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often than not, I try to group reviews together into themes for
these columns. This usually isn't too difficult but it does mean
that from time to time I'm left with a stack of unreviewed discs
that didn't fit into whatever group I was trying to shoehorn them
into. So it's time once again for The
Bottom Shelf-Clearing Spectacular. Five movies that have
been patiently waiting to be reviewed, some for an embarassingly
long time. They run the gamut this time, everything from an action
movie remake to a period drama to an unclassifiable cult musical.
But first, let's go sexin' with one of our favorite filmmakers here
in this sketchy corner of The Digital
NC-17 Version -
2004 (2005) - New Line
Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Believe it or not, John Waters is now officially the new Alfred
Hitchcock. No, seriously. Hear me out. There were two things
that made Hitchcock Hitchcock. The first is obviously his
impeccable skill as a filmmaker. Hitchcock had a style so
distinct that you can be dropped into any of his movies at any
point and be able to tell within minutes who directed it. The
same is true for John Waters. The second thing was Hitchcock's
public persona. He was one of the most recognizable filmmakers
of all time, so famous that his face, voice and personality were
used extensively in the ad campaigns for many of his films. And
who's that peering over his shades in the corner of the cover
art for A Dirty Shame? Not
even Quentin Tarantino's doing that yet (he just appears on the
covers of other people's movies). And fess up, wouldn't you love
to see HBO or someone bankroll a weekly anthology series called
John Waters Presents?
these are strange times to be a John Waters fan. Although he's more
famous than ever (thanks in large part to Hairspray
- The Musical), his loyal fans have expressed
disappointment over his recent work. There are those who gave up on
Waters after he made the PG-rated Hairspray
(the truly hardcore accused him of selling out even earlier when he
made Polyester his first major
studio film). And while I've enjoyed a great deal of Waters' recent
work, I hated his previous film, Cecil B.
Demented, with a passion. So when news came that his
newest, A Dirty Shame, would
be rated NC-17 and starred once-and-future Jackass
Johnny Knoxville, it was hoped that it would be a return to the
early John Waters of Pink Flamingos
and Female Trouble.
Unfortunately, that hope isn't quite rewarded by the movie itself.
Tracey Ullman stars as Syliva Stickles, a neuter (i.e., someone who
hates sex) who is transformed into a sex addict after suffering a
concussion. Blows to the head, you see, are the triggers that switch
people back and forth into sex addiction. Syliva becomes the twelfth
apostle of sexual healer Ray-Ray (Knoxville), the woman prophesied
to discover a completely new sexual act. And that's about it, as far
as story goes but that shouldn't be a problem. Waters' films aren't
exactly known for their intricate plot developments.
What is a problem is that while movies like Pink
Flamingos were nothing more than unending tableaux of
perversions, at least each one was funnier and more extreme than the
last. In A Dirty Shame, it's
basically a one-joke movie. Now that joke is pretty funny and
carries the movie as far as it can. The first half of the movie
contains as much creative sex slang as you're ever likely to hear in
a motion picture ("Now that's what I call sneezing in the
cabbage!"). Waters is always able to get hilarious performances
because everyone he casts genuinely wants to be in the movie and
A Dirty Shame is no exception.
Ullman is extremely funny (her Hokey Pokey dance is the movie's
highlight), as is the rest of the cast, including straight man (so
to speak) Chris Isaak and Selma Blair, almost upstaged by her
freakishly large boobs as Sylvia's daughter Ursula Udders.
But A Dirty Shame isn't able
to sustain itself for its brief running time. The same joke, people
getting hit on the head and turning into sex addicts, gets repeated
over and over again. Ultimately, the movie falls apart completely
into a chaotic mess with no rhyme or reason and a grand finale
that's more puzzling than anything else. But it is an improvement
over Cecil B. Demented, so
that's something anyway.
New Line has released two versions of A
Dirty Shame: the theatrical NC-17 version and an R-rated "neuter"
version that I wouldn't use to hold my drink. The NC-17 disc has
some of the most extensive extras to appear on a John Waters DVD so
far. What the back cover advertises as a "shocking featurette"
actually turns out to be an 82-minute documentary called All
the Dirt on A Dirty Shame (the movie itself runs only six
minutes longer). It's an excellent piece, including helpful
definitions of such practices as felching for the uninitiated. As
usual, Waters contributes a funny and informative audio commentary
but this time there's also a second track. However, it's not so much
a commentary as it is an extended interview with such longtime
Waters collaborators as Pat Moran, Vincent Peranio and Van Smith.
