Aug 5 2017

Killing Cars (1986)

Jürgen Prochnow (Hitman: Agent 47) is innovative automobile engineer Ralph Korda in Killing Cars, a West German action film from writer/director Michael “Not Paul” Verhoeven (The Nasty Girl), and everything about it is positively Prochnowian. Just don’t ask me what that means. Also don’t ask me why some home-vid copies are called Blitz, a title someone really likes, because the opening credits flash that card enough times to induce seizures. If only Verhoeven had exercised similar aggression in relaying his plot.

Korda has designed an “electrochemical” car that does not run on gasoline. Thus, this environmentally friendly vehicle has the potential to revolutionize transportation, and he dubs it “the World Car” — snappy name, that. Knowing the World Car would cause demand for oil to plummet, the Arabs see to it that it never will hit the streets. So Korda steals his precious prototype, only to have it stolen from him by the most girlie-looking skate-punk gang on cinematic record — they play backgammon, for Pete’s sake!

Strangely, the car-thieving gang hates cars, so they spend most of the movie destroying them. After blowing one up with a Molotov cocktail, one of the members exclaims, “Fantastic! Right out of Star Wars!” (Did the German cut of Star Wars include added footage of flaming automobiles? Or did Lucas retropaste that in, too?)

I tolerated the film for a while, reaching an apex when Korda brings home a woman who looks fabulous naked (one-timer Marina Larsen) … and then plummeting to nadir-level when he near-immediately orders her to pack up and leave. So tonally confused is Verhoeven’s film, it plays in part like a screwball comedy without any jokes. Yet if laughs are what you seek, Q-tip your ear canals to maximum circumference in order to take in the flick’s not-a-hit-single theme song of synth-pop excess: “Trying to make a dream come true / Clean machines for me and you / He’ll build a World Car now!”

Killing Cars also stars American TV Fatman William Conrad, The Ambushers vixen Senta Berger and lots of people with umlauts in their names. With a script aimed at Al Gore’s heart, it tries its hardest to be stylish in that whole Eurotrash vibe of “look, ve can do diz Miami Vice thing, too, no?” but mostly, Blitz is the pitz. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Aug 2 2017

Meteor (1979)

Remember the late-’90s resurgence of that quintessentially ’70s genre known as the disaster film? Although short-lived, audience enthusiasm for it was so strong that in the summer of 1998, two space-rock epics — Deep Impact and Armageddon — competed for cash and both became major hits. But in 1979, Meteor had the space-rock scenario all to itself, yet flopped massively. Not only did its failure signal the death knell of the disaster craze, but also of indie distributor AIP, in way over its otherwise budget-mindful head by deviating from the low-risk/high-rewards model it had perfected for decades. It’s not like AIP hadn’t promoted it; for months, you’d couldn’t glimpse the back cover of a Marvel comic book without being exposed to an ad.

Helmed by The Poseidon Adventure’s Ronald Neame, Meteor opens with a look at Orpheus, an asteroid some 20 miles in diameter. But that’s not the object that gets scientists in a collective tizzy. Now, when a passing comet smashes Orpheus into several pieces, sending a 5-mile chunk hurtling toward Earth, that they worry about — and not without merit, because its touchdown would trigger another ice age. With only a six-day head start on its ETA, what’s a National Aeronautics and Space Administration to do?

They call in Paul Bradley (Sean Connery, Never Say Never Again), engineer of the U.S. Hercules missile defense system floating in space. Because each of its nuclear rockets packs a one-megaton punch, NASA enlists Paul’s help in realigning Herc to point toward rocks, not Russia. NASA needs Russia to do the same with their missiles, so those Commies come onsite, too — well, two of them: Dr. Dubov (Brian Keith, Death Before Dishonor) and his interpreter, Tatania (Natalie Wood, The Great Race), the latter pulling double duty as Paul’s instant romantic interest. In the face of global cataclysm, America’s real enemy is one of our own: a disbelieving Air Force general (Martin Landau, Ed Wood) who functions as a monkey wrench to the multinational plans; he is to this movie what real-life Sen. Jim Inhofe is to climate change: a buffoon.

Some 40 minutes in, penetration occurs! Not of Tatania by Paul, but our planet’s atmosphere by Orpheus fragments. Disregarding the aged effects, these sequences mark Meteor’s high points, and Neame ensures they avoid repetition by having them play out differently from one another. It’s as if he helmed several types of destructo-flicks within one end-all-be-all package. For example:
• Europe gets an avalanche, complete with sexy skier Sybil Danning (The Concorde … Airport ’79) and footage recycled from the previous year’s Avalanche;
• Asia takes a tidal wave;
• and America has to settle for an earthquake (and the takedown of the World Trade Center, but let’s not go there), leading to a set piece inside a flooding subway car.

