Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

We should applaud filmmakers for successfully stepping outside of their comfort zone genre-wise.  Genre-hopping has created such memorable films as Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill (2003) (yes, he had done violent movies before but, no, this did not necessarily mean he could pull off a kung fu epic) and Martin Scorcese’s Last Temptation of Christ (1988).  However, we should just as enthusiastically condemn directors who should know better than to mess with what works: Barry Levinson’s Sphere (1998), Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack (1996) (you remember, the uplifting comedy about progeria), and any time Kevin Smith decides to make a movie not specifically about New Jersey wiseasses.  So when I heard that one of Brian De Palma’s earliest films was a musical, the film critic in me proceeded with caution while the Schlock-Lover ran head-first, squealing manically into Phantom of the Paradise.

Singer Phoenix (Jessica Harper) has a simple dream: to become a famous singer. Song-writer Winslow Leach (William Finley) has a moderately simple dream: to write an epic cantata based on Christopher Marlowe’s Faust that will make him the belle of the NPR Ball.  Music producer extraordinaire Swan (Paul “I wrote ‘Rainbow Connection’” Williams) has a complicated dream: TO RULE OVER ALL OF POPULAR MUSIC WITH AN IRON FIST OF SPITE! When Swan hears Winslow’s cantata, he knows he’s got a hit on his hands.  The only thing standing in his way is Winslow.  So Swan does the only rational thing and sets into motion a series of events that leave Winslow a hideously disfigured, metal-mouthed creature that is hellbent on revenge!  And how best to get sweet, sweet revenge? By destroying Swan’s latest creation: a rock ‘n roll Xanadu called “The Paradise.”

Brian De Palma’s musical entry has to be seen to be believed.  It is a metatextual action/thriller/romance/revenge drama/horror/musical.  Granted, it is not a straight musical; no one bursts into song.  There just seem to be convenient reasons for characters to be performing songs that happen to speak to exactly what they are feeling at any given moment.  Mercifully, all of the songs are catchy since Paul Williams wrote them and all the performers can actually sing.  And you are going to need the soothing touchstone of musical to ground you through a film that switches its tone more often than a Frank Zappa concert.

Stylistically, the film bounces around references to earlier horror films like The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Psycho (1960), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), Touch of Evil (1958), and the oeuvre of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funnicello.  I am not going to say that the lack of narrative clarity does not hurt the film.  I am going to ask how much that could possibly hurt your enjoyment of a film with a screechy, flamingly homosexual glam rocker named “Beef” (Gerrit Graham).  "Beef," people, "Beef!"

Bizarre musical productions, awkward romances between mismatched weirdos, and a surprising amount of violence and gore, maybe Phantom of the Paradise was a better indicator of Brian De Palma’s career than thought…

Nude Nuns with Big Guns

Before we begin, A statement: I both owe Joseph Guzman a debt of gratitude...and a punch in the groin.

While surfing around the interconnected web we call the internet, I stumbled across two things. One: The Cavalcade of Schlock website I'd left in other hands when I moved to New Mexico was now in such a state of disuse, it had actually gone offline for over a week and nobody noticed-and Two: I saw a low-budget sexploitation revenge flick called "Nude Nuns with Big Guns" on Netflix. When a higher power sends a notice as powerful as this, I get the message. After having seen NNWBG, I had to bring the Cavalcade website back, just to talk about it. So for that, Mr. Guzman, I thank you.

Before we get into the details, I'll go ahead and get this out of the way: Yes. The nuns are nude (as are every one of the other 23 women in the picture save three). Yes, two of them do in fact wield guns of the "big" variety. If there's one thing the film gets right, it's truth in advertising. Now to the story, such as there is:

Sister Sarah (Asun Ortega) embarks on a holy path of bloody vengeance (while nude) after being forced into the drug trade (while nude) and prostitution (while nude). Along the way, she rescues another nun (Aycil Yeltan who is also nude), who also happens to be her lover. Along the way she runs afoul of the ultra-rapey biker gang hired to provide muscle for the entire operation.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then Robert Rodriguez should be blushing like a school girl. It's as if the director of this picture watched the Mariachi series and said to himself, "You know what these films are missing? Rape. Lots of rape. I can fix that!" and proceeded to do so-only without the kinetic energy, style, or story-telling ability. We've got all the Rodriguez Mariachi tropes on display, down to the gun in the guitar case. Now, I'm not against a good homage here and there, especially considering that much of what Rodriguez does is a tribute to the Grindhouse films of the 70's (like, say...Grindhouse), but he throws in a fun twist here and there. Not so here.

