Haunted World of El Superbeasto, The

If you’ve seen any of Rob Zombie’s films and music videos, you have a good idea of what Zombie enjoys: violence, cars, the 70s, wrestling, monsters, and tits....Not necessarily in that order, mind you.  So, it should come as no surprise that when Zombie decided to make a feature length cartoon titled The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, it would have all of those things.  But, you know, in cartoon form.

Based on the comic book of the same name (which I own…SHAME!), El Superbeasto (Tom Papa) is a luchador (Mexican wrestler)/celebrity who only wants a nice plate of buffalo wings and the sweet, sweet ass of Velvet Von Black (Rosario Dawson).  Unfortunately, Von Black is the key to Dr. Satan’s (Paul Giamatti) plan to obtain world domination through the “sudsy powers” of HELL!  So, ‘Beasto recruits the help of his sister/international super spy Suzi X (she’s hot, she’s blonde, AND she has a squeaky voice. You guessed it: Sheri Moon Zombie).  What follows can only be described as "madcap", “For Mature Audiences Only,” and … "gooey".

Part of what makes this film a lot of fun is that it’s done in the style of the old Looney Tunes.  There’s an extended title sequence featuring single frames of art behind the titles and cast.  There are multiple cameos of horror film icons like Jack Torrance, Michael Myers, The Devils Rejects crew, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon among others in the same fashion of celebrity cameos in old Bugs Bunny and Tiny Toons cartoons.

And what was missing from those old Warner Bros. cartoons?  Gratuitous female nudity!  The film is strange because it’s not presented like an adult Japanese animated film, or even a Ralph Bakshi film.  It’s not presented as a pornographic film.  It’s a silly Scooby Doo-esque cartoon with full frontal nudity and butt hair...Lots of butt hair.

Providing music and a running commentary throughout the entire film is Chris Hardwick’s comedy band, Hard ‘n Phirm.  The songs elevate the film in that they make fun of it, including an extended indictment of a parody of the prom scene in Carrie (1976) .

Zombie’s animated epic runs only about 80 minutes but, oddly, it’s a long 80 minutes.  There are long stretches where jokes do not hit, and sight gags are few and far between.  However, if you liked Ren & Stimpy, you’re probably going to enjoy the trip into the “Haunted World.”

Oh, and if nothing else, there’s also a million Nazi zombies.

A-Team, The

It’s about goddamned time I had fun watching a movie. The Hollywood adaptation of 80s TV staple The A-Team is a laugh riot, and in a good way.

We start it off right, somewhere in Mexico, where we meet Hannibal (Liam Neeson), B.A. Baracus (Quinten Jackson), "Howling Mad" Murdock (Sharlto Copley) and Face (Bradley Cooper) in a completely silly but awesome sequence. We jump ahead 8 years (and 80 successful missions) to the final days of withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, meaning it takes place in the future, I suppose.

The boys are tricked by a barely competent, completely evil C.I.A. agent named Lynch (Patrick Wilson),  who dupes them into . . . standing too close while someone else blows up some counterfeit money and the team's commanding general. That someone else is, in fact, the ultra-competent military contractor Pike (Brian Bloom), the first villain since Ledger’s Joker to pose a credible threat to a protagonist. He’s just a great screen presence and actually presents a real menace.

The plot really isn’t worth mentioning, as it’s poorly done and more than a little silly. There’s actually a reveal that’s straight out of Scooby Doo . What is worth mentioning: this movie is freakin' hysterical. At it’s heart, The A-Team is a comedy, but unlike most comedies, things explode a lot. There are scenes that are just sublime in their humor, especially those devoted to making fun of the CIA and their legendary incompetence. Between Pike being a rather scary guy and Lynch being arrogant, yet incompetent in a way we haven't seen since Cobra Commander, their dynamic yields as many laughs as the heroes’ shenanigans.

Patrick Wilson does a fine job as Lynch. He’s the sort of guy you just want to punch in the throat. At one point, he says a video of a building actually being blown up looks just like Call of Duty, which is something a strawberry douche would say.

The action set pieces are absurdly awesome, as well. We’ve all seen the tank falling out of the sky via parachute in the preview, but how they get out of it is a site to behold.

Really, the best part of this movie, much like the Losers, is the characters just being goofy despite their lives being in constant danger. The real fun of this film is the endless string of great lines and the dynamic between the four main players. Even Quinton Jackson does a great job as Baracus, and well, I don’t expect much from MMA guys after the tragedy that was Universal Soldier: Regeneration.

