Monday, July 30, 2012

Dog Soldiers

Alright boys and girls let me just set this up for you.  A military exercise in Scotland with a squad of rookie soldiers goes very wrong when fucking werewolves come out of the woodwork and attack them.  They hold up in a farm house and make a stand fighting these fuckers off throughout the night.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, “sure, that sounds good but it’s probably pretty shitty, right?”  No!  This is fucking great.

I mean this is essentially Night of the Living Dead but with werewolves instead of zombies.  But holy shit did they up the ante.  Our gang of soldiers fights the creatures off with machine guns, shotguns, handguns, grenades, swords, boiling water and blunt objects.  These wolves are ferocious so you need something equally ferocious to battle them with.

And I actually wanted to see our characters survive.  I cared about them man.  Everyone does a bang up job but the three main dudes are especially good.  Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon) plays the sergeant and he just has natural charisma.  Kevin McKidd (Trainspotting, Brave) is our real hero though and rises to take command of the squad when the sarge gets injured.  Like Pertwee, charm and leadership come easy.  And finally Liam Cunningham (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, Safe House) is the human villain.  I’ll tell ya, he reminds me a lot of Powers Boothe by the way he looks and acts so of course, I really dug this guy in this role.  I love how we’re set up to hate him by having him demand McKidd shoot a dog as the culmination of his training.  And then when McKidd refuses Cunningham just does it himself for absolutely no reason.

But definitely the best thing about this movie is the werewolves themselves.  For a long while you only get very quick glimpses of these things.  There’ll be a shot of it in the shadows or a close up of its snout of something.  As the film goes on you get longer and better views of the creatures and man do they look good.  They’re people in full body costumes on stilts with an animatronic head.  No fucking bad CGI here.  And not only do I absolutely love the way these things look but I also love how they’re handled in this picture.  The camera never holds too long on one of them which was the right approach.  A lot of times we only see the arms and that was extremely effective.  For example there’s a scene where the soldiers are running from the wolves and hop into a truck.  A werewolf rams its arm through the roof swatting all around while our guys are cramped in this tight space with nowhere to go.  The arm is basically a human arm but muscular, dark in color and with claws on the fingertips.  It looks fucking great and kinda scary actually.  This was the scene that made me realize that I had something special on my hands.

On the making of featurette on the DVD the filmmakers shit all over CGI and make the case for using practical real life effects.  The producer says that people would be focused on the CGI and be in awe of it (in a good way) instead of focusing on the movie.  I agree with him except for that last part.  People would be in amazement of how shitty the CGI would look, not how great.  But good for them for flipping that shit the ol’ bird and doing it the way it should be done even though it means more work.  The filmmakers argue that they could only do the shit they wanted to do with traditional effects like punching these motherfuckin’ werewolves, stabbing them through the chest , shooting them, burning them and blowing them up.  Fuckin’ a.

The director is Neil Marshall and he’s the dude that did The Descent.  This was his first movie and he did a damn good job.  Ok, maybe technically it’s not so great.  Like he edits every scene like it’s an action scene with all quick cuts and the flow of the story for the first fifteen or twenty minutes is a little weird.  But once the werewolves show up Marshall settles in nicely. 

This is a low budget horror flick but Marshall makes it feel more like they had a mid level budget.  He describes it as Saving Private Ryan with werewolves and he looked dead fuckin’ serious when he said it.  This is totally not that.  But you do get a ton of bang for your buck.  And dare I say best werewolf movie ever?  An American Werewolf in London is good and a better movie if you catch my drift.  But I dunno guys this thing kicked fucking ass.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


I had initially only heard of the pentathlon through the title of this movie.  And then about a month ago a buddy of mine told me what it entailed.  There are five events that the athlete has to compete in and they include swimming, running, fencing, horse riding and shooting a gun.  My friend described it as “the movie villain training event” which is a great summation and one that I totally agree with.  So because the 2012 Olympics are underway I thought it would be fitting to check this one out.

Dolph Lundgren (Universal Soldier: Regeneration, Johnny Mnemonic) plays Eric Brogar, an East German athlete competing in the 1988 Seoul games.  His coach is Heinrich Muller (David Soul (Salem’s Lot, Magnum Force)) and he’s a neo-Nazi crazy sonuvabitch.  He wants Eric to cheat by taking some sort of drugs but Brogar refuses and wins the gold anyway.  Eric then promptly defects to the U.S. to escape his miserable life in communist Germany and his coach.  Well only a couple of months later the Berlin wall falls and Brogar feels like an asshole.  He becomes depressed and an alcoholic.  Years later Muller decides to commit a terrorist act in America right before the 1996 Atlanta games.  Eric pulls himself together (with the help of his boss/trainer at the local rib shack…I’m not kidding) and decides to compete once again but gets caught up in Muller’s bullshit.

If that sounds like a lot of story, I guess it kind of is.  The plot changes pretty frequently but it never gets confusing.  I like how quickly things move in this.  It’s not an action movie really but there’s a bunch of exciting shit.  Like the constant tension between Muller and, well, everyone, the comeback of Eric, the defecting scene towards the beginning and the terrorist plot towards the end.  It’s all good.

It’s interesting that this is an R picture.  I can’t help but think that if something like this was made today it would be PG or PG-13.  These guys went for it and had cursing, Nazis, terrorism and people getting shot and beat up.  I especially like that Eric uses some of his pentathlon skills to battle the bad guys.  There’s a scene where Brogar has a sword fight and another where he shoots some henchmen.

