Review Round-Up: June 19, 2020

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Hello citizens!

In this set of 10 reviews Bob rants about Easy Rider 2: The Ride Back, and also looks at Portland Horror Film Festival’s Wild Boar and Sunset on the River Styx, the long-delayed wanna-be noir London Fields, the atrocious Netflix comedy The Wrong Missy, MST3k cheesy cheapies King Dinosaur and Cave Dwellers, Disney Channel’s Camp Kelly, Quibi’s chase thriller The Stranger, and the Peter Straub adaptation Ghost Story.

Cave Dwellers aka The Blade Master 1984; Sword and Sorcery; Written and Directed by Joe D’Amato; Tubi

This third season opener for Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is the first sequel to Ator: the Fighting Eagle, covered later in MST3K history as the last episode of the 2nd Netflix season. It’s a cheaply made Conan mockbuster, so of course it’s wonderfully awful. From over described names, to cheap costumes and cheaper makeup and wigs (the bad guy’s Sonny Bono look!) and the look of shooting weekends in a public park, it comes together with balsa wood and Elmer’s glue. Season 3 is where MST3k really gets going (nothing against the earlier seasons) and Cave Dwellers is a classic of great riffing. Of course the movie itself gives them ripe pickings. 

Easy Rider the Ride Back; Drama; Written by Phil Pitzer and Dustin Rikert; Directed by Dustin Rikert; Starring Phil Piltzer, Jeff Fahey, Sheree J Wilson. 1h39 min; Rental

First, would you believe me if I told you there was a direct to video sequel to Easy Rider, released over 40 years after the original; and it was written, produced, and stars a lawyer (Phil Pilzer) with no film experience who sued for the rights to Easy Rider? Second, would you believe it’s pro-military and jingoism? Yup, the touchstone for 60s counter-culture has been warped into a conservative motorcycle dad fantasy of road freedom, boobs, and gung-ho military love. Kinda. The messaging is a little mixed due to the sheer indebtedness of every aspect of this cursed production. Our main character, said lawyer who kinda resembles Peter Fonda if you squint, also bucked back against the Vietnam war in his youth like his brother Wyatt aka Captain America – Peter Fonda in the original.  Compared to another brother who did go to war and came back broken. But we’re also screamed at that pushing back against the military is a cowardly and yellow act. We also have flashbacks of the family (which also includes a sister)’s patriarch in WWII. These flashback to WWII and Nam and the drama that comes from them are badly transitioned, sometimes to the “wait, are we in the past?” and each scene cut makes me unsure what time we’re in. This movie’s type of flashback is a filter but not really changing much else.  

There is little of Easy Rider here and a lot of empty film, bad sound design, and lighting choices that make everyone’s skin look like Deadpool’s face. 

Not to mention it connects the first film’s ending with 9/11. Yup. 

9/11. 

Anyway, I digress. Easy Rider: The Ride Home is a sequel and a prequel to the original, tracking the family history of Wyatt and catching up with his brother, sister and friends in the modern day. I noted the conservative nature, but don’t expect a PureFlix. I’m reminded of the same-aged conservative men I know from my family or around it. They love their bikes, their drinking and their titty bars. And their ‘Murica Freedom. Right now they’re all probably complaining about the protests on Facebook. And there are several softcore sex scenes.

I just can’t imagine how someone loves Easy Rider so much in order to sue to the producers of the original film for rights control, but the only thing he pulls from the original film is the love of motorcycles. You best love choppers. Because you’re gonna get so many long scenes of Pilzer and friend , ugh, Wes Coast – Jeff Fahey (forget Lawnmower Man, this is his worst film) riding their bikes towards the home of Shane, the sister, who has brought their dying father to her home along with Rance Howard who is both his best friend and hasn’t’ spoken to for 60 years. 

Pilzer has all the charisma of Neil Breen, Anti-charisma really. There is so little screen presence in this type of performance, its’ fascinating in it turns around to intensely watchable. See also Tommy Weiseau and the stars of Birdemic. 

