Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Busy tonight? I didn't think so. The TV season is over and it's too hot to start training for that marathon you so vowed to complete. So here's my suggestion:

If you're anywhere near the Brooklyn area, come out to the Brooklyn Rod & Gun one stop into the lesser (to da Bronx) borough on the L train for sensational Swedish author Daniel Ekeroth's celebration of his sensational Swedishy book, Swedish Sensationfilms. The show starts at 8PM and costs a mere $5, less than  going to a movie theater,  taking a roundtrip subway ride, or eating a hot dog at CitiField. I'm trying my bestest to get down there, work and life providing. You can learn more about the event at its Facebook page or shoot me an email (deadlydollshouse at gmail.com, take THAT spammers!) with questions or offers to marry Nigerian princes. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Horrible Non-Horror! Junior

Junior is the movie about Arnold Schwarzenegger getting pregnant. And I am 29 years old and have somehow never seen it.

Life, what the hell are you?
Did I mention it’s directed by Ivan Reitman and costars Danny DeVito? Meaning, of course, Junior is brought to us by the same golden trio that gave us the wonders of the comedy classic, Twins!*
*Truth: I haven’t seen Twins since its theatrical run in 1988. I recall two things about it: 
1-Ahnahld loudly singing “Yackety Yack” on an airplane and me doing the same whenever the moment calls for it

2-It being hilarious
Also, I was six and a great judge of cinema. Which means Junior couldn’t miss, right?
Quick Plot: Meet Dr. Alex Hesse, a bland scientist on the brink of discovering new fertility treatments with his partner, Dr. Larry Arbogast. After a failed proposal with the uptight FDA and firing from Frank Langella (playing, essentially, the same role he previously mastered in Reitman’s Dave), the pair decide to go rogue and impregnate Hesse for further experimentation while they seek new funding. Toss in Emma Thompson as a sympathetic and clumsy fellow researcher, Pamela Reed (Arnie’s unlucky partner in that other gem, Kindergarden Cop) as DeVito’s ex-wife pregnant with someone involved with Aeorsmith’s baby, and a whole lot of jokes about how crazy women are and bam! A classic is born.

Oh I could continue with the scientific details so adorably skirted over, but considering the very first scene of Junior involves an infant peeing all over Ahhnahhld, do you really care?
Yup, Junior is a film clearly written and financed for the sole purpose of being able to sell it with the simple premise “Arnold Schwarzenegger gets pregnant.” Really, there’s little else you need since the following tricks are clearly going to write themselves:
-Ahhnahld in drag, which naturally means a lot of pink (because that’s what women ear, right?)

-Gay jokes (impressively restrained until the film’s second hour)

-Ahhnahld acting like SUCH a woman by eating pickles, constantly holding his belly, vomiting, crying over commercials, and complaining about how his partner comes home late after he slaves over a pot of spaghetti
There’s not an easy joke Junior doesn’t deliver (ba dom bomp!) but I don’t know that we’re supposed to expect much more. I mean, not EVERY comedy can be Twins, right?
High Points
Emma Thompson may very well be a goddess among women. Saddled with the love interest role as a clumsy scientist, she’s introduced with terrible slapstick yet somehow emerges a wonderful and sunny presence in the film. I laughed from a real place with her pitch perfect delivery of the best come-on in cinema history: 

“Call me old fashioned but I’ll be damned if I’m having a child with a man i’ve never slept with!”
Also, the movie has cute monkey babies! Cute monkey babies!

Random Sightings
That’s Aida 'Janice Soprano' Turturro as DeVito’s assistant, James 'Brenda & Brandon’s Dad' Eckhouse as a fellow doctor, and a gloriously mulleted Chris Meloni as an expectant father

Cringeworthy Moments
“Strong swimmers. Big load. Way to go!”
Three sentences I don’t ever want to hear come out of the mouth of Danny DeVito

I’ve gone on record as saying the nurse slaying in The Exorcist III is easily one of the most terrifying minutes in cinema history. This is true, but you know what’s truer? The fact that this is scarier (as witnessed by the man who posted's reaction: 

Ahhnahld uttering, with far too much conviction, “My body. My choice!”
And just when you think it’s safe and the film has reached its HOUR AND FORTY NINE MINUTE MARK, Ahhnahld eats birthday cake off his toddler’s bare foot
Lessons Learned
In order to make a muscle man appear intelligent, give him glasses and scenes set in a library. It might also help to teach him how to hold books, but we as an audience shouldn’t be so greedy
Steifan is Austrian for something Danny DeVito gets all the time
Any movie made in the ‘90s that featured pregnancy as a major plot point was required to culminate in multiple babies being frantically born on the same stressful evening (see Father of the Bride Part 2, Nine Months)

In true honesty, Junior wasn’t quite as awful as I feared/expected/hoped. Yes, clearly there were moments that will have me giggling until SkyNet becomes self-aware, but Reitman isn’t incompetent, Thompson is a pleasure, DeVito does his thang, and Schwarzenegger’s presence is entertaining in itself. As an instant watch on an in-need-of-a-laugh day, one could do far worse. Most of the humor is at the expense of the film rather than because of it, and isn’t that what we  need more of in life?

