Friday, April 11, 2014

Intoxicating


   If anyone wanted to know my thoughts on the first movie, I shall put links to both of my glowing reviews here and here. I absolutely loved the first movie. It was brutal, bloody, and simply... insane. If anything can be said for Berandal, right off the bat, it's way more brutal, way more bloody, and way more insane. As far as successors go, this is everything a sequel can aspire to in order to trump the original. It is essentially a love letter to action movies in general. It takes a page from Hong Kong crime thrillers, John Woo shoot-em-ups, and of course... martial arts movies. It is essentially all of this, and at the same time... it's also something more.

   90% of this review will probably be me trying to find ways to describe how amazing it was simply to convince you to see it. If you're not the kind that would need five more paragraphs in order to get your ass in the theaters to see something you're already sure you wanna see- stop now, buy a ticket, and go see it. Now. If you wanna read anyways- well go ahead. I can't stop you. I'm not the internet police or anything. I'm just writing this thing.

  Anyways... let me get the negatives out of the way. I guess this is semi-spoileristic? You've been warned. Okay. First off, somehow they brought back the actor who played Mad Dog in the first movie. Bad move, in my opinion at least. Even though he's playing a different character, it still feels weird. Like... they try to make him look different, but it doesn't work. My first reaction was "How the hell did he survive getting his throat gashed wide open and losing 90% of the blood in his body?" then I realize it's not the same character. It's jarring... and weird... and just unnecessary. You mean to tell me, there is NO other actor that could've played the role? Tch. Not likely.

   Secondly, Mike Shinoda doesn't do any music for the movie. While the return of Joseph Trapanese is fantastic, Mike Shinoda's "Razors Out" was a fantastic theme for the first movie. It capped the movie with gusto and was stuck in my head for weeks. I was looking forward to a new theme from him for this one, but alas... Moving on though, since that's not a major complaint at all or anything. Just a minor grumble. The plot actually kinda bugged me. It takes cues from big gangster flicks, specifically HK organized crime films. And just like most of them, it gets crazy convoluted. I mean, since practically 99% of all the humans even in this movie are villains I don't really see why it had to get so complicated.

  The plot is ambitious in how it tries to be a major crime syndicate movie thing, but it just felt confusing at times. Granted, I've barely had any sleep in the past couple days, and the action in this movie is physically exhausting, so I just may have not had the attention span for it. However, I stand by my assessment. I think the plot was cumbersome. There were so many names thrown at us... Koso, Bangun, Topan, Goto, Eka, Bejo, Bunawar, Uco, and more- that it's hard to keep track. I kept thinking- "Who are they talking about? Did I miss someone?" Then I realized, some people don't get but seconds of screentime despite having a major impact on the plot. It's slightly confusing. Not enough to completely baffle me, I could follow it, but it took more effort than I expected. Again, could be just me and my self induced insomnia getting in the way, but... I doubt it.

   As for the positives... where do I even begin? Editor, writer, and director... Gareth Evans.
The man is clearly an action genius. As if the first movie didn't convince us of that, there's this uber-violent sequel to hammer the point home. He takes fighting, shooting, and bloodshed in general and elevates it to a veritable art form. Never has a movie so gritty and unrelentingly bloody, looked so damn good. And I say that as an artist myself. I love movies with visual flair, and Evans has the knack. This movie is shot beautifully. He knows all the right moments to use slow motion, or jolt the camera. Not to mention his use of colors. Fantastic cinematography all the way around. This guy... action movies are going to quickly run out of ways to keep up with Gareth Evans.

   Iko Uwais has all the fire and gusto of your average Hollywood action star in his prime- and the martial arts skills to put 'em all to shame. He is a veritable force of nature as per usual. Maybe even more. He's also a damn fine actor regardless. He lends gravitas to his role, which... lets face it, could've been played by a totally bland actor and so long as he could pull off the necessary physicality, complaints about his acting would've been footnotes among the praise if anything. Yet, Uwais brings palpable emotions to the table. When he's tired, you're tired. When he hurts, you hurt for him. When he misses his family, it's heartbreaking. Of course, like I said, this would be moot if he couldn't believably punch, kick, shoot, and slice his way through hordes of enemies. Which... he can. Amazingly well too. He's as close to a super-man as any human actor could possibly get in a role like this and still maintain a modicum of realism.

  Speaking of hordes though, that's something that struck me funny this time around. How every bad guy has hordes of thugs at his disposal ready willing and able to throw their lives away at their boss' whim. This is what teetered on unbelievable to me. Only two men in the entire movie seem to have the common sense to run the fuck away from the guys trying to kill them. Who are clearly able to murder you in seconds flat. By this point, any number of said thugs have seen at least 10 to 20 of their fellow thugs murdered in the most gruesome manners imaginable. I would back the hell up and run away. These guys must ALL be dense. I dunno, it's the Stormtrooper trope, yet the first movie was able to justify it better.

   Alas...

   Back to the cast. Everyone here sells their roles admirably. From sinister mob bosses, to double-crossing gang lords, to undercover cops and insane martial arts assassins. These characters are rich, interesting, and very well acted. The movie doesn't lose an ounce of the villainy we came to love in the first. The bad guys here are ruthless, psychotic, and some are even... dare I say, honorable? Everything comes to it's own crazy climax though, and with so many sub-plots I'm surprised that the movie was able to cap them all satisfyingly. Which it did a great job of doing.

  Finally, I must talk about the #1 star of the movie. The violence. It actually sells it short to call it "action" here. That is a neatly packaged word that is too tame and nice for the content of this movie. The fighting in this movie is straight up violence. Movies like Mission: Impossible or The Avengers have action. Movies like The Raid 2, and trust me... there aren't many, have violence. There is so much blood spilled, bones snapped, guts sliced open, and faces just... generally obliterated that there is no mistaking why you came to see this movie. You came to see mayhem and carnage. Choreographed carnage. It's gorgeous. It's brutal, gritty and gorgeous. It belongs to a whole other level of "action" movies.  It satisfies some carnal need for more, and more. More fighting, more kicking, more punching, more realistic, more blood, more stabbing, more shooting, more violence. The thing that makes The Raid 2 so powerful is that it gives you more than even you know you want. Just when you think you've had enough... it firmly says "Nope, hold on... we got even more for you."

  Like many have already said, The Raid 2 knows that too much, in this case, is the perfect amount. I can't even disagree. A reviewer on iMDB said about the 2008 Rambo film that it was "Pornography of violence" and he wasn't saying that as a compliment. However, I think that phrase is rather brilliant and before I eagerly tack it onto The Raid 2, lets look closer at it for a second. Pornography does what precisely? It takes the act of sex and boils it down to an exploitative machination of the reproductive organs.  People often say, "You don't watch porn for the story..." or acting, or plot, or what have you. Why do you watch it? Because of the sex. There's no mistaking that. If you're watching porn, you know you're watching it for the sex. Raw, uncensored, graphic... sex. And it better be good sex, or it's bad porn. So essentially, there's a craft to it. Yeah? Same with violence in action movies. Nobody is fooling themselves when they go to see a movie like this. They want to see the violence. Raw, uncensored, graphic... violence. So to call The Raid 2 "Pornography of violence" is dead-on.

  You all know why you want to see this movie, and I'm telling you right now, it delivers. Gareth Evans has the knack for this craft. I could extend this into a debate about how healthy it is to subject oneself to two and a half hours of violence like that- but like porn, it's an escape. See Don Jon for more details on that. However, it is fantasy nonetheless. An adrenaline fueled testosterone fantasy. And before this review gets any deeper into the science of the how and why, I'm just gonna say... it's so intense that I literally couldn't sit calmly through most of the movie. It's so in your face and exciting that I was physically exhausted by the end. I wanted to cheer and I most certainly applauded. It is an experience not to be missed by action junkies. Not for casual viewers though. I know many many people who simply would not be able to sit through this movie. The bloodshed and bone-breaking is non stop and hits with the impact of a freight train.

