Monday, June 15, 2015

Wolfcop and Space Milkshake - B-Movies are the Best

Space Milkshake - is a B-sci-fi/horror movie that knows what it is and revels in its genre conventions. I mean, really, everyone who’s seen a sci-fi film that involves a mutating rubber duck, raise your hand. Oh, it’s just me? Then, everyone who wants to see a sci-fi film that involves a mutating rubber duck, raise your hand.

Okay, good, we’re all on the same page here.

Space Milkshake is about a futuristic spaceship full of garbage-men and –women whose job it is destroy debris that might interfere with space-traffic around Earth. Captain Anton Balvenie is a self-centered sometimes-jerk who’s mired in the petty/unhappy phase of a relationship with his frustrated, fed-up first officer, Valentina. The young technician Tilda mostly just works and keeps to herself, which frustrates their newest arrival – Jimmy, a talkative guy whose first time in space is being ruined by the attitude problem of his new coworkers.


It’s bad enough that Jimmy is greeted by his new boss curtly ordering him to fix a half-dozen different machines, but Tilda won’t even speak to him. It’s pretty clear that Jimmy won’t be able to glamorize life on a space station that uses lasers and spacepods to clear the paths of interplanetary travel. But then an unexpected cargo craft arrives, and Anton goes out on a salvage mission – and suddenly, there’s no radio communications from Earth. Hell, there isn’t even any trash orbiting Earth!

I’m not nostalgic for the 80’s and 90’s, but I have had many conversations lately about the fact that good or entertaining b-movies seem few and far between now. I feel a pang deep inside of me when I browse the horror and sci-fi offerings of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Youtube’s free film selection. Most of them are CGI fests with bad writing and/or acting, and they don’t have an enjoyable sense of tone, and they don’t do anything new.

Seriously, one of the most rewarding experiences as a film goer is getting to see good actors that you know star in low-budget ventures that make a strong effort to tell a good story – when you add the tone and mood of B-movies (think Black Dynamite, From Dusk Til Dawn), you create a possibility to have ungodly amounts of fun. And that’s exactly what you get with SM.

Valentina unloads on a truly unappreciative boyfriend.

Do you want to know why, out of everything available on Amazon Prime, I opted to watch this? Well, first the cover made me laugh. Then I realized that it starred the Stargate TV series’ Amanda Tapping, and Billy Boyd, who played Merry in The Lord of the Rings films, backing them up with Robin Dunne from the Tapping-produced SyFy series,Sanctuary, and Kristen Kreuk from the execrable WB show, Smallville. But what completely sold me was realizing that George Takei was voicing a mutating rubber duck.

I’ve seen every one of these actors turn in fine performances, save Kristen Kreuk (but what I saw of Smallville was so badly-written that I can’t hold it against her). Takei is a real stand-out as Gary, and I honestly wish I could watch a video of him in the recording booth. Most of Space Milkshake is very competently-shot, with good CGI and some perfectly-filmed puppet work. The low budget shows, but the movie steers into that skid ably - reveling in its b-status - aided by a great sense of humor that makes you realize this is all very tongue-in-cheek. The movie has the sort of vibe that is so likable, it makes you inclined to enjoy the experience.

It also displays that smartest of writers’ choices: focusing on the characters and using their established personalities to drive conflict as well as development. Lots of fun little character moments abound here, like when the crew just casually decide to screw over the new guy by not telling him how to properly sign in so he can’t collect a share of the ship they salvage. The bickering between Anton and Valentina is dead-funny, and the evolving situation between Tilda and Jimmy is often deliciously-awkward.

Valentina and Gary (sorry this is a spoilerific scene, but vids were hard to find)

I laughed, hard and frequently, I was impressed by what the filmmakers achieved, none of the actors disappointed me in the least, and I was so happy to see the care put into filming this clever script. Space Milkshake is a future cult hit, but no one knows about yet, so now is your chance to jump on that train early. Please don’t ever think that I’m not giving this movie a longer review because I don’t take b-films seriously; it’s just that you’re more likely to enjoy this experience with little foreknowledge, and this 80-odd minute story is so simple that I could easily spoil the whole experience. Check it out as soon as possible; sign up for the Amazon Prime trial if you have to...

Wolfcop

And I got even more reason to believe in the future of b-movies because of Wolfcop, which is sort of like Bad Santa meets From Dusk Til Dawn. It stocks up on genre clichés and runs full throttle with the conceit of a cop who turns into a werewolf, to the delight of anyone savvy enough to rent this picture. The audacious title and silly poster were what sold me, and I found plenty of reasons to stick around as the film went on.

After a hard rock credits sequence, Wolfcop opens on its protagonist, Sgt. Lou Garou (which is, admittedly, a terrible screen name). When his alarm goes off, he curses and throws on his clothes as if he's already late. Next, he finishes a beer from the prior night, and races out of his house without a word to the nude woman in his bed. Then, he drunkenly drops his gun under his car(!), and has to stop to throw up while he pulls out of his driveway.

In under two minutes, WC shows more vivid, understandable character work than George Lucas did in three Star Wars prequels, or Michael Bay did in four Transformers films. Garou is nearly the opposite of all those “Tom Cruise is the best of the best” features.