You know, Dolph Lundgren is a better actor than I think most people want to admit.  I mean he was really menacing in Rocky IV, kind of sad and pathetic but mean as hell in The Expendables and Universal Soldier, totally whacked out in Johnny Mnemonic and even sweet, caring and vengeful in Showdown in Little Tokyo.  He’s got some range to him.  In this one Lundgren has inner demons that he has to triumph over as well as some real life demons, the fucked in the head coach.  Sure, maybe his accent isn’t consistent throughout but I feel like I’m in good hands with Dolph.  Like whatever comes up he can deal with it and we’ll eventually pull through this shit together.

And I have to mention that the director is Bruce Malmuth who did Hard to Kill right before this.  He also did the unfortunately boring Nighthawks starring Stallone.  Pentathlon was the last thing he directed before he died.  Between that and Hard to Kill, he went out on top in my eyes.

So yeah, I would recommend this movie.  The bulk of it has less to do with the Olympics than I expected but it’s still a fun time.  Not great but not bad.  It’s perfect for a one time watch.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

In Time

This is a prime example of a good idea executed poorly.  It’s sad when you can see the potential while it’s being killed right in front of your eyes.

In the future everyone has a set amount of time to live.  The first 25 years are free but after that you only have one additional year to get your shit together.  The glowing green clock on your arm starts ticking and it can’t be stopped.  Because of this the currency is in time.  So if you want a cup of coffee it’ll cost you four mins, a bus ride can cost an hour, your rent will be a couple of days, etc.  When you work you get paid in time so that’s one way to stay alive.  You can also transfer time from person to person by grabbing someone’s arm just like how you can give someone ten bucks.  Potentially you could live forever as long as you have time on your clock.  So everyone talks about time and almost nothing but time (which is something that took longer than I expected to get used to).  And just like people with and without money there are those with tons of time (like decades or hundreds of years) and those with little (like days or hours).  There doesn’t appear to be a middle class but hang on to that thought for later in this piece.  The two classes are separated by time zones (get it?) that cost like months and years to cross which gives the rich town and the poor ghetto a buffer.

So that’s a cool concept, right?  It’s pretty damn original and has potential.  Well it’s too bad that the script is a piece of shit.  The story goes that Will Salas (Justin Timberlake) lives in the poor town and one day he saves a guy’s life that has a century on his clock.  This dude is fed up with life and actually wants to die so while Will is sleeping he gives him all of his time.  The mystery man is dead and Salas now has over 100 years.  He goes to tell his mother but she runs out of time and dies because they jacked up the bus fare, fuckin’ dicks.  Will vows to bring the system down or make them pay or something.  He goes to the rich town, finds the love interest (Amanda Seyfried (Red Riding Hood)) and then it very oddly turns into Bonnie and Clyde/Robin Hood for the rest of the movie.  These two rob banks of time and give it to the poor.

First off I just want to say that Timberlake disappointed.  Did anyone else think he was awesome in Alpha Dog?  Did anyone else think Alpha Dog was a good movie?  I thought it was a lot of fun, well except for the end.  That was kinda tragic but otherwise I had a blast.  And Justin was perfect in the role he was cast.  I think that’s because it wasn’t too far removed from who he is in real life, some fun lovin’, pot smokin’, party throwin’, lady’s man.  Sure he’s involved in some illegal shit but that’s part of what makes his character appealing.  In In Time Timberlake is like the perfect person.  He’s always helping people by giving them his time, he wants people to see that the system if fucked up and corrupt, he runs from the cops but knows that they’re just doing their job and aren’t the real bad guys, he’s willing to sacrifice himself at the end to save his girlfriend, he buys his mother flowers and etc.  This guy doesn’t have a flaw of any kind and it makes me fucking hate this character.  Salas is such a good person that it’s annoying.  And Timberlake gives a pretty fucking bad performance too.  He can’t do a range of emotions at all.  He can do happy just fine and maybe angry for a second but anything else?  I don’t think so.  Watch the scene where Timberlake tries to convey sadness after his character’s mother dies and you’ll realize that he shouldn’t play people that aren’t like Frankie Ballenbacher from Alpha Dog.  Oh, and everyone else is really bad in this except Cillian Murphy (Red Eye) but he’s a little flat.  He plays the cop hot on Will’s trail and he’s got the badass name the Timekeeper.

The whole movie has this real slick look to it like you’re watching a Giorgio Armani ad come to life.  Almost everything is in black and white, the clothes, the cars, the buildings, etc.  They were going for a retro future look, like the cars are all from the 60’s or 70’s (but they make that whirring noise when they start up and stop like all futuristic cars in these types of movies) and there aren’t any cell phones (they actually use a payphone).  I’m not really against the way this picture looks but I’m not really into it either so in the end it didn’t do much for me.

There are three main reasons why this film doesn’t work.  The first is the characters are bland.  No one is exciting or interesting to watch.  Everyone feels stiff and too confined within their roles. 

Second is the pacing.  There’s so much downtime with Timberlake and Seyfried talking about how much time sucks and that they wish it didn’t have to be this way.  We get it fellas.  We got it in the first ten minutes.  You don’t need to hit us over the head with this shit for the entire movie.  Think about it.  Pictures about money and greed don’t have the characters constantly talking about money and nothing but.  There’s usually other shit that happens and non-money topics come up.  With this film the people are too enamored with their own world.  They can’t get past the fucking ticking clock on their arms and that prevents anything else from entering the conversation. 

