Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #34- "THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE." (2004)



RELEASED: UM... 2004






PRICE: £1.00

(Okay, Over a week late. I agree with you, this is shit. And I'm probably more upset about it than you are, one of the things I was most proud about with regards to this thing was that I'd managed to maintain a decent publishing schedule, which I'd never been any good at before. I do havean excuse but... I don't want to talk about it. It's not even that I can't, because I think I can, but I'm just afraid to I suppose, incase doing so causes something to go wrong. I don't know what, really. Maybe I'd burst into flames or something. The short version is- there are several great things going on in my life at the moment, stuff I've been working towards for a very long
time, and I'm estatic about it, but the fact is, it's thrown alot of things I was doing previously out of balance, this site included, and I'm fighting hard to try and rediscover that balance. And, well, at the moment, I'm failing. But bare with me, I promice thigs are going to start getting better very soon. Thank you for sticking by me. Normal service shall opefully be resumed soon.)(also this entire thing should be bolded, but for some reason Blogger won't let me do the whole thing. Don't ask me why, Blogger does so many things I don't understand, 've given up asking questions)

So, a remake then, the first time I've covered one. Discussing the concept of remakes with people can usually be counted on to stir up great passion, most usually the negative kind. For instance, about a year ago, I was talking to my Uncle, and mentioned in passing that I'd heard a remake of "Lord of the Flies" was being talked about,
and this proved enough to make him bellow, with great anger, "OH, AND I SUPPOSE IT'LL STAR LEONARDO DICAPRO AS A MAGICAL SWAN THAT FLIES DOWN TO SEE IF THE KIDS ARE ALL ALRIGHT!!!!!" And he doesn't even particularly like movies. I honestly think that it's just an instant reflex now for some people, to hear that something's being remade and go, "GRRR!" without even really thinking what they're GRRR-ing at. With that in mind, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that me just acknowledging this film exists is going to piss off a fair few people. And I think the next thing I'm going to say will annoy them even more- I've never seen the original "Manchurian Candidate." Yes, yes, I've seen a remake before I've seen the original. I'm well aware how taboo this is. I used to be the kind of person that'd jump all over a person if they admitted what I just did, and denounced them as some kind of failure, as both a cinephile and a human being. But I've really chilled out alot about this particular subject over time. The way I think about it is like this...

... every since humanity crawled out of the metaphorical gutter and developed the ability to communicate verbally, we've been telling stories. It's the mark of any intelligent society. And the cinema experience is really just a throwback to those days, us fulfilling our inbuilt desire to sit in the dark and be taken on a journey. All you'd need is a campfire and the illusion would be complete. But it doesn't stop there- it's been well documented that alot of tribes and cultures outright stole stories from each other and subtly
altered them, tailoring them to the audiences that were about to hear them, and often to the personality and particular likes and dislikes of the person telling them. And that's all remakes are. That's really all they are, it's a person taking a well-known, beloved story, and putting a new twist on it, leaving a bit of themselves to be seen in the telling, and also making them accessible to a different generation and/or culture. And when you think of them like that, they're not really something to get wound up over, are they?

Of course, with that said, that doesn't mean they can't be critiqued like any other film, or indeed that you can't compare and contrast them with what came first. For instance, I think we can all agree
that Tim Burton's decision to show Willy Wanka's childhood in his "Charlie & The Chocolate Factory" retelling was a mistake, however well-intentioned. Or that Gus Van Sant's decision to make his version of "Psycho" almost a shot-for-shot duplicate of the original (with the exception of some shots of Vince Vaughn masturbating and some... cows)(I've no idea) is practically the definition of pointless. And don't even get me started on mose of the East-To-West horror conversions. Christ almighty. But if I think a remake manages to surpass the original, I'm not afraid to say so. It's at this point I'm expected to mention "The Thing," as whenever the subjet of good remakes is brought up, this movie is always mentioned. But I'm not going to, not because I don't think it's good, because I do, but because I don't really consider it a remake, but rather another adaptation of the original source material. You know what movie I am going to mention here, though? The 2005 version of "The Amityville Horror." It's not the greatest movie ever made, at best it's a three star flick, and it's blighted by the same things that do in most modern horror movies, that being more of an emphisis on spectacle rather than mood, and feeling overall too slick and polished. But even with all that said, I still think it's still better than the original. And this opinion has nothing to do with the fact that Ryan Reynolds is one of the few men I'd let do naughty things to my bottom (I... legitimately can't believe I just wrote that). Has anybody here actually seen the original "Amityville Horror" recently? Well, I have, and the only way I can think to describe it is as a load of camp old nonsense. There's a reason why, whenever anybody references this film, they always bring up the bleeding walls- it's because that's the only good bit. And the acting... Margot Kidder... poor, poor Margot Kidder.

I'd also like to give an honourable mention to the recent (well, recent-ish) "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake. I'm not going to sit here and say it's as good as the original, because that'd make me a big fat liar. It's not, and it has a few serious problems. For a start, it's got that whole slick thing going on that I mentioned earlier, but they try to counteract that by making the whole film seem dirty, which basically means almost every frame in it seems to have been shot using a putrid brown filter. It looks like it's being filmed from the inside of someone's arse (it's just dawned on me how
anally-obsessed this review is becoming. No more of this, I swear). And secondly, this is a fanboy gripe, I make no bones about it, but I feel so strongly about it that I'm going to mention it anyway... they should never have shown Leatherface's actual face. Never. Never ever ever. The second they did that, all his mystique was gone, and all he was from that point forward was just another disfigured dude killing people in a horror movie. But I watched it, and I have to say I found it alot less painful than I expected. And the reaction from other fanboys on various forums had me in hysterics. One I particularly remember was some guy saying it "desecrated the memory of the original." I just sat there at me computer for a few minutes thinking, "Really? Really?" Because in my opinion, the original had been pretty thoroughly desecrated already by the succession of increasingly diminishing sequels, peaking with number four, which (and I hate saying this, because every desensitized little shit in the world says this about every horror movies that dares not have actual death and humiliation up on the screen) you can't convince me wasn't supposed to be a comedy. If anything, I think the remake redressed the balance a little bit and gave the world one more good movie with the words "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" in the title.

I've spent far to much time talking about movies that aren't actually the one I'm supposed to be reviewing. That's a good sign, isn't it?

This will sound like hyperbole, but I've thought about this for a while (and no, before some snark pipes up, that's not why this review's so late), and I genuinely believe what I'm about to type- I think this movie has one of the worst opening credit sequences I've ever seen. This is all it is- the names of the lead actors appear as animated CGI, made so it makes them flap around like flags. Then we get the title, which is doing the same thing. That's it. I just read those last few lines back to myself, and I think I'm really underselling just how pony this looks. I'm starting to think words can't really describe what I'm trying to get across. It just looks so... cheap. And to make matters worse, they make absolutely no attempt to intigrate it into the opening of the film- once the logo flashes (or rather, flutters) up on screen for a bit, poof, it's gone, and we're instantly into the first scene. Even the music that was playing over the top of it suddenly stops, only to be replaced by something completely different. It really feels like something they threw together in an afternoon after leaving it to the last minute.

Following this, we then find ourselves in an extremely confined space, watching a bunch of soldiers playing poker. This goes on for a long time. A very long time. Infact it goes on so long, I hit fast forward just to make sure the disc wasn't broken and playing one scene in a continuous loop, as I've had that happen before. We
eventually find out this confined space is the back of an army truck (this scene takes place in Kuwait in the year 1991, just so you know) when we cut outside to see the unit's captain, Ben Marco (Denzel Washington), order Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), the only one of his men not inside having fun, to tell them they'll be heading out soon, into dangerous territory. The movie wastes no time hammering home the fact that Shaw is a strange guy, due to the fact that, not only is he not palling it up with his comrades, but he seems content to just sit on a chair in the middle of the desert, staring off into space with a blank look on his face. Without getting ahead of myself a bit here, all of this would be perfectly fine if Shaw was later revealed to be in on the conspiracy the film is built around, but as we find out, he's as much a puppet as any of them eventually become. So this little bit establishes nothing, other than the fact that Shaw is a miserable git that nobody really likes. It all feels a bit tacked on. Like the credits, I suppose.

