Monday, December 25, 2017

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of National Lampoon (2015) Movie Review

I know most people once they realize this is a review for a documentary will stop reading immediately and go back to watching cat videos on YouTube. Many remember National Lampoon (NL) as the raunchy, little substance, dirty magazine that was kept under the counter that you had to ask for along with what nudy mag you wanted. But for a shiny brief moment in the mid 70's, Everyone read National Lampoon! A toilet bowl of counterculture, drugs, booze, frat boys, humor that was far from good taste, and scantily clad women (AKA nude) that was written at a level for a juvenile Einstein that spewed out satire of everything mainstream and mundane.

We all know the two big Lampoon movies Animal House and Vacation, but most people don't know is how big Lampoon was and how far it reached into pop culture. With meteoric success the most talented people were begging to be let into the bathroom to party with these guys. All those famous skits that John Belushi and Chevy Chase did on SNL they were doing them first on The National Lampoon Radio Hour and Off-Broadway Lemmings for Lampoon. No conversation about Caddyshack (1980) happens without mentioning SNL but all the main writers, director, cast, and producers all met while working at National Lampoon. SNL basically made everyone that worked at Lampoon an offer they couldn't refuse. Some of the most iconic movies came from the creative talent that learned how to get high at Lampoon. Ghostbusters (1984) starred two Alumni Harold Ramis and Bill 'Fricking' Murray. John Hughes who came to define 80's teen movies started as a writer at NL. NL was a dirty little toilet bowl that sucked some of the most talented people at the time down into its chaos.

So what happened? Like many Phoenix's that rose to fame in a quick time NL came crashing down in bad business practices, drugs, personal squabbles and burn out. When Doug Kenney and Henry Beard started NL they had a forced buy-out in five years. Matty Simmons (the money) never thought they would actually walk away from the baby they started. In reality, they were killing themselves to make the magazine a success working long hours and doing most of the heavy lifting. When the five year mark hit they took their briefcase of money and walked out the door with a certain finger waving in the air. Leaving NL without it's key writers, editors, and visionaries. It was around the same time that SNL came calling and stole all the performers (of course NL originally stole them from Second City). John Belushi was a seriously dedicated artist at this time also crazy talented. But no one tried to sign him to a contract. Well someone did, SNL did. The contributors they had, there was no attempt to keep them. MAD Magazine had contributors all across the country working remotely. Each year those that hit the required number of articles went on an all expense paid trip. Which became a big deal. MAD had some really talented people for sometimes forty years working for them. The death-blow was bad licensing deals and the decision to include more nudity, which they couldn't afford good models, that ended up getting the mag a permanent home under the counter of stores. Matty eventually became Editor-in-Chief, appointing his two sons as editors. So what started out as drunk college frat boys making fun of their parent's mundane lives and showing others how to lead a debaucherous lifestyle, became ran by a serious grandfather and his obedient mid-aged sons, nuff said.

Like so many huge successes a lot of it was luck. Gathering a very talented cast of people at a time where the public was very excepting of their brand of humor and satire. And Animal House was no different. The script was very thin, more of a general outline of a movie. Most of the movie was ad-libbed. It didn't hurt to have a talented cast. Everyone was very focused on making the opportunity count. A bunch of hard partying people go off without a script to make a movie, there's no way it should have been any good, let alone great. They got lucky, but instead of learning what to do in the future that formula was a relied on blueprint for future movies. Between Animal House and Vacation, they had a couple of bombs. Movies so bad they don't have an IMDB page even though big names were in them. Even Caddyshack was a mess. The movie was to focus the story on young caddys. But with ad-libbing, the legends quickly took over. Billy Murray, Chevy Chase, Roddy Dangerfield were all great. And even the groundhog was only added as an afterthought in post-production. At the time the movie was considered a failure.

