Thursday, May 31, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... PARK ROW

Only now does it occur to me...  that PARK ROW is one of the finest American films of the 1950s.

Funded independently by cigar-puffing Hollywood maverick Sam Fuller, PARK ROW is a wild, dark, ambitious, intricate meditation on the freedom of the press and a nostalgic reverie for the bygone, moxie-filled newspapering glory days of Park Row.  Its scope is vast, even if its budget wasn't– some have even likened it to an indie-CITIZEN KANE.

I don't wish to say too much, but this movie is brutal.  Children are maimed, bombs are tossed, innocents beaten into pulps, and all over the integrity of print media.  Our intrepid hero even gets his hands on a less than 'fair and balanced' rival newspaper henchman, and clobbers his media-distorting ass against the pedestal of a statue of Benjamin Franklin!

Plus, you get to see a Blue Blazer made,

And there's even secret messages in the beer!

Anyway, as far as I can tell, it's only available via the MGM Limited Edition DVD-R print-on-demand collection, but I really can't recommend this film enough.  In an era where true journalistic integrity is the scarcest of commodities, seeing the fortitude, decency, and resourcefulness of two-fisted truth-tellers of yore (both the Park Row newshounds of the 1880s and Sam Fuller himself) lifts the spirits a little.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Film Review: CYBORG (1989, Albert Pyun)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter (HILL STREET BLUES, SQUARE DANCE), Vincent Klyn (POINT BREAK, DOUBLE DRAGON), Alex Daniels (David Hasselhoff's stunt double), Dayle Haddon (NORTH DALLAS FORTY, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY). Written by Kitty Chalmers (DECEIT, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH '89). Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.
Tagline: "He's the First Hero of the 21st Century...And He's Our Only Hope."
 Best one-liner: "First there was the collapse of civilization: anarchy, genocide, starvation. Then when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, we got the plague. The Living Death, quickly closing its fist over the entire planet. Then we heard the rumors: that the last scientists were working on a cure that would end the plague and restore the world. Restore it? Why? I like the death! I like the misery! I like this world!"

I just noticed that this is the 800th all-time post on Junta Juleil's Culture Shock.  And who better to honor with it than a trio of three hall-o-famers:  Menahem Golan, Yoram Globus, and Jean-Claude Van Damme?

CYBORG.  Where do you want me to start?  Is it post-apocalyptic sci-fi?  Is it a homoerotic martial arts epic?  Does it hold deeply religious subtext?  Is it a remake of Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST?  I tell you:  it is all of these things and more.

In 1989, world-famous auteur Albert Pyun was supposed to make MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE 2 and SPIDER-MAN simultaneously for Cannon in a cinematic coup that would have eclipsed popular concurrent productions like THE THREE MUSKETEERS/THE FOUR MUSKETEERS and SUPERMAN/SUPERMAN II.  However, terrible financial losses from the failure of the absurdly expensive MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE 1 prevented these films from ever reaching sweet, sweet fruition.  But we already built the sets– shit!  No matter, say Golan and Globus:  ladies and germs, I give you CYBORG.

Before we get started, there are a few things you should know.  It was originally rated 'X' for violence, but underwent some edits to secure an 'R.'  Almost every character is, inexplicably, named after one or more guitars.  "Gibson Rickenbacker."  "Fender Tremolo."  "Marshall Strat."  "Les."  Et cetera.  Also, there was not just one, but two separate men who worked on this film who went by the nickname "Rock," one of whom lost an eye when Van Damme poked him with a prop knife by accident.  It was settled in court for $487,500.   So there's a lot going on here, on and off camera.  But let's get into the film proper– how 'bout a wild sprint through the insanity that is CYBORG? 

CYBORG is all about fur collars and disco shirts and the tasteful use of dummies plummeting to their doom

and a sweepingly ambitious synth soundtrack by Kevin Bassinson and the elegant swooshing of gargantuan capes in the midst of gang violence


...and knife-sharpening.  Actually, I don't think I've ever seen a film with quite so much knife-sharpening.

Seems that's just about the only activity that anybody can get it up for in the post-apocalyptic tri-state area.

 There's about fourteen guys sharpening knives in this scene.

I think that there might be more actual minutes of the film devoted to knife-sharpening than to cyborgs.

But let's meet our main characters.  Whoa– what's this?!–


That's right– the first time we meet Van Damme's character, it's his leg, entering stage left.  Does that mean that Golan and Globus thought that Van Damme's leg was more iconic and recognizable than his face?
...Don't answer that.  Anyway, here's Van Damme.

His peasant shirt appears to have been made from spandex and the remnants of disco balls, which must be common items in the postapocalyptic landscape, what with all the abandoned discotheques and all.  And, believe me, Van Damme would have an encyclopedic knowledge of those abandoned discotheques.
Anyway, he's fighting the ultimate evil, Fender Tremelo, pictured below, wearing the actual, metallic version of Bennett's chainmail sweater in COMMANDO.

More on Mr. Tremolo (played by the incomparable Vincent Klyn) in a minute, but for the time being, let's get back to Gibson Rickenbacker– I mean Jean-Claude Van Damme.


So Van Damme wanders the land, eking out a living and kicking the bad people where it counts, sometimes even with a modified boot blade, which seems like something straight out of 1990: BRONX WARRIORS.

His wife and children were killed years ago by the aforesaid Mr. Tremolo, back when Van Damme wore a wig.  The full glory of said wig is pictured below.

Here's another picture of Van Damme in a wig, just because you asked nicely.   That's his wife on the left, there.

 After this personal tragedy, he has nothing really to live for, save for kicking, knife-sharpening, and staring earnestly at people and objects.

