Friday, May 29, 2015

"Winners of the Yoknapatawpha County Spelling Bee" in McSweeney's Internet Tendency

I have a new literary humor piece up at McSweeney's Internet Tendency called "Winners of the Yoknapatawpha County Spelling Bee, 1929-1940," and it's a riff on William Faulkner's imaginative compound words.
Longtime readers of this site may recall that I once gave homage to Faulkner when reviewing Michael Jackson's MOONWALKER in his style––as a massive, stream-of-consciousness run-on sentence.  (It was quite a highbrow affair.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Film Review: JAWS 3-D (1983, Joe Alves)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 99 minutes.
Tag-line: "ALL NEW!  The third dimension is terror.  ALL NEW!"
Best One-liner: "You're talkin' about some damn shark's MOTHER?!"

JAWS 3-D does not bode well from the outset.  Our first three-dimensional image, about one minute into the proceedings, is that of a decapitated, rotating, and still-jabbering fish head.  So this is how it's going to be, eh?

It was directed by first-and-last-time director Joe Alves, a former Spielberg production designer (JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND) who rather conspicuously never returned to the Spielberg fold post JAWS 3-D.

Loosely inspired by 1955's REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (whereupon the Creature from the Black Lagoon escapes and wreaks havoc on an aquarium), JAWS 3-D sees a baby Great White Shark wander into a Sea World and die in captivity, drawing the ire of its monstrously-sized mother who proceeds to wreak havoc on Sea World.  Obviously, Roy Scheider is not involved (he later said, "Mephistopheles... couldn't talk me into JAWS 3"), though Dennis Quaid and John Putch play his grown-up sons, the Brody boys.

I sorta think Putch (on the left) should've been Crispin Glover.

Amity (the Massachusetts locale of the first two films) gets a brief shout-out,

and occasionally Alan Parker weaves John Williams' iconic theme into his score,

but for the most part, this is a generic "shark attack" movie with as much to do with the first JAWS as ersatz Italian rip-offs like THE LAST SHARK.  Though ostensibly penned in collaboration by JAWS' original screenwriter Carl Gottlieb (who, it must be said, also wrote DOCTOR DETROIT) and Richard Matheson (mastermind novelist and screenwriter who brought us everything from the finest TWILIGHT ZONE episodes to books like I AM LEGEND, SOMEWHERE IN TIME, and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME), the original draft was supposedly butchered by uncredited script doctors and meddling studio execs.  Though many an author has made this claim after discovering a stinker on their hands, in this instance I'm inclined to believe them.

I also am somewhat puzzled by Sea World's wholehearted involvement, as they allow their park to host monster mayhem and severed limbs and assorted jaws-chompin'.  I suppose the Sea World employees are depicted as heroically selfless, and technically no patrons are eaten, but from my experience, it seems like some corporate lawyer would have tried to shut this down even if management okayed it.  There's plenty of shameless, promotional Sea World kitsch to go around, though:

We'll always have BLACKFISH, though.  (Seriously, you should watch BLACKFISH.)

I went into JAWS 3-D imagining that it would be tawdry, brutal, and nonstop shark-attackery, and on several occasions it lives up to this idea––for instance, when a formation of water skiers are victimized by Jaws, mid-show:

And this.  It can't all be this:
and while portions of the film (like the above) are pretty spectacular, much of it is comparatively lifeless, especially when it turns into a low-rent POSEIDON ADVENTURE mid-way through with a handful of patrons trapped in an underwater tunnel.

Without Shelly Winters and Gene Hackman, this is pretty pointless.  (Or without Rutger Hauer and Steve Guttenberg!)

That about sums it up.  But I don't want to leave you on a down note––on to my seven favorite things about JAWS 3-DEEEEEEE!

#7.  This man's t-shirt:

It says "LET A GARGOYLE SIT ON YOUR FACE."  While this probably refers to Gargoyle™ brand sunglasses (if true, what an ill-considered corporate slogan), I'm going to take it to mean something vaguely and frighteningly sexual, involving the 'ole "satanic sculpture salad-toss." 

#6.  This glorious and film-concluding freeze frame:

The celebratory dolphins have been clumsily matted in, so as to affect a third dimension.  It is plainly ridiculous, and I wholeheartedly approve.

