LOCKOUT (2012, Netflix, JGodsey: 6/23/2016)Wait, Luc Besson co-wrote and produced this set-in-2079 action thriller? No wonder John Carpenter sued when he noticed the similarities between this and "Escape from New York/LA," he wanted some of that sweet "Fifth Element/Taken" dough. The videogame-like simple plot (president's daughter is taken hostage in space prison by 497 criminals, and only an anti-hero tough guy can be coerced into a last-ditch rescue mission) is done mostly right. An eye-hurting CG car chase early on gives way to a good combo of practical, polished CG and even miniature outer space effects. The action/violence feels neutered by its PG-13 rating (unrated Blu-ray here I come!), but the cinematography, fast-paced editing and music (by Alexandre Azaria) pass the blockbuster smell test.It's in the casting and performances where "Lockout" earns its keep. Guy Pearce could teach Adrien Brody a thing or two about how to play a smartass tough guy without looking ridiculous. Minimal chemistry with Maggie Grace ("Fear The Walking Dead") during their many arguments, but Pearce is having too much fun playing an action hero. Joseph Gilgun and Vincent Regan's Scottish prisoner brothers should have been in the "Punisher: Warzone" movie. I could lose the whole subplot involving Mace and the suitcase, but overall this is a ton of dumb sci-fi fun. 4 L.O.P.D. BADGES (out of 5)THE ARENA (1974, A.Prime, Adam Riske: 6/4/2013)Pam 'Motherfucking' Grier, Margaret Markov and their fellow female gladiator prisoners get fed-up with the abusive treatment from their Roman captors and stage an epic, bloody uprising. The first hour before getting to the revolt consists of 'women in prison' tropes (rape, kitchen catfights, rape, nude showers, offensive gay stereotypes, more rape, etc.) with AIP's typical shot-in-daylight $1.98 production values. I'm sure editor Joe Dante did his best, but even at 83 minutes "The Arena" feels long. Still, 3 PAM GRIER TRIDENTS (out of 5)'CRITERION GOES TO WORLD WAR II PRISON' TWOFER!MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE (1983, Blu-ray)With two rock stars (David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto) in titular roles and Takeshi Kitano delivering his first dramatic performance, you'd think this Japanese WWII prisoner camp tale would be a self-conscious vanity vehicle for its stars. Instead director Nagisa Ôshima's portrayal of his own countrymen being monsters that surrendered their humanity to an outdated code of honor is elevated by supporting thesps (Tom Conti, Jack Thompson, etc.) backing up the not-subtle homoerotic attraction between Capt. Yonoi and Cellers as a duel of cultures. Despite Bowie's star aura dominating the picture (his character is the only one to get dream-like flashbacks explaining his past) it's nice to see a drunken Kitano deliver the movie's titular line and best performance alongside Conti, IMHO. 4 RED FLOWERS (out of 5)THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963, Blu-ray, Lindsay: 6/23/2016)Wait, didn't Rick Dalton get the lead role over Steve McQueen? WTF??!! Nooo! Tarantino lied, about this and Sharon Tate?! WWAAA!!! :-P But seriously, AAA cast (Garner, Pleasence, Bronson, Coburn, etc.) + simple great premise (best escape artists assembled in one prison) + great director (John Sturges) + memorably simple Elmer Bernstein score - an underwhelming bike stunt (that's it?) = a great WWII prison escape flick that could easily lose 30-40 minutes. 4 ROAMING SEARCHLIGHTS (out of 5)
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What you say about The Great Escape applies to a lot of the 1960s WWII films, J.M. They all tend to be overlong, but it seems like making a war epic was the trend of that time.
The 60's large ensemble WWII pics were the direct descendants of the sandal/biblical/peplum movies from the 1950's that kicked off the ultra widescreen, Technicolor spectacles ("The Robe," "Quo Vadis," etc.) to get the masses to leaves their TV's off at home. There were so many back then, but only the best of the best (like "TGE") have survived in the consciousness of pop culture. :-)
The Platform (2019) NetflixThis one kinda knocked me on my ass. This is a Spanish-made sci-fi prison movie. The hook is the the prison contains an unknown level of floors. Each floor is a room containing two prisoners. A hole runs through the center of the rooms through which a platform containing food descends. I initially wrote a little more than that, but really it's best to go in as blind as possible to this one. This isn't something I'm going to come back to a lot so far is the Junesploitation discovery that's gripped me the most so far this month.