So anyway, they eventually run into trouble, and the shit seems to well and truly hit the fan, with Marco being knocked out after somebody hits him in the face with the butt of their gun. We know Marco survives this though, as he's narrating over the events as they're unfolding (and also because he's the main character of this movie). It's eventually revealed that he's telling the story of what happened that night to a crowd of Boy Scouts, answering questions they throw out, such as whether or not any of his men were killed (as it turns out, two were. Remember that, it's important later)
, whilst continually heaping praise on Shaw, telling the boys how he single-handedly held the enemy off and saved the rest of his men, and how he personally recommended him for the Congressional Medal of Honour. It all seems fairly run-of-the mill, until afterwards when he confronted by Al Melvin (Jeffrey Wright) one of the surviving members of his old squad. Melvin looks a complete mess, frankly- like a man who's survived the proceeding years on a combined total of eight hours sleep. I don't know if there's any make-up or production trickery involved, or if it's all down to the actor's performance, but he looks almost deformed, like whatever's going on in his mind has spread to his physical appearance. It's a great turn, infact it may even be too great- when he starts babbling about having two sets of memories, and having dreams about what he thinks really happened the night Shaw supposedly saved them all, you really have to suspend disbelief that Marco would stand there and listen to him say what he has to say, which is some disjointed ramblings about how he thinks he doesn't remember things going the way Marco said they did, but at the same time, he does. So he sounds like a loony, as well as looking like one. He also mentions something about dreams, asking Marco if he has them. Marco says he doesn't, and then sets about fobbing the guy off and pretty much telling him he needs to get help, which, like I said before, is the most natural reaction you could have.

Once home, Marco settles down to watch the coverage of some American political party convention, as they hype up the fact that this
party's Vice-Presidential candidate will be picked within the next few hours. Notice how I'm not identifying this party as being either Republican or Democrat. That's because the movie never does, either. Infact, not only is it never named, we also don't see any imagery that would associate it to either party. We don't even get a look at the other group in the race, almost as if they did that, people might start guessing which was supposed to be which. I'm in two minds about this. On the other hand, it does away with at least some of the risk of this movie being seen as one big political bitch-slap. On the other hand, by avoiding the issue altogether, it comes across as a little bit, I don't know, cowardly. Like they were afraid of offending anyone and loosing a large chunk of their adience in the process.

In any event, we're soon whisked to the convention itself, where we once again meet up with Shaw, who is now one of the young, leading lights of this particular party, and are introduced to his mother Eleanor (Meryl Streep), who's a senator (don't bother asking me where, because... well, I'm sure you've figured it out by now). Eleanor, you've met before in a thousand different movies, of almost as many different genres- she's the pushy mother that seems to believe she knows what's best for her child, despite what he might believe (and boy, does this idea take a gross turn later). Shaw's characterisation is a bit more complex, or put more accurately, scattershot- in some scenes, such as the one here with his mother,
he's portrayed not as some snivling yes man, but rather as somebody who's got a little bit of a backbone to him. He's going along with what she wants, that being to position himself as the potential VP, but he's not letting her walk over him, and you can see a little bit of ambition in his own eyes as well. Later though, his personality does a complete 180 and he ends up looking weak, fragile and, well, a little bit naive. It could be that they were trying to get across that all these little changes were hypnotic suggestions kicking in (yes, if you've not seen either this or the original before, hypnosis plays a massive part in this movie), but again, it would be nice to have that at least hinted at to us. As it stands, all it looks like is that the screenwriter didn't really have a good handle on who Shaw was as a character, and so just changed him constantly depending on what the scene needed.

Shaw of course wins the nomination, but not without a fight, as his party had originally decided to go with Thomas Jordan (Jon Voight, who's in this thing so little I think he barely qualifies as making a cameo). Eleanor sorts them out with a tongue-lashing, and whilst her speech it laced through with thinly-disguised xenophobia, she also makes a few good points about the need for her party (whichever one it may be), to present something new, vibrant and youthful. The fact that I was slghtly repulsed by the things she was saying one minute and nodding with agreement the next is, believe it or not, the closest this movie really comes to complexity.

It's hearing this news that seems to tip Marco over the edge, as when he fall to sleep that night, like Melvin, he has a dream that seems to point to something sinister going on. I was talking to someone online recently about how dream sequences almost never feel like real dreams, and I could think of maybe only a handful that were in any way successful. Well, you can add this one to that handful. It's marvelously done, as it's literal enough to seem like it's posible this may have been the way things really happened, but there's also enough strange, out-of-context things to give it a feeling of unease and menace, such as weird, arabian ladies with tattoos on their faces and men holding TVs for no apparent reason just walking around. Amongst all this, we see Shaw kill an man bu suffocating him with some plastic, and we also get a look at the equipment used to fo the brainwashing, which looks like it was swiped from the set of "The Mind Snatchers." Sadly, as is the case with alot of dreams, whilst there's a hint of truth to these images, they end up being revealed as exaggerations- we later discover that Shaw choked the man he killed with his bare hands, and the brainwashing appears to have been administered through surgery and a constant exposure to propaganda. Shame, I was hoping to see more shots of everybody walking around with giant pipes sticking out of ther heads.

Wanting to get to the bottom of what's going on, Marco attempts to make contact with Shaw. His first attempt occurs at a party
seemingly being thrown in Shaw's honour, where Marco is (CONVENIENTLY!) working as a "babysitter" for two other arm-types. The meeting doesn't go well, as Shaw snaps at Marco not to touch him when he does just that. In Shaw's defence, he had just made something of a fool of himself in front of Jocelyne, Senator Jordan's daughter (played by Vera Farmiga, who some of you may remember as the shrink from "The Departed." Sadly, like her screen father, she has almost nothing to do), and very obviously the love of Shaw's life, as in a previous scene he'd confronted his mother about sabotaging their relationship, and then here he practically tells the woman herself that the reason all his other relationships have failed is because the women weren't her. This is where the split in Shaw's personalities becomes really apparent, because he goes from gentle and loving, do desperate, to angry in the space of a couple of minutes. Still, I suppose love can do that to you, so I'll let it slide.

Following this, Marco is shown in a meeting with his superiors, where the movie actually lets the watcher in on something, which is that in contradiction to what he told Melvin, Marco has been having the those dreams for the last several yeas, he just denied and surpressed them. Revel in this moment of clarification, because this movie really doesn't dole out too many of them. I'm all for not having my hand held and not being treated like an idiot, but the fact is, this movie leaves alot of thing unsaid, and quite a few of them it really could do with saying. Marco shrugs off their belief
that he's suffering from, amongst other thing, Gulf War Syndrome, and attempts to convince them that what he believes is true, only to agressively be shot down by one of his superiors (played by That Bald Dude You've Seen In Alot Of Things Whose Name You Can Never Remember), who tells him, "You're telling me an entire squad of US Army Soldiers was hypnozised into believing that Raymond Shaw deserved the Medal of Honour, and somehow thanks to your dream, you're the only one who knows the truth?" Well, when you put it like that... The meeting predictably ends with Marco being told to stay clear of Shaw. Yeah, like that's going to happen.

Actually, it does. For a little while at least. The next sequence involves two scenes that we're left to assume are happening simultaniously intercut with each other. The first involves Marco breaking into Melvin's apartment in order to steal the book of scribblings we briefly got a glimpse at during their scene together right at the beginning. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why this book was so important to the overall plot of the movie, and I still can't now as I'm typing this- it's not proof of anything, it's really nothing other than a bunch of drawings and collages that seem to have been made by a madman. There's one particular image that really bothers me, and that's a collage of Shaw with a Swastika
drawn on his forehead. I'd be fine with it if the movie was implying that Shaw was a facist, or even that he was being used in a plot that was in some way mtivated by the thought and beliefs that have come to be associated with that symbol, but it doesn't, it seems like the only reason it's there is because the Nazis weren't nice (understatement of the fucking decade, right there), and neither is Shaw. The fact is, that symbol still represents pain and suffering on a scale few can even begin to comprehend to alot of people still alive today, so I don't like seeing it thrown around without any care or attention. And it definitely should never become shorthand for, "This man's bad." Of course, the filmmakers thought it was either important or powerful, so we see it not just here, but in another scene too later on, too.