  When all is said an done, The Raid seems like a test run in comparison. The Raid 2 is a showcase of the master's refined skill, delivering two and a half hours of non-stop violent "action" and gut-wrenching excitement. I can't recommend it enough if this is up your alley. The term "greatest action movie ever!" is being thrown around a lot, and while I would subject that in itself to scrutiny, I'm not going to try and stop that phrase from spreading, because the more it does... hopefully, the more people see it. And lord knows, it deserves to be seen. No, it deserves to be experienced.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Red Headed Child


  I don't usually review TV shows. I might have reviewed 2 or 3 total since I started the blog. I've always intended to review more, like Breaking Bad, Cowboy Bebop, and stuff I've put serious time into. Alas, reviewing an entire show is a daunting undertaking, and I really dislike reviewing seasons because you have to dive into minutiae and talk about stuff a casual reader might not know about. "X character in this season finally married Y character over here! This was a BAD move and really brought the show down." Why? Does someone who's never seen the show have any idea who X and Y might be? Not to mention it's a major spoiler. Would they know why that particular pairing cheapened the show? No. So I prefer to review an entire show, so I can let people know if at the end... you'll feel like it was worth your time as a whole.

  Enter: Deep Space Nine. My love for all things Star Trek feels like I was born with it, but in truth, I merely grew up with the franchise. I was watching episodes of Star Trek: Voyager when I was just a toddler, and I've seen a couple of the Next Generation movies in theaters. Even at the ripe young age of 6 I knew that The Wrath of Khan was the greatest. I used to rent it often. So, in short- I was a Trekkie in the making. I don't feel like delving into my history with Star Trek (as a frame of reference to know where, I, as a viewer am coming from with my point of view on this show) is complete without talking about how I really got sucked into it. Star Trek was always around in my childhood, but it wasn't something we were religious about. We watched the movies pretty often, but even then...

  One fateful day, at a garage sale back in the mid 2000's (mind you, even 2004 was a decade ago) I was digging around for movies or video games and I found a box full of VHS tapes. I do mean full. There must have been about 50 tapes in this box. As I read the label on each tape, I quickly discovered that each tape had two episodes of Star Trek: Voyager recorded on it. This must've been a full third of the entire show. My mom quickly insisted that we buy it. The guy only charged us $5, and then said... he'd have someone help us load up the rest of the boxes. There were two more boxes. Both full. After going over all the tapes at home, we realized we had every episode of the entire show. It took us a good two months to watch them all, in order of course. It was amazing. We'd never had the opportunity to watch any Star Trek show from start to finish before. We'd always happen to tune in a season too late to watch The Next Generation in it's entirety when it was airing on the Sci-Fi (now called SyFy) channel. Couldn't even find the original series anymore.

  In short, we fell in love with Star Trek: Voyager. We started the whole series over again at least once a year. Then, life pushed my family and I around for a while and we moved, things happened, and we kinda gave up watching the show. We'd watch a bit, here and there, but mainly we were back to the movies and whatever out-of-order episode of The Next Generation was on SyFy. Then came Netflix. A proud owner of a PS3, when Netflix streaming hit... it pretty much was the most amazing thing ever. About a year later, all the Star Trek shows appeared on Netflix. Sheer bliss. Naturally, being able to watch Voyager without having to fast forward commercials was my first instinct... but not for long. I now had access to The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.  All of them. So of course, being ever familiar with Kirk, and Picard, we powered through The Original Series, and The Next Generation. At least twice over. But even then, I knew there was one show I simply couldn't ignore anymore. A show not even my parents bothered with, much less even liked... Deep Space Nine.

  I'm not sure if I started watching it because I'd already seen everything else (excluding Enterprise. Which I just don't like) or if I genuinely wanted to discover it. It was always "that one show" in my family. Nobody cared for it. My mind had been made up for me, before I even had a chance to find out on my own. So I started watching it on Netflix. The series premiere didn't grab me. I saw it. Forgot about it. Moved on. After starting Voyager again with my family I thought to myself, the premiere of this wasn't so great either... and neither was the premiere of Next Generation... maybe I should give Deep Space Nine another shot? So I did. I won't lie, it was a timely mix of sheer boredom and inertia that carried me through the first couple seasons of the show. They were unbalanced, and they struggled to find a rhythm. Yet... even Next Generation and Voyager stumbled through their first couple seasons.

  Deep Space 9 however is almost frustrating to watch in it's sophomoric seasons. You get the sense that it's much more story driven than the other shows, and by that I mean a single story. One big unfolding plot that threads through the entire show. Yet, this big plot isn't handled so well in the beginning. Everything sort of... doesn't fit. The show had potential for chemistry, but only glimpses of when everything truly 'clicked' in seasons 1 and 2. It tries to maintain the "monster of the week" formula that served it's predecessors so well, but the catch is, Deep Space Nine is set on a stationary outpost. You can't "seek out new life forms and new civilizations". You're stuck. On a very confined space station. So you're left with mainly character episodes. Unfortunately for the show, the characters are in their infancy development-wise this early on. Usually episodes like this come during seasons 4 or 5 in any other show. You simply don't know these characters that well so early. Certainly not well enough to care by default.

  Season 3 was a godsend. The writers seemed to get wise to how these characters could interact successfully. Bam. Sparks. This was the turning point for the whole show. Am interesting cosmic conspiracy began to form coherently, eventually they were given a swank little ship, the characters blossomed, chemistry flowed and the show mostly dropped the "monster of the week" formula. Some shows NEED that (ahem. X-Files, looking at you...) others can't sustain it at all. Just like DS9.  The cast really came into their own in the seasons that followed and so did many other things. The space station stopped feeling like a hotel, Benjamin Sisko stopped feeling like a hotel director, and everything started feeling important. The station became the lynch pin in a war against a powerful alien enemy, and Sisko, the show's main protagonist, became more than just an explorer and a diplomat like Kirk, Picard or Janeway... he became a soldier. A soldier on the front lines of an intergalactic war.

  The setting of a war like that gave the show some very interesting material to deal with. The show becomes very political and intricate. Cause and effect lasts beyond any singular episode. Things happen that have lasting repercussions for seasons to come. This is also why it's hard to watch out of order. All the other Trek shows can be casual viewing. Not Deep Space Nine. No way. You have to follow the story sequentially to get the full effect. This I imagine, robbed it of some of it's larger audience. Even Trekkies. This show demands your full attention and continually too. Miss an episode of Next Generation, and you're fine. Catch it on a rerun. Miss an episode of Deep Space Nine, and the tides of the entire war might have shifted, a crucial character might have died, someone might be missing, and the station might be under siege. It could be any... or all of these things. And any one of those plot threads might extend over five or six episodes, with measurable effect on the rest of the entire show.

  Deep Space Nine is a show you have to follow intently. Things are mentioned from earlier episodes, even earlier seasons, and you have to know those things in order to understand what's going on. It'd be incredibly hard to simply 'tune in' halfway through the show and expect to enjoy it. However, because the show demands so much of it's viewers in a franchise that's so very very different, it's easily way more rewarding. The characters in the show form a much tighter bond in my opinion. The kind of lasting friendship you can see in Kirk and Spock can be seen amongst the crew of DS9. The camaraderie is palpable because you're watching a group of people bond not just over regular day-to-day situations, but over the course of a war where their lives are constantly on the line in a way previously unseen in a Trek show.

  Deep Space Nine is definitely the red headed child of the Star Trek franchise, but that is no reason to avoid it. Especially not now when awesome services like Netflix have made it available in it's entirety right at your finger tips. It's an incredibly rewarding show with top shelf stories and sci-fi concepts for the ages. The characters end up feeling like family in a way that only certain singular episodes of the other shows were able to relate to the audiences. Having finished the whole show, I feel more complete as a Star Trek fan. Is this a good jumping-on point for people who've never seen any Star Trek shows before? No... I don't think so. For that, I suggest Star Trek: The Next Generation, season 3 and onward. Arguably the most polished and well defined seasons of the entire franchise. Or, fall in love with the movies. Make no mistake though... if you're a newcomer, no matter where you choose to start, Deep Space Nine more than deserves to be a stop on your tour through the vast Star Trek universe. While not my favorite Star Trek show, it is undeniably, a fantastic show, and even a worthy hallmark in the Star Trek franchise. It's one I wholeheartedly recommend and one I can't wait to revisit sometime in the future.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Holy Hell in a Handbag


  It's movies like this that just... make my day. While the art of exploitation may not be the general norm these days, there are movies and people who try to keep it alive. Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and maybe even Eli Roth are some of the few who did so, quite famously. Yet, the indie/low-budget/straight-to-video market is chock full of wannabe exploitation movies. Movies that try to be grindhouse... but never really get there. Oddly enough, the original genre was born out of greed. These movies weren't made for the fun of it, or for the 'art' of it. They were made to make as much money as possible. But in the 70's and 80's, you had to compete with box office juggernauts like Jaws, and Star Wars. So, what do you do...?

