Greetings, miscreants (and mistercreants). I would like to begin today's blog with this thing which mystified me. What's up with the song Jeffy (or Billy - I've been readin' the damn strip my whole life and I still don't know which is which) is singing here?
I googled it and apparently it's some song that's gotten popular on American Idol, but since I don't watch that crap, to me this was something Billy-Jeffy invented, and I was quite horrified at the implications. People tend to drop their pants for two main reasons, and neither of them would tend to be fodder for a lame family cartoon.
Anyway, that's the first Family Circus strip that's made me laugh since the Not Me and Ida Know ghosts waxed the stairs at Grandma's house.
Now, it's time for more movie reviews, and I slacked off last week so I gotta make it up to ya, so... pants on the ground, everybody!
Blood of Heroes, The (C, 1990) aka Salute of the Jugger. In the bleak post-nuke future, the world’s a wasteland and ragtag bands of “juggers” walk from town to town, playing a very violent sport where a player called a “qwik” tries to make it through armed fighters in order to put a dog skull on a stake. Rutger Hauer leads a very successful group of juggers, which is joined by Joan Chen, who has ambitions of getting into The League -- a professional rank of juggers who play in a city deep underground. Rutger used to belong to The League but got kicked out for messing with the wrong guy’s woman. Even though he’s lost an eye, he wants to challenge The League again, under Chen’s goading (which turns to fear when she sees how tough they really are). Filmed in Australia (look for Hugh Keays-Byrne -- the Toecutter from Mad Max - as Lord Vile) and written by David Peoples (who did Blade Runner), who also directed. The DVD is of the American print, which is 12 minutes shorter than the Aussie version; hopefully somebody will put the full version out someday. The film has a small cult, and supposedly there are guys in Germany who actually play the game (with padded weapons). It looks similar to duels that people in The Society For Creative Anachronism put on, with all the homemade armor and such. Might make a good double feature with the original Rollerball.
Dead Men Don’t Make Shadows (C, 1970) aka The Stranger The Kneels Beside the Shadow of a Corpse, Inginocchiati Straniero… I Cadaveri Non Fanno Ombra! Should a movie’s opening credits disprove its title? I don’t know, but it does. Hunt Powers is Lazar, a ruthless (but rather wooden) bounty hunter whose gimmick is a screw-on barrel extension for his pistol. Why he doesn’t just get a longer-barreled pistol or use a rifle, I don’t know, but I guess this looks cooler, even if he does a lot of his killing at point-blank range anyway. Chet Davis is Blonde, a gunfighter who’s foolish enough to let his enemies borrow his gun. He and Lazar are after each other, but agree to put off their duel long enough to shut down an oppressive mine owner (who looks like a 70’s wrestling manager), who’s been exploiting peasants. One of the people he’s been pushing around is a gypsy girl who’d be beautiful if she’d wash the soot off of her face. Come to mention it, everybody in the movie has sooty faces, and there’s a lot of pumpkin-colored fake-tan goop lathered on any exposed skin, too. This is one of those spaghetti Westerns where twenty bad guys can’t hit anything with rifles, but a good guy can nail them all by shooting back with a handgun from the hip, 100 yards away. If you’re into these movies, that won’t bother you too much, though, and the music score (always an important competent in these movies) is good.
Don Is Dead, The (C, 1973) aka Beautiful But Deadly, The Deadly Kiss. A mafia leader dies of a heart attack and his son Frankie isn’t quite experienced enough to take over his territory, so it’s divided between Anthony Quinn’s crime family and another, with the condition that Frankie will eventually inherit all of Quinn’s empire when he passes. Frankie is making deals with heroin, a business Quinn isn’t fond of, and while Frankie takes care of part of his drug dealings in Italy, Quinn does a favor for a friend involving a female singer. He starts an affair with her, not knowing that she’s Frankie’s girl. When Frankie gets back and finds out she’s been cheating on him (not knowing who with), he beats her up, enraging Quinn to the point of putting a hit on Frankie. Eventually Quinn cools down and tries to call it off, but it’s too late and an attempt has been made. Frankie aligns with a rival mob family and a gang war erupts, resulting in much murder. Excellent, violent gangster saga packs in hit after hit without sacrificing the plot or the quality of the filmmaking. This one deserves to be better known to fans of Godfather-type movies. Too many familiar faces in the cast to even try to list.
Driver, The (C, 1978) Ryan O’Neil is an icy cold wheelman, doing the getaway driving for bank robberies. Bruce Dern is a smarmy cop who’s determined to catch him… determined enough to let a couple of bank robbers go free if they’ll help set O’Neil up. O’Neil is suspicious but finally takes the bait, or at least makes it look that way so he can pull off a few tricks of his own. An old-school film noir plot is punched up with the maximum amount of car chases, crashes, and other action scenes (and it’s directed by Walter Hill so you know it’s all good). Underrated, with pared-down dialogue, hardboiled performances, and some of the best stunt driving around. One oddity: nobody in the movie has a name.
