Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall



  Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a pretty good James Bond fan.  I can list all the actors who ever played 007. Including David Niven and the guy who played Jimmy Bond in the black and white TV movie before Dr.No was ever made. I'd say I'm a fan.  I've not seen all the Bond movies, but I've seen at least one from each guy and I've seen enough to know Connery and Craig are the best. Hands down.
(my opinion, maybe not yours, but at least you'll see where this review is coming from)

  I love classic 007.  The classiness of it, even when being provocative there was a subtle sophistication to it.  Not to mention there were things you looked forward to seeing, the banter between Bond and Moneypenny, his exchanges with M. So on and so forth.  People keep saying the huge changeover was when Craig took up the mantle in 2006 with the fantastic Casino Royale. However I think the first big change, to me, was Brosnan's debut with Goldeneye.  Almost any Bond fan, hardcore or casual will tell you that Goldeneye is in their top five 007 movies ever.  It also marks the debut of Judi Dench as the eponymous 'M'.  Brosnan's stint as Bond started out really strong, but quickly descended into levels of camp even the Roger Moore movies never reached.  Bond tropes became Bond cliche's.  The whole franchise was tired and groaning at it's own in-jokes so much so that the final Brosnan movie felt like a big joke itself.

  Why am I bringing all this up again when reviews covered the same stuff with the past two Daniel Craig 007 outings? Because I believe Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace started by changed things for the better, but Skyfall sealed the deal in a big way.  But as a character and as a franchise Bond is essentially and finally, reset in a way I don't think many saw coming. And it's very, very welcome.  Casino Royale showed us that Bond is a human being, as if it was showing that everyone's favorite womanizing, martini sipping, super spy had actual feelings and a dark side as well.  It also showed that a Bond movie can be gritty and intense and literally violent and still be a damn good Bond movie. And that IS what it is.  At it's core, Casino Royale is possibly truer to what 007 was meant to be than more than seventy percent of the movies before it. And I'm being generous with that figure as I personally would love to say ninety percent.

  Quantum of Solace was a drastic mistep. It's not a horrible movie, and far from the worst in the franchise, FAR, but it pales in comparison to it's immediate predecessor. I won't go too much into it as the most notable thing that can be said about it is that it wraps up the Vesper Lynd story explored through the previous movie.  'Solace was merely wrapping up Casino Royale, but did so in a pretty underwhelming way.  Due in no small part I'm guessing to that nasty writer's strike. Oh well. Moving right along.
After that, Bond's future as a film franchise was thrown into jeopardy with the financial uncertainty of MGM's own future as well.  After a very long wait for fans and casual audiences alike,  Skyfall was finally announced as MGM got back on solid footing.  Everyone was wondering whether this would be the nail in the coffin for Craig's stint as Commander Bond.  After Quantum of Solace... that wouldn't be too hard.  It wouldn't have been all that difficult to convince audiences that Casino Royale was lightning in a bottle and lightning doesn't strike the same place twice. All that. All it would've taken was another mistep...

  Getting to it finally, I'm telling you that's not the case with this one.  Skyfall is a return to form on SO many levels.  Firstly it shows that Daniel Craig is still amazing as James Bond and that in some meta way as Bond himself is recovering from a life altering skirmish in the thrilling opening sequence that left him to be declared dead as he quietly disappeared into the background of things, Daniel Craig is slipping back into a proper Bond movie after the unfortunate slip up with Quantum of Solace. Bond is finding his rhythm again. And it's so fun to watch.  You can't judge a Bond movie entirely on action sequences, beautiful women and exotic locale alone.  If that was the case... Quantum of Solace might have been hailed as the best bond movie ever. But seeing as how it's not the case entirely, you need things like character development and a good story and all these kinds of things.  Skyfall does this well. Right away it hands Bond with a whole heap of issues to deal with. Being dead. Feeling betrayed. And even more than that, it deals with the notion of getting old.  Is something no longer useful as it becomes 'outdated'? These themes are important and are obviously at the core of the movie.

  It's wonderful watching the movie explore these things, and it does so quite well, especially with the villain and the story behind him as well.  He may be a bit too broad for my tastes, and the fact there's not even a simply nod that he's connected to the terrorist organization the past two movies spent so much time setting up is rather disappointing. But oh well.  Javier Bardem is simply awesome as the bad guy.  It's a good Bond villain. Not a great one. Because some things were slightly mishandled with him overall, but he's super fun to watch.  He's chewing the scenery quite well and when necessary reminds the audience that behind his joking demeanor is a truly menacing and scary individual. Him and Bond make great rivals.  And actually, despite the movie's grim subject matter, it manages to be great popcorn fun.  It has a good helping of one liners, but it knows when to dispense one properly.  It never forsakes a truly dramatic moment for the sake of a cheap chuckle. Something Bond movies had gotten comfortable doing in the past.

  This movie also delves into Bond's relationship with M. It's pretty damn close to mother and son, but there's also this professional detachment they try to keep up even though it's very clear they care deeply for each other. In many ways, this film serves as a vehicle to finally finish passing the torch from previous generations to this very new and bold one.  And at the same time, while wrapping up the past, both literally and in the story itself, the movie injects a bit of classic 007 into the fold. It's embracing the truly classic nature of Bond. Harkening back to the Connery era. This is gold, and it's so amazingly fun to watch. The grin on my face could not be shaken once they started this infusion.  And it merges so surprisingly well with the gutsy action scenes and quickfire pacing of the Craig movies. 

  This movie isn't perfect. It has issues with certain peripheral characters, who honestly didn't need to be peripheral at all.  Some of the actors in these roles are forgettable just the same. Which is sad considering one of them is the latest Bond girl. She's entirely forgettable and not a second thought is paid to her once she's summarily taken out of the movie altogether. Eva Green and the lady from Quantum of Solace were far better at this. (Yes, I'm lazy. I just avoided Googling her hard to spell name. So what.) Better actresses too. It's far from perfect, clearly. But it's so damn good all the same!  And when it ends you have this good feeling about where the franchise is going.  And it's open to so many directions. Bond's arc as introducing him to the 007 franchise, as well as reinventing it is finally complete. It is it's own beast now, and it acomplishes a part of this by bringing classic tropes into the fold in a well moderated and surprisingly effect way. It's completely thrilling. I left feeling like I had seen a truely well made and exciting James Bond movie. It was a great time at the movies and I really recommend it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Demons


  We all have seen countless zombie movies. Dozens. We've seen fresh takes on the concept, over and over. And lest we forget the truly creative ones like Evil Dead II...
But every once in a while it doesn't hurt to try something that manages to be quite fun and creative in it's own right, even if it isn't mind blowing like some of the others.  If anything exceptional can be said about Demons, is that with the aged retro feeling, the raw nostalgia, it trumps glossy hollywood money machines like Resident Evil.  There was almost an art to making gory, jump scare movies back then.  It in itself was creative.  The method to the madness nowadays is all but gone. So is the passion. It's all about the money. Only... about the money.

  Demons has a diverse group of randomly invited people attending the nighttime grand opening of a movie theater in this castle-looking building in the city (I believe it was set in Berlin).  Not one single thing about it isn't dripping with eerieness.  Of course though, something goes wrong and before you know it everyone is trapped in the theater with people being turned into flesh eating zombies. Possesed or something I believe.  It's pretty standard fare mostly. However, plenty of the characters manage to have enough personality to be quite entertaining to watch. Our main quartet though is as cliche as they come. Their saving grace which endeared them to me as the viewer is how they manage to be like and remind me of a bevy of teenage horror heroes and heroines. Scared shitless throughout, but with enough spunk and guts to pull through and throw down.  Intentional or not, it comes across like a slight character homage. It works I suppose.

  The movie may not seem so fresh and original at first, and to be honest, at first, it isn't. But it is done exceedingly competently that it manages to be surprisingly watchable. The gore is a-plentiful and properly icky. People are bitten and ripped apart, and their transformation from person to zombie-thing (they aren't entirely zombies see...? Yeah me neither.) is pretty damn gross. It was a blast to watch.  Also isn't it kinda foreboding to be cocky in a movie like this? Has saying "THESE THINGS WILL NEVER KILL ME!" EVER turned out well for said character in a movie like this? Isn't it kind of begging for filmmakers to inject a bit of irony?  Fear not B-movie mongers, Demons has it's moment of Oh so 'clever' irony. Good job guys. That must've been real difficult yeah?

