Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Facebook ramblings - April 2016

I've been posting mini-ramblings on my Facebook page along with an accompanying snapshot of the films I'm mini-reviewing (not pro screenshots, I'm just snapping them off the wall they're being projected on with my cheap phone). For those who don't have me as a Facebook friend, no sweat, I get it -- Facebook is the Devil. So I'll gather them up at the end of the month and post 'em here. If you thought my regular ramblings were incoherent, try ramblings with little to no explanation of what the movies about! 

Trancers II: The Return of Jack Deth (Rewatch. Blu-ray.) 

Filmed in 1991, hence the mom jeans and high-waisted pants. 

Not as good as the first one, and sometimes it's outright terrible. For some reason, director Charles Band films nearly all the close-ups damn-near Jonathan Demme style, with the actor thisclose to looking directly at the camera. But at least it feels like a Trancers movie and they got most of the original cast back, so it's fun enough to almost make you forget about the wack-ass script -- I'll give points to the wack-ass script for making the villains environmentalists and having a really old-school insenstive attitude towards homeless people and the mentally ill.

The audio commentary with stars Tim Thomerson and Megan Ward is fun too. Too bad the director is taking part as well. He's never as funny as he thinks he is, or anywhere approaching funny (he continues the tradition from the first Trancers commentary of pointing out random actors and situations as "gay" -- my sense of humor isn't politically correct, I'm just saying put some thought into your gay jokes, my fellow bros) and he's fond of interrupting Ward & Thomerson's genuinely entertaining interactions usually to have them be quiet for a line he finds funny. Except he hasn't seen the film since completing post, which means that they have to be quiet for about a minute or so before the line finally happens -- or in one case, before realizing that the line isn't even in this particular scene.

One day I'll get married to Megan Ellison or someone like that and after the divorce I'm gonna use my half of the money to create my own boutique label. I'll buy the rights to some of these movies with the intention of having do-over commentaries recorded for them. For Trancers II, I'll only invite Thomerson & Ward and I'll sit in to pester Thomerson about everything he's worked on and most likely I'll creep out the lovely Ms. Ward. And if you don't like it, then you can find your own money and create your boutique label.

Artists and Models (First time. DVR.)

The first film Martin & Lewis made with director Frank Tashlin and the second-to-last they made together (they were pretty much done with each other by the follow-up, Hollywood or Bust). I'm gonna be honest with you, I never really got into Jerry Lewis except for the films he directed himself and his work with Tashlin. It's like Tashlin was the only one who operated on the same level with him and I guess it's because his experience animating/directing Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck helped him understand a human cartoon like Lewis.

It's top notch Martin & Lewis; the songs are catchy (Martin crooning the bejesus out of "Innamorata", Lewis hey-ladying the fuck out of whatever the fuck he was singing) and the gags are a-plenty, only this time with Tashlin it mostly feels like a live-action cartoon.

It looks beautiful too! It's photographed in VistaVision with candy Technicolor and the production design is old-school studio work that I am always a sucker for. You can tell they put some serious money into this. There's also plenty of eye candy with attractive women all about the proceedings (Dorothy Malone! Anita Ekberg!) and hey, Dean Martin ain't a bad looker either. See, this was back when guys looked like men, none of this skinny tight pants wearing six-pack abs-having motherfuckers who can't fight worth a shit, says the guy with a big gut and a violent temper.

Tashlin might be the earliest example I can think of a director putting up what gets him off on-screen. Shameless leg shots and sexy costumes everywhere! Even one shot of a bound and gagged 21-year-old Shirley MacLaine wearing a tight fitting costume and hosiery made me feel funny/weird, in a Quentin Tarantino foot fetish kinda way. Shit, I think I had a similar kinky spider sense tingling when a similarly-clad Scarlett Johansson was tied up in Marvel's The Avengers. Jesus Christ. I thought I knew myself already. Thanks a lot, Tashlin, for giving me yet another feather to stick in my Sick Fuck cap.

This was my first time watching it, so maybe it's too early to tell, but in comparison to Hollywood or Bust, this one doesn't quite match up, maybe because Hollywood had a giant Great Dane in it and this one doesn't. You give me hot chicks and an awesome dog and I'll give you a happy man.

By the way, to my fellow heteros and lesbians and animal lovers (but not in that way); do you ever find yourself walking or driving and suddenly you see an attractive woman walking a dog? And because you only have about two seconds to enjoy this, you have to make the Sophie's Choice of ogling the sexy lady girl or going AWWWW over the doggy dog dog bow-wow? Or is it just me?

