Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Episode #169: Robbery 200

Welcome to another action packed episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week we welcome good friend of the show Tom, he donated to our program for Japan promotion we ran over the last year or so...and Tom picked a couple films that are real doozies!!! This week we cover Cargo 200 (2007) a Russian film from Aleksey Balabanov and Robbery (1967) directed by Peter Yates,

We had a great conversation and we go over just about everything you can possibly imagine, including some memorable if questionable nicknames for female genitalia....it just happen folks....

Direct download: Robbery_200RM.mp3

Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Emily's 2011 Cinema Awards, Where Even Immortals Is a Winner

As I squeeze a few more watches into my life before publishing my official Top Ten of Eleven List, it seemed fitting to give some recent films their due in whatever format seems to fit. Expect lots of hyperboles!

Best Use of Headgear
Tarsem’s big budget Greekanization of 300
isn’t good by any means, but it was almost worth that escalated 3D ticket price to see Mickey Rourke sporting such accessories as this:

Peripheral vision be damned, now THAT'S a hat!

Best Film With a Theme I Despise And Thereby Don't Like the Film Even Though It’s Not So Terrible Itself

Lars Von Trier made a stunningly gorgeous and wonderfully acted end-of-the-world/wedding story. It just so happened he hates me for not hating the world that’s about to be destroyed, so I doubt he'll be invited to my birthday party this year. I guess I prefer my genital mutilation over clinical depression, but enough about ME...

Best Ending That Almost Saved a Disappointing Film

Black Death
From Creep to Severance to the kind-of mind-blowing Triangle, Christopher Smith has been making a steady upward crawl in genre filmmaking. With its medieval setting and impressive cast, Black Death was primed to be something special but seems to fizzle out once the excitement of the bubonic plague wears off. What saves the film is its coda, a (SPOILER ALERT) deeply dark finish that sees its innocent monk-in-the-making protagonist transform into a cruel witch hunter worthy of The Devils. It’s almost as if the whole movie becomes a prequel to that torture-filled subgenre of the 60s and 70s.

Biggest Disappointment

Vanishing on 7th Street
Here’s a great idea: let’s start an apocalyptic thriller with a good premise and fantastically chilling opening sequence. Then let’s bore the pants off you for 80 minutes with a horrifically miscast batch of miserable people, and because that’s not enough, we won’t explain a single thing that happened in the dull mess of a movie you just watched. Oh Brad Anderson, you are a scamp.

Most Undisciplined Film

Super 8
But it’s nostalgic! Cried legions of fans of this film. Sure, it was, and that was fine. Heck, even the globby CGI monster that looked like an early draft of Cloverfield’s star didn’t bother me too much. My issue with Super 8—and perhaps main reason I loved Attack the Block as much as I did—was that the film didn’t understand its own point of view. Had the whole story been told from the kids’ eyes, Super 8 would have soared, especially if its nearly 2 hour running length was shaved. The alternative could have also worked: give us an EPIC alien invasion film that incorporated the scientists’ findings and adult reactions more organically. Instead, J.J. Abrahms saw fit to combine its Stand By Me-like youth point of view with a lazy, occasionally trailing of Kyle Chandler’s sheriff as he learns some things that our main protagonists never do. As a result, whose film is it?
Best Sequel

Final Destination 5
Was it The Godfather Part II? No, but did The Godfather Part II have a death-by-parallel-bars back break? Final Destination 5 was an unpretentious injection of horror fun, an enjoyable 90 minutes of intricate murder wrapped up inside a film that actually cared about its franchise’s audience, rewarding the faithful with a brilliant ending that only the loyal would get.

Best Movie To Watch Plastered On Your Birthday

The Roommate
I remember virtually nothing of this tepid Single White Female wannabe, both because it’s so dull it barely casts a shadow and I went to see it with a lot of alcohol in my system. If memory serves, Billy Zane wears a hat, a hat that Mickey Rourke's hat could eat, vomit, inject with life serum, and watch that reanimated hat make a more interesting film than The Roommate.

Best Sound

The Last Circus
Here was a film seemingly scripted and produced for someone like me: surreal circus violence and a killer clown? Sign me up! Sadly Alex de la Iglesia’s Spanish Civil War metaphor coated in pancake makeup felt a tad empty to me, but when backs snap and faces get ironed, your ears experience something very, very new.

Best Lack of An Accent

Season of the Witch
Could you envision a table reading where Ron Perlman and Nicolas Cage toyed with British accents, then director Domonic Sena watched Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and realized that only VILLAINS in period films needed them? Yeah, I'm assuming that's what went down and thankfully, we're all the better for it.

Torture Device of the Year

Brazen Bull
Immortals burned a few pretty oracles inside one and Gary Oldman lorded over it in elephant form in the already-hysterical Red Riding Hood. Who knew the biggest trend of 2011 would be so...brass?

