Monday, October 20, 2014
I was thoroughly surprised I had not seen this before. Right off the bat it combines some of my favorite things of all time. The 80's, horror, science fiction, practical effects, and the R rating. Oh boy. Not only is this movie better than I thought it would be, I think it's a prime example of how amazing remakes can be. This holds up right next to John Carpenter's The Thing. In fact, they'd make a fantastic double feature. It's worth noting that this movie would not have the same impact made nowadays. The blob itself would more likely than not be made using CGI. Part of what makes this movie amazing is the practical effects. Each one looking painfully realistic in a way that CGI has yet to capture entirely. The Blob is a good movie, with a smart script and even some timely humor- but it's special effects are the real attraction here.
Of course all the special effects in the world are moot if you can't care about the characters. The characters in The Blob may be basic archetypes, but the actors playing them infuse a lot of personality and authenticity into the roles. They're residents of a Norman Rockwell-esque town where the football players date the cheerleaders, the kids sneak out to horror movies, and the town rebel is always in trouble with the sheriff. It's endearing, and I think that goes a long way towards making these characters effective. We can't help but care about them. On the same train of thought, something I think this movie does well is toy with your expectations of who's going to live or die. Surely he'll live. He's an important character. Oh. Well. Not anymore I guess. You really can't predict who's gonna buy it, when, or how. The gooey slime blob is the only common denominator. Each death scene is unique and extremely cool. I can't stress that enough.
The effects are amazingly impressive. Normally I can not only spot 80's special effects, I can tell you exactly how they were made at little more than a glance. I've seen way too many 'making of's'. Yet the effects in The Blob are just mindblowingly good. They're extremely gross and gory and it's wonderful. The blob itself is a true antagonist here. It feels like the slasher in a slasher movie, but amazingly it has far more personality and the sense of danger is much higher. Due in no small part to the movie's explanation of it's origins. Yes, it is from outer space, but the twist is... mankind put it in outer space. It's a man-made biological weapon that they've decided to unleash on this small town for a test run. Even without this plot, it would've been a scary enough movie, but the notion that our own government is behind it, is just downright terrifying. Not to mention probably more relevant than even in the current social climate reacting to things like drone strikes and privacy acts.
The story is effective and haunting in that regard. A malicious space entity is bad enough, but one that was intentionally set on innocent people by their own government? That's the true horror here. Scary as hell too. It's a warm and fuzzy concept that in times of trouble we can turn to and rely on our own government to help us, as a people, as an individual. Even though a movie like this is just a fluffy piece of sci-fi/horror matinee it's the idea that a concept like that is dangerous. Under the light of a movie like The Blob, it's shown that the government very easily views its citizens like lab rats. The idea is so scary because it's probably very true. Maybe not every facet of our government, but when they show up in unmarked vans and carrying automatic weapons... you know you're screwed. Who can you turn to for help? The answer, or the lack thereof is truly disturbing.
So despite being a fairly basic horror movie, in concept at least, it's still pretty thought provoking. There is still a hero, a damsel in distress, a bad guy, and the general theme of having to save the town, so it's not exactly high-concept stuff here, but it works on just about every level. I gotta fault them for one thing though... when the military rolls in to try and contain the blob, they're hellbent on killing it with fire and explosives. This doesn't work. At all. The protagonist discovers however that it's the cold it can't stand. It's fatal to the blob. Why did the military scientists not know this? They created the damn thing. You mean to tell me they had no idea how to stop it? One scientists points out that at the rate it's growing, it could over take the entire country in a week. The chief scientist assures him that they know what they're doing. Yeah right! Bullshit! In my opinion, that was pretty lazy writing. Especially from a script that otherwise is pretty smart.
Nevertheless, as the blob it oozes it's way under every door, and into every vent, the suspense builds and builds, and so does the body count in. It's infectious fun. There's no denying that. When all is said and done, you can't go wrong with this movie. From the pacing to the music and the casting... it's all great. I had a few nits to pick, but it's hardly worth the effort when the movie itself is so good. I'd love to own it, I can easily see it becoming a favorite. Which is saying something because I'm not easy when it comes to letting new movies onto my favorites' list. The Blob might be a serious contender for a spot though. With it's smashingly cool special effects to it's irresistibly likeable cast, it's hard not to fall in love with this gory 80's slimefest. One can only imagine what the Ghostbusters would've done, confronted with this pink slime. I don't think playing Jackie Wilson would've worked this time.
Part of the appeal of the show, in retrospect, was the cheesiness of it. It's very hard to take brightly colored guys in spandex fighting big hokey looking rubber monsters seriously. Yet... it had that trademark Japanese craziness to it and somehow it just worked. It was great. It defined many an afternoon of my childhood. Imagine my wide eyed surprise as a little brat when I finally discovered they made a Power Rangers movie. This was big leagues stuff. The rangers no longer wore the shiny spandex suits. They had armor! Hollywood crafted Lycra armor, but still. This stuff was serious business! There was a big movie with the Power Rangers, they had legitimate outfits, a new villain, new zords, and tons of new special effects! What's not to love? As a kid this movie was without flaw.
I loved every line (and probably knew them by heart too) and every silly fight scene.
Now that I'm older, obviously it holds a special place in my heart... but I realized something at some point. This was an American movie. No Japanese footage at all. This movie had nothing from the show's Japanese counterpart. Watching it now... I think part of the appeal inherent to Power Rangers is absent from this movie. It's a piece of nostalgia in it's own right, but it's not the same as watching the show. For one, the fight choreography (after they're morphed) isn't as good, and the crazy hokey aspect is gone. The movie tries to be taken as seriously as possible. Even going to far as to cutting franchise mainstays (and comic relief) Bulk and Skill down to just a minuscule handful of scenes. Not that I'm complaining about that. Those two were never above groan worthy. Yet if they had been entirely absent... I would've had to complain about it. It's not Mighty Morphin Power Rangers until Bulk and Skull make asses out of themselves.
