Friday, June 11, 2021

Worth Mentioning - All These Happenings Happening

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. 

Bond-inspired comedy, some horror, and Fox in the wild.


Mike Myers is the Canadian son of two British immigrants, and has said that his parents continued to watch British films and television obsessively while living in Canada. All that England-themed entertainment Myers grew up watching with his parents, and the James Bond films in particular, served as the inspiration for Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Austin Powers was such a massive hit, it clearly appealed to a much wider audience than just the movie-goers who would understand the references, but I think it does enhance the viewing experience if you are very familiar with the Bond movies, especially the Sean Connery era.

Played by Myers, Austin Powers is a famous British photographer who also happens to be the greatest spy working for British Intelligence, "irresistible to women, deadly to his enemies". He has bad teeth, but that never hindered his appeal, and he sports a thick coat of fur on his torso, like Sean Connery. Powers is a major thorn in the side of a cat-stroking madman called Dr. Evil, who is also played by Myers and looks just like the Donald Pleasence version of Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, although he talks like Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels. Bent on world domination and/or destruction, Dr. Evil is the head of an organization like S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and even hosts meetings like the one seen in Thunderball, where Blofeld could kill disappointing lackeys with the push of a button.

Tired of being thwarted by Powers, Dr. Evil has himself cryogenically frozen in 1967, leaving orders that he be thawed out when free love has been overcome by greed and corruption. So he gets thawed out to continue his reign of terror in 1997 - but, unfortunately for him, Powers was also frozen so he could be thawed out to take Dr. Evil on again. So we get a comedy that mixes Bond spoofing with "fish out of water" humor, as Powers finds that the world has changed since the psychedelic, promiscuous '60s. Plus you get some literal toilet humor on a couple different occasions.

Powers doesn't put much effort into changing, he doesn't even change his clothing style. However, he starts to grow fond for her partner on this mission, Elizabeth Hurley as Vanessa Kensington (who happens to be the daughter of his '60s partner, played by Mimi Rogers), and that starts to give him a reason to change. When he's not busy fighting Dr. Evil's assassins and trying to stop the villain's plan to hold the planet hostage with a nuclear warhead.

I have to admit, as the years and sequels went on, my appreciation for Austin Powers cooled down and I started to find the character annoying, but I really enjoyed this first installment in the franchise, especially any time it was obviously playing with something that was introduced in a Bond movie. Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, A View to a Kill, you can see a bit of each of those in here, with characters who are based on Bond characters like Robert Wagner's Number 2, Fabiana Udenio's Alotta Fagina, Mindy Sterling's Frau Farbissina, and Joe Son (now in prison for a seriously awful crime) as Random Task.

My least favorite parts of this movie were always the scenes dealing with Dr. Evil's modern teenager son Scott (Seth Green). I never found that very amusing, and since Blofeld never bickered with a son it was too much of an aside for me. I just wanted to see more Bond jokes.

BELOW (2002)

For much of its 105 minute running time, director David Twohy's Below is a thrilling World War II submarine film about the American submarine USS Tiger Shark playing hide and seek with a German warship that is relentlessly pursuing and searching for it. The men on the submarine try to stay as quiet as possible as the ship passes overhead. The ship drops depth charges - and in one suspenseful moment, a charge that doesn't explode bounces along the length of the submarine's deck. The submarine settles to the bottom of the ocean in hopes the ship will keep going. The ship drops grappling hooks in hopes of snagging it. It's pretty exciting, engrossing stuff.

But Below is not primarily sold as a war movie. There's something else going on here. This is a horror movie. The story of a haunted submarine.

When the story crafted by Twohy, Lucas Sussman, and Darren Aronofksy catches up with the USS Tiger Shark, Lieutenant Brice (Bruce Greenwood) has only been the Commanding Officer for a couple days. The previous C.O. died while checking the wreckage of a German ship the submarine had torpedoed. Now the submarine is trying to get back to its home base in Connecticut, but they're taken off course by an order to pick up the survivors of a British hospital ship that was sunk by a German U-boat. They only find three survivors; one of them is a nurse named Claire (Olivia Williams), and the men think having a female on the submarine is bad luck, and the other is a wounded German - who is soon suspected of being a saboteur.

Things get worse and worse for the USS Tiger Shark as the story goes on, and things get so out of hand that crew members start presenting supernatural explanations for what's going on. "Real creepshow stuff", as one character puts it. Is the submarine haunted? Was it destroyed by that depth charge, and now everyone who was on board is in the afterlife?

Below is a really interesting, well-made movie, and happens to have a great cast. In addition to the actors previously mentioned, there's Holt McCallany, Scott Foley, Jason Flemyng, Dexter Fletcher, Nick Chinlund, Matthew Davis, and Zach Galifianakis (as a character called Weird Wally). Mishandled by the distributor when it was released in 2002, the film was a box office dud and hasn't gotten much attention since then, but it really deserves to be talked about more often. It's a good flick that works as both a war story and a ghost story.

