Thursday, September 4, 2008
Good thing the third and so far last TURBULENCE movie was starting on Cinemax. Yeah, good thing. Just swell.
I had seen the original TURBULENCE shortly after it came out. Sure it looked horrible, but I had a short-lived semi-crush on Lauren Holly at the time thanks to PICKET FENCES. Besides, it had Ray Liotta in it. This guy starred in GOODFELLAS. Ray Liotta didn't do trashy movies. This was just as Liotta decided to spend the next ten years showing just how low he could sink. Of course, TURBULENCE turned out to be hilariously bad, a bizarre hybrid of AIRPORT '75 and PASSENGER 57 with Liotta chewing so much scenery, you'd swear it was made out of pie crust.
But even the makers of TURBULENCE look like Thomas Pychon compared to the knuckleheads that cooked up TURBULENCE 3: HEAVY METAL.
There is nothing in common with previous TURBULENCE films, except that there is a plane in jeopardy. One might think that meant they got no name actors to appear in this film. You'd be half right. They didn't get Liotta sure, but they did sucker some people with frequent flyer miles and got them to appear in what is sure to be damn near a career lowpoint for all. Most conspicuous is Joe Mantegna, one of David Mamet's favorite actors and Springfield's own Fat Tony. He's been made into a character actor over the years. These days, rather than look at the scripts, he seems to be trying to set some sort of record for busiest actor in the world by taking whatever project lands in his lap. In the last ten years, he has appeared in nearly sixty projects. Those are Debbie Rochon numbers, folks! Also in the cast is Gabrielle Anwar, who had a promising start in the famous tango scene from SCENT OF A WOMAN. Unfortunately, she was never able to capitalize on that success and while she is still a top-billed actress, it's in small and often rather bland projects. Along for the ride is Craig Schieffer, no stranger to straight-to-video entertainment, it's easy for folks to forget that he featured in films like A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. But who am I kidding? I would much rather watch a cheesefest like TURBULENCE 3 than A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. I saved the best for last. Rutger Hauer, who will never stop being one of the coolest things walking, no matter how many bad movies he appears in, has one doozy of a part. He plays the co-pilot of the plane, who is actually the leader of a Satanic cult. Oh yes, we really need to address this plot so you can understand why this is so much more interesting than the same old disaster movie formula.
First of, I have to tell you what I think of Satanists. Being a fan of horror films, you might think I take these guys seriously. After all, there are some very dangerous people out there with some crazy ideas. But let's just put this all on the table, most so-called Satanists are so unintentionally campy, they're hilarious. These guys don't have a clue for the most part. Check out the old services by Anton Lavey and you won't see a glimpse into the dark side, you'll see a bald dork in a devil costume hanging out with drugged-out naked chicks. It's pure theatre and it's not even good theatre. Devil worship may have darkened it's colors over the years, but it's most vocal proponents are still idiots in makeup prancing around talking about darkness without really grasping what true darkness is. Darkness is murder and mayhem true, it's also everything negative in the world, meaning everything that pisses these guys off in the first place. Feeling persecuted? Too bad, because without even realizing it, you are serving that same force. There aren't white hats and black hats out there, waging a battle with magic. I'm a comic book geek and even I find the prospect ridiculous. There is however forces of positive and negative energy and without getting preachy, I will say that the guys who think their rebellion is based around playing dress up are so absurd they wind up being kind of adorable.
Flashback to 2001, when people were scared to death of Marilyn Manson. Okay, actually this was a couple years behind the times even then, but bear with us. I should point out that despite what I said about people who claim to be real Satanists, I'm on board with people like Manson. He continues a fine tradition set up by people like Alice Cooper before him. Manson is well aware what he does is theatre and fortunately, he has some amazing tunes to back it up. Today, even though most people have moved on, I'm still a fan. In TURBULENCE 3, they have a Marilyn Manson-type horror shock rocker amusingly named Slade Craven - a name so metal you can't even say it without grabbing your crotch and sacrificing a kitten to the unholy lords of the underworld. Go on, try it. Just don't come complaining to me when the SPCA comes calling.
Craven is all set to give a concert on board an airplane as it flies at 30,000 feet and stream the broadcast over a slow Internet connection. After all, what better place to hold a special effects heavy heavy metal concert than in the middle of a tiny thin airborne tube? And what better way to make sure the effect of being there is completely lost than by webcasting it on 2001-era Internet technology?
Well, even this doesn't go according to plan. Not only is there a dangerous storm underway (which really doesn't endanger anyone too much), but a group of terrorists have infiltrated the plane. But not just any terrorists, nope we're talking members of a Satanic cult that does it's recruiting from the friggin' Internet. They are so clever in their infiltration that their number includes Rutger the co-pilot, another member of the audience and a Slade Craven lookalike, and... well, okay that's it. It is said, they have murderous accomplices on the ground, but don't sweat it because this plot point is never resolved. The Satanists kidnap and tie the real Slade Craven up in the cargo hold and accuse him of being a false prophet. The lookalike takes his place and takes the plane hostage while the plane sets itself on a crash course for Kansas. I wondered if this would really be a big loss to the world, but then I'm a bit more cynical than I used to be.