Alas, you have to meet this movie on it's level. It is a kid's movie. For better or worse, despite all the "serious business" it's still not meant to be taken all that serious. It functions as well as can be expected without the charm of the Japanese footage. Your enjoyment of the movie will hinge on how much you like the cast of Rangers and how much you dig those Lycra armor suits. The floppy rubber monster suits are gone, the ridiculous mini-Tokyo looking cityscapes are gone, the spontaneous explosions behind the Rangers are gone, and I mean... I could go on. This movie from the ground up is American. You're either cool with that, or you're just... not. I think I am. I accept it at the very least. I don't think there's any situation in which I couldn't accept it, seeing as how it was such a gigantic part of my childhood.
It should go without saying that objectively, this movie is bad. Really bad. The story barely holds itself together, the dialog is frequently flat and ridiculous, and the fight choreography is... adequate. For a kid's movie. I'll be a nice guy and not talk about the extremely dated CGI effects. At the same time, I don't think anyone who's seen an episode of the show expected anything else from this movie. It was destined for a low score and a critical lashing. That's Power Rangers though. It's all about the exaggerated karate yells, the ridiculously high back-flips, the cheesiest one-liners, and the well worn catchphrases. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, when the Rangers are all suited up... kicking ass, and spouting silly one-liners, saving the day in all six colors... I'm in love with this movie and I'm five years old all over again. No matter how bad this movie is, the five year old kid inside me loves it, and I hope he always will.
The movie also has an amazing villain. Ivan Ooze. A villain couched in self awareness and sarcasm. He's great. Ooze transcends the trappings of a kid's movie and delivers line after line of witty dialog that it would be impossible to appreciate at such a young age. Like every single villain from the TV show, he's been locked away in a 'hyperlock chamber' for thousands of years or something. When he finally gets to confront the one who put him there, he starts angrily recounting all the things he's missed, which include The Black Plague, The Spanish Inquisition, and... the Brady Bunch reunion. I love Ivan Ooze. He's a smartly written villain fully of sly nods for the older audience. A demographic I finally fit into... wow.
All in all it's exactly what you'd expect. It's a shiny, epic, 90 minute superhero romp complete with all six colors, high-flying stunts, spin-kicks, bells, whistles, and beepy-gadgets one could hope for. I love it. It might not deserve that love, but since when does nostalgia discriminate? The moment you can no longer enjoy your childhood favorites, at least on a guilty pleasure level of nostalgia, then you've truly lost something. What's worse is that you may not even realize you've lost it. Such a shame. But you know what's not a shame? Enjoying Mighty Morphin Power Rangers The Movie. It's morphin' time!
Friday, October 17, 2014
The Beast Within is one of those movies that feels a lot older than it is, which is saying a lot seeing as how it was made over three decades ago. It feels like a black and white horror movie from the 50's or so. The way it opens, with a creepy swamp monster, shrouded in shadow, attacking a woman in the woods in the dead of night... It's terrifying and creepy. It's also reserved, the scene ends up being less about what you see and more about what you don't. A lesson horror movies forgot for a while. The movie's story is very un-fifties though. The creature doesn't just attack the woman. It knocks her out cold and rapes her. Of course, the movie's plot asks you to maintain the suspension of disbelief that she wouldn't get an abortion. It tries to make this as plausible as possible, but if you can't get over that hurdle, you won't get into the movie. Which would be a shame because this twisted piece of 80's cinema needs more fans.
The main plot picks up 17 years after that fateful night and follow's the woman's teenage son, Michael, as he's going through some very strange changes... The movie has a strange rhythm to it and at first I was unsure where it was going. Hell, at first I think it was unsure where it was going. Nevertheless, it found it's groove after a short while and went straight to work crafted a twisted supernatural revenge tale. I'm not sure I followed any of it, it gets pretty convoluted at times, but you can it follow from one scene to the next. The key elements that are necessary for a movie like this to work, really work. The suspense is raw and the scares are genuine. The atmosphere is properly haunting and unnerving and the main protagonists are very endearing. Michael's parents love him, and the family dynamic is very heartfelt. Ronny Cox, who's always a delight to see playing a good guy, is a real treat as Michael's father. I'm not familiar with the actress playing his Mother, but she does a great job too.
His parents try to avoid the fact that Michael may not be his father's son, and "might" in fact belong to that swamp monster man instead. As people start turning up dead in the town in which Michael is staying in a hospital at, his parents are forced to try and dig into the past to uncover the truth about that monstrous man-thing. Then apparently there's something about the cicada bugs...? It was almost an afterthought it seems, but both the monster man and Michael have something in common with the bug, including but not limited to shedding their skin. Which is a great icky effect, the aftermath of which is shown to us in the last act in all it's gory glory. The special effects in this movie are pretty great for it's time. I love seeing practical effects in movies because they took real craftsmanship to come to life. Someone had to design the effect with their bare hands. There's an authentic feel to this stuff that you'll never get with computer generated effects.
No matter how dated or silly some of these effects look, they're still scary because they exist within the same tangible space as the actors around them who are reacting to it. It's quite shocking and visceral. The movie saves the big special effects for the climax, but that's not to say Michael himself isn't already a scary dude. He plays the tortured teen bit quite well. He clearly loves his family, but the 'beast within' is ready to split some heads open. Which it does. The movie feels like a werewolf movie, but it's not. It's closer to a Dr.Jekyll/Mr.Hyde situation, and actor Paul Clemens, playing Michael, dives into the role with gusto. Playing both the sadistic murdering beast, and the innocent teen, he does great. Able to generate tension in a room with little more than a glare.
