Saturday 31 December 2011

Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV (2000)

Within the first 10-15 minutes of the fourth Toxic Avenger movie we get to "enjoy" a gang known as the Diaper Mafia crashing into a classroom full of "special young adults" and laying waste to as many as possible. There's bloodshed, gratuitous nudity, a sickening amount of bodily functions and an absolute lack of anything that even comes close to being politically correct. And so I knew that I was going to enjoy this film a lot more than the third movie.

The Toxic Avenger (David Mattey) this time ends up in Amortville, the evil alternate version of Tromaville, while his place in Tromaville is taken by The Noxious Offender (David Mattey). Good ol' Toxie tries to put right a number of wrongs and find his way home while The Noxious Offender blackens the good name of our herois monster by doing horrid things like ripping the arms off the police chief and quickly reducing the population of Tromaville by means of violent death. He also thinks himself lucky when he eventually finds his way back to the trailer that Toxie calls home, complete with the blind, and now pregnant, wife (played this time by Heidi Sjursen).

Lloyd Kaufman directs this outing on his own but there are a LOT of people responsible for the script, which shows in the sheer amount of rapid-fire tasteless gags, references to other movies and unsubtle satire. Amazingly, it all comes together to produce something that's just a whole lot of shits and giggles (and, yes, that comment can be taken almost literally).

While I didn't really enjoy the fact that so many fart sound effects were placed all over the soundtrack and while I didn't always like the focus on moments featuring faeces, sexual abuse or ejaculations I was never bored and was actually laughing from beginning to end. Admittedly, even someone as thick-skinned as I am couldn't quite believe how far flung from the PC world we inhabit the Troma crew had gone but it's as refreshing to find nowadays as it is juvenile and objectionable.

The cast all either play dumb or get nekkid (or both) with gleeful abandon and there are a number of cameo roles for people like Lemmy (who snagged himself a better role in Tromeo & Juliet but has some fun lines here), Corey Feldman, Ron Jeremy and James Gunn.

If you're a Troma fan who also happens to love films like The Wizard Of Oz and Citizen Kane then you may well love this. If you're a fan of proper cinema who happens to love the aforementioned movies and has never seen two babies in a womb fighting each other with mops then you may well want to avoid this for the duration of your entire life.


Friday 30 December 2011

The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation Of Toxie (1989)

Well, the third outing for our monstrous hero is just more of the same nonsense but with a little less gratuitous nudity and over the top violence when compared to the preceding two movies. Considering the amount of footage recycled, and the time spent making references to the past, it's a shame that the actual sex and violence content is the only thing it doesn't really have in abundance. That's not usually a comment that I'd start a review with, and it's certainly not the only thing I look for in a movie (despite what you may think of me), but this is a Troma film. And watching a Troma movie without plenty of over the top violence and gratuitous nudity is like being given a pack of non-alcoholic beers for Christmas: it would appear to be the same thing but when you get to the contents you notice how much weaker it is and how it just doesn't have the same effect.

Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman once again share the directing duties while Kaufman also has a hand in the inane screenplay. Most of the people who were in the second movie return, which is probably more due to the fact that this was made up of half the footage shot for that movie than any concern for actual continuity. The Toxic Avenger is played, once again, by Ron Fazio with a dollop of footage featuring John Altamura. Phoebe Legere is blind Claire once again. From the rest of the cast, the only three that make any impression are Lisa Gaye as Malfaire, Jessica Dublin as Mrs. Junko and Rick Collins as the leader of the horrid Apocalypse, Inc.

The emphasis this time around is on more of the dumb comedy than insane fight sequences and that's a great shame. The comedy of Troma films could never be called great but it often works as part of an assault on your senses that includes all kinds of gross FX moments, sleazy criminals up to sleazy crimes, random nudity and plenty of unrealistic blood and guts being spilt. Sadly, it doesn't work quite so well when it's the main aspect of the movie.

If you liked the first two movies, and you like the character, then you'll still have some fun with this film but it's a step down from the first two films. And, let's face it, they didn't really rank that highly except when elevated by the combination of my deadened braincells and some goodwill.


Wednesday 28 December 2011

Mercenary For Justice (2006)

You know this kind of movie, you've seen it a number of times before. A bunch of people (this time they're led by Buddha Christ Theresa himself, Steven Seagal) have to do a job for someone they don't really want to work for. It's a dirty business that they're in and rules get broken while blood gets shed. But remember this one thing, these are the good guys - even when they have to do some lawbreaking. That's the basic outline of Mercenary For Justice, another in a long line of Seagal stinkers that ended up being available on the bargain shelves of your local movie rental emporium. Sadly, you don't actually care about anyone onscreen and that's why this film just doesn't work even half as well as the many that it attempts to copy.

Director Don E. FauntLeRoy returns to traumatise audiences with horribly lazy and shambolic work, this time using a script by Steve Collins and a whole host of uncredited folk (including, unsurprisingly enough, Seagal himself), and he makes something even worse than Today You Die but keeps things moving briskly enough to keep just ahead of the very worst films that have featured his wooden star.

The cast are a real mixed bag. Seagal is as he always is. Luke Goss does surprisingly well with a standard "baddie" role. Jacqueline Lord is okay, Roger Guenveur Smith does his very best to eradicate the goodwill gained by his small role in Final Destination (the last thing I remember him from though he has quite an extensive filmography), Michael Kenneth Williams almost gets out of the whole thing with his dignity intact and Adrian Galley is on hand to be big and full of muscle - job done.

The action isn't all that great but the standard fakery and one-upmanship that this kind of movie utilises is present and correct. It's all quite predictable and very easy to follow but it does help keep things mildly entertaining as things move from a frantic and unbelievable beginning to a frantic and unbelievable finale. Seagal fans still have nothing here to reward their long-term support of the man but at least this isn't one of his very worst.


Monday 26 December 2011

Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942)

Really, if you can't read the title of this Abbott & Costello movie and figure out just what kind of situation(s) they're going to end up in then you clearly haven't seen any of their first few movies. The boys are a couple of vendors who end up hotfooting it to some proper cowboy & indian territory. Then Lou accidentally fires an arrow through a tepee that means he should marry the lady within, there are a few musical numbers, some comedy stuntwork on lively horses and some amusing moments and misunderstandings with animals. There's a limp plot about Bronco Bob Mitchell (Dick Foran returning after his stint in Keep 'Em Flying) not really being a cowboy and trying to put things right with a lovely woman (Anne Gwynne) but there is also some enjoyable wordplay and the film debut of Ella Fitzgerald, who provides the two musical moments that are actually decent as opposed to the weak numbers sung by Foran or 'The Merry Macs'.

Arthur Lubin is once again in the director's chair and everyone knows the drill by now. The lads are introduced, there's a bit of wisecracking in between the set-up material, and then it's on to the adventures. The screenplay by True Boardman and John Grant is fine but the movie, perhaps surprisingly for those used to the style of the duo, works better in the physical moments than it does with the verbal exchanges. Lou trying to milk a cow provides plenty of laughs, though there are plenty of misunderstood phrases helping things along there, while an unexpected horse ride and an eventful chase sequence during the finale really stand out as great set-pieces. It's just a shame that the rest of the film didn't hit the same heights.

A & C are as good as ever (or as bad as ever, if you don't like them then you're not going to find anything here to change your mind), Dick Foran is okay but a bit too bland this time around and Anne Gwynne is very easy to like. But it's Ella Fitzgerald who stays in the memory after the credits have rolled, with her energy and her great voice. I'd say that fans of the lady should, despite her limited screentime, add a point to my final rating.


