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Work of art? Exploitation film? True crime expose? Or Ed Gein homage?
I picked up the DVD for "Motel Hell," and -- after getting a few good laughs out of it -- decided to watch the double-feature as well. I expected a cheap, gratuitous exploitation film with no redeeming features. What I got was a surprisingly subdued, well-made, and well-acted film that -- strangely -- had a lot of heart and compassion in it. And it's funny too, but in a down-to-earth manner. You could almost view this as an homage to Ed Gein, as opposed to an expose.
I also got a kick out of the crime reporter who kept on popping up in the scenes, waxing eloquent about "Ezra's" horrible habits, while Ezra himself sits next to the reporter, going about his business.
"Deranged" is a very strange movie, but not in an over-the-top way. It's strange with everyday life: the family who tells Ezra to stop kidding around when he repeatedly talks about committing the well-publicized crimes in the area, the old guy in the bar who talks trash about the state of his withered sex organs, and -- best of all -- the woman who uses her dead husband to seduce Ezra. Speaking of which, this lead to my favourite line in the film, as Ezra describes this woman to his mummified mother: "You were right, momma, she sure is fat! And I like that. But it would be scary to get stuck in all that fat. Real scary. I'd better take something along to protect myself."
As uneven as this movie is, it's got a strange oddball charm, as though the people involved felt they were creating a cross between an enduring work of art and a true-life crime story, but threw in a healthy dose of gore in order to make it more interesting. I'm glad I watched it, and would gladly see it again.
House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
I wish Doctor Satan could have butchered Baby.
Yup, I'm a fan of the 70's horror genre. I rented the 1000 Corpses DVD knowing full well that it was paying homage to those films (particularly "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"), that it was an edited version of the movie, and that reviews of the film were -- at best -- mixed.
Well, my review is mixed too. Let me say, first, what I like about this film:
It's exuberant. It's cheerful, in a sicko sort of way. It's got all the relentless screaming and running and twisty passages that take me back to my childhood. It's creative and quirky and funny at times. Sid Haig is perfect as Captain Spaulding, the good ol' boy clown with a bad attitude. Karen Black was tailor-made for Madame Firefly's hicky, twisted, over-sexed but not-entirely-there routine. And I've got to say, Tiny, Doctor Satan and The Professor are inspired, horrific inventions that I won't be forgetting anytime soon.
This movie grabs some of the more memborable parts of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: a quirky group of teens who aren't particularly likeable, an inbred family who hunts humans and which operates on a mysterious, mythological logic that makes no sense to their victims. You've also got a female character who is singled out and tormented for a long time as she runs from one bizarre set to another.
But the problem is, this film didn't bother enough with character development. The TCM teens were notable because they seemed REAL, while the 1000 Corpses teens are caricatures (the slacker, the uptight one, the bitchy girlfriend, the nice girlfriend). Sure, they have interesting quirks, but they're barely integrated into the film.
The same goes for the actual family. While the TCM families all had a coherance to them, you really can't see how Otis, Tiny, Baby and the rest all relate to each-other. What's more, Baby is a terrible actress. Her oft-repeated laugh sent shivers down my spine, not because it was creepy, but because it sounded weak and forced and was always put in the forefront of the scenes. Granted, her "Boop-Boop-A-Doo" routine was great, but she simply cannot play a crazy person. Her rabbit fairy-tale speech is the most embarassing thing I've ever seen on film. Hey Rob, enough with the girlfriend/wife-in-a-major-role stuff, it's bad.
Bill Mosely flounders as well, strangely enough, considering he excelled as "Chop Top" in TCM 2. Here he seems tired and always one step behind his lines, as though he doesn't know what they mean. Otis is a poor Chop Top impersonation...sort of Chop Top with a bad cold, 20 years later.
Stick with the movie. The final 20 minutes -- while seemingly disconnected from the rest of the film -- are disturbing, if not actually frightening. I'm willing to give Rob Zombie the benefit of the doubt, that maybe this film suffered from a vicious editing job, and that a Director's Cut will redeem it in the future. I can see this becoming a cult phenomenon, and though it's desperately trying to be one I think it still deserves it: a lot of inspiration went into this movie, and it's just weird enough to pull it off. Some of the time.
And if you're watching the extras on the DVD, be sure to check out the Tiny Stump jokes. This is what I like about this movie: people seemed to be having fun, even when the material was bad.
The Day of the Locust (1975)
"Mulholland Drive" with more blood.
I first saw "Day of the Locust" because I thought Karen Black was keen. I liked the film, but I can't say I understood its point at the time. What's with the faceless people, Sutherland's hands, and the angry dwarf? Sounds like David Lynch to me, especially in light of "Mulholland Drive" and its scathing, unsympathetic view of Hollywood (it even has a cowboy!)
