Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 14: Free Space!


  1. A couple of random watches for the day.

    AMER (2009, dirs. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani) – Cattet and Forzani are inspired by giallo and Italian horror genres and consciously utilize the style of those films for their own. A few years ago I watched their second feature film, The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears, which I thought looked good but found too arty and aimless. AMER, the first feature, utilizes the same approach, with some of the same issues, but is a more satisfying watch. Although the general structure is centered around a female character, Ana, at different times of her life, this really feels like an anthology film. The first segment is about her childhood, which is the strongest section. The visual references to Suspiria and Dario Argento’s general style are frequent. The last one, of Ana as a grown up, is the giallo segment. There is a strong Mario Bava influence to this one. Amer is definitely not for everyone.

    NURSE DIARY: BEAST AFTERNOON (1982, dir. Naosuke Kurosawa) – When the Japanese studio Nikkatsu launched its soft-core Roman Porno line in the early 1970s, it gave the directors a lot of freedom in subject matter as long as the certain scenes came at regular intervals. Some strangely beautiful films emerged, and others were plain weird. Nurse Diary: Beast Afternoon is one of the most delirious I have come across. The story revolves around a clinic where a device that can record dreams is invented. Mixed in with the scientific experimentation is personal rivalry, hypnotism, and some striking touches of horror. I cannot say it makes much sense in the end, and the required "love" scenes add a tonal clash with rest of the film. The ending, though, would not be out of place in an Italian horror film of the time, especially the sleazier ones like Malabimba and Patrick Still Lives.

  2. ND:BA has been on my shelf unwatched for a little too long...

    1. It's definitely worth a watch. And only 66 minutes long.


    Guy Ritchie's OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE (2023, 4K Blu-ray).

    Jason Statham leads a team of deep-cover, IMF-like operatives trying to intercept a deadly McGuffin-like device that even the British Government doesn't know what it does. An arms dealer (Hugh Grant) with a weakness for a Hollywood bad boy (Josh Hartnett) is the go-between, so naturally the latter gets coerced by Statham to play the role of a lifetime befriending his biggest fan. Sounds awful, but Guy Ritchie directs this spy action comedy with a confidence that put me at ease knowing I was watching a popcorn master filmmaker at work. It has the second best 'Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head' montage I've seen on film (after "Spider-Man 2"), Aubrey Plaza basically doing the Theo-from-"Die Hard"-but-sexy techie thing with sass (YMMV), Cary Elwes deadpanning and Hugh Grant hamming it up with relish. It died at the box office but it's one of my favorite pics of the year so far. 4.5 WAR ORPHAN CHARITIES (out of 5).


    Strong opening (perfect song, perfect backstory-setting montage, wonderous tone) that is quickly tossed aside when our youthful heroes show-up to bicker/banter through a life-or-death mission about their sex life. Dane DeHaan ("Amazing Spider-Man 2") and Cara Delevingne ("Suicide Squad") eventually end up developing chemistry, but Valerian and Laureline are no Korben Dallas and Leeloo. It's only six years old but this already feels outdated (VR as the centerpiece of tourist commerce) and badly paced (lengthy build-up to underwhelming reveal/finale). Gorgeous visuals/backgrounds make rewatch with the pause button active almost mandatory. 3 RIHANNA-AS-BUBBLE VIRTUAL COSTUME CHANGES (out of 5).

    Brett Leonard's VIRTUOSITY (1995, AMAZON PRIME).

    Even the director of "The Lawnmower Man" (to which this could be considered a spiritual sequel) cannot reign-in Russell Crowe overacting and chewing scenery like a (virtual) man possessed. Crowe's SID is simultaneously the best and worst thing about this high-concept action tale of former cop Parker Barnes (Denzel Washington) being hunted/defamed by a synthesized-into-a-real-person compilation of 150 serial killers, including the dominant one that murdered his family and sent Parker to jail. It's too much plot, too much (badly staged) action and too much Crowe mugging for attention. I dislike the final product but admire the filmmakers' intent, premise, supporting cast (Forsythe, Lynch, Fichtner, Mandylor, Cuoco, etc.) and future "Gladiator" not afraid to look/act ridiculous. 2.5 OUT-OF-CONTROL WRESTLING MATCHES (out of 5).

