Quick Movie Review: Machete Maidens Unleashed (2010)

If there’s one documentary subject I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of it’s filmmakers talking about the good old days of cheaply made schlock shown at drive-ins and grindhouse theaters. And I’m glad that people are not only making these movies, but also that the people who were involved are not only still alive, but also willing to talk about their experiences. While the excellent Not Quite Hollywood focused on these kinds of movies shot in Australia and the not as great American Grindhouse focused on its own obvious subject matter, Machete Maidens Unleashed set its sites on American films that were shot down in the Philippines in the 70s and 80s. I actually just looked and the guy who directed this movie, Mark Hartley, also directed Not Quite and is the man behind the upcoming Canon Video doc which I am really looking forward to.

I actually didn’t even know this was a thing before reading the description on Netflix Instant (I, of course, was first drawn in by the poster image and then the title), but there was actually a full-fledged movie industry in the Philippines at the team that lots of producers and directors like Roger Corman and Joe Dante took advantage of because of the low, low cost. At one point, one of the filmmakers in the doc said something along the lines of “The film was cheap and human life was even cheaper,” referencing the lengths local actors and stuntmen would go to put their lives on the line to get just the right shot. Fight scenes were filmed so that people were actually beating the crap out of each other and a lot of the explosions going off and glass being broken were real. It’s the kind of thing that, today, would create a public outcry for human safety, but at that place and that time, those apparently weren’t big concerns.

There are two aspects of this film that make it so interesting aside from the subject matter itself. First off, it seems like everyone who’s still alive agreed to be interviewed for this flick. Heck, John Landis is there and I don’t even think he shot a movie in the Philippines! That dude just loves to talk about these kinds of movies (he’s also in American Grindhouse). I already mentioned Corman and Dante, but tons of people appear in this movie: Pam Grier, Sid Haig, R. Lee Ermey, Dick Miller, Brian Trenchard-Smith, seemingly every hopeful starlet who appeared topless in those movies and several local filmmakers. Everyone is very open, honest and entertaining when it comes to relating their experiences. The second aspect of this movie that really makes it great and seems to be a trademark of Hartley’s, is the quick and efficient editing of the picture. There isn’t a wasted moment in this flick and, at the same time it doesn’t feel rushed.

If you love bad movies of years gone by, exploitation cinema or are just interested in some of the less glamorous corners of the film business, I highly recommend giving Machete Maidens Unleashed a watch.

Quick Movie Review: Original Gangstas (1996)

You know what two names will get me to watch any movie at any time? Richard Roundtree (that’s Shaft, duh) and Pam Grier. So much awesomeness deserves loyalty dammit and as a result, when I stumbled upon a movie on NetBox called Original Gangstas, starring the two of them, Fred Williamson (who plays the captain in the Starsky & Hutch movie) and Jim Brown (who played Byron, the big dude in Mars Attacks!) I was sold. Adding the fact that it’s about older dudes coming back to their neighborhood to take the streets back from the members of the gang that they started back when they were kids had me turning that bad boy on right away. Ever since I saw Deathwish 4 with a geriatric Charles Bronson mowing down teenage gangbangers with a freaking machine gun (Jesse Ventura-in-Predator), I’ve wanted to see punk kids get what’s coming to them. Have I mentioned that, for some reason, my grade school thought it would be a good idea to show us several videos on gang violence. In fourth grade. I also happened to live across the street from a park, which people told me was where gangs hung out. Needless to say, I had trouble sleeping for fear of being mowed down in a drive by. I lived on a dead end street. Thanks school! Anyway, the gang members in this flick make it easy to hate them as they beat up an old guy and kill some kids. Jerks. So yeah, it’s a little bit slow at times, but the end firefight between old folks (this is where Roundtree really comes in, it’s mostly the Williamson/Brown/Grier show) and the young kids is pretty awesome. Worth the price of admission for sure.

Train-Ing Video: Class of 1999 (1990)

“These things are like a bad, f*cked up, George Jetson nightmare!” So says Cody, the hero of Class of 1999 of the robot teachers who have been flipped their programming after being sent into a Free Fire Zone in Seattle. You see, an FFZ is an area, usually around a school in a major city where gang activity has gotten so bad that the cops have backed out and let the kids run wild. Except for in the school for some reason. Think of it as Escape from New York meets Terminator and Sister Act (or, I assume, Dangerous Minds, but I’ve never seen that).

