Saturday, July 26, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... ARENA

Only now does it occur to me...  that BLOODSPORT: IN SPACE basically exists.  It's called ARENA, and though it's not nearly as good as you'd hope, it does indeed deliver on its promise of dudes in rubbery costumes wailing on each other in a futuristic gladiator superdome.

The responsible parties include Full Moon Pictures' Charles Band, HALLOWEEN I-III producer Irwin Yablans, and TRANCERS and ROCKETEER writers Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo.  Though technically not a Full Moon Picture, it certainly feels like one; and in terms of Charles Band's science-fiction offerings, it's not quiiiiite as good as TRANCERS, VICIOUS LIPS, or ROBOT JOX, though they are fairly creative with the creatures and costumes, given the (clearly) low budget.

A few things of note:

Our human champion Steve Armstrong (there hasn't been one in fifty years) undergoes the typical hero's journey, from making smoothies at the arena snack bar to delivering knuckle sandwiches to space monsters.

He's played by Paul Satterfield, whom you may recognize as Deke from "The Raft" segment of CREEPSHOW 2.

English folk singer Hamilton Camp basically plays an Ian Holm-ish, four-armed "Mickey" from ROCKY:

Marc Alaimo (TOTAL RECALL, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE) is the fight-fixin' corporate baddie

 and he plays it kind of like a poor man's Jeffrey Jones, which is fine by me.

There's an imitation Admiral Ackbar puttin' away the pints at the local dive bar:

The real Admiral Ackbar in RETURN OF THE JEDI:  "It's a trap!"

Poor man's Ackbar: "What's on tap?"

And our "Chong Li" figure– a.k.a., the big villain who our hero takes on in the tournament championship– is basically a Cyborg Minotaur.  I really appreciate that.

In closing, it's fun enough paracinematic garbage, but it never reaches the illustrious heights or depths of a BLOODSPORT or a ROBOT JOX.  But I, and anyone capable of sentient thought, ought to be overjoyed that it simply exists.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Only now does it occur to me... BEVERLY HILLS COP II

Only now does it occur to me... that the COBRA/BEVERLY HILLS COP connections have been overtly referenced on film.

So I'd known for some time that the script that became COBRA was originally written as "BEVERLY HILLS COP," and it was going to star Sylvester Stallone in the now iconic Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) role. What I didn't know was that the makers of BEVERLY HILLS COP II decked out Billy Rosewood's (Judge Reinhold) home with Sylvester Stallone posters


including COBRA himself, who merits a confused look from Eddie Murphy.

Axel Foley, meet your grandfather/weird Cannon Film half-brother.

Then, Stallone continues to cast his shadow over BEVERLY HILLS COP II:  it co-stars crazed Dane, COBRA lead, and Stallone then-wife Brigitte Nielsen.

I have to say that I never thought I'd ever see a whacky, New Wave Nielsen attempt to assassinate Ronny Cox (DELIVERANCE, TOTAL RECALL, ROBOCOP) in broad daylight.


So this movie is basically one big Stallone lovefest–

Er- let's not tell Sly about this, okay?

 P.S.– Also, is that Dean Stockwell?

Yeah, I guess so.  Hey, he doesn't really feel up to it, either.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Film Review: RIDING THE BULLET (2004, Mick Garris)

Stars: 1.5 of 5.
Running Time: 98 minutes.
Tag-line: "The dead travel fast."
Notable Cast or Crew: Jonathan Jackson (GENERAL HOSPITAL, INSOMNIA), David Arquette (SCREAM, RAVENOUS), Barbara Hershey (THE STUNT MAN, HOOSIERS, BLACK SWAN), Chris Gauthier (FREDDY VS. JASON, INSOMNIA), Matt Frewer (MAX HEADROOM, every Mick Garris movie), Cliff Robertson (UNDERWORLD U.S.A., CHARLY, ESCAPE FROM L.A.), and Nicky Katt (THE LIMEY, DAZED AND CONFUSED). Makeup effects by Greg Nicotero, Rachel Griffin, and Howard Berger.  Written and directed by Mick Garris.
Best One-liner: "You're a ghost..." –"BOO!"

