Thursday, February 24, 2011

Buddha Man Academy 2: Their First Assignment

He's got to review the worst movie collection in the world.

But that's no problem.

He's the worst movie reviewer in the Universe.

Just to explain for those coming in late (and to keep Buddha Man's head from exploding, because, well, there'd be nothing left...)

That opening bit is a play on the tagline from the movie whose title we're borrowing for this post...Buddha Man is a fine reviewer...let's take a look so you can see for yourself...

The Riddler (Frank Gorshin)

Not of this Earth  (New World, 1988)  In 1957 Roger Corman cranked out one of his five day quickies, with Paul Birch (Dead Heat on a Merry-go-Round) as an alien invader up against nurse Beverly Garland (Roller Boogie). A little over thirty years later, Roger decided a remake of this flick would serve as just-retired porn star Traci Lords's entry into "money shotless" moviemaking. Roger turned the directing duties over to Jim Wynorski, and they were off! The story stayed very much the same. Clinic nurse Nadine (Traci) is hired by a patient - Mr. Johnson (Arthur Roberts - Transylvania Twist) to provide home care for his strange blood disease. He's weird and a little creepy, but he's offering a ridiculous salary, so she jumps right in. Out at his place, she finds Johnson has also hired Jeremy (Lenny Juliano - Chopping Mall) a two bit crook, to drive him around and cook at the house. Nadine's not thrilled with Jeremy, but some company in the spooky old house is better than none at all, so they become sorta friends, much to the consternation of Nadine's cop boyfriend (Roger Lodge - later host of TV's Blind Date). Nadine and Jeremy start to snoop around the house, and together, they discover Johnson is an alien invader out to steal the blood of humans to send back to his home planet, at war for centuries with their alien archrivals and near both defeat and destruction. Can a nurse with a talent for phlebotomy (not nearly as dirty as you're thinking it is) and a career criminal save us all?

Stares on the stairs.

This is a fast and funny remake of a pretty good Corman cheapie. It follows the original pretty closely, (right down to several recreated camera shots) except for the expected Wynorski touches, which include topless nudity at regular intervals (though only a brief glimpse of Ms. Lords, and for the last time in front of a camera, I believe) and huge chunks of other Corman movies ripped raw and bloody from their original film cannisters and manhandled into this one to pad the running time. (And if you're going to pad the running time - pulling fairly exciting scenes from other movies is a good way to do it!) Not counting the credit sequence, which features almost subliminally fast cuts from what seems to be a dozen or so New World movies, this flick features whole scenes from Battle Beyond the Stars (1980), Humanoids from the Deep (1980), and Hollywood Boulevard (1976). The latter two feature actresses from those flicks being menaced by beasties from this flick through movie magic - and I always wonder - did they ever sit down to watch this movie and leap up yelling "Hey! That's me!" midway through? In any case, Wynorski works wonders with his low budget, keeping things mostly light and pretty fast paced throughout, with a terrific cast that also includes Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet), Ava Cadell (Hard Hunted), Becky LeBeau (Hollywood Hot Tubs), and an almost unrecognizable Monique Gabrielle (Evil Toons) as Agnes. This is pretty much the blueprint for the kind of movie I really enjoy - tight filmmaking, the three B's (breasts, beasts, and blood), and a sense of fun about the proceedings. Check this one out!

The Penguin (Burgess Meredith)

Catch the Heat  (Trans World Entertainment, 1987)  I held this movie in my hands countless times in countless video stores ranging across at least three states over several years, but I somehow never took the plunge. More than twenty years later the flick shows up on MGM/HD, so I finally sit down with it. Oh what I'd been missing! Tiana Alexander is cast in her fourth acting role, groomed here to be the new action star of the late eighties, and playing a character named Checkers Goldberg. (!) Actually, all of the names in this movie are out there and wonderful, courtesy screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, who also wrote In the Heat of the Night! So how did he get here? From the evidence, too many times saying yes to producer Irwin Allen in the 70's might have been the start. But back at this movie, Checkers is a tough cop working for the equally tough Waldo Tarr (my old buddy - the late great David Dukes - Gods and Monsters) and they're out to stop a drug ring headed by Jason Hannibal (Rod Steiger - In the Heat of the Night) and his pals Professor Toru Tanaka (The Perfect Weapon) and Brian Libby (Silent Rage) that smuggles their cocaine in the breast implants of strippers Steiger has working for him in various clubs around the world. Wow. Now that's a plot.

No, they're not for the gun; she didn't want to hear the ridiculous Chinese accent either.

