Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hobo With A Shotgun (2011)

First off, I should mention that this movie (like Machete, the realization of what had originally been a trailer for Grindhouse) manages to do the seemingly impossible: it is a low-budget feature made by a Canadian crew and shot in Canada ("with the participation of Telefilm Canada and Film Nova Scotia") that doesn't have that damning 'Canadian look' (you know what I mean). How did they manage that? I thought it came with the climate.

I'm figuring they achieved this via a two pronged process - shooting the movie in: a) Technicolor (which I hadn't realised was even still in operation) with b) Red One Mysterium X cameras (every home should have one). Frankly, half the fun of watching Hobo With A Shotgun is marveling at the saturated colour scheme - particularly evident in sequences featuring the bad guys.

And boy, are these bad guys ever bad. To wit, The Drake (Newfie Brian Downey, who you might recognize from The Beachcombers) and sons, Slick (Toronto's own Gregory Smith), the heir apparent, and Ivan (Burlington's own Nick Bateman), the dumb beefy one. Their level of violence is akin to some of the bloodier Japanese manga I've seen (the perviest action Telefilm Canada has ever funded, I'm imagining).

This trio of gents keep Hope Scum Town (aka Halifax) in thrall with public torture and executions - the film begins in fact with a beheading of the Drake's brother, just after our titular hero has arrived in town via railroad car. Some lady in a bikini and fur coat revels like a stripper in the bloodspray, the Drake berates his brother's severed head, and then impales it on the hood ornament of his fancy car. By this point, you should have a good sense of whether you will enjoy this movie or not.

The great Rutger Hauer plays Hobo, a quiet, humble man who is appalled by the bloody chaos of Scum Town (doesn't somebody call it "Fuck Town" at some point too?) and can finally take no more. Director Jason Eisener (from Dartmouth, natch) wisely shoots Hauer in close-up and lets that amazing face do the rest. Much of the first part especially is simply Hauer watching various Slick and Ivan escapades, his anger at what he sees evident, his growing frustration palpable.

Of course Hobo eventually buys a shotgun and starts wacking not only the Drake's various hoodlums around town, but assorted other lowlifes such as a Santa Claus-looking feller in a car gawping at young children. Happy for a fight, the Drake declares war on Hobo With A Shotgun, and the inevitable showdown is far funnier and better than it really has any right to be (in no small part thanks to The Plague, a duo of motorcycle-riding henchmen pleasantly reminiscent of one Leonard Smalls).

And did I mention that national disgrace George Stroumboulopoulos gets killed onscreen with an iceskate to the chest? Just one of the many beautiful images in this beautiful, beautiful film.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Rite (2011)

Exorcism pictures have really enjoyed a commercial comeback in the last few years; probably the most big budget and high brow of these is the new Mikael Håfström film The Rite -- or, as it may more likely be referred to, "that Anthony Hopkins as a possessed priest movie" (particularly since the poster kind of makes it look like the film's title is RHE which of course makes no sense whatsoever).

For about the first half hour, we're just getting to know our protagonist, Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue): his childhood spent watching Dad the mortician (Rutger Hauer) make dead women look beautiful for their funerals (even kissing them on their foreheads); now all grown-up and handsome, studying for the priesthood but, as the film is at odds to point out, definitely not in any way gay or creepy. Creating a sympathetic male character deciding to be a priest in a 2011 Hollywood film is no small task, and I thought The Rite tread this dicey ground amicably enough. But we're really here to see Anthony Hopkins sit in a room and be scary like Hannibal Lecter, right? So what's up?

Well, eventually Mr. Kovak gets sent to Rome for a couple of months' study. There he meets Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds) who gives us a scary lecture (literally) on exorcism, and then arranges for Monsieur Kovak to meet local ace exorcist Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins). Finally! At first, Father Trevant is rather quiet and kindly and gentle seeming, but he does exorcise demons out of people after all, and it isn't too long before he's doing just that, and seeming a little less gentlemanly than before each time.