And third, oddly enough, is the we’re-running-out-of-time situation is overplayed.  For almost the entire picture Salas is almost out of time.  He’s constantly down to a minute and change or even seconds but he always finds some way to get more time.  I mean in theory this is exactly what I want to see out the concept presented to us.  It sounds exciting if our guy has to continually think of ways to get time.  It should sorta be like the Crank movies where the whole thing’s on edge.  But here it gets boring real fast.  I never felt like Will was actually gonna run out of time after a little bit.  I never got sucked in and felt worried that he might not get out of one of his many sticky situations.  And I think I know exactly where this idea died for me.  When Salas travels to the rich town he decides to go to the casino and play some poker, well one hand of poker anyway.  People are wagering like 100,000 years (which I don’t think Will has but he’s able to bet it anyway) and he ponies up.  In a total James Bond type scene he has a sly conversation with the bad guy during the hand about possibly being out of his league.  Will wagers everything he’s got only leaving himself a couple of seconds, doesn’t bat an eye and wins a million years or some shit.  Not only is this scene out of place (arguably the whole movie is out of place) but the day before when Salas was talking to the mystery dude that coughed up a century, Will told him that he wouldn’t waste all that time.  Blowing all of your time on a hand of poker is clearly wasting it.  This is also after Will vows revenge.  Gambling everything you have isn’t a good way to get your revenge plot in motion in my opinion, especially if it’s going to leave you dead.  Anyway this was the part of the movie that made me not care about this character running out of time.  If he doesn’t value it why should I?

Obviously this film is a statement on inequality in society though.  It feels like the filmmakers were going for more of a message than entertainment which I guess is fine but it’s so heavy handed.  The film is saying that in the future the middle class will disappear and there will only be the super rich and the super poor.  The rich will control everything, including raising rates to keep the poor in poverty, and live forever.  The poor must die because the conundrum is that with this premise of time=life you can’t have everyone live for eternity.  There wouldn’t be enough room or resources.  The question they pose is would you allow people to die so you could be immortal?  And of course Will says at the end that not one person should die for immortality.  The film argues that time (money) should be spread more evenly among the people and not horded by a small group.  The bad guy contests that doing so will create an imbalance and the world will come to an end.  But the thing is that the world is already imbalanced so for these very poor people they don’t have much, if anything, to lose.  And there’s also a message in there that rich people don’t really “live”.  They’re just soulless beings while the non-rich can “do a lot in a day”.  I get what they’re saying but I just wish they had done it in a subtler way.  No one likes being obviously preached to, especially in a sci-fi adventure flick.

I thought Salas and co. were going to find a cure for this clock thing and everyone would be freed from it.  All people get to start living normally at 25 until they die naturally.  But instead it’s about trying to find a way to make people’s lives more bearable with this man made catastrophe by giving them more time. 

It’s not a terribly fun film.  There are too many plot holes, boring characters, the production design is rigid, there’s a really bad CGI car crash into the L.A. storm drain, there’s a secondary villain whose purpose I didn’t understand, the thing drags a lot and the messaging is shoved in your face.  I want to say that it’s miscast too but the movie is pretty bad so that doesn’t seem so out of place.  Also, everyone in this is supposed to look 25 because in the universe of the movie that’s when time stands still for the human body.  But they didn’t cast anyone that looks that age.  Not only do they all look at the very least 30 but there are clearly age differences between the characters.  Nobody’s buying that Cillian Murphy, Johnny Galecki (Roseanne) and Justin Timberlake are all fuckin’ 25.

And speaking of the world this picture lives in, what if someone cuts off your clock arm?  Do you die or does the clock keep ticking on your dismembered arm?  I mean I like that you can kill someone in a conventional way even before their time is up in this movie but if the clock arm gets injured does that affect your time?  Is the clock something you’re born with or do they insert it when they’re writing up your birth certificate?  It would be cool if you weren’t born with it so there could be this whole underground society of non-clockers.    

Alright that’s enough rambling.  Even though these guys came up with a good idea it didn’t turn out very well.  Way too schlocky. 

Monday, July 16, 2012


After Event Horizon totally fucking tanked at the box office Anderson made Soldier…which also fucking bombed.  And you know what?  It deserved to.

This one takes place in the near future where babies are raised in a strictly military environment.  When they grow up all they know is how to fight, take orders, endure pain and basically be a robot.  This mystery organization (that I guess is totally legit in society) wanted to remove as many human elements as possible and cast themselves the perfect killing machines.  However, these soldiers are replaced when a new line comes along and Todd (Kurt Russell) finds himself on the scrap heap of a garbage dump planet.  The residents are kind folk though and take him in.  They teach him how to be somewhat human.

