Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The FP

  This movie is a little ball of weirdness. I'd love to have been there when they were thinking it up. It must have been something like... "Hey! Great idea... let's make a movie where two gangs settle their differences with the deadly sport of... DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION!" Yeah. They ran with that too apparently. Nonetheless, I'm glad that they did.  It's on the plane of quirkiness with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Detention, Black Dynamite and John Dies at the End. All Movies I wholehearted love watching. As I type this, The FP is growing on me. I have no doubt I'm going to end up watching it again.

  Of course, they can't actually use the title 'Dance Dance Revolution', so instead it's called 'Beat Beat Revolution'. Whether it was by design or necessity, it led to one of the greatest lines to ever grace a movie. Ever. "I challenge you to a BEAT OFF!" Try saying that, out loud, sounding and looking serious without laughing... at all. It's freaking impossible. Yet all the actors in this shlocky b-movie carry every intentionally ridiculous line with total and unflinching seriousness. This movie isn't cut for comedic timing. That's precisely the point though. It's parodying alot of 80's movies. From The Karate Kid to any Rocky sequel of your choosing, along with The Warriors and even Mad Max. None of those movies are comedies. So to make fun of those movies it has to mimic precisely what's endearing about them. Including their melodramatic seriousness.

  The amount of subtle nods to other movies of the era and genre are aplenty. The main character alone looks like a Snake Plissken clone. This is just the icing on the cake for the FP, because it can stand entirely on it's own merits. It isn't so overt with it's nods that it becomes a spoof. It's a loving parody of a whole genre and the era it thrived in, as well as saying something about the current state of things and what's to come. It's not saying much... but it's saying something.   With main characters named things like "L Dubba E" and "Jtro" it's impossible to not see the humor in this movie. Anyone who doesn't is probably too uptight for this brand of silliness and it's advised they stay far away. For everyone else? If you can dig this kind of silly flick where in the 'future' the deadliest of differences between two 'vicious' gangs are settled over a Dance Dance Revolution showdown... then dig in! You'll like it. I bet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

John Dies at the End

This will be my second time reviewing John Dies at the End. In total however, I've seen it three times.  It's exactly the sort of offbeat sci-fi horror/comedy that's impossible to resist. It's about two buddies, Dave and John, who come into contact with this new edgy drug called the 'soy sauce'. Little do they know it'll open their eyes to a big interdimensional war full of creatures and mysterious beings. This is a great setup for a movie. Based on a 'biographical' book by "David Wong" (re-emphasizes with air quotes)  which I have not read yet, I can only assume plenty of the book was chopped out.

  Not to say John Dies isn't a good movie and all, it's good in it's own special way. It's ballsy. It's crude, unique, outrageous, and adventurous, the likes of which genre sci-fi doesn't see enough of. So it's very easy for me to recommend this movie and support it as much as possible, because it's something of a rarity. Albeit an enjoyable one too. The cast is peppered with really good and well known actors, including the likes of Paul Giamatti (who's totally loving every second of this), Clancy Brown, and the amazing Doug Jones. The two leads however, Dave and John, are played by relative newcomers Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes, respectively.

Although Williamson is the anchor for the audience and actually really fun to watch as he plays Dave, who shuffles through the movie with a bewildered daze, it's truly Rob Mayes who steals the show as the incorrigible and undeniably fun, John.  The dynamic between Dave and John is perfect, and Williamson and Mayes really sell it. Their performances aren't bulletproof however. Specifically Williamson's, but when he gets it right, he really gets it right.  Mayes is the total scene stealer though, turning in an energetic and inspired turn, on what could've been a painfully cliche role. John is like that one guy we all seem to know, unreliable yet irresistible  Wild and wacky, yet oft drunk or high. As Dave recalls, he never guessed John would be the one to bring about the end of the world.  Neither would I. 

  John Dies at the End has some serious issues to is. Character arcs range from underdeveloped to outright butchered, seemingly left mostly on the cutting room floor. There's so much unexplained that you kinda have to let the logic Nazi in your head take a backseat whilst watching this in order to fully enjoy it. Shit happens out of nowhere sometimes and if an explanation is given, it's a very fleeting one. The thing about it I found to be okay was that, the flaws kinda work with the tone of the movie. It's such an unexpected and random experience already, that these logic gaps and glaring continuity errors almost feel truer to the "I don't know what the hell is going on!" mindframe that Dave has through the entire movie. Not to say they're excusable, or that they 'enhance' the experience, like film grain to grindhouse. Not at all. They're sloppy mistakes, or their signs of rushed production, or shoddy editing or any one of the above... but they don't ruin the experience for you. They certainly didn't for me.

