Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Rollercoaster" (1977) - movie review

I've had the Lalo Shcifrin soundtrack LP to this movie "Rollercoaster" for years, so when Netflix added the flick a few weeks back I decided I should watch it.
George Segal plays the sharp dressed, 70s mustachioed amusement park safety inspector who acts and is treated by everyone he meets like an FBI agent. In fact, I might not have been paying that close of attention since I was making some movie snacks when it started and I thought he was a cop for the first half hour of the picture. Henry Fonda plays one of the heads of the mafia like amusement park chairmen who run the amusement park industry with a stern, old world attitude and just won't listen to Segal's crazy ideas no matter how many times he turns out to be correct. Timothy Bottoms is the terrorist/extortionist/mad bomber holding Magic Mountain in his icy grip of terror! Like the flip side of the Scorpio Killer from Dirty Harry, he's a calm and collected sociopath who he will stop at nothing to get what he wants (a million dollars!), even if it means killing hundreds of amusement park fans at the grand opening of a Magic Mountain loop coaster on the fourth of July!

Chilling, prescient and timely, this film is even more relevant today than when it was originally released.
"Rollercoaster" was part of the late 70s safety inspector craze I'm assuming was brought on by Walter Matthau mania and "The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3". In the 70s people LOVED safety inspecting! Safety Inspector fan clubs were everywhere, kids dressed as safety inspectors for Halloween, safety inspecting was the theme of every other tv show, play and movie that came out in 77 and 78, people just could not get enough safety inspecting! Don't worry though, "Rollercoaster" doesn't just glide along on safety inspector movie cliches, but brings it's own unique flavor and feel that creates a taut high wire thriller that's a worthy addition to the hallowed halls of the safety inspector thriller movie genre.

The picture was filmed in incredible soundiing 1:1 "Sensaround!" which consisted of putting a giant subwoofer in the theater that shook the seats during the rollercoaster POV scenes, and you can recreate at home with your "bass boost" button on your stereo remote. Oh, did I mention those rollercoaster POV shots? Do you like rollercoaster POV? If you do my friend, than you are in for a real treat! I think all you rollercoaster POV fans out there will REALLY enjoy this movie because there are A LOT of rollercoaster POV scenes. In fact, I'm going to wager a bet that the movie "Rollercoaster" might be one of the top 10 rollercoaster POV scene movies of all time. On top of that, there are some pretty damn good rollercoaster disaster movie scenes, people crying and screaming in terror, running everywhere as stuntmen and dummies plunge screaming from rollercoaster tracks, and makes for an exciting mixture of disaster film and 70s crime flick. Maybe not a ton of gore, but the stark terror of a coaster car plunging off the tracks and sending dummys and stuntmen flying through the air is something that you won't soon forget, and sticks with you long after the credits roll.

Sparks performs two songs at Magic Mountain that are pretty awesome. One is called "Big Boy" and they smash their gear at the end and the Magic Mountain crowd of kids goes crazy, waving balloons everywhere. There's also a lot of balloons in this movie. I'm not sure how long the actual studio version of the Spark's song is, but in the movie I think it's around 15 minutes long. "Big boy!" "Big boy!". No Sparks songs on the soundtrack LP, but I think I might download one of their albums.
Speaking of, the Lalo Shifrin score is really awesome for this flick. Crazy mix of calliope/circus music and 70s funk, as well as a couple good tense usual Shifrin style thriller/horror movie numbers. The songs actual weave in and out of each other in the movie and on the LP, which makes the funk and circus numbers have a sort of evil vibe that's really cool. If you see the LP I'd pick it up, especially if you're a Shifrin fan.

So, if you love safety inspecting even half as much as I do, move this underrated George Segal gem to the top of your queue today! Perfect for a safety inspector movie marathon!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Piranha 3-D" (2010) - movie review

I used to have a SLP mode VHS tape when I was a kid with Joe Dante's "Piranha" taped off of USA (with ads edited out thanks to the cabled remote control on my top loader) and James Cameron's "Pirahna II:The Spawning" taped from hooking my families 2 VCRs together (with the strobe copy protection ef...fect!) and a rental copy from "Crown Video" (shout out Hillsboro!) that I watched more times than was probably healthy for a 10-12 year old, so when I heard about this remake a while back I immediately screamed into the interwebs about the rape of my child hood, but I gotta' say, I was more than pleasantly surprised. It was hard to know what to expect, because while I really, really liked director Alexander Aja's "Hills Have Eyes" remake, I was bored silly by his more recent cliched snoozer"Mirrors". He pulled out the stops with "Piranha" though - Yeah, like everyone else you've talked to that's seen it, I thought it was freakin' hilarious. Funny cameos, a nice entertaining pacing, cool
monster designs, and some great comedic gore and splatterpunk gags courtesy of
KNB FX. A straight up fun time at the movies (in fact, probably more so than My Bloody Valentine, although other than the 3D the movies have little in common so it's an unfair comparison). Nice job of straddling the line of comedy without falling into lame, self aware horror movie fanboy crappiness. Hit all the marks and story beats that this kind of movie needs to, but still put enough of a fun original spin on it that it keeps your interest the entire ride.