Friday 23 December 2011

Keep 'Em Flying (1941)

It was obviously only a matter of time. Buck Privates had Abbott & Costello in the army and was quite the hit. In The Navy had the boys in the navy, funnily enough, and was exactly what people seemed to want at the time. Keep 'Em Flying, for those of you who haven't yet guessed, puts our comedy duo in the air corps. They're friends with a daring, but sometimes thoughtless, pilot named Jinx Roberts (Dick Foran) and this means that they get to help and hinder love lives, put each other in dangerous situations and have some amusingly confusing moments with twins Gloria and Barbara Phelps (both played by the sassy Martha Raye).

Falling almost slap bang in the middle of their army and navy adventures, Keep 'Em Flying has some decent comedy throughout and includes some nice aerial stuntwork. The scenes featuring Bud, Lou and both incarnations of Martha Raye are definite highlights and even the few musical numbers interspersed throughout the movie actually provide entertainment as opposed to irritation. William Gargan isn't too bad as Craig Morrison, the trainer who has quite a history with Jinx, and Carol Bruce makes for an attractive and appealing love interest for our plucky pilot.

Arthur Lubin directs the action once more, and works from a capable script by True Boardman, Nat Perrin and John Grant. The lack of consistent hilarity is compensated for by some solid adventure moments (or, in the case of Lou stuck on a runaway torpedo, maybe that should be comedy adventure moments) and the patriotism that crops up here and there never threatens to unbalance the whole thing.

This is one of the better movies from the earlier filmography of A & C but it's still as flawed as many others from the era and doesn't hold up well when stood alongside their better outings. Having said that, fans will find enough to enjoy here and it's a fun way to pass a rainy afternoon.


Wednesday 21 December 2011

The Foreigner: Black Dawn (2005)

If Steven Seagal can barely put any energy into his onscreen activity then why should people even bother straining to write a decent review? I'm almost tempted to take the Seagal route here - get a stunt double to do most of the work, insert some badly edited nonsense and fill out the background with horribly cheap CGI.

The big man returns as Jonathan Cold, the character from The Foreigner that you never really cared to see again anyway. But that matters not one iota. Because this is Steven Seagal. And you WILL care to see him in whatever he does. This time around he is, as you might expect, out to save millions of lives and some nasty folk plan to build and explode a nuclear device in the glorious land of America. Seagal is a patriot and he's a patriot who always remembers one thing - you can't spell America without CIA (even if the letters are placed in a slightly different order).

Written by Martin Wheeler, and directed by Alexander Gruszynski, this is a movie that is inept in almost every way. We all know that Seagal isn't the best actor in the world but here he's only given decent turns from Tamara Davies (by decent I may be being kind but she's far from the worst thing in the movie) and Tmothy Carhart  among a cast full of people mangling accents, failing to convince as tough guys and generally being as weak as the material they have to work with.

This is a problem in many Seagal movies, they have become a product churned out of a conveyor belt that use some slapping action moves and a number of foreign bit players, but it's not too bad when there is some decent action to prove distracting. Nope, this movie doesn't even have that. There's no tension here, the editing is positively shocking in places, the stunt double gets plenty of screentime once again and nothing here will entertain even undemanding viewers after some lowbrow antics.

The plotting is terrible, the acting and action unconvincing, the characters uninteresting and everything here (from the opening credits to the final scenes) smacks of extreme laziness. A horrible experience.


Friday 16 December 2011

Today You Die (2005)

If you hate this movie then you'd better go and take a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror. Because you, sir or madam, may have to admit that you're a racist. Maybe the ethnicity of the film displeases you. Maybe you're just put off because Steven Seagal is a successful black man in the action movie market. Of course, Seagal is not a black man (nor all that successful nowadays, is he?) but nobody remembered to tell him that when he decided to show his versatility in this dire action movie. It's a shame that a number of things couldn't have been changed and improved upon during the making of the film because the action scenes, when they occur, aren't actually all that bad and the plot of Seagal seeking out those who wronged him and putting things right almost reminds you of those enjoyably gritty early movies that all now seem like classics compared to his 21st century output.

The plot sees Seagal as a kindly thief who robs from criminals to distribute the wealth to the needy. He's kinda like Robin Hood. With a ponytail. And two extra chins. But this is all quite worrying for his good lady (Mari Morrow), who keeps having strange dreams and "psychic visions" that actually don't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. So Seagal goes straight but, lo and behold, on a standard driving job he is forced to outrun the cops and struggle to survive when it turns out that he's mixed up in a lucrative robbery. Our man is apprehended and jailed, but not before he has managed to somehow hide $20 million. Never mind, in the space of a few scenes we get Seagal teaming up with Treach (who plays a crook named Ice Kool) and managing to escape in a surprisingly easily engineered scheme. Then it's time to kick ass in a number of unconnected moments, allow the movie to pretend that it has a depth and complexity in place of the laughs and confusion and head to a finale that may just let our hero get his justice, save the children of the world and prove to everyone, once again, that he is the slap-happy version of Jesus himself.

I won't pretend that most of this movie was something I could easily enjoy while it was on but as soon as the credits rolled and I began to think back through what I had just seen I couldn't help laughing and thinking of all the lazy mistakes throughout (usually with stunt doubles but the massive plot holes were also good for a giggle). This may be the fault of the script, by Kevin Moore, but it's probably not helped by the direction of Don E. FauntLeRoy, a man responsible for having the most annoying mix of upper- and lower-casing in his surname and also the third and fourth risible movies in the Anaconda franchise.

Seagal - he doesn't really know any better because he just keeps going as he always has. Treach is almost tolerable. Almost. Mia Morrow would have been fine if her character hadn't been so redundant and given such awful material to work with. Sarah Buxton is pretty bad, Nick Mancuso is terrible and only those with less screentime give better performances (Robert Miano and Kevin Tighe, in particular). Fans may be interested to know that Chloe Grace Moretz has a very small role but nothing that marks out her future potential.

Some decent action moments and a sprinkling of grit make you think this could end up similiar to the earlier movies in the Seagal filmography but, alas, it's not to be and we just get yet another stinker to add to the pile.


Thursday 15 December 2011

Hold That Ghost (1941)

Abbott & Costello star in a film with a well-used premise that will be familiar to many. Sadly, it fails to include any of their better material and so ends up being one of their weaker outings from the first phase of their career.

The boys are a couple of gas station attendants unsuited to anything that has more responsibility (as illustrated at the beginning when they fail to grasps the basic of waiting on diners). They have about as much luck as they do cunning but that's all set to change. When a famous crook, Moose Matson (William Davidson), dies in their presence they are rewarded as the benefactors in his strange will and testament. Moose was so untrusting and paranoid that he simply left his estate to whoever was by his side at his moment of death. But people want to find out where Moose hid his stash of cash, which leads to plenty of scare tactics when the boys are driven out to the run-down building full of secret panels, dark corners and revolving casino furnishings.

Directed by Arthur Lubin, and written by Robert Lees, Fred Rinaldo and John Grant, Hold That Ghost has a number of enjoyable moments here and there but often relies too much on Lou Costello overacting as someone being petrified by events that everyone else seems to miss. His wheezing and muffled panic starts to grate quickly but it's the focus of the fun again and again and again. The sad thing is that the cast around our comedy duo are really quite a good bunch. The Andrews Sisters pop up for a couple of numbers, but are thankfully missing from most of the movie, and Joan Davis and Evelyn Ankers are fantastic actresses and great sports for going along with the fun. Richard Carlson is very enjoyable as the doctor far too busy examining things around him to actually notice the important things and Marc Lawrence and Mischa Auer are both just fine.

