Friday, May 22, 2015

The Talent Show


  Despite having seen this before I saw Mad Max: Fury Road, (which I just saw earlier this week) I didn't feel the urge to write a review on it right away. It was lots of fun, and it does justice to the 'shut-off-your-brain' genre of summer blockbusters. People who are already tired of Marvel's efforts won't find anything new to enjoy here, and lasting fans will really enjoy it. Age of Ultron is yet another pleasantly watchable chapter in Marvel's big franchise universe. It's full of hints and 'easter eggs' carefully placed for astute fans to find and starts rumors about. As an action movie, it's fun. As an ensemble movie, it's well balanced. As a Marvel movie, it's about what you'd expect. When it all comes down to it, it's just a really big talent show.

  These ensemble movies are beat by beat showcases. They're expected to have certain things happen, and under a certain tone no less- and Age of Ultron is as good as they're going to get for what they are. I firmly believe that if you don't like them, then you want them to be something they're not supposed to be. Ergo, these movies simply aren't for you. And I can respect that. This is simplicity at it's finest. Basic good vs. evil against a backdrop of modern technology and cautionary tales of every sort. It's like the second coming of 80's action movies. Except, mired in kid-gloved politics and encumbered by light-touch world issues.

  Nevertheless, you have your heroes, and you have a reason to root for them. Emotional interludes are doled out in equal measure with exposition just so we can still feel something for our protagonists when stuff starts blowing up. That's all these movies really are. And what's more is... I'm okay with that. So long as we can have a secondary line of properties like Daredevil. Which is still the best thing out of Marvel so far because by the very nature of it's format, it's enabled to deal with characters and emotions in a way the movies aren't. I can see Marvel running out of rope unless they wise up a bit and flesh out this universe even more with more weighty content like Daredevil.

   However Age of Ultron is exactly what I hoped it would be and I had a great time. I'm sure the plot has been rehashed on every single blog from here to kingdom come, so I'll skip that for now. It's fairly obvious they're setting up a second team. It'll probably be led by Ant-Man, and under him will be The Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Falcon, War Machine, and/or the Black Panther. I'm not sure how Dr.Strange will fit into all that, but hey, there's a lot of rope left still. Marvel has the next decade of movies planned out. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying, it's a great time to be a nerd.

  I can't argue with that. Age of Ultron isn't perfect, and like the Iron Man sequels, I largely suspect that it'll get better with re-watches. Hell, most of these movies get better with a few re-watches. I think that's their strength: their watchability. They're simple, carefree, Saturday matinee fare that take light jabs at serious topics. On one hand, that frustrates me. They are still managing these movies to appeal to the biggest audience possible. Which means things like the 'Demon in a Bottle' storyline from the Iron Man comics that dealt with Tony Stark's alcoholism get quietly mothballed because they're deemed un-family friendly.

  Is that sort of approach really thinking about the comic fans who've been fans of this stuff all along or is that just thinking about the long term profit margin? Did Chris Nolan hold back with The Dark Knight? Not at all. Whether or not you still think that's a good Batman movie is up to you, but it wasn't kid's play. As opposed to Iron Man 2... Now, granted, Captain America: The Winter Soldier felt very grown up and instead of toying with world issues and modern problems, it made those things the fundamentals of the movie. I can safely say The Winter Soldier stands head and shoulders above most of the Marvel movies right now, but Age of Ultron is up there. Not quite on par, yet not a full step back either.

  There's some scary good acting from all those involved, some fantastic action scenes, and some memorable one liners. Again, it suffers from the 'setting up the next one' thing that Iron Man 2 did, but that's alright. There's a ton of familiar faces, a few new ones and it all works out okay in the end. Paul Bettany is fantastic as The Vision. Easily a massive highlight of the movie. In fact, he's probably my favorite part of it. Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor Johnson both do really well as Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver) respectively, but rather than the main characters I felt they should've been, they're relegated to background roles basically. Until the climax of course.

  Hawkeye is given a better role overall this time around and for once he feels like he has a unique personality all to himself. Ultron himself is scary, and surprisingly witty. Loved him. James Spader did a great job with the voice and the motion capture. All that aside though, there's some odd stuff like Banner and Romanov having a romantic vibe, Thor's character development being relegated entirely to foreshadowing for future films, Tony Stark's character arc from Iron Man 3 being all but ignored, and the Avengers themselves are all teamed up again in the beginning of the movie, and from the sound of it- have been doing their thing together for a while recently. I dunno what was up with all that, some of it is out of left field, some of it ignores continuity (that I'm aware of), but nonetheless...

  The movie is fun. It's exciting, it's funny, it's a big action packed spectacle. I think that's all anybody really wants from it. I was left feeling like I spent my money well and that I had a good time. I didn't feel the 'someone pinch me is this really real?' feeling I had, walking breathless and smiling out of the first Avenger's movie, but I reiterate, again, I had fun. Which is more than I can say for a lot of modern blockbusters.  Marvel has yet to drop below the standards set by their previous films, and I think we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief that these movies aren't being made by studios that don't care in the slightest. Age of Ultron did not disappoint. It's second only to Mad Max this summer (haven't seen Furious Seven yet) as essential-ish viewing.

Much like Guardians of the Galaxy before it, Age of Ultron is another big, loud, fun, sci-fi superhero romp with the right combination of elements to keep Saturday matinees alive and well. We need more of those.

Lots of fuel, lots of fire


  It's a rare thing in this day and age to see a movie so unconcerned with the ever-popular franchise mentality that it can serve as a sequel, reboot, and re-imagining all in one. It doesn't need the Mel Gibson movies to function, it truly is it's own machine. Of course, if you're already a fan, you'll find even more to appreciate- but it's not necessary. In fact, given how the Mad Max movies evolve so drastically with each sequel, I suppose it should surprise no one that Fury Road continues that trend. It takes the feeling you get during the action scenes of The Road Warrior, and makes that last for a full two hours. Buckle up.

  I knew this movie was crazy. Word of mouth from friends, friends of friends, and critics I trust all told me that this movie was insane. I thought I knew what I was in for, but I was unprepared. I made the mistake of going to see this movie after a long hard day at work. I was tired, and ready to unwind with a fun movie. While the movie is definitely fun, it's also not a movie that lets you relax. Ever.  It aggressively etches it's name into the pantheon of great car chase movies with copious amounts of blood, sweat, and burning chrome. It's truly a non-stop thrill ride. It's not just a fast paced movie, it only has one setting: go.

  Even in the few brief quiet moments we get as a reprieve from the chaos, things are still in motion. Quite literally. Once the characters get on their way, the movie doesn't stop and neither do they. At least not until a very specific point towards the end. Speaking of the characters though, they are incredibly vibrant and alive, but they're also incredibly basic. They have the kind of clear cut motivation that fueled most if not all 80's action movies. Max himself is played with a simple yet gruff intensity by Tom Hardy. The character is actually an outsider in his own movie. (Kinda just like in The Road Warrior) He's just a catalyst because we already know his story. So despite this being a full-on, balls-to-bone, Mad Max movie, he's simply the vehicle upon which another story is being told.

  Of course, he still the main character and has important choices to make, weighing survival and self-preservation against things like morals and his own humanity. He ends up helping a group of concubines who have escaped from the power-mad overlord, Immortan Joe, on their journey to 'the green place'. Lots of people have called the movie 'feminist', and while I'm certainly fine with it being labeled that- I don't think it's anything wholly unusual. It's just a really engaging story. A group of strong women fighting for their freedom from a sexist and evil oppressor is just damn good cinema.

  I can produce a list of movies with similar themes as long as my arm, the difference is Fury Road is just made better. It's not made on the cheap, and it's not beholden to some niche DTV nudity-laden sub-genre of yesteryear. Charlize Theron plays Imperator Furiosa, one of Immortan Joe's lieutenants who betrays him, helping the women escape. She earns her place alongside famous film heroines like Ellen Ripley, Princess Leia, and Sarah Connor. She's an emotional character with guts and a really cool look to her. I've heard rumors that more Mad Max movies might be on the way, and if they are, I sincerely hope she's a part of them. She's great.

  I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Nicholas Hoult's fantastic performance as Nux, a crazy foot soldier of Immortan Joe's who ends up becoming as essential to the story as Max himself. The details of when and how are incredibly clever, and I won't give away anything more about it because I hope you go see the movie yourself. The whole cast is fantastic and the costume design is beyond cool. All of it gels together to really create villains you despise and heroes you grow to love. I know I'm forgetting to mention a few key actors, but everyone brought their A-game. It was all great.

  But really, without a doubt the star of the movie is the action. There's no argument about it, the action scenes are mind-blowingly creative and insane. It's hard to believe that CGI was only used sparingly, but at the same time it's obvious. Things hit with an explosive punch that makes it feel all that much more real. Each action scene has as many human elements as a car has mechanical. There's always at least several dozen cars blazing across the screen with people being launched through the air and all kinds of vehicular combat on display. It was almost overwhelming. But somehow series mainstay, director George Miller manages to craft an order out of the chaos and carnage. It's elegant in it's complexity, and thankfully we're never left in the dust- so to speak.

  The movie is probably the most basic, simple, straightforward movie you'll see all year. It's more about themes and emotions than it is about story and plot. It doesn't need that much.  If you're lost in the who's-this and who's-that of the latest comic book extravaganza, Fury Road is the antidote. It does so much more, with so much less- and still manages to bring to life a unique and visually stunning world. It's designs are so interesting and eye-catching that I wished we could've spent even more time there just touring some of the places in the movie.