Anyway, Artists and Models is good times if you can stand Jerry Lewis' style of comedy and plus he calls himself "retarded" at one point, so there's that too.

House of Games (Rewatch. DVD.)

The plays and films of David Mamet are like tuna fish sandwiches: you either like them or you don't. Me, I love tuna fish sandwiches. I'd eat one right now except I'm under the weather (thanks to the constantly changing weather! one day it's 90 degrees, the next it's cold and rainy!) and therefore I wouldn't completely enjoy it.

But I enjoy David Mamet's work, sick or no sick. So I revisited this one and had a good time with it, even though the surprises are no longer surprises. To be honest with you, the surprises weren't really that surprising even when I first saw this in the late 90s, because by then I'd seen enough rug-pullers inspired by this one to be kind of savvy to them.

It's a trip to watch the different styles of reciting Mamet's dialogue. There's a spectrum at work in his films; in this one, you have Lindsay Crouse on one end of the Mamet spectrum, giving herself over completely to the Mametspeak, its rhythms, and all that that entails (the character is defined by words and actions at the moment PERIOD; no character history or anything like that). This has been confused for bad acting but if you see her in other joints she does all right. (This goes for Rebecca Pidgeon as well.)

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Joe Mantegna who is able to do justice to the Mamet style while still being Joe Mantegna. He's able to bring his own personality to the proceedings while doing the rhythm thing. Plus it makes sense that his con artist character is a bit more loose while Crouse's psychiatrist is more uptight in comparison.

Or maybe I'm just making excuses because I dig this motherfucker Mamet.

This movie was made in 1987 and it definitely has a late 80s feel, but not in the usual pop flashy way. I mean, this movie feels like it takes place in a world occupied by, well, think of what your average middle-to-upper-middle class person who enjoys PBS and NPR would look like, dress like, circa 1987 and there you go, if that makes any goddamn sense.

In conclusion, there's an actress who says "A Waldorf salad" and it's one of the best line readings, like, ever.

Riding with Death
Agent for H.A.R.M.

Prince of Space

Horror at Party Beach
(MST3K versions. Rewatch.)

And so, what I hoped on Friday were mere allergies having their way with me has since turned into a full-blown badass Cold of All Colds. I missed out on seeing my sister and having a little Siblings Day hugfest with her as a result. But that's OK, because I texted her and we're on for next weekend and I can ride this cold thing out with my usual chicken soup for the soul, MST3K episodes. See, I have this thing about not watching new films when I'm sick, because I feel I have to be 100-percent, says the guy who went to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Half-Naked Amy stoned to the gills.

Anyway, because of that weird sorta principle I created somewhere along the way, MST3k reruns are my go-to sick viewings. So I had a little marathon that will probably continue tomorrow because I'm calling in sick to work.

You might have noticed the old Sci-Fi Channel logo on the lower left corner. That is because I have damn near all the episodes collected from the Digital Archive Project and burned onto DVD. This was back in the late 90s/early 00s when very few episodes were available. Since then, I've bought the new stuff from Shout! and some of the old stuff too -- because it's better quality than my old DAP discs, not because I'm trying to Make Things Right. That would mean I have some kind of a conscience. HA!

I might have to change my No New Movies When Sick rule, though. I mean, one of my favorite movie-views was catching a late-night R-rated pan-and-scan showing of Dario Argento's Trauma on Cinemax when I was 14 years old and getting my ass kicked by the flu. I had just woken up from a fever dream only to end up watching another one on television. Or at least it felt that way; I've never seen the film since because I'm sure it won't match up to that sweaty, doped-up-on-Theraflu experience and I probably never will. But it got me to look up what this Dario Argento dude was up to. So I don't know where the hell I got this idea of not watching new shit when I feel like shit.

Maybe I should just downgrade it to movies I wasn't particularly looking to watch, but hey, it's on Lifetime and that chick from that show is on it, know what I mean?

In conclusion, achoo.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (Rewatch. DVD.)

I think it was Quentin Tarantino who said that Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter was a "character study shot like an epic" or something like that, and that's kinda what Cimino did here as well with his first film.

You spend something like an hour watching these two driving from small scenic town to small scenic town before the plot actually kicks in, but
 it's time well spent because you get to watch Clint's character pretty much fall in Like with his new friend without ever saying it. It's all small gestures and actions and it's some of Clint's best understated work. People don't give my man Clint enough props for this kind of acting, which is its own kind of difficult to pull off. Jeff Bridges is great here but it's kinda like how Hoffman got all the attention for Rain Man while The Cruiser was knocking it the fuck out as the, uh, straight man.