At the same time, we cut back to Shaw's hotel room, where a phone conversation with his mother (Christ, this woman won't leave him alone for five minutes. What is she, in love with him?), is interrupted by another call from a gentleman with an English accent (they try to sell him to us as South African, but that's bullshit, he's English) who's later revealed to us to be the scientist Aticus Noyle, putting him into a hypnotically suggestive trance by saying his full name in a particular way. From this point forward, I'm not sure what's real and what's not, as Noyle has Shaw open his closet and climb through a hole there, in order to bring him to an operating theatre, where they conduct minor brain surgery on him
, inserting a new implant. I'm just not sure I buy this, that they'd have this place set up and ready to go at a moment's notice. It doesn't look like the kind of set-up that travels either, meaning this place is just there all the time, waiting for the brainwashed to check in for a tune up. I could believe that this is all going on in Shaw's head, and to be fair to the movie, there's a not-so-subtle hint later pointing to this possibly being the case, but that's about it.

It's following these two scenes that the movie begins to move along faster, and it's also around this point that the movie begins to totally lose the plot. Marco meets a seemingly sweet girl called Rosie (Kimberly Elise) on a train, who claims to know him and
promptly starts flirting with him in the most obvious way imaginable. As I was watching this little interaction, I couldn't help but remember what I wrote in my "North By Northwest" review, which strangely also featured the main character having an interest shown in him on a train- if you had all this weird stuff going on around you, wouldn't your senses be hightened slightly, to the point that you'd think to yourself that this event is so odd and out-of-the-blue, that you's at least consider that they're connected. I would. Marco doesn't, and seems to enjoy the attention being shown to him. He's not helped by the fact that he's tripping balls practically the entire time he's sitting there though, seeing men sitting opposite him that aren't there a second later, bleeding holes appearing on people's foreheads (which, I'll admit, is an affectively creepy image), and then in the toilet after he's excused himself, he sees Aticus Noyle standing behind him in the mirror, thus validating my belief that the scene with him in the hotel with Shaw didn't really happen.

Marco ends up staying at Rosie's place. Hey, he just met this girl, seemed really weird in front of her, and yet she's letting him sleep in her house as long as he needs to! That's not weird at all! I suppose I may as well tell you now- Rosie turns out to be a cop sent to keep an eye on Marco for some reason. Again, it's never made clear why, and at this point other than saying a few odd things he's done nothing to warrant this kind of surveillance. But the movie needed a cop in it to help the god guy later, so there she is. Shaw
and Marco meet up again, this time at what looks like the main headquarters of Shaw and his running mate's White House attempt. Shaw at first seems reluctant to speak to Marco, but after he assures him he's not crazy (in a manner that I don't think would fill anybody with confidance that he's telling the truth), they sit down and have a bit of a chat. Shaw ven admits that there are times that he doubts his memories himself. Then, in a move that frankly baffled me, Marco gives Shaw Melvin's book. I mean, how could he have thought this was a good idea. "You can trust me, I'm not crazy. By the way, here's a book full of images of you depicted as the Anti-Christ. Thought you'd like to give that a going over." It's as he reads this that Shaw's whole personality changes once again, this time becoming quite aggressive and assertive, taking back everything he'd said previously and pretty much telling Marco that he's crazy.

Marco then throws him across the table, partially rips his shirt off and starts biting him.

There is context to this, I swear- earlier, whilst washing in Rosie's bathroom, Marco had found a lump on his back. He managed to remove what was underneath his skin to discover that it was some kind of tiny Microchip, only to drop it down the sink before he can have it looked at by his Tokar (Robyn Hitchcock, playing a computer/gadget wiz that appears out of nowhere with barely any kinfd of introduction just because the film now needs a charact
er like that). Determined to get another one, during his attack of Shaw, he discovers an identical bump on his back, and decides to remove the chip. With his teeth. This doesn't sit too well with Shaw's security, who burst in and have Marco arrested. I don't know for sure, but I don't think a guy caught violently attacking one of the men in the running for what is the second most powerful position in the known world would just get arrested. I suspect he's leave the scene in a bag, with several holes in him. And for all the effort he put in, I can't help but think it wasn't worth it, for him as well as us, as (say it with me folks), we never really find out what those microchips are or what they do, nor does removing them seem to have any affect on the hypnosis.

Marco is now question by police, not just about this incident, but also about Melvin, as he's recently been found dead in a river (suicide? Murder? I like how you've not given up asking for answers yet. It's cute), and the know he broke into his apartment recently. The movie's lone (intentionally) funny moment happens here, as a particularly arseholish cop keeps getting in Marco's face, calling him a psycho and daring him to hit him, until Marco, without so much as a warning, does just that. And then the guy acta all surprised that he's just been punched. It'sa nice moment of levity in a film that takes itself very, very seriously. Marco's soon back on the streets, and Shaw refuses to press charges (okay, so he's off that
wrap, but isn't he still technically a murder suspect?), and he enlists the help of his friend to help him straighten out his memories but, as they put it, "rebooting" his mind. When he comes to following this, he's in a park with Rosie standing over him. The effects of the reboot temperarily leave him in a child-like state, but slowly his memories start to come back to him, and we see for the first time what it was really like in the camp where his squad had their minda altered. These brief little scenes are quite effective, as they're shown to us in a very stark, to-the-point manner. In order to prove the suggestion worked, both Marco and Shaw were ordered to kill one of their own men, which both of them do with absolutely no fuss whatsoever. They act like it's the most normal thing in the world, and that in itself is quite chilling.

Marco now starts researching into the people who did this to him, and why they would want to in the first place. Which you think would be difficult, but no, he manages to find almost all the information he needs surfing the Internet at his local public library. What he discovers is this- Noyle was hired by The Manchurian Group, an evil (I didn't want to use such an unsubtle word to describe them, but the movie really leaves me with no choice) corporation who seem to have their fingers in several bad-tasting pies, who aspire to be in control of what Marco calls, "The first privately-owned President of the United States." Armed with this information, he uses it to makean ally of Senator Jordan (HEY! LOOK! THEY REMEMBERED THEY HAD
JON VOIGHT!), who's had dealing in the past with The Manchurian Corporation, and as such doesn't put anything past them. This part feels so rushed, as stretches the credibility of the characters to breaking point, especially in the case of Senator Jordan- we're expected to believe this intelligent servant of the people buys this, frankly, ludicrous scheme after talking to the person presenting it to him just once? Bullshit. I could believe it if they'd spent most of the second act having Marco trying to convince Jordan of what's going on, coming to him with more and more evidence until he can't dispute it anymore. That would have been great, and the scenes between the two could have been electric. I mean, I know I keep saying it, but... they had Jon Voight. Use him, for fuck sake!

Voight visits Shaw and Eleanor at one of their homes (I don't know which. Maybe they live together)(Actually, with te bit that's coming up soon, I don't want to even consider that being a possibility), and tells Shaw that he has to withdraw from the race and be tested to see if what Marco told him was true. Or what? You'll go on TV and spill the beans? Yes, because that wuldn't make you a laughing stock that looks bitter at being passed over for nomination, would it. After he's gone, Shaw mournfully tells him mother that he's been having the dreams Marco told him about, and looks set to do what Jordan asked him to, before his mother puts him in a hypnoti
c trance, revealing (if you can call it that) that she's in on everything.She then sends her son to kill Jordan and his daughter. No, really. He walks out into the sea near Jordans home, still in his clothes, and drowns both of them with his bare hands. WAT?! Are you kidding? That was her plan? After all these years of secrecy and backroom dealings, she uses his programming to have him do away with two people in broad daylight? And it didn't cross her mind that somebody might have seen one of the Vice-Presidential candidates walking around in a soggy suit and though to themselves, "Wow, that's weird." Infact, this little development is so stupid, the movie actually admits as much, having to people from Manchurian bitch out Eleanor for taking everything they've worked towards and putting it in jepordy by briefly turning her son into The Terminator.

So with no other options left, Marco decides to confront Shaw one last time, on the night he attends a rally celebrating his parties victory, now aided by his recently-revealed-to-be-a-cop friend Rosie. Of course, it a trap, as a tearful Shaw (after giving him his Medal, saying he deserves it more) tells him they had him factored into the plan pretty much from the beginning, and soon Shaw finds himself hypnotised into shooting the President, thus making Shaw the Leader of the Free World, and allowing The Manchurian Corporation to... do whatever it is they wanted to do with him (again, never revealed, we're just supposed to assume it's bad because GRRR!
CORPORATIONS!), and Marco has now been turned into the trigger man, the guy who'll take the fall. Gee, I bet he hadn't spent most of the movie seeming so crazy now, doesn't he. Eleanor explains all of his to Shaw in a gentle, loving manner, before she... wait, what? She's... she's lingering close to his face as if she's going to... to... no way, they won't... OH GOD SHE'S MOVING CLOSER! CUT AWAY! CUTAWAYCUTAWAYCUTAWAYCUTAWAYCUTAWAY oh thank Jesus they cut away! What was that?! What were they trying to imply with that scene? That she uses hypnosis to... I don't even want to type it! Who the FUCK thought that was a good idea!? "Gee, y'know what this movie needs? Implied incest!" Jesus tittyfucking Christ.

