Thursday, July 26, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... DAMIEN: OMEN II

Only now does it occur to me...  that if Satan needed a drill instructor, it'd be Lance Henriksen.

It's not a huge role, and his motivations are never really clear to me (I guess he was just a random Satan-worshipper who had the good luck of stumbling upon the Antichrist at the military academy?), but if you need somebody to whip L'il Satan into shape, I guess you go straight to Henriksen.  I mean, this is a guy who can really pull off a line reading like "Welcome to my slaughterhouse,"may have set the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and stabs people with a crucifix-shaped dagger.  We love ya, Lance.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... WINTER KILLS

Only now does it occur to me...  that Sterling Hayden's beard could conquer the world.

Hell, I didn't even know he ever had a beard.

WINTER KILLS is a kinda lukewarm conspiracy thriller/comedy from the 1970s that's peppered with insane old Hollywood and character actor cameos.  But even in a film that has Junta Juleil faves like Jeff Bridges, John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Ralph Meeker, Elizabeth Taylor, Eli Wallach, M. Emmet Walsh, Richard Boone, Dorothy Malone, and Joe Spinell, Sterling Hayden and his beard reign supreme.  He shows up (riding around with a complement of tanks), chases Jeff Bridges (who's in a car), exchanges some harsh words with him, gives him a 10 second head start, and then commences to fire shells at him as he zooms away.  The scene lasts under five minutes and doesn't really advance the plot, but damn, I loved it.  I can't truly recommend the film; despite being filled with these kinds of interesting curios and diversions, the sum is decidedly less than the parts.  Plus, it feels a little long.  Not Hayden's beard, that is– the film.  Hayden's beard is "just right."  Here, I'll let you look at it again as you leave:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI

Only now does it occur to me...  that "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)" may represent the finest hour of the entire FRIDAY THE 13TH series.

Technically, this song just plays over the end credits, but the tie-in music video is something to behold.  And, just to be clear– I genuinely love Alice and this song with all of my heart.

There's so much going on, I find it impossible to decide what precisely is the best part, or even which part is the most confusing.  Is it Alice manually making the "Chee chee chee kah kah kah" noises with his mouth?  Is it Alice's riding crop and his Jason "throne?"

Is it when he rhymes "alone" with "alone?"  ["But the moon was full/ And you had your chance/ To be all alone/ but you're not alone"]  Is it when he rhymes "can" with "can?" ["Oh, if you see him comin', run away if you CAN/ Just keep on runnin', run as fast as you CAN" – truly only Alice can get away with this shit!]  Is it when Jason swings on a rope out of an image of Jason swinging on a rope?

Is it when Alice bursts out of the movie screen, just to smash a breakaway bottle against his forehead?

Is it the look of vague disappointment amongst the teens when the Jason movie they're watching on screen transforms into an Alice Cooper music video?

Is it the apathetic "I'd prefer it if you'd please stop" expression the teens adopt as their supposedly horrific but extraordinarily confusing theatrical experience continues?

 Is it when Alice puts the kids in a cage, only to unlock it a moment later?

 Is it when Alice is dragged back into the screen by Jason, who has already been revealed to be Alice? (Shades of multiple personalities á la MONSTER DOG and the album DADA?)

Is it the bizarre, non-sequitur of an ending that reveals Alice to be Jason's cultured dad, and "Jason" to be the name of the perplexed and depressed teen, right after we've seen that Alice himself is the man behind the mask as well as "Jason"'s father?

