If you’re in the mood for a tale of corporate malfeasance leading to the creation of ravenous zombies that doesn’t have Milla Jovovich in it: Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead (2006, Lloyd Kaufman)
Chintzy musical gore comedies about Native American chicken zombies aren’t supposed to be as melancholy as Lloyd Kaufman’s Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. The tale of Arby, Wendy, the chicken franchise that comes between them and the defiled corpses that destroy everything in sight has the energy and chutzpah of the average Kaufman production, yet there’s also an air of defeat in it — on the metaphorical battleground of American Chicken Bunker, the war is being waged for the soul of America between corporate homogeny and indie funkiness, and homogeny has every possible upper hand. His last few films have exuded a definite Us-vs.-Them attitude that reflects his towering frustration at the mainstream media and what he sees as the marginalization of truly independent media as well as a talismanic body-fluid roundelay (shit-blood-vomit-semen-repeat) that betrays some of the strangest body-horror this side of David Cronenberg, but here the frustration seems to have won out. Arby takes a job at American Chicken Bunker in order to be closer to activism-minded Wendy, and the economic compromises of this one young man cascade into a pile of bad decisions, spelling doom for him an all those around him; in a way, it’s Robert Bresson’s L’Argent, except with explosive diarrhea and by-hand castration.
That said, I have to then note that this in no way compromises the delicious surface pleasures offered up to us by Kaufman. No matter how dark the subtext gets, Poultrygeist is still a comedic gore movie (with occasional musical numbers!) about Native American chicken zombies overrunning an army-themed KFC-style restaurant and chowing down on any tender pink flesh that gets in their way. Like any good Troma-stamped production, it’s stuffed with wall-to-wall gore, exposed nubile flesh and a pronounced lack of anything resembling taste. This is a movie where bearded rednecks fuck chicken carcasses, Arby and Wendy perform a song surrounded by topless pink-shorted lesbians, a man goes through a meat grinder only to be resurrected as a talking sandwich and one character gets to deliver the line, “I don’t mean to complain, but there’s a severed penis in me sloppy Jose” in a ridiculous Irish accent. And all that happens before the chicken zombies show up, at which point things really go berserk. Bitter, offensive, idiotic and hilarious in equal measure, Poultrygeist is go-for-broke cinema at its most exhilarating.
If you’re in the mood for a joyful blend of romance and violence: Dragons Forever (1988, Sammo Hung & Corey Yuen)
On paper it seems strange to admit that a work of art predominately occupied with men pummeling other men into bruised submission should be imbued with so much shameless, giddy joy. But the martial-arts genre is often a funny thing — given the right spin, a study of muscled flesh in violent motion can come off like an extreme form of bone-crunching slapstick. Jackie Chan has spent decades building film after film around this, where wonder at feats of inhuman athleticism dovetails with a healthy sense of the ridiculous, resulting in a good number of gut-laughs. Dragons Forever fits snugly into this idiom; as a showcase for the Three Brothers (Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao), it works not only as a cracking action film but as an amusing character comedy.
The film centers on a conflict between a chemical company and Miss Yip (Deannie Yip), who owns a fishery that she claims is falling victim to pollution. Into this situation comes Jackie Lung (Chan), a womanizing lawyer representing the company. He rounds up an old friend (Hung), an arms dealer, and tasks him with wooing Miss Yip in hopes of getting her to sell the fishery and drop the lawsuit while he does the same to Miss Yip’s cousin (Pauline Yueng) to acquire information. While the setup sounds convoluted, it flows surprisingly well given the number of complications and leads to a number of cute scenes (I especially liked Chan cunningly using a courtroom appearance to get a declaration of love from Yueng). The main attraction, though, is the fight scenes, and they don’t disappoint. Whether it’s Hung and Biao duking it out in Chan’s bedroom while Chan tries to keep them quiet, Chan being chased around a cruise ship by a gang of thugs or the three taking on machete-wielding adversaries in a nightclub, the choreography is top-notch. Sitting halfway between basher and romantic dramedy, Dragons Forever manages to fulfill the requirements of both genres expertly without taking away from either side. (Dragons Forever expires from Netflix Instant on September 18th.)
If you’re in the mood for an involving kidnapping thriller with a hell-for-leather performance at the center: Julia (2008, Erick Zonca)
There’s a category-five hurricane fueling the relentless pace of Erick Zonca’s terrific character study/crime thriller Julia. As the title character, Tilda Swinton initially appears as a shambling irresistible force. She plays Julia as a pugnacious woman with a spine of steel, vulgar and self-interested to a fault, yet able to modulate her mood and tone on the fly if she senses an emotional shift in those around her. It’s a dizzying performance, a master class in the art of overstatement from an actress whose control is generally her strongest asset. Funny as hell, too — Swinton’s gobsmacked exclamation of “Are you shot?” when attempting to win over the sullen boy she’s kidnapped gets a belly laugh from me every time.
About that boy. Though it casts about for a while, Julia eventually narrows itself down to a harebrained kidnapping scheme Julia gets talked into by Elena, an emotionally deranged woman she encounters in an AA meeting. If Julia were merely a showcase for Swinton’s titanic performance, it’d be worthwhile anyway, but the screenplay by Zonca and Aude Py is a twisty and slippery thing, with a narrative that gets more complicated the more Julia tries to think her way out of the situation she’s put herself into. The wobbly handheld camerawork is fantastically evocative – where initially it reflects Julia’s bleary lifestyle, it feels more and more like an extension of the desperation and nervousness she doesn’t allow herself to show the deeper she gets enmeshed in this get-rich-quick scheme. The editing and pacing, too, feel much a piece with the character, as scenes crowd up against one another and occasionally end abruptly (e.g. Elena’s big freakout scene), as though the film itself had gotten too drunk on its high-strung emotions and blacked out. In all, Julia gives the sense of having been told from within its title character’s jumbled head, all snarls and razor-wire. A volcanic work, engrossing and unmissable. (Julia expires from Netflix Instant on September 18th.)
The Netflix streaming library is vast and daunting and mostly filled with crap. Steve Carlson is the Netflix video clerk, and every week he hand-delivers three awesome movies you’ve never heard of before. He’s been writing about movies in one form or another on the Internet since 2002 and co-hosts the Bad Idea Podcast. Someone once called him the lonely Magellan of exploitation cinema. He thinks that’s the best compliment he’s ever received.
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