Meanwhile, Joe Mantegna stands in the control center for the webcast and talks to the fake Craven and remains completely ineffectual throughout the entire film. One of his agents (Anwar) had been dispatched earlier to arrest a hacker (Scheffer) who illustrates how rebellious he is by sporting a goofy bandanna and a soul patch. It soon becomes clear however that the hacker may be the only one who can help the people on the plane. It makes moderately more sense when you watch the film.
Mantegna, Scheffer and Anwar all spend their scenes in small rooms which probably means they were able to film their scenes in record time. It manages to hold it's budget well because the average person might not realize they are simply switching between three small and sparsely populated sets.
TURBULENCE 3 is a sloppy, stupid, goofy ride from beginning to end. It's not a truly wonderful film for the AWS mold. It lacks the gratuitous sex and/or violence and also lacks the fun sense of adventure. What is does have are some amazingly out-out-touch goth and metal stereotypes throughout. It also boasts enough logic-defying moments to be an amusing time waster.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get my red satin devil outfit from the dry cleaners.
Monday, August 18, 2008
It's a shameless rip-off of JAWS, directed by the great Italian director Enzo G. Castellari (THE BIG RACKET, INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, KEOMA, 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS). Rip-offs were nothing new to Italian directors of the day. They had rip-offs of every major success of the time. THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE WARRIORS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, THE ROAD WARRIOR, APOCALYPSE NOW, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, RAMBO, STAR WARS, ALIEN - all of these were given the sincerest form of flattery by Italian schlockmeisters in some truly memorable films. Even Italian productions were not exempt, as anyone who saw the many peplums, Spaghetti westerns or zombie films could attest. Some were even given deceiving titles - ZOMBI 2 is not a sequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD (which was released in Italy as ZOMBI) and ALIEN 2: SULLA TERRA has no connection to the Ridley Scott other than the attempt to make a quick buck. But don't confuse a lack of originality with a lack of quality. As a kid, I would search out exploitation films left and right through the less-frequented aisles of the local video store. Checking the credits and seeing familiar Italian names usually sealed the deal.
Not only were JAWS rip-offs nothing new, it wasn't even Castellari's first trip to the well. In 1979, he directed THE SHARK HUNTER which not only cribbed from JAWS but another Peter Benchley adaptation, THE DEEP. What separated GREAT WHITE from the pack was that unlike many other films of the day, it was forced out of theaters by the big studios. Specifically, Universal said this one was just too close to JAWS and sued indie distributors Film Ventures over the deal. It lasted in U.S. theaters for less than a week.
Aint It Cool News currently has a fascinating account up, showing that Universal does not forgive and forget easily:
This news is a shame, since Severin has done such a great job with the INGLORIOUS BASTARDS DVD (not to mention their GWENDOLINE release which I'm still swooning over two years later). Oh well, the headline is misleading in one way. If you really want to see GREAT WHITE, you can. It just takes some extra effort to track down and it might not be in the most pristine condition when you find it. Hence why a restored DVD would have been welcome.
Why Is Universal Still Blocking The Distribution of Enzo G. Castellari's GREAT WHITE?
Three weeks ago, The New Beverly Cinema hosted a special screening of Enzo G. Castellari's INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (timed to coincide with the movie's long-awaited DVD release). Severin Films, the movie's distributor, helped organize the event, which included a Q&A with the director and his stars, Fred "The Hammer" Williamson and Bo Svenson. As is customary at The New Beverly, a second feature was programmed: Castellari's audacious Nazis-in-London romp, BATTLE SQUADRON. Due to a late start for BASTARDS and a lengthy post-film Q&A session (which gave way to a lengthy autograph-signing session), BATTLE SQUADRON didn't fire up until close to midnight; as a result, Castellari's Nazis-in-London WWII romp played to a house that was maybe a quarter full. This was unfortunate for two reasons: 1) BATTLE SQUADRON is far superior to INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, and 2) BATTLE SQUADRON was the back-up title for the movie Severin Films really wanted to show.
Had all gone according to plan, The New Beverly Cinema would've presented the first North American screening of Enzo G. Castellari's GREAT WHITE in twenty-six years.
Though INGLORIOUS BASTARDS is suddenly a hot property again thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the opportunity to see GREAT WHITE in a U.S. theater would've easily been the highlight of the evening. This is, after all, the notorious JAWS knockoff against which Universal Pictures filed an injunction in the spring of 1982. Why? Well, Universal had their own JAWS knockoff in production for summer 1983: JAWS 3-D. And though these Italian-produced cash-ins were usually under-promoted grindhouse schlock, GREAT WHITE's distributor, Film Ventures International, was aggressively spending millions of dollars to sell the movie nationwide. When the picture opened to huge business on March 5, 1982, its fate was sealed: GREAT WHITE was deemed a threat to Universal's "original" killer shark franchise, and it went away for good.
That Universal would take such a hard-line against Castellari's movie now strikes me as overzealous; it's been viewable for free on the internet for years, and it's really only remembered by completist geeks like me (who'd just convinced their parents to take them to see the film on the very weekend it was banished from theaters). The DVD release of the movie might cause a smattering of hype, but it's not like there's an ongoing JAWS franchise to be damaged (although I'm constantly hearing rumors of a JAWS remake/reboot in development at Universal). Time to ease up on that injunction, Universal. In 2008, GREAT WHITE is, at most, a curio.