If you’re scratching your head already and asking yourself “Why would kids go to school if they weren’t being told to and, oh, and had machine guns?” Yeah me too. It’s a plot hole that you could drive an armored bus through. There’s lots of said plot holes or just lapses in logic (Why to the robots only have fake skin protecting their important “organs” instead of an actual exoskeleton? Why are the kids more likely to believe that their friends died in highly unlikely accidental ways and not getting murdered by teachers?) Anyway, if you can look past the complete lack of logic and Cody’s TERRIBLE Corey Feldman impression, this movie is a whole boatload of weird 80s fun from 1990.



You remember the major cities and the explanation of the FFZs I mentioned above? We get that information thanks to a voiceover in the beginning that accompanies a map showcasing the worst cities. You’ve got Detroit and NYC of course. Then there’s Seattle and Cleveland (not the best places in the world, but not ones I would expect there to be a lot of gang activity at), but the best part? The dot that’s supposed to designate Cleveland is not where Cleveland actually is. It should be further up north. For all I know, the other ones are misplaced too, though I did check NYC and it seems correct, hey, I’m no geography nerd, I just know my state.


Anyway, we open with a white haired Stacey Keach who, for reasons never explained, sports a mullet that terminates in a rat tail between his shoulders and white-except-for-his-pupils eyes. He’s part of a program for the DED (the Department of Educational Defense) who has these teacher robots he wants to insert into Malcolm McDowell’s school. Also, for no real reason, Cody gets released from jail at the same time. Here’s some pics (thanks to this post, I figured out how to take screencaps!)

This is the first, non-CG shot of the movie, I swear to God:


Then this:


And here’s the teacher-bots, including one of my all-time huge crushes Pam Grier! I didn’t even know she was in this movie, that’s just a bonus.


So, the story follows Cory who’s part of this gang called the Black Hearts. He doesn’t really want to get back with the Hearts because he wants to go straight (we’re not sure why and we don’t know why he was in jail in the first place), but his incredibly weird looking younger brother Angel is about to be initiated and all his friends from school are in the gang too.

Here’s Angel, I laughed every single moment he was on screen. He looks ridiculous, but that’s just future gang fashion, yo, purples and yellow all the way!


Meanwhile, he falls for McDowell’s daughter (why good kids are still in this school, I have no idea. Wouldn’t you bounce if kids could shoot guns in your police-abandoned neighborhood and your kid still wanted to learn?). His friends start dying thanks to the new teacherbots and he gets suspicious. He even saves McDowell’s daughter from being molested-at-best during the day on school grounds out in the open and gets beat up by the younger dude teacherbot and yelled at by McDowell. That’s just crazy!

He discovers the truth about the teacherbots and instead of just straight up going after Cody, the older one concocts this ridiculously complicated plan that includes killing some people and sparking a war between the Hearts and their rivals The Razorheads. Wouldn’t it just make more sense to, I dunno, crush him with your insane robot strength? So anywhere, there’s a gang war and we really get to see the Hearts in full form. Again, notice all the purple and yellow. At one point, Angel gets pulled over and they accuse him of wearing gang colors and he’s only got yellow and purple on. That’s just hilarious to me.


When THIS plan fails, the teacherbots make fake phone calls to the leaders of both gangs to get them to meet at the school to kill each other instead of, again, just killing these kids. This is when things go super-bananas. You’ve got dirt bikes and explosions in school, robot fights, the reveal of some of their awesome weapon systems and the uniting of the two goings (uh, spoiler warning?). While Cody and the leader of the Razorheads are searching the school to take down the teachers (“I’m going in there to waste some teachers – are you with me?”) they actually drive their motorcycles into the classrooms and around the room. Twice!


I was pretty impressed with the showdown at the end and the effects were pretty good (I’m not going to ruin it for you, but if you’ve seen the original VHS cover, you’ll see an approximation, if you see the newer Lions Gate version, you’ll see a way updated version). Each teacherbot sports it’s own hand weapon that was fun to watch, though where their robot hands actually go, I don’t know.

