Saturday, July 11, 2015

Summer Fest 7 Recap (Day Two Part One): Without Warning, Tremors, Deadly Eyes, and Blood Car

 We kicked off Day Two of Summer Fest 7 by watching Without Warning, which is Predator before Predator came out. I guess that's a SPOILER if you somehow found yourself watching Without Warning (or It Came Without Warning) and didn't see the cover art or read the back of the case. Or look slightly to the right of this paragraph. But since I'm SPOILING it anyway, it's a tall alien, also played by Kevin Peter Hall (Harry and the Hendersons) who hunts humans for sport, or food, or... something. He keeps them in the "Department of Water" shack out by the dam outside of, uh, *mumblemumbletown* and uses starfish-like projectiles to kill his prey. They attach to you and pump you full of yellow liquid that kill you, or something. Hard to say, because you can survive it if you cut one off quickly enough, as we learn not once but twice. As for how they operate, thing of a cross between a Nerf Disc Shooter, a Facehugger, and that yellow embalming fluid the Tall Man uses.

 Without Warning is mostly notable for the fact that it features "paycheck" performances from Martin Landau and Jack Palance, who are a long way from Mission: Impossible and Shane here, and would be another decade or so before they were picking up "you're still alive" Oscars for City Slickers and Ed Wood. Fortunately, both are playing different variations of gonzo in the film: Landau is a veteran of, uh, the Korean War, I guess. He says at some point he'd been in the military for 27 years, and this is 1982 we're talking about, so he'd be a little old to have gone crazy in Vietnam. But he's crazy, and he's already seen the alien, so nobody believes him. Also he later kills the Sherriff for no apparent reason and steals his car to prove the alien is real. Hey, I told you all SPOILER warnings were done with, here. He eventually blows up the alien in the shack.

 By comparison, Palance is just playing creepy as the hunter who owns the only gas station in town that our presumed protagonists are visiting (two of them are killed, leaving the "backup" couple to be our heroes, I guess, but they're so vanilla that you're happy to have Palance and Landau chewing the scenery). He's not afraid of the starfish weapons because he cuts them off with a knife (both times) and also keeps one in an empty jar he has on his desk. I'm not sure if it's creepier to imagine he just has an open jar of formaldehyde or that he puts the starfish in his moonshine. Either way, it gets loose and that is in no way brought up again. It's okay, because Palance is menacing and growly and Landau is near hysterical for most of Without Warning, which is pretty much what you'll need to get by.

 Without Warning adheres to what I'd call "The Boogens" rule of not showing the monster until the very end, not because it successfully builds tension, but because you'd never be able to watch the movie seriously if you saw it earlier. If we're simply ignoring the fact that the primary antagonist of Without Warning looks like every "alien" costume you've ever seen in Party City, you're still going to laugh at the fact that it appears to be wearing a combination of mesh and a fishing net. I guess most of the budget went to the starfish, because the alien has a very limited range of facial expressions (at times it looks like a leftover from a cheaper episode of The Outer Limits), and for most of its onscreen time, it stands next to the shed, doing nothing. However, the explosive finale made it clear to me that I had seen this movie a long time ago on television, probably without much context, because the image of the stationary alien next to the exploding shed is a familiar one. I really didn't recall Cameron Mitchell (Raw Force, Deadly Prey) being in the movie for, oh, five minutes, nor did I remember the dumb Boy Scout subplot that was vaguely reminiscent of Beware! The Blob, however...

 In the planning stages of Summer Fest 7, somebody asked me if Tremors had ever made it into the lineup before, and for some reason the answer was "no". I don't really know why, because it is a great fit for a Saturday afternoon - a leisurely, funny movie about giant worms in the desert that wreak havoc on a small town. The kind of movie they don't really make anymore - unless, I guess, you count the three (soon to be four) Tremors sequels - one where the protagonists are a couple of knucklehead handymen (played by Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon). It's an amiable sort of film, the kind that plays for years and years on TNT or TBS, and at least two people at the Fest knew it so well they were quoting lines before they happened. To be honest, I don't think I had seen Tremors in years, but I remembered most of the beats of the story (such as they are), and was able to enjoy small surprises, like forgetting that Victor Wong (Egg Shen from Big Trouble in Little China) was the opportunistic owner of the only store in Perfection (Population: 14).

