Women of Cell Block 9 (aka Tropical Inferno)

1978 women's prison movies

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Three revolutionaries are captured and interrogated at a women's prison run by a sadistic warden. They try to escape.

The second in my trio of Jesus Franco movies is not a good movie at all, even for a women's prison movie. Franco dabbled in that genre, probably because of the pervy potential, and this effort is the kind of movie you kind of feel dirty for watching. The prisoners spend about 95% of the movie naked. When they're clothed at the beginning, they're the kinds of revolutionaries who wear short shorts and high heels. And when they're not being tortured, they're chained side-by-side by the neck so that the camera can pan over their bodies whenever Franco decides he needs another scene like that in the movie. And that's frequently. Folks who like movies that are degrading to women would almost love this. There's virtually no story, just a trio of torture scenes, one including a rhino horn and Howard Vernon saying, "Most men I've done this to are now homosexuals." Oh, yeah. Howard Vernon is in this. He's terrific despite the terrible dubbing--dubbing that includes voices when nobody's mouth is moving at all--and a scene where he watches lesbian action awkwardly. Well, that's also probably made awkward because of the dubbing. That or the leering. Now that I think about it, this movie is pretty much just shots of naked women and close-ups of Howard Vernon. And you know what? That's fine with me. I don't know who plays the warden because I can't figure out the warden's name, but I liked her. There's plenty of cheese amidst the sleaze with some game-show music that is completing distracting when the prisoners try to use lesbianism as a distraction to trick the dumbest prison guard ever, the line "Turn around, you pig!" which leads to the worst blood I think I've ever seen, and plenty of crocodiles or alligators during a scene where the naked women are being chased through the forest. As usual, I can't tell the difference between crocodiles and crocodiles. I don't think Franco can either though, so it doesn't matter. And the movie ends with shades of necrophilia with a nifty closing sound effect. Sweet move there, Jesus Franco. Sweet move. No one is going to mistake Women of Cell Block 9 or Tropical Inferno or whatever this movie wants to call itself (Note: It probably would rather hide than call itself anything.) for art, but. . .no, there is no but. There's nothing I can follow that with.

The Awful Dr. Orlof

1962 Jesus Franco movie

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The titular awful doctor and his deformed henchman Morpho abduct women in order to use their skin to repair his daughter's scarred face.

This was the first of a trio of films I decided to watch after the passing of the normally-pervy Jesus Franco. Here, he's Jess Frank and in this, one of his first movies, there are only signs of the future perversity. That would come later when he uses any of these pseudonyms:

Joan Almirall, Rosa M. Almirall, Clifford Brawn, Clifford Brown, Clifford Brown Jr., Juan G. Cabral, Betty Carter, Candy Coster, Terry De Corsia, Rick Deconinck, Raymond Dubois, Chuck Evans, Toni Falt, Dennis Farnon, Jess Franck, Adolf M. Frank, Anton Martin Frank, Jeff Frank, Wolfgang Frank, Manfred Gregor, Jack Griffin, Lennie Hayden, Frank Hollman(n), Frarik Hollmann, B.F. Johnson, J.P. Johnson, James Lee Johnson, David Khune, David Khune II, Lulu Laverne, A.L. Malraux, Jesus Franco Manera, J.F. Manner, Roland, Marceignac, A.L. Mariaux, Preston Quaid, P. Querut, Lowel Richmond, Dan L. Simon, Dave Tough, Pablo Villa, Joan Vincent, Robert Zinnerman, C. Plaut, and James Gardner.

This is fairly straight-forward 60's horror with some weird editing, askew camera angles, and cool cheapo black 'n' white photography. It's got plenty of atmosphere, and it's got Morpho who would have ended up an iconic horror film character if this was the only horror movie ever to have been made. And it's got Howard Vernon as the awful doctor, and the more Howard Vernon you've got in a movie, the better your movie probably is. There's also a great soundtrack with some psychedelic percussion music and other bits of creepiness that add to the atmosphere. The storytelling isn't great, the main plot borrowing heavily from Franju's Eyes without a Face or Teshigahara's The Face of Another. There's awkward backstory, and there's some of the worst dubbing I've ever seen. The awesome falling dummy near the end makes up for that though. This isn't typical Franco or a terrific horror movie, one that is about as scary as the Universal monster movies that came around 30 years earlier. But it does have a nice feel and is interesting viewing just to see how much potential this director had.

O.C. and Stiggs

1985 teen comedy

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The titular high school friends terrorize the Schwab family and the suburban middle class in general.