If this film was just above average then it would still pale in comparison to films such as The Cat And The Canary (the 1939 version), The Ghost Breakers (1940) and even the daffy Scared Stiff (which, to be fair, came a long time after in 1953). It would also pale in comparison to the later A & C movies that mixed comedy with mystery and/or supernatural elements. But it's not even just above average, it doesn't really satisfy and it just doesn't hold up all that well for fans who want to enjoy some quick-talking, quick-thinking fun and idiocy.


Friday 9 December 2011

Submerged (2005)

Again, I'm not quite sure if my mind has been gradually eroded by all of the Steven Seagal movies that I have watched this year or if I'm just an easily pleased soul (or a mixture of the two) but I enjoyed Submerged, especially considering how bad I'd heard it was. Oh, it's absolute nonsense that doesn't make one shred of sense but it at least moves along briskly enough, has a few decent action moments (though few of them actually involve Seagal busting out any moves) and benefits from the presence of the lovely Alison King (a woman probably best known to UK viewers nowadays for her role as Carla Connor in that institution known as Coronation Street).

The plot is so rubbish that if I tried to explain all of the minor details I would probably give myself an embolism from the stream of garbage flowing into my mind. All you need to know is that Seagal plays a tough leader of a group of men who were all unjustly imprisoned after a mission went wrong. They are offered a complete pardon and some tempting cash if they all go on another dangerous mission and put an end to a dangerous individual who has managed to brainwash multiple individuals and make them into the ultimate secret assassins.

Directed and co-written by Anthony Hickox (who started his directorial career with great movies like Waxwork and the enjoyable Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth), seeing his name on the credits made me slightly optimistic. Seeing that Paul De Souza co-wrote the script did absolutely nothing for me as I'd never heard of the guy before in my life.

I knew that Seagal would be the main actor so that was either good or bad, depending on what version of his "great and powerful Oz" persona he was going to be providing us with this time around. Vinnie Jones was also in the cast. Snigger all you want, I've often enjoyed Vinnie Jones in his screen roles but he really should stick to smaller parts in bigger movies than risking ridicule in something like this - most of his dialogue is awful. And William Hope had a bit of screentime, someone I've enjoyed seeing since his memorable turn in Aliens. Christine Adams is tolerable but Alison King is the better female to watch onscreen, though I have no idea what was going on with her accent as it didn't sound like her usual voice yet also didn't sound like any decent imitation of any other local vocal style.

It may spend very little time on a submarine considering the title of the film is Submerged, and the action is edited a bit too ferociously in places, but there are enough good individual moments here to make it worth a watch and it remains a couple of notches above the worst Seagal movies (with the very worst that I've seen STILL being Ticker).


Monday 5 December 2011

In The Navy (1941)

 Do take note, the clips included in this review are skits performed by either Abbott & Costello or other performers in the movie and I have included them here for people who want a taste of the talent on display while perhaps not wanting to view this particular movie. Taken out of context, the clips themselves aren't spoilers for the film but they do provide a great sample of the content.

While this Abbott & Costello movie was filmed after Hold That Ghost it was actually released first in an attempt (and most probably a successful one) to provide audiences with another service picture starring the comedy duo that would repeat the winning formula of Buck Privates.

Our two stars aren't accidentally enrolled this time around, however. They're Navy men. Not very good Navy men but Navy men nonetheless. When a handsome singing sensation (played by Dick Powell) decides to pull a disappearing act, change his identity and join the navy it's not long before he gets Bud and Lou embroiled in his attempts to stay unrecognised, attempts constantly being put in jeopardy by the tenacious Dorothy Roberts (Claire Dodd). So there's a plucky gal, some standard schemes and scams and more musical interludes from the horribly chirpy trio known as The Andrews Sisters.

Directed by Arthur Lubin, and written by Arthur T. Horman and John Grant, everyone easily slips back into the same roles they had while making previous movies with the duo. It's certainly not up to the same standard as Buck Privates (the comedy just isn't as funny and the musical numbers are even weaker) but it's still fun for fans and features a number of decent skits: "The Lemon Bit" is one of my favourites but the movie also includes the wonderful "7 x 13 = 28" routine, fun with Lou trying to get into a hammock, a mildly amusing initiation routine and a fantastic bit of tapdancing from The Condos Brothers.

Dick Powell isn't too bad in his role, Claire Dodd works with what she's given and The Andrews Sisters are as horribly twee and asexual as ever. Thankfully, as it should be, the focus stays on Bud and Lou for the majority of the film and the two are talented enough performers to keep things moving along pleasantly enough even during the weaker moments. No classic but it's certainly worth a watch if you're a fan of the stars. As I am.


Saturday 3 December 2011

Shadow Man (2006)

First of all, a quick note to any more observant readers of my ongoing Seagal quest. Due to a bit of a chronological cock-up (to use the technical term) I ended up seeing this movie by mistake and WILL be playing catch up over the next few weeks with the films I should have already seen before viewing this one. With that out of the way, let's get on with the review.

You may be surprised to know that this Steven Seagal movie sees our main man as an ex-special ops intelligence superspy ninja type of guy. You may be even more surprised to learn that he has a young daughter who is whisked away and put in some danger, giving Seagal a personal reason to slap lots of people around. Everything is connected to some formula for a new biological weapon that Seagal is, unwittingly, in possession. Okay, so if you've seen other Seagal movies then none of this will surprise you.

At this stage in his career, you'll also already suspect that the movie contains the following: bad acting, low production values, a number of limp action sequences and plenty of nonsense that serves to show off Seagal as the cross between Buddha and MacGyver he clearly thinks he is.

The genuine surprise comes from the cast. Imelda Staunton tries on an American accent and hopefully never lets anyone else in on the fact that she starred in a Seagal movie. Eva Pope and Alex Ferns represent, respectively, Coronation Street and Eastenders. Surely, any number of decent TV projects would have been a better choice for these ex-soap stars but they decide, instead, to embarrass themselves for the sake of action movie glory (please read that sentence with as sarcastic a tone as possible).

Michael Keusch directs and shows why his name is still relatively unknown for someone who has worked on over 50 different projects. I'm sure that he managed to keep Seagal happy but he doesn't please anyone else, though undemanding fans who have damaged their minds already with the worst from their hero may find this at least tolerable.

The story is, unsurprisingly, from Seagal (co-written by Steve Collins and Joe Halpin) and that explains most of the failings. There's nobody else worth bothering about in a movie that doesn't even provide a hero worthy of rooting for. But, to damn the film with faint praise, it's still a notch or two above the worst that the Steven Seagal has appeared in.


Monday 28 November 2011

Buck Privates (1941)

Unlike their previous movie outing, One Night In The Tropics, this film features Bud Abbott and Lou Costello as the main attraction and never spends too much time away from some of their enjoyable banter and comedy routines. Our wiseguys make a big mistake this time when they evade the police and accidentally sign themselves up to the army. There's no way out but a lot of fun to be had, for viewers, as the pair find out just how much they don't fit in with the standard recruits of Uncle Sam. With versions of the "the dice game" and "the loan" and, of course, "army drill" this movie should keep fans of the duo entertained despite the weaker aspects that continually appear throughout the runtime.

Directed by Arthur Lubin and written by Arthur T. Horman, with special material for Abbott & Costello written by John Grant, Buck Privates zips along from decent comedic moment to decent comedic moment but it's hampered by three big negatives - The Andrews Sisters. I'm sorry, I know that some people love these ladies and they've never done anything to me personally, but I just can't stand their brand of jingoistic, creepily wholesome, bland attempts at razzle dazzle entertainment. Now I may have thought differently if I'd seen them performing live back in their heyday but I didn't . . . . . . . . . so I don't.

