Thursday, September 29, 2016

CASHIERS DE CINEMA'S GREATEST "HITS"


It's that time of year again. Autumn, sure, but also when I annually ask myself: "Why do I bother keeping this 10+ year old film blog?" Last year, the question resulted in a lengthy bit of soul-searching, possibly some oversharing. I nearly shut the whole thing down with a summary "Delete." A few months later, a Seijun Suzuki retrospective at Lincoln Center pulled me back into blogging by my fingernails. There are just some sentiments that cannot be communicated in a 140-character tweet. I gave myself the remainder of the year to determine the fate of Cashiers De Cinema. To delete or not to delete? Save a few favorite reviews and ax the rest? Turn the .blogspot into an honest .com? Heaven forbid, add a few Google AdSense ads?!

This year, I decided to resort to hard data. For the first time ever, I actually took a glance at this blog's Page View Stats. What I discovered was shocking, disturbing and, given that this thing exists on the Internets, not in the least bit surprising. Long story short, people are perverts! When they're not Google Image searching breasts, butts and dongs, they'll settle for the closest thing they can find to porn. Sometimes, it's just good old fashioned gore. The accompanying words on those pages? I'm pretty sure those are an afterthought, if read at all.


This blog has always been a passion project. Part movie journal, part writing exercise, part extended therapy session. I never really cared how many "hits" my posts received and, therefore, never considered the user stats any time in the last decade. I'm completely fine with the damn thing going largely unread. But some of these statistical findings are just too hilarious and depressing to keep to myself. I decided I had to share Cashier De Cinema's "Top 20 Greatest Hits" with the world.

Here they are, in Casey Kasem style countdown order, with links and embarrassing current page count views included. Also included: My best educated guess as to why these, of all the 600+ movie reviews, are the "popular" ones.

#20) Howling 3: The Marsupials (1,207 page views) - It's probably the pictures. There are definitely a few freaky WTF screen grabs. That, or a lot of people are keyword searching the term "werewolf nuns."

#19) Equus (1,300 page views) - Combine horseplay, sexplay, a shot of a naked dude in a stable and, ta-da, you've got a recipe for a semi-popular blog post. The term "zoophiliac" probably didn't hurt.

#18) Excalibur (1,389 page views) - No racy images here.  I can only assume its clickability has something to do with my harsh review or the fact that there a TON of sword and sorcery nerds out there.

#17) Possession (1,419 page views) - Some very gruesome and funny pics accompanying this post. But I prefer to think its decent page view count is due to Possession being such a damn good movie.

#16) Black Moon (1,429 page views) - This one took me by surprise. Who would've thought an obscure Louis Malle art film would get more than a handful of clicks? Then I took a second look at the post, the bottom picture especially. To give the Internet the benefit of the doubt, maybe people are just really into unicorns.

#15) Combat Shock (1,513 page views) - Three words: "Agent Orange Baby."

#14) Tango and Cash (1,597 page views) - Truth in advertising, I might as well have called this post "Tango and Man-Ass."

#13) The Man Who Fell to Earth (1,647 page views) - If David Bowie hadn't passed away this year, I'm guessing this post would have fallen much further in the rankings.

#12) Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1,833 page views) - The first of two Lucio Fulci appearances on this hit list. Given his widespread popularity among film geeks and the inclusion of the term "eviscerated dogs," not a huge surprise.

#11) Conan the Destroyer (1,877 page views) - This one kinda perplexes me. A very short review, yes, but is there a combined Grace Jones/Wilt Chamberlain meme out there that I don't know about?

#10) Jason and the Argonauts (1,877 page views) - Currently tied with Conan for 10th/11th place. There are numerous allusions to another sword and sorcery movie higher on this list, which probably helps. There's also a cool pic of stop-motion skeletons fighting and tons of references to the Kraken. Release the clicks!

#9) Wild Things (1,910 page views) - Perhaps my most perversely keyword-rich post of all time. "Three-way triple decker skin sandwich." "Pre-Saul Goodman ambulance chaser." "Kevin Bacon's freshly showered schlong." Shocker of all shockers: The accompanying jpeg is rather tame.

#8) 12 Angry Men (2,452 page views) - An old Sidney Lumet movie? I have no explanation for this one other than the Amy Schumer parody which came out a few years ago. I'm guessing that earned me at least 1,000 accidental clicks and many disappointed users. Let's see if I can get a few thousand more by mistake: "Amy Schumer, Amy Schumer nude, Amy Schumer's freshly showered schlong, Amy Schumer triple decker skin sandwich, Amy Schumer, Amy Schumer, Amy Schumer..."

#7) The New York Ripper (2,703 page views) - Another non-shocker. Some seriously salacious screen caps in this Fulci review. Severed hands, bloody breasts, Times Square peepshows, lurid games of footsie. Dare to click, and see for yourself. 

#6) Easy Rider (2,803 page views) - I'd like to think this has something to do with the included pic of a giant goiter. But it probably has more to do with the multiple mentions of cocaine. Note to casual Cashiers readers: This blog is not a secret distribution hub for cocaine!

#5) Best and Worst of 2010 (3,496 page views) - Hey! Lookee there! One of my "Best Of" lists made it into the Top 5! But why this year and not all the others? Guessing it has something to do with "Worst Of" pics...Bitch Slap, Human Centipede. Or maybe people were desperate for images of Danny Trejo's severed head atop a tortoise.

#4) Caged Heat (3,677 page views) - None too surprising. A very "cheeky" review of a classic WIP movie. My favorite part of this post is in the Comments section, a thumbs-up from the wonderful Erica Gavin herself. It links back to her website, so I'm going to assume it's really her. If it's a fake, please don't tell me.

#3) The Warriors (3,680 page views) - I know this is a hugely popular cult movie that has spawned comic books and video games, but the accompanying pic is tame and the link to it doesn't seem to work anymore. The only real keywords seem to be "Ralph Macchio" and "Gramercy Park." What is the Internet hiding from me? "Random searchers, come out and play-ee-yay!"

