Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Junesploitation 2023 Day 6: Free Space!



    SISU (2023, theater) for the first time.

    Somebody (Finnish writer/director Jalmari Helander?) hacked into Quentin Tarantino's brain and extracted the man's (and ours?) wettest exploitation cinema dream: a bloody World War II 'gold fever' adventure pitting former-soldier-turned-gold-prospector old man Aatami (Jorma Tommila, aka Finland's Stephen Lang) versus Nazi scum... plus some young POW women with a (justified) chip on their shoulders. If you can get past the not-insignificant obstacle that the movie CHEATS LIKE CRAZY to keep our "hero" alive after beatings/gunshots/hangings that should have killed him ten times over this feels like "Grindhouse 2.0: The Next Generation." 4 MALFUNCTIONING PARACHUTES (out of 5).

    THE MACHINE (2023, theater) for the first time.

    Comedian Bert Kreischer (and Jimmy Tatro as young Bert in the endless 20-years-prior flashbacks) stars in this violent, goofy cinematic interpretation of his stand-up comedy routine about being down with the Russian mob in his college years. Mark Hamill tags along as Bert's father doing annoyed old man shtick because... old Luke Skywalker needs work talking dirty to young Russian women? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Since I've never heard or seen anything about this guy before I can only assume the stand-up to be funnier than this Dollar Store "John Wick"-meets-"Nobody" wannabe. Though occasionally amusing (visiting Igor's refugee camp, Irina cutting loose from father's ties, etc.) this "Machine" needs an entertainment upgrade. 2 TOPPLING GIANT LENIN STATUES INSIDE ST. PETERSBURGH CASINOS (out of 5).

    THE ROUND-UP: NO WAY OUT (2023, theaters) for the first time.

    A blockbuster in its native South Korea, this third entry in Don Lee, aka Ma Seok-Do's quadrilogy (a 4th entry is teased in this sequel's end credits) feels like a step down from last year's remarkably tense and excellent sophomore effort. Rather than a singular villain our Bud Spencer-like 'army of one' superhero cop must deal with katana-wielding Yakuza assassins, corrupt Korean police officers and Korean/Japanese gangsters trying to sell deadly narcotics in Seoul night clubs. Violence has been pared back to the international equivalent of a 'PG-13' rating, which is fine because Ma prefers to let his fists do the talking. Wish Ma's fellow cops did some of the heavy lifting rather than sit back and let our hero do ALL the heavy lifting, but in the end "No Way Out" delivers what it sets out to do: old-fashioned, fists-a-plenty entertainment. 3.39 GUCCI HANDBAGS INSIDE FLOODED CARS WORTH '3' (out of 5). :-P

  2. Girl in the Basement (2021)

    Everyone will remember the 2015 Brie Larson film Room, about the woman and her son held in captivity by their rapist/father. Despite being an excellent film, it's the very opposite of a rewatchable as it's an emotional wallop - my mother and I just held each other and cried as the credits rolled when we saw it together.

    That film, a deserved awards darling, was probably all that the world needed when it came to films based on the life of Elisabeth Fritzl, the woman held in captivity by her father (and the father of her seven children) for over 24 years. However, the Lifetime Network, never known for subtlety and/or principles, slapped together an original film under their "Ripped from the Headlines" banner to put the story on the small screen. It's a cable movie mess and would probably be a lot more emotionally damaging if it was any good. It's community theater, it's trash. But I like community theater and if you're reading this, you like trash.

  3. A grab bag of movies from my Netflix queue because my subscription runs out in a few days:

    They Came from Beyond Space (1967, dir. Freddie Francis)

    Several meteors fall to Earth in the English countryside, and the scientists sent to investigate are possessed by alien minds who traveled here aboard the meteors. So it's left to the one scientist who's somehow immune to the mind control to figure out what the aliens are doing here and why.

    The movie was directed by Freddie Francis, who made a lot of British horror and sci-fi in the 60's and 70's, and populated by familiar faces from Francis movies, especially the several horror anthologies he made for Amicus Productions (who also made this) that I have a soft spot for.

    These old British sci-fis are soothing. The slow pace, the theatrical acting, the retro-futuristic sci-fi designs, the repetitive jazz score, and the hamfisted moral lesson in the end form a warm blanket.

    Night of the Eagle a.k.a. Burn, Witch, Burn (1962, dir. Sidney Hayers)

    A succesful psychology professor, lecturing for rationality and against belief in anything supernatural, finds out his wife has been using magic behind his back to protect them and boost his career. He of course deems it all nonsense and makes her give it up, but now that the protections are down, things suddenly start going very wrong...

