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Night Train to Mundo Fine (1966)
Coleman Francis' bleak and haunting vision transcends his lack of skill here
So I had this long, scholarly review painstakingly written up where I drew various links between the work of Ed Wood and of Coleman Francis, and tried to analyze what makes "Red Zone Cuba" / "Night Train to Mundo Fine" so oddly compelling to me and so (re)watchable despite (and sometimes because of) all its obvious flaws, but stupid Firefox crashed, and the way the IMDb site is set up, the session restore didn't come back with my text in this box, and unfortunately I don't have the energy to reconstruct / rewrite all that right now, but I did want to say at least a few words about this film.
With the average B- or Z-grade film tackled by MST3K, RiffTrax, or Cinematic Titanic, the movie itself is painful to endure, so despite enjoying almost every moment of the humorous commentary, on some level I'm usually wishing for the horrible flick to hurry up and be over (indeed, "End!!" is a pretty common riff). However, there's something about "Red Zone Cuba" that has compelled me to watch it over and over, and not just because of how hilarious MST3K's commentary on it is (one of their very best episodes). I should note here that I have not yet seen the uncut version of "...Mundo Fine"; it's possible I'll feel less positive towards the film when I eventually see more of Griffin's senseless savagery towards the Weismeyers. But due to factors like Francis hiring a talented cinematographer, his skill at choosing good library music to score the film, the very likable presence of Harold Saunders (and the mental connection that his voice triggers to the classic '30s and '40s cinema that Francis was obviously a fan of), and the general interesting oddness of "Red Zone Cuba" and the people in it, it ends up being a much more entertaining and rewatchable film than the average turkey, thus my debatably high rating.
The movie is definitely successful at transporting you to another world (indeed, the tone of the film almost makes it feel like it's taking place in an alternate universe), and despite all the bleakness, bitterness, and cynicism on display, the film manages to not be depressing like Francis' first real film ("The Beast of Yucca Flats" is not really a film, in that "Monster A-Go-Go" sense), "The Skydivers". By comparison, "Night Train to Mundo Fine" is an entertaining romp! ;^>
The Corpse Vanishes (1942)
Apparently inspired Ed Wood's "Bride of the Monster"
This is a fairly painful movie to endure even in MST3K'd form, and even if you enjoy Lugosi's work. There are some pretty, plucky girls in it, but that's about the only positive. The only thing I found interesting about it is that this 1942 film seems to have made an impression on a young Ed Wood, who in 1955's "Bride of the Monster" recreated Bela's lab set from "The Corpse Vanishes" very closely, and even lifted the scene where Bela catches his big but infant-brained minion tenderly stroking something belonging to the reclined lady strapped to the slab (her hair in this case rather than a fur garment) and whips him in punishment. Honestly, "Bride of the Monster" is a much more entertaining flick, so more power to Ed. I enjoy Bela Lugosi's work, but most of what he has to work with here is pretty boring -- so much more fun to watch him chewing his way through a slab of Ed Wood's absurdly goofy yet always drama-suffused dialogue. :-)
Deep Sea (2006)
"What's that?!?" "It's called a proboscis."
Like others, I had very high hopes when I heard that Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet would be narrating this IMAX film, and that Danny Elfman would be doing the score. However, I was quite disappointed in those elements that attracted my attention to the movie.
The style of Winslet and Depp's narration might be fine for kids, I suppose, but I found it very irritating. Perhaps I'm brainwashed by decades of authoritative-sounding old men with big voices narrating nature documentaries, but I don't think that's all it is. The narration style here is just silly. And not in a good way (although the way Winslet and Depp voiced the exchange I used as the title of my review did provoke plenty of unintentional(?) laughter, and my girlfriend and I still quote the lines occasionally).
Danny Elfman's score, while not outright bad like the narration, did strike me as overwrought and corny (again, I suppose it's fine if viewed as intended only for young children).
And as another reviewer has also noted, the foley was really over the top in this documentary. The fake squealing vocalizations of the sea creatures was particularly irksome and inappropriate.