#2) Clash of the Titans (1981) (3,764 page views) - That sword and sorcery classic I mentioned earlier. This one riding high on the list makes complete sense. Besides the regrettably harsh review (must have been in a foul mood that day), there are a few great pics, nods to The Wire, "alcoholic little people," 'Ricardo Montalban on acid," underwear models and, of course, The Kraken. Interesting Side Note: The terrible 2010 Clash remake reviewed the same day only earned a meager 811 clicks, despite being much "fresher" news. This makes me very happy.

And drumroll, please...

#1) Cannibal Holocaust (17,825 page views) - Far and away the most popular Cashiers blog post of all time. Just take a look at its whopping 13,000+ page view lead over Clash of the Titans. It has everything Internet pervs are craving. Graphic disturbing images, lurid keywords aplenty. I'm guessing it also popped up in innocent Google sessions about the circumcision debate or people simply craving "Chili's Babyback Ribs." Whatever the case may be, it leads me to the conclusion that, if I'm going to keep Cashiers going, I should only blog about cannibals, found footage gore movies or Ruggero Deodato movies from now on.

However...

If you've stopped by Cashiers to ACTUALLY READ a few of my mini-film reviews, here are a few that I stand behind and think are generally well-written. Good or bad verdict, they are all lesser known movies with no racy pics. Therefore, they unsurprisingly have paltry page view counts. Give them some click love, people!

Nuts in May (1976) (184 views)





So, what have we learned, class? Basically, what I already suspected. That the people on the other side of my screen generally looks like this...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

RAIDERS OF THE LOST IMITATORS


Now that summer's almost over, I think it's safe to declare May to August 2016 one of the worst popcorn movie seasons on record. Every big budget popcorn movie I dragged myself to in a theatre either disappointed or predictably underwelmed (Ghostbusters, Jason Bourne, Star Trek: Beyond). Hell or High Water was the highlight of the season, but I wouldn't call that a popcorn movie (a western-noir indie hybrid, perhaps). The Nice Guys at the beginning of the summer was a solid Shane Black guns n' gab fest, and Don't Breathe at the end was an out-of-nowhere low budget horror surprise. But the most FUN I had at the movies was thanks to an old Spielberg reliable...a double feature at a drive-in of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.

You've probably seen the first one on that double bill. If you're like me, you've seen it on countless formats dozens and dozens of times. But if you haven't seen the documentary and are a Raiders fan, you should absolutely check it out (it's also on Netflix streaming). When I was kid, I used to don a felt fedora, grab a length of rope as a makeshift bullwhip and swing from tree to tree in my backyard by way of a garden hose, imitating Indiana Jones. I didn't film it like the kids in the documentary. If I had, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have had the means to deliver anything on par with the shot-for-shot remake these upstart Spielbergs accomplished. So, with summer drawing to a close, the "serious" fall movie season beginning and my taste for good old fashioned popcorn action-adventure still unquenched by this summer's parched offerings, I decided to spend the last few weeks watching some other "Raiders Rips" I'd collected.

What qualifies a movie as a Raiders Rip? Well, it should've been released somewhere within the timeframe of the original Raiders trilogy (Raiders '81, Temple of Doom '84, Last Crusade '89). It should feature an adventurer/archaeologist of some type (The Indy) looking for some lost relic (The Treasure). He should have some form of love interest (The Marion), a villain who also wants the treasure (The Belloq) and a sidekick of some kind (The Short Round/Sallah). The movie should be filmed in some exotic location (Globetrotting) or at least attempt to mimic it. More than likely, it has nowhere near Spielberg's budget or star power (which is why I excluded Romancing the Stone/Jewel of the Nile). Most importantly, it should feature much action/adventure!

Here are the results of my 11-movie quest for long-lost popcorn gold, with Relic Ratings included (a zero to four relics quality scale)...


HUNTERS OF THE GOLDEN COBRA (1982) 
Antonio Margheriti

THE TREASURE: A golden cobra statue rumored to possess supernatural powers, now under the protection of a jungle tribe in the Philippines. It resembles one of those aluminum foil animal sculptures they package your leftovers in at certain themed restaurants.

THE INDY: Bob Jackson, an American WWII soldier/adventurer (David Warbeck from Fulci's The Beyond). He's competent, but not wildly charismatic.

THE MARION: Twin sisters Julie and April. Two love interests for the price of one. Sadly, there's very little hanky-panky in this flick.

THE BELLOQ: Julie/April's father, Greenwater (Luciano Pigozzi). He schemes to get his hands on the cobra first while keeping Jackson's claws off his twin daughters.

SALLAH / SHORT-ROUND: A British intelligence officer (John Steiner) who appears intermittently to provide quips and the occasional gun-play assist.

GLOBETROTTING: Not much. Hunters mostly confines itself to Philippine jungles and a few ramshackle sets, due to its limited budget.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Not bad. The action is fast, shaky and generally well-paced. There's a solid opening raid on a Japanese camp, an enjoyable cockfighting scene, lots of poison darts and a tense shoot-out on a moving bus. The prerequisite snake pit only contains half the serpents in Raiders' Well of the Souls (probably non-union snakes). The climactic scene in the volcanic temple offers some cheap intrigue, though the copy I watched was so red and washed out it was sometimes hard to differentiate where lava ended and land began.
RELIC RATING: 


HIGH ROAD TO CHINA (1983) 
Brian G. Hutton

THE INDY: Alcoholic airplane pilot and World War I vet Patrick O'Malley (Tom Selleck). Supposedly, he took this role after losing out on Raiders because of Magnum, P.I. commitments.

THE MARION: Spoiled heiress Eve Tozer (Bess Armstrong). She hires O'Malley to help her find her father. More importantly, her father's inheritance.

THE TREASURE: No ancients relics here. The McGuffin is Tozer's long-lost father (Wilford Brimley). Those Quaker Oats commercials qualify him as a national treasure, yes?