    An effectively moody little horror/thriller, about 80% of its effectiveness thanks to the beautiful black and white cinematography.

    Lucy (2014, dir. Luc Besson)

    An American woman studying in Taiwan is forced to become a drug mule, carrying a new synthetic designer drug inside her body. When the bag ruptures and the drug enters her bloodstream, she starts developing increasingly ridiculous superpowers.

    The movie starts as a thriller, but then quickly turns into a bonkers sci-fi movie. The further along it gets and the more her mental and physical powers increase, the more I just cackle at its stupidity. The ending is truly something to behold.

    Scarlett Johansson is pretty fun as the lead and Morgan Freeman shows up as a professor spouting utter nonsense about humans only using 10% of their brain capacity. Freeman's amazing, a lesser actor couldn't have kept a straight face through that. Besson directs it like a maniac with ADHD, which adds a lot to the entertainment value.

    1. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie a.k.a. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue a.k.a. Don't Open the Window (1974, dir. Jorge Grau)

      I don't have the energy to write a plot synopsis. It's a zombie movie, and not exactly an original one.

      A couple of pretty fun gore effects and the eerie sound design are the highlights, the acting not so much.

      I'm no expert, but all the different regional British accents on display here feel very exaggerated, like they're from a sketch show or something.

  4. HARD TARGET (1993)
    dir. John Woo

    His hair.
    Her Z/28.
    Biting off the rattle.
    The bike jump.
    Brimley’s Cajun accent.
    Slo-Mo doves.
    Hendricks on fire.

    What was I doing in the 90s that I missed so many awesome movies?

    1. Keep going with the Woo. I watched Face/Off for my 90s Action flick, and it was hilarious (and also included slo-mo doves).

  5. THE RUNDOWN (2003)
    Dwayne Johnson plays a bounty hunter who takes one last job, to go to South America and retrieve a millionaire's wayward son. Of course he runs into all kinds of trouble once he gets there. This started out as a promising old-school action throwback, but once the Rock gets teamed up with Seann William Scott, it's every bit the hackneyed buddy-comedy banter we had with Johnson/Reynolds in RED NOTICE. There are no characters in this, just character types. The fights and chases are nicely shot, but overall this felt hollow to me.

    Very adult "girls" are locked up as delinquents, fighting each other for a while before taking on a corrupt warden. This is the highest of high camp, and I daresay the filmmakers and cast are in on the joke. The movie takes all the super-gross tropes of the prison genre and cranks them up to the max, all in neon-and-fog '80s style. It reminded me of 1985's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, and I mean that as a compliment.

    MAD GOD (2022)
    Holy #@&%! Why wasn't this in theaters????

    1. Mad God had a limited run at one of the local art-houses in Portland. Amazing on the big screen!

  6. Io Zombo, Tu Zombi, Lei Zomba (1979)

    The power of Zombi — or as we call it in the U.S. Dawn of the Dead — in Italy is unquestioned. Not only did Lucio Fulci take it further, grosser and harder with Zombi 2, it led to an entire industry of films that were inspired by it, fueled by both the past mondo and cannibal films inside their DNA.

    Becchino (Renzo Montagnani, Joe D’Amato’s Il Ginecologo Della Mutua, Maluc in When Women Had Tails and When Women Lost Their Tails) is working in a graveyard when he finds a book of voodoo, which seems to place this as much in the realm of Evil Dead — or as they call it in Italy, La Casa except it’s a few years early — as it does the works of Romero, which always beat around the bush as to what caused the outbreak.

    The spell he reads brings back an entire group of the dead back from the brink, including Ciclista (Cochi Ponzoni), Buonanima (Gianfranco D’Angelo) and Mercante (Duilio Del Prete). They soon kill Becchino and bring him back as one of them. All head off to a hotel where they drink and sing old songs like “The Captain’s Testament” while luring people into their hotel and, well, eating them.

    We never see any of that, by the way. The budget probably didn’t allow for it. It’s probably for the best, as nearly every scheme never pays off, like a traveling salesman that is missing most of his internal organs because of various illnesses or when they accidentally bring back a woman’s first wife — with the help of her son, no less, what is this, Burial Ground? — and she dies of a heart attack.

