Friday, 28 May 2010

Salon Kitty (1976)

Dubious historical accuracy.

Since I reviewed SS Girls, Bruno Mattei's highly entertaining exercise in Nazisploitation, I figured I might as well review the film it shamelessly rips-off, Tinto Brass's 1976 classic Salon Kitty. This film tends to get overshadowed by the infamy of Brass's subsequent epic disaster Caligula, but it's a fairly interesting and influential film in it's own right. Like Caligula it's based on actual historical events, as in there really was a Salon Kitty that was used by the SS to gather intelligence from German muckity-mucks, but the rest of it is sexed-up bullshit.

SS officer Helmut Wallenberg (Helmut Berger) gets the bright idea of using prostitutes to spy on German military officers and political figures, so he rounds up a bunch of sexy, young National Socialists willing to drop their panties for Deutchland. After the girls are stripped naked, a bunch of lucky German soldiers are marched in for an acrobatic if emotionless orgy in front of some giant swastikas. Filmed, for scientific purposes I'm sure. It should be noted that throughout this exercise (and indeed the entire film) the dudes are completely flaccid. How's it going to look when the Führer watches the recording and sees your floppy, very un-patriotic weiners? Poor form, gentlemen. I realise this is endemic in all softcore films, and it's not like I'm super-keen to see a bunch of German bratwursts giving the old Nazi salute, but it's an anatomical inaccuracy that really destroys my suspension of disbelief.

After this initiation, there's a training sequence where the prostitutes are conditioned into the rigours of the sex trade by boning a succession of grotesques, including pervy fat guys and hunchbacked midgets. No German Shepherds though, so score one for Mattei's version. Mattei is always willing to go for that extra mile of tastelessness. The girls are graded for performance, and one girl is rejected after she balks at having sex with a hot lesbian, which is pretty pathetic considering one of the other girls was happily performing reverse cowgirl with a double amputee. You fail at whoring.

After they are molded into SS super-hookers, he enlists the help of Madam Kitty Kellerman (Ingrid Thulin) to set up a brothel catering to the German political elite. When Kitty meets the girls she is unimpressed. Sure, these girls may be great at having efficient, German sex with orgasms you can set your watch to, but they lack the verve and style that is the hallmark of top-shelf prostitution. Did somebody say... hooker makeover? After a montage of hair styling, cosmetics, and pubic hair grooming, Salon Kitty is open for business. In a clear breach of hooker-client confidentiality, the rooms are bugged and their conversations with clients monitored for any signs of dissent or treasonous behaviour. Apparently in Germany dudes get all chatty-Cathy after sex and start talking about politics instead of rolling over and going to sleep like they do everywhere else.

Naturally German officers were expected adhere to the tenets of National Socialism, but some of these guys take their love of the Nazi party a little too far. One guy can't get off unless the girl goose-steps across the room wearing swastika-themed stockings and armbands while Nazi propaganda is projected onto her face. Wow dude, maybe you should take up some other hobbies. I suggest baking, since for some reason this guy's other fetish involves a baguette shaped like a human phallus that he bought from "finest bakery in Germany" (I'd like to see the look on the baker's face when he placed that order). He puts it in between her legs and starts licking it, but when he bites off the tip it seems the poor girl reaches her psychological breaking point. Freaky German sex with amputees and midgets? No problem. Erotic baked goods? Now you've gone too far. She flips the fuck out and has to be carried away on a stretcher, foaming at the mouth. Kitty places the ruined phallus on top of her body as she's being carried away (what, you think she's going to want to finish it later?) and when it falls off, the testicles breaking off and rolling down the hallway like a couple of errant dinner rolls, she starts yelling at the girls while waving the dick-baguette around like a club. This is not something you see every day.

The prostitute that plays the biggest role in the film is Margherita (Teresa Ann Savoy), a young girl who joins Salon Kitty as a way of rebelling against her stuffy, bourgeois parents. Take that, dad! There's an overlong subplot about her falling in love with a German officer played by John Steiner. The guy starts mouthing off about the Führer and later we find out that he was executed for treason. Way to go, dude. It's his death that tips her off about the spy operation, which she doesn't know about even though all the girls are SS spies hand-picked for maximum dedication to National Socialism. She teams up with Kitty and an Allied spy to gather some treasonous dirt on Wallenberg and take the whole operation down.

