Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Audio Pleasures On Everything You've Ever Needed to Be Audio-lly Pleasured

What do Donald Sutherland's mustache, armpits, cake, backpfeifengesicht, the unsexiness of the cast of The Reef, Buffy the Vampire Slayer's ex-boyfriends, Fred Savage and Martin Short rapings, and baby tossing have in common? 

His mustache is thinking...
All get their due in this week's episode of Girls On Film, now available for FREE download or stream. The ladies and I head on a whirlwind worldwide tour, stopping in Venice to watch the aforementioned Sutherland's afro make love to Julie Christie's aforementioned armpit in Nicholas Roegg's classic Don't Look Now, then paddling our gondolas over to Hong Kong (it's a long journey that takes a good 20 years) for a discussion of John Woo's Once a Thief

It's free! It's feminine! It magic for your ears and ready for the exploiting!

Get it. Before he gets you...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cotton Candy Joe

Knowing that Casper Van Dien and Michael Rooker are top billed in a movie might very well be the best possible way to make me watch it. Van Dien, of course, because he’s the star of one of my all-time favorite films (of all time, and no, it ain’t The Dog Who Saved Christmas) and Michael Rooker because he might kill me if I don’t. Add the setting of Appalachia and I’m there before you can say Wrong Turn 2.
Quick Plot: An archeologist is gleefully examining his finds from a newly uncovered Indian burial ground. All is happy and nerdy until a skull-faced figure barges in to behead, de-arm, and axe his way through a batch of characters we will never see again, including a pair of soldiers with a video camera.

Okay, so I lied. We do ‘see’ the deceased soldier via his recording, a frantic message that was sent to a Delta Force headed by none other than Captain Leary (Michael Rooker). The oddly gender balanced team is sent to investigate with a terrifying lack of hair ties.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I simply cannot ever believe a female soldier would venture into the woods on a dangerous mission with her lusciously conditioned locks bouncing around. Can you imagine how much easier it is for a skeleton faced killer to grab said female by the mane? Or for a wild branch to slow her down? We won’t even mention how visibility is greatly impeded when SOMETHING IS BLOCKING YOUR FACE.

Rant over. Review resumed.
Leary’s soldiers eventually come upon a rather hilariously wigged Native American (with an ever so slight resemblance to Steve Carell) who details the story of the Skeleton Man, aka Cottonmouth Joe. Unlike his brother that sparked a catchy dance tune fit for sweet sixteen dance floors, Cottonmouth Joe was a warrior who slaughtered his own tribe and has since been reawakened by the nosy diggings of the late archaeologist. 
(About as PC as Michael Scott at a Thanksgiving pageant)

Suuuuuuure he is, thinks the hard-headed military. Though a few members seem to keep disappearing (including, gasp! Casper Van Dien as the bearded scout) there’s no REAL reason to think anything’s amiss, right?

Skeleton Man was made for the Sci-Fi Channel (yes kids, that’s what we geezers used to call it) and while there are no sharktopuses in sight, it certainly has the feel. This isn’t a horrible thing. As with most of those original films, the production values are more than decent and the ‘name’ actors dragged in seem to be happy enough to turn in passable performances in exchange for room service. The actual monster is cool in his kill methods (scalping!) but rather lame in design. Sure, a mashup of the Phantom of the Opera crossed with the Headless Horseman hunting in Predator territory is interesting, but that doesn’t mean a Halloween-style plastic skull mask is all you need to seal the deal.

Director Johnny Martin has a far longer resume as a stunt coordinator, but his most important credit comes from a little special something known to some as Killer Klowns From Outer Space and to others as One Of The Greatest Things To Ever Happen In My Lifetime. Martin played the famed Joe Lombardo, the first victim to be revealed swaddled in cotton candy. For that, he automatically gets a pass and hence, for that reason and a few others, I just didn’t hate Skeleton Man the way everyone else on the Internet seemed to.

High Points
Between spearings, bow and arrowings, tomahawk beheading and more, the kills are actually quite varied and fun

Low Points
A made-for-Sci-Fi-Channel film will indeed bare some token marks of itself, including, in this case, oddly chosen closeups, flashbacks performed by actors on their sixth hour of a five hour energy drink, and for no genuinely good reason, a random big ‘splosion.
Lessons Learned
When you only get thirty minutes of helicopter time for establishing shots, you will USE those minutes and CELEBRATE that waterfall footage
Rotten flesh smells rather like rotten fruit. Good to know (cleans fridge)

Being stalked kind of makes you feel special...don’t it?
Beans is good. Just heat ‘em up and they’re good to go*
*Ancient Iroquois wisdom 
Skeleton Man is a competent little horror movie that offers more gore than you’d expect from a TV-14 production. It’s perfectly fine for a background movie while you prepare dinner, clip your toenails, brush your cat, or alphabetize your DVD collection. To sit down and focus on it for 90 minutes is a little much to ask, but pop it on your streaming queue if you enjoy a modern B-movie. Or if you see Michael Rooker on the street because seriously, DO NOT mess with that dude.  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Friends Til the End

This might shock you, but I'm something of what you might call a Child's Play fan.

