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Must viewing for James Ellroy fans
Daddy-O is another in a very long line of Juvie D / rock and rollers that tried to look like an Elvis picture from a distance. Shot for only $100 grand on cheap sets and with few professional actors, the film makes King Creole look like Cabaret. Daddy-O would be just another badly dated grade Z picture but for one thing: Dick Contino's Blues. James Ellroy watched this clumsy oldster and then wrote a richly detailed -and thoroughly speculative - account of Contino's participation in the film while tracking a serial killer! The story is an action comedy masterpiece and to actually watch Daddy-O after reading DC Blues is like finding lost gold. The movie is admittedly pretty bad. Contino plays a singing truck driver (get it? Elvis drove a truck before he became famous) who meets a platinum bad girl out on the highway and finds his life spiralling downward. The songs are terrible, a shame really since Contino had a legitimate reputation as a musician, and the characters range from bland to dislikeable, with the exception of the myopic gym manager who is flat out wacky. The crime plot involves drug running, supposedly, although by the hour mark no drugs have actually been moved anywhere. With little story or character interest to engage the audience, there is not much to do except laugh at the dated hipster expressions, groan over the awful song numbers and wonder why Contino's pants are up near his ribcage. But watching the movie as a story within Dick Contino's Blues makes for a rich experience. The viewer sympathizes with Contino for having to take work which was so obviously beneath his musical talents, owing to the damage his reputation suffered following an accusation that he was a draft dodger. (He wasn't but the papers failed to tell the whole story.) Contino himself was not a good enough actor to save a film this hokey, plus he was five years older than Elvis and getting too long in the tooth to be a convincing Juvie D. But wondering how he found the time to play amateur sleuth amidst all of this - assuming that any part of Ellroy's crazy caper was even a little bit true - makes this a truly special movie.
The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)
Horror thriller without the thrills
An atomic blast turns Tor Johnson into, well... Tor Johnson in a ripped shirt. He then wanders the desert. A couple of lost kids also wander the desert, and so does their dad and a pair of deputies. Other than that, nothing much happens. Like other Coleman Francis movies, this one plays like it was actually a much longer movie and all of the interesting stuff was cut out. A Soviet scientist arrives in the US carrying defence secrets. We see him arrive by plane and depart in a car. In another movie, this would be filler. To Coleman Francis this is plot. We get endless scenes of people getting into cars and driving away, or parking cars and getting out. But then nothing happens. People look around, say nothing of value, and then leave, or the film cuts away. Often we don't even have dialogue, just an off screen narrator paraphrasing what characters say. We get sixty minutes of filler and no action. Two KGB agents have followed the scientist with orders to retrieve the stolen secrets. The viewer expects some sort of cold war thriller plot to develop, but the blast that turns Tor into a beast also kills the KGB men and burns up the secrets. We are ten minutes into the movie and have been stiffed on what looked like some actual plot development and this pattern continues. Characters are introduced who don't do much. Murders occur but there is little investigation of them. What we get is the filler. Francis clearly thought that having somebody get into a car and drive away satisfied the action requirements for a thriller, and having Tor spread his hands wide and growl like an animal covered the horror part. In this he was mistaken. Maybe he also thought that keeping the audience guessing as to whether anything that happened in the movie actually mattered constituted suspense. He's dead, and we can't ask him. Some bad movies make you laugh at their ineptitude, while others make you want to strangle their creators. This one just makes you sleepy. The title and box art for the movie suggest a drive-in creature feature, but even as a grade z movie it fails, since there is nothing campy here: no bad special effects or overwrought performances or shameless exploitation, none of the usual elements of a good bad movie. What we get is an hour of watching people wander randomly in the desert, and it's exactly as entertaining as it would be to do that yourself. I gave it two stars for being marginally more watchable than Red Zone Cuba, and for possible value as a non-narcotic sleep aid.
The Slime People (1963)
One of the least competently made movies ever
If ever a movie served as an object lesson that film is a visual medium and must be treated as such, this is the one. It begins with a series of spoken news reports about the arrival of subterranean monsters in L.A. Since four of the five main characters in the story have lived through these events, there should be no reason to gather them together to screen news items about the monsters, but it kills a few minutes of running time, so... The characters then spend several minutes talking, followed by several minutes of driving. The viewer begins to wonder whether this creature feature will ever feature any actual creatures. In fact, the early part of the movie feels like a radio play, with the actors being filmed as they give their lines. And the dialogue bits go on seemingly forever.
