Sunday, October 4, 2015

Esoterica XII: Random acts of movie watching

Time for another round of general mayhem from yours truly.  Here some brief reviews of flicks I've seen recently that either don't really warrant the full treatment or about which I just have very little to say.

 Scarecrows is a nifty low budget horror movie about a bunch of thieves who end up stranded at an abandoned farm in the middle of nowhere when one of their own turns on them.  In addition to dealing with him and some local hostages, they also have to deal with bloodthirsty scarecrows who have a knack for gruesomely killing the hell out of anything in their area.  The film is pretty solid with some nice gore and interesting characters though for such a short film, it does sort of drag in one or two spots.  Still, its well worth checking out.

 The teaming of two legendary actors was the key selling point for this one but really, it just doesn't quite play.  Jack Nicholson is fine as a cattle rustler looking to earn a living as he fights against a rancher whose daughter he's fallen for but everything grinds to a halt whenever Marlon Brando shows up as a bounty hunter hired to kill Jack and his friends.  It's a real tour de force, completely bonkers and over the top and while it's not exactly right for the movie, it at least keeps it interesting.  Not often you see Marlon Brando sporting a thick Irish accent and a dress sinking a nasty looking weapon that is more or less a multi-bladed Frisbee from hell into Harry Dean Stanton's brain.

 If you like cheesy Italian horror movies (reading this sight, I'm betting you do), this is... Well, it's one of them.  A ham radio enthusiast and his girlfriend end encountering a ghost girl and her evil clown doll in a haunted house.  Some good kills and a reasonable amount of 80's cheese make this an okay viewing but really, you can do a hell of a lot better than this and probably should.  The Rifftrax on it is good, though.

 Been getting into Italian crime pictures and this one is pretty solid, though a little off in some areas.  Mario Adorf plays Luca, a small time pimp wrongfully suspected of stealing mob money (in fact, local crime boss Adolfo Celi is the real culprit) and he is targeted by two American hit men played by Henry Silva and Woody Strode.  His wife and daughter are killed which sends him on a roaring rampage of revenge and there are some nice action beats including a good foot chase.  Performances are solid with Adorf and Silva coming off best.  It's a tough, gritty meat and potatoes 70's action movie.

 Better is this offbeat action comedy starring Tomas Milian as tough guy cop Nico (a role he would reprise several times) who is out to bust a purse snatching ring led by Jack Palance.  Milian and Palance are fun in their roles; the action is pretty good and it's also nicely funny in places.

That's all for now, until next time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Exterminator 2 (1984)

Cannon Films was always at their best when just going for simple, good old fashioned exploitation trash.  In 1984, they were at their most successful with a solid business model (changing it up would lead to their demise) and they decided to make a sequel to the 1980 vigilante flick The Exterminator.  The first movie starred Robert Ginty as a Vietnam vet who is out to avenge the brutal death of his friend, played, ironically enough, by future Cannon fave Steve James.  The film was a grindhouse hit with such sights as a mobster being dropped into an industrial meat grinder and a flashy poster featuring the hero wielding a huge flamethrower which he never uses in the film.

I can only imagine the pitch for this one involved the sentence "This time, he will use the goddamned flamethrower!"

A troubled production, this was taken out of the hands of original director Mark Buntzman (who helped make the first one) and due to a lack of availability, Robert Ginty only appeared in the dialogue scenes, save for one scene where he dons the mask he wears when doing his thing.  The result is that the hero goes through virtually every action scene wearing a big, clunky protective suit while wielding a big, clunky flamethrower.

That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bad, yet oddly amusing things in this movie.  The main bad guy is called X because the director was unsure of a good name for him.  Mario van Peebles does what he can with the role (not that much) and I'm sure there have been less believable bad guys in movies but what we see here makes me doubt it somewhat.  X is nicely insane but to be honest, the actors just doesn't have the voice for a good bad guy.  Granted, his usual outfit of a mesh t-shirt and shoulder pads from an Italian Road Warrior cash-in does a little to balance things.

Very little.

Ginty goes up against X and his gang, meeting and falling for a dancer who is  crippled and later murdered (though in the original cut, she lived) as well as befriending a friendly garbage truck driver played by Frankie Faison.  Said driver is also killed which spurs our hero to do an A-Team number on the truck, fortifying it with armor and machine guns.

Part of the problem the film has is that first time director Buntzman makes it achingly clear that this is his first shot at directing.  Pacing is off, the performances are iffy (Faison is fun though and while he's not believable, van Peebles is energetic enough), and the action has a rather static feel to it that drags things down.  The music is also rather bad with only one bit of music that doesn't fit the film its in and is used constantly.

That being said, Exterminator 2 is rather enjoyable to watch.  The film is bad, yes, but there is enough mid-80's cheese and general oddness (Cannon had a real thing for break dancing and brightly attired gangs) and to an extent, this sort of plays out like a less sadistic and mean spirited Death Wish movie (sort of).  There are also some fun logic gaps relating to just how the hell the gang not only found out where Ginty's girlfriend lived but his first name as well.  It's a bad movie, but reasonably entertaining, illogical trash as well.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

They Came From Within (1975)

Ah, nothing like a three month break to recharge the old batteries!  Finally got around to seeing this one, and it's... Well, it's pretty good.  David Cronenberg's first feature film is an interesting, fairly disgusting tale about parasites that infect the population of a Montreal apartment complex, turning them into sex/violence crazed maniacs.

Sporting a rather nicely low key atmosphere and some great set design (the apartments we see are awesomely 70's in the best way, not often I look at something from that era and it looks sort of cozy), Cronenberg makes good early use of his usual themes of transformation (in this case, he sees it as a positive though as usual, your mileage may vary) and we get some nicely gruesome moments such as a carrier of several parasites gradually breaking down and a real cross-your-legs moment as one parasite gets inside horror legend Barbara Steele while she's in the tub.  While the sex and gore seems a little tame by today's standards, I can totally see how some folks in 1975 would be horrified by it.  And in all honesty, there is one horny old lady in it that creeped me out even more than that bathtub scene and the frankly disgusting parasites.

While the film is rather light on characterization (the doctor hero and his nurse are decent enough but sort of bland) and the dialogue isn't exactly the best in film history, this is still really, really good early Cronenberg.  I like some of his more recent stuff (A History of Violence is very strong) but for me, he was at his best with those low budget Canadian tax shelter flicks.  Hell, I don't even mind the downbeat 70's ending.  At least here it serves a purpose other than just shock value.

Friday, May 29, 2015


Due to just being too busy and generally uninspired, I am putting the blog on a hiatus for the time being.  It's not going to end, I just need to recharge my creative batteries.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Esoterica XI: Comics Strangeness

Sorry for the lack of updates, outside factors have taken up most of my time.  Now then, a super-sized super special look at some weird/enjoyable comics I've gotta talk about just a little.  As George Carlin once said on one of his albums, these are the kind of thoughts that kept me out of the really good schools.*

*Actually, Chapman University is a fine institution but sometimes the comedy gods demand a sacrifice and if it means throwing a really good school under the bus, so be it.  Given that I will be paying off my student loans until I'm in my sixties, I think I can take some liberties with them if I like.

There are some franchise crossovers that make sense, some that make no sense and some that just feel right.  Teaming up Star Trek: TNG with Doctor Who (the  Matt Smith version) is just about the right blend of the two shows with the characters staying true to their portrayals and in general, quite a lot of fun moments as we not only get some fun interplay beween the characters in these franchises but also an amusing flashbhack to the crew of the original TV series meeting the Tom Baker Doctor.  It's not a perfect story, but it's a fun ride to be sure.

Not all crossovers are created equal, however.  Sometimes they get bizarre...

 What makes me chuckle here is how fairly accurate to their peronalities the SNL cast reactions to John Belushi going after a super villain in his samurai character gear are.  Dan Aykroyd is cheering him, being his best friend and all.  Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner are shocked as one would expect, as is Garrett Morris.  Laraine Newman is oddly absent, though given that she didn't like to stand out on the show this sort of works and Bill Murray... Well, I'd say that he probably saw a crazed John Belushi going nuts at least once or twice in real life so his reaction of casual interest on the cover works perfectly.  Come to think of it, he might think it's totally normal.  As for Belushi, I'd say doing this in real life might have been rather refined for him, given how nuts he could get.  I could see Aykroyd doing it too, to be honest.

The funny thing is, this one is actually a pretty decent story.
 The rather cheesy 80's version of The Avengers appearing on Letterman however... Not so much.

 I can only hope the new version of Star Wars from Marvel Comics has anything as brilliantly stupid/insane/awesome as this issue which has Han and Chewbacca teaming with a giant green bunny rabbit, a crazy old man who thinks he's a Jedi whose name is a pun on Don Quixote and some others. I don;t generally advocatre heavy drug use but it seemed to work well enough for comics in the seventies.

But for comics that make you realize the creators must have had access to some killer weed, you have to go back.  Way back, in fact.  We will end with one of the more bizarre stories I've ever had the chance to read.

Ah, leave it to the Silver Age of comics to come up with something that just makes you shake your head in amazement with maybe a slight tinge of disgust.  For sheer WTH entertainment, I give you "Lois Lane: The Crybaby of Metropolis".  The fact that eventually turning Lois into a baby to teach her a lesson about self control (at least I think) and more or less showing her off to his former flame Lana Lang is not the most dickish thing Superman has ever done is saying something pretty incredible and this isn't even close to being the weirdest thing this particular book did.  The story was also adapted for the daily newspaper strip that was around at the same time.

I think we've had enough for one evening.  Stay tuned for more soon.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Sorry for the recent lack of content.  Updates will resume shortly.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Get Shorty (1995)

With the fantastic series Justified ending a brilliant six year run this month, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the adaptations of Elmore Leonard's work.  Leonard was a genius at writing darkly comic crime novels full of snappy dialogue, crazy situations and memorable characters.  For some reason, most of the adaptations of his work have not gone as well as one would prefer, due to many of the usual reasons films don't work.  Sometimes its the studio, sometimes its the script, sometimes its something else entirely.

We'll begin with the film that kicked off the real trend of good Leonard adaptations.  Before 1995,there were a few good ones but for the most part, his work had been relegated to one-off TV movies.  In 1995, however, he blasted back to prominence with this genuinely funny, entertaining comedy.

Get Shorty stars John Travolta as Chili Palmer, a loan shark who is in the middle of a petty feud with Ray Barboni (Dennis Farina) who he ends up working for.  Palmer tracks the owner of a dry cleaners who owes some money to Vegas and while he's there, he's also sent to get some money out of a B-movie producer in Hollywood.  Being a movie buff, Chili becomes enamored with the film business and the ensuing comedy is both a sly satire of the business and a perfect adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel.

Travolta is top notch here, right in the middle of his 1994 comeback, cool and funny but also sort of tough which is perfect for the character.  Hackman is equally funny as the sort of dumb, utterly full of crap film producer and Rene Russo is fun as Karen, an actress Chili falls for.  The rest of the cast is fun too.  Dennis Farina is quite funny as Barboni, as is Delroy Lindo as a thug looking to get into the film, business as well and Danny DeVito is great as an utterly ridiculous actor.  You can tell he, along with everybody else in the movie (there are so many good character actors in this thing that to name them all would stretch this review to an unreasonable length) is having a blast.

Barry Sonnenfeld does a fine job directing things and as noted, the cast is great but what really sells the film is the script.  Scott Frank stays true to the original novel, using the dialogue and letting it have that little flair Leonard always puts into his work.  It's just plain fun and one of the best Leonard adaptations out there.

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.