Friday, July 7, 2023

Notes on Film: The Junesploitation Hangover

by Anthony King

Plus a bonus Blu review!

As much as I love Junesploitation, by the last few days I found myself quoting Patrick and Rob when my wife asked what I was watching: “Some bullshit for Junesploitation.” Just like Scary Movie Month, by June 30th I was completely done with sleazy movies. For a little bit, anyways. Let's get into it!
The big news of Junesploitation came on our second to last day, our final free space day. My son Eben (10) wanted a movie day so I said he could pick one and I'd pick one. Eben decided it was time to check off a big title from his list so he chose Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). Every time I watch this movie I'm completely mesmerized by the genius of the filmmaking. As I've stated in the past, my favorite types of movies are the ones where the cast and crew go out and make their art with whatever minimal resources they have. Nine times out of 10, the passion of creating is on full display and can be felt while watching. Chain Saw is THE perfect example of this. I don't need to say anything more about the movie because we all know how great it is. My choice for the second feature in our double was another movie Eben's been asking to watch, and I thought this was the perfect opportunity (partly because Mom wasn't home and she's terrified of this movie). Like Chain Saw, Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is just as effective for a ten-year-old in 2023 as it was for a ten-year-old in 1992 when I first encountered it. While I count New Nightmare (1994) as my first Nightmare movie (the first I watched from start to finish), I'll never forget the first time I tried to watch the original. I got as far as Nancy falling asleep in class and seeing Tina in the body bag. Watching these two films back to back really showed me how much creative genius is on display in the horror genre. Both movies scared the living shit out of Eben yet helped germinate that horror movie seed I'd been waiting to see happen. To be able to watch classic horror movies with my son, and seeing how scary they still are through his eyes, yet not scaring him off the genre for good, is truly one of the great moments of my life as a father. I totally understand now the bond between Mike Pomaro and his daughter Mia.
I kept the Wes love going the following day and watched a 2005 double feature of Cursed and Red Eye. We'll start with the werewolves. Right off the bat I'll say I didn't love it, but the more I sit with it the more I'm starting to come around on it. It's not good. The performances are laughable. Jesse Eisenberg had his first two lead roles in '05 with this and Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale. In each he is at his Jesse Eisenbergiest. He's hyper-neurotic on a Woody Allen level that borders on autistic. Other casting choices seem... odd to say the least. I have nothing against Joshua Jackson but this seems like they were forcing JJ-as-heartthrob on the world, but clearly he's just too old at this point (even though he's only like 27 here). The whole subplot with Milo Ventimiglia turning out to be gay was so heavy handed I wanted to scream. I do appreciate (former California resident) Scott Baio as a washed-up actor that nobody wants to interview, though. Following Cursed with Red Eye was a much needed palette cleanser, because clearly the latter is the superior movie. Even though this movie is nearly 20 years old, I knew almost nothing about the plot. *SPOILERS AHEAD* The last thing I was expecting was for Cillian Murphy to be a foreign government assassin/mercenary. I also wasn't expecting a rocket launched from a boat to blow up a hotel. Nor was I expecting Brian Cox. All of these surprises were welcomed because I was literally on the edge of my seat from almost the very beginning of the movie. I am starting to realize Rachel McAdams is one of the most reliable actors working today, meaning that no matter the movie, she's going to deliver a solid performance. Nobody plays evil like Murphy and he plays one of the all-time despicable characters here. While I haven't seen every Wes (I still have eight to go), he once again proves how adept he is directing a horror/thriller.
On Sunday I watched a trio of new horrors. I started with Nicholas D. Johnson's and Will Merrick's Missing (2023), the follow-up to Aneesh Chaganty's Searching (2018), which I still haven't seen. Missing employs the gimmick of watching all the action take place via webcam or phone, which I'm not opposed to, but rarely does it ever work. I remember liking The Den (2013), and Rob Savage's Host (2020) are two examples of movies that do it well, and you can add Missing to that list. June's (Storm Reid) mother and boyfriend (Nia Long, Ken Leung) go missing while vacationing in South America. June is then left to her own devices and creativity when the U.S. Embassy and FBI offer no help. It plays like a feature length episode of Dateline sans the dulcet narration of Keith Morrison, which is to say at least three times I found myself gasping aloud followed by a shocked whisper of, “No fucking way!” or, “Get! Out!” I loved it. Next up was Roxanne Benjamin's There's Something Wrong with the Children (2023) about two couples, Ben and Margaret and Thomas and Ellie, and their two kids who are vacationing in a secluded area. During a hike, they come upon the ruins of an old structure and decide to explore where they find a giant pit that hypnotizes the children. That night the kids stay with Ben and Margaret and wander off to the ruins. Ben follows them, sees them fall into the pit, and returns to the cabins in shock only to find the kids alive and well. As the vacation progresses, the children start acting creepy, particularly towards Ben, and he has to convince the other adults something isn't right. I really like Roxanne's other feature, Body at Brighton Rock (2019), her short Final Stop (2018), and her two segments in Southbound (2015) and XX (2017), and this is just further proof she is one of the genre's great current directors. I ended the day's triple with Ted Geoghegan's Brooklyn 45, which Patrick already talked about so I won't say much. Geoghegan is three for three with this fun little bottle story. With a cast of six, there isn't a weak performance in the bunch and they all play off each other so incredibly well. Add it to your sneaky Christmas list!
Finally I'd like to end on a review of a new Blu-ray from Cleopatra Entertainment and MVD Visual. Shinji Higuchi's Shin Ultraman (2022) is the latest entry in Japan's Ultraman saga. While I have no prior experience with Ultraman, I know there are many fans, and Shin is just the movie that could get you interested in the series. The film opens with a giant stegosaurus-like kaiju terrorizing a small town before engaging with a power station. Inside a military war room filled with men in uniform lining the walls monitoring radars and computers are a group of four people in suits following the kaiju situation. This is just the latest attack by a giant creature in a country where this frequently happens. The only country, as a matter of fact. Much of the dialogue is humorous in the fact that this only seems to happen in Japan, and the United States has no interest in helping. “It must be fun to be a dominant country,” a government leader says. During the initial attack a giant humanoid creature from outer space lands and defeats the creature with lasers shot from the humanoid's hands. A second kaiju emerges later on, this one with tentacles that double as drills and a head that looks a bit like the Demogorgon. The giant humanoid returns once again, this time receiving the designation “Ultraman” by the military, and defeats the creature.
After the second battle the movie grinds to snail's pace where we spend most of the time in government offices listening to officials talk bureaucracy. Another giant humanoid appears, looking similar to Ultraman, and we're treated to one more battle. The visual effects of the creatures are near perfect. The creature designs are incredible and seamless when interposed in live action shots. The Japanese humor is quite funny, the few battles we get are exciting, and the visual effects are beautiful, but there just isn't enough of that stuff to keep me interested for its offensively long runtime of nearly two hours. That said, I'm very interested in checking out more Ultraman movies, and there doesn't seem to be a dearth from which to choose.

Bonus features
English-language bonus version for fans

Blu-ray release date: July 11, 2023
118 minutes / 2002
2.39:1 (1080p)
PCM Mono (Japanese, English)
Subtitles: English (SDH)
Region: A

1 comment:

  1. I second the sentiment about Chainsaw. I've been saying it for a while to whoever listened to me. The best movies are the ones made with limitations, mostly technological. Another perfect example is Jaws. The movie was made better because they couldn't make the shark work and had to work around it

    Shin Ultraman is great. I highly recommend Shin Godzilla, from the same creative team. as for Ultraman, you have plenty to choose from. There's old stuff with cardboard sets and there's new stuff with cool looking CGI