SALLAH / SHORT ROUND: O'Malley's mechanic, Struts (Jack Weston). He tags along to provide various cartoon faces and wide-eyed reaction shots.

THE BELLOQ: Tozer's business partner, Bentik (Robert Morley). He's set to take over the family business if Brimley is not found, and thus runs much interference.

GLOBETROTTING: A bunch. China, India, Turkey, Nepal, Afghanistan. But it's easy to hop around when you're in a biplane for most of the film.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Disappointing. High Road takes the rom-com/romantic adventure route, eschewing significant action. What's there generally takes place in the air (tons of aerial stunts). If you're a fan of the Blue Angels, you might enjoy it. Otherwise, prepare yourself for several lackluster battle scenes, lots of dropped grenades, too much playful bickering between Selleck and Armstrong. The best part is their stopover in Afghanistan to visit a tribal leader named Khan (Brian Blessed from Flash Gordon!).
RELIC RATING: 



TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983) 
Ferdinando Baldi 

THE TREASURE: Magical gems hidden inside four ancient crowns. One crown is already found, one is lost for good. The last two are hidden inside the heavily booby trapped compound of a spooky religious cult. Think Jonestown with the world's best ADT security.

THE INDY: J.T. Striker (Tony Anthony), a no-nonsense freelance adventurer who favors red windbreakers and doesn't believe in "hocus pocus." He's hired by a wealthy professor to find the remaining crowns.

THE BELLOQ: Brother Jonas, a Charlie Manson/Jim Jones type cult leader who uses the power of the hidden stones as religious rocket fuel. (note: in no way related to the Jonas Brothers)

THE MARION: Sorry, folks. JT is practically celibate. No love interest. But...

SHORT ROUNDS: There's a whole heist crew of assembled sidekicks! The security expert, the drunk mountain climber, the elderly circus clown and young trapeze artist wife. If you're thinking Topkapi, you're onto something.

GLOBETROTTING: Very little. Treasure basically confines itself to several sets/extended set pieces in Madrid. That said, these set pieces are doozies.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Grade A for awesomely ridiculous! This movie was made for early anaglyph 3D, and it shows. In the opening 20 minutes alone, at least 50 airborne objects fly directly at you-- darts, spears, swords, snakes, skeletons, dogs, bats, vultures, pterodactyls(?). Treasure even tries to one-up the Raiders rolling boulder chase by setting the boulder on fire. The key that unlocks the crowns tends to make inanimate objects (and the person who holds it) occasionally go berserk. The extended cult compound break-in scene is surprisingly suspenseful, though heavily indebted to Topkapi (lots of rock climbing gear and abseiling). I have to wonder if De Palma took a peek at this before directing Mission: Impossible. The movie goes completely bonkers at the end when the other two crowns are recovered with flame thrower fingertips and face melts to match that of Raiders' Toht. At one point, J.T.'s head begins to spin on its neck ala Reagan in The Exorcist. Just take a look at this manic trailer. Then track down a copy of this extremely watchable Raiders rip. Did I mention that Ennio Morricone did the music?
RELIC RATING: 


ARK OF THE SUN GOD (1984) - Antonio Margheriti

THE TREASURE: A bejeweled scepter once belonging to demigod Gilgamesh. Now hidden in a tomb inside a golden ark somewhere in the desert of Istanbul.

THE INDY: Rick Spear (David Warbeck, again), a modern day '80s American cat burglar vacationing in the Middle East. He's hired by a Brit in a wheelchair to find the scepter.

THE MARION: Spear's girlfriend Carol (Susie Sudlow). Also responds to "Pussycat." Her primary function is to lounge around in hotel beds, look striking and occasionally be kidnapped. Needless to say, she's no Marion Ravenwood.

THE BELLOQ: A greedy sheikh who wants the scepter but allows Spear to do all the legwork.

SHORT ROUNDS: Two overweight men named Beetle and Mohammed (Luciano Pigozzi and Ricardo Palacios). One drinks too much. The other sweats too much and sports a very ridiculous combover.

GLOBETROTTING: Not much. Ark sticks to Turkey and Italy primarily.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Less than impressive. A few serviceable car chases, fistfights and swashbuckles. Your basic Italian exploitation movie fare. Though the sets look more expensive than those in Margheriti's first Raiders rip, Golden Cobra, the modern day timeline nixes much of the fun.
RELIC RATING: 


JUNGLE RAIDERS (1985) - Antonio Margheriti

THE TREASURE: The "Ruby of Doom," a red hunk of mineral hidden inside a cave in 1930s Malaysia.

THE INDY: Captain Duke Yankee (Christopher Connelly), a tour guide/con artist who takes wealthy rubes on fake jungle treasure hunting adventures and dresses like the Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island. He's about to stumble onto his first IRL adventure.

THE MARION: Maria Janez, a socialite Colombian researcher who wants the ruby for her museum.

THE SHORT ROUNDS: Gin Fizz (Luciano Pigozzi, a third time), Duke's old lush of an assistant. Warren (Lee Van Cleef in a glorified cameo), an American operative who blackmails Duke into his next big job. Later in the film, there's also a young Malaysian boy with a pet cobra who becomes the team's more literal "Short Round."

THE BELLOQ: Tiger, a Borneo pirate and smuggler, who's after the ruby and all the "fortune and glory" it entails.

GLOBETROTTING: Not much. Jungle generally sticks to the caves, rivers, oil refineries and, of course, jungles of Malaysia.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Respectable. The opening cave break-in where Duke leads a wealthy American to a false idol while pursued by "cannibals" in on the hoax plays like a fun parody of Raiders opening scene. There's a spirited truck chase, a nice torch fight, lots of machine gun play and oil refinery explosions. The infusion of Cannon Films coin into this, Margheriti's third and final Raiders rip-off, certainly helps. It's the best of the bunch.
RELIC RATING: 


TREASURE OF THE AMAZON (1985) 
Rene Cardona, Jr.

