Thursday, August 10, 2017

Film Review: CYBER BANDITS (1995, Erik Fleming)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 86 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Martin Kemp (WAXWORK II, THE KRAYS, of "Spandau Ballet" fame), Alexandra Paul (CHRISTINE, BAYWATCH), Adam Ant (of "Adam and the Ants," NOMADS, JUBILEE), Grace Jones (A VIEW TO A KILL, CONAN THE DESTROYER), Henry Gibson (NASHVILLE, THE 'BURBS, THE BLUES BROTHERS), James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, BLADE RUNNER), Nils Allen Stewart (BLOODSPORT 2, FIREPOWER), Robert Hays (AIRPLANE!, CAT'S EYE, TV's STARMAN). Written by James Dale Robinson (THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN) and James Goldman (William Goldman's brother, the playwright who wrote THE LION IN WINTER, FOLLIES, and THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS––here he is credited as "Winston Beard").
Tag-line: "Welcome to cyberspace. Where danger is a virtual reality."
Best one-liner: "Strap him down, boys!" (said by Grace Jones)

In a familiar, darkened alleyway:

"What are we watching tonight?"
–"Tonight, we're going to catch a glimpse the future."
"Oh yeah?"
–"Well, take a peek, kiddo––if you can handle it. It's called CYBER BANDITS:"

Cool Cyber Dudes




Life-Size Cyber Strippers


Pocket-Size Cyber Strippers


Read-only Optical Memory

 "The future kinda looks like 1995."
–"The hell it does!"
"Is that a CD-ROM?"
–"Maybe. But what if in the future they have experimental hard drives that hold millions of terabytes of data and they happen to look like CD-ROMs?"
"Oookay. If it's gonna be watered-down cyberpunk, can we just watch BRAINSCAN instead?"
–"No. Trust me, you're gonna like CYBER BANDITS. For starters, its cast is comprised almost entirely of famous musicians and John Carpenter actors."
"Hmm. Go on."
–"Almost everyone in this film has razor-sharp cheekbones and ice-blue eyes, and it's all accompanied by aggressive house music and fusion jazz noodling. Look at this, it's just three, nearly identical, cheek-bony men staring at each other's cheekbones. It's like being held captive in a hall-of-mirrors at a German discotheque."

"Okay. Is that, um, Adam Ant?"
–"Maybe."
"Does this movie have a plot?"
"Of course it does. So there's an evil millionaire, played by Robert Hays (who played STARMAN on TV, albeit not directed by John Carpenter), who is financing a device capable of erasing your mind and trapping you in your own catatonic body in a mental hell of your own making. Essentially, it's a jumbo-sized and more malicious version of the neuralyzer from MEN IN BLACK.

He's got Joe Dante and Robert Altman-standby Henry Gibson as his top scientist on the project, too."

"So it's more of a 'Henry Gibson picture' than a 'William Gibson picture,' eh?"
–"Oh, stop. Though, I must give a special shout-out to Gibson, who simpers and leers his way through the picture with sinister refinement, like he's a 1990s Claude Rains."

Hand over the CD-ROMs if you know what's good for you

 "I do appreciate a solid Henry Gibson performance."
–"Me too, brother. Anyway, our hero is Martin Kemp (the bassist from Spandau Ballet), who's, um, a sailor on the evil millionaire's yacht."

"I feel like this character should be played by Jean-Claude Van Damme. Or at least Jean-Faux Van Bernhardt."
–"Oh, hush. So, after a torrid affair with the millionaire's girlfriend (Alexandra Paul, from John Carpenter's CHRISTINE),

Pictured: a torrid affair from the future, and not, in fact, a torrid affair from 1995.

and against the advice of his buddy, rocker Adam Ant,

You'll note that those are the Frank Lloyd Wright tiles from BLADE RUNNER in the background!

the sailor and the girlfriend decide to steal the plans to the millionaire's neural-cyber-weapon-thing and have them laser-tattooed on Kemp's back with a bunch of little 1's and 0's. (The original title of this picture was A SAILOR'S TATTOO.)

Incidentally, this is the first (but far from the last) time Martin Kemp will be strapped down to various surfaces throughout this movie.

Also, it's worth mentioning that the man doing the tattooing is James Hong (from John Carpenter's BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA)

Note his excellent fake mustache.

who, pre-tattoo, offers them a masked, flamboyant Chinese opera performance.

