Tag Archives: comedy

“Don’t Offend Sabata…” Too Late! RETURN OF SABATA

RETURN OF SABATA (a.k.a. È tornato Sabata … hai chiuso un’altra volta)


Trilogy Box Set at Amazon

(1.5/5)

Pros: Trademark Van Cleef scowl; music and photography are well-done


Cons: Dull storyline with comedic overtones that never quite work; horrendous dubbing and drab production

The third and final film in the official Sabata trilogy of Italian-made westerns (which started off with 1970’s Sabata and continued with the following year’s Adios, Sabata), 1971’s Return of Sabata also marks the return of Lee Van Cleef to the title role after the actor was replaced in the previous film by Yul Brynner. This time around, the sharpshooting Sabata finds himself facing off against a land baron named McIntock who has imposed a series of taxes on the residents of a small Texas town. Though McIntock claims to be using the money collected for improvements to the town, none of these improvements have materialized thus far. The situation raises the suspicions of Sabata who, believing McIntock is scamming the townspeople, initiates his own plan to steal the money for himself.


Van Cleef and Schöne ponder their next move.

Return of Sabata starts off with a scene in which the titular character faces off against a half dozen gunmen who have cornered him in a barn. After Sabata, who carries perhaps the most unintimidating gun ever seen in a western, has apparently killed all of his stalkers whilst a group of well-dressed men inexplicably watch from a nearby table, clowns burst through a door and establish that the whole opening sequence was a trick-shooting demonstration taking place at a traveling circus. This more or less sets up the way in which director Gianfranco Parolini’s film works from then on out: as an uneven mixture of western movie action/adventure and goofy comedic elements. The previous two Sabata films also played out in much this same manner, but the formula had been all but played out by this third entry in the series – the western movie elements are tolerable, but the comedy frequently falls flat.


Sabata – he’s a bad mutha…oops wrong movie.


Co-written by director Parolini and Renato Izzo, the film offers up little to distinguish itself from the hundreds of similar Spaghetti Westerns made around this same time, instead seeming quite gimmicky and downright muddled. A viewer is never quite sure of any of the character motivations – particularly true with regard to a casino owner and a carriage driver who wind up standing with Sabata in opposition to McIntock. From one scene to the next, the nature of these characters seems to change drastically with little regard for consistency or logic. Certainly some of the ambiguity here is intentional: the flip-flopping does create tension among the major players in the story and adds twists and turns to an otherwise familiar plot. Still, poor writing and haphazard story development ensure that it’s increasingly difficult to follow what’s happening in the film at a certain point.


Clowns? Why not! The whole movie is jokey and gimmicky.

Adding to my disinterest in this picture was the fact that Sabata manages to conveniently weasel his way out of any potentially dangerous situation he encounters, with the writers not so much as even trying to explain how much of this is possible. If I didn’t know better, I might say that the Sabata character is built up as a sort of superhero: “the only invincible man in the countryside” (as the theme song says), with a lucky streak that won’t quit and a sense of premonition that alerts him to any hazards ahead of time. Since there’s never any honest or believable threat to Sabata’s well-being then, the film quickly becomes downright boring. One watching the film is all but certain of what’s going to happen in the end, and probably can even predict the way in which it will happen…which begs the question: what is the point of watching an entirely predictable movie about an indestructible smart-ass who has his way with everyone and everything he encounters?

drum
Yep – a drum filled with revolvers. They were all over back in the wild west…

Honestly, without the appearance of one Lee Van Cleef as the aforementioned indestructible smart-ass, there would be virtually no reason to watch Return of Sabata. Though the actor could easily sleepwalk through a role of this sort, he has a confident swagger throughout this picture, making it significantly more tolerable and even watchable. It’s always cool to see that devilish Van Cleef scowl – after all, the guy could pierce steel with his glare, and listening to him bark out his lines with authority and a playful disdain for the other characters is undeniably enjoyable. In the supporting roles, we have Reiner Schöne as the casino owner who has a debt to settle with Sabata, the rotund Ignazio Spalla as the buffoonish carriage driver, and Giampiero Albertini as McIntock, performances which are largely undermined by atrocious English-language dubbing (the Irish accent given to the McIntock character is especially horrific). That it’s impossible to take Schöne and Spalla seriously is not so bad – their characters are more humorous in nature, but having Albertini cast as an ineffectual and almost laughable villain may be the deal-sealer that sinks the production. It’s worth noting that the villains in the first two Sabata films were also unimposing – the lack of defining, well-crafted “bad guys” may be the ultimate reason why this series pales in comparison to the so-called “Man With No Name” trilogy.

action sequences
Action scenes in the film are actually decent, but as a whole, Return of Sabata lacks vitality.


Technically speaking, Return of Sabata isn’t bad. Sandro Mancori’s photography is magnificent even if the overall production is drab, and Marcello Giombini’s score is memorable – particularly the opening title. As was the case in the first two Sabata films, director Parolini creates some good individual sequences. Return of Sabata’s action scenes are generally well-staged, and I especially liked a shot in which the camera offers a first-person perspective of a man lining up and firing a slingshot drawn between his legs. Unfortunately, there’s not enough pizazz in in the film: at 105 minutes, the film seems overlong and really lags in between the standout moments. In the end, it’s doesn’t seem a coincidence that the utterly unremarkable Sabata films have been largely forgotten to time: this series simply can’t compare to Leone’s grandiose westerns or even the outstanding B-grade Spaghetti’s by the likes of Corbucci or Martino. Devotees of the Italo-western may want to give this final Sabata film a look just for completion’s sake, but it’s certainly not among the best of its type.


Trilogy box set from 20th Century Fox contains all three Sabata films in widescreen format with no extras.



4/10 : Typical western gun violence and fisticuffs with some blood.


1/10 : Occasional rough language; one instance of profanity.


2/10 : “Women of leisure” feature prominently in the story, and though there are a few sexual references, there is no onscreen sex.



3/10 : Easily the weakest of the Sabata trilogy and a pretty forgettable Spaghetti Western overall.


“If ya wanna get money, and if ya wanna get rich / If you wanna good life, you gotta be a son of a BUM-buh-BUM-buh-BUM-bum-bum…

BIKINI SPRING BREAK Delivers Plenty of T&A, But Is No Fun Whatsoever

BIKINI SPRING BREAK

(1/5)

Pros: Attractive female eye candy along with lots and lots of bare breasts

Cons: That’s literally all the film has going for it.

While primarily known for their horror and sci-fi films (Sharknado 1 and 2 and Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus among them) and so-called “mockbusters” which are patterned after major-release Hollywood films, in recent years production company The Asylum has branched out into making teen sex comedies, and why not. Considering the minimal amounts of creativity and talent (to say nothing of money) that goes into the typical Asylum film, this genre seems a good bet for them – after all, technical quality and acting ability don’t much matter in the standard sex comedy so long as a maximum amount of skin and rowdiness is put on display. Which leads to 2012’s Bikini Spring Break, as terrible a movie as could be imaginable. The film follows the world’s smallest and most moronic community college marching band (all five members of it) as they attempt to make their way cross-country to attend a national competition. Upon reaching Florida, the band’s bus breaks down, forcing the downright idiotic five women traveling in it to come up with some rather outlandish ideas of how to raise money to make sure they arrive at the competition on time…most of which revolve around taking off their shirts.

wanna see
Wanna see any of these women topless? If so, you’re in luck.

A made-for-video production apparently written and directed by a gang of horny fourteen-year-olds (actual guilty parties: writer/director Jared Cohn and co-writer Naomi L. Selfman) and tailor-made for late-night cable airings, Bikini Spring Break takes a minor story detail from the American Pie series (“…one time, at band camp…”) and turns it into a puerile mess of a film that heaps on the cliches and rowdiness but can’t for even a second be described as entertaining. OK, I’m lying – I may have chuckled twice, but by most any standard, this script is just jaw-dropping and populated by one of the worst gatherings of characters I’ve ever seen in a film that saw any kind of release. Frankly, I’m astonished that anyone would agree to star in this bomb: the five young women at the center of the picture are (literally) fleshed out as stereotypical bimbos completely oblivious to anything happening around them. Their sole purpose in the film is to periodically disrobe for a series of completely gratuitous – and fetishistically-photographed – scenes complimented by a soundtrack of lousy alternative rock.