Complaining about misogyny in a sexploitation flick is like jumping in a pool and complaining it's damp, but there are limits. Limits to which this film barrels straight past and then decides, "you know what? Watching this dude rape a woman for five minutes was so much fun the first time, let's do it again, only this time let's have him rape a nun for four minutes of screen time!" The worst bit about this is that there is so much rape in the picture that it has its own musical motif on the soundtrack...which is a ripoff of Cherry Darling's theme from Planet Terror, a movie who's primary theme was one of female empowerment. I am focusing on the rape because a good sexploitation flick (or even nunsploitation-it's a thing, really it is) manages to somehow both exploit the female form while empowering it (see any 70's picture with Pam Grier). Here, the only strong female is Sister Sarah, and even she spends most of the picture being victimized. Not only that, her Mission from God is mostly explained away as insanity brought on by overdose, so the script even undercuts her.

All told, this movie managed to disappoint on all levels. It had sex without excitement, violence without energy, and plodded along miserably from point to point. If you really want to screen this, I'd recommend large doses of tequila and pairing it up with I Spit on Your Grave or Evil Breed: Legend of Samhain for one hell of a miserable evening.

Taken

Liam Neeson will come to your country and kill EVERYONE.

Well, okay, he need's a little provocation first.

Neeson plays ex-CIA Super-Ninja Brian Mills. Mills retired to be closer to his teenage daughter, Kim (the 26-year-old Maggie Grace) who lives in Los Angeles with her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen), who married some rich scumbag named Stuart (Xander Berkley, who's made a whole career out of playing these sorts) who can get Mills' daughter a pony, but is fairly useless when it comes to anything outside of being a rich guy.

Lenore is the classic movie ex-wife stereotype: bitchy, unforgiving, uninformed and hypocritical. All the trouble begins when she bullies Mills into signing some sort of release to let their, go on a trip to Paris. He signs off on this whole Paris trip only to find out, too late, that his daughter is actually going to follow U2 on tour.

U2 is an Irish band, and-well-Jesus, what good have the Irish done? I mean, aside from giving us good beer, music, culture, and Liam Neeson?

Mills waves goodbye at the airport, then worries and worries about her. He keeps calling her cell, only to find every parent's worst nightmare realized: hearing her on the phone as she's about to carted off by smarmy foreign slave traders.

Without Neeson, this movie would be total crap. But when he decides it's time to turn it up to 11 , by GOD-does he ever. Mills is a one-man wrecking crew, tearing Paris apart brick-by-brick. He will shoot, beat, chase, or (only as a last resort) even pay anyone to get his daughter back.

At it's core, this is a combination flag-waving "go America!" propaganda film, with a little parental revenge fantasy thrown in for spice. If you look closely, you realize that Mills was an absentee father, and is making up for in spades by killing at least four different members of varying ethnic groups to get his kid back. Unfortunately, there's a dour quality to the whole affair, and while Neeson can sell anything-here he's selling a stone cold killer who will kill people all kinds of dead in all kinds of ways. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

One last note: why is it a Hollywood convention to have very corpulent men always require two or three girls to sleep with? I mean, it's not like these guys are word-class lovers. Or else they'd be thinner, right?

Pair this off with another movie in need of a good ribbing, like the dreadfully self-serious Fast & Furious , and you could have fun mocking all the furrowed eyebrows and growled line delivery. Otherwise, you can go all revenge happy with any of the Death Wish series.