  In a movie where all of the raw meat in a freezer comes to life and assembles itself as a fully sentient monster... and where door knobs can turn into dangling male genitalia to discourage escape... logic gaps and continuity errors probably won't be upsetting the movie for you. It's so bat-shit crazy off the wall to begin with, that these errors for me were mostly noticed in retrospect, or upon repeat viewing.  It's also a serious tragedy that Doug Jones had maybe 4 total minutes of screentime. His name alone could be a serious selling point to many potential viewers who will be woefully disappointed to see the actor almost entirely wasted in a short and peripheral role that honestly only exists to move the plot forward. Sad. Alas, the movie is totally fun. Full of gross out humor, grade-A gore, and wildly imaginative sci-fi trappings. It's quite an action packed little endeavor and it gets a full recommendation from me

Big Trouble in Little China

  So this is a personal favorite John Carpenter movie starring Kurt Russell as the iconic Jack Burton. Jack and his buddy Wang Chi get mixed up in big adventure and serious trouble when in their efforts to rescue Wang's beautiful fiancee from some local thugs, they stumble onto a mysterious supernatural battle in the grimy alleyways of Chinatown. It's a thrill a minute movie set up like an arcade game. Each set piece plays like a video game level in a retro sidescroller full of non-stop action.

  This is one of those movies that I like to say puts the magic back into a Saturday matinee.  It's funny and exciting and well made. It's just the right blend of comedy and action. The comedy is hilarious, and the action is gleefully over-the-top. This movie is a roller coaster ride full of mystic thunder gods, big all out kung-fu gang wars, truck chases, underground lairs, shootouts, fist fights, sword fights, creepy monsters, cool special effects, Chinese black magic and lots of iconic one-liners. Kurt Russell is awesome as Jack Burton. He's this scuzzy truck driver, but charismatic and a hero at heart. Even if he claims he's only there cause he wants his truck back...

  His intrepid sidekick, Wang Chi is this irresistibly energetic, high-kicking, character who has perfect chemistry with Jack. They're like Han Solo and Chewbacca. Kirk and Spock.  Sherlock and Watson. You can't separate em, and you wouldn't want to even if you could. It also dons on me that Big Trouble is not unlike an old school, side-scrolling, beat-em-up video game. This is arcade room gold. You play a rough-and-tumble truck driver who only wants his truck back, but ends up having to rescue the damsel in distress. Stage one? Chinatown wars- boss battle? Thunder gods! It's so much fun, and so crazy.

  It definitely has an old school comic book/video game vibe, and that's never a bad thing. From the music, to the vibrant colors, pacing, and beyond. This movie is a big ball of non-stop fun. Even it's sense of humor matches the zaniness of the rest of it. The hero saves the day with lipstick smudged on his face from the obligatory kiss he got once he rescued the girl. It's silly, but it works and it makes me smile. As you might have gathered, the acting in this movie is unapologetically melodramatic, but it fits the overall tone. Not to mention the pacing is so breakneck you could care less.

   The movie only stops every so often to provide the clueless Jack Burton with some fleeting answers to his bewildered questioning as to "Just what the hell is going on?", which conveniently advances the story and provides some exposition, and then again so the heroes can briefly plot their next move. This isn't such a bad move, since the movie feels practically animated in it's energy. There's no time to stop, a girl's life is on the line! Thus the movie plays to the urgency of a kidnapped damsel in distress, there's no time to do anything except... well... save the day- and, watching them save the day is a blast when they're pitted against the mystical Chinese underworld populated with sorcerers and demons. Great movie. Great fun. Classic.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


  I've been playing a lot of Resident Evil 3 lately. Which is still quite the classic, and it's made me to want to watch some more zombie flicks. Having seen all but the most recent Resident Evil movie, it was safe to say I should expose myself to a better breed of zombie flick.  I'd already seen the original Night of the Living Dead when I was in grade school at a friend's sleepover. It truly scared me shitless. It put me off everything 'zombie' related for a while. Fortunately, that was grade school; an eternity ago. Now bring on the scares and gore, and Dawn of the Dead did just that.

  I was hoping for something intense and bloody. I was in for a treat. Dawn jumps right into it. It's hectic and bloody opening sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Only letting up around the midway mark, Dawn of the Dead is a horror roller coaster that has stood the test of time and become something of a titan in the genre.  The gore effects are awesome. You won't be disappointed. Some of it made me cringe actually. In the good way. I think my only complaint is how standard the zombies themselves look. Though I might be spoiled by modern zombie effects, these zombies look like people. Grey skinned people. No blood and disfigured faces of any kind. But alas, they still remain effective enough to be scary at times and elevate the tension to an immense level.

  It was quite a fun movie to watch, and I was in for a whole world of awesome by the climax. Which was a massive battle royale between zombies, a small army of bikers and our band of intrepid heroes. It's pretty glorious to watch the chaos and carnage unfold.  Also what kinda took me off guard was the sense of humor. Wasn't expecting it to have one at all; but it does, and it fits well into the movie.  Much in the way Zombieland was. Though this adheres to Romero's rule that "Dead things don't run." it was still quite tense and effective in how they found clever ways to crank up the suspense to nail biting levels.  The movie isn't perfect, there's some mild bits of pacing issues and general stupidity, but overall it was a damn good flick that's worth watching beyond a shadow of a doubt.