Funny thing is, Bridges would do something like that again in John Carpenter's Starman, which I would consider a good double-feature with this one. That one is also a road movie with a great showy Jeff Bridges performance that overshadows an even greater subtle performance by his co-star, Karen Allen

Man, that's a movie right there for you, isn't it? A movie about Clint's awesome glare and Karen Allen's heartwarming smile.

This is definitely a Cimino film, filled with big skies and beautiful widescreen landscapes and dashes of macho cine-energy thrown in here and there. It also has many visual/character/location elements that you'll see pop up in his later works, like speeding cars leaving trails of dust, attractive women with legs that go all the way up, shitkicker bars, pool tables, diners, John Holmes-sized firearms, war veterans, and various other things I'm in too much of a hurry to write out.

There's also something else that pops out at me, given recent stories about M-Cim; so I guess he's spent the last 20 years or so going under the knife and losing weight, and it's gotten to the point that he's been looking rather femme nowadays and there are rumors of him getting or going for a little bit of the Caitlyn Jenner action.

Well, I couldn't help but think of that when later in the film one character has to dress in drag, so maybe that was always something Cimino was into or at least considering, I don't know.

The story goes that Clint kept Cimino in check, limiting him mostly to three takes max and speeding him up if he was taking too long setting a shot up. The climax of the film was supposed to take like a week or something to shoot but Clint last-minute gave Cimino only two days and they pulled it off.

Anyway, I like the movie and come back to it every couple years or so. It's very much a Sunday afternoon kind of joint, so of course I watched it Saturday morning.

South Central (Rewatch. DVR.)

This one came out back in '92, between Boyz N The Hood and Menace II Society. Some of the acting is really good (particularly the star, Glenn Plummer aka Tuneman from Speed) and some of it reminded me a bit of that English chap in the beginning of Black Dynamite going on about how he has to go "back to the streets, where I come from suckas", and maybe that's not too
 much of a coincidence since the co-writer of that movie is the co-star of this one. 

I liked it back in '93 on VHS and I liked it now in HD, but nowadays it does feel a bit more artificial and theatrical in comparison to the more natural Boyz and Menace, but if you can get past that then you'll probably be OK with this film. What this movie has in, uh, spades over the other ones is a stronger humane message -- and yeah, I know, it was this kind of stuff that the parody DON'T BE A MENACE... poked fun of, but that's to be expected from a bunch of genuine assholes like the Wayans Bros. 

I mean, I think DBAM is funny but when you really get down to it, the idea of making fun of movies about real violence going down in South Central L.A. is up there with, I don't know, making a parody of Holocaust films. Call it Holocaust Movie and get Friedberg/Seltzer on it and have them make fun of scenes like the Nazi gun jamming in Schindler's List only this time the gun shoots out that Bang! flag or something. 

Anyway, at times South Central can feel like a Christian film with the porn cut out, so to speak. Or actually it's more like a Muslim equivalent to those kind of films, but like I've said before, even the most obvious and well-meaning preached-out messages don't make them any less true. 

So in a way it makes sense that Oliver Stone, a man who shotgunned Subtlety in the dick a long time ago, helped get this film made. 

Plus, they shoot fools using guns with potato suppressors on the barrels, so you gotta give 'em points for that. 

In conclusion, to quote home-Muslim in the film: Bless yourself by helping someone else.

Owning Mahowny (First time. DVR.)

The last time I gambled, I mean, with money, like, in a casino was back in 2012 at an Indian casino on my way home from a road trip. I played a few hands of Blackjack, playing with only $20 and making small bets, and got up to $120 before finally losing $20. It only made sense to walk away at that point while I was still ahead, and I thank the Maker that I'm wir
ed that way, as opposed to people like Dan Mahowny (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who unfortunately did not quit while he was ahead on sobriety). 

Mahowny is unfortunately one of those people who, to paraphrase what one character says about him, wants to win in order to have more money to lose. This poor schmuck is a degenerate whose bookie will even cut him off from time to time because he feels bad taking bets from someone who is clearly not well. 

Hoffman is great here as a guy who can be quietly charming and likable so long as he's not gambling. But when he's in bettin' mode, he gets cold and shuts the world around him off, and the only other emotions that might come out of him are muted annoyance or douchey petulance if you're in the way of his robotic card-playing. 

