Friday, August 30, 2013

Dark Angel


  Every so often you come across a movie you've never heard about in a genre populated by movies you'd be better off not hearing about, and this movie ends up being really damn cool. Enter: Dark Angel (a.k.a. 'I Come In Peace') Dolph Lundgren in the spotlight, and at his finest. This is arguably on par with Showdown in Little Tokyo for sheer enjoyment factor if anything. It's essentially a buddy cop movie, with a sci-fi twist. Gotta love those. With lots of snarky wit and plenty of explosive action, Dark Angel more than makes up for it's tiny shortcomings and with gusto no less. The effects aren't state of the art, but they're unique, well executed and fun to look at. This is a movie for a lazy friday night in, easily marathoned with the likes of The Hidden (which edges out marginally as the better movie, despite many similarities), and Deep Rising (pre-Mummy Steven Sommers, putting giant tentacled creatures on a cruise ship).

  That's the kind of group of movies you can lump this in with. Though dare I say, of those, Dark Angel has the superior plot. In The Hidden (a movie I thoroughly love by the way) a parasitic alien comes to Earth, finds a host body and decides to steal fast cars, listen to rock and roll, do drugs and blow stuff up. Then another alien, teaming up with a local cop, comes to stop him. Deep Rising is well... Aliens on a cruise ship.
Dark Angel however is about an alien who's come to Earth to harvest endorphins from humans, which is known on other worlds as the purest drug in existence. Of course this Vigo the Carpathian looking fucker, doesn't give a shit that his brutal harvesting process is entirely fatal. (Would you like an extraction tube shoved into your skull? No?) It's up to Dolph and partner to stop the evil baddie and save the day.

  The movie balances it's two genres really well. On one hand, you have your typical cops vs. drug dealers story, and all the gunfights and such that you'd expect. On the other hand, you have something of a Terminator nature. A hulking unstoppable otherworldly menace, preying on people, leaving a trail of corpses in his path. He fidgets with his alien weapons and gadgets, bringing to mind the Predator actually. These little gadgets are used to great effect to convince us this guy is an alien, and not just a tall guy with white contacts in. They beep and hiss and have neat little built in lights. They look decidedly cool, very cool. Unfortunately, the villain is kind of a one-trick-pony. He's at his max scary level when he's chasing you or shooting at you. It all falls apart when you make him growl or linger around on screen too long. You realize the guy isn't as scary looking as you might've thought, and his 'alien' growling sounds pathetic.

  That's okay though because his 'space gun' seems to fire Michael Bay bullets. Everything freaking explodes. Like... you have no idea. Each bullet or laser blast or whatever, seems to have the explosive capacity of a hand grenade. Cars explode and fly across the screen in a frenzy of sparks and flame, and you think... woah. That's pretty cool. It's shameless overkill, but it's better than some shitty penciled in animated laser beams that only seem to knock people on their asses. Not to mention the gun is fully automatic. Do the math. It's epic stuff. Not to mention, it's extra cool because Dolph Lundgren is at home in this role. He has a personality. Cliche as it might be, it works. He's not a robot here, nor does the script require him to be. He's not some rogue cop with a tortured past. He doesn't carry a desert eagle, and he doesn't drive a ferrari. He's just a cop who likes to get shit done. We'll allow him the fancy karate kicks, okay? He has good chemistry with his co-stars and they sell it all real well. Granted, Dolph has some lines that are clunkers, but hey... don't kill the messenger yeah? Writer's fault. All in all, him and his preppy FBI partner are pretty damn fun to watch.

  As an action junkie, you won't be wanting after this. You have car chases, fist fights, an obligatory strip club scene of T&A ("I think all the blood is leaving my head...") and PLENTY of shootouts. All of it done with the style and technical proficiency of a movie that you'd never guess is rather low budget. It's technically sound. It looks great too. This is a movie that is completely understanding of what it is. Lowest common denominator entertainment. However, it's surprisingly well acted and the plot is nothing to shrug at either. I was very impressed. If you want some cheap B movie thrills that deliver exactly what those over-the-top VHS covers seem to promise (and rarely deliver...) you'd do well to check out Dark Angel. I really adore movies like this. Fast, bloody, and smarter than it has any right to be, this one kicks ass.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Dead End Drive-IN


  Can't complain much about Dead End Drive-In. It does what it sets out to do with flair and gusto. As a post apocalyptic, 80's, Ozploitation flick, it manages to be incredibly fun. It's not a stupid movie, it's not a bad movie, and I can safely say I'd watch it again. I suppose an appreciate of the genre might be tinting my glasses a bit, but that doesn't change the fact that the story is creative, the acting is good, and the whole thing builds to a very satisfying climax that left me smiling and nodding in approval. After a veritable slew of movies that left me cold, or impartial, this was refreshing. Not groundbreaking or game-changing, just good solid fun. Nothing wrong with that.

  In the "future", 1990's, things have become practically post-apocalyptic. I say practically because there still seems to be a functioning form of government, unlike say... The Road Warrior. The government is corrupt as ever and there are a slew of Drive-In's that are essentially prisons for riff-raff and the unemployed. Your wheels are hijacked by the cops, and you're stuck. The fence is electrified, there's a cantina, showers, and a movie every night. This is actually a better situation for most of these young delinquents than what they had outside. They've formed a crude inner-society among themselves and wouldn't leave if they had the option.
Our protagonist however, doesn't want to stay, and he's prepared to fight to get out.