I recently exchanged emails with Severin's Carl Daft, and he gave me this update on The New Beverly flap and the possibility of GREAT WHITE ever receiving a commercial release in the United States:
The only contact with Universal came from The New Beverly Cinema and they received a letter back citing the injunction itself whereby it was agreed that GREAT WHITE would never be shown again in the U.S without the prior written approval of Universal. And in this event Universal were not prepared to give that written approval to allow us to screen the film at The New Beverly. They also cite that the injunction stands in other territories but without naming which territories. Since getting wind of Universal’s position the company we were going to license the title from have got cold feet and now there is no deal to be done in the U.S, even if we were prepared to take on the risk. The film is of course out in Scandinavia without any problems and I am hopeful that we can strike a deal for UK rights to the movie and release it there without any fuss.
So there you have it: GREAT WHITE, starring James Franciscus and Vic Morrow, is safe for Scandanavia and nowhere else. This is unfortunate, as there's a Tarantino/Castellari interview in the can for an eventual DVD.
And we still love you Mr. Castellari. In fact, I would rather watch 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS over the happy-go-lucky Walter Hill film THE WARRIORS any day of the week.
NIGHT OF THE CLOCKS.... A Fitting Farewell to Jean Rollin?.... the Master of Gothic Horror You Maybe Haven't Heard Of
For those still unaware, Jean Rollin is a French director who has been working since the 1960s. He has worked in various genres, but has thrived in gothic horror. One thing is for sure - when you're watching a Jean Rollin film, you know it. His films are often characterized by gothic and decaying landscapes, fairytale logic, vampirism and erotic underpinnings. Rollin was never a big hit in his home country, but he has developed a fan base outside of France's borders.
Rollin has slowed down in recent years. A few years back, he surprised many with the release of two new projects - TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES and FIANCE OF DRACULA. Since then, there hasn't been much activity. Now, Rollin may be directing his final film, THE NIGHT OF THE CLOCKS.
Fangoria has the story, along with exclusive photos:
If you haven't checked out a good portion of Rollin's filmography, you're missing something special. Check out his gothic horrors. I cannot promise that everyone will be receptive to his style. But those who are will find a truly original artist at work.
“This is a crazy movie,” says legendary French fear filmmaker Jean Rollin about his latest effort, THE NIGHT OF THE CLOCKS. “But it is also my best.” According to the director, well-known for such highly regarded Eurofare as REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE and LIPS OF BLOOD, his latest venture signifies a more mystical approach to his token Gothic atmospherics. “This movie is about a parallel universe,” he continues. “It is about a young girl who becomes involved in a mystery and learns about a passage to another world. It is a very subtle horror story. It is also likely to be my last film.”Now 70, Rollin says that this swan song is the perfect way to say goodbye, and thank you, to his legion of supporters. “I include footage from many of my old movies in this,” he reveals. “I would say that this film is everything I have tried to showcase with my others—it brings my entire career full circle. It is a return to the old castles and strange atmosphere of my earlier work. It has more in common with REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE than, for instance, THE LIVING DEAD GIRL, which was full of special effects.” Rollin provided Fango the exclusive images above and below from THE NIGHT OF THE CLOCKS; look for more on the movie in a future issue of Fango.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
NIGHTMARE CASTLE... Under-appreciated Barbara Steele Classic Gets Mad Respect... Both Barbaras Pleased with Result
That film is called GLI AMANTI D'OLTRETOMBA, known to us Anglos ignorant of the Italian tongue as NIGHTMARE CASTLE. In it, the particularly nasty Dr. Arrowsmith (Paul Muller) is cuckolded and in revenge, brutally tortures and murders his wife Muriel (Barbara Steele) and her lover. The not-so-good doctor hopes to inherit his wife's fortune but instead discovers that her twin sister Solange (Steele in a dual role, not to mention a blonde wig) is next in line for the big bucks. Being a complete slimeball, he seduces Solange and it isn't long before the two are married. He hopes to bring her to his gothic castle and administer psychotropic drugs in order to drive her insane. Sure enough, Solange starts having horrible nightmares and hallucinations. One problem - the drug was never administered.
NIGHTMARE CASTLE was released in 1965 and directed by Mario Caiano, who curiously did very few horror films in his prolific career. Caiano dabbled a bit in everything, especially peplums, Spaghetti westerns, euro-spy and euro-crime films. In fact, it seems at times that Caiano jumped head first into every major Italian exploitation movie craze except horror. This is a shame, since he displays a knowledge of how to send chills up the viewer's spine. A very artful film, it is also surprisingly brutal for the time.
The film can be found on several public domain DVDs. The print was not great but one can easily see a great and frightening film. A few years ago, Fred Olen Ray's Retromedia issued what was believed to be the uncut letterboxed version as THE FACELESS MONSTER. It wasn't a perfect transfer by any stretch but was a big improvement over what had come before. The bad news is that disc has been out of print for some time now. The good news is Severin is now releasing an even better version onto DVD.
