Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Fool's Views (6/16 – 6/30)

"Carrie Bradshaw, I need you!!!"

Howdy, troops!

Rolled into the halfway point of 2020 with a slightly lighter cinematic payload, due in large part to my having committed to a six-month Health Coach certification course, adding another 5-8 hours to my weekly schedule because I had SO MUCH SPARE TIME DON’T YOU KNOW. Ahem. That said, I’m feeling pretty excited and engaged by the new tools I’m acquiring, so no complaints. Plus, since the entirety of the class is conducted remotely via laptop video, it’s almost like I’m watching movies every day, the main difference being that instead of watching evil entities eviscerating everything, I’m instead learning the Axioms of Inflammatory Foods and 50 Fancy Names for Processed Sugar. Not quite as many blood and beasts, but twice as terrifying.

However, we still managed to clock in an even dozen of the flickers, including a second Kryptic Army Mission, a fistful of Jean-Claude, and a trio from the Man of Gold, William Goldman. Hopefully, you’ll find a little something to satisfy your appetites, whatever they might be. If not, we’re already halfway through July, so more Views are on the way!

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



The Seasoning House (2012) d. Hyett, Paul (UK) (1st viewing)

Depressing yarn about a mute girl Angel (Rosie Day) kidnapped during the Balkans War and put to work in a teenage brothel keeping the other residents fed, clothed, and medicated. The realism makes it difficult to enjoy this as any kind of “entertainment,” although there’s no faulting the performances or writer/director Hyett’s penchant for grim atmosphere. Kevin Howarth (The Last Horror Movie) is memorably slimy as Viktor, the guy who runs the show, ably supported (despite his wavering Russian accent) by Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers) as a former associate and best customer, but it’s Day’s heartbreakingly fierce spirit that shines through the darkness. Worth seeing, but you’ll want to take a shower afterwards.


Doom Asylum (1988) d. Friedman, Richard (USA) (1st viewing)

I went into this one with a fair degree of optimism, having enjoyed Friedman’s previous film Scared Stiff and knowing that this represented Frankenhooker star Patty Mullen’s only other feature film appearance. Sucker!!! Nope, it’s a super dumb “horror comedy” with unfunny lines spoken by untalented actors (including a pre-Sex and the City Kristin Davis in her screen debut) in an uninspired plot about kids hanging out in a supposedly haunted hospital. I mean, it’s PAINFUL.

But then, there are these stunning moments of well-executed gore courtesy of Vincent J. Guastini (Spookies, Requiem for a Dream, and about 100 other film credits, over half of which I’ve never heard of. Vince, FIRE YOUR AGENT.) It’s shocking how shocking these moments of competence are amidst the sea of amateur-hour Everything Else. Available now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video

Deadly Manor (1990) d. Larraz, Jose Ramon (Spain) (1st viewing)

This is another one that could have been so much better, considering the premise and writer/director Larraz in the driver’s seat. You’ve got an obnoxious group of youngsters out for a camping trip “somewhere in America” (evidenced by the Bob’s Big Boy statue riding around in the back of a passing truck) and they decide to go off the main road and stay the night in a deserted mansion interior decorated with hundreds of photos of a mysterious (and oft unclothed) woman (“Queen of the Bs” Jennifer Delora). I mean, come on, how do you screw this up?

Answer: by forcing us to spend an hour with these yo-yos wandering around bitching at each other without anything happening. Once the crew finally starts getting bumped off, it’s a relatively bloodless affair that barely registers. Only the last 10 minutes provide any juice, and most of that comes courtesy of Ms. Delora (who actually has had a fascinating off-screen career – worth checking out her IMDb bio).  Also available now on Blu-ray from Arrow Video


I Am Steve McQueen (2014) d. Renfroe, Jeff (Canada) (1st viewing)

Engaging biography of the '70s screen superstar, “The King of Cool,” and his struggles with fame and relationships as well as his love for speed and independence. Director Renfroe offers a curious if eclectic array of talking heads ranging from co-stars Robert Vaughn and Ali McGraw (one of several ex-Mrs. McQueens), son Chad McQueen and grandkids Molly and Steven, and assorted randos (Gary Oldman? Pierce Brosnan? Zoe Bell? Supermodel Marisa Miller? MMA champ Randy Couture?) While we may not get to know the man much better, we also get the sense that maybe what you saw was exactly what you got. Like a mountain stream, McQueen was cool but perhaps not very deep.


Black Eagle (1988) d. Karson, Eric (USA) (1st viewing)

When pretty much every martial arts fan says you can take a pass, that’s a pretty good sign you’re not missing out on much. Still, hope springs eternal when you see the dynamic duo of Sho Kosugi (star of the Cannon Ninja trilogy) and Jean-Claude Van Damme (on the brink of international stardom thanks to Bloodsport) adorning the video box cover. Sorry, folks. There’s barely any sizzle and what steak there is comes buried beneath a thick tasteless layer of filler.