I know, I know. Giving this much-maligned Robert Altman inexplicable teen comedy that may or may not be a parody of other teen comedies a 15/20 is going to get me called an Altman fanboy or something, but I really dig this movie. Like a lot of Altman movies, this is light on plot. It's breezy, a series of non sequiturs and oddball moments and half-heard lines, a hodgepodge of the bizarre. It's ornery Altman, one that might laugh at the same fart joke he's already heard three times. But you know what? This movie is downright entertaining and very funny. There's an absurdist slant to the whole thing that makes it, although still very much an Altman bastard of a movie, very different from other movies. You almost have to appreciate a movie that isn't going to appeal to anybody who might be the intended audience--not the people who like raunchy teen comedies like Porky's or the people who liked Altman's movies in the 70s. The rapport of the leads--Daniel Jenkins and Neill Barry, neither who went on to do all that much--is great. There's a natural connection that helps hold this whole mess together. Ray Walston gets a great part as gramps, and Dennis Hopper is in there playing a crazed Vietnam vet like only Dennis Hopper can. It's also got one of the coolest movie cars you'll ever see, a car the characters buy specifically because it will be really loud and disrupt the lives of ordinary people. And that's kind of how this movie is--it's disruptive jab in the eye. In a good way! Nearly brilliant and undeniably stupid, this baffling little film would be almost impossible for me to recommend to anybody but myself and fans of King Sunny Ade.

Shane Watches a Bad Movie on Facebook with Friends: Zeta One

1969 English psychedelic sci-fi perversity

Rating: 6/20 (Eric: 12/20; Fred: 14/20; Libby: 15/20)

Plot: Alien women from the planet Angvia kidnap earth women in order to repopulate their planet. It's told in flashback to a guy who might be James Bond.

This flick, which has a nearly incomprehensible story, is also called The Love Factor. It's a cheeky and silly sex romp from the groovy late-60s, like a Barberella where nobody involved tried very hard. There are some cool sets and costumes, but there's also a strip poker scene that goes on for about twenty minutes and goes absolutely nowhere. Although I'm not complaining about Yutte Stensgaard at all, don't get me wrong. Kinkiness abounds, but there's not much else going for this mess of a movie. It lacks the style and personality of the aforementioned Barberella and has a story that you feel like you're wading through.

The Invisible Man Returns

1940 sequel

Rating: 15/20

Plot: The titular invisible man sort-of returns. Actually, it's a different guy who needs to turn invisible in order to clear his name and save himself from execution after being framed for murdering his brother.

Vincent Price's first horror movie, but you don't get to see him until the final thirty-seven seconds of the movie. He doesn't quite sound like Vincent Price to me either, and there's a scene where he laughs that shows he had a ways to go before perfecting his Thriller laugh. The story is not all that strong, sort of like The Fugitive except for the lack of one-armed men and a protagonist who is invisible. The cool invisibility effects, topping the ones in the original, make this well worth checking out though. You get headless robed guys, Vincent Price's capillaries, and a really neat sequence involving a door opening, stuff being pushed aside, the impression on a chair cushion, and a telephone call being made. The best moment in the entire movie, however, is Forrester Harvey's character Ben Jenkins and the reaction he has to seeing (well, not seeing) the invisible man's eyes, a "Jumping Johosephat!" with some of the most over-the-top blinking you'll ever see.

I watched this on Svengoolie, a Chicago horror movie television show. The puns were difficult to endure.

Seven Psychopaths

2012 black comedy

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A screenwriter wrestling with a story is dragged into gangster shenanigans after a dog is stolen.

Wow. I watched this a long, long time ago. It's a mess of storytelling, but the characters are a lot of fun, and just like director Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, this feels really fresh. The thing just sparkles, mostly because the characters, though not especially well written, are unique and played perfectly by a who's who of cool, including a so-brief-you-might-miss-'em random appearance by Crispin Glover. Ferrell's the likable straight man stumbling around in the comedic darkness, and it's almost like his character is forced into the situation he's in by giggling gods. The ubiquitous Sam Rockwell shines, his comic timing and mannerisms nearly perfect. He's hilarious. Tom Waits gets to hold a rabbit and shoot people, and it looks like he's having a blast. Woody Harrelson's as funny as he gets, and he can get funny. Love his line "Peace is for queers, and now you're gonna die" in this. Harry Dean Stanton can steal a scene when he's doing nothing but standing around, and he does a great job of standing around in his limited scenes. And then there's the always-fascinating Christopher Walken who is maybe the best I've ever seen him. You just hang on his every word in this. And I love when he shoots somebody and makes the sound effect. Almost enough cool to make the entire movie explode. There's even a Townes Van Zandt song. The ultra-violence will turn off some, and the twisty plot that kind of changes tone about midway through might be a little too much for others. Rockwell's character says, "You're the one who thought psychopaths were so interesting. They get kind of tiresome after a while, don't you think?" at one point, and if somebody told me that they got tired of these psychopaths after a while, I could understand it. I thought the thing was a blast though and would definitely watch it again.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

