If you’ve ever wandered the aisles at the video store or surfed the DVR pay-per-view options and seen a bunch of movies that you’ve never heard of, chances are John has watched them. Why? He loves movies. All kinds of movies. Good, bad, so-bad-they’re good, even the truly unwatchable ones. He mostly loves horror and science-fiction and drive-in exploitation movies that most upstanding model citizens wouldn’t dare watch. Then he writes up his thoughts so you can decide - watch, don’t watch or avoid at all costs. Sometimes he even gets to talk to the cool folks who make some of your favorite films.
Blood, Violence and Babes
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New Releases for Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Posted May 19, 2012 by John Allman
Updated May 19, 2012 at 12:02 PM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Run time: 112 minutes
The Lowdown: It shouldn’t be hard to remake a pulpy, low-budget Troma Studios film.
But “Mother’s Day,” the twisted social indictment spawned by America’s fevered need for every conceivable holiday to have a demented, murderous backstory, was no ordinary Troma film. Released in 1980, it was neither the schlocky, gory gagfest of “The Toxic Avenger” or the campy, unbridled hybrid of dystopian society meets beach-blanket-bingo in “Surf Nazis Must Die.”
Lloyd Kaufman’s “Mother’s Day” was nasty and mean-spirited. Imagine “The Last House on the Left” fueled by an internal soundtrack playing The Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday in Cambodia” on an endless loop.
In a world desensitized by annual torture pornapaloozas, Darren Lynn Bousman, the director responsible for three of the seven “Saw” films, tries to recalibrate “Mother’s Day” by replacing the grindhouse aesthetic with a real world urgency, building his version around a modern day home invasion where the invaders are really victims of the housing collapse, having lost their safe haven to foreclosure.
It’s a calculated tactical decision that doesn’t quite the way it likely was imagined on paper.
For one, Bousman and Co. fill “Mother’s Day” with an over-stuffed menagerie of stereotypes. There’s the young, yuppie minority couple. There’s the affluent, happily married doctor and his wife, deciding too late that it’s time to go home to their children. There’s the pregnant heroine still grieving from the loss of her first child. And her philandering husband and his hussy consort, the pregnant wife’s best friend.
Into this melting pot stampedes three brothers, one of them gut-shot and bleeding out. They arrive at the house because that particular house used to be their home, and they’ve been mailing the ill-gotten gains of a multi-state bank robbery spree back to that address.
The invaders are completely one-dimensional – the brutish older brother, the volatile middle sibling and the youngest boy who doesn’t appear long for the world.
It’s not until they contact “Mother” that “Mother’s Day” gains any bite, and once Rebecca DeMornay arrives, she brings a blast of icy cool attitude into the proceedings. DeMornay has played bad before in “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle,” but it has been years since she had a role this juicy to savor.
She snarls and coos, she doles out biblical punishment and she says early on, and you believe her, that if everyone just plays by the rules, every one will survive the night.
Of course, if everyone played by the rules, there wouldn’t be a movie, so much of “Mother’s Day” revolves around one failed attempt after another by an ever-dwindling group of potential victims to escape or retaliate.
The middle act becomes a watered down retread of better home invasion movies, most notably the superior Spanish film, “Kidnapped.”
Sill, Bousman does his best to inflict as much maniacal damage as humanly possible to distract fro the fact that his one ace, DeMornay, is left with little to do after the second, third and fourth warning to the hostages to behave.
It’s saying something when it actually feels like filler to watch a bound woman doused in gasoline and set on fire.
The climatic battle goes on and on and on, and you can’t help but wonder if Bousman, who also directed the fantastic “Repo! The Genetic Opera,” is a better director than “Mother’s Day” would suggest.
Here’s hoping he is, but as far as remakes go, this one falls far short of other recent offering like “I Spit On Your Grave,” a film that actually managed to match and exceed the shocking brutality of the original.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Yes.
Nudity – Brief.
Gore – Considerable.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Momma and her brood.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Audio commentary.
Underworld: Awakening (Sony, 89 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): The “Underworld” franchise has become the equivalent of a video game where you remain trapped in the same level, squaring off against the same handful of creatures, but you don’t mind wasting 90 minutes playing because the visuals are entertaining.
“Underworld: Awakening,” the fourth film in the series, has the bare bones of a story – it fast-forwards 12 years from the end of the second film, “Underworld: Evolution,” to a changed world. Vampires and Lycans have essentially been neutralized, and a team of scientists are hard at work on a would-be cure of some sort. They have cryogenically frozen Selene, the sexy death dealer (Kate Beckinsale, somehow convinced to return to don her skintight fetish outfit), and Michael, her vampire-lycan hybrid lover.