As the beast starts to take over, Clemens performance gets wilder and crazier and it's awesome. The film starts dropping clues that Michael is simply part of a much bigger cycle that's going to end up perpetuating itself, violently... and soon. The Beast Within excels when the movie operates on it's most basic level, having Michael, tortured as he is, hunt down his prey. Sometimes we don't see the kill, but we see the aftermath. Which... in this case is more than enough. Fret not gore hounds, the practical effects of the 80's are indeed put to good use right in front of your eyes and in plenty of standout moments too. Not the least of which is a shocking scene when Michael, in full-on beast mode aims to get at one of his last victims... who's "safely" tucked away in a prison cell.
Plenty of these movies degenerate into a very basic slasher flick formula, and you end up having to enjoy it on very basic levels, but The Beast Within makes every effort to rise above that and deliver a unique experience, if anything. It's not the be-all, end-all of 80's horror flicks, but it has the right combination of elements to put the eeriness into a midnight horror flick. Instead of watching something you've seen a hundred times this Halloween season, why not give this one a chance instead? I'm glad I did, and I'm glad I added it to my personal collection. There's always something to be said for a proper creep-out, The Beast Within succeeds with flying colors despite it's strange story and muddled plot. It makes for a weird but fun late night horror flick, I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
There's much to love and hate about Rage honestly. If it was a movie, this would be a guilty pleasure. As it is, Rage is a breezy little game with eye popping visuals, well crafted game mechanics, and a weak story. It's not just the weak story that kicks Rage in the pants though. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas both have had weak stories. They're still two of the best video games I've ever played. No, the problem here is that the whole game is riding on the story. In the Fallout games, you could explore and discover and craft your own little world in a way. There were choices, and your choices had consequences. The story in the Fallout games was hardly even the main focus. It was merely a vehicle to have you tour the massive world it had waiting for you. You knew, going along with the story, that there was even more to see- it encouraged you to go out and find new places and things. Rage does almost the opposite in every single way.
Rage isn't an expansive game, and although it's "technically" sandbox, you'd be forgiven for thinking it wasn't. There's nothing to really explore. Everything there is to see and find is explored through the main story. There isn't anything off the beaten path. It's a restrictive game when all is said and done. It teases you with a massive world to explore and discover, but you'll never find an area that isn't crucial to the ongoing story. The maps are confined and the key locations are just spaced far enough from each other in order for you to have driving sequences back and forth. You feel like your hands are tied. It's such a tease. Looting isn't really a thing in this game either. You collect stuff to sell but it's a half baked mechanic that got to me later on. Same thing for plenty of things you have to do in this game. The missions feel like menial tasks, and all in all... they are. You go someplace to get something, you kill a bunch of enemies, you return when said task is done. Repeat 50 times. Game complete.
Having said that, it doesn't mean it's not fun. Shooting in this game is really satisfying. From a company that made their fame on the quintessential shooter game, Doom, I expected nothing less from them. They've introduced some nice new shooting mechanics as well. All in all, it's exciting and thrilling to play. The sound effects are meaty and the weapon models are slick. You'll find yourself thinking of Doom 3, but clearly way more refined. I was really tempted to load up Doom 3 here and there whilst playing Rage. The fantastic locales keep you glued to Rage though. Every place you go to in the game seems to be crafted with a lot of care. These little towns are full of personality and are really interesting and fun to walk around in and interact with the people, however limited said interactions might be. Visually, these places pop. From the dusty and rusty post apocalyptic stylings of Wellspring, to the subterranean cyberpunk neon flair of Subway Town. All these locations are fun to visit. Even though in the end there's not all that much to do there.
The racing is fun if it's something you want to do. However, all too often do you find yourself having to race to buy necessary upgrades for your vehicle. It ends up being stressful. You've thousands of dollars to spend, but you can't buy vehicle parts with money, you need racing certificates. It ends up being a quick and easy way to shoehorn another painfully basic game feature in there. Racing. I raced only when I had to because it wasn't particularly fun or unique. It wasn't awful, and it felt like less of a chore because it was fairly easy... but I beat the game without trying a fraction of the races available. If there were lots of side missions, I probably didn't finish them either. The game shuttles you along from one point to the next with some odd interactivity. Sometimes I didn't know if I had actually completed a mission or not. It was largely frustrating.
No more frustrating than the lack of stuff to do, so I can't level it as a serious complaint since checking my missions list from the select button quickly resolved that.
The visuals of Rage tend to be absolutely fantastic, though sometimes only in theory. You can see the big sprawling post apocalyptic landscapes, and it's really impressive. Even after playing the Fallout games. They've done a lot to pack a lot of visually interesting things into this game. Never is it dull looking at Rage. It's always full of fascinating things. Frustratingly though, the game has serious issues with loading textures. The impressive scenery will often be marred by textures that take their sweet time to load. By the time they do, you're probably 500 bullets into a big four way vehicular deathmatch with some ill-fated bandits. The spotty reliability of the textures actually loading in the bigger environments really take you out of the game. Which sucks, because when it looks pretty, it looks really damn pretty.
Thankfully the towns are so full of personality and brimming with fantastic detail and visual nuance, you tend to overlook the texture issues.On the flip side, all the neat stuff to look at in the town is just that- stuff you can only look at. In stark contrast to the Fallout games, walking through the towns in Rage is often like walking through a museum where the exhibits can recite prerecorded lines in your general direction. Regardless of all this, when you're in the throes of blasting away mutants and tossing wingsticks (like triple bladed boomerangs) at bandits the game is not only fun, it's ridiculously fun and addicting. I found thoroughly enjoying the game when it was like this. I couldn't get enough of the gloriously gory shootouts that take place in the craziest looking places. It's a much more atmospheric game than those of it's immediate ilk. It's playing the straight man to games like Borderlands, being somewhat of a mid-point between the ideas of Fallout, Gears of War and the simplicity of Borderlands. Yet it manages to be sub par in most ways to all of those games.
