Now Fear This: Changeling

It’s about a giant lady who eats children.

I can’t trace the roots of all my phobias. There are too many of them. I’d need to get more proficient with Excel for one thing. This week’s entry, 2008’s Changeling (not to be confused for previous entry The Changeling), tripped a lingering fear whose true source has been lost to the mists of memory. I have no reason to be worried about getting thrown into an old-timey mental institution and then forced to prove my own sanity, knowing full well the catch-22 involved there, yet there it is. Watching Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) getting thrown into the LA County Psych Ward for being able to correctly determine that a child was not hers, was one of the most disturbing things I have seen in a while. It was all the more frightening because the story was true.

In all great crime movies about Los Angeles, the filmmakers get a very important point: we never had a mafia around here. Oh, we’ve had a few gangs, some Nostras, both Cosa and Kosher, but not like the other great cities of this country. No, out here, organized crime has always been the purview of the cops. The Shield, L.A. Confidential, these works get it, and both are based at least partly on reality. Los Angeles has always been a city whose gangsters got pensions and carried badges. Changeling takes place primarily between 1928-30, when Police Chief Davis unleashed his infamous “gun squad” (it was a more honest time then — remember, the Secretary of Defense used to be called the Secretary of War), ostensibly to target rum smugglers, but actually more concerned with hobos and leftists. The department was staffed with thugs and incompetents, and it’s inevitable that things would slip through the cracks. The problems occur when they try to cover for their mistakes.

Christine Collins was a single mother raising her son Walter (this was back when Walters were still young) in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Lincoln Heights — a few miles from where I live today. One day while she’s at work, Walter vanishes. Several months later, the police claim to have located the boy in DeKalb, Illinois with a drifter, but when they return Walter to Christine, she notes some differences. This new boy is circumcised, he’s several inches shorter, and it’s obviously not fucking Walter, and Christine knows her own son. Bullied into accepting him “on a trial basis” by LAPD Captain JJ Jones (Jeffrey Donovan, doing a variation on the Irish accent he’d bust out on Burn Notice every now and then), brittle Christine soon regrets the decision. Jones is a brick wall, the LAPD is in dire straits with the public, they need a “win.” Jones begins by making sexist insinuations about Christine “dodging responsibility” and “missing her freedom” before escalating into the aforementioned institutionalizing. His slimy language calls to mind online harassment and slut-shaming, finally getting the attention it deserves and showing that while this is the past, some of the prejudices are all too present.

He just throws her into the psych ward. There’s absolutely zero oversight. While inside, Christine gets the stories of some others also victimized by the LAPD’s iron fist. Amy Ryan plays a prostitute who tried to complain about a violent john… who turned out to be a cop, so in she goes. Another woman was relentlessly abused by her cop husband, and as soon as she tried to escape, it was off to the psych ward. In the most heartbreaking (and, sadly still relevant) monologue, Ryan’s character, layering on the tragic sarcasm, points out that they’re women — they’re supposed to be weak and emotional, so when they break it’s expected.

The film then takes a fascinating and odd detour. While Christine is being tortured in a mental institution for the crime of wanting the cops to actually look for her kid, the narrative shifts. It’s not immediately obvious why, either, just that Detective Lester Ybarra (Michael Kelly), one of Jones’s men in the juvenile division, is investigating a Canadian kid staying here illegally. And yes, this is the first and last time anyone in LA has ever been concerned about Canadian illegals. Ybarra abruptly finds himself in a noir film when this boy, who was staying with uncle, admits to helping this uncle murder up to twenty boys. The kid also identifies Walter Collins as one of the boys that was killed.

Fortunately, Christine had already attracted the attention of oddly intimidating preacher and losing Scrabble hand Reverend Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), who is able to spring her from the clink. Briegleb’s mission in life was to expose the LAPD for its violence, incompetence, and corruption, and has glommed onto Christine’s story as an excellent way to do just that. As one of the radio preachers that used to be a thing (fun was not invented until 1942), he uses his electric pulpit to bring attention to the crimes of the LAPD. Christine and Briegleb, with the assistance of crusading lawyer SS Hahn, sue the cops for what they did.

