Friday, April 4, 2014

The Marsupials: The Howling III

Back in June last year I started a project, The Howling Series Retrospective Review.  I got exactly two films in before I got distracted by a shiny object or something.
However, I am a man who likes to finish what he starts (especially sandwiches) and I promised to review all of the films in the Howling series, so in the tradition of following through, here's the third installment.
-*Catch up with my reviews of Joe Dante's original Howling HERE and Part II HERE.
The third part of the Howling series is titled The Marsupials: The Howling III (1987) and yes, that is how the title is displayed onscreen.  The movie mainly takes place in Australia and has no relation to the previous two films.  The only connection to the previous sequel, Howling II…Your Sister is a Werewolf (1986), is sharing the same director, Philippe Mora.

Howling II is what I would call a "fun-bad" movie sequel; cheesy and not very good, but entertaining in its ridiculousness.  Part III here is more of a "weird-bad" sequel, watchable only because every fifteen minutes or so something really strange would happen, some of these things being incredibly strange.

The plot of Howling III is difficult to explain, as the movie itself has a hard time presenting it straightforwardly.  The structure and editing doesn't make any sense, sometimes bordering on illogical, as scenes just seem to smash up against one another with characters quickly and clumsily introduced.  This is a movie with plenty of different elements, but it fails in successfully bringing them together.  What I'm getting at is, this is a bad movie.
The elements at work within Howling III include and involve an anthropologist who is tracking evidence of werewolves in Australia, a young werewoman who runs away from her colony/family, her brief participation in the movie industry, werewolves dressed as nuns, the birth of a were-marsupa-baby, werewolves being hunted by the military and experimented on by doctors, a werewolf ballerina, plenty of werewolf transformations, and at least one explosion.

Like I said, there are a lot of elements at work here making it difficult to explain or supply any clarity.
Instead, let's just go over some of the highlights:
The young werewoman, Jeroba (Imogen Annesley), runs away from her colony of reclusive werepeople and her abusive father Thylo (Max Fairchild, bit player in both Mad Max [1979] and The Road Warrior [1981]) and hits the city where she is picked up by this doofus guy Donny who works as an AD on a horror movie called "Shape Shifters - Part 8," as his generic white tee proudly declares on both front and back.
 Jeroba is immediately cast in the movie, which is directed by this guy doing his best Hitchcock impersonation, both visually and vocally:
Ha ha.  Get it?  He's the director and he vaguely resembles another famous director.  Ha ha.

*note: this actor is Frank Thring and he played Pontius Pilate in Ben Hur (1959), which is fairly respectable, but probably just as much so as his role as the gatekeeper to Bartertown in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

With this movie subplot we get some movie-within-the-movie action, specifically when Donny takes Jeroba to see a film called "It Came from Uranus."

Strange as it may seem, this isn't even the craziest thing in this movie.  Also, say what you will, but these goofy special effects are better than pretty much anything that was featured in Howling II.

Slightly crazier:  while Jeroba is in the city she's being tracked down by three members of her colony who, for reasons I'm fairly sure are left unexplained, are dressed as nuns.
The werenuns get into the Shape Shifters wrap party (because it's a costume party, of course) causing a little bit of comedy (or what passes for comedy in a movie like this) but they eventually find Jeroba at the hospital where she was recovering from a (offscreen) car accident.   They take her back to their colony and, not long after, she gives birth to a werebaby (Donny is the father) in what may be Howling III's craziest scene.

The birthing sequence really is something to see, and I'm fairly sure that Howling III is the only place you can see a woman birth a small baby creature that then crawls up her stomach and into her pouch.  Behold:

Apparently the filmmakers put a werewolf fetus suit on a small mouse to achieve this effect.  They also had to sedate the mouse and use some backwards photography.  It kinda reminds me of a maggot with a face, which is a horrifying thought.

Later the little guy grows into this little abomination:
Even worse, later on he looks like this:

Oh, and I forgot.  Before Jeroba has the baby, she has a classic-horror-movie-nightmare where a monster bursts through her stomach, Alien-style, and her and Donny freak out and overact.

After Jeroba escapes the hospital, Prof. Beckmeyer (Barry Otto), the anthropologist on the hunt for werewolves, fears he might have lost his chance at studying one, so he goes to see a ballet practice (as anthropologists are known to do).

It is here that Beckmeyer witnesses, by what seems to be complete randomness and coincidence, the lead ballerina, Olga, turn into a werewolf onstage and attack her dance partner.