I'll try and keep this brief.  So I'm watching this movie, an adaptation of the lesser known Stephen King e-book/novella "Riding the Bullet,"  and I'm not gonna lie– I knew it was a Mick Garris flick beforehand, and I watched it anyway.
You've probably heard me talk Mick Garris/Stephen King before (DESPERATION, QUICKSILVER HIGHWAY, SLEEPWALKERS, THE STAND, etc.) and know by now that my condition is pathological.  It can't be helped.  Mick Garris is going to keep making bad Stephen King movies, King is going to keep sanctioning them, and I'm just gonna keep watching 'em.

 No exaggeration: that font might be the best thing about this movie.

So we got all the Mick Garris standbys- the Cynthia Garris appearance, the Nicolas Pike music, and the obligatory Matt Frewer role.  I've called Garris a one-man Frewer employment agency (they've worked together six times)

and his appearance here amounts to a walk-on as a groovy art teacher with a "cool" earring and a stiff turtleneck.  So yeah.
Anyway, with all these Garris-isms going on,  I started getting excited about seeing Steven Weber (ex-WINGS star and another Garris standby) put his unique acting "spin" on some role in this mess.
 Here he is, for instance, out-Nicholsoning Nicholson in THE SHINING '97.

I'm excited for Weber.  I'm jonesin' for Weber...  Where's my Weber?... and then I look it up on IMDb and find out that there's no Weber.  Could it be?  Could it be that there was no role for him?  No room at the inn for Weber? Then who is going to give us a Steven Weber-caliber performance?  We'll return to this pressing issue later on.

I read "Riding the Bullet" a few years ago (it's collected in EVERYTHING'S EVENTUAL) and still remember it pretty clearly.  It's a fairly satisfying, melancholy ghost story centered around an agonizing moral choice, and it plays around with the trope of the "Phantom Hitchhiker" for a while before coming in for a semi-emotional, King-ian climax.  This movie has been heavily expanded from the novella in ways that I don't really care about (which is classic Garris) and this definitely would have played out better as a 25-minute piece in a CREEPSHOW-style omnibus, but I suppose it's too late for that now.

Due to the feature-length padding, it becomes increasingly dull and most of the filler is only tangentially-related to the original story, being largely devoted to silly roadside scares and random fake-outs and dog attacks and killer hillbillies and did-it-happen-or-didn't-it moments and dream sequences that possess equal smatterings of FINAL DESTINATION and THE SIXTH SENSE.  This brings me to the wider question, which is "were people really clamoring to have 'Riding the Bullet' made into a feature-length movie?"  I have no problem with the original story, but I can think of probably forty to sixty as-of-yet-unadapted Stephen King stories that I'd rather see turned into movies.  And everybody knows that if you want to watch a Stephen King movie with "Bullet" in the title, you go for SILVER BULLET.

So this thing is a 60s period piece with an expensive soundtrack: Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Zombies, James Brown, The Chambers Brothers, The Youngbloods.  No idea where that cash came from.  (They shoulda spent it on Steven Weber!)  You can tell it's the 60s because people are referencing Tricky Dick and LEAVE IT TO BEAVER and "John 'I am the Walrus' Lennon" (yes, someone actually utters that aloud).  You can really tell it's the 60s though, because everyone has 90s haircuts and interior decoration

Pictured: The 60s.  (Shockingly similar to JAILBREAKERS' depiction of the 50s!)

 and Death smokes him some reefer, as he did in the 60s.

 This really happens, dear reader.

There's this whole terribly-thought-out narrative device whereupon our hero (Jonathan Jackson) has his internal monologue voiced by a CGI double, and it plays out in ineffective, head-scratching, and spit-take-inducing ways

That Cheech and Chong reference is a few years too early for the 1960s...  Also note: authentic beaded curtain.

that frequently plunge, headfirst, into a morass of unintentional comedy.