    1. I don't know. I didn't really connect with the leads or their romance, but I loved Valerian in all its visual glory from beginning to end. When it ended, I immediately wanted to start it again (and I did, just to watch that beginning again).

  4. Billy Badd AKA Motor Psycho (1992)

    This movie is certifiably insane.

    Zoey (Nicola Seixas) and Frankie (Thomas Emery Dennis) are on the way across the country for art school.. Or a better life. Or something, anything, but mostly making love in the middle of the desert where surely someone is watching.

    On their way, they keep hearing urban legends about Billy Badd (Elvis Restaino, Happy Hell Night, Bloodsport: The Dark Kumite and the production designer of Playboy: Women of Wal-Mart). A waitress at a diner has a tattoo of his name and recoils in horror at the mention of it. A cop turns around and runs the other way rather than face him. And when they meet him, they’ll find out why.

    Directed by Alex Downs and written by Mark Hovater, who also played Hollywood, this is the kind of one and done ripoff of The Hitcher by way of Mad Max that I’m absolutely shocked that Vinegar Syndrome has never released.

    This also totally flips the gender script as Billy is more interested in assaulting Frankie, which means that Zoey has to mountain climb and ride her way to his hideout, bringing along a face painted vet who has dreamed of killing Billy forever.

    Elvis Restaino’s pop culture referencing performance in this movie has to be witnessed to be believed as its so over the top there is no real top to go over anymore. It feels like white trash low end The Night of the Hunter with no children to be corrupted, only teenagers trying to make it in a van.

  5. Spymate (2006, dir. Robert Vince). Spy movies targeted at kids were all the rage in the mid-2000s. And this one has a chimpanzee! Lackluster, but fun at times. The chimp ruled, but all the other extraneous characters kind of sucked. Might have been more fun had I watched with the kids rather than alone.

  6. The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

    This time the Muppets are living it up in London. Kermit, Fozzie and Gonzo (whose taste in women seems to have shifted from chickens to humans) are a team of investigative reporters going after a brazen jewelry thief (Charles Grodin) with personal ties to England’s high fashion society (and an apparent penchant for glamorous female pigs).

    The Muppets' second big screen outing is a much more plot-oriented affair than the loose road trip format of the first. The meta-level jokes are consistently clever ("Why are you telling me all this?" "It's plot exposition, it has to go somewhere."), and the running gag about Kermit and Fozzie being identical twins never stops being funny. The movie features some very elaborate, Old Hollywood-style musical numbers, including a Miss Piggy-centered water ballet (the songs themselves aren't as memorable as last time, though), and is much less reliant on flashy cameos - but it does have a wonderful scene with John Cleese, which is like a summit meeting between the world's two greatest comedy troupes as far as I'm concerned.

    1. I'm so glad you're watching the Muppets movies! They're very dear to me. Are you going to skip The Muppet Christmas Carol? It's one of the best, but might be better saved for the Christmas season. And then you wouldn't miss Muppets Treasure Island! It's a win-win no matter in which order you watch them. Muppets take Manhattan is arguably the best, so definitely don't skip that one.

    2. Thanks! I'm going strictly release order, so yes, Carol will be my final Free Space day. But I fully intend to continue the journey after June is over and eventually knock out all of them, because I find them delightful. I'm very curious about the recent ones and how they measure up to the classic run.

  7. MALIGNANT (2021)
    So glad I was able to stay spoiler-free for this movie for so long. What a wild ride! It's a twisty-turny plot with great spooky atmosphere and solid performances all around. When James Wan gets on a roll, he's as good as the best. Big recommend.

