believable and often unusually optimistic fashion. Their effervescent personalities make it difficult not to take them into your heart, so when they are threatened, you react to the high stakes in ways the corporate Lazarus-Men cannot evoke. If someone is killed or otherwise molested in this book, you know you will inevitably feel the trauma and sense of loss, so each episode matters.

Not to say that this edition fails to bring the funny, mind. After the lengthy opening "Thuperlame," there are three shorts centering on drunken gaming, excessive drooling, and hot patootie. Thugboy returns to provide teh sexay for the ladies and more genuine lip-service for his girl. "The Aryan Ideal of Shoulder Candy" is twenty-two pages of naughty play, sapphic groping, and one-liners."Wahh, Wahh, Wahh" proves Emp can be entirely too effective, even whilst stripped of her powers. A "sexy librarian" piece should satisfy that sector of the fetish community.

A bit shy of the halfway point marks the beginning of a three chapter arc covering nearly sixty pages, involving a burgeoining threeway entanglement between our romantic leads and the mysterious Ninjette. Major subplots are introduced, and a follow-up chapter foreshadows serious business in an upcoming volume.

"The Power of TIME!" returns Empowered to both solo action and singular ability, but that bit of levity barely allows a breath to be caught before "A Long Line of Dead People" sits on your chest. Ninjette and Thugboy both carry surprisingly heavy baggage for what would appear to be a humor series, and their sordid histories do a great job of contrasting Emp's sweet neurosis and kind heart against their avoidance and possibly missplaced hope for redemption. This is made all the more clear in the final tale, "Fruity Flakes," which exposes the childhood tragedy that motivates our heroine, and the simple humanity that sets her apart from her fellow Superhomeys.

Empowered Volume 2 is the total package, serving comedy, pathos, light adventure, and heavy consequences for all the shenanigans these exceptional beings get up to. There isn't as much of an emphasis on the art this review, but rest assured it is lovely to gaze upon, and now serves to propel a denser read. Anyone who claims to love comics and turns their nose up at Adam Warren's opus is doing themselves and the form a great disservice.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Frank Review of "The Howling" (1981)

The Short Version? Reporters haunted by werewoloves.
What Is It? Horror Dramedy.
Who Is In It? Steed and Mrs. Genre Actress. Kevin McCarthy. John Carradine. Slim Pickens. More cameos.
Should I See It? Maybe.



By choice or by fate, I've been following the Howling series of movies out of sequence, allowing me to judge them on their own slight merits as individual films. I first saw Howling 2: Your Sister is a Werewolf decades back on home video, and a recent revisitation revealed it was more rivetingly rotten than I remembered. An absolute must see in trash television for the horror fiend. I next tried Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, as boring as the other flick was delightfully incompetent. That one was essentially a remake of the original, and now that I'm reviewing it, I can finally determine if it was fruit off a poisonous tree.

The credits run over snow on a TV screen as snippets of dialogue from the forthcoming film are heard, followed by Patrick Macnee as a patronizing therapist on a news show. As this isn't Videodrome, shit's egregious. Eventually, Dee Wallace shows up as the wimpiest, least convincing investigative journalist in something like ever. She's wired for sound while she makes her way alone to a rendevous with a serial killer in the red light district. As you've already predicted, there are audio problems, and she winds up locked in a private viewing room, rape porn playing as she faces the murderer. This might sound intense to you, but everything (aside from the movie-within-a-movie) is handled so delicately, there's no tension. Who'd want to hurt the mom from E.T./Cujo/Critters, right? In short order, all that's left is to clean up and report the scoop... except our star represses her memories and develops stage fright. While Dee goes to the shrink's nutter camp, a couple of her associates from the TV station follow-up on leads.

At this point, the primary story reconnects to the pseudo-remake, Howling IV, a review I ended with "this movie just leaves you dead inside." Here, though lumbering, I didn't find the flick an alternative to doctor assisted-suicide. There's a bunch of cameos and in-jokes for horror afficianados, the acting quality is up to soap opera standards, there's some decent gore effects, and it at least feels like a legitimate movie intended to be projected onto a multiplex's screen. While the first werewolf doesn't (briefly) show until forty-two minutes in, there's a decent set-up to get through, believeable characters and a logical narrative to work with. Even taking that into account, the second round of full-frontal nudity unveils before the fifty minute mark (butterface and BDSM notwithstanding.)

Werewolves really get to roaming early in the second hour, with some strong make-up work (even if they do go nuts with the bladders and exagerated sculpting.) Along with An American Werewolf In London, this film defined the screen adaptation of werewolves and quality transormation sequences right up to the present. The actors really know how to sell the prosthetics, moving with a lupine ferocity, and contrast mightily against the terrible efforts that followed in this series. Unfortunately, they're too often betrayed by cheap lighting, tepid direction, and poorly staged action sequences, plus there are a lot of plot holes and dated social commentary. The movie's pace picks up fantastically at about the time you need to linger a while and let the potential for horror set in. Instead, it's mostly action beats and swift resolutions, though the final one is a doozy (and kudos for the ironic inclusion of Invasion of the Body Snatchers' Kevin McCarthy!)

