8.22.2009

A Treatise on Moralism, As Often Confused With Morality

I'm kiddin', it's just more movie reviews, typed up at random from some of my older files.

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Arlington Road (C, 1999) A conspiracy freak finally finds a real one and gets himself stuck in the middle of it. Jeff Bridges is an intense, uptight professor who teaches a course on terrorism. He seems like his idea of relaxing might be, I dunno, wearing a tee-shirt, maybe. His wife was an FBI agent who was killed in a Ruby Ridge type deal and he's trying to raise his son on his own. One day he finds his neighbor's kid wandering around injured after a fireworks accident and rushes the kid to the hospital. That's how he meets his neighbor Tim Robbins, who he quickly discovers is a right-wing nutcase who's probably got some kind of Timothy McVeigh-type plans in the works. And the bad part is, the crazy neighbor finds out that he's found out... It's a good movie that builds its paranoiac intensity to nightmarish levels, but it's undermined a little by the fact that Bridges gets so unhinged that he becomes ridiculous, yelling and looking crazy and driving like a psycho. I mean, even a vast terrorist conspiracy that could kill your son's not THAT intense! Despite a few unintentional giggles and a little too much contrivance, it’s suspenseful and well-worth watching, with an interesting twist ending. Check it out, and send Jeff Bridges some chill pills before he gnaws any more scenery down to hamster-cage liner.



Bad Lieutenant (C, 1992) Harvey Keitel is a police inspector who does about every bad thing a human can do. He steals drugs and money from crime scenes, freebases, drinks, watches (and joins in on) private live sex shows, watches crimes being committed and does nothing because he’s busy betting on baseball with his bookie (after trying to steer his co-workers wrong on bets to try to raise the odds), and even masturbates in public while harassing girls in a traffic stop. He doesn’t seem to care about anything, until a gang rapes a nun in a church. This disturbs him and makes him contemplate his own sins, even while he continues to self-destruct, getting himself deeper in debt via bad bets (his breakdowns listening to Dodgers games in his car -- hysterical even to the point of shooting his radio -- are simultaneously hilarious and disturbing). It’s brilliant irony that this failing, junkie cop’s hopes all hinge on Darryl Strawberry, who’s notorious for having big drug problems of his own. Keitel is especially unable to understand how the nun could forgive the rapists; she’s his antithesis, making him feel even more guilty. Keitel’s performance is amazing, and Abel Ferrara’s directing is grimily-effective as always, but the unrelenting sleaze-wallowing will put most viewers off. The sight of a full-frontally nude Keitel weeping is disturbing enough for anyone.





Born Losers (C, 1967) Tom Laughlin’s bizarre cinematic love affair with himself began with this biker movie, which introduced ‘70’s iconoclastic figure Billy Jack, the half-Indian Green Beret hakido expert goodguy. This is the best Billy Jack movie because it’s not laden down with so much mystical hippie shit, or a hypocritical message of peace and love amidst lotsa violence. Billy Jack saves a guy who’s being beaten up by a motorcycle gang and gets in trouble with all of them. And they’re an especially scurvy lot -- Jeremy Slate in weird goggle sunglasses, a tongueless freak named Speechless, and other guys named Crabs and Gangrene. They get really interested in a rather unattractive-but-charmingly-smartassed girl in a white bikini and make life hell for her, until Billy puts a stop to it. Mythic scenes include Billy and the club president playing the tough-guy game of resting a lit cigarette between their arms, and the thing with Jeremy’s sunglasses (usually missing from TV prints), a girl (whose mother is played by Jane Russell) doing a strip tease for a pink stuffed cat named Ferdinand, Billy showing off his magic piggy bank, and other little things that make this one better than most biker flicks.





Chato's Land (C, 1972) Vietnam allegory abounds in this violent Western starring Charles Bronson as a half-breed Apache who guns down a racist sheriff and then flees into the badlands, a posse including Jack Palance, Victor French, Richard Basehart, and other familiar-faces-I-can't-quite-put-names-to in relentless pursuit. Bronson leads them into a hostile environment and kills them off one by one. Bronson doesn't have much screen time (and only says about a half dozen words in English) but his presence is definitely felt throughout, and he puts in a good performance and looks like he's really been hitting the iron. The posse members fight amongst themselves and deliver a lot of semi-poetical dialogue, especially Jack Palance's Civil War vet. The parallels to Vietnam are pretty obvious, with the village-burning Americans lost and abandoned in unfamiliar territories, being whittled down by the patient, seldom-seen Charlie. Plays kind of like a Western, desert version of First Blood or Southern Comfort, and is worth seeking out.

Best I could do was a compilation of Bronson clips. No Chato's Land clips in it (even though it's advertised as such), but ten minutes of higher-quality badass you're not likely to find.




The Executioner (C, 1974) aka Direct Hit! Hell Fist, Chokugeki! Jigoku-ken. When Sonny Chiba is the best-looking guy in the movie, you know you’re in for something. This movie has “brutal” all over it, hilarious brutality: the film-making is brutal, the cast is apparently hand-picked for being brutal-looking (every time you think you’ve seen the ugliest guy possible, somebody worse shows up!), their manners are brutal (one guy makes a big production of arranging his hard-on in his pants because the other guys are teasing him), there’s some female nudity that’s pretty brutal, and the fighting? BRUTAL! There’s some crazy gore in this movie -- people get hit so hard their eyes pop out, skulls are laid open to the bone, and Sonny pulls a rib out of one guy’s chest. The plot involves an ex-cop bringing together the top fighters he can find in order to stop the Yakuza drug trade. The top recruit is Koga (Sonny), who’s been trained from a young age to be a ninja. When he’s not kicking someone’s ass or saying something ugly, he’s usually sticking to the ceiling. This isn’t as polished as The Streetfighter (which is saying something, since that’s one raw film) but it’s as gory and entertaining. Recommended to Chibaphiles.