Most Effort Put Into Films That Weren’t That Good

Rubber/Dylan Dog: Dead of Night
It’s a tiring tie between the look-at-how-weird-I-am Rubber and the laugh-at-me-PLEASE Dylan Dog: Dead of Night. With its aggressively avante garde approach, Rubber goes flat (damn you easiness of tire puns) on the screen because as good an idea as using a ridiculous premise to craft a film about voyeurism is, the movie simply is not, primarily because it clearly THINKS it is and...well, you get the point. That might not have made sense, but neither did the film. Dylan Dog, on the other hand, tries harder than Anne Hathaway at the Oscars to endear itself to the absent audience, forcing awkward banter between Brandon Routh’s wooden private eye and his former Superman costar’s ‘wacky’ zombie. You almost feel bad for it. Unless you paid, and then it’s not funny to anyone.

Best Construction of a Sequel

Yes, it was technically a 2010 release, but when non-illegal means or film critic badges mean lowly movie fans like us can only see it in 2011, I consider it 2011. REC 2 didn’t grab me with quite the same urgency as its predecessor, but it’s hard not to admire how well REC 2 works in terms of its series, picking up the found footage narrative without feeling contrived.

Most Anticlimactic Death

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hollows: Part Deux
Having thus far only read the first book, I understand that there are some character nuances I have yet to experience simply by watching the films. That being said, one of the best villains in this film franchise is Helena Bonham Carter’s cackling Beatrix LeStrange, an evil witch who brings to mind what was good about Tim Burton before, well, he married Carter and got stuck in time. Thus, seeing a likable but minor character (Ron’s mum) finish her off with a quick spell and a line curbed from Aliens just felt anticlimactic.

Best Scene Stealer

William Finchter, Drive Angry 3D
How exactly does one hijack a movie from Nicolas Cage? One be William Finchter's ambiquous Accountant, that's how.

Best Film Without a Genre

Take Shelter
I've read rumblings of how Jeff Nichols' quiet study of schizophrenia/the apocalypse/Michael Shannon's awesomeness was likely ignored by major film awards because of its oddness or even, dare I say it, categorization as horror. In no way does the film belong on the same shelf as Paranormal Activity, but it IS horrifying, much in the same way as something like Todd Haynes' Safe or Michael Tolkin's The Rapture. But for some, the apocalyptic undertones relegate Take Shelter out of the pure and prestigious 'drama' club, making this haunting--and duh, incredibly acted--tale a movie without a home...or shelter.

Frank Oz Is An Asshole Award

...For his grumpy Stadler and Waldorff-esque trash-talking of The Muppets before its release. Look, it's not Jason Segel's fault that your last film managed to poop on the talents of Bette Midler, Nicole Kidman, Nathan Lane, Jon Lovitz, and the original near-perfection of Bryan Forbes' The Stepford Wives. Trust me, that film was far more offensive than Fozzie's fart shoes.

Movie I'm Appreciative Exists. Now Go Away

I love the spirit behind this film, a four-part anthology made by four hard-working and creative directors with a clear affection for genre history. But twenty minutes of semen jokes, another twenty minutes of werebear singing, another twenty of a Hitler gag that was funny for fifteen, and an endless repeat of movie quotes in the finale is a whole lot of wasted time.

Best Random Homages

Hobo With a Shotgun/YellowBrickRoad
In the 21sst century, we can safely assume that any working filmmaker has seen a lot of movies. It's common practice to reference the ones with influence, be that visually or in dialogue. This year, there were two films that did this to outstanding effect: Hobo With a Shotgun for its affectionate embrace of all the colorful hues and homeless politics of 1986's Street Trash, and the sharp direct-to-DVD YellowBrickRoad, which used one of the most beloved classics of all time as a maddening inspiration for some fantastic scares.

Needs More Dinosaurs Award

Tree of Life
Because c’mon! What’s more accessible than dinosaurs? Do you KNOW how many Land Before Time sequels have been made?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Baba Yaga (1973)

In Slavic folklore, the Baba Yaga is a nasty-looking witch who flies around in a giant pestle. She absconds with and eats children. She lives in a shack built on top of giant chicken legs that can move it around as it needs. Despite the ridiculousness of some of her trappings, the Baba Yaga is quite a creepy mythological figure. Think about it. A cackling (I assume she's a cackler) hag flying at you from out of the darkness in a giant ceramics project. And you can just see her moving all jittery, like a possessed character in a Sam Raimi movie, can't you? Historically, she often must be sought out for some piece of information or item which a story's hero or heroine needs to accomplish his/her quest. That Baba Yaga does not make an appearance in Corrado Farina's Baba Yaga.

Valentina (Isabelle De Funès) is a perky, flirty fashion photographer living in Venice (Italy, not California). Her quasi-beau, Arno (George Eastman), keeps trying to get into Valentina's bed, lamenting that he doesn't know if he'll "ever be ready for that chick." After a Eurotrash-populated party, Valentina rescues a dog from an oncoming car. The car's driver, Baba Yaga (Carroll Baker), gives Valentina a ride home (we never find out what happened to the dog) and snatches a clip from Valentina's garter belt, saying she will return it after checking if Valentina fits her needs. Quickly thereafter, Valentina finds that she may be unwittingly harming the people around her, as she herself is being pulled into a role which will bind her forever to the enigmatic blond witch.