Well, it's less of an attack and more just a case of the other dancer jumping into her open mouth.

After this, Beckmeyer uses Olga to get to the colony of werewolves, which, oh yeah, is named "Flow," which, in a bit that is not unlike that part in Troll 2 (1990), is "wolf" spelled backwards.  The military then raid the colony and take most of everyone prisoner, except Jeroba and Donny who escape into the mountains.

They perform some experiments on the werewolves, there's some crazy negative video effects like it's a Rob Zombie video, etc., but then Beckmeyer falls in love with Olga and grows sympathetic towards the wolfpeople, so he helps her and Thylo escape.
The military come after them, along with what appears to be a hunting posse, but Thylo and this other werewolf, Kendi, kill all of them, both dying in the process.

Thylo, it should be mentioned, goes out with an explosion, sticking his big wolfsnout into a soldier's tent and getting a face full of rocket launcher.

This giant head might resemble that of a pig, and that's because, more or less, that's what it was.  It's a recycled prop from the film Razorback (1984), which featured a massive wild boar terrorizing the outback.
After the climax of Thylo blowing up (which, yeah, turns out to be the climax of the film's action), the movie sputters along for another 10 minutes or so.  Jeroba, Donny, and their baby are safe, as are Beckmeyer and Olga.  They all live in the outback for awhile.  Olga has a baby.

Then Jeroba and Danny take off for the city, where they change their names and start new lives in the movie industry.  Sometime after that Beckmeyer and family move back to the city (like I said, it sputters).
The movie ends with various characters sitting around televisions watching a movie awards show presentation where Jeroba (now going by the name Loretta Kass) wins an award for Best Actress.

The award is presented to her by Dame Edna.

All of the flashing lights make Jeroba turn into a werewolf and she crushes her award in front of everyone. And that's how the movie ends.

I guess it's a callback to how the original Howling ends with Dee Wallace turning into a werewolf during a televised newscast, but where that was clever and felt like the right ending, this ending for Howling III feels forced, more than a little silly, and maybe a touch sad, as in, "this is sad that this is the ending they came up with."
Like I said, The Marsupials: The Howling III is a a weird-bad movie sequel.  Not much makes sense, the least of which is that the film ends with a screen that says "adios amigos."
Director Philippe Mora has said in interviews that the movie was intended as a comedy, one with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and while that might be evident, it doesn't actually seem to work in the movie's favor and it also doesn't mean that any of it is funny.

Yeah I don't know, man.  I can't say I would recommend this to anyone.  This is a "completists only" type of movie.

The special effects are marginally better than the previous film, definitely more unique.  Like I said, that birthing scene is worth checking out, maybe, if you're into that kind of thing.  I guess the best thing to be said about Howling III is that it's an interesting mess of a movie.  Check out this trailer and you get the idea:

This would be the last Howling film to see a theatrical release.  After this, it's all direct-to-video (even though, honestly, these first two sequels already felt and looked like DTV horror sequels and I'm surprised to find that they both actually saw release in theaters).
Thylo agrees.
Donny, too busy being a stud to care.
The credits say this is based on Gary Brandner's 1985 novel, "Howling III," but it bears no similarities to his book, other than being about werewolves.

And one last thing:  apparently Nicole Kidman was up for the lead role of Jeroba but the director went with Imogen Annesley instead, deeming Kidman to not be "werewolf" enough for the picture, which is a shame, as that award show ending would've made for a great internet meme years later if Kidman was in it.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Trailer Park Tuesdays - Under the Skin

Hey it's Trailer Park Tuesdays, reopened and back in business (that business being sharing and talking about movie trailers for upcoming releases that are [possibly] flying under your radar).  Welcome.

Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin is a dark, erotic, sci-fi thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as an alien who is seducing and luring men to her home for mysterious purposes.  That's really all you need to know, but I'll go ahead and throw in that it's based on the book of the same name by Michael Faber.

This is Glazer's first film in ten years.  His previous two, Sexy Beast (2000) and Birth (2004), are both really good, great even, so a new film from him automatically gets my attention.  Add in the erotic sci-fi alien Johansson and my attention has been doubled.

Below is the first full trailer for Under the Skin.
It's light on plot and heavy on the visuals, and those visuals are heavy.


I like the way this looks.  The invoking of Kubrick's name in the pull-quotes is something I could do without, but whatever.  I'm surprised they didn't go for a twofer and mention David Lynch (that shot of the trees!).