The plot's foiled eventually,when Shaw has an attack of concious and
obscures Marco's shot at the President before looking up at him and imploring him to shot him, which he does, taking out his mother as well with the same shot (well, I guess they did get to achieve some form of penetration with each other, eh?)(that may be both the worst and most morally dubious joke I've ever made. Thank you, and I'm sorry). Don't ask me how Marco was able to just shrug off his orders and go into business for himself. I guess it can be broken with willpower, although you have to wonder where Shaw's willpower was when he was killing the only woman he's ever loved. Anyway, Rosie stops Marco from killing himself, news footage is altered to protect his identity (and the way th do that is hilarious, they esentially use a digital eraser that replaces him with a white guy) we're shown a group of people in one of the offices at The Manchurian Corporation watching the news of Shaw's death and looking sad, then we see Marco and Rosie walking amongst the wreckage of the place he was brainwashed. You know, that top secret place that nobody knew the location of. Shaw's last act is to put the medal and a picture of is boys into the sea surrounding the building, as we hear him say in voiceover that there are always casualties in war.

I was so disappointed by this movie it's noteven funny. When I found it, I saw all the big names attached to it, and thought there had to be some quality there, and tat it'd be a good movie to base my little rant about remakes around. Sadly, whilst I still stand by everything I wrote at the beginning of this, I'll conceed that this movie may not have been the best to try and make my point with. It's
pretty awful. Of the three leads, the only person who walks away deserving any kind of kudos is Schreiber for wrestling manfully with a role that nobody involved creativelyseemed to really understand. But then I expected nothing else from him, as anybody who had the misfortune of sitting through "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" could tell you. All I'll say is, anybody who can maintain an air of dignity and menace when the role occasionally calls for you to run on all fours like a dog, you're clearly talented. Meanwhile, Washington is I think trying to come across as lost and sad, but he just seems really bored the whole time, and Streep, probably the most on-or-off actress there has ever, ever been, spends most of this movie hamming it up so much her character may as well have a snout. I also want to mention the score, and how melodramatic and intrusive it is- tere's barely a scene that doesn't have some mournful horn parping away in the background like a WW2-based First Person Shooter. Humourously, the most emotionally-effective scene in te movie, that being the shots on the brainwashed Marco and Shaw killing the teammates, happen in silence.

But I think the movies biggest flaw is the fact that it's dumb. Properly dumb. And yet it thinks it's really smart, that it's making some grand points about war and power. It's a silly film, with a silly plot, that it takes far too seriously and has no sense of either humour or awareness of itself. This movie is Paris Hilton going on Larry King after doing time for drink driving and
announcing she's going to change the world. Everybody laughed at her. And everybody should laugh at this too.



I can't judge it as a remake, but I can judge it as a movie. And as a movie, it stinks.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and we all go a little mad sometimes.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #32-33- "FLESH GORDON" & "FLESH GORDON 2."



RELEASED: 1974; 1989







(WARNING: LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOONG)(Longer than usual, I mean)(That's what she said)(I know I've made that joke before. I'm going to keep making it until somebody laughs)

Okay, first things first, a couple of things to get out of the way- firstly, these movies actually cost thirty-three-and-a-third pence, as I purchased both of them and a CD for £1.00 altogether. I just
rounded up because if I have to start adding fractions and decimal points to these things, I may never be seen again. And secondly, yes, I find the fact that I bought these two particular movies from The Salvation Army as funny as you do. Clearly, standards are not what they used to be for that particular organisation.

I've actually had these two movies for a while, but I put off covering them for a really silly reason- I was afraid I was turning into That Guy. You see, there was a point not too long ago where it seemed like I was covering alot of movies with explicitly sexual themes and scenes. "Vampire Killer Barbys." "Cheerleader Massacre." Hell, even "Down With Love" had it's mind completely in the gutter
. At the time I was worried that I was doing too many of those sorts of films and that I was coming across as some sort of pervert, but I just shrugged and told myself not to be foolish.

Then one of my Facebook friends contacted me to tell me she'd just read one of my reviews. At first I was pleased, because I always get a kick out of knowing one of my friends has read my stuff. And she told me she enjoyed what she'd read, which filled me with pride (my chest may even have swelled, though I can't totally be sure about that one). But then she said that it was obvious I was, "a very sexually-minded person," and my heart sank. All the effort I put
into these things, and all she really picked up on was the fact that I make alot of dirty jokes. To me, this was proof that I was turning into That Guy, and I decided to nip that in the bud by being a bit more selective about what I reviewed for a while. Like I said, I was being silly, and almost certainly over-sensitive. I'm over it now, though. Fuck it if I come across as That Guy, films like this are fun to write about, and if I deny myself that because of some stupid complex, then there's more wrong with me than just being That Guy.

I think I'm one of the only people I know that hasn't seen at least
one of these movies before. I've been aware of them for years, from an early age most of my friends had copies stashed away in some little nock or cranny, hidden away from the eyes of their parents. You could almost subtitle the first movie, "Fisher-Price: My First Porn Flick." But I never had any desire to watch it. I think it's the title, or more accurately, the use of the word, "flesh." It always just made me skin crawl. I know it's supposed to be a parody of "Flash Gordon," and I know what kind of imagery it's supposed to invoke, but whenever I saw that title, all I could see were cuts and gore and slabs of meat (how many times do I have to say this, I was a weird kid). Even today, whenever I hear that word, the first thing that comes to mind is all the psycho-sexual mind-fuckery of "Videodrome." In a way, I suppose that's part of the reason I was looking forward to writing about these two as much as I was- I'm making up for lost time, experiencing something I should have done a long time ago, were it not for my own perplexing hang-ups.

The movie begins in a much more sedate manner than I was expecting. The first thing we see isn't really part of the movie at all, but is rather one of those "let's-just-cover-our-arses-just-in-case" disclaimers proclaiming this to be inspired by the great old-school superhero serials, whilst adding a touch of the burlesque to the
proceedings. I understand why they did this, but at the same time it comes across as a bit pretentious. Be honest fellas, you're not paying tribute to the swashbuckling superhero genre, you're just making a porno parody of the old "Flash Gordon" serials. Following this, we're quickly thrust into the main body of the plot (such as it is)- a red ray from Outer Space is periodically hitting Earth, causing anybody to be hit by it to be engulfed in a sexual frenzy so rampant that orgies just spontaneously erupt. All is not lost though, as the man who first discovered the Sex Ray, Professor Gordon, alerts the world's media via a press conference that his hockey-player son has somehow made a discovery about the ray (quite how he did this is never explained) and was travelling back to America in order to help combat it.

After an animated credits sequence that looks like something Terry Gilliam could have created just by sneezing, we're now on a plane,
where the first two-thirds of our heroic trio or introduced to us- Dale Ardor (Suzanne Fields) and, of course, Flesh Gordon (Jason Williams). Like almost everything about this movie, they're both parodies from "Flash Gordon," but the thing is, they've not been particularly clever about it. I keep trying to work out if "Dale Ardor" is supposed to be some kind of play on words, like a double-entendre, but I don't think it is, I just think it's a name they came up with that's close enough to the name of the original character, but different enough so they won't get sued. And with Flesh they got lazy by just having that be his name. In the original movie, it's made very clear that "Flash" is just a nickname. I think the character's name is actually Steve or something like that. But here they can't be bothered with that, so his name's just Flesh. His Momma decided that'd be a good handle for her first-born son. Sure. Why not? It's also obvious from the second he opens his mouth that Jason Williams is so wooden an actor that I'm amazed they allowed him to have any sex scenes, just incase the friction caused him to burst into flames and burn down the set.