  Of course, you obviously make ripoffs of those movies, with a few... changes. Mainly, boat-loads of nudity, tons of gore, and some of the most off the wall insane concepts you could possibly imagine. Sometimes exploitation movies didn't directly ripoff any specific movie, but you'd be hard pressed to say the concept, look, or general story wasn't painfully familiar, if you could only put your finger on it... Often times these movies simply took a very tried-and-true concept, maybe even overused and made it it's bread and butter. The rape/revenge genre for example. Tons of exploitation movies boil down to that. Thriller: A Cruel Picture, I Spit on Your Grave, Savage Streets, Ms.45, I could go on...

  The point is, exploitation movies sought to lure in a crowd by being vulgar, graphic, in-your-face, and... well... exploitative. You could see in these sleaze-fests what you couldn't see in mainstream movies. They had no holds barred, and without anyone much trying, they were often a hell of a lot of fun. Usually because they were unpredictable and overly violent. Simple, bloody, to-the-point, fun. If X villain killed your family, you grabbed a bunch of guns, and killed him to death. What's not to love? For some people... nothing. It's not their bag. I get it. It's not for everyone. These movies are glorified trash. Even fans admit that. But there's something irrepressibly fun about exploitation movies. Which is why filmmakers romanticize the genre even to this day.

  It's become something of an artsy sub-genre of movies because nowadays, you have to replicate the look of how exploitation movies looked back then, or at least replicate the atmosphere and design of things. Back in the 70's and 80's, these movies were grainy, dirty looking, and low budget. That stuck with the genre like white on rice. So when guys like Rodriguez and Tarantino made their movies, they of course replicated the dirt, grain, and grime. You just had to. Unfortunately, not all efforts are as successful. Some movies over-complicate things, or overuse the grain filter, or use CGI too much (which REALLY kills the experience) and it just... doesn't feel right. Lemme tell you something, low budget CGI is ugly, clunky, and could only possibly be seen as nostalgic in maybe another 20 years. So when these wannabe exploitation movies have like... CGI blood... it's lame. Fail.

  I get tired of getting my hopes up for some of these movies, and since so many of them sail under my radar, I rarely touch any of the new exploitation movies. Then this movie came along... I happened to like the lead actors, so I thought to myself, I give it five minutes- if it hasn't hooked me by then... I'm turning it off and going back to bed. As if it read my mind and said "Chill out bro, we got this..." it hooked me immediately. The movie opened with a big bloody shootout in a bar. Blood? Not CGI? Check. Beautiful woman who's in a lead role wearing impractically sexy clothing? Check. Ruggedly handsome lead actor who shoots a lot of guns? Check. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. This was promising. Yet it could have gone so wrong...
and didn't.

  This movie is like The Road Warrior (a genre classic in anyone's book) and Mr. & Mrs.Smith, smashed together. It has all the trappings of a fantastically fun exploitation flick and good looking stars with plenty of chemistry between them. The concept is a bit wonky, but like any good grindhouse flick- it's almost unbelievable yet... scarily enough, could actually happen. It brings to mind the state of society as seen in the movie Death Race 2000. A society so desensitized to carnage and death, it became a national pastime. Completely ridiculous, no?  Yet... we enjoy movies like that, don't we? Such meaty food for thought. In a similar manner, Bounty Killer shows us a future where big corporations ended up controlling the world- overruling governments, and starting business wars between each other. Literal wars. I found it funny how brand name corporations brought about the nuclear apocalypse and not warring governments. Yet, are they really any different when all is said and done? More meaty food for thought!

  Yet, the movie isn't a thinking man's movie. It's a movie where people get chopped in half, decapitated, shot to pieces, stabbed in the eyeball, explode, and ultimately die in various horrible yet awesome ways. This is why you come to exploitation movies! The killing! What else? This movie is spectacular in it's gratuitous violence. Few low budget movies have the guts to forego CGI blood, which is definitely cheaper these days, and use loads of real fake blood. Real... fake... blood. It's a funny phrase, but a necessary distinction, albeit one I'm sad I have to make. CGI blood, just... shouldn't be a thing. If it's existence is necessary, it wasn't meant to be used for something so trivial as shooting someone in the chest onscreen. More or less, it's about believe-ability. You have to buy into what you see on the screen to a certain extent. Sure, bright red blood isn't exactly realistic- but it is tangible, and as far as something that exists in reality, and is on set, being sprayed all over the actors... it has a certain gravitas to it that can still make you cringe. CGI blood... takes you out of the experience. It just looks extra fake, to the point where it doesn't even look like it's there. So very bad.

  Bounty Killer uses real fake blood. A LOT of real fake blood. This made me smile, and the sheer variety of ways in which our protagonists kill the bad guys. Oh boy. So much fun. Yet despite the desert-punk, post-apocalyptic, motorcycling, gun-toting, good time this movie is- there are a few drawbacks I'd be remiss if I didn't point out. First, there is a lot of CGI usage. Understandably so though. Since matte painting and miniatures are such dead art forms, hiring people to do that stuff for you now could be insanely expensive. Especially when you can hire some college dude to whip up a serviceable background or helicopter shot on Photoshop for next to nothing. This is why I'm not holding it against the movie. It doesn't feel like they were copping out, but more like they had budget restraints. I can understand that. To be fair, they do a damned good job of trying to blend the CGI bits and pieces in to plenty of practical effects. Most of it is really well done. Great job.

  Secondly, you guys had Gary Busey... and wasted him. The granddaddy of scenery chewing, and he gets one little scene where he does next to nothing. This guy could've been walking, talking, gold in a movie like this! Yet oddly enough, he seems to be the one person sleepwalking through his screentime, all five minutes of it. Shame on whoever's fault this was. For once, Busey isn't funny or outrageous. He walks into the movie, and is forgettable five minutes later. Matthew Marsden does a fantastic job as the leading guy. He has the gruff post-apocalyptic hero shtick down to a T. He looks good attached to the trigger of a gun, and thankfully, that's where he spends most of the movie. This movie is full of action, as any good exploitation action flick should be. Gunfight after gunfight, each one eclipsing the last. It's a thing of beauty. And then there's car chases through the desert so friggin cool that they would have Max Rockatansky sending flowers.

  Lest I forget to mention Christian Pitre. She is a quintessential exploitation lady of action. Strangely enough though I can't find a damn thing about the actress online. A bare bones iMDB page, no wikipedia page at all, and only a handful of credits to her name. Shame. She's amazing. I do think though she's a bit older than her character was supposed to be, and sometimes it showed and was odd, but it wasn't a cardinal sin or anything. She got into the role, got bloody, dirty, and all messed up... repeatedly. As much of a star as Marsden, if not more, she was a shining delight to watch in this movie. There was even a comic relief guy who wasn't unbearable. I want to fault the movie for including him, because exploitation movies didn't really intentionally inject humor into their movies. They ended up being unintentionally funny, which is something Black Dynamite understood in spades. 

  Yet, I can't fault Bounty Killer for this, firstly because the guy is actually funny, secondly because this movie walks the line. It doesn't employ film grain or anything and it's not overly gimmicky of being an exploitation movie. It just is. It's not trying to be a grainy, drive-in, bloodfest from the 70's, anymore than the exploitation movies in the 70's were trying to spawn a retro-cool sub-genre. Bounty Killer is simply inspired by those movies, influenced by them, and fueled by them. It has no problem existing in 2013 though. More stupid fun movies should be like this. It knows it's entirely batshit crazy and off-the-wall, and like any good movie in the genre does- it embraces it. 

