Saturday, March 8, 2014
I'll tell you who's awesome, the guy with the scissors and the pizza, he's awesome!
Screenplay By: Sylvester Stallone
Directed By: George P. Cosmatos
It's hard not to love a film where the hero cuts his pizza with a pair of scissors. Let that little factoid sink in for a second, Marion "Cobra" Cobretti is such a god damn loose cannon that he cuts his pizza with a pair of scissors. This is a man who can't do anything normal. He has to drive a vintage car. Cobretti has to have a gun with a custom tip handle. A health nut, that's what makes this man different. Or, what makes him different is that he's a rebel who can't get along with his bosses. Lest we forget, he's also different because he doesn't shop at King's Grocery. There's also his license plate that proudly proclaims both his car and he are awesome. I'm sure that when the film was being put together each of these traits were thought of as cool little additions. When added up they equal one hilariously over the top quirky character. But what really makes the character is that Sylvester Stallone isn't in on the quirk. He plays Cobretti as straight and as seriously as possible, because you know, it's only natural for a man to cut his pizza with a pair of scissors.
Let's get one thing straight, Cobra is a pretty awful film. It has a barely present plot, some truly awful acting, and just about every police subgenre stereotype I can think of. Let's get one other thing straight, Cobra is so awful that it ends up being pretty darn good. From Cobretti's awkward attempts at hitting on Brigitte Nielsen to the musical choices that turn a gritty crime film into neon colored 1980s mainstream pop fare, Cobra is a movie that is comfortable being terrible. It all comes back to how serious the film is, and how it truly feels like no one is in on how terrible of a film they are making. Frøken Nielsen probably thought this was the dramatic turn that would bring her stardom. But it's hard to think of a movie as anything other than awful when Cobretti's sidekick is a guy who is only concerned with what candy he will be eating next. Of course, I may be finding his character unintentionally funny as I will forever remember him as Poppie from Seinfeld.
On a more serious note, there is the action and the performance of Brian Thompson. The action is okay, if a bit too rushed and over the top. The over the top aspect isn't really a negative as it kind of fits in with the motif of a film so bad it's good. The rushed nature of the action is a problem because it does lead to certain situations where time and place are lost. That's a bad thing, even in a movie that's only saving grace is how bad it manages to be. Mr. Thompson however, is a gem as the Night Slasher. He's sleazy, grimy, and completely believable as a serial killer. I kind of wish he had been in a different and better film, because the Night Slasher is a great villain and responsible for most of the atmosphere present in the film.
Cobra is one of those films that I will hold up as an example of how bad cinema can be enjoyable cinema. I had a great time with the craziness of Cobra and its unintentionally quirky lead. There may be some out there who think Cobra is an altogether terrible movie. I am not one of those people, there's no way I ever could be with this film. Cobra manages to transcend its status as a terrible film and become something else altogether. Like it's lead character, Cobra is bad, but it's bad in all the right ways.
Friday, March 7, 2014
Welcome to the best films of 2013 as stated by the GGtMC!!!
We hope you enjoy the episode, we love doing this every year and we are thankful to have everyone be a part of the celebration!!!
Direct download: ggtmc_277.mp3
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Posted by Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema at 1:27 PM
Thursday, March 6, 2014
We have all had those days. From the moment you wake up on the wrong side of the bed to when you eventually hide under the covers to go to sleep, absolutely nothing seems to go right. Makes for a miserable day when it happens to you, but when it happens to someone else? Entirely different story. Pure hilarity!
A lot of movies have taken this "from bad to worse" concept and used it to tremendous effect. From After Hours to Meet the Parents, it's very entertaining to watch some poor sap who keeps getting deeper and deeper into trouble that he does not necessarily bring on himself. It usually works better if it's a nice guy too. If it's a jerk, it's just the universe giving him his comeuppance. Nice guy though? We can laugh and relate to his rotten luck.
Young-seok Noh's low budget 2009 feature, Daytime Drinking, not only fits comfortably into this sub-genre of comedy, but stands as one of the better examples of it. It is very funny, but has a subdued, quiet tone that adds to the realism and the audience's connection with the put upon lead, who has had way too many black cats cross his path.
The film starts, suitably enough, in a bar, with the protagonist, Hyeok-jin (Sam-dong Song) moping while his 3 friends get their drunk on. You see, Hyeok-jin is still heartbroken after his girlfriend has dumped him. However, his friends are having a jolly good time. Not wanting the fun to stop, they all agree to continue their drinking binge at a remote guest house the following day, where there is a fair and lots of good food and booze. They will meet up after the lengthy trip and party hardy. And who knows, it might cheer Hyeok-jin up. Reluctantly, Hyeok-jin agrees to go, though it's easy to see his heart isn't in it. And after it fades to the title card, the fun begins.
