Sunday, June 19, 2022

Junesploitation 2022 Day 19: Free Space!


  1. Men (2022)
    ♫ Men, men, men, men, manly men, men, men (Ooh)
    Men, men, men, men, manly men, men, men
    Men, men, men, men, manly men
    Ooh-hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo, ooh
    Men, men, men, men, manly men, men, men (Ooh)
    Men, men, men, men, manly men, men, men (Ha)
    Meeeeeeennnnnnnnnnn ♫

    I was digging this until it completely uproots from reality and just starts screaming METTTTTAPPPPPHORRRR in your ear for 40 minutes.

  2. Lee Sang-yong's THE ROUND-UP (2022, theater, 106 min.) for the first time.

    Wanted to sing the praises of this generic-sounding South Korean action/buddy cop flick from the director of "The Good, The Bad and The Weird" early in June, when it was still in a handful of theaters. But then the Blogger killing our reviews crap started happening and I started falling way, way behind. :'( Then "Top Gun: Maverick," "Jurassic World: Dominion" and just now "Lightyear" came out, and "The Round-Up" has pretty much disappeared from cinemas. Shame, because this is a terrific example of not only a sequel done right (to a 2017 movie named "The Outlaws" from the same director that I haven't seen) but a stand-alone work that delivers on its own. The incomparable Ma Dong-seok, aka Don Lee (Gilgamesh in "Marvels Eternals") co-wrote the screenplay and plays Ma Seok-do, a cop so tough that only his own captain (Choi Gwi-hwa) can partner with him on a special trip to Vietnam to bring back a prisoner. But Ma's instincts help uncover a serial killer named Kang Hae-sang (Son Sukku, excellent) that targets wealthy Korean tourists to Vietnam. And as seen in the opening scene and every scene he appears in, Kang is the equivalent of "Mad Dog" from "The Raid: Redemption" (with cleavers!) when it comes to enjoying his butchery, coldness and depravity of his criminal enterprise. With the assistance of a small cadre of equally skilled little "Mad Dog" wannabes, Kang stays one-step ahead of Ma and his team of detectives across both Vietnam and South Korea as he tries to collect the ransom he feels he's owed... even though he's already killed the kidnapped victim.

    There is a reason this was South Korea's first post-pandemic box office blockbuster. Despite the scary and violent parts being worthy of "The Raid 2" comparisons whenever Kang shows up (a top-notch super villain and compelling henchman wrapped into one) it's ultimately a crowd pleaser in the "Lethal Weapon" mold. Ma Dong-seok is in beast mode whenever he's allowed to cross the line with suspects (which he does early and often), which he's encouraged/discouraged to do by his captain/partner depending on each scene. You've seen the good/bad cop routine a million times, but "The Round-Up" reminds you that it's still worth doing in 2022 because when it clicks it's awesome. It all builds to a predictable showdown between and Ma and Kang, but that doesn't make the twists and tension getting to that moment any less compelling. Entertaining genre exploitation of the highest order hiding under the most generic of movie titles, go figure! 4.5 WIDOWS WITH RANSOM-FILLED LUGGAGE (out of 5).

    1. That sound awesome, I'll be sure to check it out. Wasn't The Good, The Bad and The Weird directed by Kim Jee-woon, though?

  3. Presidentsploitation Double:
    Winter Kills (1979)
    One of those "how did this get made?!?!" flicks where you assume everyone involved was coked to the eyeballs. Jeff Bridges plays Robert Kennedy (or maybe Teddy); John Huston does his Chinatown thing playing Joseph Kennedy Senior; Toshiro Mifune inexplicably plays their butler; Anthony Perkins plays their head of security; and Eli Wallach plays Jack Ruby. Jeff Bridges investigates in the most foolish way possible the assassination of his brother, JFK, and doesn't exactly like what he finds out. This is possibly the most ludicrous and overwrought paranoid thriller I've ever seen and I kinda loved every second of it. I was hoping for a hidden gem, but I'm just as happy to have found an ambitious mess of a film instead.

    Secret Honor (1984)
    RIP Philip Baker Hall who gives a fucking incredible performance here as Tricky Dicky Nixon. He doesn't look a thing like him, but he sure as hell knows how to act like him. Given that it's essentially a 90 minute monologue, you could be forgiven for expecting this to be boring instead of the utterly captivating filmed play it is. What an idea for a play - Nixon, in the immediate aftermath of Watergate, alone in the oval office surrounded by the portraits of other presidents and politicians, with a bottle of whiskey, a tape recorder and a gun. Fantastic underseen Altman.