I've read that festival audiences have been divided on the film, but that seems to be the case with Glazer's movies.
He aims for cult/niche, making films for specific audiences, rather than wide, mass appeal.  Well, this appeals to me and I'll be in the audience.

Under the Skin opens up April 6th, hopefully in a city near you.

Here's the theatrical poster:
Jonathan Glazer is also known for his music videos, which you have probably seen and love, like this one, this one, and this one.  Check them links!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Top 15 Films of 2013

Most people have already posted or compiled their Top Movies of 2013 Lists long ago, but I'm just getting around to it today.  This is due to two reasons:  1) I am lazy.  2) The Oscars are on tonight (or more accurately, on right now), so it seemed appropriate.

There are still some 2013 releases I have yet to see;  Her, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Inside Llewyn DavisDallas Buyers Club, Captain Phillips, and others, but out of the forty or so movies I did see from 2013, these fifteen were my favorites.  Enjoy.

TOP 15 FILMS OF 2013

The Act of Killing
An amazing film.  A powerful and important film, one that has stuck with me since first seeing it a couple months ago.  Not nearly as difficult a movie to watch as its subject matter would suggest (Indonesian genocide of the mid-'60s), it is a fascinating viewing experience, as the men who led the death squads tell their stories and reminisce about carrying out these mass killings, even reenacting some of the events.  It's an amazing piece of cinematic work, one that is as haunting and hallucinatory as it is insightful and revelatory, as the transformative power of cinema itself forces some of these men to face the realities of their actions for the first time.  Truly amazing, quite possibly the best documentary I have ever seen and my pick for best film of the year.

The Wolf of Wall Street
Excessively excessive in its depiction of excess, it is also excessively funny, featuring some of the best physical comedy I've seen in decades.  DiCaprio is amazing, doing things in this movie I've never seen him do (his "rally the troops" speech?  Oh, man!).  The 70+ year old Scorsese, along with his 70+ year old editor Thelma Schoonmaker, have made a film more energetic and entertaining than contemporaries half their age.  Goodfellas is a film that has gangsters who act like businessmen and The Wolf of Wall Street has businessmen who act like gangsters.  The films are great compliments to each other.  The fact that Scorsese is still making films of this caliber is something we should all pause and be thankful for.
The most fun I had in the theater all year.  The IMAX 3D was amazing, but so was the movie itself.  Thrilling and tense, excellently filmed with long takes that upped the suspense.  Why can't more modern blockbusters be this innovative and exciting?
A fantastic piece of cinema, the first English language film from Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) and he loses none of his artistic sensibilities in doing so (in other words, he's not pulling a John Woo).  Great cast (Kidman, Goode, Wasikowska, Weaver) with an involving, mysterious story of familial relations, the look and the style of the film (the editing and cinematography) are top notch.  I loved it.  
Yeah, this Matthew McConaughy guy is pretty good.  Like I mentioned, I haven't seen Dallas Buyers Club, but this movie seems to be under-talked about.  The depiction of Southern living seems spot on, and the two kids, Ellis and Neckbone, that befriend Mud (McConaughy) are both great, not to mention Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard, and Joe Don Baker(!).  From the director of Take Shelter, this Southern-tinged noir-ish mystery deserves more attention.  Seek it out.
Bonus points for usage of old Fugazi t-shirt
Pacific Rim
Hey, I like big spectacle movies too, and this was favorite of the big summer blockbuster movies this year.  Guillermo Del Toro is a master world builder and everything in this movie feels authentic and real, even the giant jaegers and kaiju (man-controlled robots and giant monsters, for those who aren't hip).  The Hong Kong throwdown is one of my favorite action sequences of the year.
Only God Forgives
Those people that found Drive to be obtuse and light on plot would most likely be filled with unshakable rage upon viewing this one.  Not conventional or narrative driven, this is a pure artistic statement from director Nicolas Winding Refn, cinema at its most visual and aural (i.e. nothing is made easy for the viewer).  The neon color palette is amazing and immersive, as is the composition of every frame and every shot.  The film is mesmerizing, perfectly complimented by the Cliff Martinez soundtrack.
All is Lost
Quite impressive.  Robert Redford is out sailing in foreign waters and his boat gets a hole in it.  Things get worse from there.  An almost completely silent performance by Redford, his character just gets done what needs to be done.  This is an example for pure cinema and visual storytelling, with some real nail-biting suspense scenes.  Also, there is a great score and sound design, and an ending that is satisfying no matter your interpretation.  This is one I suggest you don't skip over.
This is the End
The funniest pure comedy of the year (Wolf of Wall Street might be funnier, but I wouldn't call its comedy pure), this was an unexpected delight.  Big concept comedy, with funny sequence after funny sequence, it all works because of the cast; Franco, Rogen, Hill, Baruchel, Robinson, and Danny Mc(FUCKING)Bride, who is so badass he gets not one, but two entrances set to theme music.  Two other highlights: coked-out pussyhound Michael Cera and the insane Rosemary's Baby homage.  Comedy is subjective, but I laughed real hard at this one.
You're Next
Not a reinvention of the horror-wheel, but a solid home invasion horror thriller that offers some great set pieces and solid characters, the best of which is amazing final girl Erin (Sharni Vinson).  Featuring a murders row of current hot indie talent (Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen, Ti West), along with a fantastic Barbara Crampton, this is a horror hit that will only gain more of an audience as the years go by.
Blue Jasmine
Another solid movie from Woody Allen, this is an actors showcase, not only Cate Blanchett, who is phenomenal, but also Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay (who kills it), Louis CK, and Alec Baldwin.  I loved the construction of the story, not difficult to follow, but it makes you actively participate in paying attention.  Good stuff.
Furious 6
I caught up with all of the Fast and Furious movies last year and was surprised by how much I liked them all.  This installment might just be my favorite.  The action takes on near superheroic type qualities (lots of flying) and the stunt work is amazing.  The bridge scene with the tank is a crowd pleaser.
Stunning black and white midwestern photography and Bruce Dern.  BRUCE DERN!
Spring Breakers
Not the kind of movie I would have ever imagined Harmony Korine would make, but it feels exactly like the kind of movie Harmony Korine would make, you know?  Love the neon soaked atmosphere, at times it's almost suffocating.  James Franco's "look at my shit" speech is a highlight, of this movie or any other this year.
Man of Tai Chi
Underrated directorial debut from Keanu Reeves, some great fighting tournament action and a good story (starring Tiger Chen), not to mention stellar fight choreography from master Yuen Woo-ping.  Reeves' performance as the villain is maybe a bit over the top (at least when he does "angry face"), but the tight little movie he delivers (which is mostly in Mandarin-Cantonese, bytheway) more than makes up for it.
the next ten:
-The Conjuring
-Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear
-Thor: The Dark World
-West of Memphis
-Iron Man Three
-Fruitvale Station
-John Dies at the End
-The Spectacular Now
-A Band Called Death

