Sunday, December 30, 2007


Leo Films

In the mid-'80s, Tom, Pat, and I wrote a screenplay that pitted evil aliens from space against alcoholic Earthling teenagers. In a moment of inspired irony, we titled it "Plan Ten From Outer Space." As we sat in his Hollywood office off Sunset Boulevard, Jay Levey told us, "This is the funniest script I've ever read." Levey is "Weird" Al Yankovic's manager, so his words carried some weight. Of course, his next words were, "I can't do anything for you," and our cleverly-titled effort remained unproduced. But we always carried the smug confidence that we were so far ahead of the comedy curve with that name that no one could trump us--one day the world would recognize our absolute hipness and laugh.

Imagine my delight to discover that Utah's Trent Harris was on the same wavelength. Well, not exactly the same. The painful tragedy of this film is that our lovely title has been exploited to no special purpose. Though Harris does use the phrase in the film--several times--it's not really supported by the story. Instead, this Plan Ten seems to be a personal diatribe against the Mormon Church. "It's hard for outsiders to understand Salt Lake City without understanding the Mormon Church," says a character. In fact, it's hard to quite grasp what exactly Harris has against the Osmondites. With historical interludes and talk of the "secret of the bees," Harris seems to be positing a new Mormonism--derived from beyond the stars by vengeful females. The one inspiration that Harris had that we didn't was casting Karen Black. Damn! To hear her recite lines like, "Behold! I am Nihor of Kolob!" and sing a song with similarly loony lyrics almost makes this jeremiad worthwhile. "The work of a madman," snorted Tom, with more than a trace of bitterness. Can I rate it other than EJECT.


Sigh. Though advertised in the trades, repeated calls failed to produce this tape. Perhaps a future column. I will say this: Plan Ten is still a funnier title.

Vidmark [CC]
Slogan: A Madman Holds the U.S. Hostage With the World's Most Destructive Weapon.

And then Tom, Pat, and I wrote a script about a maniac who holds D.C. hostage with atom bombs. Which is more or less the plot of this film. While ours was a comedy (our story ends with the District blown to smithereens. That's funny), this film begins with grim footage of the Oklahoma bombing to set up a tale of renegade right-wing domestic terrorists. (Future filmmakers should be careful about exploiting the tragedy--juries are willing to attach the death penalty to that event. Audiences may agree.) The Neanderthalish Joe Lara plays a McVeigh figure hunted by Redford-lite Frank Zagarino, who gets to spout lines like, "I'm going in--with or without your approval!" Along the way, we meet a beautiful babe of a scientist, who apparently took the MIT course in counter-terrorist acrobatics. "All I have ever asked of a movie, since I was 8 years old," said Tom, "was a scene with a guy running around in flames," I think he enjoyed this more than me. EJECT.

Seasonal Films

Our A-bomb film was to have starred D.C. martial arts legend Chuck Jeffreys. Chuck is an extremely talented actor/stuntman/comedian who didn't wait for us to get our act together. Chuck's been in many A-pictures--Malcolm X, 12 Monkeys, Stargate--and starred in a video game, but what he really loves is making the chop-socky. Though this often takes him to Hong Kong or the Philippines, his latest effort was produced in the new kung fu hot spot, Harrisburg, Pa. Chuck plays "Dark Cloud," one of the "Superfighters," who--when they're not beating each other up in rigged iron-man bouts--double as goons in a protection racket. But this isn't really Chuck's film. The star is a diminutive white guy, Brandon Gaines. The whiny Gaines could never really take on Chuck. He's even dwarfed by the manishly voluptuous female Superfighter--her arms are twice as thick as his. Superfights marries the spiritual discipline of Tai Chi with the brutal buffoonery of Wrestlemania. Which is surprisingly effective, especially in the climactic battle. The quadruple-time choreography is giddy good fun. Despite 29 severe kicks to the head (lost count of the body blows), the hero is left with little more than a stylish trickle of blood in the corner of his mouth. And Chuck will kick me in the head if I don't rate it PLAY.

Good Times

The guy we had lined up to do all the promotion for our films was Jeff Krulick. The man behind the genius video, Heavy Metal Parking Lot, Jeff is a tireless go-getter, and when he found out that Ernest Borgnine spends his free time wheeling across the country in a luxuriously-equipped bus--doing the driving himself, mind you--Jeff got himself invited aboard and recorded part of Ernie's journey. Clever editing keeps this from becoming as claustrophobic as, well, a bus trip, and Borgnine seems a genuine, good-natured host. A pleasant excursion to nowhere, the 45 minutes races by without need of a rest stop. PLAY.

(Finally, I have no personal connection with the remaining films. They are included as part of my commitment to full-service reviewing. You're welcome.)

Tai Seng

"Hold it, I'm going to kill you." Nice try, clown--Jackie Chan never holds it. He never holds still. A 1980 film now finding its way into video stores, this is unlike Chan's recent Stateside successes--it makes no concessions to American sensibilities. An example of the "historical" genre, everyone wears simple peasant outfits, but it could be any time. The plot is as rigorous as a Three Stooges film--in fact, the similarities are striking. Many of the jokes come at the expense of bumbling, toothless, cross-eyed rubes and the story is best summarized as: a bunch of stuff happens. More ballet than battle, the fighting is part high-wire act, part 2/4-time choreography that showcases Chan's specialty with props. Definitely look for the subtitled version. The Speed Raceresque copy I watched had Jackie dubbed by Crocodile Dundee's uncle. But we do get to hear Jackie sing the closing song, a disco ditty, "Born To Be a Kung Fu Fighting Man." PAUSE.

BMG Video
Slogan: Women Are a Mystery. Love Is a Tragedy. Naturally, It's a Comedy.

"BMG Independents and Counter Productions present in association with Whinot Productions / Monte Cristo International / Odessa Films (France) and in association with In Pictures, Ltd. and CFP, Distribution a D.J. Paul/Jon Resnik production of a film by Richard Schenkman." Whew. Be proud of that possessory title, Richie. Perhaps those many credits explain why this never made it to a D.C. theater, but the similar Swingers did. Readers of the Straight Dope know that star Jon Cryer is to be thanked for finally solving the mystery of the word "pompatus," bandied about in Steve Miller's 1974 song, "The Joker." He is not to be thanked for the many shirtless scenes he gave himself as one of the writer/producers. Yes, the song is heard, and the film tries to give its own definition. Mostly, this is thirtysomething: The Next Generation. Sample dialogue: "Just say what you mean!" "I can't." I can: PAUSE.

Cabin Fever [CC]
Slogan: It's 10 p.m.--Do You Know Where Your Dad Is?

"Walk away--that's an order!" shouted the general in Warhead. Alas, my duty was clear--though I did fast-forward frequently. This is cinematic training wheels--if kids buy the absurd illogic and utter gratuitousness of this story, they will surely grow up to enjoy more expensive hack Hollywood product. A shame, because I am convinced that Hulk Hogan has within him a great work. Well, at least he's trying--with little help from the director, who has no idea how to shoot action clearly, resulting in some insulting editing. Hulk's version of True Lies, the story finds spy-daddy Hulk captured by some vague evil organization and rescued by his kid and Junior's multiculti buddies. Years ago, Esquire called Lesley-Anne Down the most beautiful woman in the world. As the wicked Ms. Big, she still is. Likewise, Barry Bostwick is aging well, even if his career isn't. The Hulkster is looking more like Robert Duvall than seems healthy. And that "rap" song at the end! EJECT.

Next: Not Even Remotely of This Earth

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