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Showing posts from 2018

The Doll Squad (1973)

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Get this: you decide to get a bunch of beautiful b-movie actresses together and play James Bond out in the California desert.  You even have a friend with a boat that can arrange it so you can film some exotic scenes on the ocean.  Your little spy movie may bomb with critics and get the usual reaction most of your films do but, 45 years later, it has spawned a television show (which itself spawned two movies of its own) and influenced one of the biggest action films of the 2000s.

This is what Ted V. Mikels's The Doll Squad accomplished.  An unabashed exploitation film like most of his work, it is surprisingly devoid the the T&A one would expect from this title (especially from the poster) and is a largely serious attempt at making an action film on a budget.  And, although Mikels is known more for Astro-Zombies and The Corpse Grinders, this seems to be where he actually decided to seriously buckle down and do a coherent movie.

CIA agent Victor Connelly (Anthony Eisley) and Se…

Breaker Morant (1980)

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When you hear about a "new wave" in film, I am sure that the first thought you have is of the French New Wave of the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Those films, to varying degrees of success, had a certain feel of time and place and liberation as well as similar thematic issues. 

That is why it is hard for me to understand why a number of Australian films get grouped under the "Australian New Wave" moniker.  The one overwhelming theme, if there is one, is the fact that the censors backed off to the point that it was worth it for Australian directors and actors to stay at home and have an actual film industry rather than heading to Great Britain or the United States.  The Australian New Wave, therefore, encompasses everything from Picnic at Hanging Rock to Mad Max, as well as a number of war films, art films and movies that are commonly called "Ozploitation" in the U.S.  About the only unifying theme is that the movies are, first and foremost, proudly Austr…

Café Flesh (1982)

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A bit of a warning here.  Typically I stray away from adult films, largely because they are barely films and more because they are inherently silly.  Since recently, for the interest of a podcast that I am doing with a friend critiquing, song by song, the works of Electric Light Orchestra, I checked out a film from 1976 called Ecstasy in Blue.  The reason for that was because that particular film uses ELO's music (without permission) as well as the closing music for Carrie, a piece by Wendy Carlos and I am sure several other bits of stolen copyright material.  The opening made it look like something I would review here but, alas, it ended there.  The director obviously had some talent, but the movie was your basic extremely low-budget 1970s porno, made after the whole porno chic trend had ended.

While that film in no way fit the format of my typical reviews, it got me thinking of one of the few adult films I have actually wanted to see over the years: Café Flesh.  It was a movie …

Zardoz (1974)

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I don't think we'll ever see a period of cinema again that matches the early 1970s through the late 1990s.  That is a long period to think about, and film changed quite a lot during those decades; truly, the way films were made and audience expectations make films from those different decades appear almost like different species.  However, there was one thing that was true throughout: a director with a vision, if he played the game and made the big bosses enough money, could at some point do whatever they wanted - and, for some reason, studios let them.

This has rarely turned out well.  While Apocalypse Now somehow managed not to be the big disaster it looked like it was going to be, the same could not be said of Heaven's Gate.  As good as the latter movie is, it suffered from so much hubris from its own director and bad moves from the studio in order to try and survive after dumping so much money into the project that whether or not a quality film had been made was besid…

Hell's Angels (1930)

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Howard Hughes is a subject of legend.  A multimillionaire, accomplished aviator, strange recluse and the instigator of numerous grandiose failures, he was the inspiration for both the villain in Diamonds Are Forever and had his own Martin Scorsese biography film (The Aviator), in which he was played by Leonardo De Caprio.  So much of Hughes's own story and personality looms over this film that, even today, it is more talked about than actually seen.

The truth is, it is neither the bloated mess you would expect a rich playboy's pet project to be, nor is it the grandiose statement he intended to make.  However, it is, in many ways, as innovative a piece of filmmaking as Citizen Kane or The Battleship Potemkin, just in terms of special effects and what could be done with a camera.  Filmed between 1927 and 1929, then largely refilmed before its release, there is still so much here that would influence action films in the future even if the underlying story itself was a bit trite …

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

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It seems that we have reached a sort of singularity where the only movies released at this point are either super hero films or the latest Star Wars sequel or side project.  I know that somewhere out there someone is making decent (or indecent) action films that aren't mega-budget cartoons. 

Cartoons, however, seem to be what we are in for these days.  For some reason the recent round of Marvel films leading up to Avengers: Infinity War have seemed more and more like listening to a hyper six-year-old tell us about a movie he saw rather than attempting to be movies themselves.  Sadly, although I may be in the minority of truly liking Thor: The Dark World much more than its predecessor, the third visit to Asgard does nothing to improve on the series.

