NO HOLDS BARRED!!!!

No Holds Barred ~ 1989, Thomas J. Wright, USA

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The world of No Holds Barred is the sort of universe that professional wrestling really wants you to believe exists just outside the ring. It’s a place where everything is simple, no one is intelligent, and wrestling is really, really important. How can we ever hope to understand No Holds Barred? Who was this thing even made for? It feels far too sexual to be a kid’s movie (Even by hornball ’89 standards,), yet at the same time, what adult could enjoy something so juvenile? How seriously are we even supposed to take this damn thing? I just can’t say. Frankly, I don’t *get* wrestling. If you’re a fan, be advised… This review may peeve you.

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“Uh, Slam into a slim jim, man. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”

The Plot~ Hulk Hogan plays Rip, the most captivating and popular professional wrestler in the known world, which is a much bigger deal in this movie than it would be in real life. Not only does Rip dominate timeslots when he enters the arena, he’s also a swell guy, widely known for his honesty, reliability, appreciation of fine cuisine, and unwavering moral compass. He even speaks French! Nietzsche’s Ubermensch has arrived, and he wears short shorts and a spandex bandana on the regular.

maxresdefault (1)That’s his trademark hand gesture thing he does all the time.

However, there’s trouble looming just out of view for poor Rip and his loved ones- shady rival television executive Brell is looking to topple Rip in the ratings by any means necessary. In order to do so, our villain founds an ultra-violent, unregulated television brawl fest eloquently named “The Battle of the Tough Guys,” in order to find a champion capable of taking Rip down. His champion comes in the form of a homicidal nightmare named Zeus, played by Tommy Lister, a cross-eyed freak show who will stop at nothing to beat people up, probably because he had a bad childhood. That’s just me speculating. Something’s wrong with him for sure, though. So, then some more nonsense happens, until the movie is finally over and you can go do something else, like walk the dog, or make dinner, or whatever. Your time is yours to do with as you please, really.

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I once heard Michael Caine make the comparison that acting on stage is like surgery with a scalpel, but acting on film is like surgery with a laser. The point being, of course, that when you’re doing live theater, you have to convey your message all the way to the back of the room. On film, you’re free to be much more precise- less is more! You can emote with even the slightest flutter of an eyelid while in close up, and the impact you have on the audience is greatly amplified. I would wager, if we follow this metaphor through to completion, that acting in a professional wrestling ring would then be more like performing surgery with a friggin’ battle axe, or perhaps some sort of cartoon chainsaw. Hulk Hogan clearly did very well for himself winning the hearts of his audience from inside the ring, but “over the top clown” is all he knows, and it’s just not suitable for film. The Hulkster is about as subtle as a Technicolor clown riding a motorcycle through a frame of Schindler’s List, and watching him for 90 minutes is a chore. 85% of his dialogue is just strained grunting, and somehow the scene where he cries by his little brother’s hospital bed comes off as being less believable than the scene where he takes down two armed robbers by throwing pies at them. Oh, to live in the world of No Holds Barred

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Most of the other actors are fine, though, Tommy Lister especially is perfect as the stumbling, murderous Zeus. It’s not a demanding role, but he does it well- Lister would later go on to have small, but memorable roles in everything from Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight! Not too shabby. Hulk Hogan, on the other hand, would go on to land a starring role in an ethnic slur laden sex tape that would end his career and utterly demolish his legacy forever, but he still probably has more money than all of us, because there is no justice in the universe.

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No Holds Barred is a bad movie. I’ve learned that fans of professional wrestling do hold a certain reverence and affection for the film, and that is to be expected, but for the rest of us, I calls ’em likes I sees ’em. This movie is a horrifyingly chauvinistic, embarrassingly simple string of clichés, festooned with sweaty men, and slapped together sloppily. You absolutely have to meet it more than half way in order for the narrative to hold together, because it under the slightest level of scrutiny it collapses like France in a fistfight, and the movie’s many attempts to foster some sort of emotional reaction out of the audience are handled with all the slyness and cunning of a North Korean propaganda minister.