#5.  This New Wave barmaid:

She's appears in more than one scene, but only once does she wear this wonderfully 1983 pink headbandin' ensemble.  If it weren't for the little things like this, the whole affair would feel very 70s.

#4.  Lea Thompson's sexy-crazy-eye.

In this, her feature film debut, she plays a character named "Bukowski" and is intended as a love interest for the younger Brody brother.  She appears in your typical 'bikini babe' scenes and she punctuates her performance with pervasive crazy-eye.  I applaud this acting choice as it lends a oddly dangerous tension to otherwise banal scenes of romance, though longed for a twist ending where there was in fact no shark at all, but Lea Thompson murdering everyone while wearing a shark costume.  This could have been the FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART 5: A NEW BEGINNING of the JAWS series.  Alas.

#3.  The 3-D.  I watched this in 2-D, but it's extremely apparent each time a three-dimensional effect is offered to the viewer.  It is not quite as nutty as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III, with its flying severed eyeballs and yo-yos in da face, but it has the aforementioned fish heads, floating severed arms:

hypodermic needles squirting yellow liquid in our eye:

The golden shower you didn't know you needed.

and the coup de grâce of, quite literally, JAWS 3-D:

More on this in a moment.

#2.  The sad, long journey of Oscar-winner Lou Gossett, Jr.

Poor Lou Gossett, Jr.  He just wanted to enjoy a nice beverage and bask in the glory of his Academy Award for AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN.  But I can see the future, Lou.  I'm looking into my crystal glass.  I see that you have an outrageous amount of acting ability, and yet I see...  I see four IRON EAGLES.  I see a FIREWALKER.  I see a straight-to-video LEFT BEHIND sequel.  Get out!  Escape JAWS 3-D before it's too late!!  Aieee!!!

The first time we see Lou, he's looking at a pyramid of water skiers through a pair of binoculars.

He lowers them, and we are privy to the following expression:

He knows.  He knows.  And it's too late.

In any event, Gossett is permitted to voice his disdain at one point, and using words from the script:

Don't talk to Lou Gossett about some damn shark's mother. 

You kept your dignity, Lou.  Hold your head high!  (Also, this film begins what should have been one of the great partnerships––Gossett and Quaid––who would wow us in '85 with the often overlooked sci-fi masterpiece, ENEMY MINE.)

#1.  The Sublime and Glorious Death of Jaws 3 (D).

'Nuff said.  Two and a half stars.  This may be controversial, but I say it's slightly better than JAWS 2, though not quite as delightfully nonsensical and trainwreck-worthy as JAWS 4: THE REVENGE.  Obviously, none of these sequels should be uttered within the same breath as their progenitor.

–Sean Gill

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Only now does it occur to me... THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT

Only now does it occur to me...  a few things.  First, despite the absence of a "3" in the title (and to think it so easily could have been called "3 FAST 3 FURIOUS"), as the third film in the franchise this fits the bill of my "Good Things Come in Threes" series, though whether or not it qualifies as a "good thing" is open to debate.

THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT is your typical "small-town American kid fucks up, gets sent to live in Tokyo" story, much maligned for its dearth of connective tissue with the previous two films (Paul Walker was deemed "too old" and Vin Diesel only shows up for a cameo at the very end).
Welcome to the Xander Zone?

The whole affair feels very "90s" despite being made in 2006, a notion that is in no way dispelled by the presence of Zachery Ty Bryan from HOME IMPROVEMENT.  I sort of approve of this.

Sadly, he does not use "it's tool time!" as a one-liner, despite it being contextually appropriate.

There's not a great deal to say:  L'il Bow Wow (née Shad Moss) was much more likable than I anticipated,

L'il Bow Wow... who knew?

and he shares this movie's MVP slot with the impressively nonchalant Sung Kang, in a performance so cool, they shoehorned his character into subsequent films.

Pictured here taking notes from...

...Alain Delon and Jean-Pierre Melville in LE SAMOURAÏ.