Baba Yaga's intent is plain from her first meeting with Valentina. She means to have the photographer whether Valentina likes it or not. While Baba says that their initial meeting was preordained, it doesn't necessarily guarantee their eventual ending. What I found interesting in Baker's performance here was the aggressiveness on display. Whenever she appears she can be seen biting on something (the garter belt clip, a necklace, her own knuckle). This constant baring of teeth is a display of fierceness as well as being a statement of intent (though not in an anthropophagic sense). Baba makes no bones about it. She wants Valentina, and she will let nothing stand in the way of her goal. The idea of a stranger, especially one as odd as Baba showing up out of the blue and announcing that she's going to have you is at once scary and seductive. It is doubly so when you introduce the overt Sapphic connotations. The allure of the unknown in this respect is both horrifying and enticing, especially considering that giving into this particular temptation also forfeits one's freedom.

Baba's seduction of Valentina, then, can be seen as a possible release from repression. From the start, Valentina goes out of her way to display her independence, refusing a ride home from Arno, declining to invite Arno up to her apartment, and so on. Is this because she secretly has these urges she would rather not acknowledge? Or is it because she feels that by being so fiercely self-reliant outwardly, she can maintain control of her life and her body? This freedom from repression can be either a boon or a bane. Sometimes it creates the link needed to make a character whole (or at least a springboard from which the rest of their life can now progress). Sometimes it only speeds up a character's ultimate destruction. It is the tension created by this internal struggle that propels the film forward and gives the viewer so much to consider along the way. This also takes into account the equating of sex with power in a relationship. Baba Yaga's assaultive drive to have Valentina's body is juxtaposed with Valentina's more benevolent teasing out of Arno's expectations, but it is no less powerful. Just because the prey allows itself to be caught doesn't mean that the predator is the victor.

(The following paragraph will probably offend any psychologists reading – you have my apologies in advance) Baba Yaga is an adaptation of a comic book by artist Guido Crepax, whose work is informed and inspired by the concepts of psychoanalysis. In a Freudian sense, the very ideas of homosexuality and bondage/sadomasochism and their practitioners are considered perversions. Ergo, Baba Yaga can be seen as an aberrant character, and Valentina's quasi-attraction to her as equally off-key. But in a Jungian sense, neurosis is brought about because "rationalism…has put (modern man) at the mercy of the psychic 'underworld'." It is interesting, therefore, that Baba Yaga is depicted as being pallid, almost colorless, as if she sprang out of the seemingly-bottomless pit in her house (which is also seen in Valentina's dreams tellingly before finding it in Baba's place). She comes from the underworld (or an underworld, anyway), and she wants to drag Valentina back there with her (by the hair, I'm thinking).

There are multiple nods to the film's origins, as well as juxtapositions of film to comic books throughout the piece. When Valentina and Arno are looking at a graphic novel, the drawn images are replaced by monochromatic photos of the film's characters, as if they are captured in the comic's panels. However, the panels progress and intercut with live-action, making the statement that both forms are merely a collection of still images. It is film's flicker fusion that provides the illusion of action and movement. Yet, both forms draw the eye where they want to through shot choice, composition, lighting, and so on. They both control the pace of storytelling through the duration of their "shots" and scenes. Smaller panels in a comic propel action forward faster than large ones, and it's the same with a film's shot duration and editing. This device is used at multiple times in the film and provides a running motif. There is also the recurrence of Valentina's flashbacks occurring in quick shots (sometimes live-action, sometimes fumetti), furthering the idea of comic book panels on film, as well as illustrating Valentina's mind for the viewer.

Baba Yaga curses Valentina's favorite camera, calling it "the eye that freezes reality." This camera then becomes a force of destruction to things in motion. Valentina's career as a photographer is another signifier of the power of one moment in time, as well as the thin veil of perceived reality (she shoots magazine ads). Contrasted with Arno's work in the commercial film industry (also a creator of advertisements), Valentina's camera has the power to destroy the moving image, to force it back into a collection of stills.

This manipulation of reality extends into (and out of) Valentina's dreamworld. She dreams of being brought before a Nazi officer (by two female Nazi soldiers) and dropped into a bottomless pit. The pit will later be found in Baba's house. Later, she dreams that she is a Prussian soldier firing at a friend and colleague of hers who was hurt by the cursed camera. Baba's servant appears and makes off with Valentina's camera in a dream. Upon waking, the camera is gone. What the viewer is ultimately left with is a world in which Valentina is not only occupant but creator (either consciously or unconsciously), and simultaneously neither, because the work is orchestrated by Crepax, but in this version it is also orchestrated by Farina. Consequently, it exists, as do the characters, on multiple planes of existence, all of them fascinating to consider in their neverending dance.