Another of my favorite Junesploitation days. This year it is a communist prison double feature.RED HEAT (1985) This should not be confused with the Arnold Schwarzenegger film. It is, rather, Linda Blair’s other women-in-prison flick. Blair plays the fiance of an American soldier who happens to blunder into an espionage case and finds herself taken into East Germany. Forced to confess to being part of a plot to help an East German defector, she has to endure the indignities of life as a political prisoner in jail. Will she ever get out? Red Heat alternates between being a WIP movie with all the tropes, a drama, a political thriller, and an action film. The tone is generally serious, which renders the WIP exploitation a little more jolting that usual. It seems to come from a different film, and that is the big issue with the entire film. Despite everything not coming together well, I cannot deny that I derived some fun from watching Red Heat. The technical side of the film is strong, and I do not mind a bit of grimness in this kind of film.The aspect that bothered me is that there was no attempt to even present any language issues. Blair’s character would not be able to speak German, and I doubt all the prisoners would know English. Suspension of disbelief was not fully happening with this viewing. ILSA, THE TIGRESS OF SIBERIA (1978, dir. Jean Lafleur)Ilsa, everybody’s favorite sexy sadist, returns for her third cinematic adventure courtesy of Canada. This time around she is the commandant of a Soviet gulag at the end of the Stalinist period. She sure has a sweet touch when trying to keep order: shooting prisoners, dunking prisoners in a lake during the middle of winter, using arm wrestle with chainsaws on either side of prisoners’ hands to settle a dispute, and feeding prisoners to the camp’s own tiger. With the death of Stalin, she knows political enemies will be after her. Where is a safe country to go to? Why not Canada! Ilsa uses her savagery there to gain control of Montreal’s massage parlors, but her enemies in the Soviet Union are not through with her yet. Of the three official Ilsa films, The Tigress of Siberia is the weakest. Yet that also means it may be the most palatable to viewers who are not exploitation fiends like me. She Wolf of the SS is absolute nastiness while Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks is an exercise in over-the-top violence and sex. Though tame by the standards of the past films, there is still plenty of mean-spirited violence, nudity, and soft-core sex scenes. The late Dyanne Thorne was always a trooper in these Ilsa films, giving an energetic performance in spite of the dreck she was appearing in. There is still one unofficial Ilsa film I have not yet watched for Junesploitation, Jess Franco’s super sleazy Wanda the Wicked Warden (or Greta the Mad Butcher depending on the language you watch it in). I saw it some years ago by now, so that may be a choice next year.
Penitentiary II (1982) This was awesome! There wasn’t much penitentiary, mostly a lot of boxing. I never saw Penitentiary, but there’s a helpful opening crawl explaining the first movie (From what I understand Penitentiary has a lot more jail. But Penitentiary II has Mr. T.) Every frame felt like it could have only been made by Jamaa Fanaka. Very distinct close up framing and editing. The scenes all feel very improvised and natural (even with Mr T- he felt like a real person for once) until suddenly they get serious and speechy and everyone dials it up to 11. Just odd little moments everywhere- an old man actually dropping his monocle, a horny convict midget, potato salad. Rudy Ray Moore even showed up! I was expecting prison day to be kind of dreary, but this was great. Highly recommended. I’m gonna have to check out more of Fanaaka- Welcome Home Brother Charles looks really good.
Lockout (2012, dir. James Mather & Steve Saint Leger)J.M. already said most of it. It's Escape from New York in the futuristic prison from Face/Off. The PS3 cut scene at the beginning didn't raise my hopes very high, but fortunately the rest of the movie picks it up considerably. "A ton of dumb sci-fi fun" is exactly right. Plus I love Peter Stormare any time he takes a swim in the River of Ham.
Actually I was surprised by how sedate and restrained Stormare was. With Joseph Gilgun drinking deep from the River of Ham nobody else in the cast stood a chance. :-PDo you agree that the PG-13 rating hurts "Lockup"? Sometimes a violent cartoon like "Expendables 3" or "Taken" can get away with it, but every threat of sexual assault from Hydell or act of butchery from the inmates felt toothless due to a sudden cutaway or your knowing they won't be able to show graphic stuff because of PG-13... or its rating equivalent in Finland (that satellite country of Russia's according to you-know-who). :-(
Sure, on a Stormare scale or compared to Gilgun, he was subdued. But on a wider scale of, you know, humans, he was at least waist deep.Sure, a little more graphic violence and a couple of dirty words would've fit the movie, but I didn't mind that much. Weirdly, the Finnish rating for Lockout seems to be 16 (our ratings system goes everyone, 7, 12, 16 and 18).And I was just impressed that you-know-who had even heard of our little country. That's how low he's set the bar.
