Thursday, June 23, 2016

Short Film: La Dolce Gilda (USA, 1978)

That Saturday Night Live is an [US] American institution goes without saying. When it debuted in 1975, it was an instant hit. At our junior high in Alexandria, VA, it was often the main topic at school every Monday morning — for the funny stuff, the music acts, and the stuff we didn’t really understand (Land Shark, anyone?). 
We ourselves found the pre-nose job Laraine Neman sorta hot, but Gilda Radner (28 June 1946 — 20 May 1989) was our favourite comedian of the show. Between Roseanne Roseannadanna, Baba Wawa, Emily Litella, her heartwarming nerd characters, and any number of other endearing social misfits, Radner usually kept us laughing more than the various males that garnered most of the limelight. It goes without saying that her early death from ovarian cancer was a tragic loss and made the world a less-funny place.
Among the more drily humorous regularly aired segments of the original year was "Schiller's Reel", which featured the short films of Tom Schiller. This film here, La Dolce Gilda, aired on Episode 17 of Season 3, is one such film. As the short's title makes obvious, it features Gilda Radner and is inspired by the films of Fellini. In all truth, at the time La Dolce Gilda was originally aired, it went over our head: we hadn't even seen our first Fellini film yet (roughly 4 years later in LA we finally saw Satyricon [1969 / trailer] on a double bill with Roma [1972 / trailer]). And now, almost four decades after La Dolce Gilda first aired, we recently rediscovered it on Vimeo and found it both inspired and touchingly melancholic.
As AV Club notes,  "La Dolce Gilda [is] a beloved, rightly revered tribute to La Dolce Vita (1960 / trailer) that beautifully replicates the look, sound, aesthetic and carnivalesque madness of Fellini despite being awfully low on jokes. As lovingly written and directed by Tom Schiller as part of his 'Schiller's Reel' collection it's less a parody than a straight-up homage. It's a sort of dual love letter to Radner and Fellini." 
According to the blogspot Life of Brian, SNL replayed the film about a week after Gilda died as a tribute to her. Here it is for you, as our Short Film of the Month for June, 2016.
Tom Schiller's
La Dolce Gilda:

La Dolce Gilda from Angela Layana on Vimeo.
Radner's last film prior to her death, by the way, was the critically panned commercial flop she made with her husband Gene Wilder, Haunted Honeymoon (1986 / trailer). We here at A Wasted Life are some of the few who rather enjoyed the movie, as you can tell by our review of it found here. It is still awaiting rediscovery and reappraisal.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Devil's Rock (New Zealand, 2011)

"Fuck you, hell-whore!"
Col Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland)