    She being Nadia Cassini (the Woodstock, NY born actress that somehow came to Italy and ended up being in a lot of movies only I would care about, such as When Men Carried Clubs and Women Played Ding-Dong — yes, Italian sex comedies were fixated on cavemen for some reason — as well as Starcrash, one of the Schoolteacher movies once Edwige Fenech quit making them, Sergio Martino’s Spogliamoci così, senza pudor (Sex With a Smile 2) and, strange enough, two 2Pac videos, “California Love” and “How Do u Want It”), who the zombies bring back to life to have some of the pleasures of the slowly turning green flesh, at which point she does one of the wildest bump and grinds you’ve ever seen as she can barely stand up and do a zombie shuffle at the same time. It’s honestly worth watching this entire movie just for this scene.

    At this point, the army — alerted by the boy who tried to bring Cassini’s first husband back to life — attacks the hotel, forcing the dead to head off to what is supposed to be a shopping mall but really looks like a grocery store.

    If you’re keeping a list of zombie movies with grocery store scenes, you can always start with this, Messiah of Evil and Pathogen.

    Anyways, it all ends as a dream, with the gravedigger still digging that same grave.

    Once you watch Nello Rossati’s other films, like the absolutely deranged Top Line, this all makes a lot more sense. The script comes from one of that movie’s writers, Roberto Gianviti (who also wrote Murder Rock, The Psychic, Five Women for the Killer, The Sensuous Nurse, A Lizard In a Woman’s Skin and so many more), Paolo Vidali (the second AD on The Sister of Ursula and the writer of Don’t Touch the Children! and A Woman In the Night) and Rossati, who I always forget was the man who directed and wrote Django Strikes Again. How did a guy who mainly made sex comedies get two movies out of Franco Nero?

    This is a curiousity but there are no subtitles and if you’ve never watched commedia sexy all’italiana, the chances that you will hate every moment are quite high. Then again, I say take a chance. You never know what movies may work for your taste.

    1. Where can I find this "masterpiece"? YouTube? :-)

  7. Stone Cold (1991, dir. Craig R. Baxley)

    Pure entertainment from start to finish. Brian Bosworth aka "The Boz" goes undercover to investigate a biker gang and in the end murders all of them. The always awesome Lance Henrikson steals the show as "Chains" the evil leader of the gang. I can appreciate any movie with this level of wanton gratuitous violence. My favorite part is when The Boz jumps out of a helicopter and falls multiple stories through a roof landing on a marble floor and is totally good to go. This is my jam.

  8. This year I'm using my free space days to catch up on the Muppets franchise, which is one big blind spot for me. And I start, like you should, at the beginning.

    The Muppet Movie (1979)

    Well, that was just delightful. The Muppets' cinematic "origin story" is a road movie that takes us from Kermit's humble swamp all the way to the land of Hollywood. On the way there the gang gradually expands and engages in all sorts of hijinks, featuring a ton of big name cameos (Richard Pryor, Orson Welles, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, the list goes on). There's plenty of fourth-wall-breaking jokes (members of Electric Mayhem catch up on the plot so far by looking through the script) and a host of cute songs penned by Paul "The Swan" Williams ("Rainbow Connection" has been stuck in my head all day).

  9. Golden Needles - 1974, dir. Robert Clouse

    Is it really Junesploitation without at least one Joe Don Baker movie? An ancient golden statue is being sought by competing interests - Elizabeth Ashley, Burgess Meredith, Roy Chao, Jim Kelly, Alice Fong - and it’s up to ol’ Joe Don to get his big mitts on it first. Why does everyone want said statue? Because it reveals the 7 acupuncture points that give a man youth, strength, and a rock hard dick. Duh.

    The movie perfectly sets up the premise as we see a frail old man receive the acupuncture treatment and miraculously leave invigorated just before the whole joint is torched by flamethrower goons. The flick unfortunately takes a long time to wind up from there but it’s enjoyable enough thanks to the eclectic cast and unvarnished Hong Kong and L.A. locales. The whole plot boils down to a big MacGuffin chase that adds layers of complication with each new cast member introduced, ultimately culminating in a street chase that’s truly raucous.

    Joe Don is fun as the “aw, shiiiit” American lunkhead who stumbles from mahjong den to tavern in search of rare antiquities to sell to wealthy enthusiasts. This film came out hot on the heels of ‘Walking Tall’, ‘Charley Varrick’, and ‘The Outfit’ and would be followed by ‘Framed’ and ‘Mitchell’ the year after, so they absolutely make sure to feature a scene where Baker takes a 2x4 to a car windshield while wearing denim. The rest of the cast is serviceable with the exception of Alice Fong (super charming but this film is unfortunately her sole acting credit) and Burgess Meredith giving a truly unhinged villain performance in his two scenes.

