Friday, June 14, 2019

Junesploitation 2019 Day 14: Free Space!

They'll blow you away!



    Lee Won-Tae's THE GANGSTER, THE COP, THE DEVIL (2019, 109 min.) in theaters for the first time.

    DING! DING! DING! WINNAH, WINNAH! If anybody questions whether South Korean cinema is losing its edge after two decades on top, this will shut 'em up. A serial killer (creepy-as-fuck Kim Sung-Kyu) is loose on the roads, and hot-shot detective Jung Tae-Seok (Kim Moo-Yul) wants to catch him and leapfrog ahead of his incompetent, corrupt captain. Jung's theories fall on deaf ears until mob boss Jang Dong-Su (Ma Dong-Seok) survives the killer's brutal slashing because he's one tough brute. At first Jang and Jung try to catch the slasher on their own using their methods, but eventually both men realize the only way to track down their man is to exploit each other's organizations/resources. It's finders keepers for whoever grabs the slasher first... unless the sadistic criminal feels emboldened enough to up the stakes for all involved.

    This is the palette cleanser I needed to wash the still-bitter aftertaste of the cinematic shit pile that is "Godzilla: King of the Monsters." This flick moves like stink, is plotted so well your jaw is still dropping until the very last scene, has plenty of hearty laughs about the absurdity of its premise without sacrificing an ounce of tension, and the three primary leads (particularly Ma Dong-Seok stealing every scene he's in) are likable and/or compelling to watch. Sylvester Stallone has already acquired the rights for an American remake, but "The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil" begs to be experienced in its native language/setting. Best film I've seen for Junesploitation? Try second-best movie of 2019 so far (after "Avengers: Endgame"), period. Highly recommended.

    Jim Jarmush's THE DEAD DON'T DIE (2019, 105 min.) in theaters for the first time.

    Maybe it was a bad idea to watch this one five minutes after "The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil" ended (and just a five-step walk from theater 10 to 11 at Times Square's AMC 25 complex). From the moment it shoves in your face the never-ending parade of well-known performers appearing in it, it's clear this picture is coasting on the only aspect that separates it from the pack. "The Dead Don't Die" isn't Jim Jarmush doing a zombie movie as much as zombie movie tropes (many of them enumerated by actors on-camera as actual dialogue) happening to recognizable Jarmush character types in a quirky indie movie version of small town America. The fourth-wall-breaking moments are jarring at first, but everything has gone so far off the deep end toward the conclusion I just threw up my arms and went 'whatever.'

    For any other filmmaker "The Dead Don't Die" (whose title song is aggressively unforgettable) would be an attention-grabber or standout work. Coming from Jarmush after 2013's "Only Lovers Left Alive," which had something interesting to say and added a new wrinkle to vampire movie lore, this one feels more akin to Romero's "Diary/Survival of the Dead" (ouch!). Each actor either rises up to the occasion and makes the most of their roles (Larry Fessenden and Bill Murray shine, Adam Driver deadpans, Rosie Perez's "Posie Juarez" amuses, etc.) or gets trampled by their one-dimensionality (Danny Glover, Steve Buscemi and Chloƫ Sevigny underwhelm, RZA and Selena Gomez are inconsequential, etc.). Tilda Swinton and Tom Waits are each in their own movies, and I'd rather be watching the former's than the annoying, preachy one the latter pontificates in. Your mileage may vary and there are some laughs here and there (of the "Fargo" variety), but "The Dead Don't Die" underwhelms so much it should have been a Netflix exclusive (zing!).

  2. TENEMENT or GAME OF SURVIVAL (1985, dir. Roberta Findlay) – Trash that does have some redeeming aspects. Chaco, a leather-clad gang leader in the Bronx, does not take kindly to efforts to force him out of the tenement where he lives. When the police are called in, there will be deadly consequences as Chaco and his thugs get revenge on the building’s residents. Despite being full of sloppy shots awkwardly edited together, acting that is generally beyond amateurish, and gore that is not all convincing, Tenement undeniably has the exuberance of a making a movie. The will of the participants and crew to get this film done is evident from the beginning scenes. Even if Styrofoam in the shape of a refrigerator has to be used to “crush” one of the actors, so be it. I always get a kick out of watching spectators on the edges watching a scene being filmed. Some of those shots on busy New York City streets have that “stolen” (no permits) vibe to them.

    RABID (1977, dir. David Cronenberg)- My response to the film was complicated.

    I felt that the story of the character who transmits the disease was secondary to the contagion aspect of the film. She was mainly there to get the mayhem started, and her end is very anticlimactic. Importantly, her reaction and understanding of the “change” in her body remain unclear throughout a significant part of the film. There was also a strong George Romero vibe to the contagion story. Even though Rabid was made before Dawn of the Dead, there were parts of Rabid that reminded me of Dawn. The Crazies also came into my head at times. It is also important to note that Rabid is an elaboration of some of the themes from his first feature, Shivers.

    Rabid definitely works as a horror and exploitation film, however. Marilyn Chambers was a good casting decision; she possessed an attractiveness and innocence that could understandably lure and disarm her victims. She, moreover, is another element to exploit. Cronenberg manages to keep the story moving at a quick pace and handles the big set-pieces well. I will have to revisit this sometime to form a stronger opinion about it.

    1. Oh yes. Arm vagina. I will never forget you

    2. Does it really matter if it's good or bad? It's just an orifice in her arm for death and pleasure. 'Se la Vie.'

  3. Starry Eyes (2014)

    Wow. Why did it take me so long to see this. It's an astounding performance from Alex Essoe. I love how dark it is from the get go, using a person's personal demons. It never lets up. Though the best part might have been Pat Healy's most sincere tatar tot monologue I have seen in a horror movie in a while. It was glorious.

  4. Cheap Thrills (2013)

    I honestly don't know who gives the best performance, Healy, Embry, Paxton or Koechner. Talk about on point.

    1. Oooh, Starry Eyes AND Cheap Thrills - that's a good day, right there. Pat Healy should really be a bigger star than he is.

    2. Jesus that's a good movie day. Starry Eyes is so great and Cheap Thrills is some mighty fine work.

  5. THE BIG RACKET (1976)

    One of the best and most watchable Italian police Eurocrime movies from the 70s I have seen. Fabio Testi is always great and other than Revolver opposite Oliver Reed I don’t know if he’s ever been better than he is here in his denim jacket just wasting fools Peckinpah style. Oh yes, as in most all the reviews here, the shootouts are great and totally inspired by Peckinpah movies. What’s good about the culmination here is that the movie gives us time to know a very large portion of who is shooting who in the end. Its not just a useless face getting killed. It is my characters we’ve seen over the whole movie. And a lot of which we know their motivations for being there which makes the movie even better.


    Another in the series of “when Joe Bob tells you the movie is good you watch it ASAP.” So yeah, a terrific trucker movie from the golden age of those in the 70s. Jan Michael Vincent is very charismatic and this is one of the best trucker movies I’ve seen and very watchable. Great truck action great shoot outs. Puts you in a time and place of America that’s long gone.

    1. The Big Racket does a good job getting the viewer to hate the thugs. It is all the more satisfying when they are killed.


    Fugitive Alien (1987, dir. Minoru Kanaya & Kiyosumi Kuzakawa)

    In a very Star Trek-influenced future, an alien armada launches an attack on Earth. But when one soldier has a change of heart, he becomes hunted by the aliens as a traitor and joins the crew of an Earth starship. And I guess the attack is just forgotten when his new crew go on various adventures?

    Originally a short-lived Japanese TV show from 1978 called Star Wolf, this is several episodes edited together into a movie and dubbed for American TV. The plot is nothing to write home about, but the shoestring effects and miniatures are charming, the dubbing and narration endearing and the clumsy re-editing highly entertaining. Love it!

    Suing the Devil (2011, dir. Timothy A. Chey)

    An Australian law student files a lawsuit against Satan as a publicity stunt, and to everyone's surprise a man claiming to be Satan (Malcolm McDowell) turns up to defend himself! From the visionary director of Slamma Jamma!

    If you liked Slamma Jamma, you'll love Suing the Devil. A few random observations:

    - The lawsuit goes straight to the International Court of Human Rights.
    - Satan hires lawyers who've defended big tobacco, big oil, and... big cancer?
    - The main character's girlfriend keeps coughing and saying she's fine. Wonder where that's gonna lead?
    - A Satan worshipper wears a t-shirt that reads "Satan rules".
    - Satan sits in the witness chair and shouts "You can't handle the truth!", then makes a speech about how he invented gangsta rap and car alarms.
    - Tom Sizemore plays a pro-Satan tv commentator.

    Btw, I'm not religious and I'm mocking a silly faith-based film, but I have no intention or desire to in any way mock people who have faith. Just thought I'd mention that.

  7. Happy Death Day 2U (2019)

    I like that I watched this on the Free Space day right in between New Horror and Sci Fi. It sits comfortably in the middle. I thought the first one was fun. This one is even a little sillier but I still dug it. They are both a gentleman's 7.

  8. Friday Foster (1975)

    It just ain’t Junesploitation until you stuff a Pam Grier movie into your eyeballs. Here she plays Friday Foster, a photojournalist who’s chasing down some shady goings-on with the help of awesomely-named detective Colt Hawkins (Yaphet Kotto). It’s rare to see Kotto be playful, but he gets plenty of opportunity here and he’s an absolute delight, the two of them are great together. It’s a shame it didn’t spin off to tv, I’d have watched Friday Foster: The Series religiously.

    It’s all based on a daily newspaper comic strip (unread by me) which makes sense because it feels like a riff on Brenda Starr, from the broad characterizations to the episodic storytelling. There’s a terrific supporting cast including Godfrey Cambridge, Carl Weathers, Paul Benjamin (I really want to see more of his work after watching this and Across 110th Street), Scatman Crothers, and Jim Backus, among others. While not as perfectly Junesploitationy as Coffy or Foxy Brown this was still a really fun watch, and one I’ll definitely revisit.

  9. Enemy Territory (1987)

    I always love an "ordinary man accidentally getting himself into deep shit and having to fight for his life" kind of story. It's really a shame that this isn't more easily available, but I strongly recommend everyone interested in thrilling action and one-crazy-night films checks it out.

  10. The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

    I didn't really see the original Swamp Thing until a couple of years ago. I grew up on The Return. Not much of a story, don't care. The score is great. The Swamp Thing theme is perfect. The dialogue is wonderfully dumb. Probably my favorite in the Jim Wynorski oeuvre. Dick Durok is my Swamp Thing. I will accept no substitutes. Born on a bayou...BORN ON A BAAAYYYOU!

  11. Parents (1989)

    This is like Invaders from Mars but instead of being controlled by aliens, your parents might have always been cannibals.

  12. The Dead Don't Die (2019, dir. Jim Jarmusch)

    Yep, that's what a Jim Jarmusch zombie movie would look like.

  13. "The Prophecy" 1995, Dir. Gregory Widen

    It feels as if this trailer was on every VHS I rented between 1995 and 1997. It was the first time I realized Christopher Walken might be the coolest cat to ever strut around in a flick. So I watched it religiously for a few years and then never again.

    Until now.

    Maybe it's nostalgia or a weakness for wigged up Walken, but this was fun as fuck from beginning to end. What I forgot was how much Viggo Mortensen enjoys himself as Lucifer. He makes a meal out of every scene (and every beating heart) and I miss Mortensen the supporting weirdo.

    Also, the angels perching everywhere like gargoyles (or maybe pigeons) is a neat touch.

  14. Warda (2014, dir. Hadi El Bagoury)

    Got home at 10:40 pm, time for a short one. Also, continuing on my mission to see movies from coutries I've never seen movies from. This time: Egypt.

    A found-footage horror where an amateur documentarian visits his mother and young siblings to find his sister apparently possessed by an evil spirit.

    The unfamiliar setting and short runtime kept me interested, but there's nothing new or original here, and the handheld style has never appealed to me.

    The president’s daughter is kidnapped, and Frank Stallone (yes, THAT Frank Stallone) is a tough cop named Hack Stone (!) out to rescue her. The movie starts with a lot of cringe-y political thriller stuff, but once the action moves to LA, it gets appropriately ridiculous. It’s a little too talky with too many characters, but there’s fun to be had along the way. The Amazon subtitles translate Rodeo Drive as “Rogane Drive,” so there’s that.

    Bonus #Godzillasploitation: TERROR OF MECHAGODZILLA (1975)
    This time it’s another alien invasion plot, with a LOT of melodrama, making me (and, I’m assuming, others) impatient and wondering where the monsters are. Newcomer Titanasaurus takes a lot of screentime when what we want is the Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla rematch. They nonetheless come up with more great gags for the big brawl at the end, so it’s all good. And here’s my vote for the best line of dialogue of this year’s Junesploitation when one character says, “Mechagodzilla’s brain is installed in my stomach.”

  16. The Neon Demon (2016) - 2nd watch

    I really loved this when I saw it a couple years ago. But the past month I've been listening to the score nearly on repeat. Love love love love the score. Cliff Martinez, baby! It's always interesting to watch (or re-watch, in this case) a movie when you are already intimately familiar with the score. I don't know how to explain it, but it certainly changes the viewing experience. I think for the better. I've had a couple movies like this recently (The Assassanation of Jesse James and The Fountain) where I've had this experience.

  17. A BOY AND HIS DOG (1975):

    Just your run-of-the-mill, super horny post-apocalyptic epic featuring a telepathic dog and human breeding camps. Could be weird and fun were it not so fucking boring.

  18. Down (2018) Dir. Daniel Stamm

    Bad pun, but it can only go up from here, sorry. The dumbest decisions ever by our "protagonist". I couldn't take it despite liking both actors.

  19. Godzilla (2014)

    I liked it the theater. I've liked it more every time I watch it. I don't understand the complaints against this. As a fan of the series as a whole, I really enjoy this film and Godzilla: Kong of the Monsters. These movies are like the Japanese series, beefed up with Hollywood actors and effects.

    1. I agree! I understand the complaint that there’s not enough Godzilla because his overall screen time is pretty low, but I love every second he’s on screen (especially the end) so it doesn’t bother me.

    2. I sort of understand the complaint that there isn't enough Godzilla screen time (because, of course, I would love to see more of him in action), but watch some of the classic movies. There is a solid hour of human story to roughly 20-30 minutes of total Godzilla time. Seems to me like this one follows that ratio.

    3. Agreed. I rewatched it a few months ago and enjoyed it more than than I remember the first time (which I liked also). There is however a section nearing the end, with the whole train thing, where I'm just thinking "get to it because I don't care about this". I loved KOTM.

    4. The idea of making a Godzilla movie without the Godzilla is pretty misguided. The characters were terrible and the super-serious tone was embarrassing. The shot where the doors literally close in front of the camera when Godzilla is about to fight his foe was one of the most insulting things I've ever seen in a movie. Glad you guys like it though! I will admit the 2nd one was much better, looking forward to Godzilla vs. Kong! #FordBrody

  20. Three O’Clock High
    I don’t know how to classify this movie, but I do know this: Three O’Clock High is my favorite discovery from the Pure Cinema Podcast. I had never even heard of it until the first episode, but I got it almost immediately after and just fell in love with it. It is so damn charming and fun, and if you’ve never seen it, definitely give it a shot! So good!

  21. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

    It's fine.

  22. Blood Money (2017)

    More like Dud Money, amIright?

  23. Passenger 57 (1992, dir. Kevin Hooks, First Time Viewing)

    Somehow I missed this one until now (Thank you Junesploitation). So good! Wesley Snipes is outstanding, and the villain is over the top. Elizabeth Hurley does her best to steal the show as well. The credits roll at about an hour and 20 mins. I wanted more! Highly Recommended.

  24. 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

    It's exquisite.

  25. Brain Damage (1988)

    It's no Basket case. And it's no Frankenhooker, but it's still pretty great!

  26. FAST COMPANY (1978, dir. David Cronenberg)

    I stumbled upon this while browsing through Amazon Prime. An early Cronenberg film with Claudia Jennings and John Saxon about drag racing? That could be interesting. In reality it is a pretty dull racing drama with a few exploitation elements. David Cronenberg was purely a director-for-hire on this project. I did enjoy John Saxon's corporate scumbag role, though.

  27. Heat (1995) - 2nd watch

    This is am excellent movie.

  28. Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979)

    I can never get enough of martial arts movies during Junesploitation, and Criterion had this relatively early John Woo movie co-starring former member of the Venom Mob, Wei Pai. It's not as fun as a lot of the Shaw Bros. movies, but there is a distinctly John Woo feel to it particularly in how the friendship between the two main leads evolves and where things ultimately end.

  29. Terminator II aka Shocking Dark (Bruno Mattei - 1989)
    A curious movie which is always described as an Aliens rip-off - until it is actually a Terminator rip-off. Shocking Dark has nearly no new ideas and is never really building up any tension over its runtime of 90 minutes. Yet I would call some effects decent and I like some deaths, because they are played out rather long. The acting is rather wooden and in that way, a bit funny. Cut 20 minutes of the movie and it's probably more entertaining, as it is right now.