  The hero, "Crabs" as they call him, is like a young Australian David Duchovny. I seriously can't get past that. It was uncanny. Completely irrelevant, but uncanny. The actor is actually very good and he's instantly endearing as he seems to be a respectable guy amidst a whole society of degenerate creeps. I mean, even Max Rockatansky found allies eventually. Not our guy, even his girlfriend eventually warms up to the Drive-In and decides to stay. Trying to break out of this Drive-In seems to be harder than it looks too. Our hero has the odds stacked against him impossibly so. Nobody even wants to escape. He's entirely on his own. It's also worth noting that he has a decent and loving family back home. I can imagine most of these others don't.

  The movie isn't a thrill-a-minute action movie, and is actually more akin to your average prison escape movie in terms of pacing. There's lots of tension, a few brawls, learning the ropes of the place, seeing our hero plan his escape, get foiled a couple times, and then finally- well I won't tell you if he gets out or not. It's fun though, and very entertaining. The movie's concept is clever too. When Crabs and his girlfriend Carmen pull into the ticket booth in the beginning, the sign says "$10.00 ADULT. $3.50 UNEMPLOYED."  Crabs says unemployed, and thus instantly condemns him and his girlfriend to a veritable lifetime there. There's a real sense of being trapped, but what's really unnerving is how everyone there is completely content to stay.
It didn't even take Carmen that long to warm up to the place. Which was rather unbelievable since we have no idea what her life outside was like, for contrast.

  However in the end, I was thoroughly satisfied with this neat little movie. A likable and well-acted protagonist goes a long way in a movie like this. I enjoyed it. I recommend it too. Fun movie with a neat premise and a very convincing (if not a very dated) set. Definitely gets the stamp of approval from me.

The Dark Side of the Moon


  There must be a literal blueprint somewhere on how to make an 'Alien' knock off. Industrial looking corridors, check. Strobe lights, check. Sweat and condensation, check. Bursting steam vents, check. Creepy entity or otherworldly villain, check. The Dark Side of the Moon follows this checklist to the letter, and as a result, it's actually pretty passable. The devotion to the Alien aesthetic is inspiring in an odd way. This movie comes off as more of a love letter to Alien as fearful characters peer around corners in closeups, sweating and keeping an eye out for the creature. However, does this mean it's a good movie? That remains to be seen.

 There are hundreds of Alien knockoffs and then there's the people who watch them. Who either fall into one of two categories. There are those who love this format so much, they will watch all the Alien knockoffs with some measurable amount of glee. If not outright glee, mild satisfaction. Then there are those looking for good sci-fi horror. The latter bunch would be better off simply re-watching Alien. The odds of finding a movie that matches Alien's quality in a genre populated by low budget DTV crap, are astronomical. This movie is strictly middle of the road for the most part. There's one neat idea in the whole movie and it's a really neat one, but something only comes of it in the last minute. Which I'd say was worth it in my opinion.

  There's a ship, it's in space, there's another ship which is like... abandoned or something. Obviously the two link up because the first ship is having issues and needs help. So when they use the oxygen from the derelict ship to replenish their own, "something" gets aboard. I say "something" because even after having watched it I'm not sure what it is. It travels from host to host, it can control them, and it considers itself god-like. It's motivations are basically... non-existent. Kill, basically. I guess. Lemme just say, in an odd reversal from the usual fare, the creature is not what's worth watching this movie for. The production values are higher than one might think. The acting is better than it has any right to be, and there's a palpable sense of dread and a real creepy atmosphere in the movie. Granted, you might be better off still watching Alien again or Event Horizon for that matter... but there's something endearing about this movie. In a late-night, VHS, bargain bin, kind of way.

  You fully expect it to suck, and the special effects to be utter shit. However the movie surprised me with it's persistently adequate attributes. This is not a bad movie. It's not particularly a good one, but only because there are so many better than it. I'm at a bit of a quandary with this movie. I didn't dislike it, and I can't say I liked it. It was so cookie-cutter-Alien, that I can't recommend it. Yet I can't bash it, because despite it's shoestring budget it replicates the atmosphere and tension that made Alien so scary. Isn't that worth a few brownie points at least? It doesn't look painfully cheesy, the lead actor is actually pleasant to watch and root for, and the weakest part of the movie aside from the strange alien entity, is the dialog. Which is often hokey as hell. Not much ever gets explained about the creature thing, and the movie might've been better off without it altogether.

  The ending surprised me, and the very very end, was actually really cool. Merits that are not easy to achieve in a DTV B-movie. So I guess the highest compliment I can pay this movie, is that I respect it for trying. Unfortunately, it still doesn't do anything that other movies haven't done better. Thus unless you are someone (like me) with an outright affinity for these Alien knockoffs, steer clear. Though I can't believe you'd run into this movie unless you're looking for it. It's so obscure. Having said that, I can say you probably won't be bored with it. I was entertained, if only in the most basic sense. This movie will quietly and unceremoniously fade into my memory getting lost somewhere between Forbidden World and Event Horizon. Both of which I'd gladly watch again. The Dark of the Moon is not a movie I'll miss, but it deserved it's watch. Kudos for giving it your best guys.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sorority House Massacre 3: Hard to Die


