Monday, May 22, 2017

The Other Halloween II

We watched Halloween II (2009) because we liked the John Carpenter original, and I didn't notice that this was the sequel to the Rob Zombie reboot. Damn it!

It starts, we must assume, right after the events of the previous movie (which we didn't see). Sheriff Brad Dourif takes Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) away from the horrors. In the hospital, she tries to go see her friend, Annie (Danielle Harris), who also survived the attack, although both of them are horribly injured. Then the blood starts to flow, and Michael Myers is back.

This is pretty brutal. Aside from the slashing and stabbing, our heroine has multiple broken bones to start with. There's no one around to help, and if anyone shows up, they get killed horribly. At one point, Laurie lands on a dumpster full of corpses. Other than that, this was pretty good.

Laurie is now living with the Sheriff and his daughter Annie. Annie has some bad facial scars, but Laurie is a mental wreck. Full of anxiety, popping pills and fighting with her psychiatrist, plus filling her room with tacky punk rock paraphernalia.

She works with Annie in a funky vintage shop, rocking out to Kick Out the Jams and goofing on the old hippy manager. She seems to have a fun life, except for the PTSD. She even goes out with her friends to a Halloween party when she is at her lowest point.

That is brought on by Malcolm McDowell, the doctor from the first movie (which we didn't see). He has cashed in on his encounter by writing a book, and he is in town promoting it. He is a horrible person, insulting and egotistical. He also reveals something about Laurie without telling her. Hence, her very bad day.

The party, however, is a very good party, with a great band, Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures. This is Jesse Dayton's shock-a-billy band, and they've got some great songs. I wished they were for real, not just for the movie. We'd listen to them any time.

There's also this thing where Michael Myers as a young boy and his mother and a white horse and ... never mind. My big take-aways:

  • Not a bad story
  • Laurie is very annoying
  • WAY too gory

Sunday, May 21, 2017

North Pole, Damn It!

Emperor of the North (1973) is a funny kind of film, brutal and funny. It starts in the 1920s with a train coming through a hobo camp, but most of the 'bos were to scared to hop aboard. When one manages, Ernest Borgnine, the train's captain named Shack, sneaks up behind him with a short-handled hammer and knocks him off. We see half a hobo on each side of a rail as the train passes by, then the credits roll.

Later, Lee Marvin, hobo A-Number-One, does manage to get on that train, but Keith Carradine, Cigarette, tags along behind and Borgnine spots him. Marvin realizes that they are screwed. He's a cynical old-timer. Carradine just brags that he's too smart to get caught. He's a young man full of talk and himself.

They make it out of the train through a dangerous trick, but Carradine is caught. The yardmen (including Elisha Cook, Jr!) don't believe he rode the that train, because Borgnine "would rather kill a man than let him ride free." They figure anyone who knows Borgnine will bet no one could ride his train, and then they'll reveal that someone has. In the commotion Carradine slips away.

Meanwhile, Marvin is convinced that if he can ride Borgnine's train to Portland, he'll be the greatest hobo in the land, the "Emperor of the North Pole." So he chalks his trips up on the watertower and the race is on. Will he make the trip? Will Carradine get to tag along? Will Borgnine kill one or both of them?

Robert Aldrich is a great choice to direct this, since he's a legendary tough guy, who directed Marvin and Borgnine in The Dirty Dozen. I associate him with the noir Kiss Me Deadly, but he did lots of fine color work. This has a clean, direct look, very well suited to the beautiful Oregon scenery and fine looking locomotives. It's full of that quaint old hobo feel, with Marvin's clever tricks - that endanger or kill more people than you might expect. Also, Borgnine is terrifying - teeth bared in a grimace, eyes bulging out of his head - not the McHale I remember.

I suspect the uneven tone is entirely intentional: The life of a hobo is romantic, free, and brutal.

My only complaint is the title: It was originally Emperor of the North Pole, which was puzzling, but made sense in context. Emperor of the North is just as puzzling, but makes no sense. I guess they were afraid people would think it's about Santa Claus.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Rogue Like

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) had one job - to explain why a Death Star would blow up from one little missile in the exhaust port. It succeeds brilliantly.

It starts with Gregoryc Orso (Mads Mikkelson) being dragged off of his farm by Commander Fenwick to work on the Death Star, leaving his little daughter hiding behind. She grows up to be Felicity Jones

We find this out when Rebel agent Prince Caspian (Diego Luna) rescues her and Imperial pilot and defector Buddy (Riz Ahmed) from being taken to Imperial prison. Then they all take off with a reprogrammed Imperial droid KRS-One (Alan Tudyk).

