Posts Tagged ‘Bikers

06
Apr
15

Amer (2009)

AmerposterIt’s been said many times before, mostly because it’s true: either you give a shit about Giallo or you don’t. I’m hardly an expert on the genre, but in my dabbling I think I’ve sampled enough to know this much about myself: I wish I liked them more. They are so dang stylish and beautiful to look at, but often times the circuitous mystery plot loses my interest and I find myself appeased only by bright-colored gore, which frankly gets old after a while. It’s possible I blew my Giallo load by watching too many of them in a short period of time, causing their plots, directors and titles to get jumbled into a hot, Italian mess. But then comes along Amer, a beautiful homage to the genre that makes me want to revisit all those old movies anew.

Amer doesn’t have much of a plot to speak of; it relies much more on style to tell its tale. It is centered around Ana during three pivotal moments in each stage of her life. Each segment takes place in or around her family’s creepy, old mansion overlooking the seaside. In the first, Ana discovers her nanny/housekeeper/old-lady-who-makes-her-food is also a witch, her dead grandfather maybe isn’t so dead, and her parents having sex. In the second, the adolescent Ana (and her jealous mother) are painfully aware of her budding sexuality, and a trip into town turns into a clear rape threat as her

It seems as though someone is always watching Ana.

It seems as though someone is always watching Ana.

flirting with a boy her own age drags her into the territory of some leather-bound bikers who can’t help but lick their chops as the wind creeps up Ana’s very short dress. In the final sequence, Ana returns home to the now-dilapidated mansion, presumably after her parents have passed away. The taxi driver who drives her there ogles her through the rear-view mirror, and Ana seems both excited and distraught by the palpable sexuality in the vehicle.

Though there isn’t really a plot, Amer is compelling and intriguing throughout. There is barely any dialogue, and so we are guessing at each character’s motivations, fears and desires, which is a large part of the fun, and kept me engaged and excited for each new turn. The film’s directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani pull out all the stops, nodding to every genre convention you can possibly

Adolescent Ana

Adolescent Ana

imagine, straight down to a score loaded with tracks from old Italian films. Even still, the tale they present here is more interesting than any Giallo I can ever remember seeing, and though a story of a vaguely threatened woman is not at all original, presenting it within the confines of this genre works really well. Nearly every scene oozes eroticism and about as much sexual suggestion as a Georgia O’Keefe painting, but there is very little sex or nudity; instead we are faced mostly with voyeurism and fluids that aren’t bodily, but may as well be.

I can imagine watching this film with no background in Giallo and finding myself very confused indeed! But I think the reason why I liked this film so much is because it

Adult Ana

Adult Ana

takes everything I like about Gialli and eschews the confusing plot, allowing the viewer to focus on the interior of the main character rather than a million plot threads and unnecessary characters. I suppose the real question is, though, can someone go into this movie with no knowledge of such films and still enjoy it? I think the answer is yes, with many, many qualifications. Most notably, don’t watch this if you’re really interested in a story. While, yes, there is a story here, I can imagine a great many folks saying nothing happened in this movie at all. Anyway, what story there is definitely plays second fiddle to the images that tell it. In fact, I’m certain Cattet and Forzani chose this subject matter because it lends itself so well to such imagery. If nothing else, Amer is a beautifully crafted film; that much can’t be denied. Personally, I think it’s worth watching for that reason alone. Bottom line: Cattet and Forzani know what they are doing, and I don’t think they care if you like it or not. Me? I love it.

08
Dec
14

Screamtime (1986)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

In the aftermath 0f 31 Days of Horror, we’ve continued to watch horror movies. We were getting a bit wary of the pre-determined pile we’d set aside, though, so we turned to Netflix, where we found Screamtime, an ’80s horror anthology.

sc3Apparently, Screamtime was made in 1983 as a British/American co-production, but not released until 1986. Also, apparently, one of the anthology segments dates back to 1981. It’s hard to imagine that a 1986 audience would have seen much appeal in material that seems to have already passed its expiration date as cash-in cultural ephemera; this screams out as a Night Train to Terror-esque effort to just dump some already-canned footage on the market. From 2014, though, its generically, amorphously  1980s aesthetics seem charmingly “period” rather than glaringly, unfasionably just-out-of-date. All said, though, there’s nothing here that’s better than a middling episode of Tales From the Darkside.