Would you believe that this actor came from GENERAL HOSPITAL?  WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT?!

Hey, at least CHRISTINE gets a cameo:

And speaking of cameos, we have two pretty good ones, likely responsible for all 1.5 of the stars I'm awarding this film:
There's the venerable Cliff Robertson, who shows up as an off-his-rocker, crotch-grabbing yokel:

Cliff: you deserved better.

and then Nicky Katt appears, exuding an enjoyable bit of manic energy as a VW minibus-driving fake hippie, and while he does his best to make this feel like a real movie, he only has about two minutes to do so.

Nicky Katt:  improvisin' up a storm.

Also, this movie co-stars Oscar-nominee and acting legend Barbara Hershey as our protagonist's mother.  She has been given the opportunity to utter scintillating Garris dialogue such as the following:

Wow.  Garris walked into a room with Barbara Hershey and said, presumably to her face, that "Today you will be saying 'Awful Damn Crapheads,' and you will be saying it on camera."  That takes balls, I suppose.  Or cluelessness.  And I don't mean to pile on Garris, even though I usually do– the man's contributions to CRITTERS 2, THE FLY II, and FUZZBUCKET are noteworthy, and he rather seems like a warm and enthusiastic man.  But wow.  "Awful Damn Crapheads."  It happened.  It happened and there's no taking it back.

Furthermore, I believe I have pinpointed the exact moment, on film, when Barbara Hershey fully realizes that her agent talked her into a Mick Garris movie–

It's sinking in: the contracts are signed and there's no backing out.  Study it for long enough and you can even see her internal pep talk at work: "I can handle this for two weeks.  I can handle anything for two weeks..."

Anyway, the movie's almost over when you realize that the main thrust of the novella hasn't even been addressed yet– the part where our hero is picked up by an undead messenger who (metaphorically) skewers him on the horns of a (moral) dilemma.

Said (ghoulish, zany) messenger is played by David Arquette.

Now wait one gosh-gadoodlin' minute!  Somebody call the police!  Arquette stole Steven Weber's role!  The above depiction was clearly intended for Weber.  It's in his wheelhouse.  That is Weber's wheelhouse.

The maniacal facial expressions, the vacant eyes, the dopey one-liners, the pain of WINGS that rests upon his shoulders like a shroud–  could it be?  Could it be that Arquette is playing the role as a Steven Weber pastiche?

Pictured: Steven Weber pastiche.

Pictured: actual Steven Weber.

That's my theory, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.  And despite my better judgment, I'm sure one day I will watch BAG OF BONES (the final Garris/King collaboration I have yet to see).  Whew.  Till that day comes...

 –Sean Gill

Friday, July 11, 2014

Film Review: COLLISION COURSE (1989, Lewis Teague)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 100 minutes.
Tag-line: "Not So Much A Lethal Weapon, More Of A Liability!"
Best One-liner: "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees!"

In a familiar, darkened alley, two Thunderbird-swilling cineastes make small-talk:

–"I'm bored.  Whatcha got for me?"
"Here's a philosophical question.  What's better than watching a train wreck?"
–"I don't know.  Is that a trick question?"
"What about the moment of anticipation, right before the train wreck?"
"When the train is on course to collide with something.  A "COLLISION COURSE," if you will."
–"Where are you going with this?"

"Alright.  What I got here, is a big, dumb, character actor-heavy buddy cop movie in the tradition of such classics as RUNNING SCARED, V.I. WARSHAWSKI, and FATAL BEAUTY.  It stars Jay Leno and Pat Morita.  Interested?"
–"Keep goin'.  I'm gonna need more than that."
"Well it's kind of a East-meets-West, fish-out-of-water story where Motor City cop Jay Leno  becomes begrudging partners with Pat Morita of Tokyo PD after a Japanese businessman is murdered over the design of a car prototype, which leads to plenty of villains shouting things like 'WHERE IS THE PROTOTYPE?!' and it's also personal, because an old ex-cop buddy of Leno's was murdered by the same prototype-seeking bad guys.  Also, I'd bet you anything Leno agreed to do this based on his unhealthy love of custom cars alone."

