King Kong (1933)

"Oh yeah...well, keep your stupid screaming Barbie! Just wait'll my big brother gets here. He and his atomic breath'll show you!"
“Oh yeah…well, keep your stupid screaming Barbie! Just wait’ll my big brother gets here. He and his atomic breath’ll show you, mister!”

Tonight I’d like to talk about heresy. Everyone’s committed at least one over the course of their movie-watching lives. You know what I’m talking about. Deep inside your heart there’s at least one universally-acclaimed film you can’t stand. More likely there’s a whole list which you’ll be all too glad to rattle off should anyone make the mistake of asking.

For some it’s that ninety minute Vangellis music video that happens to star Harrison Ford, Blade Runner. For some it’s Star Wars. They just don’t get it, and they’ll tell you that ’til they’re blue in the face. For some it’s The Godfather; for some, Citizen Kane. For some it’s The Wizard of Oz, or the great biblical epics of the ’50s. But not me. I’ve got nothing against those films. I don’t have the hate to waste. I’d rather keep it all for King Kong. Continue reading King Kong (1933)

Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009)

"Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You actually paid money for this?  Foolish humans!"
"Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You actually paid money for this? Foolish humans!"

While it may or may not be “the best documentary of its kind in years,” Nightmares in Red, White and Blue is certainly the most comprehensive. Covering almost one hundred years of American horror film history, Nightmares is not a film you watch so much as absorb. It deserves its own study guide, and that’s exactly what I found on the film’s official website. God I love living in the future, don’t you?

It not even a film, really. More the backbone of a college course…or a whole wing of some major university department. Plus it’s got Lance Henriksen as Our Humble Narrator and if ever there was a man chosen by prophecy to narrate this kind of stuff, it’s Frank Black. “Yea, verily, one will be born among them with a face like an Arizona relief-map and the voice of gravel under foot. And he shall narrate horror film documentaries, because that’s certainly better than slumming in a wasteland of straight-to-DVD indie-horror…”

So the “best documentary of it’s kind in years” begins with Frank Black reading our liturgy: Continue reading Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film (2009)

Godzilla the Series: An Exercise in Over-Analysis – Part V

Poor Washington Square Park. Between this and I Am Legend, it just can't catch a break...
Poor Washington Square Park. Between this and I Am Legend, it just can’t catch a break…

Episode 6 – Cat and Mouse

As New York City slowly but steadily recovers from the first Godzilla’s “attack” in summer, 1998, our pre-credit teaser finds an unfortunate homeless man beset by a giant, mutated rat.

Cut to…some mid-town restaurant, where Dr. Nick Tatopoulos and WIDF News Correspondent Audrey Timmonds attempt to have A Talk. You know, one of those annoying “Don’t You Think Its Time We Defined Our Relationship?” talks. Separate calls interrupt both participants before either can arrive at a conclusion, keeping the gigantic plot contrivance that is their relationship spinning for future exploitation. Because nothing says “Action-Packed Saturday Morning Cartoon” like the strained relationships of twenty-something yuppies. Continue reading Godzilla the Series: An Exercise in Over-Analysis – Part V

Darkman (1990)

Justice's "brand new face." Because clean bandages are for pussies and criminals.
Justice’s “brand new face.” Because clean bandages are for criminals.

Things may be different in Japan, but over here in the USA only a bare handful of superheroes were born in movieland. Most come out of comic books, something that astonished me back in 1990 and still astonishes today. You’d think superheroes and the motion picture would go together like peanut butter and a consenting adult sexual partner. Thankfully, over the years, a good crop of people have shared this view and worked their butts off to make their “original” superhero productions happen.

One of those people is Sam Raimi. After the success of Evil Dead 2 proved people couldn’t get enough of Raimi’s morbid, slapstick “humorror,” he could’ve sat back on his laurels and made Army of Darkness. Hell, he could’ve reshot the same story (again), called it Evil Dead 3: The Dead Shall Rise and people would’ve loved him for it. Some of us expected just that from Army of Darkness, in fact. Continue reading Darkman (1990)

Batman Returns (1992)

What you mean? What so strange about two people in rubber costumes making out on a rooftop?
Nope. Nothing creepy going on here.

As with its prequel, I have a long history with Batman Returns. It was Friday, June 19, and my cousins and I were suffering through the annual summer visit to the grandparent’s house…in Alabama. My southeastern U.S. readers know what that means. Everyone else: imagine being trapped inside a fat man’s wet towel. Now imagine that fat man is obsessed with wearing pine-scented cologne and rolling around in fire ants. Welcome to Alabama in the summer time.

I saw a lot of movies during those summer vacations. Batman Returns was everything a nine-year-old could want and more. It terrified our grandparents for the same reason it entranced we children of Batman. The two villains on the poster tell you everything you need to know. Batman Returns was a doubling-down for everyone, from the top brass at Warner Brothers to the runner who spiked Tim Burton’s coffee with acid every morning. The marketing for this film promised twice the everything. More action. More Gotham. More goddamn Batman. Continue reading Batman Returns (1992)

Godzilla the Series: An Exercise in Over-Analysis – Part IV

Trailer shot!
Trailer shot!