MVT: Crepax's original work (which, incidentally, I have not had the pleasure of reading) is strong enough to translate into a film that, while not perfect, leaves a lot to ponder.

Make Or Break: The style and themes of the piece are both jelled and encapsulated by the scene of Valentina and Arno in Valentina's apartment.

Score: 7.25/10

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

DVD/Blu-Ray Picks Of The Week - 1/24/12

Sammy's Pick: GODZILLA (Region 1 Blu-Ray & DVD; Criterion)
It's the Criterion treatment for the only honestly solid Godzilla movie in my opinion. I know there are people that like them all, but this is truly a film to me whereas the others are cashing in more on the novelty. I am honestly picking this because I feel more films like Godzilla DESERVE the Criterion treatment and we as film fans need to support this title!!!

Amazon Blu-Ray and DVD
Diabolik DVD and Blu-Ray
BoulevardMovies.com Blu-Ray and DVD
Blu-Ray.com Review

Large William's Pick: LETHAL LADIES COLLECTION 2 - Roger Corman's Cult Classics Collection (Region 1 DVD; Shout! Factory)
This is an absolutely fantastic value pack; we've got 3 great exploitation films from the early to mid 1970's directed by genre stalwarts(and personal favorites) Cirio Santiago, and a Joe D'Amato/Steve Carver film that has been out of print FOREVER, that I've wanted to own a proper copy of. The 2 Santiago helmed films are Fly Me(1973), and Cover Girl Models. Both feature some fun 70's action, lots of naked 70's foxes and the pace that anyone who digs Santiago's films has come to trust. The third film stars none other than the Matron Saint of the GGtMC, Pam Grier re-teamed with her Black Mama, White Mama co-star, Margaret Markov, not to mention Lucretia Love, and one on my all time favorite Euro babes, Rsalba Neri. It's co-directed by Steve Carver(of Lone Wolf McQuade fame) and Joe D'Amato(of every sleazy as fuck George Eastman penned romp from Italy in the mid to late 70's). All of these for under $20 gang. It's a S-T-E-A-L, and worth every dime!


Diabolik DVD

Aaron's Pick: FASCINATION (Region 1 Blu-Ray & DVD; Redemption/Kino)
The works of the late French filmmaker Jean Rollin can be hit or miss with me, but FASCINATION - an atmospheric unconventional vampire film set in the French countryside - is one of my favorites of his that I've seen thus far. The folks over at Kino and Redemption have teamed up to restore a number of Rollins's films which are being released this week - some of which (including this film) are being made available on Blu-Ray for the very first time. If you're into erotic horror, lesbian vampires, atmospheric Gothic Horror films, and beautiful nude women wielding scythes, give FASCINATION a shot.

Amazon Blu-Ray and DVD
Diabiolik DVD and Blu-Ray
BoulveardMovies.com Blu-Ray and DVD

Monday, January 23, 2012

Episode #168: Come and See the Seventh Curse

Welcome back to the podcast you have come to love, the GGtMC!!!

This week Will and Sammy cover two picks from Uncool Cat Chris for the Program for Japan promotion we ran during the past year. Chris picked Come and See (1985) directed by Elem Klimov and Seventh Curse (1986) with Chow Yun Fat.

We had a blast talking about these films, this was both class and trash!!!

Direct download: Come_and_See_the_Seventh_CurseRM.mp3

Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Friday, January 20, 2012

Episode #167: Viva 30

Welcome to a special episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week, William and Sammy couldn't get their schedules together and had to step outside to some friends to get a review for you Minions this week!!! Pickleloaf from The Silva and Gold Podcast, CineMasochist Justin from the Freakin' Awesome Network and The Lightning Bug from The Lightning Bug's Lair review Viva Riva! (2010) directed by Djo Munga.

Also, to add to this weeks jam packed show...Large William talks about his Top 30 favorite OLDER films he saw in 2011.

This is a huge show filled with a massive amount of GGtMC goodness!!!

Direct download: Viva_30RM.mp3

Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Panic Beats (1983)

Urban legends, old wives' tales, whatever you want to call them, they exist everywhere in the world. New York City has its legendary alligators in the sewers. India (and just about the entire world) has the Hope Diamond. My neck of the woods has the Stone Couch (essentially a natural rock that looks like a couch – you can Google it). As with all tales of this type, everyone has their own variation on its origin. The one I'm familiar with goes like this: A woman and her child were walking this particular stretch of road one cold, winter night. Becoming tired, they sat on the Stone Couch and wound up perishing from the cold. It's said that if you sit on the couch three times, you'll die. The first two times are just a warm up with something bad happening to you each time. That's the basics. I've known people who sat on it and had bad things happen to them (though never death). I've known people who sat on it and had nothing happen to them. Take it for what it is.