Everyone else is fine. Lee Bowman is very good as the man just expecting to kill some time in the army until his father extricates him from this terrible mix-up, Alan Curtis is fine as Bowman's ex-employee who can now tell him what he really thinks of him, Jane Frazee is bubbly and lovely as the lady who becomes the centre of attention for the rival men and Nat Pendleton is good fun as the weary Sergeant stuck with two of the worst possible recruits (Abbott & Costello).

There are a couple of decent songs here and there, one performed by Frazee and one by Costello, but most of them come from The Andrews Sisters and therefore didn't do anything for me (though even I admit that Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy is a toe-tapping and irresistible classic).

The boys still had a way to go until they would reach their cinematic peak but Buck Privates (aka Rookies) remains a solid outing thanks to the time given over to their quickfire, verbally dextrous, routines.


Friday 25 November 2011

Into The Sun (2005)

Steven Seagal stars in this movie co-written by Steven Seagal and based on a story by Steven Seagal (with Joe Halpin). It also has one Steven Seagal listed as producer and on the soundtrack you can hear the musical stylings, on occasion, of Steven Seagal. Yet, despite that overabundance of Seagal, it's actually not that bad.

The essence of the story is all about a man who can deal with the Yakuza and sort out a spiralling crime problem before everyone ends up losing. That one man is, as you may have guessed, Steven Seagal. Nobody else really matters because, as Seagal fans well know by now, everything will succeed or fail as Seagal wants it.

Directed by someone who calls himself Mink (but who was born Christopher Wingfield Morrison and who should stop trying to evade that fact with such a silly pseudonym), Into The Sun is a bit of a muddled mess but is also surprisingly entertaining throughout, mainly due to some brutal and straightforward violence that recalls the no-nonsense style that Seagal used to promote in his earliest movies.

The acting is quite bad but well above the quality of the last few Seagal movies. The main man himself does okay, Matthew Davis is enjoyable enough as an FBI agent partnered up with our gruff hero and the ever-wonderful William Atherton is as wonderful as ever. Some other people do okay, some other people are terrible - it didn't actually matter to me all that much as I watched the occasional fight sequence and the frequent arterial sprays of blood.

While not actually a great movie, this should provide some relief to Seagal fans who have continued to support the man throughout his career and received nothing but almost consistently slapdash and lazy movies since the turn of the 21st century.


Wednesday 23 November 2011

One Night In The Tropics (1940)

The cinematic debut for the great double act of Abbott & Costello, One Night In The Tropics is mediocre entertainment elevated a notch or two whenever Bud and Lou are onscreen and squeezing in one of their famous routines.

The basic plot is actually as amusing as it is nonsensical. Jim Moore (Allan Jones) is in the insurance game and his company will insure everything. When his friend Steve Harper (Robert Cummings) starts to get himself flustered about things not going according to plan as he attempts to wed the woman he loves (Cynthia Merrick, played by Nancy Kelly), Jim manages to somehow sell him on the idea of an insurance policy for love. IF Steve and Cynthia don't get married when planned then Steve stands to gain a million dollars. Of course, Jim can't afford to pay out that kind of money so he goes to great lengths to keep things on track despite the efforts of a disapproving aunt (Mary Boland), another woman (Peggy Moran) in love with Steve and the unfortunate fact that Jim himself finds Cynthia pretty darned attractive. Things get farcical while Abbott & Costello stay on hand to also ensure that the wedding goes as planned. So you can probably guess how ill-fated the whole thing seems.

Based on the novel "Love Insurance" by Earl Derr Biggers, One Night In The Tropics is actually a decent enough old movie that I wouldn't mind seeing updated and remade for 21st century audiences. The central idea is a high-concept one and has potential but this film has been made as both a general comedy, with occasional musical moments, and a showcase for Abbott & Costello and it's the scenes that allow the comedy duo to show their strengths that ended up providing the most entertainment.

The screenplay, worked on by a number of folk, is okay for the material, the acting is perfectly acceptable for a 1940 film and the direction by A. Edward Sutherland does enough to put this on a par with many other lightweight movies of the time but let's make no bones about it - this movie would be forgotten and consigned to the wastebin of cinema if it didn't have some superb, slick comedy routines in there, including a version of the legendary (and rightly so) "Who's on first?" routine.

So, overall, it's no bona fide classic but because of the few scenes interspersed throughout including some absolutely wonderful A & C skits it remains well worth a watch to comedy fans.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Out Of Reach (2004)

There are very few things that surprise me, in terms of just what I can tolerate inthe world of the movies. There are even fewer things that surprise me as I wind my way through the murky filmography of Steven Seagal, a prime example of a career that had a definite high point and then self-imploded to such a degree that almost every film from 2001 onwards has provided what can only be described as "that car crash sensation". You know that it's going to be horrid but you can't help having a look as you pass it by.

By 2004 I wouldn't be surprised if Seagal somehow placed himself in a movie that celebrated his presence on our planet as the second coming. He looks after the young and the vulnerable, loves animals, can always do everything ever needed in any situation and seems to be indestructible. All tension is gone as we watch a movie that serves no other purpose than massaging the ego of Steven Seagal. The guy can't even be bothered to do his own ADR at this point (an audio "nuance" that occurs in many of his 21st century outings).

So here is the plot, try not to laugh. Seagal has, somehow, befriended a young girl who lives in an orphanage. They exchange letters and wishes of wellbeing and Seagal even helps the young girl to learn numerous codes so that they can give each other secret messages. Are you getting creeped out yet? To be fair, this is all depicted as a very innocent relationship and it's clear that all Seagal wants to do is help provide some happiness to every single child in the world. This becomes a bit more difficult when his young friend is taken away from the orphanage and offered to a number of internet bidders as part of some large human trafficking ring.

The script here is by Trevor Miller and James Townsend and I certainly won't be looking for their names on any other movies I seek out. It's almost as if they just looked at the last few Seagal movies and went by a template that desperately needs broken and recast.

Director Po-Chih Leong does nothing to excite viewers. The pacing isn't too bad but there just isn't enough to care about in between the few action beats. Worst of all, a lot of the work is sloppy and doesn't show that the movie had a reasonable budget.

Do I need to mention the cast? Seagal is worse than usual and he's surrounded by a cast made up of mostly Polish performers who, I imagine, cost a lot less money than people with actual acting skills. I actually felt sorry for Matt Schulze (an actor I have enjoyed in a number of entertaining franchises including Blade, The Fast & The Furious and The Transporter) but I hope he at least managed to get a decent pay packet for some minimal effort. Because that's obviously all that Seagal was after.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Clementine (2004)

Sad news for anyone hoping to read the weekly Seagal spot (if there's anyone insane enough to be in that situation). There's no place for the slap-happy chappy this week.

I tried and tried and tried but all to no avail - I just couldn't find Clementine anywhere at all (well, except for about £18 on Amazon and I'll be damned if I'm going to pay out that kind of cash just for a potential stinker of a film). Who would have guessed that a Seagal movie would be harder to find than some ex-video nasties? Apparently, he only appears in the thing for about 5 minutes but I'm still disappointed at missing this one out and will endeavour to get to it if/when the opportunity arises.

So, for the benefit of anyone mad enough to want some kind of Seagal fix, I present you with my very own Seagal megamix.

Steven Seagal stars in The Foreigner Is Marked Out To Deal Death To Justice.

