Saturday, 29 January 2011

Hell Comes To Frogtown

Title: Hell Comes To Frogtown
Director: Donald G. Jackson
Released: 1988
Staring: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, Cec Verrell, William Smith, Rory Calhoun

Plot: Set in the aftermath of a Nuclear war, which has not only left the majority of the surviving human race infertile, but has also created a race of mutant frogmen, who have since their creation been exiled to the desert, creating thier own society for themselves known as Frogtown. With the frogs having recently captured a group of fertile women, the all female government recruit drifter Sam Hell (Piper), to bring them back aswell asking them to reproduce with them, seeing how he is possibly the last fertile man on earth, while at the same time strapping a bomb to his crotch to ensure that he carries out his mission.

Review: I think there seriously must have been something in the water in 80’s, especially when you look at some of insane titles which the era produced, something which this film is a testament not only to, but also highlights the questionable style and content of Director Jackson’s films, which unsurprisingly earned him the moniker of being “The Ed Wood of the Video Age.”, while creating his own style of film making with Scott Shaw, known simply as “Zen Filmaking”, were no scripts were used in the creation of film, which probably goes along way to explaining some of his films, while it’s also worth noting the sheer passion that Jackson has for those same films, frequently directing the sequels they spawned, though it could also be questioned at the same time if anyone else would really want to direct a sequel to one of his films?

“Hell Comes To Frogtown” is probably the best known of Jackson’s films, no doubt as a result of the casting of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who was at the time was also one of the top name wrestlers in the WWE (back then was still known as the WWF) and when you look at his performance here and the John Carpenter classic “They Live” (1988), it's kinda suprising that he wasn’t used more as an actor, especially while his WWE Stablemate “Hulk Hogan” was torturing us all with some pretty hideous performances, while Piper is strangely watchable. Still the whole tone of the film is pretty light hearted, which certainly helps here, as no one appears to be taking it too seriously, while the frogman special effects are pretty good, even if occasionally the mouths seem to be just opening and closing at random while some of the characters talk, depending on how important thier character is, the effect really do vary with the majority of the money being spent on the main villians, while hench-froggies get effects scraped together from the remainder of the budget.

Sam Hell is the typical 80’s wasteland hero, not only because he has bad hair and a stupid sounding name (See also for this same reason “Violence Jack” [1986] ) but mainly because he cares pretty much about himself and Piper plays up well to the stereotype, even carrying off the reference to the classic eastern tale “Monkey: Journey to the West” by having the bomb attached to his crotch, controlled by the bespectacled and slightly nerdy commanding officer Spangle’s (Bergman) ear ring, with her frequently threatening to set the bomb off whenever Hell attempts to run off or disobey her. Meanwhile Hell has some pretty badass backup from the gung ho Centinella (Verrell), who proves herself pretty handy with the heavy machine gun strapped to the top of their questionably camouflaged in pink Ambulance.

The bad guys are none the less stereotypical or cartoonish, but seriously what were you expecting from a bunch of mutant froggies? Especially ones lead by a Commander Toady! Still atleast he bothers to have a cool henchman with the eye patch wearing and chainsaw welding Bull, who also has some of the best moments of the film. Toady it would seem is also the kind of guy who likes to makes the best of a bad situation, seeing how Frogtown is pretty much an abandoned refinery in the desert, so was fun to see that he bothered to install a GoGo bar complete with it’s own mutant dancer, actually that seems to be all he has installed bar a thrown together torture room and the mention if some mine, with the rest of the action taking place outside of these locations being set in random outside locations. Still I have give Jackson some form of props for atleast giving us a look at the female of the mutant species, who it seems Hell even considers humping thanks to a sudden cut to Hell and the said dancer now wearing a potato sack over her head, to disguise the fact that ….well she’s a giant mutant frog I guess, still it would seem that interspecies relations aren’t to be on the cards here, as Hell ends up spurning her advances, which depending on your view point might be either a good or a bad thing. Personally I was kind of relived as there are some things I can go though live without seeing and Piper humping a mutant frog go-go dancer is certainly one of them.

Action wise these scenes are all pretty solid with Piper unloading shotgun shells, while spitting out classic one liners like “Eat Lead Froggies” and throwing in the occasional wrestling grapple, even though he appears to screw up a suplex on Bull, but on the whole the action scenes are still satisfying enough, even throwing in a Mad Max style chase sequence.

The real main problem this film suffers from is the fact it doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself, with a tricky third quarter, which the momentum from the earlier scenes just about carries the film past, before the action packed finale, thanks to the earlier scenes which are not so much tongue in cheek, but rather tongue forcibly crammed in cheek, which really serves to prepare you for the insanity to come.

