Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Film Review: HARD TICKET TO HAWAII (1987, Andy Sidaris)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Ronn Moss (THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL), Dona Speir (MORTUARY ACADEMY, HARD HUNTED), Hope Marie Carlton (SIDE OUT, GHOULIES III, THE STAND), Patty Duffek (PICASSO TRIGGER), and Harold Diamond (Stick Fighter in RAMBO III).
Tag-line: "This ain't no Hula- it's a HARD TICKET TO HAWAII."
Best one-liner: "If brains were birdshit you'd have a clean cage." (Pretty sure that's been used elsewhere first.)

"Isn't that right, numb-nuts?" "I love it when you talk dirty." HARD TICKET TO HAWAII is gonna offer a lot to the your average trash enthusiast. It doesn't quite have the inspired idiocy of something like NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA, any dance sequences, or the nonsensically sleazy touch that an Italian director might have provided, but it's still chock full of zany goodness.

There's women in short shorts with nunchucks (who throw them instead of use them properly). There's miniature helicopters, men in drag, gratuitous nudity, and a man with the shiniest aviator sunglasses I've ever seen (and his name is "Shades"). There's killer razor frisbees, blondes with bad line delivery, MIDI music, and use of the insult "turkey."

A guy rides a skateboard on his hands and someone remarks, "Man, he must be smoking some heavy doobies." A blow-up doll is bazooka-ed out of the sky

and there's a whole lot of double-takes over hot-pants-wearing women. Eurotrash sleaze is given a run for its money when a man says, "You go down on her, and you're gonna be kissin' the back of my head, cause I'm already gonna be there." All this, and I haven't even yet mentioned the puppet killer snake.

Or should I say CONTAMINATED killer snake. Apparently there is a big difference. So, yeah, overall, this is pretty solid. And the valium-induced non-performances of the cast are still somehow kind of likable. I can't say it's one of the best, but it certainly gets the job done. Three stars.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

31 HORROR REVIEWS IN OCTOBER- Suggestions Welcome

In addition to updating you with details surrounding my forthcoming Halloween show STAGE BLOOD IS NEVER ENOUGH (which performs on October 22nd and 29th in NYC, details here), I'm going to try and squeeze in 31 horror reviews in the month of October. Your suggestions (in the comments section) are more than welcome, as I have a few that I'm definitely going to do (I'm going to finally grace you with KILLER WORKOUT, HUNTER'S BLOOD, NEW YORK RIPPER, and PHENOMENA, among others), but would love to hear some of your favorites. (The focus, along with that of my show, will be on 80's horror, but I should be running the gamut from silents to the present.)

Film Review: THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990, John McTiernan)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 134 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Stellan Skarsgard, Tim Curry, Scott Glenn, Jeffrey Jones, Peter Jason (John Carpenter fave), Andrew Divoff (Patchy on LOST).
Tag-line: "Invisible. Silent. Stolen."
Best one-liner: "Y'know, I seen me a mermaid once. I even seen me a shark eat an octopus. But I ain't never seen no phantom Russian submarine."

It's not often that I sit down to watch an action film and walk away feeling like I've attended a master's class in acting. As a political thriller, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER is beyond top-notch. Director John McTiernan, fresh off the success of PREDATOR and DIE HARD, uses the widescreen frame as a canvas to paint his exquisite visuals; images flow into each other with supreme eloquence- any novice film editor would do well to watch this film.

But let me get back to the acting. Alec Baldwin, James Earl Jones, and Scott Glenn are all outstanding, but this film isn't really about the Americans, it's about the Russians.

And the Russians are so good, that it doesn't even matter that none of them are: Sean Connery (Scotland), Sam Neill (Ireland), Tim Curry (England), and Stellan Skarsgard (Sweden). Connery, Scottish accent and all, is a powerhouse. This is his movie and he carries it upon his shoulders. His and Neill's defection to the Americans is the main thrust of the film, and Connery's ironclad resolve and Neill's desire to see Montana give this film some actual emotional weight.

(And Neill's childlike excitement at coming to a land where you don't have to deal with checkpoints and papers gave me absolute chills, considering developments in the past ten years.) But I think the greatest achievement an actor can make is to bring extraordinary pathos to a role which has no business with being poignant. This honor belongs to Tim Curry, the Russian loyalist doctor.

He plays his role with such sincerity, that you almost DON'T want Connery to defect, just because Curry would be disappointed. When Connery ostensibly stays behind to "fight the Americans," Curry gets misty-eyed and commends his bravery. It was most likely even a throwaway line in the script, and Curry makes it so profound that I was almost tearing up. This is what happens when Hollywood's greatest craftsmen collaborate on a film and cast it with outstanding, genius, international actors.