  This remake helmed by geek favorite Zack Snyder proves to be an effective remake even if it is inferior to the original.  It provides what the original didn't. More vicious looking and bloodier zombies, tighter editing, and a relatable modern setting. Unfortunately, it doesn't go much further beyond that. It introduces some truly unique and interesting concepts, like the unborn zombie baby, the fact animals wouldn't be craved by zombies (which I didn't really like) and little things like that. Some great. Some not.
Dawn of the Dead's pace is so breakneck and sudden that our protagonists exist merely as placeholders. We're expected to care about these people on principal. However the movie also makes clear cut human antagonists. So these people are good cause they're nice, and that guy we want dead cause he's an asshole.
That formula... doesn't gel for me. It's so cliche.

  Furthermore, there's some conflict of character logic, and a smidge of shoddy acting, but overall this remake is very well made and fun to watch. It's a decent zombie action/horror movie that stands head and shoulders above others of it's kind. Ving Rhames easily is the most undeniably watchable person here. He's simply so badass and cool that you can't help but like him. He gets the best lines and the best moments, and he's a pleasure to watch and makes the movie for me personally. It's not really fun spending time with these characters. Unlike the original Dawn, where it was indeed a blast. I'm not trying to knock the movie that badly. I don't want it to sound like that.  However it is inferior to the original. Not VASTLY inferior, not slightly inferior. It's the difference between great and good. It's good. Whereas the original was great.
If you keep your expectations in check you can have lots of fun with this movie.  I know I did. I just wasn't blown away.

  It's very competently directed, they obviously had a good appreciation for the original, to the point of even snagging some chuckle worthy cameos from some of the original cast members. Overall I did enjoy it. I do suppose though that's all there is to this unfortunately one-note experience.

  This french language horror thriller is quite over the top in a deliciously bloody way. The acting is solid for the most part, and the zombies are cool and vicious and the setting is decent. Overall, it's a very serviceable flick. And for what it's worth, I liked it better than Dawn of the Dead remake. It's certainly more unique.
Not the most original flick ever, but certainly a badass popcorn flick. The Horde is very well made, and very well acting. This is it's strength actually. It's not wholly 100% original. However the things it borrows from other zombie movies, it actually does just as well if not better. Trapped in a high rise building... zombies swarming the whole place... etc etc. It works here. Very well.

  Also, the killing here is awesome. Some truly badass scenes. Very memorable stuff, especially from Eriq Ebouaney. He single-handedly made this movie to me. His on-screen presence was astounding. He exudes control and leadership in his amazing performance here. I almost didn't care about the "good guys" because either they were all straight-up douchebags, or just bland as fuck. A few of them get neat scenes in the last act but nothing that fully justified their blandness. Unfortunate. But alas, the secondary characters are very fun to watch even if they tend to overact alot.  In general, The Horde is a mixed bag. Not drastically so though. Some characters are shit. Some are awesome. Some parts are bland, and others awesome.

  Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad, even if it is by a slim margin. Thus I do heartily recommend this movie, because I feel it was definitely worth my time.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin

  There's much to love in this Shaw Bros. classic. For one, it's really really well made. The story may be threadbare simple, but that's better for this type of movie than over-complicating the hell out of it. You can follow what's going on and why. Which is a big plus for an old kung-fu flick. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is truly fun. But it's not one huge long fight scene. Nor is it one big fight after the next. It's really about  one man's quest to learn kung-fu to help others defend themselves and fight against a cruel and sadistic military regime.

  The training sequences are the heart of this movie, much like the Rocky franchise. Except, in this movie, they're also the entire main focus. Most of the screen-time is devoted to his learning Shaolin martial arts. Which is incredibly entertaining anyways. Watching him persevere through insanely trying tests and rigorous exercises is more fun than one might think. Even if it already sounds fun. It's very creative and inventive. It's also clear where so many films copied from it. But this is truly the granddaddy Shaolin flick of em all. In a movie clocking in at nearly two solid hours, there's not one moment of boredom.

 The movie zips along at a brisk pace, delivering impressively choreographed fights and duels that wouldn't even look outdated by today's standard. Also worth noting is the suberb editing clever scene transitions. They're never more than hard cuts, but they're synchronized using neat placement of sound effects and camera framing. This links the two scenes in a really cool way that keeps the momentum moving forward.

Unfortunately, the very last act seems rushed and is rather choppy. Also, at some points in the movie, the acting can be face-palmingly melodramatic, even for the era. Then, there is some occasional spotty acting regardless, but overall, the acting is good and I have no serious complaints. The movie is infectiously entertaining and irresistibly fun.

  It's definitely a genre classic, and a damn good flick in it's own right. I can't recommend it enough.