Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Han Solo vs. Greedo. Yea, Some of You Are Retarded.

Peter Cushing is awesome. Anyways...

...George Lucas is a fat douche who doesn't know his own films' lore. Why, you ask? Ah, let me tell you. You know that whole "Han shot first" bullshit? Yea, well, as it turns out, there's no other explanation. Observe the original theatrical release of Star Wars:

This is called murder.

Oh, what's this? Lucas decided to care about "the children" and re-edit the film? Hey, guess what? FUCK YOU George Lucas. Your bullshit will not go un-called:

This is the Lucas version of photoshopping.

That's just about the worst shit I've ever seen in my life. Not only are the lazer shots horribly, horribly forced, but we all have to endure the ugliest digital manipulation known to man. Lucas just moved Harrison Ford's head like 6 inches to the left, regardless of what he was dodging. Even if his head never moved, Greedo's AWFUL FUCKING AIM would have never got anywhere close to his head. Either Greedo is the worst bounty hunter with a rubber face mask to ever hit the galaxy, or George Lucas sucks at rewriting history. Hmmm, which one is more plausible? Fuck you, George Lucas.

Burning skeletons taste like chicken.

If Lucas was really concerned with the children, he might have considered taking out the part where Luke's aunt/uncle was burned to a crisp and lying face-first in the dirt. Dental records might help identify the body, but the 8-year-old watching the film might still have a problem. FUCK YOU, GEORGE LUCAS.

Hey, heads are awesome.

Like, decapitated ones. Or, at least that's what Luke Skywalker thinks. What better scene to show the kiddies than Luke cutting off the head of Darth Vader, only to then reveal his own face under the helmet that inexplicably explodes? Fun for the whole family.

Jabba, schmabba.

Why, this being a family film and all, it should have all kinds of wondrous sights, right? Ah, yes, here's one: the frozen body of Han Solo; stuck in place for all eternity so that Jabba the Hut can have a living room decoration. It's laugh-out-loud hilarious.

I also failed to show the whole rancor bit, plus the part where Luke, Han, Lando and Chewy throw a whole bunch of people to their disgusting and detestable deaths, being slowly digested alive by a giant worm. AWESOME.

Pictured: Lucas being a contrarian tool. Harrison is not digging the man-titties.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

An Exercise in Layers - The Shining (1980)

I'm not going to be so bold as to "review" The Shining. That would be stupid and a waste of time. Instead, I just want to briefly explain why I think it's the greatest horror movie ever filmed. OK, that's obviously not just as bold as reviewing it. Whatever, it's my blog.

For one, The Shining succeeds doing so many things that most horror movies absolutely fail at. It puts believable characters in extraordinary circumstances and gives them room to breathe. It's also not afraid to set the mood by ratcheting up the tension only to have no short-term payoff. There's no exposition of any real meaning, and the story is told from a sort of detached perspective. By that, I mean the film isn't told through any one person's eyes; it's like the camera is simply in the right place at the right time. Pretty much everyone in the film is flawed in some way, but those flaws aren't ever used as a contrivance to advance the plot, or as a bullshit convenience to make some ridiculous event more plausible.

To put it the most succinct as possible, I'm saying The Shining is perfect. You don't think so? It must suck to be wrong all the time. There's nothing that can be improved upon in any meaningful fashion; no director's cut, no deleted scenes, and no commentary could elaborate on events in the film without taking away something integral to the experience. It's as good as any fictional piece of entertainment is going to get. I titled this entry An Exercise in Layers for good reason, and, as an obvious fan of hyperbole, I'll add that no horror film will ever surpass what The Shining has accomplished.

The obvious first layer is the film's visual style. In typical Kubrick fashion, a lot of scenes are very tight and angular, giving off a claustrophobic sense of dread and foreboding. Even before the shit hits the fan, Jack's interview is uncomfortable and slightly off-putting. Basically, the film establishes strictly by visual means that nothing good is going to come of the situation these people are in. This same style permeates every shot, and the tension that slowly builds throughout is due to the mostly odd framing and striking visual cues. Nothing has done it better since, and I highly doubt anything ever will.