Paul (Paul Naschy) finds out that his rich wife, Genevieve (Julia Saly), has a heart condition and decides to take her out to his country estate. During the drive out, housekeeper, Maville (Lola Gaos), and her smoking hot niece, Julie (Frances Ondiviela), kindly fill us in that Paul's descendant, Alaric de Marnac (who bears an astonishing resemblance to Paul), was a bloodthirsty maniac who killed his wife and became a devil worshipper and black magic practitioner. Genevieve is assaulted by bandits on the way to the manse, showing us just how fragile she is. Upon reaching the estate, strange, unexplained occurrences threaten Genevieve's deteriorating health. Who or what can be behind it all?

The late Paul Naschy (aka Jacinto Molina, Panic Beats aka Latidos de Pánico's director and co-writer) is a cult figure in the world of horror cinema. A former bodybuilder in his native Spain, it was Naschy's forays into the supernatural (particularly his portrayal of the damned lycanthrope, Waldemar Daninsky, in the "Hombre Lobo" films) that catapulted him to fame and garnered him the nickname "the Boris Karloff of Spain." While his movies hold a fascination for me, he's the type of performer you either like or dislike almost instantly. He usually comes off as a schlub but a schlub you should keep an eye on. Even when essaying the role of a despicable character, Naschy always tried to give the role some element of pathos. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work, and sometimes there should not be an attempt to redeem an evil character, in my opinion. Plus, his constant endeavors to make his characters endearing tend to make his work (in toto) a bit one-note. Personally, I enjoy his work overall, but as I see more of it, this facet sticks out to me more and more.

Almost all of Naschy's films adhere to a traditional, Hollywood, Universal Pictures type of mold. His movie sets are festooned with smoking skeletons, snakes slithering out of eye sockets, dense fog, and heavy backlighting silhouetting menacing figures. Not to mention the fact that an old, crumbling, enigmatic castle oftentimes makes up his films' backdrops. Naschy's contribution (as Hammer Pictures and so many others at the time did) was to amp up the gore and sex. His werewolf doesn't just attack his victims and maul them offscreen. He tears into them with gusto and comes up with a jaw loaded with grue. His female co-stars were buxom and lovely to a one, and almost all of them couldn't stop making bedroom eyes at old Signor Molina. That said, in the same way that Naschy only wanted to portray unsympathetic characters for sympathy, his films' narrative structures tend toward the formulaic, as well. Consequently, they never transcend the genre's boundaries, though they do make for some darned good comfort food.

The evil ancestor has been a part of storytelling for years. The concept provides for foreshadowing, an air of menace, and/or a red herring when used properly. The distaff side of this trope is the reincarnation of a former love that some mummy or vampire must pursue to his eventual destruction (there's probably a whole book to be written on that one – okay, maybe a chapter). Nevertheless, the evil ancestor is almost always kept in the film via a portrait or photo that the filmmakers constantly cut to when something "spooky" happens. This film's portrait of Naschy as Alaric has such a great smirk on his face; it makes it hard to buy into his murderous history.

As with many movies of the time (especially foreign films, though whether this is through being cut for English-speaking audiences or just because the filmmakers honestly believed that this is how it should be done, I can't say), things in the plot happen or are revealed just in time for some plot point to exploit this newly discovered information. It gives these films a piecemeal feel and only enhances the fact that they were rarely made for anything other than monetary reasons. Panic Beats is no exception. New characters appear halfway through the film. The more sinister side of characters pop up just in time for some malfeasance to go on.

As I was watching the film, I kept thinking about the old, black & white creature features of yesteryear. But more than that, I kept flashing to all the EC Comics I have read over time. "Tales From The Crypt," "Vault Of Horror," "Shock Suspenstories," and on and on, these comics' stories all had the same basic story structure wherein some character or characters received a grisly, O. Henry-esque comeuppance by the last panel. If you've ever read one of these stories, you will know exactly how Panic Beats is going to play out from the very first shot. This is not to say predictability is necessarily a detriment. When done well, the predictable can be just as satisfying as the groundbreaking, and the very end does give one a slight kick. Unfortunately, Naschy's film doesn't try to do anything other than hit the basics all-around, a paint-by-numbers, if you will. As a result, it is difficult to muster up much enthusiasm for any of the goings-on when you've seen it all done before and with a degree more panache. 

MVT: Naschy's sincere love of old-school horror movies is in every frame of this and all his films. Sadly, his reluctance to deviate from these established formulas is a drawback and a missed opportunity for the man to display his talents to their fullest.

Make Or Break: The soul-deadeningly-long, exposition-laden drive out to the country prepares the viewer for the narrative style and generally plodding pace of the remainder of the film. Even while intercutting between locations and "action."

Score: 5.75/10

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DVD/Blu-Ray Picks Of The Week - 1/17/12

Sammy's Pick: TRAFFIC (Region 1 Blu-Ray; Criterion)
Soderbergh is one of the most versatile directors working, and one of my favorites all together.He can adapt to any style and he pulls great performances from actors. This is a pretty easy choice as it is one of his best films and also look for a small role from GGtMC fav Tomas Milian...Benecio Del Toro is SO good in this film as well!!! BUY!!!