There's a scene in the movie (semi-spoilery but not really?) where the villain is trying to coerce the hero into joining her- someone knocks on the door, and the villain says "We're in the middle of a meeting!" Of course the person knocks the door down and it's our hero's leading lady. Who of course, promptly punches the villain in the face with a quip. The hero then says... "I would've said 'this meeting is over!'"
Which is exactly what I was hoping would be said. If you thought the same thing, then undoubtedly, you'll love this movie. If you rolled your eyes and groaned, stay far away. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Sad Misfire


  A dark, Gothic comic book to begin with, Spawn never had an easy transition to the big screen. At the time, when you said "comic book movie" you obviously meant something like Superman: The Movie, or Tim Burton's Batman. Both well respected movies. Both relatively family friendly. (In Superman's case, maybe excessively so...) Then you try to pitch the head honchos a comic book movie... about a hero who gets his powers straight from Satan? The more you try to explain, the worse it would seem. See, he's an assassin who's a borderline psychotic who gets killed and winds up in Hell and makes a deal with the devil to lead his satanic army against god and his angels in exchange for seeing his wife again... and then there's John Leguizamo's character. Oh boy.

  There is no part of this that sounds PG-13 or even remotely family friendly. For movie studios looking to make some money, this is a very uncomfortable prospect. After all, their #1 priority is to maximize the appeal of this movie- of any movie -so that more people will see it. Obviously. More people = more money. Would Spawn have been better without studio imposed restrictions? Most likely. Would it have been that much better? I doubt it, and... this is the first time I've doubted it. In a roundabout way, I grew up with this movie- although I wasn't allowed to see it as a kid, it's always one I wanted to see. Much like Small Soldiers, and Mars Attacks. My parents lumped it in with that 'edgy' group of movies that was just out of reach for a kid like me.

  I saw the toys in stores, the ads on TV, the trailers, the box art at the video stores, the posters, the comic book adaption. I wanted to see Spawn very very badly. It looked awesome. So when I finally saw it, I was 14 and admittedly, it was a pretty cool experience for me. So when it came time for me to assess the movie with my underdeveloped movie critic sensibilities, I blamed all of it's flaws on the studio interference. Honestly, it's quite easy to do because without studio interference this movie might have been Rated R. I would've like that, and fans would've too. Yet, the Director's Cut is Rated R, and that doesn't fix any of it's problems. Mainly because it was still shot with PG-13 in mind, so a little Director's Cut can only restore what was altered or cut our prior to it's release. Sigh.

  Anyways, the problem does not solely lie on the studio involvement, much blame can be placed squarely on the shoulders of first time director Mark A.Z. Dippe. As I read what I'm writing here in my head, I say his name with a slow and over-articulated draw that is dripping with disdain. Yeah, the guy has done good visual effects work on movies like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, but why on Earth they handed him a forty million dollar summer blockbuster like this will always escape me. You need a tried and true director for stuff like this. Dippe is out of his league and it shows. This sophomoric effort is disjointed and lacks and real bite. A movie like Spawn needs teeth, so to speak. You have all this wonderfully dark and grim thematic content, yet you squander it on the most banal humor that only a five year old would find funny, and you shortchange the movie in the action department as well.

  Spawn is a mess. Entirely. There are some cool parts, no doubt. Michael Jai White makes a good hero, and he has several really cool scenes in the movie. The alley fight with the giant demon-gecko, The Violator, springs to mind as one of the few times this movie worked really well. The setting is another example. Much of Spawn's journey has him returning to an alleyway that the homeless have turned into a makeshift city. It's a grim set and filthy, yet it's also interesting and fully realized. Something that most of this movie isn't. When it comes down to it, I argue Spawn needed more action scenes to qualify as a guilty pleasure. It's stunning that this movie is so short on action. So much of the movie is chewed up by awful voiceovers that overly explain everything, and stupid scenes between Leguizamo's Clown and (a horribly misused) Martin Sheen, that Spawn is almost a leftover character- scrambling to find time to make use of his new powers and kick some ass.

  He's relegated to operate under some terrible pacing issues that makes the film suffer so badly that it can't even scrape up enough energy to be a fun bad movie. For anyone who owns the movie, and has willingly sat through it more than once, it's appeal must lie in some warped sense of nostalgia. I know it does for me. It's an hour and thirty eight minutes of wasted potential in all areas, save a few. Like I said, there are some scenes that work so well, you're almost impressed. In those scenes you get a glimpse of what Spawn could have been, and sadly wasn't. But first and foremost the one aspect of this movie I find absolutely awesome, is the design aspect. Spawn looks really damn cool. The way his armor activates and adheres to him like a second skin, the look of his mask, his cape. He looks awesome. The movie does him justice, if nobody and nothing else.

  Unfortunately, this is not the "special effects event of the year!" anymore, and I doubt it ever was. The computer effects in this movie for the most part, are just... painfully outdated. I'm not one to rag on old effects, but these are so bad, someone should've reconsidered making this movie like they did. The scenes of hell are entirely computer generated and it's bad looking. Objects float around looking like a Windows 95 screensaver, textures are of such a low resolution they look flat and fake, pixels and other artifacts crop up frequently, oh and they couldn't render hair worth a damn. The devil himself, Malebolgia, looks just as awful as the setting he's trapped in. If I was him, I would most certainly enslave Michael Jai White to try and murder God so I could finally escape that flat 2D looking Hell and find myself some better looking CG accommodations in... maybe a Pixar flick?

  So, in closing, Spawn has all the ingredients there to have at the very least be a guilty pleasure movie. Fantastic design, some cool scenes, Michael Jai White, some occasional cool effects, and that's about it. It's up to you to decide if that's worth the stilted acting, gross humor, terrible pacing, and amateurish direction. For me? Eh. I watched it as an excuse to review it. Or... did I plan to review it as an excuse to watch it? It's such a misfire of a movie, but one that I have nostalgic feelings for. A movie that is nothing like what it should've been, yet still so different from anything else of it's time. It's a mixed bag, and one that I'd love to remember fondly, honestly, yet I just can't.

    Ladies and Gentlemen...
                                           Spawn.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Simply, not bad


  Starship Troopers: Invasion, the franchise's side-movie. (Not the lack of a number in the title...) It looks nothing like the previous movies, sadly, taking on more of a Halo look and design. Who can blame them though? This one takes place almost entirely in space, and on starships. Is Invasion a bad one? Not really. If that's not the rousing self-assured answer you were hoping for... too bad. Invasion suffers the pitfalls of the second movie, and then some. Wooden acting is replaced by wooden CGI (a complaint mainly limited to facial expressions to be fair) and again any satirical edge is completely absent. This is a movie about two things, troopers and bugs. They spend the movie killing each other. I do have to admit, the story is better than I thought it'd be, and the characters end up being fun to watch- so if anything... this is, well, not bad.

  I don't like the design shift. I loved the visual aesthetics of the Mobile Infantry as it was. Their helmets, body armor, visual motifs. The designs in this movie feel like generic 'edgy' video game designs. Like someone whipped up a batch of ODST and misplaced them right into the Starship Troopers universe. Better body armor makes sense, mech suits make sense. Preserving the damn visual aesthetic makes sense too. Apparently they didn't want to. I know it's possible. Anything is possible except for them to get one of the movies movie right, from top to bottom. However... the best thing about Invasion is the sheer spectacle. Given the fact that it's a CGI movie, that affords them a bigger sandbox in which to play around in. They do make good use of the space setting, and extra good use of the zero gravity environments. Some moments made my jaw drop. Something which doesn't happen unless I'm watching the outpost sequence from the first movie. (Every... damn... time.)