But…

it does have two things going for it: It has the single most terrifying public restroom I’ve ever seen on film, and also, it has the now famous “Dookie Sequence,” which I’ve included here:

That was worth watching.

D-

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SOCIETY!

Society– 1989, Brian Yuzna, USA

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Yowza!

In the psychotronic community, Brian Yuzna is mostly known for three things; One; his long, fruitful working relationship with horror film icon Stuart Gordon. Two; he directed the two Reanimator sequels because Stuart apparently had better things to do, and three; he’s the dude behind The Dentist, parts one and two. Those are probably the best known highlight’s of Yuzna’s long, active career, but he’s done all kinds of other shit throughout the years, too, and of all the projects he’s ever laid his grubby little mitts on, Society, his first directorial effort, is far and away the finest accomplishment that he can rightfully claim to be his own. He really set that bar pretty high with this one, and never, ever came close to shining this bright ever again.

Seriously, this masterpiece came from the same dude who farted out Return of the Living Dead 3? Don’t get me wrong, I liked Riverman, but that movie… Damn…

Society is the story of a young man from a well-to-do family who becomes suspicious of the superficial class system into which he was born. Bill (Played by some bozo called Billy Warlock) feels alienated from his peers, and soon, he starts to see a darker, more perverse side of wealth, privilege, and social status, which casts his family, friends, and society as a whole, in a terrifying new light. As things become more and more bizarre, Billy quickly begins to suspect that there is more going on in his upper class community than appearances would suggest, and as he attempts to get to the bottom of it, the bodies begin to pile up.

Society touches on a lot of ideas regarding nepotism, class warfare, and even regular-ass teenage angst, but regardless of how specific, or universal, the message in this film feels to you, one thing is for damn sure; it’s spattered some seriously creepy sequences, and the pay off in the third act is tremendous. The special effects (All practical, mind you, this was ’89, after all) really steal the show, and give Society one set in stone reason why all horror fans should count this film as required viewing at least once in their lives. It’s much, much more over the top and silly than what you’d see in early Cronenberg films, but I’d still say that Society is a classic of the body-horror sub genre, so it does occasionally draw comparisons to David’s many forays into that territory. Even more importantly, it’s a pretty good time, and the “frustrated 80’s teen who can’t get the adults to listen to him” trope keeps the film feeling fun, and light, regardless of it’s somewhat subversive, anti-establishment message.

But it isn’t perfect. Society has a few bothersome flaws that hold it back from living that fly Criterion life. For one, the score is cheesy and obnoxious. Additionally, The lighting is bland for 98% of the runtime, and the cinematography is flat and lifeless throughout. If you’re familiar with Yunza’s catalog, then you already know that this is typical of his style, but in the case of Society, you could almost assume that it’s deliberate, like some sort of bizarre, self aware, Paul Verhoeven stlye attack the American social class system wrapped up in the trappings of a twisted, Hallmark Channel movie of the week. If you look at the film’s aesthetic in this way, it becomes an easier pill to swallow, but it still nags at the back of my mind as a legitimate drawback, because he clearly didn’t do this shit on purpose. I can pardon all of that, however, and if you’re anything like me, you can too, because Society is also a movie where THIS happens:

society-imageNo caption needed!

A-

Recommended Double Feature: Society and Brain Damage, OR Society and Flesh For Frankenstein!

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Godzilla VS Biollante

Godzilla VS Biollante ~ 1989, Kazuki Ohmori – Japan

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Ah, 1989…. The year the Berlin Wall fell. The year Nintendo released the first model of it’s popular Gameboy system, and the year when Godzilla would face off against a gigantic plant monster, cloned from a fusion of his own cells, plant DNA, and the mysteriously captured soul of a dead Japanese woman. Ah, memories! Plus, Batman came out that year!

