Saturday, August 16, 2014

Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV

(2000) Directed by Lloyd Kaufman; Written by: Trent Haaga, Patrick Cassidy, Gabriel Friedman and Lloyd Kaufman; Starring: David Mattey, Clyde Lewis, Heidi Sjursen, Paul Kyrmse and Joe Fleishaker; 
Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

Rating: ** ½

“…the fetus fight scene is still the best intra-uterine fistfight committed to film despite the fact that our fetuses didn’t have short, stubby fingers.”  – screenwriter Trent Haaga, on the decision to use eight-year-old actors instead of little people (from the book, Make Your Own Damn Movie! by Lloyd Kaufman, Adam Jahnke and Trent Haaga)

The following is my contribution to the Troma Super SummerSpectacular Blogathon, hosted by the one and only Vern of Vern’s Video Vortex.  After tackling The Toxic Avenger Part II a little while back, I thought it only appropriate to return with a review of the third and (so far) final sequel to Troma’s enduring series about “the first superhero from New Jersey.”  I apologize in advance if what follows (to paraphrase The Dark Knight) is the Troma review we deserve, but not the Troma review we need right now.

Nowhere is the term “critic proof” more applicable than with the output of Troma Entertainment and its brand of low budget filmmaking.  Over the past four decades, Troma films garnered legions of fans with their signature recipe of bad acting, sophomoric jokes, bodily excretions, gratuitous nudity, misogyny and copious gore.   Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV* was obviously created with this specific audience in mind, conditioned to expect these elements.

* According to Lloyd Kaufman, he would have preferred the title, A Tale of Two Toxies.

The film starts out on a dubious note, at once apologizing for the previous two sequels and proclaiming to be the real sequel.  This time around, the title character is played by David Mattey, who also appears in a dual role as Toxie’s sociopathic doppelganger, the Noxious Offender (aka: “Noxie”).  In a move displaying Troma’s usual penchant for subtlety, he’s joined by morbidly obese sidekick Lardass (Joe Fleishaker, doing double duty as out of work physicist Chester). Heidi Sjursen plays Toxie’s blind, pregnant wife Sara, and Noxie’s deaf girlfriend Claire.  Another recurring Troma character, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD (Paul Kyrmse, also appearing as Evil Kabukiman), rounds out the list of dramatis personae.  

When a gang of adults dressed as infants terrorize a classroom of defenseless special education students, Toxie springs to the rescue.  Unfortunately for all parties, a bomb explodes, opening a portal to a parallel universe.  As a result, he switches places with his malevolent counterpart.  Instead of fighting evil, The Noxious Offender is evil.  Once he realizes what has happened, it’s up to Toxie to return to the correct universe, and right Noxie’s wrongs.  Director/co-writer Lloyd Kaufman leaves no stone unturned to ensure there’s something to offend everyone.  This fourth installment of the Toxic Avenger saga relies predominantly on middle school-level humor, taking potshots at feeble targets (such as the mentally challenged) along the way.  Depending on your tolerance for lowest common denominator humor, this film could seem like manna from the gods or an endurance test.  There are a few inspired moments scattered throughout, however, including a fight between Toxie and Noxie’s fetuses in Sara’s womb.

A recent re-watch of John Waters’ seminal 1972 schlockfest Pink Flamingos reminded me that Lloyd Kaufman and Troma didn’t pioneer the niche of bad taste cinema.  They’re simply carrying the baton that Waters passed along.  But something seems lost in translation, three decades later.  While Pink Flamingos was spontaneous and groundbreaking a few decades ago, Citizen Toxie appears calculated and self-conscious in a modern context.  One was an example of true guerrilla filmmaking that blindsided unsuspecting audiences, while the latter movie is a branded product designed to cater to a specific demographic.  Who am I to say Troma is wrong?   They have a winning formula.  You’ll never convince Troma’s detractors there’s anything good in these movies.  Conversely, you’ll never convince the Troma fans they’re wasting their time. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Goldblumathon is Here!

Who repelled an alien invasion, armed only with a Macintosh Powerbook?

Who was predestined to play Ichabod Crane?

Who fought off Red Lectroids from Planet 10?

Who made being a geeky scientist tampering with the laws of nature look cool?

Who personally supervised the construction of Stonehenge?

Okay, maybe Jeff Goldblum can’t claim bragging rights to the last one, but he’s performed many other amazing cinematic feats during his four-decade career.  After weeks of planning, catastrophizing and self-flagellating, the Goldblumathon has arrived to celebrate Hollywood’s most underappreciated and consistently entertaining actors.  A tip of my virtual hat goes out to everyone who contributed to this blogathon.  I look forward to reading all of your posts over the next few days.  Extra special thanks to the fine folks of Two Guys, One Quip and Classic Movie Hub for the last-minute plugs.  Your kindness knows no bounds. 

In the list below, you’ll find a nice representation of Goldblum’s resume, from tentpole flicks such as Jurassic Park, to cult favorites like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai – Across the Eighth Dimension, and lesser known films, such as Tenspeed and Brownshoe.  I’ll be updating the links frequently, so please check back often.   