The next day when Hyeok-jin arrives by bus, the town is seemingly abandoned. And cold. Really cold. It soon comes to light that his friends have entirely forgotten their drunken promise and now Hyeok-jin is stuck in this barren town with little to do. What follows is a cavalcade of bad decisions and worse luck.
Sam-dong Song is great as the stranded tourist. He has just the right amount of humility as his attempts to make the best of his weekend are constantly thwarted. But it is quite endearing when he struggles on, though nothing seems to be going his way. He remains relate able, and the audience never turns against him as he stumbles into another bad situation. One great scene has Song getting on an empty bus and a very "flighty" woman sits directly next to him and begins to engage him in conversation. A conversation that he definitely has no interest in at all. So, being polite, he apologizes and says he needs to get some "shut eye". Her reaction is something that he could have never expected. And that's not the end of it either. His bad decisions always come back to bite him on the ass. And he was trying to be polite! Heck, I remember one time when I was on a long bus ride and someone wanted to talk, and I actually made the excuse that I really wanted to read my book because I didn't want to pretend to sleep. I felt bad, but boy, I wasn't raked through the coals like poor Hyeok-jin.
Another element that plays heavily into Hyeok-jin's weekend is the Korean tradition of drinking. Throughout his misery it seems as if he is nursing a constant hangover as whoever he meets politely demands he get drunk with them. And anyone who has gotten hammered during daytime hours can usually tell you, it seldom is very much fun. And he is in this condition as things go downhill. Noh makes the great decision to never have Hyeok-jin's misfortunes seem like anything insurmountable, but just numerous moderate inconveniences. Until things get a little too out of hand. Yet another thing that makes the film more realistic.
There is so much to love about this unassuming flick. The low budget and snowy setting really add to the film's atmosphere, and every supporting character is wonderfully bizarre. The emotion behind it seems sincere and can be seen as more than the simple story of poor Hyeok-jin, but of life itself. The final moment in this will leave most of the audience chuckling, but should also make them think about what they could potentially do in everyday life. As the saying goes, without risk, there's no reward. And Daytime Drinking is certainly a very rewarding experience.
Make or Break: The scene where Hyeok-jin gets drunk in the bus stop with his beautiful neighbour from the guesthouse. Not only does it come to a very funny conclusion, but it sets off his weekend.
MVT: Young-seok Noh. WIthout a lot of resources he has crafted a film that deservedly gained international attention and he is considered one of the filmmakers responsible for the new era of independent films in South Korea. And as a side note, his follow up, Intruders, hits many of the same themes and events, and proves that he is far from a one hit wonder.
Posted by guitarbrother at 5:29 PM
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Cinematic violence is big (for our purposes here I’m talking about scope, not popularity). Usually. It’s supposed to be. It’s cinematic. Audiences love watching people slug it out, every hit telegraphed from a mile back, and every strike exploding on the soundtrack like cannon fire (which, incidentally, is what was used to create the sounds of guns firing in the classic Western Shane). It’s not enough that someone gets shot. They have to be all but cut in half by a fusillade of ammunition, viscera splattering thither and yon. And often, we accept that not only do the onscreen protagonists make it through such punishment, but can then go on to kick even more ass and win the day (witness: Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, and so on, ad nauseum). But by that same token, audiences do not generally have a personal reaction to these acts, mainly because they rarely have any basis for empathy with them. Which is why when you see John McClane pulling a shard of glass out of the bottom of his bare foot in the aforementioned John McTiernan film, you cringe a little bit. You probably have not been shot at and pummeled by international criminals, but it’s almost guaranteed you’ve stepped on something sharp with your bare feet. We can watch a man be cut in twain with a samurai sword and not bat an eye, but if that same guy burns his hand on a hot pan, we react with him. It’s this empathic bond which exemplifies, I think, the true power of cinema, its ideal potential. So, when I see the raw stitching on Bill’s (Jeff Fahey) arm in Eric Red’s Body Parts, yeah, I wince a little. But it also helps draw me into and tether me to a world that’s going to get pretty crazy pretty fast.