  I'm not trying to bash this movie. Really. I'm trying, if anything, to get across how damn fun it was.  Anywho. After the halfway mark, shit does indeed get crazy and then especially so towards the end.  The climax is just... awesome. The hero gets ahold of a motorcycle and a samurai sword... and through the halls and aisles of the blood stained movie theater, he rides around chopping zombies to pieces while 80's synth pop music plays awesomely.
You gotta see it to appeciate it...  and appreciate it I did. Warning though... there is a real sick twist right at the end though. And having read this, when you see the movie, you think you'll know what I'm talking about when you see a certain part at the end... but don't unpucker til the credits roll. You'll have seen it by then. It may or may not ruin the whole movie for you. It irked the hell out of me, but I still like the movie. I think it's totally fun. I recommend it entirely.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Class of Nuke 'Em High


  Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a penchant for really bad movies.  This doesn't mean I consider these movies quality cinema, or look for non-existent deep meaning in them. It simply means that gimme something quirky, violent and slimy and I'll be capable of really enjoying it. Class of Nuke 'Em High is one such movie.  It can ocassionally commit the 'bad movie' cardinal sin, which takes it from bad to awful, by simply being boring...
However, this classic Troma gem makes up for it's short stretches of mundane stuff with plenty of outrageous stuff you won't be likely to soon forget.

  The plot focuses around the misadventures of a group of teens who go to a high school which is right next door to a nuclear power plant. This is full of craziness obviously. And clearly the plant is run by idiots. Idiots. But then again, such idiots provide plenty of comic relief. Though it does jack shit for plausibility. Seriously.  There's not much to really say about this movie without addressing Troma films in general.

  They're all low budget schock fests. The comedy in them is always baseline juvenille. You won't find a more wretched hive of scum and fart jokes anywhere in the galaxy.  Seriously.  They're not mature or even intelligent. It appeals to the nasty semi-pervy sense of humor we all develop as teenagers, while also pandering to the inner kid with crazy monsters and lazers and stuff. But at the same time, the gore and nudity ensure that these are adult only outings. Or at least... supposed to be.

  Anyways, in THIS Troma flick, something toxic oozes out of the power plant contaminating the school's water supply.  It turns the honor society into punkish thugs that wouldn't look out of place in a Mad Max sequel and does horrible things to various students and teachers alike.  Our intrepid group of heroes however seem content to repeat "Something strange is going on!" like a mantra from a bad b-movie. (Oh wait...)

  Anyways, it has it's laggy moments of typical high school bullcrap, but eventually some nuclear weed shows up pushing the plot along which subsequently gives us some really cool scenes.  If there is one thing they don't skimp on budget-wise, is gore and such.  A man's fist is crammed into a man's mouth...and down his throat. This is actually a highlight of the movie. If you aren't here to get grossed out and laugh at shit for an hour and a half... why the heck are you here?

  Our heroes are nothing to write home about for the first half of the movie, but then it hits it's stride. Getting comfortable with the weirdest crap ever, our two protagonists excel in how they react to it. The fainting, the screaming, all of it is played with a spot on sense of comedic timing. Especially Janelle Brady. She's just a blast to watch. Sadly, but expectedly, none of the characters ever rise above 80's teen movie archetypes. But thankfully they are likeable enough.

  Also, there is this really cool monster at the end which looks friggin amazing. He looks so cool. It alone is worth seeing the movie for. Clearly 90% of their budget went into making this monster look badass. He's green, and scary, and obviously animatronics, but THAT is my point! He's animatronics! Not just a rubber mask! And it looks so cool, seriously!

  In closing, I have to say this movie is ocassionally boring, and frequently cliche, but, it's really really fun when it hits it's stride. It's gory, slimy, funny and stupid. If that sounds fun to you, go for it. I certainly don't regret it.

Fortress


  Seeing as how I'm a big Christopher Lambert fan from movies like The Hunted, Mortal Kombat, and, of course... Highlander, I'll pretty much get excited over anything with him in it.  More often then not though, I am rather let down.  For a man who's frequently been in the 'A list' he seems to star in enough bombs to knock him back into relative obscurity.  However, there shouldn't be anything obscure about Fortress. Thankfully, with it's slick combination of sci-fi trappings, stylized action, and gadgets galore, Fortress is a hi-tech thriller that doesn't disappoint. The prison escape genre is rarely this much fun.

OldBoy


  No stranger to asian cinema, I certainly cut my teeth on I Saw The Devil, which was amazing in it's own right, but Oldboy definitely stands apart from the crowd as a very brutal and disturbing mystery of a much higher caliber.  The synopsis alone is striking. It's about a man who's locked up and kept prisoner in a private jail for 15 years... without ever being told why. Then, without warning, released. Thus he begins a bloody search for answers that will lead him down a terrible and mysterious path. The results of which will haunt him forever.

  It's not a lightweight movie obviously. It gets progressively disturbing. But it's also impossible to look away. The movie's mystery hooks you with it's atmosphere and raw energy as this man step by step discovers that he's in a game. Someone's sick game. They're playing with him, pushing him to the brink of insanity. An argument could be made he's there already.  Which is the big appeal of this film to me personally. Despite being a big mystery thriller, it's a character drama first and foremost that deals with big themes of trust, loyalty, and most importantly of all... revenge.

   It uses symbolism as much as it does clever and creative camera tricks and angles to bring out and highlight the emotional undertones in each scene. For example, when the main character finds his way into a sushi bar, and orders a live octopus to eat raw... and watching him just bite into this living creature, it seemed like a perfect expression of his anger and frustration.

  The movie is full of unexpected scenes, ranging from shockingly violent, to surprisingly touching. It balanced all it's various tones with ease and expertise.  As the mystery slowly unfolds, you find yourself increasingly engaged, with each new twist and turn, it pulls you in farther. And as everything is revealed, piece by piece, we see the main character go through crazy things, and witness his desperate and often violent behavior.  Its quite stunning to be honest.  Everything from the music, to the framing of each shot, it all heightens the tension and the overall mood. It's an incredibly atmospheric film that also manages to use voice overs to a surprisingly effective degree. Which is pretty rare.

  The end is quite shocking, and the movie is an amazing tale about vengeance and how it can destroy lives. Some may hate the twist, but if you really think about it, there is  no other way to end it which would justify the story. It was perfectly twisted. And it will make or break your opinion of the movie. I for one loved it. As it often escapes words for me, and I'm tip toeing around the meat of what I'd normally review because once you know too much about Oldboy, it will ruin it for you. Let the premise grip you and watch it.

   Not enough movies nowadays provoke their audiences, or even evoke strong emotions. If you hate it, then so be it. If you love it, awesome. But you should see it if it has snagged your intrest. The hype isn't for nothing. It's pretty powerful. Whether you'll like how it gets there, is another story entirely. But it's akin to modern mythology and in broad strokes has the feeling of an old greek fable about revenge.  I loved it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dredd


  Realizing Dredd came out today, this effectively ended my posted hiatus. Being a massive fan of the British comic character, I couldn't resist catching the first possible showing of this today. It was a great decision. Many people are still recovering from 1995's Stallone action vehicle Judge Dredd.  However, it was panned by critics, despised by fans, and even failed to impress standard movie goers.  It made it's protagonist, the classic Judge Dredd, into a cartoonishly over the top (and embarassingly clad) super-cop. With massive eagle shoulder pads, and a large metal crotch protector, the coolest part (and arguable only cool part) of his ensemble was his helmet. And he only had that on for about five minutes of the movie. Which pissed off alot of fans. Let me begin the rest of the review by saying... this time, it's true...
Urban never takes off the helmet.

  This movie is sadly compared endlessly to others like Die hard or The Raid because of it's familiar plot and theme, about a skyscraper full of bad guys and only one or two good guys to fight em all.  However Dredd is it's own beast, managing to be creative and original enough to not feel like either of those movies.
From his cool looking uniform to his awesome gun, Judge Dredd shines as a character here. His methods are cold, violent, and brutal. A far cry from the cartoonishly hokey Stallone iteration.  Some may argue the movie is too violent, but I beg to differ. I think it's perfect. Spot on.  The gore and violence is over the top, but that's precisely where I want it. With so many properties being toned down, it's time we got a seriously brutal action flick.  Aside from The Raid of course... and not to mention this is how Dredd always was in the comics.  Heads explode, necks are broken, blood sprays across the screen, people are gunned down left and right... it's a bloodbath. But never dipping into extreme overkill.

  Sometimes a director finds a gimmick and exploits the hell out of it at every possible opportunity. In this case that would've been the high from a new street drug called 'Slo-mo'.  Which does quite what you might expect, it turns things into a big, vibrantly colored, slow motion, visual eye-feast from.  Colors pop and things are hyper-detailed.   It only makes sense for them to have a shootout or two while someone is tripping on Slo-Mo, that's prime for some awesome visuals. And ideed it is! It looks amazing as faces and body parts ripple and explode with splashes of bright red blood all in slow motion. It highlights, quite literally, the gruesomeness of being on the other end of Dredd's gun. Brutal.  However, the director uses this gimmick sparingly and effectively. The drug is a story point and not something gratuitously added for the sake of it's special effects. Well done guys.

