Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Uhm. Okay?


   Well, here we are. A Serbian Film is a movie I once swore to myself I'd never watch. A movie with a reputation so massive, that I just knew it would mess me up. It required 19 cuts just to get an NC-17 here in the USA and it was actually banned in Brazil. People have said this movie would leave you feeling sick to your stomach, you might puke, it's the most vile, degrading, disgusting, gross-out movie ever. The way people talked about this movie, I thought it would ass-fuck my soul and leave me for dead. Well, I hate to say it, but it's not that bad. It's squirm-worthy, but not much more.

  Let's face it, you're either looking for one more notch on your Sick Movie belt, or you're discovering extreme cinema and wanna test your limits. Maybe you even got dared to watch it. I don't know. I'm someone who's seen a lot of seriously messed up movies. They're thought provoking and I like stuff that makes me think. Whether they're happy thoughts or really dark introspective analytical thoughts, so be it. If you're like me in that sense, A Serbian Film will more or less be a walk in the park for you. I kept expecting the movie to hit a point where the brakes were going to fly off and it was going to be a non-stop assault on my senses.

   It never hit that point. There's some really nasty vile scenes no doubt, but they're sorta spaced out somewhat. The main character, Milo, is an again ex-porn star who gets offered an obscene amount of money to come out of retirement and star in an artsy experimental porno flick. Little does he know there's going to be murder, necrophilia, pedophilia, and more. There's not really even names for some of the stuff that happens here. But to imply that it's all forced on the viewer with unrelenting fury is just not accurate. For most of the movie, Milo is in a daze. There's lots of distressed staring off into the middle distance, walking around looking upset, and a fair amount of brooding.

  The movie has the pacing of a really docile roller coaster, it has big peaks, but gradual declines. It doesn't have the fast paced kinetic music video style editing that I suspected it would. It's also not a gritty home video looking movie either. It's surprisingly well-shot. The film's visuals and cinematography were handled deftly. It makes it feel like a movie and not just a shock fest. Of course the only way to spread word of mouth about a movie like this is to pitch it like a shock fest. Don't get me wrong, it has vile things in it you probably would be happier in life if you never saw, but it's still just a movie.

  Thus, here's the problem with the movie... it looks too well made to be shock fest junk, and it doesn't have enough substance to warrant recommending it as anything else. It's just another notch on your Sick Movie belt. It was an interesting movie to watch, I wondered what- if anything -the filmmakers behind it were saying. Or what the cast thought of it. Stuff like that. But it's middle of the road fare that's not bad enough to write off entirely, and not good enough to recommend. That's just the objective opinion. I'm setting whatever shock value this movie has aside, and looking at is as a movie on it's own merits. It's okay. I've seen better, and I've certainly seen worse.

  I checked the clock several times throughout the movie wondering when the fucked up scenes I'd heard about were finally going to appear. A lot of them didn't even show up til after the halfway point. What this movie does well is allow you to care (somewhat) about Milo and his family. It also allows you to emotionally keep them at arm's length so to speak, and any seasoned viewer will know exactly why.  The acting is solid and the technical side of things is good, but the script is kind of haphazard.  The last act is told through flashbacks and videotapes that Milo discovers, as such there's a really jarring disconnect that happens. We're pulled and pushed back and forth between the present and the past from so many points of view that it's just confusing and tiring.

  It's not handled well, and would've been more effective if the events had just unfolded chronologically. All in all, it's a bleak, hopeless film that will undoubtedly continue to gross out and depress people. But if you're like me, you've already seen Cannibal Holocaust (a much better movie), most of Takashi Miike's stuff, Martyrs (also a much better movie), OldBoy (again, much better movie), Funny Games (do I need to say it again?), and others. So maybe it's worth watching to talk about objectively, but you're not gonna find anything horrifically shocking here that you haven't seen before in any of those, with maybe one or two brief exceptions.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

An Accomplishment


  Here we are again, another adaptation, and another host of things for the internet to complain about. Fans have already flocked to message boards, social media and anywhere they can raise their voice to point out shit they don't like about this. The entire cast is Asian, (the characters weren't Asian in the anime, or the manga as far as I know) the setting is wrong, etc etc etc. On the other hand, there seemed to be a lot of praise for the look and effects of the movie. Lemme tell you right now, that's the bread and butter of this movie. It's first and foremost a monster movie, and a damn effective one at that.

