Sunday, July 5, 2015
Recommendations :: Should You Be Watching What I'm Watching? That Is the Question. The Answer? Eh. Maybe.
If you, like me, have about had it up to here with zombie movies, I would highly recommend The Battery (2012) that brings something fresh to a really rapidly tiring genre. What's odd about this new angle is it doesn't amp things up but slows things down considerably, focusing on the mundane-ness of life after the apocalypse as two men, former baseball players -- a pitcher and a catcher a/k/a the battery, 'natch -- traverse through this abandoned landscape, constantly on the move, no destination, exploring new venues, always finding the same nothing, and being lonely and sexually frustrated. (The scene where one of our protagonists jerks off as a female zombie mashes her boobs against a car window is both sad and hilarious.) The last third of the movie is just the two of them stuck inside a car, surrounded by zombies, where they just wait out their supplies before bowing to the inevitable, hoping for a miracle. "Maybe they'll just leave," says one. "They never 'just' leave," reminds the other. Great stuff, and highly recommended.
Burying the Ex (2015) finds director Joe Dante presenting a lop-sided love-triangle with a supernatural twist. Now, one of Dante's best traits has always been stripping the veneer off of tired old tropes -- sometimes subversively, sometimes not so subversively, and frankly, this is the kind of tired old plot that could use some stripping and shredding. Sadly, despite throwing a zombie into the mix, Dante instead focuses on poking holes in the L.A. Hipster scene, which doesn't really have a universal comical appeal to those of us in the hinterlands. The film is good, don't get me wrong, and the leads were all appealing enough, but it felt like it was missing something. And that something was the usual ferocity or manic maniacal-ness that, to me, had always elevated Dante above most of his peers. Definitely worth a look, would've made a excellent short, just check your expectations at the door.
Somewhere, Irwin Allen just burst out of his grave, smiled, held two thumbs up and said "Now that's how we used to make 'em." Sure, this flick is patently ridiculous but a shit was not given by me as I loved every hair-brained minute of this good old fashioned disaster flick. It is essentially a remake of Earthquake (1974) with catastrophic elements of The Towering Inferno (1974) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972) thrown in alongside a love-triangle and reconciliation that's straight out of the Airport franchise (1970-1979). The best thing to say about San Andreas (2015) is that, yes, it makes little sense and is all about mass destruction but at the same time it doesn't insult your intelligence the way Bay and Emmerich did and do. Those characters who should die, die, and those who shouldn't didn't and you don't want them to as a family tries to save themselves and patch things up while the world falls apart around them. (Lets hear it for METAPHORS!!!) The Rock continues to prove he is a charisma volcano and matching him scene for scene is Carla Gugino, as the soon to be ex-wife, and their daughter, Alexandra Daddario, making a nice recovery from that terrible Texas Chainsaw reboot. Also props to Paul Giamiti as the seismology expert who everyone is smart enough to listen to once things start to rock'n and a roll'n. This thing was a total blast and deserves to be seen on the big screen, folks. Hurry, before it's too late!
When a blind and bitter Vietnam vet takes up residence in a gated assisted-living community, where the elderly, well, "don't go to live", there is strong evidence that something strange and deadly is going on in Late Phases (2014), starting with a large broken claw he pries out of the wall of his new home, then his new neighbor being slaughtered as he listens on, and ending with the mauling death of his beloved seeing-eye dog as it defends him against the same attacker. Now, the film lets us know off the bat that we're dealing with a werewolf -- though the local authorities have written off this rash of deaths rather rashly as wild animal attacks -- and so, the real mystery of the film is who it is that's turning into one, leaving our protagonist one month to sniff out the real monster before the full moon cycles around again. I think the best way to describe this movie is a more grounded and absurdest-comedy-stripped version of Bubba Ho-Tep (2002). There's some standard subplots in the mix; most notably an estranged son, and an askance look at how we tend to discard the elderly once they've outlived their usefulness. And at some point the viewer realizes that our hero's quest is less about protecting his neighbors or avenging his dog and more about going out on his own terms. Nick Damaci is amazing as Ambrose, an abrasive, no-nonsense and borderline unlikeable noodnik. (Which reminds me that I still need to see Stake Land.) Good to see Tina Louise, Caitlin O'Heaney, Rutanya Alda and a barely recognizable Lance Guest working again. Fair warning: after a slam-bang opening, the film settles into a slow and deliberate groove -- maybe too slow and too deliberate for some (30 days is a lot of time to kill) -- but stick with it. Trust me.