Unfortunately, these two play sidekicks to 'poor man's Paul Walker' Lucas Black, who was even more annoying than I anticipated (I kept waiting for the Yakuza to dismember him... alas),
and there's a late in the game appearance by Sonny Chiba (THE STREETFIGHTER himself!––and more recently notorious for playing 'Hattori Hanzo' in KILL BILL)

which means that dismemberment needn't have been removed from the table.  Anyway.  TOKYO DRIFT, ladies and gentlemen.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Only now does it occur to me... FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3: THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER

Only now does it occur to me... that FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3: THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER is the finest Ambrose Bierce fan fiction ever made.

The second straight-to-video sequel to Tarantino and Rodriguez's hardboiled vampire flick FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER is a period piece, set in in 1913.  Essentially, it follows the structure of the original: a Western/crime drama which makes a sudden turn into horror territory around the one hour mark.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 2: TEXAS BLOOD MONEY was not without its high points, but part three outdoes it on nearly every count––primarily, in concept. 

Ambrose Bierce (THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY, AN OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE, THE DAMNED THING) was one of America's finest satirists, a witty, wayward, and delightfully bitter man whose attitude was somewhere between Jonathan Swift's and Robert Mitchum's.  "Nothing matters" was his motto, and, at seventy-one, rather than suffer the sins of geriatric boredom, traveled south into Mexico with the intention of joining the Revolution.  He was never seen again... 

"...Or was he?"  So supposes FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3: THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER, which delivers the masterstroke of casting the inimitable Michael Parks (DEATH WISH 5, TWIN PEAKS, THE HITMAN, KILL BILL) as Mr. Bierce.

Parks delivers an understated performance that strives for poetry; he imbues the film with a haunting sense of élan vital.  And yes, I'm still talking about a straight-to-video vampire flick.  Remember, this is the actor who can make "waiting around and drinking coffee in a car" rife with pathos (in THE HITMAN).

Written by Robert Rodriguez's cousin Álvaro (and based on a story by the two cousins), THE HANGMAN'S DAUGHTER places a drunken and detached Bierce amid a sea of outlaws, missionaries, lawmen, revolutionaries, and Aztec vampires, where he can quote one-liners from THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY and generally not care a damn.

This is about as brilliant as having Oscar Wilde become Paladin's sidekick in a particularly memorable episode of HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL.

Director P.J. Pesce, long imprisoned by television and straight-to-DVD sequels (THE LOST BOYS: THE TRIBE, SMOKIN' ACES 2: ASSASSIN'S BALL, SNIPER 3) brings a genuine style to the proceedings; you see the talent and joie de vivre of a young director excited to be playing with the medium––this is not a man phoning it in, and boy, that makes a difference.

True to the Tarantino/Rodriguez oeuvre, it's packed with loving homages to everything from THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY to FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE to TAXI DRIVER, and composer Nathan Barr even turns in a borderline brilliant score, heavily inspired by Ennio Morricone by-way-of John Zorn.

Also of note: Danny Trejo is still tendin' bar eighty years prior (he has about three minutes of screentime),

Though he says, "We don't need no stinking brushes!" in perhaps the saddest nod to THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE ever made.

Sonia Braga (KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN) has a blast as the Elvira-ish innkeeper/madame (and mother of Salma Hayek's character from the first film),

and Temuera Morrison (ONCE WERE WARRIORS, Boba Fett's dad in the STAR WARS prequels), is the titular "Hangman" and he gives it his all in a sort of an "evil Yul Brynner" performance.


Sure, there's plenty of bad CGI, and I would never call it a masterpiece, but the act of shoehorning a literary figure into a bargain bin horror flick and then hiring an actor capable of embodying said figure is something of an artistic coup, and it's why FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3 ought to outlive its intended shelf-life.
Here's to you, Mr. Bierce... and Mr. Parks.

