Friday, October 2, 2015

Wholly serviceable

   Soldier is a movie that exists somewhere between a near-forgotten memory and movie bargain bins everywhere. It's not bad enough to bash, yet not unique enough to praise. It's completely serviceable as a Friday night rental, or a Saturday matinee. It's a slick looking, well packaged, good time- assembled from the spare parts of a hundred other movies. Sometimes those other movies are better, sometimes they're not. This movie has a leg up on plenty of other middle-of-the-road sci-fi actioners of the era, because it's honestly not bad and manages to be very entertaining.

   There's no pandering comedic relief, and no awkward "romantic" interludes, and nothing to prevent it from being a pretty enjoyable ride. There's lots of striking imagery and well crafted cinematography, but even the most stand-out moments feel vaguely recycled from somewhere else. Where precisely? I can't place it, but at one point towards the last act you realize that the story is basically just 'Rambo on Mars' in the most basic sense. Kurt Russell plays Todd, a super soldier who's whole life has literally been non-stop training and endless wars. That is of course until some power hungry Colonel swoops in with a brand new batch of bigger, badder, and younger super soldiers- Todd and his unit are replaced, and Todd is effectively thrown out with yesterday's trash.

   Literally. In a demonstration match against one of the new soldiers, he's injured and thrown away like a spent magazine. Subsequently, he's dumped on a desolate waste disposal planet, and forgotten about entirely. Of course, he ends up being nursed back to health by a community of Mad Max-esque settlers who had crashed there a while ago and simply ended up building a community. This could've easily been the set up for an episode of Star Trek. Anyway, the same colonel who had Todd and his men replaced, ends up taking the new troops out on a basic recon mission- looking for any activity on a certain few planets. Obviously, you can see where this is going.

  The colonel points out that if they find anyone, even civilians- they're to be considered hostiles. I mean, afterall, "They're not supposed to be there, and we don't want passengers, do we?". It's one of those kinds of movies, yeah. The real bad guy here is the colonel, but if it was just him against Todd, we wouldn't have much of a movie. So, Todd having discovered all kinds of wonderful things like human emotions and stuff, now has to protect his new makeshift family and get into a big climactic shootout with all the new soldiers.

  The movie plays fast and loose with it's own logic, suggesting that Todd is a superior soldier regardless- because... why? We're never given a single straight answer, but instead given many. On one hand, it's implied that because he has something to fight for- and not just an 'order', he has an edge. Fair enough. It's still Hollywood logic, but whatever. However, the movie further explains that the new soldiers lack combat experience. We're told this repeatedly. Yet, at the same time, the one giving out the orders is the dickhead colonel. So who lacks the experience? The soldiers, or the colonel? How did Todd lose a basic fight with one of these guys, yet can easily obliterate the whole squad when the plot necessitates it?

  He becomes Rambo. Just about anyhow. He's seen as stronger, faster, and smarter than these guys, but the whole premise predicated on the fact that... y'know... he's not. Whatever, it's not too bad, we know he's gonna win because he's the good guy- it's just that kind of movie. What's worse is that the movie doesn't ask any of the hard questions. We're supposed to have a knee jerk reaction to the kind of program that created Todd and the new soldiers, but we're never given a second option either. Why are these soldiers so necessary? It's shown early on that Todd and his unit have fought many many wars over time. Clearly, these soldiers are a necessity because things have gotten so bad.

  Right? Well, we wouldn't really know. They're painted as soulless killing machines because we're supposed to be uniformly happy that he finds his humanity again. It works, thematically, but only if you're not looking for anything deeper. A better movie would've addressed the nature of war, and at least offered a couple opposing view points to juxtapose against 'war is bad, killing is bad- unless you're killing bad guys'. Well, that is what Todd and his unit were doing in war- the only difference is they wouldn't hesitate if a civilian got in the way.

  The movie doesn't invite this level of analysis, it just comes with the territory of reviewing anything. When all is said and done, Soldier might play some very cliche notes, but it does it with a genuinely earnest... innocence? The bad guys are cartoonishly bad, so we're okay when they start getting killed off. We feel bad when Todd gets replaced by the new evil soldiers who are only following orders like Todd and his unit- so why are they set up as villains? Because the movie needs us to feel okay that they die. Todd's okay though. He's a good guy. I don't mean to sound harsh, I do really like the movie and I've never not enjoyed it- I'm just illustrating why it probably never made a bigger impact.

  It's flaws are in the details of the plot, not in the broad strokes. It's in the themes and ideas of the movie, they're uncertain and subsequently the movie has to fall back on what it knows will work. It paints the hero in the most sympathetic light possible, and it works. It might be a bit pandering, but that's okay because the movie is full of solid acting and snappy dialog. We like the settlers, so by extension we want to see them live. They're just a bunch of farmers with families, and now some dickhead military colonel is going to kill them for no good reason. If you can accept that, and more or less check your more critical sensibilities at the door- there's no reason you can't enjoy Soldier.

  It's a slick and action packed movie that knows what looks good. Things blow up real good, and all the action scenes have an intense energy to them that's as excited and entertaining as anything else out at the time. It's hard to try and not get caught up in the story, and root for Todd, because he's the good guy now. It's as simple as that. Sometimes simple is okay, especially without the usual moronic pitfalls of these kinds of basic movies. Soldier is one of those times that simple is okay. It's a real visual treat in high definition and features plenty of eye-catching and colorful sets to keep you engaged when things aren't being shot, stabbed, or blown up. I recommend it if you're in the mood for a simple yet fun sci-fi action flick.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Not Quite, but Damn Near

  This early effort to bring one of the most famous comic book vigilante characters ever to the big screen landed in 1989, albeit not with the impact the filmmakers had hoped. Due to major financial issues, New World Pictures was unable to give The Punisher the wide release in the USA that it had hoped to. The film debuted on silver screens internationally just fine though. I do firmly believe this is why the movie doesn't have more of a solid cult status now, because when all is said and done... this is a really solid flick.

   ...For the most part.

   First, understand where I'm coming from. I'm assessing this movie on two different standards, for one I'm a massive fan of the Punisher himself. The character is one of my favorites and I've read more comics about him than I have any other character. I would do nothing short of writing my own ideal screenplay for my own ideal Punisher movie (and I have) to see Frank Castle properly represented on screen. One must realize that Marvel movies weren't always box office smash hits. In fact, you don't have to look too far back to find Marvel movies that were met with tepid box office returns and lukewarm critical response.

  To put it in perspective, the absolutely abysmal Captain America movie came out just a year later. But everything wasn't all horrible at the time. Tim Burton's Batman movie came out the same year as this flick, and the awesome The Flash TV show it inspired followed a year after. So, good time for DC fans, not so hot for Marvel- but if you look at the whole of comic book movies coming out, it wasn't a bad time to be a nerd. And then there's this movie.