  I've seen the Attack on Titan anime in it's entirety thus far, and I loved it. I was pretty stoked for this movie, and for the most part it didn't disappoint. When the titans show up, it's downright scary. Totally horrifying. I was crawling out of my skin. Few movies affect me so strongly anymore, but holy crap this was unnerving. The giant lumbering zombie-like monsters, the titans, burst into the city and start eating people. Sounds simple enough, but the sequence goes on for a good long while and it gets increasingly bloody and graphic, hammering home the point that these things are absolutely terrifying.

  In my opinion, the movie is worth seeing for all that alone. It's a perfect example of how to pull off a crazy special effects laden scene without making everything look artificial and computer generated. In fact, if you can step back, whether you are a fan or a newcomer, and just appreciate the visuals on display in this movie, I'm sure you'll like it. The story doesn't explain as much as it should, and the plot is insanely rushed, but there's some great moments in the movie. The makers knew how to generate suspense, genuine scares, and even raw excitement. When the humans finally fight back against the titans, it's properly thrilling and a blast to watch.

  But between the tragedy scenes and the fighting back, there's not a single training montage. Any and all information we needed to know about how a bunch of farm kids learned how to use highly experimental weapons gear that can launch you hundreds of feet into the air like a steampunk Spider-Man is nonchalantly glossed over with a 'two years later' shot. This is the biggest cheat of the movie in my opinion. If they had pulled it off with any amount of finesse it would've been fine, but it feels like there's a chunk of the movie missing. In a big way you could compare this movie to Starship Troopers. Another coming-of-age movie with teenagers being sent off to fight unspeakable horrors.

  Starship Troopers touts a just over 2 hour runtime. Two hours. Attack on Titan is just right around 90 minutes. We needed another 30 minutes to watch the protagonists learn how to fight the titans, because there's a lot of necessary character development inside that non-existent 30 minutes that we just never get. They go from being scared monster-fodder, to well trained badasses in just two years- only as soon as they're put into dangerous situations, they don't seem like they've been trained at all. This might be effective if we had seen their confidence built up, but we didn't. That badass confidence is just a blip on the way to more horror and tragedy. We don't see it return until somewhere around the last act.

  Despite the truncated plot, and subsequent pacing issues, there's no denying Attack on Titan is a blast. It's simultaneously an action/adventure and a horror movie. We don't get enough of those in this day and age. The acting is solid for the most part, and the visuals alone are worth paying to see, so I recommend it. I know there's a few fan favorite characters who are either substituted for new guys or omitted altogether, but that's just par for course with a movie like this. In some areas it makes sense, in others it doesn't, but it didn't bug me too much. Fans of Levi beware, he's not in the movie. At all. Sorry.

  If anything, this is a visual companion piece to the other forms of media in which the story of Attack on Titan has been told. If you want the bigger picture, watch the anime. If you simply can't wait for season 2 of that, nor the confirmed sequel to this movie, go ahead and read the manga (which I have not yet done) I hear it's just as good. The movie leaves out a lot, but the anime and manga can fill in the gaps. The movie is respectful of the source material to a certain extent, but it also changes a lot of things to fit the medium of a live action film. When all is said and done, the movie is a fast paced (sometimes to it's detriment) thrill ride that is sloshing full of bright red blood and gore, bursting at the seams.

  It's unabashedly violent, and sometimes gleefully so, but I am the last person who's going to set that statement up as a complaint. I loved it. Despite all it's unsightly shortcomings, I do firmly believe that the movie is nothing short of a major accomplishment. It avoids the pitfalls that others of it's kind would fall right into, face first. It stands tall with it's eye catching cinematography, polished effects, blindingly cool action scenes, and hauntingly horrifying chaos and carnage. Say what you will about the film's missteps, it deserves a watch in my opinion. But then again, I'm a sucker for giant monster movies.

Monday, August 17, 2015

And now for something different...

