Thursday, August 17, 2017

#2,411. The Room (2003)

Directed By: Tommy Wiseau

Starring: O'Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero, Juliette Danielle

Tag line: "Can you ever really trust anyone?"

Trivia: The film's editor tried to convince Tommy Wiseau to cut the shot of his naked ass from the movie, on the grounds that the sight of it scared his wife

A few days ago, I took issue with those who believed that Menahem Golan’s 1980 musical The Apple was the worst movie ever made. Having just seen The Room, a drama / romance written and directed by Tommy Wiseau, I’m even more confident that my defense of The Apple was justified.

In a world where The Room exists, how can anyone believe there’s a movie out there that’s worse than this 2003 train wreck?

Johnny (Wiseau) is a great guy. He has a good job with the bank; is paying for Denny (Philip Haldiman), a local neighbor boy with no family of his own, to go to college; and he treats his fiance Lisa (Juliette Danielle) as if she was an angel, buying her flowers and gifts for no reason other than to show that he loves her. But Lisa no longer has feelings for Johnny, and is considering breaking off their engagement. Lisa’s mother Claudette (Carolyn Minnott), tells her that she’s lucky to have a guy like Johnny, and should marry him anyway. Lisa, however, thinks differently, and to escape the boredom that has become her life she seduces Johnny’s best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). At first, Mark wants nothing to do with Lisa, but soon the two are lovers, and know full well that if Johnny ever learns the truth about them, it will break his heart.

Set in San Francisco (I figured that out around the 100th time the movie cut away to a random shot of the Golden Gate Bridge), The Room is awful on so many levels. For one, its characters often say the most bizarre things; early on, when Lisa is modeling a sexy new dress that Johnny bought her, Denny walks in and tells Lisa she looks great. Johnny and Lisa then excuse themselves and head upstairs to make love. For some reason, Denny thinks it’s a good idea to follow them! Johnny tells Denny, ever so politely, that they want to be alone, to which Deny replies that he “likes to watch them”.


Well, Denny does eventually leave, and it’s a good thing, too, because if he stuck around to watch Johnny and Lisa do the nasty, it would have likely put him to sleep; there are no fewer than four sex scenes scattered throughout The Room, each as boring as the last. And despite his claims that he is a classically trained actor, Tommy Wiseau is dreadful in the lead role (with his thick Polish accent, I admit I had some difficulty understanding him at times). The rest of the cast isn’t much better, but Wiseau’s wooden portrayal of the saintly Johnny will literally leave you speechless.

When it comes to the film’s dialogue, “speechless” would have been a definite improvement. Lisa is forever telling her mother, as well as her friend Michelle (Robyn Paris), that she doesn’t love Johnny, and is cheating on him with Mark. But when they question her further, an annoyed Lisa says she “doesn’t want to talk about it” (even though she’s the one who brings the subject up. Every… single… time!). Not to be outdone, Johnny and Mark take a seat in a small café, and while enjoying some hot chocolate they discuss a new account at Johnny’s bank, which will bring in a lot of money. Then, out of the blue, Johnny asks Mark, “How is your sex life?

There are whole sequences that are equally as bewildering, like when Denny is threatened by drug dealer Chris-R (Dan Janjigian), who puts a gun to the poor boy’s head, demanding payment. Johnny and Mark intercede, dragging Chris-R off to jail while Lisa and her mother console Denny and ask him what drugs he’s using. It’s a very dramatic scene, but this plot line goes no further than that (neither Chris-R nor Denny’s drug habit are ever mentioned again). Characters that appear early in the movie are eventually replaced with someone else (at the outset, Michelle is dating Mike, played by Mike Holmes, but when they throw Johnny a surprise party, presumably a day or two later, she’s with a different guy). Also, who taught Johnny, Mark and Denny how to play football? All they do is toss the ball back and forth, often standing only a few feet away from one another as they do so.

But here’s the thing: I loved The Room! Loved it! It’s been years since I laughed this hard. The Room isn’t just “So Bad It’s Good”; it’s the granddaddy of hilariously awful movies, and has joined the ranks of Plan 9 from Outer Space and No Retreat, No Surrender as one of the all-time Best “Worst” films ever made.

And I can’t wait to watch it again!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

#2,410. Roar (1981)

Directed By: Noel Marshall

Starring: Tippi Hedren, Noel Marshall, Melanie Griffith

Tag line: "The most dangerous movie ever made"

Trivia:  Cinematographer Jan de Bont was mauled and scalped by a lion on the set

Every now and then I come across a movie unlike any I’ve seen before, a motion picture so insane that I just sit there, staring in disbelief at the screen, trying to make sense of it all.

