Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Speedfreaks See Bugz

The Downtown Nowhere Movie Theatre Presents Ten Little Genre Movies

With the exception of one film, all the movies covered here today were screened by The National Film Board of Ivanlandia on DVD.

Most of these flicks had a theatrical release of some sort (often limited), but several were either direct-to-DVD or didn’t develop a fan base until they were on DVD.

Like The Burrowers and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder,
Infestation, The Breed and Altered are the type of decent, hard-working B-movie that would have, in the not-so-distant past, been shown at drive-ins and/or as the second bill of a low-rent moviehouse in Downtown Nowhere.

But the economy and the world being what it is, weird exploitation or genre fare has to seek exposure elsewhere.

I could never understand why any movie fan could turn their nose up at a specific sort of release a film might get: “Ewww, that’s ‘direct-to-DVD,’ I’m not watching that!”

But what if the film’s good?
Then who cares what the format is?

It’s only the boozhy Normals with their pernicious telepathic pressure who keep concepts like “direct-to-DVD is second rate” alive.

If you appreciate B-movies or exploitation flicks or Grindhousers or the Cinema of the Trashy & Weird,
then you should be able to appreciate a flick for its own merits, whatever the format you screen it.

Jeez, without direct-to-DVD,
I would never have seen a lot of good stuff!
(and before that, direct-to-VHS;
and how about even before that: “made for TV” movies--why people put those down was beyond me!),
(Back to the drive-in and the thee-aY-ters on the bad side of town….all the way back to that first primeval B-cave painting--

Infestation (2009)

Give Infestation a chance and you shall be rewarded--
Although the bugs in Cloverfield were really top notch--nasty little critters!--
This is probably the best giant bug movie in a decade (and we love Them!)

(But we do not like Eight Legged Freaks--I never felt they got the physics of the spiders’ jumping properly, and David Arquette just wasn‘t doing it for me)

Infestation has a good blend of humor and horror--
realizing that most of the humor has to be of the “sick” variety--
and any pop culture references are part of one specific character’s “shtick.”

The flick has good effects, nothing spectacular, but effective and often gross.
And it’s obvious that they’ve thought out as best as possible the questions of mass and density when the bugs move.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, bugs can’t grow that big. Whatevs.

Good gore, but not really enough for my gorehound’s palate--but adequate, and all done towards maximizing the story.

Plotted well, the movie starts strong, and ups the ante repeatedly--
meanwhile, like all good exploitation B-movies should, Infestation has naked boobies.

And I love, love, love the fact that the bugs are never “explained.”
They just happened.

There’s a great “Carpenter-esque” vibe running throughout Infestation, leading to an awesome (non)shock ending
(if I can be any more vague).

Infestation should be on a double feature with Them!, of course, but I’d add a midnight showing of the incredible (and still unavailable on DVD The Hellstrom Chronicle)

Altered (2006)

This flick gets 4 out of 5 stars for gorehounds, and 3 for normal folk.

That said, despite the medium acting and dialog,
Altered is like some blood-splattered cross between The X-Files and an old Outer Limits episode---
and really feels like what M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s Signs should have been had the movie been any good.

A darn good B-movie, Altered has a fast pace and a high level of weirdness:
this flick starts off intense,
and keeps getting crazier as four friends finally get revenge on the extraterrestrials that “probed” them years ago.

And while that sounds like a goofy premise,
the movie plays it straight, aided by some top-notch gore and well-executed alien effects, and really delivers the scares.
Check it out.

Altered should be on a double feature with
Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County,
a flick that scared the crap out of me when I saw it on Channel 9 in the late-1990s.
(Sigh…Remember when we used to worry about simple things, like alien abductions? Those were better days….)

Here is one of my entries into that ultra-bogus New Yorker caption contest.
My caption had the alien grey doctor saying,
“The bad news is that it’s a tumor.
The good news is that it looks delicious.”

Factoid: That cartoon is by P.C. Vey, who is not only an excellent cartoonist, but the son of my high school shop teacher!

Orphan (2009)

This is a deliciously transgressive and nasty flick that is destined to become a camp classic.