Overall, this movie is worth the price of admission, but only if you approach it in the way it was intended. It is a comedy through and through. Although, unlike the original show, it does have a body count ...the 80’s were, of course more innocent times. Couple this with The Losers, and it's a recipe for a Cavalcade about people who just can’t take being shot at seriously.

Black Dynamite

I’m going to level with you guys:  Black Dynamite may, in fact, be the greatest movie ever made, and thus, the following review will not do it any sort of justice.  Much like The Matrix (1999), no one can be told what Black Dynamite is, you have to see it for yourself.

Directed and co-written by Scott SandersBlack Dynamite is a hilarious movie, and the parts that aren’t funny are totally badass...and the parts that aren’t badass, are even MORE BADASS.  Yeah, it's like that.  A send-up of the Blaxploitation films of the '70s, it could easily be compared to Keenan Ivory Wayans’ I’m Gonna Git You Sucka! (1988) .  But while Wayans’ film is also rooted in the Blaxploitation genre, it's really in the style of the Zucker Bros. parodies like Airplane! (1980) and The Naked Gun (1988)Black Dynamite on the other hand, turns Blaxploitation conventions and clichés up to 11, goes beyond mere parody, and in turn becomes the purest Blaxploitation film ever.

Michael Jai White stars as the titular Black Dynamite, the baddest mofo in the history of bad mofos.  When he isn’t running his nightclub, pimping hos, avenging his brother Jimmy’s death, protecting the weak, or simultaneously sexually satisfying three women at once; he does what he does best: TAKE IT TO THE MAN! This time, though, he's got his work cut out for him.  In under 90 minutes, Black Dynamite has to clean up the streets, exact bloody vengeance, protect a foxy female force for change in the community, thwart a government plot to shrink black mens’ pride and joy and, as mentioned above, stick it to The Man.  While it’s a good thing Black Dynamite also just happens to be “the greatest CIA agent the CIA ever had in the history of the CIA,” it's fortunate he'll also have some help from an assortment of a few of the goofiest of Black militants and baddass pimps (including Arsenio Hall and Bokeem Woodbine)!

The driving force behind the whole picture is Michael Jai White.  It was his vision and utter commitment to badassery that makes this film a sheer joy to watch.  You’ve loved him in such films as Spawn (1997)Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) , both The Toxic Avenger II (1989) and III (1989) , and The Dark Knight (2008) .  Can we all just agree that he’s the man already?  Or at the very least, can you all go out and watch the highly underrated Thick as Thieves (1998)?  It's also directed by Scott Sanders, and is the best low-budget crime flick I've seen that didn't have a "written by Elmore Leonard" credit. However, you should definitely check out Black Dynamite first...

...and do not interrupt his Kung Fu.

Kick-Ass

Movie adaptations of comic books are tricky. Things that work in comics do not always work in film, and vice versa.  As a result, changes need to be made appropriately.  Filmmakers have to weigh the value of faithfulness to the source against creating a stronger film.   Like Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen (2009)Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.’s Kick-Ass primary weakness as a film is how well it adapts the story from the comic book.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is an average American teen, mildly bored with life and reader of comic books.  Dave decides to make his life more meaningful by getting involved in his community, helping out at homeless shelters, joining extra-curricular programs at school, and working up the nerve to talk to girls.  Wait… no, that would be an appropriate response.  No, Dave goes the saner route of buying a SCUBA outfit, and fighting crime as the superhero, Kick-Ass.

Shockingly, on his first real patrol, Dave is stabbed and run over by a car.

After “months of healing” are over, Dave goes right back out and fights crime again-albeit more successfully-and is broadcast on YouTube.  Kick-Ass becomes a sensation, inspiring a father and daughter vigilante team to also don super-hero costumes as Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz) and Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage), who go on a mission to destroy local mob boss, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong)-enlisting Kick-Ass to help...with graphically violent results.

Like the original comic book, the film’s tone is uneven at best.  At varying points, the film is about the realities of trying to be a vigilante, dealing with high school awkardness, an epic revenge drama, a shoot ‘em up, a commentary on fame and mass media, a satire of super-hero films, a mob film, and an absurdist comedy.  While Vaughn’s strong visual sense makes the film a pleasure to watch, and the film is at no point boring, the constant shifting between various genres left the film with no real identity.  Which in Vaughn’s defense, is very faithful to the comic book.

Also faithful to the comic, Kick-Ass is actually the least interesting character.  At minimum, he needs to anchor the ludicrous story of Hit-Girl, Big Daddy, and Frank D’Amico.  In the comic book, Dave’s constant narration provides this anchor.  Unfortunately, in the film, he becomes lost in his own story, struggling to keep up with the other personalities on screen. This is not a shock considering the acting talent he's up against. Nicholas Cage, as always, delivers an interesting performance combining his normal insanity with more than a little nod to Adam West.  Mark Strong demonstrates that he possesses probably the best American accent in all of England.