Aaron's Pick: TRAFFIC (Region 1 Blu-Ray; Criterion)
I tried to avoid going with the same pick as Sammy this week, but seeing as I'm a huge fan of director Steven Soderbergh and consider TRAFFIC to be one of his best films, it's extremely difficult for me to NOT echo his recommendation. TRAFFIC has great performances from a wonderful ensemble cast, with some surprisingly garish cinematography that should lend itself well to high-def. As an alternate pick of the week, consider the 80's classic LICENSE TO DRIVE on blu-ray.

Blu-Ray.com Review
High-Def Digest Review

Large William's Pick: BELLE DE JOUR (Region 1 DVD & Blu-Ray; Criterion)
Criterion has put out arguably one of Luis Bunuel's more accessible films, in the Catherine Deneuve starring Belle du Jour. She stars as a bored housewife who spends her spare time working in a bordello, working out her own frustrations and fantasies sexually, not to mention those of the men who frequent the bordello. Bunuel's signature surrealism works brilliantly in a film such as this with such a strong pyschlogical/emotional bent. Deneuve consistently was one of the best actresses of her time and consistently challenged herself with a myriad of roles and experiences, this being no exception. Come for the standout performances, stay for the coffee shop debate about the ending.. Definitely a buy gang

Bisou bisou,

Amazon Blu-Ray and DVD
Blu-Ray.com Review
BoulevardMovies.com Blu-Ray and DVD

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I, The Jury (1982)

At one time Mike Hammer was Luke Skywalker and Batman rolled into one but these days he is a faded, forgotten pop culture icon, taking up space with Biggles and the first Green Lantern. Mike Hammer was of course a pulp novel PI crafted from a comic strip by Mickey Spillane, hitting the post WWII US with the force of a colt .45. Reading the original novels it is striking how lewd and violent they are, but still well crafted. Imagine Frank Miller's Sin City as a novel and you are close to the tone. Transferring Hammer the screen has not always been successful, even the best films of Mike Hammer lose something of the character's brutally or rampant misogyny.

I, The Jury is no different, though I will not spend this review yakking on about the differences. Armand Assante stars as a more soft boiled Mike Hammer, as lady loving but more wise cracking and more likely to shine his shoes but still handy with a fist and a gun. In this flick he is investigating the mysterious death of an old army buddy that takes him into a murky world of sex therapy, mobsters and CIA stings. There is a strong undercurrent of paranoia to this flick, even if nearly all of it takes place during daylight, there is a small part of it that itches at the noir nerve. Echoing past films like Klute or Night Moves, there's a small atmosphere of trust no one.

Yet any message or theme is perhaps lost in the 80s excess of tits, shoulder pads and car chases. Had this been a 70s film there would probably be more space for plot, here though it delivered by the shovelful in moments of utter excess. Take for instance the murder of Hammer's pal. It is not enough for him to just fall down, he has to writhe around shirtless and for some reason, grab his artificial arm before he finally dies. Then there's a bit where the CIA are closing in on Hammer and he has to fill a car that has no petrol with booze, lighter fliud and mothballs as some ind of fuel substitute. The car of course moves like a fucking rocket. The ultimate GGTMC moment has to be the sex therapy retreat where orgies are done whilst guys take notes on clipboards. Cue bad cum faces, both male and female. The faces frown and contract with bad false sweat while they writhe with people still wearing underwear.

I, The Jury is ultimately a pretty decent little flick perhaps weakened by some flat direction and plot points that plod along like an episode of Magnum PI but its strong enough in the action and sleaze department to deliver a neat little time. It's not Chinatown but it beats the lousy sequel.

MVT: Armand Assante. It is his vehicle and he has the charisma and body hair to take it to the bank and back again.

Make Or Break: Made when Hammer steals boozeto fill the car and promptly out races CIA goons.

Score 6.5/10 A flawed but decent piece of early 80s action

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

Some people cannot display emotions. It's just that simple. However, whether said person can help it or not determines how society at large deals with this trait. When found in a patient, it's viewed as a characteristic of a mental/developmental disorder. When found in a politician, it's viewed as a nigh-sociopathic lack of empathy (shocking thing, that) garnered from years of practice. And when it's found in an actor, it's viewed as a sign that "actor" is the one thing they should not be labeled. Yet, folks have become famous, flourished even, while essentially imitating the titular character in Lifeboat. Yet, this does not necessarily mean the affectless are also talentless. Charles Bronson was a master of this. His face was like a well-worn catcher's mitt, and his lips rarely moved, but you knew exactly what he was thinking and feeling. And it was usually anger. Is there any wonder, then, that action heroes are generally characterized as wooden actors? They're rarely called on to emote anything other than anger. Okay, maybe rage, occasionally.
(Chuck Norris doesn't see dead people. He makes dead people.)