It's sad so many talented people didn't live very long after NL. The world was definitely robbed of very talented people. The comedic masterpieces they could have made. In the end 'Working at National Lampoon wasn't going to get you laid'. All most people know NL for is bad cheaply licensed movies. Anyone can affordably stamp the name on the straight to video box (well now it's just an image you click on to pirate the movie off a virus ridden site, cause no one would pay to watch that junk). Anyone who loves John or Bill will get a kick out of the old footage and stories, unfortunately, they never blessed the world with a movie starring them together.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982) Retro Movie Review

This movie has been terribly trashed by most critics and fans of the Halloween franchise alike. No Michael, horrible script, they cry. 37% on the old Tomatometer, 4.7 on IMDB, 1.5 stars by Roger Ebert, still to this day evidenced by scores of YouTube fans reviews video it is still hated. So to be clear, everyone hates this film. Except me, and I encourage horror fans to watch it. It really freaked me out watching it as a kid. Put a mask on and get blasted by a laser that makes spiders and snakes come cascading out of your ripe over-heated little melon. That is the stuff that makes the boogie man run out of your nightmares and safely back under the bed. Or better yet the kid next door's bed, cause that kid doesn't have such jacked up nightmares.

First the bad, all over this movie screams rush job. Looking at the people behind the movie it comes crystal why. Tommy Lee Wallace both a writer and director on H3 also had Amityville 2 the same year. John Carpenter also had a little film called 'The Thing' the same year. On top of 'Escape From New York' and 'Halloween 2' the previous year. 'The Thing' bombed at the box office as well. H3 was released one year after H2. The soundtrack is loud and obnoxious along with script issues. The story jumps around missing key pieces of information.

Box office influence, Saying H3 bombed at the box office is simply not true, on a budget of 2.5 million it made 14.4 million during its theatrical run. When placed next to Halloween's numbers of a budget of three hundred thousand and making 47 million it looks like a failure. The year of 1982 itself was some of the problem. A number of big movies came out at that time. ET, Rocky 3, Star Trek 2, Poltergeist, First Blood, Blade Runner, The Thing. Plus a number of horror movies Creep Show, Poltergeist, Cat People, Slumber Party Massacre, Basket Case, Tenebre, Q (highly recommend checking out this film), and Alone in the Dark to name a few. In 1978 there was much less competition. Sure some horror movies came out in 78' but they didn't bring in much money; Piranha 16 million, and Dawn of the Dead 5 million. It was harder for a movie in 1982 to complete for a customers dollar. It didn't help the studios were cranking out garbage killing the genre. Friday the 13th 2 came out in 1981 followed by part 3 in 1982. There was an over saturation of the horror market that year.

The good, a great idea bringing together the pagan history and consumerism of Halloween. The evil greed of capitalism, and subliminal messaging. An ordinary man getting wrapped up in a corporate conspiracy. Tom Atkins is a great horror movie actor. He cranks out another good performance here. Stacey Nelkin who plays Ellie is both fun and easy to look at. This movie unfortunately made sure she never got another good part again. Another victim of this movie was Tommy Lee Wallace the director. He mostly did low budget and tv movies after H3. Most notably Stephen King's It (1990). While the supernatural and technology gets messily combined together it makes a great vehicle, just don't look under the hood or to closely or at the bondo on the quarter panels, bailing wire holding the muffler up.....

Another great part of the Halloween's idea was having a different story told in each movie. Halloween 2 was made to please the studios. Micheal Meyers was to be killed off and never be heard again after the first movie. The Halloween tag was originally a platform for a new horror idea each time. Seeing that horror movies have become so popular and huge cash cows proves this was legit concept, that the studios blotched. Showtime's Masters of Horror and After Dark Horrorfest crank out great movies. There is no shortage of scripts and talented directors to make horror films. A film genre that has a long history of low budget big returns. A studio could easily capture the horror market every year by finding a good script and trying to put out a decent product, and the right name to market them under. But they did the opposite, make a movie quickly as possible for as little money as they could get away with, pissing off the fans. Plus the Michael Meyer character is boring, only able to slowly walk after his victims never able to even say “Slow Down I don't get much cardio the rest of the year” or "they don't have an elliptical machine at the mental hospital".

