Feb 21 2017

XX (2017)

Research suggests that more women enjoy horror movies than men, and while I have yet to encounter supporting evidence in my life, the construct of XX is well overdue: an anthology film directed by the fairer sex.

Utilizing wordless, doll-centric sequences of stop-motion animation in lieu of a wraparound, XX begins the picture proper with Jovanka Vuckovic’s “The Box,” which is not to be confused with the 2009 Richard Kelly film. Working from a short story by the uncompromising Jack Ketchum, Vuckovic (author of Zombies!: An Illustrated History of the Undead) charts the increasing unease of a suburban wife and mother (Natalie Brown, TV’s The Strain) whose comfortable and idyllic existence is upended when her son, after glimpsing inside a stranger’s parcel on the train, loses his appetite … for good. Brown gives a strong performance built upon quiet helplessness as this mysterious, undiagnosed ailment then affects her daughter and husband in short order.

Better known as Grammy-winning art rocker St. Vincent, Annie Clark makes her directorial debut — and impressively so — with “The Birthday Party.” Shifting to a polar-opposite tone, Clark’s soiree follows Mary (Heavenly Creatures’ Melanie Lynskey, great as always) as she prepares for her little girl’s big celebration, mostly by attempting to hide the newly discovered, freshly deceased body of her husband. The tale essentially stands as a one-joke number, but since the joke is rooted in gallows humor, I dare not fault it. Also worth cheering: the ever-versatile Lindsay Burdge (The Invitation) as Mary’s stuck-up neighbor.

Next comes the intense exhortation of “Don’t Fall,” from XX ringleader and portmanteau vet Roxanne Benjamin, a contributor to Southbound (as well as producer of that project and the three V/H/S pix). In fact, this segment of two camping couples and one ferocious threat feels as if it could have made its home in Southbound. The most classically scare-rigged of the bunch, “Don’t Fall” is also the odd (wo)man out, in the sense — and this is not a negative — that it is unconcerned with exploring the inherent challenges of being a mother.

Nowhere is that concept clearer than Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son,” about a tired, middle-aged single mom (a wonderful Christina Kirk, Along Came Polly) forever struggling to make ends meet and do what’s right for her unappreciative teen son, Andy (Kyle Allen, TV’s The Path), even if that entails moving from town to town to keep his father from finding them.

The crux of XX can be found in “Son,” in an unassuming bit that finds Andy curiously licking a fleck of bloody yolk from an egg he’s cracked open: All at once, viewers get an acknowledgement of womanhood, a comment upon it and, this being horror, an icky act designed to elicit cringes.

I’d argue — okay, perhaps “argue” is too strong a word — that not one of the four talented ladies in charge here yet qualifies as a known-quantity director within the genre, although between the mis-sold Jennifer’s Body and the rather sly (and aforementioned) The Invitation, Kusama comes closest. But it’s not exactly as if they’ve been handed the opportunities, so XX marks a vital step toward sharing the wealth of material, and this batch is so varied from segment to segment, no story feels repetitive. Beyond spearheading the film, kudos are due to Benjamin (will someone please give her an entire feature?) for sticking to V/H/S’s indie-minded template of not explaining every detail; the beauty is that things are more memorable and unsettling and rewarding when their pieces remain a mystery — you know, just like women themselves. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Feb 20 2017

The Great Wall (2017)

Last October, Houston Rockets point guard Bobby Brown came under fire for signing his name and jersey number on the Great Wall of China. In the department of shame, however, Brown’s thoughtless and egotistical act of vandalism pales next to the wrongheaded disaster that is The Great Wall, an epic fantasy from House of Flying Daggers auteur Zhang Yimou.

Bearing for-the-ages bad hair, Matt Damon (Jason Bourne) and Pedro Pascal (TV’s Narcos) portray William and Tovar, a couple of non-Chinese mercenaries in China, looking to finagle some newfangled “black powder.” Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the pair is imprisoned by the intimidating-sounding The Order and assumed to be not long for this world … until William’s ace archery skills strike The Order as a damn good defense against the Tao Tei.