  There could be much to love about a movie like this, it's typical Jim Wynorski fare, but it's merits are solely up to the viewer.Who is Jim Wynorski you might ask? He directed such gems as Sorority House Massacre II, Deathstalker II, Dinosaur Island, Cheerleader Massacre, Busty Cops, and Busty Cops Go Hawaiian. You get the picture. I went on a "bad movie diet" a while ago, and you might think that means I avoided bad movies, you'd be wrong. It was pretty much nothing but B-movies, Z-movies, and flat out bad movies. So, Wynorski's name came up a bit. I think you have to have a personal affinity for cheesy and/or bad movies to find any merit in ones like this. I'm pretty sure I do. Yet I also have a few distractions on hand in case the movie drags or gets boring. (i.e. YouTube, Facebook, the internet in general)

  Hard to Die was billed on the cover as the "Female Die Hard!" and it shows a chick with an assault rifle, in naught but her undergarments. Right away this tells me two things about the movie, it will have scantily clad women and guns. I'm totally cool with that. Sign me up. However this is where things go south, and I say that not with a disappointed frown, but a smile as I'm trying to refrain from laughing. The movie is about a bunch of women on a work release or something, looking for work I guess? They find themselves having to clean up a building or something... Now, bear with me. I may be confusing Hard to Die with several other movies.

   You might ask, "Several?" and yes. Several. A funny thing about these movies, including (but not limited to...) Sorority House Massacre II, and Slumber Party Massacre, is that they all reuse footage. From the same movie apparently. I believe it's Slumber Party Massacre actually. Not ONLY is the footage used as flashback/backstory material, the entire context is changed in each movie. They have no connection and no real canon to speak of, yet ALSO a main actor from Slumber Party Massacre, makes an appearance in all of these other movies! Playing an identical character each time! Whether this was sheer laziness, or an in joke, or what... I don't know. But in retrospect, it's friggin hilarious.

  So yeah, Hard to Die is no exception to the reusing of that scene from Slumber Party', and as a result you can tell this is not going to be an action movie. The comparison to Die Hard is amazingly puzzling. (to say nothing of insulting) The only thing they have in common is humans, being called a movie, and one could stretch a bit and say they both take place in high rise buildings. That's it. The antagonist in the movie is actually a pissed off homicidal spirit who can possess people. The twist is that the bad guy is not who you think it is until the end. Which I can't help but spoil later on in this review.

   Meanwhile though, the movie makes the stupidest excuses to get the girls into their bras and panties and nothing else. So while on the job, they get stranded in this building somehow, and because their bored and they feel entitled or whatever, they decide to open some boxes of lingerie and try it on. Haha, sorry, what? Lemme just go try on some underwear that doesn't belong to me in front of a bunch of other people who I've only known for a couple hours because that's completely normal right? OF COURSE! Oh and there's a shower scene before they try on the lingerie. Cool beans?
One girl grabs her boob, and it squeaks. Yes, like a cartoon... rubber ducky... honk honk, squeak. That is the maturity level of the movie. Or if you'd prefer, stupidity level. Whichever works for you.

 Then the movie has them running up and down hallways and looking for stuff or something, which is all stupid because... none of this is sexy in the slightest, or even MILDLY creepy. Something which Slumber Party Massacre was, very creepy. The lingerie isn't sexy, it looks tacky and ill-fitting. The girls aren't really all that hot. It's kinda a game of... which one is the least bad looking. I kid, somewhat. They're not bad looking, but if you're going to have a bunch of ladies take their clothes off and run around in their panties for 80-90 minutes, at least do us the genre-necessary courtesy of having hot women do this.

   There are hundreds upon hundreds of shitty B-movies that have no shortage of beautiful women, baring all for the camera. It's not impossible. So, again, while these girls aren't bad looking, they're just average. Maybe one or two is really cute. But alas. Then I think there's like... only one gun in the whole movie, until the cops show up in the final 15 seconds. So, action is a bust too. Mostly the movie is full of these girls getting murdered by whoever is possessed by the spirit.

  Lets talk about the ending though, spoilers galore by the way.  The cops show up to rescue the last two girls, when the big creepy guy shows up who's been chasing them the whole time (same dude who appears in all these movies) only the movie pulls a total Shayamalan on us and reveals, he's just trying to save them, and the spirit actually possessed one of the two girls! Dun dun DUNNN. The possessed girl starts speaking in a deep "scary" voice, which sounds retarded and she has a "climatic" showdown with the creepy fat janitor dude who the other girls all but tortured thinking he was the villain.

Hahahaha. This is seriously the end of the movie. The fat creepy janitor fights the possessed chick, channeling the voice of a guy, who's voice has actually been deepened to sound creepy. It's so mercilessly stupid and weird and random. This is where I broke, and I lost it. I died with laughter, I rolled around on my couch, laughing. I'm not quite sure if I was hopelessly laughing like a depressed madman at the 90 minutes
 of my life I'll never get back, or laughing because the stupidity of this movie finally K.O.'d my funny bone. I'm convinced nobody ever meant for this movie to be serious, and that's okay, because the laugh I had at the end was worth it. It was worth all of it. Maybe not the weird pedo hand-holding as they wheel the creepy fat janitor and the surviving girl away on stretchers side by side, with the fade to black closing in with a heart shaped cut-out over their hands... maybe it wasn't worth that... but it was worth everything else!

As a footnote, I should explain my history with this movie by the way. On my bad movie diet, I had totally sunk my teeth into the other "Massacre" movies, but couldn't find a copy of this one. As my bad movie binge continued on and on, I became more determined to find this movie. It eluded me... for a whole year. Maybe more. I found so many other obscure and retarded movies that no human should have ever wasted their time on... (and they did) but I could not find this. I was convinced that it was the holy grail of bad movies. Eventually a friend got me access to an invite only site that specializes in shitty movies like this, and I found it. So, Hard to Die earned a permanent place in my folder of B-movies, even though I may never watch it again...