The plane is of course his by the Sex Ray, and a carnal free-for-all kicks off, with even the pilots abandoning their duties to join in (surprisingly, this scene is the first one to feature nudity of any kind, and we're over eight minutes in at this point). Flesh seems
unaffected, however, and tries to save the plane. When it becomes obvious that this mission is a fruitless one, he abandons ship... um, plane, parachuting to an an island with a now semi-clothed Dale (who of course grabbed hold of his waist and started thanking him on the way down by, um... going down). As it turns out, the Island they land on conveniently happens to house the work station of Dr. Flexi Jerkoff (Joseph Hudgins, who redeems himself for his his awful Sean Connery impression by providing the movie with it's lone awesome beard), who, in a classic META OUTTA NOWHERE scene where they spend a good two minutes summing the plot up to each other for no apparent reason, has built a rocket in order to travel into Space and stop the Sex Ray at it's source, and recruits Flesh and Dale to be part of his crew.

The ship of course looks like a dick. At first, this wasn't funny, because even in a movie like this, it's a very obvious joke to make. However, as the movie went on, it got funnier, for one simple reason- as soon as the reach the planet Porno (yes, the planet's
named Porno), almost everything that looks even vaguely phallic is shaped to resemble penis, and no explanation is given for this, save for the fact that things are now taking place on a planet called Porno, so what do you expect? But here, the screenwriter felt the need to have Jerkoff say the ship's design had been influenced by the effects of the Sex Ray. I found that so hilarious, that everything else was allowed to resemble a cock without so much as one question being asked, but they felt the need to give a reason for why the rocket looks like one, as if that was going too far.

So off they go into space, where of course things don't quite go
according to plan- first the ship is blasted by the Sex Ray, and I don't think I need to tell you what happens at this point (even Flesh is effected, even though the scene of the plane seemed to hint that it had no effect on him. INCONSISTENT STORYTELLING!). Then, as they approach Porno, they're ship is discovered, and the planet's ruler, for the moment shrouded in secrecy, orders the ship be taken down. They're shot from the sky by a rival craft, and it's only the quick thinking and actions of Flesh fixing the damage that allows them to perform an emergency landing. Once down, they regroup, and Jerkoff finally gives Dale a dress to wear. What does it say about this movie and its effect on me that this women has been standing around stark naked since the Sex Ray incident, and I barely noticed? I was going to make a snarky comment here about how he could have given her that dress ages ago, but as Jerkoff hands it to her, he says the line, "It was my mother's, she was buried in it," and all is forgiven.

Upon discovering that the planet has a breathable atmosphere (by opening the door to the ship and taking a big lungful of air), Flesh and crew are immediately set upon by three dudes dressed like extras from "Sparticus." Actually, that description in an insult to the production values of that movie. Let's just say they're unbelievably camp (and if their introduction is anything to go by, they have
trouble walking on anything that's not a flat, hard surface) and leave it at that. Our heroic trio run into a cave for cover, only to be attacked once inside by one-eyed creatures (shaped like dicks) that Jerkoff christens "some kind of Penisaurus." These creatures are brought to life using stop-motion animation, and call me crazy, but I think they look quite good. There's alot of stop-motion work in this movie, and it's clear that alot of time and effort has gone into making these sequences look as good as they possible can, and it helps to give the creatures real personality and charm. As adversaries, the Penisaurus' aren't really up to much, all they can really do is nuzzle people, especially Dale, who I'm sure I heard tell one of them during her hysterical shrieking, "YOU STINK!" That's just... ew.

In the end, they prove enough of a distraction for the team to be
captured, and brought before the planet's ruler, Emperor Wang The Perverted (William Hunt). I don't need to tell you who he's a parody of, do I? Actually... the only real resemblance this character has to Ming The Merciless is purely superficial, due to the fact that he's been made to look a bit like Fu Manchu, right down to the fact that he's seemingly puffing on an Opium pipe (that looks like a dick). As a character though, he's a million miles away from the cold, distant and, erm, merciless being that was Ming. If anything, watching Hunt's performance brings back memories of Cecar Romaro's turn as The Joker in the old "Batman" TV series- he's a giggling, insane lunatic, calling everyone who displeases him a "dildo." He's having a blast, and it's quite fun to watch. He has some competition in the scenes set in his Throne Room though, and especially this scene, as there's an orgy going on around him at all times in this location, and in a few of shots, I caught sight of a few couples... really going for it. Know what I mean?

It's here that out heroes are briefly split up- Jerkoff is taken to Wang's laboratory, so that his scientific knowledge can be put to use; Dale is to be married to Wang as soon as humanly possible, and
Flesh? Well, his fate was initially that he be taken to The Sex Depletor (which I assume is is what powers the Sex Ray, but that's never really revealed. Nor is the reason why Wang is attacking Earth- when asked, his only reply is, "I'll tell you later." He never does), but due to the pleas Amora, Queen Of Darkness and Guardian Of The Power Pasties (I'd say that's a mouthful, but I'm saving that joke for later...), he is instead thrown into the Arena, where he must survive Trial By Ordeal in order to be taken into her custody. The "Ordeal" consists of him being set upon by three scantily-clad (naturally) feral women who claw at him, ripping his clothes from his body (clothes rip really easily in this movie. It's like the were designed by The Chippendales or something). He comes through the other end of this, and Amora runs excitedly towards him, exclaiming, "HE'S MINE! HE'S MINE!" and teleporting away with his naked, unconcious body to her ship. What does she plan to do with him?

Fuck him, of course. What else?

To be fair, their love scene is actually the only one in the entire film I think comes anywhere near actually being sexy, as they use all the soft porn trick, such as low lighting and seductive music. It almost feels like a scene from a very different movie that
somebody edited into this one for a laugh. It couldn't last though, as Wang sends one of his ships to blast Amora's out of the sky, killing her in the process. Flesh survives, and is reunited with Jerkoff after he too manages to escape. They are then visited by the ghost of Amora, who gives to them the Power Pasties, which are basically nipple-shaped diamonds that shoot lasers when worn on somebody's chest, which Jerkoff chooses to brandish (the sight of him threatening people by lifting up his shirt never fails to get a chuckle out of me). Once Flesh has finally been outfitted with the iconic costume he's seen wearing on the box art, they rush back to Wang's castle to try and save Dale, interrupting perhaps the second strangest wedding ceremony ever, behind David Gest and Liza Minnelli's. Then, in the commotion, Dale is whisked away again, by another unknown assailant. This is like Kidnap Tag or something.

As it turns out, she'd been captured by the The Amazon Underground of Porno (and yes, before you ask, the Amazons are lesbians), lead by Chief Nelly, a cigar chomping woman with an eye-patch and a metal leg. Apparently word had reached her organisation of Dale and co.'s opposition to Wang's rule, and had decided to initiate Dale into her group against her will. And the way they do this is to sexually assault her. Seriously. They strap her to a table and have one of their number climb on top of her and start writhing around. And at one point she's pretty much sitting om her face. I wasn't surprised
to see some sapphic action, but... surely it could have been brought up in a... nicer way? It's not like this is some intense, gritty drama. This is Flesh Gordon, for Christ sake. Eventually Flesh and Jerkoff show up to save Dale, and following a fight with another cool stop-motion character, this one looking like a cross between a Velociraptor and a Beetle, they're saved by what is revealed to be the true resistance movement on this planet, lead by Price Precious. Precious, you see, is the planet's true ruler, but was ousted by Wang, who we find out had his package eaten by a Penis Fly Trap (*groan*), and staged an uprising with an army of impotent soldiers. Flesh and his friends decide to join forces with Precious, with Flesh saying he'll do anything to repay Precious for saving his life just now. Precious smiles, puts his hand on Flesh's shoulder, then we're on his ship and OH MY GOD HE'S BLOWING HIM! FLESH IS LYING NAKED ON A BED AS PRECIOUS LIES IN FRONT OF HIM VERY OBVIOUSLY GOING DOWN ON HIM! Well... I can safely say I wasn't expecting that. I guess when Flesh said he'd do anything, he was saying a mouthful (see?)