Let me level with you here: I just Googled "top werewolf movies," and the major differences between the lists (only two even attempting to number more than ten) was in which order to rank the same few decent movies in this genre. Further, I make a distinction between "wolfmen" and "werewolves" along the same lines as between Frankenstein's monster and Romero's dead. When you've got Teen Wolf and the thoroughly terrible Nicholson/Pfeiffer/Spader vehicle Wolf placing, you're faced with some slim fucking pickings. On those terms, Howling is one of the best and most influential werewolf movies of all time. It isn't especially good outside those terms, though, so you'd better go into this thing in serious heat for werewolf action.

Extras?

  • Unleashing the Beast: Making "The Howling" 54 minute documentary broken into five sections featuring all the principles, living and dead. Plenty of insider information and an all around pleasant atmosphere. FYI, on-screen husband Christopher Stone was engaged to Dee Wallace when he got the job.
  • Making A Monster Movie: Inside The Howling 1981 interview footage, which looks great given its age. A shame this wasn't incorporated into the previous doc, as there's redundancy, but still worth a look at about eight minutes.
  • Commentary Track Entirely missable.
  • Deleted Scenes A few cute moments, but nothing essential.
  • Outtakes Brief and mildly amusing.
  • Stills
  • Theatrical Trailers


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Pepsi Maximum Challenge: Pepsi Natural


While I was down in Mexico recently, I decided to try a number of different soda for variety's sake, and Pepsi Natural had to be the most interesting. Per its press release, Natural consists of "lightly sparkling water, natural sugar, natural caramel and kola nut extract. The amber-hued cola gets its color from natural caramel and natural apple extract. From the amount of bubbles to the foam that rises to the top of beverage when it's poured, Pepsi Natural offers a brand-new cola experience."

From this, you may rightly gather that Pepsi Natural is more than a bit fruity. It goes down well enough, but then this queer caramel/nutty aftertaste kicks in. You may go in for that sort of thing cold, but as it warms/flattens, you'll get whiplash from the funky kick this stuff delivers. I brought one of those funky 2.5 liter Mexican bottles home with me, but didn't crack it for a week. The first pour offered a six inch head of diehard foam, and once it dissipated enough, a second attempt to pour saw my bottle explode all over the kitchen. Handle with extreme care.

Pepsi Natural is an interesting change of pace for the pop curious, but I started to resent it with prolonged exposure. Also, at roughly twelve and a half calories per ounce, it ain't remotely diet. Anyway, it's being test-marketed in ten major U.S. cities, so hopefully you'll get the chance to try it yourself soon enough.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Pepsi Maximum Challenge


I never had much use for Coca-Cola. I've always found the most popular option suspect, found the taste just "okay," and naturally gravitate away from the bright/red end of the spectrum towards the dark/blue. Meanwhile, while I dug the patriotic cans, second-best option Pepsi always tasted flat and boring. So, for most of my life, I was an unfaithful, alternative drinker (though I had more flings with Mountain Dew than most.)

Well, a man gets older, puts on a few pounds, loses some teeth, and realizes its time to settle down with a nice diet soda. This happened to me about 2 1/2 years ago, but never content to settle, I gave just about every one on the market a spin. What I discovered fairly early on was that Pepsi Max was the one to beat.

Pepsi Max has been available outside the United States since 1993, but key sweetening agent acesulfame potassium kept it off the shelves for years pending FDA approval. Per Wikipedia, "A separate formulation of "Pepsi Max" was introduced in the United States on June 1, 2007 as 'Diet Pepsi Max'. Unlike the international beverage, its ingredient label mentions ginseng, and the drink contains nearly twice the caffeine (46 mg vs. 24 mg per 8 fl oz) compared to Diet Pepsi." Let me tell you, as an alternative to "doing the Dew," the Max was a delightful substitute. It had a bite missing from regular Pepsi and Coke alike, and I felt the difference an "Invigorating Cola." It also had a very subdued, sophisticated logo I was all over. I drank the stuff like life water, and if it's true that aspartame gives brain lesions to lab rats, I will be your perfect first human case study for extreme abuse.


I was extremely disappointed when "diet Pepsi Max" tried to appeal to the beer & hotdogs crowd by switching to a more pointy, extreme logo. It was like Rob Liefeld had taken over art chores on an Alan Moore book, but in pop form. A diet drink for bros, yo! Blessedly, the revamp did not extend to the drink itself, and the new look was swiftly nixed by a line wide revamp.

After years of ugly, overly busy logos, Pepsi went all Eurocentric and riding the Obama wave, simplified their look like crazy. Now simply "pepsi max," it looks like Ikea, but still tastes borderline illegal, and I can totally roll with that... especially if you plaster it all over Kim Kardashian's ass.

And so, I will now take (in truth continue) the Pepsi Maximum Challenge, in which I will compare the Cadillac of diet pop with its many competitors. I do this because I'm obsessive, and because I'd like a different kind a filler post from when I get behind.
THE PEPSI MAXIMUM CHALLENGERS:
Pepsi Natural

Friday, October 2, 2009

2005 Crisis on Infinite Earths: The Absolute Edition cover by George PĂ©rez



This has been a really tricky image for me to find in the past, because search results usually turn up the gigantic Perez/Ross painting for the '90s hardcover instead. This is the master solo, depicting the moment Kid Flash Wally West realized his mentor was (comic book) dead, and he would have to fill Barry Allen's shoes (for a couple of decades.)

...nurghophiles...

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