Frailty (C, 2002) A guy (Matthew McConaughey) walks into a Texas FBI office saying that a serial killer known as the God’s Hand Killer is his brother, carrying on a legacy of insanity started by his father (Bill Paxton, who also did an excellent job directing this). When he and his brother were kids, their father -- who was a nice, mild, religious cornball sorta like Ned Flanders on The Simpsons -- came into their room one night, claiming that an angel had visited him in a vision and told him that the end of the world was nigh and there were demons on the earth. They looked like people, but they were demons, and the angel instructed the father and the sons to destroy the demons with an axe. The older son saw that his dad was a lunatic, but the younger brother thought he was a hero, and even though the older son tried to stop his dad from murdering the people on his list, he couldn’t, and when the father died, the younger son took over. The FBI agent (Powers Boothe, who’s great as always) thinks this is all insane, but has to check into it, and then things get even more twisted. Dark, gothic horror with compelling narrative force and a reliance on mood, atmosphere, and strength-of-story rather than gore (despite being an axe-murder movie there’s almost no blood -- it’s just not needed). One of the best horror movies in years, and a good example of the insanity of fanaticism. Most highly recommended.



Last House On Dead End Street (C, 1977) aka The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell, At The Hour of Our Death, The Fun House. Infamous obscurity about a drug dealer named Terry Hawkins (played by director Roger Watkins) who gets out of jail and thinks about what a mean psychotic asshole like him could do to make his mark on society, and he decides to make a snuff film. He talks to his weird friend who has sex with dead cows at the slaughterhouse where he works, and they set up shop in an abandoned building. Then there’s an obnoxious party where a hunchback whips a girl who’s wearing blackface as entertainment. Then they start making movies, killing people while wearing masks -- weird clear ones and an oversized mask that looks like some Greek god statue. One guy they strangle, but they move on to mutilation, tying one woman down, carving up her face, and then sawing off her legs. Then they grab some guy, make him fellate a deer’s hoof that a girl has sticking out of her pants, then they shove an electric drill into his eye. The special effects are really terrible -- the amputation is done with a sheet over the girl, and the drill is in what looks like a dimestore rubber eyeball that doesn’t even have a face around it. And there’s not really much of a plot or story. But I guess things are so cheap-looking and sleazy that it works for a lot of people, because this film repeatedly pops up on “most disturbing movie” lists. I like it but am not particularly bothered by it; it’s a good low-budget cheapie with a sick idea behind it, and some good no-budget atmosphere and a sick idea behind it, which isn’t executed quite as well as it could be. Watkins is convincingly sleazy as Terry, though (partially because Watkins wasn’t too far removed from Terry in real life, having gone on to making trashy porn films), and the film has a very strange, warped feel to it. The film was almost lost, and even the official DVD (hard to find these days) looks like a bootleg because that’s the best existing print they could find.


Here's a guy's homemade trailer that's better than most fan vids:





Santo In The Vengeance of the Crying Woman (C, 1974) aka La Venganza de la Llorna, The Vengeance of the Crying Woman. Santo the silver-masked wrestling goodguy and his buddy Mantequilla (an amiable boxer who always looks kind of bewildered and is hopeful of seeing ghosts) get mixed up with the legend of LaLlorna in this juvenile monster/action flick from the Santo series. A professor (who looks a lot like Albert Einstein, but Brylcreemed) enlists Santo’s aid in taking a medallion from the mummified corpse of Mexico’s famous Crying Woman, partially because it leads to a treasure that could be used to build a children’s hospital, and partially because the professor’s chubby wrestling fan son in in line to be killed by the Crying Woman’s cures that hangs over his family. The mummy-woman looks decently spooky (but cheap) and shuffles around wailing and trying to strangle children. It wouldn’t be polite for Santo or Mantequilla to duke it out with a woman, though, so they never even see her, and instead have to content themselves with tackling a bunch of gangsters who are also after the treasure. No surprises and no great show of fighting skill, either (a lot of old-style “cowboy punch-outs”) but it’s good clean wholesome dumb fun.

Seance On A Wet Afternoon (C, 1964) A disturbed medium named Myra (Kim Stanley) and her easily-manipulated husband Billy (Richard Attenborough) have a bizarre plan to enhance her reputation by kidnapping a little girl for ransom and then “predicting” accurate details about the case to the police. billy doesn’t really like the idea but Myra says the spirit of their stillborn son Arthur -- who speaks to her -- is insistent. So they kidnap the girl and tell her she’s just visiting the hospital. But the girl develops a fever and Myra’s crazed, domineering guidance begins to lead things down progressively darker paths. Quiet and spooky British horror made doubly effective by great acting and moody, atmospheric photography. A powerful classic that’s gone largely unseen... until now, thanks to a super-sharp DVD release. Haunting portrait of madness and mental decay. You can apparently watch the whole thing online starting here.





Unlawful Entry
(C, 1992) One of Ray Liotta’s most menacing psycho portrays as a lonely cop who insinuates himself into the lives of couple Kurt Russel and Madeline Stowe after their house is broken into. Kurt figures out that their new cop buddy is a psycho when he finds the culprit for the break-in and offers to let Kurt beat him to death. Kurt tells him to stay away, but Ray has decided that he’s a better match for Stowe and uses his law-enforcement authority to frame Kurt and get him out of the way so he can have his wife all to himself. Liotta is brilliantly creepy and even though there are a lot of these kinds of movies, this one remains intense and stands out from the pack. Watch the whole thing online starting here.

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