THE TREASURE: A river full of diamonds "the size of your eyes!" Also, gold "so big it will knock your eyes out!" Note: There's a lot optical-related hyperbole in this movie.

THE INDY: Gringo (Stuart Whitman), a crusty old bearded explorer haunted by cheesy flashbacks of expeditions gone wrong. Drinks too much, curses a lot, reluctant to intervene during scenes of sexual assault (though he finally does, grudgingly). A greedy, amoral sonofabitch.

THE MARION: Barbara, a displaced Southern belle seeking fortune and glory in the Amazon. Warning: She's not the faithful type.

THE BELLOQ: Ex-Nazi commander, Klaus von Blantz (Donald Pleasance). He seeks the Amazon's dual treasures in order to fund a 1950s Third Reich resurgence. Rolls with a bare-breasted tribal beauty named Morimba as his jungle guide.

SHORT ROUNDS: Too many to count. Treasure of the Amazon is filled with great characters and Mexican character actors in smaller roles (Hugo Stiglitz and a very inebriated Emilio Fernandez from The Wild Bunch for starters). It's an embarrassment of riches, almost too many faces for the threadbare plot to handle.

GLOBETROTTING: Up and down the jungles, rivers and waterfalls of the Amazon (i.e., Chiapas, Mexico).

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: While Treasure may not be the most action-packed Raiders rip, it is definitely the most grindhouse. By which I mean GORY. Within the first few minutes, our hero machetes someone's fingers off. Soon after, there are several gruesome beheadings, scenes of Amazon women mud wrestling, shots of real live alligators being gutted. The vibe is very Cannibal Holocaust. There's a fantastically extended close-up crab attack on a guy's face and, later, a giant mosquito tornado where Gringo and Barbara are caught in a Zika ground zero. A certain SS someone also gets strung up on a hook by their tongue. Treasure of the Amazon is everything you could ever want out of a proper Raiders rip...if you what you want is a VERY HARD R rating.
RELIC RATING: 


KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1985) 
J. Lee Thompson

THE TREASURE: An African mine full of gold and diamonds once belonging to the fabled King Solomon.

THE INDY: Big game hunter Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain), whose beard is seriously too well groomed for his profession.

THE MARION: Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone), a well-to-do professor's daughter who hires Quatermain to help her find her lost father who holds a map with the whereabouts of the mines. In the meantime, she screams and freaks out a lot.

THE BELLOQS: Two baddies for the price of one, and one of them from the real Raiders. You get the pre-Nazi, knackwurst chomping German, Bockner (Herbert Lom), as well a Turkish slave trader named Dogati (John Rhys-Davies).

SHORT ROUND: Umbopo, Quatermain's trusted African tribesman guide (covering face, above).

GLOBETROTTING: Up and down and all around Zimbabwe.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Impressive for a mid-range Cannon film. The pace of King Solomon is relentless, jumping from one action set piece to the next without taking a breath. We don't even get a meet-cute with Chamberlain and Stone. They are already on the run and know each other at the film's start. In this respect, it almost comes closer to being a modern version of one of Lucas/Spielberg's beloved Saturday morning serials than the original Raiders (but does not outdo Temple of Doom in this department). There are marketplace chases, fights UNDERNEATH moving trains, biplane acrobatics, narrow escapes from boiling cannibal cauldrons, alligator pits, upside down rope swinging tribes, giant tarantulas, caves filling rapidly with water, etc. If you can withstand some bad humor, lots of mugging for the camera, and almost zero characterization, Mines is quite a breathless PG-13 thrill ride.
RELIC RATING: 

FIREWALKER (1986) - J. Lee Thompson

THE TREASURE: A golden knife which leads to more gold hidden in a cave in San Miguel and guarded by a mystical Native American.

THE INDY(S): Max Donigan (Chuck Norris) and Leo Porter (Louis Gossett, Jr.), doing tag-team bumbling soldier of fortune duties.

THE MARION: Patricia Goodwin (Melody Anderson), an American woman with a map and disposable income to hire these two dudes.

THE SHORT ROUND/SALLAH: The actual Sallah from Raiders (John Rhys-Davies again), playing an old hick friend of Donigan's named Corky.

THE BELLOQ: El Coyote (Sonny Landham, aka "Billy Bear" in 48 Hours), the mystical firewalker who guards the treasure.

GLOBETROTTING: Minimal. The American Southwest, followed by a trip to San Miguel.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Dismal. For a Chuck Norris/Cannon Films effort, it's one of the most inert I've ever seen. Other than a huge a barroom brawl near the beginning where Chuck gets to show off his martial arts prowess, there is very little memorable action. Instead, Firewalker opts for the Hope/Crosby road movie approach, a grave mistake in that Chuck Norris is where comedy goes to die. Gossett, Jr. does his best with the script he's given, which was probably written on one side of a drinking straw wrapper. The only reason to watch this movie is Melody Anderson ("Dale Arden" from Flash Gordon). She's magnetic and brings some charm to the otherwise deathly dull proceedings.
RELIC RATING: 


ALLAN QUATERMAIN & 
THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (1987) - Gary Nelson

THE TREASURE: It's right there in the title...a lost city of gold.

THE INDY: Also there in the title. He's played by an impeccably bearded Richard Chamberlain again.

THE MARION: Sharon Stone back for more screaming and Golden Raspberry nominations.

SHORT ROUNDS: Umslopogaas (James Earl Jones), an African warrior with a name so nice you have to say it twice. Swarma, a white dude in brownface (Robert Donner) doing a pretty offensive take on a perpetually stumbling, mugging Indian guru.

THE BELLOQ: Agon, the evil high priest of the Lost City of Gold (Henry Silva, collecting mad paychecks).