  Earlier this month I was contacted by the team at Invaluable.com, an online auction marketplace, who talked to me about what my ideal movie prop would be to own. They feature all sorts of movie memorabilia as well as other collectibles for auction. A very interesting idea for a blog post. So prompted to write about it, I finally put pen to paper, so to speak, and here we are. I couldn't decide on just one, so here are several movie props I'd love to own.

   My favorite genre of movies are action and/or adventure movies. Heroes triumphing against all odds, defeating the bad guys... and doing so in style. Even as a kid, I always identified with the look of my favorite characters more than anything else. I think for other people this mindset extents into things like cosplay and such, but for me it was drawing. Nevertheless I always wished a had some of these...

   Whether it was Dirty Harry Callahan wearing them, or the horrifyingly ruthless Terminator, these shades were equal parts intimidating and cool. These Gargoyles have been on my wish list for a while now, and they aren't the only shades that have made the cut...


  I'm sure there's something to be said about sunglasses in relation to the phrase about eyes being windows to the soul, but I wouldn't know where to start with that. Movies have used sunglasses more for style than they ever did for function. How many cop thrillers have you seen where the cops show up wearing shades... at night? It was all about the look. Never more specifically realized than in The Matrix. Sunglasses were a big deal in that movie. On the poster, everyone's eyes are hidden from us by these opaque lenses. After seeing The Matrix for the first time as an impressionable young lad, I immediately realized two things: good guys wear black, and I want a pair of Neo's shades. (I actually did have a replica pair for a short time around 5th grade. I attended a school Halloween party as Neo, but everyone thought I was from the MIB. Sigh.)

   My fascination with eye coverings would quickly extend to more fantastical eyewear, like Cyclops' visor from X-Men (2000)...



- and then even further into full blown helmets. As much as the sunglasses say about the wearer, so do helmets! All through my childhood and now, I'd give the proverbial arm and a leg to own any of these.


(Top, left to right: The Rocketeer's helmet, Judge's helmet from Judge Dredd (1995). Bottom, left to right: Major West's retractable shell-like helmet (Lost in Space, 1998) and the Mobile Infantry's helmet from Starship Troopers.)

  But what's a hero without his... stuff? Even more props I'd love to have had (and still would) right here:

A standard Judge's gun from Judge Dredd (1995)
A proton pack, as seen in Ghostbusters.
Connor Macleod's katana from Highlander.

The Rocketeer's rocket pack.
Of course no silver screen hero is fit to save the day without a mode of transportation, which brings me to...


Yeah, I know it's not what springs to mind when you think of a movie prop, but it is, right? I'd love to own a DeLorean fitted with all the time machine trimmings from Back to the Future. But despite all these props, which I'd love to own, the one I want the most is one most people might not even recognize at all...


   This odd looking gizmo is actually the engine to a downed flying saucer as seen in the rather obscure 80's adventure comedy, My Science Project. This movie was a big deal to me as a kid, a favorite of my dad's which he hunted down to pass on to me- nothing was cooler than this thing. The protagonist of the movie, a grease monkey high-schooler named Harlan, unearthed it from the dusty bowels of an army junkyard to pass off as his science project, lest he flunk the class, and miss out on getting his diploma. Bummer! Anyways, in messing around with it, to see exactly what it does, he accidentally ends up generating a time/space warp which turns his high school into a wild danger zone! Roman gladiators in the hallway? Viet cong soldiers near the cafeteria? Post-apocalyptic mutants outside of English 101? Dinosaurs in the Gymnasium? Yep. 


   This crazy gizmo was a psychadellic one-way ticket to adventure. Of course there was lots of screaming and shooting, running and near-death close calls, but all I saw at that young age was a cool looking mysterious little gadget that I wanted to have in my room. It hummed, it buzzed, it glowed, and had neat electric beams inside the globe in the middle. It was so amazingly neat. If I could own a prop from any movie, and could only choose one... I would choose this cool little gizmo.


  It would be the ultimate conversation piece and sort of a tribute to a very special piece of my childhood. That's good enough for me!

Monday, August 3, 2015

A Missed Opportunity


  Given all the great films I've been watching lately, I feel almost bad that I haven't been reviewing them. As far back as a month or more there was the awesome Big Game, with Samuel L. Jackson, Ex Machina which left me surprisingly indifferent, and then I binged on some new Criterion Blu Ray purchases with the likes of Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Time Bandits, Godzilla, The Sword of Doom, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Blow Out, Brazil, and House. However, here I am, reviewing vastly inferior fare, the movie I saw just tonight- Virtuosity.

