The Wicker Man

Nicolas Cage stares at a fetus.The Wicker Man is that rarest of treats: low budget material taken seriously and given forty million dollars, A-list source material, A-list playwright and an A-list cast. I don’t know who green-lit this project but thank god they did, because it is one of the most entertaining disasters ever recorded.

Nicolas Cage is eaten by bees.Remaking The Wicker Man was risky to begin with.  The 1973 classic has a devoted fan base and over the years it’s taken on a cult status that rivals the Hammer horror films.  I mention Hammer because the original The Wicker Man also stars Christopher Lee, a man capable of lending a certain earnest gravitas to lurid subject matter and a great asset to have if your screenplay skirts the lines of believability.  The 2006 version of The Wicker Man stars Nicolas Cage, a good actor when given material that exists in the real world, but a liability when your story takes place on a coastal bee farm run by a hostile matriarchal cult.  Luckily he takes the performance so far that I sometimes wonder if he is in on the joke.  Certainly the production company wasn’t.  Hollywood makes some odd decisions at times, but I doubt they intentionally spend millions of dollars on jokes.  Of course someone had to know that Nicolas Cage karate kicking Leelee Sobieski would be in the final cut, right?  Anyone?

Neil LaBute, the director and writer of this remake, is usually fantastic.  Sure he courts controversy and even got himself kicked out of the LDS church, but it isn’t often that his work can be considered poorly written.  I mean, at some point he must have questioned the scene where Nicolas Cage punched a woman while wearing a bear suit right?

Now I fully expect this from Cage, who is a fine actor and star of some of the best American films ever produced, but is someone also comfortable taking, how should I put this, questionable roles; but surely Ellen Burstyn thought at some point that maybe dressing like William Wallace and ordering a hobbling at the honey festival might seem a little…  bit… funny?

If it sounds like I’m complaining about the film, I’m not.  In fact, if the remake of The Wicker Man had been filmed on 16mm for a fraction of the budget by an unknown director I would have likely given it a glowing review.  As it stands now I still love the thing, but only because it’s one of the funniest unintentional (I think, right?) jokes to ever hit the multiplexes.  It’s just a shame that it’s stained the original, since that film means a lot to its fans.  I’m not part of that fan base and I don’t know specifically how they responded to this remake, but I do know how it feels to have Hollywood take a 40 million dollar shit on something you find value in and it’s frustrating.  Even if it is a pretty funny shit.

Sidenote:  If anyone out there is good with programming, I really want to play a videogame in which you basically control Nicolas Cage in a bear suit and punch an onslaught of Wicca bee women. You could call it Bear Punch! or something.  I will be really grateful to anyone that can make this a reality.  I’ve included a  picture below to use as inspiration, thanks.

Screengrab of Bear Puncher

Desperate Living

Four Hot Lesbians Argue Politics

Desperate Living is the best damn film in the world.  I still use it to test new friends out.  If someone can’t find the humor in it, I’ll remember to keep things civil when I am around them, which won’t be often.

The film was directed by John Waters.  He is best known for Pink Flamingos, a film which ends with a large drag queen named Divine eating actual dog shit.  Peggy and Griselda buy some chocolate pie in Mortville.The scene shocked midnight movie audiences and made the director and his star famous.  Eventually Waters embarked on a mainstream career with films like Cry-Baby and Hairspray.  Somewhere in the middle, Desperate Living came sliding out of his womb, most likely breach, and it  is without a doubt his wildest and most hilarious work.

The story concerns neurotic snob Peggy Gravel and her maid Griselda escaping Baltimore after they accidentally murder Peggy’s husband.  On the way, they encounter the greatest police officer in the history of law enforcement and he agrees to let the duo escape to Mortville as long as they do him a few favors…

Mortville is a fully realized nightmare of waste in both the municipal and human sense of the word.  A place so horrifying and tragic that the only proper response is tearful gut-wrenching laughter.  Built literally from garbage and coated in what looks like the cheapest of leaFascist cops hang out in the hall.d saturated finger-paints, Mortville is a town populated by criminals so depraved that no other place will accept them.  These people are ruled by the openly fascist Queen Carlotta played by Edith Massey in a performance that can only be described as the best thing ever.  Seriously, she should have recieved the Nobels fredspris for her efforts, at the very least.  Her rule is enforced by her leather-clad police boys who serve her whims both legal and carnal and those whims range from the fairly innocuous backwards day to organized interspecies genocide.  Her palace is filled with portraits of violent dictators and cult leaders and she does not tolerate dissent of any form.

