Saturday, March 29, 2014

Cat Scratch Fever

Rosie, Varla and Billie. Warning: These kittens do scratch.


OK, how's this for a nightmare scenario?

Are the clean-cut president of your local car club. You and your hyper-perky girlfriend Linda (Susan Bernard) are out in the California desert running some time trials.

Then you meet up with a trio of sexy, tough talking hipsters named Varla, Rosie and Billie. They challenge you to a friendly drag race; you unwisely accept. You race against Varla--who appears to be the leader of the pack--and she not only out runs you, her ferocious driving style nearly blows up your car's engine.

Then things turn ugly. Varla insults your masculinity. You answer back. Varla belts you in the chops. You attempt to hit her back, but she whips out some karate moves you hadn't counted on. Seconds later, you are rolling in the dust, having had your fanny thoroughly kicked.

But it's not over yet.

"I don't beat clocks--just people," Varla declares before snapping your spine like a brittle twig.

Now it's over, especially for you.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence.

Or rather, welcome to "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!", the subject of the 100th post of this humble blog.

Exploitation filmmaker Russ Meyer made a biker movie--biker movies being all the rage in the the 1960's--but was not happy with the final result. Then he got a brave wave: why not make a movie where the leads were strong, tough, sexually aggressive women? Go-go dancers instead of bikers? Drag racing, karate chopping go-go dancers with a gift for camp dialogue?

From such musings, history was made.


Before: Car club president Tommy and girlfriend Linda.


After: Billie, Linda and Rosie. "She just, like, totally killed my boyfriend!"


A mere recitation of the plot of this 1965 corker doesn't even begin to do it justice. You must see for yourself the over-the-top passion play that "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" is.

After Varla (Junk Cinema Icon Turan Satana) snuffs out car club president Tommy, hyper-perky girlfriend Linda goes bonkers. After tying her up and hushing her with a sleeping pill, Varla and sidekicks Rosie (Haji) and Billie (Lori Williams) drive to the nearest service station.

 "What can I do for you today?" the goofy attendant asks.

""Just your job, squirrel!" Varla snaps. "Fill it up!"

However, it's at the gas station that the gals hear that ornery old coot Stuart Lancaster (a Meyer regular, who would later star in "God Monster: The Terror of Indian Flats" about a king-size mutant sheep) is hoarding a fortune of green in his run-down shack.

So Varla plots to use the hysterical Linda as bait to pilfer the cash. Surfer girl gone bad Billie signs on, especially after she gets a gander at the old coot's hunky but mentally impaired son (Dennis Busch, referred to in the politically incorrect fashion as "The Vegetable"). The gruff Rosie (who Meyer hints is Varla's cuddlemate) is not so sure. However, she always does what Varla wants (after all, she loves her).

"Are you girls nudists or are you just short of clothes?" the old coot barks when the tempestuous trio present themselves as weary travelers looking for water "to cool off their bombs(cars)." Picking up his scent like a bloodhound, Billie follows "The Vegetable" to his home-made gym. It's there she announces, "I'll be Jane and you be Tarzan. Let's grab a vine and swing!" 


Dirty old man Stuart Lancaster arms himself.


Before they can, ahem, "swing", the piercing shrieks of Linda ring out. Although he's stuck in a wheelchair, the nasty old coot Lancaster can still make an ugly advance on Linda, who has managed to run off. She's picked up by concerned driver Kirk (Paul Tinkas) who, it just so happens, is A) the dirty old man's older son and B) promptly drives Linda back to the very shack she just escaped from.

D'oh!

What follows next is a surreal sit-down lunch (prepared by Kirk) that must be seen to be believed. At the head of the table sits old coot Lancaster, who reveals that he's still bitter over his wife's death--and that he resents "The Vegetable" for being such a big baby that his wife expired trying to deliver him. Sitting across from each other are Varla and Kirk. She gives him endless lascivious looks and arouses him to no end by the way she eats her corn on the cob. The gruff Rosie simmers as Varla reels in her patsy. Meanwhile, Billie, endlessly trying to attract the attention of "The Vegetable", declares, "I'm of legal age for whiskey, voting and loving. Now that the next election is two years away and my love life ain't getting much better, how about some of that 100%?!" Lancaster happily fills her glass. Poor Linda, on the other hand, has yet another hysterical fit and conks out.

Kirk and Varla then slip away for a little afternoon delight. "You're a beautiful animal," Kirk pants as he and Varla practically swallow each others' tongues. "And I'm weak. And I want you..." As the two start rolling around in the hay, a resentful Rosie spies on them in dismay. Back at the shack, Billie has passed out, so the nasty old coot makes another ugly pass at Linda--and she manages to run off again. Fit to be tied about Billie's incompetence, Varla knifes her in the back. This so upsets "The Vegetable" that he stabs Rosie. That's all Varla needs to jump in her car and run the poor guy down. Kirk, suddenly aware that Varla is bad news, heads for the hills. The ornery old sidewinder meets his maker, too--and it's revealed that his large stash of green was hidden in his wheelchair.


Varla understands that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.


After helping herself to the green, Varla commandeers the old coot's truck and tracks down Kirk and Linda. While Varla is busy beating the stuffing out of Kirk, the bonkers Linda climbs in the idling truck and mows Varla down flat as a pancake.

"I killed her!" the despondent teenager wails. "I killed her like she was an animal!"

The sympathetic Kirk comforts the unhinged youngster with this astute observation: "She wasn't human."

Can't argue with that.

Well, what can you possibly say after watching the surreal trash-fest that is "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!"?

Meyer cast the right actors for these parts. Lancaster, as the mean old coot, is one of the meanest old coots in the movies. There is nothing redeeming about this guy, no secret ache that love or understanding could heal. He hates everybody, including his own kids, and women--especially women. "Women!" he rails. "They let 'em drive and smoke. They even put 'em in pants! And what do you get? A Democrat for president!"

If you close your eyes, you can picture Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity nodding their heads in agreement.