–"It sounds mediocre, like a second-tier RED HEAT.  I need to know more."
"What?!  How much more do you need?"
–"I don't know.  If I'm going to watch a movie with Jay Leno in it, I'm probably going to need at least thirteen reasons."

"Alright.  Easy peasy Leno squeezy."
–"Please never say that again."
"Fine.  #1.  How 'bout DEATH WISH 4's Soon-Tek Oh as Morita's no-nonsense boss in Tokyo, who's always coming down hard on him for bein' an action-luvin' hot-dog of a cop?"

–"You're leading with Soon-Tek Oh?  This movie hasn't got a chance."
"When did you become so picky?  And besides, Soon-Tek is the man.  He was on AIRWOLF, THE A-TEAM, he's in MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING...  not to mention GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK, NIGHT GALLERY, T.J. HOOKER..."
–"Okay, I'm sorry."
"You should be.  Ready for #2?  Here it comes: Chris Sarandon."

–"WHAT?!  But also, I don't really like that 'stache."
"Too bad!  You think he cares?  Sarandon's the big villain of the piece, but he's built a persona of respectability where he hands out giant checks to underprivileged youths."

–"He sounds like a ROBOCOP antagonist."
"That's not too far off the mark.  And that ain't a bad thing, either.  He's sort of phonin' it in, but every once in a while he does something fantastic, like beating a man about the head and neck with a napkin.  That's #3, by the way."

–"I was about to tell you it wasn't fair to use Sarandon for two different slots, but I have to admit that's a thing of beauty."
–"Wait, who is that, off to the right, looking vaguely uneasy about the napkin-beating?  He looks familiar..."
"Ohhhhhh yeah.  #4.  Tom motherluvin' Noonan!

He's here to occupy that 'villain's right-hand-man' spot, like Gary Busey in LETHAL WEAPON or Alexander Godunov in DIE HARD.  And he's playin' it weird."
–"What do you mean?"
"Imagine a kind of three-way cross between his blood-curdling 'Francis Dolarhyde' in MANHUNTER, Mr. Rogers, and an 80s prep school bully."
–"I don't think I can."
"I can show you better than I can tell you.  It's a clip called 'Tom Noonan's Quiet Menace.'"
–"I'm so scared."
"You should be.  Cause, #5, Noonan's got his own rocket launcher, too."

–"That's surely not worth it's own number.  Isn't that a given?"
"Lemme rephrase that:  #5, Noonan's got his own rocket launcher pistol."
–"Okay, you win.  You win everything."
"And feast your eyes on #6:  Leno's partner (before Pat Morita shows up) is none other than ghostbustin' Ernie Hudson."

–"I love Ernie Hudson!"
"Sadly, they don't give him much to do.  He has an action scene and a half before being relegated to 'the friend our hero calls for occasional favors and advice' duty.  It's sad, really, and a waste of Ernie Hudson.  One of the few sins this movie commits."
–"I've always been a GHOSTBUSTERS II man, myself."
"Of course you are.  Now, are you ready for the heavy stuff?  #7.  Social commentary."

"Yes sir:  this movie makes an occasionally earnest effort to say... something.  It's rarely sure what that is, exactly.  But it shows the decay of Rust Belt-era Detroit, and says 'that's a shame.'  It says, this city used to be proud of itself. It shows the resentment toward Asians and Asian auto manufacturers in a post-Vincent Chin world, even if it's masked by bad karate and Chop Suey jokes.  It reveals actual racial tensions, then grows uncomfortable with itself and drowns them in zany synth music and one-liners like "I oughta stir fry your face!"  So nobody's going to really draw any greater meaning from this movie, but as a document of 80s Detroit– forsaken by Big Auto and Big Money and thrown to the wolves– it might carry some kind of historical value.  I don't know."
–"You're kind of depressing me, man.  I had a buzz going."
"Ooookay.  Uh, how 'bout #8:  Jay Leno gets the drop on his quarry and delivers the following one-liner:

"Hey, hey, we're the Monkees!"