 Tremors is the kind of movie that's so much fun that you don't really notice how quickly everything happens. I mean, there are giant, blind, albino worms that somehow have "worm vision" - or at least, a camera angle devoted to showing us its ability to move through dirt - and we just take it an go with it. There's a seismologist, so good enough. Valentine (Bacon) and Earl (Ward) aren't especially good at doing anything (as is evidenced by the fact that Bacon is having a hell of a time hammering wire into a fence at the beginning of the film, but they're so fun to follow around that you don't much care. Almost all of the "killing people we don't know" is dispensed in the first thirty minutes. Other than Walter Chang (Wong) - SPOILER - that is. But it doesn't even matter, because then we get to spend some time with the Gummers - Heather (Reba McEntire) and Burt (Michael Gross, who has been in every sequel to date). They're gun loving nuts who manage to kill one of the Graboids (actually name) with the comically massive arsenal of weapons in their basement. But they listen to Val and Earl and leave their fortified home to hide on rocks in the middle of the desert, where they can go dynamite fishing. And then stampeding. It all works out in the end, practicality be damned. It doesn't really matter, as I said, because Tremors is so damn fun to watch.

 After Tremors, it only made sense to continue the "nature gone wild" trend with Deadly Eyes, which is one of the strangest movies you're likely to see. Not because you haven't seen dogs playing "giant" versions of rodents before (thanks, Killer Shrews), but because so much of the movie is obsessed with being a romantic comedy about a high school gym coach and an EPA inspector. In between seeing Dachshunds bounding around, pretending to be giant rats that eat Scatman Crothers (SPOILER), there's uncomfortable flirting between the coach and one of his students, the "meet cute" in the hospital where her son (a star basketball player) ends up after a rat bites his hand, and the "misunderstanding" about whether he's porking the cheerleader who wants to jump his bones. Oh, and he's divorced and has a young son who is in the living room while all of this is happening. It doesn't matter in the end because they're all eaten by rats, in one of the bleakest final shots this side of Frank Darabont's The Mist.

 Hey, I said "SPOILER"! But seriously, the focus in Deadly Eyes is all over the place, as the film tries to develop every character at the expense of the fact that there are giant rats in the New York City Subway (or is it Toronto?). Yes, they look suspiciously like happy Dachshunds with "rat" costumes, but why do I care about the scene where the cheerleader comes into the locker room and finds the coach just coming out of the shower and he nakedly discusses why they can't do anything? If I followed the film correctly, there's not really a reason the rats are growing to enormous size, because the rice they've been eating at the dock wasn't irradiated or anything - it was just not up to safety codes. I clearly missed the part about Scatman Crothers working for the EPA as a narc who takes jobs working for serial polluters, but again, it doesn't matter because the rats eat him. Like they eat everybody else. And they cut the power on the subway. How did they cut the power? Game over, man.

 And then there was Blood Car. I'm not sure what to say about Blood Car that hasn't already been said here and here, other than maybe to mention that there's a Last Tango in Paris reference that I'd somehow forgotten about. It's been a while since I watched Blood Car, which isn't okay, now that I think about it, but sometimes you get caught up with other movies, you know? Luckily for the Cap'n, less people in the room had seen it than I thought, which absolutely made up for that. I particularly liked the question "is he always this crazy or did something happen before I got here?" directed at the protagonist. It's also much funnier watching Blood Car since Veep has been on the air, because in a lot of odd ways, Anna Chlumsky's character lays the groundwork for her part in the show. Or maybe I'm projecting... yeah, that must be it.

 Okay, so it's time for The Trappening... and only I know what it is! Stay tuned, masochists!

