Friends, I have seen the Promised Land. And that Promised Land is on a downtown Austin street that smells like urine and old falafel. It’s always the last place you’d look for it, eh? But there, in the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown Location, I bore witness to the glory of the First Annual Cinemapocalypse.
Tim League and the crew over at the Alamo Drafthouse know how to throw one hell of a party. Of course, paired with Quentin Tarantino, they also know how to pummel an audience into their seats with increasing intensity.
Over the course of 14 hours, we were all subjected to bloody, ball-chopping, machine-gun-spitting, firebombingly excellent violence alongside some cool Q&As and far too many buckets of Schlitz. Since you didn’t have a chance to be there, and I pity that you didn’t, I’ve decided to share some thoughts on the movies we saw so that you might be able to hold your very own DVD-style marathon at home when the time comes. I also hope that these words are taken down, canonized and bound into leather books that shall be used on some sort of weekly day of worship. Let’s say Tuesday since it’s the start of the weekend.
Hold on to your butts:
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Health Status: Ready. Willing. Able.
Film Love: This movie is a hell of a fun ride. Tarantino has always had a strong ear for dialog and it’s on display here in a big way alongside some heart-poundingly tense moments and some visceral violence. There are a few problems – like too much of that dialog monopolizing the set pieces and far too much stroking of the director’s own movie knowledge – but over all, it’s a really fun movie that is far different than what the trailers and marketing materials are showing. It was also a fantastic experience to watch the last act of the film after the Alamo crew dropped massive Swastika banners down to adorn the walls of the theater. They loomed large over the rest of the fest, which was actually pretty jarring, but a damn unique film watching experience. It was also interesting seeing the film before a host of cult/pulp/exploitation films because it taught me something. Most of those films have major stretches of boredom and exposition before getting to the wanton violence. Inglourious Basterds can feel draggy from time to time, but the dialog and acting are world’s better than those other films which elevates it into a seriously enjoyable experience. The look of Inglourious Basterds fluctuates from high art to gritty realism, the acting is fantastic (and extra points go to casting German actors as Germans and French actors as French characters), and the story is over-the-top but still personal. I was really pumped by the time the credits rolled.
The Losers aka Nam’s Angels (1970)
Health Status: Really pumped.
Film Love: The second film of the night chosen by Quentin Tarantino, The Losers is a truly ridiculous movie built on the premise that the Army has called upon the might of a motorcycle gang to go into the shit in Vietnam and rescue a kidnapped man who everyone seems to hate for some reason. The print of the flick had lost most of its color, so it was shown in glorious pink, but it seemed appropriate for how dated and absurd the movie is. Especially considering that it makes absolutely no goddamned sense. The story is as lacking as the acting – perfect for what it is. Unleashing bikers into the whore houses of Vietnam (which looks surprisingly like The Philippines!) and having them build bikes with machine guns secured to the handlebars are the true main focus for the movie, although if you want to look deeply into the reality of soldiers raping/falling in love with local women during war, you can. You’re probably better off just watching for the horrid spectacle of it all. Granted, it’s laughable, but you’ll probably fall in love with (or to) the haunting, Carole King-style hippie theme song that compliments the blood-splatter like a tuxedo at a garbage dump. It’s better than average as a biker-war movie, but something to consider: The Losers was one of the first Vietnam war movies – so see if you can spot the elements that would later become cliches!
The Siege of Firebase Gloria (1989)
Health Status: Eying the menu. Downing a fourth Dr. Pepper. Mostly sane.
Film Love: This, my friends, was the surprise stand out of the entire marathon and stands as a gleaming exception to my hotly-debated dislike of most 1980s films. I’d never heard of this Vietnam war piece (that still looks shockingly like the Philippines!), but it blew me the fuck away. R. Lee Ermey shows off some serious acting chops (alongside some of the most quotable solider lines on the planet. Yes, Sgt. Hafner! I will defend this base like it’s my daughter’s cherry!) and Wings Hauser is a usual brand of bad ass with a heart that works really well. The team meets up at a firebase where the C.O. has gone pretty insane, so they take over and fortify in time for a three-day attack launched by the Viet Cong. Director Brian Trenchard-Smith‘s name alone should get you excited about it, and he delivers in a big way with a strong story and some really bloody battles. The Viet Cong soldier attempting to crawl away while dragging what was left of his leg (his Tibia) was one of my favorites, but the sheer amount of heads on spikes takes the cake. And, as you might guess, a three-day assault with massive numbers turns the firebase and the fields outside of it into a slaughterhouse in the most satisfying way possible. Firebase Gloria is one hell of a film.