  From Immortan Joe's gargantuan hideout in the side of a mountain, to a strange and eerie swampland with it's creepy stilt-walking inhabitants- there's always an interesting setting or set-piece in the movie to keep you that much more engaged. The visuals, the designs, and the choreography are all top notch, to say nothing of the direction, the acting, and the writing. It's all aces. I only have two gripes, I wish the movie was longer, that it had more build-up and that we got more dialog from Max himself. Those are personal gripes though, I don't necessarily believe them to be flaws of the movie itself, which functions exceptionally well as is. It is a lean, mean, fuel-injected thrill machine that lives up to every ounce of potential it has. I can safely consider it essential summer viewing.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Discussing the Trek


  I've recently been re-watching a lot of Star Trek, the original movies, the new movies, and some of the shows as well. The one thing that I've noticed though, browsing internet forums and message boards, is that there is a huge majority of new Trek fans who swear by the Abrams movies, and can't understand why Trek fans who grew up on the originals, dislike the new ones. Now, granted there is no one singular type of fan. There are fans who love all the Trek movies, and then there are fans who subscribe to the 'even-numbered' nonsense. So, I'm not addressing Trekkies (or Trekkers) in general, I simply mean to explain why longtime Trek fans ended up so massively disappointed in Star Trek Into Darkness. Or at least how I see it.

  The nature of Star Trek was always about discovery, exploration, and adventure. Wide-eyed wonder and the mystery of the unknown. In execution, it was about marrying high concept science fiction with allegories relevant to the world and society as it is. It was a a trendsetting property from the outset. Having a culturally and racially diverse crew on TV in a time when that was anything but acceptable. It showed a vision of the future that more and more people were willing to get behind. In Star Trek, as a race, humanity had evolved past petty in-fighting and the need for material gain. Collectively, we focused our efforts on exploration, and bettering ourselves as a species.

  The movies, even on their worst day, usually had something to say. The Motion Picture was a high concept sci-fi adventure, devoid of a cliche power-mad antagonist. It pitted the crew of the Enterprise against a massive space faring cloud-like entity on a destructive search for it's own maker. Even when the plots for these movies did focus around a central antagonist like Khan, or Commander Kruge, the movies had moral and emotional points to them. In The Wrath of Khan, it showed the danger of wielding god-like power, and how that should never be in anyone's hands.

  The Search for Spock, despite being an entry simply revolving around bringing back a fan favorite character, was a great companion piece to Wrath, and furthered the point that dangerous power like that ruins everything. It also had something to say about loyalty, and friendship. Bonds that transcend things like rules and regulations. The trend didn't stop there either. The Voyage Home was a massive (albeit heavy-handed) PSA about how we're destroying our own planet and should take better care of it and the creatures that live on it. The Final Frontier was a discussion about belief and an individual's concept of god. The Undiscovered Country was about racism, and letting go of antiquated notions that lead to hate and killing. It preached peace and understanding.

  And that was just the first six. After Kirk and crew hung up their uniforms, Captain Picard and his crew took over the silver screen adventures from that point on. I could fill up another article talking about those, but the point is, the best Treks had a message or two. They made you think long after the credits rolled. They were always more intellectual than their competition in franchises like Star Wars. Even on a basic action level, Star Trek was modeled after a naval-like concept of a space faring military. Star Trek was submarine warfare when it came to the action scenes. It would always boil down to a strategic battle of wits and calculation. Sonar readings, torpedoes, and the like. Star Wars on the other hand modeled itself more after the whiz-bang speed of WWI dogfights. Soaring fighter planes shooting at each other full blast, zipping past each other at speeds that would make your head spin.

  Star Wars gave audiences a very difference pace. Beyond the energetic trendsetting pacing, it was a classical fairy tale with futuristic sci-fi trappings. Knights who wielded swords made of light and energy, blasters instead of crossbows, and in addition to all of that, it still revolved around rescuing a princess with the help of an old wizard in their quest to overthrow an evil emperor. Star Trek didn't subscribe to such basic themes, it was a much more political, timely, and complex property (not always, but it tried). Keep in mind, I'm not saying one is better than the other, I'm simply highlighting the difference between the two properties because it's about to get real relevant.

  When the Trek movies stalled out after Nemesis, it was deemed ripe for a reboot. Enter, 2009's Star Trek. Directed by J.J.Abrams. Their first order of business was to figure our why nobody wanted a Star Trek movie anymore. So they looked to Star Wars, and by their own admission aimed to emulate the tone and pacing of that property instead. Rather than going back to see what made the best Trek movies so successful, they abandoned that idea altogether and deemed Star Trek simply needed to be faster and more energetic. Guys, that was never it's problem. It never needed the pacing of Star Wars because it was so different in concept. So here it is, in their efforts to make Star Trek more appealing, they misdiagnosed the problem. They avoided giving the movies any moral message deeper than "revenge is bad" and "war is bad", which was the downfall of Star Trek: Nemesis to begin with.

  J.J. and co. got lucky with their first entry though. It served as a decent introduction to characters we know and love, brought to life with care and gusto by a near perfect cast. It was the passing of a torch from the original generation, to a new one. Despite being paper thin, it worked. Mostly. It was a foot in the door that got people's attention, made a legion of new fans, and had everyone focused on what was going to happen next. Namely... Star Trek: Into Darkness. Instead of expanding their scope, bringing back the notions of exploration and moral-political issues, they rehashed the most basic elements from The Wrath of Khan, and gave fans a bunch of stuff they adamantly did not want.

  We got a re-imagined Khan, who is nothing like the actual Khan character. He was dropped into this Trek movie with the grace of a bull in a china shop, and his inclusion was strange at best. There's a big reveal moment in the movie where Khan reveals that his name is not John Harrison, his name is in fact, Khan. Kirk doesn't know who that is. Neither does Spock. Why? Because they've never encountered him before. And neither has a lot of the new fans. In the Wrath of Khan, the story was essentially a sequel to an episode of the Original Series called Space Seed, which was Khan's original introduction. There's none of that in Into Darkness. It's clumsy. It doesn't work for new fans, or longtime fans.

  If that wasn't enough, the story, the plot, it's all exceptionally basic stuff. It's an elementary school level anti-war PSA. The last act revolves around repeating an emotional beat from the end of The Wrath of Khan, but with none of the surprise or originality. It was a manipulative scene at best that did no favors for the movie as a whole. It was fan-service that the fans didn't want. I heard audible groans coming from the knowing fans in the crowd when I saw the movie in the theater. It didn't feel right. Worse still, it didn't have the lasting impact that Wrath of Khan did. Within minutes, this shocking event was resolved and the movie ended a-ok.

  Star Trek Into Darkness also abandoned the spirit of Star Trek itself. In imitating the Wrath of Khan, they restricted themselves to familiar locations, familiar villains, and a familiar plot. There's nothing new in Into Darkness, and isn't the whole point of a reboot to show the fans something fresh and new? The entirety of the movie takes place been the Klingon homeworld, and Earth. That's it. Even the worst of the original movies made an effort to show us 'strange new worlds' and 'new lifeforms and civilizations'. The same stuff that they promised to show us with the trademark speech at the end of 2009's Star Trek. They seriously didn't deliver. With the entire galaxy out there, ripe for exploration, the much awaited sequel was reduced to a simple action movie of the most basic sort with no respect for what Trek was originally all about.

  But enough people got swept away by the energetic pacing and non-stop action scenes that they ended up loving Into Darkness, and were curious as to why Trekkies (or Trekkers) were moaning and bitching. This still leads to heated and juvenile internet arguments that devolves into name calling. One side is calling the other side "Retards!" and the other side is retorting with "Pagh DaSov toDSaH!" I'll let you figure out which fanbase is which. In short, there's nothing wrong with liking simple, basic action adventure. I love that stuff. But everything has it's place, and Star Trek was a property that was fundamentally built on creativity and the wonder of discovery. The new movies aren't anything like that. So for longtime fans of the franchise, these movies are quick to make a horrible impression. On an even more basic level, as movie goers shouldn't we start insisting on a little originality and creativity in our movies again? Even if they're launched from a familiar franchise, lets see something new. Let's see something we haven't seen before. Isn't that the whole point of fiction and movies in general? That also happens to be the founding concept of Star Trek.

  Hopefully, now you understand- from a Trekkie's point of view. (or Trekker. whichever.)
Live long... and may the force be with you.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Law! - Recut!


  And now for something a bit... different. I've been trying my hand at creating fan edits of movies I feel could use some serious tweaking. Previously I gave Superman: The Movie a thorough once over, and was exceptionally happy with the end result. Most recently, I applied my editing skills to 1995's Judge Dredd. It was a long and odd process and the flaws of the movie stuck out more than ever to me, but editing out the bullshit was nothing if not cathartic. A childhood favorite had evolved into a painfully guilty pleasure over the years, and I was seeking to remove a bit of that pain and guilt from watching this silly 90's action adventure.

  Following a round of self-promotion...


  I realized there was no way I could give my fanedit an objective review. I was far too smitten with my own handiwork. So instead, I turned to my friends and followers. Reviews came trickling in slowly but surely.



"-great work-"

“I enjoyed this recut immensely-” “feels much more like an action movie.”