What would a sex comedy be without a locker room scene? Probably a better movie.

Events such as a Jell-o wrestling match, bikini car wash, mechanical bull-ride, and wet T-shirt contest are photographed in slow-motion, with the camera pointed almost exclusively on the frequently bouncing breasts of any females in sight, thus providing any teenage boys in the audience with exactly what they’d want to see. It doesn’t speak well for anyone involved in this production however – Bikini Spring Break is about the most immature film one could ever hope to see, having precisely no connection with reality or – imagine this – good taste. As if the scenario itself isn’t bad enough (and let’s be clear, this film has plot holes that could swallow the galaxy), Cohn and Selfman’s script is loaded with soul-crushingly awful dialogue and unnecessary profanity. The constant bickering between the main characters, overbearing hysterics, “hip” exclamations (“FML” and “OMG” prove these writers are on top of modern culture), and supposed humor (the main running gag deals with one girl’s poorly-endowed boyfriend who’s belittled as being gay at every opportunity) quickly become tiresome, leaving a viewer with little to sustain interest.


No one can get between Zoe and “Charlie the Euphonium.”

It’s pretty sad to see Robert Carradine (best known for his role in Revenge of the Nerds) reduced to acting in this film to collect a paycheck. Sleepwalking through the role of the band director, Carradine’s line delivery is atrocious and he seems wholly uninterested in the proceedings. Sorry to say, the females in the film (Rachel Alice playing the perpetually oblivious Alice, Virginia Petrucci as the clumsy Zoe, Samantha Stewart as the “leader” of the group, Jamie Noel and Erin O’Brien as the pair of relatively minor characters whose main job it is to complain about anything and everything, and Erika Duke as an obnoxiously cheerful girl trying to “ban” spring break) are probably worse. To be honest, I’d almost have to say that some of these folks have potential as actresses if they were given proper roles, but Bikini Spring Break is hardly flattering in its portrayal of their characters. This almost seems like a film it’d be difficult to move on from in terms of developing an acting career, which is perhaps the most unfortunate thing about it.


Oh look – a wet T-shirt contest.  Unfunny to the point of being painful to watch, no one over the age of fifteen would have any interest in this film.

The one and only saving grace in this film is that it features topless nude scenes from a variety of generally attractive actresses. Every one of the main female characters gets naked at some point, and the camera lingers over their bare bods for minutes at a time. If a viewer enters this film for the sole purpose of attaining some masturbatory material, Bikini Spring Break won’t disappoint, but anyone expecting any kind of decent movie should find something better to do than waste 87 minutes on this P.o.S. It’s shocking that something this reprehensible and pervasively, mind-numbingly dumb would be produced in the first place, and while this film satisfies on a certain, purely lascivious level, it’s not fun at all.

There’s simply gotta be a better use of a potential viewer’s time out there. The seedy side of the internet, for one.

doh!


No extras on the widescreen DVD from Asylum Home Entertainment.

bobby
0/10 : It’s harmless sure, but I’m not sure I’d call this fun.


7/10 : Plenty of profanity thrown in for no reason whatsoever.


9/10 : Mesmerized by bare titties? If so, this is the movie for you.


3/10 : Even the copious nudity can’t do much to improve this pathetic excuse for a movie.


“…So this camera could change our lives forever? Do you want me to attach it to my euphonium?”

Trailer: (Warning! Not suitable for intellectuals)

Suck Wall! REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS

image-placeholder

(3.5/5)

Pros: Stuntwork is pretty astounding; nice use of real locations
Cons: Ending seems flat; potential problems with the Chiun character

Made in 1985 as the first installment of a series based on The Destroyer novels by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins has to be one of best, consistently overlooked mindless action films from the ‘80s. The plot here centers around a former NYC policeman named Sam Makin who is recruited by a secret organization known as CURE who, after faking Makin’s death, rechristen him as the titular character (named after – you ready for this – a company who manufactures bedpans). CURE’s goal is to stamp out government corruption and this mainly involves taking down a manufacturer that is wasting government funds on weapons systems that are at best defective and quite possibly completely inoperable. Before that operation can proceed however, Williams must learn his craft from a “Korean master” named Chiun, thereby providing the film’s mandatory and nearly feature-long training sequence.

Remo and Chiun
Remo and Chiun: not quite Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san.

Christopher Wood’s script presents a mixture of the typically outrageous ‘80s action film story with a comic book mentality and plenty of goofball humor. The majority of the film deals with the interaction between Williams and Chiun: as might be expected, Chiun initially believes that training the very rough-around-the-edges Williams is a hopeless proposition and obviously, a major point of the script is to show that anything can be attained through hard work and perseverance. While the training sequence provides moments of dry wit and Three Stooges physical comedy, the familiar routine is a bit dull and nothing if not entirely predictable. Thankfully, Wood peppers the film with a handful of downright awe-inspiring action sequences that effectively break up the monotony and provide definitive highlight moments.

crazy thing is
The crazy thing is, it seems like this was actually filmed at height on the huge scaffolding surrounding the Statue of Liberty. Note the Manhattan skyline in the background.

One such sequence finds Williams climbing on and through Coney Island’s famous Ferris Wheel, dodging incoming baskets and support wires as a way to test his mettle and overcome his fear of heights. Filmed in a way which really emphasizes the mind-blowing stunt work that had to be pulled off to complete the scene, even this impressive moment pales in comparison to another action set piece in which Williams encounters a gang of thugs on Liberty Island. In real-life 1985, a massive renovation project on the Statue of Liberty was ongoing, so the structure was surrounded by a tall scaffold. Needless to say, the film’s pursuit sequence that takes place in this criss-crossing maze of metal is nerve-wracking and exciting. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this film is that, unlike any number of Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris vehicles from the period, Remo Williams doesn’t rely on over-the-top violence or plentiful explosions to keep a viewer interested. Director Guy Hamilton (who cut his teeth directing four Bond films from the ‘60s and ‘70s) simply emphasizes the impending peril that the main character is facing. His very assured handling of the material seems very old school (particularly compared to the loud and overblown action cinema of the post-Michael Bay era) yet is entirely effective: I certainly wish more of today’s directors would subscribe to his methodology in making this kind of film.

Stuntwork
Stuntwork in the film is pretty outstanding – as is the replica Lady Liberty set.

Though he’s not quite the person I might have expected to play a role like this, Fred Ward (of Tremors fame) is actually very believable in the lead. It’s immediately apparent that the actor does many of his own stunts, which adds significantly to the viewing experience: I actually could buy Ward as a bad ass who could pull off these acrobatic parkour moves while ripping off one-liners at every opportunity. The script doesn’t allow for much genuine character development, but being entirely realistic or indeed logical isn’t remotely the point of this picture in the first place: it’s more or less a comic-book come to life. Playing Chiun we have obviously Caucasian actor Joel Grey. Depending on one’s perspective, Grey’s portrayal could either be taken as being quite humorous or completely offensive – the Chiun character is extremely stereotypical across the board, but listening to a painfully white dude deliver his interpretation of an “Asian accent” may be the icing on the cake. In 1985, being politically correct wasn’t much of an issue (particularly when dealing with Asians – I’m not so sure a character named – or like – “Long Duk Dong” would fly in 2015), and I guess today’s viewers can either choose to chuckle at the absurdity of the whole thing or find something else to watch. Regardless, there’s a nice rapport between Ward and Grey, especially when the two start exchanging wise cracks with one another. Ultimately, the chemistry between this duo benefits the picture since the story mostly revolves around them.

grey and ward
Grey and Ward have a nice rapport with one another – this picture sums up their interaction during the early parts of the film.