Filmmaker/DVD producer David Gregory gave Fango the scoop that he and Severin Films will give the Barbara Steele-starring Italian chiller NIGHTMARE CASTLE its first official DVD release, following the discovery of the original negative in Rome, and provided the first peek at the cover art. The 1965 film, a.k.a. THE FACELESS MONSTER and LOVERS FROM BEYOND THE TOMB and directed/co-written by Mario Caiano, casts Steele as the unfaithful wife of a doctor, who tortures her and her lover to death, and the victim’s twin sister, whom the doctor later marries and subsequently suffers from frightening visions of murder.
“We will be doing a new HD transfer in its original aspect ratio, so all those super-cheap bootleg DVDs taken from 10th-generation TV prints can now be discarded forever,” Gregory says. “Caiano is still very much with us, and we recently shot a great interview with the 75-year-old master at his home just outside of Rome. NIGHTMARE CASTLE also showcases the very first horror score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, and the beautiful black-and-white cinematography comes courtesy of Enzo Barboni, who would later strike gold as the director of the TRINITY Westerns starring Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. We’re very excited to be releasing this uncut, uncensored and unsung hit of Italian horror history, which after years of bootleg abominations will now find its rightful place alongside the other Barbara Steele classics like Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY and Antonio Margheriti’s CASTLE OF BLOOD. This is NIGHTMARE CASTLE as it truly has never been seen before.”In addition, Gregory and Severin will also be granting the first official U.S. disc release to DOOR INTO SILENCE, the final film by gore maestro Lucio Fulci, starring John Savage. Look for updates on these and other Gregory/Severin projects as we get ’em!
No, I didn't bury the lead. Fulci's DOOR INTO SILENCE, while of interest to completists, is not one of the maestro's better works.
I urge everyone to check out NIGHTMARE CASTLE once it gets the release it deserves. And hey, a hats off to Severin. They started out doing great DVDs primarily of softcore epics and referring to themselves as "the Criterion of smut." To wit, their first release was dual versions of GWENDOLINE, the film from which the website was at least partially inspired. Recently, they have branched out and filled the void left by some other companies. They will also be releasing a three-disc version of Enzo G. Castellari's INGLORIOUS BASTARDS in the coming weeks.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Some background for the uninitiated. METROPOLIS was a visionary film from 1928, a wild new film that pretty much gave birth to sophisticated science fiction on the big screen and was completely unlike anything that had ever been attempted before. It detailed the story of a privileged youth, the son of the patriarch of modern society. Spotting the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, he forgets everything and follows her to where she quickly disappears to. He is shocked to discover that this woman and a multitude of others, live underneath the sprawling Metropolis. It is they that keep the city functioning as they give their lives in a deadly and monotonous daily routine with nothing but poverty and hopelessness to show for it. Meanwhile, those above are either ignorant or apathetic to their plight as they enjoy the spoils of the workers' labor. The son, working in conjunction with his father's recently dismissed employee, works to bring freedom to the underground as he learns his true love is the leader of a nonviolent resistance that stresses there must be understanding between the hand and the heart for society to function. Meanwhile, a madman is mixing perverted science and black magic to abduct and clone the leader of the resistance to destroy the malcontents from within.
The film was a major undertaking. It took more than two years to shoot. Adjusted for inflation, it would still be among the most expensive films ever made. The story connected with the German people. However, when fellow Austrian Adolf Hitler enthusiastically called METROPOLIS one of his favorite films, Lang sensed danger. Obviously not noticing the anti-fascist tone of the film, Joseph Goebbels offered Lang the job of heading the German Film Institute, the source of Nazi filmed propaganda in 1933. Lang was against everything the Nazi party stood for and refused. He soon fled the country for the U.S., where he directed American classics like FURY, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, SCARLET STREET, THE BLUE GARDENIA and THE BIG HEAT.
Lang's original cut of the film reportedly ran nearly 210 minutes, but most versions over the years have run close to two hours. In 1984, Georgio Moroder restored the film with new 1980s music, but cut the length to 87 minutes. Now, it looks as though Lang's original version, thought lost for more than eighty years has been found.
I've babbled on long enough. Here is the article from Zeit Online:
Last Tuesday Paula Félix-Didier travelled on a secret mission to Berlin in order to meet with three film experts and editors from ZEITmagazin. The museum director from Buenos Aires had something special in her luggage: a copy of a long version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, including scenes believed lost for almost 80 years. After examining the film the three experts are certain: The find from Buenos Aires is a real treasure, a worldwide sensation. Metropolis, the most important silent film in German history, can from this day on be considered to have been rediscovered.
Fritz Lang presented the original version of Metropolis in Berlin in January 1927. The film is set in the futuristic city of Metropolis, ruled by Joh Fredersen, whose workers live underground. His son falls in love with a young woman from the worker’s underworld – the conflict takes its course. At the time it was the most expensive German film ever made. It was intended to be a major offensive against Hollywood. However the film flopped with critics and audiences alike. Representatives of the American firm Paramount considerably shortened and re-edited the film. They oversimplified the plot, even cutting key scenes. The original version could only be seen in Berlin until May 1927 – from then on it was considered to have been lost forever. Those recently viewing a restored version of the film first read the following insert: “More than a quarter of the film is believed to be lost forever.”