Act 1: Seagal is leading a bunch of men who are wearing dark clothing and hold guns as if they've been trained by some of the best, and cheapest, weapons handlers in Hollywood. A building is stormed. Lots of stuntmen earn their paychecks. Seagal looks stern. He disregards some important order to save the lives of others but this just ends up leading to the explodification of the whole building with all of Seagal's men dead and a big baddie who has managed to flee.
Seagal turns to look at his unbelievably beautiful wife and lovely daughter, who have both come to stand and watch him do his stuff (it's "bring your family to work day" in his Black Ops unit, others are also crowded around and some are eating cookies). Seagal looks concerned. Two bricks that have been blown from the building land on the smiling faces of his family. And they're dead.

Act 2: (5 years later) Seagal is no longer a violent man and has, in fact, become the best children's entertainer the world has ever known. Because Seagal is the bestest ever at everything he fucking does. His clown persona, Loose Brie the cheese-loving fool, is a hit wherever he goes. But bad memories arise when Loose Brie turns up to entertain some kids and realises that the father is the baddie who fled the exploding house that accidentally on purpose killed his family. The painted smile hides growing anger. When the party is over, Seagal tries to contact his old bosses and get them to take action but they're not interested. A house was blown up, people died, they're not even allowed any more "bring your family to work" days. Move on. Seagal refuses.

Act 3: Seagal tries to get closer to the big baddie who evaded him all those years ago. Meanwhile, everyone he has ever known and worked with tries to kill him. And the same thing happens in the movie.

Act 4: Seagal helps a poor woman who then falls in love with him but he tells her that he has one last job to do before he can return to what he does best: raising smiles on the faces of children and curing cancer with the power of his chi (oh, this isn't specified but only implied, as it is in every Seagal movie). He then goes into a whirling slo-mo, choppily edited frenzy of destruction and man-slapping before facing up to the baddie who escaped at the very beginning. The baddie hides behind his youngest child. Seagal jumps up in the air and spinning roundhouse kicks the villain out of the window to land with a crunch outside, deadified. The child begins to cry and asks why he would do such a thing. Seagal replies: "your father had a face painted in lies and greed, nobody gets to clown around forever".

Seagal walks out in slow motion.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Among The Fallen (2011)

Okay, before I get to a main review here let me start with a few words about writer-director-star Jay Shatzer. I only know of Jay, and his film, now because he appeared on the IMDb Horror boards and politely informed people about his work. He wasn't pushing it down our throats, he didn't pretend to be an unconnected fan to a "new masterpiece of horror" and he didn't mind chatting to people who politely declined to view the movie. He was, in short, a very well-mannered and polite individual who had managed to create something he hoped others would like. After seeing the behaviour of some others promoting their work online (people I won't even bother to name again because they don't deserve to be mentioned) I can say that Jay's approach was a breath of fresh air.

So when he put the movie up online last week, available to view for all (I will place a link at the bottom of the review and hope some of you, at least, check it out) I was both pleased and apprehensive. What if I watched the movie and hated it? What if it was just some gore-filled, boring amateur effort that I would have to be polite about while also being relatively unkind? I didn't want to do that, I didn't want to be one guy at a keyboard criticising a fellow horror fan who'd gone out and tried to make something he thought was worthwhile. Thankfully, it didn't come to that.

I really enjoyed Among The Fallen. It's not a genre-shaking film and it's not a debut that signifies writer-director-star-editor-composer (motivational speaker and teamaker?) Jay Shatzer as the new messiah of horror cinema but it's competent and has a LOT of nicely atmospheric moments. Clocking it at 60 minutes, some may qualify it as a feature and some may not, but however you view it . . . . . . . . . . do view it.

The plot is really quite simple. Jay plays Will Ashford (according to the credits), a man who finds himself attacked by zombies. As Will slides in and out of various bewildering episodes he moves from being confused and questioning his own sanity to becoming determined and ruthlessly efficient at cutting down the undead.

Let's get this done as efficiently and professionally as possible then. The good . Jay certainly does well with his construction of the movie and he's not too bad in the lead role (though I did wish for his character to be a bit more vocal, it's practically a non-speaking part). The atmosphere is fantastic, the audio is nice and polished and I really didn't spot any major mistakes anywhere in the film (and I was looking hard). The zombies, when they appear, are actually pretty spooky and the make-up is great. Fans of the classic shambling type of zombie will also be pleased to know that there are no fast movers here. The soundtrack is also impressive with some nice, running themes that aren't overused.

The bad. It's a shame that Jay decided to keep dialogue at a minimum because the atmosphere carries you along for many portions of the movie but doesn't get you through every single minute without some testing of viewer patience. While the zombies are spooky and threatening as they are introduced (with an especially effective scene showing Will surrounded by the deceased) they seem to have less fight in them as they get closer to the main character and the tension quickly begins to fade away. There's also a ten minute period in the second half of the movie that feels like a misjudged attempt to take things a bit more in the direction of The Evil Dead (both with the actions of our hero and one or two audio cues, intentional or not) as opposed to the wonderfully spooky zombie outings created by the likes of Fulci and co. To put it simply, Jay does much better when he's trying to show his own vision than when he's trying to emulate others. Then there's the ending, which is a mix of good and bad. I'm sure many other fans will find themselves with the same reaction, it's too easy to see it coming over the horizon once the movie gets in to the second half. But it's still well executed and contains a really nice emotional core that you don't often get in such genre fare.

Even looking at those paragraphs above, I've written more about the bad than the good, I feel as if I've done Jay a disservice. The good points are, for a low-budget debut feature, very good indeed and outweigh the negatives. There is some really nice camerawork on display and a refreshing approach to the material that values tone and a certain poetry above the standard jumps and easy scares. I'm glad that I took note of Jay's name and got to see this film, I wish him the best of luck with it and look forward to anything that he gets to do in the future.

Here is the link to the movie on YouTube. If one or two people go and watch this I'll be most appreciative. If one or two people view the film and also enjoy it I may hand out cookies.

Monday 7 November 2011

Deathstalker IV: Match Of Titans (1991)

Well, if you're expecting anything in the fourth Deathstalker movie that hasn't been in any of the previous three movies you've clearly never viewed any low-budget b-movie franchise before. But if you're expecting more of the same then you're in the right place. The second film in the series remains the best but this one easily sits alongside the original with a mix of fights, magic and gratuitous nudity.

Rick Hill returns to the title role and the character once again finds himself in an adventure that puts him in danger while also placing him in close proximity to a princess. That's honestly all you need to know.

Howard R. Cohen returns to the writing duties but also directs this instalment and he's clearly been taking notes as this film is charmingly cheap as the three that preceded it. There's quite a bit of footage reused from the earlier movies and everything is done, as usual, with more exuberance than actual skill.

The poor editing, ridiculous plot development and unconvincing acting are all still as endearing here as they were throughout the franchise and this time round the cast helps. The return of Rick Hill actually feels like the role is nicely back in the hands of the man who started things off (even though the second movie featured the best portrayal of the character by John Terlesky) while the lovely ladies this time round include the attractive Maria Ford as Dionara, the even more attractive Michelle Moffett as the sly Kana and the also attractive Anya Pencheva as a fighting woman who cares not where her clothes fly as the violence rises. Brett Baxter Clark provides some amusement as a dedicated warrior who hasn't allowed himself to be distracted by women.

Moving along at a fair pace, and clocking in at just about 80 minutes, the film doesn't outstay it's welcome although it does already feel rather dated (considering it was released in 1991). It's nothing unmissable but it's certainly a decent last outing for the character that fans should enjoy as much as the first film.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Deathstalker III: Deathstalker And The Warriors From Hell (1988)

Well, a third Deathstalker movie and a third actor in the titular role (this time it's John Allen Nelson) means that it's more of the same antics for anyone who enjoyed the first movie. While not on a par with the fantastic second outing, this movie does just enough to put itself on a level pegging with the original. Nearly.