Electra Glide in Blue (C, 1973) Highly stylish cop film starring Robert Blake as a motorcycle cop named John Wintergreen, who is driven by a burning ambition to become a detective. He and his partners roust hippies and use Easy Rider posters for target practice, but his heart’s not in it. When an old desert rat ends up dead from an apparent shotgun suicide, Wintergreen figures out it was actually a murder. This puts him on the instant fast track to being a detective, but then he sleeps with the wrong woman and is sent back to his bike. Then he figures out what really happened with the “suicide” case and makes a rival detective look bad, then tries to carry on with his job… as far as that gets him. Kind of an existential establishment version of Easy Rider with excellent cinematography (the director waived his salary to hire top cameramen) and composition, and a good performance from Blake, warming up for Baretta. This film had to field accusations of being “fascist,” as did just about any movie about police at the time, but it also shows that there was plenty of corruption going on in the force, too -- it’s not a condemnation but it’s far from being a glorification.
Hanzo The Razor: Sword of Justice (C, 1972) aka Goyokiba, Sword of Justice. Shintaro Katsu has eyes! I’ve seen in in many Zatoichi movies and still barely recognized him here. He’s a samurai-era cop who’s good with a sword… and even better with his enormous male organ, which he uses to interrogate female suspects (he rapes them… but then stops if they don’t tell him what he wants to know). He’s also a big masochist, spending his off hours torturing himself and beating his meat… with a club. He refuses to sign a loyalty oath due to corruption in the police department, and uses informers who hid under outhouses to see if female suspects have public hair or not. He’s not above running total scams on suspects, either, planting bogus corpses and even fooling his own department. He also invents new torture/pleasure tactics, such as spinning women in nets over his member. The plot is hard to keep up with given the outrageousness the film is constantly distracting you with, so don’t feel bad if you forget about the story entirely and just view it as a freakshow. If you’ve watched Zatoichi before seeing this, it’s a very weird experience, since Zatoichi is such a humble good guy and The Razor is a cold, cruel, arrogant character. Ichi would be shocked by this guy. The violence tries to keep up with the sex, getting in some bloody massacres, all backed up by some funky music that sounds inspired by Shaft and Superfly. The lack of respect for women in this thing is offensive and indefensible, but the whole movie is so over the top and impossible to take seriously that few will bother working up much outrage.
House of Mad Souls, A (C, 2003) You know what’s a bad sign? When a movie starts off with a guy breaking up with his girlfriend, and then she goes home to brood… which is depicted by showing the entire scene again. Pacing isn’t going to be one of this director’s concerns. Anyway, the jilted woman in question is a doctor, and she’s so upset by the breakup that she leaves town to work in a new hospital. Her fool boyfriend then decides he misses her and gets mad at her for leaving. Screw that guy. Anyway, he gets scared off by the ghost of a little boy who’s haunting the hospital. The girl goes away, broods, and the scene plays over again. She keeps meeting this little Casper-like ghost boy under strange circumstances, and this triggers more flashbacks (but at least these are some we haven’t seen before) of her being nice to a little sick boy when she was an intern. Oddly enough, he looks exactly like the ghost boy! Do ya… do ya think… nah, couldn’t be! When she left to become a doctor, the boy got depressed, refused to eat, and died. His father, a doctor, went crazy and tried to resurrect him, and his been keeping his perfectly-preserved body at home, which keeps the child from going to the afterlife. Can our heroine save him? Very cheap-looking unscary Thai horror with a few really terrible special effects and an overly-melodramatic Hallmark-Channel-quality weak storyline. There’s not much to recommend this beyond the fact that the lead actress (Cindy Burbridge -- Miss Thailand World) is quite pretty. She looks mostly Caucasian, which is unusual for an Asian film’s lead. You won’t be missing much by avoiding this, but that’s okay because the DVD Tai Seng is marketing is so bad it’s hard to track down a DVD player that won’t choke on it; it froze up on almost every one I tried. If you manage to get it to play, you’ll see an ending that’s just another flashback-filled mess that looks like a video for a country music ballad.