   It's clearly adequate enough to know when to dole out excitement and suspense, and it delivers both with exceptional efficiency. These are things that are surprisingly easy to botch. (Again, Captain America- case in point...) The Punisher is nothing if not adequate at the very least. After a decent opening and some really cool and stylish opening credits, we slowly start to realize that this movie has a better concept of how he operates than the 2004 reboot did. He doesn't use tricks and deception, he uses guns. Lots of them and the bigger the better. On that field, this movie slays. It's fantastic. The Punisher is always on screen with all kinds of guns, blasting away bad guys left and right.

  This is also why the ideal era to have made the perfect Punisher flick was the 80's. When vigilantism was an unquestionably heroic trait in silver screen heroes, and killing all of the bad guys in cold blood was simply proper etiquette. This is where I'm split on the movie. On one hand, this is a great 80's action flick. It ticks all the right boxes. Broken anti-hero, drives a motorcycle, lots of guns/shootouts, Yakuza-centric plot, stereotypical mafia dudes, etc etc. This movie has the glorious shine of ideal 80's action royalty all over it. I mean, afterall they got Dolph Freakin' Lundgren to play Frank Castle, The Punisher. It doesn't get any better than that, right?

   Right. The good sorta stops there because it's very easy to forget this is also a comic book movie. Imagine... Superman without his cape, or Batman without the pointy ears. That is exactly what happened here. Yessir, the Punisher's trademark skull emblem is gone from his shirts entirely. This does nothing but make him feel closer to being kind of generic. If this movie was called anything besides The Punisher, you'd be forgiven for not knowing it was based on a comic book. Is the emblem really that important? Yeah, I think it is. It's his trademark- his theme.

  It's like making Batman... sans anything to do with bats. It's odd. Sure, you might still have a fun and theatrical superhero/vigilante movie, but it'd be lacking the feel of it actually being Batman. (Something which The Dark Knight came dangerously close to.) The Punisher here is just one black-clad, gun-toting anti-hero among a sea of nearly identical protagonists in the annals of 80's action movies. They made efforts to make him unique, but they were horribly misguided. I read somewhere that his facial hair was supposed to give his face the look of a skull- like the emblem. Well, this might have had some degree of success if it was even hair to begin with (I guess?), but it's not hair... it's paint. That's right. His stubble is literally painted on.

   Half of me wishes they had gone full out and just given him some gnarly war paint and stuck the emblem on his face. Would've worked for me. Instead we just get some awkward looking shit to try and ignore for the entirety of the movie. Sometimes it's easier to ignore it than others, but it was as silly as making the ears on Captain America's hood/mask/cowl/thing plastic. Plastic ears and painted-on facial hair ladies and gentlemen. What a time to be alive. Then, they went and tweaked the nature of The Punisher, mainly regarding his attitude. Instead of being a vigilant soldier, fighting a war on crime, he sorta behaves like a depressed dude who's perpetually drunk and has nothing better to do than to just show up and kill some dickheads who do bad shit.

  It's an important distinction. At one point, he's offered a kevlar vest before going into an enemy stronghold. Does he take it? No. He gives the guy a cold stare and moves on. This is not The Punisher. This is a guy who literally wants to die. He's a borderline psycho who hides out in sewers and kills anyone he thinks is bad. Now, granted, this is an interesting and plausible take on the nature of a vigilante- but it's not... The Punisher. At one point, the same guy asks him something to the effect of, why are you still killing after all these years? Don't you know there's a limit to revenge? And Frank simply replies, "I guess I haven't reached mine yet."

  I doubt this line was given too much thought, but it's perfectly emblematic of the problem with his character in the movie. In the comics, it wasn't so much about revenge as it was about doling out the justice the system was too broken to provide. One of these versions of The Punisher is much easier to root for, the other... is played by Dolph Lundgren. Sure, his snazzy one-liners and comebacks (as dark and depressing as they might be) make for some smile inducing moments, and watching him rescue people and kill bad guys is still extremely satisfying much in the way a proper Punisher flick would be. The problems only rear their head whenever the movie has a lull in the action, and makes efforts to explore the character of Frank Castle.

  It's a shame then that they created such a fully and vividly realized character, only to miss the point entirely. Even more a shame is that the movie houses so much acting talent, again spent on plots and themes that are so far off the mark, it hardly feels like it has anything to do with the source material. Lundgren is convincing as a depressed homicidal psycho, (whether that's a compliment or not is up to you) and I found it interesting how the movie fully acknowledges that he very well might not be a hero at all, and yet still positions him as the only hope some of these people have. Very neat take on it, if not again, a bit misguided.

   Also gracing the movie with their acting skills are Lou Gossett Jr. as a cop who used to be Castle's partner on the force, and Jeroen KrabbĂ© as a mob boss who's forced to seek out the Punisher's help when a ruthless Yakuza boss (Kim Miyori) takes over and kidnaps his kid as leverage. These actors bring these characters to life with more zest than I would've expected. Especially since many of the peripheral supporting roles are played by actors with the range of a piece of cardboard, it was surprising to me that some of the main supporting characters were so engaging. They help to draw you into the movie and end up being more interesting than I expected.

  This review is running a little long, so I'll close by saying this, The Punisher is a misguided effort as a comic book movie, and a rather depressing outing on it's own merits, but it still functions better as the latter- an energetic and hyper-violent 80's action movie with wall to wall bullets and blood. Sure, it's rough around the edges, but as an action movie itself, it's still a really satisfying revenge flick with some top notch action scenes and enough guns to make Rambo green with envy, make the Terminator blush, and to help Neo rescue Morpheus all over again. Comic fans should see it just for comparison against the other two movies, but I'm tempted to say this is pretty much essential viewing for fans of 80's actioners. Despite my gripes, I seriously enjoyed it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Not so Quiet, but very Cool

  Any good fan of 80's-90's action cinema can appreciate James Remar. He's your go-to bad guy, whether he's the main bad, or just a henchman, he's good for it man. He's always a cool guy to see in movies. I can't really remember the last time I saw him play a good guy, if ever- that was until Quiet Cool. This movie is at odds with itself in the most amazing ways possible. It's a cliche 80's action movie that actually ditches the cliches while simultaneously embracing them. It feels well written and cheesy at the same time. There's something fun and unique to be had here, I hope you all get around to watching it.

  See, James Remar plays a big city cop who gets a call from an old flame who asks him to look into her brother's disappearance up in the woods outside this small community. So, naturally, how could he say no. As it turns out he ends up having his hands full with a bunch of murderous and militant weed growers up there. It ends up turning into a deadly personal war as Remar teams up with his old flame's Nephew to help him avenge his parents deaths. This movie might sound really cliche and typical, but it's far from it.

