Monday, March 2, 2015
This is a movie about a group of young amateur filmmakers who through a series of wild coincidences end up in the middle of a brutal Yakuza feud, and with the participation of both sides, set out to document their climactic bloody showdown... as an action movie. Let all that sink in for a moment. Crazy, right? Well however crazy you think it sounds, the movie is crazier. It's a drama, a comedy, and on the outside edge, it is an action movie... within an action movie. I didn't watch the trailer for it, and stumbled onto it via a random suggestion on an internet message board. Best random suggestion ever? It just might be. Why Don't You Play In Hell? is like a Japanese Tarantino flick turned sideways. It's amazing.
This movie is all over the place, tonally. Parts feel like a childhood adventure movie with a gang like The Goonies, and other parts feel like A Better Tomorrow, or a Chan-wook Park film. It's everywhere, all over the place. It doesn't ever really settle into one mood. Yet it decides on a style very early on. The movie is abuzz with an infectious frenetic energy that brings even the most mundane moments to life in spectacular fashion. Characters boldly strut into scenes, quickly state their business, and before we know it, we're at the next scene watching someone else do something. It's so tightly edited that we feel like the movie's moving along at a breakneck pace.
This is good... and bad. On one hand, the movie isn't actually moving as fast as you might think. In fact, it drags a bit in the first half. On the other hand, the fact that we feel like it's speeding by helps to cover up the fact that in reality, it's lagging. You almost can't complain because the movie is full of madcap characters in even crazier lives. You can be certain the movie starts in reality, but after a certain point, reality is subjective in this movie. It's over-the-top nature has us seeing things that couldn't normally happen. Most of the times, this is for either shock effect, or a strong visual effect. It works incredibly well either way.
For all that alone, I recommend this movie. It's insane, it's off the wall, and it's the kind of movie we don't get enough of. It's honestly about the love of movies and filmmaking. At times, it's downright endearing, and then before you know it, it's dangerous and serious. Somewhere in the middle of those two things, it's also ridiculously funny. You can't find a better cinematic grab bag anywhere. Unfortunately, it's feel good tone wasn't meant to last. The ending is actually quite disturbing, but in a very sad way it makes sense with the internal logic of the movie. I don't wanna give it away, because it's still awesome, but at the same time... I didn't walk away feeling so great. And with a movie about childhood dreams, true love, and following your dreams... the ending was real downcast.
Again, on the flip side, it's also a movie about the Yakuza and the consequences of violence and revenge. A lesser movie would feel uneven, but not this one. It juggles all of it really well. It does slip up here and there, where we go for long stretches of time without seeing certain main characters as the story sidelines them completely. It's only then does the movie feel a bit disjointed. The payoff is fantastic though. When all the characters inevitably get together and the stories all converge, it's freaking great. No complaints there.
The acting is fantastic, pretty much across the board. Again, the world of this movie has it's own set of rules. Characters age ten years, and still wear the same clothes. So when someone is hamming it up or chewing the scenery... it fits. Moreover, it's that kind of energetic insanity that permeates this movie on just about every level. From the music to the settings, and especially the visuals. The casting is great, and the characters are great. It might feel like a bit much at times, but like I said, when everything comes together, it's great. Not unlike a bunch of puzzle pieces clicking into place and somehow the final image is crazier than you could've possibly expected.
It's a sideways meta movie that's a movie inside of another movie. And while Why Don't You Play In Hell? could've been stronger, a little more refined, but I feel that the answer to that is within the movie itself. Sometimes you don't have all the time in the world to get it right, you just have to be in the moment and get it made. What ever you come up with is a labor of love. Which is definitely written all over this movie. It's certainly not perfect, and has a fair share of issues, but it's a damn fun trip that had me laughing and gritting my teeth throughout. If you're looking for something crazy that'll hold your attention, you could a lot worse than this movie. If you ever get the chance, check it out. I definitely think more people should see it.
Sunday, March 1, 2015
I saw this a couple weeks ago, being a big fan of Stuart Gordon's H.P. Lovecraft movies, I figured it was about time I sat down to watch Dagon. Unfortunately Jeffrey Combs wasn't in this one, as he was in more than a few of Gordon's other Lovecraft adaptations, but Gordon cast some guy who's got the Jeff Combs look and mannerisms down. Next best thing and all that. Anyways, the movie wastes no time landing our protagonists in the creepy fishing village of Innsmouth. Oops, sorry, in this movie the village is called "Inboca". Cause it's set near Spain and "boca" is Spanish for "mouth". Oh. The movie is hampered by some stiff acting, and some really dated early 90's CGI, but you shouldn't hold that stuff against it. Dagon is still a damn fine horror movie.
With their boat wrecked in the midst of a terrible storm, Paul and his girlfriend make it to the shore of Inboca and seek out help. What they find instead is unspeakably terrifying. Fortunately for anyone after a few good scares, that's not just a tagline. The townspeople are all members of a murderous cult, worshiping an ancient entity, one of the 'deep ones' known only as "Dagon". The movie follows Paul around as he's separated from his girlfriend and chased through the dark rainy town by the townspeople, who he slowly starts to realize are all slowly mutating into fish-like creatures. It's weird on top of strange, and deep fried in terror.
As a movie, Dagon is often uneven in most regards. Sometimes the dialog is natural and flows, and sometimes it's stilted and forced. Same can be said for the momentum, the acting, and the effects. However, make no mistake, when the movie is good- it's really friggin good. Ezra Godden, the Jeffrey Combs lookalike, does a great job as the lead. His arc has him facing some downright disturbing shit, and he soldiers through it, not like an action hero, but like a man profoundly scared out of his skull. He plays his role with gusto only faltering where the script does. Everyone else is spot-on for the most part. The acting itself was good enough where I never really noticed it one way or the other unless I really thought about it. Everyone played their part, and well.
There's lots of special effects in Dagon. Some of these effects are computer generated and those effects are kinda shitty, unfortunately. Things don't feel as real as they need to in order to have the impact should have. Impact and effect are the bread and butter of a movie like this. On the other hand, there's loads of practical effects too. Those are absolutely great. In a town full of mutant fish-men you can bet there's some disturbingly good practical effects to be seen. There are some scenes that drag on too long, and others that feel out of place, but whenever the movie has a big effects moment, everything clicks for the most part.
The strange visuals and downright creepy atmosphere of the movie is enough to recommend it in my point. Even as the movie gets deeply mean-spirited, something keeps you glued to this movie. An uneven blend of greatness and mediocrity, Dagon is cheesy, unsettling, horrific, and ultimately a job well done. I had to step back and look past it's shortcomings. There's a great movie under all this. It's there. You just gotta pay attention. It's low budget and has too much filler, but it's also a delightfully strange and haunting tale that deserves a look-see. Is this the foremost ideal Lovecraft movie? No, for that, I direct you here. Nevertheless, while Dagon is knee-deep in blood and guts, it doesn't forget it's roots and never sacrifices it's atmosphere for anything. It sticks to the cold and rainy darkness that seems to envelop this movie completely.
Not enough horror movies are even capable of generating a atmosphere this rich and creepy. Props to the makers of Dagon. It may never get mainstream appreciation, but for Lovecraft fans, and horror fans, all you have to do is look around, scratch the surface of what the internet has to offer us, and you'll find excellent word of mouth about this movie. To which I am gladly contributing. Not every movie is perfect, and neither is Dagon, but it's a valliant effort held back only by lack of resources and money. One thing they never seemed short on was passion. This project seems like it was backed by people with big respect for the source material and who really wanted to make a good movie. Not enough movies nowadays have a crew like that behind it. In this day and age, we need more movies like Dagon. Thus, if you're a horror fan, you should see it. No doubt about it.
Saturday, February 28, 2015
To tell you the basic premise of this movie would be like promising you a story, and all you get is the fringe oddities of a drug induced fever dream. Surreal in every regard, one's basic grasp on the story is frequently lost in spectacular fashion as we're assaulted with wild visuals saturated in vibrant colors that toy with your head. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to you. I pride myself on being able to recommend really strange and trippy movies to friends of mine who aren't as cinema-savvy as myself, but this movie threw me for a loop. I don't know if I can recommend this, because honestly I can't say I actually enjoyed it.
I'm sure there's a whole genre of movies just like this out there, but it's really saying something when I can divine a more straightforward plot from Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain than I can from this movie. I'm sure that this is a movie that you can only classify as art, because I'm not sure it's anything else. It's a story told through a dream-like mode of storytelling. It's told through disjointed images, sounds, and pure expression. Everything is strategically placed and shown to evoke specific emotions in the viewer. After an hour and a half (almost) I can't say I was made to experience emotions that I'd want to experience again.
Not to say it was an experience I regret having, but about halfway through, it had become a chore. Far be it from me to say there are limits to what you can get away with in a movie like this, because a movie like this is art, and you can't put limits on artistic expression, but... there are limits to what you can get away with in a movie like this. In one scene that's too surreal for me to even describe, certain events keep repeating themselves. The first few times, you get it, but it doesn't stop at a few times. I'm almost certain the scene is meant to unsettle and exhaust the viewer. Then the question becomes, what am I subjecting myself to?