Director Joel Silberg seems at times to know how silly this all is, and at other times seems to be taking it all very seriously, which just makes those scenes that much funnier. Alexander, who has gone on to a solid career as a documentary filmmaker under her birth name, is not much of an actress, and making the poor thing play half the movie with a ridiculous Chinese accent (when she's undercover in Steiger's operation) was really kind of mean. Dukes is always fun to watch, even if he's not the epitome of an action hero and seems much more comfortable bantering and trading insults in a romantic way with Alexander. The movie has a fair amount of decent action, though the tiny Alexandra's fighting skills are on a par with her performance - that is to say, a little lacking. So that means her big battle with the massive Tanaka is quite the sight to see! And don't let a bad lead performance turn you away - some of the best movies have those! One demerit for a curious lack of lengthy gratuitous nudity in a movie featuring strippers carrying drugs in their boobies. Otherwise I suggest you do like the title says and...

Louie the Lilac (Milton Berle)

Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (The Asylum, 2009) Well, let's just state now for the record - that's going to be a hard title to live up to. But first, let's go back to the days when I worked in a video store that still had Beta tapes on the shelves, and the rather dim people who would come in to the store and ask if the brand new movie that just opened in theaters was available on video to rent. Those same people have never managed to learn that the order of events is theaters, then video store months later. They are part of the reason movie announcers still say "only in theaters" at the end of TV movie trailers. So there were companies that would put out on video some cheap crappy movie with a title as close as legally possible to some Big Budget Hollywood flick opening in theaters at the same time. This trick has been going on since the heyday of the VHS boom, refined first by York Entertainment, who used to get their tapes onto Wal-Mart shelves the same week as the big movie's opening; and more recently, The Asylum. That company, after making scads of these same kinds of movies - now called "mockbusters" - movies with titles like The Terminators - note the 's' - The Day the Earth Stopped, Paranormal Entity - branched out into their own brand of high concept sci fi nonsense with this flick. The formula was set right from the get-go - a couple of faded "name" stars, a supporting cast of unknowns, competent production for the most part, scripts that are more successful in reaching the necessary page counts than telling an exciting story, and lastly but definitely not leastly - lots of CGI effects.
    Scientific researcher Emma McNeil (Deborah Gibson - 80's pop princess) and her cohort Vince (Jonathan Nation - whose IMDB page consists almost exclusively of The Asylum productions) are out in a borrowed (read: stolen) submarine studying something you have to study underwater. They come upon a massive ice wall with two huge dark forms inside. Nearby, a secret military experiment sets off seismic activity, and the ice wall shatters - freeing whatever was inside. As Emma and Vince try to find out what was set free after millions of years of deep freeze, they are joined by Emma's mentor Lamar Sanders (Sean Lawlor - The Asylum's version of Sean Connery, only with highly variable accent) and shady black ops guy Allan Baxter (not the most intimidating name I've heard...) Baxter is played by Lorenzo Lamas (TV's Renegade) who probably charged extra for his ponytail since it's an antique. They soon find that one of the escapees is a Giant Octopus when it wraps its CGI tentacles around a CGI oil rig, and then find that opening attack trumped by a Mega Shark, who leaps up to bite a jet airliner out of the sky (!). The beasties continue to try to one-up each other with periodic attacks oceans apart, with the Mega Shark the clear winner after he eats the Golden Gate Bridge. (You think I'm kidding. I'm not.) Eventually, after our entire CGI Naval fleet has their clocks cleaned in several encounters with the creatures, Emma figures out the only way to rid the world of these two prehistoric menaces is to draw them together and let them duke it out. Now what could they use as bait...?

The painting crew will finally be able to take a break.

As I said, a movie with a title like this is going to have to work hard to live up to it, and this movie doesn't quite make it. It's weird; it's actually better made than the title or the trailer would suggest on a very low budget, but that only raises it firmly into the territory of "mediocre." Had it been made more poorly there would have been more laughs and therefore more entertainment. Had it been made better there would have been more thrills and therefore more entertainment. As it is, it's just in that limbo in between. I've now seen this movie twice, once by myself shortly after it was released, and then again with a group over Christmas when I gave it out in a Dirty Santa present pack - (I did say it was Dirty Santa). As it turned out, the group viewing was much more palatable - with conversations in the room filling in for the plot lulls, the movie worked better. Don't get me wrong - there are much worse movies out there - it's just this is kind of disappointing when you're expecting wall to wall nonsense and craziness, and all of those moments are in the trailer. Despite the middle of the road quality, the movie did well enough to spawn a whole subgenre from The Asylum, starting first with Mega Piranha starring the other 80's pop princess Tiffany, and culminating in their just released Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus starring both Deborah Gibson and Tiffany. I'll watch those eventually - because sometimes the filmmakers learn from their mistakes on the first movie and the sequels are better. We can always hope anyway. In the meantime, you can make your decision on this one. Good luck.

And that will bring us to the end. And always remember...Bands make it rock...Roadies make it roll.

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