Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Cabinet of Dr Calligari (1920)

A man named Francis relates a story about his best friend Alan and his fiancée Jane. Alan takes him to a fair where they meet Dr. Caligari, who exhibits a somnambulist, Cesare, that can predict the future. When Alan asks how long he has to live, Cesare says he has until dawn. The prophecy comes to pass, as Alan is murdered, and Cesare is a prime suspect. (Imdb rating 8.0)

Ok, ok, I may be just a little out of my depth here. Having seen a grand total of two silent films before The Cabinet of Dr Caligari doesn't exactly make me such an expert of the nuances of 1910's/20's film. But Cabinet is weird, and I know weird movies.

Just to get it out of the way for all of the younger folks that didn't grow up with silent films (aka everyone), yes, there are substantial differences between films now and then. Obviously, there is zero sound outside of the musical score, characters don't say a whole lot, and when they do and it is important, there are title cards of what was said. There are other interesting techniques as well, such as different screen tints for different times of the day/lighting, and the always hilarious overacting, because actors felt that their lack of words was hampering them in telling the story. Just think Calculon from Futurama.

But that shouldn't disguise just how groundbreaking Cabinet was. I mean, it was probably the first film to ever have a flashback framing device, and most likely the first proper horror movie. Still, what makes Cabinet so strange is that the movie sets themselves. I can't say I've seen anything like it before. The whole set is made of paper and cardboard, but seems to have a life of its own, to be able to leer over characters, and it creates a sense of unease throughout the film. Buildings that go at 45° angles, trees that lean in, it's like space itself is warped and distorted.

Are those houses or the ends of ships?

While I wouldn't go as far to say that Cabinet was scary, there were moments when I watched intently, such as the first appearance of 'the Somnambulist'. The story was engaging, the run time was brisk (a notorious problem for silent films I find is that they are way too long) and the ending was really good, and could be considered another first as well.

Overall, this is the perfect movie to start with for your first silent. It will keep you long enough to finish anyways.

Things I learnt:
  • There was film studio pressure even in 1920.
  • Tim Burton has pretty much stolen everything from this movie for all of his.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mr Nanny (1993)

A friend persuades the former wrestling star Sean to do a job as bodyguard for the two kids of top manager Frank Mason - someone is threatening him to get the plans for a secret micro chip. But when Sean arrives at his house it turns out that he'll not only have to bodyguard the spoiled brats, but also be their nanny, since they again scared away their former one. From then on he's occupied more protecting himself from the kids than them from the villain. (Imdb rating 3.1)

"Oh no!" you cry, not another terrible vehicle from the world's most famous wrestler, Hulk 'Hollywood' Hogan. And Mr Nanny is probably the most well known of any of his movies, as it has the exact shape of a midday matinee for both television and movie theatres.

Unfortunately, while Mr Nanny was alright, it was no Suburban Commando and certainly no No Holds Barred. I should have sensed something when the first few minutes see Hulk having a nightmare about being beaten up by wrestlers Kamala, Afa, Jim Neidhart, and of course, longtime Hogan leech Brutus Beefcake. And there is *that* scene, the one everyone knows from this movie, Hulk in a tutu! Hilarity!

I guess this is pretty funny?

One thing I will say, is that the other people around Hulk are awesome. Seeing George Jefferson abuse people again is always great, and whoever casted David Johansen deserves more credit. This is a guy who basically invented punk, then re-emerged as a cheesy lounge singer to mainstream success. And now he is the villain in a child's movie, with a metal cap on his head no less?

Unfortunately, Hulk sort of lets us down. I'm a big fan of slapstick humour, but it just wasn't funny seeing all the punishment Hulk got at the start at the hands of the kids. And the kids were weird as well. When Hulk was finally going to give them the punishment their dad should have long ago, they got excited. Too excited. The kids were basically masochists.

There were some nice touches, like Jefferson pulling a three foot long lead pipe out of his pants somehow to give to the kid to beat up bullies with, and Johansen's henchman being a Arnie-sounding clone called 'Wolfgang'. But the movie kind of left me cold. I didn't hate it, I didn't love it... I just kind of nothing'd it. I'd go to the previously mentioned Hulk vehicles before I went with Mr Nanny.

