Friday, March 18, 2011


(1972) Dir Fernando Di Leo

"We need to remember that property is theft!"

From the awesome new Fernando De Leo boxed 'crime' set comes this tough little picture, first in a crime trilogy from the robust director. Barbara Bouchet sizzles as the go-go dancing femme fatale girlfriend of pug-ugly Ugo. Fresh out of the slammer and the only one who might know where the loot is buried, Ugo's instantly a target for his former crime pals, including Lionel Stander (CUL-DE-SAC) as 'The Americano" - a mob head who rehires Ugo into the crew, hoping he'll slip and reveal where the stash is (all the other suspects in the theft are wiped out before the credits in a punchily-edited montage). We don't even know if Ugo took it until later, making his many beatings and denials fraught with strange tough guy ambiguity.

There's lots of De Leo's patented pro-commie dialogue (see above quote) folded into the police procedural scenes, something American character actor Stander (a European exile on account of the blacklist)  no doubt approved of. Money is the root of all evil and in every close-up shot of large amounts of it being handed back and forth we're always afraid it might explode ( BOOM! eh, Ugo? The big a-fireworks, eh? HAhahha! BOOM! hahaha!). A pathetic 'party' is the setting for the big climactic gundown: a handful of lawn chairs on parched grass around an empty pool: classic De Leo. Of course it wont take canny Acidemic fans long to figure out who stole what and where, but they'll be too busy rocking out to Luis Enriqiez Bacalov's funky Ennio Morricone-wannabe score (talk about property as theft!) to give much of a good goddamn especially when the flute and crunchy electric guitars get started.

(2010) Dir Robert Rodriguez)

Could this actually be Roberto Rodriguez's best film? It actually uses everything from that GRINDHOUSE trailer - including Cheech Marin as a shotgun-toting priest saying in a magnificently flat affect: "God has mercy. I don't!" Mind-boggling. Danny Trejo shows--after centuries of playing Mexican bad guys and even being one for 11 years as a child--that he has the depth of presence to handle a lead role, no sweat. And the ladies? My notions of feminine empowerment are completely in sync with Rodriguez's, and I dig the large quotient of strong, ass-kicking hermanas.

(2010) ***

An eerie downer with some stray grace, CATFISH is the Blair Witch of internet romances, to the point where a violent freaky unseen ghost (with a beautiful profile pic borrowed from someone else) is as a modern ecstasy compared to the soul-snuffing truth at the end of the Facebook rainbow. The story involves a handsome slacker falling love, as we all have, with a phantom from the internet; things get weird when her kid sister does paintings of his dance photos.... and then things get really weirder when he and his buddies drive down to see her, for a surprise visit.

As someone who in the wild west days of the AOL chat rooms (mid-90's) went on many dates with sexy-voiced, able-writing sirens who turned out to be deceiving kraken-gorgon hybrids, CATFISH's documentary sense of excitement and possibility struck deep in the core of my bruised soul; all those post-date Silkwood showers and whiskey shots to wash the wan desperation from my feelers afterwards, and to no avail. Haven't we all been there? Now you can go again! Terrifying, hilarious and deeply sad, no shower is scalding enough to sear the Catfish stains off your soul.

(2002) Dir. Roman Prygunov
11This Russian would-be giallo-esque nevermindbender uses amnesiac tactics to make us ever unsure what's going on in its heroine's head, the result being an underpopulated Russian pharmacological BLACK SWAN minus the dancing, with an intense green, white, and deep commie red set design, as if THE ROOM married SUSPIRIA and none of their friends showed up to the ceremony.

Ingeborga Dapkunaite (!) plays a top flight pharmaceutical researcher named Maria who's recently created a miracle drug for overcoming female infertility. Some really uninspired murders and needless crosscutting make half the events onscreen seem like a dream, but which half? One hopes our heroine is suffering from possible amnesia ala THE HEADLESS WOMAN (see my Amnesiacs in Cinema entry, here) but it's doubtful.

Still, this film helped me realize a few things about how to make movies cheaply by wasting running time dragging out meaningless shots and scenes that require no extra time or $$. So here is my


1. A phone rings, but no one is on the other end! Or else just deep breathing or whatever:
--All you need is one actress and a phone! If you don't have a phone, she can hold a banana or shoe or even just air, in a phone hand; you can add the phone later in editing.
2. Ben Nye stage blood - $40 a quart! 
You can pour it all over your actress as she wanders around white hotel bathrooms for long pointless dream sequences.
3. The old J-Horror 'coughing weird things up' dream sequences.
Same bathroom, she just does the old magician trick to apparently vomit scorpions or scalpels into the sink (with Ben Nye abounding!)
4. Taking strange pills
A no-frills way to ensure you can let the editor run rampant with weird non-associative editing tricks.

The film has only a few stalk and kill (i.e. 'giallo') scenes and they're all pointlessly intercut with scenes of Maria at lunch or otherwise bored or agitated, making us think she might either be involved or next on the list. She's clearly meant to be a suspect or a victim but we're never really scared for her, as we should be. And then it ends. Could be worse. At least she's hot... and there's a theremin!

(1969) Dir Frank Perry

There's ever so often I catch a fellow critic giving away that he's not seen the movie he's capsulizing (always a temptation for overworked second stringers), as in the Time Out Britannia Film Guide entry on LAST SUMMER, which calls it "winsome," and notes 'typical lessons are learned'?  

