Friday, March 20, 2020

Worth Mentioning - The Boys Are Back in Town

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.

American, Brazilian, and Australian horror, plus '80s action comedy.

VFW (2019)

The fourth film from director Joe Begos (following Almost Human, The Mind's Eye, and Bliss) is also the filmmaker's biggest and best movie yet, a retro-style blast that has a group of senior citizen war veterans face a relentless onslaught from drugged-out maniacs. I tend to love siege genre movies, from Night of the Living Dead to Assault on Precinct 13, Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight, and From Dusk Till Dawn, and VFW is a fine new addition to the list.

Scripted by Max Brallier and Matthew McArdle (making this the first Begos film that he didn't also write), the story is set in a not-too-distant future where America's opioid crisis has been made even worse by a new drug called Hylophedrine, a.k.a. Hype. A group of Hypers headed up by drug dealer Boz (Travis Hammer), his right hand woman Gutter (Dora Madison), and his brother Roadie (Graham Skipper) have taken up residence in an abandoned movie theatre across the street from the VFW where Vietnam veteran Fred (Stephen Lang) works, and Fred is about to meet his new neighbors. When Boz has a female Hyper kill herself for his own amusement, the girl's sister Lizard (Sierra McCormick) retaliates by stealing his Hype stash. With Hypers coming after her, Lizard runs across the street to seek refuge in the VFW. And the siege begins.

Begos managed to put together an incredible cast to play the veterans hanging out in the VFW. We get to spend a good amount of time with these guys before the action starts, get to hear them toss around some comedic banter, and these characters are instantly likeable not just because of their personalities but also because they're played by some beloved character actors. There's William Sadler, Fred Williamson, Martin Kove, David Patrick Kelly - and George Wendt from Cheers finds himself playing a bar regular once again. Most of these guys fought in Vietnam, Fred Williamson's character fought in Korea, and there's also a young soldier played by Tom Williamson who is still in the military and serving in the Middle East.

As with all of his films, Begos brought a retro style to VFW that I could really appreciate, embracing the Assault on Precinct 13 influence while bathing the imagery in blue and red lights, then having composer Steve Moore provide another retro synth score. The action keeps coming at a good pace and the violent confrontations between the veterans and the Hypers are a bloody mess that are a delight to behold... except when anybody from the VFW group gets injured.

I had a good time watching this one.


For forty years, 1967's This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse was seen as the end for Coffin Joe, the character director/star José Mojica Marins had introduced three years earlier in At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul, the first horror movie to come out of Brazil. Mojica, as he was called, did continue playing the character in meta movies, as the host of an anthology film, and as a horror host on television, but when it came to the actual story of Coffin Joe, At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse were it. I imagine there were a lot of fans who were disappointed with his demise at the end of Corpse, as it sees Coffin Joe - who had been a raging atheist up to that point - accepting God before sinking to his death in the same water he had been dumping the bodies of his victims into. It wasn't a satisfying way for him to go out.

Thankfully, Mojica revived the character decades later, and this final entry in the core trilogy of Coffin Joe movies fixes the ending of Corpse by showing a flashback in which Coffin Joe rises back out of that water just moments later, denounces God, and uses his long fingernails to gouge out a police officer's eyeball. Coffin Joe is played by Raymond Castile in that flashback, but after that act of violent defiance the character was captured and locked up in prison for forty years, so in the present day Mojica reprises the role.

When Joe is finally released from prison, his deformed assistant Bruno (Rui Rezende) is waiting for him at the gate and the two go off walking through the city of São Paulo together. It's kind of odd to see Joe in a big city, as the previous two movies were set in small villages. In fact, it's comical to see this guy walking through a big city in 2008... but you won't be laughing at him for long. Even though Mojica was in his 70s by this point, his character is still obsessed with finding the perfect woman to breed with so he can have a son. He's still horny and functional! And just like in Corpse, his method of courting women is to have Bruno (along with the four adoring followers he gains in this movie) kidnap them, bring them back to his lair - now located in a São Paulo favela - and put them through torturous tests so he can deduce which is the most worthy of having his child.

