Saturday, April 13, 2019

Recommendation Round-Up: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Just Share the Recs that You Should or Shouldn't Watch. At Your Own Peril. But Not Really. Maybe. GAH!

As a cold-blooded killer decked out in scuba gear stalks the canals and red-light district of Amsterdam, leaving a trail of bodies and a burnt out detective in his wake, I was never quite sure if the end goal of Amsterdamned (1988) was to reignite the old Edgar Wallace krimi, emulate a slasher movie, or be some kind of mismatched buddy cop movie from the decade that spawned it until I realized it was trying, and not quite failing, to be all three. What it's unbridled enthusiasm, making up for certain shortages of talent, reminded me of the most was Miami Connection (1987) -- if Y.K. Kim was trying to reignite the old Edgar Wallace krimi, emulate a slasher movie, and be some kind of mismatched buddy cop movie. Alas, that means we don't get any feuding clans of ninjas or musical numbers, but we do get a pretty stellar speedboat chase that easily rivals the one in Live and Let Die (1973). It's about fifteen minutes too long, the mystery fizzles, and the dubbing is atrocious, which either adds or hinders the hilarity, but I kinda dug this oddball Dutch treat.

There’s a delightful slapstick screwball comedy wrapped around a mystery in There’s Always a Woman (1937) as Joan Blondell and Melvyn Douglas sub in for Myrna Loy and Dick Powell as a working class Nick and Nora Charles. Here, Douglas' detective agency goes bust so he goes back to work for the district attorney. Meantime, Blondell, who is a national goddamned treasure, takes up his role as a gumshoe and lands a pretty big client, allowing them both to come at a murder from both ends. The mystery is thin, but the film just crackles thanks to the two leads.

And as we continue to plumb the depths of Amazon Prime's back catalog of horror films, The Devil’s Ground (2009) finds a woman (Daryl Hannah) driving alone in the backwoods of Pennsylvania, who nearly runs over a Final Girl, who just survived a grisly massacre, who then relates what happened to her and her friends to this rescuer via flashback. Pretty rote as far as these things go, body count wise, but entertaining enough. But then things took an interesting turn as we neared the end, as this standard slasher movie kinda turned into a ghost tale / urban legend and I kinda fell in love with it for a hot a minute -- but then it got really stupid, really damned fast from there and kinda ruined the whole thing. And so, my advice if you take a gander at this, as soon as our heroines reach the apparent safety of the gas station and Hannah's character makes a phone call to the cops, once that phone conversation ends, STOP THE MOVIE RIGHT THERE. Trust me.

Meantime, Escape Room (2019) was a lot more engaging than I thought it would be and proved to be a nice little thriller -- well, up to the point until they reveal who was behind it all, where it kinda falls apart in the climax, and then gets really stupid in the sequel bait epilogue. But! Despite the liberal use of the broadest of strokes for motive and villainy to explain away both what's going on and some fairly sizeable plot-holes -- think where the deathtrap puzzles of Saw (2004) and the money behind Hostel (2005) meet on the graph, the cast sells the hell out of it, making you root for those trapped in this maze of perpetual death, even the designated assholes. There's a good time to be had here if you don't think about it too hard. Honest. And the craziest thing of all, the bad guy behind the escape room enterprise felt like the best Bond villain since Hugo Drax.

Meanwhile, Quicksilver (1986) stars Kevin Bacon as Jack Casey, a young Wall Street whiz kid who whizzes it all down his leg after an extremely bad day on the stock market, losing not only all of his money but his parent's life savings as well. Devastated both emotionally and financially, and having lost the magic touch when it comes to stocks and bonds, he takes a job with a bicycle messaging service, ferrying packages around NYC. Things get complicated when a couple of rival couriers (a ridiculously young Laurence Fishburne and Jamie Gertz) run afoul of a drug dealer who uses them as mules, and his new best friend (Paul Rodriguez) coming to him for financial advice on opening a hotdog stand. Can Jack get back in the game or is he content to dance with his bike until the chain rusts off? This is one of those post-Footloose (1984) movies where you're not really sure where the movie ends and the music video begins in spots. And all of those dangling plot threads do collide in not one, but two eventual climaxes that don't quite gel but, meh. We got Oliver Stone by way of the Go-Go Boys, and I, for one, can dig it.

Then, imagine, if you will, The Howling: New Moon Rising (1995), only it's Danish, and it doesn't suck. In fact, When Animals Dream (2015) was pretty great. No one really wolfs out, but that doesn't matter as the protagonist has just hit the age when her body starts to go awry as she starts sprouting hair, claws and fangs. From there, she starts unearthing a few family secrets and town skeletons. Secrets some would like to keep buried. And there ya go.