I’ve rambled on long enough in a review as disjointed and oddly structured to nothing as the film itself. Avoid this. It’s an episode of How did this get made? I’ll listen to that an never think of this movie again.

The Stranger; 2020; Thriller Horror; Written and directed by Veena Sud. Starring Maika Monroe, Dane DeHaan, Avan Jogia. 13 episodes. Quibi. First watch.

This thriller film is a good example of what can work for Quibi. The story of 13 hours of a new to LA ride-share driver (Maika Monroe, It Follows) and 7-11 Clerk JJ (Avan Jogia,  Zombieland Double Tap) trying to get away from a murder-stalker (Dane DeHaan, Chronicle) would have been disjointed and a rote modern update of The Hitcher is written and released as a regular project. I do expect some would be smoothed out in a different format, but in 5 to 10 minute chunks of each of those hours The Stranger is rather compelling and twisty.And due to the nature of the show, has little fluff, like a 30 minute episodic TV show is cut down to the exciting bits. Even with stitch quick excursions, we do get good character from Monroe and DeHaan is, as ever, a great creep. Some aspects are a big clunky, but all in all I dug it.

Cadet Kelly 2002; comedy; Written by Gail Parent and Michael Walsh; Directed by Larry Shaw; Starring Hilary Duff, Gary Cole, Christy Carlson Romano. 1h41m. DisneyPlus. First watch.

Another Disney Channel original. My wife watches them, and I watch them with her. I subject her to my type of cheese, and I watch her type. It’s a good set up. I likely said a similar intro last time (Cheetah Girls maybe?) and will again but just noting. So this one has Hilary Duff, using much of the same delivery style as she had in The Haunting of Sharon Tate (listen to our Podcast about it) as a new student at a military academy her new step-father (Gary Cole) is now the commendation of. It was airy but fun, just the movie you’d expect in most cases. Mostly because you’d think there would be a tension of “new stepfather who runs a military school” but in a good turn they do get along. There isn’t’ really a lot of conflict, she just doesn’t quite fit in, but isn’t really given any shit. Her “otherness” is a shrug at best to everyone by Kim Possible’s Christy Carlson Romano stuffy over-achiever. There is a creepiness of Shawn Ashemore’s “Cute boy on campus” having kinda eyes (no kissin’) with Duff as he was 24 (17 in film) and she was 15 on both counts. Yeah… As a Disney channel original, it’s fine. 

Ghost Story; 1981; Horror; Written by Lawrence D. Cohen from the Straub book, Directed by John Irvin; Starring Craig Wasson, Alice Krige, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. 2nd watch. Owned disc. 1h50m

Based upon the Peter Straub book (which I reread earlier this year), this story of 4 old men and one younger man haunted by the repercussions of the old men’s youth wasn’t as good or spooky-scary as I recalled. The story often drags and the flashbacks, while filling in the story, stop the flow of the story dead (heh) by going on far too long. As is often the case, the set up is better than the ending. I thought this for the book too, and the book is a larger tale with the ability to dig into the actions and characters the way a movie can’t. In streamlining (and changing the Gregory/Fenny Bates aspect in a major way) much is lost. I have a lot of questions. But on the whole, it’s a solid if issued movie. Great to see an early run for Alice Krige and a final (or close to) go for many older actors like Douglas Fairbacks, Jr, Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Patricia Neal, and Melvyn Douglas.

King Dinosaur – 1955; Sci-Fi; Written and directed by Bert I Gordon. Starring William Bryant, Patti Gallagher, Marvin Miller. 1h3m; Owned disc.

Bert I Gordon’s first accredited feature is nothing to write home about, except in looking at it as a MST3k. A bunch of scientists visit a new planet, and find it filled with “giant monsters” – aka blown up plates of iguanas with things on their heads and some pretty alright dinosaurs. And proceeds to try to kill them all. Come on, you’re scientists, why go to a new planet and immediately shoot all the danger! The filmed actors composed against blown up animals can work, but doesn’t meld here – Gordon does get better at this – and the lack of any sort of character makes the rest of it a slog. 