Undisputed II: Last Man Standing (2006, Isaac Florentine)Maybe a little more cartoonish than I was expecting, but a really solid fun movie. I was clapping every time Adkins did that triple flip kick thing.Undisputed III: Redemption (2010, Isaac Florentine)Well since I was here I might as well just have a Undisputed Scott Adkins double. Prison fighting as gone global, actually I'm not that surprising. Marko Zaror as the villian fighter was kinda delightful with him reading on a nice beach chair while the rest are breaking rocks. But Scott Adkins is the dude, he's a freaken movie star. And the fight scenes are almost gravity defying. W
I didn't realize those were set in prison! They've been on my watchlist for a long time, and would have made a great choice for today.
Rescue Dawn (2006, dir. Herzog) Not quite an exploitation movie, but I found it on the Junesploitation primer link, and was intrigued when I saw it was directed by Herzog who does mostly docs these days.Immediately I realized I had seen this prisoner of war movie before. It's much more mainstream than most of Herzog's movies, but there were still lots of beautiful photography of the setting in SE Asia. Overall, I found it a little underwhelming (perhaps because I had seen it, but barely remembered it. So it felt new, but somehow unsurprising at the same time). My favourite part was after fleeing the camp, and escaping through the jungle.
The Muthers (1976)That was fun! The plot (such as it is) concerns a band of lady pirates who go undercover at a coffee plantation where the sister of one of the pirates is being held prisoner. It’s harder than they bargained for to escape the plantation, so they’ve got to fight their way out using brains, brawn, gratuitous nudity, and a library of well-worn kung fu sound effects. This is pretty much the platonic ideal of a Vinegar Syndrome release (and bless them for putting the love and care they do into movies like this, it looks great), it’s a cheap and mildly sleazy relic of a bygone era with attitude to spare. Not entirely sure what this says about me, but it’s the kind of movie where when a major character is killed during a shootout my thought is less “oh no she died” than it is “that’s pretty cool squib work for a movie with a budget of maybe $8.47” so your mileage, as they say, may vary. Personally I wish it had launched a franchise, I’d happily see Revenge of the Muthers or whatever would have come next.
Escape plan (2013)I’ve had this Blu-ray sitting on my shelf forever and I’ve never actually watched it, so I figured prison day was the perfect opportunity to check it out. Unfortunately, I found this one really disappointing. I know Sly and Arnie were well past their primes at this point, but it’s still a shame that they were wasted in a movie that is so bland. It’s not a terrible movie, but just not much happens and it’s very forgettable. Pretty surprised they made 2 DTV sequels and Stallone is in both of them lol.
JUNGLE WARRIORS (1984) A bunch of models head into the jungle for a photo shoot, only to abducted by guerrilla fighters and locked up in a jungle prison. Also, there are Italian mobsters for some reason. We’re in “machete maidens” territory, and everybody is all sleazy and sweaty. Recommended only if you really want to wallow deep in the sex n’ violence. 30 days of HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II, day 20 Then there’s the science teacher, Mr. Craven. (Get it???) In his first scene, he’s doing the had-it-up-to-here-with-these-kids shtick. Then in his second scene, he disgustingly puts his hands all over Vicki/Mary Lou right in front of everybody (!) so she uses evil magic to zap him. What does this have to do with anything? It sets up the character Monica to be suspicious of Mary Lou, so Mary Lou kills her. But Mr. Craven has no arc of any kind. His lechery comes out of nowhere, then he’s punished for it, and then he’s out of the movie. Wait, IS that a character arc?
Chained Heat (1983, dir. Paul Nicholas)I know this one has been championed over the years by F This Movie and F-Heads during Junesploitation and I'm glad I finally saw it. Doesn't get too much more exploitative than this. Going forward I will always think any office is missing something if it doesn't contain a hot tub...
