February 23, 2021

PROPHECY and the Unholy Drinker

PROPHECY (1979)

Starring Talie Shire, Robert Foxworth, Armand Assante, Victoria Racimo, Richard Dysart, Tom McFadden. Directed by John Frankenheimer. (102 min)


Essay by D.M. ANDERSON💀

My friends and I finally had the chance to check-out Halloween when it eventually made its way to the Southgate Quad, just a quick 20-minute bike ride away. After buying tickets to one of the other PG rated films playing there, we snuck into Auditorium #3, which was packed with a bunch of other kids who had the same idea. God bless Southgate's non-existent security measures. 

We emerged totally drained two hours later, pumping with adrenaline, knuckles aching from gripping the armrests and perhaps a tad self-conscious from occasionally screaming like schoolgirls around our peers. Halloween may seem a little quaint today, but you gotta remember that there was nothing like it at the time. Back then, the concept of a silent, relentless, unstoppable killer was new and terrifying. The film was so-well put together by young prodigy John Carpenter that I completely overlooked some of its wonkier aspects (who the fuck goes trick-or-treating at four in the afternoon?). 


I’d seen horror movies before, but that Saturday night was when the bug really bit me. From that point on, I was ready for any scarefest Southgate’s management saw fit to throw on the screen next.


That next happened to be a little ditty called Prophecy, which dropped a couple of weeks later. I didn’t actually know what the word ‘prophecy’ meant, but the trailer, along the tagline, “The monster movie,” made it impossible to pass up. Ever since I was little, I always had a soft spot for monster movies, even if the belligerent beastie was a snot-coated mutant bear.


Robert Reed  Foxworth stars as Dr. Robert Verne, an environmentalist who’s hired by the EPA to investigate a dispute between a paper mill and the local Native Americans. He also brings wife Maggie (Talia Shire), who plays the cello but really serves no narrative purpose other than to react, scream and announce she’s pregnant. For that, Shire gets top-billing, presumably because Rocky made her the most famous face in the cast. Poor Mr. Foxworth, a talented guy who simply had the misfortune of looking too much like the Brady Bunch dad to have any marquee value (though he’s deceptively creepy in Damien: Omen II).


It turns out the mill has been dumping mercury into the nearby river, which spawns a variety of abnormally large animals, including the aforementioned snot-bear. Like the creature features of the ‘50s, Prophecy is also a movie with a message. But instead of the perils of nuclear testing, we’re made privy to the consequences of polluting the environment. You gotta love the science applied by screenwriter David Seltzer, which is kinda like suggesting windmills cause cancer.


Mike steps out on Carol.

But as a teenage city boy sitting in the theater that night, I didn’t give two shits about the environment. I just wanted to see snot-bear kill people. Sometimes the monster looks like a guy in a costume, other times a slimy puppet, but the death scenes are actually pretty cool and quite violent for a PG-rated film. My favorite death involves a kid bundled in a sleeping bag, who explodes in a flurry of feathers after snot-bear throws him against a boulder with the ferocity of a major league pitcher. The entire theater roared with laughter.


Speaking of which, Prophecy is quite often unintentionally funny...dumb, daffy and devoid of any genuine scares, despite a pretty sizable budget and the backing of a major studio. It’s a gloriously goofy film that ends up being terrific fun in spite of it’s dead-serious tone (or perhaps because of it). After it ended, almost everyone filing from the theater was chuckling and grinning. While the film didn’t have an iota of Halloween’s visceral terror, I can’t honestly say I felt ripped off. 


But here’s the icing on the cake...Prophecy was directed by none other than John Frankenheimer. 


Being 15, I was unaware of Frankenheimer’s name, talent and impressive body of work. This was the guy who helmed such heavyweight masterpieces as Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, The Train, Seven Days in May and Seconds. Even such comparatively-lighter fare as Grand Prix was a technical triumph, where Frankenheimer managed to turn auto racing into a cinematic ballet of speed. In the ‘70s, he was entrusted with a sequel to The French Connection and directed a crackling adaptation of Thomas Harris’ first novel, Black Sunday (parts of which were filmed during the actual Super Bowl). Those films all have unique qualities and quirks that eventually made John Frankenheimer one of my all-time favorite directors.