ZEITmagazin has now reconstructed the story of how the film nevertheless managed to survive. Adolfo Z. Wilson, a man from Buenos Aires and head of the Terra film distribution company, arranged for a copy of the long version of “Metropolis” to be sent to Argentina in 1928 to show it in cinemas there. Shortly afterwards a film critic called Manuel Peña Rodríguez came into possession of the reels and added them to his private collection. In the 1960s Peña Rodríguez sold the film reels to Argentina’s National Art Fund – clearly nobody had yet realised the value of the reels. A copy of these reels passed into the collection of the Museo del Cine (Cinema Museum) in Buenos Aires in 1992, the curatorship of which was taken over by Paula Félix-Didier in January this year. Her ex-husband, director of the film department of the Museum of Latin American Art, first entertained the decisive suspicion: He had heard from the manager of a cinema club, who years before had been surprised by how long a screening of this film had taken. Together, Paula Félix-Didier and her ex-husband took a look at the film in her archive – and discovered the missing scenes.
Paula Félix-Didier remembered having dinner with the German journalist Karen Naundorf and confided the secret to her. Félix-Didier wanted the news to be announced in Germany where Fritz Lang had worked – and she hoped that it would attract a greater level of attention in Germany than in Argentina. The author Karen Naundorf has worked for DIE ZEIT for five years - and let the editorial office of ZEITmagazin in on her knowledge.Among the footage that has now been discovered, according to the unanimous opinion of the three experts that ZEITmagazin asked to appraise the pictures, there are several scenes which are essential in order to understand the film: The role played by the actor Fritz Rasp in the film for instance, can finally be understood. Other scenes, such as for instance the saving of the children from the worker’s underworld, are considerably more dramatic. In brief: “Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s most famous film, can be seen through new eyes.”, as stated by Rainer Rother, Director of the Deutsche Kinemathek Museum and head of the series of retrospectives at the Berlinale.
Helmut Possmann, director of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation, the holder of the rights to “Metropolis”, said to ZEITmagazin: “The material believed to be lost leads to a new understanding of the Fritz Lang masterpiece.” The Murnau Foundation now sees itself as “responsible, along with the archive in Buenos Aires and our partners for making the material available to the public.”
The rediscovered material is in need of restoration after 80 years; the pictures are scratched, but clearly recognizable. Martin Koerber, the restorer of the hitherto longest known version of “Metropolis”, who also examined the footage, said to ZEITmagazin: “No matter how bad the condition of the material may be, the original intention of the film, including all of its minor characters and subplots, is now once again tangible for the normal viewer. The rhythm of the film has been restored.”
And perhaps the scratches, which will probably remain even after restoration, will have an added advantage: The cinemagoer will be reminded of what an exciting history this great film has had.
I cannot believe I will live to see Lang's original cut of METROPOLIS. If the Presidential elections in my country go well, this will turn out to be a great year.
Monday, June 30, 2008
It's time to make fun of Joe Estevez.
Sorry in advance, Joe.
There's Joe, passed out on the couch, just as he has been since noon. "Wake up, big brother," Martin says with half-intentional reference to the Orwell novel, "it's time to make you feel bad again." Joe looks up with those puppy-dog eyes and they are truly adorable. Honestly, Joe seems such a nice guy that part of me wants to put all humorous asides away. But no, the Sheens all prod him along. "Come on now, you brought this on yourself when you decided to take film roles that would pay you in Pabst Blue Ribbon and beef jerky."
There are so many films the Sheens could bring up at the film festival that is to follow. But my guess is that one of their favorites is Donald G. Jackson's ROLLERGATOR. That's right - ROLLERGATOR. Martin leads the proceedings with glee. "Okay, we could always look at my performance as the Starkweather-like villain in Terrance Malick's brilliant film BADLANDS... and then we'll watch Joe in ROLLERGATOR." Or "Aaaah, APOCALYPSE NOW. Poured myself in that role. Had a nervous breakdown on camera and nearly died of heart problems in the middle of the jungle. The most horrific surrealistic dissection of Vietnam to the backbone of Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness,' directed by Coppola in his prime... and then we'll watch Joe in ROLLERGATOR." Or even "Hey, let's make it light today. You know that Emmy-nominated thing I did on THE WEST WING? Yeah, the first season finale where I stand alone in the National Cathedral and rail against God for his pettiness and expose my own bitterness in the process? Great stuff there, the most powerful man in the world embittered and humbled by his own faith... and then ROLLERGATOR."
Okay, it's mean. Downright cruel, but you really have to be prepared for this film. As previously mentioned, ROLLERGATOR is directed by Donald G. Jackson, who unfortunately passed away a few years back. His most notable film was HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN, a wonderfully fun and insane post-apocalyptic camp classic starring Roddy Piper, William Smith and Sandahl Bergman. He also did a film around the same time called ROLLER BLADE. If FROGTOWN showed a great camp mind at work with a perfect balance of absurd humor and pulp adventure, ROLLER BLADE showed that campiness go off the rails as it detailed a religious group of roller blading vixens who smoke in hamfisted Old English-inspired prose and worshiped the "Have a nice day" smiley face.