I like the initial premise that we’re set up with for the first fifteen minutes or so.  We the see the upbringing that these kids are getting and it’s kinda wild what they’re exposed to.  Like they’re forced to watch dogs slaughter a hog, they go on miles long runs and they do weapons training.  And as a pretty nuts side note if any of these specimens lags behind the military dudes fucking murder them, like when they’re a young teenager.  The montage of when these kids are grown up and fighting in wars is kind of awesome (although it’s very cheap looking).  And in this montage I have to acknowledge the really goofy outer space war with spacesuits and guns firing in slow motion ‘n shit.  That scene comes off so fuckin’ funny that if you only saw that one part you’d swear the film was a satire. You know, for a minute there I was getting very into this movie.  But then in a moment of panic someone grabbed the wheel and drove this thing off a fucking cliff.  It started off as a real offbeat and intriguing idea but when Todd gets dumped on some planet, takes a liking to their people and learns a thing or two about how to live it goes right down the shitter.  The plot turns into the ol’ stranger-comes-to-town-and-the-town-takes-him-in story.  And the end fight with Todd against all the new soldier models isn’t that fun or satisfying because it was so painful to get to that point.  I didn’t fucking care by then. 

To be blunt this movie is a piece of shit.  It tricked me into thinking that it was going to be something new and strange but did a total 180 on me.  Gary Busey and Jason Isaacs (The Patriot) were both doing a real good job too as the leaders of their crazy experimental units.  Shit was looking up.  Oh well.    

With this picture Anderson went from being a kind of interesting filmmaker with lots of potential to the man he would be for the rest of his career.  And by career I mean at least through The Three Musketeers, which by the way was fucking terrible.  Before I checked that one out I only saw this one clip of the Musketeers on a flying ship utterly decimating this room that Orlando Bloom was in.  Like they were firing a machine gun, a flamethrower and tossing bombs.  The film looked like it could be fucking insane but alas it was really only that one scene.  Not that the rest of the movie wasn’t outrageous but it wasn’t outrageous like that clip I saw.  Whatever, fuck that picture.  And fuck Soldier.  There are much better movies out there that have similar plot elements like Universal Soldier and Robocop.  Watch those instead.

I know I’m not breaking any ground here but Paul W.S. Anderson is a shitty fucking filmmaker.  For a minute there it seemed like he took the Mortal Kombat job to break into Hollywood and build up some capital so he could work on shit that he was more interested in.  Event Horizon was a step in that direction and as bad as Soldier is at least it’s an original screenplay and not based off of a comic book or a video game or is a remake.  But it just turns out that Anderson wants to make movies that five year olds dream about, shit that lacks substance or thought.  I’ll tell you what though, at least his first three movies were fun to go through.  Maybe he’ll do something interesting again and not either a Resident Evil or a remake.  Until he does that though he can go fuck himself. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Event Horizon

Oh the film that this could’ve been.  This one gets me worked up a bit because it’s made up of a lot of great stuff and a surprisingly low amount of schlock, yet it seems lacking.  Lacking what exactly?  Well let’s dive into this sonuvabitch and figure it out.

The story was originally pitched to the studio as The Shining in space but that’s definitely not the best description.  There is an element that’s taken from The Shining but I’ll get into that in a minute.  What we have here is more along the lines of Alien and The Haunting.  A ship called the Event Horizon was about to make its inaugural journey through a black hole, which it creates itself via a “gravity drive”, when it completely disappeared.  Several years later the ship’s signal is picked up at the edge of our solar system which prompts a search and rescue mission to be hatched.  The crew dispatched goes aboard the Event Horizon and it turns into a haunted house story with people experiencing weird visions, noises, occurrences, etc.

The cast they assembled for this thing is fucking great.  Laurence Fishburne is Miller, the captain of the rescue crew and he plays the role perfectly.  He has such a knack for playing leadership parts that there’s never any doubt that he’s an effective, courageous and badass commander.  Everyone respects him, even the characters that are supposed to be more on the loose cannon side.  Miller wants order and will strictly enforce his command to maintain it but he’s not delusional.  He tries to find rational explanations for the shit he sees aboard the Event Horizon and when reason runs out he does what he has to do to save his crew and survive.  You never see Miller act selfishly; he constantly puts his crew ahead of himself.  I don’t want to give the impression that this guy is a goody two shoes or anything though ‘cause he’s got a haunted past and that helps to make him seem just as real and relatable as he’s meant to be.  Miller’s the best character in this film and they couldn’t have gotten very many people that would’ve been better or even as good as Fishburne.

Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, In the Mouth of Madness) plays Weir, the scientist that built the gravity drive and he’s the expert that was sent by NASA (I think) to go along with the rescue crew.  Neill is underrated in the movie biz and I wish would get bigger roles because he’s just a good all around actor.  With his role in In the Mouth of Madness he goes from a regular guy to a person being driven insane and he does pretty much the same thing in Event Horizon.  This is The Shining aspect of the picture.  Weir is like Jack Torrance in that he seems like a fine rational person until he gets aboard the Event Horizon which turns him into a total maniac over a period of time.  It’s like the ship has an evil hold over him that can’t be broken at all. 

The way Weir and Miller play off each other is one of the wondrous things in this film.  They don’t seem to like each other that much before shit goes crazy so it flows organically that they would become enemies later.  Miller keeps trying to get answers out of Weir but Weir doesn’t even really know himself what’s happening with the ship.  The growing frustration between these men builds some nice tension.