Goldblumathon Participants

Todd, Forgotten Films - Into the Night

Scotty, Drunk in a Graveyard - Transylvania 6-5000

Michaël Parent, LMdC - The Top 7 Performances by Jeff Goldblum

Miss V, Girls do Film - The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Ryan C., Trash Film Guru - TBD

Vic De Leon, Vic’s Movie Den - TBD

Derek Springer, The Ugly Couchcast - The Awesomeness That IS Jeff Goldblum 

Dan Lashley, Wide Weird World of Cult Films - The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai – Across the Eighth Dimension

You’ve Got Red on You - Jeff Goldblum: Horror Movie History, plus...  The Fly

Kerry, Prowler Needs a Jump - Jurassic Park

Kev D., Zombie Hall - TBD

Two Guys, One Quip - The Town Where No One Got Off (from The Ray Bradbury Theatre)

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear - Between the Lines

Stacia, She Blogged by Night - Earth Girls Are Easy

James Patrick, Of (In) Human Bond Age - Tenspeed and Brown Shoe

Jeffprime, Starbase Geek - The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai – Across the Eighth Dimension

Erin, 90s Horror Movies - Mr. Frost

Stabford Deathrage, Stabford Deathrage Shoots His Mouth Off - The Sentinel

The Vern, The Vern’s Video Vortex - The Fly

Matt Howell, That’s Cool, That’s Trash! - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Barry P., Cinematic Catharsis - Earth Girls Are Easy

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Earth Girls Are Easy

(1988) Directed by: Julien Temple; Written by Julie Brown, Charlie Coffey and Terrence E. McNally; Starring: Geena Davis, Jeff Goldblum, Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans, Julie Brown and Charles Rocket;

Available on DVD

Rating: *** ½

Wiploc: Finland is Here?

Valerie: Finland?  No, this is the Valley. Finland is the capitol of Norway.  God, you guys sure learn fast.

Why did I choose Jeff Goldblum as the focal point for my blogathon, the Goldblumathon?  Call it a man-crush if you will, or a deep admiration for his signature acting style, but Goldblum is one of my favorite performers.  With his tall, gangly figure that embodies the awkwardness of adolescence in an adult frame and distinctive speech pattern (manic, with the hint of a James Stewart-esque stutter), he’s one of the most idiosyncratic actors working in mainstream cinema.  He may not be typical leading man material, but when he does headline a picture, there’s usually a catch: he’s an eccentric scientist (The Fly), fish-out-of-water American (The Tall Guy), or in this case, a love-struck alien.

Earth Girls Are Easy encapsulates ‘80s kitsch in all its candy-colored glory, with its idealized depiction of suburban Los Angeles* life.  The title (and nominal story line) is based on a novelty song by Dr. Demento regular Julie Brown,** who co-wrote the screenplay, and also co-stars.  Director Julien Temple incorporates many of the Southern California landmarks instantly recognizable to anyone who’s ever been there, while taking license with the geography.  The Griffith Observatory becomes a tacky dance club, and the filmmakers would have you believe that Inglewood is just around the corner from Zuma Beach.

* Set in the San Fernando Valley (or colloquially, The Valley).

** I don’t know if it’s Ms. Brown I have to thank for coining the phrase “take a mental margarita,” but I picked it up from this film, and I continue to use the term to this day.  Yes, I’m aware that’s why I don’t have any friends.

Guided by their raging space hormones, three furry aliens, Mac, Zeebo and Wiploc (Jeff Goldblum, Damon Wayans and Jim Carrey, respectively) crash-land their sex toy-shaped spacecraft into the pool of suburbanite Valerie (played by Goldblum’s wife at the time, Geena Davis), and wacky ‘80s hijinks ensue.  Before you can say “Nair,” Valerie takes the aliens to the Curl Up & Dye salon, run by her boss Candy (Julie Brown), to give them a human makeover.  Shorn of their body hair, the previously hirsute aliens embark on a quest to party and meet women.

After he watches a clip from The Nutty Professor, Mac emulates Jerry Lewis’ pseudo-suave Buddy Love character, in an attempt to woo Valerie.  Complicating matters is Valerie’s obnoxious yuppie fiancé Ted (Charles Rocket), who sees the aliens as a means of furthering his medical career.  Goldblum and Davis have nice chemistry together, but how do I put it delicately?  Valerie is a bit of a ditz.  Who am I kidding?  She’s a dim bulb.  When she catches Ted with another woman, she kicks him out, then proceeds to waffle about him for the rest of the movie.  Since this isn’t a Shakespearean tragedy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that true love will conquer all in the end.  Mac represents everything that Ted isn’t.  He’s sensitive, attentive and loyal – something that’s apparently in short supply on Earth.