I know. This just shattered your world. It's like learning that Taco Bell's meat is low grade or that Ricky Martin is gay. I of course should have warned you before making such a statement, but there I go about killing another monocle. How horrid of me.

How hide-y hide-y ho-rrid of me.
But something that might only mildly rock your socks is that of the five (so far) Child's Play films, second in my heart to 1988's debut is the VASTLY underrated 2004 campfest, Seed of Chucky. I've spoken before about how wonderful a ride it is, so it makes perfect sense that I would follow that up by literally speaking about it. 

How to hear such golden jewels of audio pleasure? Hop onto iTunes and download--for free--or stream this way for this week's episode of the fine new podcast Movie Matchup, where you'll hear myself, host with the most Troy, and The Podcast Podcast's (it's a podcast) lovable honorary Muppet Fozziebare discuss in grand detail Don Mancini's Seed of Chucky and a little something you might have seen called Final Destination 5 (theme!). 

Get to it now, because Tony Todd looks bored and just might send Death on your ass because it seems like something to do.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


How to feel about a straight-to-DVD slasher that ambitiously opens with a quote by 20th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche? The only way to answer that question is to first ask this: what kind of drunk are you?

Emotional? Happy? Angry? Sleepy? Because so long as you have a bottle or thirty of your favorite poison and follow my rules to take a swig any time the word ‘chain’ is uttered or an ACTUAL chain appears onscreen, you will be loopier than Tara Reid crashing a frat party.
Quick Plot: We open on the sideways Hitcher-esque killing of a teenager who is (lift glass) chained to a man and woman's separate cars. As the couple split ways to their high powered jobs, the bloody credits roll and to high school we go.

There we meet Jess (Twilight’s Nikki Reed) a smartypants who can prove her intelligence by wearing glasses and being brunette. 

That doesn’t spare her from the same text message fate as her floozier friends, all of whom receive a chain (drink) letter that they must Blackberry back to four more cell phone users...or DIE.

By CHAINS (sip)

The token jock turns his steroid filled nose at such a task, and for that, he’s naturally murdered by CHAINS (refill). So is, we later discover, his workout frenemy who ALSO spurned the CHAIN (oooh, nice and cold) letter and gets rewarded with a nice burning alive while dangling from...chains.

As you can guess, this kind of thing keeps happening. Even the nerdy gamer who dutifully shares his CHAIN (burp)-- 

letter can’t catch a break, mostly because he’s so annoying that the killer seems to just purposely burden the boy with spam spam spam (all of the CHAIN variety, meaning he CAN’T keep forwarding and therefore deserves to die...by CHAIN). 
So who’s behind this CHAIN of events (spit it back for the bad pun). Is it Jess’ un-tech-friendly suitor played by Deadgirl’s sadist Noah Segan? Keith David’s grizzled detective? 

Jigsaw’s ex-wife’s heavily lipglossed policewoman? 

Brad Dourif as a slightly creepy cell phone hating teacher? 

Or, SPOILER ALERT, just some crazy dude war veteran who really digs chains?
Do you care? Nah, but the kills sure are neat! Chain Letter is an ugly film, one clearly milking its freedom in the DVD market by piling up the gore with quite decent skill. Along the way, we get lots of heavyhanded--and already dated--social commentary about modern society’s reliance on technology, from online dating to the ever-ubiquitous cell phones seemingly glued--or lift up, CHAINED--into the hands of every actor under 25. I suppose it’s supposed to mean something, though ultimately, the very linking of the murders with technology is oddly contradictory.

Oh but really now, just because we’re leading off with some 20th century philosophy doesn’t mean we’re supposed to THINK about this movie. Especially since we’re 50 chains in and I’m already wasted.

High Points
Chain Letter was clearly aiming to leave some form of lasting memory by violating the laws of slasher in its finale. The nice kid love interest gets smashed immediately, the good girl dies--quite brutally, by (drink) chains--the villain hunts on and the black guy (or at least, one of them) lives. Perhaps it tries too hard, but I still appreciate the effort

Low Points
So a man who despises technology decides to use it as an excuse to kill teenagers that use it but in order to kill them, they have to use it which he hates. Anybody else see some faulty logic in this motive?
Fears Abated
Did the rise of the Internet make you fear the loss of those great Microfisch research montages in cinema? Worry not, as Compass Find or Giggle or whatever the NOT Google search engine used by our heroine here gets plenty of screentime
If like me, you were occasionally haunting the young adult section of your local bookstore in the mid-90s, you might recall a certain big print novel also named Chain Letter and written by one Christopher “Not R.L. Stine” Pike. This film does not adapt that fairly decent for its type book. Nor does it take a stab (or chain--drink) at Chain Letter 2, which if memory served, added a cult and puppy slaughter to the far more PG-13 narrative of its predecessor.