GLOBETROTTING: Not much. Since this was filmed back to back with King Solomon (presumably for budgetary savings), we're back in Zimbabwe for the duration.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Regrettable. Everything that Solomon got right with light-speed pacing, Quatermain gets wrong. Why would we care about the troubled state of Allan and Jesse's relationship (much less his relationship with his brother) when we barely got to know them in the first movie? I saw this movie only a few days ago, and I can't remember a single memorable action scene. That said, I had knocked back a few Thirsty Goat amber ales.
RELIC RATING: 


THE FURTHER ADVENTURES 
OF TENNESSEE BUCK (1988) - David Keith

THE INDY: Buck Malone (David Keith), a hard-drinking explorer in modern day Borneo hired by a wealthy American couple as a jungle tour guide.

THE MARION: Barbara Manchester (Playboy Playmate Kathy Shower), the bored wife whose husband can't stop playing with his new VHS camcorder long enough to play with her.

THE TREASURE: An amulet Buck wears around his neck and already possesses at the beginning of the film (i.e., not much of a treasure hunt). Given to him by a tribe of cannibals as good luck.

THE BELLOQ: Hard to say. Probably the cannibals, though the jungle taxman Wolfgang (Sydney Lassick from Cuckoo's Nest) is pretty sleazy.

THE SHORT ROUND: A native named Sinaga who barely utters a word.

GLOBETROTTING: Sri Lanka subbing for Borneo.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Minimal. Tennessee Buck is more a weak parody of the Indiana Jones franchise than an honest-to-goodness Raiders rip. More than that, a David Keith vanity project that plays like a cross between a WWE audition reel and a Skinamax Late Night offering with most of the sex scenes removed. It's a good-natured affair, like Keith's down-home persona. The jungle wrestling match that introduces us to Buck is fun. There are a few weak machete fights, a beheading that happens offscreen, a Temple of Doom style river chase with one puny rapid. There's a jungle rape that totally does not belong in this otherwise light-hearted spoof and an extended scene of Kathy Shower getting a nude oil rub down by cannibals that probably got the whole film funded.
RELIC RATING: 


RIVER OF DEATH (1989) - Steve Carver

THE TREASURE: A lost city in the Amazon that possibly houses a cache of gold, possibly a cure to a strange jungle-borne illness but, without a doubt, a bunch of old scheming Nazis.

THE INDY: Hamilton (Michael Dudikoff), a 1960s adventurer/jungle guide given to soul-searching voiceovers interspersed with dialogue such as "I'll blow a hole in you from your butt to your brains."

THE BELLOQS: Nazi scientist Wolfgang (Robert Vaughn), a Mengele inspired doctor who's created a disease that kills everyone but "the pure." Heinrich (Donald Pleasance, yet again), an ex-Nazi in hiding who hires Hamilton to lead him to the lost city. Colonel Diaz (Herbert Lom), an evil South American military commander along for the ride.

THE MARION: Heinrich's blonde Aryan lover Maria (Cynthia Erland) who Hamilton describes as "like a debutante holding her nose under caviar." There's also a lady named Anna who comes down with a bad case of face boils.

THE SHORT ROUNDS: Eddie, the helicopter pilot (L.Q. Jones). Also, a young guy/gal South American combo who, I think, were supposed to be revolutionaries.

GLOBETROTTING: South Africa subbing for South American jungles.

ACTION/ADVENTURE STATS: Decent, but mostly in the '80s straight-to-video guns, guns, guns mode. Apart from lots of heavy artillery (some of which I'm pretty sure isn't decade-accurate), there's a decent raid on a jungle camp, an assault on a river boat, heavy fire in an Amazon native settlement. The movie culminates in a cave-like lost city which has been retrofitted into a Nazi man cave. There are some great character actors earning steady paychecks (Pleasance, Vaughn, Jones, Lom) and then there's Michael Dudikoff, the American Ninja himself, of the Redondo Beach School of Fine Dramatic Acting. How has this guy not been in an Expendables movie yet? Mr. Stallone, please, correct this terrible oversight.
RELIC RATING: 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

SPACE CAMP VOL. 5: SPACE JUNK


Wikipedia defines "space junk" as a collection of defunct manmade objects floating around in outer space. Old satellite parts, rocket droppings, space station remainders, etc. Imagine the Great Pacific Garbage Patch orbiting the Andromeda Galaxy instead of the coast of the Aleutian Islands. Imagine if your West Virginian relatives stacked all of their broken appliances on Saturn's rings instead of their front porch.

But there's another type of space junk out there, that of the cinematic variety. When you watch a ton of sci-fi movies over the course of six months, you tend to build up a lot of space waste. This is not to say that all of the below films are terrible. Some of them are quite good. By "junk" I primarily mean leftovers, the films that didn't fit so neatly or thematically into the previous four Space Camp entries. Some of them I watched as far back as six months ago. One I viewed as recently as last evening. They're an accumulation of spare parts looking for a home. So I've grouped them into easy-to-digest junk food double features with off-the-cuff commentary.

My time at Space Camp has been entertaining, enlightening and frequently extraterrestrial, but it's time to come back down to Earth. To quote a certain wrinkly fellow: "M.B., phone home." This is the last time you'll see rocket ship icons in place of star ratings, I guarantee. That said, I make no promises regarding bullwhips...

BARBARELLA (1968) - Roger Vadim πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€1/2
GALAXINA (1980) - William Sachs πŸš€


It's shocking that it's taken me this long to get around to Barbarella, perhaps the campiest outer space movie that ever existed. The day-glo shag carpet rocket interiors. The zero gravity peepshow routines. Pills that simulate sex without need for touching. Blind birdmen named Pygar ripped from a Caravaggio painting. There's Marcel Marceau and a villain named Durand Durand. There's an orgasmatron that threatens to pleasure our heroine to death! All the midnight movie elements are there, and indeed Barbarella is a sumptuous late '60s free love kitsch feast. So many directors/actresses have tried and failed to remake this movie, from Robert Rodriguez/Rose McGowan to Nicolas Winding Refn/Christina Hendricks to Vadim himself (a tantalizing '80s version with Sherilyn Fenn). I say leave well enough alone. Barbarella is a product of its time, like the lava lamp. It should probably stay in suspended animation. Any other rendering will just be perfunctory air quotes.

