Saturday, August 01, 2009

I'm back. I've just spent the last couple of weeks down at Merriol's parents, doing very little apart from play with the kids sleep too much, wander around charity shops buying books records and DVDs. I had a great time. Unfortunately I still managed to find time to watch a lot of bad films when no one was looking....

July
  1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail - for reasons which I will explain later.
  2. Krull - One of the dullest 'fantasy' films I know. Everything is so fucking ponderously slow... and I had to keep biting my lip and stop the MST3K type rifftrack that was bursting to get out of me because daughter number one was hooked ("I told you there would be kissing!") and it's one of Mrs JM's sacred childhood memories. But now I'm alone at the computer with none of my family shushing me or giving me 'stop pulling the ears off my teddy bear' glares...


  3. The Alien Factor - The second film I have seen directed by Baltimore's other trash movie director, Don Dohler (the first, and much better one, is John Walters). I titled the review of the first Dohler movie; 'I would Rather Eat Other People's Earwax Than Watch This Piece of Drek Again'. Same goes for this one. Full of painfully long sequences where nothing happens, very slowly, usually showing various non-characters walking uphill through the woods, sometimes towards the camera, sometimes away - versatile director, our Don - and usually followed by the exact same sequence of shots shown in the reverse order with the characters running away from whatever they just found. The director must have been endlessly telling his 'actors' to 'walk to the top and then run back down as if something is chasing you'. Still, I had fun spotting the continuity errors and the shots made on the days when the 'heavy snow' mentioned so often in the script had melted. And I did learn one trick which I will remember when I come to direct a cheap movie about people getting ate by aliens in the woods. Make all your characters wear blue jeans, then shoot a few shots of someone's (anyone's) legs walking through weeds. It will cut in anywhere!
  4. Fitzcarraldo (1982) - you know, sometimes you just have to put aside all the lesbian Bee girls, and rubber suit swamp monsters, and killer gorillas, and all that other good stuff and just watch Klaus Kinski going insane up a South American river for two and a half hours. The whole winching the boat up the hillside sequence was terrifying. I really wish I had seen this on the big screen.
  5. Burden of Dreams (1982) - a documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo. Turns out the reason the sequence showing the hauling the boat over the mountainside was so terrifying was because it was terrifying. The designer of the pulley system they used gave it a 70% chance of failing with a 'catastrophic' loss of life unless the film makers made changes. They didn't. He quit.
  6. Phase IV (1974) - Much much better than I expected, this is the only feature film directed by Saul Bass, Oscar winning designer of animated title sequences (The Man With the Golden Arm, Psycho, Vertigo, Spartacus, Goodfellas etc.). After some (unexplained) cosmic event, desert ants start to demonstrate superior intelligence. Two scientists man a research base and attempt to communicate with them. This is what low budget movie making can be like. Basically the whole of the action of this movie takes place on one set, and one location. There are six actors seen on screen and four of them don't say much (one doesn't say anything before getting himself killed). And ants. There are a lot of ants. In super huge close up. Don't watch this if you don't like ants. I was very itchy at the end of it. The ending, after man and ant have come to some sort of understanding, is one of those enigmatic, post 2001: A Space Odyssey, looking forward to a possible bright new future for Mankind endings (sunrise and all) which were so popular at the time in SF movies. I like this kind of ending. It's optimistic without being patronising. All the plot lines and twists aren't ironed out and presented fully resolved, it leaves the viewer with the job of supplying their own ideas, it treats the audience as if it has some kind of smarts and isn't just popcorn-chewing, seat-buying fodder. (The fact that this isn't the director's original ending but was imposed by the Producer, is even more remarkable because - as I understand it - the director did originally want to cross a lot more Ts and dot a lot more Is for us.) And when did 'Possible Bright New Future' endings (must come up with a good pithy acronym for this) replace the old 'There Are Some Things Man is Not Meant To Know' endings of the 30s 40's and 50's. Was it 2001? I need to watch more movies to find out.....
  7. Bee Story - the less said about this the better..
  8. Idaho Transfer (1973) - So, back to the 1970s SF... Idaho Transfer is a time travel story in which a group of young students travel some 60 years into their future to find a post-apocalyptic wasteland. They don't make them like this any more. During the course of the story the heroine accidentally kills her much more sympathetic sister and ends dying herself when she is shoved into the fuel tank of a car by a passing motorist who finds her starving at the side of the road. Hardly a 'Possible Bright New Future' ending but not the pat Hollywood happy ending that would have been nailed on by the suits these days. Featuring a cast of mostly unknown or unprofessional actors who, for the most part, never did anything else. Slow and horribly dated in parts (Hippies never age well) this is a strangely disturbing little movie.
  9. Mesa of Lost Women (1953) - a candidate for the most annoying soundtrack ever recorded. I first watched this film five years ago (IMDb comments). It hasn't got any better since.
  10. Tank Girl (1995) - Almost against my better judgement I like the Tank Girl comics. They're stupid, violent, rude, and pointless but they are pure trash fun. The film is not. It's stupid right enough, (a bit) violent, (a bit) rude, and certainly pointless but it's not fun. Maybe the character was doomed to fail on the screen after all beer swilling, kangaroo snogging, tank driving, punkoid lad-ettes aren't that common in Hollywood films and the attempt to fill out the character, give her a back story and make her spend the last part of the movie running around trying to save a little girl from the clutches of the evil corporation is just pure formula bullshit imposed on an uncontrollable anarchic character*. The tank ends up as just another piece of window dressing. In the books it is a major part of Tank Girl's life (She lives in it. Hell, she even gets pregnant by it!). The film makers doubly nail their heads the coffee table of fortune's hostage (I lost control of that metaphor in the middle somewhere) by using a lot of Jamie Hewlett's original art in the movie, both in the opening credit sequence and, from time to time, intercut into the action. "It's wild!" You can almost hear the director telling the producers. "It's Wacky! Wild and 'With it'!" - Wrong! All it does is remind the audience how wonderfully inventive the comic was, and shows up how predictably pedestrian the film is. Bad move.