There’s no way anyone renting Orphan or seeing it for the first time is not
going to know that little Esther is a
devil-child up to no good,
and the film’s fun is in watching how
the murderous moppet absolutely destroys her adoptive family.

Especially since this adoptive family is such a collection of jerks and losers,
with the mother being the worst:
She’s an annoying bundle of confusion and nerves, and generates zero sympathy.
She’s a magnet for bad karma.

So this dry-drunk keeps putting her career as a classical music teacher on hold to be a baby machine?
And she can’t pay attention to the kids she’s already got because why?
Oh right, she’s a dumb selfish cow.

It becomes fun watching how Esther messes with her head, and inspires Mom’s increasing paranoia and instability.

Meanwhile it’s actually quite disturbing to hear some of the foul or creepy language that comes out of Esther’s mouth, let alone the “other things” she does to mess with the Daddy character. Creeeeeeeepy!

In summation: a very unhappy and messed-up family adopt a kid without knowing a thing about her---and they get what they deserve!

Psychotic pre-teen Esther is helping this family grow out of its morbid shell.
(Honestly, though, I prefer to think of the film ending with the alternate or original ending available on the DVD’s supplementals--much creepier, and less Hollywood, but what can you do?)

A near perfect double feature with John Water’s Female Trouble

Big Fan (2009)

A cross between Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Dostoyevsky’s “Notes From Underground,”
Big Fan is Robert Siegel’s second script about sports and losers,
but it is not as effective, interesting or sure-footed as The Wrestler.

The difference in quality between these two flicks is like night and day.
This movie feels like a rough draft or student film sometimes.

And although he gives a riveting performance, Patton Oswalt is seriously miscast in Big Fan.
Oswalt is an awesome stand-up comic, but he’s not a good enough actor to play “dumb.”

Big Fan’s football-obsessed main character is a simple, almost stupid man, and there is too much intelligence in Oswalt’s shifty eyes.
(Smart actors good at playing “dumb” include John Hurt, Warren Oates and Robert Duvall.)

Using the core of evil that exists inside every comedian, Oswalt does his best, delivering a performance that, in another different movie would have been perfect.

But in what director Siegel has conceived, Oswalt’s performance is out of place.

Double Feature with either Observe & Report
(which I didn’t like, but I think its fans will like Big Fan)
or even better, Patton Oswalt’s stand-up show/concert movie,

the incredibly funny My Weakness Is Strong

The Breed (2006)

This is one of those flicks that had it only been one hour long, it would have been perfect.
But as is, The Breed is a decent B-movie with good action, some creepy and moody scenes, and some excellent cheap shocks (those dogs jump out of everywhere!).

Despite a slow start with a series of ridiculous “friends having fun” scenes, and a lame “quarrelling brothers” subplot, The Breed offers an intriguing premise: a pack of vicious and super-intelligent mutant canines
(perhaps the ancestors of the mutt from A Boy and His Dog pre-apocalypse??)
have escaped from their lab and taken over the island it was on.

They’ve eaten all the other animals there, and now here come some vacationing twenty-somethings!

Personally, I would have preferred even more gore, but a big plus for the flick is that 99% of the action and effects are practical ones, and hardly any CGI is used. So those hounds are really attacking those stunt men, and that’s a visceral thrill no computer can match.

On a triple feature with The Doberman Gang and A Boy and His Dog

Dead Snow (2009)

Despite some excellent (but also infrequent) gore effects, Dead Snow is a major disappointment:

There are too many tonal shifts and idiotic attempts at snarky dialog, and the flick is so derivative, stealing from many popular horror/gore flicks, it becomes annoying.
It takes far too long to get going, and none of the characters are worthy of our interest, not even as victims.
Only gorehounds in desperate need of a splatter-fix need go near this loser.

Double feature (and only if I have to) with A Cold Night’s Death, with Robert Culp (RIP) and Eli Wallach as scientists trapped at an Artic installation in this excellent pre-Carpenter’s The Thing horror TV movie--
which is shamefully not out on DVD!
(BTW, Wallach’s wife Anne Jackson was in her own frozen horror flick: Kubrick's The Shining

The Prophecy (1995)

I did not expect to like this movie as much as I did: a very pleasant surprise!
The Prophecy won me over with its very intelligent (and usually over the top) almost blasphemous theological discussions, acted out with incredible verve by Walken, Stoltz and Mortensen (who’s especially brilliant in his cameo as Lucifer).