The frame story is set in the pre-Giuliani/Disney grimey New York City, where a pair of ne’er-do-wells shoplift some horror titles from a video store for an afternoon’s jollies, and then take them to a friend’s house to watch. The friend is a shapely lady, who we first find in the shower… Screamtime puts its skin in the first few moments, in the hopes that it won’t immediately lose its audience–seldom a promising tactic. Unlike the frame, which screams its “Noo Yawk” American-ness, the shorts themselves are all decidely British. The first segment concerns a beleaguered puppeteer who has no support from his wife, and is actively terrorized by his bratty teenage stepson. After the boy burns down his stepfather’s puppet stand, the Punch puppet begins to dispatch his master’s enemies… Next, a newlywed couple moves into a house, but the wife has increasingly gruesome hallucinations that no one seems to understand… Finally, in what is simultaneously the most delightful and most conceptually negligent segment, another band of ne’er-do-wells (this time, they’re motorcross enthusiasts) decide to rob a pair of old ladies who claim their great wealth is protected by fairies (and garden gnomes). The pleasures come there more or less exactly as you’d expect (though, sadly, if you connected the dots to gnomes on motorbikes as I iniitally did, you may be disappointed). The closing of the frame story was just as easy, but all the more delightful for it.

The belle of the ball here (aside from the climax of the fairy/gnome story) is the short bit at the beginning in the video store — having recently watched the documentaries Be Kind Rewind and Video Nasties, it was nice to see the Wild West-inside of a 1980s video store as though it was no big deal, and to have the shorts presented herein as though they were, in fact, in-story the fly-by-night cheapies that they really were. There was a clear implication that the filmmakers saw their prospective audience as the slimeballs they showed watching the stuff — the lowest denominator they could imagine. While I admire the honesty, if you’re in the mood for a lovably schlocky ’80s horror anthology, you’d be better served by Deadtime Stories or even the aforementioned Night Train to Terror than by what’s offered here.

18
Sep
14

Streets of Fire (1984)

Do you like the 1950’s and the 1980’s and just can’t decide between the two? No problem, there’s a movie for that! Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire doesn’t feel the need to define its setting in space or time. It is, after all, a “rock and roll fable;” a tale of love and drama so unrealistic and over-the-top it just wouldn’t make sense to give it a familiar setting. We’re notified right off the bat we’re going to be spending the next 93-minutes in “a different place, a different time,” and certainly these Streets of Fire don’t look like any I’ve ever seen…

Ladies and Gentlemen the fabulous... Ellen Aim...

Ladies and Gentlemen the fabulous… Ellen Aim…

Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is a local singer whose star is about to sky-rocket; she’s got an amazing stage presence and she’s screwing her producer, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). Everyone in town flocks to the club when she’s on the stage. What could go wrong? The Bombers, that’s what! Within the first five minutes of the film, Ellen takes the stage, rocks the crowd and is kidnapped by a motorcycle gang led by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). The thugs steal her away to “the Battery;” the part of town where nice folks like you and me just don’t go. Not only do they manage to take her without a problem, they leave havoc in their wake; it seems like The Bombers can just take whatever they want without consequence. Or can they?

Bombers come to town

Bombers come to town

Oh, hell no they can’t, says Reva Cody, as she pulls up a typewriter and pleads for her brother Tom (Michael Paré) to come home and kick ass. See, Tom and Ellen used to have a real hot and heavy relationship, but Ellen’s career-driven nature didn’t jive well with Tom’s bad-boy attitude, and the couple just had to call it quits. Upon his return, Tom is reluctant to scour the depths of the Battery to save a woman who left a nasty taste in his mouth, but Reva’s plaintive eyes and Billy Fish’s $10,000 endorsement help change his mind.

Cody brings out the heavy artillery

Cody brings out the heavy artillery

Tom’s going to need help. A trunk-full of artillery is a good start, but he’s going to need a trusty second to get him through the worst of it. Good thing Tom has stumbled upon McCoy (Amy Madigan), a brash, no-nonsense female mechanic freshly home from the military herself, looking for a place to sleep and a job to do. McCoy’s proven herself quite the badass (though anyone can punch Bill Paxton in the face, amirite?), and trustworthy, too, so Tom brings her along. And whether or not he likes it, Billy Fish is coming, too! Can this unlikely trio really go into the depths of urban decay and save Ellen?

When doesn't Bill Paxton need a good punch in the old face?

When doesn’t Bill Paxton need a good punch in the old face?