    * I know the marketing of a movie has very little to do with the making of a movie but the systems mishadling of the character is summed up most neatly by the movie's tag line: "In 2033, justice rides a tank and wears lip gloss." Tank Girl wasn't about Justice! It was about beer, and fags, and having sex with kangaroos, and playing baseball with live hand grenades.
  11. Slave Girls from Beyond Infinity (1987) - yet another adaptation of Richard Connell's short story "The Most Dangerous Game".
    First published in 1924, The Most Dangerous Game tells of a big-game hunter from New York, who falls off a yacht and swims to an isolated island in the Caribbean, there he is hunted by an insane Russian aristocrat who, bored with hunting animals, has taken up hunting human beings, the most dangerous animal of them all. The story has been reworked and adapted endlessly since it first hit the screens in the 1932 version starring Joel MaCrea which was, reputedly, shot at night on the jungle set of King Kong. There have been at least eight feature film versions since. This one is almost certainly the first to feature androids, mutant jungle beasts, and quite so much Victoria's Secret lingerie - often in the same shot.


    The other set.

  12. Sex Madness ( 1938 ) - Oho! Cheap 1930's sex exploitation film which hammers home its message with a badly edited sledghammer. and some wonderfully over the top hammy acting. It does for STDs what Reefer Madness does for dope. After starting off clumsily setting up several posibly interesting, suitably sordid and lurid storylines; Lesbian seduction, M type child murderer driven to kill by a flash of knickers in a burlesque show, the son of the town's biggest blue nose reformer attending a drunken orgy with a fast chorus girl, the movie suddenly throws them all out of the window and we follow the trials and tribulations of Milicent, a chorine who, having won a beauty contest, goes to New York, gets the clap, then returns home to give a dose to her innocent childhood sweetheart. The film returns to the blue-noses' son towards the the end and the scene where he confesses to his father that he too is... gulp! 'a victim' has some of the most hilariously wooden acting I have seen for ages.
    The sound quality of the copy available here gave me one of the best unintentional laughs of the night. It took me several replays before I finally understood that the innocent Millicent wasn't telling her doctor:

    Millicent:
    Oh, it's just the usual sort of
    a story I suppose. After the contest
    was over I thought of all the
    wonderful things a girl ever dreams
    about - Fame! - and Fortune!
    - and Luncheon Meat!


    (It's at about 18 minutes in if you want to work out what she's saying for yourself.)



    Re-edited several times, and released under a variety of titles to gull the gullable ( aka Human Wreckage, They Must Be Told, Trial Marriage, About Trial Marriage... ) Sex Madness was the almost shot for horrendious line crossing shot 'inspiration' for the Social Disease! section of the very variable Amazon Women of the Moon.
  13. Grease - I don't like Grease. I thinks it is a vastly overated film which, apart from Eve Arden and Stockard Channing (Hubba hubba!)*, has very little going for it at all - apart from making John Walters' Cry Baby and Hairspray look even better. Holly was entranced, though I'm glad she didn't ask too many questions about the lyrics:

    Quote:
    You know that ain't no shit we'll be getting lots of tit
    In Grease Lightning
    Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go

    Go grease lightning you're burning up the quarter mile
    (Grease lightning go grease lightning)
    Go grease lightning you're coasting through the heat lap trial
    You are supreme, the chicks'll cream for grease lightning
    Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go

    Purple french Tail lights and thirty inch fins
    oh yeah
    A Palomino dashboard and duel muffler twins
    oh yeah
    With new pistons, plugs, and shocks I can get off my rocks
    You know that I ain't bragging she's a real pussy wagon
    Grease lightning
    "Daddy? What's a 'pussy wagon'?"