Go figure: for the DVD release in Germany, the powers that be renamed the flick Nazi Bitch — War Is Horror. A title that is far more reminiscent of such classic Nazi torture exploitation flicks like Lisa She-Wolf of the SS (1974 / trailer) than any WWII bunker-set supernatural horror flicks like, dunno, The Bunker (2001 / trailer) or The Keep (1983 / trailer). Be what it may, The Devil's Rock aka Nazi Bitch — War Is Horror has absolutely nothing to do with Nazi bitches but, instead, deals with flesh-eating demons (or, rather, demon). The original title is at least a bit more concise, slightly more playful, and relates to the plot: the rock of the title is an island, the monster of the flick a [female] devil. And while she might be a total bitch, to put it lightly, if she's a Nazi it's only by happenstance — sounds like many people we've met, actually, and not just in Germany.
This Kiwi flick — Is Kiwi a pejorative? Is it the N-word from Down Under? Is it even possible to have an N-word for white folks? — is a low budget WWII horror Kammerspiel (chamber play) with a core cast of three. Everyone else flits in only long enough to die: less time on set, less money spent. And the money saved seems to have been poured into the gore. (Good move!)
The plot concerns two New Zealand soldiers, Grogen (Craig Hall of 30 Days of Night [2007 / trailer], Perfect Creature [2006 / trailer], and The Ferryman [2007/ trailer]) and Tane (Karlos Drinkwater), who on the eve of D-Day are sent a German-occupied British Channel island to create a diversion by sabotaging the Nazi base. (The building they enter is modeled after one on Guernsey, built [in real life] by the occupying Nazi forces of WWII, but the island named in the movie is itself not a real one.) The two manly men find a scene of carnage, and soon only Grogen is still alive, a prisoner of the last surviving Nazi on the island, Colonel Klaus Meyer (Matthew Sunderland of Backtrack [2015 / trailer] and Out of the Blue [2006 / trailer]). But wait! Grogen turns the tables, only to find his totally hot wife Helena (Gina Varela), who supposedly died in a bombing raid, locked in chains in a room upstairs...
No, this ain't no love story, it's about how war is horror and a Nazi bitch — though, in truth, the bitch is more a Demon Bitch (like, 100%) than a Nazi one. (They summoned her, true, but does that make her a Nazi? That's like saying all Trump supporters are racist assholes because he's a racist asshole when, basically, they're just idiots. And not all idiots are assholes, you know.) In any event, the core cast of three carries a relatively tightly scripted low budget horror film (the budget of this flick probably wouldn't have paid the on-set chemicals of the already ancient, similarly titled and extremely dull action thriller The Rock [1996 / trailer]) through to the end. And while nothing truly unexpected happens, the movie is extremely logical and believable in its narrative development (assuming you can accept the concept of demons) and truly keeps you interested until the end. The Devil's Rock might not be an unknown masterpiece — and unknown it is — but it is a wonderfully involving little gore flick that travels an uncommon narrative path: we, at least, haven't seen too many flesh-eating demon films in the past decades. (Zombies, yes; demons, no.) And, damn! That Demon/Nazi Bitch looks hot!
Director Paul Campion — no relation to the New Zealand art house Oscar-winning director Jane Campion of In the Cut (2003) — supposedly mortgaged his house to get the show on the road for his film, and all the power to him for succeeding; we hope he was able to buy a second house, 'cause he deserves it for delivering an obvious labor of love this good, this involving. People have gone onto bigger, greater things with directorial debuts half as good as this one; let's hope he does, too. With The Devil's Rock, he's delivered a well-made, well-acted and tightly scripted movie that jumps hurdles over its mini-budget. The character of Colonel Klaus Meyer is particularly well done, despite the occasionally lost accent: a blue-blooded Nazi, there comes a point when you as a viewer really no longer know whether or not he truly has seen the mistake of calling up an unkillable, flesh-eating demon or whether he's still got ulterior motives. And as for good guy Grogen, though a man with a mission, he comes across as emotionally scared and torn enough that one does occasionally doubt his resolve.
But the true stamp of quality of The Devil's Rock is that it takes a plot that easily could've drifted into ridiculousness or camp (especially with its literally red-hot demoness) and keeps it firmly rooted in serious gore horror. Yep, we're talking bukakke gore here: body parts get chowed down, heads get torn off, blood spurts everywhere — and never once does any of it come across as completely gratuitous. (Face it; a flesh-eating demon isn't going to be concerned with Mrs Manners' tips on social etiquette.)
We went in expecting nothing, and were seriously surprised: The Devil's Rock is everything a truly good low budget horror film should be. It's also definitely no waste of time.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Berserker (Great Britain, 2004)

Over two decades ago, a concrete welder named Paul Matthews decided to leave the building trade and together with his siblings Elizabeth, Veronica, Janet, and Peter, form a B-movie company called Peakviewing Transatlantic. Obscure as the firm might be, it has released well over 20 feature-length movies since 1992, if usually direct-to-video.