This movie is an incredibly delightful way to spend an hour and a half. As I mentioned before, the setting is fantastic in the sense that the total package bears little resemblance to any reality you or I are familiar with. This is no secret; from the very beginning we are well informed that we shouldn’t be asking too many questions in regards to the plot’s plausibility. And although the setting is unfamiliar in total, elements are lifted from all your favorite twentieth-century eras. Each character seems to be set in their own space and time; most of the Bombers are reminiscent of the 1950’s (though I’m not sure who ever wore that pleather onesie Dafoe dons halfway through the flick; yowza! Does dude work in an abattoir?) while Ellen is definitely a woman of the 1980’s, basking in synth-pop and eyeshadow. Then there’s Tom, who seems to be set apart from all the other characters wearing clothes and driving vehicles reminiscent of those you’d find in the 1920’s. The end-result is a pleasantly disorienting cast of anachronisms that all somehow manage to work together.

WHAT THE FUCK IS HE WEARING DUDES???

WHAT THE FUCK IS HE WEARING DUDES???

Personally, I think this is a genius way to keep the audience on board with the crazy plot that is about to unfold. There’s no need for the setting to be authentic or true to any one moment in time, because this is a story that just wouldn’t have happened. Like, ever. And maybe that’s why I like Streets of Fire more than other musicals like West Side Story or Grease; they’re so concerned with some measure of weird authenticity, and yet they’re fucking musicals. Like I’m supposed to believe these people just break out into song all the time, but god forbid the audience should question the authenticity of Maria’s clothes, or Rydell High’s school dance? Why is spontaneous song a more acceptable movie trope than Hill’s weird melange of historical trademarks? Now, I know, Streets of Fire is not a musical, but I still think it’s worth comparing it to one; not only is its drama similar to what you’d find in a musical, but the film itself is rooted heavily in music (songs by Ry Cooder, anyone?). I’m officially calling it the unmusical musical. But anyway, I digress…

You guys, it's a sledgehammer fight. A SLEDGEHAMMER FIGHT.

You guys, it’s a sledgehammer fight. A SLEDGEHAMMER FIGHT.

Clearly, I’m fixated on the weird setting in which Streets of Fire takes place, but fear not folks, there’s plenty of other weird stuff in store for you! The plot itself is bonkers; how is it so easy for this gang of greasers to waltz into a nightclub and kidnap the star of the show, and while she’s on stage no less? You know, like, in front of everyone? Is this a town full of wusses or what? And the thought of Billy Fish accompanying two badasses with nothing to lose into the sixth circle of hell for a woman who is really just eye candy to him, well that’s not really believable either. Weirder still are the relationships these people all have with one another, most notably Tom and Ellen’s. I’ve never met people that talk this way to each-other, which leads me to think Hill set this film not just in another place and time, but another solar system.streetsoffirelastkiss

I want to be clear about something, while I really like Streets of Fire, I don’t think I could go and say it’s actually a good movie. Worthwhile, yes. Entertaining, you betcha… but good? Not a chance in hell. But, I don’t think it wants to be good. There’s no Oscar bait here, and there’s a lot to be said for a film that wears its weirdness on its sleeve while also trying to appeal to everyone and no one at the same time. The biggest disappointment about the film for me is the fact that Diane Lane is pretty much wasted in this role. After having just recently watched Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains for the first time and realizing how good Lane is at playing a put-out badass, I expected more out of her performance here. Unfortunately, she just isn’t given much to work with; she’s little more than a damsel in distress with a bad attitude. You can do better than that with Diane Lane! But anyway, I do recommend seeing Streets of Fire, just remember to let your mind go free and that anything can happen in Walter Hill’s world!

08
May
14

Knightriders (1981)

Tom Savini on a bike.

Tom Savini on a bike.

And now from the head-curiously-cocked department comes George A. Romero’s Knightriders, a 146-minute long film about jousting bikers, or something. Seriously, there are so many weird elements thrown together in this movie, I’m still scratching my head over it.

Basically, there’s this group of medieval re-enactors who put on shows for folks, but I guess the gimmick is they do it on their hogs? The group is currently led by Billy (Ed Harris) who takes it pretty damn seriously, I guess that’s why he’s the king. But he’s got some pretty serious competition. For one, there’s this square-jawed kid named Alan, who’s totally BFFs with Billy, but still takes issue with some of his policies. Then there’s Morgan (Tom Savini), who doesn’t understand why they should continue to struggle financially and wants to sell out to a big agent who claims he can get the troupe shows in arenas and crap like that.

Ken Foree and Young Squarejaw are suspicious

Ken Foree and Young Squarejaw are suspicious

Billy and Morgan have it out, and Morgan decides to leave the troupe, but Billy’s sure he’ll be back. During the troupe’s existential crisis, some dude comes out as gay, and some woman contemplates her relationship with some dude, and some couple breaks up, and there’s a lot of drama.