  Speaking of the cast and characters, Dredd is stone cold badass. He uses just about every kind of possible ammo mode for the lawgiver. Hi-ex, rapid fire, incendiary, hotshot, and silencer mode. Also, he's a bamf even in hand to hand combat, which is just as brutal as the shootouts. Often with flinch worthy results.  You can see his outlook and tone through his violence and attitude, this is absolutely the Dredd from the comics.  And Karl Urban plays him more perfectly than I could've ever imagined. The rookie he's training over the course of a day, Rookie Anderson, is played with charm and a sympathetic twist by Olivia Thrilby.  Did I mention she's a telepath? Speaking of which, Anderson's telepathy is put to great use here. Very clever and fun to watch how she uses it. She's definitely a highlight of the movie. And a sequel wouldn't be as fun without her. Or at least, my hopes would be dashed a bit. She's a sidekick for Dredd that functions within the story, and she's a human anchor to his cold and brutal methods. She's not comic relief like the horrendous Rob Schneider was. *shudder*

  I think the antagonist, Ma Ma, (Lena Headey) has all the ingredients to be a great villain, even in the comics, and Lena Headey does a great job here... but I felt like her character should've had more to her. She seems like nothing we haven't seen before and she doesn't get an opportunity to get her hands dirty personally. Her henchmen also lack the gravitas and onscreen presence that you might've seen in The Raid from a villain like Mad Dog. In short, she's effective and gives off a sense of power and intelligence, but she hardly gets the screentime to do something TRULY memorable.  There could've been more dark humor, akin to the comics, but I think they wanted to stay in safe waters, far away the massive one liner that was Danny Cannon's Judge Dredd. Which feels much like a bad joke next to this one. However bad you thought it was before this movie, it'll seem a hundred times worse afterwards.

  In some small ways, this movie might leave hardcore fans wanting a little. I can imagine serious fans would say... "Mega City One still doesn't look like it's supposed to", or "the Lawmaster looks retarded", or stuff like that. But to be honest, when they've nailed the character and tone, the rest is irrelevant nitpicks. Also, it might be disheartening that alot of the wilder aspects of Judge Dredd from the comics, are absent here.  The mutants, the cursed earth, all that stuff is merely mentioned and not explored. But this movie serves as a decent starting point, a good set up for stuff to come.  And they don't do anything actually wrong with the property, instead they gave us a bare bones, hard hitting, cop story. Which is okay. It's better to start small, and hit big, and get a solid handle on the character and world before delving into stuff that audiences may not respond well to.  It's good that they have been exposed (or re-exposed) to a proper Judge Dredd flick before the franchise (let's hope, yeah?) takes a wilder, stronger sci-fi turn.

  All in all... the verdict on this gritty and violent reboot?
For fans it should be mandatory viewing.  Everyone else? I urge you to give it a chance. It's a slick, bloody, and polished ride. Not to be missed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wanted: Dead Or Alive


  'Rutger Hauer' as I was telling my friend, sounds like, and should probably be a brand name for big powerful guns.

  "Hey man, you take the Smith & Wesson, I want the Rutger Hauer."

  See? Has a damn good ring to it.  The actor himself is about as cool as any big powerful gun you could get your hands on too. Who else votes he should go into the firearms business? And name the company after himself? *raises hand* And after this movie, I don't think anyone would argue with me.

  Hauer plays a clever and well equipped L.A. Bounty Hunter named Nick Randall in pursuit of a terrorist who' wreaking havoc all over the city.  For those familiar with it, it's hard not to see a little bit of The Punisher in this character. The guns, the bleak military past, the black attire. It's pretty easy actually. Even the plot and pacing is not unlike a Punisher story, though people might relate this more to Dirty Harry even though Randall isn't a cop, the movie is swarming with police and FBI. Often seen as backbiting and manipulative, Nick knows how to swerve in and out of their control like a snake. A lot of the movie is devoted to him actually struggling with the police. Car chases, and decoys. Anything to lose the tail and keep them off his back while he blazes a trail through the criminal underworld looking for this terrorist.

  It's a pretty solid story to be honest and was quite fun to watch.  The characters themselves are surprisingly well developed, and... spoilers... it's all that more shocking when you see people get killed off you never thought would die. And it's so unexpected you might actually stare in total disbelief. I don't remember the last time a movie caught me off guard so badly.  It was a real shock.  And for this alone I can urge you to see this movie. It's well made.  And it doesn't 'Rambo' the picture up, it's at first in tone with something like 'Road House', nothing like it, but tonally they're similar, but as the movie progresses it becomes rather bleak and somber. When the movie ends, our lone hero sits on the side of the road and plays a few notes on his harmonica before the subtle musical score takes over and the movie fades to black. 

  For a rather care free movie that won't be remembered for much other than the awesome loft where Nick lives, it was suprisingly impactful.  It's not just a one note flick that tries to grab your attention with explosions bigger than alot of larger titles (i.e. Rambo, Commando, Die Hard etc.) instead it develops it's characters to a point where you care about them, and it peppers the movie with clever and legitimately cool little neat-o scenes.  For example, a scene where Randall locks a suspect in a metal cabinet and interrogates him by shooting random holes into it with a shotgun. It's played out so well, you can't help but be on the edge of your seat a little. 

   The movie really shines in these little moments of coolness, it has no need to be one long consistently loud shootout. Not until the end at least. And in whatever small measure this 80's action flick allows, it shows that the protagonist is a thinking man.  In so many movies of the time, the hero is either a complete and total everyman like John Mclane (Bruce Willis in Die Hard), or he's a steroided superman like John Matrix (Schwarzenegger in Commando) but rare is it that we get a happy medium.

  Rutger Hauer's Nick Randall has the on-screen presense and coolness of a Terminator-like badass, yet has the realistic gravitas of a more realer person with real problems and relationships. He has a best friend, and is in a steady relationship and the movie's playground battlefield, is his life. No matter how much he's shooting bad guys and breaking bones in their own houses or stopping convinience store robberies  out on the street, so to speak,  his own life more often than not is what truly falls casualty to the violent proceedings.

   For such a simple movie, there's quite alot to sink your teeth into.  Rutger Hauer brings Nick Randall to life as only he can, and the supporting cast is just as great and full of familiar faces.  I really recommend you see this movie if you want an action movie with a little more heart and brain rather than just bigger action. It knows that it's action and stuff is standard fare. The action set pieces themselves can be found bigger and better elsewhere. It's full aware of this. And this is exactly why it gave a little more love to the meat of the characters and the story. And like I've said, sprinkled exceptionally cool little moments throughout.
Very fun flick.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Matango


  Just as unfair as it is to call Galaxy of Terror an Alien knock-off, it's doubly unfair to stick Matango with the tons of cheesy late night, rubber-suit, monster flicks. In fact, it's frickin criminal.  It's such a shame because, despite some very very dated effects, Matango manages to be an effectively creepy, surprisingly atmospheric, and downright unnerving character drama.  It's one of those movies that can't be done justice by summing it up by the description on the back of the DVD case. It's so much more than it's ever been given credit for.  Wish more old monster flicks were this good.

  It starts off simply enough with an unassuming and happy-go-lucky yacht trip. A bunch of big city folks trying to 'get away from it all' out at sea. However, their fun is sorely spoiled when they get caught up in some truly nasty ass weather.  It knocks their yacht for a loop and sends them drifting off directionless towards this unknown little island. On the island, it's your typical struggle for food and basic necessities, but they find another wrecked ship and despite a mysterious air about it, they decide to hole up there for the meantime.  From the reading of the eerie log book to them exploring the wrecked ship, all of it is incredibly eerie. I vastly underestimated this movie, even after reading stellar reviews on imdb. It's actually a pretty decent horror flick that manages to be scary without any gore or anything like that.

  The characters aren't always so easy to figure out. Unfortunately, many horror movies telegraphs who the heroes are RIGHT away, which I think robs the film of tension because we don't get to see these characters actually develop under pressure and insane stress.  Obviously there's the one who cracks under said pressure, there's the turncoat, there's the damsel in distress, the femme fatale, and plenty more archetypes that are pretty much essential to horror movies.

  But Matango allows you to guess which ones are which as you watch the slow and subtle, and especially unnerving transformation of these innocent vacationers into backstabbing and vicious people who are perhaps even more scary than the creatures who lurk in the jungle.
My predictions were in fact all wrong. Which was a pleasant surprise. I like movies that keep me guessing and unravel the story before you in a clever and well timed manner. Matango does just this.