  Maybe not preserving the design motifs is a fanboy gripe, but this is apparently supposed to follow continuity. I don't get it. Anyway, the CGI is a little stiff at times, and the dialog is trite, but the movie makes up or it in terms of sheer scope and action. However unlike the first and third movies, and much like the second, Invasion is claustrophobic and confined. All of it takes place on Starships and not on alien planets and in big expansive deserts. This I think made it hard for me to really get into. I like the alien planets and such. Those big barren deserts lent a perfect aesthetic to the bug wars. Invasion is cold and polished. It feels more like Aliens, and that's just not the way to go with a Starship Troopers movie. It irritates the hell out of me.  Yet, if you came for troopers vs. bugs, this movie doesn't disappoint. There's plenty of creative and exciting action scenes that highlight the movie, including the most exciting opening sequence from any of the movies.

  A lot of the novelty and flair of Starship Troopers is absent in this one, yet it manages to be it's own beast. Something that both sequels never fully invested in. Hero of the Federation was marred at every turn by budget restraints, and even it's story seemed born out of a small budget. Marauder tried it's damnedest to be like the first movie. Neither movie had the means or motivation to cut their own path.  Invasion actually does this. To an extent. It knows what it wants to be and it goes for it. Unfortunately, it's not high-concept sci-fi or anything intellectually engaging (which, a Starship Troopers movie, unbound by canon and continuity to the first three movies is MORE than capable of providing-) it's just a straight forward action movie. The action is good. It's fast, slick, explosive, and exciting. It even gives us some creative stuff we haven't seen before. However, at the end it feels like a demo reel of action scenes to show off, saying "Hey! Isn't this cool?". Yes, it is, but that's all it is.

  Invasion edges out the most re-watchable sequel because it's sheer action. It doesn't have the low budgeted restraints of Hero of the Federation, and it doesn't have the distressingly bad CGI of Marauder. It may or may not be the best sequel, but it's flawed liked the rest of them. It's a mixed bag, but a surprisingly watchable one that gets better as it goes. I'd like to own it eventually, but I don't consider it a priority. I also wouldn't buy it before 2 or 3. Yet if you're a completionist like me, you won't have any reservations about purchasing Invasion. It proves it's mettle with gusto and flair, and enough to at least outweigh it's flaws. Which include a total lack of any satirical elements. No propaganda abound in this one, not many quotable lines either. Just saying, kinda disappointing. However, to reiterate, the troopers vs. bug scenes here are plenty exciting. Sadly, in the end, this is a thin review- for a thin movie. There's not much to Invasion, and I fully believe there could've been. Ah well. Maybe next time?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Over-saturation


  "It's a good day to die!" says the propaganda in the movie, yet I'd argue it's a good day to let the franchise die instead. If that sounded like a disheartening first line, well, you're right... but not entirely. Starship Troopers 3: Marauder blasts it way onto home video with quite a bang, in my opinion. First, and foremost, this movie marks the return of Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico. Colonel... Johnny Rico. Van Dien came under fire in reviews of the first movie as being wooden and in general, a sore point of the movie. Personally, I felt his soap opera-esque performance fit the tone of the satire quite well. I think people missed that point. Which was intentional, so sayeth the director. Who knew though that people would get so hyped about his return to the franchise? Only one movie away and already he was sorely missed.

  I can't say that Marauder is head and shoulders above Hero of the Federation, but hot damn I wish I could. People didn't realize how badly Starship Troopers would miss Casper Van Dien, and apparently the makers of Marauder didn't realize how badly they needed better special effects. Van Dien alone isn't enough to sell this movie 100%. The CGI bugs in Marauder look awful, in a word. They're plastic-y and they move like archaic video game graphics. One tends to forget how bad they are in comparison to the overall forgettable 2nd movie, but geez. Rewatching the 2nd one made me respect it a little more, due to the fact their CGI was admittedly on point, and looking very good. By contrast, Marauder's CGI looks like crap. No way around it. That seriously harms this movie. Because amazing to at the very least, decent special effects have been the hallmark of this franchise. Not good acting, or good stories. People like the bugs, and seeing them slaughter the troopers. Which looks... odd here.

  The return of Johnny Rico is cause to be excited. He looks like he's back in his element, and the movie is better off for it.Van Dien lends a bit of seriousness to this movie as without him, I feel like it'd be a bad joke. This is an effects heavy movie, but their computer generated effects aren't so hot. They instead rely more on animatronics and practical effects to achieve their goals. Those effects are actually pretty damn good. It's a shame the warrior bug looks like a computerized toy by comparison. There is more of what you loved about the first movie in this one though. Johnny Rico shouting his lines "C'mon you apes! You wanna live forever?"
and leading the charge against the bugs, decked out in the classic Mobile Infantry armor. You can't help but smile and get this warm and fuzzy blast of nostalgia when you see this. Whenever they're in the thick of things, shooting bugs, I have no issues with the movie. It excels whenever Rico is the main focus. Oddly enough, the same can be said about the original honestly.

  However, the supporting cast of Marauder isn't fun to watch. Most of these actors are even slightly annoying. None of them have the charisma that Casper Van Dien brought back to the franchise. At best, they're passable, at worst, they make it feel like a SyFy movie of the week. Ugh. I do have to give props to Stephen Hogan who plays Sky Marshal Omar Anoke. He has all the charm of a televangelist, and none of the good intentions. This guy oozes weird, and his on screen presence just gives you the willies. You can't tell if he's just a bureaucratic sleazeball, or a fame junkie, or if something more is going on. His presence certainly adds something to the movie. Whether or not that something pays off in a satisfactory manner or not... eh. However he is the (only) other actor of note in this movie. It strikes me funny that most of the actors playing troopers in this movie, were probably teenagers or preteens when Starship Troopers came out. It's not a stretch to imagine more than a few were fans, and getting to act alongside Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico? That must've been awesome. In a way that mirrors the movie as well. Hundreds of young M.I. Troops getting to fight alongside the legendary Col. Johnny Rico? Talk about a morale boost.

  Starship Troopers 3 tries hard to replicate the tone and scope of the original. Sadly, it just... can't. Budgetary restraints hold this movie back and almost cripple it. Despite having two million more to work with than it's predecessor, that's still only 9 million dollars. (Compared to Starship Troopers 100 million budget) For that, this movie was rather exceptional. They put a lot of money into sets and practical effects and those things were, visually, the highlight of the movie. All in all, Marauder is an easy movie to compare to Hero of the Federation because Marauder seems to be a direct response to the negative criticism of the first sequel. Hero of the Federation was lacking any sort of satirical edge, it lacked any familiar characters, the tone was very claustrophobic and the scope was confined. Marauder was almost the exact opposite. It brought back the satire, brought back hero Johnny Rico, the tone reverts back to a big war movie, and the scope was opened up considerably.  The tradeoff is obviously the special effects. Hero of the Federation had effects on par with the first movie, Starship Troopers 3 has CGI on par with... well, a SyFy movie of the week. I hate to bring up those crap-fests twice in one review, but... damn.

  My next point is the satire. They try too hard here, and often miss the point. The satirical commercial breaks in the first movie gave you a slick insight into this warped and fascist society. They'll censor a cow being butchered, but seconds later they'll eagerly show you the mangled and bloodied corpses of hundreds of mormon colonists. It was fascist propaganda. In Marauder, they play it all for silly laughs. Aside from one or two moments of spot-on satire, a lot of it seemed to be handled by people who didn't quite... get it. Clever and perverse propaganda is often reduced to sex jokes or slapstick ridiculousness.  Not to mention the movie's shoehorned and absurd stab at satirizing religion. The entire last act revolves around religion, and frankly... it's awkward and uncomfortable, because clearly, the makers had no idea how to do it properly. The whole point of satirizing something is not to make it look goofy, but to kinda sell it how it is, but showing how inherently silly it is. Like fascism, and propaganda ads. They miss the mark so badly with their take on religion and come off like amateurs fumbling around in Paul Verhoeven's sandbox.

