I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Thor: Ragnarok

Recently some friends and I were choosing favorites between Marvel’s three Chrises. It’s a tough call because Evans (the Captain America one) has the best Marvel series in my opinion, plus he seems like a cool guy in real life and starred in SNOWPIERCER. But Pratt (the Star Lord one) is the funniest and most down-to-earth Chris, and he has the more irreverent Marvel series. I even like his hypermasculine hold-on-I-need-to-roll-up-my-sleeves-so-you-can-see-my-forearms turn in JURASSIC WORLD.

Still, I chose Hemsworth (the Thor one) as my favorite Chris, because here is the most potentially embarrassing of the major Marvel characters, and frankly their least memorable series, but they got this Australian guy I never heard of who looks like He-Man and still was able to fuel the entire first movie on the power of his charisma. I really realized I was a fan when he did Michael Mann’s BLACKHAT. Not only is it a movie I really liked, but it was the first time in a while that one of these new guys displayed the type of manly magnetism that inspired me in the action movies of the ’80s and ’90s. I’m older than him but he made me want to grow up to slick my hair back and do hand stand pushups and read about philosophers.

So thank God his signature character Thor finally gets a movie worthy of his charms. Taika Waititi, the New Zealand writer-director best known for WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS and the great HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, completely reinvents the series as a colorful comedy much more in the vein (and sci-fi landcape) of GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY than of the previous THORs. He quickly makes him funny, destroys his hammer, puts him on another planet and has cyborg Stan Lee cut his hair short. So it’s different. (read the rest of this shit…)

Hollywood’s New Blood

Since SLASHER SEARCH 2017 barely got off the ground, I have decided to break tradition and continue it post-Halloween. I guess the series will go on sporadically either until I’m satisfied that I found a good one or until I get sick of it.

HOLLYWOOD’S NEW BLOOD is copyrighted 1989 (IMDb says 1988) and the cover – a painting of a screaming woman reflected in the lens of a movie camera held by a rotting ghoul – makes it look like it might be a little comedic in a Hollywood satire or maybe even EC Comics RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD kind of way. Unfortunately that key art is more professional than the movie itself. It’s basically regional horror where the region happens to be Los Angeles.

A small group of acting students go out to a remote cabin for a seminar. (A pretty big nice cabin, not a spooky EVIL DEAD one.) During the course of their stay they learn that the cabin was built on the site of a local tragedy, when a drunk film crew were rigged the wrong house with explosives and blew up the Glouster family. Pretty huge error there that seems almost impossible to have gone through with without someone on the crew or in the house catching on, but hopefully they learned their lesson and were more careful on future productions. (read the rest of this shit…)

Legendary Assassin

After seeing WOLF-WARRIOR-II-mania sweep the globe (especially in the China part of it) I thought I should pay a little more attention to Wu Jing as an up and coming Badass Laureate (director/asskicker), so I went back to LEGENDARY ASSASSIN, his directational debut (co-directed with KILL ZONE 2 action director Chung Chi “Nicky” Li, who also choreographed).

Though there will later be lulls, it’s clear the movie is worth our time within the first 22 minutes or so, because by that time we’ve already experienced two excellent fights and the unveiling of a nice, elegant premise (the screenplay is by Fung Chi-Keung, who wrote SHAOLIN SOCCER and THE MERMAID). Wu plays “Bo,” the assassin of the title, so presumably he’s legendary, although this is not really covered in the movie. He fearlessly walks in to face Chairman Ma (Kou Zhan Wen, TAI CHI II), an evil crime boss who comes at him Shaw Brothers style with a big bladed staff. Bo does lots of leaning and dodging and running up things and defeats him unarmed.

In the morning we see Bo walking up to a dock to make his exit… just as a police officer is turning people away. All boats are cancelled due to an approaching typhoon. And the last boat in unloads a troupe of gangsters looking for the killer of Chairman Ma.

Whoops. This could get messy. (read the rest of this shit…)

Security

SECURITY is solid, entertaining old school action in the post-DIE HARD mold. The score by FM Le Sieur even had me thinking of the UNDER SIEGE movies during the watch-as-a-well-orchestrated-plot-by-heavily-armed-criminals-unfolds section about the ambush of a convoy of U.S. Marshals transporting an important witness for a mob trial.