...alone, that is.

 Cue the creepy smile, eerie theme music, and the cliche fade to black. Roll credits.

V/H/S 2


  V/H/S 2 is a really cool movie. It's the second installment in the V/H/S series, in which each movie is a found footage anthology that is tied together by a single setting in a pair of bookend and transitional scenes. (I say series, cause a third is being made, and well... you know horror movies. They never stop at three.)
I'm not a huge fan of found footage movies. They tend to either be cool, like Cloverfield (step off haters) or just shitty like some I won't even grace with a mention. I've heard reactions about the initial V/H/S, and they ranged from "It was cool" to "AWFUL" and doing a bit more digging, I found many people to be disappointed with it. Fortunately, the sequel was getting all kinds of good buzz. Even from some friends of mine. So I figured I'd give it a shot.

  Really glad I did too, this movie is indeed really cool. I don't wanna say great, because being an anthology with several segments, not all of them are actually that good. Yet some are fantastic. One, specifically, but we'll get to that later. There is so much potential in anthology films, one of my personal favorites, Heavy Metal, pulled it off rather well. In Heavy Metal which is animated and in general is worlds apart from V/H/S 2, save for the fact they're both anthology films... in Heavy Metal, you have a variety of art styles, animation techniques, and the like. You get something different from each segment. Most are really cool, and some you just kinda... sit through. Another anthology film I liked was the Animatrix, same bag essentially. Speaking of variety and quality, V/H/S 2 falls right in line. There are some segments which are just cool enough to keep you watching, and others which are sheer awesome.

  The key to V/H/S 2's success is that it puts the clips in the right places. In terms of quality especially. To break it down, I'll review each segment and then review the film's worth as a whole.

  Tape 49 is the framing narrative that ties all the clips together. I thought it wasn't that bad, it was appropriately creepy for the most part, and overall served it's function if nothing else. Ye be warned, arr, thar be spoilers in these waters, arrr. Okay, so, Tape 49 is about a private investigator and his girlfriend(?)/assistant/partner who're hired to find a missing young man by his mother who apparently hasn't heard from him in a while. So they go to the guy's house and break in at night, only to find some pretty weird shit. A bunch of old TV's and tape decks, VCRs, and stacks of recording VHSs.  While the guy goes around looking at other shit, the girl sits down to look through these tapes for evidence. Plausible.
Okay, this is where I have issues with it. Each tape is apparently what any sane person would think, is some of the outright goddamn freakiest shit ever...

  Yet! She barely reacts to them, and after each segment, the little narrative finds some reason to have her play the next one, until she actually passes out due to their 'supernatural' effect I guess. Then her boyfriend rushes in to see what happened, he's holding her, checking on her... and instead of, I DON'T KNOW, getting her to a fucking hospital, what does he do...? HE PUTS THE NEXT TAPE IN.  I audibly shouted "Bullshit!" at that moment. Seriously. Not to mention the theory that the tapes have some effect on you, doesn't apply here, because he conveniently never SAW any of them. Somehow he was out of the room, each damn time, and for the WHOLE time she watched these segments. I won't spoil the ending or the mini plot about what happened to the missing guy, which is pretty neat actually, so it makes up for it. Almost.

  Anyways the first segment she watches is called Phase 1: Clinical Trials, which I think was okay overall, I think it was creepy, and well made, but far from mind blowing or anything. It's basically about a guy who gets a new prosthetic eye which is a camera that actually jacks into the optic nerve, allowing the guy to see out of that eye. However, shit gets messy when he starts seeing dead people that night at home. The plot actually has a few neat twists in it's limited run time and actually surprised me more than I thought it would. It even has a little bit of humor in there, which is never unwelcome if done right. The acting was solid and it made good use of the first person perspective angle, but how the digital video signal relayed from his camera eye to the hospital or whatever, made it's way onto an obsolete video format is beyond me. This is actually something that bugged me. For a movie that's central motif is VHS tapes, you'd think their one requirement from these segments (all written and directed by different teams) is that the story would have to have a plausible way of winding up on a VHS tape. Not all of the stories have this problem, but some definitely do and it's annoying as all can be.

  Following that one was the much better segment, A Ride in the Park. This follows a cyclist, who's attached some P.O.V. cameras onto his helmet and bike for a joy ride down the bike in the park. This of course goes terribly wrong when zombies come into play and he becomes one himself. A horror short from the perspective of a zombie? Even if I'm not a total fan of how it ultimately played out, kudos for one hell of an original angle. I liked this just for the creativity if nothing else. Not to mention the fantastic makeup effects. I won't spoil anything else about this seeing as how it's one of the better ones, but keep in mind the movie is only baiting you for it's awesome centerpiece.