  At one point Remar is about to get it on with his old flame, and instead of fading in to this really obvious sex scene with slow fades and cliche love making tunes, they retreat to the bedroom and the camera pans over to this little picture frame, which has a news article clipping in it about some protesters and the cops that had to intervene. She was the protester... and he was the cop. I mean, how neat is that? Interesting and useful information conveyed to us about the characters instead of awkward nudity and weird looking sex. Woah. Totally unexpected, but completely welcome.

  Then, in the shootouts, which feature lots of double barreled shotguns and revolvers, characters actually run out of ammo when they're supposed to. Six shots per revolver, and two shots per each double barreled shotgun. This creates lots of tension with guns clicking empty right when you don't want them to, and our heroes having to scramble for more ammo or a different approach altogether. One thing Quiet Cool excels at is creativity. There's a strong First Blood streak going on here. See, the nephew dude is like some uber survivalist kid? I don't know. The actor playing him kind of annoyed me, but the character itself was interesting if not a wee bit under-explained.

  I'm aware his parents were outdoorsy types, but this kid walks around with a quiver full of deadly home made spears and a mean throwing arm. What the fuuuuck. He's like a mini-Rambo and at times it's pretty cool. When him and Remar team up, the movie has already hit it's stride and found it's groove. Things click and the action scenes go off without a hitch. Of course, the bad guys are 2 dimensional greedy little bastards, but at least you can tell em apart easily enough. They manage to work some distinct personality into each one.

  Overall, there might not be the best dialog, or the best acting, but there's a lot of unexpected and neat moments in here which go against the grain of your typical 80's actioner in a very pleasant way. Characters seem to think and use logic instead of just shooting and punching everything in sight, of course it does kinda come to that sooner or later, but not in the ways you might expect. In fact, it just dons on me that Quiet Cool has more in common with a fast paced western than anything. Complete with badass showdown at the end.

  Once the majority of the dust settles and Remar has to face off with the last few baddies, he strolls back into town dual-wielding a pair of sawed off shotguns... like a fucking boss. I'm not usually given to putting pictures in my reviews, but this says it all right here:

   The movie has earns it's stripes by that point and invested us enough in the characters that a showdown like this is not just expected, but well deserved. Granted sometimes the movie throws basic logic to the wind, getting kinda silly, and other times it really embraces that essential but oft-neglected logic pertaining to things like reloading your damn gun. This does make for an occasionally uneven movie, but one definitely worth seeking out if you enjoy offbeat 80's action movies. It's fast, fun, moody, bloody, unpredictable, and obviously not perfect- but always intense. A perfect flick to pop in on a lazy Saturday afternoon when you're in the mood for a good action flick. Loved it.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Old Fashioned Fun

  Now here's a fun movie. It's equal parts perfectly cheesy and genuinely creepy, a standing testament that the two can go hand in hand and not undermine each other. Of course, Without Warning's cheesiness is more a product of it's budget and the era it was made in, but that's also part of it's appeal. The filmmakers knew how to get you. They may not have had the best special effects or the best cast (which surprisingly includes Jack Palance and Martin Landau), but they knew how to make the best out of what they had. The end result was this delightful gem of a movie.

 It's been said it's a predecessor to Predator, and I guess so, but only in the most basic way. Both movies feature an unseen alien hunting down humans in a non-urban area. That's where the similarities end. The alien's motives in Without Warning are murky at best. I think it was inferred that he's an advanced scout for an invasion? Or that it kills for food? I don't recall, and I don't remember it being that important. Whereas in Predator, the whole... hunter/prey theme was seriously played up. The alien in Predator hunted for sport, it was an important plot point. Here, not so much.

   Our protagonists are a bunch of teens who go down to the lake for the weekend, despite a warning from a local nutcase hunter (Palance) who tells em it's not safe. He knows something, but won't be straight with them because he knows how it sounds. Friggin' aliens, man. Anyhow, a 'bunch' of teens quickly becomes a 'couple' of teens when the alien finally gets to them. The rest of the movie involves them running from one area to another, avoiding the alien's deadly little flying discs of teeth and tentacles as they seek refuge. There's plenty of side characters around to add more things to the plot and help out our protagonists.

   At one point, the two teen survivors wind up hiding out at a small diner/bar, which is soon abuzz with conversation about aliens. This scene is really clever because this is where the movie takes the time to knock out some obvious questions. Kind of like the scene in Tremors where the three heroes speculate about where the creatures came from? Same thing, sort of. It's a useful little scene because the bar patrons are as skeptical as real people would be. Nobody is hopping around pointing at the sky and screaming "THEY'RE HERE!". This is just not that kind of movie. It's not an invasion flick. The alien is a singular enemy, and the way he looks is only really revealed at the end.

  And holy cow what a last act. The movie manages to escalate and escalate right up to the last minute. The tension and suspense get so intense that I was squirming in my seat. There's some excellent editing and camera work on display, especially in the last half. Then the alien gets revealed and it's downright frightening. When we see him, he's in the distance, staring down one of the main characters, like an old fashioned showdown. Except, it's a showdown set against an atmospheric, creepy and unnerving backdrop. Fog rolls in, the lighting is just right, and everything is silent. No hammy music, no weird sound effects, no gimmicks- just the alien... and his prey.

  It's such a powerful scene and it's made that much more by the man inside the alien suit, Kevin Peter Hall, who as you might know played the Predator in both Predator and Predator 2. He lends a physical language to the alien that's comprised of unnatural looking movements and articulated gestures. This isn't some goofy looking thing wheeled onto the set off some old movie studio backlot. There was great efforts made to make sure nobody could laugh at this alien. It doesn't look like it was crafted on a triple-A budget, to be honest, none of the movie does and in lesser hands that means it would look corny. However, slick camera work, on-point editing, and some fantastic atmosphere make Without Warning a properly creepy and straightforward flick. Loved it.

Exceptionally serviceable

  I'm a sucker for mysteries. I love me a good mystery. A good mystery keeps you engrossed and guessing right up til the end. It has twists and turns and all that good stuff. Dark Places is a good mystery. The whole cast turns in great performances, and ho'boy what a cast it is. Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Chloe Grace Moretz and Christina Hendricks. To say nothing of familiar faces in supporting roles. If the caliber of those involved hasn't sold you, I'm not sure anything I can say will, but I'll do my best because Dark Places was time and money well spent.