Deathstalker this time gets himself mixed up with yet another princess (Carla Herd) and there's yet another nasty magic man (Troxartas, played by Thom Christopher) who wants a lot of power for himself. There's a magic stone to be found and pieced together, a bunch of warriors brought back from the dead, an attractive woman who dabbles in a bit of torture (the beautiful Terri Treas) and another attractive woman (Claudia Inchaurregui) who actually kinda stalks Deathstalker and keeps popping up at just the right time.

Howard R. Cohen returns to the writing duties (and would return to write AND direct the next instalment) and isn't afraid of repeating himself. Sadly, the film forgets to aim low and so doesn't really cram in enough big fight sequences or gratuitous nudity considering what audiences were given in the first two movies.

Director Alfonso Corona does reasonably well with the material and tries to keep you distracted from the details, like castle walls only being an inch thick, but he can't do too much with material that's pretty weak in the first place.

John Allen Nelson is okay in the main role, but not half as much fun as John Terlesky (who, let's face it, completely owned the role in the last movie), while nobody else makes much of an impression. Even the ladies doing their best onscreen fail to match anyone in the previous film. Carla Herd is especially bland, outshone by both Terri Treas and Claudia Inchaurregui for the entire movie. Thom Christopher is given a pretty weak villain to portray and the action in the last half hour or so feels like it's being played out by people with no interest in making it look realistic. Which is a shame.

It's still watchable though, which may say more about my tolerance levels than the film itself.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Deathstalker II (1987)

AKA Deathstalker II: Duel Of The Titans.

Well, here's a turn up for the books. I thought that Deathstalker was an okay slice of hokum so I approached the sequels with more than a pinch of pessimism - the usual pattern tends to be that the sequels go down and down in quality until you get to the very end and simply have to pray that the franchise runs out of breath before you do. I perked up slightly when I saw that the film was directed by Jim Wynorski. And, only a few minutes into the proceedings, when I heard the line "ordinarily I don't mind seeing a woman get a good beating, if she deserves it, but this doesn't look like much of a contest to me" I knew I was in for a treat.

Deathstalker II is full of action, one-liners delivered with a cocky style by John Terlesky that puts him almost up there with the mighty Bruce Campbell, gratuitous nudity from the lovely Monique Gabrielle and just a neverending supply of fun, fun, fun. The fact that this is set in olde worlde times and you can easily see both a trailer in the background and a streetlight (or film light) quite clearly just adds to the fun, reminding you that all of this entertainment was brought to you on a budget that probably barely stretched to include a decent lunch for everyone.

The plot sees Deathstalker (played this time by the aforementioned Terlesky) urged to go on a quest by Reena The Seer (Monique Gabrielle). She foretells great rewards and fame for Deathstalker and that's the kind of talk that he likes. But what she doesn't tell him is that she is actually Princess Evie, ousted from her position by Jarek The Sorcerer (John Lazar), a man who has created a doppelganger of her to hold the throne. Toni Naples plays a woman who wants Deathstalker to die at her hands while Maria Socas is the Amazon Queen who wants Deathstalker to be physically tested in more ways than one.

It's full of numerous random moments, though not quite as random as the first movie, and cheekily re-uses footage from part one but this movie is really just overflowing with enough energy and humour to make it one of the better b-movies I've seen in some time. As well as the standard swordplay we also get to enjoy some wrestling (with Dee Booher, billed here as Queen Kong, playing the formidable opponent), a scene with lots of zombies posing a threat and did I mention the gratuitous nudity from the lovely Monique Gabrielle?

John Terlesky is superb in the leading role, John Lazar is okay as the villain (though it's a shame that he stays remarkably restrained), Toni Naples and Maria Socas are both attractive and strong women and . . . . . . . . . . . . . . did I mention the gratuitous nudity from the lovely Monique Gabrielle?

The technical side isn't really up to much but Wynorski directs with his usual competence, energy and enthusiasm standing in for any major resources, and the screenplay has a lot of wit, even if most of the gags are amusingly lame ones. There's also some great, rousing, music by Chuck Cirino. It may be a little overused but it had me tapping my toes every time it was played.

Friday 4 November 2011

Deathstalker (1983)

Remember the movie Big? A young lad makes a wish and then goes to sleep only to wake up the next day in the body of a Tom Hanks-shaped adult. And that adult ends up producing some great ideas for a toy company. Well, if that kid had gone to bed and then woken up the next day in the body of a Tom Hanks-shaped adult and immediately managed to get a job with a movie studio then I'm pretty sure that he would have created a movie like Deathstalker. Because Deathstalker is a fantasy tale in every sense.

The plot is just a bit of nonsense to cram some stuff into. Deathstalker (Rick Hill) fights some people and goes about his life happily enough until he is asked to get a powerful sword and to use that sword to overthrow the wicked Munkar (Bernard Erhard), a magic man who made himself king and isn't known for his benevolence and kindness.

No, that really is all of the main plot. Really. Which means that we get just under 80 minutes of swordplay, women being either naked or covered in flimsy flimsy garments, occasional menace in the form of puppets and a healthy dose of bad acting.

Thankfully, Rick Hill carries a sword as if he knows how to use the thing so he's not all that bad in the main role. Richard Brooker is almost adequate in the role of someone who ends up tagging along with our hero. Bernard Erhard is appropriately displeased about any efforts being made to end his rule. The ladies do much better, though that may just be my own bias, with Lana Clarkson proving to be a highlight as a swordswoman who gives no thought to underclothes and Barbi Benton quite gorgeous and up to the task of portraying someone in need of help who is also quite gorgeous.

The script by Howard R. Cohen and direction by James Sbardellati are both as slapdash as they are entertaining. The fight scenes aren't all that bad, though I've seen much better, and everything moves along so quickly that this brief adventure never outstays it's welcome. It's certainly one to watch if, like me, you have fond memories of staring up at the lurid VHS cover and wondering how amazing the movie itself would be.


Thursday 3 November 2011

Belly Of The Beast (2003)

I'm sure that very few people will be surprised to learn that Steven Seagal is an ex-CIA agent in this movie. When his daughter (Sara Malakul Lane) is kidnapped, he sets out on a mission to retrieve her and deal with the bad guys because the authorities never do these things properly. With the help of some friends, Seagal kicks ass as he gets closer and closer to finding out where his daughter is being held.

What might surprise a few people is the fact that this is a surprisingly enjoyable Seagal movie. Oh, don't get me wrong and think that all of his movies have finally worn me down, by most normal standards this is still quite a bad film but as a vehicle for Seagal and his particular brand of martial arts it delivers the goods and manages to pretend that it almost had a decent budget.

The acting isn't great but everyone does what's required of them. Seagal isn't too bad, for a change, but his voice is dubbed over on one or two occasions by someone that doesn't manage to sound like him at all. Byron Mann is enjoyable to watch as his friend, Sunti, and Monica Lo just scrapes by as Lulu. The baddies are all either sneaky and wretched (and so deserving of their ass-whooping) or cool and over-cocky (and so deserving of their ass-whooping) so no complaints there.

The script by James Townsend is no great shakes (it's developed from a story by Seagal so that should tell you all that you need to know) but the direction from Ching Siu Tung is pretty solid. The action beats are plentiful and also nicely spaced out, a lively soundtrack accompanies the lively fights and everything zips along nicely enough to keep fans more than happy.

It's not up there with any of Seagal's top tier movies but Belly Of The Beast easily sits a notch or two above his bottom-of-the-barrel fare.