The second layer has to do with the characters themselves. Right from the get-go, Jack Torrance is pretty obviously a scumbag. He never quite seems genuine in his interactions with other people, and he's outed as an alcoholic, abusive prick before the story even gets going. Wendy, on the other hand, is the sweetest person alive, but why does she stay with someone like that? She could be a saint, but her decision to continue to allow herself and her son to be around someone like Jack doesn't make me very sympathetic to her cause. She may be a victim, but at least in the film, she's never made out to be the kind of person that would defend herself. Her rationalization of Jack dislocating their son's arm is, "it's the kind of thing that a parent does a thousand times to their child...". That's the most bullshit excuse I've ever heard. The only person that deserves sympathy in that family is Danny, simply because he has no say over his situation. So, it's in these character flaws, which are never sugar-coated or dismissed as a small part of the whole, that The Shining is able to deliver genuine horror over a scary good time.

The third, and arguably the most important layer, is the fact that the unexplained stays relatively unexplained. In a lot of horror films, there's inevitably a scene where an all-knowing or extremely wise and experienced character gets to sit down and lay out the who, what, where, when and why of literally everything that's been going on. And while there are plenty of guilty films that I still love, I can't help but call bullshit on that narrative choice. It's a cheap cop-out that gives the writer/s and director a way to make sense of things that shouldn't necessarily be explainable. In most cases, once every facet of a horrific story is laid out on the table, plain as day, its impact is dramatically lessened. Oh, the murders were all done by the guy who got killed in that building fire 20 years ago. Ah, yes, it was the Devil himself who was possessing that serial killer all along, and he was recruiting a shit-load of minions to do his dirty work. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it wasn't for those pesky kids and a dog named Scooby Doo. I think you get my drift, anyways.

The Shining, on the other hand, allows the dread to slowly ratchet up by giving clues as to the nature of what's happening, but never fully explaining it. There's a choice bit of dialogue by Jack before he goes completely bat-shit insane, followed by a photograph at the end that gives a bit of insight as to the nature of the hotel and what it does to people, but it's all speculation as far as I'm concerned. The film perfectly balances need-to-know plot points with a vagueness that allows the fear to hold firm, and it's all done in a single setting with only a handful of people in complete isolation.

So, yea, The Shining is pretty fucking good, in case you haven't figured it out yet. On a totally unrelated note, I saw the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. What a pile of shit; I want my five bucks back.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The top 5 high school evil dicks

Not long ago I was watching a completely dreadful "Karate Kid" rip off called "Never Back Down", but instead of the bully and his friends knowing karate, they knew MMA because kids today don't have the attention span to be satisfied with just one martial art. Anyways, the bad kid was such an evil dick that I wondered how this guy had any friends to begin with. What exactly is the appeal of the evil dick? Sometimes evil dick's parents have a lot of money so perhaps he draws kids from middle to lower income families hoping to receive some spoils of the spoiled. Aside from the challenge of earning and keeping friends, I'd like to know what exactly motivates evil dick to be evil? Maybe a childhood trauma subconsciously causes him to exhibit externalized evil dick behavior. Who knows, but if it weren't for evil dick in the movies, we wouldn't be able to root for the underdog who constantly suffers from his evil dickery. Here are my top five high school evil dicks on film. They happen to all be from 80's movies because that decade is vintage stomping ground for evil dicks.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

No Clever Title...This Movie Was a Mess - The Wolfman (2010)

Sometimes trailers can be misleading. In the case of The Wolfman, I thought it looked to be a tad reminiscent of Bram Stoker's Dracula. It seemed like the film was going for a dream-like atmosphere that Francis Ford Coppola mastered 18 years ago (I feel old now), and I was intrigued. It's something that Tim Burton manages to do with just about every film he makes. Things don't look quite real, but they don't look fake either. It's a fine line to walk, and only a handful of directors can pull it off. But that's all irrelevant, because The Wolfman is not as good as its trailer makes it out to be. The cast is great and the material is ripe for a tragic tale of violence, love and remorse, but the final product is horribly, horribly flawed.