The film is still worth watching for the amazing underwater footage, but shots intended to be seen in IMAX 3D don't have the same overwhelming impact on the TV screen.
El laberinto del fauno (2006)
Way more brutal than I could have expected
Very well done, but the brutality in the film exceeds all but the most violent action and horror movies (and it's not that I can't stomach such stuff, but I definitely wasn't expecting it here, was not in the mood for it this night, and would not have taken my parents had I known). Do not make any assumptions about what you're going to see based on your experience of past fantasy films.
It's also extremely bleak. If you'd like to watch a similar story that's less like being repeatedly struck in the face by a hammer, I'd suggest watching "MirrorMask" on DVD instead.
Great creature effects, though (barring the fake-looking CGI fairies). The Pale Man is the best-ever screen incarnation of the sort of fairytale monster that's said to eat little children.
Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978)
Ah, the 70s, when horror movies actually were creepy
I ran across this several years ago while channel surfing on a Sunday afternoon. Though it was obviously a cheesy TV movie from the 70s, the direction and score were well done enough that it grabbed my attention, and indeed I was hooked and had to watch it through to the end. I recently got the opportunity to buy a foreign DVD of this film (oops, didn't notice a domestic one had finally come out a couple months prior), and was very pleased to be able to watch it again (and in its entirety).
I don't wholly understand the phenomenon, but somehow the 70s seem to have a lock on horror movies that are actually scary. The decades prior to the 70s produced some beautifully shot films and the bulk of our enduring horror icons, but are they actually scary? No, not very. Likewise in the years since the 70s we've gotten horror movies that are cooler, more exciting, have much better production values and sophisticated special effects, are more fun, funnier, have effective "jump" moments, and some very creative uses of gore, but again... they aren't really scary! There's just something about the atmosphere of the 70s horror films. The grainy film quality. The spookily dark scenes unilluminated by vast high-tech lighting rigs. The "edge of dreamland" muted quality of the dialogue and the weird and stridently EQ'd scores. The odd sense of unease and ugliness permeating everything. Everything that works to undermine most movies of the 70s, in the case of horror, works in its favor.
Specifically, in this film, the quiet, intense shots of the devil dog staring people down is fairly unnerving. So much more effective than if they had gone the more obvious route of having the dog be growling, slavering, and overtly hostile ("Cujo"?). The filmmakers wisely save that for when the dog appears in its full-on supernatural form. The effects when that occurs, while unsophisticated by today's standards, literally gave me chills. The bizarre, vaguely-defined, "I'm not quite sure what I'm looking at" look intuitively strikes me as more like how a real supernatural vision would be, rather than the hyper-real, crystal clear optical printer / digital compositor confections of latter-day horror films.
While the human characters in this film are not as satisfyingly rendered as their nemesis or the world they inhabit, the actors all do a decent job. The pairing of the brother and sister from the "Witch Mountain" movies as, yes, brother and sister, is a rather cheesy bit of stunt casting, but they do fine. Yvette Mimieux always manages to be entertaining if unspectacular. Richard Crenna earns more and more empathy from the audience as the film progresses. His self-doubt as he wonders whether his family's alienness is truly due to a supernatural plot or whether he's merely succumbing to paranoid schizophrenia is pretty well handled, though his thought that getting a routine physical may provide an explanation for what he's been experiencing is absurd in its naïveté.
The movie's The-End-Question-Mark type ending is one of the only ones I've seen that doesn't feel like a cheap gimmick, and actually made me think about the choices these characters would be faced with next and what they'd be likely to do and how they'd feel about it.
Detractors of this film may say it's merely a feature-length vehicle for some neato glowing retina shots, but hey, you could say the same thing about "Blade Runner". :-)
Damnation Alley (1977)
So sad this was the only film adaptation of Roger Zelazny's fantastic oeuvre
A stogie-chewing George Peppard heads a team that welds together an armored vehicle out of spare parts, taking satisfaction when a plan comes together.... Jan-Michael Vincent mans an AWOL missile-firing government vehicle copiloted by a cranky white-haired guy....