  4. Again, couldn't post today the 5-6 reviews I haven't been able to post in the past few weeks on this 'Free Day!' space. :-( So improvising here and throwing some shortened reviews of stuff I saw recently in theaters besides "The Round-Up" (which kicks ass and deserved its own stand-alone review).

    David Cronenberg's CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (2022, theater, 107 min.) for the first (and last!) time.

    Alex Garland's "Men" feels mainstream and coherent compared with this so-far-up-its-own-ass-it-tastes-like-bitter-old-man-poo exercise in artsy-fartsy body horror world building. A remake of his own 1970 early work in name only but with thousands of times more resources at his disposal, "Crimes of The Future" follows performance artists Viggo Mortensen and Léa Seydoux putting on a straight face as they show off their radically altered bodies through biotech, the result of a world that's fallen victim to body climate, pollution effects, hidden social and individual agendas, etc. Frankly the movie lost me early on when a mother smothers her kid (whose only crime was being born with a taste for something "The Graduate's" Buck Henry would find amusing) and it's supposed to be formative for a character (Scott Speedman's Lang) I couldn't care less for. A rewatch might change my mind, but this is easily the most off-putting and repellent thing I've seen of Cronenberg senior... and I own "Crash" on Criterion Blu-ray. 1 SURGICAL BED THAT TOPS "PROMETHEUS'" ABORTION MEDICAL STATION (out of 5).

    Chloe Okuno's WATCHER (2022, theater, 91 min.) for the first time.

    The beauty of seeing movies without knowing a thing about them beforehand is that I had no idea what ride "Watcher" was taking me in for. A slow-burn thriller with shades of slasher concealed within its background (which becomes prominent at the very end), "Watcher" works best as the drama of a young American woman (Maika Monroe's Julia) struggling to adapt to living in Romania and potentially developing cabin fever while her husband (Karl Glusman) goes out to work. Don't want to reveal anything more, but "Watcher" plays a long game of delayed gratification that pays off at the end... provided you have the patience to wait for it to show its hands. It's a Shudder production, so it should stream there soon (if it isn't already). 3.5 BULGY SUPERMARKET PLASTIC BAGS (out of 5)

    SAMRAT PRITHVIRAJ (2022, theater, 135 min.) for the first time.

    Bookended by "Gladiator"-inspired spectacle (with a disturbing preview of the unfortunate ending that awaits the lead protagonist after the lengthy flashback in-between), "Samrat Prithviraj" is your typical Bollywood historical action epic about a kind and righteous king (Akshay Kumar) besieged by greedy and nasty rivals (like Manav Vij's Sultan Ghori) that want the kingdom of Delhi for their territories. CG armies, CG lions, epic dance sequences, comic relief characters (loved the blindfolded warrior uncle who only takes it off to do battle or make love to his wife, but since he's widowed... :-P), etc. You know the Bollywood drill. This one at least tries its hand at revisionist history by making Prithviraj Chauhan and his tradition-defying Queen Sanyogita (Manushi Chhillar) feminists in trying to push for Delhi to allow women a say so in how things work. Nice sentiment and good speeches, but too bad this (like 4,564 other Bollywood epics before it) ends with yet another glorious sacrifice of the wives of soldiers willingly jumping into a pit of fire to avoid being defiled by an invading army. :-O Entertaining enough and worth a look (Amazon Prime co-produced the film), but it's no "RRR." 3.25 FULL BODY GOLD STATUES WITH FLOWER GARLANDS AT THE PALACE ENTRANCE (out of 5).

    1. Your review only makes me so much more excited for the new Cronenberg... I think the FThisMovie podcast has discussed this phenomenon before, but you saying it was repellent and ugly and offputting makes me think HELL YEAH, CRONENBERG'S BACK BABY!