I finally got around to reading the Nathanael West novel -- which is absolutely brilliant -- and decided to watch the film again. And I need to say that, as much as I still appreciate and enjoy the movie, it really missed the boat, trying to cram bits and pieces of ideas from the novel (the strange, artificial relationship between Faye and her father, the barely-restrained violence of those who "come to Hollywood to die," the anachronistic and cold facade of Hollywood and the people in charge of it), meanwhile stuffing in some 70's ideas, reflecting back on the beginnings of WWII (which wasn't an issue in the book at all), and -- strangely enough -- adding warmth and humanity to characters whose sole characteristic (in the novel) was that they had NO warmth or humanity whatsoever.
And that's the weird thing about this movie. I remember, when I first saw it, I was amazed at how unlikeable all the characters were. After reading the book, however, I can say that the characters in the movie are FAR TOO likeable to support any of the book's themes. This is most notable when it comes to Faye's little breakdowns, letting the viewer know that she's really a good person who wants to be loved, turning her into a VICTIM of the star system. But the point of the book -- as I gathered, anyway -- was that these people aren't victims at all. They're greedy people who victimize each-other, and usually in sloppy, stupid ways ("Jeepers, Creepers!") Faye isn't capable of an unaffected tender moment, all she can do is pretend. The same goes for her father: even his moments of genuine sickness and pain are filtered through his never-ending vaudeville routine.
Homer Simpson, as well, is portrayed (in the film) as a sort of unfortunate lump, and a bible-thumper to boot, taken advantage of by Faye. But that destroys one of the great levels of nastiness in the novel: Homer is just as much as an opportunist as Faye, and he deserves everything he gets. Why is he being so generous, letting her stay with him and hold cock-fights in his garage? Because he's a pathetic, incapable human being who barely has a human feature to him: he's just a collection of nervous ticks. He lusts after her, and he seems to delight in his thwarted lust. He's got less going for him than that lizard on the cactus, eating flies.
The film suffers from an attempt to make the characters likeable, almost without exception. The only person who escapes this "Hollywood-ization" of the book is Adore, the horrible child star whose fate nobody who has seen the movie (or read the book) will ever forget. Jeez!
If you find yourself watching this movie and "just not getting it," do yourself a favour and read the book. It won't make the movie any clearer, but you can at least view the movie as a clear-cut example of the sort of thing the book was pointing out and railing against, way back in 1939 when this idea was still a novel one: Hollywood films are manipulative and full of fakery, and so are humans in general, and people in general are also ghoulish and horrible, and no amount of eyelash-fluttering or smooth tango-dancing will disguise that. You might be the owner of a big studio and have an inflatable dead horse in your pool, but you still can't relate to your wife, and the only thing left in your life is pathetic thrill-seeking (cock-fights, cheesy stag flicks).
(Incidentally, I'm amazed at how many quirky things ended up in the screenplay that WEREN'T part of the book! Kudos to the scriptwriter for that at least!)
True to the Army (1942)
Fluffy patriotic fun
This war-time gem is as fluffy as you'd expect: the plot is thin, the relationships are cliche'd, and the acting is pretty much by-the-book. But it's also a heck of a lot of fun, and the musical numbers are top-notch.
You've got a homely, backwoods circus performer named Daisy (Judy Canova) who is more than a little stupid, and her equally dim-witted and goofy boyfriend Pinky (Jerry Colonna) who trains pigeons and dabbles in magic. Daisy and Pinky provide the slapstick, and boy to they dish it out. In Pinky's case it works -- he knows when to be subtle and when to stop a gag -- but Daisy comes off as sloppy and her timing is a little off. I'll give her this, though: she can look like a man when she needs to.
Meanwhile, at the base, Stephen (played by Alan Jones) is the romantic lead and the excuse to bring in musical numbers: he's a former Hollywood producer and is trying to put on a show...you know, those shows featuring amateurs and shoddy sets until the opening night 3 days later, when everybody is a pro and the sets are gorgeous. His love-interest is Vicki Marlow (Ann Miller), the worldly and wise daughter of the General.
The plot itself isn't all that important: gangsters want to kill Daisy, Stephen wants to put on a show featuring Daisy and Vicki, but to keep Daisy on the base he needs to disguise and protect her (from medical doctors and hooch dancers), and to get Vicki into his show he needs to woo her (which is one of the more bizarre moments in the movie: Ann goes from disliking him to loving him in the space of about 2 seconds, and his method of pitching woo seems to be to insult a girl) What is important are the occasionally inspired comic routines and the snappy songs, not to mention Ann's breathtaking taps.
The highpoints -- for me -- were the two Ann numbers ("Jitterbug Lullabye," a sweet and clever song & dance duet, and a percussive solo where she taps, claps, types, and twirls along with a machine gun and a wall-clock. This is possibly the most enjoyable and relaxed tap number I've ever seen her do: it's technically brilliant but not so frantic that her sense of fun is obscured), and the final "Wacky For Khaki," wherein Judy more-or-less drops the bumpkin twang and shows us that she really CAN sing AND be funny.