Hurt Locker, The (C, 2009) War as an extreme sport. Sgt. James is a bomb-disarming expert in Iraq who’s made it through nearly a thousand bombs without blowing up, so he’s gotten a bit reckless and addicted to the adrenaline, and the challenge of pitting his skills against those of the bomb-makers is the most interesting thing he’s ever encountered. The other experts on his team (who see disarming bombs as a necessary evil and not an opportunity) have been at war long enough to think that punching each other in the stomach is a good time, but they’re still not quite as far gone as Sgt. James, and they’re afraid his addiction to intense situations is going to get them all killed. When a local wise-guy kid James likes is found murdered so an explosive device can be made from his corpse, even James starts getting rattled and more on-the-edge than even he wants to be. Very well done war film is packed with more suspense and intensity than just slam-bang action, and it’s more involving, engaging, and powerful because of it. The message isn’t exactly new (an old TV movie, The Ballad of Andy Crocker, came to some of the same conclusions back in 1969) but it’s still worth listening to. War is hell… and for some, hell is home. A must-see and should get the Oscar.
Impulse (C, 1974) aka I Love To Kill, Want A Ride Little Girl? When he was a little boy, William Shatner’s character used a samurai sword to kill a man who was trying to rape his mother, and it had an effect on him as an adult, triggering a rage that causes him to strangle his girlfriend. He has no problems find new girls, though, and is promptly hooked up with the pretty young mother (Ruth Roman) of a bratty blonde girl who shouts a lot and breaks dishes. Shatner plans to steal from his new girlfriend, but her pesky daughter keeps witnessing murders he commits, which gets in his way even though no one believes her. If you’ve ever wanted to see a man (specifically Harold “Odd Job” Sakata) go through a car wash without a car, this is your chance. Despite what Leonard Maltin’s book says, Shatner’s character isn’t a child molester, although he would like to murder one. Director William Grefe (a Florida-based semi-hack responsible for snakes-instead-of-rats Willard variant Stanley, and human-jellyfish monster flick Sting of Death, among others) can’t control Shatner, whose usual overacting really gets out of hand now that he’s playing a psycho. He weeps, bounces around childishly, gets overwrought, and leaves no bit of scenery free of his teeth marks. The film may have been sponsored by a leisure suit company, because Shatner’s polyestered to the maximum allowable by law. Perhaps scariest of all, he shows up in one scene wearing bright red pants and a striped tank top. Now that’s horror. Entertainingly incompetent.
Kansas City Bomber (C, 1972) Y’know something? Raquel Welch can act. And you also have to admire how game she is, because she did most of her own stunts in this roller derby drama, and they’re rough (she broke her wrist). Raquel loses a loser-leave-town match and gets traded to a new team, where she faces professional jealousy from her teammates, especially since management is trying to push her to the top spot on the team. The executives try to seduce her, and her main rival on the team tries to smash her into the rail at every opportunity. In her personal life she argues with her mom and tries to maintain a relationship with her kids -- Jodie Foster, who idolizes her, and her son, who’s very quiet and alienated (and if he’s like any other male whose mom looked like Raquel, probably suffering from an Oedipus complex!). Raquel does a good job at being rough and belligerent on the track and vulnerable and sympathetic off of it. Not very plot-heavy but has enough action and drama (and maybe just a wee bit of unintentional comedy, which any serious movie about roller derbies is destined to have) to keep it moving along nicely… if you really need anything beyond looking at ‘72 vintage Raquel for an hour and a half, that is.
Kitten With A Whip (B&W, 1964) Breakdown-of-the-social-order delinquent nightmare starring Ann-Margaret as a feral, manipulative runaway who breaks into candidate-for-senator John Forsythe’s house. She tells him she’s running from an abusive home, and out of pity he helps her out and puts her on a bus… then finds out from a TV news bulletin that she’s a violent escapee from juvenile hall. She comes back to his house, blackmailing him (by threatening to accuse him of rape) into following her orders. She phones up three fellow psychotics (two guys and a girl) who have a party in his house, then force him to drive them to Tiajuana. Fairly intense and has style; pretty underrated and strongly plays on the early-60’s paranoia that hip, nonsense-talking nihilistic teens would steamroller the establishment and spread anarchy. As others have noted, this would make a great double-feature with Lady in a Cage (and if you’ve got time for a third, throw Hot Rods To Hell in there, too). Unfortunately the only DVD available is one of those overpriced home-burned DVD-R’s that Warner and Universal are putting out now; you pay more for a less-durable product, but if it’s the only way you can get it, go for it. TCM shows it sometimes, so you may hold out for that. (It's on Friday night/Saturday morning of the 20th of this month, at 1 a.m. Central, so set yer timers, it's worth it!)
MST3K version (but fuck MST3K for thinking this is a "bad movie" - they know nothing!)