It feels odd to be calling a movie directed by Clint Eastwood, and starring Angelina Jolie, and John Malkovich underrated and deserving of attention, but since its release, Changeling has dropped out of the consciousness of the movie going public. That’s a shame, because it really is very good. Eastwood is a master at making good to great films from mediocre scripts, but here he has a legitimately great story written by J. Michael Straczynski (best known for Babylon 5), who did a truly insane amount of research to get it right. Straczynski’s great skill as a writer has always been in kissing his characters’ asses, and while this might sound like an insult, it’s really not. To do it right, the character has to have legitimately been awesome or the praise is unwarranted, and comes off as shilling. In this case, Christine has just spent a decent chunk of time in the psych ward, thinking that she’s doomed to stay in there forever, and Briegleb frees her, then introduces her to the lawyer. “We can’t afford him… so he’s doing this pro bono.” And the lawyer, with just the right gravitas, says, “It would be my honor. I have never seen anyone fight so long and hard in what is clearly the cause of justice.” It’s all the more warranted, because the film had just shown her refusing to back down in the face of shock treatment, even though she had no idea that her rescue was just around the corner. Straczynski shows us Christine’s steel, and it’s appropriate to praise her.

I’m not a Jolie fan as a rule, but she great here. Her look is perfect for the era, but she never relies on it. She’s forced to run the gamut, from great mom in the beginning, to wracked with fear, to desperation, to despair, to turning into an implacable wall of justice. She is continually faced with her status as a second-class citizen — what with being a woman and all — though by the end when her son’s probable killer attempts to use that against her, she slaps him with such blistering contempt it’s a wonder he didn’t die then and there. Kelly, as the other lead, is just as good but far less showy, and it’s a shame this wasn’t two movies, one about Christine, and one about him. Sort of a noir version of Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima.

Changeling is a fascinating horror film, effortlessly shifting between the different kinds of
fear. First it’s the adult fear of losing a child, then it moves into the existential dread of being sane but unable to prove it, before moving into a serial killer story of astonishing evil. It’s a top notch team of director, writer, and actors putting together an epic story of corruption with a vulnerable human face.

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New Satellite Show Episode 17: Wonka’s Pimphand

Tim and Chelsea join the Panel of Experts as Justin confronts Firefly at long last and jabs at Doctor Who. A discussion of GamerGate leads to Erik revealing his next gen console choice. The group considers whether or not Willy Wonka was a slave owner and Justin sees a movie in first-run theatrical release. This month’s Yakmala film is Samurai Cop. Host: Erik. Panel of Experts: Dante, Justin, Clint, Tim, Chelsea, Dawn.

Click here or subscribe on iTunes.

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Yakmala: Perfect Stranger

I feel like she just walked in on Willis in the bathroom.

What is it about the internet that drove mid-‘90s filmmakers insane with terror? Back then, Hollywood was positive these newfangled computer machines would result in a generation of hairy-palmed morlocks, baffled by social mores and existing entirely on greasy chain pizza and novelty soft drinks. By the aughts, the computer and its attendant series of tubes had become such a part of everyday life that the fear is gone and… wait, Perfect Stranger came out in 2007? Forget it, I have no fucking clue what these idiots were thinking.

Tagline: How Far Would You Go To Keep a Secret?

More Accurate Tagline: How Long Can You Stay Awake Watching People Chat Online?

Guilty Party: This is a tough one, since Perfect Stranger is exactly the kind of star-studded crap that gets greenlit regardless of how tired the concept or even if the screenplay is indifferently scrawled on a men’s room wall in feces. The fact of the matter is, Bruce Willis and Halle Berry agreed to be in this movie for a paycheck, so I should probably blame their desire for a swimming pool.