Tura Satana, in her skin-tight cat suit and Betty Page bob, is perfect as Varla. She can go-go dance, drag race, perform karate like Bruce Lee and snarl like Joan Crawford. She's a lean, mean killing machine and that's the way she likes it. "My motor never runs down," she announces at one point. "Wanna check under my hood?"

Varla's side-kicks are cut from the same cloth. Surfer girl gone bad Billie (Lori Williams) is completely guided by her ID.  No man, car or drink that is safe from her. Rosie (Haji) is a bit more understated, but just as deadly. "We don't do anything soft," she drawls. "Everything we do is hard."

In his own blinkered way, Meyer tapped into the mid-1960's sense that the world was going crazy, that traditional rules and roles were being upended--and it wasn't good news. Meyer's super-sized women-- who did what they wanted, feared no one and flaunted their sexuality-- visualized the dark side of feminism, as many people (especially men) saw it.

Of course, lots of people didn't realize Meyer was satirizing their fears, but subtlety wasn't his forte'.

With go-go dancing, rock 'n roll, drag racing, social satire and snarly dialogue, at 83 minutes "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" has it all.

INTERESTING TIDBITS ABOUT THIS FLICKS:

*Supposedly, Russ Meyer met Ernest Hemingway during WW II in a French brothel. Because Meyer was still a virgin, Hemingway paid for his hooker so Meyer could lose his virginity.

*Susan Bernard (Linda) was a Playboy playmate in 1966 and was actor Jason Patric's step-mom.




Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Artemisia: No Chicken Of The Sea

Hello, boys: Persian naval commander (and Versace couture fan) Artemisia storms onto the scene in "300: Rise of an Empire".


A fine hello to you and yours, movie lovers, and a belated happy St. Patrick's Day, too.

Recently I traveled to my local movie theater, plunked down a king's ransom ($7.50!) and subjected myself to "300: Rise of an Empire", Noam Murro's not-exactly-a-sequel, not-really-a-reboot, some-kind-of-continuation of Zack Snyder's 2007 hit "300".

In a nut shell, "300 Plus" (as I like to call it) is a CGI 3-D extravaganza which features more blood, guts, stabbing, impaling, kicking, biting, scratching, hitting, punching, beheading, whipping, screaming, burning and eye gouging than any movie produced since 1912.

But stylized slow-mo gore isn't the subject of this review. No, the real focus of this article is the performance of Eva Green as Persian naval commander/good time girl Artemisia.

Simply put, Green's performance is the greatest acting ever done in the history of acting.

Her character is not merely a brilliant commander. She's also a master swords-woman, an Olympic caliber archer, a fiery orator and a Versace super model. Her life story (according to the flick) would also make her an interesting motivational speaker, should she decide to switch careers at some point.

It goes like this.

When Artemisia was a little girl, her family was killed and her village razed by some Greek baddies. After being abused herself, Artemisia is chained on a ship and abused some more. In her early teens, she's then dumped to die on some forgotten street. That's where "a Persian emissary" scooped her up, nursed her back to health and trained her in the arts of war.


Artemisia takes dead aim at the hapless Greeks in "300 Plus".


Artemisia quickly rises through the ranks of King Darius of Persia's navy, where she regularly swipes off the heads of defeated commanders and lovingly presents them to her king as a Pick Me Up Bouquet. 

Then one fateful day, King Darius is killed by Greek Gen. Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton). His son and heir Prince Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is totally bummed about this, but go-getter Artemisia sees it an an opportunity.

After the dying King Darius utters that only "the gods" can defeat the Greeks, Artemisia convinces Xerxes to become a god. So he undergoes a combination Black Mass and Mary Kay make-over to become "god king" Xerxes: bald, ripped, with tattooed eye brows, covered in necklaces, rings, chains, body piercings and flaunting a pair of jewel-encrusted bikini briefs.

Xerxes is now the Lady Gaga of god kings and he's ready to rumble.

Well, actually, Artemisia is the one ready to rumble, because it's she who wants to kick some Grecian fanny, not Xerxes, who is having too much fun voguing and being fabulous.


Prince Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) before...


"God King" Xerxes after. Which do you prefer?(I like before.)

 So Artemisia goes to war. Her most interesting battle is not with the Greek navy per se, but with hunky Gen. Themistokles. After one early skirmish that ends in a draw (I guess), Artemisia invites the general to her ship to (ahem!) "negotiate."

First, they discuss naval strategy.

Next, they philosophize as to why they fight.

Then, Artemisia offers Themistokles the chance to (ahem!) serve under her.

In response, Themistokles rips off his toga. Artemisia yanks off her blouse. She plants a big, fat vacuum-packed kiss on Themistokles, nearly pulling his ribcage up and out his nostrils. Then the Greek body slams the Persian on a table and rides her like Sea Biscuit at The Kentucky Derby. Seconds later, Artemisia body slams Themistokles on a table and rides him like Secretariat at The Kentucky Derby. She moans. He groans. Furniture is broken. Crockery is smashed. Above deck, Artemisia's guards, hearing the ruckus, exchange uneasy looks.

Just when you expect the duo to flash fangs and simultaneously sink them into each others' necks, Artemisia and Themistokles decide to take a breather. Instead of lighting up a smoke or enjoying the milky after glow, Artemisia once more asks the Greek general if he wants to join her navy. He says no, again. Miffed, Artemisia slaps Themistokles' mug and orders him off her ship.

 When a Greek naval commander and a Persian naval commander love each other very, very much...: Artemisia and Themistokles get physical.


I could go on and describe the rest of the battles of "300 Plus", the flashing of swords, the squirting of blood, men screaming "ahh!" like they were having a baby. But all that CGI gore is no match for Eva Green. Unlike, say Bette Davis, Joan Crawford or Faye Dunaway, Green doesn't chew the scenery; her performance isn't camp. She is completely, utterly believable. Artemisia wants revenge and she wants it now. Watching Green do her stuff, you are reminded to two other great no-holds-bar performances: Tura Satana in "Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" and Linda Fiorentino in "The Last Seduction".

