Monday, March 27, 2017

The Fast & the Fabulous

In 2008, Paul Not the One That Directed Boogie Nights W. Anderson "remade" 1973's Death Race with Jason Statham's torso, which apparently got a sequel that nobody ever heard of two years later called Death Race 2.

But we're not here to talk about that.

In 2017, it would seem, the House that Roger Corman Built went back to the well for another remake closer in tone to the original and pleasantly far from the movie that I once described as "a video game for people with arthritis."

Although it does have ample Jason Statham torso

Quick Plot: It's the year 2050 and the United States of America is...different. Or maybe it's just exactly what it will be like in 33 years. 

Actually, that can't be the case, because science has been allowed to progress far enough that cancer has been eradicated. The downside? People are living longer, leading to overpopulation in a dying economy.

President Tru--

eh, excuse me, "the Chairman", aka Malcolm McDowell done up in the most glorious futurized  dead-bird-toupee we've seen since, well, the latest presidential (er, I mean presidented) news conference.

So. The Chairman, played in juicy full-teethed glory by the always game McDowell, runs the country like a busy arcade that just discovered virtual reality. In order to help reduce the masses, an annual death race is held across the country. Like the 1975 original, the best way to rack up points is to kill pedestrians along the way.

Our contestants are, quite literally, a colorful bunch. Roll call:

Jed Perfectus, a genetically engineered superhuman specifically designed to win the death race, although one has to imagine the scientists were a little distracted by crafting their version of Alan Tudyk playing Rocky in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

A.B.E., a robot car designed to show that technology is all you need (until he experiences his own form of an existential crisis)

Tammy the Terrorist (YellowBrickRoad's Anessa Ramsay), a southern blond psychopath who has created her own form of a cult that, not surprisingly, does well in the red states

Minerva Jefferson, an enthusiastic black rapper with a mission of her own

and of course, Frankenstein, the seasoned masked champion. In this iteration, Frankenstein is played by Manu Bennett, formerly Crixus (or as I liked to call him, Studdicus) from Starz's delightful, highly underrated Spartacus series.

Extreme operatic violence ensues, all with a biting wink and Idiocracy flavor you expect from a film that encourages the murder of children and the elderly. As the race takes us across the America of the future, the film gives us a mix of obvious jokes, massive CGI decapitations, sly political commentary, and even a pair of TV personalities shamelessly mirroring Effie Trinket and my REAL favorite Hunger Games character, Stanley Tucci's Caesar.

It's a good, cheesy, violent, and gloriously stupid time if there ever was one.

High Points
Much like the first Death Race, this one's most interesting characters are its women, particularly Ramsay's Trumpette-From-Hell messiah and Folake Olowofoyeku's layered gangsta rapper with a conscience

Low Points
As much as I loved Minerva's hit single "Drive Drive (Kill Kill) Drive Kill", the fact that I haven't been able to get it out of my head for a week has been a tad inconvenient for daily life

Lessons Learned
Math is for heathens and nerds

Turning global famine into clickbait is harder than you think

Winter was just a myth

Maybe I was just in the perfect mood, but I enjoyed the hell out of Death Race 2050. Watching politically relevant movies these past few months has generally been a sad, troubling experience, but this one pairs the timely analogy with such gleefully over the top vengeance that it hit me in just the right spot. It's on Netflix Instant and so long as you're in the right mind space, its' quite a ride. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

No Escape From Terminal Island

Well before Lance Henrikson guru'd out for No Escape and Vinnie Jones stole a movie from Stone Cold Steve Austin with The Condemned, a bearded Tom Selleck took his own trip to an isolated penal colony in pure '70s style. 

Ah, the beauty of post-stardom, decades-later cover art.

Quick Plot: Somewhere in a future that looks a lot like the late '70s, the state of California ruled the death penalty was cruel and unconstitutional. What to do with the growing batch of men and women convicted of first degree murder? Why, ship them off to a remote island and let the criminals with no shot at parole build their own existence, or kill each other trying of course!

Terminal Island has the simplest of setups, perhaps because we've seen various incarnations of the same story told before and after (Turkey Shoot, Escape From New York, etc.). The film opens cleverly with a news crew presenting a special on the titular land mass, smartly giving the audience everything we need before sailing off to hell.

This is no Gilligan's Island. We follow a female named Carmen as she enters into her new, violent society. A few alpha males have taken control of the group, forcing the rest of the men to provide what equates to slave labor. The handful of ladies have it worse: in addition to toiling the fields by day, they're expected to provide sexual favors for the reigning male population by night. 

Thankfully, a resistance is formed by some of the less rape-y men who recruit the women and follow a kinder policy of teamwork and consent. Naturally, the other side of the island doesn't take this easily and a civil war ensues. 

Directed by Roger Corman protegee Stephanie Rothman, Terminal Island comes with a ready-made premise for violent '70s exploitation. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film, however, is how it manages to craft its ingredients into something far more thoughtful than you'd expect. When we meet the impossibly beautiful island women, we groan with anticipation of seeing their clothing torn as the men take their turns during scheduled rapes. Perhaps it's the fact that director Rothman is female, but guess what? Terminal Island doesn't make us watch that. 

Make no mistake: these women are abused, but unlike so many pieces of trash cinema (I say that with affection), Terminal Island isn't interested in glamorizing the violence. The only nudity we get comes when a female character is taking control of her body in order to punish a would-be rapist (in a rather creative honey-lubricated hand job, no less). Some of the women are active and admirably ready to fight back, while one is clearly suffering from PTSD with no easy cure in sight. For a barely 90 minute drive-in action romp, that's fairly deep stuff. 