The real headscratcher throughout the movie is that there isn’t a really good character. I guess McDowell’s daughter might count, but she’s so one dimensional, she doesn’t really count. Like I said, we don’t know why Cody was in jail. It could have been murder for all we know. I get that he’s trying to turn over a new leaf and he’s served his time (after a fashion), but he’s still utilizing the people who are the problem (gang members) to take down other bad guys. I guess he could be labeled as an anti-hero, but I just wish we would have gotten a little more background on him.

But, in the end, the movie is just too damn crazy and fun to not enjoy on some level, even given all the problems. And I know some of you might be wondering why I had such high hopes for a movie about robot teachers teaching in a near war zone, but this movie was written and directed by Mark L. Lester who also directed the Jeph Loeb co-written Arnold Schwarzenegger masterpiece Commando . One other thing I want to point out about the story is that it actually has some pretty emotional moments. There’s a scene where Cody goes home and we see that his mom is just as big of a drug addict as Angel and the performances are really good. I think Bradley Gregg would have been much better suited if he wasn’t asked to/didn’t try to put on the Corey Feldman voice. It’s really distracting and I think takes away from the skills you can see under the surface.

Oh, also, they gave the Grierbot a nipple hanging out after she gets torn open and they show it a bunch. I was kind of embarrassed to be watching it on the train and even discreetly covered that part of the screen with my hand. But seeing as how this is the internet and a simple Google search for “Pam Grier naked” will come up with a number of hits (this site included now 😉 I figure this images ain’t so bad.


Tim Burton Is Awesome

Over the past two days I’ve had the pleasure of watching two Tim Burton movies on the train and realizing how much I like his directing. Monday I watched childhood favorite Beetlejuice (1988) and yesterday I checked out Mars Attacks (1996) for the first time. I also recently realized that Burton is probably the first director I was a fan of before I even realized what a director did. I remember watching Frankenweenie on the Disney Channel, I liked Batman, but Batman Returns was my favorite superhero movie for years and I have memories of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure like anyone else my age, but wasn’t too obsessed with it. In fact, Burton was probably the first director whose work I did recognize. And, perusing his credits on IMDb and realizing I’ve really enjoyed most of what I’ve seen, I’ve decided to give him the “… Is Awesome” tag, I’m sure he’s super excited.

Before jumping into the movie reviews, I do want to note that I still haven’t seen Edward Scissorhands or Sleepy Hollow, but I have seen all of his other big movies. I didn’t really like Sweeney Todd (apparently, I have a fear of razors against throats, who knew?) and I’m not particularly partial to Nightmare Before Christmas (which he didn’t direct, but produced) or Corpse Bride, but I think that’s because I resented paying full New York prices for a 76 minute movie. Anyway, not liking three movies and not seeing two movies puts him in that rare category of directors with a lot of movies which I have seen and liked. It’s easy to say I like Tarantino or Kevin Smith, but they don’t have all that many movies.

So, now onto Beetlejuice and Mars Attacks specifically. When I say I was a Beetlejuice fan as a kid, I’m talking full-on. I had the movie on tape of course, watched the cartoon, got as many of the toys as I could (I’ll take pictures of what I have and do a separate post soon) and even dressed up as him for Halloween one year (Mom made the suit and we bought the official Beetlejuice toy mask with pop-out snakes!). And, the craziest thing about all this is that I was a fan even though I saw something on TV about Beetlejuice that scared me so much I had nightmares.

I’ve been searching YouTube and the internet for any reference to this, but can’t find it. Around the time the movie came out, I saw this talk show aimed at kids either on Nickelodeon or Disney Channel where they interviewed some of the ghosts and monsters from the movie. I think the shrunken head hunter was on there, but I definitely remember the file clerk who got run over by a truck. There were a few others but I can’t remember them. I also don’t remember the details, but it scared me so bad I had nightmares for a while. Also note that this was well before I even entertained the idea of watching horror movies. Just the previews scared me. Ah, how far I’ve come.

It’s been probably 10 years since I watched Beetlejuice all the way through (I picked the DVD up on the cheap sometime in the past year, but hadn’t watched it). I still really dig this movie. It’s got a great mix of comedy, action and horror, plus great performances by everyone involved from Michael Keaton as the Ghost With the Most down to Jane, the annoying real estate woman.