But of course, I knew my good friend over at Movie Curiosities would be the one to give it a full review, and it's a damn good review at that! Check out his full review here, and if you'd like to see the Brutal Beta cut for yourself, you can inquire about it here, or via e-mail. I can be reached at: moviemaniacjoe@msn.com
Carry on citizens!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fun 80's Horror


  There's a certain charm to Rawhead Rex. It might not be the most iconic 80's monster movie, but it's potential, fulfilled or not, shines through it's shortcomings and makes it unique. The eponymous monster of the movie, Rawhead Rex, is the kind of creature that most low budget horror flicks wish they had on hand. He's not the most well put together, but holy crap he's got insane on screen presence. Whenever he showed up, I got extremely tense. Rawhead has the kind of balls-to-the-wall design that works so well. The biggest muscles, the biggest, sharpest teeth, and big glowing red eyes. He's the kind of monster that would show up in a little kid's nightmare. Sometimes, those are the scariest.

  He's some kind of... vengeful prehistoric god, predating Christianity, and he got buried alive I guess. Anyways, this farmer kinda ruins everything for everyone when he knocks over this annoying pillar of stone on his property, unleashing Rawhead himself- who promptly starts up a killing spree. Oh, and the whole movie takes place in rural Scotland, if I remember correctly. It's so odd, from concept to execution, but it sticks with you. This local church and it's stained glass windows plays a part in the story as well, being the key to figuring out how to stop Rawhead. It's another unique beat in this movie that feels like despite it's rural setting, and average guy protagonist, it needs some heavy metal on it's soundtrack.

  Rawhead just... looks like he came straight out of some album art for an 80's heavy metal band. I love it. Anyway, the movie wastes no time getting started, but doesn't keep a steady pace all that well. There's long interludes of basic stuff that clog up the movie. See, Rawhead is so larger than life that he makes silver screen slashers like Jason and Michael look like creepy ex boyfriends. Rawhead doesn't sneak around. He could benchpress a VW beetle for kicks and then go terrorize a whole trailer court of people. Which he actually does at one point. He's loud, ultra-strong, and unfettered by the need to creep and stalk. He seems to power walk everywhere and then just annihilate everything in his path. Except... for when he doesn't.

  The movie's downtime clashes with the nature of the monster. Being around our protagonists is almost painful because we know while we watch this Dad and his family tour rural Scotland and take pictures of churches, Rawhead is probably tearing the heads off a herd of sheep or ripping a farmer in half somewhere. Only we're not seeing him do that. I'm not saying the movie needed to be 90 minutes of nonstop mayhem and gore, but there definitely should've been more of both in the movie. The movie moves at a pace that would nicely facilitate your average slasher flick. It would accommodate a crazy guy with a knife who would have to carefully single out his victims. But remember... Rawhead is a mad, bloodthirsty, prehistoric god.

  The majority of this movie should've been old-testament crazy. Total gut wrenching chaos. Rawhead is impervious to any kind of physical harm as well. So we should've gotten something on a much larger scale. Yet the movie is firmly fastened to it's rural setting, so most of the time Rawhead was probably just power walking from farm to farm, killing off a farmer here and there every so many miles. Not very mayhem-inducing. It's also not particularly thrilling watching inept cops chase their tails and scoff at everyone who tries to describe Rawhead to them, right up until the reports start piling up, and everyone keeps describing the same thing.

  I gotta east off the protagonists though, they're actually well acted. The main protagonist is a writer who's researching ancient religions that predate christianity. First and foremost though, we see he's a dad who just wants to protect his family. He's actually a really solid protagonist. A nice change from the typical go-to cliche of the day. Seeing a misunderstood but trendy teenage girl face off against Rawhead wouldn't have been as engaging. Somehow, the fact this guy is a Dad with a family to think about really heightens the tension. I liked that. It doesn't make up for the pacing issues, or the lack of constant mayhem... but I like it.

  The last... forty to thirty minutes of the movie is great. The mayhem and chaos the very nature of the character demanded is finally realized. Explosions, screaming, people running in terror. Gorgeous. It's completely crazy, and it's perfect like that. It needed more craziness. As it is, it's 3/4th's an average slasher flick, but 1/4th a totally insane off-the-rails horror fest. Regardless though, Rawhead Rex himself is awesome. A scary looking boogeyman with a neat backstory. He's unique, and that lends flavor to the movie that it wouldn't have been worth watching without. As is, it's good. Not great and not classic no matter how much I want it to be. Nevertheless, it is good. A blood soaked romp through rural Scotland with a pissed off prehistoric god is always a fun time!

 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Damn good television.


  It's often hardest for me to write reviews on things I have no issues with. I love reviewing old movies, flawed movies, cheesy movies, hell- even bad movies. However, it's incredibly hard to write a review on a movie (or show, in this case) that you can't find fault with. Marvel's Daredevil (or is it Netflix's? What's proper at this point...?) is a great show. Not just a great comic book show, or a great superhero show, it's a great show period. There's real heart and emotion behind Daredevil and the entire cast brings their A game to the table. Not to mention, most importantly, the showrunners got the character. They understood.

  I hesitate to say that Daredevil, as a property, can't, won't, or couldn't ever be properly adapted into a 2-hour theatrical movie... but when your TV show works as well as this one does, why would you even bother with a movie? Comic books are written to keep going. That's just part of their fundamental nature. They are like TV shows in paper format. Storylines have to keep going, evolve, adapt. Characters have to grow and learn. All of these things extend past one or two issues. Thus your average superhero movie is essentially a condensed and commercialized version of the stories that originated in the comics.

  This show is the answer to that. It's saying, we don't need that. We can make it work even better... as a show. With roughly 9 to 10 hours to explore these characters and their history, we feel more for these characters because we've learned more about them and spent more time with them. It feels... more. That, as opposed to cramming all the important stuff into 2 hours and expecting that to do it justice. Even in a best case scenario, with a really good superhero movie, there's almost no way it wouldn't be better as a show. Daredevil is solid. More than that, it's the most human and weighty thing Marvel Studios has produced so far.

  The Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, (a.k.a. the MCU movies- all the movies made by Marvel Studios that share continuity together) have a knack for making death seem like a trivial thing. Nobody but the bad guys stay dead. Except Loki. I really wish he'd stay dead. Think about it, I mean, this goes back to the nature of comic books in part. Comics have to keep going. You can't keep killing off main characters, so what happens? Resurrection chambers, ghosts, alien technology, possession, time travel, you name it- it's happened. This is fine in comics where you have to write thinking about the long term, and how to keep your stories afloat before everything gets rebooted... but in the movies it has a very bad and serious effect on everything.

  The weightiness of the danger is severely undercut when you know that no matter who dies, it's not permanent. How can you be afraid of dying, if you know you'll just come back to life soon? Ergo, how real can the tension and suspense of these shootouts and super powered battles feel real... if the stakes don't feel so high anymore? Bucky Barnes, Phil Coulson, Nick Fury, Groot. How much does heroic sacrifice mean... if no real sacrifice is being made? All those characters were presumed dead. Whether it was for more than a movie, or just five minutes inside a movie, and ALL of them came back. It's expected at this point. But then Daredevil happened.

  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not inferring Daredevil is Game of Thrones and everyone is going to die- permanently. I'm just saying, despite sharing a universe with guys like Thor and the Hulk- Daredevil feels so grounded that we believe actions have consequences again. Nobody is magically coming back to life on this show, so when peoples lives are in danger... the suspense and the tension feel real. Or real-er at least. For a Marvel Studios property, this is pretty game-changing. Daredevil has a weight and seriousness to it that is absent from even the best of the MCU line-up, which is why it's so easy to say "Daredevil is the best thing Marvel has done so far." Whether it is or isn't is not the point, the point is you can say that... and even the most die-hard MCU fanboys will pause before trying to dispute it.

  It's certainly the most emotional one so far. From Matt Murdock's past, to his painful life at present- the feels don't let up. They understood the Man Without Fear and they did it right. They got the right tone, they didn't compromise on the violence, and they cast all the right people. The dialog is sharp and well written, the visuals are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and the fight scenes are so intense and well shot that I feel sore afterwards. On top of that, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the show is incredibly emotional without getting sappy. It's moving and sincere, and above all... it's very human. Which is high praise seeing as how it shares a universe with a talking raccoon and a sentient tree. As if I haven't made it clear enough, I'll sum it up: Daredevil is absolutely worth your time and attention. Get to it. If you haven't already that is.

Not for the right fans...


  The 90's produced a lot of... interesting comic book movies. The good (Blade), the bad (Batman & Robin), and the ugly (Steel). Then there's Judge Dredd. I'll say it right now, for Stallone fans and action fans in general, you'll probably like this movie. It has all the right ingredients to make a fun Saturday matinee. It has slick production design, one of the coolest handguns to ever grace the silver screen, a giant menacing robot, ravenous cannibals, explosions, chase sequences (Not the least of which involve flying motorcycles. Basically...), and one liners by the truck load. It's big, it's loud, it's fun- and it fundamentally betrays the source material. Ouch.