  Also worth mentioning is the atmosphere and the sets. The jungle is dense and thick with all kinds of odd growth, most notably, obviously, are the mushrooms.  It looks like a lot of care and attention to detail went into making the jungle almost a character all it's own. Also theres this dense fog through a good portion of the movie which only amps up the mysterious nature of the island. Its a terrifying experience that deals more with human nature and heavy themes like betrayal and seduction rather than just a slasher flick on an island.

The movie is actually alot more intelligent that it might seem at first glance.  If you can immerse yourself in the story, and suspend disbelief with the rubber suited mushroom people, who are actually still really well done for 1963, then I URGE you to see this movie.  It's a template for how to create tension and suspense without heavily relying on tired old cliches like modern horror movies do. It feels fresh. And considering it's from 1963... that's a massive compliment.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Galaxy of Terror


  I'm a real sucker for low budget sci-fi dreck like this. Roger Corman sci-fi.  It's either way bloodier, way funnier (always unintentionally of course), or just full of way more random spontaneous lesbian sex (see: Forbidden World) than it's source inspiration (usually Star Wars or Alien). Fun right? Of course it is! What else would film geeks like me have to do at 1 am? Sleep? Pleeeease. That's for people with a life.

  Anyways, Galaxy of Terror opens kind of awkwardly, and the high pitched electronic score is not so much scary, as intended, but rather really ridiculous and frequently annoying. In fact, I think I'll just cut to the chase. Cause I could hardly focus on the first like... ten minutes or so. This spaceship and it's reluctant crew are dispatched on a recon and rescue mission to this remote planet like... really far away. It's only logical that they get there in seconds. Totally. Cause... hyperdrive, man! The solution to every sci-fi movie's problem of getting to someplace in a galaxy far far away.  Anyway, they crash... somehow. Because of stuff. That happens. And I realize I'm not doing a great job of making it sound good.

  Okay, the sets are surprisingly well done. The matte paintings, which really crop up in the latter half, are absolutely astounding. The pacing is really decent and there's lots of B-movie awesomeness to be had here.  The story itself is alot better than it's 'Alien knock-off' reputation would have you believe.  I don't wanna spoil it for you, cause it really is quite cool. But there is plenty of gore and 'what the fuck' scenes as a result.
So gorehounds... you will be satisfied. It's not extreme like some other similar titles in the genre, but it's pretty bloody all the same.

  It's also creative and makes a legitimate effort to be original.  Sure you do actually wonder at one point if everyone modeled their suits after Luke Skywalker's bespin outfit in Empire Strikes Back, and if their spaceship was designed by the dudes who made the Nostromo from Alien...
But hey! The setting is unique, the story is unique, the plot is decent, and the core concept is actually, from what I hear, more akin to Event Horizon.

  None of that is necessarily bad, it just makes for a familiar tone.  There is a strong air of cheesiness to it, due to some subpar special effects, how nearly every character's name is unintelligible, and especially the aforementioned ridiculous score... but for B-movie fans, you'll feel right at home. Every scene seems to strandle the line between terribly corny and legitimately well done.  For every moment of decent acting or an impressive effect, it's usually countered with an equally hammy line of dialog or an especially awkward something or other.

  Despite this, it sets such a brisk pace that you'll be caught up in the jump scares and big reveals far before you even begin to dwell on the corny bits.  It does a decent job of keeping you guessing about what's really going on too.  And as the story unfolds, you're treated to loads of creatures and plenty of odd death scenes.  It's the kind of movie, with wall to wall slime, lazers, gore, and general icky things that I would've killed to see on a drive in screen with the big bucket of popcorn and a large, ice cold Coca-Cola. Good cheesy fun to be had here that's paired with some unexpectedly good sci-fi concepts. I recommend it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky


  Okay, yeah. Wow.  I had seen this movie on a few imdb lists for extreme gore and such, but never figured it would be like this. It's a guts & gore manga-come-to-life, it belongs next to such relentlessly bloody classics as Evil Dead II and Dead Alive, and surprisingly it's not a horror movie. No ladies and gentlemen, this is a kung-fu prison movie.

  In a "futuristic" (made in 1991, set in 2001) prison, owned by a corporation and run for profit, a young man, Ricky, is imprisoned there for killing the drug dealer that caused his girlfriend's death. Trained in a special style of Kung-Fu to the point of being superhuman, Ricky uses his freakish strength and amazing Kung-Fu skills to endure torture and brutal beatings from fellow inmates and the sadistic warden. Eventually, Ricky turns the tide and blazes a bloody trail through the movie leaving mangled corpses in his wake as he fights not only for himself, but to free everyone from the corrupt grasp of the crime riddled prison.  It's honestly a very thin plot, and his backstory is revealed entirely through flashbacks. While this isn't a problem at all, it feels like the movie could've played fine chronologically. Maybe even better.

  First of all, Siu-Wong-Fan plays Ricky with an intense level of coolness. His gaze sizzles and his onscreen presence is palpable. His acting itself can fall under question and scrutiny all the haters want, but there is no denying this guy exudes badassery.  I say the only other man in the history of chop sockey beat-em-ups who could've made an audience ignore how ridiculous punching someone's jaw clean off looks, perhaps would've been Bruce Lee himself. But Siu-Wong-Fan does an amazing job. We're so focused on his intensity, that the apparent laugh factor is gone almost entirely.  It shouldn't be wince-worthy because it's so obviously fake looking, but it IS.

   Maybe that's just me. Maybe there are more desensitized people out there who would find this movie to be a comedy instead of an action movie.  But given it's relentless pace, and continuous gore, Riki-Oh actually also manages to be creative. Granted, it's creative in an insane and bloodthirsty way that only horror movie franchises (looking at you Saw) manage to get after all story and nuance has been sucked clean out of them. It may be a sign of a failing horror franchise when the gore is more creative than the story, but in this movie, it's the bread and butter.

  People get shredded, disemboweled, exploded, and skinned. Limbs are snapped off, cut off, punched off, broken, and ground into burger. None of that... is exaggerated in the slightest. If you're a gorehound like me, you'll love the hell out of this movie.  It's not possible though, to take it seriously AT ALL.  The hero is literally way too powerful. The things he does are so far beyond belief that "bullet bending" (See: Wanted) seems plausible by comparison.  As a result of this, the movie stops trying to be serious and just goes for broke. This works most of the time, but a good example of when it doesn't is the final fight.

   It's just... too corny.  I mean, there I laughed. I couldn't help it. It was ridiculous to such a degree that it bordered on insulting.  But given as how we abandoned seriousness and plausibility like... AGES ago, one can't really complain when they get THIS for their climax.  I've seen more convincing suits on TOHO monsters. But if you don't mind that, and are in the mood for a bloody fun time, then go seek this movie out. Also worth mentioning, is how it manages to create so many interesting set pieces in just a prison.  Torture chambers galore, there is no end to Ricky's suffering, or how creative the villains manage to get in ways to inflict general pain and suffering. But noooo... fear not. Ricky makes Superman look like a 90 pound asthmatic with spaghetti noodles for arms. Step aside Goku, Ricky's way more hardcore.

  And he doesn't need to turn into a blonde to literally punch a hole in someone. Ricky withstands insane torture that involves razor blades, a metal wrench to the face (about 50 times), and even being buried alive for a week. You can see how plausibility is consistently worn down to just about... nothing. It's non-frickin-existent. Which helps some people stomach the gore. It's diametrically opposite to anything resembling 'realistic'. By the time the movie ends, you'll be about a hundreds ways smarter on how to kill someone with your bare hands if you were superhuman.  It's quite educational in that respect.

  Overall, this movie exists to be one big bloody, gory, guts-in-your-face, mess. It gradually builds up to a point where you've given up trying to explain the acts on display, let alone try to rationalize or even take serious the most mundane stuff in this movie. It's cheesier than a bad TOHO flick, and bloodier than an old Peter Jackson flick, Riki-Oh has carved out a name for itself in the annals of cult classic movies. Carved right out of some poor sap's bare flesh of course.  I loved it. You might too if you're still interested after this review.

Detention


  So many movies are simply an excercise in taking something that's already been done and doing it again, but better. Usually. Hopefully.  However, it's rare to find a movie so clever and smart and brilliant... that it takes almost everything, breaks it down into parts, and constructs it back together like a jigsaw puzzle. Make sense? Somewhat? Not really? Don't worry. It's really just that hard to describe let alone compliment Detention.