2009 prequel

Rating: 8/20 (Emma: 20/20; Abbey: 14/20)

Plot: Wolverine's story, leading up to that first X-Men movie. He gets metal put in him, falls in love, chops down trees, and has fights with another furry guy, but not necessarily in that order.

As some of my readers might recall, I sort-of watched this movie with my brother back when it came out. It was a leaked version without completed CGI. My brother tried to tell me that completed special effects wouldn't make a difference, but I really thought they would. Nope. He was right, and I was wrong. Other than Hugh Jackman, who really does his very best to give this a little something, this movie's got nothing going for it. Part of the problem is that it's a prequel, so any fight scene between Wolverine and anybody else has very little if any tension or suspense. And the fight scenes are ludicrous, the CGI effects laughable. I did like the montage during the opening credits that took Liev Schreiber's character and Wolverine through various stages of America's bloody history. I did wonder, as the duo stormed Normandy, why they didn't end up in Saving Private Ryan though. The Liev vs. Wolverine fights though? They're jumpy enough to give you vertigo, and unfortunately, there are about a dozen of them. And they're all sort of the same except the last one which takes place in an implausible location. I can't think of a movie that gets worse and worse and more and more nonsensical like this one does. I thought it had reached the bottom of the barrel with one of those overhead shots showing Wolverine screaming after his girlfriend dies, but I was wrong. Then, I thought we'd reached the bottom when Wolverine, after running around naked for a little too long, interacts with some farm people, farm people who end up dead in a really shocking scene that, to this conservative viewer, just seemed unnecessary. But no, that wasn't the bottom because there's a grotesque Fat Fred who might have been modeled after the obese glutton who dies in Se7en. I'm pretty sure he's got CGI man tits. And there's lots of Will.i.am, poker great Daniel Negreanu, and a climax that seems to go on for hours. The movie's absolutely no fun at all, and unless I missed something, doesn't really give us all that much background about the character or the story that isn't in those first two X-Men movies. This is superfluous entertainment, and no amount of bad special effects could save it. I'm almost insulted that this movie exists.

Bonus points for the work of Septimus Caton as a bartender. "Guys, whatever this is, take it outside." It's easily the best performance in this terrible movie. He's also got a great name.

Hey, I've noticed there's a second Wolverine movie coming out. What the hell could that possibly be about? Emma says we're seeing it in the theater, so I guess I'll know soon enough.

Oprah Movie Club Pick for March: Se7en

1995 horror crime movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: A soon-to-be-retired detective breaks in a cocky young detective as a high-concept but psychotic serial killer punishes people for their deadly sins.

This thing's fucking depraved and so devoid of anything resembling hope that I imagine only real sicko could actually be a fan of it. Plus, it's called Se7en with that number in the title, another thing that only those with twisted or damaged souls could appreciate. My feelings are mixed. It's a downer, diving so brazenly into the depths of despair that I'm actually surprised it's so popular. At the same time, it's executed well, artful in its disturbing nature and shameless wallowing in this muddy wretchedness. This seems like the type of movie made in those early days of the Internet for people who would surf the net for celebrity autopsy photos or giggle through Faces of Death IX, but like all artistic triumphs, this is something that sticks in your head and gut for a long time after you've finished the thing and returned it to Carl's Videos. You'll remember that bloated fat man (Bob Mack in his only film role) with his eyes open and a puke bucket under the table that you can almost smell. You'll remember zombie man coughing himself alive, and you'll remember how you jumped a little even though you'd already seen this movie and knew that he was about to cough himself alive. You'll remember Freeman pondering whether he should open that box or not and then his expression when he looks at the contents. And you'll remember Spacey's eyes and wonder how an actor can make his eyes that expressionless.