Things I learnt:
  • The best way to eat baked beans is "Out of the can, into the man!"
  • Hulk Hogan can destroy exercise equipment with ease by simply overworking it.
  • No one thinks it is strange when a ten year old calls someone a 'tough mother'.
  • 'Badacious' is a word?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Gingerdead Man (2005)

An evil yet adorable Gingerbread man comes to life with the soul of a convicted killer - this real life cookie monster wreaks havoc on the girl who sent the killer to the electric chair. (Imdb rating 3.3)

Gary Busey is a living, walking collection of crazy. Over the last twenty years, I think he's personally gone out his way to attach his name to every single piece of released lunacy he possibly could. Even on the rare occasion he's not a complete fruitcake on screen (Predator 2?), you can see something lurking below the enormous teeth and messy white hair, a sense of some shoddy wiring and screws loose in that brain of his. Here, he's the titular character, a killer gingerbread man. He's so unglued normally that when we see him at the start of the movie, the fact that he needed no changes from his everyday appearance to look like a serial killer and he says "something in here smells feminine!" doesn't make me bat an eyelid.

And who comes up with the concept of a killer gingerbread man? That's hands down one of the dumbest villain ideas I've ever heard of. After coming to life, the Gingerdead Man (it repulses me to even say that) seems more intent on arguing with rats and delivering half-baked puns (ha!) then killing people. Even when he does decide to attack, he'd much rather booby trap building exits and run you over with your own car.

But the puns, by God, they are awful. The villain spouts them constantly after dispatching victims, but the other characters are worse. One character calls him the "Killsberry Doughboy", then suggests they take him on Letterman because "how much dough can you make from a talking cookie?" He then laughs at his joke, as every single person watching this movie groans in disgust.

That 'joke' did flip my insanity rating closer to the sacred level of 'Gary Busey'.

Even moving away from the killer cookie concept (hard, I know), the rest of the movie is just as terrible. We get random gun violence against banners, plastic revolvers that can shoot twenty bullets before reloading and the world's most tame catfight ever. It was like watching two blind guys grope each other in slow motion. The composer even feels the need to occasionally let us know that a pun was had by putting in a "BM CHK!"-esque musical cue afterwards. What was just said means two things at once, which is funny, I get it.

I've blasted this movie pretty much this whole review, but it was amusing and made me laugh at times. It's also ridiculously short, clocking in at 60 minutes (with 10 minutes of credits!). It's a piece of lightweight fluff, something that is designed to draw you in based on the inane title/Busey combo, make a few doughy puns, and leave. It can't rightly judge it too harshly based on that.

Things I learnt:
  • There's a beauty contest called "Ms Pretty Face of Waco".
  • Visions of killer gingerbread men are a common occurrence when drunk.
  • Bakeries and chain restaurants are in direct competition with each other.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chinese Torture Chamber Story (1994)

A woman is accused of the murder of her husband. In order to extract a confession the court subjects her to a series of violent methods of torture. Most of the story is told in flash backs, recounting how the story leads to the ultimate gory death of her poor husband. (Imdb rating 6.2)

The Chinese/Cantonese produced a lot of insane shit in the 90's. The pseudo-genre "Cat III", named after a rating for films in Hong Kong, was in full swing, and the focus was on creating gory, disturbing and erotic stories, and unleashing them on the public.

Chinese Torture Chamber Story is one such... story. You know you are in for a rough ride when the opening five minutes are just people getting tortured in excruciating ways, like getting your penis chopped off (obvious) and getting an axe wound on top of your head and having boiling milk poured in it (not so obvious). The start and end of the movie are littered with broken fingers, ripped out nails, lashings and the like. It's not too shocking for a jaded viewer though.

But then around the middle of the film, the main female character has to marry a man with a huge penis. And I mean huge, we see him roll up his pant legs to urinate! Then characters see a couple flying through the forest having a heated sword fight. Suddenly, their clothes fly off and they are having sex in mid air, each trying to 'win' by pleasuring the other one more. Then the main bad guy takes a potion to make him invisible so he can rape the married girl, and just as he is about to 'enter' her, her husband slips his head in the way and gets a mouthful of semen for his trouble. So basically, it gets hilarious for the middle of the movie.

My mustache and I will win this flying orgasming contest!

The story itself isn't bad, the pacing of the movie is just unique. Harsh at the start, laughs in the middle, and harsh at the end. I enjoyed this movie. It may be a little heavy going for newbies to exploitation films, but it mixes funny and violent well. It does make me question once again just how crazy the Asian film makers are, no other countries in the world produce more completely random movies then China/HK/Japan. And I love them for it.

Things I learnt:
  • Little Cabbage is the best name ever.
  • "My little dickie" should never be a nickname for your male lover.
  • Breast can be made larger by heating up herbs in a bowl and placing them over the breast. The larger the bowl, the larger the breasts.
  • Back in the ol' days, blow up dolls were made from canvas and straw.
  • Appealing to a higher court in China means rolling on a bed of nails naked.