  The movie seems normal enough right away, although it opens with a girl speaking directly to the audience and using pop-up graphics to illustrate what she's saying. And this is perhaps the most average and ordinary part of the movie.  It wastes no time showing us all these characters who are your standard teenage high school archetypes. The popular kid who can't really get a good grade at all, the school bully/football jock who wants to beat up the popular kid, the blonde cheerleader,  the offbeat asian genius, the goth chick, the pervy nerd, and finally the heroine of the movie. She's actually very pretty though she's covered in this layer of misunderstood geekishness and general adolescent awkwardness. 

  She could easily be the heroine in any number of teen slasher flicks. She fits the bill. Mostly reminding me of Heather Langenkamp in a Nightmare on Elm Street, even if its just tonally.  The hero girl in this movie, Ryley, (played by Shanley Caswell) is a bit more of a tragic character than Nancy was in 'Elm Street.  We feel for her a bit more. Anyways, these are the characters the movie has to work with, plus a few I didn't mention, but every single one is important. The movie plays with them all.  I can't really say too much about the movie because it's a big and insane piece of fiction that can be classified under just about every genre ever.

  From the start it's a slasher flick, but quickly also becomes a teen comedy about school life and general angst, this is also before all the science fiction, aliens, and time-travel plotlines come into focus. It's easier to say that this movie is like Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World + Back to the Future + Cabin in the Woods. And it makes a reference to The Karate Kid, Road House, Under Siege, Robin Hood: Prince of Theives and makes nods to Freaky Friday, The Fly, Holloween, Saw, and only about a hundred other movies my brain hasn't even processed yet. It's action packed, hilariously funny, gory as all can be, romantic, and even downright scary.

  It's a genre shattering experience that needs, and begs to be seen multiple times to catch all the subtlties and everything. I personally loved it. Its a love letter to teen movies, that's written like the ULTIMATE high school movie. Everything happens in this town, at this school.  It's a horror, sci-fi, time travel, comedy, romance flick that does justice to each and every one of those categories. This is an unusually short review, but I have no clue what else to say about it that could possibly convince you to see it. The acting is great and the story is so layered and mind blowing that you should REALLY see this movie. If you take my humble advice on anything, take it on this: See this movie. As soon as possible.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Escape from the Bronx


  Well, I praised the first one in a previous review. Thought it was great. Creative, clever, action packed, silly, basically everything that you might want from a midnight B-movie.  Well, if it was at all possible... it's sequel outdid it. In friggin spades.  Right away we see something different, GUNS. The heroes use guns. And lots of them. Guns are like in style now. As opposed to the melee-heavy first movie, this movie rarely has a fight in it that doesn't involve guns or flamethrowers. And the sound effects are ridiculously powerful too. At one point a .38 snub sounds like a .50 cal handgun.  It packs a punch but isn't very realistic.
But as any fan could tell you, realism is NOT what they're shooting for.

  The story is thankfully not a total retread. Instead, this time, the movie opens with a 'Sanitization squad' "evacuating" the Bronx. Cause it's been deemed unlivable and the corporation is going to graciously provide all the residents with new homes in New Mexico. Right.  In reality the "evacuation" is brutal, residents are hurt if they resist. Shot or burnt alive if they put up a fight.  Which includes the parents of our hero, Trash (Mark Gregory).  Enraged over their death, and along with the help of some familiar faces and a few new flamboyant personalities, he sets out on a big crusade to stop the evacuation and reclaim the Bronx using any... means... necessary! Dun dun DUN!

  The premise is an effective vehicle for an hour and a half of violence and carnage. Which will undoubtedly satisfy most action fans and b-movie freaks alike.  Though without fail, there is always a crowd who will not like a movie no matter what. They complain about one flick that there's not enough action and all the action looks cheesy, and then they find a well made piece of 'trash' like this and complain that there's TOO much action. Come on. These kinds of b-grade movies aren't expected to be anything deep or even well made.

   All I expect and want from a flick like this is shootouts and explosions. Hopefully some T&A and then some creative gore scenes.  I would love it if all the low-rent cheesy movies had shootouts that looked this convincing and thrilling, and this well staged. But they don't. Which is why Bronx Warriors 2 is a gem. It's technically good looking. It may look cheap, but it doesn't look cheesy.  It's pretty cool looking to be honest. These movies (Bronx Warriors 1 & 2) are very competently made.

  Speaking of the action, it's nonstop. It's never overkill in my opinion, but it is over the top. In a very good and welcome way.  It's proportionate to the events as they progress in the movie. Theres a small skirmish in the beginning, a fight in an apartment later and then a small little shootout, and it escalates until it gets to the twenty minute climax in the streets of the bronx with more bad guys than Darth Vader has stormtroopers.

   It's a massive battle full of very clever little camera shots and lots of slow motion explosions.  I swear, one imdb reviewer complained that the movie fetishized death scenes. Well... yeah. Cool. It does. And... it's cool. What did you really expect from an exploitation knock-off of already violent movies? In my opinion, if you sought out this movie, you should like the genre and the shtick to begin with. If you don't, stay away.  It's clearly not going to be something you'd like.

  The movie is very very watchable despite some poor dubbing and of course, hokey dialog. Though none that manage to be facepalmingly bad.  The silent but badass shtick would fit Gregory well because he still sounds a little off... Fortunately supporting characters are actually well acted and very likable.  Except for a few bad apples who manage to be either bland or annoying.  It's all good though. Mark Gregory's outfit looks servicably bad-ass instead of borderline gay-ass this time. From GO this flick has a hell of a breakneck pace. Wasting no time padding out the proceedings for any reason, the plot kicks right in and we actually get to see some more interesting aspects to this world that was established in the first one. Also, Gregory doesn't entirely sound like a tool this time either.

  This movie is insanely action packed. I can't believe they still had time for plot and everything.
Yet they made it work. The body count is outrageous and it's all gunplay and shootouts this time around. Which brings me to my only real complaint. Although it makes up for it in plenty of ways, this one lacks some of the low-er budget creativity the first one had. The elbow spike, motorcycle blades, finger claws, spike poles, etc. And, sadly, no Fred Williamson. But overall, I got what I wanted. Action, blood, shootouts, explosions (and holy shit theres alot) and cheesy one-liners. Great midnight 80's b-grade actioner.

   As much, if not, more fun that it's predecessor, Bronx Warriors 2 earns it's positive review with flying colors not for being quality cinema, but for being such a damn fun and undeniably explosive ride. If you see the first, which you should, and like it, you should definitely check this one out. I recommend them both.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hard Ticket To Hawaii


  I'm easy to please when it comes to B-grade, low rent movies with lots of tits and ass and lots of big guns, gore, and explosions. None of those things are frequented much in high class cinema. So to get your old arcade style kicks, you look to old genres of direct to video, exploitation and limited release shlock.  But every so often, not even gratuitous nudity every five minute can save a bad movie from being... actually bad.

  First of all, the poster caught my eye. Two blonde babes, nice looking bodies, stylish 80's shades and big guns. Okay. I'm sold.  An hour and twenty minutes of naked chicks and stupid jokes, and ten minutes of shootouts and action. It really should've been the other way around. The worst kind of B grade low-rent shlocky is the kind that tries to be funny. They never realize how stupid they sound. I mean, with bad writers and even worse actors, they sound funny when they try to play it straight, it double backs on itself when they TRY to be funny and its just... not. Worse, its boring and painful.

  No movie should be able to make seeing sexy blondes with rocket launchers boring. Let alone when they've clocked more screentime topless than not. The male leads are hardly in it, which isn't too much of a bad thing cause they get laid more than kill things, and they look dorky doing everything and anything. Theres a random and ENTIRELY pointless subplot about a "contaminated" boa constrictor that got loose, in a movie about drug dealers in hawaii.... Also, people die, get shot, even a honeymooning couple get eaten by said snake... and the leads seem to not care moments later. In fact they tell nobody about the couple. This movie wasn't fun. It was just so bad... that it was bad.  There are two scenes which are awesome, but hardly worth sitting through the movie for.

I really suggest you look up "Hard Ticket To Hawaii Skater Death" and "Hard Ticket to Hawaii frisbee" on youtube.

  If the movie was full of stuff like this... I'd fucking love it.
Unfortunately it's not. It's chock full of bed hopping. At some point you have to stop and wonder, goddamn man... were you making a softcore porno/soap opera or making an ACTION MOVIE?
It gets old. I don't care how nice that girl's ass is, or how gold standard some might consider her other assets, but for me, I wanted way more action and ALOT less jokes.  Even playing around IN the action scenes. It just got dumb. And considering these movies are already baseline dumb, calling one dumb is an insult to dumb movies. It's beyond retarded. Yet it's full of all the things that make an excellent midnight movie. If I had a bunch of beer and some friends, it might've been a WHOLE different experience.