and. . .
Biggest Letdowns of the Year:  Man of Steel and Star Trek into Darkness.  I'm not even a huge fan of these characters or franchises and I still couldn't help but be woefully underwhelmed by these entries.  The very dour Man of Steel was a CGI mess and Star Trek was just boring.

The Worst Movies I Made the Mistake of Watching:
-G.I. Joe: Retaliation - Utter piece of shit.  I came up with better storylines back when I played with GI Joes.

-Oblivion - Half-baked and under-served dumb sci-fi movie masquerading as smart sci-fi.  From the Tron: Legacy guy and starring Tom Cruise, which should tell you everything you need to know.

-Now You See Me - Forehead slappingly dumb.  Why did I expect more from a magician/heist movie?

-World War Z - A victim of massive mid-shooting rewrites, this one clunks along until it ends unspectacularly.  The "wave of zombies" is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen in a zombie movie (zombie movie fans should understand the weight of that statement).

-OZ, the Great and Powerful - Wow, I watched this?  I hardly remember it, but I do remember thinking James Franco was definitely miscast and. . , uh, wow. . I really don't remember this one at all.  Spectacularly unmemorable.

-The Lone Ranger - Okay, yes, this is not a good movie, but I do have to give it recognition for being the only Disney movie (that I can think of) that features a cannibal in it.  Also, that final action sequence scored to the 'William Tell Overture' is actually a decent piece of action filmmaking.  Too bad it came at the end of this movie...

-Side Effects - I'm disappointed that I actively disliked this, as I generally like (or love) Steven Soderbergh movies a lot, but something about this one just bored and annoyed me.  Maybe it was me, but I doubt it.

Well, there you go.  What do you think?
Agree?  Disagree?  What were your favorites of 2013?