    2. But l'm a Cronenberg fanboy since the mid-80's, so me saying l thought it was crap should give you pause. That said, never listen to me or what "the man" says. Watch the cinematic crime (of the future) and do your own time. 😉😄

  5. WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971, dir. Curtis Harrington)

    Coming from the writer of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?, there are some similarities to that story. The two women this time are played by Debbie Reynolds (Adelle) and Shelley Winters (Helen). They are mothers on the run from the reality of their sons being convicted murderers. Debbie Reynolds is a dance instructor who sets up shop in 1930s Hollywood, making a living from the dreams of stage mothers trying to turn their daughters into the next big child star. Helen helps with the business. Just as good fortune seems to be coming for both of them, Helen cannot shake the feeling that the past is following them to their new life. WHAT’S THE MATTER… is a weird film combining melodrama, musical, satirical and horror elements. It is not often that you get dance numbers with kids and murder scenes in the same film. While the quality of the production is first-class, the script meanders a lot, but the ending is effective.

  6. Jurassic World Dominion (2022 – Colin Trevorrow)
    If you ask IMDB, Letterboxd, and at least the critics' consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, then Jurassic World Dominion is the worst out of the three JW movies. All I heard is how bad it is, and I was ready to dislike it. I don’t like to be in that kind of headspace going into a movie. I don’t like to shit on movies in general. Furthermore, I want to have a good time at the cinema, and most times I find something to like in films.
    That being said, I really didn’t like the JW movies this far. I love the first JP movie, it is one of my favorite movies of all time, I also like the 2nd installment, that seems to not get a lot of love in general (haven’t watched it for a while). The 3rd is okay at best, not great, sometimes annoyingly bad. The first JW was aggressively cynical to humans in general, I disliked nearly all characters, I didn’t like its structure, and it's not so subtle message on family values (I know it is in JP, too – but in there it is a man being told to find a softer spot in himself, in JW it’s all about how wrong women are to pursuit their career). It also tells me (already) how great JP is and that it is our fault that we got a stupid sequel (we just want more teeth, right?).
    The 2nd JW movie then opens up a subplot that is beyond stupid, I guess. Not because you couldn’t write a movie around someone to be cloned out of love (or because she wanted it by herself), but because there is no place in a JP movie for that. Why do we love JP? In my book, there is a) a childish fascination with dinosaurs, b) stunning visuals of beautiful and dangerous dinosaurs in a beautiful landscape, c) likeable Characters that I can look up to as heroes, d) a decent enough plot, e) monster horror. Have I missed something? It seems this is easy to learn, but hard to master.
    JW Dominion now needed to juggle a lot of stupidity, and characters. Man, there are a lot of new characters introduced in this movie, most of them don’t feel like actual humans, but a) too cool for school, or b) emotional dysfunctional assholes – there is no middle ground. Adding to that, there is the recurring cast of the original JP, and a lot of “calm down hand gesture”. In the first half, it is James Bond with dinosaurs (btw. a lot of dinosaurs that are designed and trained to be weapons, so not the ones I like to see), and I was really checked out of the movie, in the second, it is a showcase of scenes that made us go: “AHHH”, slapping on our thigh, “I KNOW THAT REFERENCE!” - again. It is lazy in its attempt to show us things we’ve liked in the past. By the way, can we stop pretending we don’t really care that our plane is going down? Am I watching humans or people with superpowers? I want guns to be dangerous and people to be scared of plane crashes. If the character is not scared, then why should I be? Since no one of importance is killed or hurt in this movie, I have no reason to be afraid that I could lose them.
    All of this being said, I still think this is the best out of the three JW movies, because there are glimpses, scenes. Since multiverses are cool now, you can tell that there is a movie somewhere out there, hidden under all this mess, that could have worked. A movie set in a limited location, with nice looking, dangerous and beautiful dinosaurs. With a child that reflects our fascination and fear (like in the first one), with heroes that manage to be smart, respectful, fearful, sometimes cool, but never taking away of the plot itself.
    It is there… somewhere. What we got is a deranged and bloated version of that. Dominion is better than its prequels, it is still very, very stupid.

  7. Vigilante Diaries (2016, dir. Christian Sesma)

    A cheap knock-off of The Expendables. While The Expendables had Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Lundgren, Statham, Rourke and Li, Vigilante Diaries has Paul Sloan, Michael Jai White, Michael Madsen, Rampage Jackson, James Russo and... Jason Mewes!?

    A simple and clichéd movie told in flashbacks and flashforwards (or "diary entries", as the title cards say) to make it seem more complicated. There's some directorial flair in the opening setpiece, but after that it's all shaky cam, quick cuts, and digital blood and muzzle flashes. All the women are sexy and deadly, all the men are rugged action heroes who sweat testosterone. Expect for Jason Mewes, who plays the annoying comic relief.

