Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More Troubles for Netflix

Netflix went from a company of ease to a company of disease in relatively short time this summer.  First there was a price hike that was arrogant in launching and really only served to drive people away.  And then there was Qwikster.

For those who haven't heard, Netflix, in the upcoming weeks, will only stream movies.  Qwikster will be responsible for shipping DVDs and video games (which I suppose is the hitch that everyone is waiting for -- though quite honestly if it wanted to attract consumers it would also offer porn).  Customers will have two separate bills and two separate queues to monitor.  While Qwikster has yet to launch, I can't imagine this being easier for the customer to use.  General comments online find people stating they will go to Blockbuster instead.  How bad must a situation be that Blockbuster is seen as a solution?  Bad.

I avoided Netflix for years.  I would get films at my local video store, Video Experience here in Eureka, California.  When that store closed, I turned to Netflix because I didn't like what I was left with here in town.  I started streaming once I bought a Wii.  The price hike came about a year later, and I decided to stick with the company.  It's not like I could get The Sinful Dwarf in town.  And more obscure foreign flicks?  Forget it.  There are a lot of cinemaphiles in Eureka, but few make the local video rental shack their first choice.

With the announcement of Qwikster, I'm left wondering how viable it will be.  Will it cost even more?  Will the selection be as good?  How easy will it be to navigate and switch over queues?  Instead of a knee jerk reaction, I'm willing to try it out before being relegated to the shitty selection of Eureka's "finest."  (In all honesty, if I don't get DVDs from Qwikster I'll probably end up buying what films I want to watch and then selling them if I don't want to keep them.)  Do I think Qwikster is a good idea?  Most certainly not.  I am troubled by the split as there seems to be no reason for it ... unless one wants more money.  If there is a price hike with this company, too, it will spell doom for it.  It makes no real sense that I can see unless it is all about another price hike with one company (the new one) set up to feel the wrath of angry subscribers.

The next few weeks will be interesting.  I wonder what else is in store ...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Little Evil Man -- The Sinful Dwarf

There are about 8 things wrong with this picture.
1973.  Denmark unleashed one of the strangest, most unnerving films of all time onto an unsuspecting public.  The Sinful Dwarf.  The film stars Torben Billie, a reported one-time host of a children's television show, as Olaf, a cane-carrying, snarling, evil little man who lives with his mother in a boarding house.

Olaf's mother is Lila Lash (Clara Keller), a one time singer of some sort of stage show.  She sports a horrible scar on her face that makes it look like someone tried to turn her into the Joker, but stopped at the first cheek.  She implies that the scar, which looks like a knife wound, came from a fire.  I believe Olaf was behind it.

Olaf and Lila run a boarding house.  When the film opens they rent out a room to a young, struggling couple.  What this couple doesn't know is that Olaf has a secret in the attic.  In a small room is a dungeon of sorts where abducted young women are injected with heroin and then pimped out by Olaf and his lovely mother.  They both have eyes on the new wife in the building, too, so you imagine things won't end well for her.

The film opens with a young lady whom I presume is suppose to be a young girl.  She's setting up a hopscotch layout on the sidewalk, hair in pigtails.  A close-up of her face puts her at 20 or so, but all her actions say she's about 12 years of age.  As she's hopping around, a dwarf with a horrible limp and a cane approaches her and puts a toy dog on the ground.  The girl thinks this is the bee's knees and follows Olaf to his boarding house.  "I have more toys upstairs!" Olaf growls.  She follows him into the attic(!), where he knocks her out with his cane.  The next time we see her she'll be naked and drugged up.

Okay, I'm far from the "blame the victim" type, but if you follow a creepy dwarf to his attic and the only thing he's said to you is that he has more toys upstairs, and that upstairs turns out to be an attic -- you can't be surprised by what comes next.  What good has ever come out of something like this?  And that is another reason I believe this girl is supposed to be far younger than she looks, which makes everything creepier.

Olaf in a saner, non-raping moment.
Lila has her own brand of creepiness, too.  Besides being a drunk, she has an equally alcoholic female friend who comes over who Lila often sings for after a few drinks.  The first song routine, which will stick in your head like the dance scene in Calvaire features Lila in full-costume, green eye shadow and what looks like green lipstick all over her scar.  A vision that only a dwarf could love.