Bill is a criminal psychologist whose focus is the roots of violence in mankind. Despite his misgivings about his purpose, he has a happy home life with his wife Karen (Kim Delaney) and his two kids. A horrific traffic accident sends Bill to the hospital, and Karen is told by Dr. Webb (Lindsay Duncan) that Bill will lose his right arm unless they do an immediate transplant, which of course happens. Though the recovery goes well, Bill’s life is about to take a decided downturn, since the new arm used to belong to the recently executed multiple murderer Charles Fletcher (John Walsh).
On one level, the film deals with male feelings of ineffectuality. Bill is first confronted with this in the character of Ray (Paul Ben-Victor), a convict on death row who knows that he does bad things, but he can’t stop himself. He pleads with Bill to “rewire” him, something both men know is a physical and medical impossibility (though the fantasy of overcoming this obstacle is part of what the film is about in this regard). The seeds of self-doubt are planted in Bill, and when he talks to his wife about it, she consoles him and gives him a kiss. After Bill is given Charley’s arm, things change a bit. Where he and Karen are only shown kissing in bed pre-accident, Bill uses his new arm (the only arm he uses actively in the scene) to pleasure his wife, and after the two have what we can handily infer was phenomenal sex, their romantic relationship is magically reinvigorated. Remo Lacey (Brad Dourif) is a painter who, until he received Charley’s other arm, could only paint quaint landscapes and “starving artist” material, fit only for bank and hotel room walls. After, his paintings are nightmarish depictions of Charley’s murder memories and wild moneymakers for Lacey. Mark (Peter Murnik) lost his legs and his ability to play basketball, but after the grafts, he plays (so we’re led to believe) better than he ever did before and at a nigh superhuman level. Before their surgeries these men were mediocre, at best. Following their replacement surgeries, each man’s life reaches new, if only transient heights. These men need the influence of a primal, alpha male like Charley to bring out their true potential, to overcome the inadequacies bred into them and, by extension, all modern men. That this potential has the dark side effect of awakening the more violent aspects of a person is telling. It’s the struggle between the poet and the warrior in man without being able to find a balance. Peace can only come once both sides have been totally conquered.
The film does posit, at least on a surface level, that the visions Bill sees and the changes in his behavior are possibly stemming from something flagitious which was always inside him. Of course, this would also have to extend to Remo and Mark, and though that is a possibility, it strains the suspension of disbelief in the film. Odd, isn’t it, that a viewer who has difficulty accepting that three unrelated men share a psychosis will completely swallow that the evil of a homicidal maniac lives on in his transplanted flesh? Perhaps this is because the former is too coincidental for believability, while the latter is fantastic enough that it piques much more interest. This relates back to the influence which the multiple cinematic variations on Maurice Renaud’s Les Mains d’Orlac (aka The Hands Of Orlac), as well as films like Oliver Stone’s The Hand, and even Doris Wishman’s The Amazing Transplant have on this film. Naturally to rational people, the idea that a personality not only lives inside the cells of a body but can also achieve self-awareness and manipulate another one is scatterbrained. Still, if you think about it long enough, you can throw around some fairly interesting possibilities with the topic, and so long as you entertain any of them for a at least a few moments, they do gain some sort of credibility (at least in those few moments they do). So, you can believe in something like the transmigration of the human soul or the existence of the human soul at all. You can ponder whether a person’s anima does, indeed, dwell within one’s mind or if the mind is an encompassment of the body in total, a gestalt made physical much like the aliens in John Carpenter’s The Thing. See? And when you do any of this, you have to admit that the notion of a serial killer’s transplanted limbs influencing the behavior of their recipients is not nearly as goofy as it might be at first blush. It’s part of what makes this film work so well for me, and why I happily take the plunge once the film takes that third act turn into crazy town. You should take the trip sometime, too.
MVT: The screenplay is a classically smooth build up to a marvelously gonzo payoff, and each piece slots nicely into place along the way. It does threaten to go off the rails at several points, but it never actually does (for me, at any rate). In fact, I think it achieves a very tight balancing act.
Make Or Break: Without giving away too much, the Make is the scene where Bill is cuffed while riding with (I love this name) Officer Sawchuck (Zakes Mokae) and taken on a super tense hellride. It’s fantastic low budget Action filmmaking, while it also delivers surprises and moves the story into its next phase.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Welcome to another episode of the GGtMC!!!
Thies week Sammy and Will were detained due to personal schedule conflicts so Dr. Zom and Jake stepped in to cover xXx (2002) starring Vin Diesel and Blood (2012) directed by Nick Murphy!!! We want to thank the guys for helping us on such short notice, True Gents!!!