The only part that doesn’t hold up is the special effects, which, according to the internet, Burton did on purpose as a reference to older sci-fi and horror movies (hence the stop motion animation of the sculptures and sandworms). But, other effects still look great, and mostly because they’re practical. I love the ghastly faces Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin, he looks so young and thin!) put on to scare Lydia (Winona Ryder, also super young).

A couple of funny things I realized while watching this movie before Mars Attacks. First off, this is the second movie in two weeks I’ve watched where rich New Yorkers move away from the city to a quiet place somewhere north of the city. At least in Beetlejuice, they eventually tell you they’re in Connecticut so I wasn’t driving around trying to find the school house. Also, I realized while watching that Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones will always be “the people from Beetlejuice” in my head. I remember when O’Hara lated played the mom in Home Alone, I was psyched. And, while Jones will always be Ed Rooney to most, he’s the dad from this movie and the bad guy from Who’s Harry Crumb and that’s the way it is.

Which brings me to Mars Attacks, which doesn’t have single character/actor who I haven’t seen in something else. Hell, even Jack Black’s in this bad boy and he looks only a little less svelte than he did in Airborne. Heck even the kid from Solarbabies is in it, but to me he’s still the whiny kid from that movie (though he’s way more awesome and less girly now).

I can’t think of a recent movie that has brought together so many famous actors in one flick (check out the full roster here). Sure, you could argue that some people like Sarah Jessica Parker or Lisa Marie weren’t really all that famous at the time, but you’ve got Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Natalie Portman (also probably not super famous at the time) and Pam Grier! For the record, that’s also the Joker, Cruella de Vil, James Bond, Penguin, Amidala AND Foxy Brown. That’s a pretty epic team-up. (Any artists out there want to draw that up? It’d be rad?) Anyway, what I liked most about this star studded cast is the fact that so many of these big time starts got killed in really great and kind of gruesome ways. You really don’t see THAT nowadays.

I know I’m late to the game by 13 years on this one. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it when it came out or why it took so long for me to finally see it, but I’m really glad I did. It was very slow going at first and I kept wondering how all these different characters were going to fit together and really just wanted to get to the aliens blowing shit up, but I see why it all works. It’s a satire on movies like it, but also society. Parker’s character could be taken out of this movie and put on the NYC streets I walk everyday to get to work (I might have seen her last week actually, she just has a Blackberry now). That Burton fella’s ahead of the curve methinks. Plus, the effects are cool and it’s damn funny.

And dammitall if those aren’t the cutest little aliens blasting the crap out of humanity. I loved their “ack ack ACK” dialogue and loved it even more when their heads exploded. Watching the second half of the movie really made me want to play whatever the latest Destroy All Humans game is. It also made me want to check out the original card series that the movie is based on (huh, basing a movie on a card set seems just as crazy as basing one on a board game, no?), which brought me to Zelda’s Mars Attacks site, check it out!

13.5 Quick Movie Reviews

2009-01-17
5:32:32 am

Hey gang, sorry again about my complete lack of posts lately, things have been crazy. I have been keeping myself busy with movies though, so here are 13 short reviews about some flicks I’ve seen lately, plus one movie I didn’t watch.

SIX STRING SAMURAI (1998)

I really liked this post apocalyptic-like road trip movie with a samurai Buddy Holly. The howler-monkey kid got annoying fast, but the action and snappy dialogue kept things moving along at quite a clip. Much better than I thought it would be.

OUR MAN FLINT (1966)

Flint’s a swinging secret agent int he 60s more worried about having a good time than stopping an international incident (at first at least). Great, campy 60s spy fun, that both pokes fun at but also sets itself up in the same universe as James Bond. A lot of fun, can’t wait to check out the sequel.

THE MAJORETTES (1986)

I don’t actually remember too much about this movie other than it involved some maniac hunting down and killing high school cheerleaders. It’s a way lower budget movie and apparently very little of the money went to snag actors who can, you know, act. Skip this one unless you’re a horror completist or you’re looking to cross another movie off in your copy of Creature Feature (like me).