Riki-Oh:The story of Ricky. I bought it blind on NYC's Canal Street forever ago. Watch it at least once a year and it's still getting better.
Ernest Goes to Jail (1990, dir. John Cherry)Sometimes you have to watch stuff with your kids for Junesploitation.
It's peak John Cherry
This was a watch for 1990 week. I thought it holds up well for the time period and enjoyed Jim Varney's dual role. He could be an effective slapstick comedian with the right material.
Hands down my favorite whacky death row execution gone awry.
Black Mama White Mama (1973)If there was something missing from my Junesploitation experience so far it was the presence of Pam Grier, but the Queen has finally entered the building. Unfortunately, today's movie is not even close to the Coffy/Foxy Brown level. It starts out alright, as a prison movie that really goes for the exploitation part, but after mere 20 minutes the titular duo escape and then spend most of the remaining runtime running around chained to each other while being chased by cops, a band of guerilla fighters and two separate groups of gangsters - all of which sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is. There's some cool moments here and there, but way too much attention is paid to all the guys in pursuit, to the point that the central premise of an odd couple joined by chance and forced to co-operate feels kind of underserved, if not flat out wasted, even despite some nice chemistry between Grier and Margaret Markov, whom I'd never seen before but found her instantly intriguing.
Cool Hand Luke (1967, dir. Stuart Rosenberg)Today I decided not to search for an exploitation flick, and instead knock out a major classic I'd never seen.The thing I loved about this is it's a prison escape movie where there's no good, logical reason to escape. Luke is in a pretty comfortable prison for a 2 year sentence for a really minor crime. He's just a self-destructive guy who can't deal with rules, even for a short time. Really interesting stuff.Also, this is hands down my favorite George Kennedy. He's never been better.
It's the one G.K. got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar from.
Definitely a classic. For me, Cool Hand Luke gets better with every viewing. I particularly like the oppressiveness the film communicates; you can feel the absence of freedom in the prisoners' lives. It has become my favorite male ensemble cast: Newman, Kennedy, Joe Don Baker, Harry Dean Stanton, Strother Martin, etc.
Hell, the egg eating scene alone makes it a stone cold classic, and there's so many more great moments.
The Big Bird Cage (1975) dir. Jack HillFrom the director of Coffy and Switchblade Sisters, this one was really stellar. Starring Sid Haig, Pam Grier and Anitra Ford as a much cooler Maud Adams, this is a Philippino-set movie, basically split between the prisony stuff and Sid and Pam as revolutionaries. Queer jokes aside, the sound crackles and the shots are inventive, in some cases because they needed to be to save on reshoots. Still a beautiful movie to watch, and contains a plethora of shots of coconuts.
Day 20Undisputed II: Last Man StandingWow! This movie was fuckin bad ass and damn near perfect!!
The Muthers (1976)Got reminded to watch this one by JP in the comments above. Been meaning to check this one out for a long time and it did not disappoint. Jeanne Bell is a favorite and this is her best performance I’ve seen. She is gentle and intense and kicks ass a bit more convincingly than in TNT Jackson. Anyway, glad to be finally jumping into some Junesploitation.
The Rock (1996)Vintage Cage. Love it when his weird energy does not match the normalcy of the movie surrounding him. Realized Hans Zimmer's score seemed quite similar at times to the Pirates of the Caribbean score that would follow years later.
The Raid 2 (2014) and Good Time (2017):Both are only peripherally “prison movies,” but it was good to revisit The Raid and finally check out Good Time.
Turkey Shoot1982, dir. Brian Trenchard-SmithThere’s a fucking wolf man in this movie. Easily one of the most entertaining and insane movies I’ve seen this month. I vaguely remembered this one from the ‘Not Quite Hollywood’ doc about Ozploitation but didn’t realize it had such a wild sci-fi angle. It’s a little ‘1984’ meets ‘Caged Heat’ meets ‘The Most Dangerous Game’. Also, there’s a wolf man. Railsback and Hussey aren’t the most charismatic leads but their struggle is relatable and their adversaries are beyond despicable so it balances out. There’s nothing more satisfying in an exploitation movie than watching tacky, scenery-chewing, hypocritical, ruling-elite oppressors who each have an impractical gimmick getting eliminated one by one in humiliating or ironic ways. Oh wait, there is - inexplicable wolf men.EDIT: Started work again this weekend and forgot to post a few days, catching up now, oops.