Temple, no stranger to the musical format (with the underrated Absolute Beginners) provides lively direction to the goofy song and dance numbers, mostly written and performed by Brown (“Cause I’m a Blond” is a personal favorite).  Earth Girls Are Easy also includes a number of affectionate nods to genre films.  A creepy fun dream sequence incorporates shots from Jean Cocteau’s Beauty & The Beast and Earth vs. The Flying Saucers.  Watch for cameos from several iconic inanimate objects, including Robby the Robot, cars from Death Race 2000 and Angelyne.*

* Seriously, have you seen her attempt to act in this flick? (Zing!).  To the uninitiated, Angelyne was an L.A. fixture in the ‘80s, more famous for being famous than anything else.  You couldn’t meander around La-La Land without encountering one of her ubiquitous billboards advertising her dubious talent.

25-plus years after my first viewing, I’m still unable to see Earth Girls Are Easy with anything approaching objectivity.  Maybe I’m looking back at the ‘80s with scuffed rose-colored glasses, but I can’t help but appreciate the movie’s love letter to a fictional Los Angeles, as well as its old-fashioned “let’s put on a show” vibe.  At least for this reviewer, it’s a combination that’s tough to resist. 

 Be sure to check out all of the great posts...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July Quick Picks and Pans

The Wall (aka: Die Wand) (2012) This contemplative mood piece from writer/director Julian Pölsler, based on a novel by Marlen Haushofer, concerns a woman (Martina Gedeck, in an affecting performance) who suddenly becomes cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible wall.  We never learn how or why the wall originated, but her narration chronicles the pragmatic and psychological concerns about her day to day existence, alone in the Austrian wilderness.  Along with her animal companions, she must rely on her wits and fortitude to survive.  The wall itself serves as a metaphor for her mental and physical isolation.  As the days and months wear on, and she arrives at the conclusion that no help is available, she must confront the harsh realities of her survival.  The Wall doesn’t dwell on idle speculation, but chooses to keep us shrouded in a mystery with no solution. 

Rating: ****.  Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming.

Bettie Page Reveals All (2012) Bettie Page, who passed away in 2008, provides the narration to a documentary about her rise and fall as a ‘50s pinup model and rebirth as a latter-day counter-culture pop icon.  Told through photos (the older Page is heard, but not seen) and interviews with artists, models and friends, Bettie Page Reveals All is an amusing, informative and touching portrait.  Filmmaker Mark Mori takes a balanced approach, counterbalancing Page’s own words with first-hand accounts from the people who knew her best.  We learn about her seven-year stint as a photographic model, as well as her history of sexual abuse, failed marriages, legal troubles and mental illness. The film also explores one of the most curious aspects about Page, as a woman with strong religious conviction, but a relaxed attitude about nudity and sexuality.  Even with the inclusion of so many biographical details, it still seems as if there were some missing pieces from her life story, but it’s probably as complete as we’re going to get.  It’s a fascinating profile that should satisfy Bettie Page enthusiasts, as well as anyone wondering what all the fuss was about.

Rating: ****.  Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming.

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013) Frank Pavich’s documentary is a big “what if,” covering filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed attempt to bring Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel Dune to the big screen in 1975.  The 84-year-old Jodorowsky is incredibly lucid and energetic as he recounts his travails to create something that would have been a truly mind-blowing experience.  Every aspect of the film would have been larger than life, with a cast that included Orson Welles, Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger.  In addition to music by Pink Floyd, artists H.R. Giger, Jean “Moebius” Giraud and Brian Foss were brought onboard, with Dan O’Bannon providing special effects.  Despite this impressive assembly of talent, short-sighted Hollywood studios were reluctant to back the French production.  Much has been said about how this version of Dune would have been the greatest science fiction film of all time, but I’m unconvinced that the production, if it ever received the green light, wouldn’t have imploded under the collection of massive egos involved in the film.  What ultimately could have been, the world will never know. 

Rating: ****.  Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Gentlemen Broncos (2009) ”Polarizing” is probably the best way to describe director/co-writer Jared Hess’ train wreck of a movie, which appears to be set in the same alternate-reality ‘80s universe as (his better film) Napoleon Dynamite.  The basic story involves teenager Benjamin (Michael Angarano), who attends a camp for young writers, only to have his science fiction novel plagiarized by his literary idol Chevalier (Jemaine Clement).  Surrounding this central hub are several sub-plots, involving Benjamin’s fashion designer mother, a pseudo-father figure, and an inept filmmaker.  Generally, I enjoy films that depict unconventional individuals, but in this case a little restraint would have gone a long way.  In a film that feels burdened by an overload of quirky characters.  In its eagerness to please, Gentlemen Broncos borders on contempt for the subject matter, choosing to have us laugh at, not with, the characters, and taking a condescending approach to the science fiction genre.  The movie is not without its fleeting charms, however, especially when we witness a couple inspired iterations of Benjamin’s protagonist Bronco (Sam Rockwell) fighting mutants in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  Angarano is also good as the young writer – the only character who doesn’t seem contrived.  These moments elevate the film enough to give it a mild pass.

Rating: ***.  Available on Blu-ray and DVD