  That piece of awesomeness is titled Safe Haven, and it's easily the best segment in the movie. Probably also the best thing about the movie period. Yeah. So it follows a film crew in Indonesia who convince a new-age cult leader to allow them to come to his compound and interview him about his beliefs and some rumored controversy. Eager to get his word out, he accepts. However, if weird vibes were road blocks, the crew never would've made it up the mountain to the compound. The atmosphere in this one is so gritty and realistic that you know whatever is going to happen is going to be horrifying. Cults are scary as is, cults in movies, moreso (sometimes).  This segment goes all out in every horror department, and scares up a near perfect score  from me. I haven't seen anything as intense as the last part of this segment in ages, my heart was in my throat, and I was legitimately unnerved. Which says alot seeing as how I consider myself to be a fairly desensitized viewer. Safe Haven shows alot of things head on, but doesn't need to rely on shock effect alone to scare you, it's haunting atmosphere, frantic pacing and amazing acting really sells the story and situation. Also, I can totally understand how this might actually end up on VHS which makes it creepier all the more.

  Lastly we have Slumber Party Alien Abduction which I hate to say is not one of the stronger ones. No use trying to hide the fact it's about Aliens or anything. I'll just say it, the story is balls. I didn't like it. Parents go away on vacation or something leaving their irresponsible teenage daughter (who's just gonna shack up with her boyfriend. Tch. Cliche.) in charge of her younger brother, and his buddies who're having a sleepover. Then Aliens show up and start abducting everyone. The Aliens are cool and this reminds me of something X-Files might've used as a cold open in one of their episodes, unfortunately the characters are so plainly annoying, cliche, and ill-introduced that when certain ones get abducted or attacked, you don't really care. Following Safe Haven, I can't imagine anything not being a disappointment in some manner, but this one wasn't really good. I mean, not to say it was bad, but it had no twist, it was paper thin, and full of unlikable characters. It's easily the most uncreative story in the bunch and that's sad because the visual treatment of the aliens was really scary and effective. I dunno how they managed to make a segment about alien abductions, not have it be amazing, and use it to cap off the film? Lame. But not a total tragedy. I've seen worse.

  We then come full circle back to Tape 49's conclusion, ultimately wrapping up the film in a neat way that I really enjoyed. On the whole, the movie is fun and unique and at times, scary. What it occasionally lacks in quality, it makes up for with sheer creativity and fun. If not for the couple weak links, V/H/S 2 might've been a bona-fide genre classic. It's certainly one of the better found footage films I've seen, and along with it's use of practical effects, I can say I'm a fan. Looking forward to more as well. Sign me up.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Matrix Reloaded


  As you all well know, I'm a huge fan of the original. Yet I've found it hard to talk about in reviews, I have, but still, you can only say "amazing" so many times. I think I have much more to talk about when it comes to this sequel. The Matrix is back, everyone and everything you loved from the first one is back. Sadly, this movie alienated a lot of fans, and I totally understand why. There's a lot to crack into with Reloaded, from the action scenes to the 'philosophies' in the movie, and most importantly where the story has gone from the first movie. The Matrix Reloaded is so densely packed that it doesn't suffice to simply review it. You must dissect it.

  In this movie, we see the return of Agent Smith, who we all know was good and well deleted in the last movie. Pretty much... However, he returns as a rogue agent actually. Not working for the machines, instead fighting for his own purposes. I get this. In a way. Smith has essentially become a virus. He was a program that wouldn't delete right, and combined with some unique circumstances he became a self replicating virus. Which is the best I can explain it. Why isn't he working for the machines? Well, you're the user, your computer is the machines, and computer viruses effectively screw you both. So there. Weak? Maybe. Does the movie provide a better answer? Nope. The return of Smith alone, and then his newfound ability to copy himself (which is just like overwriting a program with another program) left many a viewer in complete confusion. My own conclusion proved satisfactory for me, so moving on!

  Neo has prophetic dreams in this movie, which while the first movie hinted at messianic overtones, likening Neo to a Jesus figure, this movie kinda bashes you over the head with it. Long, ungainly, and trailer-esque speeches are made about "beliefs", "providence" and the "end of the war". These are kind of bloated and a truly ineffective means of exposition. It heightens this sci-fi actioner to religious allegory, and it doesn't gel too well. Lest we forget, Neo can fly, remember? A perfect cliffhanger in it's predecessor which actually pays off here. It's really friggin cool, and if anything helps us to buy into this savior deal. He can fly, stop bullets, fight agents, I mean... why not? Clearly he can bend the rules better than any other freed mind, to a previously unseen extent. The savior thing is cool so far. Even if it is just a bit pretentious. I couldn't help but expect it anyways. It starts to get on my nerves when the narrative is lost in the double speak and biblical overtones.

  For example, the Oracle tells Neo he needs the Keymaker. The Keymaker is held by a power hungry program called the Merovingian. Before long, we forget why we need the Keymaker, if it was ever adequately explained to begin with, we're unsure if rewinding will help. Suppose you have a tenuous grip on the story thus far, a barrage of high concept ideas are thrown at us at an alarming rate. Exiled programs, earlier versions of the matrix itself, Neo has "predecessors", and apparently a program can want to feel love. These can be cool ideas if explored properly, unfortunately, between the incredibly dense and confusing doublespeak, that always seems to lead nowhere, and the movie's incredibly packed visual language... it's so painfully easy to find yourself lost by the wayside.

  One moment you're listening to a five minute speech on "causality", the next, you're finally back to the Keymaker and an insane highway chase that if I remember right is so long, it takes up three scene selection markers and clocks in at around 13 minutes total. Damn. This is actually a big highlight of the movie, but we'll get to that later. The characters in the movie shuffle around from one crazy character to the next, and we seem to get a longer speech each time. Sometimes, I'm fairly certain (not unlike Smith himself) some of the characters are just talking, unsure of what's happening anyways. If the Wachowski's had something to say, there was no reason to hide it in doublespeak. The cool factor of the movie is damaged for all the overly inflated scenes it has like this. In it's best moments, it reminds us why we loved the first one, but in it's worst it floods us with so much head-spinning dialog that we cease to give a shit.