ROGUE (2020)

With the action thriller Rogue, Megan Fox was aiming to prove that she could convincingly play a mercenary who has been "forged hard" from being in The Suck and other gnarly places - and she did pull it off, I didn't have any issues with her performance in the role of mercenary team leader Samantha O'Hara. The only issue I would really point out about Rogue is some clunky dialogue, but how great do you expect the dialogue to be in a movie like this?

Directed by MJ Bassett from a screenplay she wrote with her daughter Isabel, the movie tells the story of mercenaries who have been hired to rescue a young girl named Asila Wilson (Jessica Sutton) from a group of militant human traffickers / poachers in the African wilderness. Asila's a big deal because she's the daughter of a governor, she's the person the mercenaries are being paid to rescue. When O'Hara sees that there are two other girls (played by Calli Taylor and Isabel Bassett) being held in cages with Asila, she intends to just leave the other two - escaping with three girls is riskier than escaping with one, and they don't get any money for the other two. But the other members of the mercenary team aren't forged quite as hard as O'Hara, so they end up leaving the militia base with three teenagers.

Rogue kicks off with quite a lengthy action sequence, the raiding of the militia base followed by a chase through the countryside, with bullets flying everywhere. The militia continues tracking the mercenaries and teens for the rest of the film, but the action settles down for a while once our heroes reach an abandoned farm. It settles down until they realize this farm was run by poachers who were breeding lions, and now the ravenous lions are loose on the property. So this action movie also has a heavy dose of "nature run amok" thrills to it as well; not only do the characters end up being stalked and attacked by lions, but there's also a crocodile attack in the mix.

Fox's attempt to be taken seriously as a hard-edged action heroine, a successful attempt as far as I was concerned, was bolstered by a solid supporting cast. Her fellow mercenaries are played by the likes of Philip Winchester, Greg Kriek, Kenneth Fok, Brandon Auret, Sisanda Henna, and Lee-Anne Lienbenberg, and there are some strong performances from the group that make us like and care about these people. There's also, very unexpectedly, a running gag about a Backstreet Boys song in the middle of all this.


Shot over an extended period of time whenever writer/director Frank Henenlotter could scrape together enough cash to work on the movie some more, the 1982 horror movie Basket Case is an awe-inspiring accomplishment in DIY filmmaking. When faced with the financial limitations Henenlotter was dealing with here, how many filmmakers would make a movie with a special effect as a prominent character? Not many, and yet Henenlotter just moved right ahead with making this story about two brothers, one of whom is a monstrous little creature that lives in a wicker basket. When this character, named Belial, emerges from his basket, he's brought to life either through puppetry or through some incredible stop-motion effects that Henenlotter was so disappointed with, he threw the film across the room when he was working on the animation. But rest assured, it's an awesome sight to behold.

Kevin Van Hentenryck stars as Duane Bradley, a young man who ventures into the dirtiest and sleaziest areas of Manhattan, back at the height of the dirt and sleaze era, on a mission of revenge. When they were youngsters, Duane and his deformed conjoined twin Belial were surgically separated in a shady, at-home procedure against their will, and Belial was thrown in the trash to die. But he didn't die. Duane got him out of the trash, and they got revenge on the father who had them cut apart. The father who hated Belial so much because of his deformities, and because of the fact that his wife died giving birth to this thing, that he named him after a demon and wanted him dead. Years later, Duane and Belial are now out to get the doctors who performed the surgery.

Basket Case works as both as horror movie with a streak of oddball comedy, and as a snapshot of Manhattan at a certain time. This was Henenlotter's tribute to the exploitation movies he grew up watching at the grindhouse theatres on 42nd Street, a movie designed specifically to play in those theatres. I never had the proper 42nd Street experience, I'm not sure I would be brave enough to venture into those theatres even if I had the chance, but this movie does feel the way you imagine a grindhouse would be like when you hear the stories about those places from people like Henenlotter or 42nd Street Pete.

Van Hentenryck turns in a solid performance as Duane, as does Beverly Bonner as Casey, the kind prostitute who lives in the crappy hotel Duane and Belial check into, and I really appreciate the goofiness Terri Susan Smith (wearing a terrible wig because her head was shaved at the time, since she was in a punk band) brought to her role as Sharon, the love interest Duane meets in the office of one of Belial's targets. But that basket-dwelling creature Belial is the one that steals the show from all of his co-stars.

With cool creature effects, gruesome violence, funny moments, and gratuitous nudity, Basket Case is definitely one to check out.

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