Roar, a 1981 action / thriller, is one such film.

Written and directed by Noel Marshall and starring Marshall’s then-wife Tippi Hedren, Roar tells the story of a man named Hank (played by Marshall himself) who has devoted his life to studying and protecting lions, tigers, panthers, leopards, cheetahs and jaguars. He is so dedicated to preserving these ferocious, majestic beasts that he’s left his family behind (in Chicago) and moved to Africa, where he shares a house with over 100 large cats (oh, and there are a couple of elephants hanging around as well).

With the help of his friend Mativo (Kyalo Mativo), Hank spends an entire day getting the place ready for his family’s upcoming visit; wife Madeleine (Hedren), sons Jerry and John (played by Marshall’s real-life sons), and daughter Melanie (Hedren’s daughter Melanie Griffith, who was a teenager when this film was made) are flying in from the U.S. of A to spend a few weeks in Africa. Once all the preparations have been made, Hank hops into Mativo’s boat and the two set out for the airport. What Hank doesn’t know, however, is that his family’s plane arrived earlier that day, and they’re already on a bus headed to his abode!

What happens when four unsuspecting people find themselves trapped in a house with 100 savage cats? Let’s just say I saw it, and I still don’t believe it!

Ten years in the making, Roar is as crazy a movie as I’ve ever experienced. Shot at their estate in California (which doubled for Africa), Marshall and Hedren collected 35 large cats, most of which were untrained, for the making of this film. Which means its stars, not to mention the entire behind-the-scenes crew, were taking a great risk making this movie, and, not surprisingly, a good number were injured during its production (by some tallies, as many as 70). All of the actors (Marshall, Hedren, and kids) were wounded, a few severely (Melanie Griffith was bitten on the face, an attack that required 50 stitches, extensive plastic surgery, and almost cost her an eye), and director of photography Jan de Bont had his scalp ripped off by a lion (it took 200+ stitches to reattach it).

Most of these attacks didn’t make it into the film. But some did, including star/director Noel Marshall’s hand injury (he was hurt trying to break up a fight between several lions). Another close call occurs during the scene in which a delegation arrives (in motorboats) to discuss with Hank the dangers his “friends” pose to the area. Quite unexpectedly, a tiger jumps into the water, climbs into one of the delegation’s boats, and sinks it, causing its panic-stricken inhabitants to swim for land (where they’re met, and mauled, by several lions and tigers).

Despite the obvious peril, there were moments in Roar that made me laugh, most involving Kyalo Mativo, who clearly was not comfortable acting alongside such dangerous co-stars (some of his reactions were obviously scripted, but he also broke character a few times because he was truly afraid). Also funny are the scenes where Hedren and her brood are trying to get away from the humongous cats that are swarming around them (all three kids are trapped at one point when the cabinets or refrigerators they’re hiding in get knocked over by the lions).

If all of this sounds too incredible to be true, I should warn you that the above only scratches the surface; there’s a lot more lunacy packed into this movie’s 100 minutes than I could possibly list here. So if you enjoy far-out films that are unique in every way, Roar should be the very next one you watch.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#2,409. Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip (1982)

Directed By: Joe Layton

Starring: Richard Pryor

Trivia: Celebrities and celebrated admirers who attended the concerts used to film this movie included Jim Brown, Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jackson Browne, Stevie Wonder, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson

Richard Pryor made some damn funny movies in the ‘70s and ‘80s, most of which I eventually caught on cable TV, including Car Wash, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, Which Way Is Up?, Bustin Loose, and Some Kind of Hero. He even appeared in the first R-rated movie I ever saw in a theater: Stir Crazy, one of three he made with co-star Gene Wilder (the others being 1976’s Silver Streak and ‘89s See No Evil, Hear No Evil). I always knew Pryor got his start as a stand-up comedian, but for some reason I never bothered to watch his concert films. In fact, tonight’s viewing of Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip marks the first one I’ve ever seen.

So now I know I was missing out on something pretty special.