  The movie is based on a novel by the same author who wrote Gone Girl, which was adapted into a movie by one of my all time favorite director's, David Fincher. Dark Places kind of exists in the shadow of Fincher's movie, or maybe I got that feeling simply because the story originates from the same author, but the two movies would make a hell of a double feature. Despite my undying love for Fincher, I think liked Dark Places more. Maybe it's because I like more solid closure? Maybe it's because I'm partial to the specific kind of story being told here? But if you liked Gone Girl, my point is this should be essential viewing for you.

  Dark Places focuses on Theron's character, Libby Day. Names are important in this movie so it helps that they're actually memorable names. She's the sole survivor of a massacre which claimed the life of her mother and two sisters at their farm back in 1985. She believes, as does the justice system that her brother, Ben, killed them. As such he's been in jail for the past 28 years. The movie kicks into gear when a guy named Lyle who belongs to a club of crime solvers, gets in touch with Libby, eventually enlisting her to look into the events of that night again. See, Lyle doesn't believe Ben killed the family, but his file is going to be shredded in about a week's time due to some... bureaucratic bullcrap, I dunno.

  Anyways, Libby is bitter and hard, but she's also in need of cash, which Lyle seems perfectly able to dispense to her at his discretion. Lyle needs Libby herself to look into this because he's hit too many dead ends, and she knows most of the people involved firsthand. So, they have an arrangement. Libby drags her feet at first, but the inconsistencies in the established story start becoming apparent to her and the mystery of what really happened starts to suck her in. The movie is more of an intense character drama than a thriller, so it helps that the characters are actually really well written.

   Lyle himself is an interesting character who I would've liked to have had a more central role, but with so many characters as is, and the plot needed to unfold in a timely manner, there wasn't much room for him to be anything beyond a plot device really. But good on them for not making him a static and boring character nonetheless. Hoult sells the role and has some really good dialog. It's also worth mentioning that both him and Theron starred in the most excellent Mad Max: Fury Road together earlier this year. It was a real treat seeing them work together again. In fact, the whole cast is great. I could spent a paragraph on each actor, but I won't, just trust me. They're all great.

  Theron's character is a broken and tormented person. Her life has revolved around this tragedy ever since it happened. She lives off the generosity of sympathetic strangers, but as her lawyer put it to her fairly early on, "People have a very short attention span..." The donations stop rolling in and Libby is forced out of apathy by Lyle's offer. She's not a pleasant protagonist, but it's not like she needs to be either. She grows and learns over the course of the movie has I was very satisfied with her character arc and the resolution we got at the end of the movie.

  The people in Dark Places all have agendas, and half-truths they've told time and time again. As an audience, we follow Libby as she navigates this maze of lies and old secrets. For as intense as the story and content of it is, Dark Places is rather low key. It's not a pulse pounding thriller, nor should anyone expect as much. It's an intricate and involving puzzle that pieces itself together at a very methodical pace. Come for the mystery, stay for the characters. Dark Places isn't perfect, nor is it great, but it's a really decent movie that gets a full recommendation from me.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Hot Wheels: The Movie

  I feel the Fast & Furious movies are secretly the live action Hot Wheels movies we never knew we always wanted. Just had to get that out of the way. Seriously though, few movies as stupid as the original The Fast and The Furious have ever given way to such a wildly successful franchise. And few franchises have ever made us care about characters that while now seem human, used to be little more than glorified action figures. And all this from the same from the same franchise that feels more like "Michael Bay's: Hot Wheels" than anything. But what once spawned from a bad Point Break rip-off/remake has being going strong as each subsequent entry (from Fast & Furious on) has been one-upping it's predecessor in terms of sheer well-crafted spectacle, creativity... and even heart.

  What's so great about this is that Paul Walker's Brian O'Connor has gone from a lame Johnny Utah rip-off, to an inspired take on the same character. The same comparison can be made between Diesel's Toretto and Swayze's Bohdi. Toretto and O'Connor can go down in history alongside famous onscreen duos like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid because of their chemistry. The movies around them, even at their finest aren't 'great' movies. They're pure popcorn entertainment that play fast and loose with things like logic and the laws of physics.

  Yet that's not an insult. From Fast Five to this one, (and to a lesser extent even the fourth movie, Fast & Furious) they've proven their worth as slick, finely tuned, well oiled, excitement machines. Lesser movies would buckle under the weight of the ridiculousness on display in these flicks. Yet, these don't. They edge out above obvious criticism with gusto and style, lots of style. Characters survive insane stunts that would eviscerate a normal human body, and one half of you is saying 'Yeah right, come on...' but this is the same franchise which has had no qualms about killing off popular characters, and with the very real death of Paul Walker now hanging over the movies... there's another part of you very willing to suspend disbelief and engage the movie on it's own terms.

  Any other movie(s) simply could not pull this balancing act off the way these do, if they could at all. The craziness, and the courageousness of the action scenes and the stunts quickly have you wondering if this world is populated by super-humans, who can all conveniently hold their own in full on martial arts fights like Jason Bourne or IP Man. Every half hour another key character comes inches away from being little more than a bright red streak of blood and guts on the road. Yet, they won't. We hope. The movie(s) are willing to push the right buttons just enough so that the danger is real enough, which means in turn we have characters we're more ready to accept as just... human.

  This also allows us to not just care, but relate. Furious 7 goes through the rounds of re-introducing all the main players and tricks us with a delightfully clever moment in which, no, Brian is not behind the steering wheel of a blazing fast sports car, ready to speed down the road... but instead behind the wheel of a minivan, dropping his young son off at school. These characters have a life when things aren't exploding and bullets aren't flying. The movie is smart enough to be aware of the fact that if those things didn't happen in a Fast & Furious movie... we probably wouldn't show up. The characters talk about being more at home in the chaos and the car chases than they are with domestic life.

  What we have on our hands here is a team of adrenaline junkies that will always get pulled back into the fray. Not because they're average people in the wrong place at the wrong time, like John McClane, but because they're a magnet to that kind of chaos, by nature. We don't tune in unless something insane is happening to them or with them. Other movies strain credibility by trying to gloss over how the same things can happen to the same characters so many times- but with these movies, the characters live for the kind of stuff that makes great summer blockbuster popcorn flicks.

   It's almost not worth mentioning the side characters or even the villains, because when all is said and done, they're interchangeable. Like parts on a car. There are always exceptions, like Hobbs (The Rock) and now Mr.Nobody (Kurt Russell). These characters are spiffy additions to the core cast that I hope keep returning for as many movies as they make. Anyway, while the villains and side-villains are interchangeable, the same can't be said about the main characters though. When one dies, it's a loss that's felt through subsequent movies- and despite a convoluted timeline, this franchise seems more dedicated to the emotional growth and development of their character than Marvel is.

