It’s Alive (1974) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2017]

A family expecting their second born is surprised to have a mutant child as it arrives in this world and kills all in its path when scared.  As a baby, being scared is something that happens quite a bit, creating a mounting body count for this tiny tot.

Written and directed by Larry Cohen, It’s Alive is a tale inspired by pollution and environmental effects on humans’ reproductive systems, eventually leading to a damaged progeny trying to survive when it’s scared and ready to kill for survival.  The film takes this and turns it into an easy to watch horror film about a newborn mutant monster that can easily be taken as just that, a monster film, but is much more once one delves into the environmental message.  Here Cohen creates a tale that is deeper than it seems and works with monster film tropes to pass along its message and entertain at the same time.

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Logan (2017)

Logan, the public’s beloved Wolverine, has aged and isn’t doing so great.  As he holds onto life for some reason and is looking for a reason to be.  His later life is not filled with action, something he seems to have settled into.  That is until a woman comes asking for his help and a chain of events leads to him having to help a young girl in desperate need of guidance and assistance.

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Logan (2017)

Loganis a terrible X-Men movie, but a very good Wolverine movie. I say that because director James Mangold holds about as much contempt for X-Men and its concept as Bryan Singer does. Mangold offers a vision of the team that is none too flattering. Set in an undetermined timeline of the movie series, we’re met with Logan in the distant future where he’s one of the only surviving mutants left on Earth. The dream has died, Professor X is now suffering from a brain disease that has turned him in to a burden, and everything the X-Men strived for has been forgotten and passed off as a joke. Now faced with nothing but a dark ending, he is confronted by a Hispanic woman who pays him to help her. Logan, at the behest of Charles Xavier, is tasked with caring for a small girl named Laura who is much more like Logan than even Charles Xavier realizes.

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Rock & Rule (1983)

“Rock & Rule” is a wonky, surreal, and entertaining animated musical that feels like Ralph Bakshi, Don Bluth, and “Heavy Metal” magazine were combined in to such a frantic cult gem. The 1983 movie has gone through years of being an underground classic, and has finally been embraced for such an ahead of its time science fiction tale. The animation for “Rock & Rule” is completely out of the box, resembling rotoscoping in many aspects, and opting for character models you don’t often find anywhere else. “Rock & Rule” is a science fiction, punk rock, steam punk tale set many years in the future after world war III wiped man off the face of the Earth. The only surviving species are cats, dogs, and rats. They have evolved in to anthropomorphic mutants, all capable of thought and speech.

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The Toxic Avenger (1984) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

toxicavengerThe character that helped build Troma in to the company we know and love it as today, is still a wonderful and fun anti-hero who finds himself dropped in to fate’s door after a mean prank pulled on him one day. In Tromaville New Jersey, Melvin is a young janitor for a local health club dominated by a pair of muscle bound bullies. By day, the bullies roam around the club taunting Melvin and hanging around with their busty girlfriends, but by night they’re vicious hit and run murderers that take joy in killing children and helpless animals. After Melvin accidentally runs afoul one of the bullies, his girlfriend invites Melvin to a private rendezvous on the condition he wear a pink tutu.

After realizing he’s been the victim of a prank, Melvin crashes through a window and falls in to a drum of toxic ooze. Disfigured and transformed in to the muscle bound Toxic Avenger, he roams the streets of Tromaville murdering criminals and rapists, and laying down the law with his handy mop. Despite the very low budget, “The Toxic Avenger” works as a simultaneous superhero action tale and monster movie. A lot like “Robocop,” Troma’s superhero gets the job done in the most violent manner possible.

Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman are never above being as splatterific as possible, showing off a ton of gruesome moments including Toxie taking off a thug’s nose, and tearing another’s arm clean off. Of course a lot of the movie doesn’t reserve the grue for the bad guys, eliciting genuine cringe inducing moment when Melvin is turned in to the Toxic Avenger. Even for an indie film in 1984, the sight of Melvin’s skin pulsing and bulging from the toxic waste is grotesque and you hate to see such a goofy protagonist be reduced to this monster. Toxie is kept in the dark for most of his introduction, as he begins feeling his way around his strengths and weaknesses, and realizing his mutation allows him a chance to fight evil.

He begins to take on the bigger nemesis when he realizes the local police force is run by a corrupt chief and his sergeant whose attitude is very Nazi like. Herz and Kaufman give Toxie some time to even fall in love with a beautiful blond girl, and do battle with the villains from the gym. “The Toxic Avenger” is still a fun and off the wall action horror movie with its own twist on the superhero sub-genre. Leave it to Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz to take typical superhero tropes and twist in to something wonderfully gruesome and absurd.