Synopsis: The opening credit sequence is so bizarre, I couldn’t even figure out what they were trying to show. It looked like Azathoth attempting to have sex with the atmosphere processing station on LV-426. Eventually, the director comes out of whatever psychotic break he was wrestling to actually make the movie, and I instantly wish he was back in it. No, instead we have the adventures of intrepid reporter Rowena Price (Halle Berry), writing under the name David Shane (subtle commentary on sexism, or homage to Fletch? Who knows? Who cares?). She initially goes after a homophobic and closeted gay senator, only to find her hatchet job blocked at the eleventh hour.

Ro (as she’s known, and yes, I added “Ensign” to her name every time) quits in a huff, only to be stalked to the subway by a blonde woman. This turns out to be childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox, most famous to me as evil pixie Meg on Supernatural) who has another story for Ro. Grace was having an affair with an advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), when Hill suddenly broke it off and now Grace wants payback. The relationship between Ro and Grace is strained, and later we find out that Grace banged Ro’s last boyfriend. Anyway, Ro’s interested in the story, but not too interested.

Until Grace turns up dead! And like, super, duper dead. Poisoned then dumped in the river. Now convinced that Hill killed Grace, Ro decides she’s going to bring him down. With the assistance of her computer-savvy pal Miles (a supremely twitchy Giovanni Ribisi), she gets a job at Hill’s agency to investigate. Meanwhile, she catfishes Hill (while he uses his alias ADEX), trying to get him to drop some valuable hints during sexy chat time. And yes, this leads to multiple scenes of characters in front of computers typing words and whispering along. Its riveting. By which I mean you would need to rivet my eyes open like the fucking Ludovico Technique to get me to watch this again.

Ro hooks up with her ex that Grace banged, and while they’re playing Hide the Bishop (that’s a thing, right?), Miles lurks in the apartment listening. So… yeah. The autopsy brings two pertinent pieces of information to light: 1) Grace was pregnant and 2) the poison used was belladonna. Unfortunately, all this snooping gets Hill to believe Ro is a corporate spy, so he fires her. Then he goes out with her, because his dick is stupid. Then at the date, Miles sends an incriminating text which Hill intercepts, and it’s back to the corporate espionage angle. Yes, the big, exciting scene involved characters reading texts.

“The call is not coming from inside the house! It’s from far away! You’re totally safe is what I’m trying to tell you.”

Oh yeah… there have been two flashbacks, one in the beginning, and one here near the end. Basically, they’re of a guy telling her it’s bathtime, and not in a friendly, fatherly sort of way. It’s gross and it’s only barely important.

Miles invites Ro over for dinner, then for no good reason goes to Hill’s office to get at his computer. He couldn’t have done this earlier? He does make one big discovery, which is that Mrs. Hill has a series of photographs of dilated eyes, and belladonna in small doses is used to dilate eyes. So Hill had access to the poison! Wow.

Ro heads into Miles’s place, and he should have been there. He has a super gross Hollywood bachelor pad, including an analog porn stash on his toilet tank, and sorry, no. The whole point of this guy is that he’s comfortable with computers, and if there’s one thing computers are good at, it’s providing free pictures of naked people. Anyway, Ro keeps snooping, and finds a terrifying mannequin thing with her face on it, an animated gif on his computer of her in a bikini (the Swordfish one, delighting fans of shitty Halle Berry films) that just repeats in her voice “Miles is sexy,” and on that same computer a ton of shots of Miles and Grace re-enacting over half of Fifty Shades of Grey. Also, Miles is both ADEX, and Trublu, another chat pal that’s been pestering Ro. He comes home, they have a fight, but he does manage to tell her about the poison.

With all the evidence, the cops arrest Hill and he’s convicted. Halle Berry delivers this long babbling voiceover about the evils of computers, and I’m hoping she’ll be done soon so I can experience joy once again. But oh no, there’s one more twist. A pair of hands retrieve belladonna from a hiding place and it’s Ro. Yep, she killed Grace. And then just suddenly Miles is there, being like, Grace was blackmailing you! Uh… okay. Remember the molesting dad? Well, Ro’s mom beat him to death and they buried him in the yard. Grace saw it, so she had that over Ro’s head, which is why she had to be killed. Miles then figures out that Ro knew about the dilated eyes, because of the virtual tour — her computer auto-completed the URL. Yes, it’s as boring as it sounds. So she stabs him to death when he attempts to blackmail her for sex. And guess what? Her neighbor saw the whole thing.

