Posts Tagged ‘michael ironside’

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Having been somewhat impressed by the Grave Encounters films (considerably moreso with the first than the second) that were the brainchild of the so-called Vicious Brothers (co-writer Stuart Ortiz and co-writer /director Colin Minihan), I was reasonably stoked to give their latest effort, 2014’s Extraterrestrial, a go when I saw it in the Netflix streaming queue, and while the bog-standard premise of five teens in a remote cabin set upon by evil (or at least amoral and pathologically curious) aliens seemed more than a tad on the unimaginative side, the fact of the matter is that there’s nothing terribly original about the “found footage” paranormal investigation trope, either, and yet our intrepid pair of not-really-siblings had managed to do something pretty good with that. Why not err on the side of optimism, then, when going into this one?

I guess I’ve more or less given away the basic plot schematics already, and in truth there really isn’t much more to it than the less-than-a-sentence-long summation already provided, but for those who need a bit more of a precise run-down, an annoying group of late-teens (or maybe they’re early-twentysomethings, it’s kinda hard to tell) are headed to the back country hills to scope out the remnants of the place where one of them used to spend their summers when their typically boorish and asinine behavior attracts the much-deserved attention of local sheriff Murphy (played by Gill Bellows, veteran of the most annoying and offensive television series in history, Ally McBeal). They’re let off with a warning, get to the ramshackle old hovel, and in due course quickly find out that their nearest “neighbor,” Travis (the always-great Michael Ironside) is an anti-government, conspiracy-obsessed crackpot who just so happens to be the local pot king. The kids score some of his wares, return to the cabin, get fucked up, and then a flying saucer crashes. They check it out, return from the scene reasonably unscathed, and then find themselves assaulted by the usual array of bright lights, loud noises no one else (man or animal) in the forest can hear, shaking walls and floors — you get the idea. Eventually, Scotty beams ’em up and they’re all pretty well doomed. Cue skinny little grey-skinned freaks with big black bugged-out eyes that don’t close, slimy cocoon enclosures and, of course, the requisite anal probes (what is it with aliens and buttholes, anyway?).

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We’ve already established that one knows going in that this is all destined to be fairly standard stuff, but just how standard only becomes depressingly clear as events progress. At some point our attention and supposed sympathies are directed towards April (Brittany Allen) and Kyle (Freddie Stroma) as the ostensible “heroes” of the story because, hey, they’re good kids who really do, apparently, love each other, and wouldn’t ya just know that in the end, that love is what saves them from the same grisly fate as their shit-head friends, as the aliens decide to drop ’em back off on solid ground and head back to Zeta Reticuli or wherever. Love really does conquer all, it would seem — even when there’s no real reason (earthly or otherwise) for it to do so.

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As you’ve no doubt surmised by now, there’s all kinds of shit wrong with this movie (and we haven’t even gotten into the gaping plot holes since that would just feel like “piling on”), but chief among them is how listlessly formulaic the entire script is. That didn’t hurt the Grave Encounters “franchise” any, true, but here Los Bros. Vicious can’t seem to find any interesting new wrinkle in their premise and/or the vision to tackle the “same old, same old” with enough panache to elevate the material above its own well-worn genre trappings as they did there. In short, they just don’t seem as “into” their jobs as they had been previously, and while I’m certainly no believer in the “trickle-down” theory when it comes to economics, their thoroughly uninspired approach seems to have infected most of the cast here, as well (with the notable exception of Ironside, as you’d expect), who all seem to be just barely going through the motions on the way to collecting their no-doubt-small paychecks.

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Maybe Minihan and Ortiz should just stick with “found footage,” since they seem to have much more of an affinity with it — in fact, one of the chief stylistic flaws with Extraterrestrial is that is desperately feels like it should be shot on a hand-held “shaky cam,” but was lensed conventionally simply because the low-budget auteurs behind it wanted to prove they weren’t one-trick ponies. Here’s the thing, though — when you have a balsam-wood-thin script and shit actors, the whole “mockumentary” shtick can go a long way towards obfuscating those problems, and sometimes even succeeds in covering them up entirely. When you play it straight, well — no such luck, I’m afraid.

The Vicious Brothers have succeeded in the past by making films that were considerably better than they probably had any right to be. Unfortunately, Extraterrestrial bucks that trend and is, if anything, even worse than I’ve made it out to be. I’m thinking the aliens just split because they really couldn’t find any intelligent life down here.

 

 

I see you there, scratching your head. “American Nightmare?,” you’re thinking, “but I thought these ‘International Weirdness’ posts of yours were about — ya know — international flicks? Hence the title and all that?”