Once the (minimal) action gets going, the thick fog (created by the monsters to cool L.A.'s hot climate and make it livable) obscures much of what is going on. The fog is obviously intended to cover up the movie's cheap production values, but mostly it just makes everything even harder to watch. The visual style has evolved from casual minimalism to ocular strain inducing. Not that blowing aside the fog would have made it much better. Every aspect of the movie comes off as shoddy in the lowest sense. The plot was poorly thought out and the action poorly staged. Little that happens moves the story ahead, makes any logical sense or generates interest. The average student film shows more evidence of thought and planning. The characters are unappealingly dull, and most of their interactions seem pointless and go nowhere. The locations add nothing of interest. The lighting, editing and camera direction seem outright amateurish, about on the level of a locally made infomercial. What little budget existed went toward the creature costumes. These are mildly imaginative, but not very scary.
As entertainment, even bad entertainment, absolutely nothing gets achieved here. There are not even any unintentional laughs. All a viewer can expect to get out of this movie is a mild case of eye strain and an appreciation for the cinematic lavishness of The Blair Witch Project.
Not so bad it's good, just bad.
Some bad movies, such as Showgirls or Mommie Dearest, become camp classics over time as people come to forgive their shortcomings, and just groove on their excesses. That a movie as famously bad as Glitter has not entered this realm of camp, even after fifteen years, is telling. It tells us that Glitter commits a higher sin than being bad. It is boring. It was assembled by c-list writers and a TV director, none of whom had any idea how to gain a viewer's attention, much less hold it. Scene composition is flat, and fails to create feelings of intimacy even in close up. Everything has a gauzy look, no doubt to evoke memories of Hollywood's golden age, but that simply succeeds in making the movie look trite and derivative, rather than classic. It also makes it look as if the set decorator forgot to dust. The story is just a string of clichés recycled from old movies in which the chorus girl gets her big break; the brain-dead dialogue is uninvolving, thanks to the fact that nobody, not even once by accident, manages to say anything original or clever; and the performances, Mariah's in particular, are uniformly robotic. There is not one actor in the whole running time of the picture who seems committed to being in any way memorable. A cynical person might suggest that they did this so that they could keep Glitter off their resumes without fear of contradiction. The result is a movie that defies any viewer to keep paying attention to it. You find yourself wanting to make a salad or do your taxes while the movie is playing, anything so that the time spent watching it is not a total waste. This brings us to the music. Hollywood seems to have forgotten that the most important element in any musical is music, despite the fact that the word is right there in the name of the genre. Grease turns into a pretty bad movie whenever the singing stops and The Bodyguard is not much better. Both were huge hits however, and the fact that their soundtracks went multi-platinum was not a coincidence. Purple Rain features some downright cringe inducing 'acting' by Prince and Appolonia, but redeems itself time and time again with great musical performances. Viewers will put up with so-so filler in a musical as long as the songs entertain and remain in the mind after the credits roll. Glitter, unfortunately, features Mariah's worst ever (and worst selling) album at its core. Not only are the musical sequences not entertaining on their own, but they also make it hard for the viewer to swallow the idea that fictional Mariah would become a superstar on the strength of them, since actual established star Mariah could not manage to peddle them in real life. Thus, the fictional Mariah is unengaging as a performer, the actual Mariah fails to cross over into Hollywood despite having great singing talent and only having to play a person with singing talent, and even the spectacle of that failure fails to entertain on the basic level of a train wreck. Thus we have Glitter, a movie which simply cannot provide a reason to exist. Marian's musical ability has already been showcased in a succession of music videos, which show her to better effect, and so we don't need Glitter for that. Rags to riches musical biographies have been done to death, so we hardly need another. Heck, we haven't needed a new one since 42nd Street turned that whole genre into a cliché in 1933. And if Glitter's only purpose was to act as a 100 minute commercial for its own soundtrack, as the Pokemon cartoons are simply commercials for Pokemon toys, it fails there too, since it makes these crummy songs even less palatable in context than they would be standing on their own. A cynical person might be drawn to conclude that Glitter was financed by someone with a grudge against Mariah Carey, and that she never caught on that she was being pranked until after its release. As a practical joke played on a gullible and vain pop diva, Glitter is pure malevolent genius. If we were meant to have taken it seriously, then it's just a really, really worthless movie.
Get a grip people
Amazingly, this movie was given a theatrical release, rather than being disposed of as hazardous waste. Even more amazing is the fact that it actually has defenders. There are those who believe that this movie is harmless fun, when in fact you would have to be one of the hysterically laughing stoners from Reefer Madness to find it at all entertaining. A failed internet stunt is less painful than sitting through this mess, and no more likely to leave you with brain damage.
Bud and Doyle are our two everyman heroes, assuming every guy is a nitwit with no job and Joey Lauren Adams for a girlfriend. And like the rest of us nitwits, Bud and Doyle just want to party while the Earth goes to hell on a fast train. There is a potential cautionary tale about environmental awareness in there somewhere, but it gets lost amidst our duo's goofy but unfunny antics. Bud and Doyle make the cast of Jackass look like Laurel and Hardy by comparison.