Who can say?  But I suppose it doesn't matter.  It's a Friday the 13th in sweaty July– just have a couple of cold beers and watch a Jason movie.  That's what I'll be doing later.  Maybe 3 in 3-D or 4- THE FINAL CHAPTER.  I'll have to see what strikes my fancy.  Eh, just remember: if you see him coming, run away if you can, just keep on running, run as fast as you can.  He's a dangerous, dangerous man.  And he's out tonight.  And he's watching you.  And he knows your house.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Film Review: UNIVERSAL SOLDIER (1992, Roland Emmerich)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 102  minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jean-Claude Van Damme (BLOODSPORT, KICKBOXER), Dolph Lundgren (MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, ROCKY IV), Ally Walker (SONS OF ANARCHY, WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING), Jerry Orbach (LAW AND ORDER, DIRTY DANCING), Leon Rippy (STARGATE, THE PATRIOT), Rance Howard (Ron's dad, FORCED TO KILL, CHINATOWN), Ed O'Ross (LETHAL WEAPON, RED HEAT), Eric Norris (son of Chuck, DELTA FORCE, TOP DOG), Tiny Lister (EXTREME PREJUDICE, JACKIE BROWN), Michael Jai White (SPAWN,  BLACK DYNAMITE).  Music by Christopher Franke (member of Tangerine Dream, MCBAIN, THE TOMMYKNOCKERS).
Tag-line: "The ultimate weapons of the future have just declared war... on each other."
Best one-liner:  "Say goodnight, asshole!"  –"Good night, asshole!"

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER.  Oh yeah.  This is probably the movie that should have been called CYBORG.  For starters, it's actually about cyborgs, unlike CYBORG, which is actually about post-apocalyptic fashion-conscious nomads who happen to be named after popular guitar brands.  But let me get back to UNIVERSAL SOLDIER.  We've got Van Damme as 'Luc Deveraux,' an ambiguously Belgian-American soldier who died in Vietnam while fighting his mortal enemy Dolph Lundgren (as 'Andrew Scott,' an ambiguously Swedish-American soldier.)  Then, their bodies are reanimated and turned into cyborgs by Jerry Orbach, and then they continue to fight each other, all the way to the Grand Canyon.  Toss in an endless bunch of TERMINATOR homages (and rip-off elements), an obligatory truck vs. bus chase, a grocery store shoot out:

 a blown up gas station:

 Technically, it's not an action movie unless they blow up a rustic, Southwestern gas station.

and that's pretty much the movie.  But what a movie it is.  I mean, it came from the minds who made THE HITCHHIKER– what do you expect?  (Note that I said THE HITCHHIKER, not THE HITCHER.)  As I often say, it's the little things that make a movie special, and I'm about to name a few of them.

Where to begin– well, let's see... how about the fact that Dolph Lundgren's sole character motivation seems to be the desire to make human ear-necklaces, and then make groan-inducing puns about them.

In fact, maybe this movie should have been entitled EAR AND LOATHING IN THE GRAND CANYON or THE SWEET EARAFTER or something, because I'm starting to think that UNIVERSAL SOLDIER is too classy a name for this thing.  I mean, it's presumably purloined from a 1960s Canadian folk rock song.  Eh, no matter.

Anyway, Dolph runs rampant across the greater American Southwest, trying to hunt down Van Damme and delivering soliloquies such as "Well, I'm fighting this thing man, it's like kick ass or kiss ass, and I'm busting heads!"

He steals rednecks' belts,

and at one point, a dummy of Dolph flies through the front windshield of a car, prompting the one-liner, "He should have buckled up."

Above all, Dolph realizes what movie he is in, and he's having a hell of a lot of fun with it.  He's given more to do than, say, in ROCKY IV, and he knows that the line "Now where are we gonna shoot her?  In the stomach?  Naaah.  In the chest?  Noooo...  I think... we... should shoot her... IN THE HEAD!" is ridiculous.  I mean, the man was a chemical engineering Fulbright scholar.  So he does his cartoonish best.  I only mention this, because on the opposite side of the coin is a man who's taking this material seriously.  Very seriously.  And that is the subtle majesty of Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Oh, no!

Van Damme is an Actor, with a capital A.  Don't believe me?  I offer proof:

Sometimes Acting requires a long, lingering shot of Van Damme's ass cheeks.

 The immediate aftermath of a long, lingering shot of Van Damme's ass cheeks.

Sometimes Acting requires a plot point that Van Damme must get naked and cover himself in ice every two hours.

 Insert one of Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze one-liners here.

And sometimes Acting requires THIS, the context and precise nature of which I shall refuse to explain:

 Make sure nobody gets poked in the eye or anything?