I understand your confusion, my friends, I really do, but rest assured — the 1983 release American Nightmare (it was filmed in ’81 but languished around for a good long while before finding a distribution deal) is, in fact, a Canadian film, shot on the dirty streets (well, as close as you’re going to find to dirty streets) of Toronto, and the film’s decidedly non-American origins are readily apparent the moment most of the actors go abewt the business of delivering their lines. As a matter of fact, some genre fans have even gone so far as to proclaim this movie to be the nearest thing to a Canadian giallo.

It sort of makes sense, really — the plot is definitely reminiscent of some of the great Italian exploitation efforts, centering as it does around a bitter heir to the throne of a media empire (Lawrence Day), whose relationship with his father is — uhhmmmm — distant, at best, as he searches for his estranged sister, who has gone missing in the drugs-and-prostitution underworld of whatever major American city this is supposed to take place in. Our erstwhile amateur sleuth is joined in his investigative efforts by his sister’s one-time roommate (Lora Staley), who also plies her trade by night at a strip club and later at night at — well, wherever her “clients” take her. There’s just one other wrinkle to add to the proceedings — there just so happens to be a knife-wielding killer on the loose hacking and stabbing his way through the city’s practitioners of the world’s oldest profession (the film even opens with a classic giallo-style hooker murder, with the unfortunate victim in question being portrayed by future Baywatch beauty Alexandra Paul). Needless to say, there’s more going on with these grisly murders than meets the eye, and the entirely unofficial investigations of our intrepid duo, as well as the official police investigations led by a young, and already awesome, Michael Ironside, lead into some very uncomfortable, and very powerful, territory.

Really, though, it’s the style and tone of this gritty — and often quite brutally nasty — little piece of business that make the giallo comparisons apt : the killings themselves don’t shy away from the blood (or misogyny); veteran Canadian composer Paul Zaza’s score is icy, clinical, and entirely memorable; director Don McBrearty gives the proceedings a very sleazy “street-level” feel while also having an artist’s eye for the grislier aspects of his script; and the heady mix of sex and violence that forms the beating heart of the whole affair is played up for all its worth and then some. Throw in a terrific cameo appearance by exploitation favorite Lenore Zann as a hooker/stripper trying to “go straight” and a hilariously, and stereotypically, pathetic cross-dresser neighbor and what’s not to love here?

This largely unknown Canuxploitation tax-shelter rarity, produced by veteran hand Paul Lynch, has recently seen the light of day on DVD under the auspices of Scorpion Releasing’s “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” line hosted by former WWE “diva” (whatever that means, but she does a decent enough job as presenter of these flicks) Katarina Leigh Watters. Full-frame picture and mono sound are both far less than perfect but entirely passable (although you’ve gotta crank the volume way up), and extras include an interview with Lynch about his entire career as a whole and a full-length audio commentary with him and Watters that is, thankfully, a bit more specific to this film itself. A nice little package that will hardly knock your socks off but is probably more than fans of this movie ever had any realistic cause to hope for.

Definitely a product of its time, and with groaningly lame dialogue in parts, American Nightmare is nevertheless a pretty powerful, and surprisingly well-done, slice of cinematic nastiness that lingers in the memory fairly strongly after viewing. Treading the line between exploitation nastiness and “quality” arthouse-style filmmaking, it mostly manages to blend the best of both worlds together fairly successfully without giving into the excesses of either. One of the more pleasant —even if the film itself is pretty damn unpleasant — surprises I’ve popped into the DVD player in quite some time.

Hey, Marvel, what’s next? Because frankly, I’m not entirely sure what we’ve got here. Is director Matthew (Kick-Ass) Vaughn’s X-Men:First Class a reboot? A standard-issue prequel? A sidebar item before we get back to the main story? It’s never made entirely clear, and frankly between this and last year’s X-Men Origins:Wolverine, it’s hard to say exactly where this license-to-print-money cinematic franchise is going. Which is not to say that it’s a bad flick in and of itself. It’s pretty decent, and in fact starts off almost looking like it’s going to be a serious shot in the arm for the property in general. But by the time it’s over, even though what we’ve witnessed is by any standard a pretty solid superhero flick (that starts to fizzle a bit the longer it goes on, but a lot of them to do that so we won’t hold that against it too terribly much), we’re no more clear about just what the next X chapter is going to be than we were when it started.

Because frankly there’s not much point in a sequel to this one. The story of a young Professor x (James McAvoy, who’s usually a pretty solid actor but here seems to be more or less mailing it in ) and Magneto (portrayed by Michael Fassbender, who delivers a sterling performance and has by far the best material to work with here as a Holocaust surviving-mutant who’s hunting down the Nazi monsters responsible for the murder of his mother, either directly or indirectly — and who, at certain angles, bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Ian McKellen, so kudos for a terrific casting job here, fellas) and how they assembled and trained the first mutant superhero team in preparation for a conflict with a seriously evil (and apparently immortal) son-of-a-bitch named Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon, in a terrific scenery-chewing turn), who’s manipulating the Cuban missile crisis in order to bring about World War 3 and the destruction of mankind/takeover of Earth by mutantkind, and how Xavier and Magneto came to go their separate ways at the close of said ordeal, is pretty much an open-and-shut story. And enjoyable, mostly entertaining one, to be sure, but not really an open-ended one.