  Marauder is truer to the first movie, and it's not entirely bad! It can be fun at time, no lie. Yet, in it's ambition, it stumbles. Which is unfortunate, because better effects and a stronger third act could've made this movie miles better. It does however mark the return of Johnny Rico, which makes this a must-see for fans, but I don't think anybody else could regret missing this movie. Just play the game, or watch the first movie. Maybe even read the book! Yet there is a certain unmistakable charm to this movie. It's ambition and goals place it head and shoulders above most DTV sequels, it's attempts to remain true to the original place it way above Hero of the Federation, and the return of square-jawed Johnny Rico make it the only true sequel thus far to the sci-fi juggernaut of the late-90's, Starship Troopers. So if you're dying to see a proper... ish (at least, well intentioned) Starship Troopers sequel, and you don't mind some clunky CGI- I suggest you 'Join up now!', 'Do your part!', and watch Starship Troopers 3: Marauder!


Lord knows I've recommended worse movies before...

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Stone-age Novelty


  Taking a one movie hiatus from my impromptu Starship Troopers reviewing marathon, I decided to pop in an old VHS tape, recently acquired from a thrift store. So old in fact, one could call it... prehistoric.  Maybe not literally that old, but those good ol' puns seem to write themselves in this clever, chuckle-filled piece of 90's nostalgia.  Rolling it's way back into my life, straight out of my childhood, last seen some 15-odd years ago... I had almost forgotten all about this odd (not-so-)little movie. The theme song is catchy as ever and The Flintstones are faithfully brought to the big screen in this, live-action, larger than life sitcom presented by... "Stephen Spielrock".  It even says so on the cover. I guess I never really stopped to think how strange this might be to some people. Including people who very well might not have ever known there was a live action Flintstones. Let alone two. However, one can hardly hate on this movie seeing as how it does exactly what you would expect. It is a live action version of the beloved 1960's cartoon. That's more than just a description, it's a summary, and a compliment. Yet basically, this movie is nothing more than a novelty...

  Adapting cartoons into movies was never a solid business. Masters of the Universe didn't fare so well, Speed Racer had mixed reviews, and I could keep listing epic misfires like this for a while. Yet alot of these movies have found a cult following. Speed Racer most notably. I see no reason why The Flintstones can't have it's own quaint little cult following.  It's not a bad movie per se, it's just kind of a puzzling one. I can imagine a lot of money was invested in this movie, and surprisingly it made it back. Yet it received a critical whipping upon it's release. For a long time not even audiences spoke fondly of this movie. Yet as I was digging through some internet forums threads about this movie, I found more people than not defending this movie. Whether it was because of the spot-on casting choices, or purely nostalgic reasons, people were sticking up for The Flintstones.

  As a movie it was never destined to be revered in the annals of famous comedies, nor was it going to pull down any serious accolades for special effects. It was intended to be a piece of nostalgia for fans of the cartoon. A novelty. "Hey look at this! They really brought it to life!" In 1994, fans of the 1960's cartoon would be well into adulthood. I have no doubt many of them thought it was a neat idea, or blasphemous. Yet it seems like the makers of this movie forgot that the cartoon persisted to find a young audience. The children's fanbase was just as big. There were tie-in toys, McDonalds' specials, et cetera. Yet so much of this movie is simply not for kids. It's for the thirty somethings who at the time were around when the cartoon was first airing. The movie's plot would sail clear over any kid's head. Mother-in-law problems? Cutbacks? Getting laid off? Embezzlement schemes? Infidelity? The Incredibles springs to mind as another movie that deals with all this stuff, yet it handles it delicately. With subtle suggestions and finesse.

  Halle Berry in a skimpy bikini crawling across Fred's (played by John Goodman) desk, trying to seduce him isn't exactly something for the whole family to see. This movie is played for laughs, as Fred's tie snaps and curls up, gawking at this seductress crawl about on his desk. You can tell the whole movie has a very grown-up tone. It'd be uncomfortable if I had to watch that with my kids. People would seriously object if that was in the cartoon, and now I know this is one of the reasons my parents had issues with me seeing this as a little kid. I'd say a good 90% of all the laughs to be had, would be lost on anyone under 13. It's a shame then that a movie like this was unavoidably be pandered to all ages. This isn't Disney, folks. A character in the movie actually points that out. He laments, 'I should've signed with Disney, they never would've made me do this'. Much can be said about a lot of content in the movie, though it's not as racy as I'd make it out to be, it's simply not a kids movie either.

  Disney has a knack for blink-and-you'll-miss-it innuendo, yet The Flintstones isn't so graceful. I suppose one could easily make a pun here, likening the movie to a boulder or a rock since neither are graceful either, and if you would laugh at a pun like that, congratulations, you'll probably like this movie too. That's not a bad thing, mind you. I like the movie too. I chuckled to myself as Fred and family went to the drive in, and the sign outside read: "George Lucas' TAR WARS". This movie is all about the pop-culture references, the in-jokes, the innuendo and the puns. OH the puns! They come cheaper than a dime a dozen here, but they're also handled quite well. I'm not too familiar with the director, but he knows how to play the dumbest pun for straight laughs. It works. What more can I say?

  The casting is rather brilliant I think. Goodman is simply the perfect Fred, and Moranis is a spot-on Barney. They both do the voices with ease, as if they'd been practicing for a lifetime. They find a good balance between full-on cartoonish panache and self-aware nods. Rosie O'Donnell as Betty is something of a serious issue... for some people. I thought she did fine. Most complain about the actress being too heavy for the role of such a skinny character. Or that she's a terrible actress and a horrible person. On one hand I get it, I wouldn't want someone I hated playing a character I loved. Yet, A, most of these people simply wanted Betty to have sex appeal, and B, the rest just don't like O'Donnell. I fall into neither category. This movie did not need sex appeal of any sort, and I have nothing against O'Donnell. Elizabeth Perkins as Wilma was great, and the rest of the cast was as well, great. If you wanted to see the Flintstones brought to life, this is the best cast you could hope for. They do amazingly well. All of them seem to really put heart into their roles, whereas this could've been a 'paycheck' movie for some, with phoned in performances. Surprisingly and thankfully, that's not the case.

  If only the Scooby-Doo movie was this good. By comparison, The Flintstones is head and shoulders above it in terms of how faithful it was to the source material. The makers involved seem to have a real affection for the cartoon, yet I wonder why they made it so adult since the cartoon was so innocent. Did they miss the mark? Not entirely, but the movie exists as an oddity. It's too child-like to go in the regular Comedy section of the video store, and too Adult to go in the Family section. Yet, because it's based on a cartoon, it will inevitably go in the Family section. This is an issue for the movie as I believe it's ideal audience is one that would rediscover it now. People my age who remember when this came out in the 90's. People who still get a kick out of these live action cartoon-based movies. A forgiving and nostalgic audience is what this movie deserves, and as it happens, that's the category I fall into. Yabba dabba- d'oh, you know how it goes.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

At worst, thin.


  Well. I certainly didn't expect to like this movie upon my second viewing in the past five years. However... string me up and give me ten lashes, I did. I liked it. Nobody could be more surprised than me. I kid you not. I saw this movie ages and ages ago. I rented it from a Hollywood Video along with Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, and had a double feature that night. I was not fond of this one. Yeah, it was gory and there were the trademark bugs but... it was lacking, in my opinion. In fact, I think it still is. It's thin. Starship Troopers doesn't function well without some sort of political or society commentary. It becomes just an inert, and hollow piece of sci-fi. Which is ultimately what Hero of the Federation is. Inert and hollow. Yet as much as it is nothing like the 1997 sci-fi blockbuster, helmed by the maestro of satire-action movies, Paul Verhoeven, it's not a bad movie when all is said and done.

  It's paper thin budget shows sometimes. Yet go figure, the CGI in this movie is head and shoulders above the third movie. I don't even know how that happened. I don't really wanna look at the budgets. It's just unfair. The worst part about the third movie, is the CGI. The best part about this one, is the effects. This is actually probably one of the last good DTV movies. It gets bashed like no other, and trust me, I understand. However, this is not bad. There are a few big mistakes it makes, one is the dialog. Some of it is just... nails on a damn chalkboard. Secondly, there are too many annoying characters. Especially that Psi-Ops guy. I was really hoping he'd die in the first half hour. No such luck. Third is the story. This is also where the budget shows. They had to confine the plot to a single location, which in effect, robs the movie from having the satirical elements it needed to thrive.