  A movie that's not even new to me, this semi-obscure, 90's, sci-fi actioner starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe is actually much more interesting to talk about. For most any of those previous movies, a review on them would be little more than a really long glowing recommendation. I don't have the attention span (surprisingly) to write a veritable thesis paper on the cinematography in Kurosawa's movies, or why Sanjuro is underrated (which come to think of it, I might actually do at some point), those movies have been talked about ad nauseum. If you haven't seen it, here's my piece: see them. Case closed. Now, onto Virtuosity. Why is this movie so much more interesting to talk about, you might ask?

  Well, there's no one line answer to that, but I can start by saying that it fails. I'll have to explain in greater detail but first lemme tell you what it's about. Virtuosity is about a virtual serial killer (Crowe) used in an experimental hi-tech training simulation that's being tested on convicts, but intended to eventually train Police officers. However, this virtual-reality killer manages his escape into the real world where he's eager to get his killing spree underway. Who better to track him down than the one ex-cop/convict (Washington) who almost beat him inside the training simulation?  Sounds cool right? It is. I can't lie, it really is. There's a massive flaw though...

  The problem with Virtuosity is everything it could have been, and isn't. The villain, Sid 6.7, is very clearly a fully functioning artificial intelligence. Yet the revelation of this is brushed aside casually. You have mind blowing technology on display in this movie. Androids can be grown out of silicon particles (?) giving them the ability to regenerate by touching and absorbing glass. Computer programs can achieve sentience and be manually matured in a short time like raising a real person into adulthood on fast forward. All of these concepts serve only to give birth to Sid 6.7, who is little more than a villain in a run of the mill killer vs. cop thriller.

  Despite all it's hi-tech trappings, Virtuosity is less concerned with science fiction and more concerned with shootouts, car chases, and a (rather cool) thumping music score to get your blood pumping. It does all of things with a commendable adequacy, but even that is several notches below the bar set by the potential it has. It is simply unconcerned with exploring those ideas and concepts to their full extent. Sadder still is the wholly interchangeable lead played with a serviceable, albeit phoned in, gusto by Denzel Washington. He does what he's supposed to do, and he does it well, but the part was written in such a way you could've plugged in any fashionable star at the time and it wouldn't have made any difference.

  Will Smith? Sure. John Travolta? Why not? Kurt Russell? Bring it on. Hell, even Keanu Reeves. Would it have made one lick of difference? Nope. I think everyone making the movie realized that nobody was going to pay much attention to the hero, when the entire movie is set up so the villain steals the show. Here is the movie's biggest strength: Russell Crowe as Sid 6.7. Steal the whole damn show he does indeed. He strides through the movie with a psychopathic cool that makes him strangely likable, oddly charismatic, and downright terrifying all at once.

  Whenever Sid 6.7 is on the screen, you don't want his scene to end. Yet inevitably, he is the bad guy and we're supposed to want him to die so we keep cutting back to Denzel's hunt for this guy, which is standard cop-thriller procedural stuff. Sparks fly when the two have to face off, and you forget for a while how much of a stock role Denzel has, and that's when the movie shines. When Sid is unleashed to be a true blue maniac, and Washington's character has to fight him- that's when the movie is just a big barrel of action packed fun- but whenever that's not happening... it's kind of standard.

  You can quickly realize why this movie isn't more popular despite Crowe's fantastic performance. All of it's good elements are just parts of this rather standard cop vs. killer action movie.  If the entire movie was devoted to following Sid around, it might have been interesting on the level of A Clockwork Orange. He often remarks that he had no choice in what he is, he exists because of what we are, as humans. Our desire for violence, whether it's as participants or spectators, he infers, is what created him. Well, he's not wrong, and it's a brilliant point- but again... one that is hardly explored. Why? Because it's time for the climax, silly! People have to fight, and bleed, and get thrown around while a digital countdown ticks away to some explosion that we all know won't happen because the good guys always win.

