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.