Tuesday, May 8, 2012
My 100 Worst Favorite Movies, Part 5
Female Convict 701: Scorpion – Probably the best women-in-prison movie I’ve seen, this Japanese revenge thriller doesn’t actually need all the nudity to keep viewers interested (but don’t worry, it’s there, in spades). Every genre convention you might expect is present (shower room brawl, prison riot, senseless interrogation, etc.), but it’s the craft (stylish camerawork, above-average acting and well-paced script) that holds it together. I’m not into bondage, torture or mass nudity (it’s too impersonal), but I can get behind a ferocious performance of an avenging angel kicking ass when it’s handled with such traditionally unnecessary, given the genre, passion and skill.
Fidelity – Fidelity is Polish madman Andrzej Zulawski’s adaptation of the 1678 French novel The Princess of Cleves. I’ve read it and I can say they have this in common: homo sapien main characters with the same names and relationships. This is an epic romance that is often unbearably highbrow and B-movie trashy in the space of a single scene. I think of it as the final and most sophisticated homage to Zulawski’s long-term girlfriend, the beautiful Sophie Marceau, and through all the muddled chaos of yellow journalism, organ trafficking, wild sex and bad poetry one senses that he’s trying to deliver some aching inarticulate message not just to her, at the twilight of their 17 year relationship, but to the audience as well. A popular and critical fiasco, it’s hard to convince people to track down and sit through the even rarer uncut 3+ hour version that makes slightly more narrative and thematic sense. Even I must admit it falls well short of Zulawski’s magnum opus, Possession, (which only failed to make this list because I refuse to admit that it might not be perfect), but I found this to be another of his feverishly passionate cries sent echoing into the universe’s void. Who doesn't like those?
Flash Gordon – Flash Gordon, “King of the Impossible,” must rescue fetching journalist Dale Arden and save the Earth from Emperor Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow), who is raining down hot hail and sending the moon onto a collision course. His plan will unite perennial foes Hawkman (Brian Blessed) and space Robin Hood (Timothy Dalton), but not before they shout some pretty atrocious dialog at each other. The costume design and soundtrack by Queen would, alone, make this a favorite, but the film’s contagious sense of campy abandon puts it over the top, amply earning its eminent cult-circuit reputation.
Footprints on the Moon – Like Death Laid an Egg this is another one of those obscure giallo films that just doesn’t fit the mold. It has a sci-fi subplot, almost no murders and a cameo by the great German actor Klaus Kinski, plus a plot so abstruse and subtle that I had no idea what was going on during my first viewing. Alice, a woman haunted by eerie dreams from her childhood, visits a seaside resort she learns about from a postcard and begins investigating a woman who may be herself. The chilling ending is all the more effective for its otherworldliness. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (The Conformist, Apocalypse Now) provides the excellent visuals.
Four-Sided Triangle – I don’t consider myself a fan of Britain’s Hammer studio, which churned out largely formulaic and forgettable horror and sci-fi movies from the 50’s to the 70’s, but this underrated gem is one of my favorite B-movies. There is no monster, no alien, no violence and hardly any special effects. There is only a love triangle (two scientists, friends since boyhood, who fall in love with their beautiful assistant) and the troubling ethical implications of an invention, a duplicator, which may provide a way for the triangle to, shall we say, expand into square. Of course, technology only makes things worse. Tragically doomed actress Barbara Payton (who is not ashamed) provides the female lead and, for me, it’s not hard to imagine how she could break a heart. Efficient, resourceful and perhaps deeper than it realizes, this is exactly the type of film I think low-budget filmmakers should strive for. It’s few viewers, however, seem to brush it aside.
Freeway – A modernized adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood with Reese Witherspoon as a highly independent trailer tramp on her way to grandmother’s house and Kiefer Sutherlands as the highway-prowling serial killer wolf. The usual damsel-in-distress scenario is reversed after Witherspoon pumps a few bullets into her would-be predator, but the legal consequences land her in prison. Undaunted, she fashions a homemade shiv and busts out with a pair of new friends for a final bloody confrontation at grandmother’s. Hilariously no-holds-barred and flagrantly over the top, it’s a pleasure just to see Witherspoon’s spit and vinegar performance (she got so safe and bland later!) and Sutherland at his most unctuous. Even the critics admitted liking this, but it’s the type of film we’re not supposed to.
Full Contact – Full Contact is Hong Kong action courtesy of Ringo Lam, creator of such classy cinema as City on Fire, Prison on Fire and Maximum Risk. I don’t remember the plot, but it involves Chow Yun-fat punching, kicking, shooting, chasing, fleeing, driving and crashing. Often in slow-mo. The movie gave us ‘bullet time’ seven years before The Matrix, and did it from the bullet’s own POV. It also gave us one of the great final lines, tossed off at the flamboyantly gay villain as he dies: “Masturbate in hell.”
Glen or Glenda – Director Ed Wood’s most infamous film, the staggeringly incompetent “Plan Nine from Outer Space,” gets more attention, but Glen or Glenda is arguably even worse, which, of course, makes it even better. Bela Lugosi, via senselessly over-the-top narration, presents us with the story of Glen/Glenda’s cross-dressing and sex change. For a film that achieves so many inadvertent laughs, it’s also strangely touching, especially in light of Wood’s personal investment: a cross-dresser himself, he stars in the title role playing against his real-life girlfriend, who wasn’t yet fully aware of Wood’s proclivities.
God Told Me To – In New York City random people are violently running amok, with the only common thread being their dying insistence that “God told me to.” A Catholic detective investigates, increasingly terrified by the possible truth. A surprisingly aspirational B-movie slushy of police procedural, urban horror, religious allegory and science fiction. In my opinion this is schlock staple Larry Cohen’s one brush with greatness.
Grendel, Grendel, Grendel – An Australian animated children’s musical adaptation of the 11th century English epic poem Beowulf, but told from the sympathetic point-of-view of the villain in the style of John Gardner’s experimental parallel novel. Peter Ustinov steals the show as the oddly genteel Beowulf, but sadly he doesn’t show up until the final act. The Schoolhouse Rock reminiscent limited animation, lukewarm tunes, uneven pacing and a lot of confusion as to whether a target audience for this concept even exists make the film, pretty much unavailable anyway, fabulously unpopular.