Smaller roles here are occupied by the likes of A. Wilford Brimley (under-utilized as the mastermind of CURE who spends the entire film pecking on a very primitive computer), J.A. Preston (as the streetwise CURE agent who is Williams’s only partner), Kate Mulgrew (an Army major investigating the corruption claims), and Charles Cioffi as a shady businessman who’s the main villain of the piece. I found it refreshing that a romantic relationship between Mulgrew and Ward’s characters never quite materialized even if the film’s somewhat goofy climax left the door open for one. Andrew Laszlo’s photography is outstanding with Craig Safan’s soundtrack adding punctuation to the more attention-grabbing moments, and the film makes exquisite use of authentic NYC locations. I was completely astonished by the fact that downtown Manhattan is visible in the background of many shots – particularly those filmed on the scaffold surrounding Lady Liberty. Amazing that some of these scenes could be pulled off and again, I really commend the stunt personnel who worked on this film.

on the coney island ferris wheel
Needless to say, Remo Williams didn’t find its audience at the box office, and the planned sequels and TV show never materialized. This is somewhat of a shame considering how decent this first film is – much better than any of the various, completely asinine flicks of the era starring the likes of Ah-nold Schwarzenegger (Commando or Raw Deal in particular), Chuck Norris, or Michael Dudikoff. Maybe Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins didn’t pack enough pyrotechnics or bullet-riddled bodies into its run time (the title character leaves many of his “victims” alive and the ending is admittedly flat), but whatever the case is, this genuinely fun movie is well worth rediscovering some three decades after its release. This is what the ‘80s were all about, and while this may not be a masterpiece of cinema, it’s indisputably entertaining.

fred's hand signals


MGM’s DVD version is, unfortunately and rather inexplicably, in full screen version only with no accompanying bonus features.


3/10 : Some violence and chopsocky; just a bit of blood


3/10 : Occasional minor profanity


1/10 : Fleeting sexual references, but not even a bit of romance – which is a actually a good thing


6/10 : Though imperfect, this is a definite step above the usual moronic ’80s action vehicle


“If I’m the best you could find, you’re in pretty deep shit, pal.”

“Captain Biff Likes to Keep His Runways Clear…” STEWARDESS SCHOOL

STEWARDESS SCHOOL

See the at Amazon or at IMDB

(2/5)

Pros: Has its funny moments

Cons: Not exactly a classy sort of film

Combining the airline disaster formula established in films like (and/or any of its sequels) with the misfit comedy of Police Academy (and/or any of its increasingly dumb sequels), the 1986 comedy Stewardess School has the imprint of the ‘80s written all over it – hell, since it makes a mockery of airlines and their security measures, there’s no way the film would even be made in today’s cultural environment. The film follows a ragtag group of students who find themselves at the titular establishment after their lives hit rock bottom. Most of the characters exist within the confines of strict stereotypes: there’s the overly plucky blonde who comes from a long line of airline hostesses, the bubbly former prostitute, the klutz, a nearly-blind would-be pilot and his womanizing buddy among others. Inevitably, this gang barely makes it through their courses before they’re sent for some impromptu on-the-job training when a near-bankrupt airline company needs a “crack” team of service personnel to ensure that an FAA inspection goes by without a hitch. Needless to say, this may not be the best idea considering the caliber of graduates coming out of the Weidermeyer Stewardess Academy…

not exactly geniuses
The usual band of misfit toys.

Written and directed by Ken Blancato, (unsurprisingly??) whose only film credit this was, Stewardess School operates mainly in the realm of lowbrow, sophomoric humor. Within five minutes of the film starting, we get a fart joke – and it’s not an especially good sign that in hindsight, this is one of the film’s better, more memorable moments. Later on, we’re mostly left to chuckle at a blind man’s aggressive use of his cane against anything and everything around him, watch as the former prostitute uses her skills to “calm down” a hysterical passenger, or hide our eyes when the obligatory ladies man character strikes out repeatedly in pursuit of some tail. To be truthful, Blancato’s script is amusing on a certain level – provided that a viewer is willing to check his brain in at the door. The fact that this was made during the (almost) anything goes ‘80s only adds to the entertainment value.

Despite having some legitimately funny individual moments, Stewardess School is none too good as a piece of cinema. The airplane sets seen during the film are pretty lousy, and the fact that the identification patches worn by educators at the Academy seem to be taped on their costumes says more about the nature of this production than I ever could (Wikipedia’s report of this film having a budget of $8,000,000 seems unbelievable to me – musta been a lot of toot flowing on set if that number is correct). Additionally, the skit-like approach to setting up the comic scenes becomes tiresome down the line, and I don’t think the film offers a viewer good bang for his buck. Compared to films like the vaguely similar Airplane! or even the under-appreciated Top Secret! for instance, Blancato’s film seems quite sluggish and even dull.

those crazy cadets
Those crazy cadets…always getting into trouble…

In the end, there’s nothing that can quite overcome the fact that Blancato’s script offers up little in the originality department. This film plays out exactly as one would expect, and even in terms of its humor, it’s mining material that’s been done better elsewhere. Considering that there was a whole line of sexploitation features relating to stewardesses produced from the late ‘60s onward and the fact that the whole “hot airline hostess” thing has been ingrained into the popular consciousness, I’ve got to say that Blancato’s film is pretty tame in the sex department. Sure, we do get a bit of topless nudity in the mandatory shower scene, but it’s all provided by nameless supporting actresses. The viewer entering this film in the hope of finding some quality T&A is likely to be very disappointed.

Judy
Despite some suggestive scenes and innuendo, this film is actually fairly tame in terms of its sexual content.

Though the film is no masterpiece by a long shot, the cast assembled here (many of them television veterans) is nothing if not generally likable. The film’s narrative mainly revolves around the characters of Philo and George (respectively played by Brett Cullen and Donald Most) who recently flunked out of flight school. While George attempts to pick up any loose woman in his vicinity, Philo has started up a relationship with fellow student Kelly (played by the very cute Mary Cadorette), who is extremely clumsy. As various other students, we have busty bombshell Judy Landers playing flirty former prostitute Sugar Dubois, voice actor extraordinaire Rob Paulsen as the (offensively) gay recruit, Corrine Bohrer as the punk sporting a multi-colored femullet, Sandahl Bergman as the tough girl, and Wendie Jo Sperber as the chubby one. William Bogert (the stuffy owner of the Academy) and Vicki Frederick (the ill-tempered headmaster) are well-cast as authority figures/villains, and possibly the most enjoyable of the major cast is Dennis Burkley who plays a gruff biker named “Snake.” These players do their best to make the most of a script that doesn’t seem even slightly interested in developing any of their characters, but at the very least, they seem to be having a good time.

They look like they're having fun?
They look like they’re having fun, right?

In the pre-South Park era, Stewardess School played regularly on Comedy Central, which may help account for the otherwise inexplicable admiration this film has achieved in certain circles. After all, if you’re flipping through the channels, there would be worse things one could wind up watching than this generally harmless flick. Since it (oddly) hasn’t been released in the DVD era, that sort of viewing experience may in fact be the picture’s ultimate destiny – it still seems to show up on cable once in a while. Though I’m not sure I would or could honestly recommend the film, it’s agreeable enough as a second-tier ‘80s comedy and time-waster.

yikes!


Sadly (?) unavailable on DVD, though this film seems to play on cable once in a while.


1/10 : No obvious violence, but the climax of the film deals with a terrorist on board a plane


5/10 : Occasional profanity and one use of the f-bomb


5/10 : Rather brief instances of topless nudity from incidental characters and assorted sexual references and innuendo


4/10 : Too downright dumb to be positioned among the best comedies of its era, but moderately enjoyable in its own right


“Please gimme some credit. There’s a little more to life than women. Very little.”