Part of what makes this memorable is where Fincher places this movie. The first 3/4 of this movie is set in this anonymously decaying city, a bleak place with perpetual rain. It's all creaky fences and half-assed graffiti. When the characters are in their apartments, the outside sounds--cars, crying babies, unintelligible yawping, sirens--penetrate the walls. I watched this movie with headphones, and these outside sounds seemed to surround me and were almost overwhelming, really painting this world of complete chaos. The environments these characters find themselves in are bleak, almost in suffocating ways. There are barely windows in this movie that aren't cracked or broken, dust hangs in the air, walls are peeling and splintered. It is not a happy world at all, visually very far from the "fine  place" described by Hemingway at the quote at the end of the movie. And that rain! Are there any scenes that take place in the city where it's not raining?

The performances are great from top to bottom. Brad Pitt plays a hotshot so well that you'd almost think he was some kind of hotshot in real life. He probably touches his hair too much in this movie, and there are a few times when he probably could have used a second take, but he creates this character, as one-dimensional as the character really is, very well. The climactic "What's in the box?" scene may go down as his most powerful moment in his film career. Freeman is great playing the same character he always plays, a guy who can never ever lose his proverbial shit. I don't think I've ever seen a young and stupid and loud Morgan Freeman in a movie. Does such a movie exist? His opening line--"Look at all that passion on the wall."--almost tells you everything you need to know about his character. Not just the words--the delivery. He's tired and has stopped pretending. The early scenes in the movie have Freeman's character asking questions that people either don't want to hear or don't understand. And he sleeps to a clicking metronome. (Side note: I think movies are automatically better with metronomes. Surely I can't be the only person who finds metronomes sexy.) The clash between Pitt's idealism and Freeman's apathy works largely because of the acting. Paltrow is fine, mostly in the background. She's got a pretty head which is all that really matters in this movie. A lot of her scenes, probably because the mystery and the cat-and-mouse games in the rest of the movie are more interesting, seem like a waste of my time. I also liked R. Lee Ermey (Sarge in the Toy Stories) as the police captain or sergeant or whatever he is. His answering of a telephone with a grumpy "This isn't even my desk!" is one of the very few moments of comedy in this thing. The other would be Spacey's line about a dead dog which is a terrific bit of black comedy although knowing what you know about what's about to happen in that scene, it would almost seem appropriate if Spacey's character looked at the camera and apologized for the line. Spacey is Malkovichian in the role, and though he's only in a small chunk of the movie, he takes advantage of every word he gets to create his character. Oh, and shane-movies favorite Mark Boone Junior is in this playing "Greasy FBI Man." He's perfect at playing a character who doesn't seem to want to be in the movie he's in. And I don't know who plays the guy scraping Somerset's name off the door, but that guy shines in a 4 1/2 second role. He just nails that scene, nearly steals the whole movie as a matter of fact. Unfortunately, I can't find his name.

Quick question: (And I'm sorry for spoilers, but this is the Oprah Movie Club, and you were already supposed to have watched this.) What do you think of the whole library card thing? Is it my imagination or is that a little lame? Chaucer, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare. It's not like these aren't difficult texts to acquire. The killer had books in his apartment. If he's going to go to the trouble of having his freakin' fingerprints removed, it doesn't seem like he would be so careless with a library card.

From the squelchy NIN remix over ominous credits featuring meticulous crazy person activity to the shocking conclusion, this is a movie that your stomach will never forget. It's not pleasant, but neither is the world sometimes.

This is currently the 22nd top-rated movie on imdb.com. I know there's absolutely nothing scientific about those ratings, but for a movie this pessimistic or bleak, that seems so high.

The Prestige

2006 magician movie

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Two magicians in 19th Century England stretch a professional rivalry to ridiculous proportions.

Another little Nolan puzzle movie. I usually complain about them to people, but there's actually not a Christopher Nolan movie that I don't like and he's got a consistency that most modern filmmakers would love to have. So I probably don't know what I'm talking about. I missed this one when Nolan sneaked it between a couple Batmans, but I really liked it. It's a spiraling sort of movie, one that twists around and around and on top of itself, and I was intrigued by the whole thing. The rivalry between Bale and Jackman's characters was palpable, and the performances of those two were just great. Jackman plays dual roles, brilliantly. Michael Caine mumbles and points a lot. He really emphasizes every other word with a point in this movie. David Bowie makes an appearance, and so does Scarlett Johansson which makes for three superheros. And one King Kong since Andy Serkis also has a small role, this time as an actual human being. I think it was actually him anyway. Maybe they hooked him up to a computer and had him pretend to be a human being and then put a CGI Serkis in the movie. This is a movie about rivalry and obsession, and the allusions to Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, although I don't have enough background knowledge to really know what's going on or how accurate it all is, it added an interesting flavor to the whole thing and didn't make it quite as shocking when the whole thing transformed into a science fiction movie midway through. I also liked the look of the movie. 19th Century London is gorgeous, all browns and grays and faded blacks. But as good as the effects, the visuals, and the performances are, the real star of the show is the writing and structure. Like Memento, this is one that I immediately wanted to see again just to put some of the pieces together a little better. You could accuse it of being gimmicky and maybe even accuse Nolan of pulling a ridiculous ending out of his ass, but the more implausible parts of this serve to compliment the movie's themes, and it all raises some fun and complex philosophical questions, almost like little koans. It's complex material that is handled in a way that gives it just the right amount of coherence and the right amount of frustration as you watch it and keeps you guessing a little bit even after the credits have rolled. And it's all enormously entertaining although arguably a little too long.

