Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 20: Free Space!



    Seen it twice, the second time just to ignore the narrative and concentrate on backgrounds (colors melting and 'crying' in Gwen Stacy's dimension when she and her dad have a heart-to-heart is... amazing!) and/or catch Easter eggs (LEGO Daily Bugle). Holy crap, 'superhero fatigue' is real but NOT when exposed to this and "No Way Home" doing the Spidey characters/emotions justice. So good at utilizing animation to tell its multi-dimension story it makes me dread the prospect of a downgraded live-action Miles Morales version. 4.75 UNDERESTIMATED VILLAINS OF THE WEEK (out of 5).

    Andy Muschietti's THE FLASH (2023, IMAX): Saw this just after my second rewatch of "Across the Spider-Verse," which didn't do "The Flash" any favors. The opening minutes when Barry Allen cleans-up Batman's Gotham City mess (falling babies/dogs/nurses) feels like Muschietti auditioning to direct his own 'Batman' movie under James Gunn's new DC regime. Allen's adventure proper is relatable as superhero-centric "Back To The Future"-on-steroids dramatic fanfic, made interesting because Ezra Miller gives one hell of a dual performance. Unlike Miles Morales' newest adventure though, "Flash" recycles everything it does from superior cinematic inspiration (the aforementioned "BTTF") to literally spin its wheels and end up doing nothing we haven't already seen many times before. Not bad, just not the second coming of superhero flicks it was advertised as. R.I.P. DC Snyder-Verse, you're the worst! 3.25 LIGHTNING-INSULATED BAT KITES (out of 5).

    Peter Sohn's PIXAR'S ELEMENTAL 3D (2023, THEATER): The first 15 minutes I was sure I was going to hate this clever-allegory-for-immigration-and-people's-cultural-differences CG world of haves (water) and have-nots (fire). None of the characters were likable or relatable (city bureaucracy as a narrative tool?), and gorgeous special effects (CG transparency, liquid and fire animation pushed to new heights) can only go so far. But gradually the clever little jokes and smart way Ember (Leah Lewis) and Wade Ripple (Mamoudou Athie) flirt and get to know each other won me over. "Elemental" is basically "Inside Out 2.0," and not being as good as the latter's perfection is just Pixar reaching for the stars and only scratching the clouds (which is still pretty high). 3.85 FLOODED CENTRAL POND UNDERWATER FLOWER SHOWS (out of 5).

    more Stephen King misery porn of the neutered, sanitized-for-'PG-13' variety as the Harper family (psychiatrist dad with two young daughters) deal with the aftermath of the matriarch's recent passing. While technically well-made (subtle-until-the-end CG imagery) and well-acted ("Yellowjacket's" Sophie Thatcher and lil' Vivien Lyra Blair are likable, innocent victims that fight back) there's a going-through-the-motions feeling that hangs over the film from predictable start to underwhelming finish. Not the worst King adaptation but far from the best. 2.75 CANS OF CHEKHOV'S PAINT THINNER (out of 5).

    An early Jack Nicholson leading man role in which he plays the racecar-driving leader of a gang of beatniks who disrespect their elders, play chicken with traffic, drink on the beaches and speak their own lingo. Make sure to turn on the subtitles to read some of the amazing dialogue the no-name cast spews that Nicholson's delivery turns into 'PG' sanitized 'F.U.' insults for squares. It's all fun and games until a motorcycle cop dies pursuing Jack, and things gradually escalate into a 'scared straight'-worthy denouement. Looks/sounds rough (B&W, scratchy sound) but worth seeing just for young Nicholson being super jealous that best pal Dave (Robert Bean) has a girlfriend he pays more attention to than Jack. Hey, it's still Pride Month. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 3 EASILY FOOLED RACETRACK ENTRANCE DOORMEN (out of 5).

  2. Big Bad Mama (1974, dir. Steve Carver)

    In depression-era Texas, Wilma (Angie Dickinson) and her two teenaged daughters (Susan Sennett and Switchblade Sisters' Robbie Lee) go on a crime spree with federal agents (Dick Miller and some other dude) on their tail. They bootleg, rob, con, gamble and kidnap their way through the state, and team up with (and bed) a bank robber (Tom Skerritt) and a conman (William Shatner) in the process.

