Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Movie Poster Spotlight :: 24 Hours ... 15 Films ... One Venue :: Welcome to Film Nerd Thunderdome!!!

Hats off to A&O Films for that outstanding line-up for B-Fest 2014. With that, I'm off to Chicago in couple days to do battle with the very same. Updates will resume around the first of February. Until then, Boils and Ghouls, I'll see ya in the aisles.

I'm going. Are you?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Boob Tube'n :: So This Happened.

'Well, I haven't really watched TV for a 
year and haven't really missed it.' 

Yeah, in perhaps the most hilarious anniversary present a guy could get, the arrival of this survey notification did, indeed, land in my mailbox one calendar year after I made the call to Direct TV and officially cut the signal for good. There was a notion of investing in an antennae but as weeks became months, it soon became apparent that I neither needed it or was missing anything. I will admit this whole 'Net Neutrality' thing has me a bit nervous but, for now, I am satisfied with what I fork over for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and the Warner Archive, then pay double the money for the two channels I actually watched on cable -- when they weren't double-dipping and playing infomercials, 'natch.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Netflix'd :: Clearing Out the Instant Que :: This Saw Misfired :: John Luessenhop's Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013)

___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___  ___ 

 "Do your thing, cuz!"
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One of the first things you'll prolly notice about Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013), Lionsgate and Nu Image's latest reboot of Tobe Hooper's seminal fright flick, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), is how the word 'massacre' has been dropped in an effort, perhaps, to make it more family friendly. (And I say 'family friendly' because, turns out, that will be a very important ingredient for this latest incarnation.) Kinda like how Kentucky Fried Chicken morphed into KFC, because some marketing wonk thought 'fried' denoted something fairly unhealthy and changed everything except what made their product so artery-clogging to bring the customers back. In fact, I'm surprised they didn't just call this latest offering TCM 3D but I suppose that would have only led to some legal hassles with Turner Classic Movies. And believe me, this film already has enough problems as it is.

Truth be told, when I stumbled onto this film while browsing through Netflix Instant, at first, due to the abbreviated title, I assumed this was probably the Asylum knock-off to cash-in on the latest Chainsaw reboot. And seized with an uncontrollable urge to see what THAT would look like, I immediately pushed play. And, well, look at that, I was wrong. This was, indeed, the reboot, which I watched with ever escalating agog -- agog'd for all the wrong reasons, mind you. Because, oh, you dumb, stupid movie. Where do I even begin?

First up, as a PSA to all potential screenwriters, I'll throw out to the class this question: What is the worst misstep you could possibly make when writing a film about a group of cannibals living in rural Texas who are responsible for the deaths and consumption of god knows how many people? Unless your answer is 'Make them the injured party', I'm sorry, but put down your pencils. You've failed. However: If that was your answer -- Congratulations! You've just spawned the turd nugget from which this film sprung. Hooray! And the film does come out a'springin', using a fairly effective montage of the original film to get everyone up to speed; another tactical mistake, in hindsight, because that's a lot to live up to, am I right? Sure, the film will play lip-service to all those infamously brutal kills, but we're talking nth generation Xeroxes people.

Anyways, the film begins right where the original ends, with Sally making her escape and reaching the local authorities (via original crash-cut footage, some cock-knocking guitar riffs, and a voice-over). When the sheriff arrives at the Sawyer house, the abandoned semi is still there (-- though no sign of the Hitchhiker's flattened corpse is evident, but then I'm sure the Sawyers never overlooked any kind of roadkill to throw into the stew pot). He also spies several others, several others we've never met, armed and barricading themselves inside the house. Where did all these other people come from? Apparently, they're kin, called in to help defend the family homestead. That might not make much sense, but their presence is necessary, otherwise we wouldn't have the baby. Baby?! you ask. Yeah, we'll get to that plot contrivance in a sec. For now, it's important to note Sheriff Hooper (Barry) is in a negotiating mood and only wants the boy (a/k/a Leatherface, or Jed, as he's referred to in this film) to surrender quietly. (Apparently, Sally was too traumatized to finger the others for the kidnapping and assault but only pointed an accusing finger at the guy with the chainsaw for murdering her friends. That, or our trio of scriptwriters either forgot or hoped we wouldn't remember these piddling details.)