Sample scene (warning: some innuendo and crude humor):

“Prepare Yourself for a Strange Voyage…” The Long-Lost Fantasy NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

See it at or

(3.5/5)

Pros: A very imaginative film with a nifty setting

Cons: Some technical and script problems; Galligan lacks credibility in the lead

In a way, it’s most unfortunate that the utterly unique 1984 film Nothing Lasts Forever has never seen a wide release after being shelved prior to its original theatrical run. Some three decades later, it appears at least some of the various “legal difficulties” surrounding it have been cleared up since the picture made its national debut in early 2015 with a screening on the Turner Classic Movies channel. While I don’t think the film (written and directed by Saturday Night Live collaborator Tom Schiller and produced by the famed Lorne Michaels) would necessarily appeal to the masses, there’s certainly a crowd out there that would appreciate if not enjoy it.

wide-eyed
A wide-eyed Zach Galligan plays the young artist.

The film concerns a young man who, like many others before him, is struggling to find his place in the world. Adam Beckett has just returned to New York City after some time abroad and fancies himself an artist, but he’s unsure of which medium to pursue. Encounters with various wacky video installations, experimental music groups, and downright pointless performance art pieces only further confuse Beckett, as does a relationship with a prototypical snotty art scholar. Things begin to change however when he encounters a street bum who later introduces him to a sort of council of elders living in a “secret subterranean sanctum.” These elders explain that Adam can become a full-fledged artist if he travels to the moon and discovers his true love there – but how can he possibly complete this seemingly impossible task?

various color sequences
Director Schiller effectively makes the transition to color during several key sequences. Here, a group of tourists sight-see on the moon.

Filmed mostly in grainy and gritty black and white with strategically-placed color sequences, Nothing Lasts Forever plays not only as an literally dreamlike fantasy, but also a sort of critique of modern art and artists. Numerous segments in Schiller’s film skewer the more outrageous forms of art that were popping up with increasing frequency in the early 1980s (particularly in NYC), and the film seems to suggest and encourage a return to more conventional notions of artistry. The fact that the film itself is so imaginative only heightens its message in this respect: it overflows with interesting ideas, not the least of which is its definitively odd setting. Scratchy stock footage (most of which seem to be taken from 1940s cinema) is combined with bits that Schiller shot using his cast to set up a sort of deranged retro-futuristic society in which the port authority has taken over control of New York City following a massive labor strike. A viewer really gets a sense of Beckett’s almost hopeless desperation (the city is described by one character as “getting to be like Nazi Germany”), and the script (at least early on) warns of how creativity can be squashed in this sort of a constrictive environment.

aykroyd
Unable to pass a government-sponsored art test, Adam takes a job monitoring the Holland Tunnel, and is seen here with his boss, played by Dan Aykroyd.

In the central role, a wide-eyed Zach Galligan (of Gremlins fame) seems a bit overwhelmed playing Adam Beckett. While I think this is partly due to his inexperience as an actor at that point in his career (his first film this was), some of it is understandable – after all, his character is continually accosted by a host of oddballs including Dan Aykroyd (playing Beckett’s snappy boss), Apollonia van Ravenstein (as a German art student with whom Beckett starts up a relationship), and Bill Murray (at his most mischievous playing a surly “skyhost”). Still, I never quite could buy into Galligan as a disillusioned artist, and I think the lack of credibility on his part limits the film’s effectiveness overall. Meanwhile, in other roles, Lauren Tom plays Eloy, the moon woman who Adam is destined to fall in love with, and Sam Jaffe plays the wisest of the underground elders. All in all, it’s certainly an interesting cast, and the bit players add significant additional quirkiness to an already unusual film.

murray
Bill Murray makes the most of his smaller role. It’s largely his performance that adds a comedic element to the film.

Production design throughout the picture is really cool, even if it’s clear this film was made for a relatively meager amount of money. I especially liked the art deco coffee shop, alternate “stock exchange” set, and scenes taking place on the moon (which is imagined as a sort of tropical-themed shopping mall for wealthy older people). Though the special effects look really corny (particularly during a scene in which a bus races down an airplane runway and eventually lifts into space), I think this is purposeful on the part of the filmmakers. Schiller is clearly trying to capture the vibe of older fantasies (which explains the overstated script and scattered musical interludes), and I think Nothing Lasts Forever plays in a manner fairly consistent with films from the early 1950s.


The special effects are purposely cheesy, and add to the film’s bizarre atmosphere.

I was continually reminded when watching Nothing Lasts Forever of the similarly one-of-a-kind , a film which is a favorite of mine. Perhaps the main difference between the two is that Schiller’s film is mostly innocuous, while there was a devious energy and sexual charge to Astronaut that simply couldn’t be ignored. Due to various technical imperfections (I noticed a boom mic intrusion at one point, which is never a good sign) and a somewhat clunky script (unsurprisingly given the writer/director’s connection to SNL, the film sometimes seems a collection of skits more than a cohesive piece), Nothing Lasts Forever may not appeal to those with an unwavering critical eye and certainly isn’t the long-lost Citizen Kane. Nevertheless, it’s quite enjoyable and is deserving of a much better fate than being known as a forgotten time-waster. If you catch it on TV, give it a look.

WAAAAAAAAAAAA!


Unreleased on video in any form due to supposed “legal difficulties;” the film premiered on in early 2015.


2/10 : Even if the entire film is fairly weird, there are only a minor moments of peril that could possibly be offensive.

hooray!
0/10 : Clean as a whistle.


1/10 : A momentary sex scene with maybe a brief glimpse of topless nudity. Nothing much.

what
7/10 : Definitively strange and very unique: some viewers will undoubtedly treasure this forgotten oddity.


“Life is a dream. The problem is that most people are sleepwalkers who never awake.”

Fan-made Trailer:

“You’re Too Busy Teenybopping All Over The Place…” THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN

THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN

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(3.5/5)

Pros: Good-natured, raunchy fun, with a lot of nudity and a memorable ending

Cons: Script and acting issues; overbearing pop soundtrack

Perhaps one of the more unduly overlooked ‘80s teen comedies, 1982’s The Last American Virgin plays out in much the same manner as the same year’s classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High - this despite the fact that Virgin is a remake of a 1978 Israeli film (Eskimo Limon, a.k.a. Lemon Popsicle). As might be expected, LAV follows the exploits of a group of hornball high schoolers in Hollywood who, in between classes and menial jobs, are looking to score with any number of available females. The main character here is the awkward and sensitive Gary, who’s fallen for Karen, the new girl at school. Karen barely seems to notice Gary – she has her sights set on Gary’s more suave buddy Rick – until she’s left high and dry after Rick knocks her up. Could this be the chance that hard-luck Gary needs to win over the love of his life?

trio
From left, Gary, Rick, and David – out to get laid and loaded.

Even if writer-director Boaz Davidson (who also was at the helm for the original Israeli version) isn’t really venturing into unknown territory with his basic story, The Last American Virgin certainly offers up the sort of raunchy content one would expect from this type of film. Rick, Gary, and their friend David get themselves into all sorts of goofy predicaments while partying as much as possible and trying to get laid. An encounter between the trio of teens and a sex-crazed Spanish woman, for instance, turns ugly when the woman’s not-so-friendly sailor boyfriend decides to show up at about the worst possible moment, and the trio is forced to take extreme measures to get rid of crabs contracted from an especially trashy prostitute. Par for the course in these types of movies, there’s also an isolated batch of scenes taking place in school, including a wager to see who has the biggest “tool” in the boys’ locker room.


Karen – played by Diane Franklin.

Just when one thinks this film is all about the lowbrow content, however, things get real in its final third, when Karen winds up pregnant after being dumped by Rick. Honestly, the whole Rick-Gary-Karen situation in Last American Virgin is remarkably similar to the material relating to Mark Ratner, Mike Damone, and Stacy Hamilton in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It’s interesting then to note that Davidson’s film actually beat Fast Times… to theaters by a few weeks and was based on a story that, in 1982, was already four years old.

raunchy
OK, so the movie’s a little raunchy, but that’s to be expected from an ’80s teen sex comedy.