    *(Just want to point out that that 'hubba hubba' is just for Ms. Channing alone, not Eve Arden, nice woman I'm sure she was.)
  14. X ( 19xx ) - It's not called 'X' but just to prolongue MrBaliHai's enjoyment over at NameThatFilm I'm not revealing the name of this one just yet. - 'Brilliant' but cocky snot-nosed teenager with attidude is sent to the mysterious Psychological Institute just outside of town. We know he's a genius because his idea of fun is flushing half a pound of 'pure sodium' down the school's toilet to make them explode. He does scientific japes, see? Got to be clever. This is also the movie's idea of foreshadowing - that and all the 'Danger Sodium is used in this area!' signs all over the boiler room we know is destined to be the scene of the climax - every wall has at least one just in case any got lost in the final edit) At the Psychological Institute just outside of town our 'hero' discovers that the creepy doctor running it (and hypnotising the local population via his TV show) is in cahoots with a giant brain (complete with teeth, googly eyes, and a prehensile spinal column). With the help of his girlfriend and another more disposable male friend with a terrible mullet he destroys the brain just before the TV show goes nationwide. (Actually he does it alone, the bad mullet gets eaten by the brain (sic) after being somewhat useless, and the girlfriend gets TV hypnotised and chained to a pipe.) Made in Canada, X tries for weird unease and creeping visceral horror but blows it by throwing the monster at the screen within minutes and leaving itself nowhere to go. It looks like a cheesy low-budget David Cronenberg wanabee (One Cronenberger with cheese to go!) and ticks many of my favourite bad movie cliche boxes: Disembodied brains, gratuitous nudity, movies made in Canada always being set around Christmas*, prolonged chases up and down the same two stairwells (though no one did that leaping over the railing thing that has always baffled me), lousy location sound, and women doing that 'backing up to perfectly flat walls for no other reason that to have hands suddenly come bursting though the wallpaper to grab them' thing - I never can have enough of that.
    Or these...

    *Snow. As I have said before, the only reason for snow in a movie is that it's Christmas. The Christmassness in this movie is minimal. One brief snatch of Christmas music over a car radio, and a discarded Christmas tree on the sidewalk outside the hero's house in the dénouement. It's a measure of the movie's cheapnesss that in the final long shot of the street - in which we see the hero's garbage set out for collection - that his is the only house with a pile of garbage outside it. Either our hero's family are incredibly tidy and have their garbage out long before any of their neighbours - or the production company was so strapped for cash they couldn't afford more than one pile of empty cardboard boxes to dress the location.
  15. The Saint (1997) - Do do di do doo doo doooooooo.... See Val Kilmer wear wigs! See Van Kilmer wear false moustaches! See Van Kilmer do funny foreigner accents! See Val Kilmer bore the pants off the audience! What a plod of a movie. What should have been a jolly James Bond meets Diabolik piece of fun turned into a long trudge of 116 minutes worth of bollocks as, on behalf of the Russian Mafia, Val Kilmer steals the 'formula' for cold fusion from a beautiful lady scientist (who keeps it tucked into her bra) and then changes his mind (when he discovers he quite likes what else she keeps in there as well). When was the last time anyone seriously built a movie around the only copy of a professor's secret formula written on a piece of paper? This is 1940's serial plotting - not in itself a bad thing, many an enjoyable movie has been built around recycling paper-thin ideas from paper-thin movies but few have taken themselves so deadly, ponderously, bum-numbingly seriously as this one does. Anyway. Not many complication ensue. Good triumphs over evil. The dénouement seems to take half the length of the movie again but I will remember it slightly fondly for one brief moment of classic bad movie acting. The Saint includes the most incredibly crap 'baddies telling each other the details of how clever they have been in their evil scheming just so the audience can hear' scene outside of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, "He! He! He!" type evil laughing and all. Who would have guessed all the heating oil for all of Russia had been syphoned off into a tank under the baddies' palatial hideout? Who indeed? And who but the Russian Mafia would happily discuss such things as Val Kilmer, disguised as a cleaning lady, plants a bug in their evil headquarters? Elisabeth Shue was pretty.

1 comment:

Phoebe J. Southwood said...

Yay! Fitzcarraldo and Burden of Dreams! Yay! Klaus Kinski! Yay!

KK bought wild mushrooms from Jiri at the health food store in Marin years ago. I was always jealous. I wanted to be there to see if I could make him go a little mad.

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