Well, for a 90 minute stream on Instant Watch, one could certainly do worst than Chain Letter. It’s filled with some surprisingly creative deaths (all involving--slurp--CHAINS) and slick production values, even if the story is rubbish and plotting more ridiculous than one of those overly complicated episodes of Law & Order: SVU. So queue it up if you’re in the mood for something new, mean, not very good, or one that has a lot, a whole lot, and I mean a ridiculously lot, and did I mention a lot? of CHAINS.

You still with me?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Killer Klowns From Outer Spain

If like me, you had a decidedly American education when it came to social studies, your knowledge of Spain’s history is probably about as rich as a bag of sodium-free rice cakes. It’s a shame of course, but thankfully, there are some pretty fascinating filmmakers today toying mightily to create surreal metaphors that play as historical(ish) horror movies. Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is the obvious example, but with The Last Circus, director Alex de la Iglesia creates his own odd--though those three letters don’t really do this tale’s bizarreness any form of justice--spin on Franco and the Spanish Civil War...

or maybe he’s just telling a dramatic love story...

or imagining what Taxi Driver would’ve been like if Travis Bickle were a circus clown (aside from it being renamed ‘Comically Undersized Car Driver,’ of course)

It’s not an easy diagnosis.
Quick Plot: When a peaceful children’s circus clown is dragged into battle and immediately thereafter, hard labor military prison, his son Javier grows up sad...sad CLOWN sad, you might even say. After an ill-fated rescue attempt involving some mighty heavy horse shoes, Javier is orphaned. We revisit him some years later in the 1970s, well after peace is declared and Javier (now played by Carlos Areces) has evolved from an awkwardly skinny teen into an awkwardly chubby boy-child starting his first day of work as, you guessed it, a sad clown.

At the circus, we’re introduced to the typical carny lot, from Ramiro the elephant keeper to a bickering couple with doggie training issues to a vertically challenged daredevil biker. Most of note is Sergio, the superstar head clown who’s great with kids but terrible with alcohol, particularly when it’s drunk in the presence of his beautiful acrobat wife Natalia.

A love triangle ensues, following the typical light-hearted rom-com tropes of spousal abuse, sad trumpet face smashes and dead baby jokes. For reasons that won’t be spoiled here, Javier is forced to flee the circus and survive naked in a forest ditch on raw deer meat before becoming a servant dog to the man who killed his father.

Got that? Trust me when I say there’s a whole lot of story points that I can’t cover, some of which includes presidential assassination and Kojak strip shows. At a certain point, Javier undergoes a horrifying self-imposed transformation terrifyingly teased by the tragically underachieving American poster art:

Irons and sulfuric acid are involved. So are squirms.

It all leads to a frantic finale set atop a 500 foot high cross, which Wikipedia was kind enough to tell me was The Valley of the Fallen, a controversial monument ordered by Francisco Franco--himself a supporting player in The Last Circus. As Javier chases Natalia, Sergio chases Javier, the police chase Sergio, and some of the beloved circus folk watch while the soundtrack roars...and roars...and roars.

Subtlety ain’t served at this circus.
The Last Circus is, as you might imagine, an odd bit of cinema. If it were a pizza, you might say the circus is a historical metaphor for 20th century Spanish history, the cheese is pure horror movie, sauce composed of a typical love story and toppings an eclectic mix of circus tricks, some terrifying and others hysterical. 
Stay with me on the food thing. I promise it will make sense (maybe). I liken The Last Circus to a pizza not because I’m hungry but more because a pizza is easily defined by its parts. You know what works or doesn’t work on a large cheese pie, be it a burnt crust or the deliciously fresh mozzarella. Each ingredient is a separate entity, unlike soup or stew or even the more fluid Pan’s Labyrinth, where everything mixes more seamlessly. The Last Circus--a film I do quite like--stumbles a tad in its (perhaps inevitable) disjointedness. Javier’s journey covers everything from sweet puppy love literally coated in cotton candy to playing the role of a mute slave serving a military sadist. Were I more familiar with Spanish history, I imagine I’d be able to better analyze the story and probably appreciate Iglesia’s use of cinematic metaphor. Putting that aside, does The Last Circus hold up as a mere film narrative?