Summer Fest 7 Recap (Day One): Terminator Genisys, Kung Fury, and Revenge of the Ninja

 After seven long years, it was time to have another Summer Fest Field Trip Movie, and while they can't all be The Happening, you have to give an "A" for effort to this year's outing. I have a pain in my brain, and its name is Genisys. I could maybe live with the fact that this mediocre (at best) fifth Terminator film undoes all of the other movies in order to create a dumber multi-verse if it made any sense. Or even just adhered to its own internal logic, such as it is. But no. It doesn't do that. I could tell early that Genisys was already losing the brave souls who joined me when Skynet had a voice announcing that the time machine was activated and to send the T-800 back to 1984. Let's stop right there. Since when does an automated system like Skynet need to tell itself what it's going to do? Oh, it's for the audience members too stupid to keep up with what is obviously going on? Because this is the first Terminator movie they've ever seen? Okay, fine. Believe me, if that bothers you - and it did for at least two people sitting with me - that's nothing compared with what's coming.

 Guess what? I'm guessing you're not going to see Genisys until it's on the Syfy Channel one Saturday afternoon and you're waiting for Sharknado 5 or something like that. I mean, it's pretty obvious nobody is going to see it on the big screen; there were maybe 11 people at a 7:35 showing on a Friday night, and the multiplex had already dumped Terminator Genisys into one of its "crappy" auditoriums. How do I know? Well, you don't usually go to a theater to see widescreen bars at the top and bottom of the screen. But there they were, because Crossroads 20 couldn't be bothered to put it on anything better than a screen matted for 1.85:1. That's how much they cared about Terminator Genisys.

 I could give you a laundry list of things that would make you simultaneously want to watch Genisys and also to run away in horror, but maybe you'll split the difference and pay two dollars for it in a couple weeks. Or watch it for whatever you spend on cable television next year. Honestly, I'd go for the two dollars, because you can be baffled along with the other four or five people who pay to see it. We can start with recreating scenes from The Terminator (specifically the Griffith Park Observatory and Kyle Reese arrivals), but making them way dumber by throwing in an extra Terminator (old Arnold digitally young-ified) who fights an all digital 1984 version (Bodybuilder Brett Azar replaced completely with pixels), or having a T-1000 chase digital actor Jai Courtney (I think he's playing Kyle Reese, but nobody bothered finishing the "acting" job in the computer) until Sarah Connor (also digital actor Emilia Clarke, similarly unfinished) bursts through the department store and shoots guns. So many guns.

 Anyway, The Terminator never happened. T2 never happened. Terminator 3 never happened, and mercifully, Terminator: Salvation probably won't happen. I'm not even clear how Genisys happens, because after old Arnold Terminator who came back in time to 1974 to protect younger Sarah Connor uses a homemade time machine to send Kyle and Sarah to 2017, there's no way they can still have John Connor and he'd be the right age to send Kyle back.... agh. My brain hurts. Hey, remember "Bad Boys," also known as the theme song from COPS? That's in this movie, for a "being arrested montage" which includes the second of three "Arnold tries to smile" jokes from the deleted scenes in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Also Matt Smith (Lost River) has replaced Helena Bonham Carter as the embodiment of Skynet and he turns John Connor (Jason Clarke) into a machine/man/something and then sends it back to 2014 to ensure Skynet will be created with the help of Miles and Danny Dyson, except now it's called Genisys and is an operating system that controls all of our devices. Kyle tells his younger self this because the timeline has been changed and now he has memories of both lives because Nexus point blah blah blah Quantum Magnetics.

 Quantum Magnetics.

 Terminator Genisys is such a stupid movie that I insist you all see it. There are multiple plot holes (like who sent back Pops, er, Guardian... er, forget it, Old Arnold?) that are designed to be addressed by sequels that probably won't be made because that's what happens when you come in 9th on your opening weekend. America has spoken, and it wants Minions. And, uh, they're probably right, but Terminator Genisys was the movie that Summer Fest 7 deserved. I gave it to 'em, and I don't regret it one bit. And look at it this way: if you're Phil Collins, from now on when someone talks about how much they hate Genisys, you can at least be uncertain for a few more seconds...