    THE DREAMERS (2003)
    In the 1960s, a young man gets intimately involved with a brother and sister in their apartment, while student riots are brewing outside. I'm thinking this movie might be... French. If nothing else, it's certainly in love with the French New Wave, dropping classic film clips into the narrative for some stylization. I'm reminded of Whit Stilman's work, about directionless 20-somethings unaware they're living through the end of an era (era). Yes, this is also a very naughty movie (the French, am I right?). But like a lot of French New Wave flicks, the scenes of characters just hanging out end up being the most interesting.

    R100 (2013)
    An emotionally-stunted man joins some sort of ill-defined underground club, where he hires a bunch of women to... let's just say this movie goes places. Before you freak out, know that this is intended to be a comedy. Everything is exaggerated to a cartoonish degree. And yet it's more just plain weird than funny or kinky. I'm left not knowing what to think.

    1. Malignant was so much fun. I recommended it to all my friends and no one watched it (as far as I know). Oh well.

  8. Cinnamon (2023)

    Now playing Tribeca Film Fest, streaming on Tubi on June 23rd.

    One of my favorite movies of the year is a Tubi Original.

    Cinnamon is a genre-loving crime thriller that pays homage to the famous lovers-on-the-run films, blaxploitation icons, western tropes, and the great gangster movies.

    Crime films often center around dirty money, it's the butter to the genre's bread. The money in this film is laundered in gas stations. It travels with cocaine. It's used for both the pizza and the paid sex with the delivery driver. But when everybody wants a piece of that money, from their business partners to the girl who works at the gas station (and her criminal boyfriend), that money's going to end up filthy. And covered in blood. Everyone is going to back-stab (or hand-stab, or cheek-stab) each other to get that money.

    Blaxploitation icon Pam Grier is joined by a fun Damon Wayans, a standout Hailey Kilgore, and an all around great cast. An excellent debut feature from Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr.

    Watch it whenever you can.

  9. The Haunting of Julia (1977, dir. Richard Loncraine)

    My expectations got the better of me with this one, I was disappointed. It's not as much of an outright horror movie, more of a mystery-drama with some eerie scenes. I think I'll enjoy it better the second viewing knowing what it is. I LOVED the score though.

  10. Catching up on some classic Junesploitation categories of years past that weren't included in this year's calendar (a.k.a. I already had movies picked for these categories before the announcement):

    Vampires!: The Return of the Vampire (1943, dir. Lew Landers)

    1918. A 150 year old vampire and his wolfman servant terrorize and English family, but they finally manage to beat and bury him. 1942. The Luftwaffe's bombing of England releases the vampire from his grave and he comes back seeking revenge.

    Columbia Pictures' cheap imitation of Universal monster movies casts Bela Lugosi basically as Dracula, turns the Renfield role of a reluctant servant into a wolfman and Van Helsing into a female scientist, and sets it during World War II (the movie was made while the war was still raging). Lugosi of course knows what he's doing, and the other actors are on the same, melodramatic wavelength. It's not Tod Browning's Dracula, but it's as close as we ever got to a real sequel.

    Gangsters!: Even Angels Eat Beans (1973, dir. Enzo Barboni)

    In 1930's New York, goofy daydreamer Sonny (Giuliano Gemma) and gruff wrestler Charlie (Bud Spencer) meet at the gym and inexplicably become friends. They start working for the feared local mob boss, mess up his businesses, cause a mob war with a rival boss, and in the end beat everyone in a fistfight.

    Spencer plays his usual role, always with an annoyed look on his face and his fists clenched, and Giuliano Gemma is the typical counterpoint to Spencer, talkative, goofy and crafty. It's so similar to the Spencer/Hill dynamic, I'm just assuming the role was originally written for Terence Hill.

    It's nowhere near Spencer's best, it's way too long and the plot has even less logic and character motivation than the typical Spencer flick. But dammit if I'm still not thoroughly entertained whenever he's on screen. I think he might be my favorite movie star.

    Weirdest/funniest joke in the movie: the cops have an informant named Judah who demands payment in silver dollars as a "family tradition".