  As it is, I cannot in good conscience recommend it when there are so many BETTER B-movies that pander directly to the basic need for tits, guns and gore. Waste not your time on this.

1990: The Bronx Warriors


  Shamelessly mimicking movies like Escape From New York and The Warriors, this classic italian exploitation flick Bronx Warriors may not be as big budget and grand scale like the former, and not a classic like the latter... but it's sure as hell a fun time. It was absolutely worth my time and bandwidth.

  I had just suffered through another old 80's trashy flick called Hard Ticket to Hawaii, an Andy Sidaris movie, and was sorely disappointed. It was simply put: boring.  I needed something to wash the taste out of my mouth. All the painfully unfunny attempts at humor, didn't they know they sounded funny enough trying to play it straight? Anyways, I popped in this one and was right off the bat, super excited. Any funny bits in this one are entirely unintentional. Which is the way it should be. I wasted no time digging into the cool weapons, the leather jackets, the colorful gangs, and some actually well shot and cleverly staged scenes.

    There is one scene where all the 'Riders' pull their motorcycles up to this dock area by the water on this big empty dirt lot.  In the off-middle is a random guy tapping out a beat on a big full drum set.  The snappy and suspenseful beat sets the mood for the upcoming confrontation as a bunch of snazzy 40's looking hot-rod cars pull up, belonging to the 'Tigers' gang.  The man just sits there the whole time, riffing away on the drums. Is he a gang member? We don't know. Nobody seems to even notice him, which is kinda cool in a probably unintentionally meta way. 

  That was a real bright spot of the movie. It was unique and unexpected. Alot of the movie is very unexpected. Now, please, don't confuse unexpected with unpredictable. The plot and story are very predictable. It's not a bad story, in fact it's a decent set up for the action it contains.  The best compliment I can level at it, is to call it servicable.  What's unexpected is how it doesn't look as cheap as I predicted it would. They make great use of some really run down locations to evoke a very demilitarized feel.  It looks like they're really crawling through the ruins of big old buildings that could very well be inhabitted by a gang of freakish scavengers.  The scavengers themselves aren't that freakish, but they're effective. They all seem to carry an identical plank of wood, which just... is one of the hokier aspects of the flick.  But they ambush our heroes more than once, and they're quite ruthless.

  If you want something entirely dark and gritty, look elsewhere. The gangs here are colorful and very eighties.  The right viewer will eat it up and get lost in the movie, the wrong viewer will be taken out of it and probably laugh his way right off of it. Not many people still appreciate the appeal of roller skating, hockey stick wielding gang members. Who, by the way, wear nazi looking german-esque helmets. They're just one gang. There are a couple more. None quite so flamboyant, but still.  And speaking of looks, you'll have to get used to how awkward the protagonist looks in the jeans he wears. It's literally distracting at times.

   And whoever dubbed him sounds a bit odd at times too. But once you get past that, you can soak up all the hokey dialog and ocassionally wooden acting.  Fred Williamson and Vic Morrow are the acting talent highlights, though... Vic gets a sudden personality makeover for the climax, making him into a maniac with a god complex. Its the stuff which Raul Julia must've studied hard in order to play the role of the ridiculous M.Bison in Street Fighter.  Fortunately, Bronx Warriors is a much more creative and even keel movie than that one. Not to mention way more fun.

  The movie is about a young woman in New York, who's about to inherit a whole multi-billion dollar company, but for fear of becoming a corporate pawn she runs away to the Bronx. Which in the future of "1990" (movie was made in 1982) is a total demilitarized zone run entirely by cutthroat gangs.  Luckily! This woman is pretty looking. So, the 'ruthless' gang, the Riders, that rescue her from the roller skating thugs (oddly called 'the Zombies') doesn't hurt her OR rape her. Instead she becomes like... their groupie.  Officially she becomes their leader's 'girl' so if anyone touches her, they die. Anyways, the company's head honcho's send people to get her, mercenaries and such. Subsequently, more and more Riders are getting picked off one by one.

   So in order to prevent a full war or something like that, our hero, named 'Trash', the leader of the Riders has to cross the WHOLE Bronx to get to the 'King' who's the leader of the 'Tigers' and the most powerful cat on the scene apparently.  Trash's whole plan is to convince the king (Williamson) to band together with him in an alliance to stop the mercenary and rescue the girl who's been kidnapped again by the Zombies.  Yep.  Which is actually a pretty cool thing to see unfold.  It all builds to a pretty over the top finale as you might imagine.  It was very cool.

  Not much more I can say without spoiling the best stuff. The fights are good and intense. The movie is not boring at all.  It has a bunch of padding which could've been trimmed and replaced with more violence and shit, but overall, very cool flick. I'm trying to avoid calling it 'good', because the dialog and acting is spotty overall, as well as the story and the dubbing. But stylistically it stands on its own with lots of visually cool scenes and sets. Not bad and surprisingly entertaining.  Can't wait to see the sequel. I definitely recommend this one if you're hungry for some decent B-movie action.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Street Fighter


  Sonny Chiba is quite a character. His martial arts is brutal no doubt, but his personality is a cross between a mysterious ronin and a monkey on crack. This movie exhibits both sides, quite excellently. It has a good reputation for him just kicking ass and taking names. The plot muddles itself alot around the midway, but he never lets up with the ass kicking and strange chimp like karate yells. What can I say? The man's so badass, it's not one bit funny.
Well... maybe a little.

  The plot has something to do with the sole heiress to a now ownerless multi billion dollar oil company targeted to be kidnapped. No doubt to be forced to sign over her company. The film then somehow, maybe it said and I missed it, maybe it was lost in translation, or maybe I was just losing focus before the ass kicking started, but the film somehow brings our protagonist (Sonny Chiba. Duh.) into this as her protector. Which means lots of confusion and people thinking he's trying to kill this person when he's trying to kill the other person and then the other person thinks- you know what, it felt like a mess. But that doesn't mean that you can't follow the basics. Bad guy. Good guy. Damsel in distress. (even thats foggy at times) Fighting ensues. Pretty great formula.


  There's lots of quotable dialog and really unique clever shots that cement this flick as a cult FAVORITE. It's the kind of movie I love to recommend and the kind of movie I love watching with a bunch of friends. The scene where Sonny rips off a guys junk right through his pants is bound to get some reactions.
And if that doesn't, then you're watching the movie with a bunch of corpses. Despite being dated, and the fake blood being a tinge too bright, it still has impact and feels gritty all the same. There is a shlocky b-movie quality to it, a retro appeal, but the movie doesn't feel low budget or amateur at all.  The acting is mainly pretty good, but I mean, it's only as good as you can expect when the dialog's averaging stuff like "If I'm not your partner, let me be your slave!"
Yeah. It's that kind of movie.


  Sonny Chiba prowls from scene to scene with an undeniable cool and ease.  He knows he's the baddest guy on the scene, we know it, and everyone else just... can't get it through their thick skulls. But you know what never has a problem getting through their thick skulls? Chiba's fists of fury. Lots of bone crunching, skull cracking hits. Lots of blood sprays and gore galore. If this isn't the over the top kung-fu actioner you've been looking for, I don't know how to help you.  This doesn't feel like a rip-off of anything else. It may be muddled and such, but it's still pretty great. The last 40 minutes feel especially cohesive and easy to follow so the fights and action scenes are easier to enjoy that much more. Very cool movie all around. Not much to dislike here.


Overall it's a damn solid chop-sockey flick meant to be enjoyed with a switched off brain and a bowl of popcorn. (just make sure you're done by the testicle-rip...) It can hold it's own with alot of Bruce Lee flicks, and has a charm to it that alot of Martial Artists just can't pin down.I loved it and I'll own it the very first chance I get. It's a good, bloody, fast, fun, cheesy good time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Cell



  The Cell is not a movie for the faint of heart. It's actually a pretty disturbing head trip. When so many movies nowadays use their antagonist merely as a neglected plot device to get the ball rolling, The Cell turns the camera directly on the bad guy here, the killer and the movie is all about what makes him tick. It's scary, it's original, it's amazing.

  Rather than being just a slow burn character study on the nature of a serial killer or something to that effect, director Tarsem Singh has produced a rapid fire thriller while managing to make it a character study at the same time. Its pacing is great and it juggles a few levels of the same story,  which is about a social worker (Jennifer Lopez) who's working at this institute place in this very science fiction-y procedure where they put her mind into the mind of a coma patient, and her consciousness can poke around in there to try and find the problem and get him to come out. The movie opens inside said coma patient's subconscious and its quite a set piece, quite the punch to open the movie with. You might think it sets the tone... but the tone isn't set until you start seeing dead bodies. And you ultimately know that she's sooner or later going to have to enter the killer's mind for some reason or another.