Direct download: bloodxxx.mp3
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Voicemails to 206-666-5207
Posted by Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema at 5:55 PM
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
**Possible Spoilers Ahoy!**
In movies, people dressed as Santa Claus always seem to be a focus of attention (even if only temporarily). In The French Connection, for example, Roy Scheider chases a crook while clad in the jolly red outfit. In fact, entire movies have been centered on people dressing up as the character. Witness: Bad Santa, Silent Night, Deadly Night, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, um…Silent Night, Deadly Night 2, etcetera. I honestly cannot think of a film where a faux Santa has been featured while still being just a part of the background (that is, he is noticeable without doing anything [or having anything done to him] which is humorous, villainous, or dangerous). If there is one, I don’t recall it. Then again, maybe that’s the point. Claus, after all, represents Christmas, and placing a focus on him not only gives the audience a frame of reference for when a film is set, but it can also provide a visually interesting figure to catch the audience off guard, draw them into the story, or just warm them up. And let me just tell you, you’re going to need a whole lot of warming up for Aldo Lado’s Night Train Murders (aka L’ultimo Treno Della Notte, aka Last Stop On The Night Train, aka New House On The Left). Thank you, fake Saint Nick, for taking such a nice beat down at this film’s outset.
After we are introduced to thugs Blackie (Flavio Bucci) and Curly (Gianfranco De Grassi) via the aforementioned mugging, we also make the acquaintance of two young students (and cousins) Margaret (Irene Miracle) and Lisa (Laura D’Angelo). The two young women are taking a train from Germany to Italy to visit Lisa’s family for the holidays. While en route, the four meet, and skeeziness ensues. And when a seemingly well-bred Lady (Macha Méril) enters the mix, things really go straight to Hell.
One of the things about this film which grounds it in verisimilitude is Lado’s use of vérité/travelogue style footage. We have lots of handheld shots picking up the local color and establishing the locations of the film while also giving a bit of eye candy to those who dream of visiting foreign lands. But the filmmakers include their fictive characters in this footage, so they are as much a part of this world as anyone else we see. The only thing that makes them stand out is their behavior which (being actors acting) naturally draws attention to itself. Any close ups, then, have a reflected, staged lighting which also distinguishes these scenes (again, like the Claus assault) from the naturalistic footage surrounding them. So the viewer finds it that much easier to buy into the depravity coming down the pike. Combine this with the Demi Roussos song A Flower Is All You Need, complete with a chorus of children singing about love, and you get the same sort of queasy pit in your stomach from the juxtaposition of musical style and exploitive material as you (or at least I) do from (the late, great) Riz Ortolani’s sonic lamentations as heard in Cannibal Holocaust.
If the third of this film’s above aliases sounds familiar, you’re likely asking yourself, “how much does this film actually borrow from Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left?” First of all, to say “borrowed” is a bit of a misstatement, since this film lifts much of the earlier film outright. Nevertheless, this is, first of all, a better-made film than Craven’s, and second of all, it’s a more thoughtful treatment of the subject matter. Where Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (a major inspiration for both House and Train) is very pensive and existential about its turn of events, and Craven’s film is straight up grotty exploitation, Lado’s movie attempts to blend both aspects, and to a large degree, it succeeds. That the director is more concerned with the sociological facets of violence, however, doesn’t prevent him from getting down in the proverbial dirt. And yet, all three films leave one with three different feelings, none of them especially upbeat even though all three follow the narrative of delivering unto the perpetrators of the movie’s evils a healthy dose of vigilante justice, by and large. The fact remains that what Lisa’s parents are left with after they have exhausted their wrath is a very cold reality with which they must live out their remaining days. This is not sanitized violence, though it is heightened. It is brutal and vicious, and the audience is complicit in part, because they wanted to see it.