What The Fantasia?! 5 WTF Films from Fantasia’s International Film Festival

Fantasia International Film Festival is renowned for showcasing some of the best and weirdest of the film world.  As someone who started going their second year and started seriously going for multiple screenings per week in 1999, some of the weird films I’ve seen cannot be unseen.  So, just to bring some to attention and have a bit of fun, here are five of the most WTF films I’ve seen.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)

TMNT-III know that this is grounds for getting my “90’s Kid” membership card stripped from my hands, but the more I see “TMNT II,” the more I dislike it. Yes, it has camp value thanks to Vanilla Ice, but nostalgia lens aside, it’s a pretty crummy follow up to the 1990 movie. It’s basically the “Batman Forever” of the original TMNT movie series, a movie that waters down the formula of the Ninja Turtles. Hell, even like “Batman Forever,” the turtles are no longer urban legends working in the shadows, and become virtual celebrities by the climax. Much to the shock of everyone involved, 1990’s “TMNT” movie was a film for all ages that took violence seriously, and depicted actual consequences to actions and decisions.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)

TMNToutoftheshadowsWhile 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was a watered down remake of the 1990 Jim Henson production, “Out of the Shadows” is a larger and sillier remake of “Secret of the Ooze” taking a lot of the ideas from the aforementioned film and realizing them to a more “TMNT” accurate vision. “Secret of the Ooze” had all the implications of the Krang, Baxter Stockman and the like, but “Out of the Shadows” takes that and re-introduces it to make about as much sense as it can. Rather than Tokka and Rahzar, we finally have Bebop and Rocksteady in their full disgusting glory, battling the Ninja Turtles, and playing stooges to the Shredder. “Out of the Shadows” isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but it’s ten times better than its 2014 predecessor.

That might be because it comes up with a radical new idea and focuses the majority of the sequel on the titular Ninja Turtles. April O’Neil is still a major character but is pushed to the sidelines more and more, allowing the characters we came to see a bigger spotlight and more of a chance to grow and blossom. The Platinum Dumbs version of the turtles is still wildly imperfect and stupid, but “Out of the Shadows” is at least fun, and tries to give us as many elements from the canon as possible. After Shredder’s plans from the first film are thwarted, he’s taken to jail and sent to a maximum security prison, supervised by Officer Casey Jones. When Shredder is broken free by his foot clan, he brings along thugs Bebop and Rocksteady to set off a plan to take over the world alongside a new alien ally.

Armed with mad scientist Baxter Stockman, Shredder plans to build a mutant army, and use his alien allies to help him rule. When the Turtles, with the help of April, learn of the mutagen, they learn the ooze has potential to turn them in to humans. With the turtles still pariahs of the city, Raphael is tempted to become human, while Leonardo tries to convince them to stay true to themselves. This time around there’s a larger focus on the dynamics of the brothers, as Leo and Raph bicker and fight for command over this current development, while Michelangelo is no longer making erection jokes, and is now the party dude we know and love, making cracks, fawning over pizza, and approaching every challenge with a chuckle worthy of Spiccoli. Stephen Amell is also a fun addition to the cast, providing a charismatic take on Casey Jones.

“Out of the Shadows” is a really good time and about as close to great as can be expected from something starring Megan Fox. I wish she’d drop out and allow an actress with actual ability and chemistry with her co-stars to take the reins as April. “Out of the Shadows” also has no idea how to handle so many elements of the narrative as there’s so much going on for a hundred minute movie. A lot of conflicts are tacked on, sub-plots go nowhere, and Splinter being retconned to have no connection to Shredder makes him a virtually pointless addition to the team. He literally does nothing but meditates in the background and offer convenient pearls of wisdom to his sons, with no actual emotional investment in their battle. You could have cut Splinter out of this movie, and it would have had no effect on the overall production.

Meanwhile there is the gaping wide hole of the new mutagen presented from Dimension X and the Krang. If the mutagen turns Bebop and Rocksteady from humans to animals, why can the mutagen possibly turn the turtles in to humans? They weren’t humans before they became teenage turtles. The implication of being mutants is that they’re anthropomorphic and human like, so wouldn’t they revert back to normal everyday turtles if given the mutagen? Also, I’m not a science wiz, but since when do the turtles have human DNA in them? Wouldn’t becoming human being a mutation be very redundant to the narrative? That said, if you can forgive the canyon wide plot hole, “Out of the Shadows” is an entertaining diversion that improves on a lot of the glaring flaws from the 2014 reboot.