Anyway, back at the Forest Kingdom, which is where Precious' resistance reside, a plan is formed to destroy the Sex Ray, involving harnessing the powers of the Power Pasties to blow it up, as he demonstrates on a scale model (shaped like a dick).The plan is
foiled however, as a spy Wang has planted in Precious' ranks steals one of the Pasties as they're flying towards their target, and the ship is destroyed, seemingly killing everyone inside. In a clever little wink to tho original source material they're parodying, we get a brief intermission, complete with narrator asking us to tune in soon to see how our heroes get out of this one. We're then shown that, moments before the destruction of the ship, they all managed to bail out, using umbrellas as parachutes. I wish I could come up with a decent Mary Poppins joke to use here. There's a little bit of sword action and fisticuffs with the guards (including a wrestling-style Double-Axehandle being used), and the foursome find themselves back in the castle, only to be flushed down a giant toilet. Believing them to finally be done in, Wang celebrates by putting together a naked Conga Line, singing a song that has only one lyric ("FLESH GORDON IS DEAD!"), and putting the Power Pastie he had stolen... inside someone. Please don't make me go into details with this, you can work out what he did yourselves. It doesn't stay there long though , as of course Flesh and his friends survived their gigantic swirling and retrieved it (by shaking the poor girl in a most undignified manner).

It's at this point we're introduced to what I think may be one of the greatest creatures to ever grace cinema. He doesn't have a fancy
name, he's just referred to by most fans as The Monster.He doesn't even look all that special, just like a massive Gargoyle. But it's the personality they gave him, coupled with his voice they gave him (provided by Craig T. Nelson), that elevates him to legendary status. He sounds like an aging, slightly bored pick-up artist that knows he can still get lucky with any bright young thing at the bar, and as such everything he says is pure comedy gold. It's really hard to resist the temptation to just transcribe every line of dialogue he utters. Amongst fans, "Up yours, Flesh" (accompanied by The Finger) and "OH THE PAIN! THE HUMILIATION! THE HEMORRHOIDS!" (follow getting shot with a lazer in the arse) are favourites, but to me the character was summed up by two other moments- his exasperated "Oh fuck..." when Flesh manages to evade him, and, once he picks up Dale King Kong-style, he shows off his abode to her with the words, "This is The Tower Of Murder. It's where I hang out." He's so fucking awesome! I was actually sad to see him die, as he's brought down onto Wang's castle, blowing it to smithereens. After that, the movie's over, as Flesh and co. travel back to Earth, with the promise of a sequel, "The Perils of Flesh," coming soon.

I had alot more fun watching this than I thought I was going to. I thought I'd find it childish and crass, and I do, I'm not going to lie. It's also not really sexy or arousing at any point, save the one scene between Flesh and Amora. It's no wonder so many of my
friends watched it when they were younger, because you really would have to be young to get off on anything here. But beyond that, you can tell that alot of care and attention went into the making of this. It feels alot like an old forties sci-fi serial, just... with full-frontal throughout. In many ways it may be more true to the its origins than the eventual "Flash Gordon" movie was, and this is coming from someone who really loves that film (except for the part where the dude's eyes fall out of his head. That's just gross). It comes across as a real labour of love, and by the end the enthusiasm is just infectious. Plus it had a Monster in it that at one point pleads with his foes to, "Stop... look... listen." I can't throw away a movie where that happens. I just can't.



Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and...

... bollocks, I've got another one to do, haven't I?

Actually, I'm going to slightly break from format and not cover the entire film from beginning to end (I mean come on, seriously, how long do you want these things to be?), but rather, since this is the first time I've watched two films in a series back-to-back, I'm going to compare and contrast the them to try and accurately explain why the second movie fails. And believe me, "Flesh Gordon 2" (or, to give it its full title, "Flesh Gordon 2: Flesh Gordon Meets The Cosmic Cheerleaders") fails. It fails miserably.

But before I get into that, BOX REVIEW! Not of the front of the box this time, as is the usual with these. No, instead, I'm going to write down what's written on the back of the box. Why? Because I think in its own way, it may be genius, and it's also the best thing about this whole film, so I feel I have to bring it up. So without further ado...


Okay, with that out of the way, on with the shit.

Okay, let's start with the characters. Since this film was released a staggering 15 years after the original, it's perfectly understandable that they had to recast three of the main roles
(William Hunt is the only member of the original cast to return, reprising his role as Emperor Wang, although he spends most of the film covered from head-to-toe as the aformentioned Evil Presence). However, it's like they had a checklist of all the things the three original leads brought to the table, and then went out and found three people that had none of those things. I'll start with the least offensive that being Robyn Kelly, replacing Suzanne Fields as Dale. It's not like this role had much depth to it in the first film. Dale was really just there to get kidnapped and fawn over Flesh. However, Fields managed at least to portray the character in a way that didn't make me want to take the disc out of my player and burn it. Robyn, on the other hand, is so fucking annoying, almost from the first moment we see her. All she does is mug in the most over-reactive, bad-sitcom sense of the word.

But like I said, of the three, she the least-offensive. I actually can't decide who I think is worst out of Flesh and Jerkoff, I change my mind everytime I go to start typing. I guess I'll talk about Flesh. I know I ragged on Jason Williams' performance when covering the first film, but if I'm honest, by the end, I'd sort-of warmed to the lug and his Oak-like delivery. There was an honesty to his performance, which is a word I wouldn't think for one second to use
to describe Vince Mudocco's take on the character. You know those annoying surfer dudes you saw in movies all the time in the eighties? With their grating "Whoa dude!" personalities? Well, that's Vince Murdecco. That's all he seems to be capable of providing at all times. And he's just as wooden as Williams was, but if anything he's worse, because you got the sense at least that Williams knew he wasn't very good. Murdocco however is the kind of wooden you suspects thinks it's being really expressive and characterful. God he fucking annoyed me. I'll give him props for his hair, though. He was sporting one hell of a mullet throughout the entire movie.

And so finally we come to Flexi Jerkoff. In the first movie, I thought overall Joseph Hudgins did a fine job with the role. He seemed to understand that things are sometimes funnier when you don't play them for laughs, so he went through the whole film essentially playing things straight. But Tony Travis... God fucking damn Tony Travis... he plays Jerkoff as just your typical, borderline mad scientist, to the point that he's practically a cartoon. And his Scottish accent! I'm so sorry I said anything bad about Hudgins' attempt at it in the first movie, because compared to what Travis can muster, he is Sean Connery. Of course no everything
that's wrong with these characters is down to the people playing them, alot of it is the the fault of the writing as well. It's like the writers couldn't remember what these characters acted like the first time around, so they created new characters and just gave them the old character's names- Dale is more ballsy, which I suppose is an upgrade, Flesh now has the kind of "Woah dude!" demeanour usually only reserved for surfers and Bill & Ted, and once again, Jerkoff gets it in the backside the worst- he went from being a fairly dignified character that the had to create a reason for why he'd make a rocketship shaped like a penis, to a man who now bills himself as a "Titty Scientist," who ever creates things to improve women's breasts, or makes things in the shape of them.

So with the characters ruined, lets move onto the overall presentation of the movie. The first one had a very grainy, soft-focus look to it, which I think aided it- it helped in the intergration of the stop-motion effects with the live-action footage, and it also just looked and felt right, considering they were spoofing material from about twenty-or-thirty years previously. Here, you get the feeling everyone involvedwas out to impress, seeing as they were bring the franchise back from the dead, and were aiming high with regards to production values. Which is great.
However... it only makes sense to aim high when you have the budget to aim high. The first "Flesh Gordon" managed to look okay because they clearly aimed low and made some good, intelligent choices on what to spend the money on. With the second one, I get the feeling everyone went mental, and as a result you have a film that undoubtably cost more, but feels somehow cheaper. It's just so bright and loud and gaudy. A word of advice- if you must watch this movie, don't watch it on a PS3, or any other upscaling DVD player. I did, and there were some scenes that were so bright they were almost painful to look at. The special effects all look like utter shit, too, to the point where they managed to get something wrong that they got right the last time- they use stop-motion animation for an alien that Flesh fights at the very beginning of the film, but due to it's surrounding, this time it looks crap, and cheap, and totally out-of-place. I felt sad for it. I felt sad for a lump of Play-Dough.

And so finally, we come to the plot. Frankly, it's a mess. Like the blurb on the back of the box said, it involves the planet being engulfed by radiation that renders all the males impotent. That's fine, it's sort-of the reverse of the plot from the first one. Just have Flesh go to the planet and destroy the Ray like he did before. Keep it simple. But no, this time, we have people coming after Flesh
for their own reasons, most of them involving his cock, which is now massive, despite that never being mentioned in the first one, and infact in the few full-frontal scenes we got of the character back then, he was just a normal dude in that department. But no, the plot calls for him to have a huge dong, so by God, he has a huge dong. The Cosmic Cheerleaders of the title want him because none of the men of their planet can perform anymore, and Wang/The Evil Presence wnts him so he can have it grafted onto himself, so that he now has the only working Willy in the cosmos. See? a total fucking car crash, and needlessly complicated. Not to mention this script is much more foul-mouthed than the first one. It clearly wasn't created as entertainment for the whole family, but I can recall only three curses in the whole of "Flesh Gordon," both at the very end, two of them spoken by the same character. Here, it feels like not a second goes by without somebody saying fuck or shit or cock of something similar. I felt... grubby watching it. I didn't get that feeling from the first one.