At it's best, it's a great freakin' shoot 'em up. At it's worse, it's a lackluster story that's barely worth mentioning or critiquing because it can't be bothered to be immersive enough or emotional enough to make you care. It manages to unimaginatively rip off everything it has from the Mad Max franchise to The Terminator and beyond. Yet at the same time, the characters you interact with are so much fun. Even if they're all derivative. There's hardly an original idea anywhere in Rage, and the recycled ones only work half of the time. YET that's 50/50. That's not bad. I've seen extremely well polished games that can't elicit a single critical thought from me at all and end up being a waste of time honestly. Namely, anything with the words "Call" and "Duty" in the title. So in that light, Rage was not only worth playing, it might be worth replaying- but I wouldn't hold my breath on the latter.
The biggest complaint I can level at Rage is that it was too friggin simple. It was simple, short, and easy. It didn't involve me in any significant way, and I was left wanting a lot more. It would've been better as a level by level shooter, and not as a half baked sandbox game. Having said all that, the game tries to be something amazing. You can see it too. In it's best moments, you get completely lost in the game and it's wonderful. There are enough glimpses of greatness that I can recommend playing it. Don't expect anything fancy, and you should have fun. For it's current four dollar price tag at GameStop, it's hardly a waste of money. I've bought superfluous DLC packs that cost me more money and gave me less content for worse games than this. Rage is short and simple, but it can be really sweet and fun if you let it. If you never play it, you won't be missing all that much, but it's a nice companion piece to games like Bulletstorm and Borderlands. Regardless of your opinions on this game, or those, at least we can all agree Duke Nukem: Forever sucked balls.
Admittedly, I'm a late bloomer when it comes to horror movies. Most of my friends were into horror movies at a very young age, but not me. I was a kid out of time. Growing up in the 90's, but fed a steady diet of 80's sci-fi/adventure. I grew up on Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and the like. So it's only been the past few years I've been digging into horror. Nonetheless, it looks like I've been making up for lost time seeing as how I only saw the first Poltergeist just last year. What better time to catch up on some horror sequels than October? Falling right in line with one of my favorite hobbies, VHS collecting, I happened upon some swank old big boxes of Poltergeist and Poltergeist II at a local Salvation Army. I was beyond ecstatic, because as you all well know, I was extremely fond of the first movie. It was time to settle back in with the Freeling family.
Given that both director Tobe Hooper and producer Steven Spielberg were absent in every way from this sequel, it gave me pause. Rarely is this ever a good sign. Yet, just about the entire cast returned. Certainly everyone that mattered. I was excited, but cautious. I really loved the first one, and I knew there was more than a good chance this one would suck... but I was going to go ahead anyways. Well, I wasn't disappointed in the least. Poltergeist II was a surprising little treat that serves as a nice followup to the first movie. Like I mentioned, everyone's back! Nobody got recast or replaced. It helped to preserve that tight-knit feeling. Had the family been broken up, it wouldn't have worked.
The first movie took it's time becoming horror. It evolved into something scary, despite it's ominous feeling from the get-go. There were moments of sheer spectacle that were nothing short of awesome, in the most literal and faithful sense. The family dealt with what came their way and it was epic. In Poltergeist II, there's no real build up like that. Not that I expected it of course, we already know what we're in for. And if we're lucky and the filmmakers delivered on the basic promise of a sequel, we get more of the same. To a certain extent, that's exactly what sequels are all about. In that case, this sequel delivered. They didn't try to duplicate the scares of the first movie, or the pacing, or even the innocent suburban vibe. They cut straight to the chase, more or less.
The movie has it's own rhythm, but from the beginning scary and mystical things are happening. We're introduced to a couple new characters, one the chief antagonist, and the other a protector/guide of sorts for the Freelings. The spirits they picked up back in Cuesta Verde had no intentions of leaving them alone after they moved apparently. Given that Carol Anne can communicate with "the other side", they found a connection to life again. No way they were about to give up so easily. That's 'basically' the notion behind this one. It's not bad either, I dig it. The inclusion of a direct protagonist was a neat move as well. An evil spirit incarnate, stage actor Julian Beck breathes 'life' into the creepy and unsettling character, giving a face to the horrors the Freelings must face this time around.
All the actors are fantastic, the new additions and the returning cast alike. Craig T. Nelson is still irresistibly fun to watch in his wide eyed portrayal as the dad, Steven Freeling. He has a very middle-class sensibility about him. Clearly, he'll do whatever necessary to save his family, but at the same time he has this look cemented on his face that simply screams: "I can't believe a damn thing I'm seeing." He's fun, because he's relatable. That's exactly how anybody would react. He nails that look and the whole attitude. He's a regular dad with a nice family that just so happens to be plagued by evil spirits. Of course, he does what he has to do to keep his family alive, but as the movie elaborates, it's his 'destiny'. So to speak. More than anything, Nelson is a definite highlight of both movies.