    Ninjas!: Ninja Assassin (2009, dir. James McTeigue)

    An ancient, secretive clan of ninjas offers their assassination services to anyone who can pay. One ninja who deserted the clan has an axe to grind with their leader, and is helped by a rogue Interpol agent.

    The fight scenes (a.k.a. the only reason to watch this movie) are excellently choreographed, executed and shot, but unfortunately the very 2009 looking CGI blood takes away a lot of their impact.

    Korean pop star Rain is good in the lead role, Naomie Harris is never bad, and the legendary Shô Kosugi plays the villain with appropriate villainy.

    Zombies!: Dead Heat (1988, dir. Mark Goldblatt)

    An evil corporation has found a way to bring dead people temporarily back to life. A cop investigating them gets killed and resurrected, so now the clock is ticking: can he find out who's behind it all before his body rots?

    Is it in bad taste only two days after Treat Williams' tragic, untimely death to watch a movie where his character is killed and brought back to life as a zombie?

    The plot is appropriately silly, combining cop movie clichés with sci-fi. Williams is great in the lead, Joe Piscopo is insufferable as his jokey partner. Vincent Price and Robert Picardo appear in small roles, which is always welcome.

  11. Jason X (2001?)

    First time viewing. Even after seeing it, I have a hard time believing this is a real movie. It's Jason Voorhees from Camp Crystal Lake, except that it's 455 years in the future and he's on a spaceship. Who gave this the green light? Did movie studios just have money to burn around the time of production? To quote one of the characters: "This sucks on so many levels." I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it. Oh, I enjoyed it tremendously. It's a lot of fun, but it is objectively terrible. Both of these things can be true.

  12. Maverick(1994 Dir. Richard Donner)

    Spoilers but maybe one of the best heist movies ever.

    1. shut up...really???? oh i gotta see it!!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Some may not classify it as such but I think its all about the final reveal that really sells it and pushes it into the heist film territory. But at the very least you'll get to watch a funny western adventure with Gibson, Foster and Garner giving some of their most charismatic performances of their careers.

  13. King Frat (1979)

    So i went with Animal-House-rip-off-sploitation for this wildcard. And truth be told...i only made it about 35m in. I just couldnt get thru it. Which is a shame because i should be all in for it. oh well. That being said, if you are shopping around this particular made up sploitation category, do seek out Up The Creek if you've never seen it!!! it was hard to find forever on dvd/streaming. It brings us not one but TWO actors from Animal House in a very funny R rated 80s comedy. Honestly the ENTIRE movie is worth watching for one scene where a dog does charades.

    1. This was played for a sex comedy night at drive-in a few years ago. Unlike you, I could not get away from it. King Frat is a completely obnoxious movie.

    2. ha! thats awesome..i do have to give it a total watch.

  14. Raul Julia's STREET FIGHTER (1994, d. Stephen E. de Souza)
    First-time watch on Universal BluRay, 7/10.
    I'm not sure why 15-yr old me didn't see this, because I definitely saw MORTAL KOMBAT the next year. I think I wasn't convinced that JCVD was more than head bumps, meaty thighs & accented attitude. I fell in love with Ming-Na & mourned for Raul. This film was reminding me of something else, but I couldn't figure what. I think it's STARSHIP TROOPERS. Partly due to the aesthetic, but maybe also the semi-satirical approach to the material. I think this represents a great blend of fan-service & trying to craft a story out of a non-story property. More than anything, I am left contemplating Raul Julia's apparent 6'2" height. At a thoroughly average 5'10", I can't imagine his presence "towering" over me.

  15. Godzilla (1954)

    This left me feeling very sad...which I was not expecting. Obsessed with the miniatures and the man in a suit monster.

    1. The first Godzilla is such a different experience than the films that followed. With World War II less than a decade in the past, it would have been hard to make a film about the destruction of Tokyo without evoking the horrors of the war. (Look into the firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945 for how terrible the attacks on Japan were.)