Connery is so surly throughout, it’s difficult to know for certain where his performance begins and ends. Did he bark lines “Why don’t ya stick a broom up my ass?” with gusto because the script called for it or because he was disinterested in masking his contempt for the material? At least he exudes more passion than the oddly wooden Wood, who is miscast as a Russian despite being born from Russian parents! While Meteor is not the outright bore its reputation suggests, it’s also not the spectacle we’d expect. Let’s just say Irwin Allen could have Irwin Allen’d the shit out of this material, and call it a draw. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jul 31 2017

Joy of Sex (1984)

Based on Dr. Alex Comfort’s best-selling sex manual (but not really), Joy of Sex is, irony against ironies, a film as largely joyless as it is sexless. Paramount Pictures thought it had a potential National Lampoon’s Animal House on its hands; the Lampoon thought otherwise and took its name off the title — a smart move the brand would not do today.

The story, as it is, can be described in two lines: Mistakenly thinking she’s terminally ill, high school good girl Leslie (the appealing Michelle Meyrink, Real Genius) desperately wants to lose her virginity. Meanwhile, classmate Alan (Cameron Dye, Out of the Dark), being a young man, also desperately wants to lose his. As staged by Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge, the movie is not so much driven by plot as it is a series of one-joke, one-note sketches of scenes held together with wads of bubble gum from underneath desks.

What any other teen comedy would develop into a subplot, Joy of Sex tees up and lets sit there to die. Chief among them is the lovely Colleen Camp (Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment), a police narc working undercover as a transfer student. Not only do we not see her bust (pun not intended, yet now I cannot resist) a kid, but her character disappears. Another: Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd plays the school coach who also is Leslie’s overprotective father; he makes it known the harm he will inflict on anyone who messes with his little girl. This, too, is never paid off.

Yet perhaps the best example of the script’s deficiencies — and a statement on the movie’s overall freshness date — concerns foreign exchange student Farouk (Danton Stone, Crazy People), who is told by Alan’s all-American buddies that the proper way to show appreciation to his host family is to compliment the evening meal by saying, “Thank you for the shit.” Cut to a dinner scene, where the utterly predictable (and wholly unfunny) punch line is kept from being delivered for such a needlessly extended time, you wonder why Coolidge even bothered. In essence, Farouk’s line functions as a microcosm of Joy of Sex as a whole: something that was finally let loose and put out of its misery. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jul 29 2017

Vigilante Force (1976)

Baby-faced and butt-cut, White Line Fever’s Jan-Michael Vincent again plays a Working-Class Hero, this one named Ben, in the utterly oddball and oddly rewarding Vigilante Force, from George Armitage (Miami Blues). A farm machinist and single dad, Ben notices something just ain’t right in his small town of Elk Hills, California: namely, that influx of redneck oil workers. They’ve turned the place into a comically lawless swath of blue-collar chaos.

Low on officers because they keep getting killed in broad-daylight shootouts, the police chief (Judson Pratt, Futureworld) suggests Ben recruit some tough guys, starting with that no-good brother of his, Aaron (Kris Kristofferson, Convoy). A Vietnam vet who apparently never met a shirt he liked to wear for more than a few minutes, Aaron agrees and brings along some buds, all of whom are sworn in as lawmen. Initially, Aaron looks like the ideal hire, because he produces near-instant results in cleaning up the riffraff.

Too bad the power goes straight to Aaron’s bearded head. Acquiring a tone-deaf bar floozy (Bernadette Peters, The Jerk) as property, he has the bright idea to start charging local businesses for “protection,” and to shoot shit (and shit-kickers) up as he damn well feels like it, cockfight included! Suddenly, it’s sibling against sibling, Cain vs. Abel, concluding in an all-out war during a bicentennial parade. It looks and feels like a showdown from an alternate reality: On one side, a topless Ben in overalls; on the other, Aaron, wielding a bazooka while dressed like The Music Man. Many, many explosions follow, because producer Gene Corman learned well from brother Roger.

And so did writer/director Armitage, who cut his teeth on Private Duty Nurses (part of Corman’s five-film cycle of RN-fronted sex comedies), because he fills the screen with eye candy and other dirt-cheap visual effects. A drop-dead gorgeous Victoria Principal (Earthquake) plays the girlfriend of Ben, whose idea of romance is greeting her with a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon — a gesture that may make viewers cringe, knowing how Vincent torpedoed his career. There’s also a pre-WKRP Loni Anderson, uncredited as a buxom, brunette casino hussy named, naturally, Peaches.