Sometimes a more coherent plot can save a sequence like that because there's context and within that context you, me, the audience, can understand what the hell is going on. At the same time, the movie makes no effort to be grounded at all. Context? Coherence? Pft. Those things have no place in this movie. You'd need a tour guide and a GPS unit just to navigate this maze of a movie and find the exit. If it wasn't for the impressively crafted and stunningly realized visual language, this movie would've have been more of a mess than a maze. As it is, you can somewhat divine a loose narrative because there are certain scenes that seem to take place entirely in a normal reality.
Unfortunately those scenes are little more than guideposts, or rest stops. A break from the delirium. Funny enough, you get the sense that everything that's happening is happening in reality. Even the insane and off the wall stuff. The movie is shot as if the camera is in another dimension, peaking in on ours. Things are distorted, seen close up. The picture is often split several different ways, and then mirrored. A simple conversation between two men become a dizzying, intense, up-close tour of subtle facial expressions, body language, and the movement of their eyes. So, in a movie that can lend such craziness to such a mundane thing, how can any other thing be taken for granted? You can't tell the drug trip, so to speak, from the regular stuff.
Not unlike a dream. Or a nightmare in this case. Dreams, captured in their raw form, and put up on a screen would probably play a lot like this. Dreams make sense when you're in them, but as you try to recall them after you wake... you remember how odd some of it was, and in the worst cases (or best) you find yourself simply unable to explain it. The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears is for all intents and purposes a murder mystery and a horror movie. I can only recall a handful of names and a smattering of significant looking scenes. The rest is a blur of colors and motion. Visuals stand out as important, faces we should recognize, things we should understand, but by the time the credits roll... all you can do is remind yourself that you're awake now.
I can imagine this is what a normal movie would look like to a cro-magnon man. Someone so profoundly illiterate that a regular movie would be a mind blowing hallucinatory experience. Perhaps some artists aren't seeking to tell a story so much as they are looking to share a sight, a sound, a feeling. Ultimately, they are sharing an experience. It's not for us to comprehend or understand. It is at best, a concept. An emotion. Did I like this movie? No. I'm not looking for an experience like that. I can say I safely draw the line at Lynch and/or Jodorowsky. I tend to want a little logic in my movies. My dreams are already crazy. But for those of you looking to see someone else's dream, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. It's horror in it's purest form. It shows us what unsettles us and frets not the details of things like context, dialog, setting, plot, or story. It's a slew of fever dream imagery strung together on a most basic premise.
Is that a bad thing? Or is it genius? That's up to you. But either way, if you're interested, odds are it's at least worth it. It's balls deep in symbolism and savagely psychedelic imagery. It's begging to be analyzed, psychoanalyzed and then probed in all it's naughty areas. Only then will you have experienced this movie to it's fullest. Have a conversation or two about what such and such part really meant, or try to understand what such and such image was really about. I won't indulge though, because this isn't my kind of art. It's interpretive fodder for intellectuals who aren't satisfied unless they can Sigmund Freud the hell out of a movie. My semi-repeated involvement with movies like this are interesting experiences, always, but invariably end when I'm done writing my review. It won't get any amateur psychoanalysis out of me.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
After Digging Up the Marrow, I decided to keep the indie horror thing going and give Honeymoon a shot. If third time's the charm, I can't imagine how what I watch next could possibly outdo such a damn fine movie. I had known about Honeymoon for a fair minute. A month or two. However, in doing a bit of looking up on it, word of mouth wasn't great. In fact people complained the movie was vapid, and even a bit threadbare. Others accused it of being slow and tedious. I don't know exactly what they were expecting, or what kinds of movies those reviewers like... but Honeymoon was none of those things.
It's pacing deliberate, it's story simple, but it's all in taking the time to familiarize you with our protagonists. Trust me, nothing is arbitrary. Newlyweds Bea and Paul retreat to an old cabin that's been in her family for ages for their honeymoon. It doesn't take long for things to go awry as Bea's strange behavior starts to worry Paul. That's about as vague as the Netflix description was. At this point, you have no idea what it could be. The movie's taglines, seen on a few of it's different posters, all point in different directions. I don't even really want to tell you what I thought was going on because the littlest nudge in any direction could give the plot away... and that would be criminal.
It's not a big "twist" movie, but the fun in it is discovering what the hell is going on with these two as the movie progresses. It could be anything. The movie held my attention like nothing else has recently. I started to notice things, little things, just like Paul. Played by Harry Treadaway, Paul, who reminds me of a young Dennis Quaid, is our anchor. It's his point of view that the audience is seeing things unfold from. It's a familiar role that could easily slip into cliche. A concerned husband or father, noticing strange things about a wife, girlfriend, or daughter. Yet Treadaway's performance has us buying into every single second. It feels genuine and sincere. ...And also a bit familiar. Movies like The New Daughter, Possession, and The Possession spring to mind (all good movies). Not to say Honeymoon has too much else in common with those movies, so don't let those titles fool you. However, if you are a fan of that specific little sub-genre, you'll love Honeymoon.
Possession is a fantastic movie that is nothing but a emotionally charged drama about infidelity... until it pulls the rug out from under you in slow motion as the main character discovers something is just not right with his wife. As authentic and nerve wracking as the marital spats and ear-shattering shouting matches were in the first half of the Possession, Honeymoon is content to go in the entire other direction, obviously. Bea, played with charm and gusto by Rose Leslie, and Paul are the happiest newlyweds ever. Drunk on their own affection for each other and completely in love. Thankfully it never gets over saturated, and it's easy to get caught up in their happiness. I found myself smiling often and almost forgetting what kind of movie I was watching.
Both Leslie and Treadaway play their roles with such sincerety that it ends up being downright gut wrenching. No matter what you think this movie is about, keep an open mind. Experience it for what it is. Rather than drop a twist on you like a sack of bricks, it gives you enough hints and clues for you to slowly arrive at your own conclusion. In doing so, it avoids any sort of adverse knee-jerk reaction. A lesser movie might have tried to spin it as some big surprise at the end, but a smart moviegoer would have already figured it out. Putting it out there as a last minute surprise twist would've been borderline insulting, because the same movie has been prodding us to figure it out this whole time. And, you know... we fucking did. It needs to affirm our suspicions, not try to surprise us with what we already know.
Honeymoon does just that. By the time you figure it out, it's been handled so delicately and with such care that you just want the movie to acknowledge what's happened. It does, and... it's fantastic. The movie is a bit depressing so don't go in expecting something that'll leave you upbeat, but go in with a lot of patience, and an open mind. This visually stunning movie more than satisfied me. It's dripping with atmosphere and tension and it plays to it's own strengths. There was a lot on the shoulders of Leslie and Treadaway, having to carry basically a whole movie on their own, but they did it. They did it really damn well too. I can't recommend it enough. I'm in love with this haunting little movie. It was fantastic. Offhand, I can't even think of a single complaint.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Who says good poster art is irrelevant these days? One glimpse at poster art for Adam Green's Digging Up the Marrow and I knew I had to see it. That, and admittedly someone spoiled a small scene for me on tumblr, showing me a picture. Damn you people. You suck. But... thank you at the same time. It caught my attention and pointed me towards this awesome movie. It brings to mind another fantastic found footage movie I saw last year, The Taking of Deborah Logan, and sadly I neglected to write a review on it. I wasn't about to make that mistake twice. Digging Up the Marrow deserves to be heard about.
Let me get this out of the way and say, I am not at all fond of found footage films. I'm not denying there's a handful of good ones, but by and large the genre has become nothing if not bloated with entries made on the fast & cheap with no creativity or real effort behind them. The whole concept of found footage has been done to death, and then some. It takes an amazing amount of effort just to come up with a good concept that would work best as a found footage film and stand out amidst the sea of shitty ones. The Marrow is one such film with a good, if not great, concept. You know all the deformed infants and kids you hear about, and see grotesque exploitative pictures of? As they grow up, we don't just see them walking around among us. They kind of just... disappear. Nobody looks for them, nobody cares, and nobody notices. Where do they go...?The movie poses us this question, and then provides us with a theory...
They've all gone underground and grown up to be what your average person would consider bona-fide real monsters. After all, it asks, what really is a monster? The movie itself is very much caught up with the why's and how's of it. Proof and reality. Nevertheless, most of the characters in the movie are real people playing themselves. Right down to the star, writer, and director- also playing himself, Adam Green. He has an instant honesty in the role, which probably comes from playing yourself and not a character. For those of you don't know, he's an up and comer in the horror genre. I feel somewhat safe saying 'up and comer' because before this, I didn't even know who he was. He did the Hatchet movies apparently. I'm sure he'd be disheartened to know I've barely heard of them.
Well I have now. Adam Green seems like a very cool guy. We hear about his deep personal affinity for monsters and how it translated over into his work. The first half of this movie feels exactly like a real documentary for all intents and purposes. It started feeling more cinematic once Ray Wise popped up as a potential crackpot, named Dekker, with the theories about these underground monster populated cities. A whole network of them. He calls this sub-civilization... "The Marrow". It's catchy, it's fitting. You say it enough times, it sticks even. It's wholly unpretentious and intriguing. The core concept of the movie revolves around this, so it had to be something that could hook you just from hearing about it.