The rest of the cast is good too.  Kathleen Quinlan (Breakdown), Joely Richardson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)), Richard T. Jones (Phone Booth), Jack Noseworthy (Breakdown), Jason Isaacs (Harry Potters) and Sean Pertwee (Shopping) do well in their roles.  I particularly like that even though Richard T. Jones is the comic relief he’s not really goofy.  He’s freaking out over all the shit that’s happening so it’s more like panic than comedy.  Jones also has maybe the best line in the movie.  It’s towards the end when he needs to fly through space to get back to the Event Horizon and when he launches himself he yells, “here I come motherfuckers!”

The imagery in this thing is fucking phenomenal.
This picture has great production design.  It’s like an updated late 90’s Alien look.  There are pipes, exposed steel, ladders to different levels, creepy spaceship design, eerie corridors, a giant cross shaped window on the bridge and other shit.  The room with the gravity drive and the gravity drive itself though are masterpieces.  But first in order to enter that room there’s a spinning tunnel that you need to walk through like what you would find in a fun house except this one’s lined with enormous sharp blades.  They even dub it the “meat grinder”.  The gravity drive room is a huge domed space with massive spikes sticking out of the walls.  Why do they need these spikes?  Because it’s supposed to look fucking scary and cool.  The drive has a Hellraiser puzzle box kinda look to it which is what the filmmakers were going for.  The reveal of it with those lighted rings spinning around the extremely large ball that line up just for a second to flash you in the face is incredible.  This is the bad guy folks.  I mean the whole ship is the bad guy but this is its heart.  And the design makes you wonder.  Throughout the movie you think “who the fuck designed this creepy ass fucking spaceship?”  But it’s not distracting.  I think it totally works as menacing atmosphere that helps to make you feel a bit uncomfortable.  It’s like the ship was designed by Satan. 

Essentially the idea of the plot is that the Event Horizon went to hell and when it came back it was endowed with certain powers and became alive.  That may sound like a spoiler but it’s not.  The ship is fucking with our characters the whole time so it’s not a surprise.  This is a horror movie and like most horror movies it’s not about an intricate plot.  It’s about presentation and being smart enough to know how to build tension.  Anderson gives us a very nice picture to look at and is even able to fill that picture with characters that aren’t annoying.  These people are very likable and you want to see them get through this ordeal.  But what Anderson also does is take away our hope little by little until we have practically nothing left.  Again, this is typical for most horror flicks but it works a little better than usual here because there are other elements that fall into place.

Here are some cool things about this film.  The portrayal of the future is really practical in this and I dig that.  Like the Event Horizon uses CD’s or DVD’s to record their ships log (instead of the minidisc craze that was going on at the time.  Remember that shit?  They were used in The Matrix, Strange Days and Last Action Hero), there are still things like regular cigarettes, still photographs, bulky cumbersome spacesuits, flight suits and air scrubbers for breathable air.  And without knowing it the filmmakers predicted the iPad.  There are at least two scenes showing what looks exactly like an iPad doing exactly what an iPad can do like play video and skype or facetime.  And I want to take a minute to acknowledge this because it’s actually kind of unbelievable.  This thing they made up for a sci-fi movie in 1997 (that few people saw by the way, it did not do well at the box office) was supposed to seem really futuristic and like blue sky technology but it exists now.  Less than thirteen years later that device would be invented and used exactly the way it’s shown in the film.  That’s fucking amazing.  Do you think that’s where the folks at Apple got the idea?  Who the fuck knows.  Some other cool things are the river of blood homage to The Shining, two homages to Alien with a close-up of Kathleen Quinlan’s hand coming out of an opening from a lower floor and a scene where the crew is positioned the same way as in Alien while they discuss their situation in a circular room with an alcove, there aren’t any horrible subplots or a superfluous love story, the models and actual sets look good.  The filmmakers did come up with some other archetypal sci-fi stuff like a scanner that detects life forms, sleeping tubes for long distance space travel and a spaceship that can create a black hole. 


With all of that good shit this picture is still missing something though.  The CGI is fucking atrocious but that’s not really it.  There was a whole bunch of footage that was cut out because the studio deemed that is was too gory, too violent and too long, like 30 minutes too long.  That’s a shit load of shit to have to cut out of your movie.  This is probably the main reason why the film leaves you with a funny feeling.  We were supposed to see more of where the ship had been, essentially in a Hellraiser type world where people are perpetually tortured in brutal ways.  I think having that in the picture would’ve helped to classify and be unambiguous about just how evil this shit is that we’re dealing with.  Apparently there was also a whole sequence that first introduced Miller and his crew out on a different rescue mission.  That’s something that should have been cut.  I’m happy that didn’t make it in because we understand who these people are and what they’re all about just fine.  But I’m curious about what else could’ve been tweaked.  Exploring each character’s back story instead of just Miller’s would’ve been nice.  Maybe a problem is that we don’t see Weir crazy enough for long enough?  The ending is certainly rushed.  It’s one of those typical situations where once the bad guy gets his full ultimate power he’s foiled immediately.   Whenever that happens I always think the villain kinda looks like a buffoon.   Like he just got his shit together and should be unstoppable but somehow he’s easier to defeat than ever.  Back to the movie, overall it feels like there was too much cut out in the final edit.  I like how quickly the story moves though so there’s this conundrum of running time and, setup and explaining shit.  I’m not sure.  All the components by themselves are good but they just don’t add up to be totally satisfying.