Cyborg (1989) d. Pyun, Albert (USA) (1st viewing)

By contrast, I had actually heard good things about this post-apocalyptic B-movie, directed by the guy who gave us The Sword and the Sorcerer and featuring JCVD in his first post-Bloodsport starring role. Instead of giving us the Terminator/Robocop riff that we were hoping for, with Jean-Claude as the titular cyborg or potentially battling same, the title refers to a mechanized courier that barely figures into the plot! Apparently, Van Damme wrangled his way into the editing room again and rewrote/restructured Pyun’s script to the point that the disgruntled director took his name off and gave the onscreen credit to his cat, Kitty Chalmers!! Even by low-budget Mad Max rip-off standards, it’s pretty clunky stuff, with hot bod villain Vincent Klym communicating his malicious intentions by bellowing incoherently every 15 seconds and Deborah Richter going through the spunky sexy sidekick paces.

Lionheart (1990) d. Lettich, Sheldon (USA) (1st viewing)

While serving in the French Foreign Legion, Lyon (Jean-Claude Van Damme) finds out that his brother has been killed by drug dealers, leaving a wife and child on poverty’s doorstep with bills to pay and few prospects. Hooking up with street-smart con man Joshua (Harrison Page), Lyon works the unsanctioned underground fighting circuit to earn enough dough to keep them off the streets. Unfortunately, for a movie that focuses almost exclusively on big tough guys knocking the crap out of each other, the fisticuffs and footicuffs themselves are surprisingly lackluster, as is the subplot about rich bitch Deborah Rennard aching to bed her main gladiator and her willingness to throw him to the wolves when he rejects her. The ending, featuring Van Damme’s Kickboxer nemesis Michel Qissi, is a bit of surprise, and worth sticking around for.

Hard Target (1993) d. Woo, John (USA) (2nd viewing)

After blowing the doors of Hong Kong action cinema with jaw-dropping showcases like Hardboiled, The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, and Bullet in the Head, Woo finally made his Stateside debut with yet another variation on The Most Dangerous Game, pitting cold-blooded businessmen Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo against Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ragin’ Cajun Chance Boudreaux while Yancy Butler stands around looking fetching and helpless. It’s nobody’s best moment, but it’s Good Dumb Fun with Amazing Mullets and that’s sometimes all you need.

JCVD (2008) d. El Mechri, Mabrouk (Belgium/Luxembourg/France) (2nd viewing)

Aging action star Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as… an aging action named Jean-Claude Van Damme, turning in a remarkably emotionally resonant performance as his “character” deals with child custody legal tangles as well as getting tangled up in a robbery gone awry. Writer/director Mekri dazzles both visually and verbally and the Muscles from Brussels is up to the dramatic challenge.


Harper (1966) d. Smight, Jack (USA) (1st viewing)

Paul Newman delivers yet another “H” film, following Hud and The Hustler (with Hombre, Harry and Son, and The Hudsucker Proxy still to come), playing a nonchalant private detective assigned to find Lauren Bacall’s missing husband and finding himself tangled up in a ransom scheme involving low-rent racketeers (Robert Webber), washed-up starlets (Shelly Winters), layabout playboys (Robert Wagner), hophead jazz musicians (Julie Harris), teenage sexpots (Pamela Tiffin), and random cult leaders (Strother Martin). William Goldman adapted from Ross MacDonald’s novel, The Moving Target (the title under which it was released in the UK). Newman would reprise his Lew Harper character for 1975’s The Drowning Pool.

Magic (1978) d. Attenborough, Richard (USA) (4th viewing)

It gives me no pleasure to be “that guy,” as this is one of those much-beloved-by-the-masses movies that I always want to be better than it is. You’ve got Anthony Hopkins as unhinged ventriloquist Corky Withers, Ann-Marget as his unrequited childhood sweetheart, Ed Lauter as her surly mate, and Burgess Meredith as a stogie-chewing talent agent. William Goldman adapting his own novel and Attenborough behind the lens… it should have been amazing.

Here’s the problem: Hopkins, for all his talent, is completely miscast as a successful stand-up comedian/magician – this guy couldn’t make a two-year-old laugh with a squeaky toy and a bowl of Jell-O. Granted, much of the film centers on the burgeoning (forbidden) love affair, and there are a few good moments to be had, but Marget struggles to give substance to her underwritten role while Hopkins gnashes the scenery to smithereens with his loony fits. Even the struggle for domination between sensitive Corky and his foul-mouthed dummy “Fats,” which should have been electric, is little more than the expected ho-hum clichés we’ve all seen before and better. That’s Jerry Houser, aka “Killer Carlson” from Slap Shot, as the cab driver.

Marathon Man (1976) d. Schlesinger, John (USA) (5th viewing)

Famous for its “Is it safe?” catchphrase spoken by an ailing (both physically and professionally) Laurence Olivier, this self-adapted screen version of William Goldman’s stunning novel loses quite a bit in the translation despite a wealth of compelling performances… or maybe the plot holes simply become more glaring in truncated form. Grad student William “Babe” Levy (Dustin Hoffman) gets caught up in a Nazi war criminal’s (Olivier, in an Oscar-nominated turn) scheme to liberate his ill-gotten riches from a Manhattan safety deposit box, with his secret agent brother Doc (Roy Scheider), Doc’s duplicitous partner (William Devane), and a mysterious foreign student who may not be what she seems (Marthe Keller). Produced by Robert Evans (Chinatown) and Sidney Beckerman (Red Dawn).

2020 Totals to Date: 227 films, 161 first time views, 75 horror, 2 cinema

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