Diplomaniacs (1933) was my first Wheeler and Woolsey comedy. Coming out the same year as Duck Soup, both films hew fairly close to each other plot-wise. (They even share the same villain in Louis Calhern). But while the Marx Bros. are pure anarchy, upsetting all kinds of apple carts on the road to war, the W 'n' W formula appears to be full-frontal bedlam as everyone -- from the bad guys to the background players to the sets themselves -- are playing too. You'd think this lack of a straight-man would be counter-productive (-- though one could argue, I think, that W 'n' W ARE the straight-men as most of the gags and Marjorie White bounce off them), the film manages to keep the buzz going, fighting the new production code the whole way. Fair warning, your historical-context-o-meter will be taxed to the hilt by a minstrel show climax, a souring bit of buzzkill in an otherwise fairly hilarious vintage comedy.
Though often described as The Asylum's knock-off of Twister (1996), the weather and property damage F/X in Into the Storm (2014) are actually really good. The plot it's all expended on is rock stupid, yes, but it's all rather harmlessly silly -- and not the annoying kind of silly, as stock characters (a dysfunctional family, a dysfunctional group of storm chasers, and a highly functional pair of peckerwoods) do exactly what you think they'll do as a super-storm (subbing in for Bruce the Shark) wreaks havoc on a small Oklahoma town (and its international airport). Sure, the selective gravity and weight differential of what gets sucked up and what doesn't is a bit of a puzzler, but I just didn't care. I was laughing too hard. C'mon, get in the suck-zone and give this one a spin.
Using a 'day in the life' of the 21st Precinct (NYC) as a backdrop, William Wyler delivers a cruel and bitter life lesson in Detective Story (1951) for a self-righteous, crusading detective (Kirk Douglas) as his case against an abortionist / unwanted-baby broker falls apart when things get personal. How? Well, the movie's too good for that kinda spoiler. Sorry. But it's definitely worth finding out. Douglas is his usual mercurial can of awesome (-- though he does kinda spit the bit in a few scenes), as is Eleanor Parker, his wife with the terrible secret, and they're surrounded by an outstanding supporting cast of fellow cops, hoodlums, and first time offenders needing a break (Horace McMahon, Frank Faylen, Lee Grant, Kathy O'Donnell, and William Bendix has seldom been better). I will also be eternally grateful to this film because it inspired Danny Arnold to create one of the greatest ensemble comedies of all time, Barney Miller (1974-1982), for the Boob-Tube. Fate and bad-timing definitely get their hands dirty, here, and, admittedly, the film is kind of a self-destructive bummer, but still recommended.
And lastly, spent Independence Day watching Killer Bee movies. And not just any old Killer Bee movies, but Made for TV Killer Bee movies. And it wasn't easy. Wound up watching The Savage Bees (1976), sorry, Killer Bienen, in German because it was the only version I could find streaming. (Ach, du lieber.) Anyhoo, between memory and making crap up the film opens when the Coast Guard finds an abandoned freighter running aground near New Orleans and the only body pulled from the drink is covered in strange welts. Meantime, something is knocking off several locals until the local sheriff (Ben Johnson), coroner (Michael Parks), and entomology expert (Gretchen Corbett) piece it all together. Seems that freighter had a stowaway -- a queen African bee and her swarm. Of course the mayor refuses to cancel Mardi Gras, leaving it up to our motley band of heroes to find the hive and destroy it before more people are slo-mo'd stung to death. Loved this one as a kid, love it now, and loved the ending of pushing a bee-swamped VW Bug into the Superdome to freeze the little bastards to death. And I followed it up immediately with Terror Out of the Sky (1978), which turned out to be a direct sequel to The Savage Bees, with the adorable Tovah Feldshuh taking over the lead character for the equally adorable Corbett (the only returning character). Turns out some of those killer bees survived and have taken over several hives at a government research facility. Worse yet, several of them have been shipped across the country, leading to a race against the clock to retrieve them before they spread and kill thousands. Along for the bee round-up ride are Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Dan Haggerty as competing love interest as the film basically rehashes the first, subbing in a school bus full of Boy Scouts for the VW. Alas, Terror Out of the Sky wound up being the Jaws 2 of Killer Bee movies in that not nearly enough people get stung to death (-- only two people and one dog) which is extremely counter-intuitive to what brought us here in the first place.