PS: And if you check it out, stay tuned after the end credits for a mildly amusing, meta scene involving the singular Mr. Parks.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Film Review: ZOMBI 3 (1988, Claudio Fragasso, Lucio Fulci, & Bruno Mattei)

Stars: 3.5 of 5.
Running Time: 95 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Deran Serafian (actor in 10 TO MIDNIGHT, director of JCVD's DEATH WARRANT), Beatrice Ring (INTERZONE, SICILIAN CONNECTION), Ottaviano Dell'aqua (HBO's ROME, LADYHAWKE), Massimo Vanni (RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR, ZOMBI 4), Mike Monty (BLACK COBRA 2, BLACK COBRA 3).  Music by Stefano Mainetti (SILENT TRIGGER, HIDDEN ASSASSIN).  Sort of directed by Lucio Fulci (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, ZOMBI 2), Claudio Fragasso (MONSTER DOG, TROLL 2), and Bruno Mattei (HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR).
Best One-liner: "That'll fix ya, you friggin' monsters!"

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"It's been a while, bud!"
–"Indeed it has.  Seen any good movies lately?"
"You ready for this?  How 'bout a holy and unholy mess of Italo-zombie flickery?"
–"Lay it on me."
"ZOMBI 3."
–"Hey, that's not a 'third' film!  Lucio Fulci's ZOMBI 2, known in the U.S. as ZOMBIE, was really the first film in its series, the '2' was only there to trick people into thinking it was a sequel to George A. Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD, which was released in Italy as 'ZOMBI.'  You're really starting this series off on the wrong foot if you're gonna fudge it like that."
"There's a '3' in it, and that's all that matters, my friend.  And get ready for another three––a trio, if you will.  ZOMBI 3 has three directors.  Count 'em: Lucio Fulci, Claudio Fragasso, and Bruno Mattei.  It's not just a perfect storm, it's like the convergence of three perfect storms in one wild turducken of incomprehensible Euro-trash nuttery!"
–"It's sounds like the Three Tenors, if the Three Tenors were known for eye trauma and bad dubbing and 'pissing on hospitality.'  How is that possible?  The idea of the directors of TROLL 2, THE NEW YORK RIPPER, and RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR collaborating is too much for my bad-movie-addled mind to bear."
"Well, I wouldn't really call it a collaboration, per sé.  Fulci fell ill about three weeks into the shoot, blaming the tropical climes of the Philippines.  Though those in the know claim that was a fabrication provoked by the terrible script."
–"Lucio Fulci walking away from a terrible script?  I don't believe it."
"You might if you realized it was the work of Claudio Fragasso and his writing partner, Rosella Drudi, whose finest hour was TROLL 2.  When Fulci bowed out, Bruno Mattei took over and directed the remainder of this thing.  Fragasso worked on some additional scenes.  Consequently, it doesn't have the dreamlike feel of your typical Fulci."
–"What's it about?"
"Essentially, it rips off DAY OF THE DEAD and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD in equal shades.  There's a secret army bunker (called Death 1 Compound!) on a remote tropical isle (like DAY OF THE DEAD), and they're messing around with viruses and bacteria (the writers continually act as if the two terms are interchangeable) and they accidentally make a gingerbread man-lookin' zombie.

This gingerbread man-lookin' zombie.

Then a bunch of nogoodniks who look like they wandered out of Fulci's CONTRABAND steal a suitcase filled with the virus/bacteria thing (not knowing what it is?) and there's a gun battle and then the surviving thief wanders over to a shitty resort

This shitty resort.  Actual quote: "A week ago this place was buzzin' with life... now it's buzzin' with flies!"

which is a five minute walk from the biological weapons facility (which seems like a less than ideal vacation locale) and then he infects some people, and then the General of the facility (who keeps commenting on the events as unbelievable 'science fiction!' even in the face of hard evidence)

Look at all the science on that whiteboard.

decides to burn the bodies in the crematorium (just like in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD)

and the smoke enters the atmosphere, which leads to practically the entire island getting infected.  One bureaucracy-battling scientist who knows what's up (and looks like the poor man's Jeffrey Combs from RE-ANIMATOR)

"Inexplicable acts of violence... murder... and people are eating each other!"

tries to solve the problem to no avail, because zombie movies are truly about the futility of human endeavor.   Zombies and survivors alike are hunted down by a bunch of dudes in biohazard suits (like in Romero's THE CRAZIES).  Gore and hilarity ensue, in something approaching equal measure.