He was clearly having so much fun with it, that they bring him back for a post-credits scene where he performs even more Chinese opera. Take that, Marvel movies!"
"I must say, as far as MacGuffins go, a coded tattoo is not the worst idea."
–"Of course it isn't!  Didn't I tell you who wrote this thing?"
"No."
–"Two men. One is the guy who adapted THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN..."
"Ugh."
–"...and the other is the playwright who wrote THE LION IN WINTER."
"Er, what?"
–"Who incidentally is William Goldman's brother, James. However, he chose to be credited as 'Winston Beard.' Also, don't be so hard on THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN."
"I'll be as hard on it as I want. Think about it: Sean Connery had such a bad experience working on it that he retired from acting. Therefore, if not for GENTLEMEN, we may have had Connery in INDIANA JONES AND THE CRYSTAL SKULL which fundamentally would have altered its fabric, which means it might not have had Tarzan vine-swinging and CG aliens. The pity is that we'll never know."
–"Okay, that's enough out of you. I'm about to get to the best part: the millionaire has a foil––a woman who leads a rag-tag band of cyber-resistance fighters and plans to bring him down for good: ladies and gentlemen, may I present... Grace muthahfuckin' Jones."

"That's a lot of crazy-eye."
–"It's one of her specialties, as you well know. You can also see her in Christopher Lee's Cher wig from THE WICKER MAN,

shouting things like "Strap him down, boys," feeding her pet mouse to her pet snake (with an extra side of crazy-eye),

setting up a nice cyber-office on the beach (uh... what?)

and wearing really outré outfits that I guess are supposed to be camouflage,

but read more as "Cousin It at Milan fashion week."

SURPRISE––Grace Jones!

"I'm intrigued."
–"It's a lot better than it should be. I mean, Grace Jones alone––despite less than 20 minutes of screen-time––is essentially worth the price of admission. It's like a low-rent BLADE RUNNER/NEUROMANCER with big ideas, game actors, silly costumes, and an A-list soundtrack featuring songs like 'Sploosh' by Ozric Tentacles."
"Wow. I kinda miss the '90s."
–"I think you mean, 'the future'... don't you?"

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... STORYVILLE

Only now does it occur to me... a few things about STORYVILLE.

STORYVILLE is the only feature film to be written and directed by Mark Frost, co-creator of TWIN PEAKS. I watched it because I am a TWIN PEAKS die-hard. Here's what I learned:

#1. It can't decide whether it wants to be a John Grisham-style courtroom drama or a Cannon Film. Think that sounds ridiculous? Then just let me lay the plot synopsis on you, and you can tell me the exact point where Grisham gives way to Golan-Globus:

Clay Fowler (James Spader) is a young Louisianan whippersnappuh and ace lawyer running for Congress.

There's all sorts of corruption and family history and bayous and rockin' chairs and microfiche––


Most films of this kind make you wait about an hour for the microfiche montage sequence, but STORYVILLE delivers it in the opening shots of the movie!

and there're backroom deals and suspenders and an irascible performance by Jason Robards,

and pathos exuded by Woody Strode in browline eyeglasses,

but then––ladies and gentlemen, just when you think you're watching THE CLIENT or THE PELICAN BRIEF, James Spader finds himself in hot water (literally) when he is blackmailed after being videotaped having sex with a martial arts instructor in her studio's (ninja) hot tub:

And this is after they've already 'sexy-sparred' like Grace Jones and Christopher Walken in A VIEW TO A KILL.


A VIEW TO A KILL meets A TIME TO KILL?

Allow me to reiterate two things. One: I am not making this up. Two: ninja hot tubs are a staple of 1980s cinema, and I don't know why. I call them "ninja" hot tubs and not "martial arts" hot tubs (or even "jiu jitsu jacuzzis"), because they first appear in the Cannon classic REVENGE OF THE NINJA, where three separate hot tubs involving ninjas are made integral to the plot. In Cannon's NINJA III: THE DOMINATION, a ninja hot tub makes a notable appearance as a site of possessed ninja murder. In BLIND FURY (not a Cannon film, but starring Cannon's Sho Kosugi), there is a climactic martial arts and swordfighting duel over a hot tub. Later on in STORYVILLE, Spader returns to the scene of the ninja hot tub and battles a martial arts assassin. What does all of this mean? I was hoping you could tell me.



#2. If you're looking for TWIN PEAKS, you found it... (kind of).

There's a small town, quirky characters, and a dead body floating in the water in the opening scenes.

He's dead... Wrapped in... the clothes he was already wearing, I guess. 