 Like Satana's notorious Varla, Artemisia's tongue is as lethal as her fists. "I did not come here to be a spectator!" she roars during one confrontation, brandishing her swords and jumping into the fray. Later, when Xerxes begins throwing his royal weight around, Artemisia reminds him who is really in charge. "You are king because of me!" she barks. "Now sit back on your throne with the safety I provide you." Then there is this little bon mot, spit out while she and would-be cuddlemate Themistokles battle it out in the movie's final minutes: "You fight harder than you f@#%!"

Well, she outta know!

In "The Last Seduction", Fiorentino's Bridget forces a drug deal on her hapless medical student hubby (Bill Pullman) and then runs off with all the money, better to fund the lifestyle she wants in swanky but expensive New York. She is determined to keep every last cent and isn't above playing every man she comes into contact with like a fiddle at the annual saps convention. Just like Bridget, Artemisia is the smartest person in any room and she is equally determined to get her way. Survive a horrific childhood? Check. Become the best naval commander in Persia? Check. Manipulate Xerxes into being a fashion symbol so she can run the show? Check. Go to war and avenge Greece for the wrongs they did to her and her family? Not quite a check, but she comes pretty darn close.

Message to movie makers: if you create interesting characters and give them interesting things to do and say, you won't need to waste all that money on those hokey CGI effects. As Eva Green proves, a great character is the best special effect. Try it and see! Until next time, write better characters and save the movies!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Tone Deaf: Well, It Seemed Like A Good Idea...At First (Music Video Special Edition)

Architects of their own destruction: Billy Ray Cyrus and Buck 22

Hi Keeba and hello, movie lovers.

You know, as we travel down life's twisting highway, we often have ideas that, at first blush, may seem brilliant, but, upon greater reflection, are revealed to be truly awful.

Reading Bright Lights, Big City , for example.

Voting for Walter Mondale.

The making of "The Godfather, Part III".

The creation of the music video.

Off all those foolhardy schemes, the creation of the music video has been the worst.

Especially for the music industry.

How so? Well, to make a long story short, music videos have made it possible for people to have a career in music even if they can't sing a note.

Before music videos, singers had to be able to sing. After music videos, anybody who could shake their hinder could put out a hit single and even win a Grammy.

Milli Vanilli, anyone?

Like any new technology, music videos had the potential to be used for good or evil.

Sad to say, they have often been used for evil.

Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" is an example of the music video form at the peak of its creativity, imagination and craft.

From that lofty perch, however, the rest of the world's music video output has been one long endless slide into the dung heap.

For 24 years, the hair band Warrant held the dual distinction of writing the worst song ever and starring in the worst music video ever.

I'm talking about that immortal love ballad from 1990, that ode to goin' down in the name of love, "Cherry Pie."

Forget "At Last." Forget "Strangers in the Night". Forget "Younger Than Springtime." Instead, marvel at the lines of sheer poetry emitted by tune-smith Jani Lane as he croons about his lady-love:

"She's my/cherry pie/tastes so good/makes a grown man/cry."

He wrote that song in ten minutes--are you surprised?

As if that wasn't enough, the video "Cherry Pie" featured a big-haired bimbo in tight clothes, fire hoses and lots of gloppy cherry pie slices that continually fell onto the crotches of the big-haired band members.

All in all, it's a beautifully realized illustration of the dynamics of physical love...and that some men are so damn horny, they'll go after anything in a tube top, from their first cousin to the neighbor's dog.

"I respect women," the lead singer insisted at the time. "We did this just for fun."

Sure.
Remember! The hair band Warrant respects women!

Alas, the reign of "Cherry Pie" has finally come to and end. It has been replaced as both WORST SONG and WORST MUSIC VIDEO by the recently released musical monstrosity, "Achy Breaky 2."

Simply put, this video is beneath contempt. It makes "Cherry Pie" look like "Adagio for Strings".

The clip is inexplicably introduced by Larry King, in what will surely rank as the lowest point of his career, even surpassing his interview with the bloated and disoriented Marlon Brando, which ended with Larry kissing Brando on the lips.

Larry informs us that UFOs have been sighted. The next scene is Billy Ray Cyrus (Miley's pa) taking a stroll with rapper Buck 22 (aka Damion Elliot) in what is meant to be a parody/homage of the classic opening of "The Andy Griffith Show".  Suddenly the guys are sucked up into an alien space ship. Unfortunately, the aliens aren't ugly, reptilian monsters who dissect their guests brains or give them a painful anal probe.

Instead, Billy Ray and Buck 22 find a race of alien bimbos in thongs and body paint, twerking their little heart's out. Unlike Billy Ray's devil spawn daughter, however, these twerk jerks keep their tongues in their mouths, as proper ladies should.

Never one to miss a party, Billy Ray and Buck join in, providing listeners with a we-did-not-ask-for-this country/rap rendition of Cyrus' biggest hit, "Achy Breaky Heart".

Some things in life get better with age. "Achy Breaky Heart", however, IS NOT ONE OF THOSE THINGS. It was a horrible song when it was first released and it's a horrible song now. There is NOTHING that could be done to improve this ditty--even twerking alien bimbos have their limits, after all.

However, "Achy Breaky 2" is NOT the only nutsy music video out there. Just recently I witnessed national treasure David Hasselhoff's remake of "Hooked on a Feeling" and it's accompanying music video.

Ever wonder why David is such a hot pop star in Germany? Well, wonder no more!

This clip features the star of "Knight Rider" and "Baywatch" flying with angels, riding a motorcycle with no hands, snow boarding AND catching a fish in his mouth WHILE images of an out-of-control wedding reception flash on and off.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Germany's greatest pop star David Hasselhoff coming in for a landing.

Case closed.

However, if you prefer your German pop singers to be actual German citizens, may I recommend Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg? Better known by his stage names of "Andy Himalaya" and "Royal Disaster", Prince Hubertus warbles pop songs when he's not working as a photographer (his favorite subject is himself, but you knew that) and appearing as Mexico's one man Olympic ski team (don't ask).