Jackson returned to Frogtown and roller blading warriors many times throughout his career, which spanned over thirty features. I will admit I have still not seen the vast majority of Jackson's filmography. Not all titles are easy to find. In fact, at the official Jackson website, some long out of print titles are going for nearly fifty bucks a piece. This title, ROLLERGATOR can be found in the GIRLS FROM ANOTHER WORLD four pack of films from budget DVD company, Brentwood - the guys who invented the 10 and 20 movie box sets of dubious legality. The three other titles in the set include two other Jackson films, BIG SISTER 2000 and TOAD WARRIOR as well as Jay Woefel and Dennis Devine's vaguely-titled THINGS.
A film built around the prize at a carnival game? Why not?
The title ROLLERGATOR leads one to hope that we will see giant rollerskating (or since its a Jackson film, roller blading) alligators - maybe even ones that also speak in hamfisted Old English. Unfortunately, we open the film with b-roll of Joe Estevez as not-too-evil carnival owner Chi Chi, wandering around his carny and rushing to various rides and trying to climb water slides. It's as disarming and awkwardly hilarious as it sounds.
We then switch to a mostly-deserted beach. The only people there are a beach girl and a ninja. "Woah! Hold on," I hear you say. Look, if you stop me every time something inane or crazy pops up, we're going to be here all night. Just kick back as I drop this little gem in your laps, okay?
So, this "Dark Ninja" hangs out in the open on a bright day and is quickly spotted by the only other person in a half mile radius. What I'm saying is she (or yeah, it's a she) might be evil, but she's not very good at her job. Definitely excelled to ninja class through a correspondence course, you see. So, the ninja leaves and the beach girl. whose name is PJ, vaguely hears someone calling for help from a cave. I say vaguely because throughout almost the entire running time of the film, a loud and largely improvised acoustic guitar soundtrack threatens to drown out all speech.
Look out! Dark Ninja! Though not very stealthy.
PJ ventures into the cave and finds the source of the noise. It's a tiny purple alligator, who it turns out is awfully rude. Rude, but not crass. "Baby Gator's" insults consist mainly of calling people "booger breath" and such. Ah-ha! So, this is a kid's film? First of all, I warned you about interrupting. Second, I would say ROLLERGATOR is definitely a kids film except the production values and approach to the story would likely tax any kids patience. No, although there is nothing to offend the little ones, I don't think we can say unreservedly that this is a kids film.
Baby Gator, as you can imagine, is a hand puppet and not a very convincing one. Usually, he is shown in extreme closeup. More often, he is shown stationary. Occasionally, he is shown at the far end of the screen so that someone can move his entire body (but not his mouth) back and forth.
Baby Gator is on the run from the Dark Ninja, dispatched by Chi Chi. The carnival is strapped for cash and he wants to cage Baby Gator to earn a profit. PJ roller blades around aimlessly with Baby Gator in her backpack, never venturing far from the carnival which is of course the last place the gator should be. The two are eventually helped by a kid named Slingshot and a karate instructor named, um Karate Instructor. Ed Wood vet Conrad Brooks is also on hand as swamp farmer who is looking for his friend, Baby Gator.
Our heroes. You sort of start to adore them, despite yourself.
Let's get to some of the basics. I've mentioned the soundtrack. When you can hear what's going on, the dialogue defies explanation Lots of childish insults that would not insult anyone over the age of three follow. Baby Gator also does impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger and other "topical" icons. He grosses PJ out by romantically talking about the stinkiness of his beloved swamp. Oh, and did I mention he raps? Yeah, Baby Gator raps but it's of the "...and I'm here to say" variety. I would say how horrible this rapping is, but the fact is I am really not a fan of rap or hip-hop, and hence it is all comparable.
Joe Estevez is humorously allowed to go off script in a few scenes, as if trying to flex his acting chops. He is reluctantly brought back when it threatens the continuity of the film. At one point, he suggests disguises only to be told they don't need disguises (You can practically hear Jackson yelling "That costs money! What are you doing to me?!?" off-screen). He then suggests leaving his idiotic nephew to the search while he goes to eat cotton candy. Joe is also given a scene that references Jackson's numerous trips to Frogtown. But the pièce de résistance (SPOILER AHEAD) is when Joe is turned into an alligator man, meaning he just has a mammoth alligator head placed on his shoulders. Since the mouth doesn't move, Joe Estevez, of the Sheen dynasty, must talk by vigorously moving his head back and forth. When he has to chew on his nephew's head (yeah, maybe not a kids film after all), the guy has to lean right into him while Joe opens the jaws of the gator with his own hands.
Joe helps out by manually operating the machinery.
ROLLERGATOR is the kind of film that tests the patience of any viewer. But it's also one of those films you hold up with pride. "Look what I sat through," you will tell your grandchildren. Jackson was an odd duck. He made films that made you scratch your head. Some were just flat out great camp masterpieces, while others seemed so inept it was hard to fathom how the films came together. And through it all, one wonders what the audience for these films is. I wondered that all through ROLLERGATOR. It's not for kids, it's not for action fans, it's not for comedic movie fans, it's not even for camp movie fans since the execution is so odd. So, who the hell would a film this inane be for?