Admittedly this is a Nu-Image production and it doesn’t feel as big and cinematic as those ’90s studio action classics. The supporting cast on the good guy side have a bit of a TV feel, and the shopping mall that it takes place in has got to be some set they keep in a Bulgarian studio to use in various movies. The stores and merchandise are blandly generic – there’s a store called “Gift Shop”! – so it never has that feeling of being filmed in a real location, though the layout works well for action staging.

Everything else is refreshingly on-point. Antonio Banderas stars as discharged Marine Captain Eddie Deacon, temporarily separated from his wife and daughter to deal with psychological issues, struggling to find work, having to beg for a special favor from an agency worker just to be set up with a minimum wage job doing security at a mall. Of course he starts the same night and in the same area as the attack on the US Marshals (actually their uniforms say “USA Marshals,” which is weird) and the witness the attackers are after, a little girl named Jamie (Katherine Mary de la Rocha), escapes to the mall. So Eddie has to play ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 with a crew of young doofuses on his team. (read the rest of this shit…)

R.I.P. Paul Baack

Just a brief post in tribute to Paul Baack, a remarkable man that I never met but knew of through my movie reviews here. More than ten years ago I first heard from Paul through his best friend Tom Zielinski, together the creators of a James Bond webzine called Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. They got a kick out of my DIE HARD 2 review where I described John McClane as the American and superior version of James Bond, and they thought it would be funny to have me review some actual 007 movies for them. If I remember right they sent me a DVD of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH and a Blockbuster gift card to rent something better? They definitely sent me a large HMSS mug, because I use that to this day.

Paul – who was the namesake for a villain in the 1999 Bond continuation novel High Time to Kill – was left quadriplegic after a car hit him in 2003. He designed HMSS using voice-activated software, which amazes me. Occasionally over the years I would hear from Tom and Paul about a particular review, or thoughts on the latest Bond, and it always meant alot to me.

So here’s to Paul. I wish I could’ve met him and that he could’ve heard one of the times I sang “Thunderball” at karaoke. But at least I got to write him this review of THUNDERBALL and GOLDENEYE, which was a fun time for me.

My thoughts today are with Tom and the rest of Paul’s friends and family.

Here is a nice obituary from one of the regular HMSS contributors.

And from his family: http://www.countrysidefuneralhomes.com/obituary/paul-baack

Bushwick

BUSHWICK is an oh-shit-what-if movie. It uses the intimate perspective of one handheld camera – mostly following one character in ROPE-style long takes edited to look like one shot – to show what it would feel like to suddenly find your neighborhood under attack. It doesn’t have the limitations of found footage, but it reminds me of CLOVERFIELD in the way it plunges us into the chaos, not really knowing what’s going on, running through hoping not to get killed, seeing and hearing mayhem going on down the street, or on the next block down. People running, screaming, cars screeching by peppering buildings with gun shots, snipers on the roofs, explosions in the distance.

There’s no science fiction here. This is a guerrilla attack. Ski-masked gunmen, other people shooting back, the factions unclear at first. The reason for the attack has been widely discussed – it was the first thing I read about the movie, and part of why I was excited about it – but since it plays as a big reveal I’ll save it for the back end of the review.

The movie follows Lucy (Brittany Snow, PROM NIGHT remake), a white girl coming to the titleistical New York neighborhood to visit her grandmother. But she and her boyfriend Jose (Arturo Castro, BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK) emerge from the subway and find themselves in a literal war zone, and he is the first casualty. Treated as an outsider in the mostly black neighborhood, Lucy is quickly grabbed by two not-well-meaning locals and dragged into a house (some rare DEATH WISH bullshit in an otherwise pro-urban movie). But then Stupe (Dave Bautista, HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN), the guy who actually lives in the house, comes in to grab his things, sees them and kills them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Inferno

This year has brought an avalanche of well-deserved attention to Dario Argento’s popsicle-colored opium nightmare of a Nancy Drew witchcraft mystery, SUSPIRIA (1977). With a new 4K restoration playing in some cities, a Blu-Ray finally on the horizon and somebody apparently having the audacity to do a remake, the film is being widely written about, discussed and discovered by a new generation.

No big surprise here: I tend to consider it Argento’s masterpiece. The combination of its boldly colorful stylization and rocking, growling, hissing, demonic incantation of a score by Goblin (their very best, in my opinion) put me in some sort of cinematic state of delirium where normal narrative logic is not necessary, or even desirable. SUSPIRIA is creepy in some deep subconscious way far beyond the tyrannical reach of sense or explicability.