His latest smash hit is titled "Higher Than Mars", a love song about a gal who makes Hubertus feel...well, higher than Mars.

Which begs the question: why Mars? When people pen pop songs about the solar system, it's usually about the moon ("Old Devil Moon", "Blue Moon", "Bad Moon Rising", "Fly Me to the Moon" etc., etc.) or Venus ("Hey Venus", "I'm Your Venus"), not Mars. Then there is that "higher than" business. Is Prince Hubertus saying that Mars is the highest planet in the universe? Or is he implying that it's easier to get high on Mars than anywhere else? If that is the case, how would he know? Should we stop calling Mars "The Angry Red Planet" and start calling it "The Wake and Bake Planet"?

Of course, if you find Prince Hubertus' song writing ability a notch below, say that of, Cole Porter or Paul McCartney, then you need to check out his video of "Higher Than Mars".

 Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg belts out another chart busting hit.

It takes place at an Austrian pop festival and consists of HRH lip syncing (in my opinion! I don't know for sure!) his smash hit while standing on a floating raft in the middle of a swanky hotel's pool. The video, meanwhile, is interlaced with shots of Austria, a lovely place with endless tree lined streets, outdoor cafes, plenty of fine dining establishments and some of the world's best art galleries. In fact, these random shots of Austria (the exact city is never identified) feature people having a great time--unlike the poor saps stuck by the pool where Prince Hubertus is singing. Frankly, they looked bored. And I'm willing to bet that the applause that greeted the end of Hubertus' set was more out of relief than acknowledgement of his talent.

So there you have it, movie lovers. Music videos are a horrible invention that has wrecked the music industry and paved the way for David Hasselhoff to become Germany's number one pop star.

Roll over Beethoven, indeed.

Mexico's one-man Olympic ski team, Prince Hubertus of Hohenlohe-Langenburg. He designed his outfit himself.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"300" Or It's Raining Men!



 We who are about to die, salute you: Gerard Butler (center) and his impressive package march off to war.
 

A fine hello to you and yours, movie lovers.

Today we are going to discuss the Battle of Thermopylae, where a group of plucky Spartan soldiers went toe to toe with the vast forces of Persia's King Xerxes.

But don't worry. This won't be some dry slog through ancient history. Instead of consulting the dusty parchments of the past, we will be consulting Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 which, in turn, became the souped-up, pumped-up, gore-filled (in 3-D!) CGI epic "300" (2007).

This movie has it all: a heavy metal soundtrack; boil covered priests; sniveling, corrupt politicians; a rhino decked out in piercings and chains; misshapen freaks; explicit sex; stylized battle scenes that amount to war porn; a cast of drop-dead gorgeous warriors in bikini briefs so tight you can tell what religion the actors are; and a fat, bald royal executioner with a ring in his nose and lobster claws for hands.

Fat, pierced lobster men! That's why we go to the movies!

Well, that's why I go to the movies...

Anyway, the fun begins with a verbose voice-over where we learn that the city-state of Sparta was a cross between a fascist gated community and the gym class from hell. From the time a Spartan baby boy could crawl, we are told, he was "steeped in violence", taught to fight, starved, beaten and forced to wear skimpy Depends in the middle of winter. One such lad, named Leonidas, is even kicked out into a snow storm and forced to do battle with a CGI wolf-type critter. Needless to say, Leonidas wins the day and eventually becomes King of Sparta.

Magically transformed into the ultra hunky Gerard Butler, King Leo is married to the tough but pretty Lena Headey and has his own son. Then one fateful day an emissary from Persian "god king" Xerxes rides into town. He's an uppity fellow who waves around the skulls of dead kings--even his horse has the nerve to head butt a Spartan citizen minding his own business. The emissary brings the news that Xerxes demands Sparta surrender to Persia. Leonidas, who doesn't take to kindly to outsiders telling him what to do, kicks the messenger into a deep well, which happens to be located in the middle of town.


Not just another pretty face: Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey).


I sneer, therefore I am: corrupt pol Theron (Dominic West).


"I get a kick out of you": King Leonidas gives the Persian emissary a fateful push in the opening scenes of "300".


Later that evening, Leo climbs a steep mountain  to the temple of the Ephors. These jokers are a bunch of corrupt, in-breed, boil-covered priests who must be consulted before any Spartan can go to battle. After hearing Leonidas' plans, the Ephors consult their go-to person on such matters: a doped-up teenager who dances topless and mumbles prophecy. Her verdict? Going to battle with Persia is a bad idea because A) it's almost a full moon and B) it's nearly the festival of Carneia and nobody goes to battle during the festival of Carneia. I mean, the kids have been practicing their Carneia skits for weeks! There will be bake sales! Who will man the dunk tank if the Spartan warriors march on Persia? Jeez!

Disgusted, Leonidas stomps off, not realizing that the corrupt, in-bred, boil-covered priests have been bribed by sniveling, sneering politician Theron (Dominic West) in advance of his visit.

However, a king's gotta do what a king's gotta do. At home with the Mrs., Leonidas explains his plight and then engages in some hot'n'heavy marital nooky with his lady love--which, uh, "firms" up his resolve to battle the Persians. To get around that pesky injunction from the Ephors, Leonidas takes 300 of his best looking, most ripped, total bad ass soldiers and prepares "to march north." Showing her wifely support, the Spartan queen gives hubby her favorite necklace and declares, "Spartan! Come home with your shield--or on it!"

Not just another pretty face: an Ephor bares his fangs.


 The winner of Sparta's annual "So You Think You Can Dance?" competition.


Eventually the Spartans set up camp and prepare to meet their enemy. And what an enemy he is! "God King" Xerxes of Persia (Rodrigo Santoro) is super tall, super ripped and obviously shares Lady Gaga's stylist: shaved to a sheen, he's covered in rings, necklaces, chains and body piercings. His royal garb is a pair of jewel encrusted jockey shorts. When he and Leonidas meet face to face for the first time, Xerxes alights from a massive traveling throne balanced on the backs of hapless slaves. The Persian monarch's arrival is so, well, fabulous, that it makes Liz Taylor's entrance into Rome in 1963's epic (disaster) "Cleopatra" seem positively self-effacing by comparison.