   After all, who stays dead in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Nobody. Yet on top of fictional deaths like that of Han and Vince, the franchise now has the tremendously sad death of Paul Walker to contend with. This is a franchise that wouldn't dare recast him, instead they're more likely to introduce a new character to fill his shoes. A mourning brother maybe? One can only hope. I am ready to be blown away all over again by the next movie. Bring on Fast & Furious 8.

(Also it really says something about the progression of this franchise that I can write a whole review on the latest movie and not mention hardly anything about cars, but instead talk about the characters the whole time. Huh.)

Practically Unpatriotic

  Some movies are patriotic, and some are nostalgic, but Captain America is neither of those things. What it is, however... is vaguely embarrassing. Even the unreleased Fantastic Four movie by Roger Corman's company was better than this. However, above all else, Captain America is deceptive. The first 20 minutes of the movie aren't bad. They aren't great, but they're at least entertaining. It's a decent start to what we can only expect is going to be a fair action adventure movie with a most iconic Marvel Comics superhero. Oh how very, very wrong that is.

  The problems kick in after Cap's rather impressive raid on a Nazi stronghold, the first action scene of the movie. It's great. It's what one would want from a 90's Captain America flick. Lots of running, punching, and shield-throwing. This is pure Captain America, and it's buckets of fun. Yet, right after that scene we're bombarded with such mind numbing stupidity that it's hard to believe it's the same movie. As everyone knows, Cap gets strapped to a rocket headed for America, most specifically here The White House- but as the movie would have you believe, nobody knows jack about this rocket even when it's seconds from blowing up the white house.

   So close in fact, a kid out in the street taking pictures of it with his crappy little camera was actually able to snap a shot of Cap's face while he's on said rocket, blasting towards the White House. Yeah. Oh and how does Cap heroically divert the rocket? By kicking his heels into it and making a dent. Which was apparently strong enough to divert the rocket so far off course, it lands... "Somewhere in Alaska". Sigh. Yes. "Somewhere in Alaska" Anyways, the rocket doesn't crash super deep within the ice, or anything dramatic, it kinda just flops onto the ice, skids around and then lightly bumps into a big snow drift... and THAT was enough to keep Captain America cryogenically frozen for decades.

  Ugggh. The movie takes liberties where it shouldn't, and refuses to take liberties when it should. Cap's old enemy the Red Skull has apparently quit being a Nazi and instead got tons of plastic surgery to end up being an Italian mafia boss. Wait, what? Yeah. The terrifying Nazi super soldier, the Red Skull abandons his iconic and scary gimmick 25 minutes into the movie. Sigh. But going back to the liberties it should've taken... even an undemanding audience of the early 90's needed a bit more explaining about how these things are happening. We get no explanation. We don't even get throwaway lines that could help out. Maybe Cap kicked the rocket's guidance system? Maybe the super soldier serum helped keep Cap alive? I dunno. We're left to guess, and that's not even the movie's biggest sin.

  The worst thing about the movie is that Captain America isn't heroic in the slightest. In his first fight, he gets his ass handed to him by the Red Skull in a thirty second fight. Then, after he spontaneously wakes up in the 'present day', his next fight scene consists of him running away from assassins on motorcycles, and being rescued by the ever-rotund Ned Beatty in his junky little Volkswagon beetle. Beatty's character promptly flips his wig and explains that he's been looking for Cap and that he needs his help to save the world or whatever. But, being the absolute genius that Cap is, he notices that the Volkswagon is a German car, so obviously this guy has to be a Nazi. Forget the fact the guy just saved him from certain death- he's a Nazi.

  So what does Captain America do? He fakes car sickness, gets Beatty to pull the car over, he walks away a few yards, acting like he's nauseous... and then when Beatty walks over to check on him, Cap turns and sprints back to the car, stealing it, and driving off. So, to sum it up, Captain America's entire plan was basically "outrun the fat guy back to his car". But what's worse? This isn't even the only time he does this to someone trying to help him! He runs away from almost every fight, he's constantly out of breath, and he's a dick to everyone trying to help him. Captain America? Pft. More like Captain Asshole. This is the guy who's our one hope at saving the world. Why exactly? He doesn't seem any more qualified than a regular army soldier.

  Super soldier? Hardly. More like a Subpar Soldier. None of the actors seem remotely into their parts, not that I can blame them. The material is awful. The action scenes are only ever marginally adequate. There's a couple fun ones throughout, but not fun enough to offset the rest of the movie. The editing is horribly atrocious, things appear then disappear, characters have guns then inexplicably... don't. The direction is terrible as well, nothing makes sense. In fact, I probably saw this movie at least five or six times throughout my childhood with no concept of what the actual plot was.

  Re-watching it now, I was expecting to discover what the plot was- but I couldn't. What the actual hell was the plot? The back of the VHS talks about the Red Skull wanting to transplant his brain into the body of the president of the United States' body. I don't recall any mention of that in the movie at all. I know ol' Red kidnapped the president, but I figure it's just typical evil guy stuff. The end game of the movie involves some sort of doomsday rocket that can level all of Europe or something. Where the Red Skull got one of these... I dunno. Sigh. This is the long and short of it. It's a silly, badly made movie that only exists in my life as a nostalgic item from my childhood alongside movies like The Phantom, The Flash (TV pilot) and Masters of the Universe. The difference between Captain America and those movies? Revisiting those movies is a guaranteed good time. They hold up well and they're really fun in my opinion. Captain America... is just... not.

Case closed.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Gut Wrenching

   I'd known about this movie for a long while based on reputation alone. It's one of those 'extreme' movies. Well, I dunno what else besides just that made me want to watch it, maybe it was the passing of Wes Craven- (which also had me watching A Nightmare on Elm St. the same night I found out) or something else, I don't know, but I watched it. I think I'm a good deal desensitized to violence, but this movie got under my skin at times. That's saying a lot too.

  I think it's because of how deceptively bouncy the movie is at times. Scenes of horrific brutality are juxtaposed with happy lighthearted music and intercut with scenes of good ol' fashioned Americana. A husband and wife prepare a birthday party for their 17 year old daughter while her and her friend are being terrorized by vicious criminals in the woods. It's jarring and sad. For some reason that juxtaposition made the violence have that much more impact. The movie continually reminded us that this girl has a family who is actively worried about her, who loves her, and who is going to be absolutely devastated when they find out what's happened.

  Many horror movies are content to leave that kind of emotion out of the mix. A rather faceless and lumbering killer racks up a body count while the audience's only job is to be shocked at the blood and the killing. The emotional consequences of the killer's actions are very rarely ever called into consideration. Movies like that have their time and place, but The Last House on the Left by concept alone was already apart from them in big ways. It's a movie rather intimately concerned with the emotional aftermath of the kind of slasher-movie rampage that your average silver screen killer would go on.