Which begs the question: Just who the hell thought a director known for atmospheric, adult-oriented dramas and complex thrillers was the right choice to shoot a guy in a monster suit? That’s like tapping Raymond Carver to write an Archie comic 


Still, Frankenheimer took the job. Granted, he might have lost a step or two since his 1960s glory days, but it ain’t like his previous couple of films were flops, so maybe he was simply too snockered to notice how silly the story was. Not to speak ill of the dead, but he was a raging alcoholic at the time. Something tells me that a sober John Frankenheimer would have angrily called his agent back and indignantly stammered, ”A snot-bear? I have Burt-fucking-Lancaster on speed-dial! I made people take Rock Hudson seriously! I was nominated for the Palme d’Or! And why the hell is it called Prophecy, anyway???”


But alas, the call probably went something like this: (Cracking a beer open) “Sure (buurrrp), why not? Maybe I can get Bu(uurrrrrp) Lancaster to be the snot-bear (buuurrrrraaaaap).”


John Frankenhammered.

By most accounts, including David Seltzer’s, Frankenheimer was also pretty shitfaced during production, which might explain why Prophecy turned out the way it did. Sure, every great director pumps-out a pooch or two, either because they needed the money, were indifferent to the material or fell in love with the smell of their own farts. However, there isn't a single frame in Prophecy that would remind anyone it was directed by the same guy responsible for The Manchurian Candidate.


But you know what? I doubt Prophecy would have been nearly as much frivolous fun if Frankenheimer had laid off the sauce (or Burt Lancaster played snot-bear). Sometimes there’s nothing more entertaining than an inebriated individual trying to be taken seriously. The film and its forest setting even remind me of a time my intoxicated uncle tried like hell to scare us kids during a camping trip by pretending to be a killer-in-the-woods, but he lost his way back to the campsite. My aunt found him an hour later, sleeping against a tree. That incident made it the greatest camping trip of my life. In the right scenario, drunk people can be a lot of fun.


I don’t know when or if John Frankenheimer ever beat his demons, but it would be 20 years before he directed another decent theatrical film, Ronin, which was a glorious return-to-form. He passed away a few years later at the age of 72, leaving a legacy of bonafide classics. Prophecy isn’t among them, but I still have a soft spot for it.


As much as Halloween scared me back then, time and countless imitators have somewhat deluded its impact. With all due respect to its considerable and continuing influence on the horror genre, revisiting Michael Myers’ exploits is no longer as enjoyable as watching snot-bear biting the heads off loggers. Maybe that’s just how I’m wired, or maybe because, for better or worse, there isn’t another film quite like Prophecy.


So maybe there’s a little Frankenheimer in it, after all.


February 20, 2021

THE VERY EXCELLENT MR. DUNDEE: Hogan Plays Hogan

THE VERY EXCELLENT MR. DUNDEE (DVD Review)
2021 / 88 min

From LIONSGATE

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😼

Be aware that this isn't another sequel to Crocodile Dundee, not that anyone was pining for one. It’s been well-over 30 years since that film briefly endeared Paul Hogan to the world outside his native Australia, and nearly as long since most of us have cared about what he’s been up to. But ironically, cultural irrelevance is one of this film’s more amusing running gags.

It’s one element that makes The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee the second-best film to bear the title character’s name. Since Crocodile Dundee’s two official sequels were lukewarm leftovers, that may be faint praise, but it’s still more amusing than I expected.


However, little of it has to do with Hogan, playing a fictionalized version of himself. All that’s really required of him is to act bemused, in his indubitable laid-back manner, as he finds himself in a quick succession of scandals which have thrust him back into the spotlight (but aren’t really his fault). Though occasionally heavy-handed, the film offers a few clever observations about so-called ‘cancel culture,’ as well as public perception of expired pop icons.


Date Night in the Hogan household.
While some of the humor stems from Hogan’s former stardom and career decline (such as nobody being aware there was a second Crocodile Dundee sequel), he’s actually the least essential aspect of the narrative. With just a few tweaks to the script, this could be about any forgotten celebrity, such as co-stars Chevy Chase or John Cleese (also playing themselves). But then, that would deprive the film of its most ironic joke: Chevy Chase being depicted as universally loved.