-Sean Gill

Monday, September 28, 2009

Film Review: STRAIGHT TIME (1978, Ulu Grosbard)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 114 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Writers Eddie Bunker, Jeffrey Boam (THE LOST BOYS, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE), and an uncredited Michael Mann. Starring Dustin Hoffmann, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Busey, Kathy Bates, Jake Busey, M. Emmet Walsh, Theresa Russell. Damn, what a cast!
Tag-line: "Please God, don't let him get caught."

STRAIGHT TIME is yet another one of those excellent, underrated crime dramas that seemed to flow so effortlessly out of the 1970's. Based on Eddie Bunker's novel NO BEAST SO FIERCE, it's a rumination on a life lived in and out of institutions: compelled to submit to Draconian rules and forced to undergo humiliation after humiliation until the core is so deadened that nothing even matters any more.

'Prison' and 'freedom' become just two sides of the same fucked-up coin to him. Bunker's work is completely earnest and always has the ring of truth to it- there are no one-dimensional characters here, and it's exceptionally well-acted.

Bunker in a brief role as, basically, himself.

Dustin Hoffman (who, from accounts, co-directed, and originally bought the film rights to Bunker's novel) is our recently-released career thief who genuinely sets out with the intention of going straight. M. Emmet Walsh is the slimy parole officer with an occasional glimmer of 'straight talk' humanity, but who ultimately enjoys being a cog in a wheel of a rotten system.

Gary Busey is a shaggy old buddy who appears to lead a squeaky-clean life (with long-suffering wife Kathy Bates and real-life son, Jake), but who's ready to cook up some H in a spoon as soon as the missus turns her back.

Theresa Russell is a spunky temp agency clerk who strikes up rapport and romance with our hero.

Even at the tender age of 20, Russell possesses the presence and depth of an actress far beyond her years: I'm reminded of Lauren Bacall storming the industry at 19 with complete poise and assurance- Russell's truly one of the greats. And she does her thing in a role that now, in 2009, would be a complete throwaway 'girlfriend' part. Harry Dean Stanton plays a sidekick who's as at home singing "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane" with an acoustic guitar as he is terrorizing a bank with a sawed-off shotgun.

"How was I, was I good?" -"You scared the shit outta me!"

Every character seems like a real person- there's no 'too cool' antiheroes or satanic bad guys, and that's, in short, why it works.

For more of Bunker's potent artistry, see RUNAWAY TRAIN and ANIMAL FACTORY.

-Sean Gill

Friday, September 25, 2009

Film Review: STREET TRASH (1987, J. Michael Muro)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: James Lorinz (FRANKENHOOKER), Vic Noto, Bil Chepil, Mike Lackey, Jane Arakawa, Tony Darrow (GOODFELLAS). Written by Roy Frumkes.
Tag-line: "Things in New York are about to go down the toilet..."
Best one-liner: "I don't need this. I already got trouble with my kids, my wife, my business, my secretary, the bums... the runaways, the roaches, prickly heat, and a homo dog. This just ain't my day."

STREET TRASH is a greasy, fat man pinning you down in a cracked, faux-leather chair as he tries to pleasure himself. It's a police van full of shabby hookers. It's one tough cop beating a dude within an inch of his life, then vomiting on him. It's a bum drinking some toxic hooch and dissolving into a candy-colored volcano as he (literally) flushes himself down the toilet.

It's a homeless man stuffing raw chicken into his Hazmat pants as he shoplifts your local C-Town.

It's gang rape, necrophilia, and a game of 'monkey in the middle' with some castrated genitalia. All of this is accompanied by gentle clarinet-heavy jazz and honkytonk piano that'd be at home in a Woody Allen credits sequence. Written by THE SUBSTITUTE scribe and DAWN OF THE DEAD zombie Roy Frumkes and directed by Steadicam-maven J. Michael Muro, STREET TRASH is visually magnificent, and has the careening, off-kilter energy of a wild sprint down a squalid alleyway. To pin it down as "about" something- like a case of noxious, hobo-dissolving Viper liquor- would be doing it a disservice.

It's a meandering, slice of (psychotic) life from the most unsavory, dilapidated side of Greenpoint, Brooklyn (where I used to live!). It's almost as if Vittorio de Sica (THE BICYCLE THIEF, UMBERTO D) made a Troma film. Consequently, it's way fucking better than any Troma film, which has earned J. Michael Muro the bitter honor of "Troma's most hated director" according to Lloyd Kaufman. This would be like Ted V. Mikels saying that Russ Meyer is his 'most hated director' or Bruno Mattei saying that Dario Argento is his 'most hated.' I mean, come on.