Peggy and Griselda encounter the locals and the Queen, and eventually find their separate places in Mortville and develop a rivalry that boils over into revolution against tyranny in a kingdom that might be a mini-putt course or a dump.  I’m not sure.

The proceedings are as shocking and ridiculous as any of the early Dreamland films, but there is an extra layer of insanity piled onto the madness by the fairytale sets and subject matter.  Unfortunately, Desperate living wasn’t as successful as his other films reportedly because it was too dark, but I never really understood this reasoning.  The material certainly isn’t as shocking or grotesque as Pink Flamingos and the ending was not as nihilistic as Female Trouble.  In fact, it’s quite an uplifting fight-the-system story complete with something of a happy ending.  I’ve also met many rabid fans of Pink Flamingos that still haven’t seen its more realized funnier cousin which is unfortunate.  They would dig it the most.

Fascist cops like to drink and wrestle.

Riki-Oh! The Story of Riki

Riki focuses using Qi Gong and bursts into magic fire!This film is gory.  Really gory.  The violence is cartoonish and the effects betray the budget, but the volume and intensity is overwhelming.  So is the humor: this is a funny film.

Riki-Oh is based on a manga of the same name in which all Hong Kong prisons have been privatized for profit.  The story takes place in one of these prisons.  Each wing of this particular prison is ruled by a colorful villain that uses superpowers to slug the piss out of the weaker and mostly innocent inmates.  They report to the assistant warden who in turn reports to the warden.  Lucky for the weaker inmates, Riki is soon arrested.

Riki isn’t your average Hong Konger.  He is capable of punching through steel, he is impervious to pain and he doesn’t know what fear is.  He also doesn’t like seeing the assistant warden and his henchmen bully helpless prisoners, so on his first day in the slammer he does this:

Riki Punches right through a set of ribs.Then he does this:

A large man falls back with his stomach torn open.And so on and so forth until the assistant decides to make an example of Riki on the day the warden visits.  I love exaggerated stereotypes of spoiled capitalists, and the warden’s son is the perfect example of this.  He is sadistic, gluttonous, selfish and only brave when someone else is enforcing the rules.  I only wish he had been in the film longer.

Needless to say, Riki isn’t very happy with the warden’s actions and decides to have a calm conversation with everyone in order to mediate a solution that both sides are happy with.  Oh wait, no he does something else involving melee weapons and sharp objects.   Rampage ensues.

Ricky punches a three-story hole in a conrete wall.Anyone that loves over-the-top splatterfests or martial arts films will want to check this title out.  It delivers from the opening dimestore synth music to the Akira-like mutation fest of a climax and leaves no time for air in between.  Plus everybody likes a good underdog story, even if that underdog is invincible.  And violent.  Really really violent.

2019: After the Fall of New York

Apocalyptic bandits prepare for battle.2019: After the fall of New York is another entry into the Italopocalypse genre that ruled the Sci-Fi isles during the video cassette era.  The film stars Michael Sopkiw as Kurt Russell and generally follows the same blend of Mad Max meets Escape from New York formula that most of these films did with one exception: screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi  managed to inject a unique premise into the film.  That and one of the greatest clown robots in the history of clown robots.

This is the plot of 2019: After the Fall of New York:

In 2019, worldwide female infertility has led to the collapse of society. The Europe/Africa/Asia alliance, the last known stable nation, is deluged by asylum seekers. In response it has become a militarized police state as forces round up and murder the population.

And now this is the plot of Children of Men:

In 2027, worldwide female infertility has led to the collapse of society. The United Kingdom, the last known stable nation, is deluged by asylum seekers. In response it has become a militarized police state as British forces round up and detain immigrants.

And now, a key meeting from 2019: After the Fall of New York:

Picasso's Guernica as featured in 2019: After the Fall of New YorkAnd one from Children of Men.