I think this is a very cool picture nonetheless.  The blending of Alien, The Shining, The Haunting and Hellraiser works much better than you would expect.  If the script and the final movie were worked out a little more this would be a bona fide classic.  Anderson did a damn good job and progressed into a decent filmmaker by this point.  It was a good move for him to take a chance on this picture than direct X-Men.  A few years later he got his own franchise anyway with Resident Evil.  A Paul W.S. Anderson X-Men probably would’ve been awful but at the same time it might’ve turned out more fun than Singer’s.  Whatever, Event Horizon is definitely a good time but ultimately leaves you a little flat.  I really wonder what would have been if Anderson got final cut.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mortal Kombat

That's pretty badass looking.

Based on Shopping Anderson got his next gig, Mortal Kombat.  And I guess I can see why it was offered to him.  Shopping does have a good look to it with its moody and gritty underbelly feel.  I think the Hollywood suits figured that if this kid worked with a good script then he could make some magic happen.  Perhaps they thought of Mortal Kombat as a testing ground or perhaps these executives really expected a top notch picture.  Either way I think they got what they were looking for.

Video game movies are notoriously bad.  I haven’t seen a lot of them but this has to be in the top tier, right?  It’s an Enter the Dragon knock off so it has a sturdy foundation underneath it and I don’t think very many other video game movies can make that claim.

Mortal Kombat is a really fun movie.  Even if you haven’t played the game it would be difficult not to embrace the incredibly enjoyable characters with their unique idiosyncrasies.  The actors cast totally bring them to life too and give faithful performances.  Actually the whole look and feel is pretty faithful to the game.  Sure I would’ve preferred an R rated version but it certainly works regardless.

Oddly enough the fight sequences aren’t spectacular.  I mean they’re fine but nothing outstanding.  It’s good that this was made during a time when you could actually understand what was going on during fight scenes (although I think it’s gotten better in the past couple of years).  It’s also good that there’s a lot of fighting in this.  A Mortal Kombat movie should have a bunch of brawls and they definitely deliver on that.

What’s better than the fights though are the scenes with the characters interacting with each other.  The way they play off one another and the way the good guys eventually align against the bad guys are more interesting.  We get to know the rank and file of the members like that Rayden is the leader, Liu Kang is his number two (and number one when Rayden’s not around), Sonya and Johnny are the support.  Their personalities balance each other out and it’s satisfying to see this motley crew pull together to save Earth.  It’s all good stuff.

In contrast to Shopping which seems to have been shot either completely or almost completely on location, Mortal Kombat was filmed almost entirely on soundstages and it shows.  The film looks pretty cheap.  The budget was $18 mil but most of that must’ve went to the actors and travel expenses for those couple of scenes they shot in Thailand.  I think the cheap look actually works though.  I guess because it’s a video game movie and I expect less from it the over the top plastic, Styrofoam and plywood set pieces look kinda cool and original.  Somehow it fits with the mood of the film.  The CGI shit on the other hand is some of the worst I’ve ever seen.  I can’t imagine the filmmakers thought it looked good.

Mortal Kombat is a solid tournament movie.  It’s no Lionheart but goddamn is it entertaining.  Anderson treated the material very well by taking it seriously for the most part.  He knew the type of picture he was making so he made sure it was fun and not bogged down in so much gloom that it would become boring or depressing.  If you haven’t seen this one by now then I think it’s about time.

Now since Mortal Kombat grossed huge fuckin’ bucks Anderson could do just about anything he wanted next.  He wisely passed on directing the Mortal Kombat sequel and decided to try his hand at something much more interesting and much darker.

Monday, July 9, 2012


It’s not that Paul W.S. Anderson is terribly interesting as a director or as a person.  But he does seem sorta like Roland Emmerich (2012, The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC) in that he makes these dreadful movies that somehow still get theatrical releases.  They’re not just mediocre films but below average even for today’s low standards in action and adventure.  But I guess it doesn’t help that I support these pictures by watching them in theaters.  What was I complaining about again?

Right, so what started out as an innocent review of Event Horizon turned into…something.  “Quest” is a bit too strong and “revisit” seems too casual.  This is more of a reexamining of Anderson’s career through Soldier.  I ain’t never seen no Resident Evils so I’m drawing the line there.  This won’t be pretty.

Anderson’s debut was Shopping and from the plot summery it sounds like it should be awesome.  Here it is verbatim from Netdicks:

“In a bleak, futuristic British society, ex-con Billy (Jude Law) and audacious Jo (Sadie Frost) lead a gang of ‘ram-raiders’ who steal cars, drive them through shop windows and steal whatever booty they can get their hands on before the cops arrive. When a local drug lord (Sean Pertwee) decides the intrepid couple is infringing on his business, he challenges the pair to a bizarre and deadly race.”

That synopsis is completely inaccurate.  To be fair IMDB has a better description but this one is so egregious that I’ve drummed up a short list of problems.

1. In the movie we’re not told that this thing takes place in the future or are even given any clues that it’s the future.  It looks like modern day 1994 (well actually if it wasn’t for the 90’s soundtrack I would’ve thought they shot this at least five years earlier than that).  There aren’t flying cars, weird futuristic clothing, space weapons, crazy technology, etc.  The thing is I don’t know if the story is supposed to take place in the future or if people just made that assumption when they put their summery together.

2. Billy doesn’t lead a gang until the very end of the film and I don’t think the term “ram-raiders” is ever used in the picture.  The rest of that sentence is also misleading but I’ll get into that more after one more point.