  That's the kind of movie this is. Just behind it's standard crowd pleasing formula is a host of deeply unsettling ideas that could've elevated this movie to a whole new level if only they had the guts to tap into it. Yet this isn't that kind of movie. It wasn't designed to be thought provoking, or edgy. It was simply made to a standard good vs evil story, so that when audiences left the theater, they wouldn't feel that they had a bad time. No sir, no disappointment here. Everyone is happy when the innocent little girl is rescued, the good guy dramatically saves the day, the the thumping score resumes over the end credits to remind you what a thrill ride the movie was.

  So, as it goes, my recommendation is as followed... Come for Sid 6.7, stay for Sid 6.7. The standard good guy triumphing over bad guy plot is just the harmless and serviceable vehicle for a little matinee mayhem. This is movie that won't offend, or provoke thoughts, but it knows how to entertain. Even if it is on a lowest common denominator level, at least it's full of good actors, acting well. The shots look slick, and the action hits fast and hard, there's plenty of memorable shoot-em-up scenes, namely the fantastic opening among subsequent set pieces. You really won't have a bad time with this movie, but if you're not an uber fan of obscurely weird 90's sci-fi action flicks (i.e. Johnny Mnemonic) you might find it a tad forgettable. That... to me is the real shame. It's not everyday we get villains like Sid 6.7.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Valiant Effort, Little Else


  I'm sure the makers of "Frank Herbert's Dune" had every intention of 'doing it right', but where exactly does 'right' fall? Is it in the letter of the page, or the imagery of the story? Is it in the tone of book itself, or is it in the major themes of the text? Perhaps, it's just in the characters? Well, according to "Frank Herbert's Dune", it's solely in the letter of the page. Having just finished reading the book, I was eager to revisit this mini series now that I'm older and the last time I saw it, I was about 13 or so. I can't say my opinion of it has changed in any fundamental way, but at least it's a better informed opinion.

  It's much better to judge this adaptation against the book than it is to judge it against the 1984 movie, because both are very flawed. In the end it boils down to what you want from your adaptation. It's as simple as that. For those looking for a more faithful version to the words on the page in the book, this one is for you. The dialog, the important scenes, the plot threads, it's all there more or less. However, visually... the movie leaves much to be desired (whereas the 1984, by contrast, did not). Not that there was any lack of imagination to be had, but the movie (even though it's a mini series I still end up referring to it as a movie) is held back by it's budget, and whatever artistic intent shone through was clearly aiming for a stage play look anyhow.

  Frank Herbert's Dune is home to some of the fakest most two-dimensional looking backdrops I've ever seen. Coupled with horribly dated CGI, painfully garish sets, and glaring visual inconsistencies... it's hard to appreciate the plot and the dialog when everything looks so horribly fake. The acting doesn't help at times either. Sometimes, the actors emote so flat, they blend into the visibly-wrinkled backdrops, causing me to actively struggle to pay attention. One can only harp on the budget and the visuals so much, but trust me, they're bad. It's frustrating though, because in some moments, albeit ones far and few inbetween, you can see glimpses of visual greatness.

  Despite the limited computer capabilities granted them by the small (considering) budget, there were a few shots that were stunning. A view of the Harkonnen castle on Geidi Prime springs to mind. It was unique, and fascinating... and only a five second shot. Again, the visual limitations of this movie are it's fatal undoing. After all, what's the point of making a live action adaptation in the first place? It's to bring these characters to life! But not just characters, the settings and the trappings of the world the characters inhabit are just as important. A proper adaptation marries the visuals you've been fostering in your imagination, and gives you those sights- in the flesh. So to speak.

  The guild Heighliners, the ornithopters, lasguns, Sardaukar, stillsuits, sietches, sandworms- all of these things are reduced to visual cliche in this mini-series, and if not cliche- then extreme goofiness. The Sardaukar come to mine. (Those fucking hats!) The stillsuits are bland, green jumpsuits with random patches of lines and hoses on a few areas of it. They look like desert-pajamas. A far cry from the well engineered Fremen marvel I imagined when reading the book. Of course, this might not bother some people. More power to them. If visuals aren't a priority when translating a written property to a visual medium, then your priorities are backwards. Consciously or not, I think David Lynch (director of the 1984 movie) knew this.