God king Xerxes towers over Leonidas and it's obvious that his voice has been digitally lowered into a demonic-like purr. While Spartan Leonidas is presented as all man, "300" implies that Xerxes is a bit AC/DC, as well as corrupt, cruel and cranky. When Xerxes tries to convince Leo to surrender by tempting him with power and riches and other treats, their exchanges resemble A) the devil trying to tempt Jesus and B) a molester trying to reel in his latest victim.

All together now: Ewwwwwww!



 "I'm huge! Dig me!" God King Xerxes of Persia.

The Spartan king, however, refuses to knuckle under to a fey Persian even Cher would find too outre'. So let the battle commence!

First, the Persians send out a bunch of slave soldiers to battle the Spartans. The Greeks turn them into mince meat. Next, the Persians unleash a crack team of "Immortals" who wear shiny silver face masks and come equipped with their own bald, pug-faced giant. The Immortals are soon toast. After that, the Persians unleash one supremely pissed-off rhino, who proceeds to trample and gore his handlers--yet is stopped by one spear tossed by a Keanu Reeve-ish Spartan. When the rhino doesn't work, the Persians haul out the elephants, who stumble on the narrow roads and tumble into the sea below.

"Clumsy beasts," sneers the narrator.

By this time, god king Xerxes is throwing one hell of a hissy fit. So he digs deep into his arsenal and sends in a bunch of chumps who toss fire bombs at the Spartans. This, too, fails. At his wit's end, Xerxes collars his general, screams "What do I pay you for?!" and turns the sap over to my favorite character in the movie: a big, fat, bald guy with a ring in his nose, pierced man-boobs and lobster claws for hands. Lobster man snips the unfortunate general's head off with one snap and sends it flying balletically into the air.


"My face hurts": a Persian Immortal.


Bombs away! What the stylish assassin is wearing this spring.


Not just another pretty face: the Lobster Man of Persia.


 While all this slow-mo, blood spurting, flesh slicing carnage is going on, director Zack Snyder takes a break and reminds us that other stuff is happening back in Sparta. Leonidas' queen is trying hard to rally more troops to reinforce her hubby's paltry 300 soldiers. In hopes of swaying the Senate, the Mrs. agrees to have sex with nasty Theron. "You won't enjoy this," the slimy politico informs her highness as he attacks her from the rear. But the plucky queen (who's name is Gorgo, although nobody addresses her so) endures this humiliation in the name of king and country.

You go, girl?

Addressing the Senate chamber "as a mother" and reminding the sheet-draped assembly that "freedom isn't free", Queen Gorgo makes a rousing speech to get her hubby the troops he needs to save Sparta. Then nasty ol' Theron flounces in and accuses HRH of being a whore, a liar and a two-faced slut whose elaborately braided tresses are probably a wig. Fit to be tied, and every inch the bad ass her husband is, the Spartan queen grabs a sword and guts Theron with the precision of a ninja surgeon. In doing so, she rips open the evil pol's money pouch, which over flows with Persian coins. Imagine! A politician taking a bribe! The outrage! The Senate rallies to the queen's cause and makes plans for war.

Another subplot involves an unfortunate named Ephialtes (Andrew Tieman). Since only the best looking, most ripped, most physically perfect bad asses can wear the Spartan soldier's bikini briefs, outcast, deformed hunchbacks are doomed to the life of a 4-F. Poor Ephialtes is not only stunted and hunchbacked, he's also got bad skin, ugly teeth and no hair. Yet he yearns to fight with the 300. However, when he begs Leonidas for a chance to join the company, the king says no. Instead, Ephialtes is told he can carry off the dead and pass out water. Hurt and rejected, the outcast scurries off to the Persian camp instead.


Rejected recruit Ephialtes (Andrew Tieman) prepares for revenge.


For a flick that at times resembles a fever dream, a wet dream, a Chippendale's review and a Liberace extravaganza all rolled into one, the scene at god king Xerxes tent is a real corker. Making his way to Xerxes' throne, Ephialtes passes by undulating concubines, pierced-within-an-inch-of-their-lives freaks, people taking bong hits, same sex couples tonguing each other and plenty of folks having kinky sex without benefit of marriage. In other words: just a typical Tuesday at Xerxes crash pad! Seriously, even Larry Flynt would blanch at this display. Yet Ephialtes, obviously denied hugs as a child, signs on and tells the Persians where they can route the Spartans once and for all.


The party's over at Xerxes': Spartan reject Ephialtes makes new friends at the invading Persian's camp.

Of course, you know the brave Spartans are doomed because history tells us so. Yet their noble sacrifice is not in vain. Later on, the Greek city-states will band together and finish off the encroaching Persians at the Battle of Plataea, thus halting Xerxes push to be the boss of everything once and for all. However, this would not have happened if the mighty 300 hadn't kicked some serious Persian fanny to begin with.

Amen.

That being said, I must report that "300" is one of the nuttiest, bat-shit craziest movies I have ever seen, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

While I can and do admire director Zack Snyder's audaciousness, there are just a few little details that I, as a movie lover and humble film critic, must point out.

Detail #1: "300" is essentially a tale of good vs. evil. However, the Persians in this movie aren't just evil, they are demonic. They torture animals, abuse women, do drugs, partake in kinky sex, exploit and mistreat physically deformed people and worship a suspiciously effeminate "god king" who makes Truman Capote look like Chuck Norris.

Meanwhile, the Spartans, who dispose of sickly babies, force children to endure a punishing regimen of violence and depravity and take counsel from a group of in-bred, debauched, boil-covered priests, are presented as broad shouldered manly men who stand for freedom and justice. 

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that both of these societies appear to be nasty, cruel places?

Furthermore, how come all the "bad" people in this movie are of Middle Eastern descent and/or have dark skin--and the "good" people are clearly "European" and have white skin?