Picasso's Guernica as featured in Children of MenNow, I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but the six screenwriters that adapted P.D. James’s 1992 novel might have been inspired by one of the more original premises to come out of a well worn genre.  I wasn’t able to track down much about the screenplay except that it was nominated for an Academy Award, so I’ll just have to chalk it up to one of the most incredible coincidences in cinema history.

In addition to the storyline, 2019 also features demolition derby, punk rockers, flame throwers, laser crossbows, the ubiquitous Hal Yamanouchi, the incomparable George Eastman and the most beautiful woman to ever eat rats on film.  As far as the genre goes, 2019 is one of the standout offerings despite a bit of lag in the middle, and features better acting than you would expect.  It’s too bad Oscar didn’t take notice.

In consolation I would like to say, here’s to you Ernesto Gastaldi, you should have been nominated for the Academy Award back in 1983, but I guess you were just edged out by the riveting storycraft of Diner or Tootsie.  Still we here at Costume Box Theater would like to offer you this sad synthesized trombone solo as our appreciation for your work.  Enjoy, you earned it.

Hard Rock Zombies

Holy Moses Rocks!Jessie: They said in the middle ages they used this music to raise the dead

Bassist: Raise the dead?  What for?

Drummer: Probably to mop your floors, or uh paint your house… fuck your wife.

That’s about as intelligent as Hard Rock Zombies gets. It starts out a mess and continues to fall apart until the plot is more about your migraine than anything else. There are at least four different stories going on at any given time and resolution isn’t a very high priority for any of them. The only discernible character motivation comes from Jessie who is played by former Playgirl centerfold and real life rock bassist E.J. Curse. His motivation? An underage girl. Really underage. He even writes a song about how wrong it is and the band plays it nearly twice in it’s entirety. Almost all of the songs on the soundtrack are played all of the way through. The best of them is Na Na Na Na. Warning: this video contains some serious tomfoolery: stupid hick sheriffs beware.

I’ve seen this movie four times, twice sober, and this is what I think happens. Holy Moses is a rock band that likes to goof off, sometimes in their underwear but never with female groupies. They decide to pick up an attractive hitchhiker anyway. Her name is Elsa, and she is played by the absolutely stunning Lisa Toothman (Roller Blade Warriors: Taken by Force, Molested). Lisa Toothman kicks her leg upShe invites them to stay at her castle. Elsa lives with several little people, a switchblade wielding werewolf in a wheelchair and several old Germans. Jessie falls in love with a child and practices a song that raises the dead. The sheriff and his hick friends arrest the band, ban rock music and cancel Holy Moses’s show. Elsa bails them out, the little people watch their grandparents have sex and the Germans murder the band.

Then the film gets strange. Grandpa reveals that he is Hitler and the family is restarting the Third Reich or I guess maybe it would be the fourth. Jessie’s child bride plays a recording of his magical bassline and the band rise from the dead to rock. They also attack the nazis and turn them into zombies. Phil and his Brother watching a murderThe zombie nazis turn the town into zombies, but not into nazis, and the band decides to play their rock show despite whatever bullshit law the hick sheriff zombie passed. Rock ensues. I don’t want to spoil the ending, mainly because I don’t remember it, and I don’t think another 500 words would be appropriate considering I haven’t even mentioned Phil Fondacaro yet.

Roger Ebert created the”Stanton-Walsh Rule,” declaring that “no movie featuring either Harry Dean Stanton or M. Emmit Walsh in a supporting role can be altogether bad.” I have a similar rule which states that no movie featuring Phil Fondacaro in a supporting role can be altogether boring.  Bad is way better than boring, and having one of the messiest stories I’ve ever heard outside of rambling requests for spare change Hard Rock Zombies more than qualifies as bad, but I will gladly recommend it since it never gets dull. Here’s Phil enjoying some hamburger.

P.S. After scrawling the first draft of this review on a McDonald’s napkin with the spare crayon I found in the dining area of Logan International, I read that this film began life as scenes put together as a background film for another movie about a drive-in theater. After filming, Krishna Shah acquired funds to turn the the background film into a feature, so they connected the disparate footage quickly sometimes writing the scenes the day they were to be shot. This sounds about right.