  Anyways, the casting here is... okay. The actors behind the Lady Jessica, Gurney Halleck, Duncan Idaho, and Stilgar have grown on me. Alia was cast perfectly, her limited screen time was a joy- every second of it. Loved it. Really, we all know the crux of the casting is Paul. If you don't cast the hero right, the story can't function as well as it should. This is my other major problem with the movie, Alec Newman is not Paul Atreides. He seems more fit to play Feyd Rautha! As young Paul they opt for a petulant attitude instead of a calculated reserve. As older Paul, despite commanding a hell of an onscreen presence at times... he doesn't carry himself right. Maybe I'm just picking nits, but even so, his acting is uneven as hell until the last part of the mini-series.

  He does his best to own the role by the time the climax rolls around, and I got to admire him for how much effort he put into it. Nevertheless, that's a fitting statement for the movie as a whole. I admire them for how much effort they put into it, and at times you can see it paying off. Some scenes are extremely engrossing, some moments of acting are simply fantastic, and despite their limited capacity for computer and practical effects- they are occasionally used perfectly, bringing a scene together in it's own unique way. Unfortunately, these are still only bits and parts, here and there- never finding consistency to elevate the whole of the movie above mediocrity. Regardless, this is the story of Dune. It might sacrifice a lot of the tone and the visuals in the process, but it's still the story from the book- as much as it can be at least.

  For better or worse, that's all it is. The 1984 movie has a better cast in my opinion, and better visuals. It might have a truncated story, but if you've read the book- what does it matter? Both films are nothing more than companion pieces to the book. Both with their own merits and demerits. That's as kind as I can get to this movie. It deserves a look if you're a fan of the book, but casual audiences can stay away. It's long, slow moving, and so complex it teeters on being outright complicated. But hey, that's Dune. I hear the sequel they made to this one is fantastic though, and I plan on watching that soon as well. We'll see.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Breathtaking


   As far as I know, this is the first book I've ever reviewed on here. This is mainly a movie review blog (obviously), but in whatever description I've ever written about it, I've stated movies "and stuff", freeing myself to write about, well... stuff. Specifically, stuff other than movies, and last I checked, books fit that description. I don't fancy myself a book critic, but definitely a reader. Anyhow, this book has had such an effect on me that I couldn't help but share.

  I'm not an overly analytical person when it comes to books. I take things at face value. I don't read into subtext, allegory is woefully lost on me as well. I can grasp larger themes and inspirations only if I really try to, so understand that I was engaging Dune on the most basic of terms. It was touted as a sci-fi adventure and I was going into it expecting just that. Mind you, I'd already been long familiar with the characters and the basic story thanks largely to the 1984 movie, and subsequently the Sci-fi channel mini-series from 2000. I knew about Paul, Arrakis, the Harkonnens, the weirding way and all of it. I always knew there was so much more to know though.

  The 1984 movie captured my imagination at a very young age. At no older than 13 I was immersed in this strange universe featuring the most far-out and weirdest science fiction concepts I'd ever been exposed to at that point. Sci-fi to me, at 13, was Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Terminator. I was not prepared for the world that Frank Herbert had created, but I knew I wanted more. The book was surprisingly hard to find for me where I was living at the time, and I had heard about how daunting of a read it was, what with it's 100 page glossary in the back, just defining words and such so the reader won't get confused. Holy hell. Even after finally landing a copy, I put off reading it almost indefinitely and stuck to the movie-.

  Fast forward many many years later and I'm after finishing reading the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, I needed something else to dig into. Of course, I went on to read the last three books of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series first, but THEN, I dusted off my little paperback copy of Dune... and dug in. Color me surprised to find out how accessible the book is. Right away Herbert pulls us into this vividly realized world, involves us with these wonderfully written characters, and starts engrossing us in razor sharp politics, deception, and palace intrigue. This is all just the first act of the book, it's not long before the protagonists are cast into mortal danger, setting a tone and pace for the rest of the story.