  Although the killers in this movie are anything but, their violence is as psychologically damaging as it is physically. It's dehumanizing and severely uncomfortable to watch. The movie then puts the killers in the hands of the girl's parents. This was an interesting move to me because the tension is no longer derived from violence perpetrated by the killers. In effect, we know now that the hunters are now the hunted. The dynamic shifts as the parents immediately agree to exact revenge on them with hardly so much as a "What do we do?" once they realize who the people are.

  Straight-laced, anti-violence, and wholly Christian folks become cold blooded killers almost instantly. Revenge isn't even much of a question so much as it is a moral imperative at this point. In a lesser movie, the killers would've retained their status as the hunters in the movie, and the parents would've simply been the third act prey. But the tables were turned, and the movie became something morbidly fascinating. The characters are little more than archetypes, but they don't need to me. These are teenage girls, they could be any teenage girls. And they're someone's daughters. That is the point of the characters in my opinion.

  Also, I realize that despite a healthy following among film buffs, you'll never hear a casual moviegoer speak of this movie alongside a movie like A Nightmare on Elm St. or Halloween. I think the movie probably hasn't gained as much of a mainstream appreciation because it's not easy to commercialize. There's no gimmick, nothing to put on a t-shirt. There's no iconic looking super-slasher like Freddy or Jason. I think that's what makes the movie feel more real, and all that much scarier. It hits home. The killers are just deranged people. They don't have a fancy backstory, or any sort of flashy masks. They just... torture, rape, and kill. What's worse is they clearly have a blast doing it too.

   I was fully prepared for The Last House on the Left to buckle under it's own reputation as so many other classic horror movies have for me. Yet... it didn't. Instead it genuinely surprised me. I will admit it took a little bit for me to get into it, but once I was... it was a seriously tense and nerve wracking experience. For all it's grindhouse-y violence, it's a surprising darkly clever and thought provoking movie. But of course, how could I expect any less from the great Wes Craven. He's already sorely missed. Rest in peace, Wes.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


  In this day and age, if you do something yourself, you gotta promote it yourself. I'm most certainly not above that kind of thing. So lemme give you the scoop on my latest thing. I actually wrote a screenplay called Bloody Vengeance that I finished a year ago or so, but it was just sitting around- not being read, I won't sell it, it was just collecting dust. This whole time I've been writing a sequel to it, I've been wondering what to do with it. So my collaborator and I decided to brush off said dust and polish it up... and then publish it. So that's exactly what we did.

(A slice of the cover art drawn by yours truly.)
  Obviously, I'd love it if this sold a zillion copies but I also know nobody wants to blind buy something they're not familiar with. So let me tell you a bit about it. It's a big love letter to the overblown action movies of the 80's and early 90's. It's about assassins and bounty hunters and mercenaries. It's basically like Mr. & Mrs. Smith... with the action and violence levels of something like Dredd or The Raid: Redemption. I love movies like Commando, and the Rambo movies. All of the Die Hards (Except the fifth one. I refuse to acknowledge that one even exists.) I grew up with movies like these. My cinematic heroes were guys like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Lundgren and Van Damme. 

  But despite lots of awesome action movies popping up in the past decade or so, the tone and rhythm of 80's-90's action movies are long gone. So, given that my goal in life is to someday be a movie director I decided to write my dream project. A story so over-the-top insane that it would make even the most jaded action buff's mouth water. This is an ode to John Woo. A thank you letter to John McTiernan. A nod to James Cameron and a big old homage to any action movie with a suit-up montage. It's tone is a lot like John Wick but the action is closer to the craziness of Hong Kong shoot-em-up flicks. If my screenplay were already a movie, I could easily just show everyone a trailer.

  Alas... that's not possible. Yet. All I have right now is this. I think a lot of people will dig it, others most certainly will not, but if you like any of the movies I've mentioned so far I would love it if you would give my screenplay a shot. It's available on, and comes with cover art drawn by me. 

   I've been slaving over this project for years and this is just a big first step in the right direction for me and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. I'm knee-deep in the guts of writing the sequel as I type this, and that too is on it's way sometime in the near future. So, stay tuned!

If you're interested in purchasing Bloody Vengeance or even just reading more about it, you can do so right here

Great nostalgia trip

  So, I know this has been out for ages now but I refused to watch it until I had finished the show. Yes, late bloomer, wtf and all that. I only just legitimately finished Dragon Ball Z for the first time this week. I was a Toonami brat back in the day but as anyone would know, they'd repeat the hell out of just a few sagas and that was the extent of it. Not to mention I could never watch it at my own house, we didn't have that channel. I would always watch it at my friends' place. Late nights, little sleep, and lots and lots of Dragon Ball Z. Until I got a fair bit older that was my only exposure to the show, that and a couple of the Budokai games for the PS2.

  Anyways, for the past five years or so, I've been making my way through the show, every so many months, I would watch for a while, then stop, and then another so many months later- same thing. Anyhow, I only just finished, and I feel like I'm finally a complete person. I was going to dive straight into Dragon Ball Super but as far as I know there's no English dubs or subs yet. Sigh. Alas. Instead I decided to finally watch Battle of Gods, and also start watching the original Dragon Ball which I also had not seen before- at all. Yes, yes, I know. I get a lot of crap about that as is. No need to add to it.

  But for someone who has nothing but fond memories of sleepovers fueled by Mountain Dew and DBZ reruns, this movie was a total delight. It catered directly to those warm feelings. A lot of people complain about the simplistic one-off nature of the story in this movie, but I like it. It's simple, uncomplicated, and is actually just a really big family reunion featuring some awesome fight scenes. I'm really glad I finished the show before hopping into the movie, because some things just wouldn't have made sense to me, and as is, I still didn't know who Emperor Pilaf was until like... today, watching the original Dragon Ball.

  For me, DBZ's lasting appeal has always been in how the characters grow, progress, and change over the length of the show. Enemies become allies, get married, grow older, have kids- and the cast of characters grows that much more. Battle of Gods was a fun 'where are they now' set sometime right after the end of the Majin Buu saga. The show's ending jumps ten years ahead, but the movie is set well before then. Having just finished the show, and hopping into this, it was seamless. It was like a little mini saga. Character motivations and backstories may be thin, but I didn't mind it. It was very straightforward and fun. Honestly, I think even someone with the most basic knowledge about DBZ could still enjoy the movie. Though it's really not representative of the tone of the majority of the show.