Lado places the blame for what happens in the film on the back of society or, more specifically, on the back of what most would consider to be “respectable” society. So, we have a dinner party thrown by Lisa’s father Giulio (Enrico Maria Salerno), where he is first blamed for the violence in the world by a psychologist and then asked what he would do about it. Of course, Giulio has no real answer for this, his retort being that there needs to be more “parental control and sports.” He doesn’t need to think about violence, because it doesn’t touch his life. This despite his occupation as a doctor and no stranger to blood and viscera, as we’re shown in a graphic (real) surgery scene. Giulio can be glib about the subject but only for now. But this illustration of society’s responsibility is best embodied by Méril’s Lady character (she has no proper name, because she personifies modern civilization). She is impeccably dressed, with an elegant veil (like you might see on a widow at her husband’s funeral). She engages with a man aboard the train about philosophy and society. Yet, after she joins up with Blackie and Curly, she proves to be the worst of the lot. She’s also unafraid to get her hands dirty, though her primary role is as a manipulator. This complicity of society’s Haves extends to a peeping tom (Franco Fabrizi) whom the Lady involves in Lisa’s and Margaret’s violation, because she recognizes that he wants the same thing she does, but he is afraid to ask for it. All this said, and despite the loftier ideas flying around the movie, it does deliver on its vow of exploitation. It’s not easy to sit through, I’ll be honest, but it is not sleaze simply for the sake of sleaze. Even if you don’t buy the notions put forth by the filmmakers through the characters, this film will leave you thinking. Not particularly pleasant thoughts, but still…
MVT: Lado’s direction is tight, and he does an excellent job blocking the film’s action out in some tight quarters. He also does a marvelous job creating a sense of claustrophobia throughout much of the film, and this only adds to the nauseous feeling of the total experience.
Make Or Break: As Lisa and Margaret wait to depart for Italy inside a darkened train compartment, they hear Curly’s trademark harmonica playing offscreen (courtesy of one Ennio Morricone, who made equally exquisite use of the instrument in the superlative Once Upon A Time In The West). The dread evoked with just a few notes of music is tangible and a clear declaration that none of this is going to end well.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Director: Yi-Jung Hua (as I Hung Hwa)
Writer: Chan Wei Lin
Cast: Ho Chung Tao (Bruce Li), Feng Ku, Meng Lo, Carl Scott, Siu Yam-yam (Yum-yum Shaw), Au-Yeung Pooi San, Hoi San, Peter Chan, Alexander Grand, Yuen Biao
Following a recent viewing of the PBS documentary The Black Kung Fu Experience, I resolved to include more of the early cinematic contributions of African-American martial artists in my film viewing for 2014. (After all, why set goals for self-improvement in personal finance and health when I can set completely arbitrary media consumption benchmarks?) While Jim Kelly is probably the most famous and Ron Van Clief the most prolific of these pioneering actors, Carl Scott repeatedly emerged as the guy most overlooked and underappreciated. When I saw that RZA had name-dropped him in an interview with Film Comment as number one and the best, it all but cemented my urge to see his films -- all three of them! (I can’t, in good conscience, count Bruce Lee: The Man, the Myth, where he appears as an extra).
Like any group of young urban professionals, the trio of Wong Wei Lung (Li), Shao-san (Meng), and Chai Yun (Au-Yeung Pooi San) work a variety of crummy jobs to pay for their Hong Kong apartment. However, as hard-working immigrants from the mainland, they’re willing to do just about anything in order to live out their dream to live beyond their means. Wong Wei Lung and Shao-sen are doing menial labor down at the docks one day when they come upon a fellow dock worker, Tom (Scott) getting beat up by several of his bosses and colleagues for spilling paint while also being a young, black male. In rushing to his defense, the roommates catch the ire of a cruel boss named Mr. Chien (Feng), a man involved in absolutely every business in Hong Kong, legit or not.
All three of the men lose their jobs, but eventually get new, shittier ones. They lose those too. While Shao-san ceases all productivity and falls into a gambling addiction, Wei Lung participates in organized fights to make ends meet. During a conversation with Chai Yun about the next day’s huge championship match, he announces his intention to marry her if he wins, and wait a minute, it’s her birthday tomorrow, so they’ll just get engaged during her party because apparently they’ve been banging on the side this whole time. We see glimpses that Shao-san harbors a secret jealousy about their relationship, but all that sexual tension never really goes anywhere and he gets sidetracked by his involvement with a mysterious bar-girl (Shaw). I held out hope that this arrangement would explore the complex spectrum of human sexuality in the same vein as the 1994 romantic comedy, Threesome, but the filmmakers played things safe.
Throughout it all, Wei Lung and Shao-san train Tom in kung fu so he can better defend himself against angry shipping supervisors and asshole Triads. Meanwhile, Mr. Chien assembles his own trio of bad, nameless motherfuckers, respectively portrayed by Alexander Grand (Sideburns), Lee Hoi-Sang (Jug-Smasher), and Peter Chan Lung (Tiger Style). Allegiances shift, people change, and everyone is freaking out about money. A showdown is inevitable.