The acting, by a cast of mostly non-professionals, is sometimes masterful, sometimes hideous, but never less than memorable. There's a brief, hilarious role (as 'the Doorman') by the smarmy James Lorinz (Dr. Franken in FRANKENHOOKER); a terrifying turn by Vic Noto as the femur-wielding Bronson;

and a terrific, likable tough guy played by real-life cop Bill Chepil. This is the stuff that underground cinema dreams are made of, and it ends on a truly appropriate WTF moment. And stay for the end credits, which feature a mind-blowing song (sung in character!) by a sleazy mafioso (Tony Darrow). For similar cheap n' gritty thrills, see: DEADBEAT AT DAWN, BASKET CASE, and THE DRILLER KILLER.

-Sean Gill

BONUS: Make your very own bottle of Tenafly Viper! (click on the picture for a larger view)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Film Review: THE APPLE (1980, Menahem Golan)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 90 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Catherine Mary Stewart (WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S, NIGHT OF THE COMET), Vladek Sheybal (Mr. Boogalow- and Bratchenko in RED DAWN!), cameo by George S. Clinton (composer: HELLBOUND, AUSTIN POWERS), Joss Ackland (HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, LETHAL WEAPON 2).
Tag-line: "A Funky Fantasy That'll Rock Your World!"
Best one-liner: "First you sell it. Then you make it. That's marketing." And a candid window of insight into Menahem Golan's artistic process.

No comment here, merely a history lesson. Times were tough in 1994. Remember what it was like back then? The gays had seized control and turned quotidian life into an unending dystopia of torment and suffering.

The things they made us do. It was unspeakable.

The list of rules was endless: we had to wear those glittery triangles called BIM marks, we had to take breaks for National BIM exercise hour, the government had an unhealthy concern with fashion and pop music, drugs were legalized, and hippies were forced into exile to live in the forest and do whatever they want. I guess the list wasn't endless. I guess that was about it.

But thank God for Alphie and Bibi, who realized that the power of love could defeat the gays and prevent everyone from biting the apple.

Well, truth be told, the gays weren't actually defeated, just all the chosen people (I guess the hippies) ascended straight into heaven, and then some guy we thought was just a background character revealed himself as GOD and ascended as well.

But, anyway, thank God we don't have those oppressive gays anymore, telling us what music to like and how to dress.

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Film Review: EXTERMINATOR 2 (1984, Mark Bunztman)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Mario van Peebles (HEARTBREAK RIDGE, RAPPIN'), Robert Ginty (THE EXTERMINATOR), Frankie Faison (all the Hannibal Lector movies, C.H.U.D., CAT PEOPLE), Arye Gross (HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY, SOUL MAN), supposed bit parts by John Turturro and L. Scott Caldwell (Rose on TV's LOST)- he's 'man shouting in vacant lot, but I never found her, even though I was looking pretty hard. Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Music by David Spear (MORTUARY ACADEMY).
Tag-line: "John Eastland is back - He Knew You Were Lying - The Frightmare Continues!"
Best one-liner: "You want to clean out the streets? I AM the streets!"

The film starts right off with a bang, or rather a FOOOOOSH, with the Exterminator (Robert Ginty) pointing his flamethrower at the camera and letting it rip. We later see the exact same shot in the context of the film, but it doesn't really diminish it's 'FOOOOOSH in the face' impact.

We're talkin' DEATH WISH- but with a flamethrower.

Now I have never seen the Cannon logo do THAT.

And basically, this is Cannon's precursor to DEATH WISH 3. It was their trial run. And it's not perfect- they learned a lot. But I think it also has much to teach all of us. Now clearly, they wanted to create an ominous, crime-addled dystopian world on the brink of ruin. Old people are shot indiscriminately by cackling ex-dancers, police helicopters are blown up, and women are stabbed (and their attackers then brag "I like it when their faces go crazy like that, when they think the world has gone psycho and there's no way out!"). Dudes on roller skates abduct women just so they can get them hooked on smack. It's set up like a post-apocalyptic Middle Ages, with drawbridges, suits of armor, torches, subterranean hideouts, giant blades, etc. But there are unwitting elements of this world that at times seem more like a utopia. Allow me to explain: completely integrated gangs hang out together in complete post-racial harmony. Our main characters spend all of their time at a sleazier version of the bar from FLASHDANCE, which offers "Free Beer" every night. At least that's what the sign out front says. It's all boarded up and has trouble maintaining a clientele, but with free beer every night, it's unclear to me why the entire city of New York is not constantly frequenting this bar. Plus, the Exterminator's pseudo-stripper ("About six months ago, I came to New York, and Broadway seems about as far away as ever!") girlfriend is gyrating and crotch-thrusting to some sweet 80's beats every night. Everything is accompanied by tunes that alternate between rootin' tootin' MIDI basement porn music and the something that would maybe play on the start-up screen for a really shitty martial arts-based NES game. Here's a taste. I mean aside from being caught by Mario van Peebles and ritually crucified- I don't know about you, but this definitely feels like a place in which I could spend some serious time.