DAY OF THE DEAD (2008)

I was actually pretty impressed with this remake-in-name-mostly of Romero’s Day of the Dead. I’m not a huge fan of the original or anything, but I wasn’t expecting much out of this flick and was surprised. The story moves along the same speeds as the fast Zack Snyder/28 Days Later-like zombies, but my favorite part is seeing actual people I recognize like Mena Suvari, Nick Cannon and Ving Rhames killing and becoming zombies. When was the last time you saw a non genre actor semi-famous person in a horror movie after they became famous? Hopefully it’s a trend that will continue. I’m actually kind of surprised that they didn’t release this movie in theaters. Oh well, a pretty good zombie movie all said and done, though not a classic.

THE SHADOW (1994)

In my opinion, it’s hard to go wrong when you populate a movie about a pulp hero with actors like Alec Baldwin, Peter Boyle, Tim Curry, Ian McKellen, James Hong and Jonathan Winters and luckily The Shadow held up my opinions. I’m not all that familiar with pulp heroes, especially the Shadow, but I like the idea of him having a network of people all over the city (usually people he has saved) who help him out. There’s all kinds of cool stuff like secret labs and ancient forces of good and evil. Oh and for 30 Rock fans, I highly encourage you to think of these as the early days of Jack Donaghy.

LAST MAN STANDING (1996)

A pretty cool story about a gangster-era hitman (Willis) holing up in a ghost town populated by two rival gangs, gets slowed down with a little too much back and forth back stabbing. I definitely don’t remember all the details about this one, but I’m a Willis fan. Michael Imperioli plays pretty much the same role he always does and Walken stars as Willis’ main competition and they fight which is cool. Can you imagine Walken fighting now? Aside from a dance fight I mean. Oh, also Walter Hill of Warriors fame directed LMS, so it’s gotta be pretty good, right?

FOXY BROWN (1974)

So far my experience with blaxploitation films as been hit or miss, but luckily Foxy is enough of a hit. In the plus column, Pam Grier cuts quite the figure, plus she kicks ass. I also like the idea of a group of inner city dwellers taking the law into their own hands and creating their own kind of police force. I’m not a big fan of the sexual assault stuff, but I guess that’s all part of the exploitation riff. Too bad Foxy and Shaft never got together. That would have been a great flick.

LEATHERHEADS (2008)

I’m not sure if I’ve professed my heterosexual man love for George Clooney on the blog before, but I’m a big fan. I think we’d get along smashingly. I do know that I’ve talked about how much I like the American Office, so you probably know I’m a John Krasinski fan. So, Leatherheads was a good flick in my book. It doesn’t make my top 10 sports movies of all time (well, maybe, I’d have to come up with that list actually), but it’s fun and it offered up a look at a period in professional football that I am completely unfamiliar with, so that was cool. Of course, it’s a comedy, so I’m not sure how accurate it was, but who cares? Like I said it was fun. Has similar story elements to League of the their Own (which probably would make my top 10 because I’m a huge softy). Not groundbreaking by any means, but worth a watch.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (2008)

I liked Leatherheads more than Journey, but it’s not a terrible movie (even if it is very predictable). The special effects bounce back and forth between boderline okay, pretty good and not so great, but the effort is there. I really wish I would have been able to see this bad boy in 3D. I missed out on the phenomenon in the 80s and have gotten a taste for it by watching Superman Returns (ugh) and Nightmare Before Christmas in lame separate the background from the foreground 3D. I can’t freaking wait to see My Bloody Valentine 3D!!!

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)

Holy crap I loved this movie. Rickey got me a subscription to a horror movie mag called Horror Hound that’s not expertly edited, but still offers up tons and tons of horror goodness. One such bit of goodness was a whole feature on Klowns. The movie is just so much freaking over the bigtop fun. I really can’t believe that a studio made this movie. Please, do yourself a favor and check it out. Also of interest on the DVD is the Chiodo brothers’ home movies from when they were making monster movies as kids. Pretty impressive stuff for pre-teens with a 16mm camera.