There really is quite a bit of silent, sentimental staring.  Perhaps Albert Pyun thought that Van Damme's rapid-fire leg-blasting would carry more heft if it were broken up a bit by some earnest gazes.  But it works!  It makes the leg-blasting all the more emotionally resonant, when it finally occurs.  And while I do not believe that you will find the word "leg-blasting" in any legitimate dictionary, I have included a picture of the activity below, for your personal reference.

With so much leg-blasting to be done, and with such a cruel villain on the loose, he's decided to help humanity at large by running interference for a cyborg woman, who's a far more uncanny special effect than the makers could have possibly intended.

Don't worry about her too much, though, because she only has about 15 minutes of screen time.

Annnyway, Jean-Claude being a potential savior of the human race with real-life initials "J.C." brought a smile to my lips, particularly when I noticed this subliminal message that appears briefly in the midst of a brawl as J.C.V.D. lands a blow:

Before I ask "Is J.C.V.D. God?," I know what you're about to say, and it's difficult to disagree with you.  Sean, aren't you the same guy who read a deeper theosophical meaning into a King Cobra Malt Liquor Ad, Objectivism into Stallone's COBRA, existential insights into John Carpenter's music album, and the mysteries of the universe into a Rutger Hauer beer commercial?  And I would have to answer: yes, as a matter of fact, I am that guy.  So I apologize.  I stand corrected.  I am guilty as charged, for reading too deeply into the completely fabricated 'connection' between Jean-Claude Van Damme and the Biblical Jes–




Well, there you go.  All that I can say, is that I bet you can't remember the part in the Bible when Jesus kickboxed his way off the cross.

Anyway, because I'm telepathic, I can already tell that your next question is:  "But what about the splits?  It seems like the crucifixion would have been an excellent time for a split."  I'm here to reassure you, you need not worry.  On the eight day, God Jean-Claude Van Damme said, "Let there be splits."

 And there were splits.  In case you're confused about what's happening there, it's J.C.V.D., lying– er, make that splitting– in wait for post-apocalyptic Dee Snider, like he's a horror-movie villain.  Now what happens immediately thereafter is that the hair metal dude dies, presumably stabbed by J.C.V.D.'s well-sharpened knife.  Well, before you go off dallying in silly euphemisms, allow me to submit the hypothesis that he died on the spot upon spying God's J.C.V.D.'s leather/spandex covered balls.

So now I'd like to speak for a bit on Vincent Klyn's Fender Tremolo, a man who when told to "Go to hell," responds with a hearty "...Been there."  A villain so ridiculously over the top, he delivers monologues on the enjoyment of misery and crucifies his enemies.  A fashion plate whose aesthetic is so fabulous

 he prompted my girlfriend to exclaim at the television, "Look at your shoulderpads, you fierce bitch!"  He even gets a meaty flashback scene (shown multiple times throughout) where he murders Van Damme's family while wearing an inverted cross earring!

 Now, as I was watching the multiple flashbacks, I was struck by the incongruous idea that they resembled very closely, in both content and style, the Bronson/Fonda flashbacks in Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.  The more I thought about it, the more momentum it took on.  Fender and his gang even arrive after massacring innocents in a manner that recalls Frank's gang in Leone's film.

 And the way that Fender and his pale-eyed gaze are photographed throughout the film are incredibly reminiscent of the prior work.

 Even the final duel is remarkably "Leone" in style.

 Er, well, I don't quite remember Hank Fonda's neck muscles ever–

Mm–I can't recall Bronson ever contorting his face like–

 Ooh.  Perhaps I'll quit while I'm ahead.  Don't strain anything, guys!  Four stars.

-Sean Gill

Only now does it occur to me... GREASE

Only now does it occur to me...  international superstar Lorenzo Lamas is in GREASE.

I suppose that I'm 34 years late in noticing this.  I'd seen the film a few times in childhood, as my sister had the VHS.  I guess you're a kid, you're at a certain age, and you don't really care about the subtler joys in life, subtle joys like the acting career of Lorenzo Lamas.  Well now, years later, and all the richer from multiple viewings of films like BODY ROCK and SNAKE EATER, I can go back, watch GREASE, and appreciate every dimension of a nuanced Lamas performance.  




 I really have nothing else to add.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... FAMILY BUSINESS

Boyhood is often populated by absurdist hypotheticals, often involving fantastical one-on-one duels.  For whatever reason, idle chatter of this variety makes waiting in line in the cafeteria or loitering out front before the bell rings in the morning that much more tolerable.  Who would win in a fight between Robocop and Boba Fett?  The Nazi Mechanic from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK or the Monstrous Thugee from INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM?  Superman or Godzilla?  One might assume that these hypotheticals would end in the post-adolescent era, but here I am, decades later, writing about Charles Bronson vs. Clint Eastwood, and Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Sylvester Stallone, and Michael Ironside vs. Bruce Glover, and all of the other important stuff that really matters. 

Anyway, never until this evening did I imagine, even in my wildest dreams, that I would one day see the end result of a cinematic duel betwixt ubiquitous Puerto Rican character actor Luis Guzman and 'the Graduate' himself, Dustin Hoffman.  Go ahead and place your schoolyard bets!




I s'pose we'll have to award this round to The Hoffman.  And, hopefully, by now associating Dustin Hoffman with one on one brawling on the internet, it will trickle into someone's subconscious and prompt a rental of KRAMER VS. KRAMER under the mistaken pretense that it's a martial arts tournament epic.

Oh, and about the movie itself– let's just say that if you're seeking out a late 80s, early 90s Sidney Lumet New York crime flick, you'd be better off sticking with Q&A.