This Week in Geek (19-25/03/23)


In theaters: There has never been a bad Scream. It has to be the most consistent horror franchise. And Scream VI, though it makes me feel like I should have rewatched the series prior so all the Easter Eggs would resonate more strongly, is just as good as the last one. Jenna Ortega is very hot right now, but it's Melissa Barrera I'd follow to the ends of the Earth, and the whole "Core Four" actually seem indispensable to me in me, so putting any of them under threat or - gasp - butchering them is going to hurt. For the first time, Scream goes to the big city, and Montreal-as-New York (you can't fool me) allows for some pretty interesting locations and situations to put Ghostface in, including a tense, extended subway sequence. The return of legacy characters includes one wonky one I didn't care for, but Courteney Cox at least gets a big set piece to herself even if her character is pretty played out at this point. Unless she's the killer... She's certainly on the short list of possible Ghostfaces after what happened in the last one. Whoever it is, it IS guessable, which is good for a whodunit, but there are enough red herrings to keep you guessing.

At home: Johnnie To made a superhero film? Yes, albeit one that takes wuxia powers and legends and brings them into the superhero film aesthetic of the 1990s (for better or worse). What a weird and woolly beast The Heroic Trio is! Three superpowered women will go up against an evil eunuch who's been kidnapping babies, if they can learn to work together. Anita Mui is actually called Wonder Woman (no relation) and the pureheart of the bunch. Maggie Cheung is a vigilante-for-hire and a dynamite-wielding biker chick. And Michelle Yeoh is pulled from both sides, in a plot to steal an invisibility cloak for the master. Guys, the movie is IN.SANE. Babies live, babies die. Anthony Wong is an indestructible henchman, but also the object of violent slapstick. And it all seems to be happening a corner away from Darkman or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And you've never seen a "possession" scene like the last scene's. Could this be Yeoh's weirdest movie until Everything Everywhere?

Executioners, AKA The Heroic Trio 2, was released the same year as the first part, so must have been made in a hurry. Does it show? I'd have to say yes. First of all,  we're quickly told that there was a nuclear war and now clean water is extremely scarce and controlled by a villainous corporation, so I'm assuming they grabbed some kind of Mad Max rip-off script and inserted the three heroines in it. Further, it trades the super-powers for submachine gun fire until the third act, which again points to a square peg being fit in a round hole. As far as the disjointedness, the first film had that too, but in this case, villains come out of nowhere and there's scarcely any backstory for them. Are you actually telling me Anthony Wong has reprised his character and is hiding under a hood the whole time? It has its moments and we're happy to see the three heroines back together again (whether in a bath tub or superhero action), but they are too often separated for it to really deliver the sequel we wanted.

Buster Keaton seeks love in Three Ages, as advertised, flipping back and forth through similar but updated events in the life of his characters in the Stone Age, the Roman Age, and the Modern Age. Telling the same story three times does make things a bit repetitive, until you start happily expecting the historically-later twist on the same concepts. There are some fine slapstick moments, of course, but also visual gags that feel more modern than that, and this is why it Three Ages often feels quite influential. Mel Brooks, the Airplane movies and their imitators, and even the Flintstones, all feel like they were inspired by what Keaton is doing in this one. As with many Keaton films - whether you want to blame the era or his own (in)sensibilities  - you can expect one racist joke, but it trades on a stereotype rather than caricature, so it could be worse. I frowned enough at it to mention it here, but it doesn't feel mean-spirited. Bonus points for the dinosaur, mammoth and lion. Now, how is the Girl at her most glamorous in the Stone Age? Or, to put it another way, why were women's fashions so unshapely in the 1920s?