I know one of my readers really hated this.

Fire, Ice & Dynamite

1990 movie

Rating: 8/20

Plot: Sir George fakes his death and makes all the people he owes money to and his three children compete in a race called the Megathon to win his fortune. Lots of stunts happen.

At least the stunts were good. This is a sequel to Fire and Ice, a movie that I haven't seen. Apparently, it's mostly lots of skiing stunts strung together with a little bit of a plot and narration by John Denver, a man who died during his own stunt. If you liked the stunts in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, you'll like the stunts in this more. Willy Bogner, Jr. directed this and was a cameraman for the Bond movies that featured skiing. This has also got Roger Moore, my favorite James Bond, and some bald people. Oh, and Roger Moore's son is in there. My guess is that Moore said he would be in this movie but only if his son could also get a part. It took me a really long time to figure out that this is supposed to be a comedy, and that's never good. The comedy is just as dangerous as the stunts. Did I mention that there were stunts in this movie? Because there are! Stunt people bungie jump, white water raft, fall, plummet, ski, ski more, climb things, explode, and ski. At times, it's like a live action Wacky Races although nowhere near as entertaining or as funny. Marjoe Gortner makes an appearance, mostly in a helicopter as an announcer for the Megathon. I'm guessing there are also some Olympic athletes who were tricked into being in this as well as Isaac Hayes and Buzz Aldrin.

Buzz Aldrin trivia: Did you know that Buzz Aldrin was the first person to defecate on the moon? That's real trivium, readers. I'm not making that up.

I was confused by a bunch of references to bananas in this, but not as confused as I was with a song that popped up in the middle of this, something that made me wish the stunts would come back. I did mention that there were stunts in this, didn't I?

Shane Watches a Bad Movie on Facebook with Friends: Surf Nazis Must Die!

1987 surf nazi movie

Rating: 7/20 (Fred: 12/20; Libby: 12/20; Carrie: 6.5/20; Josh: did not rate)

Plot: Gangs struggle for control of beach territories following an earthquake. The titular Nazis kill the wrong old lady's son, and she decides it's time to take the Nazis out, just as surfing Hitler realizes his dream of being "Fuhrer of the whole beach."

We went with Troma for our Sunday night bad movie viewing "pleasure," and although it's got a great title, some ridiculous characters, and a sex scene that involves what I'll describe as butt gnawing, this isn't one of their better efforts. In fact, there was really only a little bit of effort involved, I think. First, I want to point out that that poster is a little misleading. You don't get to see any surf-sawing action. There's some violence, but there's not all that excitement, and aside from an only slightly-doughy throat cut, a decapitation, and a scene where a boat splits open a Nazi noggin, it doesn't have quite the gross-out buffoonery of other Troma classics. It does have some of their typically great writing though. ("Slime-sucking neanderthals." "Take the head off a honky at 20 paces.") Peter George directed this, and he's only got one other film to his name--an adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "Young Goodman Brown." That doesn't seem quite right to me. The characters are interesting enough that this movie really could have been a lot better. My friends and I liked the grandmother, played by Gail Neely who was in a Naked Gun sequel, Earth Girls Are Easy, and a bunch of Philips Milk of Magnesia commercials. Hitler (Barry Brenner, a coroner in both Maniac Cop and Maniac Cop 2) had a disappointing mustache, but Hook and the demented Mengele were both fun characters. There's even a Clockwork Orange reference in there. Of course, there's also a ton of surfing montages and barely any plot at all, both which can be frustrating. This isn't higher echelon Troma, but there's enough in there to make fans of the company happy enough. There's also plenty for you history buffs out there! 

Weird thing I noticed: Graffiti on the wall saying, "Give a hot beer injection to a lifeless corpse." Is that a reference to something or a non sequitur?