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Orgy of the Dead (1965)
I gave it a one because zero isn't available...
[Any discussion of plot with respect to this movie is a spoiler, since it almost doesn't have one.]
This may be the most worthless movie of all time. Even Ed Wood fans are warned not to bother. "Orgy" lacks even the minimal 'entertainment value' of an Ed Wood movie, that is, trying to wrap your head around a plot and dialogue that defy comprehension. The scripting is bad alright, but there is so little dialogue or action that it is not even baroquely bad in typical Ed Wood fashion. Instead of the usual dizzy string of unconnected events thrown together that characterize the storylines of Wood's more famous scripts (Plan 9, Bride of the Monster), 'Orgy' has almost no plot, with most of its running length devoted to two ghoulish voyeurs (one female!) peeping at a succession of rather bored looking strippers. There is no "orgy" at all, just costumed "undead" burlesque queens who come out to do their acts in a graveyard after the sun goes down. Presumedly, topless dancers would have been a screen novelty in 1965, but viewed now it lacks even for cheap titillation. It is not even a good stripper movie, not that Katt Shea Ruben could have done much with a script that could have fit on a gum wrapper.
Give it a miss. If I could pull Ed out of the ground and make him give me back the 85 minutes of my life this movie wasted, I would do it.
George Lucas is in danger of becoming the C.B. deMille or Stanley Kramer of his generation: a producer who insists on miscasting himself in the director's chair. This picture shows off what George does best - creating eye defying visuals of a fantasy landscape. Some of the vistas in this film - the cityscape, the clone factory and the terrain rushing by in the final chase are truly breathtaking. Unfortunately we also get George at his worst - writing clunky dialogue and failing to coax even moderately engaging perfs from his attractive and talented cast. Okay, Hayden Christensen lacks for talent, but the rest of the cast should have carried even him. The result is a fantastic looking, but dramatically frustrating film. I wanted the leads to shut up and quit blocking the scenery - never a good sign in a film where the central romantic plotline is crucial to the overall drama.
Cradle 2 the Grave (2003)
Messy plot, waste of talent
Hong Kong crime movies frequently fall apart when you pick at the story mechanics a little. But characters choosing or being blackmailed into dumb courses of action in order to move the plot ahead and set up a fight seem more tolerable in the quickie-made almost improvised atmosphere of Hong Kong actioners. Hollywood movies spend so much time in development and are made so carefully on a technical level, however, that the slick professional final product cannot as easily contain vast lapses in logic and bad judgment by supposed 'professional' underworld characters. I won't itemize the idiocies here to avoid spoilers, but they were frequent enough to almost have me banging my head on the seat in front of me (empty, as was most of the cinema).
Inept story mechanics aside, the few set piece action numbers were nearly worth the price of the ticket. Jet Li's fights are good, and the opening vault job is riveting. The climactic showdown, was disappointing though, especially for Kelly Hu fans. American moviedom's top fighting female should not have been so incidental here.
I really wanted to like this movie, but I didn't. I gave it a four.
Cruise Into Terror (1978)
Good atmosphere piece. A shipboard giallo.
This picture was great fun back when I first saw it as a kid. Predating the spate of early 80's knife-kill flicks meant that 'Horror' as a genre still meant supernatural thriller when this picture was made, and it relies heavily on a taut atmosphere of suspicion and fear among the passengers for its shocks. There are few of the Hallowe'en style jolts that we associate with contemporary horror, in fact very little happens. Watching it again just a few years ago I was surprised that it still gave me chills from its tight, claustrophobic shooting and editing style in a way that good giallo thrillers do (and most giallo pictures, rather disappointingly do not). The writing and acting are standard made for TV disaster fare and the picture is less impressive if you focus on that. So turn the lights down, get some popcorn, turn a deaf ear to some of the shriekier dialogue and enjoy the film as a mood piece. And when the hair on your neck stands up, let it.
Qing ben jia ren (1992)
Sexy romp entertains
Quirky, soft core semi-comedic category III sexploitation flick about a bar hostess who impersonates an office worker is Veronica Yip's best known (thanks to a now infamous shower scene) and probably best film. The film is essentially a sit-com. Everybody in the film has a cartoonish simplicity. The male office workers are porn obsessed louts who harass the female workers. The frigid female office supervisor is a volcano of suppressed lust. The wealthy boss's son turns out to be a chop socky hero type (every well run office should have one). But everything is not all fun and nude games. The baddies scheme and intrigue to ruin the company, and one of the office louts turns out to be a murderous sexual predator. But the odd mix works, mostly because the plot is a flimsy affair intended simply to move things along to the next nude scene.
Confessions of a Lap Dancer (1997)
If you can find the Unrated version, see it.
It is worth knowing that this picture exists in two versions and they are night and day different. Having seen the unrated version on cable, I was very disappointed by the R-rated version widely available on video. Okay, it is not The Godfather. In fact, it's a notch below Dancing at the Blue Iguana. It is basically in the same genre as 100 other Skinemax flix, but distinctly superior in that the approach aims for realistic drama and characters. For once, the sex is not simply exploitation, but part of the everyday reality of the character's lives. They are in the sex business, and Blake Pickett sizzles in her sex scenes, and she and the other strippers look great on and off stage. Herein lies the weakness of the R-rated version. It cuts away almost prudishly whenever clothes start coming off, thereby cutting away from a fundamental fact of the character's lives: that they exhibit themselves and then have to deal with the negative perceptions this initiates. Blake Pickett's best scenes effectively convey her sense of self-loathing at the state of her life while stripping or hooking and most of this is gone from the R-rated version. What remains is a slightly shrieky melodrama in which it is hard to understand why the central character is so self-destructive and hate-filled. In the unrated version this becomes clear and dramatically effective. The R-rated version fails to be either.
Long cheng zheng yue (1997)
A different kind of Chinese revenge story
The plot is of a grief stricken woman who stalks her family's murderers, a common motivation in Chinese period pictures. Sumptuously photographed, slow moving and carefully precise in its period detail, this one is nonetheless very different from the type of film that typically inhabits this genre. Most significant is its evocation of its setting. Despite the opening massacre that drives its plot, the period evoked is not one of chaotic lawlessness and pervasive evil, but rather one in which ordinary people live ordinary lives and want ordinary things. Sometimes sudden violence enters the lives of such people, notably the main character played by Wu Chien Lien. I'm a big fan, and this is some of her best work. The character is basically a good person driven by and conflicted over a desire to revenge that is both beneath and ennobled by her. Her pain drives her to seek vengeance, but she is ever its reluctant agent. Too often in this sort of picture we watch a supposedly normal character morph into the Terminator following a lesser trauma than that faced by Wu. Here, what would have been a straight-forward revenge mission is continuously side-tracked by the unpredictable results of the interactions of the characters. Here again is a huge difference: necessities of plot do not contrive to move the characters along, but rather character serves to untrack plot. How often does that happen? Wu finds herself in very unfamiliar terrain as an agent of vengeance and reacts and interacts with this in moving and unexpected ways. The result is a very unique, difficult to predict and generally engrossing piece of period moviemaking.