  Some people may level the accusation that it's just "too intellectual for you people". Well, sorry, but look at the first movie. It had a clear cut plot, a complex yet uncomplicated narrative, and a concise story. Not only does it seem like Reloaded doesn't know where it's going, besides to a cliffhanger, it also doesn't know how to cover it up. As a result the movie is populated by confusing speeches which are loaded with symbolism, high concept ideas that allude to a much bigger picture, and it's inhabited by characters which are just as crazy and confusing. If there is a rhyme and reason to this stuff, it's buried deep in the movie. If there is some deep meaning, it's shrouded in bullshit. Which is not something I say lightly. This movie may or may not have something philosophical driving it, but we can never really access the narrative to uncover it.

  All that aside, The Matrix Reloaded also does some things very very right.  For one, the Wachowski's really stepped up the pure spectacle of it. If The Matrix stunned you away with bullettime scenes and such, Reloaded aims to blow you away. Each action scene eclipses the last in both size and sheer intensity. The crazy story facilitates some even crazier fight scenes. I cannot in good conscience say that Reloaded was anything short of amazing when it comes to sheer spectacle. The crazy characters (like the ghost duo) and the action scenes that wrap around them, are amazing. The fantastic highway chase still thrills like no other, and this is no small feat in an age of movies like Fast Five and it's sequels. Morpheus gets to face off with an agent, atop a speeding semi truck. All the while, the scene escalates and escalates, we see the genius of the choreography and chaos. Both Morpheus and Trinity really have their time to shine in this whole scene. If their reputations as badasses were ever in jeopardy from all the speeches and lovemaking (respectively), they're most definitely solid now. It's a great centerpiece to a movie full of great set pieces. What more can one ask for when it comes to action?

  We're also treated to finally seeing Zion, which I heard some people were disappointed with... I don't see why though. I thought it was pretty damn impressive. Especially the machine level. An amazing and thoughtful scene takes place there between Neo and Councillor Hamann. He makes a big analogy about not knowing how the water filtration machine works, only that it needs to work. Referring to Neo and his abilities, (paraphrasing a bit) "I don't know how you do the things you do... but I understand the need for them." Despite all the insane action scenes in this movie, this scene might be my favorite. It's easily one of the more honest and emotional scenes. I like the additions to the cast and (Harold Perrineau) Link just might be my favorite character in Reloaded. He brings humanity to the movie and a much needed heart to the proceedings. He's funny without being comic relief, and completely relatable. After seeing Neo do something quite amazing, spectacular and profound, he drops into his chair, stunned, and simply remarks... "...I can't take this."
It's a line which never ceases to bring a smile to my face, because honestly, everyone else seems to have become accustomed to Neo doing god-like deeds.

  In the end, I'm left wanting. The movie doesn't end on a rousing climatic battle like it's predecessor, it ends on a strange, depressing, and flat out weird cliffhanger. It gets the job done in getting you curious for the next one, but still I can't help but always feel a little let down in the end. I think this movie is a testament to the fact that massive blockbuster action scenes can't save a movie if it's already dead on arrival. I firmly believe that The Matrix could've still succeeded as a movie (if not financially, critically) even if the action scenes were drastically cut back. The Matrix Reloaded would not. This sequel seems to exist only to try and one-up it's predecessor's spectacular action scenes, which it does, but the movie is no better for it. If anything, it's harder to relate to the characters, something which isn't so bad in the first act, but becomes outright awful by the ending. Reloaded, for all it's strangeness and confusing direction, still qualifies as a once-in-a-blue-moon guilty pleasure for me. Which is nice, but no doubt a major drop-off from the first movie, which ranks as one of my top 3 all time favorite movies. It's a mixed bag, and an exciting one (at times) but nowhere near as good as #1. (as if I haven't hammered that point in enough.)

The Matrix


  Some claim it rips off anime, manga, and comic books galore, yet I think quite clearly it draws on them as distinct inspiration and crafts a loving homage to the entire genre. From Ghost in the Shell, to Akira, The Matrix takes themes and visual cues from some already great material. It used them in a way unseen to the audiences of 1999. It felt fresh and inventive. To realize that a lot of the foundation to this movie already existed in other places, some felt betrayed. I can understand that. However, if anything The Matrix simply brought the cyberpunk sub-genre to the masses. In a flashy Hollywood action movie package nonetheless. The pairing of genres is as good as it had been way back in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. A movie which some consider to be one of the best action/sci-fi movies ever. No argument there. I also wouldn't argue having The Matrix tied for that spot.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nemesis


  This is one of those movies I always saw on the shelf at the video rental store as a kid, and in pretty much any place that sold secondhand VHS tapes. (Usually along with Split Second and Leviathan) The cover art is really eye-catching, but then again a LOT of shitty movies have eye-catching cover art. (i.e. Crime Zone) I mean, there are whole websites devoted to that phenomenon. I love it. Unfortunately, the fact remains that usually, the movie itself... is still actually shitty. Amazingly, this is one of the few that defies that idea. The cover is every bit as awesome as the movie inside! (see: Guyver 2, and again, Split Second) Just how did this escape the cool cover/shity movie curse? Read on to find out why I dug this archaic macho fest.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

American Mary


  There are plenty of horror movies with big ambition that just... fail to make the cut. Or any cut. Or even leave any kind of significant impression on the viewer. I can safely say American Mary is not one of those.
I can't say it's a perfect movie, or even a great one, but it's one that's worth it. It feels fresh, from concept to story to execution. The movie is about a med school student, Mary, studying to become a surgeon. Things get rough though when she can't meet any of her bills. She's incredibly broke, and catching flak from a professor. So, she goes onto craigslist looking for a way to make some quick dough. She ends up in a stripclub of sorts, ready to be a dancer. But when something important pulls away her boss-to-be, he returns with a panicked offer of $5000 to employ her surgical knowledge in a one-time, no-questions-asked situation...