OK, I'll stop with the jokey names. But seriously, that's about how much of the dramatis personae I was picking up. I also got kind of lost between all the planets the story visited, but they all looked great so I am not complaining. The story turns out to be simple. The Rebels are beginning to hear rumors about a planet-destroying megaweapon. But Jones' dad has secretly built a tiny flaw into the reactor core, and the Rebels need to get the plans to exploit it.

The planets are cool. The main characters are fun. The droid is great, a Star Wars version of Marvin from Hitchhiker's Guide. Later on, we get a blind mystic kung fu master, Donnie Yen, who chants "The Force is with me" like it was "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo", along with his big-gun badass buddy Jiang Wen. Forrest Whittaker plays Saw Gerrara, the radical revolutionary, almost a throw-away. It would be nice to see more, but -SPOILER- I don't think we will.

Right now, I'd say I enjoyed this more than Ep. 7, maybe more than any Star Wars movie since Ep. 4. I liked the rich texture, the cities and the crowds, the scenic planets. It hit all the Star Wars notes, but still stayed fresh, with only a few hints of R2-D2 and C3-PO, plus a digitally rejuvenated Princess. Oh, and the late Christopher Plummer plays Tarkin by CGI - tasteful, but looks a bit video game.

And Mr. Vader gets a great scene at the end, whooping it up with the force. All in all, a very satisying movie.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Priests and Preachers

We saw Priest (2011), thinking it was the movie version of the TV series Preacher.  You can see how that might work - similar names, both based on comics, both involving vampires. Never mind. Netflix has been recommending this forever, and we would have surrendered eventually.

It starts with an animated introduction, about how mankind had always fought the vampires, but finally, the church had found the ultimate weapon: Priests. These human fighting machines had put the last remaining vampires in reservations. The priests were then retired, to live in obscurity. We then see the last bit of the war, where Priest Karl Urban (Bones!) gets sucked into the hive and Paul Bettany can't hold on to him.

Then, a little family farm in the wastelands of Texas is overrun by vampires, and we're done with the setup. Bettany is living in a Metropolis/Bladerunner city, when the young sheriff comes to tell him his brother's farm had been attacked. Although he's retired, and the Church refuses to let him go, he reluctantly heads out for vengeance, and to save his niece, Lilly Collins, who is being held captive.

It takes a while to figure out, but these vampires aren't regular vampires. They are not undead humans, but CGI eyeless, hairless creatures. There are weird looking humans as well, called familiars, but they aren't really explained. But the leader seems to be ... Karl Urban, in Sergio Leone drag, with fangs! It turns out he is the first of a new race of human-vampire hybrids. He is using the girl to lure Bettany to get either revenge, or to enlist him as another vamp.

This is kind of mixed up. There's a Searchers sub-plot, where the sheriff fears that Bettany is going to kill Collins if she has been "polluted". But up to now, we haven't seen these vamps turn anyone except Urban. They just eat people. So what are they thinking? Am I misunderstanding the mythos? Are the writers?

Never mind, that's not what's important. What's important is Paul Bettany with a huge cross tattooed on his face. Turbine engine motorcycles racing across the desert towards huge Babel-sized vamp hives. Bad-ass long coats. Karl Urban in a cowboy hat and serape (looking so much lie Deforest Kelley - remember, he was in a lot of westerns). Crucixes used as shuriken. You know, comicbook stuff.

So, it was fun, but not that much fun. We'll see what the Preacher TV series is like.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Curse of the Night

Night of the Demon/Curse of the Demon (1957)  is a Jacques Tourneur horror film, with a twist - you get to see the monster. Not like in Cat People!

It starts with Professor Harrington begging a begging Dr. Karswell (Niall MacGinnis) to lift the curse, saying that he is sorry to have doubted him. Karswell, a chubby fellow with a beard like a billy goat, makes some soothing noises and gets rid of him, and goes back to playing cribbage with his mother. In a shocking development, we see a huge monster appear and kill him.

Now, American Dana Andrews is arriving in England to present at a conference about psychology (?), and to debunk Karswell's satanic cult. At the same time, Peggy Cummins, Professor Harrington's niece has also arrived.

It seems that Karswell can place a curse on you by slipping you a piece of paper without your knowledge. Your only hope is to sneak it back into the cursor's possession. Andrews starts out laughing and gets more and more spooked. Karswell starts out looking like a joke and gets scarier and scarier. Andrews and Cummins go to meet him and find him dressed as a clown, doing magic tricks for the local kids. When Andrews and Cummins don't take him seriously, he conjures a fierce storm - still done up in clown makeup. It's quite a scene.