Life-Changing Subtext: Computers will inevitably turn you into a sociopath. That’s not really subtext, though. She says it straight out in the final narration.

Defining Quote: This is on the IMDB quotes page and it’s too funny not to share.
Harrison Hill: Do you have any idea what loyalty is?
Ro: I bet your wife is wondering the same thing!
Harrison Hill: BAAAAAAAAAAAH!
The great thing is you can imagine that “BAAAAAAAAAAAH!” as angry, happy, or that fake laugh people use when they want to acknowledge a joke but not actually get any pleasure out of it.

Standout Performance: One of my favorite character actors, Richard Portnow, plays the improbably named Narron, Ro’s editor. He also played the coroner in Se7en, who delivered that incredible line with just the right amount of weariness and contempt: “He’s experienced about as much pain and suffering as anyone I’ve encountered, give or take, and he still has Hell to look forward to.” He doesn’t have much to do here, but I could listen to his raspy radio baritone read a description of a blocked colon.

What’s Wrong: It’s a cyber-panic flick made in 2007. It’s an erotic thriller without a single sex scene. It’s nearly two hours of people staring at email.

Flash of Competence: The final reveal is pretty good, even if the voiceover is dumb. Apparently, they three different endings with three different characters as the killer. That’s got to contribute to the directionless feeling of the middle hour and twenty minutes or so.

Best Scenes: What is up with Bruce Willis and terrible erotic thrillers? It’s possible he learned his lesson last time and refused to show his dick, but come on. The whole point of these movies are the sex scenes. A-list starts stripping down and doing a little grinding. Bruce Willis looks like he’s going to get busy in one scene, but he falls behind a curtain and that’s it. Maybe I should be grateful that I wasn’t traumatized this time?

A lot of hay was made of the pervasive product placement in Man of Steel, but this was worse. For one thing, Ro can’t sit down without fetching a frosty Heineken from her fridge. And in another scene, a line of Heinekens are just sitting on a conference table. Mmm… warm beer. Everyone’s favorite! There’s even a commercial for Victoria’s Secret in the middle, but in true Perfect Stranger form, none of the models are actually in lingerie.

Transcendent Moment: Just before the final reveal, Ro goes on a long voiceover rant about the evils of computers. She sounds like an Amish person haranguing a door-to-door salesman they have trussed up in a barn.

“It’s a world where you think actions have no consequence, where guilt is cloaked by anonymity, where there are no fingerprints. An invisible universe filled with strangers, interconnected online and disconnected in life. It will steal your secrets, corrupt your dreams, and co-opt your identity. Because in this world, where you can be anything you want, anyone you want, you just might lose sight of who you are.”

I’ve found that it’s a good idea just to agree with Josiah or he’ll churn your ass to butter. And for those keeping track at home, yes, Ro is blaming her murder of two people on her computer.

“Shh… just tell my penis all about it.”

Perfect Stranger’s biggest sin, ultimately, is being boring. It promises cheap titillation and fails even in that modest goal, so all we’re left with is 109 minutes of nothing. If you need to see Bruce Willis awkwardly groping on someone, watch Color of Night instead.

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In Which We Choose a Next Gen Console

So, after much consideration, I’ve chosen a next gen console from which to play assorted future installments of Assassins Creed and Batman Arkham video games. The winner is:

one

Yeah, I’m pretty much surprised, too. Last summer, the Xbox One was on my shit list. Let’s recall all the absurd features touted when the console was revealed:

  • A mandatory Kinect add-on that was always on. Watching you when you sleep.
  • A mandatory always-on internet connection so the machine could phone home once a day. Without this, the console would lock up.
  • A new game sharing scheme that made your disc a useless hunk of plastic.
  • A $500 price tag.