Even without the gender politics, Terminal Island remains a pretty neat little flick. The supporting characters have mostly standout personalities and the action, when it fully kicks in, has a grand scope. Maybe it isn't as trashy as its premise might suggest, but sometimes, that can be a darn good thing.

High Points
At first, the lack of a single clear protagonist seemed a little scattered, but Terminal Island does a surprisingly good job of creating a memorable ensemble
Low Points
That being said, it's a minor shame that our main villain is just not that memorable when you consider the fact that this is supposed to be the baddest group of criminals the country has

Lessons Learned
You gotta have a maniac!

Wild mustard has quite a high sulfur content

Another word for mead is "cow piss"

The closer to the bone, the sweeter the meat

Side Note
Mostly I'm adding this to remind myself to track down whatever I can by Stephanie Rothman. A quick glance at her Wikipedia page (and further reading from the various in-depth links) introduced me to a fascinating filmmaker with the misfortune of coming through the system at an even WORSE time for females in the industry. I'm eager to learn more.

I caught Terminal Island via a random TCM Underground airing, and much like the rest of Stephanie Rothman's work, it seems like you'll have a tough time tracking it down elsewhere. If you can find a copy, it's well worth the effort. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Do Zey Zerve Zima?

While I would never argue its merits as a piece of high art, I'll go on record as saying Jurassic World was one of the funnest movie theater experiences I've ever had.

So why would I not watch what can essentially be called a remake with the dinosaurs recast as zombies?

Quick Plot:
10 years after a major zombie outbreak, the last remnants of the living dead are stored at an exotic, isolated island where wealthy guests drop big bucks to play zombie paintball (without the paint). On this particular excursion, we follow a young woman named Melanie, who decides that killing the undead might be the only way to finally get over her childhood trauma of watching her father turn. Accompanying her is Lewis, her loyal boyfriend who had some serious military experience during the zombie wars of the past.

Also in Melanie's group is a pair of teenage gamers, a jilted bride with a few secrets, and Dougray Scott--

Yes, in case you didn't know, referencing Dougray Scott legally requires me to go on an extended aside about the greatness of Ever After.
Seriously, how good is Ever After?

Drew Barrymore as a likable, strong-willed young woman not willing to let a prince decide her fate, cute old people being sweet and cute in a cute old people kind of way, Angelica Huston in some form of Renaissance drag flirting mercilessly with Toby Jones as a dwarf...


Back to The Rezort. Just in case you couldn't figure it out from the line, "Jurassic World with zombies," allow me to say, this is Jurassic World with zombies. A security breach causes the typical flesh-eating chaos, forcing our gaggle to reach an exit point before the park's security doomsday plan takes effect, leveling the island before the contagion spreads to the mainland.

Obviously, this is a great idea for a film. Directed by Steve Barker from a script by Paul Gerstenberger, The Rezort isn't quite game-changing, but it sure is fun. You get the typical setups of crass businessmen trying to impress their Asian clients and trigger-happy teenagers overstaying their welcome, but deep character insight isn's always a requirement in dinosaurs-loose-in-the- 

er, I mean zombie theme park movies. 

Actually, in its brief 90 minute running time, The Rezort manages to cram far more heavy social themes than your usual pterodactyl-filled flick, with a final act reveal that makes some surprisingly timely and frightening observations on the refugee crisis.  Take THAT, Bryce Dallas Howard's high heels!

High Points
Maybe I've just been a tad worn down by some recent low budget watches, but it just felt nice to see some good-looking zombies tearing into their prey without overly pixelated CGI blood spurts 

Low Points
While I very much appreciated the opening newsreel that perfectly set up The Rezort's universe, there did seem to be some pieces missing. We don't learn enough about the park's mastermind to have the right kind of anger called for later in the film, and with its brief running time, it certainly feels like we could have had more

Title Points
I was all set to make a pointed joke about using a "Z" for an "S" in the title of a zombie film, but The Rezort might be the exception to the rule that, well, using a "Z" for an "S" in the title of a zombie film rendering it immediately terrible

Lessons Learned
If you are female and your morality is put into question, the solution to any accusation is simply, "I'm a businesswoman" 

Every apocalypse deserves an after party

In the near future, thumb drives will be fully waterproof

Zombie films are as ubiquitous these days as The Walking Dead t-shirts, but The Rezort gets my recommendation. The production values are high, the effects look good, the cast is able, and the setup lends plenty of fun. For a good 90 minutes of tourists-in-turmoil, this is the trip. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

A Short(ening) Round(up)

Another February has passed, meaning the usual hijinks have high and jinked.

I got another year older.

A groundhog got another day of work.

The Oscars taught us important lessons about font choices. 

And of course, most importantly, the Doll’s House experienced yet another Shortening. 

The Shortening, for those unaware, is our way of making a short month even shorter by celebrating all things vertically challenged. This year, that meant (as it often does), dolls, children,  more children, and cats. Past years have been a little more creative, what with leprechauns, rats, fetuses, trolls, and even something called goobers (somehow even grosser than it sounds). 

Thankfully, a few good pals stepped in with some more eclectic choices. Allow me to direct you to Senseless Cinema, where the one and only Doctor Pseudonymous takes us back to the golden age of 1985, when low budget horror hit its stride with the infamous Attack of the Beast Creatures

Also on hand as always is my good pal and fellow Jessica Fletcher devotee Chris Hewson, who has a whole slate of Shortening-based reviews rolling over at Not This Time, Nayland Smith. Expect to see some Herbies, bad seeds, fairies, dragons, and good old fashioned cats form outer space...s.

Next week, we’ll get back to good old fashioned horror, where evil lurks just outside the petite department. In the meantime, travel through the blogosphere for some alternate short takes and enjoy!