Directed by Joe Layton (with legendary cinematographer Haskell Wexler handling the camerawork), Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip was shot at the Hollywood Palladium, and features footage from two consecutive 1981 shows. After kicking things off with a little sex talk and jokes about marriage (he had recently wed wife #4, Jennifer Lee Pryor), Pryor delves into such hot-button topics as racism and crime (including the 6 weeks he spent filming Stir Crazy at the Arizona State Penitentiary). In addition, there’s a great bit about his early days working in a mafia-owned club; anecdotes from his recent trip to Africa; a re-emergence of his character Mudbone (done at the audience’s behest), and, finally, some frank, very funny talk about his drug addiction and the 1980 fire that burned a large portion of his body (the result of a freebasing accident).

I toyed with the idea of throwing a few of his jokes into this write-up, but as I learned while watching Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip, nobody can deliver them like Pryor could. He was a funny, funny man, and his death in 2005 hit me kinda hard. At the time, I thought we lost a fine comedic actor. But clearly, he was also one of the best stand-up comedians ever to grace the stage.

Monday, August 14, 2017

#2,408. The Apple (1980)

Directed By: Menahem Golan

Starring: Catherine Mary Stewart, George Gilmour, Grace Kennedy

Tagline: "It's 1994! The future is music and music is their future!"

Trivia: The picture was nominated for Worst Picture at the Hastings Bad Cinema Society's 3rd Stinkers Bad Movie Awards in 1980

For years I’ve been hearing how The Apple, a 1980 disco musical / fantasy directed by Menahem Golan, is one of the worst movies ever made. After finally seeing it for myself, though, I can honestly say I was expecting worse. Yes, The Apple is a bad film, but it also has an energy that is impossible to ignore.

Set in the distant future of 1994, The Apple tells the story of two young lovers, Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), who dream of making it big in the music business. Unfortunately, Alphie can only write love songs, and what the public wants is the wild dance music being churned out by BIM studios. BIM, which stands for Boogalow International Music, is the brainchild of Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal), a powerful record producer whose most popular act, Dandi (Allan Love) and Pandi (Grace Kennedy), recently won the Worldvision Music Contest.

Still, there’s something about Alphie and Bibi that impresses Mr. Boogalow, and he offers both of them long-term contracts. Alphie, who dislikes what Boogalow and his entire organization stand for, refuses to sign. Alas, he is unable to convince Bibi to follow his lead, and a few short months after signing with BIM, she has become an even bigger star than Dandi and Pandi.

As for Alphie, he’s stuck writing sappy ballads that nobody wants to hear, and is so poor that he can’t afford to pay his landlady (Miriam Margoyles) the back rent he owes her. Yet, through it all, Alphie still has feelings for Bibi, and he tries to get Boogalow to release her from her contract. What Boogalow doesn’t know, though, is that Bibi’s love for Alphie is equally strong. But is she willing to risk everything just to be with him, or is her career now the most important thing in Bibi’s life?

With its very ‘80s vision of the “futuristic” ‘90s (complete with oddly-shaped station wagons and shiny, metallic clothing), The Apple features a rags-to-riches love story that, at best, is under-developed (one minute, Bibi is on top of the world, performing in front of thousands of adoring fans and having the time of her life. The next, she’s pining for Alphie and threatening to quit the BIM organization altogether. Why the sudden change of heart? Who knows? It’s never really explored). Even more bizarre is the film’s religious subtext; in numerous scenes, Mr. Boogalow is depicted as the Devil, and the title number “The Apple” (which is set in Hell) is a musical take on the story of Adam and Eve (with Bibi being tempted by Boogalow to “bite the apple”). As for the performances, both Gilmour and Stewart are convincing as the naïve Alphie and Bibi, while Vladek Sheybal’s Boogalow is a villain with charisma to spare.

Yet what really sets The Apple apart is its elaborate musical sequences, which are energetic (“Showbizness”), frightening (as we see during “The Apple”, the inhabitants of Hell are kinda freaky), confusing (the playful “How to be a Master” popped up at the wrong time, undercutting one of the movie’s more dramatic scenes), and downright obscene (“Coming”, performed by Grace Kennedy, is chock full of sexual innuendo and imagery). With the exception of “Universal Melody” (which Alphie and Bibi perform together on-stage), the musical numbers in The Apple are so amazingly over-the-top that they’re sure to make you smile from ear to ear.

Despite Menahem Golan’s somewhat tarnished reputation (his status as the Schlockmeister General of the ‘80s was reinforced in the excellent documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films), he was far from a talentless hack. Along with inspiring the Ninja (Enter the Ninja) and breakdancing (Breakin’) crazes of the 1980s, he directed The Delta Force, a highly charged action film that’s also one of Chuck Norris’s finest pictures. More than anything, though, Menahem Golan, like Ed Wood before him, clearly adored the cinema, and even if he wasn’t the most skilled filmmaker, his love for movies had an infectious quality that often made its way into his work.