    Like Baker, director Robert Clouse is also following up his splash hit from the previous year (something called… ‘Enter the Dragon’) with the double kick of ‘Needles’ and ‘Black Belt Jones’. Looking at Clouse’s career as a whole, he has done some truly nutso work that you could program a good chunk of the month with - ‘The Ultimate Warrior’, ‘Battle Creek Brawl’, ‘Deadly Eyes’, ‘Gymkata’, ‘Ironheart’, etc. I certainly made some adjustments to my list in favor of ‘The Pack’ and ‘China O’Brien’, neither of which I’ve seen.

    Despite the pacing, this film was more than worthy of a Junesploitation watch. Especially on Free Space day as there’s lots of exploitation themes to love in one sweaty package.

  10. Dungeons & Dragons (2023) dir. John Francis Daly & Jonathon Goldstein

    Possibly the biggest surprise of the year so far. I wasn't blown away when I saw the trailers for this and wasn't expecting it to be the fun adventure caper it turned out to be.

  11. The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989)

    This has been on my watchlist for a long time and it was finally time to get it over with, now that its on Tubi.

    It was... weird, a great mix of action with Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk, who in this movie gets accused for a murder he didnt commit and who is in court alongside him ? None other than Matt Murdock, the man without fear. And of course, the man at the top of this whole crazy story, the Kingpin !

    This didnt grip as much as I thought it would. Its pretty slow and the Daredevil action isnt that good. And the ending mande no sense. Spoilers ahead.

    The kingpin gets away in some futuristic, totally out of place boat/jet/helicopter at the end, leaving this movie at a really weird ending. I dont recommend it, but its also not the worst Marvel movie.

  12. Not movies, but still on the exploitation side, but i learned recently that they restarted printing the french magazine Metal Hurlant. Almost 300 pages or articles, new stories and reprints of the old stuff. it's all in french, and they cost a lot, but it's as awesome as it ever was.

  13. Tonight’s #Junesploitation Double Feature
    Day 06 Free Space! Woronov & Bartel!

    Rock ‘n Roll High School | 1979 | Allan Arkush
    Eating Raoul | 1982 | Paul Bartel

    Before Will & Grace, Paul & Mary camped it up together on the big screen in several cult movie classics! These are two of my favorites and IMO the two that best display their onscreen s chemistry.

  14. Free space theme: The Kids Aren't Alright

    SHOCKER (Dir. Wes Craven) - Watching it on VHS to recreate my original experience seeing it as a teenager. Good example of how pan and scan could lose a lot of the film's slickness and general sense of scale. That said, nostalgia's a hell of a drug and I enjoyed channeling my experiences renting it from my Tennesssee mom and pop video store as a 14-year-old.

    VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (DIr. Wolf Rilla) Good example of a black-and-white horror film that still has the power to creep me out. Especially the prologue where people are losing consciousness and the military has to establish a barrier around the titular village. I enjoy the Carpenter version, especially the cast, but it loses a lot of its visual punch in the transition from black-and-white to color. Definitely going to follow it up with Children of the Damned if I have time...

  15. Last Action Hero (1993)

    Was devastated I had to miss 90s action day, so today I had to! Haven't seen this one in like a decade, and it's just great fun, especially if you watch a lot of action (like I do).

  16. The Truman Show(1998 Dir, Peter Weir)
    Ok its more exploited than exploitation but its the 25th anniversary of Truman so what better day to watch. Truly a great film. I called it a masterpiece on twitter and I know people throw that word around crazily now and days but after this rewatch I truly believe that this movie earns that moniker.

    1. Freaked(1993 Dir,Tom Stern and Alex Winters)
      Sticking to the exploited theme I also gave this hidden gem of a comedy a chance.

      Truly a great film. I know people throw that word around crazily now and days but after this first of many viewings, I really believe that this movie earns that moniker.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. All right. maybe it's not a masterpiece but its under 90 minutes, the make-up and practical effects are awesome, there's some truly funny jokes as all those involved gleefully to revel in the absurdity.

      I went to order the disc but I'll wait for the 4k or at least a Blu thats not $290.00

  17. DEAD PRESIDENTS (1995, d. The Hughes Bros)
    First-time watch on Hollywood Pictures DVD, 7/10.
    I was 16 when this came out & I'm not sure why I didn't see it then or since. My memory is that it was promoted as more of an urban heist movie (that might not be accurate) & while I didn't have a knowable frown for such pictures, it clearly didn't move my needle. Great was my surprise at finding out that it's a 'Nam picture more than anything!
    I don't love it, but it's a strong flick.