The comedy treads some familiar ground but does have it's moments: Pinky's magic tricks and odd banter are delightful, and Ann's deadpan delivery is great as well. This all comes together in a somewhat anti-climactic ending. And the army looks like a really fun place. "True to the Army" is exactly what it was meant to be: fluffy patriotic fun with great songs and distinctive leads. View it in that light and you'll have a great time.
Even stupider now.
The last time I saw "Strange Brew" was when it appeared on one of the Canadian Pay TV channels...and I hated it. It was chaotic, confusing, silly, and dumb. I mean, using music and drugged beer to force mental patients to fight while playing hockey? Some skinny woman's father coming back as a ghost and using a videogame to speak to people? A flying dog? I dismissed it.
But now, with the fullness of time and maturity, I've watched it again and I can say with confidence that it's STILL chaotic, confusing, silly, and dumb...but it's also hilarious!
This movie captures the sort of ad hoc, "yeah, whatever" style of SCTV, which could get dull over time, but the hosers have managed to draw it out for 90 minutes by putting in a lot of rich detail (what confused me as a child were the references to Hamlet, mainly), endlessly quotable dialogue, and scenes that are just plain funny (I particularly like the nurses arguing about whose responsibility it is to remove dead patients from their beds). I usually find "dumb" humour annoying, but Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis are so GOOD -- almost subtle -- at being dumb, and so lovable at the same time, that even the fart/booze/puke jokes became funny.
And what's more, the movie is WEIRD. If anybody can explain why Hosehead the dog ROLLS up the edge of the roof, please let me know, because it's giving me nightmares. And am I the only one who's noticed pointed musical references to Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" (when they first see Elsinore Brewery, and when Rosie and Pam are reunited again, the score sounds almost EXACTLY like similar moments in "Young Frankenstein"...but not QUITE exactly...)
I recommend this movie to anybody who can handle some dumb with their wit, in just the right amounts. The DVD features a preview for their upcoming cartoon which looks spectacularly unfunny, so please don't judge them on that.
Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
Fun, but poorly paced.
Is it just me, or was this film horribly paced? As much as I enjoyed the scenes themselves it felt like they were all just stuck together without any thought of building suspense (or even making sure they logically followed).
Still, I did get a kick out of it, particularly the "over-the-top" elements (squeaky, giggling spiders and the scene with the poor cat, for instance). I could watch ostriches get snatched up all day long, and the spiders (though looking a little flat at times, especially in scenes with huge numbers of them scuttling around) were nifty.
People have already drawn comparisons to TREMORS, and I need to agree with their conclusions: this is a poor imitation. No build-up of suspense, no logic, no character development, bad acting. But it still managed to be fun and silly and just a bit quirky. Rent it on a night when you don't want to think, but have enough of an attention span to deal with the lack of pacing.
Entertaining, ironic, and stupid! I like.
I rented it because I wanted to watch something colourful, pointless and stupid. "Scooby-Doo" is all those things, for sure...but it's also highly entertaining and funny, which was a complete surprise.
It seems to be a Hollywood trend to take the TV Shows and cartoons we watched as children and remake them in an ironic way. Scooby-Doo is no exception, where everything we suspected about the characters when we watched the cartoon -- Fred being vain, Daphne being an airhead, Velma being repressed and badly in need of therapy, Scrappy being an obnoxious egotist, and Shaggy eating so much because he had some sort of drug issues -- is brought to the front. The movie is not so much about the mystery the gang is solving, it's about making fun of the things that weren't supposed to be funny in the cartoon. And while some of those things are easy targets ("It would have worked if it wasn't for..."), the script had me laughing over and over again at it's more-ironic-than-thou cleverness.
A lot of credit goes to Matthew Lillard and Linda Cardellini. Lillard as Shaggy is such a perfect carbon copy that I almost felt like punching him. And Cardellini has Velma down pat, right down to that self-satisfied sideways glance when she's exposing a mystery. Freddy Prinze and Sarah Michelle Geller were passable, and it was only the computer animated Scooby that really annoyed me: he was just too high-tech, I felt.
In my opinion the movie succeeded most when it was subtle (like the bartender telling Velma that he likes her sweater, and her giggling about Scrappy's glandular problem). Was it obvious I thought Velma kicked butt? She was the only one I liked in the cartoon and I'm thrilled that she was so perfectly reproduced.
The bonus materials are great. I much prefer the animated opening that they cut out, and Velma's "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" scream was hilarious, as was her cabaret number.