As for Galaxina, be my guest. The movie wasn't much more than a sci-fi starring vehicle for Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten anyway. Other than some interesting color tinting during a Western-style showdown near the movie's end, Galaxina is a snooze and Stratten relatively stiff. Appropriate, in that she's playing an android. Sad, when you consider her character's goal is to become more human (she even fails as a "pleasure robot").

INVADERS FROM MARS (1986) - Tobe Hooper πŸš€πŸš€
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1997) - Gary Goddard πŸš€1/2


Tobe Hooper gave lovers of space camp a thing of beauty with 1985's Lifeforce. You can't expect him to win 'em all and especially not the very next year. Somehow, I missed his Invaders from Mars remake as a kid. I guess even then I was studying the local newspaper's reviews (the film landed with a resounding thud). Invaders isn't entirely unwatchable, the way any movie starring Bud Cort, Karen Black and Louise Fletcher simply can't be. But the child actor at the movie's center reaches fingernails on chalkboards levels of annoyance. His line readings are atrocious and his "fright face" barely sustained, as if he's anticipating the "Cut!" coming at the end of every scene. It almost feels like sadism on Hooper's part, as if he's perversely testing audience endurance. Given that this is the same man who directed Texas Chainsaw and Poltergeist, a little schadenfreude isn't out of the question. Other than that, a few of the rubber latex space invaders are kinda neat.

Masters of the Universe is another kiddie-friendly Cannon Films feature that bypassed me as a small fry, this one even more baffling since I owned He-Man and She-Ra action figures, the entire Castle Grayskull playset. I probably preferred the cartoon at the time, a rarity in my animation averse childhood. Either that, or I suspected Dolph Lundgren would never hold a candle to the chunk of opposable plastic I already held in my hands. I was onto something there. For though I love Dolph in Rocky IV, in Masters he is a slab of gym-sculpted dead weight. The producers obviously feared this, because instead of getting him emergency acting lessons they overcompensated by adding a dozen other characters and taking the focus off He-Man. If Masters has one big problem (other than piddling around on Planet Earth for too long), it is this...there are too many masters running around!!! Courtney Cox, Billy Barty, cops and assorted pimple-faced teens and their younger kin. What are we doing hanging out with them? For the love of Skeletor, get us back to Frank Langella and the planet of Eternia, please!!!

EXPLORERS (1985) - Joe Dante πŸš€πŸš€1/2
SPACE CAMP (1986) - Harry Winer πŸš€πŸš€


The most interesting aspect of this "Children Who Really Shouldn't Be In Space But Are" double feature is watching young actors who will later grow into great thesps. Between Explorers and Space Camp, you get a Hawke (Ethan) and not one but two Phoenixes (River and Joaquin, then named "Leaf"). 

Explorers begins on a promising note with a trio of young science nerds who invent a flying space bubble that allows them to float around their neighborhood, peek into girls' bedrooms (of course) and, eventually, breach outer space. For a while, it's kind of magical, as if Dante directed an hour-long Spielbergian advertisement for STEM learning. But then the trio gets tractor-beamed onto an alien ship and it's all downhill from there. The aliens derive all their Earth knowledge from old '50s television transmissions, which makes for a lot of dated Honeymooners references and tired Jimmy Durante impressions. Surprise! The aliens are children just like our trio. They watch too much TV and get in trouble with their parents. This probably sounded great on paper. In execution, not so much.

Space Camp, the namesake movie of this blog for the past six months, is a bit too earnest to be Grade A campy fun. It's basically an hour and half long ad for NASA's Space Camp program. The actors are all fine playing science camp types, from ambitious Leah Thompson to airhead savant Kelly Preston to ladies' man Tate Donovan to starstruck prodigy "Leaf." But the real keeper here is Jinx, the robot who's so devoted to young Phoenix that he'll do anything to ensure he gets his dream of being in space. This includes sabotaging NASA computers during a grounded space shuttle simulation, thereby causing the young crew to emergency launch. Apparently, it's an easy security breach for a rolling hunk of tin. Hopefully, NASA has corrected this operational oversight somewhere in the last 30 years. 

SPACEBALLS (1987) - Mel Brooks πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€
GALAXY QUEST (1999) - Dean Parisot πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€


The Star Wars spoof versus the Star Trek goof...which nerd franchise will win? Let's call it a draw. I loved Spaceballs as a kid, saw it in the theatre and on VHS countless times. Watched again as a somewhat discerning adult, a lot of Mel Brooks' jokes fall flat, and many of the Dark Helmet zings are unforgivable groaners. But I'll always be a sucker for dripping Pizza the Hutt, and the "comb the desert" sight gag gets me every time. 

Galaxy Quest was the more welcome re-watch of the two. I saw it in the theatre when it came out and remembered the premise being "kinda neat." My Star Trek franchise apathy and general aversion to all things Tim Allen kept me away from revisiting it for years. But after binging all the Star Trek movies in July, it seemed incumbent I give Quest another go. Being recently versed in Spock and Kirk definitely added a few extra layers to the jokes. And, man, are those Thermians worth the price of admission (especially, Enrico Colatoni). I didn't mind Tim Allen that much this time. He may be the perfect person to play William Shatner, after the actual Shat.

NUKIE (1987) - Sias Odendaal & Mike Pakleppa πŸš€1/2
MAC AND ME (1988) - Stewart Raffill πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€1/2


I spent a whole month watching Star Wars Rips, then another watching Alien Knock-Offs. The least I could do is give the E.T. clones two solid nights, right?

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial isn't as near and dear to my heart as other early Spielberg efforts (i.e., Raiders). Even way back then, the Little Ebert in me thought the movie was "just OK, a little too sappy, certainly no Poltergeist." So watching more or less the same narrative play out in on lesser budgets isn't exactly sacrilege. To be honest, I'd much rather watch the bizarrely entertaining McDonald's funded trainwreck Mac and Me a dozen more times than the original E.T. If not the entire movie, then at least this impromptu Micky D's dance scene.