Enough can't be said about the wonderful Heather O'Rourke, who was taken from us much too soon. She's absolutely fantastic as Carol Anne. A perfect blend of childlike intuition and innocence. She's able to keep up with all the other actors in the film, and even stealing the scene as often as possible. Make no mistake though, it's very much an ensemble movie. It wouldn't be complete with the whole family as a unit. Which is part of why I suspect Poltergeist III wasn't as well received, I've not seen it yet, but I know that Carol Anne is the only returning cast member. The chemistry between these actors are fantastic. Any 'franchise' they had planned was doomed the moment they split that up. Any movie can give you evil spirits and special effects. Poltergeist was special. It was a whole family under siege. It was that relatable dynamic which made the movie so much more intense.
That same dynamic returns for Poltergeist II, along with some stunning special effects, and plenty of scares. The movie, like the first, isn't just horror. It's a blend of horror and adventure. There's a good guy, a bad guy, and the battlefield just happens to be burial grounds and creepy old houses. There's much fun to be had between the first two movies. The sequel plays out like a serviceable 'part 2', it's not as big or as grand as the first, and it's even a little shorter, but it's still a lot of fun. There's hardly any drawbacks to returning to visit the Freeling family as they're thrust into chaos once again. The movie isn't as polished as it's predecessor, but the filmmakers preserved the feel of it, so they get the brownie points for a job well done.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Woah. Zack Parker's Proxy is one to watch out for. In both meanings. Keep an eye out for it, and be wary of it just as much. It's not an easy movie to watch. It goes into sacred territory, thematically, and starts screwing around. It's not quite like any other movie I've ever seen. It's confident in the way it casts aside conventional storytelling structure to deliver a wholly mind boggling movie. You could follow every subtle cue, pay attention to every single twist and plot turn, but it wouldn't matter because Proxy doesn't care. It's biggest shocking moments are things that have stepped entirely outside of the plot. It's impossible to see these moments coming. Each one drastically changes the landscape of the story, tossing all your predictions and expectations to the wind.
The movie suffers from it just as much as it benefits. Having these drastic shocking things happen almost out of the blue can either frustrate an audience, or intrigue it. If you're looking for atmosphere, character, suspense, and pure shock value- this is the movie for you. If you're looking for a coherent story and conventional scares... look elsewhere. Proxy gets under your skin by letting you think you know how things are. It lets you think you know what's going on. But there's a nagging feeling you haven't seen all the cards, and no matter how many more end up being revealed... Proxy is still hiding more from you. It does get to a point where the twists stop making any sort of conventional sense. But not because they're random, because there's probably yet another piece to the puzzle we're missing.
Considering how the movie is, it's not hard to wonder if you'll ever see the whole picture. I can't say either way, but I was strangely satisfied with the conclusion. Something you really shouldn't expect from this movie, is horror. It's a very disturbing movie for sure, but it's a very slow and methodical film at the same time. It lulls you into a false sense of security before things go very very wrong. It's hard to discuss this movie at all without giving away some of the things that make it great. So I'll try to refrain from over-reviewing it, and stick to the facts of the matter. Is it a good movie? I wish I had a definitive answer. It feels experimental in nature, but not to any avant garde extreme. It's engaging and endlessly engrossing, but it violates so many basic rules of storytelling that I can't in good conscious say it's precisely good either.
Is it worth watching? I do wholeheartedly believe so. It's really unconventional and interesting in very unexpected ways. The lead characters are incredibly well acted. They bring the movie to life with gusto, proving to be willing pawns on a blood stained chessboard. The movie is lurid and depressing at best, but it's in this depression that it also manages to be inspired. It's a movie about loss, pain, recovery, insanity, forbidden love, and violence. It's as much about what's said as it is about what's not said. Which in this movie, is incredibly important. The cast is fantastic, even if a few members are shortchanged of any significant screentime, I felt they got their due throughout.
I feel that there was a bigger goal with Proxy, that maybe it was originally going to be something else. There's enough crazy and madness here for a few different movies. Yet Parker has wove them all together with a deft hand, crafting a surreal and shocking tale that I won't soon forget. See it. You may or may not regret it, but I warn you... it is violent. Brace yourself. It's crazy, emotional, dark, slow, sad, and bloody. I've never been so engrossed in such a languid and sordid affair like this before. I normally try to hold myself to a six paragraph minimum when reviewing a movie, but there's simply nothing else I can address without spoiling this movie I'm already recommending to you.
Monday, October 13, 2014
You'll know right off the bat if this drug trip is for you or not. You either dig this cheese fest, or not. I think I'm in the former category. I dig it. Make no mistake though, it truly is a guilty pleasure. I seriously don't think this movie is a good one, and sparingly can it wholeheartedly be described as fun. In a gargantuan and confusing effort to both cash in on and distance itself from the popularity and aesthetic of Star Wars, it's relentlessly silly, and overwhelmingly colorful. Yet, neither of those are necessarily flaws of the movie. The flaw is that it's scope is rather narrow and the movie drags around the middle act. We're introduced to a whole new universe... and all we ever REALLY get to see of it, is a bunch of flashy throne rooms. I'd safely say 90% of the movie takes place in the villain's... space castle thingy. His fortress, if you will.
For a movie that teases us with a massive scale, you end up feeling claustrophobic, waiting for something to happen. The hero uses his football knowledge to overwhelm the enemy's guards in what has got to be the silliest "action" scene ever. It's groan worthy. Also, I get the campy vibe, but campy and slapstick rarely goes hand in hand. The 1960's Batman show was campy, but it was hilarious because all the characters were gravely serious 100% of the time. Flash and his comrades seem to coast through the movie on basic default expressions, only someone forgot to tell Flash that his 'intense face' really just makes him look confused and aloof. The love interest, Dale Arden has the persistently worried thing down, but the only characters who are total fun to watch are Ming (The Merciless) and Dr.Zarkov. Both are in full scenery chewing mode, and both are total scene stealers.
