Friday, February 21, 2014

Worth Mentioning - 10,000 Thrills Explode on the Screen

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 enjoys disowned Elmore Leonard, is surprised by Dustin Mills, and a kaiju appears.

STICK (1985)

Based on a 1983 novel of the same name written by the amazing Elmore Leonard, this film, which was directed by and stars Burt Reynolds as titular character Ernest "Stick" Stickley, is described on as one of the late author's most unhappy film experiences, a disappointment made all the worse by the fact that Leonard was particularly fond of the car thief character he had created and named Stick. In fact, the novel that inspired this film was the second to feature Stick, he had previously been in the 1976-published Swag.

As the story begins, Stick is fresh out of prison (having served time for the crimes committed in Swag) and is looking to get a respectable job and make some money before he reconnects with his teenage daughter Katie. Visiting his old jailhouse pal Rainy in Fort Lauderdale, Stick gets roped into accompanying his friend on a shady business deal. For drug-addled drug dealer Chucky (played by Charles Durning with ridiculous hair and dyed eyebrows), Rainy is meant to drive out into the Everglades and deliver a briefcase to voodoo-practicing crime lord Nestor, a job for which Rainy will be paid $5000, which he'll split with Stick.
But the meeting in a remote location is a set-up; Rainy is killed by an albino hitman named Moke and Stick barely escapes with his life.

While Chucky's men, including Moke, try to track Stick down to eliminate him, Sticks goes to work trying to find a way to put the screws to Chucky and Nestor... both for revenge, and to get the $5000 he's owed for the successful delivery of that briefcase. This path leads Stick to becoming a chauffeur for rich wheeler dealer Barry Brahn (George Segal), who has connections in Hollywood that Chucky wants to use to get into the movie business.

In addition to this netting him a love interest - Candice Bergen as Barry's financial advisor Kyle - a place to stay, and some good pay, this job does indeed bring Stick back into contact with Chucky and Nestor. Chucky repeatedly refuses to give him his $5000, so the dangerous game continues, the tension and twists building to a very violent conclusion.

Leonard wrote the first draft of the screenplay himself, but after that he had no say or pull on the project. Screenwriter Joseph C. Stinson, who otherwise only wrote Clint Eastwood pictures - the Dirty Harry sequel Sudden Impact, uncredited work on Heartbreak Ridge, co-writing the Eastwood/Reynolds buddy movie City Heat with Blake Edwards - was brought on to write further drafts and, at the studio's request, beef up the action quotient.

Despite the action added early on, the studio still wasn't satisfied with the first cut of the movie. The release date was delayed by eight months so Reynolds could do $3 million worth of reshoots, removing humor and adding more action. As Leonard described it, the studio added "machine guns and scorpions" to his story, and then ordered reshoots to add "more machine guns and more scorpions".

Machine guns and scorpions are indeed heavily involved in the climax of the finished film, a point at which it does feel like things have jumped the tracks into a different movie entirely.

Despite Leonard being unhappy with the results, despite the out-of-place ending and Reynolds not really being able to show his natural charisma and have fun in the role until around the 40 minute mark (for those first 40 minutes he is awkwardly stoic and antagonistic), I do enjoy the movie Stick overall and there are scenes where Leonard's style and sensibilities shine through.

Reynolds' performance has its ups and downs and Durning is miscast, but most of the actors are great in their roles, with Castulo Guerra having strong scenes as Nestor, Richard Lawson playing a likeable fellow employee of Barry's, and the great Alex Rocco making an appearance as a Hollywood scammer.
Stuntman Dar Robinson is quite effective as the unnerving, unpleasant hitman Moke, a bit of casting that really pays off when the character meets his demise. The high fall stunt involved received notice because of the use of a decelerator, a device that Robinson himself developed.

In addition to all the other elements that make the movie fun to watch, it gains extra points for the fact that it is wonderfully '80s, especially the score by Joseph Conlan and Barry De Vorzon.

Leonard wrote Stick off as a failure and that's what the movie is widely perceived as today, but I recommend that viewers give it a chance.


The latest release from indie filmmaker Dustin Mills (The Puppet Monster Massacre, Zombie A-Hole, Night of the Tentacles, Bath Salt Zombies, Easter Casket, The Ballad of Skinless Pete) has been a long time coming, I believe a sign advertising it as "Coming Soon" was even on his table when I bought my copies of Puppet Monster and A-Hole from him at the spring 2012 Cinema Wasteland. After a couple years of being worked on, Kill That Bitch has finally been finished and released into the wild; copies began shipping out on February 4th.

I had pre-ordered the DVD last year as part of a fundraising campaign Mills was running, and it arrived in my mailbox last weekend. This movie came out at the perfect time, because I'm been jonesing for another Dustin Mills Production fix.

Written, directed, scored, and edited by Mills, his seventh film centers on a group of five women who are systematically stalked, beaten, tortured, and murdered by a mask-wearing slasher with a knife so large even Crocodile Dundee would be impressed.