Wednesday 2 November 2011

Campfire Tales (1997)

Campfire Tales is, as you might expect, a horror anthology movie based around some pretty well-known urban legends that are given a fun twist. While it's not all that scary, the tense moments somehow lack any real tension, it's certainly fun while it's on and benefits from a decent wraparound that ends things nicely.

Jay R. Ferguson, Christine Taylor, Christopher Masterson and Kim Murphy play people who have to kill some time after their car goes off the road. They set up some flares and then move into the woods to build a campfire and scare each other with some urban legends. As the movie opens we get a version of "The Hook" but then the car passengers go off road and settle down to tell the three main tales: "The Honeymoon", one that I won't name because the title gives away the punchline and "The Locket".

The direction by Matt Cooper, Martin Kunert and David Semel is okay. There's nothing too flashy here and nothing too terrible but the movie does feel a bit slow in places, despite coming in at just under the 90 minute mark. The script, by Cooper and Kunert and Eric Manes, doesn't really sizzle either, which is a shame because if the material had been handled better then the overall outcome would have been a significant improvement. The middle of the three tales is so badly fumbled that it's robbed of any tension it should have but the strength of the punchline is too good to be completely undone by the poor execution.

The cast assembled is a big plus. As well as those mentioned, there are small roles for James Marsden and Amy Smart. Ron Livingston (who appears in "The Honeymoon") will also be familiar to viewers while even those who aren't so well known acquit themselves reasonably well.

It's not a bad little movie but there are better urban legends to choose from and better ways to showcase the material.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Cheerleader Camp AKA Bloody Pom Poms (1988)

A mildly amusing slasher movie from the late 80s, Cheerleader Camp falls far behind many other examples from the decade but holds up not too badly nowadays thanks to some cast choices that should interest horror fans and enough gratuitous nudity to keep undemanding viewers pleased (it's just a shame that the same can't be said of the bloodshed).

Betsy Russell plays Alison Wentworth, a troubled young woman who has been plagued by nightmares for some time. When she goes with her friends to a cheerleader camp she tries to relax but finds that there are too many people around her raising her stress levels. The stress just keeps rising when people start dying, Alison starts to suspect that she may very well be the killer.

Written by David Lee Fein and R. L. O'Keefe, and directed by John Quinn, the technical aspects of this movie are the least pleasing aspects. Despite the occasional nudity, the pacing is a bit slow and none of the characters are all that interesting. There's some humour here and there, albeit clumsy stuff, but no real thrills or excitement.

Thankfully, we have that cast. Betsy Russell is just fine in her role, as is Leif Garrett, but the real pleasure here is in the supporting cast. Best of all, in my view, is quite a decent amount of screentime for the legendary George 'Buck' Flower but people who would rather ogle some pretty young women will not be displeased Teri Weigl's ability to shed skimpy clothing. Teri went on to quite a number of proper adult movies but here has a nice mix of the freshness of youth with her sexiness. Lucinda Dickey does well, Lorie Griffin is fine and Rebecca Ferratti is a nice enough addition. Vickie Benson and Jeff Prettyman get a number of good moments, including one hilarious scene together, and Travis McKenna is the loud and overweight guy who will do anything to get close to naked female flesh.

Fans of the subgenre, and particularly the 80s output within the subgenre, will find enough here to enjoy but it barely scrapes a pass. At least it also has a fun ending.

Monday 31 October 2011

Nightmare At The End Of The Hall (2008)

A TV horror movie that mostly feels just like a TV horror movie, Nightmare At The End Of The Hall manages to stay just above average with a decent, unfolding storyline that feels nice and supernatural while also never quite falling over the line into the far too unbelievable.

Courtney (Sara Rue, perhaps best known to many people for her role in the sitcom, Less Than Perfect) is a successful writer. Well, she's had one bestseller that was based on experiences from her schooldays but has been a bit stuck ever since then. That's how she ends up accepting a teaching position at her old school. But it's not long until she's unnerved by a young student, Laurel (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood), who looks exactly like her old friend, Jane. Jane commited suicide while at the school and this has cast a shadow over the lives of those who knew her for a very long time. Is her spirit using Laurel to taunt Courtney or to put over a message of some importance?

I can't really think of all that much to say about this film because there's nothing really onscreen that deserves being praised to the skies. However, everything is put together nicely enough and there are a couple of decent chills amongst the standard confusion and thrills you'd expect from a spooky mystery of this type.

Sara Rue is very good in her role and Jacqueline MacInnes Wood is excellent but both women are also ably supported by a cast that includes Duncan Regehr, Kavan Smith and Philip Granger (billed a bit further down but his character makes a great impression).

Nora Zuckerman's script adds the expected melodrama and keeps things light, the tone and content matched by George Mendeluk's unfussy but competent direction. Fans of stronger horror fare won't want to make this their first port of call but Nightmare At The End Of The Hall is a perfectly acceptable time-filler that rises just above the standard TV movie level.

Sunday 30 October 2011

The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989)

If you decide to watch The Toxic Avenger Part II without having seen the first movie then I'd have to question your sanity. Which is my way of saying that, no matter what I put forward in this review, you should already know what you're letting yourself in for.

The New Jersey hero, created after a prank went wrong and he fell into a barrel of toxic chemicals, returns for a mix of groansome humour, over the top violence and more Troma trauma. Tromaville has become quite a peaceful place but it's only a temporary lull. When Apocalypse Inc. come along they want to mess up everything, physically hurt people and run the whole town. They start their attack by bombing a home for blind people but soon realise that ol' Toxie will be too big a problem to deal with so they come up with a devious plan that gets our mutated hero travelling to Japan to find his father. Which means, as you may have guessed, some martial arts moves, naked Japanese women and plenty of fish. The people of Tromaville are left to be terrorised while clinging on to the thin hope that Toxie gets back in time to save them all.

I really liked The Toxic Avenger, despite it's many flaws, and it remains one of the better Troma movies available. In my opinion. But, as is the case with almost any Troma movie, it's an acquired taste. This sequel is even worse in a number of ways but if you liked the first film then you're not likely to hate this one.

The effects are as variable as they were in the first movie, with a couple of great gore moments in the opening 10-15 minutes offset by some terrible comedy dance moves, and the acting is consistently . . . . . . . . . . in line with the rigorous Troma standards (to put it politely). Toxie is played by two different people (John Altamura was fired at some point but his footage was retained, Ron Fazio took over and provided the voice throughout as well as any new acting required), Phoebe Legere is Claire, the blind girlfriend of Toxie (who I can only assume is supposed to be the same one named Sara in the first film but we're not supposed to worry about that) and a number of other people play . . . . . . a number of other people. I did like Lisa Gaye as Malfaire but acting isn't something valued too highly here. Nor is continuity. Or anything that gets in the way of the crazy antics. Like some semblance of believable reality.

Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman are once again the directors, with the latter also involved in the team that put the story and then script together, so they can shoulder most of the blame. They're used to doing that by now and they don't care. This is not a movie to watch if you fancy some classic piece of cinema, but it will do the job if accompanied by beer, pizza and a taste for something dumb and fun. Just.

P.S. The link below may not be the best version available. I tend to just pick the most readily/cheapest versions on offer for anyone interested but it's especially important to shop around, especially with Troma titles.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Prison (1988)

Quite a simple premise, the spirit of a dead prisoner returns for vengeance when the prison is reopened for business and full of inmates again. Directed by Renny Harlin, this is yet another enjoyable movie from a man who has very rarely done wrong by me.

