February 28, 2021

Movie Night with Dave & Stinky: THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957)

 




The Big Gimmick of CRAZY SAMURAI: 400 vs 1

CRAZY SAMURAI: 400 vs 1 (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 92 min

From WELL GO USA

Review by Tiger the TerriblešŸ˜¾


The big gimmick of this title-tells-all film is a 77 minute action sequence presented in one continuous take. Unlike such recent examples as 1917 and Birdman, which masterfully created the illusion of an unbroken shot, Crazy Samurai: 400 vs 1 is the real deal. The sequence is clearly the work of one guy with a camera, whose shadow pops into-frame on occasion. We can even tell when he backs onto a crane to get an overhead shot. 


Prior to this sequence is a prologue that attempts to provide context, but anything resembling character development is non-existent. With the help of mercenaries, Chusuke (Kento Yamazaki) is seeking revenge on samurai Musashi (Tak Sakaguchi), who announces his arrival by killing a child, a good indication he’s probably the bad guy. Then Chusuke completely disappears once the fighting starts and doesn’t return until the epilogue, which inexplicably takes place seven years later and makes zero narrative sense.


"Attack all at once?? Are you crazy???"

The next 77 minutes consist of Musashi battling hundreds of faceless henchmen, mostly with his back to the camera (we don’t even see his face for the first 20 minutes). They attack him one at a time and are efficiently dispatched; not once does anyone think to gang-up on him or strike from behind. There’s little in the way of creative choreography or virtuosic swordplay...just guys lining up to be slashed, chopped or run-through before hobbling out-of-frame. One would think the forest floor would be soaked in gore and littered with bodies after awhile, but CGI blood sprays without ever hitting the ground and I’m assuming these guys are lining-up to be sword fodder more than once. 

Aside from some rain, there’s no further “plot” beyond this, nor does the film come to any sort of resolution. It’s like watching my daughter play Bloodborne for an hour before she gets bored and quits. But even that game has something resembling a story. All Crazy Samurai: 400 vs. 1 has to offer is the novelty of its gimmick, which wears off after about 10 minutes.  

KITTY CONSENSUS:

BLEH!

February 25, 2021

VANGUARD: Jackie Chan in Neutral

VANGUARD (Blu-ray Review)
2020 / 104 min

From LIONSGATE

Review by Tiger the TerriblešŸ˜¾

Time catches up with all of us, I guess.

Jackie Chan is 66 and has been acting nearly as long, while mostly doing all his own stunts. He still cranks-out movies by the bushel every year, but ain't the man he used to be. And that's okay. If the man prefers to pass the brawling baton to younger, more agile co-stars, who are we to judge? He’s got nothing left to prove.


But if he's gonna continue making movies, an occasional pretense of effort would be appreciated.


Chan gets top billing in the ironically-titled Vanguard, but you’d be hard-pressed to consider him the star. This is more of an ensemble film with Chan as the leader of a high-tech security company called Vanguard, which protects high-profile clients, or in this case, rescues the daughter of one when she is kidnapped. Chan occasionally engages in the action, but mostly coordinates the rescue from the sidelines while his beautiful-but-bland team do all the grunt work (and have the most screen time). 


Maybe that’s because Chan mostly looks like he doesn’t even want to be there. Despite another re-teaming with director Stanley Tong, this is a far cry from their Supercop days. The plot is derivative & lazy, the dialogue (also courtesy of Tong) is pretty terrible and, considering this is supposed to be an action-comedy, most attempts at humor are dead on arrival. As for the characters, they are either walking cliches or display zero personality. 


The game is afoot.
But by far, the worst aspect of Vanguard is the action itself, which grows increasingly ridiculous and not in a fun way. Sure, lots of action movies require a willing suspension of disbelief, but this one abuses the privilege. With the exception of a few neat Bondian gadgets and a not-half-bad opening fight scene, the cartoonish action set-pieces are so far removed from physical reality that they cease to be logistically plausible, exacerbated by some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in a film that wasn’t produced for the SyFy channel.

It used to be that Jackie Chan could elevate mediocre movies into something at-least watchable, using his physical skills, congeniality and comic timing to maintain audience goodwill. But he hasn’t appeared in a decent film for quite some time and Vanguard doesn’t reverse that trend. No one is expecting a return to his glory days, but it'd be nice if he occasionally appeared to be trying.


EXTRA KIBBLES

MAKING-OF FEATURETTE

DIGITAL COPY

KITTY CONSENSUS:

MEH.

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. ANDERSONšŸ’€

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 with the tagline, “The monster movie,” made it impossible to pass up. Ever since I was little, I always had a soft spot for creature features, 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, though the science applied by screenwriter David Seltzer 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 kill involves a kid bundled in a sleeping bag, who explodes in a flurry of feathers after snot-bear hurls 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. Sometimes I wonder if the Prophecy crew ever found their director similarly passed-out in the woods.


I don’t know when or if John Frankenheimer ever conquered 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 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 DestroyeršŸ˜¼

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 15, 2021

THE SWORDSMAN Brings the (Blind) Fury

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

From WELL GO USA

Review by Tiger the TerriblešŸ˜½

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 CatšŸ™€

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 DestroyeršŸ˜¾

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!