This is based on a true story and the way the movie plays this out is as if the film itself were a stranger at the casino lightly nudging your shoulder then whispering to you "Hey, check out the guy over there at the craps table. Can you believe that guy?", as opposed to some bro shoving you and going "FUCKIN' A, DUDE! LOOKIT DAT GUY! HE'S GONNA FUCK HIS SHIT UP, MAN!" the way I would if I saw some shit like that going down. This is probably because this is a Canadian film directed by a Brit, rather than some all-American razzmatazz-ery

Everyone else in this movie is just as good as The Hoff-Man, like John Hurt as the casino boss who is amused by Mahowny but is still angling to take this motherfucker for all he's worth, and Minnie Driver as Mahowny's long-suffering girlfriend. You'll also see a few familiar poutine-eating faces, like Bianca O'Blivion from Videodrome and the late great Maury Chaykin as the bookie.

Part of the ending kinda annoyed me, but what can you do? Aside from that, it's a good flick, you should check it out. Oh, and at one point Mahowny asks for a plate of ribs (no sauce) and a Coke, so guess who's now in the mood for both? Fat fuck.

The Deer Hunter (Rewatch. Blu-ray.)

It says a lot about the power of cinema to focus on a bunch of loud-mouthed, beer-drinking, reckless driving assholes who are basically the 60s/70s version of Extreme Bros Who Go WOOOO! At Everything for three hours and leave you caring for them (or most of them, anyway).

Or maybe it's because you only get that Bro shit for the first hour or so, and then you 
watch the Bros get PWNED by Vietnam, to which a harder man would say "Serves them right. They went in there wanting the whole blood & guts experience, and that, by God, is what they got" but I'm not gonna be that guy at this moment and instead I'll defend them by saying that this was back when people still believed in the idea of Going To War For God And Country because most people hadn't realized yet that we had been sold a bill of goods by The Powers That Be and that Eisenhower was right about warning us about the Military Industrial Complex, but like most warnings given to us precious humans, we just chose to ignore that shit and now the Big MIC happily feeds on the poor and naive and BOY OH BOY is this a tall soapbox! I better get off of it carefully before I fall off and land on my giant ignorant ass.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, watching these guys get fleshed out while their souls are flayed alive by Real Life In The Shit followed by Real Life In What Used To Be Our Playground is what makes this movie the masterpiece that it is. As mentioned in my ramblings about Thunderbolt & Lightfoot, this film is a character study dressed in Epic Cinema clothing, and despite spending some time over in The Nam, this is not at all a war movie.

It's been said that this could've easily have been about the characters going through some other major violent ordeal but Vietnam was the most recent, so it made sense to make it *that*. This unfortunately has led to criticisms about the portrayal of Non-Muricans as bloodthirsty Russian Roulette-betting assholes, which I understand but, hey, what are you gonna do? I mean, maybe if this was about the fictional Mexican Border War and it was Javier doing this shit then maybe I'd be like FUCK THIS MOVIE, but it isn't, so I'm not. 

But if I can be George Lopez for a second: Latinos, we wouldn't do that to others -- Russian Roulette was something we played at home with our friends when we were drunk and bored AYYYY CHOOOOOOOWWWWW *cue Jarabe Tapatio*

But you also have some of the Whites back home talking shit like "Kill some for me!" and stuff like that when talking about these dudes going to war, and I doubt statements like that are meant to be taken lightly, right? 

All movies are flawed in one way or another, and The Deer Hunter certainly carries its fair share of Huge Gaping Maw flaws, but if you're lucky enough to be like me and see the forest for the tree, then whaddya know, you're a poet and didn't know it OHHHHHHHH

This was Michael Cimino's second film and because he didn't have Clint Muthafuckin' Eastwood pulling on his leash, homeboy was already doing the overbudget/overschedule thing here -- only it worked out for him because the movie was a hit and Oscars were passed out to the production like candy. 

It wouldn't be until his next movie that his extravagant filmmaking style would finally reach Cimino's buttcheeks, open its jaws big and wide, and chomp down hard on the motherfucker.

Purple Rain (Rewatch. Theater.)

Because I wasn't going to use my phone's camera smack-dab in the middle of the theater (or the movie), that's why. 

I hadn't seen this one since the early 90s and so I was seeing it again for the first time, to use the tagline of the Molested Trilogy. You bet your sweet seat-warmer that I blasted my Prince mix CD (circa 2003) on the way to the theater, and blasted it on the way back -- but don't get me wrong, I had my windows rolled up, I'm not a complete savage who needs to share his tunes with the world. 

My feelings on the film are the same, only stronger; what Purple Rain really has going for it is the music and the presence of His Purple Majesty at his most Publicly Majestic. And Apollonia Kotero's outfit during "Sex Shooter". And Morris Day, my spirit animal. And intense-ass Clarence Williams III. And poor ignored Jill Jones. And Olga "Chick Who Got The Wood Splinter In Her Eye In Zombie" Karlatos' dubbed performance. And Bobby Z.'s sad attempt at looking like a Prince impersonator. And Wendy and Lisa giving off a Sapphic vibe the whole time. And Billy Sparks with those sunglasses. And that vaguely European sedated club announcer.