A slew of other famous faces - including several of Hogan’s fellow Aussies - appear in cameos (some through archive footage). In another example of irony, none-other than perpetually stone-faced Costas Mandylor delivers the biggest laugh-out-loud moment. Elsewhere, The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee is seldom hilarious, but it’s generally good-natured and Hogan remains likable. Considering I expected the film to be a sad, desperate attempt to capitalize on a brand name that hasn’t been relevant for decades, that’s quite an accomplishment.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTE - Short promo featuring interviews with some of the cast, as well as director Dean Murphy.

TRAILERS

KITTY CONSENSUS:

SURPRISINGLY...NOT BAD

February 17, 2021

Movie Night with Dave & Stinky: THEM! (1954)




February 15, 2021

THE SWORDSMAN Brings the (Blind) Fury

THE SWORDSMAN (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 101 min

From WELL GO USA

Review by Tiger the Terrible😽

Young Tae-yul is Joseon’s best swordsman and the last to stand in defense of its king, against an insurrection led by military leader Min Seung-ho (Jung Man-sik). Years later, Tae-yul (Jang Hyuk) is living a humble existence on a remote mountain with his teenage daughter, Tae-ok (Kim Hyun-soo). He is also slowly going blind.

Through flashbacks, we learn Tae-yul was defeated all those years ago, his impending blindness the result of facial injuries from sword shrapnel. Meanwhile, a ruthless, sadistic member of the Qing dynasty, Gurutai (Joe Taslim) torments what’s left of the kingdom, rounding-up young women to sell as slaves and forcing Joseon dignitaries into an uneasy alliance (but is more like servitude). So of course, when he snatches Tae-ok, Tse-yul dusts-off the sword to save her.


The narrative is actually a lot more intricate than that, perhaps overly so. With more peripheral characters than a film like this really needs, it’s well-into the first act before everyone’s role is established and the central conflict is clear. However, there’s absolutely zero ambiguity as to who the main antagonist is. With his rockin' mullet, perpetual sneer and overwrought arrogance, Guruti establishes himself as the bad guy before even saying a word. As the titular character, Hyuk’s far more subdued, required to do little more than stare at the ground or look away from his adversaries while he’s fighting.


Guruti's buddies muster the courage to inform him nobody wears mullets anymore.
And those fight scenes are awesome. Though the narrative takes its time leading up to them, they’re ultimately worth the wait. Tae-yul is essentially a one-man army as he slices and dices his way through hordes of henchmen and squadrons of soldiers, some of whom are even armed with rifles (making these guys worse shots than Imperial Stormtroopers). These scenes are handled with a lot of panache, using elaborate choreography, great editing and - most significantly - minimal special effects. 

While the plot isn’t without interest and the main characters adequately served by decent performances, it’s ultimately the gonzo final act that makes The Swordsman worth checking out. It’s a lengthy, jaw-dropping parade of superlative swordplay that's sure to engage fans of close-quarters action.

KITTY CONSENSUS:

PURR-R-R.

February 13, 2021

Not so RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE

RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE (Blu-ray Review)
2019 / 81 min

From RLJE FILMS

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

Directed and co-written by actor-comedian Jay Baruchel (he of How to Train Your Dragon fame), Random Acts of Violence is based on a horror comic of the same name. He also casts himself in one of the leading roles, so obviously his heart is in it. I just wish mine was.

I can’t tell you how faithful the film is to its source material, but will say this is not how I would have approached it. Considering the interesting - if somewhat familiar - premise, this could have been a clever, comedic and insightful horror thriller. After all, the whole comic fandom subculture is certainly rife with satiric possibilities. Instead, we get another dreary, routine slasher film.


Jesse Williams is Todd Walkley, creator of a popular comic series called Slasherman, which is inspired by a series of real-life serial murders. Stuck with a case of writer’s block, he hits the road for a press tour with girlfriend Kathy (Joanna Brewster), artist Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and buddy/publisher, Ezra (Baruchel). He meets zealous fans and does interviews, where he’s sometimes chastised for capitalizing on tragedy. 