Capsule descriptions of "Airwolf" and "The A-Team"? No, you'd be better off watching an episode of either of those shows, but unfortunately I'm describing "Damnation Alley", the wildly unfaithful movie adaptation of the novel by brilliant Sci-Fi author Roger Zelazny.
Now, I'm sure few Zelazny fans would disagree that "Alley" is one of the least of his works, but this film takes Zelazny's somewhat decayed fruit and manages to squeeze onto the floor whatever juice it had in it, leaving only the decay.
All that remains of the book is the basic setting, the cross-post-apocalyptic-country road trip plot device (though with the book's suspenseful motivation for the trip replaced by a vague "let's see what's over there"), the "Run the storm or dig in?" scene, and a main character named Tanner. Well, I *guess* you can call him the main character. Just as Tanner and Denton take equal turns driving the truck (no, I will not call it a "Landmaster" -- Zelazny never would have given it such a dorky appellation), not even needing to tussle over the usual single steering wheel, Vincent and Peppard seem to be given completely equitable screen time in which to shine, an opportunity they each squander in equal measure.
Notice I did not say *Hell* Tanner. No, this is not the novel's violent last-of-the-Hell's-Angels anti-hero, but instead a pretty mild military boy who's, well, kind of cocky I guess, and, uh, likes to ride a dirt bike... (cue faux expectant look). But at least Tanner is inspired by the book. The rest of the characters are, well, uninspired, and purely the invention of the screenwriters.
And as for the setting, it's close enough to be recognizable, but is not the world that Zelazny was exploring in the book. Different post-apocalypse stories have chosen to stake their respective posts at different points along the timeline, from "28 Days Later" to the far-flung dystopias of "Planet of the Apes" and "The Time Machine". In the novel, Zelazny looked at the world a generation after the holocaust, an interesting point to examine, where government has established control again in the remaining population centers, and the recognizably ordinary lives people can lead in these pockets of safety is in sharp contrast to the nightmare world that lays down the road apiece. Instead of keeping this setting, though, the authors of this film decided to go with a world maybe a year or two after the bombs, which presents a much less interesting vantage than any of the time-points noted above. But even life at this point along the eternal road could have been interesting to examine, had the movie taken the time to do so. Unfortunately it did not, so I must respectfully disagree with those commenters who said that this was one thing the movie did well. What we get instead is mostly some people riding around the country and encountering dangerous situations that could be successfully transplanted to any time period.
I likewise must disagree with those that said that the movie did a good job portraying the experience of the military officers who witnessed the end of the world at the beginning of the film. While I realize that military personnel are trained to remain calm and productive under pressure, these folks witnessing the huge barrage of nuclear warheads showering down upon America didn't appear to be under pressure at all! People were milling casually around or sitting and doing their usual paperwork while the world ended! Pretty much the only expression of angst or concern we get is when Jan-Michael puts his head in his hands at the end of the sequence, but his portrayal could serve equally well for some other movie's 50th-billing character Man With Headache.
Other random things I must criticize: George Peppard's accent isn't particularly badly done, I guess, but it sure is annoying.
When the one reasonably likable character makes an exit, the other characters seem not to care very much, and seem not to display any sign afterwards that they remember such a character had ever been around.
As others have also alluded to, one of the most anticlimactic endings ever.
But the film is not wholly devoid of charm. The sky effects are indeed pretty neat-looking, and I'm sorry I didn't get to see them on the big screen, though the near-complete failure to try to maintain registration between moving (or even stationary!) ground and sky elements is very jarring and fake-looking.
Speaking of the sky, the film also does a commendable job of recreating the bizarre, scary, and vengeful weather depicted in the book.
The score is certainly not among Jerry Goldsmith's best work, but it's better than the material it underscores, and it has some kewl analog synth squawks you don't get to hear in his other work.
The truck is also pretty cool, though the stretchy material connecting the two halves looks comically flimsy in the harsh environments the truck rides through. Not surprised to hear that's the one element that does not survive on the show vehicle today.