If Dekker sat me down and spilled his guts about The Marrow, I'd believe him. I wouldn't show up to start doubting him. Of course, Adam Green and his cameraman needed more than just theories and drawings. They needed video. Which is of course where the faux-documentary makes the shift into true found footage. Or as Adam would call it "Footage footage". There's nothing 'found' about it, see? The movie demands you believe in The Marrow right away even though Adam and his crew don't. You have to. Otherwise, there's no movie here. So much build up about monsters and 'what if they were real?' and wishing and... it'd be a dick move if the core concept of the movie was a hoax. Adam wants to believe in Dekker as much as we, as an audience, have had to this whole time.
The pacing is rather glacial, but it needs to be. If it blows it's load too soon, we get a shitty final act or some lame plot patchwork, filling in where we should've been getting the actual reveal. As the movie holds your attention on faith that there will be monsters, a small mystery within the internal workings of the film starts to crop up. Dekker himself is an enigma. He wants his theories about The Marrow to be filmed, by Adam and co. but he's being incredibly secretive at the same time. About the strangest things to boot. Adam ends up having to investigate Dekker while they all stake out an entrance to The Marrow. Which looks like nothing more than a large hole in the ground. At a cemetery of course. Because... where else would monsters go?
In part, the unseen grandiose side of the concept was explored ages ago in another movie called Nightbreed. That movie was of a different tone altogether and carried a much different message. But underground cities? Populated exclusively by monsters? All around graveyards? Yeah, there's no denying some familial feelings here. It's what was lurking in my head the whole time watching this movie. Yet it talks it up so much, so huge, and shows you so little- but in the best way possible, that your imagination goes wild with it. It shows you just enough to get your brain going, and then manages to scare the shit out of you. That is, if you're engrossed at this point. If not, the scares will land flat, and you won't care.
See, once you're caught up in the mysteries and the procedures and the theories... the movie is free to unleash what it has lurking in the shadows at you. It's fast, it's sudden, and it only works because you're so into it. These scares would be wasted in a lesser movie. Even though they're not entirely the most groundbreaking scares ever, Adam sells the hell out of it. In the situation, and beyond. He's fantastic. An anchor for the viewer in every way that matters. I wish I could tell you more, I want to show you the drawings, have you listen to Dekker, let your own imagination go wild. But I realize that I'm simply recommending you go seek out the movie. And you should. It has it's issues, plenty of them, but a lot of creativity, heart, and effort went into making this one atmospheric, scary, and worth your time. Don't pass it up.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Three years after the uneven joke-filled adaptation of the manga of the same name, The Guyver somehow got a sequel. Guyver 2: Dark Hero. In all respects this is a much better movie than the first one. So much so that it feels like a soft-reboot. They took all the complaints about the first one to heart, and really worked on it in this one. For all intents and purposes, this is the dark, serious, intense movie we should've got the first time around. The rather bland Jack Armstrong who played Sean the first time around has been replaced by David "Solid Snake" Hayter. He may only have a few default emotions he switches between, but Guyver: Dark Hero knows exactly what it is, and what it is doesn't call for deep oscar winning acting.
Hayter pulls off the solemn brooding expressions quite well. It's most of what's required from him in the script. Sean's a tortured guy. The Guyver unit itself is shown as something of a deadly burden this time around. It's not your average Iron Man suit apparently. It has a personality of it's own, and it's bloodthirsty. The opening of the movie has Sean, as the Guyver taking the fight to a bunch of drug dealers picking up a shipment of heroin (I think?). We saw how brutal the Guyver was against Zoanoids, imagine him fighting regular humans. It's every bit as crazy as you might think... and bloody. Very bloody. Broken limbs, sliced throats. If you haven't figured it out by now, Guyver 2 is actually rated R. Woo!
I should be clear on this though, they got away with a lot in the PG-13 from the first one, so in no way do I think Guyver 2 needed to be rated R. I firmly believe it spends it's R rating entirely in the opening scene against the drug dealers. Several f-bombs and a gory throat slice. That's the worst of it though. The rest of the movie is more or less within PG-13 bounds. More or less... There is some rather bloody Zoanoid-on-human violence much later on, but it's brief. Still safer in an R rating than a PG-13, but still. The problem with the first movie wasn't it's lack of swearing and gore. It was the slapstick humor. Which... thank God, is completely absent from this movie. For that reason alone, Dark Hero is already better. Hang on to your butts though, there are even more reasons.
The action in Guyver 2 comes faster and hits way harder. Due in no small part to fantastic fight choreography and amazing sound effect work. There are parts of this movie that feel technically subpar or somewhat slipshod, but the fights, the action scenes, all the stuff people actually showed up for? Absolutely great. Downright impressive. Sean really embraces his heroic side and saves the day over and over in full-on high-flying fashion. The whole... murderous Guyver unit thread was sorta dropped and not picked up again after the opening. I mean, the unit keeps trying to activate itself through various points in the movie, and Sean struggles against it, but the movie quickly gets it's R rating, and it's new edgy subplot out of the way in the opening and never really touches either of them again.
Granted the Guyver makes short work of a big scary Zoanoid at one point with graphically bloody results, but it's still rubber suits all the way around. That's one thing, killing humans is another. Visually speaking, one gets you an R rating, the other does not. Just look at Aliens Vs. Predator. Anyhow, it's the Guyver vs. Zoanoid action that I was really hoping delivered, and boy did it ever! The action scenes here are beyond top notch. Guyver 2 really sheds that whole childlike nostalgic feeling and goes straight for the action. This is an action movie to the core. It just also has alien bio-armor and big intimidating monsters. Who thankfully don't drop a sick beat before they fight this time around. The Zoanoid designs are even better this time around. Scarier, better acted, and awesome animatronics. Leaps and bounds ahead of the last movie.
Dark Hero is not without it's downsides though. After the atmospheric opening, the movie takes place solely around an archaeological dig, where Zoanoid bones have been found. This is fine for the plot, and is actually interesting, but as far as locations go... it's somewhat boring. The first movie had great sets put to good use in even better set pieces. This movie has some wooded areas as a backdrop, and it feels less like it had to do with a conscious story decision and more to do with budget restraints. It also shows with the Guyver suit itself. Despite being pretty much identical in design to the one from the first movie, alot of the animatronic bells and whistles have been removed. The suit's color scheme has also been vastly simplified.
In the first movie the Guyver suit was shades of grey, with subtle blues and greens, and pops of a fleshy red. Now it's just several shades of blue, and only blue. Not that it's particularly bad looking, I rather like it. But it looks simple. I miss the complexity of the suit from the first movie. The movie more than makes up for it by allowing Hayter to play Sean as a mysterious badass. Thus making the Guyver scenes all that much more fun. The transformation scenes are exceptionally cool, and in some ways even outdo the ones from the first movie. Maybe they're not as batshit crazy, but they're super fun and creative in their own way. The body-horror aspect isn't as prominent in this one, but we get lots of cool and colorful scenes via dream sequences and flashbacks that break up the visual monotony of the woods and the dig site.
On top of disappearing plot threads, an overly simplistic story, some momentum issues, and moderately stiff acting, Guyver 2 rids itself of the silliness of the first movie and fills in the gaps with loads of hard-hitting action scenes. I never knew watching men in rubber suits go at it could look so brutal and vicious. (Sorry Godzilla...) I'm not sure what else you could want from a Guyver film. Having never read the manga or watched the anime, i'm sure I'm missing out on something, maybe the fans are still clamoring for their ideal adaptation. But I'm thoroughly satisfied with Dark Hero. It may be a bit simple, but it delivers! It's a hard-hitting, fast paced, beat-em-up, monster-filled, kung-fu flick. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you owe it to yourself to check this one out, even if you haven't seen the first. Super fun movie.
It was impressive! ...Mostly. On one hand, it had some seriously neat practical effects. Suits of bio-armor, fantastic creature design, and cool animatronics. To a kid raised on movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and Star Kid, The Guyver was nothing if not etching it's way into my list of guilty pleasures. It was really cool stuff. On the other hand... it was painfully silly. Half of it clearly wanted to be taken seriously, but... the villains have all the seriousness of the bumbling henchmen in your average Saturday morning cartoon. As inept and goofy as they are, the movie asks us to believe they could be a threat. See, the bad guys in this movie aren't exactly your regular bad guys...
They can morph into these hideous super-strong monsters called Zoanoids. And with a few notable exceptions, the hideousness is ruined by the fact that the goofy inept henchmen... are still goofy and inept as Zoanoids. They cease being scary when they rap insults at the hero before trying to tackle him. If this was ever considered 'cool' you can shoot me now. A monster who literally raps and wears jewelry? Good lord. It's so silly and goofy it takes you out of the movie, which otherwise involves conspiracies, murder, and general all-around violence. Unlike my other childhood faves, The Guyver is a full PG-13, and not without it's fair share of disturbing images and graphic creature-on-creature bloodshed. So why did they ruin this tone with silliness only a little kid could smile at? Anyone over the age of 6 will probably just stare in disbelief or annoyance, and likely both.
If you stick it out and persevere though, the payoff is rather worth it. There comes a point when the silliness tapers off, and the pace tightens up, leaving no time for anything but action and fighting. The climax of the movie manages to impress and surprise. Even as jaded as I was by 14, I was still honestly surprised. Even though the tropes and plot devices the movie uses are stuff we've all seen a hundred times, The Guyver knows how to repackage them so they still feel new. Or... just about new at least. Anyways, the movie is about a young man, Sean Barker, who finds an alien device, called a 'Guyver' unit, that ends up infusing his body with a protective suit of bio-armor that looks like a cross between H.R. Giger's Xenomorph and RoboCop. Yeah. It's that cool. Anyways, some evil dudes from an evil mega-corporation have been hunting down this device, and that put Sean and the ones he loves... right in the crosshairs.