Prince could've tried to make his "character" in the film Mr. Misunderstood and have the story be about how everyone else needs to operate on his wavelength and put up with his shitty behavior. But no, for the most part he and the filmmakers avoid that trap; this dude has issues and it's an everyday battle for him not to become like his father -- or worse, some new crossbreed of Douchebag that has new Dickhead elements added to the original Father model. And I like that the movie basically ends with him beginning to improve, rather than completely turning into a new man. Or at least that's how I prefer to interpret it, because there are signs here that maybe I'm supposed to be A-OK with him at the very end and I'm not. 

I'd call this a Style Over Substance film if the Substance we're referring to is the screenplay. But if the Substance in question is made of Prince's songs and Michel Colombier's score, then no, it is a Substance Over Style deal. 

But I gotta give points to director Albert Magnoli for putting in 110-percent on the visual side of this joint (with the help of d.p. Donald Thorin) and he did a great job editing this flick too. I remember reading somewhere that Magnoli was brought in to complete Tango & Cash after the original director was Creative Difference'd off the project, and after watching this again, I can totally watch that movie now and point out which scenes are his with total-fucking-confidence. 

Anyway, I'm happy to have had the opportunity to watch this movie again and be taken back to a time when the worst thing he did was take a guitar and jerk it off until it jizzed all over a worshipping audience, rather than today, when the worst thing he did was die. 

In conclusion, Prince in Purple Rain is to pacing back & forth in a room as Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls is to putting ketchup on french fries.

Trancers III (Rewatch. Blu-ray.)

That dude in the picture just watched a violent bar brawl that ended with a man impaling another man with a pool cue stick then flinging the impaled man across the room. At least the woman next to him registers *some* kind of concern on her face. Man, had I been there to witness that, I'd have run halfway to Buenos Aires by the time the impaled man hit the floor.

Anyway, it was a wise move on Charles Band's part to let writer/director C. Courtney Joyner step in and new blood this third (and final, in my opinion) chapter in the series. 

Joyner took a page from the Halloween/Highlander series playbook in making a sequel that more-or-less pretends the previous one didn't happen (but could still work in series continuity if you want to be that way) and he flashes his Not Fucking Around credentials damn near immediately, right after he flashes his I Don't Give A Fuck credentials upon introducing us to a Latino "scumbag" holding up a Chinese store owner -- and when it returns later to that scene, throwing an unsympathetic asshole White police officer into the mix. 

This is a better shot film than the last one too; more moving camera and less Jonathan Demme-style close-ups. This feels more like a comic book come to life than the other films; some of the compositions could pass for splash pages (albeit low-budget splash pages) and some of the dialogue could've/maybe should've been posted as thought bubbles above characters' heads. 

Since the last Trancers, Helen Hunt's star had begun to rise, appearing in critically acclaimed films like The Waterdance, Bob Roberts, and Mr. Saturday Night and at the time was co-starring in the NBC show "Mad About You". Some actors would've pretended Trancers never happened as soon as they got the seventh lead in some low-rent sitcom on a wannabe network, thinking themselves too big for that bullshit. Hunt, on the other hand not only said yes, she gave up her free time while working on the latter to go work on this film AND she did her own hair. And, if star Tim Thomerson is to be believed on the last film's commentary, she doesn't mind that he calls her "Dolphina" because of her forehead. Ladies and gentlemen, Helen Hunt is a motherfucking soldier. 

Speaking of soldiers, Andrew Robinson is lots of fun as the Colonel/Creator of All Things Trancer. I'd say he's the best villain in the series and I would've liked to have seen more of him -- I would've liked to have seen more of everything in this film, to be real with you. 

I dug this film and my only real issue is that this story needed a little more breathing room both in scope and budget to really work the way it should, but you know that shit wasn't gonna happen in a Full Moon production. Whatever, I should just be happy they got that much to spend at all, compared to what passes for a Full Moon budget nowadays.

Oh yeah -- some of the shootouts are The Naked Gun/Police Squad! ridiculous, with the sedated bad guys about five feet away from Jack Deth as they fire and miss. But that's its own kind of fun. 

Thankfully, Joyner also replaces Band on the audio commentary with Thomerson. While it's not as goofy/jokey as the last two commentaries, its still fun to listen to because clearly these two are more in sync with each other than Thomerson was with Band. 

In conclusion, there are no mom jeans here, no sirree bob -- Lieutenant Helen Hunt is rocking stirrup pants instead.