So, ridicule The Apple if you must (I did so myself while watching it), but don’t listen to those who tell you it’s the worst pictures ever.

It is definitely bad. But “worst ever”? Not by a long shot!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

#2,407. 24 x 36: A Movie About Movie Posters (2016)

Directed By: Kevin Burke

Starring: Paul Ainsworth, Dave Alexander, Andrea Alvin

Line from the film: "The first connection you would have with a movie is seeing the poster"

Trivia: Among those interviewed in the movie is director Joe Dante

You’ve seen them hanging in the lobbies of your favorite movie palaces, and if you’re a film buff, odds are you own a few yourself. Movie posters have become much more than simple advertisements; nowadays, many are considered works of art. And as we see in director Kevin Burke’s 2016 documentary 24 x 36: A Movie about Movie Posters, they’re also a multi-million dollar industry.

Beginning with the history of the modern movie poster (including its roots in lithography), 24 x 36 then takes us from the early days of the Universal horror films (some, such as Dracula and Bride of Frankenstein, boasted dozens of different poster variations) through to the ‘80s, when those artists who conceived the cinema’s most iconic posters did so anonymously. In fact, it wasn’t until watching this documentary that I realized the same guy (John Alvin) designed the posters for both Blazing Saddles and E.T. 

The inventive style of the ‘80s gave way to a more basic approach in the ‘90s and early 2000’s, when a studio’s marketing division determined the look and feel of a movie’s poster. But with the so-called “mondo” movement in full swing, an array of independent artists, all film buffs themselves, are designing posters more stylish than anything coming out of Hollywood (Some are so impressive that collectors are willing to pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars just to own one).

In essence, 24 x 36 is two documentaries in one. The first half is dedicated to the past, focusing on such artists as Bob Peak (Apocalypse Now, Star Trek The Motion Picture) and Richard Amsel (The Sting, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark), most of whom didn’t get the credit they deserved (Roger Kastel, who designed the poster for 1975’s Jaws, sent his original sketches to Universal, and never saw them again). This opening section of 24 x 36 was incredibly informative, and I enjoyed learning more about some of my favorite posters.

Equally as engrossing is the film’s second half, which explores the modern phenomenon of indie posters, from “alternative” renderings of the classics (I was especially fond of Gary Pullin’s design for Street Trash) to straight-up collectibles, created by film fans for film fans. This indie movement has become so popular that even Hollywood has taken notice; in what is one of the documentary's best scenes, we sit in on a “focus group” in which participants are asked to choose between two posters: a generic studio rendering (showing mostly the actors’ faces), and a more artistic take on the same movie (the “artsy” one definitely had a few ardent supporters).

More than an eye-opening documentary, 24 x 36 has also inspired me to start collecting again (I’ve purchased some 200 posters over the years, but none since 2007). And if you love movies, it will undoubtedly have the same effect on you.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

#2,406. The Human Tornado (1976)

Directed By: Cliff Roquemore

Starring: Rudy Ray Moore, Lady Reed, Jimmy Lynch

Tag line: "Watch Out Mister...Here Comes the Twister!"

Trivia: This movie is also known as Dolemite II

A sequel to 1975’s Dolemite, The Human Tornado is not only a better-made film than its predecessor (the boom mic doesn’t even make a cameo appearance this time around), but it’s also funnier, giving star (and popular funnyman) Rudy Ray Moore a chance to finally flex his comedic muscles.

After donating his Alabama mansion to a charity for underprivileged children, Dolemite (Moore) hops into bed with a woman who happens to be the wife of redneck sheriff Beatty (J.B. Baron). When the sheriff catches them in the act, he tells his deputy to kill both Dolemite and the girl. Luckily, Dolemite manages to escape.

Following a confrontation with the sheriff’s men (which ends with a bang… literally), Dolemite decides it’s high time he left town. Joined by his good friends Dough (Ed Montgomery), Jimmy (James R. Page), and Bo (Ernie Hudson, in one of his earlier roles) Dolemite hijacks a car and heads to Los Angeles, where his associate Queen Bee (Lady Reed) runs the hottest nightclub in town.