So that's pretty much 'the big picture.'  But the big picture in a movie like this is rarely impressive.  It's the categorically insane 'little things' that make this kind of movie."
–"Such as?"
"I want to give you an idea as to the true flavor of this film.  A little soupçon of what ZOMBI 3 has to offer.  Behold:

That, my friend, is two and a half minutes of pure gold.  An inconsequential scene, really, of horny soldiers on leave hitting on some babes in a bus.

"We love soldier boys!"

But the rockin' 80s tunes, stilted line delivery ("What was her name? Cindy, Lindy? –I don't remember her name, but I sure as hell remember her TITS!"), and bizarre plotting (the bus of babes wants to con the soldiers into dates so they can swim at their biohazard beach?!) really push this over the edge."
"And nothing can prepare you for this, which feels more like the actual inspiration for BIRDEMIC than Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS:

We've got a lot of Fragasso screenwriting hallmarks: a hamhanded pro-ecological message that immediately undermines itself ('I think nature is something that should be considered sacred, that's all...'  –'K, but let's not make a big deal of it.  I like smoking, I take a toke of a joint every now and then, and once in a while I like to piss on a bush... am I gonna go to hell for that?'), pissing references, odd syllabic emphases ('According to these greenPEACE people we're on the brink of total extinction or something'), and rank exaggeration (a pile of dead birds is described as 'I've never seen anything so sad'). 

"Looks like some hunter's gone crazy!"

–"I'm also noticing a theme here––does that DJ hover around the periphery of the film, commenting like a Greek chorus throughout?"

"You better believe he does, spouting pro-environment and anti-science inanity all the while, though it's unclear if his actual problem with science is that it doesn't do enough to stop pollution?  Anyway, his name is 'Blue Heart,' and I'll come back to him later on.  In the meantime, ZOMBI 3 starts to lay on the crazy––we've got zombie bird attacks out-of-doors:

We've got zombie bird attacks in a bus (set to arena rock):

Hell, these scenes are so good they even made an unofficial sequel called ZOMBI 5: KILLING BIRDS!

We've got leaping ninja zombies!

 We've got machete-wielding zombies:

This zombie, inspired by RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD's 'Tar Man' is the most persistent zombie in zombie movie history––he has more agency and drive (he really, really, really, wants to kill this particular woman with that particular machete) than any other character in this movie.

We've got fast zombies, slow zombies... we've got no consistency in zombie speed whatsoever!  We've got zombies that talk, zombies that don't talk, zombies that know stage combat:

A zombie baby that busts out, mid-delivery, to eat the face of a midwife, even though she was already being eaten from behind by a full-grown zombie:

–"Why, it's utterly relentless!"
"There's a gas station explosion, because we all know it's not really an action movie till that happens:

we've got Deran Serafian (director of JCVD's DEATH WARRANT) in a rare acting appearance:

there's an Alice Cooper reference (the DJ has "Vincent Raven" read a list of safety precautions–– Vincent Raven being the name of Alice Cooper's character in Claudio Fragasso's MONSTER DOG!), and an inexplicable scene where a live woman is pushed into a pool and after she's rescued a few seconds later, she's missing her legs and is now a zombie.

–"Was it zombie fish?  Whew.  You're overloadin' my circuits, brother."
"With Fulci & Co., you should probably be used to havin' your mind blown.  ...But has it ever been refrigerated?"
"Shut up and watch:

 –"Oh, sweet mother of mercy.  What did I just see?"
"That there, my friend, was a knucklehead opening a fridge and seeing a severed zombie head instead of a stack of Kraft Singles, and then the head magically flying out and chomping on the neck of said hapless, food-seeking man."

–"So he became the midnight snack, as it were."
"Truly this is why we watch these movies.  Given a million years, I never could have come up with something as implausibly, brainlessly brilliant as a severed head flying out of a fridge on its own volition."
"Oh yeah, and there's a final twist of some kind where it turns out DJ Blue Heart was a zombie all along...

but it doesn't make any sense, so don't worry about it."
–"Hot damn.  Looks like another true trashterpiece."
"Yup.  And I'll bet you'll think twice the next time you open a fridge."
–"That I will.  But let's do the math: ZOMBI 3, divided by TROLL 2, plus 2 bird attacks, minus 1 Fulci ailment, but plus 1 head in the fridge... about 3 and a half stars?"

–Sean Gill