Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thrill Me!

I found out about Night of the Creeps (1986) from the Projection Booth podcast. They do exhaustive discussions of odd movies, like this under-the-radar cult horror-comedy. Short version: They love this movie. We watched it and had the same experience.

After an odd intro involving aliens, it starts in black-and-white: Sorority row on a 50s college campus. A guy takes his date parking, after running off her cop ex-boyfriend. When Plot-Point Radio mentions the ax murderer who escaped from the insane asylum, you think you know where this is going. Then they see a meteor, and you think maybe it's something different. Sure, it's a retro-fifties slasher horror from outer space movie.

The next scene takes place thirty years later, in 1986. Now, it's a campus comedy as two buddies walk through crowded Sorority/Frat row. Jason Lively is the bland, shy guy who doesn't think he'll ever get a girl. Steve Marshall is his funny friend. He's a wise-ass and a loud-mouth, with a voice like Eddie Deezen, and he uses crutches. The point isn't belabored, although he makes a joke about being "funny as a crutch", and they are a plot point, but it's handled very deftly.

Lively falls in love with Jill Whitlow from across the room, and decides to join a frat to impress her - Marshall was going to suggest talking to her, but that would be too hard. As part of their initiation, they need to find a corpse. The corpse they find doesn't stay dead, though.

And who should get called in but the cop ex-boyfriend from the opening. He is played by Tom Atkins, a kind of Stacy Keach doing Joe Don Baker. He's a snarling cynic who answers the phone "Thrill me" and has all the best one liners. Like "Is this a homicide investigation or a bad b-movie?"

In fact, this movie is full of quotable lines. I am valiantly resisting quoting Marshall's monologue about acting like jerks so Lively can get this girl - it's better than acting like jerks for no reason. It was writer/director Fred Dekker's first movie, and it is clearly a work of love. There were marketing problems that kept it from going big, but that's fine - it's now a cult movie for people like us.

Fred Dekker isn't a big name. He's only made a few movies (Monster Squad), but he was college room-mates with Shane Black, and they still collaborate. In fact, I think he's working on the new Predator movie. So there's that to look forward to.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Bourne Old

I liked the original Bourne trilogy, although I don't think I recognized how smart they were until they were over. Bourne is a superspy, and director Paul Greengrass has a way of letting you see what he sees, read a scene the way he is reading it. It adds intelligence to the action. So I was looking forward to  Jason Bourne (2016). I don't think I got what I was looking for.

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne now remembers everything, how he was trained as an assassin, and how he killed so many for his intelligence agency masters (like Tommy Lee Jones). They would like to keep this all buried, but Julia Stiles, playing hacker, downloads the complete files on all the black ops. Damon picks them up in the middle of a democracy demonstration in Athens, under cover of chaos. I'm not sure this is really good spycraft, and it doesn't actually work out so well.

So Bourne finds himself being hunted by Jones, CIA agent Alicia Vikander, and finally, deadly killer Vincent Cassell, as "the Asset". There's the usual action scenes, fights and car chases, with plenty of shaky camerawork - emphasis on "usual". There wasn't a lot that struck me as new or, you know, smart.

Not really bad, but not good enough for this franchise.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bravo Bava

We were looking for some old-timey SF horror, and queued up Planet of the Vampires (1965). Since it was directed by Mario Bava, we kind of knew what to expect: Cheapness, cheese, and colorful lighting effects.

Two spaceships detect a mysterious signal emanating from a planet shrouded in mist. On goes to investigate and vanishes, so the other ship follows. There is a bogus meteor shower and very lame "high-g" sequence. When they land, Captain Barry Sullivan and his crew of Euro-babes and boys discovers that the crew of the first ship have killed each other off. So they wrap them in plastic and bury them. But do they stay dead?

The basic plot idea is pretty neat (although there are no vampires, sorry). I think Star Trek used it once or twice. The special effects, however, are not up to the standard of even original series Star Trek. Nor the writing or acting. So really, this is just a "so bad that it's good" guilty pleasure.

EXCEPT - Mario Bava is at the helm, so you get wild colors, fog over miniature landscape, preposterous process shots - scratch that, I checked and he is using mirrors, to save on film processing. Some of his shots are strikingly composed and beautiful, some almost surrealist. Also, the costumes are outstanding, leather jumpsuits with fancy high collars and leather helmet liners.

So, much silliness, some beauty. Should I try a Bava giallo?

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I've Gotta Crow!

We took a long time to see The Crow (1994). Partly, the death of Brandon Lee during filming cast a pall, and not in a good way. But we've been watching some Alex Proyas, so why not?

It starts on Devil's Night, the night before Halloween, known as a festival of arson in Detroit, where I guess this is set. Brandon Lee and his girl Sofia Shinas, are just hanging out in their attic squat, when a gang of firestarters come in and kill them. One year later, a crow starts hanging around Lee's grave, and pretty soon, he crawls out. Although he's dead, he's looking for revenge. The only people who remember him are policeman Ernie Hudson (!) and a little girl with junkie mother.