The old man (not James Siedow but a reasonable facsimile) seems ready to capitulate to this but things quickly get out of hand when a rowdy lynch mob of rednecks and hayseeds arrive, led by a local hard-ass named Hartman (Rae). Seems the locals were wary of the Sawyers seedy culinary enterprises and will turn a blind-eye no longer. Tempers quickly flare, shots are fired, Molotov cocktails are thrown, and the Sawyer house becomes a raging inferno trapping and killing everyone inside, save for two; a mother and her infant daughter. They're found by a surly bumpkin amongst the graveyard of stolen cars of all those people plucked and BBQ'd over the years, who quickly kills the woman and turns the baby over to his own barren wife to raise as their own. And before we abandon this prologue, we should note that even though his charred chainsaw was found, it was impossible to identify any of the burnt remains as actually being Jed Sawyer -- he typed ominously.

Now jump ahead some 20 years, where we catch up with Heather Miller (Daddario), who is now all grown up and working as -- wait for it -- a meat cutter at a grocery store. And if that kind of blunt foreshadowing doesn't clue you in as to where this is all going, congratulations again for not being a jaded old fart-knocker who has seen one too many of these damned things. And so, left with a film I hope will either surprise me (doubtful) or be worth the trip (forgive me for not holding my breath), the plot proper gets moving when Heather comes into a sizable inheritance from a grandmother she never knew she had, which soon finds her, her boyfriend, Ryan (Songz), her best friend, Nikki (Raymonde), and her beau, Kenny (Malicki-Sanchez), packed into a familiar looking VW micro-bus and roaming around the backroads of Texas. They even manage to pick themselves up a dubious hitchhiker (Sipos) before arriving at the ancestral mansion of Verna Carson (-- whose maiden name, we find out, thanks to a handy headstone, was Sawyer).

The first sign of trouble is when the executor refuses to set foot on the property, turning over a ridiculously massive set of keys, papers, and a letter Heather is direly instructed to read immediately. Of course, this letter is summarily ignored to explore the posh pad. And when the others head into town for some vittles, the hitchhiker hangs back and ransacks the place, using those keys to poke into every nook, cranny, and, eventually, the basement via a secret passage, where he finds a familiar looking metal door (which sticks out rather ridiculously, when you get right down to it), which refuses to open. Never fear, what's on the other side soon reveals himself, sledgehammer in hand, and makes with the *whack* *thud* *splat*.

Meanwhile, in town, Heather gets the standard 'we don't like outsiders' vibe off the locals, except for a too friendly deputy (Eastwood), and Hartman, now the mayor of Wherever the Hell We Are, who is flatly rebuffed when he offers to buy the old Carson place. Returning to the house, they discover what the hitchhiker had been up to, which is pretty much ignored because it's time to par-tay. And while Ryan and Nikki head off to the barn to continue their covert affair, Kenny manages to find the basement and get himself killed rather gruesomely. Blissfully unaware of all this, Heather explores the upper floors of the mansion, stumbles upon a few more plot contrivances (most notably the S-shaped pendant worn by all the Sawyer women), until eventually finding the exhumed corpse of her benefactor waiting in the master bedroom. Yoinks!

The chainsaw kinda hits the fan from there, with Heather the only one escaping Leatherface in one piece after successfully eluding him by heading toward the apparent safety in numbers of a local carnival (-- +5 intelligence points on the script, which brings the score to -546), where she is rescued by Deputy Do-RIght. Taken into protective custody, Heather is left alone with a big, convenient box of evidence about the Sawyer family massacre, including a very prominent newspaper clipping and photo which shows all the participants of said massacre (Mayor McCranky, the dead deputy, her step-parents etc.), which she sifts through while Sheriff Hooper and Mayor McCranky kill some screen time watching another deputy follow a blood trail into the Carson house via a transmitting smartphone with a 10,000-Watt spotlight app.

Stumbling into the basement, Deputy Dipstick recreates the deep-freeze discovery and commits some friendly-fire atrocities before getting himself killed and skinned, which gives us the most pleasant opportunity of watching Jed (Dan Yeager) stitch a new mask onto his face and dress up like Mae West in Sextette. Thank you, movie.

Okay, now, already teetering on the brink, here's where the film really shits the bed as far as I'm concerned: Heather, incensed over the death of her real family, escapes police custody and tracks down the estate lawyer, who reveals that Verna was the last of the Sawyers (well, third to last but whatever), who hired him to find Heather so she could come home and take over her role as caretaker of Jed, who was hidden away in the basement these many years. With that plot dump out of the way, she's then ambushed and captured by Deputy Do-RIght, who turns out to be the son of Mayor McCranky, who is bound and determined to end the Sawyer line once and for all. 