  The movie, despite having the fate of the Earth hang in the balance, is decidedly lighthearted and rather un-dramatic. The show would have several episodes of death and destruction, then several more of utter hopelessness, all while the heroes train to push their limits so they can match the strength of the latest villain and defeat him in combat. The movie isn't so concerned with such a dour and intense plot. It's really upbeat and more comedic than anything. It's little more than a flashy exhibition match with all the trimmings. But that's okay, because again- to me the appeal of DBZ is in the characters, and catching up with them, seeing their antics again and being in the thick of it all was really where it's at for me.

  King Kai warns Goku about an impending threat, the god of destruction, so powerful that he destroys entire worlds simply on the whim of a foul mood. Goku's reaction is to change into his 'butt-kicking' clothes, and start getting excited and giddy at the prospect of fighting him. He hasn't changed a bit, and I hope he never does. He's one of the most powerful beings in the entire universe, and he's still afraid of his wife's temper. It's great. Most of the movie's lighthearted nature runs off of his energy and as a result, the full 90 minutes breezes by. It's packed with laughs and excitement. I got my money's worth even if the movie doesn't really showcase or reflect the long, drawn out, and sprawling galactic hardship that each saga of the DBZ is known for. It's still worth it in my book. It's still fun.

  In the show, each saga is bookended by a couple 'slice of life' episodes. I loved those. That's what this feels like more or less, but with a flashy new villain for Goku to fight with regardless. The animation was slick and the fights were awesome. The movie strikes an ideal balance between humor and seriousness, managing to juggle scenes of total ridiculousness with scenes of grave danger and pull it off incredibly well. The story is as thin as it is actually rather silly, but again, I loved it. I know this movie won't satisfy all DBZ fans, and it's clearly far from the sprawling theatrical epic a lot of them wanted, but it brought back good memories for me and I had a big smile plastered on my face the whole time.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hang on to your butts...

  In this age of prequels, sequels and reboots.... sometimes they get it right. I couldn't be more happy then that Jurassic World is one of those times. I was super excited about this one after the trailers, but tepid word of mouth from friends of mine put me off seeing it for a long-ass while. I really regret not seeing it sooner, and on a much bigger screen. I won't go through the useless exercise of ranking it among the other JP movies, because everyone's opinion of those vary like crazy. Some are fans ONLY of the original, some love the first two, some think they're all great. People have even been seriously divided on this one as well.

  I fall into the category of people that love and adore the original, really like the second one, and more or less tolerate the third one. I personally loved this one. My thoughts are scattered, and there's so much to discuss but I'll keep it relatively brief and as usual totally spoiler free. The movie is a full two hours, but felt really breezy pace-wise to me. It doesn't take long to establish a host of moderately interesting characters that we'll follow throughout the movie. There was some fuss about the movie being sexist, and I guess I kinda get it? I mean, in the original, the female lead was a completely capable and well respected archaeologist. In the second one, the female lead was a head strong and willful paleontologist. Even in the third movie, the female lead was a mom who was willing to brave a dinosaur infested jungle to find her lost son.

  However... in Jurassic World, the female protagonist is a stuffy and profit-minded businesswoman who wears high heels into rough terrain and who's character arc is her realizing she's too uptight. Well great, I mean, it only took a huge freaking catastrophe for you to realize that. That was probably my only gripe about the movie. Nevertheless, the actress, Bryce Dallas Howard, does everything she can with the part and manages to be charming enough to salvage the part. She gets a few moments to finally take charge and be a badass and by god she takes them. Even if her best moment is towards the end of the movie. Chris Pratt plays Owen who for all intents and purposes is a Raptor-tamer. He's one of the only people in the movie with his head on straight.

  He seems to understand that dinosaurs aren't just magic and dollar signs, they're now very real creatures who live and survive and feel. Bryce Dallas Howard's character eventually comes to understand this first hand in one of the movie's best and most surprisingly emotional scenes.  I think the two characters have a fun dynamic if not a bit dated. It feels somewhat out of place in a modern movie, but I get it. It's whatever. I think the whole sexism fuss about this movie was way overblown. It's just weak writing. But where the script occasionally stumbles with characterization, it soars when it comes to tackling the moral and ethical implications of 'mad science'. Specifically, in this case, creating new dinosaur hybrids. "They're dinosaurs. Wow enough." Owen says at one point.

  This lends the movie a very neat meta angle. See, the plot of the movie revolves around this new dinosaur that the scientists at the park have created at the requests of the higher-ups in order to boost attendance and ticket sales. It has to be scarier, and "cooler". So, they got what they asked for... and then some. Isn't that just like modern audiences though? We're lured off our couches by the promise of the latest special effects and scarier, "cooler" monsters. Thankfully we're only going to movie theaters and not theme parks full of genetically modified super-monsters. I don't think the ushers in movie theaters are going to start eating people anytime soon.

  Anyway, if you're like me, you came to this movie to see dinosaurs- and holy crap does Jurassic World deliver. A lot of people gripe about the lack of practical effects when it comes to the dinosaurs, and yeah I understand that, but I also accept what the movie offers up. The CGI is fantastic and doesn't distract from what's going on. I loved it. There's some fantastic action scenes in the movie and a whole host of surprises ready for anyone who thinks trailers still spoil all the best parts. The suspense in the movie was razor sharp and on point. I've seen all the other JP movies so many times that it was a real treat to jump and squirm at all new scares. Even if some of them are somewhat cliche, they're still put on display with care and crafted with skill.

  All in all, the cast is serviceable and grew on me throughout the movie, the pace is steady, the humor is fun if nothing else, and there's some really haunting moments in there. All that coupled with some rollicking action scenes, a really atmospheric music score, striking visuals, and exceptional set pieces, Jurassic World is a can't-miss in my book. The movie was made with a lot of respect and adoration of the original, and it misses the mark sometimes, but it's spot-on more than not. Loved it. Had a blast. In conclusion, all I can really say at this point is... Hang on to your butts.

Bear with me...

  Of all the movies I love to bash, Alien Resurrection definitely has a permanent standing among them. It's a far cry (and then some) from the Gothic, Lovecraftian, scary, and often exciting proceedings of it's predecessors. It's a movie that most everyone generally accepts as bad, and it's the 'one to avoid'. 'Skip, if at all possible'. For ages, I would make no argument there. None at all. However, for some reason I decided to give it another go. I don't know why, it'd just been nagging at me. I like revisiting movies I dislike, and breaking them down into pieces to find out exactly why they don't work. Imagine my surprise when Alien Resurrection isn't at all the movie I remembered it to be. Well... most of it anyhow.

   Me and the Alien franchise go way back. I saw Aliens first at the ripe young age of 9, thanks to my parents. It blew my mind and changed my life- quite literally. It didn't take too long for me to convince them that the damage was done and I might as well see the first one, because why the hell not? My parents have always been rather against horror movies, but very fond of sci-fi/action so Aliens fell within an acceptable grey area. Alien on the other hand... was definitely more horror/survival than anything else. But they eventually buckled by the time I was 11, and the rest is history. To this day I consider Alien to be a wholly perfect movie in and of it's own right. But there were more Alien movies out there, I just had to see them.