I love how almost every JCVD film feels that, despite whatever other mind-boggling suspensions of disbelief are in play, his accent must be addressed.

Later, he's revealed to have vaguely Cajun heritage.  Also, his dad is Rance Howard.  Which, I think makes him Clint Howard's brother.  But I digress.

There's also a wonderful plot element that means JCVD's cyborg-self is always hungry.  This leads to him eating an entire diner's worth of food, which, when he has no money to pay for the feast, leads to a brawl with the chef and several patrons, and some lunch-related one-liners are thrown in there, too.

After kick-blasting everyone into submission, he gets his hands on a complimentary plastic basket of bar popcorn, and the look on his face may very well be the purest distillation of "childish happiness" ever captured on film, at least since Michael Jackson got to live out his "claymation duets and giant transforming robot saving the world" fantasies in MOONWALKER. I mean, look at him:
How could you not be charmed by that kiddie-level sincerity?  Awwww, allllllrightGive him the popcorn, says the audience.  Give him ALL the popcorn.  He earned it.  (Ask me later about my conspiracy theory that JCVD was paid for his role in this film exclusively in popcorn.)

Anyway, it all leads to a final, ridiculous martial arts duel that ends with one of our two combatants suffering a Lucio Fulci-style impalement and then being SHREDDED TO DEATH BY A HAY BALER.  If that's not worth four stars, I'm not quite sure what is.  

Thanks for everything, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER.  Four stars.

-Sean Gill

Also, many further thanks to the wondrous featurette on the DVD called "A Tale of Two Titans," which features interviews with Dolph and JCVD, ridiculous low-budget re-enactment cutaways of everything they're talking about, JCVD doing a Menahem Golan impersonation, Dolph plugging his new production company "Thor Pictures," and the following archival photos of them as youngsters!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Only now does it occur to me... CARRIE

Only now does it occur to me...  that P.J. Soles and her hat practically steal the goddamn movie. 

During the filming of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN– a definite 'ensemble' piece, if there ever was one– Steve McQueen (unbeknownst to many of his fellow actors and to their later chagrin) tried his damndest to pull focus and steal the show with ostentatious bits of acting "business" whenever he was on screen, especially in scenes where his character had little or nothing to do.  In a similar vein (but certainly less malicious) is P.J. Soles (of HALLOWEEN and ROCK N' ROLL HIGH SCHOOL fame) in CARRIE.  P.J. Soles is terrific.  She always injects her roles with an infectious sense of fun, but in CARRIE, she gets to play a villain.  A villain with a big 'ole red rainbow ballcap.  And pigtails.  And a smirk.

Hell, she's sort of like the proto-Punky Brewster.

Anyway, this hat gets around:  when they're making fun of Carrie's lack of menstrual knowledge,

in the classroom,
doing push-ups,

setting up for prom,

shit– even AT the prom:

I love it!  Look at her daring to even steal focus from Betty Buckley

with that hat and her impish grin.  It's hard to say if this is De Palma or P.J. herself at work here.  I'm leaning toward P.J., possibly because I need to believe that she's as mischievous in real life as the characters she portrays.

Well, now THAT's just ridiculous. 

I salute you, P.J.  You got a lot of mileage out of that hat, and so did I.  I hope that it's kept in a vault at the Smithsonian.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Film Review: ROCKY V (1990, John G. Alvidsen)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 104 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Sylvester Stallone (who also wrote it), Talia Shire (THE GODFATHER, OLD BOYFRIENDS), Burt Young (CHINATOWN, CONVOY), Sage Stallone (DAYLIGHT, director of VIC with Clu Gulager), Burgess Meredith (THE MANITOU, THE TWILIGHT ZONE), Kevin Connolly (ENTOURAGE, THE NOTEBOOK), Richard Gant (THE BIG LEBOWSKI, Hostetler on DEADWOOD), Tommy Morrison (real life boxer and great nephew of John Wayne), and Tony Burton (THE SHINING, ROCKY).
Tag-line: "GO FOR IT"
Best one-liner:  "Get up, you son of a bitch!  'Cause Mickey loves you!"