  The early scenes with the killer, played effectively by Vincent D'onofrio, serve as kind of a series of warnings saying, if you can't handle this stuff, get out now. Granted if you've seen films like Se7en, Videodrome, Jacob's Ladder and/or anything else by Tarsem Singh, you might be a little more well prepared for the inevitable horrors you'll see when Lopez's character must take the trip into his twisted mind. Now, all the actors here do a more than servicable job with their roles. However nobody exceptionally owns their part. Though to be honest, aside from D'onofrio's killer, "Stargher", the characters are pretty standard fare. The dedicated detective (Vince Vaughn) who's a cop because of some sad tragedy he witnessed in his past which he'll inevitably tell to the do gooder social worker who sees the good in everybody, which... inevitably will lead her to see "the good" in our serial killer, which is cleverly and accurately portrayed in his mind as his child self.

  We're introduced to the mechanics and look of the mind bending process immediately after the opening. It looks cool, and matches the odd and creepy tone of the movie. The two people who're getting their minds merged in a way, are wearing these stylized bodysuits that look like the human musculatory system, and they're suspended in midair by super thin, high tensile wires. It looks like they're floating. Which is a recurring theme in the movie. But what works exceptionally well is the fact, there is a ticking clock in this movie. Before the killer is captured he has a kidnapped woman trapped in a tank somewhere thats slowly filling with water. The whole contrapment is automated, and she'll drown if they don't get to her by a certain time. This brings us to J Lo's involvement. She must probe Stargher's mind and get him to divulge where he's hid the woman.

  Inside his mind, which is a veritable pandora's box of horrors and terrifying imagery, she has to find and chase around the scared and abused version of his childhood self,  hoping to appeal to his 'inner child'. In his head, she sees memories that he has of his horrifying childhood at the hands of a brutally abusive father. Its so terrible in fact, that it humanizes the killer. The notion that a movie's vicious villain may actually have trauma in his past that drove him to do the things he does may be severely unnerving to some, distasteful to others, and perhaps even outright offensive. People tend to like things clear cut in thrillers like this. The bad guy is bad and entirely unforgivable, lets hunt him down and murder him for his crimes. I get it. I get why that would be cathartic in a society like this. But seeing this poor boy brutalized at the hands of his father and subjected to horrible things... makes you wonder about the same judgemental society.

  The Cell doesn't point fingers or offer solutions. It simply illustrates that these horrible serial killers are actually people. Horribly messed up people who commit attrocities, but they are just people. And through Stargher, we see that often, these horrible people were actually victims themselves at one time. Their mind is broken, and something is wrong. Are they actually evil, or just capable of evil?  The line in this movie isn't blurred or even much addressed, but it's just one of the things you may find yourself thinking about when it's over. I didn't feel sorry for the grown man who would drown these women and turn them into his dolls so to speak, but I did feel sorry for the little boy who's father abused him so relentlessly and mercilessly. They are in fact the one and same person. More food for thought.

  I can imagine plenty of moviegoers hated this movie. They went for a simple somewhat scary summer sci-fi thriller, and got that- and a whole lot more too. They got deep social, ethical, moral and gravely serious questions raised right in their faces. Questions they weren't prepared to even think about. Let alone attempt to come up with an answer. It's full of images and scenes so disturbingly bloody, and unnervingly graphic, and confusing and fundamentally psychologically penetrating that people might not want to get that close to such a disturbing character.

  In fact, it's so psychologically penetrating it really feels like you're getting a peek into someone's mind. Sets and scenes flow like thoughts and sweeping macabre vistas host the darkest parts of his killer mind. It's so impressive. This stuff alone is worth seeing it for. It's truly scary and disturbing on a very deep level precisely because it desconstructs the villain on such an intimate level. In order to save a life, our do-gooder protagonist has to see the good in a man most would consider to be evil incarnate... and her playing field, is inside the darkest... most disorienting... most terrifying place imaginable...

his mind.

If your intrest is piqued and you can stand all the freakiness, than the Cell, is a 12 year old ride that holds up so well, its worth every second of your time and money to find and watch it. Even despite a disappointing final set piece, its still a massive scary thrill ride thats exceedingly unique. I give it a recommendation.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sleeping Dogs


  I'm already a sucker for asian crime dramas. Something about the big Hong Kong John Woo thrillers just gets me all the time. From A Better Tomorrow to the iconic Hard Boiled and more, I can't resist them. And this game feels like you're behind the steering wheel of a classic drama like those. However the promotion that drew me to the game boasted more of its Fast & Furious attitude. And I must say its a wild ride.

  Those here for the story won't be disappointed. The phenomenal voice acting lends a real sense of gravity and believability to the proceedings in an amazing way. With the likes of Kelly Hu (X2: X-Men United), Tom Wilkinson (Batman Begins), Will Yun Lee (Elektra), and Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man) its no wonder the dialog and such is delivered so damn well. Its great just listening to their conversations even. The story itself is very familiar to fans of the genre, and probably movie fans in general. It centers on an undercover cop, Wei Shen, who is tasked with taking down a faction of the triads from the inside. However, as he works to earn their trust and their loyalty he starts to get close to them... and the lines between right and wrong begin to blur.

   What's good about this story is that it lets you make up your own mind about who's good and bad in the story. As a cop, Shen is frequently given morally questionable orders, and at times forced by his commanding officer to do things that are downright unethical, and this would be easy to illustrate that the cops are crooked and he should be loyal to the Triads. However, the Triads ARE criminals. They run drugs, prostitution rings and protection rackets. All of that stuff. Hardcore criminals. Which you find yourself instantly in a very difficult middle ground. On one hand, he's a cop, tasked with upholding the law, and on the other... he's a Triad, who's bound to his 'brothers' with loyalty, honor, and a code.

  On that alone, Sleeping Dogs is most engaging while you're doing story missions. I neglected alot of side stuff to do for the sake of finding out what happens next. Its nothing wholly original, but due to the fact the characters feel fresh and have a level of gravitas, its incredibly engaging. The relationships the protagonist builds are endlessly interesting. You don't get to affect how they develop so much, this isn't like Mass Effect or anything. Story-wise, its like watching a movie in the sense that you're just along for the ride. But what a ride this is. From massive speeding car chases that would make Michael Bay green with envy to a climatic shootout in a hospital that feels like it pays homage to Hard Boiled, Sleeping Dogs is amazing from start to finish.

  The gameplay itself is really satisfying and really fun. Your martial arts skills being the shining gem of the bunch with shootouts and driving not far behind. The combat system will feel very familar to Batman: Arkham Asylum/City and Assassin's Creed veterans. Its largely a counterattack based melee setup, but if you know your stuff well, you can look just like a pro movie star, martial artist master and 'Jet Li' the shit out of about 30 or so guys who just keep coming at you.

  Aside from the story, there are endless side activities to do, like... fight clubs. Which have 6 rounds. In the biggest one I've been to, by round six I was fighting easily about thirty guys. But when you win everything you get cool outfits that nod to the greats like Tony Jaa, Bruce Lee and more. Very fun stuff. And speaking of outfits, you can customize Wei to a satisfying degree. The clothing deal is more akin to GTA IV than say... Saints Row 3. But the clothes you can buy for Wei actually look cool. Unlike the short end of the stick poor Niko Bellic got...

  While Sleeping Dogs may not encourage mass free reigning chaos, its still a vast open world sandbox in which you have plenty of diversions to keep you busy for hours. Whether you want to practice your Ezio-ish freerunning or jack a car and crash it all over town, theres also no shortage of transportation. So go roam about and find new shops and such. And you might run into little mini activities that employ some of Shen's more police-ish gadgets and techniques. From picking locks to planting bugs and hacking security cameras, you might be surprised how much effort you have to put into some of these. Its all fun though. All the diversions and such made readily available to you really do a great job of breaking up monotony. Not that there is much, but thats largely thanks to how engaging the story is and like I said, all the cool little diversions.

  If I have any complaints they're small, insignficant and summarily irrelevant. Sleeping Dogs deserves alot of praise. Its a slick polished roller coaster ride through the triad criminal underworld with all the big budget trappings of a fantastic big screen crime thriller. I loved every minute of it. Couldn't have asked for more. I whole heartedly recommend Sleeping Dogs. Even if you think you've seen it all in Saints Row 2, 3, and games like Just Cause 2 and GTA IV, here is a game that takes elements from all of those and manages to be so well put together, it feels like something fresh. A breath of fresh air. And a new must play in my book.
Sleeping Dogs, to put it simply...
simply just... kicks ass.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender


  Reviewing a whole show, is a pretty big undertaking. But Avatar is not just any show, its good from part to part, great from one season to the next, and utterly epic as a whole. Its the kind of "chosen one", coming-of-age adventures that hollywood can't seem to get right anymore on the silver screen. Its powerful, and funny, and moving and action packed. Its worth sitting down and seeing the whole show as soon as possible.

