Friday, July 5, 2013

Worth Mentioning - The Creeping Bam

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody revels in movies featuring comedy, violence, and Pam Grier.


After her criminal kingpin boyfriend shoves a brick of heroin in her purse while they're out for an exciting date at the cockfights, American expatriot Carol Jeffries (call her Jeff) is arrested and sentenced to serve ten years hard labor in a prison in the unspecified tropical country she's been living in. And so begins another Roger Corman produced, Philippines shot women-in-prison flick, this one directed by Gerardo de León, the filmmaking mentor of Eddie Romero.

Like the Romero executive produced The Big Doll House and the Romero directed Black Mama, White Mama, this is a prison film with the great Pam Grier in its cast, but here she's not one of the inmates, instead she's the cruel head matron who carries on lesbian relationships with convicts and gets her kicks by torturing girls who break the rules, or just manage to somehow piss her off, in the dungeon she calls The Playpen. When asked what kind of Hell she crawled out of, Grier's Alabama replies, "It was called Harlem, baby!"

Witnessing and experiencing the violent punishments that are dealt out in this place, and with her boyfriend hiring people to kill her before she can decide to testify against him, Jeff is soon plotting out an escape with the help of her cellmates - Sofia Moran as Theresa and Grier's Big Doll House co-stars Judy Brown and Roberta Collins as Sandy and Stokes. Brown's Sandy is even incarcerated for the same offense as her character Collier was in Doll House, the murder of a "rotten son of a bitch" husband.

The girls are well aware that no one has ever successfully escaped from this prison before; even if prisoners do manage to run off into the jungle, local trackers are sent to hunt them down. $50, dead or alive. But their situations become so dire and the prospect of serving out the rest of their sentences so unbearable that they eventually take their chances...

With a short and sweet running time (81 minutes), Women in Cages moves along at a good pace and meets its quota of violence, bare flesh, and oddities, making it an enjoyable watch for fans of this type of movie and the grindhouse/drive-in/exploitation era, as I am. It's clearly a favorite of Quentin Tarantino's, as he named the character of Alabama in True Romance after Pam Grier's character, and the movie is featured in Planet Terror, Robert Rodriguez's segment of the Grindhouse double feature.

Jeff is played by the statuesque Jennifer "Ginny" Gan, who only had a few more roles before her short screen acting career came to an end in the following year. Unfortunately, Gan passed away in 2000 at what was surely too young of an age.

Roberta Collins, who was awesome in these movies, is also sadly gone, having passed away in 2008 at the age of 63.

WORLD WAR Z (2013)

Published in 2006, Max Brooks's novel World War Z was presented as a United Nations Postwar Commission's compilation of interviews with survivors of a global zombie epidemic of the George Romero sort.

There was a bidding war over the movie rights to the novel, with Brad Pitt's Plan B production company ultimately beating out Leonardo DiCaprio's production company. With Pitt in place as a producer, production on a cinematic adaptation began, with J. Michael Straczynksi as the screenwriter tasked with figuring out how to make a straightforward narrative out of the book's interviews.

Straczynski's solution was to give a face and a name to the person collecting the interviews: Gerry Lane, a UN worker who is sent out on the job two years after the zombie outbreak began, interviewing people in Chicago, China, Germany, and Israel. Straczynski laid the groundwork and his opening sequence basically survived to the screen, but the script was reworked over the years by Matthew Michael Carnahan.

One big difference between the finished film and both the novel and Straczynski's work, or at least the draft that leaked online, is that the story is no longer a look back at the events of the zombie war after the fact, rather it follows Gerry through the early days of the situation and we see through his eyes what a zombie outbreak can do on a global scale (with a 200 million dollar budget).

As the film begins, Gerry Lane, a role Brad Pitt decided to take for himself, is retired from the UN and living the domesticated life with his wife and two young daughters. But as all hell breaks loose and zombie infection starts to spread around the world, Gerry is called back in to service, asked to help find the source of the outbreak to aid in the search for a way to cure it. Gerry's incentive to risk life and limb and go on this search is the safety of his family: as long as he's working on this project, his wife and daughters will be allowed to stay on a military airship, but as soon as he becomes "non-essential" to the goings-on, his family will be kicked out and taken to a refugee camp somewhere.

The "conducting interviews" aspect doesn't take up much running time, but it does take Gerry to a couple interesting locations - first a South Korean military base which has taken a hard hit, where he also finds out how North Korea has managed to stay zombie-free, and then to Jerusalem, where a huge wall has been constructed to keep the city safe... But what really fills up the movie's minutes are sequences of Gerry and the people around him running from and fighting hordes of zombies.

With Marc Forster at the helm, he the director of Quantum of Solace with its disorientingly quickly edited action sequences, it's no surprise that he has opted to fill his entry into the zombie subgenre with fast zombies, with bites that can turn a person in twelve seconds flat. That's how the city of Philadelphia completely falls apart within minutes. And these zombies aren't just sprinters, they run and jump, leap through the air and slam themselves through things with reckless abandon, their bodies twisting in unnatural ways, pulling off things that regular people can't do. Which is why they're CG most of the time. At times, the movements and behavior of the swarming zombies were based on ants, particularly in the famous moment where they pile on top of each other to scale the side of the Jerusalem wall.