Luckily it's not too hard to find dirt on Wallenberg. He's clearly insane and power-mad, his wardrobe is a dead giveaway in itself. We all know that the SS had the sweetest uniforms of all time, but Wallenberg takes it to a whole other level. He has all-leather numbers from the House of General Zod (he dry-humps her while wearing one of these; I'd hate to be his dry cleaner), he has SS-themed silver jumpsuits like a Nazi David Bowie. Somewhere amid the non-stop cavalcade of awesome Nazi fashion he spouts off some treasonous rubbish, which Margherita records and passes along to one of Wallenberg's superiors, a freakish looking mountain of a man WHO SHOUTS EVERY LINE AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS. Consequently, Wallenberg is gunned down while he is tackle-out in a public bath house.

Really, I can't say enough about the costume and set design in this film. They are fantastic. Acting is suitably melodramatic, particularly Ingrid Thulin's flamboyant Madam Kitty. Lots of boobs, wangs, etc. The major problem with this film is that at 129 minutes it is way, way too long. The film is packed with cabaret acts that are fairly entertaining but rapidly begin to grate (particularly the dong-flashing can-can). Like Caligula, Tinto Brass's particular brand of excess and self-indulgence is both it's strength and it's weakness. And it seems Tinto hasn't learned his lesson either, since now he's talking about doing another big-budget mainstream-crossover porn, utlising new 3D technology. Good luck with that, bro.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Bronx Executioner (1989)

"Freeze! Fashion Police!"

Man, this film is cheap, even by the standards of Italian post-apocalyptic films. It's directed by Vanio Amici under Umberto Lenzi's ocassional pseudonym Bob Collins, so sometimes it's misattributed to Lenzi. This is Amici's only film as director although he was editor on some infamous trash like Troll 2 and Black Demons. I guess his editing skills were put to good use here, since over half of the footage was ransacked from another 1984 post-apocalyptic cheapie called The Last Executioner. Not a good sign.

Naturally, it opens with two or three minutes of stock footage; slow pans over early 80s computers dubbed with Atari sound effects and some guy talking some shit about robots. Welcome to the FUTURE. Then an exposition-heavy conversation is narrated to us over some tourist-board footage of a decidedly pre-apocalyptic New York, since I guess they forgot to shoot the actual scene. It seems that a rookie cop named James is being sent into the Bronx as the final stage of his training to become a "Sheriff". Or something.

Cut to a jungle. You know, the Bronx Jungle. James (Gabriele Gori) is being pursued by some faceless guy with a hunting rifle and is saved at the last second by a mysterious stranger. Turns out the hero is James's new boss Warren (Woody Strode), the Sheriff of the Bronx, and he seems to be acutely aware of his role in the film when he says "My name is Warren, but everyone just calls me The Black Man." Nice. He explains that the Bronx is now overrun by two warring factions of malfunctioning robots, the Androids and the Humanoids. What's the difference? Fuck if I know, and as Warren explains "they are the only ones who can tell eachother apart." They aren't allowed to wipe them out for some reason (Warren makes some vague reference to bleeding-heart politicians and scientists), and it's their job to make sure the war doesn't spill over into the human world. Should be pretty easy, since there's only about three humans in the whole film. Well, two, since all of the footage containing Strode was taken from The Last Executioner.

The Androids are led by the evil Margie (Margit Evelyn Newton from Hell of the Living Dead), who slinks around in a red PVC mini-dress and says things like "violence is the best aphrodisiac" and "I only love death" (awkwardly adding "Other people's death, naturally"). Her second-in-command in an Android named Shark who is dressed in studded leather and has a scar on his cheek that looks more like a smear of... well, let's say chocolate. Shark is in love with Margie, who manipulates him and taunts him for being an Android. Wait, so is Margie an Android too? A Humanoid? A human? Honestly, I have no idea. Her monotone voice and blank facial expression are not enough to distinguish her from the rest of the cast.

The peaceful Humanoids are led by the brawny Dakkar, who looks like he should be throwing styrofoam boulders around on a Hercules set somewhere. Wait, is that...? It is! Jakooooodaaa!! Yes, it's Alex Vitale from Strike Commando. While Dakkar and his soldiers are out searching for supplies, Margie and her troops attack the rest of the Humanoids at an abandoned quarry in the middle of nowhere (again, this is supposed to be the Bronx), no doubt the same fucking quarry from every Italian post-apocalyptic film ever made. This provides lots of opportunity for stuntmen to dramatically flip into the air and tumble down the sides of the pit, distracting you from the fact that they couldn't afford stage-blood or squibs.