King Xerxes is not amused that his troops are doing so poorly against the Spartan "300".


Detail #2: If the Ephors are a bunch of corrupt, in-bred, horn-dog bozos, why do the Spartans defer to their counsel? Surely Leonidas isn't the only Spartan who knows they are fakes. Why haven't they been exposed for who and what they are?
 
Detail #3: Look, war is hell. Combat is hell. I realize "300" is a movie, make believe, pretend, not real. But showing combat as if it was some highly stylized Martha Graham-type interpretive dance gets my goat. War is hell, not porn.

Detail #4: OK, this is a toughie. I understand the source material of "300" is a graphic novel and the film never presents itself as an actual depiction of historical fact. A flick and graphic novel like "300" falls into the category of "historical fantasy". Yet the core events depicted in this film were real: Sparta was real, King Xerxes was real and the battles were real.

HOWEVER, Sparta was NOT and NEVER was a DEMOCRACY! Women in Spartan society WERE NOT the EQUALS of their MEN FOLK! And no Spartan WORTH HIS or HER SALT would have a DEEP BOTTOMLESS HOLE in the MIDDLE of the TOWN SQUARE!

Detail #5: After a Keanu Reeve-ish Spartan gets his noggin knocked off by a Persian baddie (riding a horse, no less), his father screams bloody murder. Later on, he tells Leonidas that he regrets not telling his son that he loved him.

Oh, sure.

Having made my points, I will thus conclude that "300" has it all: blood, guts, gore, sex, ripped guys, ugly freaks, rampaging rhinos, dance sequences, boil-covered priests, smoke bombs, Gerard Butler nude and, best of all, a lobster man clearly inspired by the late, great Tor Johnson.

After watching all 116 glorious, over-the-top, pumped-up, bat-shit crazy minutes of Zack Snyder's ode to bad asses in bikini briefs, you may never have to watch another flick again.

But please do! After all, we need to save the movies.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Joel Arnold (1962-2014).

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Best Review Of "The Legend Of Hercules" Ever!

Greeting and salutations, movie lovers.

I was planning to present my review of Renny Harlin's "The Legend of Hercules", a flick that may end up being the worst reviewed film of 2014...and it's only February... of 2014.

However, after writing and rewriting my article, I was checking some facts on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb). That's where I stumbled upon a review of this delightfully wretched film that was 100 times BETTER than what I had written.

Therefore, I have chosen to print their review instead of my own. It goes as follows:

"He (Renny Harlin) makes me ashamed to be a Finnish person."

 When a filmmaker makes a movie so awful that citizens of their own country are moved to shame, what more could you, as a critic, add?

Nothing.

Dear sir, I feel your pain. Who, reading this comment, could not? However, please, don't allow Renny's lack of skill as a filmmaker make you ashamed to be Finnish. Finland is a great country! According to the World Audit Study, Finland was voted the least corrupt and most democratic country as of 2012! The Finnish education system is 100% state funded! And Finnish children call Santa Claus Joulupukki or "Yule Goat", which is really cute! Don't let Renny Harlin mar all the wonderful things about your Finnish heritage!

Now, dear readers, if you would like me to print my Herc review, I will. Just drop me a line at toastyteacher@comcast.net and tell me so. I have the hard copy, so it would be easy to write a new story for my review.

Until then, please enjoy my pictorial tribute to Renny Harlin's "The Legend of Hercules."



This is Hercules.


 This is "Jerk-u-les"!


Hercules: "Check it out! I made this in shop class. It's a letter opener."


Princess Hebe: "OK, um, don't tell me, my line is..."


"I accuse you, Renny Harlin, of making one rotten movie too many! The punishment is death!"


"No, Herc, honey, as far as I can tell you don't have head lice."



Liam McIntyre: "...so after I tabulated all the costs, I realized 'There is no way I can buy myself out of this movie.' So I dug down deep and finished the flick. I hope my fans will understand."


Hercules battling a big rouge critter.


Hercules (Alan Steele) battling the Moon Men.



Hercules (Kellan Lutz) battling a bad perm.



"Yippie! The movie is over!"

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Get Him To The Greek: It's "Hercules Vs. The Moon Men"!


Welcome back, movie lovers, to our Hercules double-header!

In preparation for watching Renny Harlin's "The Legend of Hercules", I viewed "Hercules Unchained" with Steve Reeves. Now it's big, beefy Alan Steele's turn in 1964's "Hercules Vs. The Moon Men".

And away we go!

Queen Samara (Jany Clair) appears to have everything a gal could want: she's a queen, she's rich, she never sports the same hair style twice. But is she satisfied? Of course not! Queen Samara wants to be more than the ruler of some dinky kingdom; she wants to rule the world!

Lucky for her, a group of aliens from the moon crash land in her neighborhood. They set up shop inside a mountain with their comatose queen, Selene. It's the moonies hope that they can revive their ruler through blood transfusions. Queen Samara then strikes a deal with the aliens: she will provide them with human sacrifices (i.e. her subjects) and, once their queen is up and around, the moon men will make her the boss of everything. And she'll be rich. And "her beauty will never fade", either.


 She Who Must Be Obeyed: Queen Samara


Bad Moon Rising: The leader of the evil Moon Men.



Our hero Hercules, now played by Alan Steele.


 The citizens of Samar, who were never consulted about this arrangement, are understandably upset. They call the alien's mountain hideaway "The Mountain of Death" and resent having to fork over their kids to be killed. Revolts have failed, so the beleaguered citizens have sent for famed do-gooder Hercules (Alan Steele).

Of course, the plot of "Hercules Vs. The Moon Men" isn't as simple as all that. There is a sub-plot about Queen Samara's kid sister Billis, who is in love with the noble Darix. These two smitten kittens want to marry, but the queen keeps putting off the wedding. Why? I'm not sure, but I think the fact that Billis is a dead ringer for the Moon Men's Queen Selene--and Samara has promised to deliver Billis to the aliens--might have something to with it.