3. The very last bit about a drug lord challenging Billy to a “bizarre and deadly race” doesn’t happen.  That’s just a blatant lie.  I was really disappointed when it didn’t happen too.  Well Anderson would correct that in Death Race.

So this movie is supposed to be about these people that crash cars into stores and steal shit.  The obvious problem is that this only happens once in the entire film.  I mean it’s pretty cool when it does happen but there kind of should’ve been more of that.  Like the first time we’re supposed to witness this craziness Billy doesn’t even drive his car into the store front.  He gets out and throws a trash can through the window.  That’s bending the rules.

To Anderson’s credit this thing is shot well and the acting is good.  The production is very dark with tons of shadows and good camera work.  The actors go through some good emotional states like brooding, yearning, euphoria, sadness, confliction, etc.  I like the characters we’re given and the world they live in.  They’re all so care free and get off on stealing cars and driving them fast.  They seem fairly happy with their lives.  I think I pretty much get who these people are.  However, also to Anderson’s credit the script seriously lacks structure (he wrote it).  The snag and irony of the whole thing is that this story of speed demons that live fast and on the edge unfolds at a snail’s pace.  I’m trying to think of what the time was wasted on but I can’t even remember.  That’s how dull it came to be.

The first ten minutes, the last five minutes and the five minutes in the middle where we do finally get a car crashing into a store are cool.  But with the other hour of material there’s nothing going on.  The relationship between Billy and Jo is good because they’re attracted to each other but they’re partners and not boyfriend girlfriend.  This is focused on but that and the rest of the story isn’t presented and isn’t unfolded in an interesting way.

It’s a real shame but what are you gonna do?  Shopping does have one of the best car crashes ever filmed though.  This car shoots into the air and then hits the pavement rolling violently a bunch of times until the whole thing is destroyed.  It’s impressive and cool because they did it for real and not with computers.  I don’t think the film is worth seeing just for that but it’s something.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mish Mash 2 (The Mask of Zorro, Frankenhooker, Until the Light Takes Us, Eastern Condors, Sphere, Maximum Overdrive theory about Cars)

1. I don’t think The Mask of Zorro gets much respect but I’ve always found it to be a really fun movie.  The production design is great that has just the right amount of grittiness and the action is pretty fucking bad ass.  I also really dig Anthony Hopkins as the master sage passing down his skills and knowledge to the impatient, spirited and even somewhat reluctant student.  This brings me to the point I want to make about this film.  The filmmakers found out how to do a beginning story but in a totally new and interesting way.  Now of course this was before the superhero movie explosion that happened around 2000 with X-Men and Spider-Man.  But having the older Zorro pass down his legacy to a younger man is a cool way to start things over.  I feel like it shouldn’t work as well as it does but Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas play well off of each other.  The way they act on film probably reflected their relationship off screen.  I could easily see Hopkins giving some tips and Banderas perhaps brushing it off all the while knowing that Tony's right.

Also, does anyone know if Zorro was part spy in the original books?  The reason why I ask is because the director, Martin Campbell, did GoldenEye before this and it crossed my mind that he may have added some James Bond elements to the character.  Either way it works. 

2. Finally got around to seeing Frankenhooker after a friend recommended it over a year ago.  And it’s fucking great.  If you’ve seen Basket Case (Frank Henenlotter’s other claim to fame) then you know what you’re in for.  But I like Frankenhooker even better.  It’s a bit more outrageous and funnier.  I’m always suspect of title movies like Hobo with a Shotgun, Snakes on a Plane or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter because more often than not they’re letdowns.  The name of the picture and what it conjures up in your mind is almost always better than the actual film.  Frankenhooker delivers though.  Henenlotter knows what the audience wants to see, Frankenstein type theatrics with a lot of exploding hookers.  Sounds pitch perfect to me. 

3. Until the Light Takes Us is a doc about Norwegian black metal.  While Metallica was making some of the pop-iest metal music in the early 90’s this movement was going in the total opposite direction.  The band members each had their own stage names like Count Grishnackh, Death and Faust.  They would paint their faces and wear upside down crosses and shit like that.  But according to the film it wasn’t about Satanism, it was about wanting to start a revolution and a desire to change the world.  One guy says that he hoped for World War III so that everything could be destroyed and eventually rebuilt.  And because of this hostile mindset this movement managed to kill some people (some innocent and some part of the black metal scene) and burned dozens of churches to the ground including at least one that was a relic dating back to like 1150 AD.  But here’s the thing, the way these guys talk about it today they act so calm and seem like nice mild mannered folks.  The juxtaposition is quite staggering and also incredibly interesting.

Even if you’re not into metal (I’m not huge into it myself) I think you guys might find the material worthwhile.  To try and create a work of art with the mindset of “what’s the ugliest, darkest, most depressing, suicidal inducing thing I could come up with” is fascinating because even with really heavy metal those guys think that sounds beautiful.  And in a sense these guys must’ve also found beauty in what they were doing.  But this Norwegian black metal movement didn’t want anything remotely considered beautiful, they wanted trash.  The trashiest trash you could come up with.  Whether or not you agree is a different story.  But for this to be the intention and for them to be dead fuckin’ serious is astonishing and captivating.