Oh, and skipping right to the end, they stop The Impotence Ray by putting a condom on it.

Heard enough?


And with that, I'm out. I really do sincerely want to apologise for this bloody thing taking so long. There were circumstances, some beyond my control, some not, if I'm completely honest. I'm just happy and slightly humbled that you've stuck with me. Now I know I can be a week late regularly.

I'm kidding, I'm kidding.

... Sort of.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and long live The New Flesh!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #31- "JUNEBUG."










Okay, I'm expecting alot of people to call bullshit on me covering this movie. I could see people maybe, maybe buying that I managed to find this second-hand somewhere, like at CEX or a market or somewhere like that. But brand new? From a shop? and the two-disc Special Edition, no less? Again, maybe they'd be willing to except that I picked it up at a discounted price, as part of one of those deals where you buy a certain number of DVDs for £20. I mean, it wasn't a massive hit, more of a critical darling really, so getting it for less than the suggested retail price isn't totally out of the question. But £1.00? I can almost hear what some people are saying to themselves right now- "Okay, now he's just buying movies he wants to talk about and lying to us about how much he's paying for them. Infact, how do we know he bought this recently? It could easily have been sitting in his collection for years and he just feels like talking about it. This is a crock, and I feel disappointed and used."

And I wouldn't blame anybody for feeling that way. I'd be suspicious too.

Which is why I kept the receipt.

If I'm honest, I wasn't completely surprised when I eventually found this, as I'd already been told it was out there. For those that don't know, I'm a member of quite a few pop culture message boards and communities, and I'm not afraid to say I pimp this place like a motherfucker on pretty much all of them. Sometimes this doesn't go down too well (I'm very proud of the fact that I've been banned from the Total Film Magazine boards for spamming. I only joined there so I could post the link there, I've not read an issue of their magazine since the gave "The Blair Witch Project 2" three stars. THREE STARS!), but some of the places have been cool with me doing this, and in some cases the people there have gone so far as to pass information onto me regarding deals and films I might be surprised to find. One of the main people I want to thank is Film Brain, who contributes Bad Movie Beatdown and has also created a few 5 Second Movies for thatguywiththeglasses.com. He'll often send me things through their forum, and I'm always thankful, but... there's a hint of sadness that goes along with my thanks, as the movies he'll draw my attention to are awesome and I'd love to write about them, but they very rarely make it to my branch of Poundland. Yes, I've written before about how you can sometimes find real hidden gems at Poundland, and that's true, but we seem to get only a fraction of what's on offer in most other places.

Even this one I didn't find easily- I picked it up not at my local branch in Romford, but rather from a branch in Cambridge whilst I was there visiting a friend for her Birthday. I can't believe Cambridge even has a Poundland. I was told it hadn't been open long. Proof if proof is still needed at this point that the recession is biting hard everywhere. I'm not sure, but I think they may have stuck it where a Zavvi used to be. A true sign of the times.

The beginning of this movie was... strange. Very strange. And I don't mean in a wacky, zany, frantic way, I mean... it's dudes yodelling. And from the looks of it, it's not cast members or anybody they brought in especially to do this, it's just old stock footage of dudes yodelling. Then they fade away, and we're left with a static shot of some forestation. A long static shot. Held to absolute silence. Then up on the screen in big red letters comes the word, "Junebug." And that's our opening. They may as well of had a a shirtless man walk out of the undergrowth with the word, "Idiosyncratic Indie Movie" written on his chest in squirrel's blood. Then suddenly we're in an urban setting, that being an art auction. It's been put together Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz, a woman I can only think to describe as looking like a beautiful cartoon Deer), who we later find out specializes is "Outsider Art," that being pieces created by eccentric, self-taught artists. As the auction is going on, she spots a ruggedly handsome man (Alessandro Nivola) across the room, and I swear you can visibly see her knees go weak at the sight of him. Were this a movie from the fifties, she may very well have fainted. She approaches him, they make small talk, and when the auction's over, they go back to her place (actually I'm just assuming that, it's not established where they went. They could still be in the auction building for all I know), and start snogging each other's faces off. It's not a typical love scene though, as they're both really awkward, especially Madeleine, who you get the impression doesn't do this sort of thing very often. They're both also smiling and laughing through the entire thing, which I found to be quite sexy. Maybe it's just a personal thing, but I think laughing during sex or any intimate moment can be quite erotic. This is not to be confused with being laughed at during sex or an intimate moment, which can be soul-destroying.

Then, suddenly, they're married. We don't see the wedding, it happens off-screen. It seems like a quick jump for the movie to make, but we later find out that it was a quick jump for the characters as well, as they tied the knot after knowing each other all of a week. We rejoin them six months into their lives together, as Madeleine's scouts are checking out an artist they've discovered in North Carolina, George's home state. The artist in question is a man named David Wark, who specialises in painting depicting the American Civil War and slavery. His interpretations of those events are... unique. For example, there are computers and snakes with human heads and nudity. Lots of nudity. When he's showing his art to the scouts that have come to see it, he say something I didn't quite catch, as his accent is so deeply southern and speaks in this lilting, sing-song drawl. I thought he said he couldn't fit General Custer's cock on the front of the painting, so he had to paint it on the back of the canvas (which all look to be torn-off pieces of cardboard), but dismissed that as being, well, insane. But then he turns the painting over, and sure enough there's General Custer's penis, which if this paining were to scale would stretch at least a good two feet. It's killing a man too, shooting him with a combination of bullets and sperm. Well then.

Madeleine is informed that visiting him may be enough for him to sign with her and have his art shown in Chicago, so she and George travel down to see him, and also to stop off and visit his family. The meeting goes well, and Madeleine leaves assuming he's decided to do business with her, calling her business associates in the car on the way to George's parent's house, as... Jesus Christ, is he fingering her? I think he is, he's driving along the road with his hand so far up his wife's skirt that it's bunching up around his wrist as she speaks on the phone. I was actually surprised by how much sex there was in this thing. Okay, the hook-up at the beginning is positively PG, but after that there's painting of shrapnel-spitting wangs and handjobs (is it still called a handjob when a guy's doing it to a woman?), and when George and Madeleine get to his parent's house, they're first caught by his Father getting to second base with each other in their car whilst it's parked in the family garage, then they spend literally every night rutting in a shamelessly noisy fashion. I think the fact that their relationship is so heavily sexual means something- maybe it's meant to imply that their relationship is based more on physicality than it is anything deeper. Or maybe it's due to the fact that George comes from a heavily religious family that, as we find out, are very good at keeping things from one another, so it's supposed to represent that he's pretty repressed, especially sexually. Of course there's every chance I'm completely off-base, and they just love each other so much that they can't be in the same room alone together for any amount of time without wanting to rip each other's clothes off with their teeth.

Oh, and there's also a scene where a heavily-pregnant woman pleasures herself whilst looking at a picture of herself and her boyfriend when they were in High School. You don't get to see that in many sensitive independent dramas.