Shockingly, some of these women are even interested in mating with Coffin Joe.

While Joe continues on his lifelong endeavor, he is troubled by visions of his past victims. And just like he had a vision of Hell in Corpse, here we get to see what Mojica's idea of Purgatory was like.

It's not just the spirit world Joe has to worry about, as there are people out there who are not pleased to hear he has been released from prison. That police officer who lost an eye to Joe in the '60s, Claudiomiro Pontes (Jece Valadão) and priest Father Eugênio (Milhem Cortaz), who is the son of a character Joe killed in At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul and likes to apply electrical shocks to his nipples in his downtime, team up to bring this legendary murderer to justice, for good this time.

Some intense things happened in the first two Coffin Joe movies, but Embodiment of Evil takes all of those elements even further - this one is even more twisted than its predecessors, more brutal. It has extreme gore and a lot of nudity. In other words, it was worth that forty year wait, and it gave Coffin Joe a much better ending than the one Corpse had presented.


Early on in The Faceless Man, there's a scene in which a group of friends are being shown around a rental house by the property owner, who keeps making inappropriate jokes about having gangbangs in various rooms. The people who have rented this place from him make it clear that they don't find his gangbang references amusing at all, but he persists, he keeps talking about gangbangs while acknowledging that these people don't get his sense of humor. That's basically what the experience of watching this movie was like for me. I felt like that group of friends dealing with the homeowner who has the odd sense of humor; I realized that this movie was telling some kind of joke, but I wasn't sure why, and I didn't get it.

This is writer/director James Di Martino's feature debut after he spent a few years making short films, and it kind of feels like it's a bunch of short films that were all blended together. The movie throws a bunch of ideas at the wall to see what sticks, and not much actually does. The Faceless Man is a scatterbrained movie that keeps tossing in new plot elements - mobsters on the hunt for a batch of cocaine that the group of friends happens to have in their possession, a problem solver with a vulgar nickname, vigilante bikers, an axe-wielding serial killer, spiked tea, a supposedly cursed house, rape, and of course the monster that the film is named after.

At first it seems like the faceless man exists only in the mind of lead character Emily (Sophie Thurling), who is introduced while undergoing cancer treatment and arguing with her politician father Harrison Beckman (Brendan Bacon), who she believes only pretends to care about her well-being because it looks good for him. The film begins with a 9 minute conversation between Emily and Harrison, a scene that goes on painfully long and started to make me think that this was going to be some kind of arty movie packed with attempts to emulate Quentin Tarantino. That's not really how it turned out - but if you thought the bad Tarantino knock-offs were twenty years behind us, watch for the scene here that manages to lift from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction at the same time, all while a character makes a sandwich.

Emily keeps seeing the faceless man and keeps spewing strange substances from her mouth, so you might think this is all some sort of hallucination she's having. But then other characters start seeing the faceless man... And if this were a simple story about this creature tormenting Emily and her friends, it probably would have been a lot more entertaining. As it is, the faceless man is just one weird element in the mix with a lot of other weird, random stuff.

The story is disjointed, the score is oddly jarring, the movie goes on for way too long at 105 minutes, and I was never able to like or care about any of the characters... But there are some bright spots I can point out: Thurling does a good job in the role of Emily, Daniel Reader has a fun screen presence as problem solver Barry the C***, and Roger Ward of Mad Max and Turkey Shoot makes an entertaining appearance as a character called King Dougie.

The movie Thurling, Barry, and King Dougie are in just didn't work for me on any level. I didn't find its sense of humor to be amusing, and the horror wasn't satisfying - I couldn't tell you what's going on with the supernatural parts of this movie, it didn't make any sense to me.

I can tell you that if you find the word "gangbang" or the phrase "a good town with good people" to be hilarious, you'll have a lot more fun watching The Faceless Man than I did.

The review of The Faceless Man originally appeared on

48 HRS. (1982)

Only one of the two lead characters is a cop, but director Walter Hill's 48 Hrs. is still the film that popularized the "buddy cop" scenario of putting together two mismatched, usually newly introduced characters and forcing them to work together to bust some criminals. Hundreds of knock-offs and even some classics, like Lethal Weapon, wouldn't exist if it weren't for the success of 48 Hrs.