There are numerous other moments of sheer madness.  The opening credits feature music that sounds like it belongs on Massacre's Killing Time release, and one scene of utter cruelty features Olaf raping the bride ... with the handle of his cane.  Observe that while the cane is violating the young woman, Olaf gives it a little twist.

There is a lot about this film that feels wrong.  Some of the johns who come into the dungeon to have sex with the women are shown fully naked, romping around.  While others you never get to even see their faces.  Then there's Torben.  I've never seen this man in anything else, but the way he plays this role makes me think he didn't have to dig very deep to bring it out.  (I can see interviews with other actors, all of them saying the same thing.  "Oh, he was dedicated.  He was in character the entire time.")  This and more gives the whole film this odd feeling that it is real.  (One moment that defies explanation, but still feels right, is when a cop and the captured bride's husband find her in the dungeon.  They have Lila with her, and the cop asks the husband, "Do you know how to fire a gun?"  The husband answers that he does, and the cop hands him his weapon and leaves the room.  There is little doubt as to what he wants the husband to do.)

The Sinful Dwarf is a brilliant film insomuch as it is so wonderfully wrong.  Abducted women forced into heroin addiction and pimped out.  A drug dealer named Santa.  A rape by cane.  Voyeurism.  Implied pedophilia.  A soundtrack that seems like it came from four different movies.  Forced cunnilingus. And the feeling that this movie isn't that far removed from reality.  Try saying that about the Saw franchise.  You can't.  It has, despite that brilliance, kind of dropped from the radar.  Let's face it, not many of today's critics have seen it, let along reference it.  (Can you see Ebert, in his review of Eat Pray Love saying, "This film would've benefited greatly by an appearance from Olaf and his cane."  It just doesn't happen.)  That's a shame, too, as this film is nothing but a lesson in effective filmmaking.

One final thought.  Torben, as he is simply billed in the film, died in 1993.  How he died, I do not know.  What I'm curious about, however, is what they found in his apartment/house/trailer/shack.  Were there adult toys?  Disturbing Polaroids of underage girls?  That cane?  How far removed from Olaf was Torben Billie?  Where did the role stop and the man begin?  I'll probably never know the answer to that, and because that is the case, he will always be Olaf to me.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I was not given this film to review, and if you click on a link I may earn a commission.  A bit of advice to all the ladies, too: If a dwarf tries to lure you into his attic with a toy dog, do your best not to follow him.  Unless, of course, you like free heroin and sex with strange looking foreigners.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dripping Fun: The Incredible Melting Man

If there is one word that can be used to describe the 1977 film The Incredible Melting Man it is: drippy.  I think it's the only film where that word can be used accurately.  Thanks to special effects wizard Rick Baker, that's about the only thing I can remember about the film.  Well, that and the fact that the actor who played the melting man (Alex Rebar) did a lot of walking.

I looked up the plot online because I hadn't seen this thing in years, and I didn't trust my memory of it.  What little I could recall is actually pretty close to the film's plot.  Rebar plays Steve West, who returns to Earth after being exposed to radiation during a space flight to Saturn.  As we all know from things like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, melting slowly is exactly what happens when exposed to radiation.  To survive, West must eat human flesh, which means he has to kill people, too.  Again, the radiation exposure does cause cannibalism.  That's why a lot of people stay out of Nevada.  I believe it's also the only movie to feature its main character being swept up into a garbage can at the film's conclusion.  No, Troma is not responsible for this.

I do remember liking this as a kid.  Our local UHF channel out of Philadelphia (one of two that I remember) played it quite a bit.  I wasn't freaked out by it, and nor did I have nightmares.  My enjoyment of it apparently wasn't marred by the numerous bad reviews the film received.  Many declared it one of the worst horror movies of all time.  That may be true, but how many other horror films dealt with the serious effects of radiation exposure in such a realistic way?  Exactly.  (And yes, I am being sarcastic.)

I'm half tempted to seek out a copy of this film to see how I respond to it now that I'm older and have seen Man Made, a film I declared on Film Threat to be the worst film I had ever seen.  (You can read my review here. As proof of its sheer suckiness [not a real word], I left my copy of it outside a store I worked at.  Nobody took it.  Not even overnight.  You could leave a used condom out there and someone would take it.)  I fear that in doing so, however, I will only curse myself for wasting my time.  I love film.  I do not love it enough, though, to waste my time with movies I know will be time-wasters.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link could earn me some cash, yo!  Obviously, I haven't seen this in quite some time, too.