Halloween helped create the slasher genre. It opened the door for studios to greenlight many horror films in the 80's. Sure Mario Bava, Lucio Fulio, Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi, George Romero, Wes Craven, and Tube Hooper had been making horror movies but none of them ever sold a ton of tickets. The most successful maybe Texas Chainsaw Massacre only did thirty million, and it didn't get a sequel till 1986. On top of the additional revenue from the sale of VHS tapes and cable that wasn't around in the 70's. Fred Ray Olen, Troma films, among others flooded the market with all the gore and guts it could handle. By 1982 the horror craze the Halloween franchise set off had started to run amok. Getting bloodier and pushing the limits of good taste, not to mention the 'R' rating. With some really good films being made (and overlooked) H3 was easy to hate or ignore.

As Bay of Blood (1971) influenced Friday the 13th (1980), Halloween was influenced by others, most notably Eyes Without a Face (1962). Which happened to influence Billy Idol's songwriting too. Halloween influenced a new batch of filmmakers. But the movie hasn't aged well. They showed it recently to college students that hadn't seen it before. The students thought the movie was boring. At the same time, H3 has gotten better with age. It has good acting, the special effects weren't overly cheesy like many other early 80's movies. Some of the bad scenes are equally frightening and funny. Like the housewife that drops dead followed by the husbands heart-attack after little Timmy's head gets blasted. Some of the plot holes are a source of fun arguing with friends what the hell it all was supposed to mean. After sequels four and five everyone got over not having Michael Meyers in H3. The only good thing about H4 (1988) was Kathleen Kinmont (nothing more needs to be said). Danielle Harris was in H4 (1988) and H5 (1989) coming back for Rob Zombie's H (2007) and H (2009). Playing a teenager still! It was really cool and confusing for Mr. Zombie to cast her again (but then again not many people saw H4 & H5). It's unreal how well she's aged. Love to see someone remake H3. Give it the Zombie treatment. Danielle Harris would be awesome as Ellie. Jamie Lee Curtis (who voiced the hospital loudspeaker announcement in H3) could be the evil corporate CEO. Someone really needs to green light this remake!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cult of Chucky (2017) Movie Review

Surprised at how enjoyable this film was. The seventh outing for any franchise can be brutal, and not in a gory slasher movie way. The original idea flogged to death with a wet noodle. A slow anguishing process that that has anyone wishing for a bullet to the head instead of being subjected to even rumors of another movie. So bad Al Bundy would rather go up to the bedroom and to Peg kinda way.

Andy Barclay is back to finish Chucky off, once more. The first time back since 1991's Child's Play 3. Jennifer Tilly/ Valentine is back riding shotgun with Charles Lee Ray. And stuck in this asylum is Nica from Curse of Chucky. Brad Dourif, the voice of Chucky, is the only (voice) actor in every movie. Andy was in Child's Play 3 but played by Justin Whalin, not Alex Vincent. So every film is represented here on screen by actors except Child's Play 3. To bad, they didn't bring back Perrey Reeves (the only reason to watch CP3). Thankfully the Seed of Chucky doll thing is left alone as just a bad memory.

Cult of Chucky doesn't take it's self seriously. Briskly cracking jokes at the expense if everyone involved. It takes a few dark turns and flips back and forth from campy to ridiculous. With so many characters to keep track of the movie jumps around a little. Interestingly the characters seem to keep the tone from the movies they originated. Which provides a nice balance. Bringing all previous movies into nicely into the story. Except for CP3, thank god they didn't try and bring back whinny little Tyler who mindlessly obeys every commend of that creepy little psychopath doll. Tyler most-likely grew up having major abandonment issues by being shipped off to military school at such a young age. On top of the whole killer doll thing in which he helped kill multiple people. To cope with the drama, you know since his family wasn't there to comfort him and the school claiming bankruptcy, from all the wrongful death lawsuits, clearly wasn't his home anymore, he turned to drugs and alcohol. Becoming a homeless hustler in Kansas City Missouri before joining a hippy commune on the banks of the Mississippi River. Still to this day suffering from PTSD, any time he sees a doll he pees his pants and sucks his thumb. Even a barbie or cabbage patch doll. Of course, Andy has some baggage of his own......