After Kovak's first exorcism experience, one that is relatively free of incident, Trevant jokes, "what were you expecting? Pea soup?" So this is a self-aware exorcism film (not sure that's a good thing really). Well, there may not be any pea soup, but there sure is a very sexualized young girl (possessed by a devil) to shock filmgoers with; just so her sluttiness is obvious, she's visibly quite pregnant and does a lot of moving around (of a style that'll make anyone who has been pregnant quite nervous), as well as licking her lips and acting all willful, telling Father Trevant to rape her (it turns out the baby is the product of her own father raping her). Even today, it seems the most terrifying kind of person we can imagine being corrupted is a young woman.

A possessed priest is pretty awful too though I guess, and yes, eventually we do get to see Anthony Hopkins tied up to a chair looking super sketchy and saying things like "titties" or "God is dead". At this point, to be honest, I was sort of thinking 'so what'. It's not like he'd killed anyone and put their entire blood supply in jars without spilling a single drop or anything like that now, was it? Or molested any children and been transferred to another diocese? It reminded me of nothing so much as your parent's first signs of Alzheimer's, really; "Oh, Dad's starting to say some really embarrassing stuff at dinner". He's supposed to be full on possessed by an ACTUAL DEMON.

Finally, do we really think that the apprentice isn't going to be up to exorcising the master? And, if not, what then? Would Demon Priest kill a bunch of nuns, rule the world in a fiery New Age of Sin, and get everyone to sodomizing or something? Presumably he'd just be exorcised by some other priest. He is in Italy, after all. There are lots of them there.

Beautifully shot, well acted, and taking place in some very nice locations, The Rite still winds up being disappointing. It plays with its audience, at least up to the climax, giving us a protracted case of 'is it real? is it faked?' back and forth, over and over, until I was beginning to get confused as to whether Father Trevant was a charlatan or a true believer at all. I would offer this as a central weakness of the film (Doubt does this sort of thing much better); it also interferes with the whole plot point of whether Kovak truly believes or not - a character trait that has incidentally become quite a cliche in this cinematic sub-genre.

Why does it matter whether Kovak believes or not? Because he has to exorcise a devil from poor old Father Trevant (incidentally, the reveal of this demon's name had me flashing on Don Fleming and Kramer's sorely missed band B.A.L.L. so that whole scene struck me as unintentionally funny). It occurs in retrospect that the whole film could have easily been presented from the sexy reporter Angeline (Alice Braga)'s secular POV, were it not for having to exorcise Trevant in the end -- something she cannot do, not because she has trouble with belief, but because she has a vagina and therefore can't be a priest.

The way at which the film arrives at its conclusion is pretty problematic too: we know God exists because we know the Devil exists? Hmmm. How do we know the Devil exists? Well, some rather provincial girl from Italy knew all these personal things about Kovak and, heck, doors close by themselves and candles get blown out and predictions come true and… Eeesh.

For a real slice of cinema on the same subject, it's hard to beat the cheesy goodness of George C. Scott's "I Believe" monologue in Exorcist III. Let's enjoy that now --


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Wishmaster (1997)

Impressive flashback sequence at the beginning, some inventive sloppy 80s style gore happening, a handful of horror veterans (the most prominent being Robert Englund), a monster with some funny lines and charisma a la Pinhead...

It's just not enough to overcome Tammy Lauren's dire lead performance as Alexandra Amberson, damaged person with depth, whose task it becomes to rid the world of the Djinn (horrible demon tricksters not at all like Robin Williams, we are told).

The gimmick is a pretty good one, albeit poorly exercised: the Djinn uses your wishes against you, punishing you in some sneaky way, flipping your words around and creating a few striking death or torture scenarios in the process. Sadly, the real promise of this premise was hardly explored here beyond f/x work; a little more of the "million dollars" type wish delivery would have been beneficial to the film as a whole, I think.

The ending was dumb but I guess it would have been truly surprising were it were otherwise. That Wishmaster has spawned no less than three sequels is -- actually making me shake my head from side to side.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Man From Hong Kong (1975)

I could go on and on about how great this movie is: it basically does the whole Lethal Weapon crazy rampage supercop OTT thing over a decade before it *cough* happened in Hollywood. Why, it even has a cop (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, AKA Toecutter from Mad Max) with Mel Gibson's hairstyle.

There are ridiculous car chases, big explosions, lots and lots (and lots) of martial arts fights, wanton destruction of property, and reckless disregard for the lives of ordinary people caught up in events. All set to a funky 1970s soundtrack, with some breathtaking backgrounds, many of the best 1970s Ozploitation actors going, and even Samo Hung (with a gnarly glue-on scar) fighting a cop on top of Ayers Rock*!