Absolutely. Though the chaos reigns with the furor of a Von Trier talking fox, The Last Circus is something special. The opening 1930s clown-on-the-battlefield feels like a piece of absurdist theater set on cinematic fire, while Areces’ rotund sadness lends the center an unusual heart. The love story works because the actors are interesting and the relationships are clearly about more than just love. Javier is sufficiently sympathetic before being transformed into something insanely frightening, although unfortunately, his Falling Down-like rampage doesn’t quite deliver on the horrifying promises it seems to make. It’s forgiven when the film’s funniest scene closes things out. 
So The Last Circus is also funny, something that I believe will prove more evident upon a repeat viewing. It’s scary, simply because civil war and clowns and mutilated faces and fascism are...you know, SCARY. To call The Last Circus a horror film is a compliment to both the movie and genre. It’s not quite as good as I wanted it to be, but it’s something truly different that delivers on a few--if not all--its fronts.

High Points
Much like A Serbian Film, The Last Circus makes absolutely phenomenal use of its sound, both in the brilliantly composed score to the chilling sound effects
As my undying adoration for the Lou Diamond Philips’ classic The First Power proves, I do love me a good horse stomping
Low Points
Considering some of the pretty incredible visuals at play in The Last Circus, we certainly could’ve done with a more imaginative poster design eh?

Lessons Learned
The greatest war tactic of all time might indeed involve unleashing your secret weapon upon the enemy, and by secret weapon, I am of course referring to a clown armed with a machete

Few skills are less dismal than the gunfire aim of mid-20th century Spanish police officers 
Female elephants are, in a word, possessive creatures

There is no mother. No. Mother. Got that?

See/Skip/Wait It Out Impatient Jerk
The Last Circus is not a perfect film, but it’s something truly unique and incredibly confident about being so. There’s a chance a whole lot of viewers will hate it, but even if the major narratives don’t click for you, the visuals and sound might well be enough to keep your senses sated. Sadly I doubt the film will make a stop at most major theaters, but if the circus comes to your town, it’s absolutely worth the trip. 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Le Horde (That's French for 'The Horde')

We horror fans are in the mist of a worldwide condition known as Zombie Fatigue. Symptoms: excessive yawning and full-body lethargy when watching yet another saga of the flesh-eating undead. Unless a film uses zombiism to explore something deeper (a la Deadgirl) or simply nails a good old cannibal feast out of the park, what’s the point?
France’s The Horde doesn’t revolutionize that oh-so-potent subgenre of horror, but it sure does give you 90 minutes of pretty exciting zombie action. Is that enough?
Quick Plot: A group of police officers decide to take their own vengeance on a pair of Nigerian gangsters hiding out in the projects. Storming the castle fails miserably, resulting in a few deaths and, more importantly, the discovery that the dead are waking up with speedy legs and carnivorous appetites.

It’s zombies! It’s a siege! It’s a combination of what’s worked in a bunch of other horror films stuffed inside this one, and you know what? I dug it. 
The bad guys are interesting, with their own untold history that makes all their brotherly interactions fairly loaded. Though she’s not particularly likable, the female lead packs some excellent moxie as a woman with one mission and plenty of punches. The third act addition of a high energy, zombie slaying, racial epithet spewing tenant offers an enjoyable light touch (especially when he keeps referring to the greasy ponytailed bad guy as a carny, just cause), and most importantly, each character’s demise (those who have one; no spoilers here) is given its proper due by either being brutal, heroic, surprising, or sad.

I realize that’s an incredibly fast and not very informative recap, but there’s not too much point in digging any deeper. The Horde is exciting for its running time, and then it’s over. It’s far better made than the majority of modern zombie cinema, and for a violent, funny, and sometimes scary 90 minutes, it’s more than suitable. And then it’s over.
High Points
The introduction of the first zombie, his face masked in a black plastic bag, is, what the French call, ‘le badass’
Similarly, most of the human-hand-to-zombie-hand combat scenes are genuinely exciting. No one goes down easy, and watching it unroll is worth a handful of popcorn each time

Low Points
The movie is a perfectly suitable mashup of zombies and siege. That it does little of anything original is mildly disappointing if your expectations are in that realm

Lessons Learned
Surprising to me, the French do indeed use the verb ‘French’ to mean what we Americans think of it as. Or at least, that’s what the subtitles said
If you use your rifle to secure every door you close behind you, you will eventually run out of rifles
The French have very hard heads. How else to explain the multiple cranium butts that never seem to phase our fierce zombie fighters?
Carnies ain’t so down and hip with the concept of having their leg amputated
Now streaming on Netflix, The Horde is an enjoyable watch when you’re looking for good horror action. There’s no boundary pushing and in time, it will probably blend together with a lot of movies with similar styles, but that doesn’t necessarily take anything away from it. It’s a perfectly fine action horror film that won’t bring about world peace, but will keep you on edge.