It shares with TWIN PEAKS its casting director (Johanna Ray), cinematographer (Ron Garcia), production designer (Richard Hoover), set decorator (Brian Kasch), second-assistant director (Randy Barbee), and co-producer (Robert D. Simon).  It features a small, weirdo role for Catherine Martell herself, Piper Laurie:

and a villainous turn (obviously) by Renault brother Michael Parks:
 
who is sort of playing the same corrupt cop he played in THE HITMAN, though in this role he is permitted both the Cannon flourish of beating up James Spader while wearing a terrifying mask:
as well as the Grisham flourish of testifying in a courtroom that the judge "will not allow to turn into a circus!"
Michael Parks was a national treasure, by the way.

In closing, this is a strange (and, I'll be honest, often mediocre) little movie that may find appreciative viewers among TWIN PEAKS enthusiasts, hot tub fans, Grisham die-hards, and, I daresay, aficionados of the Southern Fried Crawdad-Lickin' Sleaze-O-Rama genre.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

"Edifice and Artifice in Buda and Pest" in River Styx

My latest short story, "Edifice and Artifice in Buda and Pest," the winner of the 2017 Schlafly Micro-Brew Micro-Fiction Contest, has been published in the latest issue of River Styx, #98. The issue is available to purchase in print here.

River Styx is a St. Louis-based literary journal (active since 1975) that has published work by writers such as Margaret Atwood, Rita Dove, Derek Walcott, and Czeslaw Milosz.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sean Gill Reading With the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library on Governor's Island, Sunday, July 23rd

The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library is partnering with the Empire State Center for the Book for a series of Vonnegut-related events this weekend on Governor's Island. At 1:00 PM on Sunday, July 23rd, I will be part of a reading program, reading my satirical short sci-fi story "Forbidden Melodies from a Diminishing Octave," which was previously published in So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. The event is free, and additional details are available here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

R.I.P., George A. Romero

It pains me to write about the death of George A. Romero, whose impact on my love of classic and contemporary horror is immeasurable. While he is best known for essentially creating the modern zombie movie with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (then setting the gold standard for the genre with DAWN OF THE DEAD), his entire catalogue is worthy of deep study. He was not merely a scare-master, but a true observer of the human animal, and his films are packed with nearly six decades' worth of trenchant, razor-sharp social commentary (I'd hoped he had at least one more feature in him, a "Romero" take for these troubled times. Though there are multiple Romero scripts in circulation, one of which, ROAD OF THE DEAD, seems the most likely to see release).

Whether I'm talking about CREEPSHOW, a strong contender for "most fun Halloween movie" and one I can truly watch anytime, anywhere; MARTIN, a masterpiece of postmodern vampirism and Rust Belt mysticism; or KNIGHTRIDERS, a film about "fighting the dragon" and making your own family wherever your find it; Romero's films speak to me in varied and complex ways––the man was a philosopher, a poet, a sociologist, and a true citizen of the world. It was my pleasure to see him twice in person (at the New York premieres of DIARY OF THE DEAD and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD) and he was as delightfully charming as you might imagine: compassionate, gregarious, and humorously no-nonsense (he answered one audience member's question about the efficacy of chainsaws versus shotguns in the event of a zombie pandemic by saying "Son, it's only a movie").

Here's to you, George.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Film Review: ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD (1986, Gary Nelson)

Stars: Hoo Boy of 5.
Running Time: 99 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Richard Chamberlain (THE MUSIC LOVERS, THE LAST WAVE), Sharon Stone (CASINO, BASIC INSTINCT), James Earl Jones (STAR WARS, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, SNEAKERS), Henry Silva (SHARKY'S MACHINE, BULLETPROOF, GHOST DOG), Cassandra Peterson (ELVIRA MISTRESS OF THE DARK, PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE), Robert Donner (COOL HAND LUKE, HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER). Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Based on the novel by H. Rider Haggard (KING SOLOMON'S MINES, SHE). Screenplay by Gene Quintano (SUDDEN DEATH, OPERATION DUMBO DROP) and Lee Reynolds (WHO AM I, DELTA FORCE 2). Directed by Gary Nelson (FREAKY FRIDAY, THE BLACK HOLE). Music by Michael Linn (AMERICAN NINJA, BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO) and Jerry Goldsmith (TOTAL RECALL, ALIEN, GREMLINS). Second unit directed by Newt Arnold (BLOODSPORT, BLOOD THIRST).
Tag-line: "24 Karat Entertainment!"
Best one-liner: "We're starting to piss off somebody's god!"