    2. I really need to see this. This Godzilla filmography is so big that it's daunting to explore it, but I should watch that first one. I've seen (and loved) Shin Godzilla, but only have seen bits and pieces of some other ones (mostly just clips of the ending fight scenes).

    3. Yes! Until now I've only seen the modern films, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Definitely wasn't expecting to feel so emotional.

    4. The mom telling her kid they're about to die is a traumatizing scene. I've literally had nightmares where I'm with them as Godzilla is about to stump us out of existence. :-(

  16. RUNNING OUT OF TIME (1999, d. Johnnie To)
    First-time watch on Arrow BluRay, 8/10.
    Given four weeks to live,
    Andy Lau.
    Great cat & mouse manipulation game with hostage negotiator Lau Ching-Wan (EXECUTIONERS, FULL ALERT) eager to do anything besides the garbage work his idiot chief gives him. Revenge, jewels, hidden cameras, fake guns, possible bombs, maybe a heist & a strong sense of humor to leverage against Lau's illness.

  17. One more for the late-night crowd:

    I assumed this would be another AMERICAN PIE/CAN'T HARDLY WAIT, but what I got instead was something much more clever and subversive. And wickedly funny! Every cast member is someone you recognize, but Kirsten Dunst is especially good. She's able to break through the movie's cynicism and give her character some real heart. I want to watch this again right away to catch all the stuff I missed the first time.

  18. Mayhem (2017)

    It's got a promising, Junesploitation-perfect premise and several performers I like in other things, but I thought this movie was pretty bad. The best I can say about it is that it's not dull, and had enough action to keep me watching even after I knew I wasn't vibing with it.

  19. Masters of the Universe (1987, dir. Gary Goddard). I had never seen this, but when I saw that the podcast was discussing this, it was a no brainer. This was pretty good. It suffered from so much time spent in the real instead of fantasy world. But I was delighted to see a young Robert Duncan McNeill (from Star Trek Voyager) in it in a major part. I didn't even recognise Courteney Cox with the light coloured hair until I saw her in the cast list. I wish Dolph Lundgren had been better, but I forgot all that when as the movie ended it showed him lifting a sword and saying "I have the power!" I would have loved this as a kid.

    1. I never watched He-Man as a kid, because my parents thought it might be Satanic. Which made it all the more intriguing. Finally, the show wasn't terribly good.

  20. BLUE HAWAII (1961)
    dir. Norman Taurog
    Elvis Presley

    KIMI (2022)
    dir. Steven Soderberg

    Zoe Kravitz is excellent in the pandemic aftermath thriller. Super satisfying. I love that way she waves her hands after using hand sanitizer.

    dir. Ol Parker

    How is anyone supposed to care about either of these two a-holes. I wonder if they’re going to end up back together by the end? I’m cringing. Cary Grant and Grace Kelley they are not. That was terrible.

  21. Blind Rage - 1976, dir. Efren Piñon

    What can one say about a movie that could be described as “Ocean’s 11 but they’re all blind”? For starters, it should at least be more entertaining. Secondly, the movie thinks it’s being clever by getting away with something extra looney, but in reality it’s not any more exploitative than the usual women in prison or blaxploitation flick.

    The formula, which has been proven over and over again to work perfectly - establish the stakes, walkthrough the steps, identify complications, and then execute the plan only for unforeseen complications to throw everything off - is played out fine for the most part. However, there’s a really nasty and kinda racist sexual assault that occurs during the “training phase” and just gets completely ignored, which deflates the whole thing to the point of no return. It also seems like they weren’t able to film an ending, so they stole scenes from a Fred Williamson movie that got canned to finish up. For completists (of what?, idk) only.

  22. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)
    My late brother-in-law's favorite movie, so I watched it on his birthday, the 14th. I'd seen it once before maybe back in 2008 and remembered very little about it, so this was like watching it for the first time. Excellent movie, though the score felt grating at times. Which I suppose was probably the point.