As per usual, Sean has to use the Guyver to fight back and save the day. Yet it's still the weirdest superhero movie you're ever likely to see. All the Zoanoids are grotesque, well designed, and fearsome but despite this, they're still rubber suited monsters. They still have shades of the low budget Power Ranger monsters we all remember. The Guyver suit itself looks fantastic. Like... really fantastic. The kind of practical effects laden super-suit, stuffed with animatronic bells and whistles, that we just don't see anymore. The movie makes good use of all it's practical effects as it pits these two opposing forces against each other, and much blood is shed. I mean it too. The Guyver rips off a monster's arm at one point and snaps his neck so violently, blood sprays out. So clearly this movie isn't for kids, thus the humor is still a major point of contention. But the weirdness persists, and it's not a bad thing.
Despite being a superhero movie, it's also kind of freaky. Like a body-horror movie. The villain's main plot to to mutate more people into Zoanoids. This process doesn't always go so well. We're treated to some fairly grotesque sights. Within the boundaries of a PG-13 rating of course. Then there's the Guyver unit itself. The way it melds with Sean looks downright disturbing, and rather violent. If it wasn't for the silly tone and the kung-fu fights, this movie could almost pass for a horror flick. Whatever you want to call it, it's a monster movie. All the monsters just happen to know how to fight. Even the battlegrounds for the Guyver and the Zoanoids are varied. From grimy urban alleyways, to big grim warehouses, and even a secret science laboratory.
The sights in this movie are outrageous and insane. There's nothing grounded about this movie. Pervy mad scientists, bumbling henchmen, alien monsters, mutating people into creatures, Mark Hamill as an angry CIA agent with a mustache, and kung-fu fighting. Who knew these alien monsters could fight so well? Nevertheless, despite the stiff acting, shoddy dialog, and so on- when the movie cuts to the chase and gets serious, it's really fun. The lead monsters have their moments of being truly scary and when it really matters, they feel like a true threat to our hero. Anyways, the movie is indeed a mixed bag. The ridiculous slapstick humor pretty much sinks it, but there's some really neat stuff that's made it worth a few re-watches for me. Most of it is so bad it's just... bad, the rest is really cool and sleekly made.
They simply don't make movies like this anymore. Either you're someone who's glad about that... or you're the kind that's already made up their mind they'd like to see this movie. In that case, I suggest you do as I did and follow up with the vastly superior sequel: Guyver 2: Dark Hero. Nevertheless, if you're in the mood for something a little dated, a little nostalgic, something wierd or just plain odd... you could do worse than The Guyver. It's stupid, odd, gizmo-filled and action packed. It's by no means good, but it's strange, and sometimes... that's enough.
Monday, February 2, 2015
The year 2001 seems like forever ago, it was the year we first got Lord of the Rings on the big screen (Bakshi's version nonwithstanding) and Harry Potter for that matter. Not to mention hundreds of other incredibly good and famous movies that people remember fondly to this day. Then there was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Now, I dunno. I can readily see why fans of the game franchise would be pissed off with this movie. It has literally nothing to do with the games. Who thought that would be a good idea? I don't know. Nevertheless, non-fans (myself included) found it fairly accessible, realizing they wouldn't have to be on the up-and-up with the games to understand the movie. The result? A largely mixed bag that serves as an incredibly interesting piece of history, ripe to be explored and discussed.
As a movie itself, The Spirits Within isn't bad. It's exciting, flashy, and full of action. It's brimming with concepts and ideas that are much bigger than could adequately be explored within the confining runtime of a feature film. The Spirits Within needed to have it's own game series. I would've played it. On the other hand, nothing about blonde kids with spiky anime hair and obnoxiously gigantic swords appeals to me. I know I probably just alienated a bunch of readers, but as consumers in a media-obsessed culture we all have to look from the outside in. We have to judge books by their covers, and we have to make decisions on what we see. To me, the Final Fantasy games look like the epitome of what I hate in gaming. Anime style, turn based, RPG fantasy games make my skin crawl.
Some people love it, I get that, I'm cool with that, but since The Spirits Within isn't even a remote adaptation of the games or their stories, the most you can even complain about is that they used the name "Final Fantasy". Beyond that, this movie has to be judged as it's own beast. When I talk about the 'concepts and ideas' in The Spirits Within, I really don't mean it's whole Gaia theory. The environmental message in this movie is snore-worthy. It's really sad when you find yourself as annoyed with the protagonists as the main villain is.
"So, if I point a gun at the Earth, and fire... I'm not just shooting dirt, I'm killing the Earth?" he asks, sardonically at one point. A line clearly meant to make him seem like a douchebag, but I'll be damned if it didn't make me smile. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for making sure we take care of the planet we live on, it's not like we have a backup... but I don't need that message shoved down my throat in my movies. In almost every sci-fi movie with an environmental message, the plot and characters suffer greatly. They only just get by in this movie, and no thanks to the computer animation either. Which is where I'm torn. I think if this movie had been live action, it would've been easier to watch, and might've had more shelf life... but at the same time, it probably wouldn't have gotten as much notice, or been as memorable.
Not to mention the technological achievements they accomplished in making something like this. Despite how dated it looks, there are moments you can easily forget you're watching computer generated models move about in a digital environment. There are some fantastic shots in the movie, and it's visually stunning at times. Which helps. It feels like it has all the bones of an amazing sci-fi movie, but none of the guts. Dr. Aki Ross is cute and stoic, but she's a one-note character. No matter how well she's rendered, her emotional range is kind of stunted. Which can't be said for all the characters. Maybe it's just the other voice actors breathing life into their characters, but some of the secondary characters are simply fantastic.
Computer animation needed to mature a bit before an experimental movie like this was made. At the same time, it's experiments like The Spirits Within that push the boundaries and advance the technology. Nevertheless, I'm feeling particularly scatterbrained today. The concepts and ideas I love in this movie, are the elements that almost get sidestepped. Alot of the technology they use, the little gadgets, gizmos. All of these things would be put to much better use either in a long standing film franchise, or a video game series. Who wouldn't love to play as one of the Deep Eyes soldiers? Shit, I'd love to. Sign me up dammit. And the aliens... in this movie, are ghosts. Taking the Starship Troopers aesthetic to a whole new level. It's a mind blowing concept put to great use here, and then quickly forgotten altogether once the movie bombed.
Granted, some would point me towards the Mass Effect games, and I would explain to them I've already played them, and the ending last one left me cold and wanting. Ick. I'm a fanboy. I have gripes. Get over it. Nonetheless, it is interesting to point out the connections between Mass Effect and this movie. Stylistically, they're kissing cousins. But the low key ambiance in the earlier scenes of the movie, and the Earth-based globe-trotting adventuring featured in the rest of it, are not things I felt directly echoed into Mass Effect. Those games played more towards Star Trek or Firefly. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a huge heap of potential just waiting to be tapped into again.
It's a shame it had no real audience to love it and connect with it. It's technological feats were praised, but it's ideas were left alone to collect dust while the company behind the movie went bankrupt and shut down, with no intentions of ever expanding on the world they created here. The movie is dated, a little stiff, and unfortunately more lifeless than it has any right to be, but it still surprised me. It's probably my third viewing of it since it came out, and it's never looked better than it has on Blu-Ray. All the glowing x-rays, holograms, and alien ghosts make for stunning atmosphere and fantastic visual treats that movies today are still struggling to adequately deliver.
The action scenes are impressive. The filmmakers made use of the fact they were working in a digital environment, putting the camera places you couldn't normally, capturing the action from exciting and unexpected angles. A huge chunk of this movie reminds me of Starship Troopers, and that's a good thing. The difference is that this movie has a strange sort of technical freedom in things like lighting and camera movement. It's unhinged in a way that you couldn't get in a live action movie. On top of that, there are settings and scenery that are just breathtakingly intricate and eye-popping. More than the special glowing gadgets and creatures, it's these shots that create the atmosphere of The Spirits Within.
All in all, for a movie about souls, spirits and ghosts, it could've used a bit more heart. That's not to say the characters are devoid of merit. I liked them. They were if anything, likable. I heard that they had planned for the likeness and model of Aki Ross to be a digital actress and star in other movies, becoming a cornerstone of their studio. I would've loved to have seen her become ever more realistic over time. It's nothing short of a shame that this neat little sci-fi gem is all but forgotten, save for the hateful comments in passing by a bunch of bitter Final Fantasy fans lurking on internet forum boards. Those are not the right people to appreciate this movie. Mass Effect fans might enjoy this, and certainly those looking for something more in their sci-fi movies. It's short on feeling, but huge on neat and original ideas. Well worth watching for the visuals alone, and definitely worth a look if you can stand the semi-dated looking CGI.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
I want very badly to call this movie Keanu Reeves' comeback. Unfortunately, it's not like he ever really left. He just kept making underwhelming stuff. And then he made John Wick. Holy balls. John Wick is the kind of flick Keanu was born to make. It's probably his most emotionally charged movie too, which is astonishing considering how simple and gleefully action-minded it is. He emotes like a seasoned stage actor, taking us through the gamut; grief, anger, rage, depression, and even joy for a moment or two. What's amazing is that for once, he's given the perfect material to work with and his acting is on par with the stunts. I don't think Reeves is ever really a bad actor, he's just an actor who needs a part tailored for him. He gets miscast in a lot of movies, but suffice it to say, John Wick is not one of them.