Episode 5 – The Winter of Our Discontent

We open in New York City’s seemingly endless harbor, with the World’s Number One Monster Hunting Team, H.E.A.T., in hot pursuit of their itinerant seventh member, Godzilla (Can’t really call him “a silent partner” with all those roars, now can we?) Godzilla, in turn, pursues the call of an unidentified signal beacon straight to a pile of fresh-caught fish. Whatever Godzilla’s cognitive powers, I can easily see him wandering into such an obvious trap. I expected better from Our Human Heroes, who nonetheless react with shock when a flight of ten-foot-long, mechanical insects begin to strafe the Big G, mightily pissing him off.

These “Cyber Flies” arrived courtesy of the series’ first human villain: Cameron Winter (David Newsom), described by H.E.A.T. member Elsie Chapman (channeling her inner twelve-year-old) as “the world’s richest, most-hunkiest CEO, not to mention the biggest techno-guru.” Such hunkiness is beside the point for team lead Nick Tatopoulos, who spent more than enough time with Cameron Winter at their (unnamed) mutual college. Indignant, Nick accuses Winter of “drawing Godzilla out for target practice.” Cameron owns up to his little trap, which Godzilla easily muscles free of, enjoying a fine fish dinner on Cameron’s dime after scrapping the last Cyber Fly. Continue reading Godzilla the Series: An Exercise in Over-Analysis – Part IV

Mothra (1961)

Daikaiju: 2 | Tokyo Tower: 0
The score, as of1961 – Daikaiju: 2 | Tokyo Tower: 0

This is a return to glory for everyone involved after the gigantic backward step that was Varan. Even uncut versions of that are painfully rehashes of previous Honda monster movies, symptomatic of those Ancient Enemies of all good film: lack of time and a low, low budget.

Mothra is a full-180 turn, the first daikaiju masterpiece of the 1960s. Like Rodan, it follows a small cast of actually-interesting characters. But unlike Godzilla and Rodan, Mothra is more of an urban fantasy than a depressing polemic against the horrors of nuclear weapons and the ethically-challenged March of Progress that overlay this entire age of world history. After all, it’s 1961: JFK, MLK, and Malcolm X are still alive! The Space Race is in full swing! The Rodans are dead and Godzilla was last seen at the bottom of an icy rock slide. All is right with the world! What could possibly go wrong? Continue reading Mothra (1961)

Dirty Harry (1971)

Is a caption for this really nesessary?
Is a caption for this really necessary?

It’s one of the most-quoted films of all time, the basis for entire sub-genres, and the film most directly responsible for giving Clint Eastwood a post-Spaghetti Western career. Yet you’d be hard pressed to find five people in the same place who’ve actually seen Dirty Harry for what it is. I, for example, had never seen it in its entirety until last week. That’s what happens when you spend your childhood watching shitty monster movies (or even good monster movies, for that matter).

I got burnt out, is the thing. Wrestling with Captain America really got to me, but considering what it did to Christopher Lee, I got off easy. So I decided to recharge my batteries by reaching back to a now-officially-classic piece of American film making. It was time to plug one of the more-obvious holes in my personal cinematic education. It was time to start counting shots. Continue reading Dirty Harry (1971)

Godzilla the Series: An Exercise in Over-Analysis – Part III

The Shadow of the Lizard!
The Shadow of the Lizard!

Episode 4 – D.O.A.

After the usual prologue/pre-credit teaser, the full strength of H.E.A.T. (including N.I.G.E.L. the Doomed Robot, whom I still refuse to talk about at this point) lands in “Costa Roja,” the first of several fictional Central and South American countries this show will exploit explore over the course of its run. “So how come I’ve never heard of this place?” Token Youth Randy Hernandez asks. Agent Dupre demonstrates why she’s my favorite character by rhetorically replying: “Because you were educated in America?” Continue reading Godzilla the Series: An Exercise in Over-Analysis – Part III

Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983)

When Captain America throws his those who oppose his loincloth must yield.

Here it is: the movie Bad Movie websites everywhere are obliged to review if they want to flesh out the “Y” sections of their archives. It’s certainly worthy, nominated for three Razzie Awards, including Worst Original Song, Worst Score (it “lost” both to The Lonely Lady) and quite-unfairly-named Worst New Star (he “lost” to Lou Ferrigno).

Not that Reb Brown isn’t a star in his own, strange right. But by 1983 Brown was a long way from “new.” He built up quite the career catching bit parts on every 1970s TV show you might actually remember. Scratch The Six Million Dollar Man, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Rockford Files or Happy Days with enough force and you’ll find Reb Brown already there. But fame is a fickle bitch, unwilling to give Reb the time of day even after he played Captain America. Twice.

The 70s were a spiteful decade, driven by desperation…but at least that drove innovation. Occasionally, a truly weird experiment in movie lunacy (like Reb Brown’s first movie, the turning-men-into-snakes epic Sssssss) escaped the wreckage of Hollywood’s old studio system. But the 80s saw Reb slumming more and more as the character of the times changed. The desperate spite of 70s gave way to the angry spite of the 80s, a trend exemplified in the rise of the American Action Movie. Like an intergalactic race of cyborgs, Action Movies rose to international prominence by assimilating everything in its path. Our culture adapted to service theirs. Resistance was futile. And Reb didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing. Continue reading Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983)