Then there’s Chloe Moretz.

Moretz steals the show playing an 11-year-old, unstoppable engine of violence.  Her least disturbing aspect is her foul mouth.  Much, much worse is how she brutally dismembers at least thirty armed mob enforcers.  Granted, the audience won't feel bad for the guys getting killed, but when it’s a cute little girl, it’s at the very least...disconcerting.  The most amusing audience reaction to Hit-Girl was when someone finally managed to hit her.  Everyone was shocked and horrified that the little girl got kicked in the face.  You know, after she spent the better part of the film lopping people’s legs off and crushing them in hydraulic presses, I may be jaded.

Overall, Kick-Ass is an intriguing addition to the growing library of super-heroes on film.  It’s visually gripping, action-packed, and entertaining; and while it's not a “realistic” portrayal of what someone trying to be a super-hero in real life like Mark Millar said it would be, it does have a sweet jetpack. If nothing else, he doesn’t call the audience assholes at the end for reading his comics.

Army of Darkness

Third movies are tricky, even when filmmakers have a trilogy planned from the start.  As it stands, I have yet to see a third superhero film that was anything less than dreadful.  Spider-man III and X3 , I’m looking at you!

Unfortunately, it is no less difficult with the third film in a horror series (though oddly enough, the 4th is usually a better one in the series), and it’s usually after a great second film.  Most do not appreciated Saw IIIeveryone hates Child’s Play 3 (even the director), and need I even mention reactions to Halloween III?  So, when a filmmaker nails a third act as Sam Raimi does with Army of Darkness, it's worth noting.

By the beginning of AoD, Ashley J. Williams (Bruce Campbell) has already had a rough couple of days.  On the first day of his vacation, his sister, girlfriend and two other friends all become possessed by Kandarian demons who can only be stopped through total bodily dismemberment.  I’ve heard worse Spring Break stories.  After barely surviving that, he had to cut off his own hand, deal with more possessed people and summon the inner strength to become the baddest-ass force for good in horror film history

After “defeating” the evil in the present, Ash was sucked back in time to medieval England, which looks an awful lot like California.  Cavalcade Fun Fact: England, medieval or otherwise, has never had deserts!  Ash is tasked with defeating the Deadites, including an evil version of himself, in the past in order to return to the future.  It’s a good thing he had a chainsaw attached to his right arm and his trademark “Boomstick.”

One cannot undervalue the skill of Sam Raimi as a director.  After showing what he could do with a budget on Darkman , Raimi was able to command just a little bit more money to bring a “big” budget Evil Dead to the big screen.  All of Sam’s trademarks are present: “Sam-O-Cam,” “Ram-O-Cam,” excessive amounts of blood, and, of course, entirely too many Three Stooges references.  To be honest, AoD does suffer in comparison to the earlier films.  Where Evil Dead was “the ultimate experience in grueling terror,” and Evil Dead 2 is one of the greatest horror-comedies produced, AoD is really just a comedy.  Granted, a comedy with chainsaws, but still, the movie is not neither scary nor particularly gross.  This is not necessarily a complaint, but for those that enjoyed the horror elements of the previous two films, AoD could be viewed as quite a departure in tone.  However, this drawback is more than excused since it allowed an even bigger, crazier performance by our hero.

Despite his every effort, most of us recognize that Bruce Campbell is Ash.  Well, he would be if he were put in that situation…and exposed to gamma radiation.  More than any other role, Campbell is identified as Ash with no small part due to his performance in AoD.  Playing not only Ash, but also Evil Ash, Campbell makes almost every line of dialogue quotable with his trademark sarcasm and over-the-top awesomeness.

I highly recommend watching the first two Evil Deads so you can get the full effect of Campbell and Raimi’s development of the character and mythology, but AoD is one of those sequels that can truly stand on its own.  Which is impressive for any third act in a trilogy.

Dead Heat

How do you fight undead robbers?  With undead cops, of course!

Treat Williams plays L.A. police detective Roger Mortis (No, really, that’s his name) with partner Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo!) as they investigate why they can’t seem to kill the bad guys as effectively as they used to.  These investigations lead them to Dante Laboratories, which has developed a process for resurrecting the dead for twelve hours.  After a losing fight with the fattest zombie this side of Zombieland, Mortis is killed.  But, then brought back to life by his coroner ex-girlfriend (Clare Kirkconnell) and the most user-friendly resurrection machine ever.  Now, Mortis has twelve hours to solve the case and avenge his own death in a Hawaiian shirt.