Yes, over thirty years had passed since Godzilla’s debut in 1954, and Big Green was now going strong in a rebooted franchise, called the ‘Heisei series” by film fans and the terminally nerdy. Godzilla VS Biolante is a direct sequel to Return of Godzilla/Godzilla 1985, and it’s pretty darn strong. Also, my BluRay informed me that this film was rated PG for “Traditional Godzilla violence,” so that’s a major victory, I feel.

THE PLOT~ Following Godzilla’s attack on Tokyo in Return of Godzilla, numerous little chunks of ‘Zilla flesh which had been blasted off of his leathery hide are found around the now desolated city. These chunks become highly prized because of their applications in science, and terrorism, and thus multiple nations and private entities enter into small scale violent conflicts to obtain them. As is always the case, one particular chunk of Godzilla cells finds it’s way into the hands of a weasely man in fingerless gloves, who returns them to his employer in the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Saradia. Saradia has ecological plans for the Godzilla cells, and hands them over to their go-to science man, the Japanese scientist Dr. Shiragami. However, before any sort of crazy biological nightmare can be crafted, the Saradian Institute of Technology is straight up bombed, Shirigami’s lab is destroyed, and his daughter Erika is killed. No big deal, though, cuz somehow he splices her DNA with some flowers. “That outta take care of it.”

So, fast forward a few years, Shirigami is living in Japan again with his flowers, which he believes have his daughters soul in them. Miki, a psychic from Japan’s “Mental Science Exploitation Center” (good name guys) is invited out to pow-wow with Shirigami’s garden, because she apparently can talk to plants really good. Whatever. Long story short, scientists uncover a new application for the Godzilla cells; theoretically, they can be used to genetically engineer a new form of bacteria which like to gobble up radiation, and that could help neutralize the threat of atomic warfare, as well as kill Godzilla himself, if he ever crawls out of that volcano you chucked him in back in the last movie. Again, numerous government and private entities enter into a deadly game of espionage and terrorism to obtain the known Godzilla cell samples, and eventually some find their way into Shirigami’s hands yet again. “I’m totally adding these to my flower/daughter,” he thinks. And he does. Oh my goodness, what do you know, giant Godzilla/plant monster is created. Dr. Shiragami, you have outdone yourself this time. Your efforts to save your daughter have transformed her tortured soul into a towering, hideous insult to God that must be killed. I expect you to toss that “World’s #1 Dad” mug right in the damn garbage, you twisted son of a bitch.

The monster, called Biolante, mostly just hangs out in a lake until Godzilla comes and kicks it’s ass, causing it to turn into glowing spores and fly into space (For real, this is what happens.) Then, it’s up to Japan to defeat Godzilla, which they work really hard to do, but can’t seem to accomplish. Finally, Biolante Spore-Warps back down from space, now in an improved, less plant/more monster type shape, and beats on Godzilla real hard until he just can’t take it anymore, and then he hops back into the ocean.

In case watching giant, awesome monsters scrabbling to kill each other isn’t the reason you chose to watch a Godzilla movie, Toho has your back, and this battle is followed up by what we all have really been waiting for, two adult men in expensive suits fighting clumsily in the mud. Also, at the very end we see Biolante has transformed into a giant rose and is floating around in outer space. Whatever, that’s stupid as hell, but the movie is still pretty cool, and at least there aren’t any aliens in it.

It really is pretty good. The miniature sets are sub-par, but the monster effects are great. Biolante is an excellent monster, the design is very well done, reminding one of The Deadly Spawn more than a little, and the idea behind the creature makes her the most original monster Godzilla has faced since Hedorah, easily. In fact, Biolante opens up the door for the franchise to explore the moral implications of genetic tampering, which is an issue we couldn’t have adequately addressed in the Showa era, yet the theme seems to be very “at home” within the Godzilla metaphor. After all, he’s a damn mutated dinosaur, so in a way, the issue of biological experimentation has kinda piggy-backed it’s way through the franchise, waiting for science to catch up, so we could really get into the nitty gritty. It’s pretty great.

Also, the monster dental work in this movie is first rate. Those teeth look gross, and shiny, and also kinda real. Good job, monster-tooth technician, whoever you are.

B+

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