Bad behavior on Blu-ray: Will Smith, Nic Cage, The Ramones and more
When I say I'll give almost anything a chance, I mean it. The question isn't whether or not I'll watch something I've been sent. The question is when will I get to it.
With much of what I'm sent, that's random chance. I put things in stacks and then just watch my way from top to bottom. What's interesting is when themes emerge over a series of movies that you put on by chance. For example, last week I watched a stack that turned out to be half chick flicks, half anti-social bad behavior. I didn't mean for it to split down the middle like that, but it just worked out. So it makes sense to split the stack in half for review.
Let's start with the bad behavior, because the undeniable truth is that bad behavior is just plain fun. That's why so many movies love to revel in the ridiculously anti-social. These are things we would ever ever do... so why not watch someone else do them?
I'm shocked that "Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans" exists, and that it's even remotely good. The idea of anyone doing a requel to the Abel Ferarra wallow seems pointless. That film was all Catholic guilt and unrelenting squalor, and despite the extreme nature of the material, it was one of the most accessible things that Ferarra ever made, due at least in part to Harvey Keitel's self-eviscerating work in the lead. I guess if you're going to try to follow up that kind of organic freakshow, you've got to pick your ingredients wisely.
On paper, Werner Herzog plus Nic Cage sounds like chaos and madness and miles of wackjob, but if anything, this film exists as a sort of wry comment on expectation. Instead of making the same sort of stinking, snarling ball of weird that one might expect, Herzog and Cage seem to be roasting their own images, tweaking what you would think they'd do. It's a knowingly funny movie, at least for the first half. It gets a little earnest with the anti-drug stuff in the second half, but this is one of those Cage performances that you really do need to see for yourself.
The Blu-ray version of the film is fine, but Herzog shot it cheap and rough, so there's only so good it's ever going to look. The same is true of "Wild Things: Foursome," a preposterously straight-faced video sequel-in-name-only to John McNaughton's original "Wild Things," which was already pure guilty pleasure material to start with. Honestly, I never would have imagined this as a franchise, but I guess they see it as an easy-to-follow template that doesn't need any recognizable names in the cast. Why would they? They've got boobs, and that is evidently enough.
The young cast in this one is uniformly terrible, and the willing nudity of the female leads in no way remedies the mannered phoniness of their performances. Jillian Murray and Jarnette Patterson work as hard as they can, but they just don't have the substance to play man-eating femme fatales. Same thing with the annoyingly named Ashley Parker Angel, this dim bulb haircut who plays the male lead in the film. I'm guessing he was hired because he doesn't seem to own any shirts. The one person you might actually recognize is "Dukes Of Hazzard" star John Schneider, who plays a cop investigating the murder that kicks the whole film off. He's doing what I assume is his version of hard-boiled here, and while it sure is cute, it's also completely unconvincing. The film is built around some of the most tired "twists" I've ever seen, and you might be surprised by the ending if you've never seen a movie before.
And did I mention there are boobs?
It's weird the things that make you like or dislike a movie. Consider "Rock'n'Roll High School" and "Class Of Nuke 'Em High," for example. I have huge affection for one and I find the other completely disgusting. Yet they're not that different, honestly, so why does one work for me and the other doesn't?
Part of my fondness for "Rock'n'Roll High School" is the way it's built around shameless worship of the Ramones, and the film's soundtrack is low-fi Heaven. Part of it is PJ Soles as Riff Randle, the cutest goofiest rock chick in cinema history. 12-year-old me harbored the most insane crush on Soles after "Halloween," this film, and "Stripes." There's also that particular Mad magazine sense of humor that was so much a part of the upbringing of Joe Dante and Allan Arkush and Jerry Zucker, and it's surprising how sweet and sort of innocent that sense of humor really is. The print is the absolute best this film's ever looked, and I think I've owned every single home video version of this that's ever existed. While it's not as eye-popping as something like "Wall-E" on Blu-ray, it's nice to see HD used to simply archive the best possible print of something. That should be the point.
I've always found Troma films gross in a way that keeps me from enjoying them. I like sick jokes and childish jokes and broad sight gags, but the way Troma creates all of that, it's off-putting to me. Everyone in every single Troma movie looks like they'd smell bad. That may even be the joke, the intentional aesthetic. I still find it repellent and hard to sit through. Until the Blu-ray showed up, I'd never seen "Class Of Nuke 'Em High," probably one of their best known films. It's the story of a high school by a nuclear power plant where a mutant strain of marijuana turns the honors society into a gang of violent freaks and which infects the squarest kids in school, leading them to have premarital sex and create a nuclear mutant baby and turn into vengeful radioactive monsters. Based on the play by William Shakespeare.
Oh, no, wait... that's "Tromeo & Juliet," which is coming out on Blu-ray later. This one feels exactly like the other Troma films I've seen, and while I admire the way Lloyd Kaufman built this fiercely independent company that turned out film after film with a clear comic voice, I have to admit that comic voice is one that falls flat for me. The low budget of the film has never been more apparent than in unforgiving HD, but if you are a fan, that's just part of the charm. If you love Troma, then I would say the disc is a must have. All others? Beware.
I'm not quite sure what to think of "I Sell The Dead," a dark horror comedy from Glass Eye Pictures. The low budget indie horror company produced this, a variation on the Burke and Hare story about grave robbers, and it seems like the story is on people's minds right now. Hammer Films and John Landis just finished making a version of this story with Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis, along with co-stars like Christopher Lee, Tim Curry, Tom Wilkinson, and (*sigh*) Jenny Agutter. That sounds like a more traditional take on the story, while "I Sell The Dead" adds supernatural elements, meaning Blake (Dominic Monaghan) and Grimes (Larry Fessenden) get to battle vampires and zombies while they're rounding up bodies to sell for medical experimentation.
Glenn McQuaid made a short film version of this first, then turned it into a feature, and for the most part, it walks the fine line between scary and silly, withe the emphasis leaning decidedly towards "silly." The best stuff in the film is the relationship between Monaghan and Fessenden, who is better known as the director of films like "Wendigo" and "The Last Winter." The two of them have an easy rapport, and their friendship is more compelling than any of the horror elements. They kept me watching, along with the atmosphere that McQuaid creates. It's a promising first film, but I hope the next time, McQuaid makes a movie that brings all the elements together more successfully.
And speaking of first films, Sony sent out a Blu-ray of "Bad Boys," the film that turned Michael Bay into a professional feature film director. I'm a fan of the second film, but only saw the first one a single time. I decided to give it another look, and in doing so, I realized how "normal" Bay's filmmaking was in this one. He hadn't decided yet to go Avid-crazy, and there are many shots in the film longer than three seconds. It plays as pure parody of cop movies, a sort of self-referential Simpson/Bruckheimer movie. I'm glad Don Simpson has his name on at least one Michael Bay film, since Bay feels like the person that Don Simpson had to create to make the movies that Don had in his head. Will Smith is the glue that holds this film together, and one of the weirdest things about the movie is the way Martin Lawrence acts AT Smith without seeming to ever actually talk to him. I'm guessing he actually looks Smith in the eye about six times in the entire film. The movie is fairly standard action-movie nonsense, and it tries to have it both ways, making fun of action films while also working as one, and you can definitely see how this led to the over-the-top excess of the second film. As Blu-ray transfers go, this one's pretty great, and it makes me curious to see how long we're going to have to wait to see Sony give the sequel the same treatment.
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