–"Awful.  And brilliant!"
 "#9.  The cat-and-mouse game between Leno and Morita before they realize they're both actually on the same side.  It involves both Leno hiding behind that "Get Well Soon" standby: a tiny balloon attached to what is essentially a glorified straw.  I suppose the joke is that his enormous chin is ill-concealed by the tiny balloon, which is not quite a joke, really, but I that's the sort of back-asswards comedic sensibility that makes this movie work.

Also, Pat Morita tries to hide himself inside a garment bag which is terrific.  I mean, look at this:
 it's a loopy kind of brilliance that simply doesn't exist outside an 80s action-comedy."
 –"I like it.  What next?"
"#10.  The awkward, drawn-out scene where Leno and Morita become true buddies for the first time.  It involves polishing off a box of KFC and an entire bottle of 12 year Chivas Regal and the repeated toast, 'Banzai!'  The pacing is seriously weird, even for a movie as uneven as this one.

Though I suppose we should be happy with the result, which is a hungover Jay Leno waking up underneath his coffee table

and smacking his head with tremendous force."
–"I like the sound of that."
"So you'll love the sound of #11: Scrappy L'il Pat Morita.  He knocks muggers unconscious with garbage pail lids

and bites the ankles of beefy henchmen.

It's all the lowdown, dirty action you always wanted in the KARATE KID movies but never got."
–"I feel like a kid on Christmas."
"You should.  But that's not all there is to his character– there's a touching scene where Jay Leno sends him to the dance floor in a BBQ restaurant so he can steal his ribs, or something,

but the joke is on Leno because Morita's having the time of his life flirting with the locals and throwing his hands in the air, waving them like he doesn't care, etc., etc...

That's #12, I suppose.  I haven't seen anybody that dignified rock that hard since David Warner did to Vanilla Ice in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE SECRET OF THE OOZE."
–"Fair enough.  So what's #13?"
"I saved the best for last.  So it's the grand finale.  (Spoilers are about to be unleashed, if you think that matters for a movie like COLLISION COURSE.)  Jay Leno's wounded.  He's been shot in the lower buttock.  Pat Morita's trying to help him.  Jay's pulling the 'ole melodramatic 'Go on without me...' bit.  Just then, Chris Sarandon shows up in his luxury automobile, ready to run 'em down like dogs at the far end of a dead end alley. 

I mean, just look how happy he is.  But instead of turnin' tail while Chris tries to go all CHRISTINE on him, Pat Morita makes a stand, running at the vehicle with the confident élan of a Medieval jouster.

He launches himself into the air (er... at the blue screen, rather)

And, well.... perhaps I'd better just show you the splendorous result:
–"Sweet mother of mercy!"
–"My God."
–"I just watched it...  forty times."
"That's how it's meant to be watched, my friend."
–"You... were right... about a... Jay Leno movie..."
"I guess hell must have frozen over.  Wanna give AMERICAN HOT WAX a try?"
–"You know... I think I'd better not press my luck."

–Sean Gill

P.S.– COLLISION COURSE is directed by one of my favorites, Lewis Teague, who did ALLIGATOR, CAT'S EYE, CUJO, WEDLOCK, and NAVY SEALS.  It occurred to me just now that there's a  weird connection between Lewis Teague and fellow 80s maestro Todd Holland- both did multiple Stephen King adaptations, one weirdo buddy cop movie in the late 80's, lots o' horror flicks, and worked with Chris Sarandon.  Kinda weird.  Or maybe not.