Reeves plays the eponymous title character, who used to be a hitman of sorts for the Russian mob. At one point however, he met the love of his life and made a deal with the boss to retire from the life. He actually pulled it off and got out, to live happily ever after with his wife. Unfortunately, an illness claimed her life, and as a parting gift... she left John an adorable Beagle puppy, named Daisy. Then, not a day later, the son of his old boss takes a liking to Wick's car, not knowing who he is. Then, having turned down their offer to buy it from him, they break into his house at night... beat him to a pulp, steal his car, and kill his dog. This sends the entire Russian mob into a panic because this jumped up little shit just send the boogeyman himself into a blind rage.
Wick dives back into his old life, calling up old acquaintances and meeting familiar faces again. All as he systematically kills his way to the boss' son, Iosef. This is a very simple story. It's cut and dry, black and white, no nonsense. It's also full of neat scenes and awesome secondary characters. Unfortunately, these little interludes, particularly one where Wick seeks lodging at a fancy hotel that seems to be a no-business zone for hitmen and the like- these scenes interrupt the pacing of the movie. They're also one of the chief highlights. John Wick isn't just a plain action movie, it creates a whole world for it's characters to inhabit. One full of shadowy clubs, unspoken rules, and secret alliances. It's really immersive, interesting, and endlessly fun.
Oddly enough, this movie feels like a sequel. All these familiar faces feel like ones we should've seen before. Not that the movie ever leaves us in the dark as to who they are, it handles that adequately enough, but... even the backstory seems like it could use it's own movie. A prequel maybe, one that has Wick pulling off that one last "impossible" job for the Russians, essentially earning his freedom and riding off into the sunset with his ill-fated wife. It's a whole movie right there, and it's one we don't get to see. I want to see it. Namely because more John Wick at this point can't possibly be a bad thing. I'm skirting around the real topic of discussion here, the real star of the movie...
...And holy hell, is there action. I suppose the fact that John Wick was directed by Keanu Reeves' longtime stunt double Chad Stahelski played a big hand in how slick and well shot all the action is. Every single fight is choreographed down to every last bullet, every single movement, and nothing is wasted. Nothing is superfluous. As an action fan, I think the highlight of any action movie is when they do something you don't see a lot, or they do something unique in an action scene. Off the top of my head, just about every fight scene from The Raid (and it's sequel), and even the shootouts in Dredd. They all managed to be really creative, and at the least they were all exceptionally well executed. However, action movies become a drag when all they are is guys blindly firing guns at each other while the camera shakes like it's having an epileptic seizure.
John Wick doesn't roll like that. Each shootout is paced, tracked, and choreographed. Reeves moves through the scenes with calculated precision, shooting, punching, kicking and judo-flipping enemies as he sees fit. He moves and fights like clockwork. This does more than just give us mind-blowingly cool action scenes, this infuses something into the character of John Wick. This is a guy who the entire Russian mob is afraid of... and the movie is keen to show us exactly why. Wick is a goddamn machine. They way he fights and shoots is part of his character. It's why he's the best. The whole movie hinges on that selling point. He has to be frighteningly good at killing. He can't be a stock action hero. He has to be on the next level of convincing badassery. I'm happy to report, Keanu pulls it off like he was The One all over again.
Not since The Matrix have I seen him in a movie that utilizes him so well. John Wick is a very good movie. It has a few hangups with the length of the story, and a few momentum hiccups, but I'd be lying if I said I felt these were serious issues. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. With any movie I feel like there's a checklist of a few little things to ask yourself when reviewing it. Would I watch it again? Would I buy it? Would I recommend it to others? When it comes to the case of John Wick, for all three questions, the answer is a resounding "Yes." It's been too long of a time since I saw a Keanu Reeves vehicle that blew my hair back, because most of his post-Matrix filmography is either moderate (Constantine, Street Kings) to snore inducing (The Day The Earth Stood Still) and some unfortunate misfires (47 Ronin). So, regardless of how you wanna look at it, John Wick is a supremely satisfying return to form for Keanu, and a breath of fresh air for action fans.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Based on the comic book of the same name, Wanted is little more than witty escapist nonsense. It's Fight Club with all the über violence of a trigger happy video game. I don't mean to sound down on this movie at all, especially not right out of the gate. I really really like this movie. I'm also pretty torn about it. I saw the movie when it first hit DVD, late '08, early '09. It was fun, but nothing revelatory. No matter my thoughts on the movie; I knew, even then, that James McAvoy was a total badass. Not just because he got to shoot a lot of bad guys and look cool doing it. It was because he has that one-in-a-hundred tough guy stare that you just can't fake. The way he carried himself was that of a no-nonsense action hero. Whatever this movie did or didn't do, it gave us our first look at Badass James McAvoy, and for that, I love it.
It pretty much takes only the first ten pages and the namesake of it's source material before going in a completely different direction. Which is sad, because a faithful adaption of the comic book would've been mind blowing. It would have been epic proportions of amazing. Unfortunately I don't think any movie studio would throw big bucks at a summer blockbuster that is essentially devoid of any redeemable hero. In the comic book, miserable office worker, Wesley Gibson finds out that his father, who he's never known, was the world's deadliest supervillain, and that being a world-class killer is hereditary... if it wasn't for a lifetime of being trained to be a total "pussy". Wesley ends up getting trained to be a ruthless costumed supervillain who can kill, maim, and destroy with no hesitation, or reason for that matter.
The comic creates this world that mind-fucks you in the way The Matrix did. It makes you question things that you take for granted. The movie doesn't do any of that. In the movie, Wesley finds out that his father used to be a secret super assassin and he gets trained to be a "weapon of fate" as well. It's a much safer story. The hero is a hero, trained to kill, not trained to be a sociopath like he was in the comics. The movie is also really simple emotionally. It's an un-challenging action flick that employs impossible gimmicks ('bending' bullets?) and stylized adventure to make up for it's lack of emotional heft and intricate plotting. The comic was definitely a much more gripping tale, but it had the balls to be something that Hollywood would never touch with ten foot pole. Which explains why the movie is essentially nothing like it.
Despite it's R rating, in comparison to the comic, the movie feels nothing if not sanitized. Having said all that, there's no denying that Wanted is an exceptionally well made movie that seems to have a firm handle on how to be slick and satisfying entertainment. From the ground up, it's a fantastically fun action movie. The visual style, the camera work, even the score is all bold and ambitious. It never reaches the genre-shattering heights of The Matrix, but it manages to infuse the feeling of originality back into the summer blockbuster formula. Even though it borrows heavily from a few other movies, and at the same time, is also an adaptation of a superior work of fiction, it still gels and runs smoothly. It's a finely tuned machine, right down to the pacing and dialog. Most of it ultimately amounts to nonsense, but it's clever nonsense. Not to mention fun.
The movie walks a fine line though, it seems to be somewhat self-aware, but it's also not as clever as it'd like to think it is. I think "clever" might be overstating it a bit. It's more like... witty. Like the writers had seen Fight Club ten times in a row as inspiration before putting pen to paper. Not that I mind honestly. Wanted ends up feeling like it wants to be more than it is, and that's okay, because it's still head and shoulders above what's commonly considered mindless entertainment (i.e. Bad Boys II). It's like an aftermarket Tarantino/Rodriguez project. It has the style, the wit, and the flair, but none of the substance. It's escapist fantasy at best. If anything, it's never dull. I've seen it many times and it's definitely grown on me over the years.
I'm trying to articulate something about it though that so far I've been unable to adequately put into words. It really does seem like it knocks off The Matrix and Fight Club, so it's definitely nowhere near as good as they are... but as a knock off of those two great movies, that does put it above the competition a bit. It's not precisely mindless, even though it asks you to suspense belief to the extent of believing bullets can curve. With nothing more than "What if nobody told you bullets fly straight?" as an explanation. There's no functional context for it. The Matrix had the perfect setting to pull out all the stops and do crazy stuff like dodging bullets and the like, but Wanted has nothing like that. It just is. You either accept it, or you don't. If you don't, you'll probably have a hard time enjoying the movie. It doesn't bother me that much, but it is pretty silly.
All in all, come for badass James McAvoy (who's amazing facial expressions make the movie that much better) stay for the insane action sequences and escapist fantasy. No matter if you're reading the comic (which I wholeheartedly suggest you do, regardless) or if you're watching the movie... Wesley Gibson is a repressed office dork who undergoes a transformation into a ballsy über assassin. There's something so completely satisfying about that character arc. I think the appeal of Wanted lies in that little part of everyone who wishes they inherit a fortune someday from a dead relative they've never met. Only Wesley inherited superpowers and a knack for killing. Which is also incredibly cathartic. The whole movie is cathartic to be honest. It's not great, but it's great fun. I'd shell out money for a sequel if they ever do one. It's not like I haven't already shelled out money on the comic, the movie (on blu ray and in a collector's edition) the video game and the soundtrack. Bring on Wanted 2. I need me some more Badass James McAvoy.