  Much like RoboCop, which was actually heavily inspired by the Judge Dredd comic books, Dredd's world is a satirical one. It's humor should be derived from the concept itself. The comics were an unkind mirror, held up to the ridiculous politics and consumerism of the United States. It pointed out scary trends in our society, in our culture- and all we've (Americans in general) been able to get from the comics is that Judge Dredd is a super cop who shoots da bad guys. This movie didn't help that notion either. Stallone's Judge Dredd isn't so much the near-robotic facist he should've been, instead he plays the role like Dredd is merely emotionally bankrupt and socially handicapped. With enough help from his plucky sidekick and that hot lady-Judge, he'll get in touch with his feelings, finally.

  That was never the goal in the comics. Dredd was part of a borderline (if not entirely) facist government that enabled it's police force to judge and summarily execute criminals as they see fit. It was an in-your-face commentary on overkill. The movie doesn't understand that. Or Stallone didn't care to play it the intelligent route. He's gone on record saying he felt it should've simply been an action-comedy. I heard that the director, Danny Cannon, wanted to stay truer to the comics but Stallone wouldn't have it. Unfortunate. What was also unique about the comics was the fact that, despite pointing a finger at Americans, and satirizing our government, the comics were also frequently exciting. Blending procedural cop suspense with sci-fi villains and plots that would blow you away.

  Alternate dimensions, man-eating plants, homicidal animatronics, aliens, cyborgs, mutants, and lest we forget... cannibals. Dredd has gone up against it all, and despite the dumbed down and simplified nature of the movie- they certainly put Dredd through his paces here. Framed for murder by a psychotic criminal with strange ties to him, Dredd is betrayed by the very system he fought to protect. The whole first half of the movie leads up to an inevitable "poetic justice" line. Spoken by Rob Schneider no less. Ugh. I'll get back to him in a minute. Anyways, Dredd and his new sidekick never make it to prison and instead get swept back into the chaos unfolding in the city, discovering the bad guy's plot along the way.

  The movie's plot however is simply a vehicle for these big expensive action scenes. On that basis alone, by their own merit, they're really good. They certainly don't disappoint. All the practical effects and bombastic sounds help make Judge Dredd a fun ride despite it's massive shortcomings. It's ridiculously fun in fact. Shamefully so. There's something about 90's Stallone in a big glossy sci-fi blockbuster that's decked out with fantastic production design, huge elaborate sets, and awesome practical effects that I just can't help but love. Judge Dredd is a movie that builds up enough energy to be fun, not good, but fun. If you have no affinity for 90's action movies, you'll have nothing to stay for here.

  This is essentially a B-grade buddy cop movie, set in the world that Blade Runner gave us. It works exceptionally well in parts, like the scene with the cannibals, or anytime the ABC warrior is on screen. Beyond that it's a merely adequate story with a lukewarm plot that manages to insult the source material on the most basic of levels. I'm not even gonna talk about him taking the helmet off. That would be beating a dead horse. Not that... this whole review isn't doing that anyways... Oh well. Stallone fans will probably enjoy this. It feels not unlike a sequel to Demolition Man, but without the scene-stealing energy of Wesley Snipes as Simon Phoenix. Instead we have Armand Assante, trying his hardest to look like Stallone, and chew as much scenery as possible all while shouting "LAWWWW!!!???" at anything that moves. If that sounds ridiculously awful or ridiculously amazing... it's actually both.

  So is the movie. It's facepalmingly bad anytime we're forced to endure Rob Schneider's dialog, or his... voice, or his stupid little face. On the list of people who should've never been in this movie, he topped off the list with Andy Dick and Jim Carrey not far behind. Why? He's not funny, his lines aren't funny, he's not fun to watch. He sucks the fun out of the scene everytime he opens his mouth. His brand of humor so totally clashes with this movie that he feels like he stumbled in from a comedy filming in the lot next door and Stallone couldn't get him away. Odds are though, it was probably Stallone's idea to have him in the movie in the first place. Dammit Sly. Rob Schneider sucks, end of story.

  On the other hand, the slick action scenes, fantastic score, eye-popping visuals, and energetic pacing make Judge Dredd a wholly guilty pleasure. It has stuff that's great, and stuff that's undeniably fun, but it also has some total crap in there too. It's a mixed bag, and one that every man has to dig through himself. I love the movie. It's bad, it's frequently stupid, but it's also crazy fun, and it looks stunning. I'm not an absolute authority on what makes a movie worth watching, but I think this one's worth a look, again if you've seen it before. However, if you can't stand the idea of seeing it, go watch 2012's vastly superior Dredd instead. Or y'know... don't. I'm not the law or anything.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Unique and Disappointing


  This movie worked best as a memory for me. Nine year old me, in the theater, watching Captain Nemo, Mr.Hyde, the Invisible Man, and some other literary characters of yesteryear team up to take down bad guys who like to blow stuff up. It was odd, and unique, and eye-catching. What's worse is, it stuck in my head. I bought it from a DVD bargain bin a few years later, where it sat on my shelf for a long time until I sold all my DVD's and upgraded to Blu Ray. It was always that one movie. The one with all those guys, and that one scene. Never existing in my head as any more than a collection of parts that amazingly existed in a real movie and not just an old dream or nightmare.

  Not that the movie is worth being favorable towards, even in memory. Revisiting it was a painful experience, but one I knew would be frustrating at best. The movie doesn't start off all that badly. In fact by the time we get to Sean Connery, it's rather promising actually. The movie's first real action scene ensues, and is properly thrilling. The dialog soon after though... it shows it's true colors, sadly setting the tone for the rest of the movie. It's written with the finesse of a Moore-era Bond flick. Every other sentence seems penned in order to be featured in the trailers. At one point, a villain fires his machine gun into one of the 'Extraordinary Gentlemen', at point blank range... and to little effect. Shocked, he asks...  "What are you?", the man replies, "I'm complicated." Boom. Coming soon to a theater near you. You see my point? 90% of the dialog in the movie is like that, and any sentence longer than several words is almost certainly exposition.

It's mindlessness at it's worst. Case in point, The Nautilus. Captain Nemo's ornate submarine. It looks fantastic. It's design is extremely cool, and the intricate attention to detail on it is simply jaw-dropping. It's a breathtaking sight, hundreds of feet tall, and ten times as long. Unfortunately though, any awe it inspires, is quickly dropped like a sack of bricks when you realize it's only a special effect. There's a part of everyone's brain that knows it's a special effect anyways, obviously. A smart movie goer doesn't need to be told that. However, the movie isn't supposed to make it look like a special effect. Not only does the movie make you aware of the fact it's a special effect, it makes it impossible to ignore. That's a rather serious misstep.

  Not that it looks cheap or fake, but the story has this gargantuan vessel fitting into places it couldn't possibly. The canals of Venice, next to a tiny London dock- and more. It becomes so show-stoppingly bad that you can't look at it and see anything but a special effect. It seems to magically change it's size constantly. One moment it's two ocean liners long, the next, it seems like it could be dwarfed by a regular cruise ship. It fits into whatever moment the story sees fit to jam it into. Logic and the most basic of physics are casually thrown under the bus where The Nautilus is involved. What's even worse still, is that I thought up a few easy fixes in the spur of the moment that would've prevented all the mind-numbing displays of lazy writing. Because in the end, that's all it is. Lazy writing.

  Whoever wrote the screenplay had no concept of scale, space, time, and weight. Not to mention a terrible lack of research into locale. The whole Venice sequence is mired in faulty logic from top to bottom. I could write a whole article on that scene alone gets wrong. The whole movie is like this though. It presents incredibly interesting concepts, outstanding designs and visuals, and then finds a way to undermine all of it by failing to make any of it work within the basic laws of reality. As an audience, we instantly become aware of the movie itself, and the things that don't work stick out like a sore thumb. These are the kinds of movies people say you have to shut off your brain to enjoy. Because you really do.

  Smart movie goers often take offense to that statement, and I wholeheartedly understand why. No movie should make these mistakes. It's rookie bullshit at the end of the day, and we shouldn't be subjected to it. It's insulting. On the other hand... I'm sure the person who designed The Nautilus put serious time and effort into making it look the best he could, and it shows. The costume designer probably went all out on the wardrobe for our stalwart heroes, and it shows. The production designer probably slaved to give the movie a unique and memorable look, and wow, it shows. There were probably countless hundreds who put blood, sweat and tears into making this movie the best it could be. Everything on the visual and design side of things is just fantastic.

  I think that deserves a lot of appreciation. Off the top of my head I can't really name another movie that looks like this one, or plays like this one. It's incredibly atmospheric, and it's logic-raping aside, seems to exist in a mysteriously macabre world of high-adventure and science fiction intrigue. It may not muster the seriousness or jaw-dropping awe it so desperately wants to, but it's still amazingly cool eye candy. Some of the shots in this movie look simply gorgeous. Do those things deserve to be ignored because the script is simply awful? I don't know. I can't say. I personally do not mind sitting down and watching this every few years. It's a bad movie with good elements. It's painfully stupid, but it looks so neat.

  You wish so hard it had a better story and better dialog. Even the actors (most of them) are trying their damndest, and with so little to work with at that. If you want to hang the blame for this movie on anyone, aim your hate at the studios and the writers behind it. Even the director proved he could competently handle comic book material with Blade, which was and is ridiculously fun. One wonders what would've happened if The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen got a sequel like Blade did, helmed by Guillermo Del Toro even. Now that's an exciting though. But, in this day and age, why bother with a sequel at all?