It turns out that the humans are conducting experiments with the two factions by airdropping cans of food (apparently they eat worms or something) and then observing the Androids and Humanoids as they fight over the supplies on their sweet dirtbikes. Look, I didn't write this thing, okay? James and Warren head to the drop-off point (that quarry again) and while James cowers behind a dune, Warren, who is in his 70s I might add, leaps into the fray for no reason and starts smacking the Androids around with a pipe until they run away. Disgusted by James's undeniable pussiness, Warren takes him back to headquarters and puts him through a brutal training montage. He berates him, insults him and finally tells him that he has failed. Heartbroken, James falls asleep while creepily fondling his pistol, but when he wakes up he finds a letter from Warren saying that they've run out of stock footage so now it's all up to him.

Dakkar, meanwhile, is driving around in a jeep trying to find his human girlfriend. Unfortunately she has been kidnapped by Margie and her men, who rape and kill her. It's a strange scene, because they both fail to remove their pants, but he's an Android so maybe he doesn't understand how intercourse works. Neither does Dakkar, I guess, because he stumbles across her dead, clothed body and also concludes that she has been raped. Dakkar seeks help from James, who says "No, I can't help you", then sits there clenching his jaw for nearly a minute while some of Warren's flashback narration tells him that he must help any Humanoid in need. Then he immediately turns to Dakkar and says "Sorry, yes I'll help you." Awesome.

Dakkar gathers up his remaining men and he and James bust into the the Android's hideout, an old castle in the middle of a forrest. Once again. The Bronx. Once they break into the security center and throw stealth to the wind, the film erupts into an orgy of shamelessly re-used footage. A shot of Dakkar shooting some men on a staircase is looped three times in the span of a couple of minutes, and a first-person scene of James shooting bad guys as they pop out like paper targets is stretched out to comical lengths. After Dakkar hugs some radio-controlled dogs into submission, he has his final confrontation with Shark and Margie. It's pretty boring, but you can make a fun game of watching Margie's hairstyle change from scene-to-scene. It changes more than her expression (so more than once, basically). Ironically, when the credits roll the first on the list is Janet Berger with a wildly undeserved credit for "Continuity".

Say what you will about other post-apocalyptic actioners like 1990: Bronx Warriors , Bronx Warriors 2 or even Endgame: Bronx Lotta Finale, at least they looked like the director had seen a picture of the Bronx or at least had it described to them. This film looks like it was shot everywhere except the Bronx. Acting is bad. Dubbing is unbelievably bad. Storyline is incomprehensible. Action scenes are repetitive and boring. We are talking a Joe D'Amato level of incompetence here. This can be recommended only to the hardest of hardcore bad movie afficionados.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Red (2008)

Brian Cox: badass

As a dog owner, I can really get behind the idea of a vigilante seeking revenge over the death of his dog, but there aren't too many movies like that out there. Sure, there's Mad Max 2, but I'm pretty sure the revenge was split 50/50 between his dog and his car. There's The Brave One, but that film dealt with lesser crime of dognapping and I'm pretty sure her fiance being murdered was a bigger motivating factor. This is a pity because it's an idea both badass and totally awesome. Wife raped and murdered? Yawn, seen it all before. Show a dog getting killed however, and you watch people howl for blood (get it, it's like what dogs do, I am a literary genius). So, when someone pointed me to this here film Red, which deals with exactly that concept, I had to check it out. Also, Brian Cox. Sold.

Avery Ludlow (Cox) is one of these crusty old guys who always shows up in films set in the rural northwest. Wears a cowboy hat, owns a hardware store, has a flirtacious relationship with the waitress at the local diner etc. He lives by himself, and his only companion is his dog Red (a brilliant performance from an uncredited Nic Cage... nah just kidding, it's just some dog). One day when he is out fishing with Red these three punk kids show up, try to rob him and then shoot his dog. It's offscreen thankfully, but still heartbreaking. I'll admit, there were tears. My body may look like it was sculpted from the finest marble, but I'm not made of stone.