Now, as I understand it, the film went though a lot of development hell. Directors were changed and the editing was perhaps done with little time left, and it shows. I don't know any details, but if any of that is true, I can only wonder what I would have watched had the film been handled better. As it stands, it's a cobbled-together mess of good ideas and characters that makes me want to rip my hair out and eat it. I don't know why I would eat it, but that's what The Wolfman has reduced me to. For starters, the first half hour of the film contained the worst pacing and editing I've seen in years. Shit just starts happening without a moment to catch your breath or think about what's actually going on. It jumps from scene to scene at break-neck speed and doesn't let the viewer soak up anything being shown on the screen. They might as well have just started the thing with Benicio turning into a werewolf. Speaking of Benicio Del Toro, his character is shoddily introduced with an Emily Blunt voice-over of a letter she's writing to him. His brother (her fiance or husband, I forget) was missing and she was writing to ask for Benicio to come help aid in the search. That's all well and good, but 30 seconds of exposition later and there he is, standing inside his father's house. Ok, who is he? I don't know; there was a shot of him on stage doing Hamlet, so he's an actor. But the film never bothers to flesh his character out. In fact, the film doesn't flesh anyone out at all, and that's the most frustrating thing for me. If I'm supposed to care about what happens to these people, I need to have some kind of justification for investing my emotions. The Wolfman utterly fails in providing me with any reason to care, and that just makes the whole thing pointless.

pictured: Sir Not Appearing in this Film.

Also, a bizarre disappointment was Del Toro's performance. I know for a fact it's not due to his ability as an actor, so someone else needs to be kidney punched for making him do it. Every line he uttered was wooden and almost like he was reading it straight from the script. Everything else about him was fine, such as his facial expressions, posture, etc. But his line delivery was jarring and unnatural. Even more bizarre, however, was Anthony Hopkins' bi-polar accent. One minute he's speaking like he does in every other movie, and the next he has a full-on Irish accent. Then it's back to normal again. I can't for the life of me understand what the hell was going on with that. But the best performance of the film was pretty much wasted in Hugo Weaving as Inspector Abberline. He has a couple of stand-out scenes, then the film mostly forgets about him until he needs to shoot stuff at the end. There are numerous occasions - definitely with Abberline - where it seems like character development, scene transitions and plot points were cut from the film. Overall, it felt like about an hour of footage was dropped, and that hour was sorely needed.

In this scene, the gypsy lady was going to explain how to cure cancer, but the movie was getting close to its 102 minute runtime, so the camera just turned off.

This wouldn't be a Wolfman review without talking about the transformations and special effects, so here I go. Meh on both fronts. The werewolf transformations weren't awe-inspiring in the least. American Werewolf in London did the whole face-appendage-elongation thing 29 years ago, and did it way better. So my solution would be to not just stick with close-ups of hands and feet growing and changing, then quick face shots with the mouth open. I've seen that shit before, and I'm not impressed. Perhaps if it was done practically I might give it a pass, but it wasn't, so I won't. But the effects in general were hit-and-miss, with a lot of misses. There was an absolutely horrid-looking cgi bear in one scene that made my brain freeze and reboot. And I have a request for any special effects people who might be reading this: before we get any more shots of bi-pedal human-animal hybrids running on all fours, please make sure it doesn't look like shit. Thanks. As far as the blood and gore is concerned, well, werewolves sure do side slashes and head loppings a lot.

Pretty decent half-monster face, but it's been done better.