Oh, what a difference a year makes. As pre-order data rolled in, it became clear people were siding with Sony’s simpler and less expensive Playstation 4. I was nearly one of those people until the launch title I was interested in, Watch Dogs, was delayed six months. Without that game, the PS4 would’ve been useless for a year until the next Assassins Creed game rolled in. I cancelled my pre-order and waited.

As the console war settled, it seemed the two were pretty much equal for the most part. Once Microsoft stripped away the more draconian “features” and made the unit available without the Kinect for $399, it became a more viable option. Then, something changed over this past weekend as I traded in some old games and took the store credit for use on my eventual console purchase: Microsoft was offering a free game with any new XBox One bought this week, including the new game Destiny. I considered my options and decided it was finally time to give Microsoft the preferred spot in gaming again. Besides the free game, there were a few other things that swung me toward the XBox:

1. The Controller. I’m not fond of the Playstation controller. It’s sort of  flimsy and lacks the solid feel of the XBox triggers. Skipping a couple of cycles from the 64 bit era to 2006, I didn’t really get back into console games until the final XBox controller was released and made available to me as part of the Scarface: The World is Your testing team at the now defunct Vivendi Games. I liked the feel of it and it led to my eventual interest in an XBox 360.

Legitimately good design from Microsoft.

Legitimately good design from Microsoft.

2 XBox Live. To be quite honest, Live is a pretty good network and worth the yearly fee, though I always collect up some spare change to bring the price down a little. I missed the years of serious instability, so downtime is fairly rare in my experience and unlike Sony’s Playstation Plus network, it’s fairly secure.

3. The era of exclusives is at an end. Sony has maybe one or two exclusive titles I really don’t have much interest in. Microsoft has Sunset Overdrive, but I haven’t really looked into it and don’t know if I want to play it. With game exclusivity amounting to little more than special sections or downloadable weapons, the distinctions became little more than a slight hardware edge on Sony’s side and I doubt I’d be able to notice the difference.

4. I already have a Live Gold subscription. This last one is specific to Destiny. The game was unappealing as a PS4 title because I didn’t want to double dip subscriptions to play it. I’m already in Microsoft’s ecosystem, so the game became all the more appealing.

And really, I think that really tipped it over the edge toward XBox One. Offering Destiny for free with the purchase of the console meant no additional outlay of funds to get a game. it also helps that this is the first game released so far that I had any really interest in playing.

Well, at least until Assassins Creed: Unity gets here.

This is where I'll be come November.

This is where I’ll be come November.

So, despite thinking I would end up a Playstation user for this generation, I found myself back with XBox and that’s okay. Once they removed all the onerous “advancements,” it’s a pretty solid system — physically and technologically — and Microsoft deserves a pat on the back for walking away from ideas its customer-base loudly (and monetarily) protested.

So here’s to happy gaming in the future on the platform I tend to enjoy!

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Girls, Guns and G-Strings: In Conclusion

No, Andy Sidaris did not make a movie called In Conclusion where his rotating cast of nude models, bodybuilders, and people who think Jenny McCarthy has something useful to add in a science debate all get in a giant combination gunfight and hot tub orgy and end up boiled alive in coconut oil. No, I reviewed all twelve of the elder and younger Sidaris’s softboiled and softcore spy series, and I’ve got to come up with some kind of conclusion. Otherwise I watched them for nothing.

They basically let your pervy uncle make movies for 13 years.

The series could only have existed when it did, specifically between 1985 and 1998. It rose after the Golden Age of Porn… well, okay. The Gold Lamé Age of Porn anyway. The move away from shooting on film to shooting on video allowed movies to be made more cheaply than ever before. Malibu Express, our first installment, was much more of a bad noir film than a bad spy film, and looked like the porn of the era. The series instantly got much softer, with more toplessness and less sex, though with the “recognizable” names/faces/boobs of Playboy Playmates. These were geared toward the emerging cable market. Cheap movies with cheap thrills that could fill the late night hours to entertain insomniacs and masturbators. As the series wore on, the Porn Chic of the late ‘90s (a renaissance occurring almost exactly twenty years after the first, and yes, that’s the only time I use a word that describes the achievements of some of the greatest geniuses of the human race with Jenna Jameson making oodles of cash from putting stuff in her) had an undeniable effect. The plots grew thinner and more perfunctory while the sex scenes grew longer and more explicit. It’s a little sad to note that the best movies for female characters happened in the Donna/Taryn/Nicole era of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. By the time the series limped to a close with the awful Return to Savage Beach, the writing was on the wall. This was 1998, and the world had just learned you can see naked people on the internet, for free, all the time. Sidaris was a softcore man in an increasingly hardcore world, and went out with as much dignity as he was going to be able to muster.