As for the 3D, it was pretty damn good most of the time too, especially considering it was one of those flicks were they added the 3-D after the movie was done. I was a tiny bit worried during the opening credits as my eyes were blurry and started to get that "strained/too many video games" feel that I kept getting about an hour and a half into Avatar, but once it was about 2 minutes into the picture my eyes either adjusted or whatever the problem was went away (It also may have been cleaning off the popcorn butter I accidentally got smeared all over my 3-D glasses).
The B Movie T&A 3-D gags, as well as some of the gore and monster stuff did a really good job of using the 3-D for yuks, which was the main purpose of the 3-D, although a couple of really cool underwater sequences and piranha swarms also took great advantage of the format and used it for pure "damn that looks cool" 3-D shennanigans.

I was really slappin' my knee during most of the flick, as was the rest of the audience, making me wish I would have snuck in some vodka to spice up my giant 5$ Bark's Rootbeer. Jerry O'Connel , and the dude from Human Giant/30 Rock that played his sidekick were both pretty freakin' funny, and had some of the best lines as far as jokes went. The two straight man leads (Elisabeth Shu as the obligatory tough, single mom small lake town sheriff and some guy as a marine-fish-geologist scientisty dude) did a good job of marching through the movie straight faced like they were in "Prophecy" or "Frogs" or "The Swarm" or some other nature turns against us flick from the late 70s/early 80s. The much bally-hooed opening cameo/sequence (I won't ruin it in case you haven't heard about it) was of course totally genius, and also, I gotta say that it was nice to see Christopher Loyd dial it back a bit, play it subdued and turn in a subtle, tasteful performance for once. A bunch of other quick, funny cameos from some comedians, as well as some from various porn stars showing up throughout the movie to show off their 3-D hooters, and even Eli Roth managed to be pretty damn funny with his cameo as a DJ/wet t-shirt contest judge ("Show me those Danny DeVito's, baby!").
The marina attack scene does an awesome job of capturing the frenzied craziness of the scene from the original, with a festival of stunt men flying all over the sea, air and land, and KNB pulling out all the stops with top notch gore gags galore. They really line em up one after another and it had the whole crowd roaring at the theater I saw it in. Also during all that, they make great use of the super cool creature designs (I love how those prehistoric piranha's look) and the "bubbling blood jacuzzi jets" effect that the original relied so heavily on. That 10 minutes or so of the flick (which includes a great "bringin' it all down" segment with Ving Rames and a motorboat engine used as a horror movie chainsaw) is worth the steep price of admission alone.

One more thing I want to add is that the camp/marina/lake party in the new one looks a lot more fun than the the one in the original, which seemed to be a strange camp were kids endlessly bonk each other on the head with inflatable water toys. As fun as that may be, I have to say that porn star Gianna Michaels para-gliding topless in 3-D is a lot more fun to watch (plus, her gory ending is pretty damn classic).

I actually kind want to see it again, because I know on HBO or dvd it won't be nearly as fun, since they really worked to make the 3-D important to the movie, instead of just a thrown in afterthought/gimmick like most of the new-school 3-D flicks, but so far I would feel pretty safe adding this to the short list of genre/horror flicks made in the last 10 years that I actually liked (along with Slither, Drag Me To Hell, Zombieland, Splice, Trick R Treat and a few others). Goes to show you can still do a good nature attack/monster flick without it turning into a scifi original CG crap-a-thon.

ending score - 8.5 out of 10 fucking Oscars (soundtrack lacked compared to the super fucking classic
Pino Donaggio original and I would have liked the moogy spazzed out "Piranha" sound effect from the original to be used heavily (it would have worked great!), thus forcing me to subtract an Oscar, plus an
additional .5 an Oscar ding because NO FIREWALK! I couldn't believe amidst all that mayhem and stunt work
they didn't work in a single firewalk!!! For shame!)
Other than those minor gripes - go see it in 3-D or you'll miss out on half the fun of the movie! Come on, I know it's spendy in 3-D, but did you really go see that many movies this summer? Just sneak in some treats, or call the popcorn and dots your dinner, like I did.

now playing - Pino Donaggio - "Piranha" ost (on vinyl of course, duh...)

(the VHS tape I mentioned in the start of this review? It's driving me bonkers trying to remember what the 3rd movie on it was... I always stuck 3 movies on those SLP mode VHS tapes I had. I want to say it was "The Navy Vs. The Night Monsters" copied from the old Sunday Morning Monster movie thing they showed on KPDX-49, but I can't say for sure. Boy, that's gonna drive me nuts all day...)