It's glorious.

I haven't even mentioned the titular hero, Inspector Fang Sing Leng (played by Hong Kong superstar Jimmy Wang Yu). Faced with the challenge of carrying a film set mostly in Australia, Yu plows ahead relentlessly onscreen, making the Aussie cops look like nancy boys at every turn, not only using violence against suspects in his investigation of Mr. Big (played with nasty relish by George Lazenby, Mr. James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, himself), but actively trying to kill any and all bad guys as soon as possible, it would seem. He stabs, stomps, and shoots throughout with nary a second thought.

In one sequence, for example, Inspector Fang is driving a van. The bad guys attach a bomb to it, the bomb explodes, and the van rolls off the road, killing the unfortunate lady inside with whom Fang has recently had sex. Oh well.

Fang almost instantly commandeers a much better car than the bad guys are driving, and then proceeds to target their vehicles one by one, sending one car through a house and another off to the road to explode - whereupon Fang gets out of his car to make sure the bad guy (who has just been thrown clear of his wreck) is going to die. The bad guy rolls around on fire and then grows still. Satisfied, Fang returns to his car.

He has quite a way with the ladies too, continuing reminding them in a suggestive tone that he's from (ahem) "Special Branch". In his first scene, a woman accidentally hang glides onto police property; Fang has her hang glider confiscated and informs her she is to be charged. Suddenly, in the next scene, he and this woman are having sex and, when the woman asks him afterward if she may now leave with her hang glider, Fang smiles and says yes. Again, this is his introduction as the film's hero.

Part of the wonder of The Man From Hong Kong (released as Dragon Flies in the U.S.) is the way it continually jumps back and forth from being apparently progressive (in the style of James Bond, Yu has sex with more than one woman in the film, both of whom are white) to being pretty much just out and out racist. Many times, a scene may seem to be confused as to whether it's one or the other or both at once.


[Fang and a Hot White Woman have just made love]

Hot White Woman: This is nice.
Inspector Fang: What did you expect, acupuncture?

Finally, over a decade before Wanted: Dead Or Alive, this movie has the hero tape a grenade into the villain's mouth and pull the pin. All these years, I thought that was so cool of Rutger Hauer when he blew Gene Simmons' head off... *thinks* awww, I guess blowing Gene Simmons' head off will always be cool, rip-off or no. Anyways, this movie did it first and it rules.


*Yes, I know it's Uluru. It's called Ayers Rock in the film.

District 9 (2009)

I found this South African sci-fi picture to be a rare combination of ideas, action, pathos, and thrills. Subsequent viewings haven't changed my opinion at all on that score (minor plotholes aside); it delivers in a way few films of its type ever have. Know what else is pretty rare about District 9? It breaches the subject of humans and aliens having sex. If you think about it, absent Earth Man and Space Girl Captain Kirk-type relationships, humans and (non human-looking) aliens almost never get it on in sci-fi movies, presumably because it would squick most people out.

Notice that, even in Avatar (which also came out in 2009, and has since inspired more than its fair share of slash fiction and porny cartoons on the internet), the sex depicted is still strictly Na'vi on Na'vi. It only seems like it's inter-species because one of those alien bodies had a human 'mind' inside doing the thinking for it. The hero's permanent adoption of Na'vi form at the film's conclusion ensures ten foot tall Neytiri will never have to contend with Jake's tiny human penis and no actual real human-alien sex will ever be happening.

District 9, on the other hand, depicts a world in which we are told horny alien "prawns" engage in some kind of sex with female Nigerian prostitutes, presumably in exchange for alien weaponry. Does this mean handjobs? Fellatio? Around the world? Do the aliens get erections? We do see one urinating. The mind of the viewer must fill in the blanks for themselves as we never do see any S-E-X happen onscreen.

Such a relaxed attitude towards alien-human nookie seems to apply strictly to human women however (and will any human women really be surprised to hear that?). When the government makes Wikus (the films' protagonist) a fugitive, the first thing they do is have the media inform the populace that Wikus has been buggering "prawns", has contacted an "alien sexual disease", and can infect others up to 20M away. Why, they even mock-up a picture of Wikus in flagrante delicto!