Taken to the old slaughter house for proper disposal, luckily for her, Jed, who was listening in on the dead deputy's radio, arms up, ties up, and heads over to join in on the fun. Finding a trussed up and strangely abandoned Heather, our gibbering maniac prepares to dismember her until noticing the birthmark on his victim's chest. Only it's not a birthmark, see, but a scar acquired when her real mother's S-pendant seared into her while escaping the fire.

Realizing she's family, Jed frees her, but their reunion is short-lived when Hartman shows up. Thus and so, quite stupidly, the tables are turned so Jed becomes the degenerate in distress for Heather to save. Once that's done, with a quip that left me mentally groaning for hours and hours, Leatherface pulps Hartman in a meat-grinder while Heather AND sheriff Hooper watch approvingly. Then, to add insult to injury, with a nod and a simple demand that Heather clean up the mess, Hooper leaves them alone and un-arrested. No, no, see, Hartman was really the bad guy, see. He was the real monster, see. And Jed was just taking revenge on those who killed his family, see. The Sawyers were the real victims, see. It doesn't matter that Jed and his kin have killed and eaten hundreds of innocent people, see, because family is family, and the family that slays together, stays together... 

... And so, Heather finally reads that letter, explaining everything, dons her pendant, symbolically taking on the burden of her heritage without a second thought for her bestest friends, whose remains probably aren't even cold yet somewhere below; and then we wrap things up with Jed re-burying his old caretaker before returning to his spider-hole, while his new custodian moves to make him a midday snack after a hard days slaughter. (I'll bet Kenny tastes like chicken.)

Pardon me, but, *pffffffffffffttttt* ... Gahd my head hurts just thinking about the overall plot of this thing, which asks us to gloss over a lot and accept some extremely ignorant and asinine motivations to make it work. Stupid I can handle, but Texas Chainsaw 3D was just plain dumb. And it's all on the script, credited to Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, and Kirsten Elms. I'm a little baffled that it took three people to cop everything that was terrible about Rob Zombie's House of a Thousand Corpses (2003) and The Devils Rejects (2005) and then threw in every misguided dramatic 'it's all about the family' liberties taken in Jan de Bont's version of The Haunting (1999). Fledgling director John Luessenhop and his cast do the best they can with it, and the grue F/X stands and delivers but it's just not enough to overcompensate for the five-car plot contrivance pile-up. Not even close.

Shot with a savage eye to cash in on the 3D boom, meaning there's ton of crap being thrown at you from the very beginning, be it blade or dismembered appendage, apparently, this thing had the blessing of Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel, who served as producers; and Gunnar Hansen and Marylin Burns show up in a couple of glorified cameos. (The IMDB credits Bill Moseley in there somewhere but I failed to spot him.) It's a running dogfight between this franchise and Halloween's as to which collection of sequels and reboots have done the most damage and disservice to their original movies. And though Texas Chainsaw 3D did little to widen that gap, there is some consolation in that its plot problems of egregious misplaced sympathy aren't quite as detestable as the Illuminati-induced horseshit of Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Next Generation (1994). So there's that, at least -- but not much else.

Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) Leatherface Productions :: Lionsgate :: Mainline Pictures :: Millennium Films :: Nu Image Films :: Twisted Chainsaw Pictures / EP: Mark Burg, Christa Campbell, Danny Dimbort, Lati Grobman, Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper, Robert Kuhn, Avi Lerner / P: Carl Mazzocone / AP: T. Justin Ross / D: John Luessenhop / W: Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, Kirsten Elms / C: Anastas N. Michos / E: Randy Bricker / M: John Frizzell / S: Alexandra Daddario, Trey Songz, Tania Raymonde, Keram Malicki-Sánchez, Scott Eastwood, Thom Barry, Paul Rae, Dan Yeager

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Great Moments in Cinema #1562 :: Now That's Some Fully Functional Armor :: Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