There's been a lot of attention given to the fact that the studio wasn't happy with the film's third act and brought in writers Drew Goddard and Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof during post-production to see if they could fix it, leading to Goddard and Lindelof writing sixty pages of new material for Forster to shoot, with Jack Reacher's Christopher McQuarrie doing further, uncredited polishes.

Having read about what happened in the third act that was originally shot, I fully agree with the decision to replace it with an alternate version. The reshoot splice happens roughly 45 minutes before the end credits, aboard an airplane. In the original ending, the plane took Gerry to Russia, where the story would go completely off course and jump ahead a number of months, scenarios arose that I think would've put off and lost the audience, and I know the ending would've rubbed me the wrong way. I hate when movies have non-endings that blatantly rely on a sequel to finish the story, and that's what the original ending would've done, offering no sort of resolution to its storylines. The only thing that really sounds enticing from the cut footage is a twelve minute battle in Moscow.

Goddard/Lindelof/McQuarrie's new act diverts from Russia and crash lands Gerry in Cardiff, Wales, where he follows up a hunch at a World Health Organization facility. The sequence set within this building feels like a proper horror movie, and it gives us a glimpse at its zombies acting like traditional, Romero style zombies for the first time. Turns out that when there aren't people around, the zombies "go dormant" and shamble around while waiting for something to stimulate them.

Aside from a few "wow, that was neat and/or crazy" moments, the CG hyper zombies throughout the film hadn't done all that much for me. It was in the W.H.O. building, as Gerry maneuevers through halls trying to avoid shamblers, when the movie finally really connected with me as a zombie movie and I got to appreciate the fact that I was actually watching Brad Pitt deal with zombies.

And thankfully, the movie does have some sort of an ending. The undead issue isn't resolved, more story could be told in a sequel, but if a follow-up was never made, it still works as its own self-contained film. Good call, Paramount.

Since World War Z has been a box office success, a sequel has been announced after all. Hopefully its road to the screen won't be so bumpy.



Responsible and uptight Lauren was expecting her longterm boyfriend, who she lived with, to propose, but instead he dumped her, just in time for her to also lose her job. Irreverent Katie is in danger of being evicted from her no longer rent controlled apartment. Though Lauren and Katie's previous meeting, an encounter in college ten years earlier, went disastrously wrong and ended with the girls hating each other (and with Katie's urine all over Lauren and her car interior), a mutual friend convinces them to become roommates for the summer so they can afford residing in New York City while figuring their lives out.

Lauren has no luck finding a new job, so when she discovers that Katie is working as a phone sex operator on the side and doesn't have a sensible deal with her employer, she comes up with an idea: they can start their own phone sex company and run it out of their apartment. Landlines are set up, the number 1-900-MMM-HMMM is secured.

And so a nice story of former enemies gradually becoming good friends and getting their lives together plays out, as does a romantic subplot, against the backdrop of these young women delivering some very amusingly dirty dialogue. There's a lot of sweetness mixed in with the crassness.

Lauren Miller (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and Ari Graynor are great and very likeable as the leads. Justin Long and Mark Webber have good supporting roles, and there are funny cameos by Seth Rogen, Kevin Smith, and Ken Marino as phone sex clients. Sugar Lyn Beard makes a standout appearance as a filthy-talking squeaky-voiced character.

SUPER (2010)

Rainn Wilson stars as down-on-his-luck Frank Darbo, who works as a cook at a diner with one of the filthiest kitchens ever put on screen, and whose wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) has recently run off with a wealthy drug-peddling criminal/strip club owner named Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Inspired by religious programming, specifically a TV show that stars Nathan Fillion as Christian superhero The Holy Avenger, and a vision in which God's fingertip touches his brain (after tentacles cut the top of his head open and squirt ketchup on his brain to roll a corndog in), Frank decides to turn his crappy life around and become costumed crimefighter The Crimson Bolt.

A regular (maybe crazy) guy without much in his bank account, no superpowers, and no fighting ability, Frank/The Crimson Bolt hits the streets and beats the hell out of anyone who breaks the moral code, whether they be drug dealers and muggers or line cutters, with his trusty pipe wrench. He buys comic books to research his newly chosen path, and the young clerk there, Ellen Page as Libby, soon figures out his superhero secret and begs to be his sidekick. Together, Frank and Libby/Boltie set their sights on Jacques as the fight over Sarah escalates.

Written and directed by James Gunn (Slither), Super is definitely not a hero movie to watch with the kids. Alternately funny, dramatic, and disturbing, it's a very strange flick, packed with vulgarity, shocking violence, and oddball imagery. Some may even find it blasphemous if they take the All Jesus Network jokes and Frank's visions the wrong way. If you want a more family friendly James Gunn comic book movie, wait until next summer's Guardians of the Galaxy, but if you're in the mood for an enjoyably weird and amusing "real world" superhero flick, Super is waiting for your eyeballs.

No comments:

Post a Comment