It's not just those outside the camp who are amazed and disgusted by the idea that Wikus has been having sex with aliens though. When he attempts to buy weapons from Nigerian gangsters (the guys controlling the alien-human prostitution, remember), the man he approaches is interested only in Wikus' dirty laundry; "how did you do this one, my man", he marvels, holding up the offending image in a magazine, "doggy style with a demon. You're one brave white man. Were you wearing a condom?"

The film plays with our ideas of what is normal, abnormal, right or wrong. As Wikus changes physically, he undergoes a mental change as well, coming to view the "prawns" as (at least including) intelligent individuals of worth, while MNU, the company he previously worked for, are revealed as the real villains in the situation.

Is the greater perversion human-alien sex, Wikus' transformation, his integration into the alien community, the aliens themselves? -- or is it isolation and containment, aborting fetuses en masse with a flamethrower, indiscriminate slaughter, and the sort of human experiments that cause "prawn" Christopher Johnson to pause and lower his weapon in shocked disbelief?


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Isn't It Shocking? (1973)

This ABC made-for-TV movie, which aired in October of 1973, somehow got fixed in my mind as being on par with disturbing TV classics like Bad Ronald or The Cube. I am sorry to say that is not so.

Sure, there's a promising first sequence - which plays like something Avon Productions might have produced a few years later - in which an elderly man (Edmond O'Brien) breaks into an elderly woman's bedroom while she is sleeping, methodically applies lubricant to some metal paddles, turns on the connected machine, cuts open the poor old lady's nightdress with scissors, fries her naked ass (offscreen of course), munches contentedly on a candy bar while he stares down at her body in fascination, and then casually shuts his machine off. Alright, you have my attention.

Sadly, that's as good as it gets, folks. The rest of the piece has a different tone entirely: a local small-town sheriff Dan Barnes (Alan Alda, of all people) sneaks around with a motel manager in the next small town over, ducking her whenever she brings up either commitment or her children, moseying into work, cutting quips with his deputy or whoever she is (Louise Lasser), talking to locals. Old people start dying, most of them naked or shirtless in bed; eventually, Barnes realises something is up.

The ending tries to return to to something of that creepy feel at the films' outset, but unsuccessfully so - with spunky Ruth Gordon and O'Brien hamming it up and trying to convey a back-story that doesn't make much sense: she was carrying on with him like fifty years ago and was embarrassed by some friends seeing them naked together. No, he says, I was one of the people who saw you. Further, he says, I was engaged to you and you were naked with this other guy.

He's ostracized by the community ("they laughed me out of town") -- which makes sense because, after all, living in a small town, having your fiancée seen naked by a crowd of onlookers with a naked guy who is not you... apparently it was fine for her to continue living there but he had to skedaddle? Until decades later when he starts killing everyone concerned.

Alda's utterly ridiculous performance as the town sheriff culminates in his falling asleep right next to a room in which a murder is about to take place before being awoken in a blind panic when a cat jumps in his lap. Seriously. He then walks in on Gordon and O'Brien, hears their bizarro back-story, knows full well that he has the murderer in his presence, and keeps his gun trained at the floor the entire time - until O'Brien announces he is going to kill Alda, then starts getting electrocuting him (and yes, this is kind of funny). The sheriff immediately drops his gun, and nearly dies at the hands of this old man he completely had the drop on.


Monday, March 28, 2011

Why Bother?

What could be less interesting than yet another blog wherein somebody writes 'film reviews'? A family reunion photo blog, perhaps?

Let's start off by defining what this is hopefully going to be, provided I don't immediately lose interest: brief write-ups of anything and everything I'm seeing, provided for my own interest and that of whoever else may be paying attention. Nothing fancy, no in-depth critiques, just a paragraph or two and a screengrab is what I'm imagining. I don't plan to reiterate the plots of the films I'm talking about beyond the briefest of descriptions, mostly because I'm lazy.

If I bring anything unusual to the table, it's likely a strong predisposition towards the macabre or perverse, and an eclectic palate for cinema. So, if I do keep this going, expect a little bit of almost everything here. I'm a former exploitation-psychotronic-horror head who loves documentaries, foreign film (especially but not limited to that of Japan), action, drama, not so much comedy usually, something sexy, something scary, Something Weird.

Stay tuned.