After this and The Ice Pirates a few months ago, I'm steadily building a closet appreciation for the unsung genius of director Stewart Raffill. Who's up for a midnight screening of Mannequin Two: On the Move? No takers. OK, then how about cinema's most curious U.S. citizen naturalization ceremony?


As for Nukie, there will surely be no repeat viewings. If you've ever wondered what E.T. would be like if our glow-fingered hero crash landed in South Africa instead of Southern Cali, well, wonder no more. Nukie is your answer, and you'll wish you never asked. As much as I appreciate Steve Railsback, chimpanzees who think in voiceover, grumpy computer mainframes and alien visitors who look like worn down catcher's mitts, I'll never be able to get the endless wailing "Nukie! Nukie!" out of my head and not for reasons of fondness. Unlike Mac and Me, Nukie is more Plain Bad than Bad but Kinda Fascinating. Someone please put poor alien twins Nukie and Miko out of their misery. At the very least, spot them a bag of Reese's Pieces.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

SPACE CAMP VOL. 4: SOVIET AIRSPACE


I've mostly supported the home team for the last three "Space Camp" entries. Apart from a few outliers (Solaris, Message from Space, Turkish Star Wars), the focus has mainly been on films made and released in the U.S. in the years between 1950 and 1990. But, lest we forget, the Space Race was a contest waged between two countries during that period of time. The Soviets had a strong start out of the gate, launching satellites and human beings into orbit before the Yanks (not to mention a few dogs and primates). Then, in 1969, the States had a come-from-behind lead with the Apollo 11 landing. It wasn't until the USSR dissolved in '91 that the U.S. officially won by default. But what about the Space Movie Race during that same period? Who was the winner/loser there?

Surprisingly, the Soviet Union was pretty stiff competition here too. As I've discovered over the last few weeks, they turned out some quality space operas and sci-fi satires in the Cold War days. Although the films below are not all strictly Russian in origin, they do primarily come from countries considered to be in the Eastern or "Soviet Bloc" at the time. Almost half are based on Stanislaw Lem novels ("the Phillip K. Dick of Russia"). A few of them espouse obvious communist ideologies. Most importantly (for the purposes of "Space Camp," at least), they all tend to feature funky spaceship interiors, snazzy jumpsuits, multi-tasking robots and one or two fetching lady cosmonauts.

I know what you're thinking: "Houston, we have a problem." Has this blog defected, been taken over by Chechen hackers? I come here for American trash and American trash only!! Cashiers De Cinema not Kacca Der Kinho!!!! Well, calm down, fair reader. Sit back, relax and mix yourself a Stoli tonic. It's only for one month, and these are shorter than average capsule reviews. I've been in a Russkie sorta mood lately. I missed the Strange Lands Soviet sci-fi series at Lincoln Center a few years ago, and I just started reading Gary Shteyngart's growing up Russian-American memoir. I promise for the next (and final) installment of Space Camp, we will return to the States for some honest-to-goodness American astronaut movie junk food. In the meantime, "Red Alert"...

THE SILENT STAR (1960) - Kurt Maetzig πŸš€πŸš€1/2


An East German-Polish co-production based on Stanislaw Lem's first novel, The Silent Star (aka First Spaceship on Venus) is notable for being one of the most expensive Eastern Bloc productions of its era as well as for the refreshingly international makeup of its cast (Chinese, Japanese, African, German, American). When scientists find an artifact in the Gobi Desert (a sort of black box recorder with undecoded messages), they trace its origin back to Venus and embark on a manned fact-finding space mission to the supposedly uninhabited planet. Once there, they encounter a Technicolorful landscape, some metallic spider creatures suspended from wires, and a nasty sea of black sludge that looks like extra thick Dutch chocolate brownie mix. Venus is bereft of accompanying walnuts, but strong evidence leads the team to believe the messages are of alien origin and the precursor to an Earth invasion! The Silent Star boasts a healthy dose of thinly veiled anti-American sentiment, especially in reference to Hiroshima, but it's mostly in the service of a well intentioned (if a touch hamfisted) anti-nuke message.

IKARIE XB-1 (1963) JindΕ™ich PolΓ‘k πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€1/2


Another Stanislaw Lem adaptation, this time a Czech production filmed a few years before the country's liberation during the Prague Spring. While journeying to a White Planet, a large crew of assorted scientists and astronauts encounter a "dark star" that threatens them with harmful radiation (i.e., intense drowsiness). One crew member (pictured top left) gets too big a dose and begins to act out, threatening the safety of the community at large -- a big no-no in socialist governments and highly enclosed spaces.

And, boy, what lovely geometrical spaces! The spaceship interior in Ikarie has some of the best astro art decoration I've ever seen, a monochromatic combo of Lego blocks and Lite-Brite panels. It tapped directly into my childhood toy box. In general, the Theory of Relativity gets a lot of play in this film. It's one of the earliest to tackle the issue of time passing more slowly for our orbiting crew than their family members back on Earth. It's a huge crew, too, one of the biggest I've seen in a space movie. There's enough bodies on board for a ballroom dancing scene and even some very intentional family planning. I'm not sure if I'd seen a baby born on a spaceship before Ikarie (unless you count the 2001 "Star Child"), but it felt new, as did many other aspects of this delightful film. No small feat for a 50+ year old space flick.

EOLOMEA (1972) - Hermann Zschoche πŸš€πŸš€1/2


If you're looking for an Eastern Bloc space movie to "Netflix and chill" to, you could do a lot worse than Eolomea. Of the eight films I watched, it's definitely the Jackie Brown of the bunch, a laid back hangout movie with a great '70s lounge music soundtrack that also happens, occasionally, to drift into outer space. Think of it as a summer beach read (or beach stream). There are even a few romantic oceanic interludes on the lovely sands of the Galapagos.