  Dune also is so much more than just an action packed read though, somehow Herbert manages to make something as simple as a mere conversation between two people as tense and thrilling as the sprawling battle scenes that highlight the book. The political maneuvering of great royal houses, complete with espionage, lies, deceit, betrayal and murder, are all just as engaging and exciting in Dune, as is it's swashbuckling adventure elements. But even under all of that, there's a real heart to the story. The characters aren't flat stereotypes, not that I expected them to be, but they're far more complex and emotional beasts than I would've imagined.

  Herbert pays as much attention to the individual growth and development of his characters as he does to the numerous plot lines he unravels throughout the story. This is no news to anyone really, the book was published in 1965, and generations of people have read and loved it before I have. It's been adapted into movies, board games, comic books, video games, card games, and more stuff I've no doubt. All of those things invariably lead back to the original book. It has endured time, and the word of mouth about it is as strong now as it was then. It's a timely and relevant book, possibly even more now than it was in the 60's. If there's any generation which should pay close mind to the eco-political themes in Dune, it's this one.

  The book generates an awareness of politics, religion, government, and ecology all within the context of science fiction adventure, and manages to be an enthralling read- never dull. As Wikipedia succinctly puts it, "Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose noble family accepts the stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis. As this planet is the only source of the "spice" melange, the most important and valuable substance in the universe, control of Arrakis is a coveted — and dangerous — undertaking." Indeed.

  Furthermore, the imagery that Herbert commands in the pages of this book is beyond immense. It's nothing short of masterful. There are settings, creatures, and scenes in Dune could only be limited by the attempt to adapt them to another form of media. The sandworms will never look as gigantic, monstrous or majestic on screen as they do in my imagination. Despite my enduring love for the visuals and characters brought to life in the movie, they pale in comparison to the book. Oddly enough, I think the claims that Dune is 'un-adaptable' is nonsense. This book seems tailor made for high-adventure and intrigue on the silver screen.

  "But, why even bother if the book is so good on it's own?" you might ask, I know many do. Because... people have a desire to see things 'brought to life'. Whether it's comic books, cartoons, or books. When done right, we get something like The Lord of the Rings or Watchmen. Done wrong... well, that's the risk we run when clamoring for movie adaptations. The thing few people get is that, you'll never have a perfect adaptation. Even Watchmen which is considered one of the most faithful adaptations ever changes a few things in the translation to the silver screen. Dune will (and has) inevitably have to follow suit- but that's just it, any movie adaptation whatsoever will only ever be a companion piece because it's about the visuals.

  Which is why I bear no ill will to the 1984 movie but harbor a major grudge towards the 2000 mini-series. The whole point of bringing a book to the big screen is to see it. Granted, we all want to see everything we enjoyed from the book directly show up on the screen, but that's not gonna happen. Ever. The movies at best will give you a visual reference point, showing you what it might look like "for real". When it works out, the images on the screen marry the ones in our heads, and it's great. But so often, audiences feel betrayed when so much is lost in the translation. All I can say is, read the book. Damn. The existence of movie adaptations will never change the words on the pages in the book. Dune is still a fantastic read. It will always be a fantastic read.

  The next ten generations of David Lynchs and Alejandro Jodorowskys couldn't change that if they tried. All they could ever do, in a best case scenario, is create something that compliments the book.
If one of their efforts turns out to be popular, guess what it brings back into the spotlight? The book. The Watchmen movie led me to the graphic novel, and the 1984 Dune movie led me to this wonderful book. What fan could possibly object to a massive public reminder like that? Especially one that will introduce a whole new generation of minds to the material, and lead them right back to the book. Isn't that also the point?

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ugh.


   I caught Jupiter Ascending the other day on VOD, and whether or not it's good or bad is kinda besides the point. It's worth dissecting. I'll get right to it- The Matrix is my favorite movie of all time. Occasionally tied with Aliens and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but the point is... I'll see anything the Wachowskis put out. I even adored Speed Racer, and I think Cloud Atlas is amazing. So, my tickets are pretty much pre-sold. Problem was, the buzz for this one was telling me it sucked. So, I waited til I could just watch it at home. It was... a smart move, to say the least.