They've been an integral part of Waters work and apart from the
excellent John Waters DVD Scrapbook,
we haven't heard much from them on earlier discs, so their presence
is appreciated. But the value of the track is slightly diminished by
the fact that large chunks of it appear in their entirety in the
documentary. Still, it's worth a listen for the Waters faithful and
it's probably the only time you'll hear a commentary by a greens
The rest of the extras are pretty useless, sad to say. There's a
twenty second "deleted scene" which is also at the end of
the documentary, the original trailer, trailers for other Waters
flicks (including Pecker, Pink
Flamingos, Female Trouble
and Polyester) and the
soundtrack track listing. That's right, a screen telling you the
names of the songs on the soundtrack. You don't get to hear any of
them or anything, of course.
So while A Dirty Shame might
not be a return to form for John Waters, it is most assuredly a step
in the right direction. Certainly this is not the movie to watch
with your Aunt Petunia who just loved that Hairspray
musical and now thinks she likes John Waters. If nothing else, A
Dirty Shame proves that no matter what you may think,
Waters hasn't quite sold out. Not completely, anyway. Not yet.
on Precinct 13
2005 (2005) - Rogue Pictures (Universal)
Film Rating: C-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
It's too late for this movie and The
Fog but if I can ask Hollywood one favor, can we
please not have any more remakes of movies until the people who
made the original are dead? I know it's impossible to ask
Hollywood to stop the remake madness altogether. We all know
there's only about twenty stories in the world and we just hear
them over and over in different ways. But come on. I'm close but
I haven't quite given up on John Carpenter as an active
filmmaker yet. And remaking Assault
on Precinct 13 (which was already basically a remake
of Rio Bravo) isn't just
lazy, it seems downright disrespectful.
Anyway, Assault '05 is
the American film debut of French filmmaker Jean-Francois
Richet. The story has been transplanted from Los Angeles to
Detroit (by way of Toronto, where the film was actually shot)
and instead of a ruthless gang, our heroes are under siege by a
crooked S.W.A.T. team. As in the original, the cop (played here
by Ethan Hawke) has to free an incarcerated criminal (Laurence
Fishburne) and rely on him if they hope to make it through the
night. But while Carpenter's film was a mini-masterpiece of
low-budget filmmaking, Richet's movie is a by-the-numbers action
movie with no real sense of urgency or danger.
of the problem is switching the antagonists from gang members into
cops. I guess the idea is that it would ratchet up the suspense by
adding an element of paranoia to the mix (the good guys are the bad
guys! How novel!). But if anything, it makes the situation less
frightening because we know there's a finite number of crooked cops
out there and if dawn breaks and civilians start seeing cops
shooting at a precinct, people might wonder. In the original, there
could be five, fifty or five hundred gang members out there. And
when the sun comes up, they might just keep on coming.
A bigger problem is that Assault '05
is populated by actors who seem like they've just wandered off the
sets of other movies and onto this one. Hawke acts like the script
he got said Training Day II on
the title page. Drea De Matteo has a fairly thankless role as a
secretary with a thing for "bad boys" (I didn't even know
police stations had secretaries who weren't also cops), so she can
be forgiven for basically just doing her Sopranos
thing. And John Leguizamo, appearing as a junkie, can probably do
this kind of character in his sleep by now and attempts to do so
here. As for Laurence Fishburne, this guy has got to get out of this
velvet-voiced Morpheus mode. One more performance like this and
he'll be ready to sell Colt 45 malt liquor with Billy Dee Williams.
Befitting such a connect-the-dots movie, the DVD is also very
basic. There's a trio of guy-centric featurettes (none more than
seven minutes) spotlighting the stunts, the guns and the set. You
get six minutes of yawn-inspiring deleted scenes with an optional
commentary by Richet telling you why they were cut in case you can't
figure it out on your own. There's a 12-minute EPK piece, about half
of which is devoted to summarizing the plot, and a five minute
featurette interviewing the three guys on the audio commentary:
Richet, screenwriter James DeMonaco and producer Jeffrey Silver.