I feel I have to point out another pet peeve of mine. This applies to monster movies and straight-up horror films in general: STOP WITH THE JUMP-SCARES. Yea, I get it. 5 seconds of silence and camera-panning, then BAM! Scary thing with a shitty violin screech accompanying it! Instead of trying to surprise me with the same tactic 10 times, how about building actual tension and dread? It's a novel idea, I know.

In all honesty, the actual werewolf design was a bit hokey and it detracted from how bad-ass it should have looked. The filmmakers decided to lean heavily on the original design, which sort of looks like a really fucking hairy Guile (minus the blond hair color and tank top/wife beater). It's just, And the numerous close-ups while running on all fours didn't help. At all.

In conclusion, I want to punch whoever is responsible for this disaster. A really cool monster movie/period piece is hidden underneath what turned out to be a rushed, poorly put together mess of a film. This thing could have been like an English-language Brotherhood of the Wolf, but instead we got stuck with a Lycanthropic Van Helsing. Oh, joy.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Public Introspection - JCVD (2008)

Right off the bat I'm starting with this clip, which is the opening scene of JCVD. It is in no way, shape or form indicative of the rest of the movie. In fact, put in context, it's the exact opposite of the film. But I thought it was an especially evocative opening, and once you've seen the whole thing, it gives some perspective as to how Van Damme sees (at least a part of) his career.

Once I had finished watching JCVD, I immediately had a LOT more respect for Jean-Claude Van Damme as an actor. He really did put a lot of himself up on display here, and the finished product speaks a lot toward some kind of redemption for him - both as an actor and as a person. It's not every day an actor allows a movie to capture parts of their personal life - complete with commentary - in order to seemingly help others on their own path. If I'm reading too much into the intentions of the film, then at the very least JCVD was a cathartic project for Van Damme, and maybe he can start making better movies from now on. I won't be holding my breath, but one can always hope (his IMDB isn't promising).

The film follows Van Damme as himself as he's going through a custody hearing for his daughter. In what I thought was a great touch, his wife's lawyer trots out the dvds of all of his movies and starts describing the different violent ways people are killed in them. "Run over by a car. Decapitated. Beaten to death." etc, etc. This is one example of Van Damme's self-critique that I found especially effective in terms of showing a man looking back at his life. Put another way, there aren't a lot of actors who would want to show the negative side of what they've been doing for the greater part of their entire lives, and certainly not in a movie they're starring in. So, props for that.

After the hearing, he gets a call from his lawyer saying the check he wrote bounced. So, off he goes to the post office to send the money. Oopsie, doopsey; he picked the wrong day to have a shitty legal battle over his offspring. As it turns out, three armed men are holding up the post office when he walks in, and he gets taken as a hostage along with everyone else. The gunmen decide to use him as their mouthpiece, presumably to stay as anonymous as possible. Obviously, the police think Van Damme is the lone perpetrator and act accordingly. The film makes good use of time and perspective, as it jumps between events to give the viewer multiple takes on certain situations. For instance, the first time you see Van Damme going to the post office, it's from the perspective of the video store dudes across the street, as they gawk and ask to pose for pictures with him. Later in the film, you get the same scenario, but from Van Damme's perspective. There are a lot of nice little directing touches throughout, and the film greatly benefits from this style. I was pretty impressed, being that I've never heard of the director before.

Now, there's a scene in particular I'd like to address. About three-quarters of the way through, Van Damme is sitting in a chair inside the post office. He's facing the camera, and all of a sudden he starts lifting upward - chair, camera and all. He lifts above the set, and you can see the fake walls, lights, and everything used to make the film. He stares at the camera and starts talking about his life. He talks about the highs, the lows, his regrets, his disappointments, and everything that made up the last 25 years of his life. It's pretty heavy stuff. The one thing I'll confess to is not knowing how much of his monologue was straight art, and what was really from the heart. Regardless, it all seems legit, and it's god-damned great. There are movies that have attempted to do this sort of thing, but a lot of time they shit all over themselves by doing so. But in the case of JCVD, for some reason it fit. It felt oddly organic, despite breaking all the rules set forth up to the point it happened. Basically, Godard can go fuck himself; this is how you eviscerate the 4th wall.