And that is when I realize the shocking horror of what Jackson has done. Who is the audience for ROLLERGATOR? I am. Most will be immediately turned off by this film and unable to finish it. Others will see it all the way through, and if they don't love it, they will certainly remember it. And somewhere deep in that damaged brain, they will be curious to see what else this wonderful crackpot had come up with. Donald G. Jackson, Joe Estevez, the whole shebang. Who needs the Sheens when we have these surrogate families that are the only ones who truly understand? Yes, horrifying as it sounds, I am the audience for this film. This is the way I was wired from the day the nurse dropped me on my baby head.
To coin Nietzsche, "Gaze for long into the ROLLERGATOR, the ROLLERGATOR gazes also into you."
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
This week, a new straight-to-DVD film was released on DVD. It's called CHAOS THEORY and it stars Ryan Reynolds, thus insuring I won't be seeing it. Now, when this came out I got a truly depressing case of deja vu. See, I didn't just wake up from a year-long blackout. Therefore, I was present two weeks before when the new John Heder film (again, no chance in hell I'll be catching this one) came out. Let's just look at these two covers side by side.
Huh. Let's check out the stark similarities. Each of them has a red background, and no having a slightly different shade doesn't give you any points for being unique. Each of them has their title written on the left mid-upper field with the tagline written underneath. While we're at it, the above-title star billing is written much the same as well. Each cover has the main character standing uncomfortably at the right. Again, no it doesn't give you much to hoot about just because you Photoshopped Anna Faris over Napoleon Dynamite's shoulder. Each person in the pic is even holding a sign - Ryan is holding a really lame sub-Fortune cookie bullshit written on an oversized piece of paper while John is holding "I love my mommy" on a paper bag which I assume holds the last shred of his dignity which has now been consumed, passed and held captive by other Mormons.
Now, this would typically be unfortunate. But we could always chalk it up to coincidence. Or maybe we could even point out how competing companies are ripping each other off. If it was the Asylum, it would even be a little bit adorable at this point. But therein lies the problem. These two films did not come out of competing companies. They did not even come out of one of our beloved low budget companies. These two films were released by WARNER BROS. and even then only TWO WEEKS APART!
Hell, it doesn't even matter which film came out first (MAMA'S BOY did, just to remind you), since each was in production at the same time. This can only be chalked up to "Man, do we really need to rev up Photoshop to devote another two hours to this shitty film we've already spent $10 million on? Naaah, just reshape the MAMA'S BOY cover for 15 minutes. Voila! New Ryan Reynolds shitfest. The sheep will rent it anyway."
Is it any wonder that the sum total of creative output these days is looking at what expensive properties they've paid for, after which they try to eek out the most profitable margin possible after hiring countless writers? Is it any wonder that when one of said properties turns out to be good (i.e. Chris Nolan's recent BATMAN outings as opposed to say Schumacher's), we all breathe a collective sigh of relief?
Again, originality doesn't happen because of Hollywood, it happens in spite of it.
Case in point, lazy cover art now devolving into self-plagiarizing lazy cover art. Never let them get away with this stuff. Unless - and this is very important - they manage to be incredibly charming.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
In 1987, a small little horror film made a pretty good dent at the box office. Although THE GATE has mostly faded into obscurity, it had a few things to peak interest back in 1987. For one thing, it was one of the first horror films to get a "PG-13" rating. Sure, we had other films that fit that mold. But unlike those films, THE GATE did not appear to be a GREMLINS knock-off, nor did it seem to be a sedate ghost story, nor did it seem to blend its horror roots within a less threatening fantasy or sci-fi setting. No, THE GATE looked like a bona fide horror film, and it was a pretty fun one at that. The film gained some press by opening the same weekend as the much-hyped and now infamous bomb ISHTAR, and this low-budget shocker gave that bloated Hope and Crosby vehicle a severe run for its money. It was a rare moneymaker for short-lived indie studio New Century/Vista.
Now comes word that THE GATE is getting the sequel treatment. According to the Hollywood Reporter and Bloody Disgusting, a sequel has just been announced at Cannes. Originally, the plan was to do a remake of THE GATE in 3-D. However, someone must have realized that horror films are being made left and right and even the 3-D thing is not a completely original selling point, since the MY BLOODY VALENTINE and PIRAHNA remakes are already going down that same road.
Instead, we are getting THE GATE: 20 YEARS LATER. Expect the title to change, mainly because it has already been 21 years since THE GATE and will be even farther away once the film is actually finished and released. No word on if the original film's director, Tibor Takacs, is on board in any capacity. Recently, Takacs has had a career resurgence of sorts making those Sci-fi Channel films - most of which are nowhere near as entertaining as they should be.
In the director's chair this time will be first-timer Randall William Cook. Don't fret about inexperience as he does seem to know his way around a set and has studied closely with at least one low-budget horror pioneer. Cook is a three-time Oscar winner for his effects work on Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Something BD's article that does not mention however is that Cook was also special effects supervisor on the original GATE, as well as Takacs' I, MADMAN and DEATHLINE. So, he knows the material. Cook's other effects credits include CAVEMAN, GHOSTBUSTERS, 2010, FRIGHT NIGHT and POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE. It looks as though he was also a big player in the effects work for Charles Band's Full Moon label.