“Hell Comes To Frogtown” is pretty much the kind of movie you’d expect it to be and while it might not be for everyone, especially for those who can’t appreciate a mutant frog movie and while that third quarter does hold it back from being a true cult classic, it’s still worth a look, if only so you can name yourself another Roddy Piper movie, other than “They Live” let alone one in which he brawls with mutant frogmen with a bomb strapped to his crotch, which lets face it is pretty much all you should want to know, before hunting this one down and maybe watch it as a post apocalyptic double with the equally zany “Six String Samurai” (1998).

Thursday, 13 January 2011

H Is For Hard Boiled

Title: Hard Boiled
Director: John Woo
Released: 1992
Staring: Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung, Teresa Mo, Philip Chan, Philip Kwok, Anthony Wong,

Plot: Tequila (Yun-Fat) is a detective who it would seem plays solely by his own rules, whom after loosing his partner during a raid on a teahouse is forced to team up with an undercover agent (Leung), when he uncovers a war between two major gun smugglers.

Review: The story goes that after having spent the majority of his career glamorising criminals, John Woo got tired of being criticised and set out to make a film which glamorised the police instead, which I think it’s pretty safe to say he was more than a little successful with this film, which not only glamorises the crime fighting actions of the Police, but also gives us, without question one of the coolest cops to ever grace the screen, even if Tequila’s personal brand of justice is anything close to traditional police procedure.

It might be true that in recent years John Woo, might have seemed to have lost his way especially after suffering several career missteps with some less than brilliant films, he made in the Hollywood studio system, before his storming returning to form with “Red Cliff” (2008) marking his return to the same Hong Kong studio system he made his career with. while this film for myself personally marking the water mark of the early Hong Kong years, which provided his ticket to Hollywood, who at the time were keen to replicate the style and success (read cash in) of the Hong Kong action films, which was unsuprising seeing how it was Woo, who had originally lead the charge with “The Killer” (1989) and now took full advantage of the opportunity especially with Hong Kong audiences changing and audiences craving comedies rather than the bullet ballets that he and directors like Ringo Lam were crafting.
Still for myself this film is the true high water mark of Woo’s career, as not only does it contain all of his trademarks, but pretty much hits the ground running as he opens with some light jazz followed by a shootout in a tea house, all with in the space of the opening ten minuites, setting a brief pace that Woo never once chooses to let up, a the bullets fly and locations are reduced to rubble and all with barely a reload in sight.

The action scenes are were Woo truly comes into his own, for not only does the trailer not even cover half of the action scenes, but he also doubles the length of the average action sequence, while also ensuring that he is not just repeating the same scenes of carnage, but rather trying to top what he has shown the audience already, while still finding the time to include his trademarks such as the Mexican Stand off and Tequila’s dual pistols, which thanks to Woo is now an image frequently associated with Chow Yun-Fat, despite the fact it was only in the movies he made with Woo that he uses such a move. The hospital shootout finale alone is a stunning thirty plus minutes of non stop action, despite being a questionable in terms of tastefulness having been carried across from the original script, which had centred around a plot involving poisoned baby formula which Woo disliked, changing the script to resolve around a gun running operation instead, which was certainly for the best while no doubt giving Woo further excuse to have another shoot out, even turning a tea house into a key smuggling location, which is busted open during the opening raid by Tequila’s team.

Chow Yun-Fat is clearly on the top of his game here, with Woo once again proving to be one of the few directors, who know how to truly utilise his charisma and ability as an action hero, something which it could be argued that perhaps only Ringo Lam came close to replicating, which has over the years lead less education movies goers to question his appeal as an actor, though you’d need only watch this film, to know why he has such a cult like following, for he takes the character of Tequila and ensures that it’s impossible to image the role being played by anyone else and while Woo would struggle to replicate these sorts of characters with other actors in his later films, here the potent combination of this actor / director combo has never been better, with Yun-Fat effortlessly spouting cool one liners, while brandishing his trademark dual pistols, as he takes on the countless triad masses. On the flipside undercover cop Alan, carries severe guilt over every life he is forced to take in the line of his work, living a solitary existence on his boat, surrounded by paper cranes, each of which representing a taken life.

Meanwhile Anthony Wong is on top villain duties as the triad leader Johnny Wong, who is not only ruthless but lacks even a shred of remorse for any of his actions, while ironically running his gun smuggling operation from a hospital basement, which also provides the setting for the spectacular finale, were Woo it would seem not content from having already provided three standout action sequences earlier, somehow manages to top all of them again, while perhaps pushing the boundaries of taste with his choice of location, which provides of the truly memorable moments of the film, in which Tequila is attempting to escape the hospital with a baby, only for the baby to put out the flames on his leg with it’s stream of urine, leading to perhaps one of the greatest lines in Hong Kong cinema ever “Hey Kid, Your piss put out my flames”.