    Dickinson is pretty captivating as the lead, but her daughters are weirdly savvy one minute and ditzy idiots the next (it's a little gross when it's the latter and they get naked, which happens quite a lot). Skerritt, Shatner and Miller are reliable in their supporting roles. The story can barely be called that, it's just one caper after the other with little time to catch your breath, but you definitely won't get bored. A lot of jaunty banjo, fiddle and mouth harp on the soundtrack.

    Rumpelstiltskin (1995, dir. Mark Jones)

    After his previous movie, Mark Jones went a different way and made a horror comedy about a tiny evil folklore creature.

    Rumpelstiltskin is Leprechaun except bad, and with an extended tanker truck chase and an asshole 90's stand-up comedian (I guess I could've just said 90's stand-up comedian, the asshole is implied).

    It's weird to see Max Grodénchik (a.k.a. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's lovable Rom) play a monster.

    Well, at least now I can finally listen to the FTM commentary from last Scary Movie Month.

    1. The Intruder (1962, dir. Roger Corman)

      An enigmatic, eloquent stranger (William Shatner) arrives in a small Southern town just as racial segregation in schools is ending, and incites the racist townspeople into protests that quickly escalate into violence (which they don't need that much inciting into).

      Shatner in one of his earliest movie roles (a few years before he became Captain Kirk) gives a fiery performance as a despicable man, equal parts affable and menacing. His speech touting conspiracy theories about Jews and communists is pretty chilling (and not a million miles from the drivel you can read on Twitter today...).

      Corman isn't exactly subtle with his anti-racism message, but maybe bluntness was what was needed in the 60's. Maybe the same goes for today.

      M3GAN (2022, dir. Gerard Johnstone)

      Nine-year-old Cady tests a prototype android doll designed to be a child's best friend. So obviously the android malfunctions and turns into violent.

      "AI gone bad" isn't exactly a new concept, but M3GAN has fun with the idea, the design of the doll is effectively creepy, the finale is pretty great in its silliness, and the soundtrack contains some good bops. I had a lot of fun with this.

      (I watched the "Uncut Version", no idea how much difference there is to the theatrical.)

    2. I asked about M3GAN a while ago. Apparently the differences are minimal. Maybe a couple of quick cgi-blood shots

  3. Private Parts - 1972, dir. Paul Bartel

    Paul Bartel, actor, is someone I’ve always been fairly familiar with. The “that guy” character actor from ‘Piranha’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’, ‘Munchies’, ‘Eacape from L.A.’, etc. But I feel like I’m really starting to dig Paul Bartel, director, and it’s weird how present his work has been in my life up to now, when I’m finally starting to really dig in. ‘Death Race 2000’ is a movie my mom showed me when I was way too young, I later watched ‘Eating Raoul’ in high school as a ‘Night of the Comet’ tangent, and I had a rad as fuck poster for ‘Cannonball’ hanging in my college house. I’ve known about his debut feature ‘Private Parts’ for years and have just never sat down with it until now. I’m happy to say, I kinda loved this weirdo little black comedy thriller.

    Ayn Ruymen plays Cheryl (but everyone calls her “Chairryl” for some reason), a naive and weird teen runaway who seeks shelter in her distant aunt’s (Lucille Benson) downtown L.A. flophouse after bailing on her shitty roommate. Of course, the hotel is full of other weirdos, drunks, and misfits and there’s definitely something even more malevolent going on under the surface. Like all of Bartel’s movies, the plot takes a ton of hard twists, turns, and tonal shifts that you have to stick with because he damn sure knows how to pay them off. I also love the dirty, sleazy, unvarnished 70s L.A. that feels like a perfect pairing with ‘Basket Case’s trash-covered danger New York.

    The ending is very De Palma-esque and despite seeing it coming from a mile away, it’s nonetheless shocking and effective when it hits. The subject matter of the twist also seems handled relatively well considering the age, and despite falling into the trope of tokenism, it avoids the other side of the trope by creating genuine empathy for the character in question. I’m very curious to hear more thoughts about the ending but don’t want to necessarily spoil it here. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re into 70s L.A. sleaze and want to see faces you’re not familiar with.

    1. Private Parts was one of my favorite Junesploitation watches from a few years ago. I do not remember the ending enough to comment on it, but I did love the sleazy vibe of the film. That is not a hotel that would be pleasant to stay in, let alone illicitly explore.

    2. I have this on my list to watch this year! I wasn't sure which day it fit though, so maybe just a free day. On the other hand, there's lots of competition for those free days.