Written and Directed by Don Mancini who has been involved since the beginning. With so many of the main actors back and carrying a fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes of 83%, it could have been theatrically released. It's a great movie to watch during the Halloween season. If it was between this movie or The original Friday the 13th..... I would pick Chucky!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Blood Circus (aka House Rules) (2017)

Sean is a loser who spends his days drinking at the bar his ex-works at. Once a promising MMA fighter, now he's a joke, with no job except chasing away paying customers. After rolling a couple of wannabes (and thoroughly pissing off his ex) an offer comes in he can't refuse. Three fights, with the winner walking away large, the losers...... not so much.

Sweeney Photography

Shot in Connecticut on a tight eighteen-day schedule that had a snow storm hit midway through the shoot. With a budget of $750,000 its impressive what director Jacob Cooney and Producers David Gere, Charles Lago, Christopher Johnson put together. The names of the cast members read like a Hollywood blockbuster; Tom Sizemore, Vincent Pastore, Kevin Nash, and Chuck Zito. Christy Carlson Romano is a face most will recognize from the Even Stevens (2003) and a couple of the Cutting Edge movies (2006 & 2008). It is very well shot film, there were a couple really good scenes I had to rewatch. Creative use of camera angles and light throughout.

Sweeney Photography

Poor Jamie Nocher who plays Sean, not that he is a bad actor it's just being surrounded by legends in this movie, he isn't on their level. Plus, fight scenes in a movie with a budget of less than one second of an action sequence in a Mission Impossible film isn't going to show much. The best fight scene in any movie was They Live (1988), the budget was four million dollar and they practiced the fight for three weeks (longer than it took to shoot this movie). The script doesn't help him out much either. Being the lead with so much screen time anytime Sizemore shows up for thirty seconds he steals the scene. Sizemore is one of those actors like Woody Harrison that always play interesting characters showing up in small roles all over the place. Watch Mother Wolf (2016) to see him just take a movie over, he's only in the movie for five minutes. Chelsea Vale is distractingly way too beautiful to play the girl-next-door type. She has a ton of movies coming out in 2017 be interesting to see her in a bigger role.

It is really hard to have a 'fight' movie without a budget. Without money, not much in the world of movies gets done, not choreographing the fights, practicing the fights, shooting from multiple angles, not much makeup. Stallone has talked in interviews about how long it took to film fight scenes in the 'Rocky' movies (1976-infinity). It took days to get a couple minutes of run time. Rocky (1976) also had a bad ass theme song. Blood Circus could really use some music. Oh, and Rocky had a budget of 1.1 million dollars of 1976 money, on top of a badass theme song for its training montage. If we have learned anything from South Park (1997-infinity+1) you have to have a training montage. Overall it's an enjoyable movie, that without its aforementioned budget constraints could be a major Hollywood release.  

Sweeney Photography

Friday, September 1, 2017

Phantasm Ravager (2016) Movie

Wait, there's another Phantasm Movie? Yup.

It's sad to see something you love age, get old and shriveled. Manning playing with the Denver Broncos, unable to throw the football past the line of scrimmage. Muhammad Ali getting beat senseless by lesser fighters. If you loved these fallen figures, looking past the current state and remembering fondly what used to be is easy. If this pitiful existence of a being wasn't someone who you cared for, it's easy to see only the current state. Fans of the Phantasm series are happy for any scrap. Everyone else sees this as the painful mess it is.

Don Coscarelli has said he keeps making these films for the fans. But the level of the last films has never been up to the level of his other projects. His episode on Showtime's Masters of Horror series 'Incident on and off a Mountain Road' was one of the best of the series. Well written, directed, filmed, with a story that is entertaining. The Phantasm films have lacked for a while. They have been called in repeatedly. The cool world started in the first one hasn't really been added to or made exciting. Furthering this crime is the waste of good actors on weak material. But if Michael Angelo did a bunch of meth and blew something up people would still want to see it, cause it's Michael 'F'ing Angelo. If Picasso free based some crack and painted a homeless dudes ass, people would still want to see it. And that has been the case for a number of Phantasm movies. But this movie was mostly written and directed by someone else.