Nightmare Alley (B&W, 1947) Superior film noir based on William Lindsay Gresham’s classic novel. An ambitious carnival worker named Stan (Tyrone Power) experiences a great rise but an exponentially-worse fall when he gets a mind-reader named Zeena to teach him a secret clairvoyant act. He connives everyone around him and breaks away from the carnival, marrying a pretty showgirl (Coleen Gray) and making her a part of a nightclub act that rakes in big bucks. But his single-minded selfishness -- and meeting a psychologist who’s his moral equal -- will land him in a nightmare worse than he’d ever dreamed. Well-made and unjustifiably hard to track down until they finally made it available on DVD. It’s ahead of its time in that it serves as a parable about money-and-power-grubbing televangelist types. If there was a god, this is how Pat Robertson would end up…
Pontypool (C, 2008) An interesting idea ultimately undone by too-implausible ridiculousness, this zombie-style outbreak film is as much akin to Talk Radio as 28 Days Later. In the small Canadian town of Pontypool a former shock-jock (given the cowboy hat and that his face looks like an old wallet I’m guessing he’s patterned on Don Imus) starts his new morning shift job. The station starts getting reports of rioting and acts of bizarre violence down the street, and soon the station’s under siege by townspeople who’ve turned into homicidal crazy zombie-types, due to some kind of plague. And the movie’s great to that point… but then a doctor shows up and they figure out that the zombie-psycho-whatever virus is spread by the English language, and that’s where the premise gets too stupid to bear up under its own weight. The rest of the movie has the DJ and the girl who does his programming hiding in the station, stringing random words together and trying to turn the language into nonsense, and it’s too silly to deal with anymore. Even a zombie film needs some basis in plausible cause-and-effect, and ordinary, commonly-used words suddenly turning magically viral is just too blockheaded for me. Other than that, broadcasting-on-the-night-of-the-living-dead is a great idea (and one I independently came up with about 10 years ago but unfortunately never did anything with). Too bad it took a wrong turn. The filmmaking is decent, though, and there are good performances, so it’s still worth checking out.
Prison Break (B&W, 1938) A happy-go-lucky fisherman named Joaquin Shannon wants to marry a girl, but her family’s opposed to it. She walks out on them to be with Joaquin, but her brother comes around starting trouble and ends up getting murdered by a mugger. Joaquin thinks a friend of his did it while drunk, so he confesses to manslaughter to protect his friend, figuring he’ll be out of prison in a year for good behavior. But good behavior in prison isn’t as easy as he’d figured on, because a notorious tough guy named Red Kincaid (the underrated Ward Bond) comes back into prison and tries to boss Joaquin the way he does everyone else. Joaquin’s not impressed and won’t go along with Red’s schemes, and that earns him a dangerous enemy and puts his good-behavior plans in jeopardy. His parole is denied and he ends up with a 5 year sentence. Joaquin foils a prison break that Red tried to pull off and that earns him a parole, but life on the outside has its problems, too, since his fiancé’s father is determined to make his life miserable. Standard B-picture stuff, but entertaining.
Sorority Row (C, 2009) Six cunty Theta Pi girls are trying to play a prank on one of them’s brother, making him think he killed their friend Megan with some bad date-rape drugs. They drive to the middle of nowhere under the pretense of helping him hid the body, and the fool decides to help dismember Megan by stabbing her in the chest with a tire tool. Now that Megan is actually dead, they hide her body for real and decide to cover the crime up and carry on with their sybaritic little lives. But somebody with a grudge decides they’d be better off dead and starts impaling them (usually through the mouth - there’s a definite objects-in-girls’-mouths obsession going on here) with a tire tool that’s been customized to incorporate blades and such. This may be the stupidest idea for a murder weapon every scripted. Rather glib, we-know-our-audience-is-stupid-so-we’re-not-going-to-make-much-effort slasher film that exploit’s a fact that everyone but sorority girls are in on, and that’s that nobody really likes sorority girls. The characters are so vapid and self-centered that I’m not sure if you’re supposed to fear for them or root against them. Luckily a few frat guys are around to get snuffed, too. Score! This is somewhat of a remake, but more a re-imagining of, The House On Sorority Row, which isn’t exactly a classic. It’s still better than this one, though, which is pretty much a Girls Gone Wild video with less nudity and an occasional mild gore effect. It never builds any fear, partially because even the girls don’t seem particularly frightened, reacting to the corpses they find as inconvenient at worst, making jokes and looking for their boyfriends and trying to get this whole “crazed killer” problem dealt with so they can get back to their kegger. It’s not boring, but it sure is stupid. I pretty much suckered myself into watching it because Jamie Chung was cute in a preview, and the film makes it clear right off the bat (in a lazy-way-to-characterize “I love you because” session) that she’s only in it for “diversity.” Despite the sledgehammer approach to character development, I never really got a sense of two of the girls… and the survival rate means they’re the heroes! Go figure. Greg Evigan’s daughter and Bruce Willis’s daughter are in this, which means nepotism isn’t always beneficial.