“Hard Boiled” is not a subtle film, but then who really wants a subtle action film? Still whatever John Woo does with his career, he will always be able to rest easy that he crafted not only one of the best action films ever, bet set a pretty high bench mark for the films which followed and one that is yet to truly be beaten, even by the master himself who would go on to make other great films and a few aforementioned duffs, but then I doubt even Woo would find it hard to top this one, with the closest being Woo's Xbox 360 launch title "Stranglehold" which played like a sequel, though despite the rumbling from the rumour mill, it looks like we might have to wait that bit longer, before Tequila hits our screens again, so in the meantime why not just remind yourself why Woo is the legend he is.

Saturday, 1 January 2011


Title: C.R.A.Z.Y.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Released: 2005
Staring: Marc-André Grondin, Michel Côté, Danielle Proulx, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Alex Gravel, Maxime Tremblay, Mariloup Wolfe, Francis Ducharme

Rating: 4 / 5

Plot: Zachary (Grondin) is struggling to find his own identity, whilst growing up with his four brothers and dealing with the ongoing conflict between his own confused sexuality and the desire to please his strict father (Côté).

Review: The legend goes that nearly everyone in Quebec - whose population is around five million – have seen this film, which honestly after seeing this film I can really understand why, as this is more than just another coming of age tale about awakening sexuality. It’s also a film about a family’s own disfunctionality and the things which bound them together, even as events happening around them continually threaten to pull them apart, which is what in turns makes this such a funny and moving film and much more than the underlying sexual awaking which is more of a sub-plot than anything close to the main story, something I have found myself especially stressing when I have spoken to anyone about this film, even more so when so many synopsis are keen to make it seem like it’s the only plot here, rather than the rich tapestry of colourful characters and memorable sequences, all tied together with a pretty bad ass soundtrack and dryly humorous narration from Zac

The main bones of the story, follow the relationship between Zac and his Father, with Zac clearly from a young age being his father’s favourite, while keeping a watchful eye over to ensure that he grows up properly, as he frowns upon his son playing with carriages and clearly missing the irony of his own camp Patsy Cline obsession, all the while ignoring the insistence by his wife (Proulx) that it’s perfectly normal behaviour along with her belief in his supposed faith healing abilities. The moment this father son relationship suffering a major derailing though, is when he catches Zac dressed in his mothers pearls and heels, despite this being actually an innocent attempt by Zac to calm his crying baby brother. Needless to say this suspicion regarding his son’s sexuality stays with him throughout, despite the fact that Zac never truly understands his own sexuality, acting almost like a sexual tourist rather than someone experiencing their sexual awakening as he embarks on relationships with girls, while also engaging in blow backs while smoking pot, lusting after his cousin and even a spot of voyeurism, as he watches the sport lays of his elder brother Raymond (Brilliant), watching from the safety of a bedroom closet, while later regaling his peers with tales of his brothers sexual conquests. Still by the film’s end he is closer to bi-sexual, while certainly none the clearer on his own sexuality.

The rest of his family from the outset could be seen as stereotypical caricatures, what with the book worm, the jock etc, with only his older brother Raymond, receiving the time from director Vallée to be fleshed out further, especially as he descends further into drug addiction, as a result of his care free lifestyle, which bizarrely is more expectable to his father than being gay, who generally seems to encourage any behaviour which can be seen in a macho light.

Vallée like Tarantino is certainly a director who likes to work with his soundtrack, as like Tarantino’s soundtracks, the soundtrack here plays an equally important part, beyond establishing the period and mood, as he frequently uses these musical ques for flights of fantasy, including the parishioners attending midnight mass to suddenly bursting into the Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” as Zac floats up above the masses. While Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” features strongly, alongside Ziggy Stardust era Bowie, clearly representing Zac’s growing confusion about himself, in much the same way that these song represent similar themes of madness, confusion and the glam rock blurring of the line of sexuality.

It could be argued that it perhaps runs alittle too long at over two hours, but when these characters are so fascinating to watch, especially for the occastional surreal moments, such as Zac’s mother ironing toast, while her junkie son is going through withdrawal on the coach, so I can’t say that I was overly bothered by spending so much time in their company, even if at times it seemed like the story didn’t seem to know were it was going, as especially highlighted by Zac taking a sudden pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which is thankfully devoid of any religious significance, which was to be half expected as a lesser film might no doubt have used religion to save Zac’s soul, but even this moment of spontaneity doesn’t bring us any closer to a satisfactory conclusion, with the film almost seeming to end suddenly, though not before explaining it’s title, which is actually quite a subtle and fun joke. Still despite Vallée not wrapping everything up in a neat conclusion the film still feels complete in a way, for real life doesn’t come with neat happy conclusions and it’s this thought which Vallée almost seems to share with the ending he has chosen.

While it might not be for everyone, especially with it’s spontaneous style of storytelling, it is still worth watching once, after all Five Million French Canadians can’t be wrong can they?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...