Sunday, January 11, 2015
Doom plays like it was made by a team of guys who played the game for 5 minutes when they were younger, grew up and thought, "Oh hey, remember that one game with guns and monsters?" and then the second guy was like, "Wasn't it on Mars?" Then they collectively decided to make it a movie, starring The Rock. If only you could hear my long sigh just now, it would've summed up my thoughts on this flick quite nicely for you. On the flip side, this movie might be serviceable to someone who has either never played the game, or has no knowledge of it. However, if you're a fan of the games, you should have been in the prime target audience for this movie. Yet sadly, us fans are the first people it alienates.
The movie also seems to exist solely for people who've never seen any other sci-horror/action movies. It borrows so much from Aliens, Resident Evil, and Predator that you wonder why they didn't even try to borrow from the game which it's based on. Because the video game, Doom, isn't really like any of those movies. I don't know why I'm shocked honestly. I think Super Mario Bros. the movie had more in common with it's own game than this movie did. Hell, Tomb Raider, Mortal Kombat, and all their sequels were more like the games they were based on than Doom is anything like it's source material. I will concede that I have so far only been referring to the '93 video game and it's sequel, Doom II: Hell on Earth. This movie in fact actually shares a bit of likeness with the 2004 video game, Doom 3.
That's not a good thing though. See, even fans of Doom and Doom II had a hard time accepting Doom 3 for what it was. Why? Because Doom (and Doom II) were balls-out action games in a horror setting. You were loaded to the teeth with guns and ammo, and you had to mow your way through legions of demons and possessed soldiers. The game is a non-stop gorefest. It's nasty, it's in your face, and it's insanely fast paced. Doom 3 is a survival horror game with jump scares and bad guys here and there. Doom and Doom II had waves and waves and waves of enemies after you, but they also gave you the hardware to feel like you could handle it. They made you feel like a badass. Doom 3 doesn't really do that. You never feel like you're on the winning side, unfortunately.
Point being is that, in order for Doom, the movie, to be remotely worth watching it needed to be like the first two games. It needed to be wall-to-wall gore, satanic imagery, and non-stop action. Instead, it modeled itself after Doom 3 and became a ripoff of every other sci-horror/action movie that's ever managed to be competent in the slightest. Does this make Doom a bad movie? Well, yes and no. Is it original? No. Smartly written? No. However, it is very competently made. From the creature effects, to the camera work, the cinematography, and the industrial rock soundtrack- it all coalesces to make a rather entertaining flick, in a mind numbing way. It's mediocre at best, but not awful.
It's saved from being a total waste by a number of things. First and fore-fucking-most... Karl Goddamn Urban. This man has saved many a shitfest from being total wastes of time. (Cough. Pathfinder. Cough.) Karl Urban plays a member of the RRTS (Rapid Response Tactical Squad), a group of marines who've been called to a research facility on Mars, to 'deal with' a "level 5 threat". The Rock (I refuse to refer to him as Dwayne Johnson in any movie pre-Fast Five) plays the leader of this team, affectionately dubbed, "Sarge". How original. That's his actual call sign too. It's not just a nickname. Anyhow, if you're not seeing the gi-normous likeness to Aliens yet, you're either dumb, or you haven't seen Aliens. In which case you should stop reading this review right now and go watch Aliens. You'll thank me later.
If you're still here, and you know what I'm on about, you'll know why this is super annoying. The plot of the game for Doom had a better story, and it was tailor made for the big screen too. The game has a marine, punitively stationed to a research facility on Mars (the most boring assignment imaginable) for disobeying an order to fire on civilians. Whilst there, the resident scientists, who've been experimenting with teleporter technology accidentally open a portal... to Hell. Literal Hell. The actual Hell. Not the figurative "this place is hell" Hell that the movie keeps teasing us with. Oh, yeah. I forgot to point out, the creatures in the movie aren't from Hell. They're not demons. They're mutated people who've been infected with a Martian virus that makes good people... superhuman, and bad people... super bad-er?
It mutates them into various creatures and blah blah blah. At that point, finding all this out, the movie had lost me. Not that it didn't have me checking my watch before that, but it was bearable, to an extent. They stripped everything that makes Doom... Doom away from it. The only other highlight of the movie worth mentioning, is the First Person Shooter sequence. Once Karl Urban goes superhuman, the film's perspective literally shifts to First Person, and we're treated to a rather awesome action sequence shown entirely through his eyes. Shooting zombies, monsters, and fending off a neat looking creature with a chainsaw in a rather bloody showdown. It's a great freaking scene. The only great scene. Shit, the only good scene in my opinion.
Karl Urban's stoic glare and natural aire of badassery go a long way towards making any scene with him in it watchable, but not even he can make this a great movie. His talents were put to the best use in 2012's Dredd. Anyways, Doom makes so many rookie errors, and if you think too hard it'll leave you with the stupidest questions. What's the different between a code red lockdown, and a level 5 lockdown? Do they rank by colors... or numbered levels? Why do they flip flop between the terms? Did I miss something? If they're in a level red code 5 lockdown... why are all the lights off? Wouldn't it make more sense to have the lights... on? So nobody trips or dies trying to evacuate or get to safety? Sure it'd sacrifice the half-assed "atmosphere" the filmmakers were going for, but who gives a shit? I want to -see- the monsters.
The first two games didn't do this crap. Everything was thrown at you to your face. Once in a blue moon you'd run into a dark room, or a hallway with flickering lights. That was scary. But if the whole game was dark like that, it would've been an abortion! Kind of like... the movie. Ah... Not like we're seeing a pattern here or anything. If the movie was more like the game, it'd be awesome. Since it's not, we're left with a mixed bag. Surprisingly, I'm not ready to sentence this flick to death. Maybe it's childhood nostalgia? Or maybe it's because I've seen it so many times, I'd be embarrassed to tell you the actual amount of times I've seen it. Even though it's been a while... I scared myself because I knew all the lines.
Ultimately no, Doom may be unoriginal and a terrible Doom movie, but it's an okay movie on it's own right. If you have no affinity for the game, Doom might be worth a watch on a Saturday afternoon if you're really curious. The flashy special effects and nicely realized set design go a long way towards making it at the least, watchable. It's not completely bad, and in it's best moments, is even a little fun. But those moments are rare. The Rock's facial expressions are fun. His big video game-y gun, is fun. Karl Urban being a badass is fun. Stumbling around in the dark with the least likeable group of space marines ever to hit the big screen... is not so much fun. So yeah, Doom is a mixed bag for those who don't care about the games. But for us fans of the game, Doom is a travesty. Yet I still find excuses to watch it every five years...
It makes no sense, and I've been brutally honest about this movie, yet... I can't understand why I like it, but strangely enough I do.
Could it be just because it's a slick and well packaged movie? Right down to the photoshopped DVD cover, that manages to be eye catching and cool looking, yet detestable in it's lack of effort or imagination. Much like the movie itself. I still like the movie against ALL my better judgment, but I can't say I actually ever enjoy it all that much. If that makes no sense whatsoever, don't worry about it. Just know that there's a scene in this movie where the marines are slowly walking through a dark corridor, and a steam pipe or something pops loose, scaring one of them so badly, he shoots at it. If that sounds familiar, it's because you've seen it a billion times in every movie ever.
In fact, it might just be the scariest scene in the movie because you have to think... someone wrote that. Someone had to direct it, someone had to act it out, and someone had to leave it in the movie. There's nothing scarier than that.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Anyone who's seen my movie collections know that I have sections devoted entirely to the kind of movie that Out For Justice is. It's good old fashioned balls-to-the-wall action. Out for Justice isn't a Die Hard, or a Lethal Weapon. It's hero isn't a Dirty Harry, or a Snake Plissken , but instead belongs to the onslaught of aftermarket action heroes who had their glorious 15 minutes of fiery fame. Steven Seagal plays New York cop, Gino Felino. Despite the fact he sounds like a guy who might open a sandwich shop, he's an okay action hero. He punches bad guys and waves his gun around, giving lectures to criminals who're too dense to listen. Why does he keep doing this? So he'll have an excuse to flip them on their ass when he's done.
Gino does a lot of that in this movie. Since just about everyone he meets is a criminal, or a scumbag in general, just about everyone in this movie gets flipped on their ass. I would've tried to count, but it would've been a count that I'd have quickly lost track of. In short, Seagal kicks all the ass. When he's not kicking ass, he's making his rounds through the streets and the 'neighborhoods', trying to find the guy who offed his buddy, Bobby. Yes, there is a plot! Amazingly, it's of little consequence though. We hear "This guy killed Bobby!" about several dozen times and then Seagal is off to track down a rather pathetic looking William Forsythe who's trying his hardest to seem psychotic, but you know... the scary movie villain kind of psychotic. Not the generic kind of psychotic.
Unfortunately, despite lots of violent theatrics, he just ends up seeming like the generic kind of psychotic. Nevertheless, the paper thin set up has Seagal cranking out lines like... "Just give me an unmarked and a shotgun and let me do this my way." Which is awesome. I mean, it's just awesome. Any more with a headlining action star is just a vehicle to see him kick ass. That's all Out for Justice is. It's a "hard-hitting" action movie that was probably billed as "the most exciting movie you'll see all summer!", along with a dozen other shoot-em-up flicks at the same time. I'm trying to make a point, but it's sort of self defeating.
