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Empress Vampire (2012)
Could have been an interesting variation on vampire history
The story here is basically the origin story of an immortal vampire, and how she operates in the modern day. As stories go it isn't incredibly original, but it also isn't played-out, either. The plot could well be behind any number of Hollywood blockbusters.
This isn't quite an indy film, though, it's made by Sick Puppy Pictures. So there's a budget, albeit not huge. The production values aren't amateur. The picture and sound are clear, and the costuming and makeup are effective.
The real weaknesses of this movie are partly in the script and, sadly, partly in some of the cast. The script is elaborate and meanders, as it needs must with such a plot. Unfortunately the dialogue can come off as stilted and uninspired at several points. And the cast is an uneven mix of experienced actors who deliver their lines with precision (if not always passion), and actors who are as stilted as the dialogue. And there is the slight issue of a language barrier; Ange Maya was born in China, and seems to speak her native tongue fluently and with passion. Unfortunately her broken English, though technically correct, is too slow to flow smoothly with the emotions her character is supposed to be experiencing.
On the positive side, there are a lot of good mechanics in film making demonstrated here. Camera work, sound, even the special effects, though cheesy, show promise. A good script paired with this great crew and even the cast of this movie could make for a very good story and delivery. The more salacious positive of this film is the abundance of clearly-posed, well-lit female nudity. It is gratuitous and blatant, but a just compensation for some painfully- awkward dialogue and convoluted plot. I hope that Ange Maya is getting voice lessons, as there are glimpses of competent acting in this film.
A Beautiful Mistake (2010)
A story of unintended consequences in Maoist China
This is a slowly-woven story about outsiders in a small Chinese village. People there, as everywhere, are all trying to live their lives. Without giving too much away, the main focus of this story is a young boy who is somewhat an outcast; he's the target of bullying, both because he's an easy scapegoat and because he tries to take shortcuts in life to avoid trouble and to fulfill his desire to watch movies. His unlikely friend is a middle-age man who acts as a body-collector or mortician for the small village, a lonely man who spends much of his days with dead bodies. The boy's careless exploitation of his neighbor ends tragically and meaninglessly.
The actors are believable, and the story solid. The pacing is a bit slower than I'm used to, but despite my thought to fast-forward through some of the slower moments, I didn't, because there was meaning in the characters' contemplation. The slow moments, too, are fairly infrequent.
The signs of Mao's Cultural Revolution are everywhere, as well as a sense of traditional honor strong enough to brook no violation, intentional or unintentional, as violator or victim. The mindset of the villagers, the way they treat those who don't fit in, is novel to my way of thinking. It was educational, and disheartening.
Mary Marie (2010)
Strange children in a adults' bodies
This is an interesting story of two sisters' relationship that changes after their mother's death. The cinematography is clean and clear, and the actors deliver their lines and actions with clarity. The story is muddled, though, and the characters a bit contrived. The whole of the film takes place in an idyll, where the girls live in their dead mother's home, go swimming in the local river, play dress-up with their mother's old clothes, and even go to the local carnival together. It is, of course, fantasy, but it strikes me as a languid and self-indulgent.
There's an obvious push to make things seem as if there were an incestuous tension between the two, but it's so frequent and slyly ended that it can be ignored rather quickly as an annoying noise that fades with repetition. Both girls act more like early teenagers than the actors' 20+ years of age; though living in a small town, they press against each other and dance together (and Marie pulls a guy's hand off of Mary's butt) in ways that would be scandalous even if they weren't sisters. Their competition for the attentions of the handyman (who seems to have no deadline to his work) is one of the few things that rings true in this film. Still, it all would have worked better with teenagers rather than grown women.
The actors are all competent, and would do well in the right roles, but the script seemed as if it should have arrived in a diary with a lock and heart-shaped stickers stuck to the front. There may well be women like this, but I've never met adults like Mary and Marie.
And in the end, they aren't sisters at all. :D
Curse of the Pink Panties (2007)
Cheesy and cheap
First, let me get the "good" out of the way: the physical production values are pretty good. For such a low-budget movie, the camera-work and film quality are both fairly good. Now the bad: this is an "early production of" movie masquerading as erotica. The story is lame. Several low-grade gangsters are killed and accidentally caught in the attempted spiritual summoning of a few girls...who are trying to add verisimilitude to their panties-appreciation video. It's an inadequate setup to allow the gangsters' living friend to approach women and ask to talk to their panties. Some of the women are attractive (though that runs the gamut from 'very hot' to 'would not attract attention in public) but none are nude...with the momentary exception of rear-end of one woman who was finally able to remove her panties. Panties and *rarely* bras are the extent of the flesh displayed. The dialogue is stilted and unlikely. The plot is borderline naively-cute, but this movie really a disappointment being good at neither comedy nor salaciousness.
Clown Porn (2005)
An odd fetish, hilariously explored
This is at its base an adult title (explicit, graphic, hardcore sex) with a clown theme. Every scene involves clowns in one or more ways, and pies are thrown at faces quite a bit. It has most of the typical pairings of men and women, but also a bit of an unusual combination in "Daddy was a Clown", a scene of surprise incest that has shown up in video clips and as a popular animated GIF. In between segments the host, Rod Swirling (played by Leighton Hollingsworth in deadpan) adds a touch of surreal levity. This movie shows a great sense of humor with the genre. The acting is low-grade, and even the "action" is pretty typical stuff, but all of the actors seem to have fun with it, and there are some sly jokes thrown in the mix.