  You'll notice the movie is bookended by the franchise's trademark propaganda commercials, yet there's none throughout the film. Because in the first movie, those commercials would serve as a bridge, transitioning from one scene/location, to something else happening elsewhere. Starship Troopers 2 all takes place in one location, focuses on a very singular and small scale story. But by god, they worked with what they had. I guess the biggest problem with this movie is that it feels like it only needs to be thirty minutes. It feels like it could be absolved into a bigger movie because it's so thin on it's own. Yet that doesn't mean there aren't some awesome action sequences, some creative horror situations, and some fun one-liners. I get why people were so sore over this movie, but I think it was a collective over-reaction. It's nowhere near as bad as people, even myself made it out to be.

  The movie has a fair share of decent actors, and it makes use of them for the most part. However it's fairly obvious the movie is padded out to the max. It's a survival horror movie, best likened to movies like Resident Evil or Alien Resurrection. I know those are harsh and confusing comparisons for a movie I just said wasn't bad, but look at the scores. Resident Evil currently holds a 6.7 (out of a possible ten) on imdb. Alien Resurrection has a 6.3. Starship Troopers 2? Has a staggering 3.4. It's not that bad. Honestly. There have been many times I've been flipping through channels on TV, found Alien Resurrection and just watched it for a bit. It's a disappointing movie in the grand scheme of things, but it's not painful to watch or anything. That underwater scene is awesome as well. Hero of the Federation has a handful of decent and creative things in it. Stuff I'd argue elevates this movie above either of the other aforementioned movies.

  If you're in the right mindset, with the right expectations, it can be fun. If this was the pilot for a TV show for instance, nobody would be bitching. I think what sets it at a disadvantage is how distant it is from the first movie, yet it tries to keep connections and a continuity, despite not having any returning characters.  Starship Troopers was a sci-fi/satire, Starship Troopers 2 is a sci-fi/horror. So very very different when you dig into it. I suppose the bookends of propaganda were just tacked on to pay homage to Verhoeven, but... I never felt like they really worked. All in all, there are better DTV sequels, but don't be fooled this isn't one of those godawful ones. It's a serviceable action/horror movie with a familiar theme. It's still soldiers vs. giant alien space bugs. But in a very different tone. Much more like Aliens, but at the same time... not. It's not a great movie, or even a particularly good one, but damn. It's no 3.4 either. The amount of practical effects and creativity that went into somethings here deserve a fair shake.

  I'll reign in the sequel bashing whenever Hero of the Federation comes up in conversation in the future. It deserves, at least, that much. Yet being as thin as it is, I can't possibly write up a longer review. The content of the movie dictates the body of a review, and this one was rather anorexic, sadly. Edit: (2/5/2014) In retrospect, no matter how much I enjoyed this one, which was marginal at best, it was still disappointing. Starship Troopers pulled down good money at the box office and a lot of people liked it, it's very baffling to me that this is the best sequel anybody could come up with. On the other hand, it does funnel plenty of new and interesting ideas into the franchise, although those ideas seem born of budget constraints and necessity, not creativity. Hero of the Federation is a mixed bag for sure, it's a bad sequel, but not a bad movie. It's above average with it's special effects and action scenes, which I found more enjoyable than your average DTV dreck, yet at the same time... it's still a bad sequel. Take that as you will.

JOIN UP NOW! DO YOUR PART!


  If there's anything that the 1997 sci-fi satire sold to it's audiences in spades, it was how friggin awesome the concept of soldiers vs. giant alien bugs was. It's not as if the concept hasn't been around for eons, but Starship Troopers, both the original novel, and it's subsequent franchise of spin-offs and adaptions have really cornered the market on it. However, most visible out of all the iterations and adaptions and what-have-you was the 1997 movie. In an era where video games were flourishing and the industry was booming, it was only a small leap to imagine what it would be like... stepping into the boots of a Mobile Infantry trooper, and killing some bugs. Only, a movie based game wouldn't come out in the late nineties. Thankfully, one didn't come out until 2005. I say thankfully because the graphics and gaming engines required to faithfully present the overwhelming swarms of arachnid Warrior Bugs wasn't available back in the 90's. The 2000's however...

  When I would hear of a Starship Troopers game, I wanted to 'join up!' Hell, I wanted to 'do my part!'Honestly, I just wanted to shoot alot of giant alien bugs. I played Lost Planet for a while back on the PS3, and I thought, "Heyyy this is the closest I'm gonna get to a Starship Troopers game!" Then I played Borderlands, in which you have to fight some giant arachnids at a few points in there. I thought, "Heyyy this is even better. Even closer to Starship Troopers!" Yet clearly, watching the movie inspired a desire to suit up in that body armor, and shoot some of those bugs, in that world. I'm making it very clear how quickly I tired of substitutes and how very very badly I wanted an actual Starship Troopers game. Now, I had a fortunate turn of events a while ago, and I was blessed with a decent gaming computer. Thus I began a hunt for all the PC games I never got to play on my Playstations 2 and 3. Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K. 2, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Left 4 Dead 2, and others. Only recently, did I remember, "Oh shit! A Starship Troopers game exists!"

  I found... a way to get it, and I went through hell trying to install it and fix it and tweak it to work right- but I did and it was Christmas morning all over again. I'm pretty sure I would've heard an angelic choir denoting the moment in the background if I wasn't so knee deep in bug carcasses, going deaf from the sound of my own Morita MK 1 assault rifle... It's remotely possible that I'm... slightly exaggerating. However, suffice it to say, I was a happy camper. The game does one thing exceptionally well: give you bugs to shoot. It captures the feeling of the movie with massive, eye-popping swarms of arachnids coming after you to rip you limb from limb. It's up to you to lock and load and start spouting movie quotes. "C'mon you apes, you wanna live forever?" Furiously clicking away on the mouse as the bugs close in, you feel like a real M.I. trooper. Well, short of actually being in one of the movies anyways. Anybody who wanted a game based on this movie, wanted to shoot bugs. We weren't looking for complex level design and intellectual gameplay. We wanted to shoot bugs. Lots of bugs. This game, if anything at all, lets you do that.

  Unfortunately... this doesn't exactly mean it's a good game. As far as gaming itself goes, this has it's fair share of issues. For one, the bugs aren't nearly as tough as they were in the movie. It took a regular arachnid warrior all of two seconds flat to kill an average trooper. Slice, bite, impale, stab, decapitate. Whatever your preferred means of death was, the bug was happy to accommodate you. Yet in the game, you can get hit like thirty times and not be dead. Bullshit! I call bullshit! Not to mention, it's also really easy to kill the standard arachnid warriors. With the regular assault rifle you're given, it takes only a few short bursts to put one down for good. Dead. Bullshit! MORE bullshit! In the movie it took like three to four troopers, firing consistently, a good thirty to forty seconds to kill one of these things. You feel WAY too powerful. I can imagine this is to make up for a lack of co-operative A.I. in any of the other troopers. You're called a "Marauder" in the game, which means you're like a mega badass. I think this was supposed to explain why you're essentially a one man army going Commando on the entire arachnid empire... but it's a cheap excuse.

  Those are very big flaws. The game does seem kind of like it was made in a hurry, and on a tight budget too. Part of the problem of coming out in 2005 was how out of the blue it was. I can't imagine it got a lot of support or funding. Starship Troopers came out two years shy of a decade earlier, and the 2004 sequel was a direct-to-video dud that nobody much liked. At all. So... there wasn't exactly a demanding market for this game. Even at the height of the franchise's popularity, I can't imagine a proper Starship Troopers movie game would garner much interest anyways. This arrived and died without so much as a death rattle to bid the spotlight farewell. I guess you can call it a cult hit now since fans seem to like it a lot. Why is that? Because the game, despite it's glaring issues, manages to faithfully emulate the big bug wars of the movies.