I've written before at length about the "Cannon Quatermain Canon"––the two films, KING SOLOMON'S MINES and ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD, were made simultaneously in 1985, were based on outworn adventure novels by H. Rider Haggard, and were shamelessly attempting to cash in on the success of the INDIANA JONES series.

These films, even moreso than the average American globetrotting adventure film, are xenophobic, racially insensitive (they actually use brownface on Robert Donner to transform him into the excruciatingly offensive Indian character "Swarma"), and generally spit-take inducing. I honestly can't tell if these films are an elaborate joke on the audience, a spoof of the genre's racist tropes, or a genuine attempt at action-adventure entertainment by woefully out of touch individuals.  [It's also worth noting: Cannon's FIREWALKER (with Chuck Norris) was made in the same period and is definitely cut from the same cloth.]

The plot concerns Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain, who deserves better)

Note how his fedora differs from Indiana Jones' in that it is handsomely garnished with a swatch of leopard print from Jo-Anne Fabrics.

and Willie Scott––er, I mean Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone, who also deserves better)

She doesn't even get to sing.

are searching for... not the Ark of the Covenant nor the Sankara Stones nor the Holy Grail, but, I shit you not... a legendary white African tribe who lives in a lost city of gold. At one point, Sharon Stone is made to exclaim, "The white race does exist!" I cannot overstate how unsettling this is.

James Earl Jones (who also obviously deserves better) shows up in a tailcoat, a plastic bone tooth necklace, a Native American feather headpiece, and no pants.

He is playing the warrior sidekick "Umslopogaas," and he wields a giant axe that is conspicuously lightweight and shiny, almost as if it is a piece of plastic covered in reflective paint (which it is). At one point he is captured by the guards of the white tribe's lost city, who are black men wearing white hoods. Again, these decisions appear to be so plainly tone deaf and misguided that it is better to believe they are not deliberate.

According to James Earl Jones, he only signed up for this picture because it allowed him to piggyback his shoot dates with an African vacation. I hope it was a nice vacation.

Master of crazy-eye Henry Silva rules the Lost City like Jim Jones, wearing community theater biblical robes and a Gene Simmons wig. He is clearly based on "Mola Ram" from INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (complete with a floor-opening sacrificial chamber and a mine full of slave labor), and the major difference is that he does not rip out his victims' hearts, but rather dips them in gold. He screams things like "Which one of you is going to die for slaying our sacred beast?" and appears to be having something approaching a good time.

And wait a minute, who is that on the left, in the Valkyrie breastplate?

Why, it's none other than Elvira (!) herself (Cassandra Peterson), who mostly lounges around and gives the evil eye, which makes her role in this mess the most enviable, from an actor's standpoint.

ALLAN QUATERMAIN AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD is treasure trove of cheap costumes, depressed actors, incompetent matte work, and mind-bogglingly terrible ideas. There are giant maggot attacks, a wild raft ride (that attempts to mirror TEMPLE OF DOOM's mine-car chase),

and a zany bazaar salesman whose wares include bulletproof spandex.

Furthermore, Quatermain solves literally 95% of the problems he faces with trick-shooting (at tomatoes, natives' faces, trap doors, stalactites, etc.) which is a great message for the youth, too, sure.

In the end, the film is troubling, bizarre, baffling, and frankly the whole thing has aged about as well as the Gold Dust Twins. Now you must atone for your sins by watching the entire catalogues of Ousmane Sembéne, Sarah Maldoror, and Gadalla Gubara. Whew.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Film Review: GHOULIES II (1988, Albert Band)

Ghoulies: A lot more than two.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by Albert Band (I BURY THE LIVING, PREHYSTERIA!). Produced by Charles Band (TRANCERS, TROLL, TOURIST TRAP) and Frank Hildebrand (ROBOT JOX, THE TREE OF LIFE). Written by Charlie Dolan and Dennis Paoli (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND). Music by Fuzzbee Morse (DOLLS). Cinematography by Sergio Salvati (THE BEYOND, ZOMBI, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). Starring Damon Martin (PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE, NORTHFORK), Royal Dano (THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, THE RIGHT STUFF), Phil Fondacaro (THE GARBAGE PAIL KIDS: THE MOVIE, WILLOW, RETURN OF THE JEDI), J. Downing (ROBOT WARS, VIPER), Kerry Remsen (PUMPKINHEAD, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2), Sasha Jenson (DAZED AND CONFUSED, HALLOWEEN 4).
Tag-lines: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bathroom!"
Best one-liner(s): "Bon appetit, mutherfuckah!"