That said, in my opinion, Fast Times… seems a more authentic representation of teenage life in the early 1980s. By comparison, Last American Virgin seems exaggerated and not nearly as poignant. At least part of that is due to the caliber of acting in the film: Fast Times showcased an impressive array of up-and-coming actors and actresses in the roles that would put them on the map, and although I could tolerate the performances of Steve Antin (as Rick, who increasingly seems like a total scumbag as the film progresses), Joe Rubbo (as the “fat kid” David), and the stunning Diane Franklin (as Karen), Lawrence Monoson, who plays perennial underdog Gary and easily has the most screen time in the picture, doesn’t quite seem credible – especially during some key moments. I certainly could relate to Gary’s frustrations when watching his would-be girlfriend go for the sleazy womanizer instead of the genuine “nice guy” (i.e. him), but Monoson’s idea of putting some genuine feeling into his performance involves talking quietly in a wavering voice while putting on an “abandoned puppy face” – and just doesn’t work. Thus, right when the film should be tugging at a viewer’s heartstrings, things fall apart.

expression
Better get used to that quivering lip expression from Lawrence Monoson – it’s seen quite often throughout the film.

Above and beyond the acting, Davidson’s handling of the picture has other problems, namely the fact that instead of seeming like a coherent, evolving story, his film plays like a series of mostly disjointed vignettes, few of which seem to have any serious ramifications for the characters. After the carefree opening half, things eventually do gel late in the going when the major dramatic element of the film becomes apparent, but the shift in tone is so abrupt that it’s somewhat difficult to buy into the legitimate consequences that arise. Furthermore, The Last American Virgin quite often seems like a glorified music video since the prominent soundtrack (which includes some fabulous tunes from the likes of U2, The Police, Devo, The Cars, Oingo Boingo and others) is carefully matched up to the onscreen action. Unfortunately, this only further accentuates the sense of fragmentation present in the script; sure, the music is cool to jam out to, but it winds up being distracting and ridiculously overbearing since there’s nary a moment here when one popular song or another isn’t blaring. I’ve also got to say that the repeated renditions of Journey’s “Open Arms” used to punctuate the love story between Gary and Karen become very corny, very quickly.

happy ending
Banking on a happy ending? You might wanna think again…

Considering all of the potential problems, I was genuinely surprised when I enjoyed this picture much more than I ever thought I would. Frankly, it’s refreshing every once in a while to see a genuine, decidedly R-Rated sex comedy from this (pre-AIDS) era, since these sorts of films were made in a much different manner than they would be today. The level of mischief present never quite clashes with the film’s generally good-natured vibe, and it definitely provides a window into a time and place far different from the one that viewers are faced with in their everyday life. While Fast Times at Ridgemont High is famous for the (mouth-watering) scene in which Phoebe Cates strips off her bikini top, Last American Virgin delivers a few “cha-ching!” moments of its own: there’s quite a bit of female nudity here, including a substantial amount from gorgeous leading actress Franklin. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the cynical ending, one which is likely to polarize viewers. I happen to like a lot: after playing like any number of other rowdy sex comedies for 85 minutes, LAV kicks a viewer in the balls in the last five – as real and shocking a conclusion as could ever be imagined in a film of this nature. Even if it deserves some amount of criticism for being told from a very male-centric point of view, considering what the typical viewer going into this film would want, The Last American Virgin delivers in a big way – even if it’s more a situational comedy than laugh-out-loud funny. I’d recommended it.

HA!


Released in several multi-movie packs and as a with 1983’s Losin It. MGM’s is a dual-format wide and full-screen disc with no extras.


1/10 : Some thematic material related to serious issues, including abortion


5/10 : Isolated instances of profanity and sexual references

YES!
8/10 : An assortment of nudity from some very nice-looking women; plentiful sexual content


7/10 : Strange that while Porky’s and Fast Times… went on to achieve legendary status, this surprisingly decent flick has been all but forgotten – it’s certainly worth rediscovering.


“Crabs – at your age! Young people – they ain’t what they used to be…”

Music dominates this trailer (and the film itself):

When Size is All That Matters: UNHUNG HERO

UNHUNG HERO

(2/5)

Pros: Interesting subject matter; fairly amusing and entertaining

Cons: Juvenile approach; listening to Moote repeatedly whine about his small package gets old really fast and the film is essentially pointless

Premiering at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival, Brian Spitz’s documentary Unhung Hero supposes to tackle the age old question of whether or not penis size actually matters in the bigger picture of human sexuality. Numerous studies and surveys have been focused on this issue over the years, but rather than approach the subject with a more scientific or sociological approach, the film mainly deals with stand up comedian and actor Patrick Moote’s quest to enlarge his “below average” endowment. Following a video in which Moote’s girlfriend rejected his marriage proposal on a stadium jumbotron cam went viral on the internet, Moote learns that one of the reasons his potential wife said no was that she thought his penis was too small. This leads him on a worldwide quest to investigate various, increasingly outrageous methods to increase the size of his member. Eventually, Moote comes to realization that – surprise! – he should just learn to accept what he has and find someone who can appreciate him for who he is rather than what’s in his pants. You know – basically the same damn thing that’s always said in regard to this question.

this approach
I’m not sure that THIS (i.e. sneaking a hidden camera into a Korean mens’ sauna) is the best approach to making the documentary…

Playing a bit like Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me in that Moote tries various methods for himself to see if he can get any substantial results, Unhung Hero winds up seeming like little more than a superficial and rather pathetic film in which a viewer is subjected to a man with low self-confidence getting down on himself and whining about the size of his junk for an hour and a half. It’s all but been proven by now that there’s really no way to safely and effectively increase the size of the human penis, but that doesn’t stop Moote from ingesting all sorts of pharmaceuticals claiming to make him “LARGER” or sticking his penis into one pump-like device after another with minimal results. When the narrator/star of the film winds up in a hotel room in Papua New Guinea seriously considering letting a half-assed guru inject ten shots of oil into his penis, the film truly hits rock bottom and gives the viewer a precise insight into just how shallow and sad Moote’s effort really is. Though penis size does matter to some people, in the end these types of “miracle cures” just seem ludicrous – and downright dangerous, and the film – which essentially revolves around one man’s continued insistence that he’s not exactly packing heat – becomes more annoying than anything else.

the look of shock
The look of shock says it all.

To be honest, I think a decent documentary could be easily made about this subject: as an American society especially, we seem to be particularly out of touch with just what exactly constitutes average size. This is largely due to the fact that as a culture, we’ve been (as sex advice columnist Dan Savage points out in the film) “pornified.” Most men gauge their sexual prowess on what they see in the pornographic films they come across – and porn notoriously features men whose endowments are well above average and therefore, generally unrealistic. A few segments in the documentary also utilize clips from various television shows and movies which relate the idea that popular culture has identified small penis size as a source of humor, thus creating even more problematic notions about male sexual identity. Unfortunately, Spitz’s film never really deals with those more far-reaching and I daresay more important ideas and issues; instead, it focuses squarely on one man’s quest for size at the expense of most everything else.

i'm not sure
Yeah, I’m not sure about that either.

Operating in much the same way a Michael Moore picture would since it focuses attention on the narrator himself and his personal story rather than on the underlying subject of how much penis size actually matters, Unhung Hero comes across as a feature length penis humiliation study, with most of the interviews in the film only seeming to confirm Moote’s feelings of inadequacy. Of course, when Moote mingles around a porn convention and sexual liberation parade in San Francisco looking for advice, he’s not exactly getting the true “man on the street” perspective. It also becomes increasingly difficult to swallow much of anything from a narrator who seems so singularly concerned with what he’s packing in his pants. If this guy is that convinced that he’s a failure in life just because he has a small dick (and he’s all too willing to admit this to any and/or everyone), I’m not sure much of anything would change his mind, and when the narrative becomes especially forced when Moote starts to question his willingness to even participate in the film, the picture loses most of what little credibility it had left.


A hot dog suit and a sign that reads “Wiener Talk?” INSTANT RESULTS!