These girls are not your typical damsels in distress, however. There's something off about them, something unusual about their demeanors. The child-like youngest of the group is especially strange, sleeping nude in the woods, wandering around town and country aimlessly, intensely interested in the smells of things. When the killer attacks, the girls prove to be quite capable at self defense, they put up a hell of a fight, but the slasher has a knack for coming out on top. There are clues scattered throughout the film that there's something deeper going on than what we can see. Why has the killer based his look on a figure from an old book, and why is he targeting this tight-knit, oddball group?

Mills had two objectives in the making of Kill That Bitch. One, he wanted to do a movie where the effects were entirely practical. Although he has said that this was too much of a hassle and added too much to the budget, so he intends to stick with CG enhancements for his gore effects in the future, the practical effects on display in this movie, as in all of Mills's movies, are great. The guy is a jack of trades and he excels at every job he takes on in his productions. His second objective was to let the story play in a way where things wouldn't be spelled out for the viewer, they'd have to pay attention and pick things up along the way.
I enjoyed Kill That Bitch for most of its 68 minute running time, but I really had no idea as to what was really going on. I was guessing and grasping at straws, but I was way off base. When the secrets are revealed, the movie reached a whole new level for me. I loved where the revelation took things, it elevated the material in my opinion. Once I knew the answers, I retroactively liked what had come before in the movie much more. As it turns out, I was watching something very different than I thought I was, and I loved realizing that Mills had kind of pulled one over on me.

The movie looks great, quite impressive for its budget level (said to be below $2000), and the cast all do very well in their roles, including Mills regulars Brandon Salkil and Erin R. Ryan, with Babysitter Massacre's Haley Jay Madison playing the standout role of the youngest girl. Josh Eal, hero of Zombie A-Hole, Bath Salt Zombies, and Easter Casket also makes an appearance, and while I always enjoy his performances, this movie is a streak-breaker for the actor: for the first time, his character doesn't commit a massacre of some sort as part of his introduction.

Two years and seven movies into Dustin Mills's filmmaking career, I've gone from an impressed observer to a full-fledged fan. With Kill That Bitch now available, every one of his movies that have been "in production" since I was first discovered him (thanks to Cinema Wasteland) have been released. For the first time ever, I have no idea what's next for him. I can't wait to find out.

ATRAGON (1963)

The world is under attack, and the first sign of trouble are sightings of strange, violent people who are extremely hot to the touch, they steam when in cold water, they can turn metal red hot in their hands. These hyperthermal individuals are in fact emissaries from the lost continent of Mu, which sank into the Pacific Ocean 12,000 years ago.

The entire world belonged to the Mu Empire, and then in one night, Mu was gone. The people of Mu survived, however, and have spent the thousands of years since at the bottom of the sea, warmed by the sun they created from terrestrial heat, living off buried resources.

On the last night of World War II, the servants of the Empress of Mu captured a top secret Japanese submarine. The men on board escaped, but left behind the blueprints for the ultimate undersea warship, known as Gotengō or alternately Atragon. Though nearly twenty years have passed, the people of Mu know that Navy Captain Jinguji is building Atragon in secret. The Empress demands that work on Atragon be halted immediately... and more, that the entire world be handed back over to Mu for her to rule.

The problem with stopping Atragon from being built is that no one knows that it exists. Jinguji has been missing and presumed dead since the end of the war. Even his own daughter believes him to be dead, and was raised by another man... But there are some who know that Jinguji lives.

The truth is that Jinguji was a deeply patriotic man and he and his men objected to the enactment of the Constitution of Japan in 1947, which brought an end to the Empire of Japan. They so believed in the Empire that they left their lives and families behind and have since been building the warship Atragon beneath their own private island, intending that it someday be used to revive the Empire.

Eventually, a group of people, including Jinguji's daughter, are able to travel to his island to plead with him about Atragon... not that he stop working on it, but that he use it against the Mu Empire and their sea serpent deity Manda. If the powers that be of Mu are so afraid that Atragon might be finished, then it must be capable of destroying them.

Although the Mu army wreaks havoc on the world, causing the destruction of American atomic submarine Red Satan, reducing Hong Kong to ruins, wiping out Venice, and even causing more damage to Tokyo than a daikaiju attack, it takes a lot to convince Jinguji to use Atragon for any other purpose than for his beloved lost Empire... But of course, the drill-tipped, freeze ray blasting submarine, which is even capable of flying, does see some action at the end of the day.

Directed by Ishirô Honda (Gojira, Rodan, Varan the Unbelievable, Mothra, King Kong vs. Godzilla) from a screenplay by Shinichi Sekizawa (Varan the Unbelievable, Mothra, King Kong vs. Godzilla), based on young adult novels by Shigeru Komatsuzaki and Shunro Oshikawa, Atragon is really fun sci-fi fantasy thriller, with an intriguing story, interesting characters, and some spectacular action beats.

An incredible fact about the film is that Sekizawa completed the screenplay less than four months before the movie reached Japanese theatres. Toho Studios wanted a large scale film to release in time for the New Year crowds at the beginning of 1964, and so Atragon went from just a script at the beginning of September 1963 to first being projected on screens on December 22, 1963. In fact, the monster Manda looks the way he does because 1964 was going to be the Year of the Dragon.

Atragon is a really fun movie as it is, but when you take into account how quickly it was made, it's pretty amazing.

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