After a few misunderstandings and much time-wasting non-hilarity, our duo find themselves locked in a sealed environment with five scientists who are studying environmental sustainability. Two of the scientists are played by popstar Kylie Minogue and former model Dara Tomanovich, and if I ever find out which graduate school they attended, I may go back to school. But our boys just want to have dumb fun and proceed to trash the place. Again, the idea that this whole movie might actually be a social allegory about man partying over Mother Nature's deathbed may occur to those viewers who are still aware of their surroundings, but it quickly gets lost thanks to several long scenes involving Pauly Shore not being funny.
This whole business goes on for ninety fairly painful minutes. You can usually tell whether a movie succeeded as entertainment by watching the audience as it leaves the theatre. If a movie is a think piece, everybody looks thoughtful. Patrons of comedies tend to leave in an upbeat mood. The audience for Bio Dome looked lobotomized. The best part of the movie was that it did not end with a title card that read Pauly Shore Returns In...
The Room (2003)
Wow. DIY cinema.
Apparently the aliens from Contact who watch our TV broadcasts and try to find ways to respond to us have been eyeing late night cable drams with "sin" or "temptation" in the title and this is what they sent back. Or else the kids from the remedial English class got their hands on a camcorder and decided to make an internet sex tape, and the aliens from Contact were watching that...
If anybody has a better explanation for how a movie like this, a movie with no conception of human behavior or interactions on any level could exist, I would love to hear it. Even the worst movie makers manage to hit a correct dramatic note every once in a while by sheer statistical accident. But here, the writing and acting manage to fail with such unerring consistency that it is almost an achievement. Words such as 'surreal' do not begin to describe the experience of watching this movie. Its sheer terribleness on every possible creative level exceeds description. If you took ninety minutes of clips from a South American soap opera, spliced them together in random order and got blind street junkies to come with dubbed dialogue, you would still have a more coherent drama. The Room is so totally bad for every moment of its running time that it becomes a master class on cinematic ineptitude. The dialogue is awful, yet the actors still manage to make it seem much worse than it is by mistiming lines and giving inappropriate responses throughout the movie. The pacing of every scene, every exchange, seems off. And despite a reported budget of $6 million (??!) everything looks cheap and hurried, like a film class project that was left to the last minute.
The story construction is so inept that almost nothing that happens pushes the story forward, and virtually none of the plot threads get resolved. In fact, most of them are mentioned once and never come up again. Early on, for example, the mother casually discloses that she has cancer, and that is all we ever hear about it. This however is the film's secret virtue. When no plot point is important or connected to anything else in the movie, the viewer is free to play connect the dots.
For instance, Johnny's announcement that he failed to get a promotion at his bank shows his underachievement in the financial world. As financiers are sometimes called 'big swinging d*cks', this could be hinting that Johnny is underachieving anatomically as well. This would explain Lisa' perpetual dissatisfaction with him. Or perhaps Lisa' attitude is actually outwardly redirected self-loathing over all of the Weight Watchers meetings she has been missing. Mark's perpetual surprise over how Lisa's undressing indicates that she wants sex and not something else could be masking his own disappointment that she wasn't handing him her clothes to put on for some cross dressing role play. Such disappointment would go far in explaining the sternness of Mark's resistance to her chubby charms. Danny's drug purchase explains his apparent disconnection from reality throughout the film. The kid is clearly on goofballs. Has the mother's cancer spread to her brain? Memory impairment might explain why she keeps having the same conversations over and over. These are all ripe food for thought, and The Room's arthritic pacing gives the viewer plenty of opportunities to toss them around like footballs thrown by guys in tuxedos.
Just about the most generic movie I have ever seen
If you have ever wondered how many clichés one movie can contain, this movie may have set the record. The leading character, played by ex-Ryan Seacrest gf Jasmine Waltz, is an FBI agent who gets no respect in her male dominated workplace. Her latest assignment is to investigate the deaths of two border patrol cops down in a remote stretch of Florida swampland. The local sheriff's department has clearly never worked a major crime, since when our intrepid Fed shows up she finds that none of them thought to bring a camera to a crime scene! Two shady scientists claiming to be working on a secret project then arrive, and a monster hunt begins.
There are no surprises here and no originality, just a recycling of every creature feature story device we all grew up with. The movie's way of saving money on monster effects: show the victims screaming and then shake the camera so vigorously that nothing can be clearly seen until after the creature attack has ended. Saw that before too.