And just to end things right, here.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

No. Trogs. Ever!

It has recently come to my attention that a lot of my reviews open with same basic pattern: As a lifelong fan of ______ it’s truly shameful that I’ve never seen ________
At the risk of repeating myself, how can I possibly begin a post about today’s feature without the following:
As a lifetime fan of Joan Crawford, it’s a criminal shame that I’ve never seen a movie where she teaches prehistoric cave creatures how to roll a ball. And then has to shoot him with a stun gun.

Quick Plot: A trio of spelunkers (one ironically named Cliff) explore an underground cave in a sleepy riff-raff-free British town where they discover the soon-to-be named Trog. Trog, you see, is named for his trogladite identity which means he’s an upright ape-like creature that speaks in grunts and struggles mightily to move in such a way that his mask doesn’t fall off.

Also, he has Joan Crawford eyebrows.
Enter Dr. Brockton to save the day. Played by a blond Crawford with a stylish assortment of pre-Dress Barn suit sets, she and her daughter work to educate and, let’s face it, domesticate Trog, primarily by teaching him how to play with whatever might be hanging out in your 1970s toychest. Her rival scientist is stuffy, male, and British and therefore, hellbent on proving the gentle creature a menace to modern society. A showdown is imminent.

Yawn. Despite the presence of one of cinema’s most powerful leading ladies, Trog is overwhelmingly dull. You’d think that anything combining Mommie Dearest with an ape man would at least offer camp value, but aside from a random cropping ripe for youtube. Trog just ain’t that interesting. The shame is ours.
High Points
A scene involving stop motion animated dinosaurs is all sorts of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse fun
Low Points
You know. Most of the rest of the movie

Lessons Learned
All scientists are a little deranged
Too much riff-raff will give a town a bad name
Just because your profession is something as mild as cameraman or butcher is no excuse to not try to battle a giant and violent ape man with your own little homo sapien hands

Even a stalagmite made of felt, velcro and glitter is still pointy enough to puncture the flesh
Eh. Trog should be reserved for Crawford completists and, well, no one else. Maybe the ghost of Bette Davis, who I’m sure got a pretty good kick out of watching her frenemy smile pleasantly as an ape man companion sings along with an LP record. That’s something. Kind of.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Maybe a Hyena Ate Your Baby

This is going to be fun.
Quick Plot: While driving home, talking on her phone, and inexplicably having her baby laying on its stomach in the backseat, a woman gets run off the road and eaten by hyena people. As does her already endangered child.

See, a baby being eaten by hyena people is normally sad, but since mom was about one text away from probably getting into a fatal accident anyway, does it make THAT much of a difference?
Moving on, everybody’s favorite beefcake Costas Mandylor enters as the sad husband and father now in mourning. Best way to get over family tragedy? Start hanging out with Meshach Taylor--yes, the sparkle in Mannequin--who is also kind enough to speak directly to the camera to explain what science calls Crypto-Humans.

Aka Hyena People or really, werehyenas.
Pause for one of my favorite lines of all time: “My name is Briggs. But folks around these parts call me Crazy Briggs.”

This naturally means we get to hear Costas Mandylor refer to said character as ‘Crazy’ from that moment on. Not in a ‘you’re crazy!’ kind of way. Rather, “What should we do, Crazy?” or, I imagine, “I’m ordering takeout. Do you want your sesame sauce on the side, Crazy?”

*Pause to acknowledge that Saw VII features a similar conversation with an overeager detective and Jigsaw's ex-wife. Apparently, it's some weird Mandylorian coincidence.*

Flash forward two years, tragically sparing us what could have been a golden training montage for Crazy to train Costas in the art of Hyena People. Sigh. Not every movie can be perfect.
We soon meet two feuding gangs that may possibly have unthawed from 1985 (I swear there’s some lingering DNA from Zombie Nightmare here). They almost fight. A lot. What they have to do with anything isn’t really, well, anything, but I suppose it was necessary to include young people in a film about hyena people? I didn’t read the handbook, so perhaps I’m just qualified to discuss such matters.