It may lack the impact it wants to have, what with the story twists and turns being really rather obvious throughout, but Prison still has some good moments of tension here and there and a few fantastic death scenes.

The cast are all pretty good, too. Viggo Mortensen does well in an early feature role, Lane Smith is fantastic as a strict warden, Chelsea Field doesn't get that much screentime but holds her own in a movie overflowing with testosterone and Lincoln Kilpatrick is excellent. Support comes from Tom Everett, Ivan Kane, Tommy 'Tiny' Lister and even Kane Hodder so genre fans should be more than pleased with the assortment of faces onscreen.

The script, by C. Courtney Joyner and based on a story by Irwin Yablans, does what is needed though things quickly become far too strange to be explained away easily so that starts eroding at your suspension of disbelief from before the halfway mark.

Harlin directs as competently as ever. There are some nice camera shots and some great use of lighting which, along with a bag of practical effects, often leads in to some supernatural event. The gore on display is effective but not overexposed and the nasty deaths hold up as well today as they did back in the late 80s. It's a shame that the score, by Richard Band and Christopher L. Stone, never comes close to matching any of the visuals and weakens a lot of the atmosphere being built up.

Personally, I always felt that while Prison seemed to come and go when it was initially released the main reason for that was not because it was a bad movie but because it was quickly overshadowed by Shocker, released the following year. While the two are very different movies, there are enough similiarities in the methods of the killer and the advertising artwork to have possibly encouraged moviegoers to wait and see the "Wes Craven film". Possibly. That's my theory and I'm sticking to it, especially because I quite like Prison even if it's nothing to set the world alight (ironically enough).

Friday 28 October 2011

Out For A Kill (2003)

Remember Steven Seagal back when he was Out For Justice? Remember that time he was Hard To Kill? Well, you may not ever want to remember when he goes Out For A Kill (is that like going out for a packet of cigarettes?? Who the hell named this movie??).

I am just going to blurt out the plot of this film in one go because, trust me, if I stop then I may collapse in fits of laughter and nobody will believe me when I get to the end of the paragraph. Seagal this time plays an archaeology professor by the name of Robert Burns who gets caught up in a drug smuggling operation, is wrongfully accused of being involved with the big baddies and then gets out to track people down and kick ass thanks to the skills he had earlier in life before he was a professor of archaeology and was, in fact, a fantastic thief and actually earned his archaeology degree while in prison. So he can handle himself too, when he's not busy winning awards for his work in the field of archaeology. Most of this is information supplied throughout the movie, I'm not making any of it up. With the lives of those around him endangered, Seagal must go, ummmmm, out for a kill. Or two.

There are moments throughout this movie that aren't that bad. Some of the action sequences are okay and the film is never boring. But then director Michael Oblowitz (who also helmed The Foreigner) tries to put in some fancy touches and makes some stylistic choices that just don't work. Be it computer effects clearly at the edge of the FX budget boundary or a bit of unbelievable, gravity-defying wire-fu, the flourishes that detract from straightforward, solid action prove to be distracting mis-steps.

The screenplay, mostly written by Dennis Dimster, is generally awful and there's just nobody good enough to cover over the material with any decent acting. If anything, Seagal seems to get progressively worse with each movie while the likes of Michelle Goh, Corey Johnson (though he's almost not too bad), Tom Wu and Kata Dobo all show a lack of any talent. Perhaps that's the fault of the material, maybe it was too weak to overcome, but the performances certainly don't help.

However, there is more effort made to actually display the fighting moves of Seagal in this movie as opposed to the gun-heavy antics of The Foreigner so die-hard fans will find enough here to keep them entertained.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Xtro (1983)

Xtro is a weird movie, a very weird movie. It's a British sci-fi horror from 1983 and, thanks to some strange practical work emphasising great effects, it actually holds up surprisingly well to this day.

The plot revolves around a man who one day upped and walked out on his wife and son. The little boy says that his father was abducted by aliens but nobody else is buying that excuse. Three years later, the man reappears and somehow thinks that he can reforge those broken bonds with his loved ones. His son is happy to see him, and remains convinced that the alien abduction really happened, while his wife and her new partner are understandably confused by the whole situation. Things start to get very, very bizarre when the father confides in his son that the alien abduction was indeed very real and that he has a grand plan to put into effect.

Director Harry Bromley Davenport hasn't got much else of note on his CV but he certainly deserves a great deal of credit for the enduring appeal of Xtro to fans of the bizarre. As well as directing the movie, and the sequels, he helped to write the thing with the help of a few other people and he also provided the score (which I think also remains surprisingly effective).

The acting is okay but Xtro has so many moments that overshadow any acting anyway. Moments showing childish toys brought to life in order to terrorise others, moments in which an effects-covered mime artist proves somewhat disconcerting while crawling along on their back (sort of, see the pic below) and moments of slimy, nasty, painful alien birth procedures.

Philip Sayer, Bernice Stegers and Danny Brainin all do well enough with their roles, Simon Nash isn't too bad for a child actor put into some very strange surroundings and fans of Maryam d'Abo should enjoy her feature film debut, especially with the enjoyable moments of gratuitous nudity here and there.

Often incorrectly listed among the original 72 titles that made the "video nasty" list here in the UK, Xtro turns out to be quite unlike many other movies and certainly quite like anything else from Britain in the early 80s. Mixing the gruesome with the surreal and the real with the fantastical, it remains an enjoyable and rather intelligent sci-fi horror that deserves to be seen by more people.

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Riding The Bullet (2004)

Riding The Bullet is yet another movie based on a short story by Stephen King and yet another King adaptation with Mick Garris directing (he's also helmed Sleepwalkers, The Stand, The Shining TV mini-series, Desperation and others). Mick Garris can do okay with strong enough material and I liked his earlier collaborations with King but it seems that, as they've grown more familiar and comfortable with each other, the director has taken on a few of the author's failings. I love the written works of Stephen King but he can't hit a home run every time (who can?) and when he's not on top form his writing is often full of too much superfluous Americana while good ideas are swamped by all of the local colour and insignificant sideroads.

Riding The Bullet was the first story that King ever released online. It seemed to be a success and I enjoyed the story when I read it in standard printed form in Everything's Eventual (a fantasic collection of short stories from someone who really is a master of the form). But it's not a great story and it's not a very lengthy story. It takes about 60 pages or so to tell the tale so making a 90 minute movie out of the thing would seem to be a difficult task. The movie of Riding The Bullet runs for 98 minutes. That kind of tells you everything you need to know right there. Great movies have certainly been made out of shorter stories but Riding The Bullet doesn't even have all that much going on under the literary layers, so to speak, and with the movie not adding too much to the material it all feels like something stretched way beyond breaking point.

This is more of an enjoyable twist on the "ghostly hitch-hiker" tale than anything else as Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson) heads home to get to his hospitalised mother (Barbara Hershey). On his journey he thinks back to childhood memories (one of them involving his turn to ride on "The Bullet" rollercoaster), talks to himself, encounters some characters that pad out the running time and then takes a lift from someone (David Arquette) that he begins to suspect shouldn't be in any condition to drive a car.

There's just nothing here at all worth noting. Garris scripted the movie from the Stephen King story and either lifts things directly from the source or adds completely pointless material (though a scene near the very beginning with a vision of death and some lively wall decor gave me hope for some impressively imaginative work that subsequently went into hiding for the rest of the movie). The acting is all fine and the soundtrack contains a few decent tunes. But by the time the end credits roll you can't help feeling that you just wasted your time watching something of complete insignificance.

Personally, I'd recommend this as one of the many Stephen King adaptations to avoid but die-hard fans may be better pleased with it than I was. It's doubtful though.