Their comments would mean a lot more if the movie were better. As it
is, it's all very self-congratulatory and most of the time is spent
pointing out homages to other films. Apparently Assault
'05 was a dream to shoot and nobody had any problems.
That's great for them but it makes for a pretty bland commentary.
I realize that the average moviegoer will probably never see John
Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13.
It was made in 1976 and it's hardly a TV staple. The only reason I
saw it myself was because I was a Carpenter fan and I sought it out.
Judging from his recent output, Carpenter isn't making a whole lot
of new fans lately. So if you've never seen the original, you might
give Assault '05 a pass. It's
a far cry from the worst action movie you'll ever see. But even if
you like it once, I really doubt you'll ever want to watch it again.
And that is something you could never say about Carpenter's Assault.
1980 (2004) - Fantoma
Film Rating: A-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
At the risk of betraying exactly how old I am, who among you
remembers Night Flight?
Back in the 1980s, USA Network (current home to Monk
and a seemingly endless marathon of Law
& Order repeats) aired some of the strangest and
best TV programming ever in the wee hours of Friday and Saturday
nights. Music videos by bands you'd never get to see on MTV.
Social etiquette films from the 50s. And bizarro cult movies
like Fantastic Planet.
Now, I'm not 100% positive that I saw Forbidden
Zone on Night Flight
back then. The show was on at like 1:00-2:00 in the morning and
I was a teenager, so any memories from then should be taken with
a grain of salt. But I know I saw Forbidden
Zone at some point during that time and it sure seems
like the kind of mind-warping thing they'd have run on Night
you read can really prepare you for the experience of watching Forbidden
Zone. Even after you've seen Forbidden
Zone, a part of you wonders if it was real or if you just
dreamed the whole thing. The movie tells the story of the Hercules
family. They live in a house in Venice, California, with a basement
portal to the sixth dimension. Overcome by curiosity, Frenchy
(Marie-Pascale Elfman) enters the Forbidden Zone, discovering a
world ruled by King Fausto (Herve Villechaize) and his Queen (Susan
Tyrrell). Flash Hercules and Gramps attempt to rescue her, as does
chicken-boy Squeezit Henderson whose twin sister Renee (both played
by Toshiro Boloney, a.k.a. future director of Freeway
Matthew Bright) is also a captive of King Fausto. Plus there's a
frog butler, a couple of gibbering boxers played by the Kipper Kids,
and an appearance by Satan himself in the form of Danny Elfman. And
it's a musical. And oh yeah, some of it's animated.
If you think the above description sounds strange, the movie itself
is ten times stranger. Directed by Richard Elfman (who would later
make such cult movies as Shrunken Heads
and Modern Vampires), Forbidden
Zone is very much a love-it or hate-it type of movie. If
you're on Elfman's wavelength, you'll know within minutes and you'll
love the entire Forbidden Zone
experience. If not, you'd might just as well turn it off after five
minutes and go watch a repeat of Law &
Order on USA. Forbidden Zone
is a new wave Fleischer cartoon, with all the manic energy and
unbridled creativity that suggests.
Fantoma does a great job with movies like this and Forbidden
Zone benefits from their touch. The picture and sound
have never been better. Both have been remastered and given the kind
of A-list treatment usually reserved for movies with much bigger
budgets. Extras include a half-hour featurette, A
Look into the Forbidden Zone, with Richard Elfman and his
cigar serving as ringmaster, interviewing Matthew Bright, ex-wife
Marie-Pascale Elfman (who not only played Frenchy but also designed
the sets), brother Danny, animator John Muto, and others. Elfman
also provides an above-average commentary along with Toshiro Baloney
Matthew Bright. We also get two musical numbers from The
Hercules Family, Elfman's 16mm predecessor to Forbidden
Zone, 11 deleted scenes and outtakes, the theatrical
trailer, and the Richard Elfman-directed music video for Oingo
Boingo's Private Life (which I
know for a fact I did see on Night Flight).
Forbidden Zone is the type of
film that epitomizes cult movies. It isn't for everyone, that's for
sure. But if the movie's peculiar vibe syncs up with yours, you feel
like you're in on an inside joke that nobody else can penetrate. You
cannot explain or justify enjoying Forbidden
Zone. But if you do, welcome to the club, friend. You are
to Part Two
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