I don’t know guys, why did this movie have to be 146 minutes long? And what compelled Romero to choose such a strange metaphorical vehicle (chuckle, snicker) for it? I’m sure I don’t know. I will say, I totally dig what the film is about; that community is valuable and important, and you shouldn’t compromise your ideals and sell out your friends for a little cash. Could it not be said with something other than medieval bikers? Perhaps it’s the inherent fringe nature of such a troupe that makes

Ed Harris will always be king in my book!

Ed Harris will always be king in my book!

them a useful palette for Romero’s picture, but even still I find the choice confounding.

Frankly, it’s not a bad film; it kind of has it all, if you think about it: a great sense of humor, romance, drama, Ken Foree, and, perhaps above all, sexy young Ed Harris. If Knightriders weren’t so terribly, frustratingly long, I might actually recommend it. But about halfway through, the novelty wears off and I found myself mentally pacing around the room. Some folks really seem to like this one, so it could just be my blasted impatience and short attention span that ruined this one for me.

04
May
14

Gargoyles (1972)

Note: Hi! This is Mike Q, and I’m not the one who usually writes here. I got this guest-spot because Katy’s fallen behind in writing up movies of late, so I’ve been called in to do some of the titles she doesn’t especially want to deal with.

Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle

Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle

Gargoyles is a better-than-average TV-movie monster flick — no more, no less. That’s not a bad thing… but it’s not really good, either.

Dr. Mercer Boley is an anthropologist-professor-type who’s made a career out of publishing pop-science books about the real-world roots of old-time superstitions and monsters. The doctor’s headed to the southwest (they say to Mexico, but I can’t help think they must mean New Mexico, seemingly, given that everyone’s white and speaks English) to follow up on a hot tip. He’s joined by his perpetually-halter-topped college-aged daughter Diana, who hopes to get some good face-time in with her dad while he’s accessible. This “hot tip” comes from an old codger who’s presiding over a dying roadsite museum and general store. Seems he wants to co-write a book with the good doctor about his amazing discovery, rather than cough up the evidence he’s got, just ’cause. Naturally, father and daughter are suspicious, and are not much less so when the codger shows off a winged, horned skeleton that he’s re-assembled in his shed. Seems the local Indians had a legend about winged beasts, and… right then there are terrible noises, something outside breaks down the roof, crushing the codger and a broken lantern sets the place aflame.

Codgerin' it up over the mystery skeleton

Codgerin’ it up over the mystery skeleton

Diana’s really freaked out by this terrible death they’ve just witnessed, and the doctor seems singularly obsessed, playing the death-screams of the codger over and over, along with the horrible growling and rending noises that accompanied the collapse of the roof, and staring long and hard at the strange skull, which they managed to recover from the wreckage. They dare not tell the local police that they think whatever the things were that knocked in the shed might be related to this weird skull… not, at least, until more of these things — and living ones at that — come for the corpse of their brother…

So, these are the titular gargoyles, who appear once every few hundred years to menace humanity. They are the source of all kinds of the imagery that mankind associates with evil, and they are very well physically-executed by a young Stan Winston. Sure, they’re rubber suits — but what rubber suits! And there are different suit designs for each monster, rather than that old stand-by budget-saver of casting the same mold over and over again, or of showing the same two creatures and pretending they are legion.

Gargoyles love their babies too! Just like you & me...

Gargoyles love their babies too! Just like you & me…

By the end, the movie’s fallen into the King Kong monster trap: the thing’s got our women — in this case Diana — and the “decent white folk” have got to get her back. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that this, like so many monster flicks before it, is a not-especially-subtle cautionary about miscegenation, perhaps the moreso because of its casting of Bernie Casey as the lead gargoyle, and the post-Civil Rights/Watts riots date of production. Even the hooligan bikers menacing the town (including a young, long-haired Scott Glenn) band with the police and the doctor — Establishment writ large! — to get Diana back. But, however reactionary those politics might seem to be on the surface, there is useful nuance here: we spend some time with the hatchling gargoyles, and see that these folks care for their young just like we do! Though the lead gargoyle talks a lot in all-or-nothing terms about one species ultimately winning out, it seems pretty clear that given the track record for extermination so far — generations of gargoyles, and the aforementioned Indians — the American society is the monstrous exterminator here, and not the gargoyles (though both sides have shed about equal blood by the time things are over). At the very end, there is a rather uneasy sense that maybe things can change in the future, but it’s a strange coda to a movie that seems to want to please both ends of the political spectrum that might be watching this as the movie of the week.

Maybe don’t run to seek out a copy of Gargoyles, but don’t turn it off if you run across it, either. It’s not super-remarkable, but there’s some stuff here worth the hour-and-a half investment too, all said.




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