It is unclear if this film will be a direct follow-up to the original, or make some mention of 1993's overlooked THE GATE II.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
SWORD AND THE SORCERER SEQUEL... Wizards, Warriors and Wenches... Talon and Company Return!... It's Really Happening!!!
That film was THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER, and the timing of Universal was curious but well-placed. It provided a whetting of the appetite for its bigger production, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, which would be released one month later. But if there was ever a big movie to echo the then-recent phenomenon that was the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game, this was it. Even the film's promotional materials invoked the phrase, "dungeons and dragons." The poster also looked all the world like a fantasy novel, TSR guidebook or at the very least, an Iron Maiden album cover. Though some may disagree, the film delivered on its promise.
The last shot of SWORD AND THE SORCERER had our surviving heroes riding off into the sunset, after which a message on the screen promised a sequel, TALES OF THE ANCIENT EMPIRE, coming soon. But what was curious was that despite earning nearly $40 million at the U.S. box office ( that would be more than $85 million today, a major success for a mid-budget film ), we never heard from our heroes again.
Now, more than a quarter century later ( damn, I'm getting old ), the sequel is fully and truly on the way. There were whispers before that Pyun was finally making TALES OF THE ANCIENT EMPIRE, but nothing concrete. But Twitch.com now reports that production is gearing up and it looks like a done deal. Fans of sword & sorcery cinema, epic adventure or just fans of CONAN rip-offs ( I'm all three ) can rejoice and let out of "yalp!" of joy.
Pyun has made some alterations to make this a true continuation. In the original film, Talon was played by Lee Horsley, who would have success in the 1980s on the MATT HOUSTON TV series. Rather than cast a younger person in the role of Talon, Pyun is brining back Horsley in the Talon role. However, the focus will be on Talon's children, played by Christopher Lambert, Kevin Sorbo and Victoria Maurette ( recent star of Pyun's BULLETFACE and LEFT FOR DEAD ). Of those three, only Maurette is truly young enough to be Horsley's son, but I guess you can't be consistent with everything.
'Aint It Cool News reports Yancy Butler will play a half-sister to Sorbo's character, but its unknown on which side of the family. I have always liked Butler. She's had an unfortunate track record over the years at being excellent in projects that weren't all they were cracked up to be, at least not the ones I've seen. These include the TV series MANN & MACHINE as well as the films HARD TARGET ( the director's cut is supposedly much better ) and THE HIT LIST. Butler is best known for her starring role on the WITCHBLADE TV series, a show I'm sorry to say I missed.
Also cast is Leah Cairns, formerly of KYLE XY and recently seen in 88 MINUTES. Fans will of course recognize Cairns from the "how the hell can a TV show be this good?" revamp of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, on which she played Viper pilot, Racetrack.
And of course, we will get the tri-blade sword that in addition to being incredibly powerful, also launches it's blades into the guts of its foes. By itself, that's worth the price of admission.
But the biggest treat comes from Pyun himself, who told the folks at Twitch.com, “It’s got a sexy sorceress, hordes of demonic vampires, a giant serpent, sea pirates, nasty sword (and axe, spear, leg of cow) fights and gore and nudity galore. Everything that a rousing adventure needs to have.” That's pretty much everything this website is about so you can bet your ass I'll be first in line for this one. Twitch also confirms that unlike recent sword & sorcery reboots which have aimed for a younger audience, this film will be geared for a hard R-rating. Hells yeah!
TALES OF THE ANCIENT EMPIRE starts filming next month in Buenos Aires and Tunisia. If you aren't excited, you are clinically dead.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
The first UNIVERSAL SOLDIER helped increase the reputation of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. It involved Vietnam vets who killed in action, listed missing, and then awakened as bionic super-soldiers decades later to do wetwork for the government. Two of the Universal Soldiers go off the reservation when they become sentient of their previous lives. Van Damme was a heroic soldier who just wanted to go home, but got killed trying to destroy Lundgren, his platoon leader who went insane and wiped out a village as well as his own soldiers. Now, as Van Damme tries to piece his life together, Lundgren aims to finish the fight, leading the other Universal Soldiers, now under his command, to help him out. Yes, younger generation, you read that right. And doesn't that sound so much cooler than the standard, "thugs try to steal money but cross the wrong security guard"-type action film we would expect these days?
Okay, so UNIVERSAL SOLDIER wasn't quite as great as its premise. It was a lot of fun, however, and it hurt to see the promise of an entertaining franchise get squandered.
Not that they haven't tried. UNIVERSAL SOLIDER: THE RETURN may have been bad, but it was the second attempt to resurrect the series. Two obscure straight-to-video titles, UNIVERSAL SOLIDER II: BROTHERS IN ARMS and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER III: UNFINISHED BUSINESS ( I have not personally seen those latter two films ) were even smaller affairs, and featured different actors.
Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin will not be returning for the latest UNIVERSAL SOLDIER film. If anyone has seen the stuff they've been putting out lately, that can only be a good thing. It is expected to go straight-to-DVD and is in the early stages of pre-production.
People may be interested to note that Van Damme has an intriguing genre-bending French film coming out, JCVD. Those are his intials for the extra-drowsy out there. It is, no kidding, one of my most awaited films this year. Thanks to the guys at JoBlo and Arrow In the Head for posting the trailer.