  Of course one thing leads to another, and before we know it, she's dropped out of med school, and has made a name for herself in underground body modification surgery. "Bloody Mary" she's dubbed. What's fascinating about this movie is her character's progression from wide-eyed med student, to something sinister. She's the movie's protagonist, and antagonist. Her situations evoke genuine sympathy from the viewer. Things always seem to get worse for mary, either literally or figuratively. We can see this innocent character getting lost in this crazy world she's let herself get dragged into.  The movie is populated with unique and colorful characters, dark seedy locale, and despicable deeds.

  This is the world of American Mary. One might be wondering how this even qualifies as a horror movie all through the first act, maybe even through the second, but by the time you've arrived at the third act... it takes a steely resolve not to be a bit horrified. At the very least unnerved by the road our protagonist has taken, and how it's changed her. It's not a crime drama, it's not a slasher flick, it's a psychological thriller. Yet, it's not cerebral like the movies usually associated with that genre label. It's a very gritty and grounded movie. Which is part of what makes it so unnerving when all is said and done.

  The actress, Katharine Isabelle, is absolutely stupendous here. If I would've liked anything that this movie couldn't give me, was simply more screentime with her. She's simply electrifying. She inhabits the character of Mary with such sincerity and gusto that you can't help but be instantly endeared to her. This movie could've been an hour longer, and it wouldn't have suffered for it. Simply because she's a joy to watch. Vulnerable one moment, steely cold the next. Isabelle sold every moment with frightening realism. I hope this movie gets noticed, it'd be a crime if it flew under the radar for good.

  Parts of this movie border on beautiful, parts feel downright artistic, but make no mistake... in the end, it's haunting. It's an unconventional thriller with engaging characters, fantastic acting, a chilling story and an amazing lead actress. The movie kinda lost me toward the very end. The final message being "you reap what you sow" didn't feel very satisfactory to me as Mary's newfound lifestyle caught up to her in a big way. However it doesn't really detract from what otherwise is one of the most unique, wild, unnerving, and creative horror movies I've seen in... years. I honestly can't recommend it enough. Be warned though, if you're looking for a college slasher flick, look elsewhere. This movie is head and shoulders above that entire trope/subgenre. If you want something fresh, despite a relatively low budget, and some peripheral stiff acting (albeit, infrequent), you've found it. American Mary succeeds in every way that matters, certainly a 'cut' above the rest.

Gallowwalkers


  I'm a pretty big fan of mister Snipes, but that's not to say all his movies are great. I like a handful of them, and then love Blade II. Gallowwalkers is just a misstep. No doubt about that. Critics aren't too harsh on it (meaning those with a blog who've reviewed it...) and audiences have been pretty cruel. I don't think it's godawful, nor do I think it's good. It'll appeal to some people, but it's a mess. For sure. It's about a man named Aman, who is hunting a band of undead guys. Why? Because they raped his girlfriend, who later died in childbirth. Aman is special because he has... guns... or died once. Or something. His mother was a satan worshiper? Or something. You'll find alot is unclear in this movie. Whether you want to blame the script or the editing, it's up to you. They're both haphazard and it's totally fair game to assign blame wherever one would see fit.

  The first act of the movie is the worst in terms of editing. Events are shown out of order, flashbacks, more flashbacks, current stuff... you have to work your ass off to figure it out. I commend anyone who made it to the second act without going: "Huh...?" Villains are shown, and no reason is ever given as to how they came back from the dead. Even the main villain doesn't know why. He's on a quest for answers. Doesn't get any. Neither do we. But this is lazy and makes no sense. We're given the sense early on that there is a much larger picture in play here, but there really isn't. A group of thugs raped a girl, got killed by her boyfriend a year or so later, they came back to life and want to kill him now. Oh and the main villain wants to bring his son back to life, the one villain who didn't get killed by Aman. The villain is dying to know why he didn't return to life, I'm not sure if anyone ever tells him. It's quite clear why though. Which only makes everything else that much more confusing.

  Aman has super strength apparently. He can decapitate these fuckers just by pulling on their hair. It looks as convincing as a Mortal Kombat fatality and might be cool if he did anything else with his power. But for a man who can decapitate people with his bare hands, he prefers to shoot them instead. At one point he recruits some young guy to help him kill these bad guys. We have no idea why he picked this guy at all. If there was a reason, someone probably mumbled it, or the editor cut it out. NO CLUE. So, Aman goes back home to his adoptive mother, new guy in tow. And apparently Aman has a death trap maze of zombies underground there where he randomly drops the guy and lets him fend for himself in the most half-assed "training" bullshit ever. The editing around ALL of this is simply atrocious.