  It's been over ten years, Watchmen happened, and reboots/remakes are everywhere. Why not remake this movie? It's ripe with potential to be done right and adhere a little closer to the source material. When all is said and done, "LXG" as the marketing department dubbed it, (just picture me rolling my eyes) is a strange movie that almost no one could possible deny is bad, but it exists only just outside the realm of guilty pleasures, alongside movies like Resident Evil, Van Helsing, and Wild Wild West. These movies tried something different, for all the right reasons, and failed for all the worst ones. Someone reading this will probably be throwing up in their mouth at the mention of all those movies in one sentence.

  Maybe I'm a masochist who keeps returning to these awful experiences because I like the torture. Or maybe... I can appreciate the elements of these movies that were so damn good. The art, the visuals, the cinematography, that they shine no matter how awful the movie around them is. People praise striking visuals when they are married to a good story. Yet in the absence of a good story, striking visuals are suddenly worthless and the entire thing is critically chastised, woefully branded a waste of time. I don't necessarily agree with that total and absolute judgment. I believe the visuals of a movie are as praiseworthy as any other part of it. Like a badly written storybook with gorgeous illustrations, the whole design team behind LXG clearly gave it their all, whereas the writers... did not.

  It all depends on what you personally can salvage from this mess of a movie. I think, if you watch it with an average mindset, it won't be much more than nonsensical drivel. The kind of crap that's dragging Hollywood down. Not even with my apologist's mentality could I argue against that, but if you watch it with the brain switched off (which is something I hate to suggest or endorse) LXG is a fun, sleek, stylish, once-in-a-blue moon adventure flick. It may not be compelling or well written, but it managed to create a world and an atmosphere unique enough that I would want to return to it. Of course, only after it's been softened up in my memory for a long enough time that I have forgotten just how bad the bad aspects really are. It's unique and sometimes... that's enough.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Genre Classic


  There's a scene in this movie where three crazed poachers tie a woman to the front of their evil looking truck, cut up her clothes and decide to go for a pedal-to-the-metal joyride. (Pictured above.) Either you're someone who says "That sounds awful!" and actively avoids ever watching this movie, or you're someone who just said "Woah! I gotta see this!". This movie was made for the latter audience. It's not complex, or deep, but it's lean, over-the-top and fast paced. Amazingly, it even has solid acting and some surprisingly good cinematography. It's grade-A exploitation trash. If you're a fan of the genre... it rarely gets better than this.

  The characters are exactly what they need to be for the movie to work and nothing more. The heroine is a compassionate animal lover who runs a wildlife preserve where she also lives, somewhere in Australia. The villains are three poachers who think they can just... do whatever and get away with it. What's worse is, they pretty much can. The law enforcement in this movie is a joke, but of course they are because the plot of the movie necessitates it. Just like the heroine might've not been brutalized and tormented if she had just stayed out of the poachers way on a few very specific occasions. Granted, the movie usually has us believe that her love of the animals far exceeds her most basic self-preservation instinct. Sometimes it's hard to buy it... but overall it works.

  Thus you have all the pieces laid out for a truly insane game of cat and mouse. The movie is exciting and scary, at times even nerve wracking. Simplicity was key here and the makers seemed to know that. They didn't over-complicate things, they kept the movie very lean. Which totally works. It's hour and twenty-some minutes runtime is breezy and never dull. There are plenty of exploitation flicks which are boring up to a point, and then something insane happens and only then does it really draw you in. Fair Game is a cut above those movies. Whether it's the subtle creativity in the production design and the cinematography or the cracking pace of the movie, it avoids being that typical 2/3rds dull.

  Worry not though, despite the fact it keeps the tension ramped up from the go, there's still that absolutely crazy scene with the heroine tied to the truck. Afterwards, what does she do? She picks herself up, bruised and bloodied, dusts herself off... and gets back at them. It's one nerve wracking encounter after the next, with each one eclipsing the last in scale and intensity. There's no time to worry about a thin plot or a threadbare story. The filmmakers knew exactly what kind of movie they were making and they made sure it was a damn good one at that. It is a bit campy at times, pretty darn dated, and the sound mixing is really odd... but it overcomes all that and a repetitive music score, ending up being wholly and completely entertaining.

  I keep calling the lead, "heroine", instead of addressing her by her character's name. That's because I don't remember it. Nor do I remember the poachers' names. I suppose in a movie so lean and rather devoid of any serious character development, names are a default obligation but far from necessary. We remember these characters by what they are, not who they are. Such is the case for many movies like this. Especially here though. Names are irrelevant, as are many other things, because movies like this operate on a set of rules outside of the Hollywood norm. Fair Game was lucky enough to avoid the bore of some other low budget thrillers that don't know quite how to spend their budget. Those movies end up being 90% dialog- and not just any dialog. Boring dialog. In a movie where names are forgettable and dispensable, why ever would you want to hear those characters talk for 2/3rds of the movie? This movie is gritty survival, start to finish.

  If the movie sounds good to you, but you don't know a lot about exploitation cinema (or more specifically ozploitation with this one) I suggest doing a bit of due diligence and googling it a bit. Understanding the genre, it's origins, and what it's all about will go a long way towards boosting your enjoyment not just of Fair Game but movies like it. Movies like Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Vanishing Point, Cannibal Ferox, Coffy, and the notorious I Spit On Your Grave are all exploitation. Yet under the banner of exploitation, there are probably a dozen sub-genres. Blaxploitation, Oszploitation, Nazisploitation, Sexploitation, Shocksploitation- and no I'm not making these up. Exploitation movies took a theme, and often a low budget, and tried to exploit said theme to the fullest extent.

  These movies usually have a major shock factor originally used to get people to see their movie and to have it get around via word of mouth. (i.e. the girl-tied-to-hood scene in this movie) That's sort of the spirit of exploitation. Making something over-the-top and crazy in order to grab people's attention. These genres still have a huge following. I for one am a massive fan and I watch whatever I can get my hands on. Often due to their smaller budgets though, they'd have to save a lot of it for the big spectacle, usually at the end. Sometimes this resulted in dull movies with a cool climax, other times the movie had an even and well paced tone that completely masks the small budget. Fair Game is one of those movies. At worst it looks like a well produced TV movie, at best it looks like a forgotten 80's gem that's surprisingly good- cause well... it is.

  I can't say it's forgotten among exploitation fans, I wouldn't know either way, but I'd like to think this movie has a little following all it's own. It certainly deserves it. From the freaky poachers' truck named "Beast" to the ever-resilient heroine, Fair Game packs a punch, and has all the trimmings for an unusual yet absolutely fun time.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Incredibly Odd...


  Now, if you know me, you know I like odd movies. Better than that, I love downright weird movies. Whether intentionally weird, or just fringe interests. You haven't lived until you've done a double-feature of Brazil and City of Lost Children. Just saying. I also happen to love psychological thrillers, movies based on comic books/graphic novels, and all that stuff. So The Scribbler looked like it was right up my alley. It took me a crazy long time to finally get around to watching it, but I did! The question now is, am I glad I did? I really don't know.

  The movie is about a young woman named Suki who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities) and has been subjected to a new treatment called the "Siamese Burn" which successfully 'burns' away some of the extra personalities. When she shows progress, she's put in a halfway home/apartment building called Juniper Towers, affectionately dubbed 'Jumper Towers' due to the incredibly high suicide rate. Anyhow, her doctor gives her a portable Burn Unit and prescribes a schedule on which to burn away the personalities. Suffice to say, between the cadre of other insane characters, and the unfolding mystery about Suki's personalities themselves, the movie gets crazy.

  It feels woefully unfocused though. The tone is a bit all over the place, does it want to be horror? A dark comedy? Sci-fi? A superhero story? Somehow it tries to be all of this, and instead of being a groundbreaking success, the movie fails to blend all these genres to any adequate end and instead we get a rather unfocused mess, albeit an ambitious one. Ambition always earns brownie points with me no matter the end result. Anyways, the movie is not without it's upsides. Actress Katie Cassidy is exceptionally watchable as Suki, making her manic enough to be fun in a dark way, and messed up enough for us to feel sorry for her. She grew on me.

  The rest of the cast is also really solid. Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer) plays Suki's doctor who's forced to languish between a half-hearted evil mad doctor vibe and a good-hearted but misguided physician. If he had been able to play up one of those angles to it's fullest, it would've been great. As it is, we're not sure what we're supposed to feel about him. He's reckless, but it seems at times his heart is in the right place. Or is it? He was a frustrating character who was ultimately too bland to make any sort of impact, but you can feel the potential he had and it's a bit sad it wasn't realized. Suki's mental case friends are all kind of neat, and they're all well played. Not too much to say there either unfortunately since they don't have much to actually do.

  In fact most of the movie plays out like a bad drug trip. Really, stuff happens... but not a lot of stuff really happens. The movie also tries to generate a big murder mystery, but it doesn't work. We're not quite sure what's going on until the very end of the movie, and at that point the climax is a super-powered fist fight on the roof of the building. I don't even know how we got to that point. I mean, plot-wise, yes... but it was incredibly out of left field. Which brings me to another complaint, not enough is explained about anything. How the hell did the doctor devise the Siamese Burn unit? We need to know more about it. And we need to know more about... just, everything. I feel like even though we got answers, they just led to more questions.