Mikhail Rostov (Richard Lynch) and his communist cohorts have infiltrated the United States of America. Funding a mercenary army with cocaine money, the invasioneers ("invaders" just doesn't encompass it here, I think) infiltrate all areas of the country, sowing unrest in the American people. However, Rostov also holds a grudge against the one man who ever thwarted him (I assume) – Matt Hunter (Chuck Norris). Hunter, however, has retired to the bayous of Florida, where he helps his pal, John Eagle (Dehl Berti), wrassle 'gators. After making things personal for Hunter (I'll give you three guesses how), the Great White Asskicker conducts a one-man war against Rostov and his soldiers, killing his way to the top.

(Chuck Norris has already been to Mars; that's why there are no signs of life there.)

Saying that Joseph Zito's Invasion U.S.A. is a rote action flick, is like saying Chuck Norris has some body hair. While it maintains the very basic premise of Alfred Green's 1952 Invasion U.S.A. (and it should be stated, I've never seen anyone make the case that Zito's is a remake of it, though it had certainly been around long enough to have been seen by the filmmakers), the later film is not really concerned with what an actual invasion of communists would do to the country (the 1952 film is unrealistic in other ways). Certainly, they show vignettes of society breaking down (and I must say, this is one of the most orderly societal breakdowns I have ever seen), but the overarching storyline is actually an ever-escalating duel between two men who hate each other. In this light, the film can be seen as a Western (and I'm sure Mr. Norris would have it no other way), working its way up to the ineluctable showdown with very large "guns." The "what-if" aspects of the Battle-Of-The-Bulge-like siege are mere background noise to Norris's mission.

(Chuck Norris is the reason why Waldo is hiding.)

In many ways, the film is structured like a horror film. There are multiple scenes where we see faceless (even gloved, sometimes) stalkers skulking about in the shadows while unknowing potential victims go about their business. There's also the old trope of walking around a dark house, not knowing what's around the next corner. However, whereas the horror film's cathartic release is typically triggered by the killing of a character or characters who we probably like (though not always) but more importantly probably don't deserve it, the cathartic release in action films like this one is often triggered by the sudden killing of characters who we feel truly deserve it. These are bad men, and no amount of punishment is too much for them.

(Chuck Norris is what Willis was talking about.)

Enter Richard Lynch. No one signifies evil on sight (with the possible exception of Thanos; I'll let you look that one up) quite like this guy. In this film, as in so many others, he plays not just the villain but a sadist. It is not enough that he murders a boatload of people. He first lets them think everything is okay, and then proceeds to kill them all. And he does it all with a smile on his face. Rostov is obsessed with the idea of killing Hunter to the point that he has nightmares about it and would even jeopardize his mission to accomplish this goal. By contrast, Hunter (and what a telling name that is) wants nothing to do with anyone at the start (truly a reluctant hero) and has always believed that the higher-ups (read: bureaucracy) should have let him ice Rostov when he had the chance. The two characters are so antithetical to each other, they could just as easily be seen as God and the Devil in the eternal struggle. In fact, Hunter seems to appear at just the right moment to save people (a sort of serial killer of killers) for the entirety of the second and third acts, like a guardian angel with a beard.

(The chief export of Chuck Norris is pain.)

Two hallmarks of 1980s action films were communists and overkill. Not every actioner had both, but almost all had either one or the other. It's interesting to me that the two great periods of "Red Scare" cinema occurred about thirty years apart. In the 1950s, the theme was often embedded in the horror and science fiction genres (The Thing From Another World, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, It Conquered The World, etcetera) and rarely spoken of overtly (that was saved for "Red Scare" movies like the earlier Invasion U.S.A., another subgenre all its own). Then there was a lull in the prevalence of this theme in genre cinema, more likely than not precipitated by the rise of the public's interest in social concerns, the proliferation of psychedelic drugs, and the notion that "we are the monsters/Martians." Then, with no foreign war to distract the American public in the early 80s, the focus of villainy in pop culture turned again to the communists. 

(Chuck Norris counted to infinity – twice.)

Whether they were Latin American, Asian, or Russian, the Reds always seemed to have a plan to destroy us "Capitalist Pigs." And we, in turn, had enough hardasses and ordnance to blow them all back to the Stone Age. Invasion U.S.A. is no exception. Rostov doesn't just assassinate someone. He does it with a bazooka. It's not enough to shoot a bazooka at Hunter's cabin. You have to fire several, multiple times. Hunter doesn't just show up at the mall to take out the bad guys. He drives his pickup truck through the doors and walls, probably hurting more people than he's helping. But that's why we watch films like this one, and as an example of 1980s action movie excess, this one excels.

(When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.)

MVT: Ironically, I'm giving director Joseph Zito the MVT here. He shoots and edits action exceptionally well. He uses the entirety of the screen, isn't afraid to move the camera, and throws a huge amount of production value onscreen. His pacing makes the film feel brisk, even at almost two hours of runtime.

Make Or Break: The scene where Lynch meets up with druglord, Mickey (Billy Drago), exemplifies everything that makes this movie and those like it so enjoyable. I won't spoil it for you, but it's sleazy, and over the top, and oh-so-satisfying.