Like this. He went out like this.

While none of these movies are good, Guns still hangs together as the most watchable from beginning to end. It’s also the Empire Strikes Back of the series, which is a bizarre thing to say about skin flicks. Hard Ticket to Hawaii has the best individual scenes (rocketing the the blow-up doll, and the plague snake subplots), but the pacing is off. That’s the criticism throughout, though it gets worse in the later installments. The worst of the movies are the ones directed by Andy’s son Drew, who decided an entire movie about camping was a great idea.

None of the acting would ever show up on an Oscar reel, though Erik Estrada comes closest. His strange rebranding from villain in Guns to hero in Do or Die is profoundly bizarre, especially in light of his weird relationship to Donna. Still, Erik Estrada. You know, you could do worse. Pat Morita also isn’t bad, but the awkwardness of his sex scenes pretty much ruins any fun to be had from his performance.

Of the ladies, Hope Marie Carlton as bubbly Taryn is the best actor. She’s the only one who can even attempt to deliver a punchline, and she had good chemistry with Dona Speir. As for Speir, she is the best of the action heroes, and does do some legitimately awesome things (blowing up her kidnapper’s plane mid-flight and bailing out was incredible). I missed her when she was gone, her replacements were never as good. Granted, the scripts were worse. I think Sidaris had stopped caring by then.

As with all bad movies, the more personal they got the more fascinating they became. Generic bad movies, like the ones aired on SyFy, have very little cache with bad movie fans because their creativity begins and ends with the title. On a case-by-case basis, the Girls, Guns and G-Strings series seems just as impersonal. Yet with each installment undeniable themes emerged. The oddest has to be Sidaris’s fascination with radio-controlled vehicles. Some variation of RC car with a bomb strapped on it appeared in the vast majority of the movies. It’s a decent bomb delivery system I suppose, but the amount of time spent on these, especially in earlier installments, veered toward the fetishistic.

The continuity of the series was quirky at best, though Sidaris was looking at it from the beginning. The Abilene family runs through the first eight movies, and Cody Abilene’s distinctive .357 magnum and holstein case made appearances even beyond that. A lot of the movies could be approached best as a repertory company with the same ensemble of actors performing different roles. And with some grinding. Things got weird when old Japanese men were replaced with young white men or when a villain suddenly turned good in the next installment for no real reason. This last example popped up in the final film, which was when Sidaris really tried to tie the whole thing together, even retroactively declaring Donna and Taryn to be members of the Legion to Ensure Total Harmony And Law.

The favorite theme — and this comes from both my wife and me — was the hot tub. In several movies, the two lead characters (usually Donna and Taryn/Nicole), got topless in a hot tub to talk over the plot. We figured this was because their brains were powered by warm water on or near their nipples. Best part? In Do or Die, Sidaris even calls attention to the whole thing with Nicole pointing out she does her best thinking in a hot tub. If that doesn’t sum the series up, I don’t know what does.

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Girls, Guns and G-Strings: Return to Savage Beach

I do not like how speculatively she’s looking at that gun.

Here we are! The final installment of the Girls, Guns, and G-Strings collection! Just as a side note here, the series has been awful glib about that Oxford comma, and I’ve probably been inconsistent about applying it as well. The only reason I bring this up is because I liked to pretend this series was about Girls on one hand, and then Guns wearing G-Strings on the other.

Cast: This one is a lot more direct than previous installments, as it’s more or less a direct sequel of both Savage Beach and Day of the Warrior.