Selene breaks free and discovers there is a new hybrid, a 12-year-old girl, who may be her daughter. They seek refuge with a vampire coven. Lycan attack, including a monstrous CGI werewolf with scant explanation for his size and strength. And that’s basically it.
Selene is aided by a strapping young vampire and a police detective, whose reasons for helping are given short-shrift. They stage an improbable assault on the laboratory where Selene was being held captive, but the assault plays so fast and loose that it resembles a watered down TV version of the Tom Cruise “Mission: Impossible” series.
At this point, it’s unreasonable to expect an intelligent, epic storyline. These films closely mirror the “Resident Evil” franchise, which seems content to repeat the same basic plot over and over. You’re either a fan or you’re not, and if you’re a fan, you’ll watch with low expectations, soaking in the sexy costumes, loud explosions and middling CGI because that’s what you’ve come to expect.
As far as hoping for something unique or mind-blowing, however, don’t even bother.
Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (Magnet/Magnolia, 94 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): “Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” feels like the cinematic equivalent of “My Super Sweet 16,” with Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim playing the part of the bratty young rich girl who is given the keys to a sparkling new Escalade even though she has no idea how to drive.
The duo, who have enjoyed cult success as the stars of Adult Swim’s “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”, treat their audience with complete disdain. They throw one inside joke after another at the camera and practically dare you to keep watching. And they somehow connived a host of excellent comedic actors from John C. Reilly to Will Ferrell to Zach Galifinakis to show up in shameful and unfunny situations that are shockingly painful to watch.
Madison County (Image, 82 minutes, Unrated, DVD): For 38 years, veteran filmmakers and aspiring directors alike have tried to recreate the simple formula that propelled “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” into film history.
You wouldn’t think it would be so difficult. You take several young adults, put them someplace unfamiliar and inject a wackjob cast of creepy killers, led by one horrendous, often disfigured, always masked killer, and then sit back and watch the blood flow.
But the failed attempts to catch this particular kind of lightning in a bottle now number in the hundreds, and you can add “Madison County” to that long, often distinguished list of movies that try mightily but eventually run off the rails.
The sad truth is that many of the films, much like “Madison,” start off promising, introducing characters that you like. But too often, as is the case here, those characters begin acting so ridiculously stupid that you lose any care or concern you might have felt.
In “Madison County,” this particular phenomenon happens about 25 minutes in, and the long, painful fall to the credits feels like an eternity. The most egregious example is the over-protective brother who inexplicably decides to break off on his own to go find some answers and then winds up alone, in a cemetery, chasing whispered voices deep, deep into the woods until he stumbles across a pair of naked hillbilly girls frolicking in a swimming hole. The guy who formerly would not leave his sister’s side suddenly decides it’s time for a swim, and he understandably gets killed while stripping off his clothes, and from that point on, you just don’t care anymore about who lives and who dies. In fact, if you’re like me, you just want them all to bite it so the film will end. And that’s just not good when the main killer stalks his prey wearing a pig’s head mask.
The Shock Labrynth 3D (Well Go USA, 89 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): You must give credit where it’s due, and Japanese director Takashi Shimizu did conceive one truly terrifying film, “Ju-on,” about vengeful spirits who terrorize anyone who steps foot in a particular home, and then he went and did the impossible, re-imagining his own work as the American remake, “The Grudge,” still one of the best J-Horror films ever released in the U.S.
But here, in his first 3D feature, “The Shock Labyrinth 3D,” Shimizu takes a big step backward, essentially remaking an American film, the decidedly campy “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” for Japanese audiences.
Do I know for sure that was his inspiration? No. But it sure feels like it.
The biggest problem with “Shock” is that it’s not shocking at all. I’m sorry, but floating bunny rabbit backpacks don’t terrify me. The version I watched, in 2D, still showed where the 3D scenes would have been, and they didn’t look much better than the ‘point or throw stuff at the camera’ stone-age style 3D of “Friday the 13th Part III.”
Worst of all, “Shock” is just plain boring. Minutes upon minutes upon minutes unspool with very little happening while a group of friends tries to figure out how and why one of their childhood friends has seemingly come back from the grave.
There are repeated flashbacks to that fateful day, and there’s a big twist hinted at repeatedly, and none of it really does anything well enough to generate even a modicum of interest. Avoid at all costs.
The Vow – Channing Tatum, maybe there’s more to you than just the wooden exterior that we initially thought. Between this, “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike,” you might finally live up to the star-billing you were given before your time.
The Big C: The Complete Second Season – Thankfully, this Showtime series is never as maudlin as you might expect.
Dirty Dancing Collection – Nobody puts Baby on the shelf. Wait, where else would you put this collection?