Lee is inspired by a commedia mask to put on white mime makeup. Since he had been a punk guitarist in life, he also carries around an electric guitar, and spends some time jamming on the roof. Also, he is Bruce Lee's son. However, all this does not really add up to making him cool. I think the movie is a little ambiguous about this - is he kind of dorky or is he the cool undead guy? He looks kind of funny, with the big forehead and jaw, but he clearly has something.

Same with the rest of the movie. The budget was plainly skimpy, leading to the fairly silly model city-on-fire. The same type of model rooftops looked cute in Dark City, where you weren't expected to believe in it. Here, I don't know. Then, there's an actual joke, and I think, maybe I'm trying to take this too seriously.

So, I guess I had trouble with the tone. However, I did not have trouble with the over-the-top creepy mystical gang leaders, Michael Winfort and Bai Ling. I also liked a lot of the music, although it was probably more cutting edge back in 1994.

Glad we saw it. I assume none of the sequels are watchable?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Ave Maria Baby

I queued up Jersey Boys (2014) because we had a friend visiting who likes to talk through movies - and I figured we wouldn't mind for this. It turned out that we didn't watch it with her, and I'm glad we did. I'm not a big Frankie Valli fan, but he had some great songs, and he sure could sing. And director Clint Eastwood has the kind of love for music that really comes through.

It's the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, from street hoods to their reunion concert. It starts with Tommy Devito talking direct to the audience, and we get a bit of that from everyone. In Devito's mind, he was Frankie's mentor, which mostly involved dumb crimes. Everyone goes to prison except Frankie - he's a good boy whose parents want him home early.

They are also under the patronage of mob boss Christopher Walken, who has maybe never been Christopher Walkenier. He loves Frankie's voice, and we soon find out just how lovely it is. Then one of their lowlife friends suggests that they get together with Bob Gaudio, who wrote "Short Shorts" - even though he is from Bergenfeld, not the Neighborhood. With Nick Massi on bass vocals and bass guitar, they were the Four Somethings. It becomes Four Seasons when a misfiring neon sign that seems to say "our sons" lights up as "Four Seasons".

That's the kind of goofy stuff that comes from a Marshall Brickman (Manhattan) screenplay. There's some real slapstick stuff in there. The scene where they steal a safe and load it into the trunk, which lifts the car off it's front wheels, so that it slams into a jewelry store window - that should give you an idea. But there's some real stuff there too, mostly Tommy being a jerk, with Gaudio wanting to get serious about music, and Nick wanting to start his own band. Actually, Nick is kind of boring, which is interesting. He is played by Michael Lomenda, who has a kind of Nat Pendleton vibe - kind of dumb and easygoing, but not just background.

There's some comedy, some drama, and a lot of great music. The singing was all filmed live - not lipsynced. The cast does their own singing, and mostly come from the Broadway or touring cast. We get to know a little bit about Bob Gaudio, who wrote most of the songs, and their producer, the flamboyantly gay Bob Crewe. I love to learn about that side of the music biz.

There's a scene with the guys making fun for "Walk Like a Man" - I always laugh about the mismatch between the girlish voice and the macho lyrics, and I guess they get the joke too. Still a great song.

I feel like Valli himself is a bit of a void at the heart of this movie. He seems like a quiet type, keeps to himself. He's serious and works hard and doesn't let a lot of pride or frustration show. Then it all comes out in his soaring falsetto.

Still, it all make me think, just a little, of Paul Anka in Girls Town.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


I don't know why people keep remaking awesome movies. Why did they need to remake Seven Samurai as a western? Why did they remake The Magnificent Seven (Robert Vaughan RIP) as a space opera (Robert Vaughan RIP)? And why make The Magnificent Seven (2016)? Maybe because it's awesome?

In this version, there is a gold mining company trying to push the townspeople out. They massacre the menfolk, burn the church and give the rest 3 weeks to get out. So spunky widow Haley Bennett sets out to gather an army to defend the town. SPOILER - she comes up with seven.

They are led by Denzel Washington, head badass, and Chris Pratt, head wiseass. There's a psycho mountain-man injun killer, a Mexican, a damaged Reb by the euphonious appellation of Goodnight Robicheaux and his Asian associate, and an Indian named after the Dash Hammett story, Red Harvest. As usual, the plan is to turn the town into a kill box for the bad guys. Since the town is a few buildings on one street on a broad flat valley, that will be hard.

The big fight at the end was pretty good, but in my opinion it was the seven that really made this movie. They were a bit more diverse, a little more fun than the original team - maybe just a little more extreme. Like Martin Sensmeier as Red Harvest shooting up the invaders with his bow and arrow - so iconic. And like a good classic western, there were lots of scenes of the crew galloping across the plains to the strains of Elmer Bernstein's classic theme.