Despite my skittish disposition towards most Bruceploitation fare, this was a pleasant surprise. The film doesn’t do much to hide its iconographic nods. Even though his hair is more Bieber than bowl cut, Bruce Li’s character makes frequent references to his idol, has a Lee poster hanging in his room, reads his books, and is even regarded by Mr. Chien as a dangerous fighter because he “fights like Bruce Lee.” Sure he does, movie dialogue. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
I don’t know that 1977’s Soul Brothers of Kung Fu was the best place to begin in Carl Scott’s filmography, but it was definitely the earliest. He earns a strong supporting role here, with plenty of screen time and a performance nearly undone by one of the most horrific voice actor dubs I’ve ever heard. Fortunately, we’re not watching a Carl Scott movie to see him channel Sidney Poitier, and he conveys plenty of screen presence in his engagements with an eager and energetic Hong Kong stunt team in some good fight scenes. At times, he looks like an absolute world-beater. The Gents have discussed in past episodes how rare it was for gweilos to be able to hang with action players in golden-age Hong Kong, but Scott looks very much at home here and his fighting talent is undeniable.
Wading through the glut of 1970s kung fu cinema, let alone the output of second- and third-tier Hong Kong production companies, can be a cinematic minefield. Does this film rival stuff with the Shaw Brothers stamp? Is it Magnificent Butcher? Of course not, but when you’ve seen something as actively bad as Swordsman with an Umbrella and been burned by bargain bin multi-packs, a film like this is a happy accident. The exploitation elements were surprisingly strong too, as debuting director Yi-Jung Hua navigates from x-ray punches, organ gouging, and attempted rape to casual bloodletting and groin attacks. It should be said that not all of these elements revealed themselves on my first watch; after observing some confusing edits during the back-end “boss battles,” I discovered that the film had an uncut version floating around under the title Kung Fu Avengers (detailed here, be wary of spoilers). A simple rewatch of a few select climax scenes probably elevated this film a full point or more.
Make or Break: No matter which cut of the film you watch, the aforementioned sequence of boss battles is the stretch upon which your enjoyment of the film will likely hinge. If you see the Xenon
version, the herky jerky editing and jump cuts to nowhere will probably break the film into a hundred bite-sized pieces. The grisly conclusions in the uncut version, however, make for a satisfying film overall and provide logical extensions to the techniques we observe during training scenes earlier in the film.
Does the Film Have a Random Yuen Biao Appearance?: Yes, it has one.
MVT: I wish I could report that this was *the* Carl Scott film to see, but he’s underutilized here and the awful dubbing doesn’t help matters. Everything about this film is, at minimum, solid. Which is to say, not horrible. This makes it hard to single out any aspect as the most critical, but the fighting is probably the element closest to exceptional. All of the fighters, from Deadly Venom Meng Lo and Alexander Grand to Carl Scott and Feng Ku move well and throw convincing strikes, and the gore at the back end of the film helps to sell the stakes of each fight. The inventive training sequences added a nice visual touch as well. Dig it.
Score: 6.75 / 10
Posted by Karl Brezdin at 4:00 PM
Saturday, February 22, 2014
I wore this videotape out as a young'un!
Written By: J.F. Lawton
Directed By: Andrew Davis
Steven Seagal is an interesting bird, especially in Under Siege as Casey Ryback. He's an anti-hero, but not in the traditional sense of the word. He's not anti-establishment, but he loves to cause trouble for those in and out of the establishment. Ryback is a trained killer, but he'd rather cook than kill. His fighting style leaves a lot to be desired as far as visual appeal is concerned. He appears to have no interest whatsoever in women, until the final moment of the film that is. He's not really heroic, he's more workmanlike than anything else. Ryback is a man doing his job, a job he believes only he is capable of doing. Then of course there is his seeming invulnerability, a trait that easily separates this character from most other characters Mr. Seagal has played.
I'll be honest right off the bat, I wore out a VHS copy of Under Siege as a kid. I can't tell you how many times I watched the movie as a whole, or the birthday cake scene in particular, but I know that one day I went to watch the tape and it had completely unspooled. Revisiting the film it's hard to put into words exactly what it is about Under Siege that I find so appealing. I recognize that it is a film with glaring flaws, but the entire package that is the movie overcomes all of those flaws. I'm sure there is a tinge of nostalgia to my continued love of Under Siege, but I do truly believe there's a pretty great action movie taking place.