VAMPIRE EFFECT (2003)

The combination of Hong Kong action and vampires drew me to this flick pretty quickly on Netflix. Heck, it’s even got Jackie Chan in a roll that’s more than him just walking on and being called Jackie (which he is). As with a lot of movies like this that I’ve seen, the special effects and fight scenes are sick, but the story itself is nothing new. I did really like the cool retractable whip/sword weapons they used. I think I designed something very similar what I was younger.

LICENSE TO DRIVE (1988)

If you thought Corey Haim could have been a little bit smoother, though still pretty spazzy in Lost Boys and Corey Fledman from the Burbs could use a little mellowing out, then License to Drive is the perfect 2 Coreys vehicle for you (puns!). Haim fails his driving test, but still tells a young (though still 18 by my math) Heather Graham that he can pick her up. It’s basically like an episode of a sitcom, but stretched to 90 minutes and definitely edgier than your average Saved By The Bell. Good stuff. Next up from the Coreys? Dream a Little Dream (which I have absolutely no knowledge of).

LEGEND (1985)

Legend is one of those movies that I don’t remember at all, but have since come to find that it’s kind of a big deal (to some people). I knew that Tim Curry was in it, but had no idea Tom Cruise was. I thought it might be kind of a funny movie, but when I saw Tom prancing around the forest or whatever I clicked this badboy off and deleted it from my queue. I am no fan of fantasy movies.

JOHNNY BE GOOD (1988)

I’m becoming a pretty big fan of Netflix’s recommendations. I started watching Johnny after digging License and wasn’t disappointed. It’s got an older and more confident Anthony Michael Hall and a completely goofy Robert Downey Jr.. There’s a good deal of goofiness to this movie, which focuses on Hall as a football star getting courted by and visiting different colleges that want him. Downey plays his wacky best friend, but what struck me about the movie is how real it can be at times. Hall and Downey sell their characters like they’re up for an award. Oh, it’s also got Uma Thurman as Hall’s girlfriend and Jennifer Tilly has a quick role. If you’re an 80s movie fan, or just curious to see what Downey might have been like back in the late 80s give Johnny a look.

AUGUST RUSH (2007)

Sometimes you’ve got to add a movie for your lady to the ol’ queue. I was pleasantly surprised with August Rush, not because the story is all the unique (you’ve seen the broad strokes before plenty of times), but because of it’s view of music. The way they show the young boy experiencing music in everyday life, what it means to him and how he’s eventually able to play it in his own unorthodox way really struck me. If you’ve got to watch a chick flick with your girl and you’re a music fan, this is a good choice. Also, Keri Russell is in it and looking good.

KING OF KONG (2007)

If you haven’t seen this documentary about the surprisingly competitive world of classic arcade high score competitions, please stop reading and watch it right now. This one makes it into my top 10 movies of 2007 (should a list ever actually exist). First off, it shows off a world I’ve never seen, which you know I love. Also, that world is full of deceit, greed, cowardice, heroics, villainy, triumph and defeat. The way the story is put together feels like a really well scripted feature film, though the events and the ups and downs are completely real. If you’ve ever liked anything I’ve written about on here, watch this movie.

SUPERMAN/DOOMSDAY (2007)

Seeing as how The Death and Return of Superman is the story that got me collecting comics in the first place (and how deeply and utterly I bought into the idea that any of the four subsequent people could be the real Superman), I was very excited when I heard a few years ago that DC/WB was going to make an animated movie about that very event, I was psyched. I figured it probably wouldn’t have EVERYthing that made the comic so cool (Superman turning back to save a family instead of finishing Doomsday off, that very 90s JLA facing off against Doomsday, an eyes-swollen-shut Guy Gardner asking his teammate to aim his fist at Doomsday so he could blast it, not to mention the four other “Supermen”), but that it could offer up a cool new look on the idea. And it’s definitely a different look. I would have preferred them either go straight with the established look and continuity of the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini-verse or have a drastically different art direction on the project as little things like Superman’s cheek lines become distracting. I was also distracted by the different voices for these characters that I recognize from a specific other incarnation that looked very similar but sound completely different. Even at 77 minutes it felt kind of slow, but the fight scenes are pretty great (though they don’t hold a candle to JLU). I still hold on to my dream of one day seeing an epic, animated incarnation of the Death and Return of Superman though. A boy can dream, right?