Sunday, July 5, 2020

Fool's Views (6/1 – 6/15)

"Seriously... you really want me to put on a mask? I feel fine..."

Out on the road today, I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac 
A little voice inside my head said, ‘Don’t look back.’

You can never look back.

Hey everybody!

It’s been a crazy summer already, with cities starting to relax their COVID regulations even as the case numbers continue to rise. I feel like I’ve seen this scenario played out hundreds of times in various horror movies where our heroes watch helplessly as government officials make terrible decisions based on political gain rather than genuine concern for their constituents, opportunists seize what is not theirs, and the polite masses stand by to witness their own destruction. Personally, I’m adopting an extremely cautious attitude about all of it, practicing preparedness (not paranoia) and doing my best to stay safe and sane. This Fool is planning on coming out the other side and woe befall Any Other Fool who interferes with my plans.

The first half of June’s Views was dictated in part by Pals with Podcasts, expiring Redbox coupons, Kryptic Army missions, and punnage too juicy to pass up. (To give credit where credit is due, For It Is Man’s Number’s Kevin Matthews did a full month of “June-Claude Van Damme” back in 2018, but since I was the one who came up with the idea for him to do it in the first place, I feel like I can reappropriate it without fear of litigation. We shall see.)

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.



Crawl (2019) d. Aja, Alexandre (USA) (1st viewing)

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’d seen anything from Mssr. Aja – turns out 2013’s Horns starring Daniel Radcliffe was his last feature to pass before my eyes – but from the second I saw the trailer for this rain-drenched creature feature, I knew it was going to be right up my alley. Like Aja’s previous efforts, it’s more an efficient thrill-ride than full-on masterpiece, with he and his able team hitting all the right notes to keep the popcorn popping. With plentiful CG ’gators menacing grizzled pop Barry Pepper and swim champ daughter Kaya Scodelario trapped in the basement of their rapidly submerging Florida home, there’s rarely a dull (or realistic) moment to be had. With expectations properly managed, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

District 9 (2009) d. Blomkamp, Neill (South Africa/USA) (3rd viewing)

I suppose it’s no surprise that no one referred to this surprise Best Picture nominee as a horror film when it was released a decade ago; I mean, we can’t go around honoring such a grotty little genre, can we? Watching it again, considering how legitimately shocking, disturbing, and violent it is, I don’t see how anyone can not refer to it as such. In addition to the central conceit of a government schlub (Sharlto Copley, in an astonishing feature debut) slowly mutating into an alien/human hybrid, we have countless shots of both species being splattered into oblivion by demonstrations of excessive firepower. In light of recent events, the social/racial parallels are all too damning and all too familiar. Where has thou gone, Neill? We need you back.

The Invisible Man (2020) d. Whannell, Leigh (USA/Australia) (1st viewing)

With more than its share of social commentary/allegory beating in time with the scares, there is much to like about this latest iteration of the Universal classic. It’s a solid thriller that, like Whannell’s previous effort, Upgrade, requires the audience to switch off its collective brain and just go along for the ride lest the dodgy science and Herculean suspension of disbelief send the whole enterprise careening off the rails. Happily, it’s soundly anchored by Elisabeth Moss’ central turn as a woman fleeing her overbearing and abusive husband, with the film earning its creative edge by having us empathize with the victim rather than the titular monster himself.

Lady Battle Cop (1990) d. Okamoto, Akihisa (Japan) (1st viewing)

Unrepentant Cinephile Jason Coffman does it again, introducing this Robocop rip-off to his unsuspecting followers. When a championship tennis player is resurrected as a crimefighting cyborg, complete with power ballads and wire-fu, it’s good clean WTF fun for the whole family.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971) d. Martino, Sergio (Italy/Spain) (2nd viewing)

Quickly returning to class, Bryan Martinez (The Giallo Room) and Ian Simmons (Kicking the Seat) sit down for a fascinating round table discussion of Martino’s first stab (get it?) at the giallo subgenre, the result being one of the finest and most unconventional efforts the early 70s had to offer, featuring the “Holy Trinity” of Edwige Fenech, George Hilton, and Ivan Rassimov wrestling their way through the red herrings and each other. The plot twists, courtesy of screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi and Eduardo Manzanos, are as memorable as they are audacious, with a mid-film lulu that will have you shouting, “Wait, WHAT?” Must-see stuff, newly released to Blu-ray by Severin Films (with a bonus CD of Nora Orlandi’s marvelous musical score).