It'd be fun to see Ming and Skeletor (Masters of the Universe) as opposing lawyers in some strange far out courtroom. Both of them have this intense melodrama in every single line they deliver. Langella's Skeletor wins out for me though, as does Masters' as a whole, but that's not to say Flash Gordon isn't enjoyable in it's own psychedelic way. This movie is infectiously entertaining. You almost can't believe you're enjoying it. I know I couldn't. It feels too long, odd, and melodramatic in the worst way... but when the theme music starts up... I have to resist the urge to cheer. Flash! Ah-ah! He'll save every one of us! You believe that shit when you hear it. The music is Flash. Luckily for the movie, this theme song is one of the most heroic, exciting, and catchy themes ever. Queen knows their stuff.
By the halfway mark, if you're still watching, odds are you'll have a big dumb grin on your face as Flash rallies newfound comrades to overthrow the cartoonishly evil emperor Ming. At that point, you're all in. It's ridiculous, redundant, and melodramatic as all can be, but... there's something catchy here. It's the stuff cult classics are made of and this movie earns its place as one. With flying colors. Literally... When all is said and done, Flash could only rank as a guilty pleasure for me. I'm never sure it's time well spent when it's over, but... something about it sticks with you. Once every few years I'll watch it, which satisfies that specific urge. Beyond that, it's not something I could ever be a wholehearted fan of. As much as it pulls me in, there's just as much that puts me off.
I don't like the actors playing Flash and Dale Arden. They have like... NO chemistry. Their romantic banter is so flat that it's painful to watch, not even hilariously flat, just... flat. I can't stand it when they share the screen together. That is until they've already been through hell. In the end, Flash Gordon is little more than the sum of it's parts. It's full of lasers, lava lamp landscapes, shiny gold things, catchy catchphrases, and the best theme music this side of anything by John Williams. Flash starts out as an oaf, Dale starts out as a twit, and when the movie ends... Flash is now a heroic oaf, and Dale is a swooning twit. I mean, I want to be more generous. I want to say it all comes together and works wonderfully. But I'd be lying to myself most of all if I said all that. This movie is odd as hell and never quite sits right with me, but that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable in all it's ridiculousness.
I'll probably even buy it someday, because there's no denying it holds some retro-swashbuckling appeal to me in the same vein as Masters of the Universe and Star Wars. I look forward to the next time I watch it. ...So long as it's a few years away.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Most indie horror films suffer from either really bad acting, bad special effects, or a dumb story. I'll at least say it's rarely all three, but it's not beyond the worst of them. So I went into The Pact with low expectations and riding on nothing but a single positive review. Which was a good move because the movie turned out to be really solid. Starring Caity Lotz (The Machine) and Casper Van Dien (Starship Troopers), The Pact managed to really get under my skin. It's not a horror movie in the traditional jump scare sense, instead it builds this feeling of dread and mystery until it's almost unbearable. If this movie does anything exceptionally well, it's that.
It's a simple movie, and it's all the stronger for it. It puts the main character through hell, and gives us more than enough reasons to root for her. It's a murder mystery, and a haunted house story, and quite a story at that. I don't wanna give anything away, but The Pact is no slouch when it comes to scares and suspense. Few movies put me on the edge of my seat so successfully, I'm pleased to report that The Pact delivers. Unfortunately, the plot meanders at some parts and being under an hour and a half as is, that's sort of inexcusable. This should've been tight as a drum, yet there's definitely some ho-hum parts. Even worse, there's some parts that just don't gel. These don't stick out so badly as to detract from the experience... but they are there nonetheless.
Furthermore, Van Dien is a total waste. Don't get me wrong, the guy is one of my favorite cardboard cutouts. He's great when the role suits him. He'll never find a more tailor suited role than that of the square jawed, All-American, Johnny Rico. More recently he found his groove again, playing Johnny Cage in the second season of Mortal Kombat Legacy. A role that fit him like a glove and brought a smile to my face. However, he's wasted here. He plays a detective who has like... one scene with Lotz, and has a sob story to tell, then he wanders around and is ultimately written out of the movie rather suddenly. It's jarring. You wonder why Van Dien was even picked. The role could've gone to a total nobody and it wouldn't have made a difference. Van Dien isn't even on-screen long enough to be liked or disliked, so when his character is written off... we don't care. We wonder what the point was.
Obviously, he's just a plot device. But despite his cardboard acting, Casper can be much more than that. Not unlike Channing Tatum, Casper's talent lies in snarky, humorous, self-aware, tough guy roles. A parody of himself almost. Here the role is so underwritten that he's merely a placeholder. It's a glorified cameo that I doubt anyone could get excited about. Not that it matters much anyways. Just like in The Machine (another movie you should really watch) Caity Lotz steals every single scene she's in. She's equal parts tough and vulnerable. A delicate balance that is really hard to pull off. Most tough girl roles are devoid of vulnerability, and they cross into this arena of machismo and silliness. Not unlike the brand of typecasting that's befallen Michelle Rodriguez, not that she seems to mind...
Lotz avoids this though and gives us a protagonist who muscles through her fear and overcomes it, not only to save her life, but others. That's why she was so captivating to watch. She was terrified. We feel it. Yet she pushes on, into the shadows, back into the house, back into danger. Despite being afraid. That's some strong stuff. She's a fantastic protagonist that feels like a throwback to the heroines that would face off against the movie monsters of yesteryear. Heather Langenkamp, Sigourney Weaver, and Jamie Lee Curtis to name a few. It's commendable performance. She manages to pull off a lot, with very little. The same compliment can be leveled at the movie as a whole.