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  19. Shaolin Invincibles (1977)

    What makes this special is not that it's fully crazy, but that it just inserts a taste here and there. I think that can be more impactful than a movie that's just nuts from start to end.

    A family is massacred and the surviving daughter is out for revenge, with some help. Pretty straightforward... until the gorillas and tongue people show up! I could do with a couple more scenes with them, but not more than that. Otherwise, the fights are cool and there are fun sound effects and even ridiculous moves / edits.

    Probably my first wuxia!

  20. After watching Speed yesterday I needed more Hopper so I watched Blue Velvet, only the 2nd Lynch feature film I've seen after Eraserhead 10 years ago. Blue Velvet is a perverted movie for sickos! I loved it.

  21. Barbed Wire Dolls (1976)

    Junesploitation wouldn't be complete without Jess Franco and Women In Prison films, so I doubled down and crossed both categories off with this piece of sleaze. The dubbing was next level incongruent, the vaginas were plentiful, and the patented Franco use of zoom lens was on full display. Added attraction: a slow motion scene not filmed in slow motion but ACTED in slow motion!

    In conclusion, after watching this flick, I believe that if more prison wardens rocked monocles and hot pants, the American penal system could put a serious dent in the recidivism rate.

    1. It is also not Junesploitation for me without watching a Jess Franco film. I watched a couple of them today, La Maldicion de Frankenstein (1972) - the English name of it kept my reviews from getting on the site today- and Exorcism (1975).

  22. The Big T.N.T. Show (1966)

    Quickie follow up to the previous year's TAMI Show is pretty much inferior in every way. The most noticeable is the kitchen sink orchestrations of Phil Spector that make a lot of the music sound murky compared to Claus Ogerman's beautiful arrangements in the TAMI Show. Bo Diddley, The Lovin' Spoonful, Ray Charles and a breathtaking performance from Tina Turner are excellent highlights.

  23. A Jess Franco double feature

    LA MALDICION DE FRANKENSTEIN (1972, dir. Jess Franco) – A weird cinematic fever dream, perhaps the most surreal Franco film I have ever watched. The film begins with a traditional Frankenstein laboratory scene as the monster is being finished. Then a blind “bird-woman”- wearing only a cape- and her helper attack Frankenstein, killing the doctor and stealing his creation. Behind all of this is a sorcerer named Cagliostro, who has his own plans for the monster. Everything gets stranger as the film goes on. I quickly stopped worrying about things making sense and enjoyed the atmosphere and imagery. It was a memorable experience. LA MALDICION could only have been made by Franco.

    EXORCISM (1975, dir. Jess Franco) – The wicked must be punished! This is a very grimy, trashy film, and it all feels hastily put together. The plot revolves around a defrocked priest, portrayed by Franco himself, who murders the participants of what he thinks is a genuine black mass. It co-stars his wife Lina Romay, who worked with him in almost everything he made for several decades.

    1. Nice to see another Franco-phile in the Junesploitation lobby!

  24. I didn't plan a theme, but just realised my inadvertent theme was German born directors.

    Ninjas! - Pray for Death (1985, dir. Gordon Hessler)

    A Ninjas gives up his ways to move to America with his family and start a new life. When the local mafia won't leave his family alone, he's forced to put on the ninja costume again and kick butt. The big fight scene is a little slow and drawn out, but there's lots of bursts of action/violence throughout to keep this interesting, and some great martial arts fights by the kids.

    Fantasy! - The Neverending Story (1984, dir. Wolfgang Petersen). A childhood favourite by one of my favourite directors. I hadn't seen it in a decade, and the WHM podcast was covering it, so good chance for a revisit.

  25. Surf Ninjas (1993)

    The fight choreography and comedy both far exceeded my expectations. Some parts are doofy, but I had a good time. "If I get there and nobody's dressed like this, it's really going to affect my self esteem."

  26. Mr. Vargas, I'm getting emails notifications for the nice review you have been trying to post. Sorry that it's not working.

    I was happy to hear Patrick mention this movie as an underrated Coen, because I've been championing it for years! It's actually become quite a comfort movie for me, that I can turn on anytime (and often do when I don't want to undecidedly scroll my streaming queues forever). My wife's a big fan too, and we have various quotes from the movie we use in daily conversation.

    This movie has a particular level of Coen quirk that I can't place my finger on. Is it the tone? It's not shot as a comedy, and the music is always super serious, but the dialogue and characters are of course hilarious. Only they could pull off that delicate balancing act and make something so fun.