Also pining away is Herc, who has developed a thing for lady-in-waiting Agar. After all, it was Agar's pop, diplomat Gladius, who alerted the strong man about kingdom of Samar's troubles. Alas, Gladius' role in the flick is unexpectedly cut short when he's skewered to death while leading Herc through an underground passage way.

Queen Samara, meanwhile, is not exactly lacking for male companionship, either. Around her neck she wears a vial that contains "love powder". See, Samara sprinkles it in a guy's drink (secretly, of course) and once he gulps it down, he's instantly transformed into the queen's "love slave." Needless to say, the crafty queen plans to pull this stunt on Herc, but he's already on to her (actually, a local guy warned him ahead of time).


Couple Number One: Darix and Billis.


Couple Number Two: Agar and Herc.


Couple Number Three: Herc and Queen Samara (Remember, he's faking it.)


Interestingly, before Queen Samara turns Herc into her "love slave", she does her level best to kill him. First, she tries to off Herc with the help of an ugly ape man whose lower teeth curl up into pointy tusks. When that fails, she has the strongman pinned between two boards that are studded with knives. After Herc manages to survive even that, the queen hustles him up to her boudoir to join her for a "love powder" cocktail. When she's not looking, Herc spits it out, but he still does do a convincing job of pretending he is, indeed, Samara's "love slave."

Now, don't worry, we haven't forgotten about the Moon Men. Just as they predicted, the moon finally moves into the Seventh House and Jupiter does align with Mars. Unfortunately, peace WILL NOT guide the planets and love WILL NOT fill the stars. Instead, a huge, gigantic, epic, like, totally BIG sand storm engulfs Samar--and the movie. Fans of "MST3K" will recognize this sequence in "Hercules Vs. The Moon Men" as "Deep Hurting."

And, indeed, for at least 20 minutes viewers are treated to endless shots of gale force winds, swirling sand and hapless cast members staggering around, bumping into trees, tripping over rocks and crawling on the ground as if they were searching for a lost contact lens. As if that wasn't enough, additional scenes of poor Billis--who has been handed over to the Moon Men--having her blood drained and look-a-like Queen Selene--who is slowly batting her heavily mascaraed lashes as she comes to life--are also spliced into the afore mentioned footage.

"Deep Hurting"--you ain't kiddin'!


Point Well Taken: Hercules struggles manfully not to become a pincushion for the evil Moon Men.


Poor Billis (Delia D'Alberti) is slowly having her blood drained by the Moon Men. This is D'Alberti's best acting in the flick.

However, don't give up hope just yet. Herc manages to crash the Moon Men's party at the last minute. He knocks down the moonies' guards (walking Gumbies that are made out of solid rock that actually resemble those sugar wafer cookies) and socks the head Moon Man right in the store. Then he sweeps Billis into his beefy arms before "The Mountain of Death" collapses in on itself (In case you were wondering, Queen Samara is flattened to a pancake by the rock Gumbies for failing to off Herc). Alas, denied Billis' blood, Queen Selene turns to dust and blows away.

Free from the evil machinations of both Queen Samara and the Moon Men, the people of Samar can now relax. Derix and Billis marry. His work finished, Herc plans to ride off and aid others in distress. Before he goes, however, Hercules asks Agar to join him. She jumps gleefully into his arms and they ride off into the sunset. On this joyous note, "Hercules vs. The Moon Men" ends its broadcast day. Good night and good luck.

In the name of full disclosure, I should report that Alan Steele's name is not Alan Steele. It is Sergio Ciani. Furthermore, his character is not really Hercules, per se. He's actually Maciste, a hero from silent Italian movies who is similar to Herc, but not actually the Greek strongman of myth. It was the American distributors of this flick who decided to rename the hero Hercules. See, they knew the name Maciste would mean nothing to US ticket buyers, thus they changed it to Hercucles, which everybody knew. Since the producers weren't worried about this verbal slight of hand, we shouldn't be, either.

Although they are clearly different movies, "Hercules Unchained" and "Hercules Vs. The Moon Men" had several key plot points in common. Both films took place in lands ruled by corrupt nobles. Both films starred big beefy guys in the title role. And both films featured female Blue Beards--who both had red hair! But which is the better flick?

I vote for "Hercules Vs. The Moon Men."

I like Alan Steele/Sergio Ciani as Herc. He seems friendly and helpful; he's more down to earth than Steve Reeves. I also like the Moon Men and their rock Gumbies. The lengthy sand storm I could have done without, but, over all, I felt "Hercules Vs. The Moon Men" had a tighter control over its narrative.

I do worry about Herc and Agar, though. I mean, Agar didn't even pack an over night bag--she just climbed onto Hercules' horse and off they went. I hope they at least stopped at the next town and picked her up a change of clothes and some clean underwear.

Come back next time movie lovers, when I plan to share my views on the big screen shlock-buster "The Legend of Hercules". Until then, help me SAVE THE MOVIES!




 



  


Friday, January 17, 2014

Oh My Greek Gods! It's Hercules!



Happy New Year, movie lovers!

Say, have you heard the good news? There will be two--count 'em two!--big screen Hercules movies this year! The first, called "The Legend of Hercules", opens this month. It stars Kellan Lutz from those nutty "Twilight" movies as Herc. So far, the reviews have been atrocious--I can't wait to see it! The second, coming out this summer, stars that master thespian "The Rock". Want to make any bets on how bad that flick will be?

I plan on writing my own post about "The Legend of Hercules" once I experience director Renny Harlan's Velveeta cheese combo platter myself. Until I can squeeze that flick into my schedule, I consoled myself with watching two--count 'em two!--Hercules movies from the glory days of drive-ins: "Hercules Unchained" (1959) and "Hercules vs. The Moon Men" (1964).

The first stars a pompadoured Steve Reeves in the title role. In fact, it's a sequel to 1958's "Hercules", which started the whole Hercules movie stampede. "Moon Men", on the other hand, featured Alan Steele as Herc, battling an evil queen in cahoots with aliens.

Which one of these flicks is the better of the two? Let's compare and find out!

