Quick Takes: Fast Company, The Fly, Dead Ringers

fastcompany_1Fast Company (1979)
threehalfstar

Starring William Smith, Claudia Jennings, John Saxon, Nicholas Campbell, Don Francks, Cedric Smith, Judy Foster, Robert Haley, George Buza, David Graham, David Petersen
Directed by David Cronenberg

Just a few months before unleashing The Brood, Cronenberg released this love letter to drag racing. It is easily the least “Cronenbergian” film from him I’ve seen, but even if I didn’t go into it knowing he loved cars, Fast Company would’ve told me as much. The film’s cinematography is superb, capturing wonderful, wide vistas of the Canadian roadways, as well as close-up shots of gleaming engines, smoking tires and all kinds of other machinery. I was especially taken by an intense close-up of a spark plug gap being checked. Also of specific note is an in-car shot of a complete funny car run, with a timer on-screen to further add to the wow factor. I’m not an experienced fan of drag racing, so I was quite impressed with the speed and the precision with which everything is carried out. The film’s story is relatively cliched, and it gets super campy — AKA Fun! — as it goes along, but during the racing segments it actually feels closer to a documentary. It is real cars with real drivers doing some real racing, after all. I think it would be a fine choice for a rumbling double feature with Mad Max: Fury Road. Plus there’s a Springsteen-like theme song, what more can I ask for? Anyone that loves cars, specifically when they were hulking beasts of steel and thunder, should check this forgotten gem out.

theflyThe Fly (1986)
threehalfstar

Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Leslie Carlson, George Chuvalo
Directed by David Cronenberg

As I worked my way through Cronenberg’s films, I was eager to re-visit his take on The Fly. It was the first Cronenberg film I saw (as a kid sometime in the late ’80s), and all I remember from that viewing was that I thought it was really weird. I didn’t know how to comprehend or process it. Then I watched it again about 10 years ago, and while I liked it a lot more that time, it still felt kind of emotionally cold and I couldn’t get into it completely. When I look back on these experiences after this most recent re-watch, I’m shocked at myself. The Fly is one of Cronenberg’s greatest achievements, and the FX work that slowly transforms Jeff Goldblum into the Brundlefly is absolutely exquisite. My journey with the film is a testament to re-watching films at different ages; the Brundlefly may evolve rather quickly, but it takes much longer for a human such as myself. Sometimes you see a film too early for it to resonate, and thankfully when I watched it this time it felt exactly right.

deadringersDead Ringers (1988)
threehalfstar

Starring Jeremy Irons, Geneviève Bujold, Heidi von Palleske, Barbara Gordon, Shirley Douglas, Stephen Lack
Directed by David Cronenberg

Dead Ringers is an interesting film for Cronenberg to make directly after The Fly. Where that film went hard into the grotesque, Dead Ringers is reserved and intensely psychological. I must say that I prefer the methods of The Fly, but Dead Ringers succeeded in winning me over despite this. Jeremy Irons plays twin gynecologists, and it’s this absolutely riveting dual performance that glues you to the screen. Irons manages to create two distinct, believable characters, and Cronenberg somehow managed to often include them in the same shot without any hint of optical compositing or other visual trickery. It’s really something to see. Definitely a weird movie, though, so I don’t know who I’d recommend it to other than people who are already Cronenberg fans.

The Deadly Trackers (1973)

deadlytrackers_2Starring Richard Harris, Rod Taylor, Al Lettieri, Neville Brand, William Smith, Paul Benjamin, Pedro Armendáriz Jr., Isela Vega

Directed by Barry Shear

Expectations: None.

onehalfstar


The Deadly Trackers opens with a few minutes of still images introducing us to the town of Santa Rosa. Sometimes dialogue plays over these images, creating the feeling of recalling a memory through a series of photographs. The images also carry the texture of a painting or an old photograph. This intro drags on for quite a while, eventually introducing a group of bandits robbing the bank. If there was ever an opposite to the slam-bang, ball-grabbin’ Sam Fuller-style intro, this would be it.