Luckily, Costas Mandylor is qualified for everything, including saving a pretty young woman from a hyena attack and quickly charming her with his gigantic Mandylorian lips and catcher’s mitts hands. Yes ladies, if you’ve ever wanted to know how the Mandylor makes love, you get a little warmup peek here and let’s just say, it’s grabby.
While love is slopping itself on a haystack (seriously), the band of Crypto-Hyena-People are ravaging the land, led by Christa Campbell with an easily removable tank top. Anybody who ever had a problem with Hulk’s pants not ripping during his many growth spurts may be pleased that Campbell always carefully removes her clothing before being transformed in a bargain basement CGI monster. Oh, she also tries to speak a few times, during which we as an audience learn that Ms. Campbell has a hostile opossum inside her lungs.

Wow. If I didn’t know anything about the talent behind this film, I would have sworn Hyenas was simply made by a Uwe Boll apprentice or ESL student with a brain injury. It is, without any question, a terrible movie, one nowhere near writer/director Eric Weston’s 1981 video nasty that I enjoyed enough, Evilspeak. Yes, the same demigod that gave Clint Howard his first full-out starring role made these 93 minutes of first-grade CGI projects, hilarious acting further made funnier by occasional dubbing, and storylines that seem put together with all the skill of a lefty wearing a mitten on his right hand and using that to assemble a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

It ain’t good.
But it sure is funny.

Loyal readers might know that my love of bad cinema toes a fine line. Anything intentional simply irks, while the earnest elates. Because Hyenas is made by a man who was clearly competent in 1981, a part of me wonders if it’s aware of just how ridiculous it is. Examine this typical piece of dialogue between a hitchhiking Campbell and Orville, a simple-minded trucker:
Orville: What’s your name?
Campbell: Wilda.
Orville: What kind of name is Wilda?
Mean something?
(25 seconds of silence)
Campbell: Wow. That’s my car.
Orville proceeds to get out of his truck and walk around a quiet forest, kindly telling the audience that he is confused and thought he may have seen something (just in case we didn’t understand his facial acting, which honestly, I didn’t). 

Or take Mandylor’s first meetup with Crazy Briggs:

Mandylor: What are you doing sneaking around here?
Crazy: I was just waiting for you to be alone
Most men might have a problem with this. Mandylor just kind of continues the conversation. Because damnit, he’s in a movie called Hyenas!

High Points
The fact that the film ends with a tease for a sequel warms my heart like a hyena in a fur coat
Low Points
Well, you know...the movie is actually awful and a low point in itself, but we don’t really need to talk about that, do we?
Lessons Learned
The best way to unite warring youth gangs is to make them band together in an effort to battle Hyena People

Turf is for horses
A redneck pig without balls shouldn’t talk about f*cking when he can’t get it up; wait, can we think about this a little more? 
Your free Spanish lesson: everything’s cool=Esta bien

Fear feels like a gunshot. Hm.
When working with a low budget and young actors who can’t really handle fight choreography, simply cover it up by having said young actors hug as you lay over punching sound effects
Stray Observations
Recent reader will know of my newfound obsession with 2001’s Gangland, a similarly dreadful Costas Mandylor vehicle that defies logic and emerges spectacular. Perhaps one of the (many) reasons I’m so darned amused by Hyenas is the subtle threads it shares with that action thriller, including Mandylor having audio flashbacks to his family being slaughtered and his face getting a close-up cut with CGI flames.

This will only matter to those that actually watch this movie, but how disgusting did that diner pecan/apple sauce pie look? Was the scariest part of this film NOT watching the hero(?) feed it to his reluctant girlfriend?
The Winning Line
“The bathroom is in there. The toothbrush is new. The paste is mint.”
Costas Mandylor, you are smoother than a baby’s skin

More competent than Birdemic but only because the kitchen sink play my cats wrote is too, Hyenas is a hilariously bad film that merits a watch if ‘hilarious bad film’ is music to your ears and strawberry gumdrops to your tongue. Invest no actual capitol into the film, but should the stork drop it on your porch or mugger shove it in your pocket in place of your wallet, please do press play. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why I Love: Last Night

If you’re reading this today, then I regret to inform you that according to some babbling calendar obsessed idiots, you were probably not chosen to ascend into heaven and avoid the upcoming rapture scheduled to run until October. Clearly, you were Left Behind, but so was Kirk Cameron so who are you to feel insecure?

I love me a good rapture, just as much as I love the underrated Mimi Rogers film, The Rapture. But that’s a story for another day, and since we’ve apparently got another 5 months of movie watching left before Paul Bettany fights a bunch of angel zombie things (or something), let’s shift to a more cheerful 100 minutes of apocalyptic warmth, recommended successfully some months ago from my blogging pal Shiftless (blog here), of whom I shall be eternally grateful to.