Wild Boar – 2020 – Horror; Written and directed by Barney Burman; Starring Reina Hardsty, Daniel Roebuck, Augie Duke;  via the Portland Horror Film Festival.

First and foremost, the make-up effects in Wild Boar are phenomenal. Dozens of full sized pig-people are wowing. Any fan of practical effects will be pleased and wowed. It’s no surprise, the writer-director is Oscar-winner Barney Burman (Star Trek, Grimm, Tropic Thunder). The story around the pig men make-up is rather Hills Have Eyes, the remake in particular. A group of unlikable assholes (including character actor Daniel Roebuck, who also plays a pigman) follow a geocache to a colony of pigs mutated after A-bombs – living in a forgotten valley town. Then becomes a survival story. The film does get repetitive, annoyingly so. And some really dumb character decisions are made (walk away from the escape, take a moment to swim…) But that also means more of the make-up! That make up makes everything worthwhile, and we do get enough gore to be happy. 

London Fields; 2018; Drama; Written by Robert Hanley and Martin Amis from the book by Martin Amis; Directed by Matthew Cullin; Starring Amber Heard, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Isaacs, Theo James; 1h55m; Netflix rental.

This adaptation of the 1989 Martin Amis novel was only released in 2018, but was filmed in 2014. How best to tell that? Johnny Depp and Amber Heard appear in scenes together. Heard is the godawful lead in this godawful film. I’ve not read the book so I can’t say how well it works as an adaptation, but as a film it is a jumbled mess of noir cliches (I think meant to be satirical but if so doesn’t land), underdeveloped characters, nowhere plots, and just sheer annoyance all around. It’s good to be Billy Bob Thornton, but he he seems like he’d rather be still in the “where is he now?” category than in this mess. Also on board is Jim Sturgess in a loud, brash scenery chewing role, and Theo James looking damned uncomfortable as a rich dude. The basics of the plot is one of these three men will kill Heard, based upon her premonition. They move in and out of one another’s melodramatic lives. It’s incomprehensible. There’s nothing to chew on here at all, even for bad movie lovers like me. I am not looking forward to revisiting it when 2018 comes up for a second time on The Worst Movie of the Year (it hasn’t at all yet, so this will be after Death of a Nation)

The Wrong Missy – 2020- Comedy; Written by Chris Pappas and Kevin Barnett; Directed by Tylre Spindel; Starring David Spade, Lauren Lapkus, Nick Swardson, Sarah Chalke. 90 Min. Netflix.

Another from the shit pile. The latest Adam Sandler (producing, no camera time) takes his friends on vacation movie is loud and obnoxious, and worst of all just not funny. David Spade wears a bad wig and does what he did well in the 90s with the late Chris Farley in Tommy Boy and Black Sheep: playing the exasperated straight man to a loud idiot. It’s been too long since I’ve seen either of those, but there was far more going on for the dynamic and Farley’s performances (more so in my memory for Tommy Boy). This time he’s paired up with Lauren Lapkis. Lapkis… I’ve seen her in a  few things so far and have found her either very out of place – Orange is the New Black, Jurassic World or grating – Holmes and Watson, …this. She has an anti-charisma, much like the also featured in Sandler films Nick Swardson. The moment she joins the movie, thirty seconds in, I wanted to tear her throat out and that never stopped as the movie moved from every obvious set up to the next. Each of those set ups goes and and on and on never allowing the sweet release of going to the next one. Watching The Wrong Missy is making the Wrong Choice.

Sunset on the River Styx; 2020; Horror Drama; Written and directed by Aaron Pagniano. Starring Phillip Andre Botello, Jacqueline Jandrell; 1h35m.

The second feature for the Portland Horror Film Festival. Didn’t quite work for me. A bog standard 20-something lost in their lives with some vampire trappings added in. The vampire twist on the story could have worked if the first hour of the film wasn’t painfully slow or features two one-note leads.

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