Not, indeed, a very good movie
I've read a number of the comments on this film, and have a bit to agree with on most of them. The budget on this film had to have been very, very low. It's obviously shot on video, but the lighting is actually pretty good. The plot is old and, in essence, revealed in a flying hurry. Novice cop Jason Bartok (overacted by Chad Allen) accidentally shoots his partner, Leon King (wheezed through by James Russo), and the dirty-cop partner sends him off with a sack o' money and the "dying wish" that he find Linda, an Asian girl, with a picture and the name of a massage parlor. Jason's an idiot, plain and simple. He runs off, headlong into prostitution rings, Asian mobs, and finally into the arms of Linda (naturally an Anglicized version of her Chinese name, Shen Li - played by Bai Ling). Naturally, they run from one seedy motel to another, eventually falling in love in one night of awkward revelations and the revelation of Bai Ling's pert talents. From there, they predictably have to pay off Shen Li's debt to the mob, which inevitably reveals the unsurprising fact that Leon is still alive. Shootout occurs, all is made right in the world, and they're off to their shared dream...Paris. The acting is generally poor (though both Bai Ling and Chad Allen have moments of better acting), the plot is refried, and even the T&A is subdued. It won't kill you to watch it, but boring is the watchword.
In the Cold of the Night (1990)
Cheesy Skinemax fare, but it doesn't bog down
I've seen much, much worse. Scott, a photographer, starts seeing "himself" killing a woman he's never met in terrible nightmares...he even wakes up while strangling his bedmate (Shannon Tweed). Coincidences ensue, including his seeing the Mystery Girl on an airbrushed t-shirt. Finally, said girl (Adrienne Sachs) shows up at his door demanding that he stop stalking her. Naturally, they wind up at her place, which is identical with his dreams. They have sex (of course) and start generally acting like they're falling in love, though she's acting mighty mysterious. Finally, she leaves for work, leaving him alone to scour the house; he finds a videodisc (yes, video disc...in 1991) which precisely matches his nightmares. Finally he confronts the Evil Scientist/Businessman (played by Marc Singer) who had, months before, implanted a "Brain TV" receiver into his teeth and manipulated what Scott saw from time to time. It turns out that this was all a big experiment to provide proof-of-concept to some Japanese investors. Scott declares that he's going to take the discs AND the Mystery Girl and announce it all to the press. He would've gotten away with it, if it weren't for...Mystery Girl, and her hypodermic sedative! But, naturally, it's not REALLY a betrayal, because she'd made a deal with Spiky-haired Businessman to leave him alone if she returned to him (of course they have a sexual history, don't all good business partners?) and brought the discs with him. No explanation about the four tooth-mounted TV receivers, of course, nor what happens if he gets too close to a microwave oven, but overall it's an interesting...if convoluted and badly written...plot. The actors obviously don't take themselves too seriously, and the plot is kind of interesting. Shannon Tweed, playing the sexually-oriented character she always does, after flailing about on "Scott's" bed trying to remove his hands from around her throat, and after he wakes from his nightmare, concludes that she couldn't breathe, that she was about to pass out...and that she was about to cum. There are a few good lines, generally B-movie acting, lots of skin, and a half-baked romance. It ain't Shakespeare, but the story is kind of interesting. Good background if you're cleaning up around the house.
Good, old-fashioned cheesy horror
Decoys isn't fine art by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a modern edition of classic "B" horror movies. There's the requisite tentacled monsters, scantily-clad (a light bit of nudity toward the beginning of the movie) sorority girls, and a hidden killer decimating the campus population...the difference in this case being that all three are the same girls. Overall, it was fun, light on the "science" part of the science fiction, and even the dialogue wasn't painfully corny. The plot was put together fairly consistently, and the acting was good for, admittedly, relative unknowns. The special effects were good quality for a relatively small film (*I* didn't see this advertised at theaters), with excellently-rendered, snappy tentacles. The creatures themselves (the women in alien form) moved a bit oddly/unrealistically, but that's something that big-budget movies still have problems with, from time to time. I liked the mechanism of the aliens' attack and the fact that their lack of belly buttons was a dead giveaway to their true natures. Ultimately, it's not Shakespeare in the Park, but it was a heck of a lot of fun to watch. I'm looking forward to the sequel, myself.
No Such Thing (2001)
A wonderful telling of a fairy tale
While the social commentary is quite obvious, the fairy tale feel of this movie is pretty good. There's sort of a surreal portrait of the modern world as a world of dangers in which almost everyone is corrupted...except for Beatrice who, guileless, goes through the world loving even the woman who mugs her at the airport. The Monster is a cynical, ancient creature who fits the stereotype of the lonely outcast. In one of the best lines in the film as the Monster is pining for the fear of humans, he is warmly hugged by a sleepy Beatrice who says, "I'm afraid of you." It's a very good film, told as a cautionary tale in the modern world with fairly black and white characters. Well worth seeing for the storybook feel, some good though odd acting, and the lush scenery.
Heavy Traffic (1973)
A little dated, but still a good story
Made in the mid-70s, it's a West Side story told mostly in animation from the imagination of the lead character, Michael. While not my favorite style of animation, Ralph Bakshi does a pretty good job of conveying confusion and an overwhelmed sense of trying to fit in. The live action sequences and old film mesh with the cartoon aspects to give a visual punch to this. Having seen it on DVD, the trailer is very, very dated. A pretty good movie though. I'd recommend it, if you have the time.