 Since I'm such a nice guy, when we got back to the Blogorium, I put on Kung Fury. In case you somehow avoided the internet a few weekends ago, it was all the rage on social media and everybody was reposting the link on Twitter and Facebook and, what the hell, let's pretend someone still uses MySpace. Fortunately for me, the masochists who followed me back from Terminator Genisys had somehow missed all of that, and had no idea what Kung Fury was. In truth, explaining what the short film is actually makes it sound worse than the finished product, but I'll do my best.

 Try as I might, there have been very few movies in the "neo-Grindhouse" movement that the Cap'n has actually enjoyed. Planet Terror had a fun John Carpenter vibe, but Hobo with a Shotgun was to relentlessly dour to really enjoy its grimy, 80's inspired aesthetics. Wolfcop pretty much went nowhere, and I've tried to avoid the glut of other, VHS-era inspired independent films because they promise a lot and rarely deliver. All of this is a means of explaining that Kung Fury is one of the rare "inspired by the 80's" concept films that actually does what it sets out to do. It's compact, wildly entertaining, and continually finds ways to surprise you and up the ante. Fest-er's laughed out loud repeatedly by its audacity, even though they'd groaned audibly when I told them about Triceracop before watching it.

 And that's the catch, because yes, there's a Triceratops wearing a police uniform, and of course he has a British accent. He's Kung Fuy (David Sandberg)'s partner, although Kung Fury doesn't want a partner. He works alone, after his original partner was brutally murdered by a kung fu master and then he was struck by lightning and bitten by a cobra at the same time. That's how he became Kung Fury, a cop in Miami, circa 1985. And by that, I mean a few actual sets mixed with liberal usage of green screens, playing in what looks like a grimy ambience of an oft-used VHS tape. Tracking errors are used to mask budget limitations early in the short, when Kung Fury is fighting an out of control arcade box, but everything is so over the top that it's really hard to find fault in the way that Sandberg (who also wrote and directed) presents it.

 Leave it to the Swedes to give us a short film where the hero hacks his way back in time to fight Hitler (The Lonely Island's Jorma Taccone) - pardon me, Kung Fuhrer - but goes too far and ends up in "Viking Times," which means Laser Raptors, Direwolves, and Gatling Guns. I'm not even going to tell you what happens after that, because telling you too much about Kung Fury ruins the fun of discovering just how far down the rabbit hole Sandberg is willing to go. I will take a moment to note my appreciation for Triceracops preferred method of killing Nazis - it only makes sense, in that it doesn't make any more sense than anything else that happens. And, of course, the song that plays over the end credits is performed by David Hasselhoff. It's kind of great, and quite appropriate for Kung Fury. One of our Fest-ers described it as "the best thing to come out of Kickstarter," which is true. As I understand it, the short is Sandberg's "proof of concept" to secure funding for a feature length film, and if he can sustain this level of manic energy for 90 minutes, count me in.

Now, it's a high mountain to climb to top the level of 80's cheese-tastic-ness that was Kung Fury, but I had no doubts that Golan-Globus could deliver the goods with Revenge of the Ninja. Remember, after all, that the 1983 not-exactly-a-sequel to Enter the Ninja is, in many ways, a template for the kind of "that can't happen" action movie Kung Fury is drawing from. We're talking about a film that begins with a ninja attack in progress, one that wipes out Cho (Shô Kosugi)'s entire family - save for his infant son - while he's hanging out with art dealer Braden (Arthur Roberts). They return to his home to find his entire family dead, and Cho - who I swear everyone pronounces his name as "Joe" - takes out the evil ninja clan single-handedly. Okay, I guess Braden shoots one of them. And then, without missing a beat, Braden offers Cho a job in America working at his art galleries.

 (SPOILERS ABOUND) Braden is, of course, evil, and is using Cho to traffic heroin in the dolls he delivers to the galleries. While Revenge of the Ninja never directly addresses this, I think we can all safely assume that Braden arranged for Cho's family to be killed. Again - if at any point any character says this out loud, I missed it. Instead, I just kind of guessed it when someone asked why Cho was a character in this movie at all. That's because, despite the fact that we spend inordinate amounts of time with Shô Kosugi, his son Kane Kosugi, and "Grandmother" (Grace Oshita), they're actually completely superfluous to the plot of the movie. Revenge of the Ninja is, for the most part, about Braden's drug dealing and dispute with the Mafia. Braden is actually also a ninja (with a ridiculous silver mask), and he decides to take out the mob without Cho having anything to do with the story. I mean, at all. For all intents and purposes, the title could refer to Braden taking "revenge" on the Mob for screwing him out of a drug deal.