There's nothing "winsome" about LAST SUMMER, unless LORD OF THE FLIES or SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER are to be filed amongst GIDGET and BEACH BLANKET BINGO. There's a rape (by the protagonists!), pot smoking, race baiting, group hair washing, nonstop groping, evil-confessing, seagull torture,  riveting monologues, and other typical--but far from typical for coming-of-age beach summer movies.

My friend Max turned me onto this movie during one of our wasted-as-we-wanna-be summers hanging around his parent's Long Beach Island beach house. We never found a Barbara Hershey for ourselves (we were too hungover to actually go to the beach... at least during the day) but the meta-ness of it all was not lost on us in our bourbon or gin (in a strict either/or regimen) fog. It was the perfect thing to watch on a rainy Sunday over hash oil pills and190 proof Devil's Springs vodka strained through a flannel shirt. Add some girls and lessen the whiskey load and we might have been looking into an evil mirror.

The casting is awesome, too. I was never into The Waltons (as you might imagine) but when John Boy raises his sadistic demonic eyebrow, or pangs of empathy shoot across his Satanic features during his psychic threeways with Barbara Hersey and smirky Peter Norton, hell, that right there is enough to change my mind.

Coming in for the last half as a frumpy fourth wheel virgin-type they meet on the beach, Cathy Burns steals the show with a single take monologue recounting the last hours of seeing her mom alive at a cocktail party that had been raging at their house for days. By the time she's done you can smell the tang of gin and ocean salt emanating off skin, the heavy mix of cigarettes and lust tempered by drunken dissolution. It's enough to get her just far enough into the Hershey clique that her later glum buzzkillery all but spurns the evil trio into their final vile action.

Criminally not on DVD, this shows up on TCM from time to time and must not be missed.

(2010) Dir Paul W.S. Anderson

When it comes to directing action, Paul W.S. Anderson is a great one for color contrast, slow motion rain drops, cavernous all-white spaces, bullets, bullets, bullets and that's all. His action movies are like an expensive video game you're watching someone else play. There's such a shortness of believability or grit or guts in his uber-sterile mise-en-scene that you wonder how in the hell this hack has done so well for himself. With huge budgets and a marriage to the super sexy lead siren Milla Jovovich you know he must have some big connections. On the other hand, no way I could duplicate even a single moment, or even play the game without dropping the joystick with shaky hands... do they still even use joysticks?

And then again, RES EVIL the series was not meant to be great, just meant to be watchable for an international audience, over and over, to play on Syfy in subsequent decades, etc., so any earmarks of a particular culture or time or moment are shorn away, replaced with obvious references to other movies -- DAWN OF THE DEAD meets THE MATRIX in this case--painful cliche and obvious now but in 20 years might seem like its own wild style. It's all the head villain can do to not use that Hugo Weaving "Mr. Andersssson" voice as he dodges slow mo air-rippling bullets in his black trenchcoat and shades but hey---Syfy probably has the movie in the slot too. Milla, meanwhile, appears hung over and tired and "rocks" some weak mom bangs. The rest of the cast try their best but the most interesting character turns out to be a big lug with a black cloth over his head and a ridiculously huge ax! Go get 'em, brother! Machete don't text!

(POST SCRIPT - 2/9/15 - true to expectations, this has been on Syfy a lot, and I've come to love it - see my Milla Jovovich: God's own Avatar post from 2/24/14)


  1. Did you watch the English dub of Caliber 9? I've heard it and I could swear that for Anglophone audiences Stander's title was changed to "the Mikado." So much for relevance, but all three films of that trilogy kick ass, shoot it, stab it and blow it up with a grenade launcher.

  2. I loved Machete and you are right Trejo can play the lead quite well. For me personally I think Sin City is still Rodriquez's best film though, but Machete is avery close second.

  3. jervaise brooke hamster19 March, 2011

    I actually still think that "Last Summer" is the nastiest film ever made (even 42 years after its original release), to this day it exudes a level of loathsomeness and hideousness that no other movie i`ve ever seen has ever possessed.

  4. Wow Jervaise, I admire the strenghth of your reaction, but really? more than Last house on the left? It's disturbing, but also compassionate in its portrayal of token resistance to the evil of peer pressure, ala the Lord of the Flies, Thirteen, Kids, Bully, all that.

    Brent - I agree Sin City is awesome, but the savage brutality of it is harder to handle as a 'fun' film - I remember my date had to walk out halfway through (I stayed!) at the theater. Then again, i have it on DVD and don't have Machete, but that's cuz of the economy curbing my superfluous spending. Power to the people!

  5. jervaise brooke hamster19 March, 2011

    The hatefullness of Horror movies is tolerable (and even entertaining) because its based in fantasy, where-as the hatefullness of "Last Summer" is grounded in reality there-fore, for me, its much more nauseating, irritating and downright unbearable than any "horror" film ever could be.

  6. "Machete" is one I've been meaning to see. The red band trailer included a scene where Trejo pulls a guy's intestines out and uses them as a rope to get down the side of a building.

    That seems like a quality mind at work there, at least worth a couple hours of my time...

  7. Katy you should definitely see MACHETE. Just go into it with a nice buzz and low expectations - then again, isn't that true for all life?

    Jervaise, your resentment toward LAST SUMMER is astonishing. On a coming-of-age misogyny level I find PORKY'S to be far more offensive, and on a sexual assault / evil children level, well, the list is (sadly) endless.


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