Jasmine herself is watchable as eye candy, and the movie succeeds as drive in level genre entertainment, assuming the viewers are drunk enough to be past the point of effective aesthetic judgement of its shortcomings. Other reviewers have remarked on the awful sound recording, and it is true that the dialogue is often drowned out by the wind or passing mosquitoes. This, however, given the uneven quality of the scripting, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Kill Me If You Can (1977)
Slightly dishonest but excellent retelling of a famous story
Caryl Chessman, in 1960, was one of the last Americans executed for crimes other than murder. While on death row, he wrote a celebrated book and became the face of the anti-death penalty movement.
Alan Alda strikes a convincing note as the cocky Caryl Chessman, convicted and sentenced to death in a string of crimes known as the Red Light Bandit attacks. The movie's creators, however, cheat a bit by making Chessman a little too sympathetic. Alda throws a chair across a room to show his frustration in one scene, but the film stops short of showing just how confrontational and difficult to like Chessman was in real life. Chessman was a brilliant writer, but anyone carefully reading his books sees a fundamentally dishonest and manipulative sociopath behind the clever prose. He proclaims his innocence of the crimes, yet never bothers to account for why their pattern so closely matches his own descriptions of his earlier exploits that landed him in Folsom Penitentiary. Had the film gone in for more of a warts and all approach to the character, it would have succeeded at being at least less dishonest than its subject.
That said, the film accurately captures its period and brings out the many details in Chessman's trial that seemed to indicate that it was something less than fair. The film tiptoes around the central issue of Chessman's guilt, portraying the Red Light Bandit crimes in flashback without showing the identity of the perpetrator. But his fight for fair treatment by the justice system, guilty or not, makes for strong cinema. This movie is definitely worth a watch, however one might view its protagonist's guilt.
Derivative but entertaining
This is not a good film. It is however, a GREAT bad film, which explains why many reviewers who remember it fondly have given it higher ratings than it merits on its face value.
The cast try hard, but other than Klaus Kinski, a great actor who can do creepy Germans in his sleep, nobody manages a performance that comes off as wholly authentic. The shrieky script plays at a daytime drama level. The model effects are anything but special. And most significant, nearly every plot device in the movie is ripped off from some other (much better) movie. The landing sequence is almost a shot by shot steal from Alien, the finding of the monster scene reminds the viewer immediately of the original version of The Thing, and other moments feel lifted from It! The Creature from Beyond Space. Story-wise there is little here we have not seen before.
Yet, somehow the whole rises above its elements and manages to entertain anyway. The pacing is consistently brisk and the story doesn't lag, at least not after the first twenty minutes we spend with the crew. The gore effects are genuinely shocking. And the cheesy model effects are forgivable by anyone alive during the 80s. Pre-CGI has its nostalgic qualities. The movie's total lack of pretentiousness is actually a virtue. It's a b-movie with a hand me down plot which never tries to claim otherwise.
Empire of Ash (1988)
Bottom of the barrel post apocalypse trash
Folks looking for Empire of Ash I should be aware that E of A II is not a higher gloss remake of the first, like The Evil Dead II. This movie actually IS E of A One, with a different title on the VHS box. As methods for cutting down the cost of a sequel, that one has to take first prize.
Anyway, Empire of Ash II played frequently on Canadian pay TV channels back in the 80s, as it qualified as local content thanks to being shot on location here. On a story concept level, it actually has some intriguing conceits. Two opposing groups have arisen from the flames of our dead civilization: a group led by scientists who are using captives to create a treatment for those stricken by radiation sickness, and a group of religious fundamentalists led by a loony preacher. Into this world stumble two sisters, and one is taken captive. The older sister, who just happens to have kick butt combat skills, enlists the aid of a couple of free living survivalists to retrieve her sibling. The result is a series of gun battles with both groups of crazies. For an 80s era shoot 'em up, this is not a bad foundation upon which to build. Moreover, the technical level of the movie is no worse than is typical for an exercise of this budget range. Lighting, video and sound recording were at least adequate to follow the action.
Unfortunately, the movie's execution falls far short of its ambitions. The story plays out in a hatchet-chopped fashion, with the action sequences lacking sharp form and dovetailing poorly one with the next. The dialogue is terrible and often makes little sense and the performances are all over the place. This tells me that either the script was being rewritten on the fly, or the creators had no idea how to shape a film, or more likely both. When working with a nothing budget and semi-pro actors, a sure directorial hand, good pre-production planning and effective rehearsals are essential and none of this is in evidence.
The action scenes themselves, the point of the movie in other words, are also of very inconsistent quality, and range downward from not bad to will-somebody-tell-me- wth-is-going-on? In certain scenes, the viewer is required to expend more energy trying to keep straight who is doing what and where than is justified by the underwhelming thrills. The lead actress, Melanie Kilgour, tries hard to keep the viewer watching, but frankly deserved better.
The only reason to watch this backyard movie making mess is to set up the more watchable sequel, E of Ash III.