The question: What do you get when you combine the talents of Stuart Gordon's writer, Lucio Fulci's cinematographer, Terrence Malick's production manager, a composer named Fuzbee, and the Band brothers (of Full Moon Pictures infamy)? The answer: GHOULIES II, apparently.

GHOULIES is a franchise founded on two pillars. The first is a desire to make a quick buck off of the success of GREMLINS. The second is a profound enthusiasm to provide an audio-visual platform for little monsters who bite people's bums while they're trying to go to the toilet.

In lieu of a traditional review, I've decided merely to describe––with a minimum of editorializing––a dozen events that take place within the world of GHOULIES II. Possessing merely the facts, you will be free to engage in a your own personal evaluation of the picture. It's an exercise in objectivity, really.

 #1. The legendary Phil Fondacaro, playing a career carny, encounters his insufferable rich-kid boss (J. Downing)


He's sort of a Kushner-type

and counters by quoting KING LEAR:

"They know not how their wits to wear, their manners are so apish."


 #2. A cat-faced ghoulie gleefully rides the swinging blade of a pendulum, cackle-meowing all the while.

"Mewww-hee-hee-hee!"


#3. A rat-faced ghoulie vomits green goo onto a child's shirt, prompting him to fling a ninja star at the ghoulie's face. The ghoulie proceeds to eat the ninja star, prompting the child's friend to exclaim:
"This place is better than Epcot Center!"


#4.  The cat-faced ghoulie and the rat-faced ghoulie give each other a righteous high-five while enthusiastically cheered by a crowd.
SMACKKK


#5. Sasha Jenson essentially plays the exact same character he plays in DAZED AND CONFUSED,
 
thus proving that Richard Linklater is a closet GHOULIES II fan.


#6. This carnival employee (on the left, in the blue polka dots), explains to her friend that she will not be quitting the carnival despite the ghoulie infestation. She explains this decision by saying:
"Me? I can't do nothin' else but sling these old bones around!"


#7. Royal Dano attempts Shakespearean posturing, but he cannot hold a candle to Phil Fondacaro's, (though he does possess a certain old man charm).



#8. At one point our male lead (Damon Martin), in a moment of frustration, accuses his friend Phil Fondacaro of being "a second-rate hobgoblin!"

I believe this carries some form of meta-commentary, as in my mind, there is an ouroboros-like succession of little-monster-related activity throughout the 1980s. The GREMLINS series was ripped off by the GHOULIES who were ripped off by the CRITTERS who were ripped off by the MUNCHIES who were ripped off by the HOBGOBLINS. So perhaps this is a shot at the HOBGOBLINS series (which was launched in 1988), or perhaps it's just an excuse to show us more of Phil Fondacaro's "John Oates pathos face."

Naturally, Fondacaro responds to this by quoting more KING LEAR.


#9.  The cat-faced ghoulie shoves a red plastic boombox off of a table, breaking it into two pieces.

The cool kids––to whom it belonged––freak out, naturally:

"They broke my tunes!"

Later, another tunes aficionado discovers the broken boombox and, like Hamlet considering Yorick's skull, holds it aloft and says:

"Dude... your tunes!"

Much later, when all hell has broken loose, the owner of said busted tunes brings a policeman and explains the gravity of the situation:

"My tunes are still in there!"


 #10. Set in part to the wild hair metal strains of W.A.S.P.'s "Scream Until You Like It," the ghoulies run roughshod over the carnival. This includes––but is not limited to––the cat-faced ghoulie commandeering the shooting gallery:



A ghoulie playing hit-and-run driver with a bumper car (I'm not sure how that's possible):



And the dunk-tank clown being eaten by the ghoulie in what resembles a Great White Shark attack:





#11. Speaking of sharks, the latter half of this film has a very JAWS vibe, except it's the rich-kid owner of the carnival (J. Downing) who is fulfilling the role of JAWS' mayor, the guy who wants to keep the beach open at all costs. But don't you worry––in living up to the series' core premise, a ghoulie (inspired by THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) gets this heartless capitalist in the end.
YAHHHHHHH

 #12. Finally, as is customary in every GHOULIES picture, the ghoulies can only be defeated by the summoning of a gigantic ghoulie who proceeds to eat the rest of them.

It's poetic biology

So happy 241st birthday, America––I can't think of a more appropriate present than a movie about selfish, accidentally-summoned mischief-making toilet monsters who lay waste to our carnival, threaten our collective "tunes," and who are destroyed by carnies and amateur Shakespeare enthusiasts. After, we survey the destruction the ghoulies have wrought, and declare with stoicism: "We can't do nothin' else but sling these old bones around."