It's not groundbreaking cinema. It's probably not going to make any top ten lists. Yet it does what it does exceptionally well. It manages to thrill and scare and keep us in suspense without showing all it's cards by the second act. It intrigued me. I couldn't predict the end of the movie, something which I've found painfully easy to do in the horror genre lately. It's a simple formula that is distilled into a very pure form. The story isn't a masterwork of twists and turns, but it's a chilling little mystery that kept me on my toes and got under my skin. It makes good use of computer effects, to the point where we almost don't notice them being used. We have to wonder what kind of effects are being used, if any at all... "Could that be a practical effect?" I honestly wasn't sure. At best, some wire removal. But whoever was orchestrating all of the effects did a superb job. They serviced the movie and didn't jump out as effect shots. It wasn't flashy, but it was damn sure effective.
Just like the movie.
The Pact wasn't flashy, but it was damn sure effective.
It gets a recommendation from me- with a grain of salt. (Over some popcorn, of course.)
Saturday, October 4, 2014
I'd heard mixed reviews about You're Next, so I went in halfheartedly. Those five glowing red stars on the Netflix description kept taunting me. "We think you'll love this." Not that I like to listen to programs and apps telling me what they think I'll like (especially not one that suggests The Thief and the Cobbler based on my interest in Beverly Hills Cop. Go figure.) but it was enough to get me to sit down and watch this one. I can't say I was disappointed, but I was making a mental checklist of things to point out in my review. And for most of the movie, those were all positive mental notes. Good stuff. But things went sideways towards the end. It's fun to watch horror movies, but somehow it's even more fun picking them apart. I can imagine half of the fun of You're Next is imagining what would've made it even better. Afterall, it's that sort of mental process that allows writers and artists to improve upon what they've seen and read, and produce something even better. You could even say that movies like this inspire better movies in the same vein. Especially seeing as how You're Next was so damn promising.
It's a home invasion flick first off. That's a touchy sub genre for me because there's two movies that set the bar impossibly high for me, The Strangers and Funny Games. Both truly frightening and chilling. Movies like The Purge, just ended up pissing me off and leaving me annoyed. So You're Next had it's work cut out for it. Despite the cold open, which was properly creepy, the movie was slow getting started. Which was somewhat of an issue because we don't end up giving a shit about any of these characters. At least not right away. That's the trick though isn't it? Making us care before you start killing off characters. Because if you don't care, there's no emotional impact and then the movie ends up being nothing more than a slaughter reel. Which there is totally a time and place for, but it's not in a movie that spends so much time introducing you to the victims-to-be. Alas... it's something of a family reunion in a big fancy isolated house up in a wooded area somewhere, but the festivities are cut short when a cadre of killers start picking off the family one member at a time.
The heroine edges out fairly quick with no real set up. She just happens to be really good at survival stuff. I think there was a small throwaway line about her dad being a survival nut? Doesn't matter. Her kick ass attitude and drive to stay alive made her likeable, everyone else? Not so much. This was not a likeable family. They bickered a lot, and when the killing started... they bickered even more. These aren't really people who you'd want to see survive. At least not beyond their basic function as innocent victims vs. the mysterious murderers. Had they truly banded together to survive, and ended up putting aside their crap issues in the process, this movie would've been a bajillion times better. You would've cared about these people! We would've been emotionally invested! Which is never a bad thing. But as is, you clearly can see that the lead heroine is "probably" going to outlive everyone else.
Trying desperately to avoid spoilers here. Anyways, my huge issue with the movie is when they start revealing things. The reason behind these home invaders killing off this family? Such a lame and cliche reason. I called it right away. The moment said "Why are they targeting our family?" I called it. Out loud. Turns out I was right. Which was so disappointing. There's something to be said for ambiguity in a horror movie. We don't need to know everything. Sometimes not knowing is scarier. The Strangers is a perfect example of this. That movie gave you no real answers to why the bad guys were terrorizing this innocent couple. It was just an exercise in sheer dread and tension. It worked so damn well too. They put a motive behind the killing in You're Next, and that took the wind out of it's sails. Suddenly, it didn't seem as scary anymore.
Which isn't saying all that much about this movie because when it's scary... it's really freaking scary. It doesn't rely on jump scares. It's wise like that. It has a few, but it doesn't make them it's bread and butter. There's a tense methodical pacing to the killings in the movie. It's frightening and unnerving. The movie also gets really creative with the deaths which is always fun. Tons of traps and the like. Not to mention the visuals of the killers with their innocent looking animal masks is downright creepy. Kudos to the filmmakers for establishing the two strong basics. A likeable heroine and creepy villains. For the most part, those two basics are used to great effect. I enjoyed myself throughout the movie and even after a few shitty twists towards the end, I was with the movie all the way.
I think there's easily more to talk about in the "what they should've done" category than anything else. You're Next is serviceable, and a good go-to example on how to craft some decent scares... but it's little else. It's far from the "savvy" and "savage" film it was touted to be. Having said that, it's still a good movie and if you got 90 minutes to burn, there's no reason why you couldn't do so watching this movie. I can't wholeheartedly recommend it, but I can't urge you to stay away either. Earlier this year, I bashed The Purge for being so mediocre and falling into that shitty purgatory area where I can't really hate it and I can't like it either. Despite my apparent indifference, You're Next is not like that. What it does well, it does really really damn well. I just have serious personal gripes with the story, and everyone should take issue with the poorly written characters. That shit is just annoying.
On the whole, You're Next isn't bad. I'd even go so far to say it's good. But it's better if you know what you're getting into before you watch it. I had fun, even if that fun was hampered eventually. Still, an admirable effort from director Adam Wingard who is probably most notable for his horror anthology movie, V/H/S and it's even better sequel. (Two movies which I really liked, a lot.) Anyway, I wish I had a more definitive opinion about You're Next. It's good... but not great. That's about the long and short of it.