"Hercules Unchained" (1959)


 Steve Reeves is "Hercules Unchained". Not only is our hero ripped, he shaves under his arm pits, too.


Out of tune? Herc's wife Iole (Sylva Koscina) sings "On The Evening Star." Side-kick Ulysses (Gabriele Antonini) tries not to notice.


Our story begins with a short-shorts wearing Herc (Reeves) traveling to Thebes. He's accompanied by wife Iole (a Shirley Jones-ish Sylva Koscina) and Ulysses (Gabriele Antonini). While Herc naps and Iole plays her lyre, the threesome run into an Anthony Quinn-ish type bully who gets his strength from the ground. Herc finally vanquishes the big lug by tossing him into the ocean.

Next up, Herc and the gang find themselves in a cave in Thebes. Princely brothers Eteocles and Polynices are bickering over who should be king. Herc and Ulysses agree to fetch a mediator to settle this dispute.  That means poor Iole is forced to cool her heels in the Theben palace until they return. When the duo stop for lunch, Herc inadvertently drinks from "The Waters of Forgetfulness". Soon after, soldiers arrive to deliver Herc and Ulysses to Queen Omphale of Lydia (Sylvia Lopez).

With her blinding red hair, generous figure, skin-tight gowns, ornate jewelery and Mary Kay make-up, Omphale is a cross between Mae West and Tammy Faye Baker. She's also crazy about Herc. In fact, with Herc gulping down goblet after goblet of "The Waters of Forgetfulness", Omphale has no trouble convincing him he's her hubby--and the two engage in several epic make-out sessions to prove it.

Thanks to "The Waters of Forgetfulness", Queen Omphale has Herc right where she wants him.

Unfortunately, the queen is a fickle gal. When she tires of her current cuddlemate, she has him killed and dunked in a bubbling vat of goo. After they become a wax figure, Omphale then displays them in her own private museum. Naturally, the queen has plans to do the same to Herc, but in the meantime she just plans to keep doing Herc.

Ulysses, meanwhile, has been passing himself off as Herc's mute slave. He knows all about Omphale's private wax museum and is doing his level best to hustle them out of Lydia. To that end, Ulysses weans Herc off "The Waters of Forgetfulness" and tells him of his "wife's" evil plans.

Back in Thebes, poor Iole does needlepoint and pines for hubby Herc. Little does she know, her hosts Eteocles and Polynices are mad as hatters and never wanted Herc's diplomatic mission to succeed. Eventually, they plan to toss Iole to the lions! When she tries to escape and warn Herc, however, she's caught and imprisoned.

The last act of "Hercules Unchained" is a bit confusing, so please follow along carefully.

Finally cured from "The Waters of Forgetfulness", Hercules realizes that Omphale is both a fibber and a whack-job. He tells the queen off and she breaks down in tears. Then Omphale admits that she's always been in love with Herc, even though she hated herself for it.(?) Before Herc stomps off for good, however, Omphale reminds the married demi-god that they went all the way a lot and, what's more, he totally enjoyed every minute of it--waters of forgetfulness or no-- and NOBODY "not even the gods" can deny it. After her little speech, Queen Omphale saunters off and throws herself into a vat of bubbling goo.

That plot point dispensed with, Herc meets up with a search party of friends. Together they battle Omphale's guards, escape and sail back to Thebes. That's when the strongman learns his diplomatic mission was bogus and that Iole is in danger.


Street Fightin' Man: Hercules and his supporters are ready to rumble.


Once back in Thebes, however, the nutty brothers Eteocles and Polynices try to off Herc by dispatching three beautiful tigers to kill him. Boo! (I love tigers). When that fails, the brothers (who each sport identical bowl hair cuts) vow to push Iole off the palace parapet. 

Before that happens, the brothers get into one of their many fights. To settle things once and for all, Eteocles and Polynices decide to duke it out in an arena to the death. Unfortunately, the brothers mange to kill each other.  Their demise creates a power vacuum and another tyrant steps in to declares himself King of Thebes. This means that Herc and his band of hardy supporters must battle another bad guy and his hardy band of supporters. Of course, Herc being a demi-god (and the star of the show) wins the day. The job of ruling Thebes, however, is finally decided by a special election and the wise old sage Creon wins the kingship.

Herc and Iole are finally reunited. She must have heard about hubby's extensive mattress bouncing with Queen Omphale, yet Iole forgives Herc. When Hercules suggests that being married to a demi-god is too much for a mortal woman, Iole disagrees. "Hercules Unchained" thus ends with Herc and Iole vowing to love each for forever and getting all kissy-face. Awww.


Can This Marriage Be Saved? Putting the evil machinations Queen Omphale behind them, Herc and Iole take up their marriage where they left off now that "Hercules Unchained" is over.


The main problem with "Hercules Unchained" is that so much going on, you practically need a flow chart to keep everything straight. After all, there are brothers angling for a royal throne, a serial killer queen, a bogus diplomatic mission, a separated newlywed couple, several big battle scenes, a floor show and "The Waters of Forgetfulness." Whew! Like Queen Omphale's make-up, the screenwriters laid it on a bit thick.

And speaking of Queen Omphale, it's never really explained why she kills and then makes wax statues out of her cuddlemates. Did she want to prevent them from blabbing behind her back once the romance was over? And if she wanted a souvenir to remind herself of each relationship, why didn't she just keep a pair of the guys' underwear? Killing them off seems a bit extreme to me.

However, if there is one thing "Hercules Unchained" does do right is show how a hereditary monarchy is simply no way to run a country. When all power and influence is reserved for one position, and that job goes to the oldest male, is it any wonder there are problems? And besides, who says the designated heir is up to the task of ruling? So it's not surprising that brothers Eteocles and Polynices were at each others' throats. Let's hope wise old Creon convinces the people of Thebes to ditch the monarchy and adopt a representative democracy.

So that, dear readers, is "Hercules Unchained." Tune in next time, when I discuss "Hercules vs. the Moon Men" and then decide which is the better flick. Until then, Save The Movies!