Don McKellar’s 1998 black comedy(ish) Last Night is one of those extraordinarily unique little films that sits with you like a fine glass of red wine (the good kind, not the crappy one gargled down by the main characters). It’s funny but not in a quote-it way, touching but not sentimental, and ultimately, incredibly special in a manner entirely its own.

The story takes place in an unnamed Toronto on the last day of the universe. For reasons never explained, the world will end at the stroke of midnight, a fact that the general populace has known for the last few months. This being Canada, the civilians seem to take it in stride.
Director McKellar plays Patrick, a sad and closed-off widower trying to go out with the world in peace and solitude. That doesn’t happen. Instead, Patrick is forced into human interaction at every turn, from an awkward ‘Christmas’ dinner with his parents and sis (my girl crush Sarah Polley), chance meetings with old pals (strategically horny Callum Keith Rennie, an old high school French teacher, a nerdy pianist school chum) and most importantly, the tense soul that is Sandra Oh. 

Sigh, you’re thinking, apocalyptic meet-cutes that might call to mind Grey’s Anatomy? Settle down, left behinders. Last Night is quirky but not in the annoying indie way, even if it is indeed a quirky indie. It’s easily the most cheerful end-of-the-world story I’ve seen, but that doesn’t mean the film is all sweet maple syrup and red vines. 
Take some of the supporting characters, all of whom are and have been very aware that the clock is ticking. Some have planned each final minute, like Rennie's scheduled nearly nonstop sexcapades to act out every fantasy he's ever had. One such bang involves the aforementioned French teacher, who follows an afternoon of passion with an awkward conversation with another former student Patrick and spends her last moments entranced by a piano player's scarcely attended concert. There's something sad or beautiful, or maybe not at all sad and beautiful about this minor character's trajectory. 

Then there's the demigod of Canadian film, David Cronenberg putting in a subtle, sympathetic performance as a single middle-aged man who chooses his final day to go to work, make his calls to answering machine after answering machine assuring the city that the gas company is still working, then head home for a tub of ice cream. As a lifelong fan of Cronenberg's sadistic gynocologists, belly VCRs, nude Russian bathhouse brawls and armpit vaginas, it's eerily refreshing to watch the man exist in such an ethereal scope on film.

Last Night is sort of an ensemble film, though only in the sense that virtually every speaking character comes off as an actual person. We don't get more than five minutes of dialogue from Sarah Polley, but within her brief scenes, we believe her and Patrick to be siblings, not overly close but connected nonetheless. We know from one line that she's spending the end with her boyfriend, probably a former ex who maybe went a little crazy once the world's stopwatch was activated. It's enough.

Patrick is ultimately our lead, although McKellar is wisely subdued. He's a sad man, one greeting the apocalypse without much of a reaction until he meets Sandra (Oh), the kind of flaky but earnest woman whose life would probably have had far less meaning were it lived to its entirety. Oh is absolutely wonderful as a tense wandering wife searching for her new husband (one clearly married in the throws of the apocalyptic fever). Her goal? To shoot him in the head at the stroke of midnight as he does the same for her. The apocalypse, you see, stirred something different up in Sandra: defiance. She got pregnant soon after the announcement, simply to see if she could. She ties the knot and buys a gun just so that it's her decision to die and not the world's.

The first time I watched Last Night, I was touched and amused. Upon second viewing, there's something about Sandra that I find fascinating. None of us can say with any certainty what we'd do with our final months on this planet, and perhaps what I love about Sandra's choices is that I get the sense she never expected THESE would be her decisions. Something about the ticking clock activated this sense of anger and need inside of her.

"Tell me something to make me love you," she pleads (rushed, not romantically) to Patrick as the clock hits 11:58. It's a wonderfully quotable line, funny in its absurdity, tragic in its impossibility, and utterly believable in the rather unbelievable situation of Last Night. 

I haven't even gotten to McKellar's fantastic use of music or the fact that the sun hauntingly shines throughout the entire evening. Or the gleeful plethora of unusual cars (Callem's mint-green classic and my father's personal favorite, an AMC Pacer). The funny, if slightly unsettling female jogger who runs through town and announces the time left with more cheer than the Battle Royale television star. 

Last Night might not be a masterpiece of filmmaking, but it simply hits me in a way few films can. This may very well be a case of personal taste, though even that leaves me mystified. There's nothing in my life that I particularly connect to the characters of this film, and yet when I watch or think about it, I find myself breaking into warmly comforting smiles and tears. We're used to end-of-the-world tales following messianic survivors, leather-clad bandits or go get 'em heroes. In Last Night, there are no superstars or villains. There are no miracles. There's just us, men and women choosing their lives as they want to live them, even if it's a matter of minutes before eternal death. I don't know why I find that so powerful, but it's films like these that make me happy to be here.