Written by Terry Black , Shane’s brother, Dead Heat has a similar action/comedy feel to his brother's Lethal Weapon, but with zombies.  And such zombies they are!  The opening jewelry store heist features two punk zombie robbers wearing BDSM leather masks!  (Their safe word is “Braaaaaaiiiiinnnnnssssss.”)

But this is nothing compared to the undead hijinks that occur at a Chinese restaurant.  You know all the dead ducks that are hanging in the window?  Or the pigs?  Or the sides of beef?  Yeah.  Good times.  Wait, no, I mean gross times.  Very, very gross.  How do you kill zombie animals with no heads?

Throughout, Williams grounds the whole movie with the ability to take anything that is thrown at him seriously.  The man is not phased by anything.  This is a valuable skill when Joe Piscopo (with an 80s mullet) is delivering some of the best wise-ass remarks in the history of motion pictures.  Watching this film, it’s hard to understand why Piscopo did not fare better in Hollywood.  The man is a scream.  Especially during an exchange with Williams that shows the deep, profundity of cross-dressing jokes between two partners.  Police partners, I mean.  Heterosexual police partners, I mean.  You get the idea.

Added into the mix are performances by the always entertaining Vincent Price(!), Darren McGavin, Keye Luke , and Robert Picardo.  These appearances are almost cameos but they’re all memorable.

In fairness, the movie does play more like it was made for TV, as opposed to a big budget feature but I think this adds to its charm.  Similar to Creepshow .  Dead Heat is a great little horror flick to enjoy on a Saturday afternoon.

Toxic Avenger

The thing to understand is that I don’t like this movie because Toxie is from New Jersey.  No, I like this movie because I’m from New Jersey!

Poor Melvin Junko was a 98-pound, lowly janitor at the health club in Tromaville, NJ until a prank gone wrong exposed Melvin to toxic waste transforming him into a “hideously deformed creature of superhuman size and strength.”  I can barely type the words without getting excited.

The Toxic Avenger put Troma Entertainment and its founder, Lloyd Kaufman, on the map. And not without good reason.  The film is nonstop entertainment.  Kaufman and co-director Michael Herz waste no time bombarding the audience with over the top parodies of the early 80s fitness craze, drug abuse, and political corruption.  Hit and run driving, and mankind’s polluting Earth’s precious natural resources are also on display to round out the evil as well.

Then the Toxic Avenger is born.

Toxie’s mutation drives him to destroy evil wherever he senses it.  “I mash people,” Toxie explains to his hot, blind girlfriend, Sara. This is an understatement.  Through the course of the film, Toxie rips off limbs, deep fries body parts, impales and/or beats criminals to death.   All of which is presented in the typical Troma fashion: cheap and gory.

Two things separate The Toxic Avenger from most other Troma pictures : it's genuinely funny, and there is an actual story.  The performances of the evil health club members-Bozo, Slug, Julie and Wanda-are a scream.  They achieve a level of overacting that is downright hypnotic.  Bozo in particular, with his ‘roid-induced hysterics over finding any fat on his body, or when Melvin “screws up [his] karma.”

Also turning in a horribly over-the-top performance is Andree Maranda, as the blind girlfriend.  Think of every bad blind joke you’ve ever seen or heard.  Write them down in a list, and you can check everyone one of them off as the movie progresses.  They’re all here.

Mitch Cohen plays Toxie on the screen with his huge, muscular body, growling and dismembering everything he sees… in a pretty pink tutu.  The genius bit is that wonderfully erudite Kenneth Kessler is the voice of Toxie, creating a disconnect that was only topped when Tony Randall played Brain Gremlin in Gremlins 2: the New Batch.

One thing that was surprising was how much it follows the standard superhero formula:

  1. Melvin is a loser and is treated horribly.
  2. Gets superpowers
  3. Fights evil
  4. Gets the girl
  5. Wins over the whole of Tromaville, making it a better place to live.

Hell, you cut out the gore, sex, nudity, and drugs-and this is a perfect family movie! In fact, they did turn it into a cartoon.

But don’t worry, this is still, first-and-foremost, a Troma picture-so any good writing is squashed under bad acting, gory special effects, and heaping helpings of gratuitous female nudity.  If nothing else, there is a man on fire running full speed down a normal suburban street. You just don't see that every day of the week! Troma never fails to deliver on its promise of surreal-terrible-low budget-fun.

To sum up: I love this monster hero!