Meanwhile, a series of brutal murders start occurring, identical to those appearing in his comics and, despite the film's title, not really random at all. The killer taunts Todd with cryptic phone messages giving clues to the next murder. Somewhat miraculously, he also seems to know when and where to commit these crimes so Todd can stumble across his handiwork. How the killer knows in-advance which roads they’ll be traveling is a question I guess we ain’t supposed to ask. And it’s amazing how often the exact types of victims he requires to replicate these comic book deaths just happen to be on those same roads...right when he needs them.


Jesse Williams' angry face...also his happy face, his scared face, his bemused face, his perplexed face, etc.

But hey...plausibility has never been a prerequisite for good horror. Unfortunately, Random Acts of Violence doesn’t qualify. It takes its premise way too seriously, to the point where it feels like we’re being preached on the dangers of media violence (ironic, considering how sadistic and gory this is). The tone is consistently brooding, as is the self-absorbed main character, Todd, who seems to spend most of the time bemoaning his predicament (and Williams pretty much plays him with a single expression of bewilderment). 


Even all that would be okay if the story held any surprises, but we’ve seen it all before and pulled-off with more panache than Baruchel and his cast are able to muster. Aside from some decent practical make-up effects, there’s little to recommend Random Acts of Violence. Humorless, predictable and ultimately depressing, the film is competently assembled, but more like a Misguided Act of Tedium.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTES - “More Than Just a Scary Movie”; “Inside the Making of an Action Scene”

INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR JAY BARUCHEL


KITTY CONSENSUS:

MEH.

February 10, 2021

LOVE, WEDDINGS & OTHER DISASTERS: A Fistful of Dugan

LOVE, WEDDINGS & OTHER DISASTERS (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 96 min

From LIONSGATE

Review by Stinky the Destroyer😾

Somewhat ominously, writer-director Dennis Dugan’s name is all over the front cover, as prominently as his marquee cast. If this would-be auteur doesn’t ring a bell, Dugan is best known for directing a lot of Adam Sandler’s worst comedies, as well as the most obnoxious ”family” film of all time, Problem Child

But hey, even Michael Bay and Paul W.S. Anderson managed to knock it out of the park on occasion. And with a cast that includes Jeremy Irons and Diane Keaton, how bad could it possibly be?


Love, Weddings and Other Disasters answers that rhetorical question as though it were a challenge. Meandering, narratively rudderless and staggeringly unfunny, this is a sprawling mess of a movie that not-only wastes a pretty decent cast, it doesn’t have the attention span to focus on any single character more than five minutes at a time. But that’s okay, because they’re so vapidly-written that we never feel like we’re watching real people, anyway.


Jeremy and Keaton discuss their salaries.
The ‘plot’ consists of several concurrent stories of various characters in and around Boston, some looking for love, others who don’t think they’re looking for love. The storylines occasionally intersect, but all of them culminate in a massive wedding during the final act. In the meantime, the narrative shifts from story to story, revisiting each one with the frequency of an old Love Boat episode. The pacing and tone are all over the place. One minute it’s as juvenile as a Sandler film, the next it’s as maudlin as a Hallmark card, with little or no transition. It’s almost like Dugan shot four or five different shorts, then haphazardly cobbled them together for a feature-length film.

You can’t blame the cast, who are doing their best with what they’ve been given, which ain’t much. Perhaps Dugan was counting on their talent to mask his utter inability to write convincing characters or amusing dialogue. The only truly terrible performance comes courtesy of the director himself, playing the obnoxious host of a dating game show. Like Sandler at his worst, he comes across as his own biggest fan, but only manages to instill the viewer with second hand embarrassment. The entire scene is like a lame Saturday Night Live sketch that goes on way too long.


Dugan does deserve props for one thing...he managed to attract a pretty decent cast. I’m not sure how he pulled it off, because Love, Weddings & Other Disasters is...well, a disaster. It’s an interminable, laugh-free endurance test with artificial characters, erratic pacing and moments of shallow sentimentality. The most prominent name in the credits gets most of the blame.


EXTRA KIBBLES

FEATURETTE - “A Celebration: Making Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” 

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director/co-writer Dennis Dugan

DESCRIPTIVE AUDIO COMMENTARY

DIGITAL COPY

KITTY CONSENSUS:

BLEH!