And then, for some reason, but I have a pretty good idea as to why, Mercy Black (2019) was unceremoniously dumped on Netflix a few weeks back by Blumhouse. From the very get go it's painfully obviously this horror tale was based on the notorious Slender Man case out of Wisconsin, where two young girls attempted to kill another girl to summon some imaginary, internet-inspired woodland spirit of vengeance. Here, they try to hide it by presenting things as a 20-years later scenario, as one of the perpetrators is released from psychiatric care and deemed fit for society. Then, not only do the filmmakers play a game of is Mercy Black real or not as the bodies start piling up, but they have the tasteless stones and the unbelievable gall to make the original victim who survived the original crime the killer and, hey, lookatthat, she was also a willing accomplice all along back in the day, too, so she doesn't deserve treatment and redemption like our protagonist did and is a bad, bad, bad homicidal cuckoo-bird. Oh, and Mercy Graves was real all along, too. Way to take a dump on the real survivor, you jackasses. You go to hell, movie. You go to hell and you die.

Next, if you’re looking for an off-off-offbeat western, give A Time for Dying (1969) a spin as it spins the tale of a fast-draw farmhand (Richard Lapp) out to make a name for himself as a gunslinger. But this quest gets derailed a bit when he rescues an unwitting girl (Anne Randall) that's about to become the ... *ahem* latest 'saloon girl' in Silver City from a rambunctious (and horny) crowd; and then these two get married to avoid a jail sentence one town over when they're caught in a hotel room together by the notorious Judge Roy Bean. Thus, this film is more of a relationship drama as these two actually fall in love as the film progresses and the girl, not wanting to see him get killed, begs him to give up his guns and go back to being a farmer. Alas, when he finally agrees to this, it's already too late as he's goaded into his first (and last) showdown. This strange little bugaboo of a movie was the last theatrical effort of both director Budd Boetticher and star Audie Murphy, who, despite the ballyhoo, is in the film for like five seconds. Though odd, I do appreciate the non-traditional efforts and the highly brutal downbeat ending and resolution found here, and the film is worth a spin for Victor Jory's inspired take on the Hangin' Judge alone.

A rare non-creature feature effort for producer William Alland, who moves the action from Black Lagoons and the irradiated deserts to the suburbs for The Party Crashers (1958), where a young and violent turk named Twig Webster (Mark Damon) leads a gang of ruffians with a penchant for crashing parties and wrecking the venues. Barely staying one step ahead of the cops, Twig soon woos a bored good-girl (Connie Stevens) from the straight square-jaw (Bobby Driscoll), peer-pressuring the both of them into joining his gang just as the group tries to crash the wrong hotel party, where a bunch of drunken salesman and prostitutes turn the tables and won't let them leave. Along the way, we also get a scathing look at the parenting that bred this new kind of thrill-seeker, zeroing in on Twig's dad, a hapless drunk, who is constantly browbeaten by his philandering shrew of a wife (-- and guess who Twig runs into at the hotel party?). So, we got us a cheap, exploitative knock-off of Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Not terrible by any stretch, with an interesting comeuppance for our party crashers.

Essentially The Bad News Bears Go to Talladega, and while Kenny Rogers is no Walter Matthau, he acquits himself fine in Six Pack (1982) as a washed-up stock car driver trying to get back in the game -- efforts that are derailed a bit by a six pack of foul-mouthed orphans who survive by stripping cars for a corrupt sheriff. Saved from this life of crime, these miscreants soon morph into our hero's pit crew. No real surprises as things play out from there on the career vs family front. Some ready to be familiar faces to be seen with Diane Lane and Anthony Michael Hall, along with a welcome appearance by Erin Gray. Don't think I'd seen this since the theater. No regrets on the revisit.

And lastly, Circus of Horrors (1960) is a highly entertaining tale of a mad plastic surgeon on the run from the law, who hides out in post-war Europe by taking over a rundown circus, using it as a perfect front for his experiments in face restoration. See, his mad plan involves taking other wanted criminals, giving them a new face to avoid the authorities, but then blackmailing them into being part of his troupe. And while this works for awhile, making this circus quite popular over the ensuing years, problems arise when the traveling troupe earns a dubious reputation for being jinxed since it's constantly plagued by a series of dubious accidents to cover-up the mad doctor's efforts to "clean house" when certain fed-up performers try to leave him. Enter a nosy reporter who starts linking the accidents and victims due to their faint surgery scars back to the mad doctor, who is also currently hiding in plain sight with a new face. This one was a ton of fun, folks, all in that lush and beautiful British Technicolor. And while the film kinda stalls as it focuses on certain acts, where we get to see the whooooooole performance, the murder and mayhem that stitches all that together is so, so, sooooo worth it. 

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