  So Aman offers the guy a bunch of silver to help defend his place against the bad guys, who're hunting for him or something now... or looking for a woman. I don't really know. It was a chore to sit through. If you haven't quite gotten an idea of the amount of bullshit in the movie by now, you clearly haven't been reading. I shall pay the movie it's due diligence though. I gotta say, the special effects aren't bad. The majority of them are practical effects surprisingly. Which was refreshing. Several people get their heads blown off, and it's all done with good ol' fashioned effects. Lovely. Really. I enjoyed that. Sadly, despite the decapitations and shootouts, this movie is too damn slow to be a bloodbath. The makeup effects are also really cool and top shelf. There's a skinless man in the movie for a bit. He looks fantastic. Sadly he's not shown for long. Then, amongst the gang of undead dudes, they wear the skin and faces of other people. One of them, had the bright idea to wear some lizard skins and iguana tails. It looked really cool and unique.

  That's the extent of good in Gallowwalkers. It wasn't exactly boring, and things came relatively into focus by the second act, but there's too much going on and none of it is done that well. If the whole movie was played out in a linear fashion, it might've been better. It's a mediocre western, barely a horror movie, and it just... isn't worth it in my opinion. Just go watch Blade II again. Much better flick. More entertaining by far.
Snipes is sleepwalking through this role. A role he could play blindfolded and shackled. Not much to say there. It's nice to see him in a movie again, but he can do and should do better.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Evil Dead


  So anyone who's known me for long enough knows I've tried to get them to watch one of the Evil Dead movies with me if they've never seen them. I love the original movies. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn is one of my all time favorite movies. So naturally when I heard they were remaking Evil Dead... my reaction was somewhat mixed. On one hand it could be impossibly cool. Provided they stick the landing and recognize what made the original two so great. (not including Army of Darkness here, because it's basically a comedy/adventure movie.) On the other hand, it could turn out to suck so horribly that it buries the name "Evil Dead" alongside all the shitty horror movie remakes that just DON'T get it. (see: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010))

  Something happened that was worse though. It didn't actually suck. The movie itself was alright. I know some of my friends would hate me for saying this. However, I kind of liked it. Not that it deserves to be liked. The movie's basics are solid. Checklist? At least a few characters you don't want to see dead. Check. A decent pace. Check. Some cool gore. Check. A neat ending. Check. So basically... it has the essentials down. Yet, that's about all it has down. It takes cues from the original rather well but fails to grasp the inherent pseudo-comedy of it. Whether or not it was intention way back in 1981, I don't know. Yet the original had a subtly funny charm to it. The passion of the filmmakers shone through their shoestring budget, and produced something new and unique.

  This remake is only 'new' in fact, because it is nothing unique. It doesn't capture the spirit or tone of what made the original so damn fun. In part, I think, because you don't have a central protagonist to root for. There is the brother to the main character, David. Yet, he's kind of bland as a character and never really seems to take charge. Even if he did, it'd be a rip off of Ash. The original trilogy's protagonist. Bringing me to my next point. Ash made the series just as much as any other ingredient. This movie didn't want to try and recast such an iconic character, so they ran from it like fire. It suffers for it. Yet, I can't imagine any scenario where it would've been any better to include him.  The movie is lacking heart honestly. I was looking for something to grab onto, something clever, something unique, yet... as a whole, the movie doesn't have anything like that really.

  It standardizes a formula which became a trope and eventually a cliche. It does it's best to make a dark and serious movie, and it succeeds, but... it's not Evil Dead. Not like any fan would know it. The best thing about this movie is undoubtedly Jane Levy, who plays Mia. Mia is a drug addict who's been brought to an isolated cabin in the woods to go cold turkey and break her drug addiction for good. Obviously shit goes south, and Mia gets possessed by dark forces that've been lurking in the cabin for a long time. Levy gives the part her all, she plays Mia with gusto and manages to be the shining star of the movie. She's fun to watch, and practically makes it all worth it. The other characters however, range from passable to the precise useful function of a plank of wood. Don't overestimate how much a plank of wood is worth in a movie like the Evil Dead. Seriously.

  So, all the gripes aside, I circle back to the "basics". The gore and blood and icky stuff, is very well done. I commend the special effects team. This was gruesome as hell. (Which was the point, no?) I think they could've gone further personally and played up the psychological horror instead of just the physical, but alas. Next, I think the cinematography is gorgeous. Sets look creepy as all can be, smog and such are used to great effectiveness, and in it's best moments Evil Dead can be pretty entertaining. Some scenes are actually properly unnerving. (I'm looking at you, fucked up tree rape scene.) Yet scenes with such strength are far and few inbetween. The crew would be better off knowing that blood itself isn't scary anymore though. I did like alot of this movie simply because what it does, by taking a genre cliche, making it like a serious flick, and unloading buckets of gore on it, it does well. As something that bears the name Evil Dead, it fails. Yet, I reiterate, for a standard Hollywood-ized horror movie, this one is as slick, polished, and as well made as they come. In today's market of horror movies, this might seem original and unique to some... but only because it's competition is abysmally lame.

  The last highlight of this movie was indeed the end sequence, which was admittedly epic. I won't say more, but I will say that I would see the movie again. I don't think it was anywhere near as good as it could've been, and it was half as fun as it should've been, but there was enough in it that I did like to warrant another viewing sometime down the road. Having said that, it still qualifies as a big disappointment. Not to say it's a bad movie, it's very well made. Yet, not even the incantations from the Necronomicon could bring this sucker back to life.