One last thing about this picture.  There’s a part where one guy describes that part of this movement was about rebelling against good production (recording wise) and wanted to use the worst mic, the worst equipment he could find and not really adjust anything.  Just set up and record, whatever it is, it is.  This guy was speaking my language.  I like me some good production but from time to time I try to do just what this sonuvabitch was doing and attempt to craft the ugliest sound possible with the worst equipment available.  The point is “good production” is in the eye of the beholder and not necessarily indicative of having the most expensive recording equipment.

4. Eastern Condors is now my favorite Vietnam movie ever.  Well actually it takes place after the war is over in 1976 but it’s still a ‘Nam picture.  It’s got great action, engaging characters, a straight forward plot (a rag tag group of U.S. Asian prisoners is assembled to find an armament stash before the Vietnamese do), incredible martial arts and stunts and no bullshit to sidetrack this thing.  It’s all about the mission and the personalities of our group of reluctant heroes.  This one is a brilliant masterpiece.  I fucking loved it and you’ll fucking love it too, guaranteed.

5. Sphere and Event Horizon have pretty similar plots.  There’s a mission to go check out/retrieve something from space or its Earth equivalent: deep sea.  When the crew finds the spaceship they locate a spherical object in a large room, freaky shit happens (particularly visions/hallucinations) and the crew fights for their lives while trying to escape. 

I would even say that the first half of Prometheus is kinda like the first third of Sphere.  Scientists think they’ve discovered something, they find out it’s a spaceship (except you don’t find out it’s a ship until later in Prometheus but in my opinion you would’ve had to not see Alien or be kinda dumb to not figure that out way before it’s revealed) and the crew sets up camp monitoring the craft.  They go in with spacesuits, look around, find a large mesmerizing object (Sphere: the sphere, Prometheus: the giant head statue), the crew digests their findings, weird things start to occur, fight for their lives, etc.

Sure a lot of movies have either a scene or a whole section like this but for some reason Prometheus reminded me a lot of Sphere.  I had to go back and watch Sphere just to see if I was remembering the film correctly and I was.  You know, that movie gets a bad rap and I can kind of see why but the first half or so is pretty cool.  I like the way the mystery is handled and that it’s all business.  Then when we start to dig into the characters and find out how the sphere works it just feels lame.  And it’s hard to put my finger on just what makes the whole thing turn south.  I do know that part of it is that Dustin Hoffman’s goofy attitude gets to me after a while and he does some ridiculous shit that I just can’t swallow like swimming through below freezing water with no problem.  Also, I don’t want to spoil the film so I’ll just say that another problem is the sphere’s power seems to be rather random.  There was potential for a really great piece of cinema but it just didn’t some together really.

As for Event Horizon, well, see it.  I haven’t seen Shopping yet so as far as I know this is Paul W.S. Anderson’s best picture (as much as I like Mortal Kombat).  Great visuals, cast and storytelling.  It’s eerie as fuck and a near sci-fi classic.       

6. By now you’ve all probably heard from a friend or read somewhere about the concept of Cars being strangely and hugely flawed.  You know, like there’s no reason why there would be human things in this car world.  Why aren’t all of the buildings just warehouses?  There’s a court house with fancy trim, windows and woodwork and also buildings with nicely decorated interiors including things that look like couches and display cases with glasses in them.  Why are there human gas pumps?  Why is there a wheat harvester?  Who’s eating the wheat? Why aren’t all doors garage doors?  Why are there sidewalks, cameras, machine guns?  Who’s making these cars?  And this is just some stuff that I picked up from the Cars 1 and 2 trailers.  It would go on endlessly if I had actually seen the movies.  The point is that in order for Pixar to make Cars relatable and familiar they had to have these living cars exist in the human world.
Are those fucking telephone poles in the background?

In light of this I’ve developed a theory on why there’s this meshing of two different worlds, the Maximum Overdrive theory.  Maximum Overdrive is an 80’s horror flick about machines coming to life via a “rogue comet” traveling through space.  They run amok trying to kill every human that they come across and it’s a lot of fun.  I definitely recommend it.  It’s also the only picture that Stephen King directed so if you’re interested in seeing what a coked up King thinks makes for good cinema then this is your opportunity.  Anyway, I think this is the world that exists in Cars.  The folks over at Pixar probably thought to themselves, “what if that comet from Maximum Overdrive strayed from the Earth’s atmosphere a little but not all the way.  There’s just enough distance so that only cars would remain alive.  But we’ll set the movie a bunch of years after the apocalypse when all of the humans have been wiped out.  The cars have developed a society of their own, uhh, but it’s the same as a human society.  And they have all of this human stuff around them to remind them of that.  That’s the irony, see?”  I’m pretty positive that’s the back story to Cars.  What else could it be?

7. Sadly Rampart was not very good.  Woody Harrelson as the racist, bigoted, hard boiled cop David Brown is good but very little happens.  It’s more about reflecting on the type of person that Brown is and the life that he has led.  The film meanders and then suddenly ends without resolution.  We’re supposed to be seeing a slice of this cop’s troubled life but it’s the wrong slice in my opinion.  I would like to see the part of Brown’s life where he’s fucking dudes up and covering up his illegal activities.  Doing a whole movie where this crazy sonuvabitch is suspended and has to keep a low profile because there’s an investigation into him doesn’t pan out.  That doesn’t sound like a bad idea for a movie but it feels like this character is wasted on that premise.  It ain’t no Bad Lieutenant, either of them.  But then again those are some tough pictures to be on equal footing with or even top.