There are some surprises along the way, and some diversion from established comic-book continuity that will certainly enrage some fans and thrill others, but on the whole you never get the sense that you’re watching the rebirth of a legend here or something. It’s just backstory filler. Good backstory filler, competent backstory filler, at times even enthralling backstory filler (especially the opening concentration camp scenes), but backstory filler nonetheless.

Which isn’t to say that anyone apart from McAvoy seems to be just going through the motions. Vaughn has adopted a swingin’ ’60s visual sensibility, particularly in the “time marches on —” montage-style scenes, that  works quite well , is terribly theme-appropriate, and also, frankly, exhudes a type of playful fun. Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone fame tunrs in a terrific performance as the young Raven/Mystique, who in equal turns pines longingly after Xavier but sees more worth in Magneto’s vision for the mutant’s future. January Jones, despite having a name that instantly marks her for being drawn and quartered on mere principle alone, is coolly confident as the sexy Emma Frost (although she looks a lot better from a distance and, sorry to dwell on the physical, just sort of looks weird in some of Vaughn’s lingering close-up shots). Rose Byrne is supremely competent, if unspectacular, as CIA liason/potential Xavier love-interest Moira MacTaggart. Oliver Platt does his — well, Oliver Platt — as — errrmmm — Oliver Platt (his G-Man character doesn’t have a credited name). And the story is certainly clever even if it does lose some momentum early on and never really gets it back.

But the whole thing’s also a bit schizophrenic. It starts off looking like it’s headed for Christopher Nolan-style superhero realism and ends with ridculous code names for the characters and an agonizingly-drawn-out, way-too-OTT scene of Xavier getting shot that might pack more dramatic wallop if we actually thought he might die, but seems just plain self-indulgent since we know that he doesn’t and this is how he ends up in his magic wheelchair.

On the whole, then, X-Men:First Class would be a lot more effective if it knew what it was, and what part in the overall ouevre of the series it was supposed to be filling. As it is, it feels like nothing so much an an enjoyable, generally-well-executed diversion, that does the best it can given its rather not-completely-thought-through remit. Where it all goes from here is anybody’s guess, and while you’ll more than likely be pretty entertained by this movie(I certainly was), you won’t come away from it with any answers about where the X-Men concept is headed in the future, and that’s something that the powers that be at Marvel and 20th Century Fox need to start figuring out fast before they kill their golden goose not so much through incompetence as sheer aimlessness. What’s next, indeed.

"Visiting Hours" Movie Poster

Ahh, memories. I remember watching the 1982 Canadian horror quickie Visiting Hours in the early days of cable and being scared out of my wits by it. It was tense, frightening, taut, and atmospheric — or so I thought at age 10 (well, okay, I was probably 12 or so by the time it was broadcast on HBO or Showtime or wherever the hell I caught it). But you know what they say — the memory cheats. Or does it?

Truth be told, in the case of Visiting Hours I just wasn’t sure. I’d never actually gone back and seen it again for whatever reason, so maybe it really didn’t leave as strong and indelible an impression as I thought. Or maybe I was just too busy leading a life (a life that, admittedly, involved watching a shitload of movies, especially horror flicks).

In any case, when I saw that Anchor Bay put this out on DVD a few years back, I thought about picking it up, but decided against it when I read that it contained essentially no extras, not even the trailer, so I decided against buying it (in its defense(sort of), now that I’ve seen the DVD I can say that while the trailer is indeed absent, it does contain three different TV spots, a radio spot, it features a generally crisp and clear (given its age) widescreen anamorphic transfer, and the mono audio track is perfectly fine, if unspectacular — but there’s nothing else included apart from a selection of trailers for other second-(at best) tier Anchor Bay releases, so I was indeed wise (for once) in bypassing this as a purchase), but recently, while re-populating (God how I hate that term, but I just used it anyway) my Netflix list, I decided to give it a go.

So, was it anywhere near as thrilling and harrowing and gut-wrenching and spine-tingling as I remembered? Or was I destined to be disappointed in learning that yet another childhood favorite is, in actuality, a pretty stupid piece of shit?

The answer, dear reader, lies somewhere in between. It certainly and most emphatically isn’t the horror masterpiece my young mind perceived it to be — but it’s hardly a waste of time and celluloid, either.

Truthfully, Visiting Hours is nothing so much as a product of its time, like so much else. It has its moments, but they’re few and far between, and you’ve seen it all done better elsewhere. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, just that it’s wholly unremarkable. There are worse moviemaking sins than that, to be sure, and I’ve enjoyed the hell out of plenty of less-than-remarkable horror films over the years, and many of the reviews on this very blog can certainly attest to that fact.