We had the displeasure if seeing one of Paul Matthews's earliest genre outings, Deadly Instincts aka Breeders (1997), and, truth be told, had we realized that the man who wrote and directed Berserker (2004) was the same man who "wrote" and directed Breeders, we might have skipped this movie. But no, we were seduced by the cheesy Berserker trailer, which seemed to feature time-hopping Vikings and vampires and a cast including three of our favorite B-film regulars, Kari Wuhrer (of Thinner [1996] and Anaconda [1997]), Craig Sheffer (of Flying Virus [2001]), and eternal ham Patrick Bergin (of Highway to Hell [1992]), the last of whom with some gnarly, hilariously fake facial hair. We expected a violently fun, genre mishmash with gore and tits, and what we got was basically a narrative mess that made no sense and often induced sleep.
Some years ago, to the release of Paul Matthews' fantasy Merlin: The Return (2000), Michael Thomson of the BBC wrote in regard to that movie, "It's almost as if director Paul Matthews had accepted a bet to make the worst possible film." We would posit that either Matthews has taken that challenge often, or simply really doesn't give a rat's ass. Cinematically, his eye isn't the worst, even if he doesn't exactly know how to make a scene exciting, but when it comes to the narrative it really seems that either he just doesn't give a flying fuck about his stories and continuity, that he's a relatively incompetent scriptwriter, or both. In Berserker, as in Breeders, the narrative thread is often lost to the viewer, characterization is literally none or reduced to clothing, and actions often defy logic. Perhaps the most enjoyable interlude of the whole movie, for us, is when the good guy and gal, when escaping the bad guys, go to a half-empty disco and, to create a diversion, turn on the fire sprinklers. The whole bit was preceded by "Huh?" scenes and was followed by "Huh?" scenes, so the end effect overall was never excitement or suspense but mostly giggles or confusion.
One might describe Berserker a colorful mixture of genres: action, Viking, fantasy, war, adventure and, dunno, romance (maybe). But to do so would be too kind, for more than anything else the film is simply a disjointed and confusing mess with a half-baked plot. The actors don't do too bad, perhaps, but even the film's most one-dimensional performance (Nick Boraine turn as Clifford) is much too good for the turkey it's in.
Not that Berserker starts off too badly: the opening scenes of ancient Vikings and valkyrie vampires are sort of fun in a cheesy, gory way and indicate that the movie might be good for a few laughs, especially since Patrick Bergin's Viking king Thorsson really looks like he hates every moment he's on screen and the good guy Barek (Paul Johnsson of Wishmaster II: Evil Never Dies [1999 / trailer]) is sort of hunky. And then there's also Wuhrer as Brunhilda. (Yummy — three-way, anyone?) But the little that the beginning of the movie promises is quickly proven to be a lie. (Sounds like an ex-girlfriend of ours.)
Barek, by the way, is the Viking son of Thorsson and, in turn, the brother of Boar (Craig Sheffer). The latter, after being bitten by the vampire valkyrie Brunhilda, runs off to join the Berserkers when Barek steals Brunhilda, whom Boar sees as his gal. Daddy Thorsson, however, needs the help of the Berserkers to ensure his thrown, but after the Berserkers keep their end of the deal struck, he proves untrustworthy. This angers the god Odin, and he revenges himself by making the movie fall completely and confusingly apart. Were it not for the plot description of the movie we found at the Peakviewing Transatlantic website, we would've been hard placed to explain the how and why of the movie's entire second half, which takes place in contemporary times.
In the end, Berserker is all about curses and lifting them, but for us what remains memorable is Kari Wuhrer's turn as the miniskirt-wearing Doctor Anya. (She could take our temperature any time, using any of our orifices she prefers.) Despite some gore and guts and boobs, Berserker is basically a dull and disjointed and disinteresting disaster that should have been a lot funnier than it is. The biggest laugh it brought the night we saw it was when two of the five guys we saw the flick with simultaneously said "Did he shit that thing out?" at the movie's last scene, which basically features the parentless rebirth of Boar.
Berserker is a major fail in all ways; even as a "bad movie" it is more micro-dicky than even simply dicky. But the blame for the film's failure definitely doesn't lie on Wuhrer, Sheffer or Johnsson, all of whom give the movie more than it deserves.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Sorority Row (USA, 2009)

If you want to get straight to the review, jump down to the next section, which begins more or less with a red-colored sentence, just above the trailer found further below to the original version, The House on Sorority Row (1983). 
But now, to meander...
In all truth, we have nothing against remakes or "re-envisionings". To use a musical example, take Peggy Lee's definitive version of Fever (song). You know what? A remake: the original version was sung two years earlier in 1956 by the relatively forgotten Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Inductee William Edward John (15 Nov 1937 — 26 May 1968), otherwise known as Little Willie John.
The Original —
Fever by Little Willie John:

His version may have peaked at 24 on the charts and is good in its own way, but it's nevertheless not quite as memorable as Lee's version or, for that matter, the insane Boogaloo version by La Lupe (song), or the unjustly forgotten 1961 exercise in stereophonic sound by The Three Suns (song). One might argue that some songs — like Fever — can't be made badly, but this is not true, as is proven by the sterile, lifeless version Madonna made, which is the prime example of an unneeded — and worthless — remake (and we say that as former Madonna fans).
Madonna (circa 1993)
she may still look human,
but she kills the Fever anyways:
Other songs where the remake is good on its own or better than the original? Dunno, how about: Cake's version of I Will Survive (song) to Gloria Gaynor's (song)? The King's version of Come As You Are (song) to Nirvana's (song)? Urge Overkill's Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon (song) to Neil Diamond's (song)? Amii Stewart's Light My Fire (song) to The Doors' (song)? Texas Lightning's Like a Virgin to Madonna's (song)? The Boss Hoss's Hey Ya! (song) to Outkast's (song)?
Texas Lightning's
Like a Virgin:
OK, you might argue that remaking music is not the same as remaking a movie. But, hell, let's not forget that John Houston's The Maltese Falcon (trailer) was actually a masterful remake of 1936's Satan Met A Lady (trailer), which in turn was an abysmal remake of Roy del Ruth's acceptable The Maltese Falcon (1931 / first 2 minutes). And then there's the "classic" and creaky Bela Lugosi version of Dracula (1931 / trailer), which, while not necessarily a remake of the unauthorized silent version of Bram Stoker's novel from 1922, Nosferatu (full movie), is nevertheless substandard to both the Spanish version made at the same time starring Carlos Villarias and the Hammer version from 1958 (trailer). James Whale's Frankenstein (1931 / trailer) is likewise way better than the first version from 1910 (full film), while the Hammer's version, The Curse of Frankenstein (1957 / trailer), is a good film in its own right (but let us pretend Kenneth Brangan's operatic version from 1994 [trailer] was never made). Likewise, virtually any given Rialto Edgar Wallace film is superior to virtually any given earlier English-language version, and even the fluffy Ocean's Eleven (2001 / trailer) is definitely an improvement to the original, fluffy Ocean's Eleven (1960 / trailer). We could go on forever... 
Another forgotten great cover version —
Season of the Witch
by Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper, & Steve Stills:
Of course, in all honesty there are dozens of remakes that or definitely not better or even suck in comparison to the original versions — The Mummy (1999 / trailer) and The Mummy (1959) to The Mummy (1932), Vanilla Sky (2001 / trailer) to Abre los ojos (1997 / trailer), The Time Machine (2002 / trailer) to The Time Machine (1960 / trailer), Shutter (2004) to Shutter (2008 / trailer), Detour (1992) to the masterpiece Detour (1945 / full movie) — but be what it may, nothing is sacred, and as far as we're concerned remakes are OK, though we could get ourselves excited about the pointlessness of Gus Van Sant's version of Psycho (1998 / trailer), but then, being pointless was the whole point of the project in the first place. In the end, however, when it comes to movies, we ourselves actually prefer re-envisionings.
Which brings to the point when we stop meandering — which we actually only did anyway as an excuse to present a couple of songs we like and a few we hate — and get to the actual topic at hand, the movie Sorority Row, a "re-envisioning" of the low-budget slasher from 1983, The House on Sorority Row.
Trailer to the original
The House on Sorority Row (1983):
The original might be a sacred cow, but in all honesty, we never liked it all that much in the first place, so we figured a remake couldn't be any worse. But, in truth, we can't help but wonder when is a remake a remake or a re-envisioning, and when is it simply a movie set in the same milieu or about the same topic? Are all modern college-set comedies Animal House (1978 / trailer) remakes/re-envisionings? Are all end-of-the world movies a remake/re-envisioning of the now-quaint and first disaster movie, Deluge (1933 / scene)? Are all love stories in which one side dies in the end and leaves the other one alone broken-hearted remakes/re-envisionings of Love Story (1970 / trailer)? (Which, we are sure, is not the first film to use its plot.) Are all body-count films actually a re-envisioning of And Then There Were None (1945 / trailer)? (Which, actually, is not even the first body-count movie — the earliest we can think of off the bat is Terror Aboard [1933], but since one knows from the beginning which human is doing the killing, perhaps it doesn't count as a real body-counter in the modern sense of creative kills by an unknown or unnaturally superhuman killer.)
Sorority Row, noticeably, neither shares the title of 1983's The House on Sorority Row nor, if you get down to it, does it share that movie's plot, motivation, or twist. (Yes, both movies are based around a prank gone wrong, but even the victim of the prank isn't the same.) All the two films really have in common are sorority girls and dead bodies, something both films also share with a lot of other films out there. Sure, one or two characters share a name and there's an occasional visual or verbal reference in Sorority Row to The House on Sorority Row, and yes the original scriptwriter/director Mark Rosman does get a credit, but we're still talking about two completely different films here. And you know what? When it comes to dead-sorority-sister films, were it not for the tacky 80s appeal and blood, Sorority Row would qualify as better-made than The House on Sorority Row.The girls are sexier, in any event.