    "Vallelonga Productions" pops up in the opening credits. Turns out it was produced by Nick Vallelonga, the guy who made a movie about his dad called Green Book. Seems like he specializes in making low-rent action movies. There are many recognizable names in the cast, but I had no idea who Paul Sloan was. Turns out he's a Vallelonga regular, and even had a cameo in Green Book. Not that you'd recognize him, he's the definition of dime-a-dozen action dude.

    1. I forgot to mention that the funniest thing about Vigilante Diaries is that it's R-rated and doesn't shy away from using explicit language, but when the end credits kick in, a rap song starts playing with the curse words (quite noticeably) cut out.

  8. The Iron Giant (1999)

    My third 1999 blind spot of the month is a near-perfect blend of E.T., King Kong and 50's sci-fi obsession/Red Scare paranoia, served in the shape of a heart-meltingly sweet and touching family movie that would fit right in among top-tier Pixar classics (even though it was made under a WB banner). It still looks gorgeous, too, with its deliberate mix of traditional and CG animation which hasn't aged one bit. Brad Bird knows how to make me cry like a baby and this was no exception as I spent at least the last half hour in tears. Took me long enough, but I'm so glad I finally caught up with this little gem of a movie.

  9. Godzilla vs. Mothra (Gojira vs. Mosura) (1992, dir. Takao Okawara)

    The circle is complete. 1984's The Return of Godzilla rebooted the franchise because it had become too silly. 1991's Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah already leaned into the silliness by introducing some wacky elements (like time travel) into the mix, and a year later Godzilla vs. Mothra is an all-out kid-friendly comedy, just like the movies they wanted to distance themselves from.

    Like in most of the franchise's movies, the thesis here is that humans are destroying the planet (fair), and the giant monsters are either a side effect of that or nature's way of defending itself. In some of the Godzilla movies, this is a metaphor, here it is literally and bluntly stated by several characters. Over and over again.

    The monster fights are fun (and plentiful), the human drama not so much.

    Movie number 23 of 40 in my ongoing project to see every Godzilla movie ever made.

  10. Mad God (Phil Tippet, 2021)

    Do not watch while eating, but watch it. On Shudder

  11. End of the World (1977, dir. John Hayes)

    Some of the films I've been in I regret making. I got conned into making these pictures in almost every case by people who lied to me. Some years ago, I got a call from my producers saying that they were sending me a script and that five very distinguished American actors were also going to be in the film. Actors like José Ferrer, Dean Jagger, and John Carradine. So I thought "Well, that's all right by me". But it turned out it was a complete lie. Appropriately, the film was called End Of The World.
    - Sir Christopher Lee

    Thought I'd slip one Lee on my list this Junesploitation, since May saw the 100th anniversary of his birth. And what better way to commemorate him than a movie he regretted making? (Btw, Dean Jagger has about a minute of screentime, José Ferrer and John Carradine are nowhere to be seen.)

    A NASA scientist investigates strange radio signals coming from space, which lead him to a convent infiltrated by aliens who have taken human form. Lee plays both a priest at the convent and the alien leader who takes his place.

    The movie's 85 minutes long but feels like two hours, there's just a lot of dead air. You'd have to cut very little of substance to make this into a decent Outer Limits episode. Lee is a professional, and gives much more in his dual role than the movie deserves.

  12. The Eye (2002, dir. The Pang Brothers)

    EXTREMELY creepy ghost story where a woman sees ghosts after an eye transplant. There are some show-stopping setpieces, as well as subliminal scares (at least once I noticed a creepy face or figure in the background of shots that would be easy to miss). Highly recommended, one of the best ghost stories I've seen.

  13. VICE ACADEMY 2 (1989)
    Everybody's favorite lady cops are back at it, going undercover and getting into all sorts of cheeky shenanigans. Linnea Quigley and Ginger Lynn Allen co-star. They're great of course, but their charisma can only take the movie so far. It's plotless and not all that funny, but I suppose it's amusing in a "this is late night cable and there's nothing else on" kind of way.

    Bonus Lloyd Kaufman-sploitation, day 19: ALL THE LOVE YOU CANNES (2001)
    Documentary (mockumentary?) about Kaufman and his crew traveling to the Cannes Film Festival to generate interest in Troma movies, pinching every penny along the way. It mostly follows Troma characters and assorted weirdos holding impromptu parades and stunts around the festival. They're merry pranksters, crashing other people's parties, premieres, and photo shoots. At the movie's best, it reveals the artifice behind the prestige and pomposity of these big film festivals. At its worst, it shows the Troma team acting like a bunch of a-holes.