What absolutely floors me about this scene, where the despondent, out of work, and already well-lubricated actor (Chris Gilman), dressed up in his old Protocop costume, is caught stealing cookies and a brewski in a neighbor's apartment (Michelle Monaghan), was how he used the armor so fluidly, so automatically, you just knew this wasn't the first time it had doubled as a bottle-opener and this was how he spent most nights; and if you inspected the armor a little closer, you would probably notice a well worn notch on the plating from all the use and abuse since the TV show's cancellations two years prior. One of the many throwaway details that always add up to something special in Shane Black's feature films. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hail and Happy Birthday to the King :: It's Dames, Diamonds, Discoteques, Danger and Elvis in Norman Taurog's Double Trouble (1967)

As if singer Guy Lambert (The Big E) didn't have enough problems trying to solve the enigma of his new girlfriend, a gal of mystery who always seems *ahem* 'hot to trot' but then inexplicably turns into a pumpkin at the stroke of nine o'clock, along comes another woman (Romain), who casts a sultry hook for him that's hard to ignore, which brings out the claws and sparks with our boy caught in the middle. Nearly fed up with the former, it's soon revealed the reason Jill (Day) has been so reluctant is due to being a few days shy of her 18th birthday. (No, officer. I swear!) Warned off by her uncle (Williams), who thinks this lothario is only after his niece's sizable inheritance, Lambert bids them all bon voyage as his tour moves from England to Belgium. However, Jill isn't one to give up that easily, pursuing him all over the Continent, ticking off the days and tour stops until they reach Switzerland, where it's legal to marry at 18.

Unfortunately, someone else has other plans for them as a series of accidents, which quickly escalate to full blown and brazen assassination attempts, constantly plague our couple, who are also being relentlessly pursued by a pair of bumbling smugglers, looking to recover their stash of diamonds secreted in Lambert's suitcase (don't ask), Jill's guardian, that other woman, the police, and many other familiar faces, who keep popping up most sinisterly, no matter where they run or wind up. But who are the killers really after? And why? Well, I'm not gonna tell ya. So there. *thhhbbbttthhhhh*

Okay, Boils and Ghouls, it's that special day, January the 8th, where we annually celebrate m'man Elvis Presley's birthday by cannonballing into a vat of Royal Crown pomade and bogarting a fried peanut-butter 'n' 'nanner sammich while taking a look at another one of his fine fractured forays into feature film. Forays that I'm beginning to appreciate more and more as we both get older for what they are than for what they aren't. And with Double Trouble (1967) crossed off the list, that leaves just Girls! GIrls! Girls! (1962) and Frankie and Johnny (1966) as the only Elvis Presley pictures I haven't seen yet.

I had honestly avoided Double Trouble for the longest time, based on its notorious reputation as Elvis' mod spy movie and the misleading promotional materials that had me fearing we were barreling into Kissin' Cousins (1964) territory again. (A film I do enjoy but for all the wrong reasons.) But it's not really a spy movie either. More of a Hitchcockian wrong man kind of thing. Whichever, I'll admit, it's kind of a mess -- and when it opened with the Big E in swinging London, fronting a quintet of five mop-tops, my eyes nearly rolled out of their sockets but I'm glad I stuck with it because, turns out, there was plenty to like. I especially loved the early duet Presley croons, harmonizing with his own vocals on a record player. And I appreciated the earnest effort to sustain the mystery and suspense over who was really the target of all those 'accidents' and stray bullets, though who was behind it all was rather obvious from the get go; and when the movie finally makes that official, and the damsel is distressed, Elvis and his kung-fu are there to take care of business and save the day. Hooray! 

As I've stated before on many of these write-ups on Elvis' film career, one cannot underestimate the contributions of director Norman Taurog, who always seemed to get a little extra effort out of his reluctant star no matter how, for the lack of a better word, asinine the scripts got. A career that began with a ton of silent short subjects in the 1920s, Taurog moved onto features the next decade, notching himself an Academy Award for Skippy (1931), and helming the likes of The Big Broadcast of 1936 (1936) and Boy's Town (1938), which also got him nominated for another Oscar -- which he lost to Frank Capra for You Can't Take it WIth You (1938). He was also one of a half-dozen directors listed as shooting at least something for David O. Selznick's The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Working steadily over the next two decades, but never really breaking out, Taurog seemed to finally find his niche when he latched on to direct a good chunk of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis' screen sojourns -- The Stooge (1951), Pardners (1956) and even herded Lewis through a few of his inaugural solo features -- Don't Give Up the Ship (1959), Visit to a Small Planet (1960), before entering into Presley's orbit with G.I. Blues in 1960. One could argue that all of Taurog's Presley pictures were written and geared more toward Lewis' strengths, but the director did his best to pound the mismatched square peg into a succession of very round holes with more than passable results. For, as one looks back through Presley's floundering film career, odds are the ones that turned out a helluva lot better than you were told or remembered were directed by Taurog. Just compare the likes of Spinout (1966) and Live a Little, Love a Little (1968) to Easy Come, Easy Go (1967) and Clambake (1967) and I think you'll see what I mean.