Under Siege came out at a time when the obvious comparison for any action movie was to Die Hard. Mr. Seagal's film was labeled Die Hard on a boat. I can see the reason for that label, but I don't find that it completely fits. The invulnerability and aloofness of Ryback's character is the main reason the Die Hard comparison falls flat for me. John McClane is the everyman, a guy we believe we could share a beer with, and who we believe could die at any moment. Casey Ryback is a killing machine, one who we can't relate to on any sort of buddy level. The film tries to set him up as somewhat of a normal guy early on, but as soon as the killing starts it becomes clear that Ryback is as far removed from normal as a hero can get. His lack of vulnerability is at first a problem, but as the film progresses it becomes more of a film about how Ryback will win the day than whether or not he will win the day. Under Siege takes the opposite approach of Die Hard, it presents a hero who is extremely skilled, never in any real danger, and who mows down the enemy with relative ease while never quite seeming human.
The action in Under Siege is hard to quantify, it's awkward and nowhere near the type of action I usually prefer, yet it works. The knife fight between Ryback and Stranix is anticlimactic and doesn't really play well as a visually dynamic exercise in action filmmaking. There's no real tension to the scene, and there's never any doubt that Ryback will prevail. All of this should add up to a poorly constructed scene that lets the viewer down. That's not the case however as Andrew Davis goes so much with the fact that his main character is invulnerable that the scene is able to establish a different action dynamic. It's more important to watch Ryback prevail than it is for us to fear whether or not he will come out of the encounter alive. That scene informs much of what has come before and allows the clunky and almost visually unappealing action of the rest of the film to be seen in a better and far more kind light.
The world of Under Siege is also populated by a host of colorful supporting characters. We don't learn much of anything about said characters, but that doesn't stop Stranix or Krill from being very interesting to watch. We don't learn anything about the character of Colm Meaney's Doumer, but I'll be damned if I didn't find the lack of definition given to his character immensely interesting. In a way that describes Under Siege as a whole. It's not a completely formed film in a traditional action filmmaking sense. Yet, what happens during the film is interesting and manages to be an engaging experience in spite of the flaws contained within the film. Steven Seagal is not among my favorite action stars, but Under Siege is a great example of how he can deliver a borderline great action film because of his eccentric persona. Maybe my thoughts are clouded by foggy VHS dreams, but I still find Under Siege to be an eminently watchable action film.
Friday, February 21, 2014
Welcome to another glorious episode of the GGtMC!!!
This week we have another round of Kickstarter shows and we have brought Demise in for her pick Nightbeast (1982) directed by Dan Dohler and we also cover Shiftless Jeff's pick Lolly Madonna XXX (1973) directed by Richard C. Sarafian with a cast that is amazing to say the very least...
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Posted by Gentlemen's Guide to Midnite Cinema at 7:05 PM
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
The Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight was introduced in 1979 in issue #120 of Uncanny X-Men, but their leader was introduced individually a year earlier in that same comic’s issue #109. Although more popularly known as Guardian in his team’s own title (which premiered in 1983), James MacDonald Hudson was actually first known as Vindicator (okay, Weapon Alpha if we’re picking nits) with his ass-kicking battle suit. I have never disguised my outright love for Alpha Flight, and the first thirty-six or so issues are some of my favorite comics from the Eighties (possibly ever). Now, Vindicator wasn’t my favorite member of the team (that would be Sasquatch), but he was remarkably different from other superheroes of the time (at least to my young mind) in that he was a scientist more than a man of action from the very outset. This nature would mold how he led the team and ultimately shape his destiny.
It’s a good thing the name Vindicator was changed, since, aside from sounding neat, it doesn’t pertain very much to the character. The word vindicate basically refers to clearing an accused person’s name. It has nothing to do with kicking ass, taking names, or battling supervillains. As a codename, Guardian, on the other hand, fit Hudson well since part of his and Alpha Flight’s job was to guard Canada as a state-sanctioned superteam. Funny enough, there was another, non-comic-related Vindicator out of Canada, and he is the titular character of Jean-Claude Lord’s The Vindicator (aka Frankenstein ‘88 aka Micro-Chip-Man). Ironically, the moniker fits him slightly better than it does John Byrne’s four-color creation. Slightly.
Evil corporate muckety-muck Alex Whyte (Richard Cox) and his evil scientist minions have finally completed work on a space suit which can be remotely controlled but inexplicably also has the built-in function of inducing primal rage in its wearer anytime anything touches them (how handy). When good scientist (he wears jeans and a Hawaiian shirt to work) Carl (David MacIlwraith) raises a stink over where the money that’s been cut from his budget is going (three guesses), Carl quickly becomes a liability that has to be eliminated. One laboratory explosion later, and Whyte now has a prime human test subject for his project (speedily and oh-so-covertly renamed Project: Frankenstein). Unfortunately, there is an issue with the remote control unit that restrains the rage defense. Oh, no! That’s gonna leave a mark!