I've been trying to come up with the right words to describe his family, or rather, I've been trying to decide how stereotypical I think they are. I've seen more offensive portrayals of southern folk. It's not like they're all wearing overalls and chewing so straw or anything like that. They're all broadly drawn, and on the surface they're pretty stock, with the mother, Peg (Celia Weston), being the worst offender, being judgemental to the extreme, taking something of a dislike to Madeleine even before she's met her, and liking her even less when she does, proclaiming her "too smart and too pretty." But they're all allowed a little depth, and given moments that surprise us. The two most interesting characters in this group are George's brother, Johnny (Ben McKenzie) and his wife, Ashley. Ben McKenzie's portrayal of Johnny is actually really brave, because it's not very often in a film that an actor it willing to play a role in as completely an unlikable way as he does here. There's no other way of putting it, Johnny is a absolute prick for virtually this whole flick. I can't be 100% sure, but I think there's only one scene in this entire film where he smiles, and that's when he's at work with his buddies. For the rest of the movie he abrasive, teenager-level sullen, flying into a rage at the silliest things, like to being able to record a show about Meerkats because the VCR keeps spitting out the video he's trying to put in (to be fair, I fucking hated it when that happened, too). He's repugnant, and you almost don't want to think about why he could be that way, because doing that would mean trying to understand him, and trying to understand him's just took close to trying to like him for comfort. It's one thing he says that gives you some insight into why he's this way, and it's tossed out their so casually that it could be easily missed- Madeleine is trying to help him write a paper on a book he's supposed to have read, and he ends up getting so frustrated that he flies off the handle and starts randomly stewing things that piss him off, including the fact that he could have moved to Washington for whatever reason had it not been for his relationship with Ashley. That when I understood that he's just so fucking angry, all the time, about the fact that he feels so trapped (except when he's at work, which is why he's happy there), that he can't stop himself from lashing out at everybody. And I don't think he has any control over it. The two times he massively blows up, at Madeleine who he accuses of leading him on and thinking she's better than him, and George where he actually throws a wrench at his face and makes him bleed, he looks contrite the second he's alone, as if he's thinking, "Why did I just do that? What's wrong with me?"

And then there's Ashley, played by Amy Adams. In alot of ways she's the main event of this movie, as her performance took home the Special Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and she also netted the movie it's lone Oscar nomination. She's one of those curious actresses the critics are always going to love, and cinema journalists are always going to predict is going to be the Next Big Thing, but whilst I think she'll probably have a great career, and star in alot of fantastic movies, I don't think she'll ever really rise above the level she's achieved now. I find it hilarious that virtually every one of her films is touted as her Big Breakthrough Moment. This was supposed to be her Big Breakthrough Moment. then "Enchanted" was supposed to be her Big Breakthrough Moment. Then "Doubt" was supposed to be her Big Breakthrough Moment. I can't help but be reminded of a quote by the actress Kelly McDonald, where she made note of the fact that she'd been considered an "up-and-coming" actress for so long, sometimes she thought to herself, "When am I going to come?"

But none of that takes away from her performance here, which really is of a superior quality, and deserving of all the awards she picked up for it. On paper, anybody could have looked at this role and thought there was very little to it, as she goes through most of the movie literally barefoot and pregnant (and God bless her, but she's not got very pretty feet)(not that I'm, y'know... into women's feet or anything like that)(... leave me alone), and the character could easily come across as highly annoying. And she does, in all honesty, but Adams manages to undercut that with a layer of vulnerability and sweet-natured charm. Her relationship with Madeleine is particularly cute, as she adores her pretty much on sight and instantly wants to know everything about her, where she was born, whether or not she went to college, what she does for a living. this constant barrage of questions should become annoying, both for Madeleine and for us, but it never does, because Adams makes it so it's almost impossible to look at this character and not want to give her a great big cuddle. If I have to criticize any aspect of her performance though, it's be how she works the bump. She's playing a woman pretty much ready to drop at any second, and yet other then the occasional twinge, she's not acting like it at all. I've been around more than a few pregnant women in my life, and from what I've seen, when they're at that stage of the game, they're not moving around that free and easy.

The meet-up seems to be going well, at least on the surface of things. Madeleine in particular tries very hard to get in with her husband's kin, and in my eyes doesn't once come across as somebody who thinks she's better than these people. She does a few things that could be read that way though, such as kissing Johnny on both his cheeks, which is a touch too continental for these folks, and also the reason he thinks she has the hots for him, and calling Peg "Pat" until Ashley corrects her. They take part in a few family occasions, such as Ashley's Baby Shower, which is the where Johnny's Meerkat-induced meltdown occurs, and a church gathering, where George actually performs a hymn. I'm not a particularly religious fellow, if I were asked to give a definite answer either way I suppose I'd say I'm just your bog-standard, boring, confused Agnostic, but even I found this sequence to be quite affecting. It helps that is would at least appear that Alessandro is using his own voice, so the emotion that's coming across feels more real in a strange way. It has an impact on his family as well- Peg starts to cry, Johnny actually straightens his spine enough to look over his shoulder, but it's Madeleine's reaction that I found most interesting, she has a look on her fact that not many of us are ever lucky enough to see, the look you can only get from somebody that loves you, where they obviously already hold you in a high level of self-esteem, yet you've still managed to find a way to surprise and impress them. I'm still waiting on the look myself.

Things kick into high gear (well, as high a gear as movies like this ever go up to) when Ashley goes into labour. The event itself isn't treated as anything really all that special, they just get er things together, put her in the car and the entire family, sans Madeleine, drive off to the hospital. Where things become complicated is when them movie throws up what's actually is's most conventional moment- the good old-fashioned moral dilemma. You see, throughout the movie, Madeleine has been having issues with David Wark and his sister, who are being courted by another gallery in New York, and when Ashley's rushed to hospital, she's informed that Wark has agreed to go with the other Gallery. Believing she can talk him back around, she has George drop her off at Wark's place before he goes onto the hospital, believing everything will be fine and that she's not needed there, even though George very clearly believes she should come with him. She meets up with Wark, and discovers all she needed to do to get him to sign with her was to get him a fruit basket.

Mission accomplished.

She then recieves a phone call telling her Ashley's son was stillborn.

This twist didn't come as a total surprise to me, because the filmmakers had been hinting all the way through that Ashley really wasn't taking very good care of herself- she was obsessed with looking like she was fat, bragging at the start of the movie that she'd managed to lose two pounds even in her condition, and that one day she's got by on a bun-less hot do with a bit of Mustard on it. She was also shown doing the kind of exercizes a pregnant woman really shouldn't be doing, involving alot of thrusting and stretching, but even beyond that, she was always bending down and carrying things that looked too heavy for her, and everytime she did something like that I winced and thought to myself, "Sweetheart, please don't do that. It's really not a good idea."

Basic human decency is a difficult thing to capture on-screen, because it can easily come across as mawkish. I have to tip my hat to Alessandro Nivola in the scene he shares with Amy Adams in the hospital then, because he manages to come across as a decent, loving human being without inciting a single cynical feeling in me. I've not really written much about his character in this movie, because other than the hymn and all the shagging, he doesn't really do much throughout most of it, he's more the driving force of the whole thing. This then is both the actor and that character's moment to shine, and it's also the moment that I believed that Madeleine could easily fall so in love with this guy that she'd marrying him in a week. Amy Adams is also astonishing, how she goes from being so strong, to falling to pieces and questioning everything in her life from her relationship to her belief in God, do then pulling everything back together again, all in the space of about five minutes. I've made fun of people who do things like this in the past, saying emotions don't work that way, and only the unhinged can switch gears that quickly. Well, I can't make fun of her reaction, because I really can believe the grief of an event like this could momentarily send a person insane.

The film's pretty much over after this, as Madeleine and George leave to return to Chicago. Is it a happy ending? Well, not really. Johnny calls Ashley at the hospital and says he'd be willing to try for another baby, which of course makes her deliriously happy. He still doesn't look too thrilled about the whole thing though, as if he's just doing it to make her happy and has resigned himself to the fact that he never will be. You come out of the flick still worrying about their relationship. George and Madeleine also don't appear as strong as they once were. They're still together as the film fades to black, but you get the sense that they now realise how little they actually knew each other (in one of the last scenes, Madeleine has to ask Peg if George likes mayo on his sandwiches, to which she responds, "He eats it with a spoon!"). I'm more hopeful for them though, which gives the ending a bittersweet tang.

As you can probably tell by now, this is a deceptively complex movie, and depending on how you watch it, I suspect you'd take home two completely different takes on it. This is not, as I've described some movies in the past, a Sunday Night Movie. You can't really have it playing in the background, as you'd end up missing alot of important things without even realising it. No, this is a movie you need to pay attention to and study. It demands quite a bit of you, more than even most other movies of its sort. But it's worth it, though. If you're willing to put the effort in, this film is a very rich, rewarding experience, and it bares repeat viewing, because I'm sure there are little things I missed or maybe even read the wrong way, and I find this story and the people in it so captivating, that I want to know both it and them as well as humanly possible.



Just look at that picture. I've now kept so many films, I'm having difficulty getting Marv in. I don't know how I feel about that.

Until next week,I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and I wouldn't live with you if the world were flooded with piss and you lived in a tree.