So, the movie is funny. Sometimes it's insufferably juvenile and stupid, and sometimes it will strike the adult viewer as a bit too childish, but the movie does what it set out to do: it entertains you, and it pokes clever fun at infamous cultural icons. Expect nothing more than that and you'll have a good time with it.
Modesty Blaise (1966)
View it on it's own, not as a spoof or adaptation, and you might enjoy!
I've never read the Modesty Blaise comics. What inspired me to rent this DVD was a love of 60's kitsch fashions, and an immense respect for Monica Vitti. And while I was baffled by the events in the film -- it didn't seem to make a DAMN bit of sense the first time around -- I still found myself loving it. And on repeated viewings I love it even more.
What's to love? Primarily, the quirkiness of EVERYTHING in the film: the direction is off-kilter (so many things happen in parts of the screen that you're not looking at, and the pacing is bizarre to say the least: a constant string of anticlimaxes that I found refreshing), the acting is deadpan and weird (Bogarde's shifty, psychopathic, and slightly flaky villain...Stamp's disgruntled but cheerful anti-hero...Rosella Falk's twitchy, wide-eyed, barely-restrained violence -- she is a stand-out highlight in the movie...and Monica Vitti, expressing herself mostly through strangely-timed gestures and facial expressions...just check out her "How do you get this off?" routine), the sets are gorgeously dressed (Gabriel's atmospheric island, and the fantastic cell with the spiral staircase), and the plotting is all over the place. Who's double-crossing who? Why are they doing that? WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON? On first impression, I felt the film was just "winging it," making it up as it went along. But far from it...it's elaborately plotted, just strangely presented.
Really, I love this film, and I'm so glad it's seen re-release. It's sloppy, crazy, irreverent, and fun. If you view it as a weird little film -- not as a spoof, or an adaptation of the comic, or a reflection of the times, or as an attempt to be hip or strange -- I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
And yes, the clothes ARE fantastic.
Scary Movie (2000)
Extremely broad comedy
It didn't take long for me to realize that "Scary Movie" is largely apeing the "Airplane" comedies: basically, "anything for a laugh, no matter how stupid." And it lives up to that mandate.
The difference, though, is that "Scary Movie's" brand of comedy is far less subtle, mostly consisting of sight gags and physical humour (how many times do people need to get hit with things?) It does have it's subtle and surprising moments, and as far as I'm concerned those are the best ("Oh my God, we hit a boot!")
Another difference is that, believe it or not, "Scary Movie" is even LESS subtle in it's style of parody than "Airplane!" was, often outright naming the films it's spoofing, which comes across as pretty desperate. As well, it tries to be topical ("Whazzzup?") which will probably result in a film that ages very badly.
All things considered, though, I did enjoy most of it. While it was hilariously ironic to see Carmen Electra make fun of somebody ELSE'S acting ability, the principal characters -- especially the women -- did a great job. Did nobody else thing that Cheri Oteri's "Gail Hailstorm" scenes were the funniest moments? Next to Hailstorm (and including Brenda's hilarious movie-theatre death, and Buffy's "Is this the climax? Do you mind if I fake it?"), the men in the film are pretty dull, actually.
This film features jokes for everybody. How offended you are by the huge number of jokes that DON'T suit your sense of humour will probably dictate how much you enjoy the movie.
Romance, intrigue, loyalty! Oh, and something about Enigma, I think.
Uf, maybe I was the only one disappointed. An incredibly simplistic, scattered story. What frustrated me the most was that, at first glance (and in all of it's promotion) it's a movie about the Enigma codebreakers. Look a little deeper, however, and it's a movie with three simultaneous plotlines. Here they are, in order of importance:
1. Frustrated lover, in anguish over a lost girl who has disappeared.
2. WWII mystery story: what sort of intrigue and double-crossing might have happened? Who was spying on who? Where do you draw the lines of loyalty and duty?
3. Oh yes, and superficial details about the Enigma machine, used as an excuse to draw the hero and Kate Winslett together onto a bench in a dilapidated barn.
Maybe I was naive thinking I was going to see a movie ABOUT Enigma, or at least the people involved in it, or at LEAST the nightmare of round-the-clock code-breaking. Instead, the film could have taken place anytime or anywhere in WWII Britain, and the Enigma was only a plot device to get the romance and mystery started. The only time it REALLY means anything is during the "greatest convoy battle of all time," which is 100% tangential but -- for me -- the movie's one redeeming moment. This movie could have just as well been about industrial espionage on a dairy farm in WWII Britain, and the essential parts of the plot would have been exactly the same.
If you're like me, and you've long been fascinated with Enigma, expect very little. If you like a good mystery, you might still want to expect very little (90 minutes of sparse details, and then 10 minutes of rapid-fire revelations and epiphanies that the audience -- or at least me -- didn't have a hope in hell of ever deducing). If you love the 50's fashions, though, and you think Winslett is pretty cool, then it's probably worth seeing.