  Cho eventually finds out about the drugs, which leads to Braden hypnotizing Cathy (Ashley Ferrare) into kidnapping Kane, and thugs try to kill Cho (and fail). Since "only a ninja can kill a ninja" or something ridiculous like that, Cho also has to dress up as a ninja and infiltrate the mob compound after Braden has so they can have the most drawn out fight possible.  Also, I guess he's going to save Kane, but since Kane saves himself (and Cathy, who is inexplicably placed in the worst "death trap" possible - it involves a Jacuzzi) and Cho never even looks for him, let's stick with the fight scene. I mean, you don't hit 80 minutes with the story they've got.

 I mentioned that Revenge of the Ninja isn't really a sequel of Enter the Ninja, and by that I mean it isn't in any way a sequel to Enter the Ninja. It's also not a prequel to Ninja III: The Domination - a previous Fest favorite - but since all three feature Shô Kosugi in some capacity, they form the loosest definition of a "trilogy" you're likely to see. This is the only one to outright star Kosugi (and his son), but Cho is so incidental to the actual story that you'd be forgiven for thinking he's just another supporting character. That said, Revenge of the Ninja has all of your favorite elements of 80s action cinema, including ethnic stereotypes: not even just the odd interpretation of "ninja," but also the Mafia goons and their one hired assassin who is dressed like a Native American and of course uses a Tomahawk. Revenge of the Ninja also features what may be the most uncomfortable fight scene in the history of Summer Fest, when Cathy is sent to kidnap Kane, and we're forced to watch a grown woman fight a six year old boy. It's much more of a back and forth battle than you'd think, but I'm not really sure that benefits anyone.

 After that, we realized we were old and tired and boring, so everybody went home without watching Traxx or Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. Fortunately, there's always tomorrow...

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Where have you been, Cap'n?"

 Ah, yes. Apologies for the lack of reviews. It's not for lack of having seen anything, but mostly because Cap'n Howdy has been busy putting the final touches on Summer Fest 7. Around this time of year my schedule goes haywire, because the logistics of a fest, even eight years in, is time consuming. And this isn't even a large scale one: just our normal get-together weekend of B-Movies. That said, bringing back the "Field Trip" movie has turned out to be slightly more complicated than usual, in part because the film we're going to see performed so poorly last week that most theatres aren't interested in showing it this week. But it's worth it, my Fest-ers and vicarious Fest-readers.

 This year's Fest is broken up into three, loosely theme-based days:

 Friday: Unnecessary Sequels

 Saturday: A Taste for Flesh and Blood

 Sunday: Super Hero Origin Stories

 I believe that I've put together a good balance of schlock to entertain the Fest faithful. This year will include past favorites from the earliest Summer Fests, in large part because the audience has changed enough that some of them never made it to the first three years. There are also some other, heretofore, unseen films joining the lineup that I'm excited to show them. And, of course, there's the Trappening.

 This year's Trappening is something that I watched many times years and years ago, but has inexplicably never played at a Fest. Why? I'm not sure, because it absolutely fits in. Like the people coming to see it in person, it's going to remain a mystery until the moment it plays. Could it be Night of the Lepus? Death Bed: The Bed That Eats? Big Money Rustlas? Titanic: The Legend Goes On..? Only I know for sure...

 Here's the schedule as planned - feel free to watch along at home if you like:

Terminator Genisys (Summer Fest Field Trip Movie)
 Kung Fury
 Revenge of the Ninja
 Shark Attack 3: Megalodon


 Without Warning
 Deadly Eyes
 Blood Car
 A Vampire on Bikini Beach (USA Up All Night Experience)


 She Devil

Recap to come in the following week. In the meantime, the madness begins soon...