As Dolemite and his pals will soon discover, though, things aren’t going well in L.A.; a mob boss named Cavaletti (Herb Graham), who owns a rival nightclub, has kidnapped two of Queen Bee’s best dancers, T.C. (Peaches Jones) and Java (played by female impersonator / transsexual Lady Java), promising that, if Queen Bee doesn’t shut her club down, he’ll kill them both. Dolemite makes it his mission to locate the girls before it’s too late, but what he doesn’t know is that sheriff Beatty followed him to Los Angeles, and has enlisted the help of the LAPD’s best man, Detective Blakely (Jerry Jones, who also co-wrote the screenplay), to track Dolemite down.

Whereas Dolemite sometimes made us chuckle for all the wrong reasons, The Human Tornado gets its laughs more honestly, and features plenty of WTF moments that are sure to crack you up. In an effort to find out where T.C. and Java are being held, Dolemite seduces Cavaletti’s nymphomaniac wife (Barbara Gerl), who, after fantasizing that she’s being ravished by a series of well-built black men, has such rigorous sex with Dolemite that it shakes her entire house off its foundation! Even more bizarre is Cavaletti’s “house of pain”, where an elderly witch sadistically tortures his two captives. And if that’s not weird enough for you, Cavaletti hires the reigning nunchaku champion to entertain his guests during a fancy dinner party! Funniest of all, though, are the sequences in which Dolemite uses karate to take on Cavaletti’s men (these scenes are sped up, giving them a cartoon-like feel, and at one point Dolemite even leaps about 20 feet into the air).

In addition to all the nonsense, The Human Tornado features Rudy Ray Moore doing what he did best; telling jokes (the film opens with Dolemite performing a stand-up routine in front of a live audience) and rattling off profanity-laced rhymes (“He think he's bad and ain't got no class! I'm goin' to rock this shotgun up his muthafuckin' ass!”). A stud with the women and a bad-ass fighting machine, Moore’s Dolemite was a force to be reckoned with in the original movie, and as he proves again in The Human Tornado, the character (and the actor portraying him) is still in a class by himself.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

#2,405. The Violent Years (1956)

Directed By: William Morgan

Starring: Jean Moorhead, Barbara Weeks, Art Millan

Line from the film: "Teenage killers...fearing no law...taking their thrills without shame!"

Trivia: Dialogue from the film is sampled by the industrial band Ministry in the song "So What?"

A 1956 morality lesson about the dangers of juvenile delinquency, The Violent Years is a dreadful motion picture; absolutely terrible from start to finish.

Who was responsible for this cinematic dung heap, you ask?

Edward D. Wood, Jr… that’s who!

No, he didn’t direct The Violent Years (William Morgan handled those duties). But Wood wrote the script, and his penchant for obvious characters and over-the-top, preachy dialogue is as prevalent (and as hilarious) here as it is in Bride of the Monster or Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Teenager Paula Parkins (Jean Moorhead) comes from a good home. Her father Carl (Art Millan) is the editor-in-chief of the local newspaper and her mother Jane (Barbara Weeks) belongs to the women’s auxiliary, and does lots of charity work. What her parents don’t realize, though, is that Paula is the leader of a girl gang, one that’s responsible for a string of recent robberies. But stealing is only the tip of the iceberg; Paula and her cohorts: Georgia (Theresa Hancock); Geraldine (Joanne Cangi); and Phyllis (Gloria Farr), do it all, from vandalizing their high school to harassing couples parked on lover’s lane.

Even the gang’s “sponsor”, Shelia (Lee Constant), tells Paula that, if she wants to stay out of jail, she better lay low for a while. Ignoring this advice, Paula and the others continue their reign of terror, not realizing that the police are, indeed, closing in on them…

As with many low-budget films, the acting in The Violent Years is pretty weak, and even at just over an hour the movie drags in spots (though I admit I was surprised by the scene where Paula and her gang rape a guy at gunpoint).

Yet what will really have you howling is the film's often ridiculous dialogue. We know from his previous movies that Ed Wood never met a run-on sentence he didn’t like, and The Violent Years has more than its share of them (Paula tells her mother that she has something “important” to discuss with her, and asks for a moment of her time. But dear old mom is far too busy, blowing Paula off by asking “What can be so important in your young life as to warrant my attention so drastically?”). Yet nothing is as hilarious as the movie’s final moments, when a holier-than-thou judge (played by I. Stanford Jolley) pontificates about the cause of juvenile delinquency, and how it can be avoided (I rolled my eyes at least a half-dozen times during his extended speech).

The Violent Years isn’t just bad; it’s Ed Wood bad, and like many of the infamous filmmaker’s other movies (Glen or Glenda, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster), that actually makes it... kinda good.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?