  I don't address it so quickly as a "cartoon" because even though it IS animated, the term "cartoon" springs Tom and Jerry or the Looney Tunes to mind. Mindless silly animated bits with a punchline. They exist solely to make a joke, rarely ever to make a point. I'm not saying that Avatar is the only kid's show to ever be more than simply a cartoon, I'm just saying... this one knocks your socks off. From the way it handles its mature content, of which there is a lot, to the way it carefully develops archetypal characters into people who we grow to know and care about, the show feels less like a saturday morning cartoon, and more like a massive budget hollywood epic. It may sound crazy to those who have no desire to sit down and watch a "cartoon" as you may label it, but it IS worth it. This show IS awesome.

  A reviewer of another movie once said (and I paraphrase...) "It has the right combination of elements to put the magic back into saturday matinees..." I can't think of a better way to describe Avatar. It's layered and complex, never too much though. It never overwhelms or drops an indecipherable heap of backstory in your lap. It moves with the characters. We discover things as they do. Not only plot wise, but emotionally too. As the leads develop feelings for each other, its a subtle budding romance thats handled tactfully and paced out just right. In fact, just about everyone goes through the emotional ringer on this show. Theres friendships made, romances kindled, alliances formed, and betrayals suffered. The characters aren't perfect, morally idealistic, role models either. They make mistakes, they feel rage and want revenge. The thing is, they learn from their mistakes, and the characters are all the stronger for it. Its a really impressive thing to watch how they handle it.
  For those curious about what the Avatar actually is and the world in which the show takes place, here's some stuff from Wikipedia:


  Avatar: The Last Airbender takes place in a world home to humans, fantastic animals, and spirits. Human civilization is divided into four nations: the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Each nation has a distinct society, wherein people known as Benders have the ability to manipulate the element of their nation using the physical motions of martial arts. The show's creators based each bending style on an existing martial art, leading to clear visual and physical differences in the techniques used by Waterbenders, Earthbenders, Firebenders and Airbenders.

  At any given time, there is only one person in the world capable of bending all four elements - the Avatar. The Avatar is the spirit of the world reincarnated in human form. When an Avatar dies, this spirit is reincarnated into the next nation in the Avatar Cycle, according to the implied correspondence of seasons to the nations' cultures (Winter/Water Tribe; Spring/Earth Kingdom; Summer/Fire Nation; and Autumn/Air Nomads) and must master each bending art in seasonal order, starting with their native element. Additionally, the Avatar possesses an ability called the Avatar State, which briefly endows them with the knowledge and abilities of all past Avatars as a self-triggering defense mechanism, which can be made subject to the will of the user by extensive trial and training. If an Avatar is killed in the Avatar State, the reincarnation cycle is broken, and the Avatar identity will cease to exist. Through the ages, the succeeding Avatars have served to keep a relative equality among the nations; whereas in the story's mythology, the Avatar connects the material to the spiritual world, and vice versa.
--

  The events 100 years before the beginning of the show are revealed gradually and out of order throughout the series.
  More than a century before the beginning of the series, the ruler of the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Sozin, planned a world war to expand his territory; but knowing that his friend, fellow firebender Avatar Roku would prevent him, arranged the latter's death, whereupon the Avatar was reincarnated as an Airbender named Aang. Aang was told the truth of his status while still a child, despite the protests of his mentor Monk Gyatso; whereupon Aang, fearful of his new responsibilities, and of separation from Gyatso, fled his home on his flying bison, Appa. The two were subsequently forced into the ocean by a storm, and Aang's protective Avatar State encased them in an iceberg, in suspended animation. In an attempt to kill the new avatar who would be an Air Nomad, Fire Lord Sozin carried out a genocide of the Air Nomads, leaving Aang as the eponymous "Last Airbender".
--


  The war Sozin started raged over a hundred years and is still going strong when a teenage waterbender girl named Katara, and her her brother find Aang frozen in the iceberg. They release him and unknowingly kick off a massive quest to help Aang learn and master the other three elements to overthrow the vicious Fire Nation and stop the tyrannical reign of the current Fire Lord. As with any epic quest, there are twists and turns and epic battles, and the characters become practically like family. From episode to episode, it retains a fantastic formula, there are your episodes that are more humorous and laid back, and these are like a rest stop almost, because Aang and co. are relentlessly hunted by the Fire Nation. Their lives are nearly perpetually in danger.


  Its intense and powerful, but the show is not without a lighter side. Theres lot of humor, and its all well timed and genuinely funny. As the show goes on, it develops inside jokes and a stronger sense of humor. Its this part of the show that will entertain the younger audiences, but theres also absolutely nothing keeping older viewers from really enjoying this rich and engaging show. The action is fantastic, the animation is excellent, the humor is actually funny, and the stories are incredibly well written. None of this feels like a little kid's show. Its thoughtful and really fun. I can't recommend it enough.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Small Soldiers


  Small Soldiers plays out less like a Dreamworks family film and more like a sci-fi war movie. Only, the combatants are about 10 inches tall and made of plastic. Don't let that fool you, the movie has these nasty little blue light specials not-so-accidentally outfitted with military grade microprocessor chips that can learn and adapt within the core programming...
well what happens when you program a bunch of toys to go to war with each other? God help whoever gets caught in the middle.


  Which is exactly what happens. The frustrated teenage son of a conservative toy store owner first stumbles across a few of the 'Commando Elite' (the bad ones) and the 'Gorgonites' (the peaceful aliens) action figures before they officially hit the stores. Within no time at all, the ruthless toy soldiers, once voice activated, rip out of their own packaging to literally go and dismember their rival toy line. Not only are they self aware, but they realize that their weapons are made of cheapie plastic. "Standard issue is insufficient!" their leader yells, voiced with much gusto by the pitch perfect Tommy Lee Jones.

  At this point, the gravity of the situation starts to don on the viewers once the trigger happy toys start acquiring actual knives and dangerous household objects. Its as cool as it is unnerving and kind of scary. For grown ups, they might sit back wondering "wow, what cool special effects" at first and then "I really have all that stuff in my house?". Everything from toasters to chainsaws, the tiny little soldiers turn everything into weapons of massive destruction. Kids however, might be frightened at how vicious and bloodthirsty the pint sized commandos get (can you tell I'm having fun with these nicknames?). Humans get physically harmed, even kids are assaulted and injured. This is no Toy Story, despite it being a perfect parallel, its legitimately violent and scary.

  Don't be put off, this is no horror movie. But its a far cry from something to market to little kids. Things get really intense towards the end, and some kids may not be able to handle it. Even though the good guys are cute, and the movie has a funnier, lighter side to it at times, I can see why the critics slammed it for being pushed so heavily towards the young youth demographic, but all they did was bury a good movie under loads of undue negativity. But I say let the power of the viewer prevail. People I know, like this movie. It's gotten around. Its a fun little action movie thats a grown up alternative to the tiny toys from Andy's bedroom with all their schmaltz and cuteness. This isn't Disney folks. And its all the stronger for it.

  Small Soldiers is witty, and sarcastic, its somewhat thought provoking, undeniably cool, visually interesting and full to the brim of gizmos, gadgets, and the latest in state of the art makeshift household weaponry and warfare. By the end of the movie, the neighborhood is a veritable battlefield with flaming wreckage, charred pieces of plastic, and all kinds of little weapons the baddies put together, strewn all over the lawns and streets. It escalates and escalates from its humble toy story beginnings to this block war thats pretty captivating to watch.
  I can't in good conscience say that the controversy over Small Soldiers itself is relevant anymore. No, now we have movies like The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises lining toy isles at Wal-Mart with miniature versions of Batman himself, and his psychotic villains. Those movies are far more violent and at times, sadistic.

  There is no longer reason to fret over this quaint little adventure when I'm seeing five year olds sitting in on a screening of Predators. This isn't progress to be proud of though. We're so desensitized as a society, that stuff like that is only going to keep getting worse. Sad as that may be, theres no reason to not go out and rent this solid little actioner. You might be pleasantly surprised. And unfortunately, I won't be surprised either - if you find it in the kid's section. But seeing as how I've seen some kids are clamoring for Freddy or Chris Nolan's Batman... Small Soldiers might be the tamest thing they'll see all year.

  Perfect family movie...? I'll let you decide.