   I can say right now, the Wachowskis have done this before. This trick, this... thing they did here, they did it before. Only, it worked the first time. Because the first time, it was a goddamn trendsetter. I am of course talking about The Matrix. That movie was a hodge podge of different things, taking a massive helping of specific ideas, plots, and visuals from animes, mangas, Hong Kong action flicks, and even American comic books. They blended all these ideas together, and stuck it to a really solid story. If you dig around a bit, you'll find it's not as wildly original as it was made out to be- except when it came to the medium of film.

  The concept and story of The Matrix had in similar ways, been done before, but not on the big screen and most definitely not with a Hollywood-sized budget like it had. Then they tried to do it again with this movie. They took from Star Wars, Dune, Flash Gordon, Masters of The Universe, Star Trek, and just about every single other Sci-Fi space opera-esque movie ever. Ever. The big problem is, that's a very specific sub-genre that is native to big budget extravaganza. Unlike the elements they used to make The Matrix, audiences everywhere are used to seeing this stuff on the big screen. Ever single element of this movie wears it's inspiration like a giant flashing name tag.

   If that wasn't bad enough, the movie is overflowing with ideas. Normally this wouldn't be a bad thing, but I mean overflowing. Bursting. Exploding with ideas. There are new concepts and ideas launched at the viewers at an alarming rate, over and over. Cloning? Reincarnation? Planetary harvesting? Galactic royalty? Hover boots? Cross-breeds? Genetically engineered... bees. Yes... bees. Then they have their own host of ideas about intergalactic politics, space travel, warfare, and more. And all of this is supposed to fit neatly into a 2 hour movie. It was a massive and complicated mess. Don't confused the word complicated with complex. Cloud Atlas was complex. As in intricate, layered, and interesting. Jupiter Ascending is none of those things. It is complicated.

   It's ideas and concepts tug the story in so many different, often pointless, directions that it's a wonder there's even a story left. The concepts hit the viewer with the grace and subtly of an infomercial. Like, HERE: GRAVITY BOOTS! THEY'RE COOL AS FUCK, AND CHANNING TATUM WILL NOW TAKE A FEW MINUTES TO EXPLAIN TO YOU HOW THEY WORK!
 "It's easier to go down than up."
THANKS FOR THAT TIDBIT TATUM!
Every single concept, idea, and snippet of technology in the movie is put on display like that, making the story grind to a halt each and every time to accommodate more stuff like this. This is not okay. As an audience, stuff like gravity boots don't need to be explained to us. We can see them. We get the concept. The stuff that should be explained however, is breezed over with nauseating speed.

  This is a movie full of brooding, angst, romance, and big CGI-fueled laser gun shootouts. I'm sure kids will love it. I'm sure in the future, there'll be a ton of people being all apologetic about this movie much in the same way I defend Masters of the Universe. (Which, when you get right down to it is even better than this. At least Masters had a better villain.) I found it staggeringly painful that the movie couldn't just simplify. They had the ingredients for a Flash Gordon adventure, but kept shooting for something with the scope of Dune. The villains were lame, the story was lame, and everything was stretched far too thin.

  The more I think about this movie, the more I think it would've been more interesting if it was reduced to a book of concept art and left at that. Yes, I think we need more space faring adventures like this, but ones better than this. I want a sequel to John Carter, I want a new Dune movie, I want excitement and wonder- but done by people who know how to generate such feelings. The Wachowskis, sad to say, made a mess with this one. It's unpleasant from top to bottom. Only Mila Kunis stands out and does her best to make it watchable. I got to give her props for that much at least. I thought she was going to be the worst part about it, and she was easily the best.

  I can't recommend Jupiter Ascending, at all. Although I will admit, most of my displeasure over the movie has cropped up in retrospect. If I can muster a single favorable thing to say is that while watching it, it has an oddly engaging quality. Like you feel the potential it has and are constantly expecting it to live up to it. In a few moments you even get caught up in it, feeling yourself on the verge of excitement and interest, but the farthest I ever got was a distinctly numb feeling. Oh well. I certainly hope they try again though, with other stuff. Because even a failure from the Wachowskis has more ambition and ideas than any other ten modern blockbusters.

  That says a lot about the current state of movies.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Talent Show


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of fuel, lots of fire


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Discussing the Trek


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Law! - Recut!


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

  Following a round of self-promotion...


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



"-great work-"

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


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

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fun 80's Horror


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Damn good television.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not for the right fans...


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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