Out for Justice isn't a good movie... but it's a good Steven Seagal movie. It belongs to that cluster of movies that action junkies like, but aren't exactly great movies on their own merits. Out for Justice has lots of dialog heavy scenes that don't really go anywhere. Characters are introduced and then dropped just as fast. There's mobs and gangsters and nightclubs galore. We're just here to see Gino navigate this dangerous maze of criminals and psychopaths with his soft-spoken trash talking and his martial arts. It's akin to a video game. There's a bar fight level, a night club level, a streets level, and in each level there's a batch of bad guys for him to fight. Ultimately every action movie boils down to a similar formula, but it's the ones like this that make that formula so obvious.
You come for the action, you stay for more action. Steven Seagal never had a Terminator, or a Rambo. He never had, to me, that one iconic role that would elevate him above movies like this. Not to say that for what it is, it doesn't do it's job, and does it well at that. It's just standard in every other regard possible. Yet it has some memorable and remarkable action scenes, and some funny moments in general. Gino rescues a puppy thrown away by some dickwad, and it's a cute scene. Throughout the movie, the dog is sort of just, around now and then. It's a cute touch, and somewhat unexpected in such a tough-guy flick. Yet still, the highlights of this movie is like... that one punch here, or that shotgun blast there. Those "Oh SHIT!" moments when Seagal pulls off some crazy stunt that looks super cool.
That's all this movie's good for. But it IS good for it. No action junkie could turn down Out for Justice on a lazy Saturday night in. I had a lot of fun with it. I'd probably watch it again sometime. It's fun. And honestly, isn't that all these movies really need to be? Just... fun. Mindless, simple, punch-em-in-the-balls... fun. I love these kinds of movie. They're arcade game nonsense, but they're entertaining and well made. Slick, stylized, simplicity. The stories are usually irrelevant, but that's okay. It's all about the punching, kicking, and shooting. Stuff blows up real well, not unlike Stone Cold, Raw Deal, and Rapid Fire. If you enjoy movies with titles like those, you'll undoubtedly enjoy Out for Justice.
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Being a fan of the character, and at least the three OVAs that have been released, I was excited to find out that a live action Devilman movie had been made. The first warning sign should've been that I'd never heard about it before... and it was made in 2004. The second warning sign probably should've stopped me in my tracks, but no- the painfully low imdb score didn't deter me either. The trailer looked so cool, and well, the OVAs were friggin awesome, so how bad could this really be? I think the movie took that question as a challenge. Although I love Asian cinema (to an extent) I'm not really familiar with a lot of their actors and celebrities, so it's not like I could've offered up casting ideas on who should've played these characters but according to people who seem to know better, they only cast celebrities based on pretty faces, and to hell with acting talent. From what I've seen... I think this was definitely the case. Oh man...
At first glance, things aren't so bad. The movie seemed to follow the story I knew more or less. I was genuinely excited to see how things went. Well, they went... bad. Fast. In the OVA (and the manga as far as I know) the main character, a young highschooler named Akira, is pulled into a plot to battle demons by his friend Ryo. See, Ryo's dad died trying to implement his theory that a person with a pure heart could 'merge' with a demon and take control of it's powers and strength whilst still remaining in control with a human heart. So Ryo proposed this plan to Akira, the most pure hearted person he knew. Akira agreed, after seeing proof of the demon horde's existence. Eventually, the plan worked, turning Akira into the super powered demon-killing machine, Devilman. HOWEVER, in the movie, Ryo takes Akira back to his house and tells Akira that his Dad turned into a demon and that he's one too. He asks Akira to kill him, and then... I dunno, Akira sorta just merges with a random demon on the spot?
It was so underwhelming. For one, in the original story, there was purpose and a real drive behind Akira's transformation into Devilman. In this movie, it just sorta... happens. In the original story, they had to elaborately prepare for him to merge with a demon, even setting up a ritual and finding the right location. Again, in this one, it happens on the spot in Ryo's house. Like... what the hell? Then Akira just sorta... feels the urge to find an enemy so he can fight, and this demon bird lady shows up and says he should remember her. He's like, nope, sorry. So she flies him back to Ryo's house to jog his memory. He's like, still nope, sorry. I kid you not, she then says, fine, we'll fight. I have no idea what's even happening! Except that's not entirely true. I saw the OVAs remember?
According to the OVAs, the demons are after Akira because the demon he merged with was basically the ultimate hero of the demon horde, and they want Akira dead so they can reclaim their hero. This is where the demon bird lady came in- in the second OVA. Akira's merging with the demon Amon was wrapped around a massive climatic action scene of it's own in the first OVA, involving a nightclub full of people who'd been turned into demons. It was long, brutal, gory, and jaw-droppingly cool. Since they changed the circumstances surrounding his merge in the movie, that scene is entirely absent. Thus, they skip right into the story of the second OVA. It feels like a slap to the face, and a major hack job to boot. The demon bird lady fight, which was the major show-stopping battle of the second OVA, is reduced to a lame two-three minute skirmish, followed by a ton more padding.
This movie is a full-ass two hours. It would feel long even at 90 minutes. Anyways... then Akira encounters another villain from the second OVA. This encounter was terrifying and super important in the OVA, but in the movie, Devilman defeats this creature with one punch, and moves on like nothing happened. So you can see, the movie has a trend of taking the best, coolest moments from the pre-existing stories and completely dulling them down to nothing. Certainly nothing worth watching. If there are any other movies I can compare this to, it would probably be Spawn, and The Last Airbender. Spawn manages to be a better movie surprisingly/not-surprisingly. Better casting, better acting, better effects, it's short, and has a more coherent story. Comparing it to The Last Airbender makes even more sense, and on a whole nother level too. Both are adapted from amazing source material, and both manage to suck all the fun and creativity out of the concept, leaving us with a flashy looking- yet ultimately lifeless hunk of celluloid.
If the comparison to The Last Airbender wasn't enough for you, or if you didn't loathe that movie (as you should), consider this...
There is an infamous moment in the manga and the OVAs in which one of the main characters is brutally slain. It's a gut wrenching moment that is hard to look at, and even harder to accept it even happened. When Akira finds the culprits, he 'hulks' out and eviscerates them- then taking the time to grieve on the spot for his fallen friend. In the OVA you can FEEL his anguish. His screams are devastated and I had to cover my mouth because I could feel myself on the verge of unleashing some manly tears too. Yet... this same moment, brought to life with REAL people... ends up completely inert. Akira sorta kinda yells? I mean, Stallone yells better than this brat when his friends die in movies. Apollo Creed in Rocky IV? The chick in First Blood Pt.II? This kid just looked mildly annoyed, and sounded like he was trying to scare a mouse away. The actor was supposed to be reacting to the sight of the decapitated head... but it looked like he was reacting to a shocking tabloid headline instead.
The most devastating thing about the scene was how painfully underwhelming it was to the point of eliciting hopeless laughter from me. I wasn't laughing because it was funny, I was laughing because I realized how utterly bad this movie was. I wanted to like it. I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to. I wanted to walk away from this movie and say, this was actually fun. Maybe it could've been on par with Spawn, as a guilty pleasure? No, just... no. It's entirely devoid of merit. It's just plain bad. So bad. So very very bad. Bad. Super bad. It's super bad man. Totally bad. Save yourself. HOWEVER.. I do urge you to check out the OVAs. They're friggin amazing.
I definitely have some new favorites, and I've had a blast with this whole ordeal. Would I do it again? Sure. It was an excuse to sit through the bad ones, and a perfect reason to reevaluate the good ones.... and now I am done. Itching to get back to other movies and such! Nevertheless, I feel a much bigger appreciation for everyone's favorite MI6 agent having done this. It's been something to remember. I hope you've enjoyed taking this journey with me, given that I've posted -only- 007 reviews since November. Thanks for reading!
- From Russia With Love
- You Only Live Twice
- On Her Majesty's Secret Service
- Diamonds are Forever
- Live and Let Die
- The Man With the Golden Gun
- The Spy Who Loved Me
- For Your Eyes Only
- A View To A Kill
- The Living Daylights
- Licence to Kill
- Tomorrow Never Dies
- The World is Not Enough
- Die Another Day
- Casino Royale
- Quantum of Solace
*For the final review of my 007 Marathon, I've decided to do something a little different. For Skyfall, I approached a good friend of mine who runs a great movie review blog over at Movie Curiosities to do a 'tag-team' review on it. Check out his blog as well, and enjoy the review!
Skyfall, the 23rd 007 movie, takes a chapter from the Connery era reminding us what we loved about a good classic spy caper. However, at the same time, it inhabits the world that Casino Royale laid out for the current Bond. The bad guys these days aren't the megalomaniacs of old. As M says, in one of the best scenes in the movie, "I'm frightened because our enemies are no longer known to us. They do not exist on a map. They're not nations, they're individuals. And look around you. Who do you fear? Can you see a face, a uniform, a flag? No! Our world is not more transparent now, it's more opaque! It's in the shadows.-", "-ask yourselves, how safe do you feel?" The scene is not only addressing the fictional world in which the characters exist in, but also how we view villains for real.
It bears remembering that the 007 franchise grew primarily in the '60s and '70s, periods that now seem laughably campy in retrospect. Furthermore, Bond himself is clearly a product of the Cold War, which is now thankfully long gone. Making a statement to prove why James Bond is still relevant in the 21st century was a very smart move, especially for the series' 50th anniversary.