Health Status: Mind slowly going, but a mysterious stranger in a powder blue jumpsuit offers me some pills. I’m only slightly disappointed to find out they are Advil Liquigels.
Film Love: This movie is not the best film on the planet, but it holds a special place in my heart because I saw it when I was in high school – part of the film education that my father shared with me – and it works as a sort of poor man’s version of Death Wish. Iconic actor Robert Forster was on hand to answer some questions and to do a hilarious impression of John Huston, and the guy is just as likable as a human being gets. To the huge round of applause he received, he smiled and responded, “It’s great to be overrated.” How cool is that? Of course, his character in Vigilante shoots a guy in the chest at close range with a shotgun, but the asshole totally had it coming to him. Essentially, the movie is about a man whose wife and son are attacked, the system that fails to punish the guilty, and a group of men who take the law into their own hands. But the plot really doesn’t matter. It’s a loose reasoning for showing scene after escalating scene of getting the kind of cathartic, break-every-bone-in-his-body-and-leave-him-in-a-parking-lot revenge that someone might want after their family is attacked. Like I said, not really a great movie, but there’s a compelling reason to see it: Fred Williamson kicking the ass out of just about everyone. Plus, the legendary Woody Strode has a small role kicking the ass out of a gang of prisoners in the shower.
The Black Gestapo (1975)
Health Status: Soul hurts.
Film Love: I never, ever, ever thought that I’d get to see this movie in my life, let alone on the big screen. I’d heard rumors and tale of this blacksploitation film from fellow film fans for a while, but never imagined I’d have the pleasure to see it myself. Before checking out, if you can, you should ask yourself: do you want to see a bunch of senseless nudity? Black people dressed up like SS members? a guy held down in a bathtub and relieved of the burdens of testicle ownership? The answer, my friends, is yes. The Black Gestapo is a terrible, awful, needlessly bad film – and you should run out and see it immediately. Charles Robinson (the bailiff from “Night Court” (Seriously)) rises to power within the ranks of the People’s Army and creates a violent group of thugs that save the neighborhood from the white drug dealers and bookies that rape the black women and harass the store owners. Thankfully, once the white oppressors are gone, the militant group takes over running the numbers and raping the women if need be. It’s up to one man to infiltrate their training facility and murder a ton of dudes with make-shift weaponry or hog-tie them with not-make-shift ropes. Definitely slow at points, but it’s so head-slappingly impossible as a premise, that it must be watched.
Ip Man (2008)
Health Status: Getting my third wind, wondering how many vitamins are in fried pickles, shaking slightly from a severe lack of sleep.
Film Love: What a fantastic movie to end on. Ip Man was previously celebrated on our site with a review from foreign film (and all things Asian) enthusiast Rob Hunter, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. Donnie Yen steps up his acting slightly to play the title character – a man who would go on to teach Bruce Lee – during the tumultuous World War II-era China. The fight scenes of Ip Man are numerous and exciting – leading up to a final confrontation between the evil Japanese General and Master Ip where the wire work is done deftly and the fists move so fast that you can almost feel the force of the punches in your own chest. For classic kung fu fans, there are a few jokes – particularly dealing with the quarreling of the different schools – that work really well and show off an understanding of the genre history. But, damn, this movie is just a really great display of martial arts painted lovingly on the backdrop of oppression and the end of an era.
In Which I Survive Cinemapocalypse
What a fan-fucking-tastic time. A ton of great movies all lined up and shot down one by one by a hungry audience whose blood-lust knew no bounds! A great audience where film geeks could roam around chatting about carving up flesh and launching rockets at helicopters while making new friends. And all of it topped off with an ice-cold Schlitz (in the can!) in the lobby at 11a.m. A movie marathon well worth the lack of sleep and the fever-dreams that still haunt me. In short, I’m already marking my calendar for next year’s end of the world. Hopefully they leave the Nazi banners up in the theater for family film day.