  The movie would have us believe that it's some strange origin story to a brand new superhero, but mostly it just feels like it's uncertain and should've just stuck to being punk-ish psychological drama. The sci-fi/superhero angle is just nuts. Not entirely bad or anything, just really nuts. Technically speaking, the movie is proficient in pretty much every aspect. There's some fantastically neat visuals. The acting is all well and good. The movie is unique. The score is good. But something is just off. The pieces don't gel well together. The movie is memorable, but not exactly good. In fact, the more I think about it... the more I think it was kind of a waste of time.

  I didn't really enjoy it, and I wouldn't watch it again. It was uncomfortable and ultimately pointless. Not that it wasn't well made, but it needed a lot more focus and more streamlined story. There were lots of inconsistencies and plot holes. And after a while I stopped caring about any of the characters. It was exhausting. Avoid it, if you're super curious... watch the trailer I guess. The movie was disappointing, which is sad because I was really looking forward to seeing it too. Ah well, can't win em all. Gotta press on!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Uneven but exciting


  1 part horror, 1 part drama, 2 parts romance. That's Spring. It's a fantastic and unique flick about a young man named Evan who in the wake of his mother's passing, leaves behind his dead end job and meaningless life for a trip to Italy. It's there he ends up falling for a beautiful and secretive woman. This is definitely not a case of "What he doesn't know, won't hurt him." because her secrets are very... very dangerous. Spring could have easily squandered tons of wonderful character development and descended into run-of-the-mill cliche. It keeps you guessing while it matters and lets you develop feelings for the characters. Believe me when I say, it's worth the slow pace.

  I feel like this is what we'd get if we commissioned David Cronenberg to make a modern fairytale romance movie. There's definitely a good bit of Lovecraft peaking through in the movie. And I've seen plenty of slow burn dramas about people rediscovering themselves via falling in love in a foreign country. The movie wears it's inspirations on it's sleeve, and that's okay because it doesn't feel overly familiar. It does very original and neat things with the concepts it shows us. Unfortunately, the juxtaposition between full-on romance drama and gory horror stuff makes the movie feel uneven when it shouldn't. Mainly because the makers seemed dedicated more to the romance angle. It really is a romance movie with horror trappings as opposed to a horror movie with a romantic sub plot.

  Despite feeling uneven at times, I was surprisingly okay with it. The movie was trying to tackle two separate moods and merge them under one roof. It's hard enough to make a horror movie effective with characters you care about, it's arguably even harder to make a romantic drama that makes you really feel what the people are going through and avoid coming off as excessively sappy or cliche... and then to try and turn both of those movies into one? Somehow they pulled it off. It's a little rough around the edges, and depending on how you wanted it to turn out you might be disappointed but- when all is said and done the movie does exactly what it sets out to do.

  We actually care about Evan, and against our better judgment we really care about the woman, Louise, as well. To me, that's impressive. We care what happens to them. We want them to work out their problems and we want love to triumph all. Yet we're also on the edge of our seats waiting for that other shoe to drop because... shit, this is a horror movie. Louise has some dark stuff she's hiding from Evan, and we can't quite tell what her intentions are. We don't know if Evan is going to be a victim of some sort or what, but the movie doesn't allude to anything good. Homie's in trouble. Or is he? When he's not taking Louise out on dates, he's found a job working a small farm for an old man named Angelo. Evan and Angelo have great chemistry and their scenes together were great.

  In fact, most of the supporting characters, of which there aren't too many, are all great. All the characters come across as genuine and impeccably acted. Evan himself is great. He's a bit detached, a bit distant, but he also knows he's found something he doesn't want to let go. He's a simple, quiet guy who can be a party animal and yet also appreciate the simple things in life. It's a very thin line to walk and keep straight, but actor Lou Taylor Pucci does an exceptional job. Both leads turn in fantastic performances, both Pucci and Nadia Hilker who plays Louise. They play off of each other's strengths and carry the movie when it seems to drag. In fact, just like in another great movie I saw not too long ago, Honeymoon, the leads don't just distract us from the slow pace, they make us wish we had even more time with them. That's rare.

  So, yeah. The pacing is rather glacial depending on what you expect from the movie. But I didn't even notice the pace until I started really thinking about it afterwards. It took me a little bit in the beginning to really get into the characters and invest, but not too long at all. Once I was invested, I was down for wherever this movie was going to take me and however long it was going to take to get there. It was a hell of a ride. Without spoiling anything, there is some 'supernatural' stuff in the movie, but interestingly enough the movie goes out of the way to explain that supernatural things are only "supernatural" because science hasn't caught up to it yet. In fact, science is a major theme in the movie once certain things are revealed.

  Horror movies are probably the worst offenders of tossing logic and science to the wind. They so often resort to using 'magic' or 'voodoo' as an easy scapegoat to get away with nonsensical ideas and concepts. Spring tries it's damndest to explain everything as scientifically as possible without ever stranding us in some sterile lab. The setting is still cozy apartments and picturesque outdoor cafes with views to die for. (No pun intended...) Suffice it to say the feel of the movie is very unique for one so firmly couched in scientific themes. Anyhow, with Evan as our anchor, the more questions he gets the answers to, so do we. It's a really convenient set up and a downright clever one at that. Unfortunately it's this same dedication to logic and explanation that renders the last act of the movie less thrilling than it is more emotional and exposition heavy.

  If you came for something twisted and gory, you might be disappointed with the last act, to some extent. Because most movies that juggle horror along with a secondary genre tend to defer solely (or at least mostly) to horror for the last act where they pull out all the stops and deliver the most thrills. Zombieland, Ghostbusters, Evil Dead II, all these are perfect examples. However, Spring is a romance drama first and a horror movie second. In fact, I'd argue that the horror aspects are a tool this movie uses to create tension and drama between characters. No different than... say... drug abuse, alcoholism, or mental problems. So when all is said and done, after a lot of retrospective thinking, Spring isn't a horror movie. It's a romantic drama with scary stuff in it.

  My ultimate point is that, if you came for the horror, you might not like the last act because the last act is the ending to a romance movie, not a horror movie. If you get my meaning. The horror stuff is part of the plot, but the usual 'kill-the-monster' focus that's front in center in most other creature features is nowhere to be found here. Instead, the focus is on the relationship between Evan and Louise. If you invest in the characters, and enjoy the movie for all it has to offer, the ending might satisfy you. It worked for me. It's a strange movie, but I loved it. It's a romantic, body-horror, drama that would easily fit in the filmographies of guys like David Cronenberg or John Carpenter. The difference? This is a heartfelt love story more than it is a practical effects laden gross-out horror flick.
But make no mistake... it is both.

  And can I just say... those effects, whether they were digital or practical (so good, I could't even tell at some points) are friggin amazing. Also, the movie has a surprising sense of humor. There are several laugh out loud moments, and they're all well earned. It's certainly not a comedy, but even in balls-to-bone horror movies or dramas there are always funny moments to break up a relentlessly dour atmosphere. Spring is no exception. It's humor is timely, earnest and very well written. It's a huge plus to this movie which is already completely worth watching. Regardless of how flawed and uneven it is, with a potentially underwhelming ending, Spring is still worth every second of your time and attention. It deserves to be seen and we need many more movies willing to take risks as bold and unique as this one does. I loved Spring and I hope to buy it as soon as possible.

Unconventional and haunting


  Another fantastic indie horror film that I put off watching for way too long. It's a love it or hate it movie I think. Though I sincerely hope it stays out of the reach of people who would hate it because this brand of filmmaking needs to be encouraged and supported. It's next level thinking. Resolution trades in your traditional go-to movie villain/monster for a higher concept altogether. The movie is about a decent guy named Mike who's trying to save his best friend, Chris, from the throes of meth addiction by chaining him up in an abandoned cabin and inducing withdrawal. Tensions are exacerbated however when strange "stories" start finding their way to Mike and Chris, stories with grisly endings.

  I really don't wanna give away too much else, so if this sounds remotely interesting to you already, add it to your Netflix Instant Queue like... right now. If you'd like to read on, find out in detail why I really enjoyed the movie, my exact thoughts on it, and such- by all means, read on! Anyhow, despite all it's lofty concepts, the movie would've been moot if the leads were played by dull or stiff actors. You can really feel some genuine history between these two characters. There's a bit of familiarity in both of them. I think I personally know people who are like Mike and Chris to some extent. Both characters are basic archetypes, but it works. We don't need to know every single detail about their lives. Mike is the upstanding straight laced guy with a wife, and Chris is a crack addict who squats in a shitty unfinished cabin out in the woods.

  It might be hard to glean at first, but these two definitely have chemistry. As things get harder on them both, we can see glimpses of the friendship they once has. There are times when despite the insanity of their current predicament, they end up reminiscing about old girlfriends and high school drama. They end up really coming to life in those moments, and I ended up caring about these two. A lot of movies have that same sort of dichotomy but few make it feel so natural. Another perfectly serviceable movie that springs to mind is Scenic Route. Nothing really wrong with that movie, but at no time do you feel that sort of genuine friendship-lost between the leads. In Resolution, it may be achieved solely by exploiting emotional shortcuts and visual shorthand, but I'll be damned, it actually works.