Ah, yes, the Tao Tei: those giant, reptilian creatures that try to bust through the Great Wall (hence, the title) once every six decades. Victorious or not, at least the monsters exhibit impeccable attendance. Damon’s vaguely Irish bow-and-arrow beefcake joins an acrobatic female commander (the ever-flipping Jing Tian, Police Story: Lockdown) and other bugaboo crushers on the kind of multicultural crew that fronts so many of today’s global-minded blockbusters, from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the Magnificent Seven remake to each successive sequel in The Fast and the Furious franchise.

In all but the computer-generated threat, The Great Wall looks, well, great. But as in real life, looks aren’t everything, and indeed, this cruel mistress bores. In their color-coded armor, our heroes resemble comic-book warriors who have burst from page to screen, but Yimou has stuck them into a rote screenplay that reminded me of Reign of Fire — not a positive comparison, considering that 2002 dragon-festooned film is one of the few times I’ve exited the theater mid-movie.

Closer to Yimou’s home turf, it also brought to mind the high-flying fantasies of Tsui Hark, who rose to world-cinema fame on the strength of mystical martial-arts adventures like 1983’s Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain … and then missed as often as he hit. Although Yimou’s filmography is roughly half the size of Hark’s, a more definitive through line exists in Yimou’s work; whether Raise the Red Lantern, Curse of the Golden Flower or Jet Li’s Hero, he tends to stick within his comfort zone of costumed epics, more or less grounded in realism. The Great Wall retains the man’s hallmarks — an air of elegance, fluidity of movement, a love of the historical, elaborate robing as vital as weaponry — yet in poking a hole through the arthouse to get a glimpse of the more commercial fare playing next door, his hold on mastery falls to the floor. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Feb 19 2017

Guest List: Essel Pratt’s Top 5 Inspirations for Sharkantula

In Essel Pratt’s new novel, Sharkantula, a genetically modified tarantula finds its way into the Great White exhibit at Shark World. Frightened, the arachnid digs its fangs deep into the shark, fast-tracking an evolutionary hybrid into existence that becomes hell-bent on taking over the park, and possibly the world. Sound like a Syfy movie? That’s not accidental! In his Guest List for Flick Attack, Pratt breaks down the movies — and one TV series — that informed his monster mash-up on the page.

Sharkantula was originally the product of a lighthearted brainstorming discussion between multiple indie authors, each jokingly contributing ridiculous ideas. At one point, while discussing the plethora of cheesy science-fiction movies on television, I chose to “claim” Sharkantula as my own. The joke became more serious as I thought the concept over, wondering if a novel written in the styling of those popular movies would be possible.

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Feb 15 2017

Colour Correct My Cock 2 Can Fuck Off! (2017)

WTFThose “kings of Canadian grind house trash” are at it again in Colour Correct My Cock 2 Can Fuck Off!, Vagrant Video’s follow-up to the 2013 party-ready, potty-mouthed trailer compilation. Following a markedly improved intro that find our hosts luxuriating in the heart-shaped bubble bath of a tacky motor inn with hourly room rates, James Bialkowski and Jacob Windatt expunge their latest load of 35mm-film finds, many of which already have succumbed to the dreaded vinegar syndrome, and are all the better for it. Because I don’t want to see a drive-in ad for Schneider’s red hots in high-def (even if it is scored by the resplendent “Love Is Blue“) — among, um, other things that, er, “pop up” here and there.

Like that idiotic quote from Forrest Gump about the unpredictability of the goddamn candy oozing with all sorts of factory-injected filling, you never know what CCMC2CFO! will hurl your way. It does so at whiplash speed, often not even warning you to “Think fast!” a split-second before your retinas are exposed to … to … well, a clip from an Asian film that forever has altered my stance on peacock feathers and baby powder, and footage of hobos chowing down on bread topped with caviar. And by “caviar,” I mean sizable glops of black shoe polish.