But after watching them both many times over the years, including this week, I confess I’ve become more attached to Argento’s 1980 follow-up, INFERNO. Technically part two in a “Three Mothers” trilogy (it connects to the witch from SUSPIRIA and the one from MOTHER OF TEARS 27 years later), it works as its own surreal adventure. The score by Keith Emerson is crazy and bombastic by any standards other than being compared to Goblin. Argento, his SUSPIRIA production designer Giuseppe Bassan (SUPER FLY T.N.T.) and new cinematographer Romano Albani (PHENOMENA, TROLL, TERRORVISION) elaborate on the evil-DICK-TRACY red blue and green lighting and ornate furnishings. There’s alot of beautifully textured wallpaper designs and a door handle so artsy it becomes a danger; its pointy metal fronds catch on a character’s blouse during a chase, catching her like an animal in a trap.

It is my position, though, that INFERNO has a more involving mystery than SUSPIRIA, and even higher peaks of surrealism and violence. I’m not here to argue that it’s better, but just to encourage you to see it if you haven’t, and confer with you about it if you have. (read the rest of this shit…)

Masters of Horror: Dance of the Dead / The Damned Thing

Dance of the Dead is Tobe Hooper’s first episode of the Masters of Horror anthology TV show – it was the third week of the series, November 2005, airing after episodes by Don Coscarelli and Stuart Gordon. Made in the throes of the Bush years, one could argue that the wars overseas and upheaval at home subconsciously gave it its apocalyptic flavor, much as TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE has been said to have been marinated in Vietnam era angst.

Not that it’s as good. Or even close. Like all Masters of Horror episodes, its TV budget, schedule, locations and crew dull the edge of any cinematic flair or authorial vision. That’s a bad mix with Hooper’s decision to go a little Tony Scott with the Avid farts and camera shakes. That style might’ve been intended as a translation of the showy writing style in the short story by Richard Matheson (whose son Richard Christian Matheson wrote the adaptation), but I found it cheesy and forced, with the exception of a long convertible joy ride sequence, where the camera movement effectively conveys the high speeds the characters are moving at both physically and mentally. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fright Night Part II

FRIGHT NIGHT PART II came out three years later, in 1988. Part I‘s writer-director Tom Holland had moved on to CHILD’S PLAY, bringing Chris Sarandon with him. Makeup FX genius Steve Johnson was doing NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4. It was the year of PUMPKINHEAD, HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II, THE BLOB, THEY LIVE, MONKEY SHINES, MANIAC COP, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, PHANTASM II and PAPERHOUSE. Maybe the world didn’t feel the need to rehash FRIGHT NIGHT. But somebody was gonna do it, and they got William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall to come back as Charley Brewster and Peter Vincent.

In the opening, a quick clip montage (as was the style in those days) and Charley’s narration recap what happened in the first film, only for him to then say that he imagined most of it. Yes, Jerry Dandridge was a serial killer, but “vampires aren’t real.” Charley says he’s returning to “the real world” after three years so I thought he’d been hospitalized, but I guess he just means he’s mentally returning to a world where monsters don’t exist. He says he’s worried he’ll run into Peter Vincent, which is weird because in the next scene he goes to visit him. (read the rest of this shit…)

Fright Night

I remember thinking FRIGHT NIGHT was pretty good in the ’80s, but honestly I was skeptical that it would hold up as well as its reputation. I should never have doubted! Writer and first time director Tom Holland (CHILD’S PLAY) revived the classical style of vampire tale for 1985, now souped up with some of the hallmarks of the era: quirky teen comedy, postmodernism/nostalgia, and most of all imaginative, gooey, wonderful creature effects. I was surprised by how much of that last one we get.

This is the age of home video and having a TV in your bedroom, so our teen protagonist Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale, ROAD HOUSE 2: LAST CALL, Justified) is very familiar with horror movies, having watched many of them as presented by the local horror host and former star of Hammer-esque vampire films Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, CLASS OF 1984 [which was written by Holland]). In the opening scene he’s got Vincent’s show “Fright Night” on in the background while he attempts to make out with his reluctant girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse, Married… with Children). Then he happens to look out his window and sees his new next door neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Jack Skellington himself, Chris Sarandon) getting it on with a woman who is found murdered the next day. After some spying Charley sees Jerry turn into a bat and have fangs and claws and suck blood, so he determines that Jerry is a vampire who is luring women to his house and killing them. For some reason nobody believes him. (read the rest of this shit…)