From there, the tone and mood are further cemented. Lou is a screw-up deputy sheriff in a crazy version of Anytown, USA. This absurd locale might be in Maine, Montana, NoCal, or the South - all you need to know is that there a mayoral race going on, and the town is about to celebrate its annual pastime The Drink and Shoot Event. It might as well be set in The Simpson’s Springfield.

When our "hero" clocks in, he's chastised by his weary boss, who notes that Garou is two hours late for his shift - again. And the hits keep on coming, as this hungover law enforcement officer is sent out to respond to a disturbance report from Willie, a nut who owns the local gun shop. Lou explains that the weird pentacle Willie saw in the woods is likely the work of heavy metal music fans. Lou also accepts Willie's offer of a cup of coffee - and empties the contents of his flask into the mug.

But Willie can't know that the next few days will see his life completely turned around. There's a solar eclipse coming, and the town's low-lives have been extra active lately, and pets have gone missing a lot recently. All of these oddities are just the first stirrings of the strange circumstances that will turn Lou into... The Wolf Cop: part man, part wolf, all drunk (that’s my own tagline, btw).


Lou becomes embroiled in the increasingly-strange proceedings in his town, he finds that he’ll need to rely on Willie’s help, his own instincts, and the aid of people like his local bartender, Jessica, and his vastly-superior workmate, Tina Walsh. Worst of all, as he tries to untangle a web of information that involves occultists in addition to the deaths of both his and Tina’s dads, he finds himself doing actual police work.

There's so many compliments to bestow onto Wolfcop that I almost don't know where to begin. The world of this movie is built up smoothly and smartly. It has a unique tone and mood, one established early and earnestly by the filmmakers. And it features excellent practical effects which look great and are very well-executed.

But I have to show a specific respect for this picture’s humor and its work with its characters. Although there are a whole lot of implausible coincidences at play – namely the connection between Lou, Tina, and the present-day attacks - other aspects feel perfectly natural. No awkward explanation is ever given for Garou’s boozy lifestyle, nor do we ever learn why this town is so damn weird. The roles behave as if they all have some sort of history with each other, which the script and actors neatly build, seldom devolving into drawn-out exposition.


Wolfcop takes its basic setup and runs with it at full steam. There are great horror sequences that are genuinely gruesome, yet are balanced out by a relentless comedic sensibility that made me laugh at least a few dozen times. Other moments have the vibe of a childhood gross-out contest, and you can practically feel the delight the cast and crew must have felt when they staged what I’m going to call one of the greatest love scenes ever filmed. Again: there are so many low budget horror movies out there, and yet few of them have good practical effects, and even fewer of them really stress characters and writing, which are the most essential elements of any quality film.

Leo Fafard does great work with Sergeant Lou Garou - he's sympathetic enough that you genuinely worry a out him, even though Lou is just a disaster in progress. Amy Matysio must have loved portraying Sergeant Tina Walsh. Unlike Garou, the straight-talking Walsh is capable and professional. I was glad that Tina has a good sense of humor, as females in this kind of role are often presented as a buzzkill; nor is anything made of how pretty she is (I really love her glasses). Jonathan Cherry gets some fantastic banter as Willie Higgins, Sarah Lind must have had a lot of fun playing Jessica, and both of them are backed up by Aiden Devine (the Chief), Jesse Moss, Corrine Conley, James Whittingham, and Ryland Alexander.

And, as much as I loved the writing and the performances by the cast, I need to express my admiration for the camerawork. WC features excellent framing, camera movement, and editing. There are also several shots that were made with the help of a helicopter, and those look positively gorgeous. If for some reason, you don’t enjoy this insane effort, you’ll at least have to appreciate the cinematography, which is top-notch.

Director Lowell Dean reminds all of us b-movie fans that a scarce budget does not have to mean that a movie was made without care. Everyone involved in this production should be quite proud – they didn’t just make a fine future cult film, they produced a good story that they told well and stylishly. My life as a filmgoer is actually better for having seen Wolfcop, and that should be all the recommendation that you need. It’s available to stream on Netflix, so just pick a night to kick back and enjoy yourself.

For my own part, I’m just so damn happy that the spirit of b-movies is still alive. It was an even happier discovery, as it is so easy to get any old garbage onto streaming services that are hungry for any content. I'd rather go hungry than eat poorly, and I'm so glad I didn't have to do either last weekend.

2 comments:

  1. It's funny, I just heard a recommendation for Wolf Cop before finding out that you saw it! According to what I heard, they're trying to make a sequel and have a Kickstarter already set up for it.

    George Takei as a mutant rubber duck is beyond awesome! He's also starring in a Broadway musical this fall, written by him about his family's experience as internees in America during WWII. Thanks for the B movie review, it helps me get ready for Bad Movie Month later this season!

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    1. Hey, obviously Wolfcop had a stronger place in the cultural zeitgeist than any of us would have thought =)

      Yeah, I discovered info about the sequel yesterday and I was really happy for it. I'm sure it will also be a blast.

      Everyone in Space Milkshake is game and in good form, but I just started smiling so broadly when I heard about Takei's role. I hadn't heard about the Broadway musical, though, and I'm as happy that he's working on a project like that as I am sad to be reminded of what his family went through needlessly.

      Always glad to help, lady t! I hope you have an excellent time with them. (Also, note that I have on more b-movie review coming up, which I'll post either after or before my upcoming review of 2014)

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