How ya like your ROCKY movies?  Ya like 'em slowly-paced and watered down?  Peppered with robot references and sequences of laughable Lynchian terror?  Sprinkled with occasional amateur chalk artwork?

Portrait of Rocky Balboa Fishing.  1990.  Crayon and colored chalk on construction paper.  20 X 12 inches.  Artist, Rocky Balboa, Jr.

Well, then ROCKY V is just what the doctor ordered for this most patriotic of days. 

ROCKY V is commonly derided by the masses; those time-tested sheep, those locusts who rarely can recognize a fine film, even when its paraded beneath their noses, nude, in an extended and wholly unnecessary shower sequence.

Oh!  Like this one, for instance.  Thanks, ROCKY V!

There's a lot going on here, though: we got sweaters worthy of early-90s Sam Malone,

a return to the Philly's most scenic and sleazy streets, for the first time since ROCKY I,

a return to 70s fashion for the first time since ROCKY I (which really is a welcome addition, because Stallone's platform boots and Talia Shire in those ridiculous, pet-store employee spectacles were two of my favorite elements from the first film),

newly shot footage, via flashback, of Burgess Meredith in all of his irascible glory,

and a new boxer– Rocky's new protégé, Tommy Gunn– wearing Apollo Creed's shorts and clasping Stallone within the grasp of his sweaty arms.

Tommy Gunn and Rocky make a great team.  Until the media begins using backhanded compliments like:  "Rocky's Robot."

Rocky's Robot.  I wonder.  I wonder...  As I wrote in my ROCKY IV review just a few days ago, Stallone seems to have an obsession with robots, an obsession which can even be seen in COBRA, as Stallone has his then-wife, Brigitte Nielsen, pose and cavort amongst an army of robots.
Now, what could have caused such a fascination?  Reflecting upon the issue with a friend of mine, he suggested that it was rooted entirely in TERMINATOR-envy.  Think about it.  The man even created his own "nude man awakening in a time that is not his own" film with DEMOLITION MAN.  If we're to give any stock to the Schwarzenegger vs. Stallone "rivalry," evidence of which can be found in TWINS, DEMOLITION MAN, THE LAST ACTION HERO, and most recently, facetiously, in THE EXPENDABLES and THE EXPENDABLES II, Stallone must have seen THE TERMINATOR as the impetus behind Schwarzenegger's meteoric rise, a franchise which in 1990 was soon expecting its high-octane, much-anticipated second installment (with Schwarzenegger set to receive the highest acting salary in history up to that point), even as the ROCKY and RAMBO series were fizzling out.  Even THE LAST ACTION HERO imagines an alternate universe where Stallone was THE TERMINATOR instead of Schwarzenegger.  Is it any wonder the man had robots on the mind?

Anyway, back to ROCKY V:  all is well and good until Tommy Gunn stabs Rocky in the back by joining up with Don King-stand-in "George Washington Duke" (played by DEADWOOD's "Hostetler," Richard Gant), a man who frequently utters such profundities as:


This all leads up to a final back alley fight (notably not in a boxing ring) which includes the following, freaky sequence which I'm about to describe.

Rocky is being beaten into a pulp when he receives a dream-vision which affords him the fortitude to "Go for it" as alluded to in the film's tag-line.  Punctuated by grainy, high-contrast black and white film, it includes:

Burgess Meredith screaming to the camera that "Mickey loves you,"

complete with brilliant, terrifying, eye-popping closeups worthy of Sergio Leone,

horror-movie style flashes back to the fight with Dolph Lundgren in part IV,

Rocky imagining himself with blood pouring over his eyes,

and a casket (Rocky's? Apollo's?) being shoved into a vault for all time.
The sequence is bizarre, vaguely out-of-place, and quite possibly the highlight of the film.  Until I receive definitive evidence to the contrary, I'm going to pretend that it was guest-directed by either Roman Polanski or David Lynch.

In honor of America, "going for it," Burgess Meredith, and the robot references, I'm going to give you three stars, ROCKY V.   Enjoy 'em!

-Sean Gill