To its credit, the film doesn’t completely ignore homosexual attitudes about the subject and it does include a few tidbits of information about how male sexuality is approached around the world and how it has been looked at throughout history. Several researchers throw in their two cents on the subject, as do porn personalities like Annie Sprinkle and Ron Jeremy. The film saves its best insight for last: sex columnist Dan Savage probably has the most interesting perspective in the film, and Jonah Falcon (widely reported to have the biggest measured penis in the world) also provides some startling remarks. Certain sequences here up the shock value substantially (including an actual penis enlargement surgery that’s briefly glimpsed and also the sight of a Chinese man lifting some 300 pounds with his erection), but legitimate, prescient information in the commentary from Moote is infrequent at best.

the look

In a way, this is the perfect festival film: it’s all but guaranteed to promote discussion but it doesn’t really have much of anything important to say on its own. As such, I found that the documentary operated as a sort of “cheap pop,” tackling its issues in a lazy, convenient manner that didn’t really require much effort or sincere analysis and investigation on the part of the filmmakers or narrator. Unhung Hero tries to get the point across that size isn’t everything, but this is the same message that’s been put forth time and again by a multitude of studies. Playing mostly like a complimentary pat on the back for any male viewers who have it in their heads that they are sexually inadequate (during the course of the film, Moote strikes up a relationship with in the end provides an “all is right with the world” conclusion to the narrative), the documentary is capably made and has some amusing and/or shocking moments, but a viewer ultimately gains nothing from sitting through it: it’s sensational just for the purpose of being sensational and has no ground-breaking perspective on an undeniably intriguing subject. I’d advise most viewers to skip Unhung Hero: a good documentary could certainly be made about this topic, but this simply isn’t it.

are they GOING for this reaction?


Widescreen DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures has a trio of deleted scenes, two extended interview segments, a Q&A interview, and a commentary with both the director and star/narrator. This special features package is pretty decent, but I personally had about my fill with Moote from watching the film itself.


5/10 : Brief but graphic surgical footage and a few legitimate shock sequences.


7/10 : Strong four-letter profanity and a literal ton of crude sexual content. Not for the easily offended – though you probably knew that.


8/10 : Strong sexual content throughout, including brief glimpses of explicit sex and full frontal nudity. I really doubt anyone would be turned on by this film.


7/10 : It’s safe to say (considering the multi-billion-dollar “male enhancement” industry) that some people out there would be very interested in this documentary.


“…but if this goes wrong, your wiener will be unusable for life – is it worth it?”

Trailer: (Warning – NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK!)

Purposely Cheesy but Not Altogether Fun: TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS DEMON KNIGHT

TALES FROM THE CRYPT PRESENTS: DEMON KNIGHT

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or DVD at Amazon

(2/5)

Pros: Special effects are great; plenty of goop and gore

Cons: It’s done in by an unfunny and painfully predictable script and doesn’t deserve the Tales from the Crypt endorsement

Though it carries the name of the popular EC Comics line that was eventually turned into an HBO horror anthology series, 1995’s Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight was originally planned to be a standalone film unrelated to the comics or series. When finally produced for the screen, a “movie within a movie” wraparound sequence was concocted using the familiar, skeletal “Crypt Keeper” character who’s seen to be in the process of making a feature film of his own. After the introductory segment, the main story of Demon Knight begins, revolving around a battle between good and evil that’s not so far removed from John Carpenter’s underrated Prince of Darkness that hit theaters in 1987 (perhaps not coincidentally the year that the first script for Demon Knight was penned). Somewhere in the American southwest, a mysterious drifter checks in to a dilapidated boarding house. Unbeknownst to the (rather stereotypical) inhabitants of the hotel, this stranger is carrying the only weapon that can be used against so-called “demon knights” that are constantly trying to gain a foothold in the material world. Shaped like a key and containing what amounts to holy blood that originated during the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (cue some very odd flashback sequences), this device comes in handy when a sinister, bald-headed demon inevitably does show up in an attempt to crossover from the spirit dimension, leading to the expected showdown between the forces of light and darkness.

crypt keeper
Yes, the Crypt Keeper has hit the big screen, but is that a good thing?

Playing as a fairly obvious (if ineffectual) tongue-in-cheek horror film, Demon Knight is never quite as clever or funny as it thinks it is or wants to be. Sure, the film occasionally pushes the outrageous factor to extremes and features a sizable amount of carnage and, since it was made before the digital age, some eye-popping practical special effects work, but the underlying script (written by Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, and Mark Bishop) is way too similar to dozens of other horror films that have turned up over the years. These writers attempt to inject some sense of fun and humor into the proceedings, but despite the occasional one-liner and general sense of absurdity, Demon Knight doesn’t inspire many laughs – or thrills. Director Ernest Dickerson, a one-time protege of Spike Lee, is unable to crank up the intensity in a capable manner and the entirety of the picture seems kind of lazy, suggestive of a director who really wasn’t feeling the material and was simply collecting a paycheck here. It’s not at all surprising that these days, Dickerson does most of his work in the smaller scope medium of television.

mood
Mood throughout the film, at least, is effectively dreary and creepy.

If Dickerson’s direction is pretty languid, some of the other people working on the film at least make an attempt to give it some life. Cinematographer Rick Bota and his lighting staff make sure most every scene here is dark and dreary, establishing an appropriate downbeat and spooky mood. Though Bota’s photography itself is pretty standard stuff, the art department has done a nice job of building and dressing the sets. An opening tracking shot that rolls through a prototypical haunted house to the tune of a classic Danny Elfman main title theme, is magnificent. The special effects are also pretty impressive. Demon Knight includes the usual (large) amount of goop and gore drenching the set and characters and additionally throws numerous severed heads and arms at the camera, but I was most interested in the demons themselves, who are related to the camera through a mixture of masks and prosthetics worn by actors and full-on, very intricate animatronic creations. Even if I don’t think the presentation of these beasts onscreen is quite as good as what one would find in the best horror film, I’d be OK with comparing the quality of the mechanical effects work to what was seen in the 1982 version of The Thing, which in my mind is still a high water mark in terms of cinematic special effects. Looking at the various highly-detailed demons seen in the film, I kind of wish they’d turned up in a movie that was more worthwhile overall: having these slam-bang effects in an overall shoddy movie seems a waste.

Billy zane
A hammy Billy Zane controlling the legions of the undead.

A further surprising element in this film is an accomplished cast: longtime character actor William Sadler plays the drifter guarding the key as a sort of itchy paranoiac who nonetheless comes to the rescue when the going gets rough. He’s joined in his fight against the demonic onslaught by a gaggle of rather cliched characters who are portrayed by actors too good for these roles. CCH Pounder (playing the hard-headed mammy-like owner of the boarding house) and a slim and trim Jada Pinkett (playing an equally stubborn young housekeeper) turn out to be heroine characters, making this film somewhat unique in its presentation of black women occupying these roles. Meanwhile, Thomas Haden Church skulks around the set playing the obligatory scumbag member of the human party who’s all too willing to sell out his compatriots in an attempt to save his own skin, Gary Farmer shows up in the small role of a slightly dim-witted police deputy, Brenda Bakke plays a local prostitute (you just know this hotel had to have one in residence), and Charles Fleischer appears as the buffoon who loves her. Honestly, this group of characters is nearly intolerable when a viewer is forced to witness the obligatory squabbling between them: none of them are developed substantially – or at all – though I suppose one could argue that their cardboard, cookie-cutter nature was part of the “joke” that this movie was attempting to present. Dick Miller as the town drunk doesn’t fare any better than the rest of the cast in terms of his acting of characterization, but I always enjoy watching his goofy performances nonetheless and Billy Zane overacts his behind off playing the slick, utterly nefarious title character whose main job is to tempt the humans into letting him enter their world. It was somewhat amusing to see a borderline ludicrous Zane go all-out developing a quintessentially “evil” character a few years before he’d become the main villain of Titanic.

demon dick miller
How can you not get some sort of kick out of a movie with a demon Dick Miller in it?

Generally speaking, Demon Knight is really nothing to get worked up over, and it’s actually disappointingly mundane considering that it carries the Tales from the Crypt name. It’s hard to entirely get down on a film that throws in a snarling demon version of Dick Miller or a fantasy scene involving a group of topless women trying to shower the camera with booze (keep an eye out for both Chasey Lain and Tracey Bingham during this sequence), but I wish the film wound up seeming more satisfying and original. Full of awkward moments of supposed humor and occasionally drowning in truly awful puns (part of the gimmick of the Crypt Keeper character), it’s no wonder why this script sat on the shelf for years. In the end, Demon Knight is simply a tiresome and perfectly predictable horror effort that’s moderately worthwhile only for its eclectic cast and clever special effects. Most viewers wouldn’t be missing much by skipping it entirely.