Score: 7.5/10

Monday, January 9, 2012

Episode #166: Macho Street Hunter

Welcome back for an action packed episode of the GGtMC!!!

This week the Gents cover Street Hunter (1990) starring Steve James and Reb Brown and Macho Man (1985) starring Rene Weller. The Gents had plenty to talk about, especially in the arena of 80's fashion and the gentle nature of Steve James.

Direct download: Macho_Street_HunterRM.mp3

Emails to midnitecinema@gmail.com

Voicemails to 206-666-5207


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Freejack (1992)

Directed by Geoff Murphy. Starring Emilio Estevez, Mick Jagger, Rene Russo, Anthony Hopkins, and Jonathan Banks.

Specifically sought out by a group of futuristic bounty hunters, a race car driver named Alex Furlong (Emilio Estevez) is zapped out of present day (early 90's) and into the future, where he finds himself as the prey in a large scale manhunt. A megacorporation reigns supreme and specializes in some sort of body-swapping procedure, which consists of clientele paying big bucks to essentially transfer their souls into the more nubile younger bodies of unfortunate victims who are plucked out of the past. Turns out Alex is the prime candidate for the aforementioned procedure; a mysterious figure with ties to the megacorporation wants to look like Emilio Estevez, and he'll do whatever it takes to make it happen. Can you blame him?

The year: 2009.

Technology is significantly avdanced, social disorder is prominent, cops wear armor and brandish laser guns, people drive around dome-shaped vehicles, modified dune buggies and Hummers with infra-red windshields, and fashion has apparently been at a standstill since the late 80's/early 90's.

I love that about dystopian/post-apocalypse movies made in the 80's and 90's; the future is greatly exaggerated in terms of technology and living conditions, but yet the fashion faux pas remain the same. According to this particular film's version of 2009, dudes rock jheri curls and mullets, and sophisticated women still think tops with giant shoulder pads look attractive. Not fashion-related, but at one point a dude goes into a gunfight with a samurai sword; I half expected him to put on a rising-sun headband, but unfortunately it wasn't the case - it probably would have raised my score a whole point higher.

Once Alex ends up in the future, one of his goals (aside from obviously staying alive) is to reunite with his wife (Rene Russo), who he was abruptly taken away from when he was time-warped against his will. Of course there's an initial state of confusion on Alex's part as he can't comprehend the idea of time travel and merely thinks he just woke up from a coma after a racing accident, so that aspect of his character comes into play during the film's first act as he attempts to adapt to his surroundings. Not exactly a far cry from other films of its ilk in terms of plot structure, and unfortunately this remains the case throughout the entire movie. FREEJACK doesn't scream originality, and it could be argued that it's hurt even further by the fact that it doesn't have a contemporary "action hero" in the lead role. However, it could also be argued that Emilio Estevez brings a believable everyman quality to his role that simply couldn't be accomplished with an Arnold Schwarzenegger and the like.

Another interesting casting choice is Mick Jagger as the lead "bone-jacker" who works for the shadowy corporate figures in the film. As everyone who's seen Mick Jagger act knows, you can't expect anything more than Jagger being Jagger, which isn't necessarily a bad thing depending on the type of film it is; luckily, FREEJACK isn't something that people watch for great acting, so his distinguishable voice, accent, and delivery can only add to creating a memorable bad guy. The downside is that his character is actually a bit subdued and the script doesn't give him much rope in terms of letting him chew the scenery.

Aside from boasting an interesting cast, FREEJACK has a BLADE RUNNER-esque cyberpunk aesthetic and features many of the genre conventions and cliches. Compared to its post-apocalyptic, dystopian brethren, FREEJACK is a middle-tier cyberpunk movie and not a must-see of the genre, but it's worth checking out nonetheless because of a quick pace, some occasionally fun moments, and a generally light tone throughout. Great soundtrack too, with synth-infused score from composer Trevor Jones and songs by Industrial Metal icons Ministry and alternative acts like Jesus Jones and Jesus & Mary Chain. And while it was released in 1992, FREEJACK has an 80's aesthetic that fans of film from that era will love. And, lest we forget, Amanda Plummer playing a foul-mouthed, shotgun-toting nun, and a random guy playing saxophone in an alley.

Make or Break: There wasn't a particular scene in the film that made it for me, so I'll just go with any time Mick Jagger was on screen. Again, not an over the top performance on his part by any means, but he has an undeniable presence, and if you can picture Jagger saying lines like "OK, let's DO IT!" as he leads his bounty hunters into battle, you'll get an idea of what's in store. David Johansen is also a highlight, as he always is in everything he's in. Speaking of lines, my favorite piece of dialogue in the film comes not from Jagger but from a supporting character, who, as he lays on the ground dying from gunshot wounds, asks Estevez's character to "Keep my grandma smiling." A loaded last request, but OK.

MVT: I'm gonna go with the overall look of the film. The film had a decent enough budget of $30 million and it shows. Not an extravagant film in terms of production, but the effects - both practical and special - were pretty good for the time it was made.

Score: 6.75/10