Directed by Stewart Hendler, who brought us Whisper (trailer) in 2007, and written by Piranha 3D (2010) scribes Pete Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg, Sorority Row is an entertaining and liberal piece of propaganda — we need more of that stuff — that is no more believable than the average slasher but way better made than most. And we give it plus points for having the gonads to show young, well-heeled future Republicans for what they are: self-centered egoists that are so concerned with looking out for number one that they'll go over bodies.
Indeed, have no doubts here: the girls of this sorority — and their douche-bag boyfriends — are indeed the upper crust, the future leaders that will one day lead the country, a point made home at the latest when bitchy Jessica Pierson (Leah Pipes of Fingerprints [2006 / trailer]) has her eye-to-eye conversation with the senator father of her equally egotistical boyfriend Kyle Tyson (Matt Lanter). These are America's finest, and they are all morally and judgmentally corrupt and look out only for number one... followed by number two, the significant other, only in as far as No. 2 remains an acquiescing brownnoser or doesn't get in the way.
In any event, we went into the film truly expecting to hate it simply because we hate the kind of people we thought it to be about — sorority sisters and frat boys — but Stewart Hendler managed to hook us in the first scene if only because he presented what we hate (young, brainless well-to-do and future conservatives) with something we love: a single, minutes-long tracking shot through a extremely loud and active sorority house party full of frat assholes and sorority bitches. Visually, we were so thrilled by the directorial touch — a touch too complicated for a normal, brainless teen horror film — that we not only kept watching, but decided to forgive the typically stupid set-up leading to the disaster that in turn leads to the later bodycount and true focus of the movie.
Here, a bunch of pretty but mostly vacuous sorority girls decide to prank a boyfriend of one of them, Garret Bradley (Matt O'Leary of Brick [2005 / trailer]), because he's a pussy chaser — like, totally overlooking the fact that every guy in the movie except one is a fuck-around. In any event, things go terribly wrong and Megan Blaire (Audrina Patridge) ends up dead at the bottom of an abandoned mineshaft and all the sisters voluntarily or involuntarily swear to secrecy so that their futures don't get ruined by one stupid mistake. And then, as it works in most slashers, a few months later rolls around... and the bodies begin to pile up while you, the viewer, try to figure out who goes next and who's the killer. Neither is all that hard to do. The body count is nine, which is OK but we found a bit low if only 'cause we tend to hate the people in the social stratosphere presented in the movie and thus would have loved to see more of them meet their maker.
OK, we have to admit that another, almost embarrassing reason we like Sorority Row: it has Carrie Fisher (of The 'Burbs [1989 / trailer], Scream 3 [2000 / trailer] and Wonderland [2003 / trailer]) as the housemother Mrs. Crenshaw. We can't explain why — perhaps we simply have a soft spot for survivors with honest mouths — but we always like her in any movie, and only wish she would start making more trash like this and become the female version of Brad Dourif. Here, she wields a wicked shotgun that never runs out of ammunition — until, as to be expected, she's finally in a position from which she can no longer miss the killer.
But to get back to the film. The girls are hot enough, the bitch is a super-bitch, the final girls are mostly the ones that should survive, the slow-motion girl power walk at the end is good for a major laugh, the direction (as indicated by the opening scene) is better than usual, the tension is occasionally rather high, there is some nudity but way not enough, and there are really hundreds of way-worse slasher films out there. We don't really understand why the killer, considering the motivation behind the killings, would bring Megan's body back and hide it in the sorority house, where it logically would be way easier to find than at the bottom of the mineshaft, but then we also find a pimped-out tire iron to be a pretty stupid murder weapon as well.
The deaths of Charlene "Chugs" Bradley (Margo Harshman of Simon Says [2006 / trailer], Rise [2007 / trailer], and From Within [2008 / trailer]), sexy Claire Wen (Jamie Chung of Sucker Punch [2011 / trailer] and Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For [2014 / trailer]), and asshole Kyle Tyson are way more to our liking.
In the end, in short: Sorority Row is less a remake or re-envisioning than simply a relatively well-made if not occasionally not fully thought-out slasher set in a sorority setting. And as a slasher, it delivers nothing new but does everything well enough to be entertaining — and also functions well as a subversively unobtrusive tract showing the masses just how evil and heartless and deserving of death the well-to-do, future conservatives of the USA are.
(We really can't remember, but was there a single African American anywhere in the movie? Probably not, as since the white mainstream tend to think Black Lives Don't Matter, a bodycounter populated with Black folks being killed just ain't as interested as one populated with white folks being killed — cause, like, White Lives Matter. Guess the filmmakers figured that one Asian American is enough minority for one movie.)
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