Neither the widescreen, standalone disc nor either of two double feature packages (which also include 1996’s equally sketchy ) has any extras aside from a theatrical trailer. I’d probably be inclined to get the two-fer.


8/10 : Gore galore during a handful of demon attack sequences, with lots of gruesome characters lurking about throughout the film.


8/10 : Quite a bit of strong, four-letter profanity and a few crude remarks.


6/10 : A brief but kinky sex scene and a fair amount of topless nudity.


7/10 : Fans of the comics of HBO series would probably have an interest in this, but it’s nothing remarkable.


“If you’re ready creepy, fasten your drool cups and hold onto your vomit bags. We’re going to the movies!”

Trailer:

“The Devil Rides With You…” SABATA

SABATA

(3/5)

Pros: Lee Van Cleef; some decent action down the stretch

Cons: Villains aren’t particularly threatening at any point; feels small-scale when compared to the best Italo-westerns

A few years after Italian producer Alberto Grimaldi and director Sergio Leone had wrapped up the so-called “Dollars Trilogy” with 1966’s magnificent The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Grimaldi attempted to replicate the success of Leone’s trilogy with another one revolving around a pretty familiar western anti-hero. 1969’s Sabata deals with the titular character who initially seems to be a sort of avenger figure who becomes involved in a bank robbery plot in a small Texas town. After returning the safe containing $100,000 that was stolen in the heist, the cool and collected Sabata seems content to accept a $5000 reward for his heroic actions, but it quickly becomes apparent that he’s a little less cut and dry of a hero than that when he blackmails the town officials responsible for the robbery for an ever-increasing amount of money. This, of course, doesn’t sit well with these folks who have no intention of paying Sabata off; instead, the crooked banker who devised the robbery in the first place seeks to hire various assassins to dispose of Sabata. As is typically the case in Spaghetti Westerns, this is easier said than done. Even as he’s dealing with the assassins, Sabata (with help from a somewhat buffoonish Civil War vet and an acrobatic mute) works up his own plan to eliminate the despicable town officials once and for all – but what role will a mysterious gunfighter known only as “Banjo” play in the unfolding action and more importantly, whose side will he end up on?

Sabata and his companions
Sabata enforcing his authority over his companions.

Written by Renato Izzo and Gianfranco Parolini (who also directed), Sabata provides exactly what one would expect from an Italian western of this era. The cunning main character finds himself in a variety of potentially hairy situations, yet manages to find a way out of the danger by using his cleverness and skills as a gunfighter. Considering that this same type of story had been done time and again around this period in which literally hundreds of Italian westerns flooded cinemas, I might have expected Parolini’s film to provide something a little outside the norm to really hook a viewer. Sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case: while a director like Sergio Corbucci was able to give life to his 1966 Django by overloading the film with violent action and also make the extremely bleak 1968 film The Great Silence one of the most outstanding Italian westerns ever made through use of a great gimmick (namely, the fact that the master gunfighter main character couldn’t speak), Parolini mostly seems to have been going through the motions making Sabata.


Lee Van Cleef: Western anti-hero extraordinaire.

Though the film is appropriately gritty and features a windblown setting that appears genuinely desperate, for the most part, Sabata seems uninspired: Parolini (working with cinematographer Sandro Mancori) does manage to create some visual interest by focusing on idiosyncratic details, but his scene composition is more often cluttered and clumsy. There’s no sense of purpose to many of his shots, and Sabata plays almost as the antithesis of a Leone western in this regard. The color scheme is also very drab, dominated by grays and browns – this fits the mood and tone of the story but doesn’t make the picture any more eye-catching to watch. By the time the big slam-bang finale turns up, I was mostly disinterested in a film that simply didn’t offer much to distinguish itself from dozens of obviously similar pictures and stories, and any amount of pyrotechnics and gunfire during the final ten minutes can’t really make up for the mostly forgettable hour and a half that preceded it.

tavern
I appreciated the level of detail in the film, but it’s nowhere near as polished as Spaghettis directed by Leone or Corbucci.

The most damning thing about the film in my opinion is the fact that the villains here simply don’t seem all that threatening. A rancher named Stengel is the obvious main bad guy, but as portrayed by Franco Ressel, he comes across as an incredibly meek banker-type who has a condescending view on the rest of humanity (we’re not-so-subtly introduced to the character while he’s reading a book entitled Inequality is the Basis of Society so his motivations are in plain sight right out of the gate). This guy doesn’t seem capable of doing much except talking somebody to death through use of holier-than-thou rhetoric, and his partners in crime (namely a rotund tavern owner and sheepish judge) are equally as ineffectual. The more rough-and-tumble western villains who actually performed the robbery are taken out of the picture early on in the story, meaning that the script has to introduce a series of basically throw-away potential assassins who try and gun Sabata down throughout the film. These skirmishes are fleeting and almost irrelevant: there’s no sense of surprise or tension here, and Sabata’s inevitable conflict with Banjo (played capably by William Berger, who looks ridiculous sporting what seems to be a moppy red-haired wig) doesn’t do much to alleviate the sensation that this film needs a more obvious and aggressive villain character.

Banjo
Banjo’s gimmick.

On the plus side, having the inimitable Lee Van Cleef as your main character means that it’s hard for a viewer to lose interest in Sabata even if the film as a whole isn’t all that compelling or unique. Van Cleef is simply magnetic as he scowls, snarls, chuckles dementedly, and barks out lines with pronounced intensity, and since most viewers probably would have previously seen him play some of the most nefarious villains in western film history, it’s very easy to buy into his Sabata as an anti-hero. Ultimately, Van Cleef’s performance is the one reason why this film would be honestly recommendable to fans of the genre (his interactions with Berger’s “Banjo” character are particularly good), but I actually enjoyed the supporting work provided by Italian actor Ignazio Spalla as Sabata’s main sidekick quite a bit as well. Spalla is a big, burly, grubby-looking fellow: the perfect character actor to cast in a western, and his jovial, slightly goofy behavior throughout the film provides a nice contrast to Van Cleef’s no-nonsense attitude. Aldo Canti, meanwhile, appears in an almost slapstick sort of role as a mute Amer-Indian who is able to perform amusingly outrageous acrobatic maneuvers. I found this character somewhat distracting, though it does add some additional humorous material to the film.

Van Cleef and Spalla
From left: Berger, Van Cleef, and Spalla.

In the midst of all the familiar and predictable elements, Sabata has a few standout moments, including a scene in which Banjo faces off in the middle of town against a quintet of gunmen and one in which Sabata visits a priest who has instructions to kill him – Banjo providing a “requiem” at the close of the scene is one of a handful of intriguing, more quirky moments to be found but I wish there was more of them. Marcello Giombini’s music was appropriately rousing, with a catchy main theme that features peppy guitar work and Morricone-like vocal choir, but though the music and editing adds suspense and vitality to certain scenes, the main body of the film is in serious need of a pick-me-up. In the end, I’d probably consider Sabata to be a quietly comical but relatively small-scale film that fans of Van Cleef would enjoy, but may not be all that exciting for fans of the western genre in general despite its definitive “A-HA!” finale. It’s kind of strange to me (though perhaps unsurprising given the tendency for Italians to overdo it in terms of movie sequels, hence the dozens and dozens of “sequels” to Django), that this generally unremarkable original film led to two subsequent Sabata pictures; though this first film is fine as a time-waster, I don’t think it’s much of anything special.


Neither the widescreen format from 20th Century Fox nor the from Kino Lorber have any special features to speak of. Personally, I’d go for the trilogy to get more bang for your buck, but picture and sound quality are better on the Kino release.


4/10 : The expected western gun violence and a smattering of blood.


1/10 : Isolated instances of mild profanity.