Reviewing favorites and guilty pleasures is all well and dandy, but this is the kind of movie that my blog exists to promote: a damn good movie that nobody seems to be talking about. The Machine is a sterling example. I'm a party to a group of fellow cinephiles that enjoy movies as much as I (which is far more frequent that my posting lately would seem to suggest) and this movie hasn't come up in discussion with any of them. It seems to have flown right under the radar, and straight onto Netflix. Which is both a blessing and a curse. Netflix is about as popular now as cable TV was in the 90's. Yet, not every movie on cable TV was worth watching. Same goes for Netflix. I can imagine this foreign Sci-Fi gem gets lost among the busy thumbnail shuffle on the ever-popular streaming site, and that... is a shame.
The Machine is about a scientist trying to create a functioning artificial intelligence, the catch is however, that he's using military funding which will obviously create some serious tension when he inevitably succeeds. Simple enough premise, yeah? It's layered with a wealth of sub-plots that help to flesh out this semi-futuristic world. Stuff about a war with China, the scientist's ailing daughter, and even a new evolved race of cyborgs. However outrageous this all sounds, the movie handles it all extremely well. One could even say it's pretty understated. It's not an action movie, or a horror movie, despite having elements of both in it. In the case of The Machine, this is a movie that is pure science fiction. Which is SO refreshing in a day and age where Transformers has three sequels.
It's hard to ignore the Terminator influences on the movie. This whole thing seems like something that Arnie would show up in a time bubble to try and stop. This is a precursor to Judgment Day, folks. I kept waiting for a Cyberdyne name drop. Or maybe a Skynet tease. Of course, both things were entirely out of the question, and I doubt the filmmakers were trying to allude to that franchise at all, but it's really saying something when this is a better "Terminator" movie than the last two Terminator sequels. The movie tackles the most obvious theme of all in a story like this, at what point is a thinking machine... more than a machine? The movie gives us a machine we can care about right next to Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation and the T-800 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. (Both characters frequently came to mind when watching the movie, which is not a bad thing at all...)
This of course is due in no small part to the fantastic performance given by Caity Lotz as the machine itself. (herself?) Some of the imagery in having a female android/cyborg/robot being in any movie is inextricably linked to the rather high profile 2003 Terminator threequel, Rise of the Machines. In that movie, Kristanna Loken played the T-X, a deadly cyborg intent on killing franchise lynchpin, John Connor. Caity Lotz instantly makes Loken's T-X an outdated hunk of junk. Beyond her Data-eque turn as a childlike android, Lotz is given scenes where she has to be a stone cold badass military killing machine. She sells these scenes with such a stunning physicality. But it works that much better because we know she's so much more than this violence, we actually want something better for the character. Of course this is somewhat of an unfair comparison because Lotz's character calls for an incredibly emotive performance, while Loken was able to coast by on a stern glare and a power walk for 90 minutes.
Lotz steals every single scene she's in, providing us with a glimpse into what an Arnold-less Terminator outing could have been. She's a commanding onscreen presence whether she's kicking ass, or tugging at our heartstrings. It's fortunate Lotz has so much screen time though because I do feel like her costars were a bit stiff. The scientist, played by Toby Stephens isn't given a whole lot to work with, but as he is actually the foremost main character, he left something to be desired. Don't get me wrong, he was likeable enough to where his relationship with the machine was a joy to watch unfold and evolve... but in retrospect, you can barely recall anything but his dour demeanor throughout most of the movie. In that light, it's easy to see how Lotz could've stole the show away from just about anyone.
The scientist is a generic role though. Which is sad, but it just seemed to be underwritten. It could've gone to Ewan McGregor, Robert Downey Jr., Keanu Reeves, Denzel Washington, or hell, even Bruce Campbell and it probably wouldn't have made a difference. Stephens does admirably, but his character sadly was probably never meant to really share the spotlight with Lotz. Or maybe I'm reading this entirely wrong. Maybe his character was well written and he was just stiff in the role, or maybe it is the other way around. Nevertheless, no matter how you spin it, we should be more invested in someone we've spent the lion's share of the movie with. He's heartfelt when he needs to be, but something was just... lacking. Again, thankfully Lotz more than makes up for this deficit, and with flying colors no less.
The movie manages to frighten us, not just with visceral scares, but with higher concept themes as well. As well it should. True A.I. is a scary thing, and had the movie not touched on 'why' it's such a scary thing, it would've been a lame movie. This presents something of a dilemma though. There are certain must-have themes in a movie about A.I., yet you don't want to sit through something that is content to mimic the dozen other movies you've seen about sentient machines. Thankfully though movie doesn't insult us by banging on familiar drums nonstop, it takes familiar themes and presents them under a fresh light, and a from a fresh perspective. A lot of this is played out on a character level though. The story really is just a vehicle for these characters to interact. It's not overly ambitious, and I think that's good. It could've been disastrous.
This is a movie that engenders comparisons to movies like Blade Runner, The Terminator, and it's sequels. These comparisons are total compliments. For a movie I didn't even hear about til last month, this was fantastic. The movie is gritty at times, heartfelt at others, and even downright beautiful when you least expect it. It surprises you with moments of sincerity and beauty when other movies would be content to chuck another generic action scene at you. For these reasons, and many more, I can't suggest The Machine enough. It's far from perfect, and it has issues with the story, the plot, and even it's whole third act. Yet it was more artful, enjoyable, thought provoking, impressive, and thoroughly satisfying experience than anything I've actually taken time out to watch in a long long time.
I can't say for sure, but I'm thinking this would probably be a good alternative to the new Johnny Depp vehicle, Transcendent. I'll let you wonder which one had the bigger budget and how much that even matters in the end.