So, pretty awesome movie  - I'll leave it at that, and ask a question: Best kill box movie? There's a lot to be said for Seven Samurai, or maybe something like Home Alone (think about it). But I'm going to say 13 Assassins.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I Love the Night Life

Carrying on with Whit Stillman's Yuppie Trilogy, we watched The Last Days of Disco (1998). If you are smarter than me, you realize that we skipped the second movie (Barcelona) and went straight to the third. But you don't really need to watch these in order.

To recap, Stillman made a loose trilogy about over-educated upper-class but not necessarily rich kids in New York. This one focuses on the scene at a popular disco, essentially Studio 54. One guy works at the club, and sneaks his friends in. One guy works at an ad agency; he uses the first guy to get his clients in - that's basically his job description: can get people into Studio 54. Another one works for the DA, and really believes in disco, he just doesn't have time to go that much.

And then there are the women: two girls who prepped together. Kate Beckinsale is a reader at a publishing office, and wants to help Chloe Sevigny so that everyone doesn't hate her like they did at Hampshire. But Chloe has to understand that people hate it when you are critical.

Now, I visited Hampshire College at lot in the 70s. It's a hippy school near Amherst, Smith, and Mt. Holyoke. We called it the "cocaine, suede and waterbeds" school. So it's understandable that she would be critical. But when Beckinsale tells her that, she just gets defensive and, well, more critical. So even when nice guys buy her drinks, she has to criticize. She doesn't want a vodka tonic, she wants a ... And in the pause, you see she doesn't know what she wants. She just doesn't want to be ordinary or predictable.

She is really the focus of the movie - all the guys eventually fall for her. But it's more than a character study (although it does that really well) or a story about life in New York: the railroad apartments, the subways, the corner bar when you can't get into the disco. It's also a comedy.

There's the cult of disco, with so many characters rhapsodizing over the concept of a club where you can meet people and dance. Talking about the philosophy of disco, and how it can never die if it lives on in the hearts of young men and women. Then there's the demonization of advertising people. It doesn't matter if you are black or white, straight or gay, rich or poor, but if you are in advertising, you are scum.

It is a bit slow moving, meandering, but it isn't plotless - it's just that the plot doesn't matter a whole lot. And it seems kind of slice-of-life, but it's really almost absurdist comedy. And Sevigny is really quite gorgeous, in a mopey, self-conscious, low-self-esteem kind of way.

And the music is great - now that disco is dead, I don't mind admitting that. But let me tell you, none of these kids can dance worth a damn.

Monday, February 6, 2017


We went and did it, we watched Suicide Squad (2016), and I don't see what everyone is complaining about. Well, I do and I don't.

To briefly recap the plot: Superman is dead (BvM) and Viola Davis needs to protect America from super-powered metahumans. What if they are evil? So she takes a bunch of super-villains, who are evil but not all super-powered, and aims to set them against any threat she perceives. This may sound like a terrible plan to you, but don't worry, everyone agrees - it is a terrible plan.

She gets:
  • Will Smith as Deadshot: a never-miss assassin. He's got the best role, best back story, and best back chat.
  • Margot Robbie as Harly Quinn: a psycho-candy Suicide Girl in love with the Joker. No, she's got the best role. Cute, spunky, punky, and violent.
  • Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc: A guy with crocodile skin. Very pretty.
  • Jai Courtenay as Captain Boomerang: His superpower is being Australian. Always seen with a can of beer in hand.
  • Jay Hernandez as Diablo: A cholo gang-banger with his face tattooed like a skull, who can create huge fires but has sworn off violence.
  • Cara Delevingne as Enchantress: A transdimensional goddess who inhabits the body of an innocent anthropologist.
  • Assorted redshirts.
On the side of good, we have:
  • Joel Kinnaman as Colonel Rick Flagg: One of those skinny Arkansas-looking SEAL types with a scruffy beard. He rides herd on the squad.
  • Karen Fukuhara as Katana: Wears half a kabuki mask, carries a soul-eating sword. 
And that doesn't even include Jared Leto as the Joker, because this isn't really his story. He's just background for Harly.

Well, now that I've listed the cast, I don't have any time for the plot. Which is just about as over-stuffed as the cast. The Movie Sign with the Mads podcast did an episode on this and they kept finding out that the part that explains this or that was cut out. So the movie director David Ayer thought he was making isn't what wound up on the screen, partly because a wacko trailer was so popular, they recut.

Still, the final movie is a lot of fun - even if you can't call it a good movie. I liked the villains (I mean antagonists, pretty much everyone's a villain), loved Harly. Robbie uses a great voice for her - Kind of a Judy Holliday whine with a bit of scratchy roughness. The Diablo subplot was good, partly because Hernandez brought something to the sort of standard "esse" role. I was not as impressed by Leto's Joker, but that's OK, he was a minor character.

There was a lot of silliness ("If he kills me, I want you to shoot him and erase my browser history."), lot's of classic rock on the soundtrack (not all from Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy), plenty of action and CGI, bizarre tattoos, even a car chase. It worked for us.