But mostly, as with the original Colour Correct collection, movie trailers are the menu item du jour. Whether consciously or not, sequels are well-represented, with Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (under its Canuck title of Breakdance), Porky’s II: The Next Day and The Return of Swamp Thing. Pairings figure even more prominent, as you get double dips of:
• Fred Savage (The Wizard and Vice Versa),
• killer thrillers (Relentless and Overexposed),
• illicit relations (The Sister-in-Law and The Step Daughter),
• animal stars (Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood and Namu, the Killer Whale),
• star-spangled heroes (Evel Knievel and 1990’s Captain America),
• endowed-and-empowered vixens (The Working Girls and Ginger),
• the massive breasts of a career-nadir Angelique Pettyjohn (left and right)
• and spots for sugar water (Sprite and Pepsi).

Meanwhile, Charles Bronson fronts three trailers — St. Ives, 10 to Midnight and Telefon — because he’s Charles Motherfuckin’ Bronson.

All of the above merely scratch the irritated, possibly infected surface of this feature-length showcase of sleaze. Oddball moments abound, rarely in context, from the handwritten credits for something titled (and gloriously so) Franchesca’s Sexual Whirlpool to the German trailer for Lucio Fulci’s “Der” New York Ripper, whose quacking strikes the ears as even more WTFy surrounded by the world’s ugliest spoken tongue. Don’t miss the theater ad shilling supposedly “sizzling” hamburgers, which, I kid you not, look uncomfortably similar to the shoe-polish sammich. —Rod Lott

Feb 14 2017

Creepy (2016)

Horror comes to Shochiku for the venerable Japanese studio’s 120th anniversary with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s aptly named Creepy, a mystery-thriller purposely too close for comfort.

While we’re on the topic of anniversaries, one year has passed since the police detective Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima, Kazuo Umezu’s Horror Theater) nearly was killed by a crazed suspect during an unsuccessful hostage negotiation. Now a university professor of criminal psychology, Takakura and his homemaker wife, Yasuko (Yûko Takeuchi, Ringu), make a fresh start by moving homes. The neighborhood doesn’t exactly roll out the welcome wagon. In fact, the guy next door, Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa of Takashi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django), possesses such abhorrent social skills that it is he from which the film draws its name.

As Nishino unnerves the couple with his sheer awkwardness, unusually acting daughter (Ryôko Fujino, Solomon’s Perjury) and seemingly nonexistent wife, Takakura learns of an unsolved crime in a nearby town, in which three family members disappeared, leaving behind one very perplexed middle schooler (Haruna Kawaguchi, Screaming Class). Suspicious “as hell” and unable to leave the itch of his old profession unscratched, Takakura secretly teams with a former colleague (Masahiro Higashide, Parasyte: Part 1) to investigate the cold case.

Perhaps best known for 2001’s Pulse (which spawned 2006’s deficient Hollywood remake), Kurosawa is almost diabolical in his setup, taking delight in taking his time in winding us up the way a rubber band loops around a pencil. Once he lets go, after the first of two hours passes, the twists come fast and loose. Unfortunately, his handle on the material (which he co-adapted from the Yutaka Maekawa novel) escapes him, and incredulity shoves craft aside.

Ultimately, the Creepy vibe decomposes to the level of being merely languid, all because the final act has been built atop a wobbly, half-Shyamalan shock that simply does not work because it is completely out of character, at least from the information the viewer has been given. I’m surprised that a filmmaker with Kurosawa’s experience and reputation even would entertain the notion of trying to squeak it past his sophisticated audience. Then again, our lead character of Takakura isn’t much better, failing to see the forest for the trees, even when they’re labeled, respectively, “FOREST” and “TREES.” —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.