You can pick it up here:

You can hear the lads chat here:


Demon of Paradise (1987) d. Santiago, Cirio H. (Philippines) (1st viewing)

This was kind of a miracle of exploitation filmmaking in that all the ingredients were present and accounted for and yet somehow it never is quite as entertaining as it feels like it should have been. We’ve got an amphibious Gillman type monster with a solid creature design, tropical locales with numerous bikinis, one instance of nudity so completely gratuitous that it ought to serve as the textbook definition, and subplots ranging from dynamite smuggling to “The beaches stay open!” tourist attractions. I mean, how is this not an amazing movie???? And yet… it totally isn’t. To be clear, it’s not terrible, and in some ways, that’s too bad since it doesn’t even really venture into Turkey territory (which is not to say it wouldn’t be enjoyable poking fun at it with friends MST3K-style).

Fun fact: Director Santiago directed 100 films in his career, including such 1970s drive-in “classics” as Vampire Hookers, TNT Jackson, She Devils in Chains, and Hell Hole.

Doomsday Machine (1972) d. Hope, Harry / Sholem, Lee (USA) (1st viewing)

I suppose I only have myself to blame for this one, considering the 2.5 IMDb rating. You’ve got a plot involving a Chinese spy stealing the secrets to the titular nuclear device around the same time NASA is launching a space trip to Venus complete with last-minute female astronauts added to the crew. Quelle risque! Turns out the reason for the last-minute switcheroo is that said Doomsday Machine is already apparently clicked on and ready to roll and it’s Noah’s Ark time for humanity.

So, off they blast into space and the next hour is a whole lot of uninteresting not-very-technical tech talk and even more internal bickering among the inhabitants, which include Grant Williams (a long, long way from The Incredible Shrinking Man), Bobby Van (pulling the same annoying “comedy” shtick from Navy vs. The Night Monsters), and perennial TV guest star Ruta Lee. (Casey Kasem and Mike Farrell also have brief cameos.) Now, while it doesn’t make the rest of the movie worth sitting through, there is one amazing moment where Williams and another female astronaut accidentally blow a hatch and are suddenly “floating” (on strings) in Zero G with blood coming out of their eyes. That was AWESOME.


I Am Not Your Negro (2016) d. Peck, Raoul (Switzerland/France/Belgium) (1st viewing)

Impressive documentary about James Baldwin (told through his own words, spoken in most uncharacteristic fashion by Samuel L. Jackson, as far from Jules Winnfield as one could imagine), one that instantly became required viewing for well-intentioned whites in the wake of the protests/demonstrations following George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. We’ll never be able to truly understand the Black experience in America, but it’s on us to listen and learn.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) d. Alfredson, Tomas (UK/France) (2nd viewing)

A spy film with nary a single car chase or fist fight throughout, this is about as anti-Mission: Impossible or 007 as can be. Alfredson generates his thrills courtesy of oodles of tense looks, stiff jaws, terse words, and a brilliant ensemble of established and rising Brit character actors (Colin Firth, Ciaran Hinds, Mark Strong, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch) doing their thing with words and gesture. Gary Oldman received his first Oscar nomination (!), presumably for dialing down his usual (highly watchable) histrionics and acting like an ordinary human being for once.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) d. Singer, Bryan (USA) (1st viewing)

Thoroughly watchable reboot/extension of the X-Men universe, allowing the aging cast members (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan) to gracefully pass the torch to younger versions of themselves (James MacAvoy, Michael Fassbender) while Hugh Jackman continues to look amazing in his late 40s. Oh, yeah, there’s a plot about time travel, with Peter Dinklage playing an evil scientist who is absolutely not compensating for anything.