Julie Strain, Julie K. Smith, Shae Marks, Marcus Bagwell, Cristian Letelier, and Gerald Okamura are all back as the same characters they played in Day of the Warrior. Rodrigo Obregon plays Rodrigo Martinez (remember how bad Sidaris is with names), the same villainous filipino officer from Savage Beach. Ava Cadell is back in her first appearance since Fit to Kill, playing sexologist and spy radio personality Ava. Carolyn Liu is back as Silk, although she has fuck all to do here.

The role of Doc Austin is now played by Paul Logan, and there’s barely a difference in the actor’s sub-porn level acting ability.

Non-Actor Quotient: Other than previous mentions Strain, Smith, Marks, and Bagwell, Miss September 1993 Carrie Westcott plays Sofia. Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and at the time husband of Julie Strain, plays Ava’s engineer Harry the Cat. Supposedly he’s in the last one, but I didn’t see him.

IMDB Plot Keywords: treasure, softcore, sexploitation, glamorized spy film, spy film

IMDB User Lists Appearing On: Semi-Legit Films with Porn Stars, THE BEST MOVIES WITH LOVE MAKING EROTIC SEX SCENES, Anarkrite’s movies, Series – Lethal Ladies, *beep*

Synopsis: This is the last of the L.E.T.H.A.L. Ladies series, and it feels like Sidaris was running on fumes. Paint fumes, specifically. He makes a half-assed effort to tie everything together, but judging by the way Return to Savage Beach plods along — like a fat tourist running to the buffet seconds before it switches from breakfast to lunch — he barely cared.

The Legion to Ensure Total Harmony And Law is tracking a group of terrorists outside of Dallas. This entire series takes place within a short drive of two houses: probably Andy Sidaris in Molokai and Drew Sidaris in Dallas. Tiger and Tyler put a stop to that, muttering their dialogue like they’re trying to hear Little Bill stage whisper it from offscreen.

A woman we later learn to be Sofia dons some red leather and rollerblades (like you do), and sneaks into L.E.T.H.A.L. headquarters pretending to be a pizza delivery person giving out free samples. This totally works, because there are only three people in the building who, due to cutbacks, are forced to share two brain cells between them. Sofia steals a map to the titular Savage Beach, which for some reason still has the gold from the Philippines the Japanese stole in WWII. We get a flashback recap, and it explicitly states that Donna Hamilton and Taryn Kendall (this is the first time she gets a last name!) were L.E.T.H.A.L.’s first agents. All this does is make me miss the relatively solid acting chops of Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton. Rodrigo Martinez, the leader of the bandits (who was blown up by Taryn), was close with Tyler’s dad for some reason. Martinez fell to the Dark Side of the Force, but first gave Tyler a medallion that would be destined to block a bullet. They don’t say that, but that’s literally the only reason you give a medallion to a character.

Meanwhile, Martinez is in his headquarters wearing a Phantom of the Opera mask. Yeah, it’s weird, but Sidaris isn’t done fucking with us. At this point, he’s just interpreting Rorschach blots through the medium of film. Martinez explains that bandits used Savage Beach for years, but for some reason never dug up the fucking gold? Maybe it’s because of that weird Japanese guy, Warrior? Remember him? Well, the movie doesn’t, because he’s not mentioned. Anyway, Martinez and Sofia have this weird love scene where he dresses up like a cross between Zorro, the Phantom of the Opera, with just a smidgeon of Spanish-language Buzz Lightyear, and she’s in some lingerie so complicated you’d need Hans Gruber’s entire gang to get into it.

For no real reason, Willow Black brings in the Warrior from the last movie (not the Warrior from the original Savage Beach — remember, Sidaris is not good with names) who is a good guy now. They at least remember he used to be evil, so that’s more than all the other roles that switched. They even retcon that federal agent Warrior wrestled to death (he was trying to create the most ‘90s scene ever, in hopes to finally unhorse that one Saved by the Bell where Jessie takes trucker uppers) into a serial killer. Yep, a serial killer. And apparently L.E.T.H.A.L. hired Warrior to do it. They didn’t mention it in the last movie because fuck you, you should be masturbating right now. The only upside is Warrior has a pencil-thin goatee, a greasy Caesar cut, and some solid late ‘90s douchebag wear. He’s really in this movie only so Willow can bang someone. The resulting sex unironically references Showgirls’s infamous Dolphin Sex scene, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the series.