But I have to say that if you insist on watching a movie where the main characters venture out from one of the remaining safe pockets of humanity in a dangerous post-apocalyptic world in their heavily armored, missile-firing truck, and occasionally drive dirt bikes out of the back of it, you would do much better to watch George Romero's "Land of the Dead" instead. (If the Landmaster or other elements of "Damnation Alley" provided any inspiration to "Land of the Dead", it's by far the best thing this bastard child of Zelazny has given to the world.)
"I envision a cheating wing!"
Just caught this film on Cinemax during a free preview weekend, and I liked it so much I came to IMDb to get a link to the DVD. I was pretty stunned to learn that not only is there no DVD, but according to the info here, the film never even got a theatrical release.
This is difficult to understand, because "Cheats" is one of the funniest high school movies I've ever seen, and is definitely one of the most realistic, in terms of its depiction of high school kids. Even stuff like "American Pie", which by comparison to the average high school movie seems laudably legit in its presentation of high schoolers, seems phony and staged compared to this film.
Perhaps Martin Starr (who, like the other actors, turns in a great performance here) carries a curse that would also explain the first-season cancellation of another very entertaining and realistic high school dramedy, TV series "Freaks and Geeks".
I suppose I'm not the _most_ impartial judge, since like the main characters in this film, I also attended a private high school and despite being very bright, couldn't stand studying or doing homework. I may have even (ulp) practiced my "wicked small" writing skills on one or two occasions. But despite my bias, I have to think just about anyone would enjoy this film (except perhaps hardcore disciplinarians who would object to the fact that the cheaters get away with much of their crime).
So catch "Cheats", if you get the chance. It's the funniest take on cheating (I especially enjoyed the cheaters' jargon, like "mis-sequenced", and "the sick cheat") since MST3K's send-up of Centron's 1952 "mental hygiene" short "Cheating" (from whence the quote in my Summary derives).
Baby Boy (2001)
An all-black movie that's very accessible to non-blacks
As a white American, I have to admit that there's quite a bit of African American entertainment I don't relate to. Much of it seems to be made by blacks for blacks, without any thought given to being accessible to people of other cultures.
A recent example that springs to mind is "Barbershop". I utterly failed to relate to any of the scenes shown in the previews and interview-accompanying clips for the film. In particular, the stuff presented as being ostensibly funny seemed completely humorless to me.
Coming from this background, I came across "Baby Boy" during a Cinemax free preview weekend, and it instantly hooked me. Unlike some black films, this movie was clearly not made to glorify the black experience above all others, nor to speak only to black people. It's just a realistic (as far as I can tell) depiction of a certain time and place, that being the black neighborhoods of L.A., circa 2001. Many of the themes were universal, and the material that's specific to this particular subculture was presented in an even-handed and easy-to-relate-to manner.
While my usual instinct on hearing about the doings of "gangstas" is disgust and disbelief that anyone would choose to live like that, this film did a great job of portraying how much the environment you grow up in has an effect on the way you live. I definitely felt empathy for these characters that I'd just think of as "scumbags", were I to just see a news story about their crimes.
I think Singleton probably does a real service to the black community here, letting people outside the culture understand what life can be like in that environment. I think this does a lot more for racial understanding than, say, the average gangsta rap album does, though they touch on the same areas.
Speaking of which, a more mundane reason why I probably enjoyed this film more than many black movies is that the soundtrack wasn't wall-to-wall rap. I really don't enjoy most rap, so there's the danger of my missing out on otherwise good cinematic material if I'm too turned off by the music. "Baby Boy", on the other hand, featured an effective (if somewhat generic) orchestral score by David Arnold, along with some tasteful R&B. The rap was restricted to some brief and not in-your-face appearances on characters' stereos. I think this helped the realism of the film, and the sort of docudrama-type presentation of the material.