  Thus when things gets crazy, I'm glad that the movie didn't drive a bigger wedge between our leads in order to create tension. The plot supplies it abundantly from many other sources. As the viewer it was key for us to be on Mike and Chris' side, not pick one or the other. Lets just say that Chris' withdrawal is the least crazy thing that the duo has to endure. Dogged by Chris' drug dealers, the cabin's owners, and those mysterious stories- they go through quite a bit by the end. The movie manages to generate a richly suspenseful and creepy atmosphere while also avoiding tipping it's hand or hinting towards any answers too strongly. A big chunk of the movie is basically a mystery as Mike is trying to find out who or what keeps leaving these 'stories' for him and Chris to discover. His discoveries are as interesting as they are haunting.

  I stress that this is not a conventional horror movie, and that is precisely why it works. There's no slasher, no demented psycho, no typical antagonist of that nature. One imdb reviewer posited the theory that the only real antagonist is... well, us. The viewer, the audience. We are the antagonist. I won't explain how or why he came to that conclusion, nor will I say if I agree or disagree with it- but it just goes to show that the movie is a thinking man's movie. It's all food for thought. Something to talk about, analyze, and scratch your head at. It's semi-ambiguous ending is fitting, if not a little confusing... but it works. It's haunting and scary and we wonder exactly what's been going on.

  If you're looking for a typical monster-in-the-woods movie, Resolution is not for you. Nevertheless, as an avid movie watcher who's always down for new things, Resolution delivered something very different, unconventional, and thought provoking. Not many movies do that these days. It really hit the mark for me. I think it had something to say about people who watch movies, not directly, but hopefully if you're interested and you watch the movie, you'll understand what I mean. If you're really looking for movies like this, I can also recommend Triangle, Pontypool and Honeymoon. I suppose when all is said and done it'd be more proper to call Resolution a cerebral thriller, depending on how loose your definition of a horror movie is. I wholeheartedly recommend Resolution. Go see it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interesting


  I've always appreciated the animation of Ghost in the Shell more than the movie as a whole. It doesn't click with me. It never has. This time was no different, for the most part. Despite lots of bullets and blood, it's not a very action packed movie. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Instead, the movie is a bit more introspective. It has things to say about the path our society is on, and the line between man and machine. Unfortunately I don't find much of the movie all that engaging. Fortunately, it still has some impressive animation that is used to great effect in creating moods and visuals that extend far beyond each scene and reach right into you. There's a lot to love about Ghost in the Shell, but maybe even now after all these years... I'm still missing something?

  I don't need my anime to be super action packed in order to be entertained by it. I loved the sequel to Ghost in the Shell, it clicked with me more than this one did. I even felt the absence of Major Motoko. But you'd be forgiven for missing her in this one as well. She's almost a non-character for most of the movie. Her somber personality and stilted dialog render her largely inert except for a few key moments. She's not fun to be around. She's not even that interesting. Things happen to her that are interesting, her partners have the potential to be interesting, but she's not. She has issues and ideas that are engaging and worthy of screentime- if only they had any. She identifies as female, has a human brain, but a cyborg body that hasn't the capacity to menstruate. For all intents and purposes, it's a genderless body.

  Themes like that are only ever skirted around in the movie because the plot propels it forward at such a rate that I couldn't help but feel it was breezing right over all the interesting stuff. Fortunately, the "villain" of the movie is really interesting, but he's hardly in it save for a few scenes. I mean, there's a lot of interesting concepts and ideas in Ghost in the Shell but it doesn't have the runtime to accommodate them. I feel like the movie has a lot to say about personal identity, loss of identity, sexuality and how we define it. But again, you'd be forgiven to think the movie is simply about hackers, terrorists, and artificial intelligence. It's somehow about all of that and then some.

  I can't put my finger on it quite precisely but the things I wanted more of from Ghost in the Shell it didn't deliver. Even it's action scenes, of which I can't even really remember if there was more than one or two, aren't and can't be the selling point. There's one fantastic sequence that evolves from a chase, to a shootout, and finally ends up in a hand-to-hand showdown. This scene is great because it showcases the creativity and inventiveness the makers had. There's some dazzling stuff on display there. But these scenes are largely singular and contained. They are neat and exciting highlights of a movie very unconcerned with raw thrills or adrenaline fueled pacing. Thus, these scenes are bookended on either side by some really solemn and peaceful moments.

  Motoko is not unlike Neo from The Matrix. She's a one-note character, but the movie wouldn't work if she was any different. Those aforementioned peaceful moments have a lot to do with her nature and her personality. They reflect her thought process in many ways. Motoko frequently seems to have her mind somewhere else, contemplating deeper issues. Focusing on existential problems. This kind of thing is highlighted by a particular scene, among others, that seems to be a visual tour of the city as it rains. It's gloomy, dour, and stunningly atmospheric. It's also calm and relaxing. Something that most of this movie is not, but it's also a distinct mood that is evoked more than once for sure. It's in these scenes that I found myself deeply involved with the movie.

  Those quiet scenes of contemplation and reflection are the engaging stuff. The plot and story are deftly written and executed, but they fail to garner the level of interest that it's more somber scenes do. Only in the end do we see where the movie was taking us. It makes sense and is actually really interesting, if not outright thought provoking. The climax of the movie is almost emotionally moving in a way, but we remember that these characters have done nothing to earn my affection. It's been visual shorthand from the beginning. Should I be interested and care about these characters simply because the movie has us follow them around as they do what they do? Is there something larger at stake? We hardly care, so what does it matter? Unfortunately, the characters are just not given too much to do.

  They are not unlike pawns on a chessboard the movie is playing both sides of. They're shuffled about from one inert revelation to the next, allowing us glimpses of staggeringly impressive potential, but I hesitate to say that hardly any of that potential is ever fully realized. I'm well aware this movie has legions of hardcore fans who might actually jump at the chance to tear my review apart and shove my opinion down my throat. But I fail to see how so much ire can be mustered over characters so inert. Then again it's also entirely possible that I've missed the point of this movie. That because I don't "get it" it's failed to connect with me in any significant way. I like the movie. I feel that despite a lack of active interest, it ends up being... interesting.

    Undeniably, there is something about this movie that sticks with me. Something I'm waiting to pinpoint, because I haven't been able to so far. The movie has stuck with me, and in my head for years. That's important. Not many movies can really do that. It does speak volumes about the quality of the film in and of itself that despite my lukewarm reaction to it after two viewings, I'm willing to see it more times in the future. I've even bought it. It's a solid movie, but maybe undeserving of the excessive praise it gets. It seems to excel only in being exceptionally watchable, doing nothing to avoid the vague "something" preventing it from being anything that might stand out in my memory.

  It doesn't have the punch and energy to be a popcorn action flick nor is it emotional enough to resonate as the brainy drama it so desperately wants to be. It's a 'mood movie'. Much like Taxi Driver, or Equilibrium. It's strengths are in the meticulously crafted visual language it's honed in order to impart very specific feelings and moods to it's audience. It takes serious skill and craft to do that.
In closing, I reiterate that I believe the movie is more than the sum of it's parts. It manages to be a moody and dramatic sci-fi thriller that I can only hope gets better with each re-watch.

There is something in Ghost in the Shell that keeps me coming back for more, and I hope maybe I never find out what it is so I will always have an excuse to keep looking.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Excelsior!


  If you're a Marvel nerd, comic geek, or even just a movie lover you probably have heard of the 1994 Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four movie. You've heard all about why it was never officially released, you've probably seen images, or even seen a bootleg copy of it yourself, but if you haven't... contrary to popular opinion, I think you're missing out. With a new Fantastic Four reboot looming on the horizon with nothing but bad pre-release buzz, I figured I owed it to myself to see this one. After all, I am a comic geek, a Marvel nerd, a movie lover, AND a Roger Corman fan. There was no downside to this little venture. With my expectations set to abysmal, and a Papa John's pizza on the way, I settled in to feast my eyes on... The Fantastic Four.

  Well, the movie opens with some neat outer space shots behind the opening credits. The sort of low budget space stuff that still manage to look really cool? (see: Forbidden World, Galaxy of Terror) That, coupled with incredibly catchy theme music kinda got my hopes up that maybe, just maybe, this movie had been unfairly maligned. I'll say it right now, the establishing parts of the movie are kinda great. Sure it's a bit campy and some of the dialog is hokey, but we actually get to see Reed Richard's (Alex Hyde-White) friendship with Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp). Something the newer movies never show us. Despite Reed's best efforts, everything goes south once Victor's calculations land him in the morgue after a failed experiment. Then we cut to ten years later or so. Everything so far is actually really solid. I expected utter garbage, but the sets are really well made, the acting isn't bad, and I'm just... stunned.  I mean, either it's good, or I'm conditioned to Corman productions.

  Maybe it was my low expectations going in, but I was thoroughly entertained throughout. Especially as Reed assembles his crew for a revolutionary mission into space, where they plan to study some cosmic rays or something. I dunno why I'm explaining all this. We all already know the story. The point is, that the movie follows it really closely. Admirably so in fact. There are some odd sub-plots that they weave in there, which do nothing but needlessly complicate the movie. For example, Reed has a diamond crystal thingy set up to absorb the cosmic rays so it wouldn't hit the crew instead, and this Mole Man-esque jewel thief steals it, swapping it with a fake one. Which isn't bad, but this Mole Man dude isn't the main villain. Doctor Doom is. You could've had Doom's minions do the same thing, and the story might've started to make a little more sense.