Vice Squad Motherfuckers

If there is one sentence that should make you want to see the 1982 film Vice Squad it is this one: Wings Hauser plays a pimp named Ramrod.  Oh, he sings the opening song, "Neon Slime," too.

Vice Squad is a bit of a brutal film that centers around the Los Angeles hooker named Princess (Season Hubley) after she helps the police catch Ramrod, who murdered one of Princess' peers.

If there was any doubt that Ramrod was a bit of a nutter, just watch what he does to Princess when the vice squad break in to arrest him.  He uses her head to head butt a cop, beats her with a chair and so on.  He is not a nice guy.

If Ramrod's arrest went according to plan, it would be a short movie.  He's a resourceful guy, however, and after being put into an undercover vehicle he kicks a cop's head through a window, causes the car to crash and makes his escape.  After a few choice visits to various places (including one to a leather daddy gay bar), Ramrod is packing heat and looking to make good on his promise to kill Princess. 

More violent than an episode of T.J. Hooker, which started the same year, the film is also less technically savvy.  Take the marriage to the corpse scene.  Anyone who has seen the film remembers this scene.  As Ramrod is hunting Princess, she is in a bridal dress ready for a night of kinky sex.  As she enters a candlelit room the observant viewer will plainly see a camerman holding a camera to the right of the screen.  It happens pretty quickly, but it is disarming.

Of course, there is no real way to compare this to Shatner's television show.  This is a gritty crime movie, where characters actually curse and cops tend to be as nearly as psychotic as the madmen they are chasing.  Ramrod is, however, far worse than those who chase him. 

The film may seem a bit dated by today's standards.  If the film were remade it would be far too stylized and self-aware to be as enjoyable as the original.  There's a reason this film is remembered so fondly ... and it's not Hauser's singing.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: Clicking on a link can earn me some cash.  I was not given this film to review.

The Debt

The Debt has gotten mixed reviews, and rightly so.  While it is a solid film, it is not perfect, but it is "enjoyable," if such a term could be used for a film that centers around the abduction of a Nazi war criminal (delightfully portrayed by Jesper Christensen) and the eventual aftermath of his capture.  As one elderly coupled said at the film's conclusion, "That was depressing." 

I went into the film with zero expectations.  I enjoy a good thriller, and on that front I can't complain.  I also enjoy a movie that presents a moral dilemma, which this does.  Unfortunately, I have not not seen the original version that this film was based on (which came out in 2007), as it was never released theatrically here, and I missed it on Sundance.  Because of that, I can't comment on whether or not the original source material worked better, but I can say with some certainity that this one could've used some tweaking.

The cast worked well, with standout Christensen playing a Nazi Hannibal Lecter without the ham Hopkins brought to that role.  Helen Mirren was as good as expected, too.  There is also plenty of character backstory to go around, some of which seemed like it would only help the movie if it were more deeply explored.  We get mentions of car bombs and extra-marital affairs, which do well to flesh out the characters, but I wanted to know more.  And then there is the problem of the split timeline.

Normally this disjointed type of narrative offers a unique way of telling a film.  Sometimes it can be confusing, though that's not the problem here.  The hazards that come with this film's split timeline is that the section which deals with the mission of three Mossad operatives trying to capture a Nazi war criminal plays much better than the storyline that deals with the problems of their actions.  Both stories should've been equally compelling, and if they couldn't be, the movie should've focused only on one.  Because so much screen time was given to the original mission (as it should've been because this is where most of the action takes place), we don't get the same sense of importance when we are returned to the movie's present day.

The Debt is still a solid thriller that asks some important questions about lying and taking responsibility for one's actions.  It also doesn't pander to the 18-34 male market that Hollywood seems to routinely pimp itself out for.  It is a movie actually made for adults ... adults who understand the importance of truth as well as the times you don't want to use it.  It is slow and methodical, and that is also part of the reason not all reviews have been favorable.  The current audience has been raised on (and expects) bloodshed and explosions every eight minutes lest one's attention turns to his or her cellphone.  Here we have characters actually discussing their actions and where their responsiblity lies.  God or country?  It's a great question, and this movie provides some fodder for the answer, but like the reviews, those answers are going to be mixed.

Mandatory FTC Disclaimer: I paid to see this movie.