Set in martial law Belfast, Four Days in July takes place on and around the 12th of July celebrations, but most importantly, the birth of two babies who know nothing of this conflict and could, it is gently implied, grow up to want to kill one another (based on their families' religions). Mike Leigh offers not one, but two slices of life, as we follow two unrelated couples as the big day approaches. One headed by a Republican guard, the other by a man on compensation for having caught a stray bullet. The guard's life is one boozer after the other, and a lot of shouting, so we're always in better hands with the other couple - Brid Brennan incredibly charming as a chatty woman who can't wait to have a wee baby in her hands, if only to get a load off. That's the sweet, everyday marriage that contrasts to the more high-pressure couple. Well at least they're not the third guy expecting that day, yeesh! You watch, they live. The stakes feel like they're way in the background, but they're there.

A friend of mine had a copy of Deadly Weapons with Chesty Morgan that he liked to show at parties, and I remember my original take-away was that it was ridiculously bad, and that I felt sorry for Chesty who seemed to ill-at-ease in front of the camera. Deadly Weapons remained an inside joke in my group for years thereafter, but watching it with fresh eyes, there's a lot more to it than I remembered. First of all, yes, Chesty Morgan is rather wooden, often glances at the camera, is one of the characters whose voice is undoubtedly voiced by someone else. She's not alone, and at least Chesty's character is often SUPPOSED to be uncomfortable. Acting is the weakest thing in this sexploitation cult classic, and if the editing is weird and choppy at times, it's largely because legendary director Doris Wishman is trying to cover up that acting. Otherwise, the camera is pretty dynamic, and between that, the funky music and the lurid plot - about a woman who avenges her fiance by smothering gangsters with her breasts - sit comfortably on the same shelf as many of the more gonzo blacksploitation films of the early 70s. Where I think the film is worth a second look (beyond the fact that it's so bad it's good) is in its subversive lack of male gaze despite its surface-level nudiness. Consider: Chesty is of a certain age and doesn't correspond to the usual body types seen in nudie films. None of the sexual situations really resolve into sex per se, with a lot of over-the-clothes stuff for the other girl in the movie, and Chesty having more pleasure in the tub and orgasmically killing dudes than with her partner. The awkward burlesque dance number is half-shot via a distorting mirror to enhance Chesty's anxiety. And when men see her bust size, they go boing like cartoon characters - a comment on male lasciviousness from Wishman? Wishman herself, in an interview for the Shlock documentary, said she doesn't think you can tell her movies were made by a woman, and perhaps she's right. But if you KNOW, then maybe it changes how you understand them.

I would assume Double Agent 73 was made the same week as Deadly Weapons, but despite being released the same year with many of the same performers, it's technically much more competent. It gives us wild transitions, dynamic chase scenes, simple special effects, and far less of the choppy editing trying to hide the bad acting. Chesty Morgan's limited acting is here more often hidden in a character that doesn't require much of it - Jane (Bond?), a cold assassin taking out bad guys in various amusing ways until you've forgotten the convoluted plot. In other words, there's a certain tediousness that sets in. The breasty twist this time: There's a hidden camera in one of her boobs, giving her ample reason to get topless so she can snap them pics (and that's not the most ridiculous thing about this story). But don't despair, Deadly Weapons fans! She also kills a couple of dudes using her famous bust, with different techniques from the first film too. Ultimately, this isn't as good because it isn't as bad, but I'm really penalizing it for its impenetrable yet repetitive plot.

Guy Maddin is past master at reproducing the style of expressionist silent cinema, and his adaptation of Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary shows it's uniquely suited to filming a ballet AND of course, Gothic horror. I imagined wall-to-wall dancing, but no, there are moments of (interstitial) exposition, old doctors fussing around Lucy, etc., but yes, a lot of dance. And shocking use of spot color - Maddin pushing the limits of his pastiche as he usually does - and even more shocking on-stage violence. This is as good an adaptation of the Dracula story, and Wei-Qiang Zhang is incredibly magnetic as the Count. I will say that in this case, I was more interested in Lucy's story than I was Mina's. It's not that the "experiment" lost my interest, but rather that Mina's dance-heavy back-and-forths between Drac and Harker became tedious. Tara Birtwhistle as Lucy was just more intriguing and had more to play.