  14. FORCE FOUR (aka BLACK FORCE, 1975)
    first time watch

  15. Batman & Robin (1997, dir. Joel Schumacher)

    Felt like something goofy to cap the day off, so I knocked back a couple of beers and revisited this one. (Also picked it partly because Blank Check Podcast are releasing a commentary track on it next week, so thought I'd refresh my memory.)

    Mr. Freeze's puns aren't even puns, he's just saying things and randomly adding "ice" or "freeze" to the sentence.

    The more serious and dark new Batman movies get, the more I come around to Batman & Robin.

    Bonus short film: Night of the Living Dicks (2021, dir. Ilja Rautsi)

    For each Free Space! day, I'll include a Finnish short film.

    A woman finds a magical pair of glasses that shows the true nature of men (spoiler: we're all complete dicks).

    It has stuff to say about sexual politics, but I'm not 100% sure it knows what it wants to say at each moment. Looks great and is occasionally pretty funny though.

    first time watch
    AGFA/Bleeding Skull BluRay

  17. Pink Flamingos (1972) on the Criterion 50th Anniversary Blu-ray

    This Baltimorean's first time watching this John Waters opus. Wow.

    1. I finally watched it a few months ago. "Wow" just about sums it for me as well.

    2. The first time I ever saw a John Waters' Criterion release I thought it was a joke. I respect and enjoy his movies, but Waters is not the kind of director I associate with the company. He must have been surprised by it himself.

  18. Dragons Forever (1988, dir. Sammo Hung)

    Piles and piles of marking, then a camp, then getting sick from camp has stopped me from getting into #Junesploitation so far.

    Getting started with one of my comfort movies. Seeing Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao bicker and fight is the perfect blend of comedy and physical stunts. Who cares what the plot is (or the "against type" characterization of Jackie's character) - it's all about the chemistry.

  19. Godzilla (1954, dir. Ishirō Honda)

    Another one of my comfort movies. Huge lizard doing lizard things and a bunch of humans trying to make sense of it all. For a movie with a guy in a rubber suit, it's really elegantly told.

    1. I'll never forget the mom telling her little kids they're basically about to be murdered by Godzilla... and then it happens (off-camera). Dark stuff, especially for '54. :'(

    2. With World War II concluding less than a decade before Godzilla was made, it was inevitable that the war experience would find its way into the film. Those scenes of people fleeing flames in Tokyo happened in real life. In one night in March 1945, around 100,000 Tokyo residents died in a massive firestorm created by American bombs, and miles of the was destroyed.

  20. THE KILLING KIND (1973, dir. Curtis Harrington)

    The second film in my Curtis Harrington double feature, this is the one I originally intended to watch. This Vinegar Syndrome blu-ray has been scolding me for not watching it for some time. Turner Classic Movies made the double feature possible.

    A highlight of this Junesploitation, The Killing Kind is a twisted low-key psychological drama about Terry, a young man who served two years in prison for participating in a rape. Coming home only seems to aggravate the issues he has about growing up and relationships with women. The influence of Hitchcock is all over the film. The story goes and does not go where you would expect to. Ann Southern, a Hollywood star of the 1940s, gives a creepy performance as Terry’s mother. There is also a small role for Cindy Williams, star of the sitcoms Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. Highly recommended.

  21. Race With the Devil (1975) dir. Jack Starrett

    Who among us hasn’t felt like we were being blockaded by sinister forces just because we were trying to get across Texas state lines?

    Highly effective road horror gets a lot of bang out of a PG rating thanks to killer performances all around, and the simple yet sinister premise. Few things feel more American to me than RV culture in it’s mid-70’s prime- the road dog mentality of sixties counter culture repackaged with plenty of room for comfort for those that can swing the price tag- who says you can’t buy happiness man? Pull off the wrong exit though, and that pass to freedom becomes one hell of a cage- all you can do is try and put more and more road between you and trouble, but that’s hard to do when you don’t know which direction its coming from.

  22. Moana

    Seafaring! I would love to have a Seafaring or Pirate day one Junesploitation. I love this movie, and really just wanted to watch something colourful, musical and animated after a long day.