Ludlow tries to get justice through the traditional channels. Turns out that two of the kids are sons of a wealthy local family, the McCormacks, so he goes to their house to try to get them to apologise. Unfortunately their father is a complete scumbag asshole (Tom Sizemore, naturally) so that doesn't work. Ludlow's lawyer claims that he can only pin the kids for animal cruelty, and since there are no witnesses even that looks doubtful. Plus there's that whole son-of-a-powerful-family thing. He's Above the Law, like Henry Silva. They try to buy him off, but Ludlow's having none of it. He doesn't want money, he only wants an apology. In a flagrant violation of Chekov's Law, there's a bit where he goes to his shed and unlocks a cabinet full of guns, but he doesn't ever use them. This isn't that kind of film. There are a lot of vigilante films that claim to be about justice but are really about cathartic violence. This one really is about justice. Dog justice.

Eventually Ludlow is contacted by this TV reporter named Carrie (Kim Dickens). She hopes that by making his story public that the McCormacks will be forced to act, but it kind of backfires. Just a few seconds after the TV report airs one of the kids throws a brick through his window with a threatening note. I guess they were hanging around outside his house watching the local news on their iPhone or something. Anyway, eventually Ludlow opens up to her and relates the horrific story of what happened to his family. It's pretty horrendous and maybe a little over-the-top, but it makes you understand why he thinks it's so important that this asshole kid takes responsibility for his actions.

Speaking of which, I thought they did a good job with the kids. At first I thought they played things a little too broad, portraying the ringleader (Noel Fisher) as a giggling sociopath, but they do a good job selling it later on. You see him driving girls away with his assholishness (and when you're as rich as he is you have to work pretty hard) and losing his shit during a game of baseball. His brother (Kyle Gallner) is sorry about what happened and tries to apologise to Ludlow on his own, but he's too afraid to stand up to his father. The third kid (Shiloh Fernandez) is from a white trash family and his dad is played by Robert Englund. I guess you're going to end up fucked-in-the-head when your dad is Freddy Krueger. Look what happened in Freddy's Dead.

Unsurprisingly things start getting out of hand for ol' Ludlow. He starts stalking the kid, goading him into attacking him in the middle of a street full of witnesses, but this just makes things worse. Ludlow digs up his dead dog to try and guilt them into apologising. There's a gunpoint confrontation. They try to kill him but fail because he's a badass. He returns and there's another Mexican standoff. Things end pretty violently, and when Carrie publishes a newspaper article portraying Ludlow as a hero (I guess this movie takes place in the near future where old media has collapsed and journalists have to simulataneously work in TV and print media) Ludlow gets pretty upset. He didn't want anyone to get hurt.

This one was directed by Lucky McKee, who made May, one of my favourite horror films of the last decade. He directed most of it, anyway. Apparently shooting was halted for six months and then resumed with a different guy, Trygve Allister Diesen, who didn't direct May and in fact made nothing I ever heard of. They do a pretty good job with a limited budget, although there's some cheesy transitions where the screen dissolves to red, in case you forgot the name of the movie you are watching. I mean why would you forget that? It's the name of his dog and it's written right there on the DVD case.

Apparently it was adapted from a Jack Ketchum novel, and you can tell that the dude loves dogs. Man's best friend is treated with quiet respect. There aren't any jokes about ball-licking or eating poop. No talking chihuahuas wearing oversized sunglasses. You will have to get your Marmaduke style antics elsewhere. Ludlow even gets some information out of a gun store owner by trading heroic dog stories. When he is trying to relate the importance of his dog to this reporter gal, she says she has three cats and he says that's good enough. I guess he's working on 3 cats to 1 dog exchange rate, which sounds about right. Two cats? Fuck off, not good enough. Maybe if you had some goldfish as well, but there would have to be a lot of them. This is a dog we're talking about, after all. Would a cat guide you to safety if you accidentally blew your foot off in a hunting accident? Well a dog in this film did. Fuck cats.

So this isn't really a revenge film, it's more of a tragic drama about a man who tries to find justice for his animal friend and ends up in over his head. I enjoyed it a lot, even if it wasn't the cathartic, dog-based vigilante film I was craving. Actually, that gives me an idea. Does anyone remember that kids TV show Wishbone from the mid 90s about a Jack Russel terrier that re-enacts stories from classic literature? Well how about a gritty reboot about a Jack Russel terrier takes revenge after his owners are murdered. The can call it Death Wishbone. Seriously Hollywood, call me.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Mirageman (2007)

The Blue Beetle movie took a few liberties
with the costume.