Vegas: The Third Season, Volume One – Nobody was as cool as Robert Urich back in the day.
Chuck: The Complete Fifth Season – Chuck Bartowski, we will miss you and the Nerd Herd.
Fantasy Island: The Complete Second Season – So this is what The Island was up to before “Lost.”
Girl Fight – It’s a Lifetime movie based on the Florida case that shocked the country.
Schoolgirl Report 8 – More German softcore erotica that will leave you feeling both dirty and uncomfortable.
Playback – Christian Slater makes up for not being cast in “The Ring.”
Doctor Who: Nightmare of Eden, Doctor Who: Dragonfire, Doctor Who: The Happiness Patrol – The BBC keeps cranking out past Doctor Who series, and I for one couldn’t be more thrilled. The level of intelligence present in each of this one-off mini-series dwarfs much of what passes for TV today, even if the special effects had yet to catch up at the time.
42nd Street Forever – You might not think watching more than two hours of old movie trailers would be much fun, but Synapse Films has wisely released its wonderful “42nd Street” collection in high definition, and it’s like a time capsule of awsomeness.
Bobcat: You Don’t Look the Same Either – An underappreciated comic genius.
Not To Be Overlooked:
Outcast (The Collective, 94 minutes, R, DVD): See below.
The Pack (The Collective, 81 minutes, R, DVD): The latest two offerings from the Bloody Disgusting Selects series are a mixed bag that proves not every foreign horror film translates to a wider international audience. “Outcast” and “The Pack” both suffer from the same problem – neither one makes a damn lick of sense.
While both films feature impressive creature creations, they both fail to produce much in the way of a compelling narrative. And neither movie gives enough backstory to truly engage the discerning horror fan.
“Outcast” is an Irish fable about witches and curses and genetic mutations that basically rips off Tom Holland’s wonderfully pulpy B-gem “The Beast Within” but the filmmakers seem to think that everyone will be immediately familiar with the lore on display. There’s too many unexplained totems, a middling love story and the monster doesn’t fully appear until the last 10 minutes.
“The Pack” gets more wiggle room if only because lead actress Emilie Dequenne is so damn sexy. She’s like a young French Lauren Bacall, with smokey eyes and a sultry demeanor. But the movie, which wraps itself around a local French legend about doomed miners who come back as flesh-eating, faceless mole creatures needing to be tended to be a caretaker, wastes too much time on gruesome set design and fails to generate any urgency. The third act just falls apart with an anti-climatic standoff that thrusts together a hodge-podge of characters and the final twist makes you go, “Oh, come on!”
New Releases for Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Posted May 19, 2012 by John Allman
Updated May 19, 2012 at 11:55 AM
What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Run time: 93 minutes
The Lowdown: Former mixed martial artist Gina Carano takes center stage in “Haywire,” indie director Steven Soderbergh’s attempt to fuse a B-movie beatdown with arthouse aesthetic.
And, for its first 35-40 minutes, the director who broke out with the wonderfully illicit and avant-garde ‘sex, lies and videotape,” does bring a perspective to the action genre that is foreign to the stereotypical brawny American shoot-em-up.
Then it all falls apart.
But where does the blame lie, if at all?
Carano isn’t necessarily ready for prime time. She needs a few supporting roles to take the lead. Her one-note delivery, blank stare and, surprisingly, her fight scenes all feel hesitant, the first steps of someone completely unsure of her surroundings. She’s not wooden so much as knowingly obtuse. At points I thought I could see Carano holding back intentionally following a flicker of something in her eyes. I’m not sure. Her performance just didn’t work for me.
That leaves her unbelievably top-heavy A-list supporting cast – Ewen McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton – and the overly twisty screenplay by XXX.
The story does get a little too formulaic in the third act. It becomes confusing as to who is working for whom, against whom, etc. And Carano’s scenes with Paxton, her on-screen father, just lack any genuine pathos. I know she’s supposed to be a kick-butt former Marine, but dude, Marines can emote, they can cry, they can express feelings.
Soderbergh incorporates some nifty shots early on, framing the action scenes, which feature two extended foot chases through crowded city streetscapes, and overhead, across rooftops, with interesting tracking shots and various, unexpected POV’s.
A director willing to take such creative risks should be championed, and there have been few times in his career, even when helming big-budget studio tentpoles, that Soderbergh could be accused of playing it safe.
It’s just that “Haywire” feels like an experiment instead of a real movie, particularly during its last 30 minutes or so. Its ragged energy and loping pace start to work against it, and several scenes just fall flat. Even the ending, which should have been a clever comeuppance, kind of thuds.