Additionally, the flick has great style and ample gore---I’m amazed that it took me so long to discover it.

The Prophecy is theological horror that puts the Omen series to shame. (And I think I’ll protect my memory of this movie by not seeing any of its sequels.)
BTW, I love how the angels contemptuously refer to us humans as “talking monkeys.”

Triangle (2009)

We also screened Triangle recently, and liked it, although it tries way too hard to be David Lynchian--but it was quick and gory and crazy and stylish enough to hold interest.

I’d put Triangle on a double feature with Night Tide.

Ginger Snaps (2000)

One of the best interpretations of the werewolf legend I’ve seen.
Ginger Snaps is another flick that I have to kick myself for taking so long to see.

The film’s dialog sequences are the best parts;
the horror and gore are good, but nothing super special, however they are effective in the overall work.

That said, Ginger Snaps has a very intelligent script interpreted brilliantly
by two young actresses who perfectly capture that specific type of super-smart Goth misanthrope that can be found in high schools everywhere.

An almost perfect B-movie, a flick that balances social issues (teen sexuality; feminism; suburbia’s soullessness) with exploitation,
Ginger Snaps (get it?) really captures that feeling of high school awkwardness---with blood and guts and werewolves!

I’d double feature Ginger Snaps with the direct-to-DVD werewolf flick, Big Bad Wolf.
I think BBW is a sick and crazy entry into the lycanthrope canon, with high levels of gore and a gruesome sense of humor. And as much as Ginger Snaps may have a “grrrrl power” vibe, BBW’s wolfman is the complete opposite:
a sexist asshole.

Le Couperet (2005)

Director Costa-Gavras adopts a low-key style to adapt Donald Westlake's incredible book to France--and it really works!
One of the only adaptations of a Donald Westlake novel that really succeeds, while also maintaining the author's deadpan flavor.

The flick's a must-see for the author's fans, but nigh on impossible to: it's never been released in the US, and because of its incendiary subject matter probably never will be.
Can't have American workers going around killing each other, now can we?

Didn’t see this on DVD, but if you have the right technology, you can track down a version. I saw this on a friend’s playstation.

Double feature with the excellent Spanish boardroom thriller, The Method.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Kick-Ass (2010)
A superhero movie pretending to be a post-modern commentary on superheroes—so it has its cake and eats it, too.

Very entertaining, though: better than average Hollywood product. Thankfully Kick-Ass has enough genuine content to balance out the pop culture references.
And Nic Cage’s cameo is super.

But Jeez! Kick-Ass really overdoes on the hyper-edited action sequences set to overused power-pop songs (we all love Joan Jett, but “Bad Reputation” again?!?).
Personally, the editing prevented me from really appreciating the gore and mayhem—it was over and done with too quickly! I needed slow pans across a bloodstained floor, littered with body parts….

Supposedly the comic book is much more cynical, so that’s something to read in the future….

I really wish “superhero” movies (and even their inspirational comics) like this and Watchmen had left out everything “super,” like Dr. Manhattan (and his godlike abilities) or Hit Girl’s extreme-kung-fu-kill-skills--
those elements take the story out of any “realistic” fiction and jump straight into fantasy.

You can argue that a flick like Dirty Harry or Death Wish (to name other classic vigilante flicks) are fantasies,
but they don’t break the laws of physics!

It would have been preferable to have Kick-Ass show what real people putting on costumes would go through—I would have liked to have seen a broader societal change or impact as costumed vigilantes (of varying abilities and sanity) took to the street.
And how would the police react? Would the LAPD react differently than the NYPD?

Sure, I think the movie’s fun, one of the better superhero movies out there (I think I enjoyed it more than any non-Joker scene in The Dark Knight),
But Kick-Ass is just another adolescent power fantasy—
Albeit one that erroneously thinks it’s smarter than everyone else because it is acknowledging its juvenile psychology.