Where the motion begins, though, becomes all the more jarring because of this slow run-up of still images. The leader of the bandits, Brand (Rod Taylor), shoots a bank clerk in the forehead and the film almost literally explodes into action. Is it possible to assume that if Sam Fuller had been allowed to make the film he would’ve just opened here? Probably not, but it would definitely be closer to his style than anything Barry Shear decided to do in The Deadly Trackers.

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Conan the Barbarian (1982)

conan_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Ben Davidson, Cassandra Gava, Gerry Lopez, Mako, Valérie Quennessen, William Smith, Luis Barboo, Franco Columbu, Leslie Foldvary

Directed by John Milius

Expectations: Extremely high.

fourstar


Conan the Barbarian opens with a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” A far better actor than many give him credit for, Conan the Barbarian provided Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance at destiny. The films leading him to the role of Conan were of varying quality, but the fires of Pumping Iron or The Jayne Mansfield Story tested, trained and forged the steel of his resolve like the steel of the sword that is forged during Conan‘s opening credits. These experiences shaped Arnold into the hulking beast of a man awaiting his rightful place in the spotlight of Hollywood’s explosive action films. He seized this opportunity like a champion, delivering a muscular, vengeful performance that continues to resonate over 30 years later. Conan the Barbarian is a stunning achievement, and one of my favorite films.

Conan the Barbarian tells a very simple tale, but like all great fantasy stories, there is a focus on grand adventure that sets Conan apart from other films of its vintage. Watching it this time, it reminded me a lot of Richard Donner’s Superman, in that it takes a story that many would have made into a trashy genre film and treats it with respect and verisimilitude. Conan is not a B-Movie with swords, it’s an epic journey of revenge across the wide plains of Hyboria.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Maniac Cop (1988)

Maniac Cop (1988)

Starring Bruce Campbell, Tom Atkins, Laurene Landon, Richard Roundtree, William Smith, Robert Z’Dar

Directed By William Lustig


 

As the 1980’s were drawing to a close, video store horror aisles were beginning to lose some of that blood-splattered luster and morbid creativity that spurred a whole generation of gleefully degenerate filmmakers. Both the Friday the 13th and the Halloween series had been putting the slasher formula through its paces and although it never gets old watching a half-naked camp counselor run through the woods only to be beheaded by some machete wielding nutjob, horror fans were begging for a breath of fresh air.

Rather than resting on their laurels and being quite content with cranking out yet another by-the-numbers slasher film, William Lustig and famed B-grade writer Larry Cohen took a few of your typical genre conventions and stood them on their heads. Trading in the usual spooky woods for the dark alleys of New York City and the typical abused child turned homicidal psychopath for a warped civil servant, Lustig and Cohen were able to escape the standard ho-hum frills of the genre and bring a little something extra to the table. As a result, Maniac Cop offers not only a fresh take on a tried and true formula but also offers a unique look at police brutality taken to its nastiest and most horrendous extremes.

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Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)
AKA Transmutations, The Hunter

Starring Roddy Piper, Sandahl Bergman, Cec Verrell, William Smith, Rory Calhoun

Directed by Donald G. Jackson & R.J. Kizer

Expectations: High. With a name like Hell Comes to Frogtown, it has to be good.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:
threestar


The term cult classic gets thrown around a lot, but more often than not, the films referenced just don’t deserve the moniker. Hell Comes to Frogtown, however, is a true cult classic. Starring Rowdy Roddy Piper and Valeria from Conan the Barbarian, Sandahl Bergman, the film plays out like a wild, testosterone-fueled, post-apocalyptic male fantasy. It never betrays its B-movie roots or pretends to be something other than super-fun trash. Instead directors Donald G. Jackson and R.J. Kizer put the pedal to the metal and go full-bore into the oblivion of Frogtown.

Roddy Piper plays Sam Hell, a man with a high sperm count in a very infertile world. The governmental department Med-Tech places a C4-laced chastity belt on Hell and contracts him to enter Frogtown and save a group of nubile women taken hostage by the Frog leader, Commander Toty (pronounced Toady…get it? He’s a frog!). Along for the ride are Spangle (Sandahl Bergman) and Centinella (Cec Verrell), a pair of Med-Tech operatives tasked with keeping Sam Hell safe and ready to procreate.

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