And let’s be clear — Visiting Hours definitely has some things going for it. For one thing, the setup is simple but solid — crusading TV reporter Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) has taken up the cause of a woman on convicted  of murdering her abusive husband. Deborah believes it was a case of justifiable homicide, and takes to the airwaves to try to get the woman in question a new trial. Unfortunately, this brave stance doesn’t sit well with one Colt Hawker (how’s that for a name?), a closet, deeply misogynistic psycho played by the always- awesome Michael Ironside who developed his deep-seated hatred for the female gender when, as a young boy, he witnessed his mother throw boiling oil into the face of his abusive father, and just so happens to be a member of the cleaning staff at the TV studio where our gal Deborah works.

Colt’s got a nasty habit of going around town, brutally killing women, and photographing them as they expire, and he becomes so incensed by Deborah’s on-air crusading that he goes over to her house, kills her incompetent and alocoholic maid, waits for our intrepid reporter to come home, and then brutally rapes and (he thinks) murders her, as well.

Unfortunately for ol’ Colt, Deborah survives the attack, and is admitted to the county general hospital, where between  the always- watchful eye of a regular Florence Nightingale of a nurse (Linda Purl), and occasional visits from her producer-love interest Gary (William Shatner — this movie was shot in Shatner’s hometown of Montreal), she proves to be a difficult patient to — uhhhmmm — gain access to. He’s gotta try, though, because he’s afraid she might recognize him if she sees him around the TV station and finger him out as her attacker. I guess he figures that sneaking into the hospital and killing her is easier than just quitting his job and finding a new one. Or maybe he just decides on this course of action for fun. Or something.

And that’s where Visiting Hours really gets bogged down. The first third or so of the film moves along at a pretty breakneck pace, but once Deborah’s in the hospital, it almost becomes a near-slapstick series of failed attempts by Colt to get at her and finish what he started, sort of like a cross between a slasher movie and a Three Stooges flick.

Most of the principle cast is excellent. Grant, as usual, gives a strong, believable, and 100% committed performance. The same can be said or Purl, albeit in a much smaller role. Ironside is, as you’d expect, first-class as the psycho and never anything less than chillingly authentic.  Even Shatner keeps his overacting to a reasonable minimum, although his character frankly isn’t given much to do and is basically a beefed-up and over-written version of what should be, at best, a pretty inconsequential part.

And therein lies the problem — this movie is just way too damn padded out. It clocks in at 105 minutes, but there’s only about 80 minutes’ (at best) worth of story to be told here.  Screenwriter Brian Taggert simply pads out the runtime with unnecessary appearances by minor characters and too much character development for them given their levels of overall plot significance. Director Jean-Claude Lord takes care of the rest by dragging out scenes that probably only run a page, at best, on the script for several minutes. As a kid, I’m sure that made things seem a lot more tense and foreboding to me, but as a fully-fledged (at least physically, if not mentally) adult, it has just the opposite effect, killing any suspense that might be achieved by simply stretching things out way past their breaking point. Sure, you can make a rubber band more tense by pulling it further and further, but at some point the damn thing just gives up and breaks. The same rule applies to scenes in what’s supposed to be a “suspense” film.

So in that key respect, Visiting Hours certainly misses the mark. It’s got some stuff going for it, as detailed above, but not enough to make it stand out from the pack. And the pack, it has to be said, was a pretty crowded one at the time.

In 1982, hot on the heels of the success of films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and (arguably) the progenitor of them all, Black Christmas, Hollywood studios were always on the lookout for cheap psycho-slasher flicks that were already in the can and wouldn’t cost them anymore than whatever the price tag was for distribution rights. Having chosen to take a pass on Black Christmas, 2oth Century Fox probably didn’t want to be beaten out a second time when it came to snagging the rights to a Canadian horror flick, especially not one with a pedigreed cast like this, so they picked this one up for distribution and gave it a pretty decent little promotional campaign (just check out that poster!), but ultimately it didn’t catch on much with audiences, and didn’t even make much of a splash in the early days of the home video market, when people would rent pretty much fucking anything.

Still, as time has proven over and over, more or less every single horror flick has its fans, and there are sorrier flicks than Visiting Hours that have legions of adoring admirers, so even though it languished around for a hell of a long time before being picked up by Anchor Bay for DVD release, and even though there wasn’t exactly an outcry (or even much of a murmur) from the horror-loving public demanding it, I imagine it’s sold okay for them. It’s fairly representative of its time, and there are plenty of people who are determined to have every 80s psycho-slasher flick in their library — and since the psycho himself is one of the strongest elements in this film’s favor, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

But damn, I sure remember it being a hell of a lot better.