Absolutely. It’s also something they should’ve done for the 20th movie, which just so happens to be Die Another Day; A movie that, to me, is pretty relevant to Skyfall. The villains of this era are desperate and dangerous. They're scary. Bond villain Silva captures this perfectly, and Javier Bardem brings him to life with such flair and gusto. Of course, as an ex-agent, Silva is cut from the same cloth as Bond, he knows MI6 inside and out. Bond himself could have been in his place very easily. In fact, he was. In Die Another Day, Bond was abandoned to the enemy. How much scarier is it to think that our 'maladjusted' hero could've easily been the villain in someone else's narrative? Unfortunately Die Another Day chose not to do anything interesting with that plot thread and without time to waste, once again reduced Bond to a smattering of cliches, smirks, and raised eyebrows. Skyfall holds up Silva as a mirror to Bond, showing us exactly what Die Another Day could've been. Clearly, it could've been a much better movie. Which is exactly what Skyfall is.
Sorry, I know I'm in the minority on this, but I thought that Silva was pretty much entirely salvaged by Javier Bardem's performance. Silva's motivation from start to finish was to take revenge against M, which seems rather petty for a Bond villain. It would have been something very different if Silva expanded his rage to MI6 or to England, out to take revenge against the organization and the country that left him to rot. But no, Silva makes it clear that he's only after M. Bardem does a fantastic job of selling the character's mania, and he wreaks some major havoc with the purpose of making M look bad before he kills her, but he still comes off as so small-minded for a Bond villain.
I disagree. I think his small-mindedness was actually a product of how he was trained as an MI6 agent. Even going rogue, and launching a big plan just to get revenge seems completely within the mental and emotional parameters that I can imagine MI6’s psychological conditioning would’ve instilled. He’s a product of Queen and country, for better or worse. "Blunt instruments" like Bond and Silva seem to have been trained to focus on singular targets, often to detrimental results. Just look at the opening of Casino Royale, which had Bond storming an embassy just to kill one bomb maker.
Fair enough. Anyway, this really is M's story as much as it is Bond's. Both characters have to deal with all the death and destruction they're responsible for, both have to justify their continued existence in a world that seems to have outgrown their methods, and both have to balance their personal feelings and flaws with their duty to the greater good. It all adds up to a fantastic send-off for Judi Dench and a worthy tribute to her treatment of M as a de facto mother figure for Bond.
Incidentally, watching the movie a second time, I realized that Ralph Fiennes' Mallory character takes a bullet for M during a shootout. That's a hell of a way to pass the torch.
Oh definitely. I noticed that this time as well, as everyone else on the council was ducking, Mallory was leaping to M’s aide. Impressive no matter what the context. But yeah, aside from operating in the very grounded and frightening world of post-9/11 espionage and murder that Casino Royale introduced, Skyfall also infuses this ongoing reboot of 007 with much-missed elements from yesteryear. Firstly, the sense of humor is on point. There are plenty of moments in Skyfall that make me laugh, but it's not the brand of in-your-face silliness that's plagued the franchise in the past. It's smartly written dialogue, and clever moments that flow with the scene and the characters. In their effort to bring back classic elements, there's a fantastic scene in which Bond makes a quip about the 'company cars' and reveals he still has an Aston Martin DB5. Which is, for those of you who don't know, is the car from Goldfinger. M remarks that it's not very comfortable, and Bond hovers his finger over a very familiar little red button...
"Oh, go on, then, eject me. See if I care." She snaps. Bond then smirks as they drive away. Probably the most obvious example of it's nostalgic mentality and of it's wittiness. It's also a perfect example of how well it works.
Easily one of this film's greatest strengths is in how it recognizes the Bond cliches of yesteryear without being beholden to them. Q finally appears, but the gadgets that he offers are quite sensible and useful in a variety of situations, unlike the gadgets that could only be useful in some laughably specific predicament (the glass-shattering ring from Die Another Day springs to mind). And of course he asks Bond to try and bring the equipment back in one piece, but the delivery of that line makes it clear that Q is only saying it as a formality.
It also bears mentioning that Q is now a much younger man, which makes perfect sense given the younger generation of tech geniuses today. Also, Ben Whishaw plays the character in a sort of quiet and contemplative way that contrasts brilliantly with 007. Even better, Q is no longer some recluse who only shows up long enough to dispense the weaponry -- Q uses his computer know-how to play an active role in guiding Bond and tracking Silva.
By a similar token, it was an absolutely genius move to introduce the new Moneypenny in the opening action sequence. Right off the bat, it's immediately shown that this is a love interest who could be a worthy field partner for Bond if he really needed her. She's a love interest who's an equal to Bond and a black woman, neither of which could have been possible in the sexist and racist years of Bond's heyday. Couple that with sizzling chemistry between Craig and Naomie Harris, and this is a fantastic update for a classic Bond character.
Definitely. An update that was long overdue if you ask me. Some people have complained about the Daniel Craig era of Bond being 'too rigid' or 'too serious'. Well, I beg to differ. It's well-rounded entertainment. Moreover, it's good James Bond, period. The movie's message of "sometimes the old ways are the best." is not lost on a fan like me. Bond hasn't turned into an aftermarket Jason Bourne yet. The exotic locations still have that spy thriller flair to them, the women are still tragic and ill-fated characters, and the action scenes are still incredible. From the opening chase scene, which involves motorbikes, cars, a train, and a digger, to a claustrophobic fist fight in a casino in Macau, all the action scenes are top shelf stuff. They still manage to wow and impress in an era so desensitized to high flying stunts and elaborate choreography.
Don't forget the camerawork. Roger Deakins is a master cinematographer and the visuals in this movie are absolutely superb from start to finish. I'm particularly fond of the fistfight with Patrice (the assassin played by Ola Rapace), done in silhouette while the lights of downtown Shanghai dance around them and reflect off all the glass surfaces. Jaw-dropping stuff.
I'll absolutely agree with you that the action scenes are amazing, though the underwater fight scene during the climax is terribly underrated. It's notoriously difficult to stage underwater action in a way that's technically feasible and safe for the actors, but that scene manages it in a way that sells the danger and looks incredible. The pit fight at Macau is a weak point, however; it's hard to get too invested when the Gila monsters look so laughably fake.
Although they weren’t that distracting to me, I can see how that could take someone out of the movie. But I’m definitely gonna agree with you about that underwater fight sequence. In fact, that whole scene looks simply gorgeous. Visually, it’s stunning, and I think that adds a layer to the fighting and running around that many other movies lack. Another example is the scene you mentioned a bit ago, Bond’s fight with Patrice. Simply fantastic stuff. This whole movie is eye candy, without being insulting to the audience’s intelligence. Far too many Michael Bay apologists claim his movies are simply “eye candy”, yeah well so is Skyfall. It’s also not stupid though. So there’s that.
Getting back to the love interests, I find it interesting to note that this is the third straight Bond film in which a sympathetic Bond girl dies tragically. Of course, Bond girls are expendable by definition, but Berenice Marlohe's character was just awful all around. Paper-thin, terribly acted, and disposed of without consequence just as soon as her limited contribution to the plot has been fulfilled.
I can agree with that to an extent. Even Ms. Fields from Quantum of Solace was a highlight of the film; Severine was nothing of the sort. However terrible this may sound… I’m actually glad she died. Because if she hadn’t she would’ve been a useless tag-along like Olga Kurylenko was in the previous film. If that wasn’t the case, she would’ve disappeared from the movie, alive, but only given a throwaway line to resolve her sub-plot. Unfortunately, when all is said and done, she was just a plot device. A tragic one at that, but one that bothers me less each time I see the movie.
Nevertheless, Bond's trademark swagger is in full gear here. The 007 theme creeps into the score every now and then at just the right moment, and it gave me a fantastic feeling. He's back. Not just Daniel Craig, or James Bond, but Ian Fleming's James Bond 007... is back. This feels like a sequel to Goldfinger or From Russia With Love. It captures that classic spy thriller atmosphere, whilst maintaining the modern elements that have saved James Bond from becoming an antiquated dinosaur. It does all this while making Moneypenny a black woman, Q a young man, and Bond a man capable of anger and making mistakes.
I'd argue that the title theme helped a lot with that as well. Adele has built her career on soulful performances with a retro style and a modern attitude, which is exactly the blend that this newest Bond era was built on. Her song, in tandem with the classic Bond theme, form the perfect foundation for this film. It's hard to imagine a better fit, though I'd be interested to hear the similarly retro-minded Bruno Mars give one of the sequels a try.
That would’ve been pretty neat actually, and of course, I’m in total agreement about the title theme. Adele was indeed perfect for this. And speaking of perfect, this is the perfect end cap to a trilogy of movies that sought to update and redefine what James Bond could mean to us in this day and age. Casino Royale was a huge bold step in the right direction, shedding almost all affiliation with the "old" notion of 007, but Skyfall reminds us that sometimes... some of the old ways are still good. Still usable. Still the best. As long as you handle with care, it's okay to take the DB5 out of the garage for a spin every now and then.
The film is solid (albeit flawed), and it's exciting to think that after three movies, James Bond is back in his prime like never before. The sky's the limit with the franchise at this point, and I'm thrilled to see where MGM and Sony take 007 from here. Personally, based on what I've seen and heard so far, I have every reason to believe that they'll continue to honor the character's past while blazing a new trail.
To paraphrase the series' new M, "Good luck, Mr. Bond. Don't cock it up."
Couldn’t have said it better myself.