The movie is an utter mess. Filmed in total secret. Being intended for release as a web-series following Reggie's character. Expanded to include the original cast. Unfortunately Angus Scrimm past away before the release of the film. Very cool they got everyone from the original movie to make an appearance. Which just magnifies the wasted opportunity. With so many fans of the series, there had to be someone better than David Hartman to direct (J.J. Abrams is a huge fan). He does have an impressive resume in animation. Leading many scenes to come cross cartoonish and the CGI is just bad. If there is no budget for special effects, don't try, use practical effect and tricks. If this was released as a web-series it would be a lot easier to look past the quality. Plus they could have included much more of the story line they left on the cutting room floor. So many random characters pop up from nowhere and quickly disappear again.

It comes down too, if you're a fan of the series, this is worth watching. A number of good scenes between the original cast members. Find out what Mike and Reggie have been up to for the past twenty years. See how the fight against the Tall Man has evolved. If you're not a fan of the series, this movie is just plain bad. The CGI is laughable, the story line is a mess, and the few good moments will not mean anything to non-fans. Not that this world is done. Much like it was time for George Lucas to hand the reigns over to a fresh vision of Star Wars. It's time for Don Coscarelli to turn the world of Phantasm over to some young blood. There is so much that could be done with this franchise. A Rob Zombie make over, focus on other survivors fighting the Tall Man. Or either focus on the other dimension or this world after the release of the virus. But with Mr. Coscarelli's history of wanting total control, it's hard to see him selling the rights. With being in his early sixties we might have to wait another twenty years for someone to acquire the rights and make a new Phantasm movie. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Beta (2017) Movie Review

Beta is the new micro-budget sci-fi film recently released to amazon prime. The sophomore directing effort of Layton Matthews (director of 2013's The Wanderers) follows Jake Plissken (Evan Gamble), a drug-addled So-Cal rockstar well on his way to being washed up. When Jake is confined to his home by a court order and an ankle monitor after some criminal mischief, his lawyer pulls favors with the Hilltech corporation to get him the chance to be a beta tester for their new fully immersive, virtual reality network H.A.V.E.N., which Jake accesses with the BCI (Brain Computer Interface.) Within the network, Jake is introduced to a host of other characters including Natalie (Cole Smith), a fellow tester that ultimately challenges Jake to rethink what it really means to be human. 
      The film makes use of classic sci-fi themes such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality and applies them in a unique way. Within sci-fi, most films coalesce with the genres of action or horror, while Beta opts to use it's scifi foundation to explore romance and humanity. Though i initially thought this genre mash-up to be strange, by the end of the film i was impressed with the competency in which it was executed. There were also plenty of technical aspects to keep me engaged throughout the runtime as well.
Jake logs into H.A.V.E.N. with the BCI
      The locations in the film are very limited but they're put to good use and livened up by some crafty camerawork. I noticed rack focuses, time lapses, first person POV shots, and one sequence that i suspect was done with the aid of a drone. The soundtrack is also a fundamental aspect in constructing the movie's character; the heavy bass and drum sound complimented with electronic melodies was perfectly suited for the high tech settings. Beta never takes itself too seriously to miss opportunities to take comedic jabs at the nature of A.I. or tech culture. There are also a few special effects scenes that, while looking cheesy, just add to the low-budget charm.
      Beta held my attention throughout, but it's most glaring problem is it's pacing. There are times when the movie begins to drag, especially during scenes with lengthy expository dialogue. The characters are well established by the end of the first act but by the end of the third act I didn't as if they were fully realized. Also, the ending wasn't as climactic as I'd have hoped and it left a few loose ends but overall, Beta was a solid watch for any sci-fi junkie that values high-concept themes and ideas over budget and visual effects.