  4. Fear is the Key (1972, dir. Michael Tuchner)

    Barry Newman stars in a thriller with John Vernon as the villain (because it was the '70s) and Ben Kingsley in his first role as his henchman. I really don't want to say anything more because I had no idea where this movie was going from minute-one and the journey through all the audacious twists and turns was consistently mind-blowing. This is the best movie I've watched all month by far and I recommend everyone add it to their list and watch it knowing nothing. Even the one sentence description on IMDB spoils too much. HIGHLY recommended.

  5. Hard to Kill (1990)

    First time viewing. I always think I can't stand Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme movies (I've seen very few of them), but then, I watch one for Junesploitation and I just have the absolute best time! "I'm going to take you to the bank, Senator Trent. To the blood bank." I literally applauded that line and rewound it to make sure he actually said it. I need to watch more of these movies!

    1. Hard to Kill is my favorite Seagal, even over Under Siege (see what I did there?). You're right--the blood bank line is absolutely a pause/rewind all-timer!

  6. The Ark of the Sun God (1984)

    Also known as Sopravvissuti della città morta (Survivors of the Dead City), this was directed by Antonio Margheriti and written by Giovanni Paolucci (who worked with Bruno Mattei* on his late career movies like The Tomb and Island of the Living Dead) and Giovanni Simonelli (Hansel e Gretel, Jungle Raiders).

    Instead of Indiana Jones, we get Rick Spear (David Warbeck), a safecracker who travels to Istanbul to steal the spear of Gilgamesh from a cult. He brings along his girlfriend Carol, who he calls “Pussycat,” (Susie Sudlow in her only movie) and his buddies Mohammed (Ricardo Palacios) and Bettle (Luciano Pigozzi) to accomplish the impossible — breaking into the tomb and getting away in one piece — for the man who hired him, Lord Dean (John Steiner).

    The miniatures are the real stars of this movie, as Margheriti somehow gets you to believe that Rick is driving a Trans Am around these ancient structures and that he’s not just shooting toy cars on miniature sets.

    Rick also says, “Why didn’t you tell me this job called for Roger Moore!” at one point, which is funny, as at one point Warbeck was considered to play James Bond.

    Nearly everyone in front of and behind the camera — Margheriti, Warbeck, Steiner, Pigozzi, cinematographer Sandro Mancori, editor Alberto Moriani, assistant director Edoardo Margheriti and voice/dubbing editor Nick Alexander — had already made another Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, 1982s The Hunters of the Golden Cobra. As far as I’m concerned, they could have just kept making them because I’d watch them all.

    That set at the end, with all the red light and shaking camera and dry ice? That’s why I keep coming back to Italian movies.

    *Speaking of Bruno Mattei, he totally stole scenes from this movie and used them in his 1988 Namsploitation movie Cop Game.

  7. PATHAAN (2023)
    A rogue secret agent fights to stop villains from unleashing a deadly virus. Turns out this is the fourth film in the "Spy Universe" franchise, so I'm missing a lot of context. But it's not deep. There's a little FAST AND THE FURIOUS, a little MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, a little Marvel, a little Daniel Craig Bond -- a little bit of everything. The action is appropriately over-the-top, and lead actor Shah Rukh Khan owns the screen with big movie star energy. Overly long, but still fun. It'll help you pass the time until DEAD RECKONING comes out.

    This movie is famous for Robert DeNiro leading a cast of all-stars totally slumming it, but the problems go a lot deeper. It's all Hollywood insider jokes with the moose and squirrel on a road trip to stop a movie being made, like they're freakin' Jay and Silent Bob. There's no consistency to whether R&B are former TV stars or if all their old adventures actually happened. Worst of all is the narrator, who won't... stop... talking. The movie fills any spare second of down time with narrator jokes. It's a descent into the heart of obnoxiousness.

    SEVENTH SON (2004)
    Evil witches are on the loose, and only the seventh son of a seventh son has the magic power stop them. If you've ever seen a fantasy movie, you've seen this. Jeff Bridges is the center of attention, even more growly and mumble-y than usual as the kid's mentor. Ben Barns is a block of wood as our hero, while Alicia Vikander, Olivia Williams, and Djimon Hounsou are given nothing to do. The only bright spot is Julianne Moore totally vamping it up as the villain. The studio was no doubt hoping for the next Hogwarts or Hunger Games, but this is just too generic.