We find our titular Asgardian God (Chris Hemsworth) getting himself purposely captured by Surtur (Clancy Brown), a fire giant intent on bringing forth Ragnarok, or the end of days, to Asgard.  To prevent this Thor slays him and steels …

Deep Red (1975)

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Dario Argento is known now primarily as a horror director, thanks to Suspiria and a string of supernatural and slasher features from his peak creative period from the mid-1970s through the late 1980s.  Highly influenced by Alfred Hitchcock and his own mentor Mario Bava, Argento himself became an influence on Brian De Palma, George Romero, John Carpenter and a number of classic American suspense and horror directors.

Before turning to horror, Argento was one of the most noted directors of giallo films, a genre of Italian crime films that often featured a combination of complex whodunit plots and brutal murder scenes.  Though he would return to the genre later in his career, Deep Red (originally titled Profondo rosso) was one of the last he would do for quite a while.

During a conference on parapsychology, psychic Helga Ulmann (Mach Méril) suddenly has a vision of the murderous thoughts of someone in the audience.  The experience causes her great concern, largely because the thoughts d…

Child Bride (1938)

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Attempts at censoring art, ultimately, result in failure.  Take the Hays Code.  It may surprise you when you dig into silent films, and even the sound films of the early 1930s, the adult content many had, including violence and nudity.  Nothing like today, because they did have to deal with regional censors literally taking scissors to films; also, it is hard to make some things look realistic on screen today, much less nearly a century ago.

In response to this supposed threat to American morals Hollywood agreed to the Hays Code, which limited the amount of violence that could be seen on screen, made nudity and sex strictly taboo as well as some other stranger elements (no blasphemy, bad guys always lose at the end, etc.).  Many mainstream films managed to slip things by the censors, but the code was largely hard and fast.

That is, unless you were making an educational film.  If you are talking about a moral threat, what use is warning your audience unless you can show that threat in…

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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While Godzilla has had numerous reboots, going from good to bad to just a force of nature to, even at one point, being the embodiment of the souls of Japan's war dead, King Kong hasn't had the same fortunes.  Sure, he never had to suffer a little ape blowing smoke rings, but his reputation has mainly rested on how good the 1933 film was, and still is.

The original movie got a mediocre sequel, then got to fight Godzilla in that monster's fourth movie in 1962 - a movie that got its own sequel, King Kong Escapes, in 1967.  We then got our own monster back for a 1976 remake, which then got its own sequel 10 years later - neither of which did the monster justice.  So, keeping with that two-sequel pattern, when I saw the advertisements to this, I thought that someone decided to rush out a sequel to Peter Jackson's 2005 version.

Instead, this is more of a sequel to (or prequel, really) to 2014's Godzilla.  While Toho is again working on building its own Godzilla universe…

Westworld (1973)

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I was a bit confused when I heard that Westworld had become a television show.  Like many older films I remember watching this on Saturday mornings after the cartoons were over, and Yul Brynner's black-clad Gunslinger was always one of the most memorable villains of '70s sci-fi. 

So, how in the world were they going to turn Michael Crichton's rather simple tale of a park full of robots suddenly turning on its guests?  A completely new movie would not have surprised me, since Westworld, directed and written by Michael Crichton, in many ways feels like a Jurassic Park dry-run.  But stretching it out in 10 to 13 episode seasons? 

Happily the show decided to go on its own path while borrowing a few elements from the movie itself.  But, in the course of watching the show, I realized it was time to check out the film again.

After being introduced through a series of public relations interviews to the happy patrons of Delos, an amusement park featuring "accurate" repre…

Final Destination 2 (2003)

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Final Destinationtried to add something new to the slasher genre, as it had suddenly become a thing again due to the Scream series.  In some ways it succeeded, with the invincible stalker becoming the unseen force of Death Itself.  Sure, occasionally there was a black cloud in a reflection or something, but mainly it was just some force causing a string of events to happen in order to make sure you died like you were supposed to.  Its intended victims were a group of teenagers that avoided an airline disaster due to the sudden vision of one of their classmate Alex (Devon Sawa, who does not appear in this sequel).

The original movie, ambitious in its plotting as it was (not a surprise since X-Files and American Horror Story writers Glen Morgan and James Wong were involved, with the latter directing), the execution left a lot to be desired.  Sawa spent most of the time looking like a dreamy-eyed puppy dog, while the entire movie took its plot way too seriously.  It also ended with one o…

Final Destination (2000)

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The early 2000s, thanks to Scream, saw a brief resurgence in slasher films.  Like their heyday in the 1980s, they largely followed the same formula over and over again, and most (including the reboots of the '80s films) were horrible.  I'm not talking about laughably horrible, but just plain unwatchable.  They were cheap, there was nostalgia, and that was about it. 

The worst thing, and this was also because of Scream (which is actually a good slasher flick, in case you are wondering why I may be ragging on it), was many of the films became self-aware.  While there may be a fair amount of gore, the emphasis was on the genre rather than trying to actually make a good film within said genre. 

Perhaps that is why, in the end, the Final Destination movies still stand out after many of the others have been forgotten, and after the genre has been put to bed once again over a decade previous.

Alex Browning (Devon Sawa) is in his senior year at Mt. Abraham High School in New York.  H…