Bloodsport (1988) d. Arnold, Newt (USA) (2nd viewing)

Still considered by many (including me) the quintessential JCVD flick, the slim plot centers around a mixed martial arts (before it was even called such a thing) tournament known as The Kumite where the world’s resident badasses all congregate in one place to kick the ever-lovin’ crap out of one another. The script is garbage, the acting is questionable, the soundtrack is pure ’80s synth… but the fights are pretty darn great and that’s what we came to see. Van Damme, in his first starring role, reportedly had a hand in re-editing the film for its eventually release; I’m not sure what he had to work with or what he changed, but he clearly did a decent job. Bloodsport became a massive worldwide box-office success for Cannon films and The Muscles from Brussels was on his way to becoming a household name. Despite a solid Hollywood career as a second-unit director or first AD, this was only Arnold’s third (and last) time in the big seat, following 1962’s Hands of a Stranger and 1971’s Blood Thirst.

Kickboxer (1989) d. Di Salle, Mark / Worth, David (USA) (1st viewing)

Following a quick sideline into sci-fi with Cyborg, Van Damme returned to the arena, this time playing the brother of an arrogant and overconfident martial artist (Dennis Alexio) scheduled to fight in Thailand. When his sibling gets stomped, it’s time to cue the longest training sequence in film history as JC learns the ways of Muay Thai at the hands and feet of a wizened old hermit (Dennis Chan) living off the grid. Formulaic and fun, with some great showy sequences (including the unforgettable drunken tavern dance-off).

Universal Soldier (1992) d. Emmerich, Roland (USA) (2nd viewing)

Edging ever-closer to the mainstream, Van Damme had his biggest box-office success to date opposite Dolph Lundgren as a pair of former Vietnam veterans who murder each other on the battlefield only to be resurrected two decades later as cyborg troopers. Problem is, things get a little glitchy in their memory banks and they not only start reverting back to their human selves, they also remember that they hate each other. Future Master of Disaster Emmerich (The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Independence Day) delivers a solid serving of beer-and-chips entertainment with just the right amount of explosions, bulging male biceps (and buns!), and mayhem, all while being careful not to strain either of his leads’ limited acting resources.


Ninja III: The Domination (1984) d. Firstenberg, Sam (USA) (4th viewing)

Film Deviant Bryan Martinez tapped me to share the mike for the 7th episode of his new podcast, sharing thoughts and a glass of V-8 as we discuss one of the more schizophrenic Cannon flicks ever to grace the screen. It starts off as a balls-to-the-wall action flick, with black ninja assassin David Chung killing EVERYBODY on a golf course before finally being brought down in a hail of LAPD bullets. Of course, we soon learn that “only a ninja can kill a ninja,” as Chung’s spirit sneaks its way into hotbody telephone installer and aerobics fan Lucinda Dickey (Breakin', Cheerleader Camp), sending her out on nightly raids to avenge his death. Luckily, everyone’s favorite guy in the Tabi boots, Sho Kosugi, shows up on the scene to straighten shit out and the stage is set for a big plate of enjoyably WTF insanity. Listen HERE for tales of random breakdancing, moonlight missions, and more random references than you can shake a katana at. Enjoy!

American Ninja (1985) d. Firstenberg, Sam (USA) (1st viewing)

Originally envisioned as a vehicle for Chuck Norris (who wisely rejected it in favor of Code of Silence and Invasion USA), this exercise in whitewashing the famed Japanese assassin figure eventually landed at the doorstep of light comedian Michael Dudikoff (Bachelor Party) who had no previous martial arts experience and the screen presence of a bowl of sliced cantaloupe. SERIOUSLY, GUYS??? THIS IS THE BEST YOU COULD DO??? But the good old USA did not disappoint, with the target demographic (young and male) turning out by the scores, allowing the Cannon boys to squeeze a few more dollars out of the concept and launch a franchise in the process. ’Merica.

2020 Totals to Date: 215 films, 153 first time views, 71 horror, 2 cinema


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