The film has an odd feel to it. Golan and Globus were still finding their voice. They had already made DEATH WISH II, BREAKIN', and a couple of Ninja movies, but hadn't done the bulk of their Bronson work, any of their Chuck Norris, no Michael Dudikoff, nor the real dance classics, like BREAKIN' 2, RAPPIN', SALSA, etc. And I don't know how involved they were in the production. I mean, clearly they were around when van Peebles was having his hair and costume done, and clearly they're responsible for the dancer girlfriend

the random break-dance interlude, and the odd roller skating performance art

set to music from BREAKIN', but first-time director Mark Bunztman is probably responsible for a lot of the wacko awkwardnness. Everyone mumbles in this movie, except for van Peebles (as "X"), who thinks he's playing a Shakespearian villain.

Albeit a Shakespearian villain with spiked shoulder pads, one-strap overalls, equal amounts of glitter and sweat, nipple-covering suspenders (on occasion), and a hairstyle that keeps alternating between a foppish Jheri curl and a Grace Jones-style flat-top 'fro.

His main henchman wears a tail coat, juggles fire, and rides around in roller skates for no particular reason. Yeah, this is pretty terrific. But the mumbling is insane, and at times the film seems completely improvised. The pacing is ludicrous as well. "X" and his crew take about 15 minutes to ritually kill an armored truck driver. But it's not a 15 minute torture scene, which could at least be forgiven as an attempt to insert some gratuitous gore– here, they're just carrying him around.... very, very, very slowly. You'll see probably one of the most awkward 'date' scenes in film history, between the Exterminator and his gal. The poor man's Fred Williamson (Frankie Faison)

does some drunk garbage truck driving, feeds some stray dogs and talks and laughs under his breath a lot to Ginty.

Ginty really doesn't know how to deliver a one liner. He gives no emphasis as he off-handedly mutters things like "Looks like some garbage needs to be removed." On the other hand, "X" carefully vocalizes entire speeches about being and owning 'the streets.' Half the time, though, you have no idea what exactly is happening as you strain to hear the half-assedly ad-libbed dialogue.

But don't allow me to lose my focus. This movie was designed for one reason, and one reason only: so that we could watch dudes in asbestos suits running around on fire, waving their arms helplessly in slow motion.

Get used to the POV shot of 'criminal-about-to-be-torched," cause you're gonna be seeing it a lot.

They shoulda shot this in 3D!

Promotional materials called the Exterminator a 'Sherman tank on two legs who breathes fire like Godzilla.' Damn! And these flamed dudes are not just any criminals- they're criminals who put drugs on the streets! This idea would come to a bigger budget fruition in Cannon's DEATH WISH 4- THE CRACKDOWN, but it's still pretty damn solid here. "X" proclaims, "With this powder, I CONTROL THE STREETS!" after he snags a bunch of coke from some carnation-wearing mobsters. Later, when the Exterminator cleverly switches out his drugs, "X" carefully enunciates: "THIS IS FLOUR.... WHERE'S MY DRUG?!?"

Anyway, the Exterminator captures a gang member, and tortures him by leaving him in the back of a garbage truck. Several days later, we get a little of the old Cannon 'comic relief' when they show the hoodlum, still in the back of the truck, munching on some trash. This all leads to a finale where the Exterminator tricks out the garbage truck with hidden machine guns and a snow plow to make it an unstoppable combat vehicle. Of course, there's the high stakes showdown between "X" and the Exterminator, which has to add the whole "we're not so different, you and me" cliché to the mix.

"X" taunts: "How do you like being the animal, Exterminator?! What are you hiding from, masked man? What's the matter, are you nervous? Are we too much ALIKE?" Yeah, this is a subtle movie. That's why I like it. Four mumbly, flaming stars.

Note Peebles' Patrick Magee-style posturing!

-Sean Gill