One of the great unheralded pics in hicksploitation history, Vigilante Force comes packed with an uncredited Dick Miller (A Bucket of Blood) as a piano player, a lot of whores, a guy named Shakey, a girl named Boots, several grown men in coonskin caps, a fake Cloris Leachman and the real Andrew Stevens. Plus, David Doyle (aka Bosley from TV’s Charlie’s Angels) gets run over by a car, so there’s that, too! Now how much would you pay? —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Jul 26 2017

After Last Season (2009)

WTFI’m deeply concerned about you, After Last Season. Are you all right? I fear that something is really, really wrong. Please know that I am here for you. What can I do to help?

After Last Season is written, directed, shot and produced by mystery man Mark Region, although those verbs do not accurately describe his actions. His movie is independent, in financing and of logic. Cineasts who salivate over random, static cutaways to improperly framed pieces of furniture are in for a real treat. Everyone else risks an aneurysm. Here are just five reasons why:
• All of the scenes — whether set inside an apartment building, a medical facility, a college classroom and a corporation’s headquarters — appear to have been staged in someone’s house.
• Walls, doors and objects are covered in so much paper, the movie is environmentally unsound.
• Some of those sheets of paper are signs or printouts, suggesting that a healthy line item in the budget was reserved for Kinko’s.
• Several props were constructed from cardboard (and then wrapped in more paper, natch), including an MRI scanner.
• Region claims his budget was $5 million. The only way that figure can be true is if one or more parties, wanting nothing to do with the project, priced themselves way beyond the boundaries of reason, and Region said, “Okay.”

Once Region realizes his story perhaps should at least resemble one, if only tangentially, here is what “happens,” although it takes a half-hour to reach this point: Matt (Jason Kulas, Slaughter Weekend) and Sarah (Peggy McClellan, The Pink Panther 2), meet to conduct a psychology experiment. We know this because Matt makes good on his assurance to Sarah that he will put a sign on the door, and it reads, “PSYCHOLOGY EXPERIMENT.” I mention that detail only because with Matt’s action, viewers are gifted with an actual moment of lucidity. (Unrelated, one of dozens of signs to be glimpsed throughout announces, “PINEAPPLE CLUB.” Rule 1: Do not talk about Pineapple Club.)

In the experiment, Matt and Sarah each affix a computer chip resembling a yellow Chiclet on their right temple. This connects them psychically, or something. As long as Sarah keeps her eyes closed, Matt can see what she’s thinking, or something. He attempts to guide her, like telling her to think of a letter; she answers, “From the alphabet?” Her thoughts give way to lonnnnnnnnnng stretches of rudimentary computer animation depicting slowwwwwwwwwwly floating shapes that, if I didn’t know any better, could come from stock footage tagged “Geometry on Parade.”

Sarah mentions she can see murders before they happen, or something. Before long, we’re shown animated visions of a pinball-faced man with a knife emerge from the wall, as if The Sims: Homicide Edition existed. Then, back in the experiment room, Matt and Sarah hear a Voice from Beyond; a ruler floats; furniture moves on its own; they get sliced by an unseen force; and then a real guy with a real knife enters, but he’s felled by a flying office chair, or something. I suppose I could have had a psychotic break.

It is ironic that a movie so concerned with the scientific topic of brain activity can have none of its own. Bearing a title that doesn’t even make sense, After Last Season operates from a plane of reality different from our own, because I suspect Region may do the same. Characters aren’t established; they simply appear, and most of them serve no purpose, unless Region simply wanted society to absorb his viewpoints on seafood allergies, lecture the audience on magnetic resonance imaging and/or bear witness to the painstaking, real-time conflict of two people trying to agree upon a weekday to meet: Dammit, Tuesday or Wednesday, hmmm?

Like an unmeasured mix of Minority Report, delusional disorder, Poltergeist, a schizophrenia diagnosis, The Invisible Man and Rohypnol dreams, the film may be an anti-film; in fact or in theory, it comes as close to that as my near five-decade existence has encountered. Blessedly Region’s lone effort to date, After Last Season is indescribable psychobabble, a masterstroke of stroke symptoms, the 35mm equivalent of an anus, incompetence cranked to 11 and, finally, Tommy Wiseau’s The Lawnmower Man. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.