Like a couple of other commenters, I was bothered at how unwilling to call 911 the characters in the film were, when it was clearly the time to do so. But rather than make me lose my suspension of disbelief, this just made me sad to think that there are probably a lot of people in these communities who agree with the rap lyric that "911 is a joke", and don't feel they can get any help from "the man".
Shrunken Heads (1994)
Okay, if you've seen Richard Elfman's brilliant slab of cult film cheese "Forbidden Zone", don't be expecting the same level of quality from this film. The fact that Richard didn't write this one is probably the main reason for that, but the direction, too, is merely workmanlike, for the most part. Don't be expecting the wild stylistic flourishes seen in "Zone"'s tribute to 1930s cinema.
This (1994) film does sort of seem to be a tribute to low-budget 1980s cinema, but this may have just been because the film had been in development since then. Or maybe this was due to the hand of schlock horror producer Charles Band, who probably wishes that the 80s had never ended. (But schlockmeister though he may be, he does deserve some credit for keeping Richard Elfman off the streets.)
As a more-imaginative-than-average B horror flick, this movie does have some things going for it. First off, the premise is indeed enjoyable for its sheer ridiculousness. I think the film would have done well to get into this good stuff much quicker than it did. Pretending to be a non-supernatural "kids in a tough neighborhood" film for the first half hour was pretty pointless, although anyone coming across the movie on TV and not knowing what it was about would be in for an amusing shock at the end of the first act when the "how will our heroes get out of this one?" moment arrives and they _don't_ (or at least, not exactly).
Other things to recommend the film include the wonderfully twisted idea of living dead zombies who are doomed to clean up litter in back alleyways, the hot little piece of jailbait ass portrayed by Rebecca Herbst, the Danny Elfman theme, the inspired use of a mostly instrumental remix of Oingo Boingo's "No One Lives Forever", and, as someone else mentioned, one of the most circumstantially hilarious instances of the ubiquitous ripping off of Elfman's "Edward Scissorhands" theme.
I just wish the filmmakers could have gotten Julius Harris to fake a Haitian accent (even a shaky one would have done). This would have lent a smidge of credibility and would have made Sumatra's oddly flowery dialogue go over better.
Someone else said to run away if you see this flick on the Sci-Fi Channel, but I'd say if you have a taste for this sort of entertainment, _seek_it_out_ there, as this film is out-of-print on video and is hard to come by. Indeed, Sci-Fi Channel's "Elvira"-derived "William Shatner's Full Moon Fright Night" horror film festival series made a good platform for the film, though the cuts to clean up the R-rated gore were somewhat jarring.
A beautiful film
I've seen a number of U.S. movies filmed in Czechoslovakia, but this is the first Czech film I've seen. Seeing this makes me understand how Czechoslovakia could have a fairly booming film industry.
This movie came on on cable network IFC and it first grabbed my attention because I didn't recognize what language the characters were speaking. Within a couple of minutes, however, the movie itself had hooked me, though it's not the type of story I'd usually seek out. Indeed I was late to work and really wanted to get going, but I was unable to tear myself away.
Beyond the great writing, acting, and directing, this film has some truly amazing cinematography. There are occasions where the filmmakers seem to have commanded the universe around them to get these shots. In one scene, the lead character looks up through his car's windshield as he's driving, and in perfect synchronization the reflection of the airliner he was looking at passes across the windshield. Even more amazing was the shot from well up in the air, with the lead characters' car driving up the road, a train going up a track in parallel to them, and a hawk (or eagle?) hovering right in front of the camera and then diving off to the side -- and they got this shot right at "magic hour". In Hollywood CGI surely would have been used to coordinate this ballet of elements.
There were also many shots incorporating wonderfully poetic imagery. One of my favorites was the lead character staring into the reflective doors at the airport which close and reveal him to himself, standing there utterly alone.
One more comment -- another reviewer called the ending "predictable", but I'd have to disagree. I really didn't know where the movie would end up, and in fact it was portrayed so subtly that I had to rewind the final scene to be sure what had happened, and then go back and re-watch a prior scene that contained a seemingly throwaway line that bears on the ending.