Tiger and Cobra are going to fly to Savage Beach ahead of Martinez because this is an homage to the earlier (and better) Sidaris movies. Meanwhile, Doc, Tyler, and Willow will sail there. Fu and Warrior will stay behind to guard… something. It doesn’t matter. Ninjas, led by Sofia, attack Tyler and Doc and kidnap Tyler. Doc does karate like he’s worried his mom will show up in the middle of his yellow belt test.

The heroes reconnect on Savage Beach (although Tyler has to repeatedly kick an overweight ninja to escape, and yes, it’s as funny as it sounds), with Doc wearing a Bruce-inspired ensemble of a leather vest and light jeans, and Willow dressed like a slutty gladiator. Sofia reveals herself to be an agent of Interpol and she busts out an accent that has to be the least convincing French thing I’ve seen since the croissanwich.

“With this cache of black leather vests, I can rule the world!”

The heroes get the treasure back to Molokai, and set up a sting on Martinez. The sting consists of characters explaining the plot of the movie we’ve just watched, then throwing in their origin stories. Long story short: the guy we thought was Martinez was actually his nephew Carlos (seriously), who murdered Rodrigo and impersonated him. Nope, there’s a final reveal where it turns out Rodrigo is fine after all and he’s a good guy now too. The end.

Yakmala? The best Andy Sidaris movies feel like they were written by a fourteen year old on the inside of his Trapper Keeper who was making explosion noises with his mouth the whole time. This has moments of that breathless inanity, but for the most part, it’s a slog of commuting and parking. It even commits the worst sin: making you pine for better movies, and it’s not like they were all that great to begin with.

Posted in Projected Pixels and Emulsion | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Wild World of Video for 8/27/14

There was a time when we wanted the future to come and it looked something like this:

We’ll excuse the snowy whiteness of the whole endeavor for the moment because there’s something else going on that I find fascinating. In fact, I’ve been fascinated by Monsanto’s House of the Future since I first learned of its existence in an episode the old Disneyland show from 1958 called “An Adventure in the Magic Kingdom.” The park had a few updates and Uncle Walt needed no excuses to use his program to advertise new offerings there. To a young boy, brought up on reruns of fifties sitcoms and the like, this looked like the future we were promised — again, excusing that the future tended to be whites only — and most likely contributed to my love of that mid-century modernist aesthetic later in life.

But my, did Monsanto believe in its plastics. Looking at it today, all I can see is how easily those “modern conveniences” could go wrong. Chief amongst the maintenance issues I see would be all those mechanized appliances breaking down from use. The counter-tops getting littered as the drop-down shelving falls from failed gears. The inability to get at the irradiated food when that shelf refuses to open. Oh, to say nothing of the whooping junior and sister will get when their horseplay breaks the motors in the lavatory.

Crow T. Robot set it best in Mystery Science Theater 3000’s takedown of GM’s similar “Design for Dreaming” short when he said, “Just because it’s futuristic doesn’t mean it’s practical.”

Fifty years later, all we can see are the seams, cracks and inevitable flaws because we now understand that no one is capable of accomplishing anything anymore. And yet, that clean “it just works” aesthetic continues to be so appealing.

In some ways, it’s sad that we’ve lost the optimism American industry offered in the 1950s, back when the country was monolithic. Granted, it refused to acknowledge certain problem that would fracture it to its core, but there’s something charming about that hope of a shiny tomorrow.

And let’s face it, as the country only further fractures and faces the inevitable truth that it is no longer a single nation, it’s comforting to look at that fantasy future where we all had sturdy homes made entirely — from the floors, walls and furnishings — from plastics.

Well, okay, by everyone, I mean the certain folk welcome in that future.

Posted in Armchair Philosophy, Projected Pixels and Emulsion, Rides & Attractions | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment