Thursday, June 06, 2013

Every Film Watched in March

Every film I watched in March
  1. Batman (1966) A special Friday Family Film and Pizza (but occasionally Onigri) Night. It was the first time my mum, my kids, my wife, and I had all been in the same room since my dad died nearly two weeks ago. We watched the 1966 Batman projected up on the big(ish) screen. First time my mum, or my three year-old, batman-obsessed little boy had seen it. Both enjoyed it for vastly different reasons and I sat and loved sharing it with them (though Lee Meriwether's rather peachy bum up there on the screen in glorious Technicolor was an added bonus - and was also, I suspect, the only bit of the film my dad would really have enjoyed).

    Mrs JM is away for the weekend at some sort of two day crochet trade show in Glasgow. (Yeah, I'm baffled too and I share a house with the woman.)

    So, while she's away the kids and I settle down on the sofa with buckets of Maltesers, loads of dripping ice-lollies, and watch:

  2. Journey to the Centre of Time ( 1968 ) - a dreadful film which stretches three minutes of story to movie length by long sequences of stock footage, endless techno-babble and a special effects budget that runs to letting off a small firework placed on top of a 'computer' console. (A measure of the film's limited budget can be seen by the fact that the 'control room' is three such consoles placed in front of a wall of blackout curtain. And as a good quarter of the film takes place in this space it's pretty obvious measure too.) The kids had a great time adding their own MST3K type rifftrack.

  3. War of the Planets (1966) - Now here's something weird. I've seen War of the Planets a couple of times and though the girls would enjoy its brightly-coloured fast-paced cheesiness. What I hadn't thought through was that I first saw this piece of Italian Space nonsense as a battle-hardened SF movie watcher of 50 years experience. They were seeing it for the first time as impressionable kids who don't know all the cliches. They loved it. They didn't take it totally seriously but they enjoyed themselves. The jokes and giggles died away during the show as they became drawn into the story - though Holly's heartfelt cry of: "...and you can bend spoons!" at the end of the villain's scenery-chewing "Join us and become masters of the universe!" rant was a cracker. Watching it with them the film became a lot better than I remembered.

  4. 2001: A Space Travesty (2000) - Back in February I watched a cheapo piece of drek called Frankenstein General Hospital which I described as "An awful film. I seriously hope I see nothing as bad as this for the rest of the year."

    I failed.

    Frankenstein General Hospital was shit but at least it was cheap shit. You can forgive all sorts of stuff if you know the cast and crew were working hard for peanuts and making the sets out of what they can find. Having worked on a film set where I had to scrounge cardboard boxes from the local supermarket's bins (so we could flatten them to write idiot boards for the star) I can understand and forgive a lot. With Frankenstein General Hospital it was hard work because, apart from one very thin joke delivered very badly, there wasn't really much going for it. (Even gratuitous nudity from former Playboy models couldn't save it.)

    2001: A Space Travesty on the other hand had no excuse. It cost 45 million US Dollars and is, basically, Hollywood mashup: Leslie Neilsen doing his Police Squad shtick to the tune of Men in Black. Here's the pitch... "Frank Drebin - in Space..." Not exactly a bad idea for a 90 minute popcorn comedy but, dear god! you would have thought someone would have come up with at least ONE new joke. Beyond dire. Neilsen hated it. He described it in an interview in 2003 as, "the worst experience I've ever had". At least he got paid (well, I hope he did). I didn't.

  5. El Chupacabra (2003) - No hope, low budget, straight to DVD piece of shit about legendary the South American goat-sucking vampire, El Chupacabra on the loose in LA. Dreadfully written: "Goats are usually found in areas with a high goat population.". And lousily acted. Really really bad. I became fascinated by the central character's blinks for a while. Young Lantino actor, vaguely symmetrical, and he wouldn't stop blinking. I guess it was some sort of nervous twitch but it was hypnotically distracting*. Some very odd camera angles too. A lot of really low-level stuff which, I guess, is supposed to suggest the low POV of the beasty but, as it's never used as the low POV of the beasty, just leaves the audience thinking "Why are we looking at this guy's ankles? Why are we looking at the cellulite on the back of this woman's thighs? etc."

    The best thing about the show (apart from wondering just how long the editor can sustain the pointless shot of our two villains walking across a bridge while some bland music covers up the conversation they are obviously having but can't hear) the best thing about this show is the cheap, on location 'Making of' that accompanies it. When you have the 'star' of the show telling the interviewer how professional the crew is you know you're deep in wannabee land. Kudos too to the director of this featurette for making the two obvious stunts in the film more exciting and dangerous than they appeared in the finished product just by finding a better angle. "Shoot whatever you want just don't get in our way OK?" During the film I remember thinking: "I wonder how close that 'speeding' car actually came to that stuntman?". Watching the 'Making of' I was shocked. "Jeso! He nearly hit the guy!" I'd know who I'd hire.

    * On reflection I'm exaggerating about the shoddiness of the acting. The central performance was crap. I had one of those - "oh, please don't tell us this is the hero..." moments when he first appeared. And he seriously fluffed his lines on more than one occasion - in the takes they USED! God knows what he was like in the out-takes. (This is why people budget for ADR, people!) Everyone else does the best they can with a crap script, less than two dimensional characters, and, I suspect, very weak direction.

  6. Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961 aka Iron Sharp, 宇宙快速船 Uchū Kaisokusen, Space Hypership) - whatever you call it, it was shit.

  7. Ponyo ( 2008 ) - I loved it! A simple story beautifully told. Very dreamy.

  8. Shaolin Ninja (1985 if you believe the box, or 1981 if you think the IMDb can do no wrong. Mind you, the VHS case thought it was a cert 18 while the tape had a 15 sticker on it (The BBFC says 15). To add to the confusion before we even get to the start of the story the film has changed its title and is called Shaolin Fighters Vs Ninja in the opening credits. It is apparently also known as Return of the Deadly Blade.). What follows is the usual 90+ minutes of Chinese guys walloping seven kinds of shit out of each other (literally; at one point one of our 'heroes' attacks someone who is having a dump in a riverside outhouse on stilts). Who these people are and why they are wellying the crap out of each other at a moment's notice is beyond me. For reasons which I didn't understand - though 'revenge' seems to get mentioned a lot - two lone fighters are in search of Master Li who disappeared many years before. Someone has hired Ninjas (sic) to stop them. I think. Some sort of Moon Goddess is floating about too disguised as a mortal. In the end Master Li turns up in his Kung-Fu flying wheelchair and despite lots of "Ah! So you are my father, and he is my brother and my auntie too - I must kill you!" dialogue at the end, culminating in a sword vs wheelchair vs flying moon goddess lady fist fight, I was still none the wiser at the end.

    Best underwater Ninja attack sequence I have ever seen though.

  9. Ninja Dragon (1986) - Another from the VHS pile. And what a gem! Ninja Dragon is an incomprehensible mess of a film cobbled together by cutting some newly shot footage of badly dubbed, middle-aged white men into a Chinese gangster film in which everyone dresses like the Blues Brothers. The white men are gangsters too and film alternates between shots of the Chinese Gangsters happily carrying on with their incomprehensible Chinese Gangster feuding and shots of the white guys barking orders to them down the telephone in sub-Sweeny White Gangster style. Both of the white gangsters are also Ninjas(!). From time to time the gangstering stops to let some ninja stuff happen. I'm pretty sure the Chinese Gangster stuff was originally intended to be set in the 1930's; the clothes and weapons certainly give that feel - how many modern gangsters use Thompson submachine guns? Though the white guys' sequences are definitely modern day; modern cars and Uzis. The music is eclectic too and, I'm sure, borrows a couple of sound cues from David Lynch's Dune. I was so impressed (happily bewildered) by the whole mess that I immediately sauntered over to eBay and bought a DVD copy and another of the director's "Cut and Paste" films, Ninja Terminator, (which, my sources tell me, is even less comprehensible than Ninja Dragon). I paid £1.27 for the both of them - and that includes postage.

  10. The Independent (2000) - rewatch of a favourite great little film.

  11. Drainiac! (2000) - Straight to DVD. Teenagers. Creepy House. Something evil in the pipework (hence the title). No budget. Been there, done that - but never quite so crappily as this. I've only seen one other film by the writer director, Brett Piper - which was the tremendously awful A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell (1990). On this limited sampling I'm willing to bet that the titles of his films are the best bits. Not that Drainiac was ALL awful. There were a few nice inventive, low-budget in camera 'let's do the creepy effect by tilting the set and have the evil slime run UP the walls!' stuff going on, but it was swamped by the awful, awful script, some really godawful post-production sound work and rotten acting. Though, it must be said, the two female leads were bearable and have gone on to better things. (Mind you, getting naked and writhing around in a bathful of rubber tentacles will always add JunkMonkey watch-ability points. Pity the wrong actress got wet and naked but you can't have everything. What has Hollywood got against short, well-rounded brunettes?)

  12. Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists (20012) Friday night pizza fun.

  13. Center of the Web (1992) - the parcel I ordered from eBay (see Ninja Dragon above) arrived with the wrong discs in the case. So I'm watching the discs that are in there quick so I can send them back and get the right ones sent to me. I do wonder why I'm bothering though; Center of the Web is a plodding, leaden-paced 'thriller' that stars Charlene Tilson. Took me ages to work out where I had seen her before. She played Lucy 'The Poison Dwarf' Ewing in Dallas. Very dull. Though the hand drawn muzzle-flash pasted onto the end of her pistol as she finally gets round to shooting the bad guy was almost almost worth the pain.

    Two frames of almost inventive film making. The opening credits ran for two minutes the end credits for six. Eight minutes is a sizeable percentage of a 92 minute movie.

  14. Gladiator (1986) - between making the notorious mad artist turned serial murderer film Driller Killer (1979) and proper films with well kent actors like Christopher Walken and Harvey Keitel: King of New York (1990), Bad Lieutenant (1992), The Funeral (1996), etc. Abel Ferrara paid the rent by directing some TV work. Episodes of Miami Vice and and TV movies like this. Gladiator is a better than average, grittier than usual, made for TV action/message of the week movie ('Drink Driving is Bad') that mashes up bits of Death Wish and Duel and pits a bereaved auto-mechanic against the serial hit and run driver who killed his brother. Like Duel the killer's car is his character - we never see the driver's face or hear him speak, and the vigilante mechanic has a crisis of confidence after driving a speeding car off the road (only to find the occupants were a couple desperate to get to the hospital as the woman was in labour), and turns himself in. The best line is delivered by the always dependable Robert Culp. He's just been read a long list of conflicting descriptions of the vigilante driver and his souped-up, turbo-charged, gizmo laden truck. The descriptions have mostly come from his drunk victims: "So," says our world weary detective. "We're looking for a bald, black James Bond. Shouldn't be hard to find..."

  15. Death Ring (1992) - Yet another of the endless number of movie riffing on the central theme of The Most Dangerous Game (1932). In this one a bored, petulant ex-Green Beret (with the screen presence of a plate of custard) is kidnapped by a bonkers billionaire (played with wonderful over-the-top, camp loopiness by Billy Drago. Drago really was the best bit about this film a whole performance built on the idea of seeing how far he could tilt his head 'being weird' before the director told him to stop. The Green Beret type is played by Mike 'Son of Chuck' Norris. His character's best war story - or at least the only one the audience gets to hear - is about the time he spent three days sitting in a forest behind enemy lines waiting for his buddies to arrive. They had retreated but no one had told him. (Did they know something we didn't?) To cut a lot of tedious character (hah!) development and backstory guff short the custardy ex-Green Beret, Special Forces guy and his girlfriend are kidnapped by two blokes, in broad daylight, in the middle of the city by the old chloroform pad over the mouth gag. (Which makes you start to really wonder just how movie tough this guy is.) Their friend (ace helicopter pilot and wartime buddy, played by someone being Mickey Rourke for the day) notices they have disappeared and goes looking. Luckily the bad guys have a distinctive tattoo on their wrists (Zoinks,Thelma, a clue!). Green Custard guy and girlfriend wake up on Mystery Island where they are introduced to an ethnically diverse group of bad actors who will be hunting him down for kicks. With a four-hour head start our hero whittles a spear out of a branch and makes some ill-defined 'stand in a loop of something and get hung up by your ankle' device. He is attacked by skinny Asian ethnic hunter who does a great line in throwing shiruken into bits of wood just next to our hero's head before standing in the ill-defined loop of something gizmo and getting himself killed. Our hero does not pick up the shiruken, or go through the dead bad guy's pockets to see if he has anything else useful. Our suspicions about him being a bit of a thicko are deepened. Our hero is attacked by the Apache Indian ethnic hunter who throws a BLOODY BIG SPEAR into the tree trunk right next to our hero's head. (Being a tree near this guy is dangerous - though it could be a comment on the guy's acting. "Honest. I couldn't tell them apart!") There is fighting. The Apache Indian ethnic hunter gets killed by an ill-defined prodding in the tummy with a stick. The hero does not pick up the BLOODY BIG SPEAR either. (To save time I'll tell you he doesn't pick up the Kris or the garotte from the other two ethnically diverse - but easily disposed of - hunters either. Our suspicions about Custard boy's thickness are confirmed. Stop whittling sticks and pick up something with a point, you numbskull!) Meanwhile, the Mickey Rourke-o-gram talks to the police and calls in at the only tattoo shop in Los Angeles where he beats the crap out of the owner, and finds the tattoo belongs to a Hispanic cult member. We're glad he did this because when the cult kidnap him a few moments later and tie him to a chair then tell him where to find our hero we aren't wondering who they are. We may be wondering why people are telling him all this but at least we know who's doing it. They let him go and Rourke legs it back to the cops who, with the help of a map and a small wooden ruler, work out that small islands 250 miles of the coast of Mexico are outside the jurisdiction of the L.A.P.D.. (Great detective work!). At which point our sidekick-hero commandeers a helicopter and sets off.

    In the end our hero defeats all comers with the help of a crippled previous survivor of the hunt, a Mickey Rourk-a-like throwing hand grenades from a helicopter, and, in what I think was supposed to be an attempt at irony, he is finally rescued from the killer fists of an ex Viet-Cong female assassin - by his girlfriend! Our hero is being pummelled unto death by a small Asian woman who he had previously thrown out of an upper-storey window and his girlfriend has to rescue him by shooting her in the back. I'd love to have heard the conversation around the Norris family table that night after a hard day's action movie acting:
    Mike: Hi Dad! I'm home. How d'it go today?

    Chuck: Oh, you know, son, the usual: killed a gazillion goons with my bare hands, defused the bomb with my feet, and threw a truck full of dynamite at the bad guys... how about you...?

    Mike: listen, dad, I gotta go tidy my room, okay...?
    I just want to point out I bought this movie by accident.

  16. The Alternate (1999) - yet another cheapo Die Hard knock off. Lots of people do stupid things so they can get shot to death easily - sometimes several times. The greatly underrated Eric Roberts is the lead and he does his thing well and frustrated me again. Why doesn't he get/take better material? He's a far better actor than this crap deserves; it's sad to see him doing shit like this. The vastly overrated Michael Madsen turns up for a bit (though not on the same set or on the same day as any of the other names in the cast) and, almost literally, phones in his performance. He also manages to win the film's 'looking even less bothered about being in the show than anyone else' competition by peering through a pair of binoculars without taking off his sunglasses. Highlights of the ineptness here included: a practical demonstration of the harness used by stuntmen while strapped to a fan descender; the same helicopter being in two separate places at the same time; budget-extending stock news footage of masses of emergency vehicles at a real real emergency - which don't match in any way the location footage; and police who are, at a crucial moment, unable to shoot down one of the two same helicopters because it went behind the besieged building - the implication being that they have only thrown a cordon around one half of it. Derivative shit but worse than that: badly done, derivative shit.

  17. Steel Dawn (1987) Post-apoc mullets and fighting movie which plays out as yet another variation on Shane but with swords this time. Not good. But not terrible. The DVD transfer of the disc I bought from Poundland was dreadful though. Strangely, and variably, cropped, sometimes slicing the top off the image leaving you staring at talking torsos for a great deal of the time.

  18. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (2003) - one of the better quidworth's I've spent in Poundland recently.

  19. Lorna (1964) - another early Russ Meyer this time featuring an almost coherent story and the stupendous breasts of Lorna Maitland.


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