  As it is, it follows adequately from scene to scene as each group of characters go through the plot, acting and reacting as necessary. And speaking of acting, it ranges from surprisingly convincing and serviceable, to hilariously bad. Fortunately the hilariously bad bits are rather far and few in-between and usually those scenes are victimized by bad camera angles and/or crappy writing. Unfortunately, usually both. I really stress the fact that on the whole, most of the acting is decent. Nobody was going to win any awards here, but they all get an A+ for effort. Their line delivery is only as strong as the dialog allows it to be. When Reed starts explaining how their powers reflect their personalities... it was kind-of groan worthy, but somehow Alex pulls it off with a straight face, and as a viewer I felt compelled to keep a straight face as well.

  It was the least I could do since It really does seem like everyone involved, on-screen and behind it, were really truly trying to make a fun movie. All things considered, they succeeded. It's a crying shame that Captain America (1990) got a theatrical release and this didn't. Relegated to bootlegs for all eternity, I think that The Fantastic Four might've found an apologetic and dedicated cult following. Especially in the wake of super dark and serious superhero movies like the Nolan Batman trilogy. The pendulum swings one way, and then the next, and had this been officially released, I could see people being a little kinder to it these days. But it's back-alley black market distribution hurt it's reputation at the outset. In no way was the final quality unacceptable for a low-budget 1994 movie.

  But then again, I have a soft spot for tripe like Street Fighter, Captain America (1990), and Doctor Mordrid (A Doctor Strange inspired flick also made under the Corman banner of New Horizons). But it bears mentioning that the bright colorful comic book feel of the movie saves it from being at odds with itself. The Fantastic Four's outfits are true blue, the Thing looks ripped from the pages of the comic, and Doctor Doom has an extravagant throne room in his sinister clifftop castle-lair. The movie is pretty much in love with it's comic book roots, and it shows. It's a blast. A cheesy, hokey, low budget, blast- but don't hold the shoestring budget against the movie. It's still fun if you have the right frame of mind. The Fantastic Four themselves make the most of their low-budget superpowers as they disappear, punch, stretch, and flame their way through Doom's minions in completely unabashed fashion.

  The whole cast looks like they're having fun, and I think that translates rather well into the movie itself. Nobody is having more fun than Joseph Culp though. In full comic-faithful regalia as Doctor Doom. He chews scenery with an insatiable hunger. But it works. He's so over the top, he hit the perfect note for Doom. He also manages to be more scary and intimidating than the last iteration of the character seen on-screen. Culp plays Doom like he's a villain in an old Flash Gordon serial. This Doom is Ming the Merciless, Skeletor and even a dash of Darth Vader, all rolled into one. He points and gestures and makes broad sweeping movements with his arms, knee deep in full-on bad guy melodrama. He even has the voice right, that is... when we can hear it. For some reason, I don't think they bothered to ADR (re-record) any of his lines. So a good portion of them are muffled behind his mask. It's ridiculous, and kind of hilarious. Sadly undercutting the delightfully evil performance Culp had worked up so far. He's still one of the best things of the movie, nonetheless.

  The movie does have it's fair share of humor, but it's situational, and never (intentionally) dares to descend into slapstick. The score tends to make some scenes sound sillier than they actually are, as does the occasional mishap in the editing department. However, when all is said and done, the movie is flashy, colorful, and full of creative special effects. Alas, it's is creativity born out of a nearly non-existent budget but still, they were trying. It's impossible to talk about this movie without mentioning the money they had to work with around every corner because you can tell if they had a bigger Hollywood-sized budget, this movie would've been absolutely great. As it is, it'd destined to forever be derided by bandwagon haters on the internet who'll never fully give it the time of day. I found a lot to love in this campy little flick. It has the energy of a Saturday morning cartoon, and the flashy visuals to match.

  If you're not expecting something on par with the likes of Batman (1989) or Superman: The Movie, you might just have a decent time with it. It's better than most superhero sequels from that era, and manages to be a really fun movie throughout. Or maybe I'm so used to the production value of Corman movies that the badness of this movie never phased me. I reiterate, it's campy, it's cheesy, but it has it's heart in the right place and manages to be rather exciting in a childlike way. I ended up watching it with a couple little kids, and these are kids who are used to the big budget extravagance of modern superhero cinema like The Avengers and Man of Steel, and not once were they anything less than enthralled with The Fantastic Four. If watching movies like this with the eyes of a grown-up skeptic hinder me or you from enjoying them, then maybe we've something to learn from those little kids. Sometimes having fun with something means it doesn't need to be perfect or convincing. Sometimes rubber suits and crappy computer effects can still be exciting.

  I was 8 years old all over again with this movie, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Ghoulishly fun!


  If you follow my blog, read my reviews, you'll know I'm a big Lovecraft fan. Being a Lovecraft fan, I've observed that in general, fans of him and his works fall into two categories. Ones who think his stories make great movies, and ones who think his stories would make great movies... provided they ever made them properly. I feel really bad for the fans who fall into the latter category because Necronomicon is really freakin' cool. As was From Beyond, Re-Animator and Dagon. All these movies, including Necronomicon, were made by the same people (more or less). They should release all of them as a set. They work so well together! So let me just start by saying, if you didn't like Re-Animator (and I don't know why you wouldn't) you're not gonna like the rest of these and especially not Necronomicon.

  If you did like Re-Animator, then you're in luck! Necronomicon, despite several shortcomings, is precisely the type of slimy, gore-filled, practical effects extravaganza that you'd want it to be. When it hits it's stride it also manages to serve up good acting, and solid writing. Not to mention some seriously disturbing stories as well. Yes, I said stories, plural. Necronomicon is in fact an anthology movie. It has three different segments, and a wraparound starring Jeffrey Combs as Lovecraft himself. The wraparound is one of my favorite things about this movie because Combs is brilliant as Lovecraft and manages to exude the kind of mysterious charisma he brought to Doctor Mordrid (a low budget riff on the Marvel character, Doctor Strange).

  The first story, "The Drowned", is kind of convoluted, but still good. It stars Bruce Payne (Passenger 57) as a man who inherits an old clifftop mansion by the sea, Apparently somewhere inside lies the secret for him to bring his dead wife back to life. Of course, when has bringing the dead back to life ever been a good idea in movies? Things go horribly awry in a spectacular fashion, exceeding even my own expectations of just how crazy this movie was going to get. I knew by the end of the first segment I already loved the hell out of this movie.  Yet, segment 1 was not without flaws. Like I said... it's pretty convoluted.

  All the segments are excerpts being read from the Necronomicon itself, by Lovecraft in some sort of strange library. Then in segment 1 we have a flashback and then a completely separate flashback, and I almost lost track of what was happening altogether. A flashback in a flashback in basically, yet another flashback. This is like the friggin Inception of flashbacks. If you manage to keep everything straight, the story pays off well more or less. Early on in the opening, Lovecraft explains to us that the fate of all mankind rests in the balance and it's up to him to save it. However, we're never really sure how or why transcribing stories from the Necronomicon is supposed to do that. It's never explained or elaborated on. In fact, if anything, Lovecraft seems to accidentally make things worse. But alas, who knows?

  Anyways, segment 2, "The Cold" stars David Warner as a scientist who's discovered the secret to eternal life. Of course, that kind of crap comes with a price... and a murderous price at that. Segment 2 is also largely told in one big flashback. It works slightly better here, but unfortunately the story itself isn't as interesting and the characters are uniformly annoying. Warner is great, but he's sort of peripheral until towards the end of the story. The rest of the characters chew scenery like they're starving and overact like there's no tomorrow. I enjoyed the concepts and the practical effects, especially the fantastic gore scenes, but overall segment 2 wasn't all that great.

  Of course the movie doesn't let up and moves right along into segment 3. Now, I found it odd that all of these stories seem to be set close to modern day (the 90's), and the wraparound with Lovecraft is set in the 1920's. It's not exactly clear if he's having visions of the future, or if he's reading these stories from the book itself and the book has recorded future events in it... which would be cool, but it's just never explained. I could spin theories all day, but the movie should've explained this better. It just seems like they omitted some dialog or a few scenes that would've clarified it better. Segment 3 however, is honestly the best one.  It's about two cops who end up being led into some creepy tunnels far below the streets of the city... like lambs to the slaughter.

  Segment 3, "Whispers", is the goriest, scariest, most disturbing and unnerving segment out of all of them. It's also probably the most depressing despite having the most likable protagonist. Whispers flies off the rails, turning into one of the hands down craziest things I've ever seen in a horror flick like this. With some of the best gross-out practical gore effects I've seen in a while, Whispers had me squirming in my seat like a little kid. It was great. As was the final part of the wraparound. Jeffrey Combs kicks so much ass as Lovecraft it's ridiculous. He has leading man charisma while also preserving that natural nerdiness he has. The movie wraps up with a bang as Lovecraft apparently averts some sort of mini-Armageddon I guess, it's not too clear.

  But who cares? The movie manages to generate more squirm-worthy visuals than any ten modern mainstream horror movies. It's wall to wall practical effects and has Jeff Combs as Lovecraft himself. It's a far cry from perfect, or even great, but it's so much fun. A damn good time to be had by horror fans everywhere. It's the kind of crazy, over-the-top, diamond in the rough that I think more people should see. It has all the visual insanity of From Beyond, but with the Gothic creepiness of Dagon. It's adventurous at times, and downright mean-spirited at others. But despite everything you can see a lot of effort and care went into making it. I liked it so much I think it's fair to say I loved it even. A must own for my collection and a full recommendation to boot.