Hill had the idea for a film that would be about a cop and a convict having to join forces a decade before 48 Hrs. was made, and during that decade he worked with co-writers Roger Spottiswoode, Steven E. de Souza, Larry Gross, and an uncredited Tracy Keenan Wynn in an effort to flesh that idea out. This is the only writing credit for Spottiswoode, who is best known for being the director such films as Terror Train and Tomorrow Never Dies. Before he was a director, he was an editor who wanted to direct, and Hill thought writing the screenplay for his cop and convict movie would help him along on that path. In the late '70s, Paramount wanted to cast Clint Eastwood as the criminal of the pair, but Hill thought it would be more fitting if Eastwood were the cop and someone like Richard Pryor were the criminal. And while Eastwood and Pryor didn't end up starring in the film, Hill didn't stray too far away when he cast Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy as cop Jack Cates and convict Reggie Hammond.

The story begins with a convict named Ganz (James Remar) making a violent and surprisingly simple escape from prison with the help of his buddy Billy (Sonny Landham). Ganz and Billy then head to San Francisco with the intention of unearthing $500,000 that Ganz's associates Luther (David Patrick Kelly) and Reggie stole from a drug dealer and hid away back before Ganz and Reggie got sent off to prison. Which sounds like a simple endeavor, but Ganz and Billy are not smooth about it. They threaten Luther and kidnap his girlfriend to force him to get the money for them, and they haven't been in San Francisco long before they end up killing a couple more cops, right in front of Cates. This shows one of 48 Hrs. strengths, the fact that the villains are completely reprehensible scumbags. Ganz was locked up for armed robbery, but during his escape and after he proves to be a cold-blooded killer as well. Ganz and Billy are a heavy presence in the film, there is nothing likeable or fun about them.

Of course, Reggie brings the fun when he shows up in the story, as Murphy plays the character with energy and humor. Since Reggie knows what Ganz is up to, Cates has to get his help to capture the escaped criminal - and to do so, Cates gets Reggie out of jail six months before his three year sentence (also for armed robbery) is complete. Reggie has 48 hours before he has to go back to prison and finish his sentence; thus the title. Reggie goes along with Cates' plan because he wants to protect his money, and because Ganz is the reason he was sent to prison; Ganz ratted him out to the police in hopes of being able to steal the money. While he's on vacation from his cell, he would also like to find a woman who's willing to have sex with him. He puts a lot of effort into trying to charm ladies whenever he gets the opportunity, and even gets distracted when he notices an aerobics show on TV.

While Reggie is lively and amusing, Cates is one of the grumpiest, most sour bastards around. He's always tired, and grumbles and mumbles his way through his dialogue. Instead of charming women, he's always bickering with his girlfriend Elaine (Annette O'Toole). So you can see how this sets up the mismatched partner cliché, and it also takes time for Cates to warm up to Reggie because, being a cop, he's not too fond of convicts. In fact, he usually refers to Reggie as "convict" rather than his name. And that's when he's not calling him things way worse and flat-out offensive. A 1982 release with '82 sensibilities, and gritty even for its time, 48 Hrs. can come off as being very harsh by today's standards. There's language in here that wouldn't fly now, and it's not just spoken by bad guys, our heroes indulge in it, too.

48 Hrs. is certainly dated, but it's still an entertaining action-comedy that paved the way for a lot of similar movies. It's interesting to see how these things got started. This movie even casts Frank McRae as Cates' belligerent, prone-to-shout Captain, a trope that has been copied and parodied to death since.

And it's also interesting to see that this had several elements that were echoed in future Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Composer James Horner provides a score reminiscent of the work he would do on Commando, a sound that always takes me right back to childhood because I watched the hell out of that super-violent movie when I was a little kid. When faced with an opponent who has the upper hand on him, Sonny Landham's character just stands his ground while holding a large knife, just like Landham would do in Predator. And the big car chase involves a stolen bus with the bad guys at the wheel, much like a climactic action sequence in the Schwarzenegger movie Red Heat... which was also directed by Walter Hill.

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