  After a whole year of harassing my Dad, of course, he buckled again. We rented Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection in one shot to watch em both as a double feature. It was one of the most soul crushing and depressing nights of my childhood that I can remember. Alien 3 was me realizing Santa Claus wasn't real, and after that horrible revelation, Alien Resurrection was like looking the mall Santa in the face, now knowing he's just a fucking fraud. You couldn't have possibly had a more embittered 12 year old on your hands after that. Yet, my completionist's collector mindset landed me more than a few Alien movie boxsets over the years, and this led to subsequent and repeated reevaluations of both latter sequels. I grew to embrace and seriously love Alien 3 for what it is, but never quite... got Resurrection.

  Saying Alien Resurrection is a good movie, in a crowd of other Alien fans or movie enthusiasts in general, is sorta like tarring and feathering oneself. You just don't do it unless you're a freakin' masochist for verbal abuse. So far be it from me to say Alien Resurrection is a good movie... but it's far from the clusterfuck that people make it out to be. Lemme just put this out there, Jean-Pierre Jeunet was the worst choice to direct this movie. A director who by 1996 had two big releases under his belt, and lemme tell you, neither of them were horror/survival movies. But, apparently the top kicks at Fox felt that his penchant for weird visuals were enough to land him the gig directing Alien Resurrection. Ugh.

  The first thing Jeunet saw fit to do was infuse a dark sense of humor into the movie. It comes off as silly and out of place. It's the movie's biggest flaw and it's really uncomfortable. Speaking of uncomfortable, the last act is really uncomfortable. You'd think that the filmmakers had some sort of erotic alien fetishistic agenda with Resurrection. The whole angle was awkward overkill. It all culminated in one of the strangest, grossest, and most anticlimactic third act twists ever. Aliens had the Queen Alien, Alien 3 had the Dog Alien, what did unique oddity did Resurrection have waiting for it's audience? This fucking turd right here. Which while all the other Alien creatures to date have been downright horrifying, like a plague or evil itself, this thing, by contrast is about as threatening as watching a prostate exam. It's severely uncomfortable to look at, but little else.

  I'm not sure if we're supposed to feel sorry for it, or throw up in our mouths. It's gross, in a really badly-designed sort of way. THIS is the thing that the movie basically ends on. This is it! This is it's last act surprise! This cinematic abortion is the note Alien Resurrection all but ends on. As a result, you're left feeling underwhelmed, a bit cheated, and way more uncomfortable than you thought possible going in. Now... having said all that, I think that the other 3/4ths of the movie that came before that mess... are exceptionally solid with managed expectations. Please, let me explain...

  First of all, the cinematography is just pure eye candy. Look at these:

 In fact, just browse through this gallery here at your leisure. All that, coupled with some fantastic effects work make Alien Resurrection quite the visual treat. I can't stress that enough. There was a lot of care and attention put into all of these details. As the characters are shuttled from one set piece to the next, Resurrection always lands in an interesting looking place. The importance of engaging visuals and good cinematography cannot be overstated. Don't believe me? Just try to watch Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem. A movie so dark, grim, and visually boring that most of the time, if something cool bothered to happen, you couldn't see it anyhow.

  Resurrection shows off it's visuals and it's special effects with gusto. I give it a hearty applause if for no other reason than that. Secondly, the premise is actually really cool. If you think about it, it's precisely what the movies have been taunting us with all along. In Alien, the crew of the Nostromo were ordered to investigate any signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life, even if it meant their death. In Aliens, Burke saw dollar signs when he realized that the military would love to get their hands on these aliens. In Alien 3, Weyland-Yutani representatives again made an effort to try and obtain the species. Resurrection is basically about what would happen if a bunch of gung-ho scientists actually had the opportunity to experiment with the aliens.

  It's really interesting. Granted, the idea has more potential than they bothered to exploit, but it's still interesting nonetheless. The story leaves us with a rather eerie Ripley clone as our main protagonist, but just like all the icky aspects of the movie, she's just as uncomfortable to be around- for the most part anyways. Anyone who came to appreciate the maternal, solemn, and tragic survivor from the first three movies are in for a hell of a slap to the face. This isn't Ripley. "Ripley died 200 years ago" a character in the movie states. "Then who am I?" she asks. Well, shit, she ain't Ripley that much is clear. For one, the movie saw fit to give her some sort of biological link to the aliens, which means she's weird as hell. From the way she looks at people to the way she moves, she's just... eerie.

  We see shades of her earlier self whenever she's interacting with Call (Winona Ryder), a young woman to whom this Ripley gets somewhat protective of. If this had been explored just a bit more, it might've given more meat to the story, but it really wasn't. Nevertheless, it's there, and it's good. Their dynamic is great, and more of it could only have made the movie better. (If I recall, the director's cut does just that) As it is, the movie is full of witty moments, fun characters, blockbuster set pieces, and fantastic visuals. The director had no grasp of what makes Alien movies... Alien movies. He tried to put his own stamp on it and it backfired, but there's still a lot of merit in Resurrection. It's head and shoulders over a lot of other sci-fi/horror movies at the time, and manages to showcase some really cool designs- Newborn bullshit aside.

  Yeah, it's very obvious that the movie trades in scares for action scenes, which is frustrating, but there's still no shortage of style and skill put into each set piece. There's crazy camera angles, spinning and swerving through the action, immersing the viewer in what's going on without resorting to gimmicks like shaky-cam. If you can appreciate the big summer blockbuster appeal they were aiming for with a lot of the action in the movie, then you're likely to enjoy it a lot more. Nevertheless... I completely understand why this movie gets so much hate, and a lot of it is perfectly justifiable. It's silly, un-scary, and has a craptastic last act. But it's also incredibly energetic, richly atmospheric, unique, and at times even really suspenseful. It has one or two outstanding set pieces that ooze creativity and ramps up the tension, and for those scenes alone, Resurrection is worth a look.

   If you can look past it's ocassional awkwardness and odd visual style, you might find a seriously underrated flick. It's still the odd one out of the saga, and it doesn't stack up well next to any of the first three, but it functions well enough on it's own. I'm still not saying it's good, but for what it's worth, it was fun picking it apart. I think I appreciate Alien Resurrection a little more now than I ever did before, and I can't say I hate it anymore.  "Was it everything you hoped for?" Ripley-Clone asks at one point with a trademark sneer. No, it's really not. But when I'm in the mood for weirdness with neat visuals... sometimes, it's enough.

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, 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!