This East German/Soviet/Bulgarian co-production opens with a bureaucratic council discussing what to do about the eight ships that have gone missing from their space fleet. Fetching Professor Maria (Cox Habbema) wants to investigate, though the council has banned further space travel. The disappearances seem to be coming from a constellation sending out the word "Eolomea" in Morse Code. Another planet perhaps? She teams up with a lazy playboy astronaut (think Nicholson in Terms of Endearment but younger, thinner, grouchier) to find out. Sparks fly, picturesque lounging ensues. A.I. fans take note: this movie also features a great dysfunctional robot, an East German version of Forbidden Planet's Robby that overheats and fries its circuitry when supplied with an illogical order. Given the era, it could've also been the brown acid.


IN THE DUST OF THE STARS (1976) 
Gottfried Kolditz πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€


Another party-friendly offering from East Germany, In the Dust of the Stars follows a Day-Glo costumed crew of space explorers who get a distress call from a unknown planet. On touching down, they're informed by the planet's master of ceremonies in between hits of hallucinogenic breath spray (see pic top right) that the signal was a mistake. He invites them to stay and celebrate, partake of his Dionysian planet's various feasts, orgies and interpretative dance routines. "When on TEM-4, do as the Romans do!" Everything is absolutely groovy, until stick-in-the-mud crew navigator Suko discovers a subterranean mining colony of slaves. Bummer, man.

This one is pretty hard to find in English. As far as Google knows, the only version online is here in the original German. A trip to one of the last remaining video stores on the planet is the only way I was able to track down a copy I could understand. Considering that I was already within 20 miles, it was well worth the trip.

TEST PILOT PIRXA (1978) - Marek Piestrak πŸš€πŸš€


Yet another Stanislaw Lem adaptation, this Polish-Soviet entry is based on his short story The Inquest. Human test pilot Pirx is tasked with the mission of testing a crew of "nonlinears" on a spaceflight to Saturn. By "nonlinear" they mean android. By "testing" they mean: Is this robot more Ash from Alien (bad) or Bishop from Aliens (good)? Hard to know with these skin jobs. The proceedings are mostly pretty dull either way, in flight and back on Earth. That said, I watched a version with terribly out of sync subtitles, which may have ruined the dramatic effect. If you happen to know Spanish, you can give Test Pilot a properly subtitled whirl here and judge for yourself. 


TO THE STARS BY HARD WAYS (1981) -
Richard Viktorov πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€


Speaking of robots...imagine Ex Machina but with a more sympathetic heroine who looks like a cross between a young, platinum blonde Sinead O'Connor and Shelly Duvall's Olive Oyl. Are you sold? I was. Of the eight "Soviet Airspace" movies I watched, Russian-born To the Stars By Hard Ways was the best (and freakiest) of the bunch.

Niya (Yelena Metyolkina) is a humanoid woman left for dead on an abandoned spaceship before being brought back to Earth for study. A neurocenter is found in her brain that allows her to be controlled remotely. For a while, she hangs out with a scientist's family, learning about Earthly pleasures and practicing her low-grade supernatural abilities. But she soon remembers details about her home planet, Dessa, which was being ravaged by greedy (and occasionally elfin) industrialists before she left. She and her new human pals go back to save the planet, its polluted atmosphere and water systems now clogged with something that looks like electrified marshmallow fluff.  Along the way, we encounter a robot that plays doubles tennis, a blobby marine creature who dislikes cats and bad guys who shave all but one small section of their cheek (see bottom left). This is also one of the first movies I've seen where tickling is used as a primary mode of defense.

Apparently, this film (aka Per Aspera Ad Astra) was a pretty big hit in Russia when it came out. So much so, that many Russian women adopted the close-shave Niya haircut. I can see why: It's hard to take your eyes off her, and often she can't take her giant round orbs off the audience (there are frequent shots where she stares into camera, obliterating the fourth wall). The version I watched was a newly restored one done by director's son, a fantastic transfer with a great synth-heavy soundtrack. There's also a badly dubbed MSTK3000 version out there, if you desire a built-in audience.

KIN-DZA-DZA! (1986) - Georgiy Daneliya πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€


Ever wondered what the Russian Spaceballs might be like? Or how about Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy done as a Samuel Beckett play? Kin-dza-dza! may be the closest to those two things you will ever get.

This late '80s Soviet space satire about a Moscow working stiff and a street fiddler who accidentally get zapped to a run-down desert planet still has relevance in today's political landscape. Nothing is free, everything is up for barter. The currency of choice is matchstick heads. There's racism among the clans, and newcomers are racially profiled with a contraption that looks like a light-up USB stick. "Koo" is an all-purpose word that means a dozen different things, more linguistically reductive than any Twitter buzzword. People also wear bells in their noses and prostrate themselves in odd crouches when meeting others. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we all have nose bells. There's probably a ton of other political commentary on '80s Soviet society in Kin-dza-dza! that went above my pay grade, but, at heart, it plays more as lighthearted spoof than Soviet economics lecture.

HARD TO BE A GOD (1989) - 
Peter Fleischmann πŸš€πŸš€πŸš€


If you've seen 2013's black and white Russian miserablist masterpiece Hard To Be God by Aleksei German, you may still want to check out this '89 color version just so you know what the hell was going on in that. A USSR-German film based on the popular 1964 Brothers Strugatsky novel, it sticks more closely to plot in telling the tale of  a planet that has regressed back to the medieval ages and the operative, Anton, who's sent back to study it by impersonating a demigod. 

While not as immersive (or as mucus slathered) as the 2013 version, it does have its distinct film geek pleasures. Werner Herzog plays a previous operative who was sent to the planet but unfortunately gets lanced in the back in the first ten minutes. The lead actor looks like a cross between Highlander and Rutger Hauer in Flesh + BloodThere's yet another great synth-heavy score and a laughable title song that sings out the film's title ("It's hard to be a god!"). In short, good late '80s stuff. It would only be two more years before the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics collapsed, but in their heyday the "failed experiment" made some pretty diverting cinematic space camp.