I heard this film being compared to Kick-Ass and that it did the real-life superhero thing a lot better, so I thought I'd check it out. It's directed by Ernesto Diaz Espinoza and stars Marko Zaror, a Chilean duo who previously teamed up for the martial arts film Killtro. Zaror is also due to fight opposite Scott Adkins in Undisputed 3 (and, if the series follows tradition, be the protagonist in Undisputed 4) so I figured it would be worth getting acquainted with his body of work.

Zaror plays Maco, a bouncer at a strip club (and avid martial artist) whose parents were killed in a violent robbery when he was a child. His little brother was traumatised by the incident and is now a patient in a mental instituion. One day Maco is out jogging and sees some a guy in a ski mask robbing a house. Without warning he kicks the guy in the head, puts on his ski mask and enters the house, where he beats up a couple more guys who are about to rape the occupant. After untying the woman he disappears, but it turns out that the victim is Carol Valdivieso (María Elena Swett), a local TV journalist, and that night she personally thanks her savior, calling him a "real-life superhero". Maco's little brother sees the news report and comes out of his shell a little, so Maco decides to buy a costume and do some more crimefighting in the hope that his brother's condition will improve.

The plot of this film is pretty generic, but there are some clever and funny touches. This guy doesn't have any transportation, he isn't Bruce "I wipe my ass on $100 bills" Wayne, so he has to ride the bus like a chump. To start with his costume is just a mish-mash of stuff he picked up at the sporting goods store (the newsreaders call it "somewhat effeminate") but even when he gets his "real" costume it's still pretty lo-fi, just some gloves, an ordinary jacket and a home-made mask with some mirrored lenses. At one point he chases a pursesnatcher into an alley and then the camera holds on him for several excruciating minutes as he changes out of his civillian clothes and into his superhero outfit. He beats up the thieves, but when he returns he finds his civillian clothes have been stolen. Superheroin' ain't easy.

Like in Kick-Ass he sets up an email account so people can contact him for help, but his first request is just some young punks setting a trap so they can to start some shit. He walks into another email trap later, so I guess he didn't learn his lesson the first time. Mostly he just patrols the streets waiting for crimes to happen. There's a scene where he hides behind a corner as some guy approaches a newstand, and then when he steals a chocolate bar Mirageman whips his foot out and kicks him in the head. Was Mirageman following this guy around for hours, just waiting for him to commit a crime, or is that particular newsstand a hotspot of petty theft? Who knows?

They've got the typical man-on-the-street interviews from most vigilante/superhero films, but I was surprised at how critical they were. Usually there a smattering of people who support the one-man-war-on-crime, but the only people who seem to be happy about Mirageman are a couple of goofy-looking teenagers and a chubby nerd who wants to be his "Pseudo-Robin". It only gets worse from there, since it turns out that the TV reporter he saved earlier is actually a horrible greedy bitch, inviting him onto her talk show only to start grilling him about his methods. Later she even sets up a phony kidnapping so she can film him beating up a bunch of guys, then seduce him and reveal his identity live on TV.

The main villains of the film are a pedophile ring who are kidnapping local kids and selling them off to child molesters. Not your usual antagonists, really. I always thought that pedophile rings were a loose confederation of creepy old men with bad facial hair, swapping jpgs in the dark corners of the internet. According to this film however, they're a thoroughly organised criminal enterprise, operating out of abandoned buildings patrolled by swarms of armed guards. They are skilled too, the first time Mirageman tries to take them on he gets his ass thoroughly kicked, and it's only an undercover cop that stops him from getting a bullet in the head. This idea of highly-organised pedophiles syndicates is both incredibly stupid and a stroke of genius. I mean, pedophiles are like Nazis, pretty much everybody hates them. Fuck those guys.

This film was shot on a tiny budget, so the technical aspects are a little rough and a lot of the street scenes were shot guerilla-style. I liked it though, it added to the real-life, street-level approach to superheroism. As to be expected from Espinoza and Zaror, the fighting is really good. Lots of flashy flying kicks, no wires or CG, and when the hits connect it looks like they hurt. Probably because they did. Zaror barely says a word in the film, but manages to communicate a lot physically, such as expressing anger by kicking dudes in the head. I liked this one, and I'll be tracking down any more films from this dynamic duo (superhero reference).