    1. D'oh! SEVENTH SON was 2014, not 2004. It just feels that long ago.

    dir. Andy Sidaris

    Sequel to MALIBU EXPRESS.

    A contaminated snake!
    A bad guy in an ascot!
    A proto-drone RC helicopter!
    A bazooka blown up blow up doll!
    Razor bladed frisbee!
    Skateboard handstands!
    Malibu Express movie poster as set decor!
    Casual racism. :(
    Throwing stars, nunchucks AND boobies!

    “Drug enforcement agents can’t afford to get soft.”

    “I’m supposed to be soft, I’m a woman.”

  9. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

    The Muppets try to make it big on Broadway, but New York musical scene turns out to be a tough market to crack, so the gang splits up, leaving only Kermit to carry the dream forward. There are great bits involving the restaurant rats (years before Ratatouille!) and the debut of Muppet Babies is an incredibly cute moment. On the other hand, I kinda missed all the fourth wall breaking, which is all but gone from this installment in favor of a more earnest tone and some serious rom-com energy between Kermit and Piggy.

  10. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) 90s Comedy!

    Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger are absolutely charming in every single scene they're in. Every other character is completely below contempt. Having not seen this is maybe 20 years, I was completely caught off-guard by how dated so much of this movie was, including Larry Miller's cringey hip-talk and the excessive Ska music. Still, pretty good.

  11. MONEY TRAIN (1995, d. Joseph Ruben)
    Rewatch on Image BluRay, still 7/10.
    I haven't watched this one since its theatrical run. High school me enjoyed it but didn't find it amazing. Nothing has changed except for my semi-reappraisal or reapproval of 20th century action flicks. MONEY TRAIN is a solid picture, if not amazing. Robert Blake is a fabulously reptilian non-villain & Chris Cooper is great as the B-story.

  12. A KNIGHTʻS TALE (2001)
    I forgot how cute this movie is. I wasnʻt on the Heath Ledger train *as much* as everyone else back then, but thatʻs too bad, because he was really charming.

  13. The Junesploitation marathon moves along.

    RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN (1979, dir. King Hu)

    I wanted something beautiful to look at, and King Hu’s films always deliver on visual beauty. The Buddhist temples and landscape of South Korea are the backdrop of this morality tale, but it is a morality tale with some martial arts involved. Several factions compete to steal an ancient scroll from the temple while a new abbot is being chosen to lead the temple. The fate of the scroll is, of course, part of the power play to become the new abbot. Raining in the Mountain is more of a meditation than an action film. With most of the fight scenes confined to the conclusion, the enjoyment of the film largely rests on the journey it takes you on. The two-hour length also makes this one of the shorter films King Hu made later in his career.

    FULLTIME KILLER (2001, dir. Johnny To)

    Another watch from my Netflix queue. Two hitmen, one from Hong Kong (Andy Lau) and one from Japan, battle to determine who the greatest hitman in Asia is. An Interpol agent tracks both of them. That is the extent of any plot that I could understand. (Maybe I am just getting a little tired.) There are at least some extremely exciting set-pieces to hold your attention while wondering what is happening. The action is the reason to watch Fulltime Killer. Andy Lau standing inches from a passing train is one of the craziest stunts I have seen outside of a Jackie Chan movie.

  14. I like to watch mostly new-to-me stuff for Junesploitation and SMM, but sometimes it's nice to go with stuff you already love.

    Started with Arachnaphobia (1990), which I hadn't seen in 20ish years, and it still rips. Perfect blend of funny and scary.

    Followed up with Road House (1989), which I just flippin' love. The movie is 70% fights and 30% Swayze just being cool as hell, all backed by a killer blues soundtrack (with a monster truck thrown in for fun). Road House is pure, distilled Junesploitation perfection.

  15. I decided to watch The Green Knight (2021), even though it has rather luke-warm reviews.

    The movie made for a very fun environment to "live in" for a couple of hours, full of trippy weirdness and magic, talking foxes and giant naked women. Also apparently jizzing on a rag gawains mother sewed for him.

    It was very strange at times. But in the end quite enjoyable.

    1. Seen it twice (first in a packed theater on opening night) and I just don't get it. Not for me, but glad the filmmakers got their vision across and Dev Patel got to play a leading man role unlike any he's ever had before (or likely to play again).

    2. I really liked it. It almost lost me at the beginning, but once he set out on his journey I was hooked. I didn't really know what to make of it all, but that didn't lessen my enjoyment.