THE POOP SCOOP: Hero Edition

WONDER WOMAN 1984 on Digital 3/16 and 4K, Blu-ray & DVD 3/30
It’s time for a hero when “Wonder Woman 1984” arrives on Premium Video on Demand (PVOD), 4K, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital. The film is directed by Patty Jenkins and stars Gal Gadot (“Wonder Woman”) in the title role. It also stars Chris Pine (“Wonder Woman,” the “Star Trek” films) as Steve Trevor, Kristen Wiig (“Bridesmaids,” “The Martian”) as Barbara Minerva, Pedro Pascal (TV’s “Game of Thrones,” “The Mandalorian”) as Maxwell Lord, Robin Wright (TV’s “House of Cards,” “Blade Runner 2049”) as Antiope and Connie Nielsen (“Wonder Woman,” TV’s “I Am the Night”) as Hippolyta.

The fate of the world is once more on the line, and only Wonder Woman can save it. This new chapter in the Wonder Woman story finds Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) living quietly among mortals in the vibrant, sleek 1980s—an era of excess driven by the pursuit of having it all. Though she’s come into her full powers, she maintains a low profile, curating ancient artifacts and only performing her superheroic acts incognito. But now, Diana will have to step directly into the spotlight and muster all her wisdom, strength and courage in order to save mankind from a world of its own making.

 

“Wonder Woman 1984” 4K UHD Combo Pack and Blu-ray contain the following special features:

  • The Making of Wonder Woman 1984: Expanding the Wonder

  • Gal & Kristen: Friends Forever

  • Small But Mighty

  • Scene Study: The Open Road

  • Scene Study: The Mall

  • Gal & Krissy Having Fun

  • Meet the Amazons

  • Black Gold Infomercial

  • Gag Reel

  • Wonder Woman 1984 Retro Remix


THE TOLL arrives on Blu-ray and DVD 3/30
Supernatural terror and spine-tingling suspense highlight this gripping journey into fear. When Cami orders a taxi service to take her to her father’s country home, she’s hoping for a quiet and uneventful ride. But a wrong turn by Spencer, her chatty driver, results in the car stalling on a dark and remote road. After several threatening and inexplicable occurrences, Cami and Spencer realize they are being watched by an unseen presence — one that sees them as trespassers, and is ready to exact a deadly toll.

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN on 4K Blu-ray 4/27
The time is now. The place is aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz, America's mightiest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier on maneuvers in the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly, a freak electrical storm engulfs the ship and triggers the impossible: The Nimitz is hurtled back in time to December 6, 1941, mere hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As the enemy fleet speeds towards Hawaii, the warship's Captain (Kirk Douglas), a Defense Department expert (Martin Sheen), a maverick Air Wing Commander (James Farentino) and a desperate Senator in the Roosevelt administration (Charles Durning) must choose between the unthinkable. Do they allow the Japanese to complete their murderous invasion or launch a massive counter-strike that will forever change the course of history?

 

LA LLORONA Golden Globe Nominee - Available on Digital HD March 2, 2021
RLJE Films, a business unit of AMC Networks, has picked up select rights to LA LLORONA from Shudder, AMC Networks’ streaming service for horror, thriller and the supernatural. LA LLORONA was recently nominated for Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language and is Guatemala’s Official Entry for 2021 Academy Award® consideration for Best International Feature Film. LA LLORONA will be released on Digital HD on March 2, 2021. LA LLORONA blends together the terror of both myth and reality into a devastating exposé of the genocidal atrocities against the Mayan community in Guatemala. Through a modern retelling of the classic Latin American legend, LA LLORONA forces a reckoning with not-so-distant crimes which should not have been forgotten. Following a premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival where the film won Best Film (Venice Days), LA LLORONA has had an impressive festival tour with appearances at TIFF, Sundance and BFI. The film is being celebrated as a true depiction of Latino culture. LA LLORONA is the third feature from iconic Guatemalan filmmaker Jayro Bustamante (Tremors), who co-wrote the film with Lisandro Sánchez. The film stars María Mercedes Coroy (Ixcanul), Margarita Kenéfic (Aro Tolbukhin in the Mind of a Killer), Sabrina de la Hoz (Tremors), and Julio Diaz.