This is another one of those films where, if you were just told the plot, you would think it was lifting ideas wholesale from more successful American films, particularly Robocop, Darkman, and Universal Soldier. You have a human scientist whose body is decimated in a deliberate “accident.” You have a corporation’s conscription of said human’s body for their own project. You have the project’s turning on his creators. You have a human turned into a living weapon. You have the idea of a man who pushes away the woman he loves because he no longer feels human. And yet, this film was released one year before Verhoeven’s film, four years before Raimi’s, and six years before Emmerich’s. Of course, it also has allusions to films like the much earlier The Colossus Of New York and the Frankenstein story in general, though of the two, I’d say it’s closer to the former than the latter. Aside from the “playing God” angle, this film has absolutely nothing to do with Mary Shelley’s tale. It’s just a convenient touchstone for the filmmakers to use strictly for its place in the public’s consciousness.
After his transformation, Carl is supposed to embody the film’s pathos and provide its violent catharsis. So, we have scenes like the one where Carl spies his reflection in a store window and pitches a wicked pity party. This is alternated with scenes where Carl talks to his pregnant girlfriend Lauren (Teri Austin) though her synthesizer and avoids her seeing him because of his ugliness. Then we have a scene where Carl bloodily tears through some bad guys. Then we have a scene where Carl takes off his mask, notices his reflection in some water and pitches a wicked pity party. And so on. Now, I think an audience could accept one scene where the sight of his own deformity causes Carl to have a violent episode. But two or more are simply earmarks for a sad sack character, and they’re tough to want to follow. There’s also the idea that because someone looks grotesque they must behave grotesquely. This works for the revenge/action scenes. Lamentably, the emotional scenes don’t work as well, because Carl is so hellbent on being miserable while still trying to maintain contact with his lady, he comes off as dejected and little else. Had Carl watched Lauren from afar, interceding on her behalf only as necessary, but never daring to make contact, this theme of the monster who feels undeserving of love would likely work better. It wouldn’t necessarily be more original, but it would work better (it would also hew closer to Frankenstein, I think).
The one aspect of the film I like is the concept of Carl being literally desensitized. He cannot feel pain or ecstasy (he lacks genitals in that regard, anyway). If he is touched, he is programmed to respond with wrath, thus removing him from humanity even further. He has become almost precisely a brain in a box. And yet, he doesn’t even have complete control over that since he cannot completely command his body to do what he wants it to do. And then, like almost everything else in the film, this intriguing plot device is negated utterly out of hand. In fact, this film has got a whole lotta dumb (sing it to the tune of the Led Zeppelin song) going on in it. Why would you give a synthetic being a rage defense mechanism activated simply by touch? Lauren’s roommate Catherine (Catherine Disher) literally mocks her best friend only days after she has presumably buried the man she loves. The bounty hunters (including Pam Grier as Hunter; get it?) are going to use vaporized acid on Carl (as if a strong breeze wouldn’t blow it back in their faces). Hunter also seems to gain and drop her moral compass like a rabbit’s vaunted rate of intercourse. A truck explodes immediately upon impact with a guard rail but before it plummets over a cliff (a classic, to be sure). A corpse just shows up in a closet it would never have been within a million miles of just for a quick jump scare. The score for the film’s finale made me think A.C. Slater was going to show up and bust a move at any moment. I’ll save the very best of the dumb moments, because it’s pretty spoiler-y, but rest assured, if you watch this film, you’ll spot it in a heartbeat (although in fairness, you could very likely feel that some other dumb element is the most egregious, and you would still be right).
All of this said, if I had seen this film as a fourteen-year-old boy, I would have loved a lot of it. There’s some fun action. Some of said action actually springs from some cool ideas. There’s a little bit of nudity. There are some sleazy bits. Alas, the dumb moments, the moments that make you throw your hands up in despair, really overpower the moments that could have made this a better entry in the Sci-Fi/Action genre. They did for me, at any rate. The Vindicator isn’t detestable, but it’s not memorable either.
MVT: The suit, designed by Stan Winston Studios, is pretty nice for a low budget film. It looks a tad unwieldy, and it doesn’t appear to be very functional at all, but with the mask off, the facial makeup effects work fairly well.
Make Or Break: The first kill scene with Carl versus some bikers is the Make. The villains are classic cardboard thugs, and the justice meted out to them is satisfying while also being a nice step or two over the top.