As I eluded to in my opening paragraph, this is not an action movie. There's tension in the post office, to be sure, but there are no ridiculous heroics by Van Damme this time. He doesn't ever round-house kick a baddy in the face, and he ( ! ) never does the splits in his underwear. In fact, there's a fantastic scene between him and one of the gunmen, where the guy wants Van Damme to do the ol' kicking a cigarette out of someone's mouth without hitting him trick. Van Damme obliges, and the only fanfare he receives is forced applause from the hostages at the behest of the robber. It's actually sad, in the sense that he's being reduced to barking on command to do a parlor trick. It's another example of the way Van Damme talks about his career without actually saying a word.

JCVD is definitely a breath of fresh air. An actor known for playing basically the same dude over and over again opens up and actually plays himself. It's not tongue-in-cheek, it's not hokey or pandering, and it's not something you would expect from Jean-Claude Van Damme. As long as you go into the film without any preconceived notions, you'll be alright.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ghosts of Mars (2001) AKA Rap VS Metal

Every true film buff has gorged themselves on the tasty offerings of John Carpenter at some point in their viewing history. It's true that the quality of his work over the years has gone from so so to just plain shitty, but when he hits that cinematic sweet spot, you're in for a treat. 2001's "Ghosts of Mars" doesn't quite hit the spot, but it does tickle it a bit with a nice cup of Carpenter jambalaya chock full "o" little reminders of why we ever loved the guy in the first place. You see, watching Carpenter films is kind of like eating pizza. Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

At some point in the future, the red planet is terraformed, colonized, and governed by a matriarchal society. Women may be from venus, but they rule the men on Mars. The story is basically told through the flashbacks of Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge). She's a smoking hot, leather clad, pill popping space cop whose mission was to bring outlaw James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube) to justice for the murder and decapitation of several miners. She came back to town alone, unconscious, and handcuffed inside a train running on auto pilot. So what the hell happened to her and her crew? Nothing good if you know John Carpenter.

Desolation Williams is supposed to have been caught and jailed in the remote mining outpost of Shining Canyon, but when Ballard and her crew arrive, they quickly realize that strange things are afoot. The place is dead, Williams is indeed in jail, but there are many other shredded corpses scattered throughout the town. So if he was in jail, who was dicing up the miners? It seems that while digging, the hapless workers accidentally released the "ghosts" of the title. Once freed, these ghosts possess the majority of the town and cause them to self mutilate and destroy anything and everything. A nice little booby trap from an extinct alien society to keep any other species from ruling Mars.

Cube knows how to survive in South Central Mars

The plot really doesn't matter at all because this is a total b-movie experience. What does matter is that anyone possessed dresses up like a heavy metal reject complete with unique body piercings and funky tattoos. Even the evil leader of the metal horde resembles somebody who has taken their love for Marilyn Manson a little too far. This doesn't sit well with Ice-Cube and his South Central upbringing and the stage is set for a rap vs. metal showdown.
The criminals and the cops must barricade themselves in the police station and work together if they are to survive the imminent attack. Carpenter vets should instantly recognize a little "Assault on Precinct 13" at this point.

Rumor has it that this guy played Paul in The Wonder Years

Honestly, this is not even a fraction as good as some of his past works, but I still find a lot to like about the film. Henstridge is solid as the hero, and is supported by some decent talent like Jason Statham (has the ability to make any movie line sound cool), Pam Grier (tragically underused), and that one guy that's in other stuff but you don't know his name. How could you have a Carpenter movie without his signature repetitive musical score? You can't because it would suck, so of course we get that here in full force! Most of John's staples are present, and I think I love the fact that he blends so many genres together for this one. It's a's sci's horror. Actually it's all of those, but mostly it's an excuse for Ice Cube to shoot white people. Check it out, it's straight out of Compton G!

classic Carpenter music