The horror is real, but mostly psychological. We never meet more than one or two of the supposed cultists, and they aren't very impressive. But the way Tourneur builds suspense, conveying the inevitability of the curse, is masterful.

This isn't as great as some of the Lewton-produced Tourneur, but it's pretty good.

Viewing note: The two movies on this disc are the original, Night, and a cut-down version, Curse. At 95 minutes, the long version is short enough.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Don't Crush that Dwarf!

Phantasm (1979) is the latest in the horror retrospective, sponsored by Ms. Spenser. We've enjoyed several of Don Coscarelli's movies, especially Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies at the End. But we hadn't seen his classic horror, so I queued it up.

It starts with a guy getting laid in a cemetery. The beautiful woman on top of him them proceeds to kill him with a knife, momentarily turning into a tall ugly man (Angus Scrimm) in the process. the next day we meet Bill Thornbury, the dead guy's buddy, and his teen brother, Michael Baldwin. Their parents were killed and Thornbury moved back home to raise his kid brother. Now his buddy died and he is getting ready to go to the funeral. Little Michael spies on the ceremony and sees the tall man lifting a coffin into the hearse as if it weighed nothing. That's his first clue that something isn't right. Also, that coffin was supposed to be buried.

He decides to investigate further, and breaks into the the funeral home to check it out. He is attacked by tiny people in Jawa robes, but fights them off. Then, in a marble-lined columbarium (look it up, that's the word), the tall man spots him and sends a horrible weapon after him: a flying chrome ball with hooks on it that latches onto your face, drill a hole in your head, and drains the blood out a spout in the back.

If you know anything about this movie, you know about the chrome ball thing. It is one the posters, along with Scrimm's face. But notice that we have now seen several menaces from the tall man:
  • Super strong
  • Turns into a sexy lady and kills guys while having sex in the graveyard
  • Attack dwarves
  • Flying kill-ball
I kind of fell like that is too many threats, with no central theme.

There are some other weird deadends in the movie. For ex, the kid goes to a fortune teller who basically gives him the Gom Jabbar test from Dune - "Fear is the mind killer". Since big brother hangs out at the Dune Cantina, you think this is leading to something, but it isn't. Still, it's kind of cool.

I guess the series is most famous for it's semi-surreal, dream-like quality, and maybe also it's extreme cheapness. Fair enough, but my favorite parts were Thornbury just being a guy, maybe a little rebellious, dreaming about leaving town, picking up out-of-town women at the Dune, playing music with his friend, Reggie Bannister. Actually, they play pretty well together - I wouldn't have minded a few more scenes of that. At least, we get plenty of Reggie, who plays an ice cream man, and wears a natty bow tie for a lot of the movie.

Another nice point is that the kid has real proof of the whole thing, and Thornbury and Bannister believe him pretty much right off.

Ms. Spenser's favorite part, however, was the sweet, black 1971 Hemi 'Cuda that the brothers are restoring. She digs them muscle cars.


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Crying Wolf

i'm sure I have mentioned the happy years we spent in the early 80s, watching Japanese movies at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline. We'd get a season's pass and watch one or two double bills a week. We only watched one Lone Wolf and Cub (1972) film, and actually didn't care that much for it. But I thought I'd give it another try.

It stars Tomisaburo Wakayama as the Lone Wolf. He starts out as the shogun's executioner - actually, his official "second", the person who decapitates someone when they commit seppuku. This relieves them of the agony of disembowelment, and also makes sure they are dead, so someone condemned to kill themselves can't wimp out. He gets embroiled in political intrigue, and his wife is killed. Then he is framed in a plot to kill the Shogun, and forced to go on the run with his infant son.

He first gives the kid a choice. He sets out a ball and a sword. If the boy picks the ball, he will be sent to join his mother (in Heaven). If he chooses the the sword, he will join his father on the road to Hell - revenge. Since he picks the sword, our hero and the boy will roam Japan, seeking revenge.

In this installment, he heads for a hot springs that has been taken over by criminals. The first person he meets is a crazy woman who thinks that his baby is hers, and nursing him. This is an odd mix of eroticism, maternity, and madness - it all adds up to exploitation. That mood gets worse when the bad guys force Lone Wolf  to publicly semi-rape a prostitute to degrade them both. He does so with such gentle manliness that she falls in love with him.

Then he kills everyone, the end.

There's a lot of sordid sex and ultra-violence in these movies. There's a lot of zen warrior philosophy, with Wolf reminding Cub that they were already dead, so there is nothing to be afraid of. This is a very stylish movie, as well as a silly one (come on, killer baby carriage?). It was fun to watch, but we only watched the first movie - there were two one the first disc - and we probably won't order any more. That kind of confirms what we thought the first time around.