Part of it is Carano, who might as well be looking at a takeout menu instead of a co-star when she speaks. Part of it is the story itself, which becomes a kind of trap from which very little of intelligence can escape. Part of it feels like Soderbergh just ran out of tarmac during takeoff and couldn’t decide whether to crash spectacularly or skirt the treetops and hope for the best.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Gina Carano is a hot, but empty, vessel.
Nudity – Brief.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Who knows. I don’t know who anybody worked for.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Two fairly short featurettes, one on Carano and one on all her male co-stars.
MIB and MIB 2 – J and K are back, and in high definition, and just in time for the third “Men in Black” film to hit theaters. The first remains an all-time classic, and the second outing deserves another look. It’s much better than people give it credit for, even if it fails to maintain the same imaginative consistency of the original.
Strip Strip Hooray! – Burlesque performers and low-budget B movies. They go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and this set of six films from the 40s and 50s is a treasure trove of classic erotica.
New Year’s Eve – First there was “Valentine’s Day,” now “New Year’s Eve.” I refuse to watch any of these holiday-themed box office versions of “The Love Boat” until they get smart and release “Hannukah: The Movie.”
Joyful Noise – Dolly Parton, shame on you. You’ve gone from “9 to 5” to this?
The Front Line – The Korean War, as never told before.
Clueless – Even 17 years later, this one still sparkles with sly, subversive wit and a scathing commentary on privilege.
Ralphie May: Too Big to Ignore – Funny man.
Mimic 3-Film Set – Guillermo del Toro’s giant bug movie spawned two sequels, neither of them as inventive as the original, but as a set, “Mimic” makes for pulpy, gooey fun.
Kojak: The Complete Fourth Season – Who loves ya, baby?
W.E. – Madonna tries, she really tries, but much like her Super Bowl halftime spectacle, this is all surface gloss with very little depth.
Fight the Fight – Much like recycled horror clichés, Chinese kung fu epics don’t need much in the way of originality to still be entertaining. Kick kick hooray!
Suits: The Complete First Season – Gabriel Macht bombed as “The Spirit,” but on the small screen, he actually surprises.
Dirty Sexy Money: Season One and Season Two – Best known for being the first Prime Time soap to feature a transgendered character, this ABC drama was neither dirty or sexy enough.
Samantha Who: Season One and Season Two – Christina Applegate, we love you! That’s who.
Felicity: Season One and Season Two – In the end, it was all about the haircut seen around the world, but J.J. Abrams first hit was a nicely structured drama free from mysteries, islands or alien invaders.
Not To Be Overlooked:
The Theater Bizarre (Anchor Bay/Image, 114 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Proving once again that anthology horror is a lot more difficult to pull off than it might look, especially when wrapped around a concept as thorny as sexual deviancy, “The Theater Bizarre” is one of those films that you want to love even as the segments start to drag and muddy. There are some wonderfully dark segments, particularly the story within a story featuring Udo Kier as a creepy man-puppet, and the frequent blasts of hyper-sexualized eroticism isn’t unwelcome or distracting. It just leaves you wanting more, unlike 2011’s “Little Deaths,” which tackled the same themes, sex, love, revenge and experimentation, with decidedly better results.
The Fields (Breaking Glass, 98 minutes, Unrated, DVD): An above-average independent horror film with a wonderful turn by Cloris Leachman. The last act makes up for any slow drags in the beginning and middle. Definitely worth checking out.
Shame (Fox, 101 minutes, NC-17, Blu-Ray): Michael Fassbender goes full monty, Carey Mulligan does too. “Shame” is the most provocative film you will ever see about sex, really nothing but sex, that is not the least bit erotic. There were several moments I wanted to stop the film not because I was aroused, but because I felt dirty and uncomfortable and wanted to shower. Director Steve McQueen is a daring, fearless auteur who you will be hearing much, much more about in the future. A visionary whose actors trust unconditionally is a good, good thing.
Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites and Dark Shadows: Best of Barnabus (E1, 360 minutes combined, Unrated, DVD): Poor Jonathan Frid did not live long enough to see his iconic creation, Barnabas Collins, the tragic and doomed vampire antihero of the long running daytime soap, “Dark Shadows,” brought to un-life by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s recent big-screen treatment. Frid died just one week prior to release. But the overly dramatic, entirely campy, shockingly uneven cult favorite, which ran for five easons on ABC from 1966 to 1971, is being, ahem, resurrected by Entertainment One in a Deluxe Boxed Set, shaped like a coffin, no less, and in individual discs like “Fan Favorites” and “Best of Barnabus,” to give fans a chance to re-experience one of the first serials to attempt to incorporate vampires, werewolves, witches and more into a traditional dysfunctional family drama.