2/10 : A handful of risque scenes taking place in a brothel, with implied sexual encounters and fleeting topless nudity.


5/10 : A fairly typical Italo-western that’s neither exciting or quirky enough to truly stand out from the crowd.


“I like living at the peak of excitement, for life is only worthwhile when you can face death without showing any fear. In fact, I enjoy it.”

Trailer:

Formulaic and Unrestrained Aussie Zombie Action: UNDEAD

UNDEAD

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(2/5)

Pros:  Lots of imagination; fairly energetic

Cons: Script is mismanaged and messy; too similar to other, better zombie flicks

Made in Australia in 2003, Undead stands as one of the early examples of post year 2000 zombie cinema, released a year after the generally excellent 28 Days Later. The film deals with a zombie outbreak taking place in a small Aussie fishing village after the community is bombarded by meteor fragments. Upon landing, these space rocks cause normal civilians to metamorphose into brain-eating creatures who can only be stopped by the destruction of their cranial cavity. As has been the case with most every zombie film ever made, Undead mainly deals with the story of an unlikely, generally incompatible group of citizens as they attempt to survive the zombie apocalypse in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Even if the basic story would be painfully familiar to anyone who’s seen a zombie flick or three and throws too many predictable ideas into the mix, it’d be difficult to argue against the fact that this film does have some very imaginative ideas in it and is enjoyable on a purely mindless level. Unfortunately though, at some point down the line there just seems to be too much going on in the script, and the writer/director team of brothers Peter and Michael Spierig just can’t seem to corral the action and keep things focused.

shotgun
Amish Warrior Marion to the rescue – sweet three-shotgun rig, bro!

Our main characters here are part of the bigger problem in this film. Ever since the genre of the modern zombie film started in 1968 with George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, these films have often featured unlikable characters in an effort to make the inevitable struggle for survival more compelling. More often than not, one or more human characters typically winds up being more villainous than the zombies themselves – a notion that emphasizes inherent, inescapable aspects of human nature. Undead, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have any underlying message yet features a cast of characters that’s generally unlikable through and through. Even if the film does create main, more or less heroic figures in a local beauty queen named Rene and a prototypical “tough guy” fisherman named Marion, at no point was I all that interested in rooting for any of these people. That’s doubly true for the peripheral characters – namely, a profanity-spewing, aggressively authoritarian cop and his rookie partner along with a country bumpkin couple. Of course the couple is expecting a child any minute and obviously, the woman starts to go into labor at some point during the film, but I was even more annoyed when, in the middle of an ongoing action scene in which these folks attempt to escape the zombies, the wife starts arguing with Rene about who should’ve won the beauty pageant in the first place. Talk about unnecessary drama!

zombies
Mo’ movies, mo’ zombies…

If the cheap tension isn’t enough for a viewer though, the script by the Spierigs also throws in (along with the obligatory mutilated zombie corpses) acid rain that burns clothes and skin, zombie fish attacking a man’s face, and even aliens who turn up whenever the script starts to get a bit slow or run into a dead end. . At some level, these elements make the film fairly entertaining since Undead quite literally includes a bit of everything, but a viewer is never quite sure how everything going on in the film really fits together. Even after the “big reveal” moment, the story doesn’t make much sense at all: most everything here is suggestive of the fact that the writers had tons of ideas but not the foggiest idea how to effectively incorporate everything. Thus, the picture is unfocused and muddy, confused and confusing, and since most of the zombie film elements found here have been seen dozens of other places, it doesn’t make this stand out as much of anything but a bit of a mess.

aliens
So, lemme get this straight…we got aliens now too?

By and large, Undead has a comedic feel to it that makes it somewhat comparable to the early, hideously gory early films of Peter Jackson, though the Spierigs aren’t nearly as inventive as Jackson – or as clever as they think they are. (It’s worth noting that Undead has been accused of being a ripoff of the British comedy/horror film Shaun of the Dead – impossible given that the Australian film was made a year earlier.) Much of the comedy present in the film feels a bit forced and obvious – the best bits occur when the directors don’t draw attention to the fact that they’re attempting a gag, but honestly, this film is nowhere near as amusing as it really should be. I also grew tired of the “look at me” moments going on here, particularly those that featured Marion – this rather rotund guy (who never quite convinced me that he wasn’t some sort of ) is constantly pulling off Matrix-style, slow-motion parkour moves, hurling his body into ridiculous positions in order to get a clear shot at marching undead, at which point he unloads an absurd amount of lead in the direction of the brain-munchers. This despite the fact that he urges others to “save their bullets.” The overload of pointlessly flashy camerawork and over-use of slow-motion quickly gets to be too much: I could almost imagine during some sequences that the directors were having a sexual climax behind the scenes as they watched their opus of bloodletting play out. Ultimately, the hopelessly unrestrained Undead is only slightly (very slightly) less downright annoying to watch than director Uwe Boll’s hilariously obnoxious House of the Dead from the same year.


Marion, the ticked off Amish fisherman. With guns.

Complicating matters further is the cast itself: Felicity Mason as Rene seems almost catatonic at times and seems to think that acting mainly involves her opening her eyes really wide. I just couldn’t buy her as the heroine character at any point, and Mungo McKay as Marion is only marginally more tolerable. McKay is built up to be the gruff-voiced, super-cool, super-slick hero from the moment he first appears onscreen, providing cryptic answers to any questions that are asked of him. Eventually he, like all the other characters here, becomes stale and uninteresting, and I think overall, the cast simply goes as overboard with their acting as the manic writer/directors did with their visuals and technique. In terms of the expected zombie action and gore, the picture has its moments and occasionally is positively splatterific, offering up a mixture of CGI and practical effects work. On the downside, this film was produced at a time when many things were theoretically possible through the use of digital effects, but the effects themselves don’t really hold up that well – especially compared to what would be seen today (the “giant wall” that descends over the town in particularly unconvincing). Many films of the ‘90s and early 2000s suffer from this same problem; it’s almost inevitable when looking at older films to spot technical imperfections, but I personally find obvious and lousy digital effects to be borderline unwatchable.

pardon me
Well THAT’S going to leave a stain….

Compared with the best, undeniably distinctive Aussie genre films (a number of which are among my absolute favorites), Undead not only seems too formulaic and familiar, but it’s also downright ugly. This film is overwhelmed by not only darkness, but also a color scheme dominated by dull browns and grays: I really think some color (and not just floods of goopy gore) would have gone a long way in making the picture more lively. Also, is it just me or does Cliff Bradley’s main musical theme sound a little too much like the “Promenade” from John Williams’ Jaws soundtrack? All things considered, Undead may be energetic but it’s not especially fun – strange, given the amount of truly wacky elements thrown into the script. The Spierigs may be talented and imaginative, but they don’t demonstrate much control over this production. Frankly, this film is rather sloppy, with a few too many false endings; I’m not especially surprised that the brothers haven’t done a whole lot since its release. Even if Undead may appease zombie film fanatics on some level, most viewers would be best served by (re-)watching the much more satisfying Shaun of the Dead.

shuffle

DO THE ZOMBIE SHUFFLE!


From Lions Gate and in widescreen format, the DVD includes a nice array of bonus features including two commentaries (one with the cast, one with the crew), a selection of deleted and extended scenes and digital effects comparison footage, as well as a handful of making-of type featurettes. All in all, it’s a package that speaks to the fact that this film was a step above the typical (i.e. even worse) low-budget Lions Gate horror release.


8/10 : Gunfire and destruction galore, with lots of goopy bodily fluid and spilling innards. That said, this film isn’t scary in the least.


8/10 : One character in the film seems to use the f-bomb in place of every other word, hence, there’s a lot of profanity here.


1/10 : A gratuitous stripping scene in which the characters try to avoid the literal acid rain. Doesn’t make sense to me either, but there’s no nudity.


6/10 : A lesser zombie film to be sure, though I’m sure someone out there would find this more enjoyable than I.


“Aunt Aggie has the keys…but she doesn’t have a brain!”

Red Band Trailer – WARNING possible NSFW due to violence