Double Trouble was also the debut of producer Irwin Winkler, whose career exploded almost immediately with the release of Point Blank (1967), The Split (1968), and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969) over the next twelve months before reaching orbit in the 1970s backing Sylvester Stallone in Rocky (1976), and all of its sequels, and later, Martin Scorcese for Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990). And it was Winkler's co-producer, Judd Bernard, who discovered Annette Day, working at a shop in London, who coaxed her to Hollywood for a screen test, which landed her this role. And though they had no control over it (thanks a lot, there, Colonel), this kind of international intrigue is really hamstrung when you're stuck trying to pass off Culver City as several European hot-spots. Yeah. No matter how you dress it up, you cannot shake the Made-for TV-ness of this feature.

It's sad this was Day's only screen credit. She was pretty good, held her own, and sparked the old chemistry set just fine with her mega co-star in a plot that was eerily similar to Presley's own romance with Priscilla Beaulieu (who were 23 and 14 when they first met in 1959); and both performers do the best they can with Jo Heim's throw everything against the wall and see what sticks script. That's not an exaggeration, either, as we got espionage shenanigans, smuggling, mistaken identities, heroes on the run, assassins hounding their heels, and more MacGuffins than you can shake a stick at on top of the usual sudsy romance, musical interludes, and the six-pack of slapstick that brought us all here in the first place. 

The romance we've addressed, the comedy will get to in a sec, but musically speaking, it's a wash-out due to the inclusion of 'Old MacDonald' as the film's showstopper, which tends to negate everything else. As the legend goes, the star nearly had an apocalyptic stroke over this once he got wind of it. Can't really blame him, either. And yet, always the trooper, it's there in all its moronic glory. And to his credit, Elvis pulls it off. (Even though a duck tries to steal it.) Truly amazing.

On the comedy side, it's about a 50/50 split. Too bad Monte Landis disappeared, who played one of those mop-topped second bananas in Lambert's band. (I kept referring to them as the Potato Bug 5. Just think about it for a second...) Coming in late, the Wiere Brothers were actually pretty great as the trio of disaster-prone detectives and, truth be told, the film would've been better served giving them all the screen time mistakenly devoted to the lather-rinse-repeat antics of Raffety and Rossington as the oafish smugglers trying to get their diamonds back from their unwitting accomplices. And then there's the big payoff at the very end, which explains away a nigh inexplicable earlier interlude on a derelict freighter, which had me saluting the screen with an audible 'Okay, movie, you win.'

Alas, audiences weren't as forgiving as me back in the day. Seems despite all efforts -- admittedly, most of them pretty half-assed, 1967 was a pretty dismal year for Presley, cinematically speaking. Double Trouble was sandwiched between the releases of Easy Come, Easy Go and Clambake (-- again, two films I enjoy but admit they're pretty terrible). Hal Wallis had been sitting on Easy Come, Easy Go for several months, unsure if it was even releasable. Turns out, he was right. Double Trouble would follow and flounder just as badly a mere two weeks later. After stabilizing somewhat the year before, it soon became apparent that Presley's films weren't the instant cash cows anymore, with two of the three releases, including this one, failing to make back their production costs. And the fact those budgets were so dirt cheap to begin with adds an extra-lethal sting to this box-office drought. 

And not only were the films performing miserably, but the soundtracks were also stagnating in both sales and on the popular charts. And remember, aside from a few gospel and Christmas albums, these soundtracks were the ONLY THINGS being released from the Presley camp. Something had to change, a comeback was in order, and thankfully, 1968 was just around the corner. 

Other Points of Interest:

Double Trouble (1967) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) / P: Judd Bernard, Irwin Winkler / D: Norman Taurog / W: Jo Heims, Marc Brandell / C: Daniel L. Fapp / E: John McSweeney Jr. / M: Jeff Alexander / S: Elvis Presley, Annette Day, John Williams, Yvonne Romain, Monte Landis, The Wiere Brothers

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