  It takes a few levels right from the first movie, more or less. The important ones anyways. Plasma mountain, the compound on Tango Urilla, etc etc. Details and settings have been swapped around so it's not like you're playing -the- movie, but you'll find some locations incredibly familiar. As a fan, I could do nothing but flash a big smile and enjoy it. The game also introduces alot of new bugs. Which in concept (and proof if you count 99% of all the shitty video game movie tie-ins and adaptions) could be dumb if handled improperly. However, they strike gold more often than not, serving up fresh and unique challenges that expands on the movie's world, not screws with it. I think they get sorta carried away with the different Warrior bug types, but that's not even really a fully formed complaint. It's just kinda like... Really. A new one? Again? No biggie though. It's still loads of fun to run around with the troops, hold the front lines, clear out a few bases, and well... kill bugs. Kill em' all. Not gonna lie, the game isn't great. Barely qualifies as good, if at all. But, by god, it's fun. Infectiously fun. Ridiculously fun. It's "Kill em' all!" fun, it's one-liner, boot stomping, "Nuke em' Rico!"-fun.

  You won't find a better 'Troopers game. They may make another one someday. I doubt it. So for now, if you wanna kill some bugs, save the world, and be a hero... I suggest you Join up! Do your part! Enlist in the mobile infantry! They have the ships, they have the weapons, all they need now is troopers like Lieutenant Johnny Rico, Captain Carmen Ibanez, Private Ace Levy, Captain V.J. Dax, and YOU. So if you think you have what it takes to be a citizen, join up now and play Starship Troopers, the game!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

C'mon you apes...



  While I realize Starship Troopers isn't the masterpiece I've often wished it was, that doesn't mean it's not a damn fine piece of entertainment nonetheless. It's a tongue in cheek satire that's often at odds with it's sci-fi extravaganza nature. In a way. Director Paul Verhoeven strikes a balance of cliche, cheese, sincerity, and big budget spectacle that's honestly rather infectious. On one hand, the makers of Starship Troopers would like you to think the movie is an intelligent and clever satire about fascism and war... And on the other hand, it is a satire about communism and war, but it's hardly intelligent and sparingly is it ever clever. It's far too on the nose to be clever. Which leaves most people thinking it's a shallow piece of big budget dreck.

  There was a time I would argue tirelessly against those people, who are still kinda wrong, but I slowly realized that this movie's appeal will never lie in the satire. When I sit down to recommend this movie to a friend, the first thing I always talk about is the action and special effects. There's something about seeing hundreds of soldiers in their well designed, Nazi-esque, futuristic, combat armor fighting giant alien bugs that is simply loads of fun. It appeals to the young boy in me who would love drawing stuff like that all the time. Space soldiers versus giant alien bugs? Sold! Try pitching that to a more matured crowd. "Oh hey, this movie with the space soldiers fighting the giant bugs? Yeah it's also a satire." You're gonna get a lot of unsure sidelong stares.

  You can't market this movie to anyone outside of the group of people who're only coming for the special effects and the violence. It just doesn't work like that. The massive droves of preteens that saw and loved Starship Troopers have grown up to appreciate the satire and such because they've seen it so many times. They find new things to love about it. And the ones who haven't discovered the satirical elements, see this as a legitimate war movie. A personal friend of mine holds this movie in the same regard as Full Metal Jacket. If you gave him a chance, he'd personally sign up for the mobile infantry. Which... is basically what the movie is preaching against. Yet, all the good looking, cookie cutter heroes in the movie, that we're encouraged to root for... are in the mobile infantry. They march around with gusto and military pride, the blast their way through thousands of killer aliens, and they look good doing it. Go ahead. Convince a 13 year old kid that these guys are the assholes.

  For a movie that's trying to say these guys are essentially heartless Nazis... isn't doing a good job convincing the only audience it has of that. There were even action figures and toys released to tie in with the movie. Even further undermining it's shred of intelligence and wit. Yet, all that is irrelevant. Why? Because these cool space soldiers are fighting giant alien bugs! Some can bite a grown man in half! Some have wings that can cut your head clean off! Some spray fiery acid from their head! ...aaaand therein lies the lasting appeal of Starship Troopers. Not the wit, not the satire... the special effects and gore. I hate to say it, because the satirical elements are what make this movie worth watching, but without it's slick, polished, bloody counterparts in it's war scenes and special effects... it wouldn't be memorable at all. This is how it is. Simply because it's done so damn well. It has the kitsch of an 80's B-movie, but the budget of a Roland Emmerich movie. The war scenes are fantastically entertaining, in fact, all the action scenes are and when you're old enough to get it, the satirical side of the movie provides something to chew on intellectually.

  The movie excels on a technical level. The special effects are a wise and timeless blend of cgi, animatronics and miniatures. Just like Jurassic Park, some of this stuff is still breathtaking in scope and scale. It looks fantastic, and even looks fantastic in hi-definition. Plenty of 90's effects-heavy movies don't hold up well, and even less so under the unforgiving scrutiny of HD. Not this flick. Starship Troopers passes with flying colors and holds up it's one lasting appeal with gusto and pride. The action, the effects, the war and gore- it's all never looked better than it has on Blu Ray disc. This is a movie that will be called "mindless" and "empty" and while it's not, it might as well be. I'm too busy gawking at the effects, and sitting on the edge of my seat during the action scenes to even care anymore.

  What you have when all is said and done is a movie so blatantly and overtly satirical, that some people actually thought it was pro-fascism. When in reality, it's anything but. The military in this movie punishes with public lashings, their recruitment campaigns are bloated, patriotic, blind propaganda. The entire society encourages it's youth to sign up for a term of service and 'Do their part!', when in reality they're simply 'fresh meat for the grinder', as one triple-amputee infantryman put it. Teenagers are shuttled off to be slaughtered, en masse, fresh out of high school. In the first hour, our hero is making out with his girlfriend in the school hallways, winning football(-esque) games and worrying about his Math scores. In hour two? He's had to kill a man, lead soldiers to their death, and witness old classmates get torn limb from limb in this inane war. A war that's been implicitly suggested was started by humans being the initial aggressors, invading alien territory, and it seriously backfired. (Not like... that's history repeating itself or anything..) How is any of this pro-fascism? I guess the propaganda ads, "A SOCIETY THAT WORKS!" actually convinced a few reviewers. The weak minded run rampant. Sigh.

  Yet, in front of all the satire and propaganda is a big budget sci-fi war movie. There's no getting around that. I'll reiterate again, the special effects are amazing. The effects department expertly marry CGI with state of the art animatronics and large scale miniatures. The result is often nothing short of breathtaking, I kid you not. Starship Troopers couldn't look any better if it was made with today's technology. This is a movie from 1997 people. 1997. I'd argue the effects in this movie hold up better than in Jurassic Park. Why 'Troopers didn't receive more accolades for it's effects is beyond me. The creatures in this movie have weight and scale, they look like they inhabit the same world as the actors. They share the screen with fluidity and ease, in very few cases have any CGI creatures looked so natural as they do in this movie. Also worth mentioning is their design. It's wholly iconic. It's been adapted for movie canon stuff, (i.e. comics, games, etc) and book canon stuff. The design of the arachnid aliens is fantastic. For that matter, all the designs in this movie are fantastic. From the Troopers uniform, gear, and body armor to the look of the starships and dropships that usher them into war. It's all visually cohesive and good-looking. Top marks. I love it.

  Starship Troopers at it's most basic, is a silly and entertaining sci-fi romp about murderous alien bugs, and space soldiers with big guns who can shoot em' really well. At it's best, it's a razor sharp satire about fascist governments and wartime propaganda. If either of those descriptions strikes your fancy, odds are you'll like this movie. It's perfect Saturday matinee fodder. Full of blood, guts and gore, and even a fair share of nudity. It's crass, loud, and fun. If anything, that's what it should be remembered for. I'd rather watch it with a group of immature guys who're half drunk on their beer of choice, shouting and hollering at the screen when some poor trooper gets his head lopped off, or when some girl flashes her tits- because that's what this movie boils down to. Getting a kick out of that stuff. When I'm with my buddies, we act the same way. Bring in the popcorn, bring on the drink... c'mon you apes, you wanna live forever?