Thursday, June 27, 2013

*batteries not included

An evil businessman buys off and intimidates residents of an old apartment building that he wants demolished so he can build some new skyscrapers.  The folks living there don’t want to move out even when hired thugs tear the place apart.  So a couple of alien space robots come to the rescue and have the magic power to rebuild shit.  They fix the place up and the evil businessman loses.

The plot’s a little strange because of that alien robot part.  Standing up to some powerful asshole in a suit isn’t anything new.  It’s that our protagonists get help from space is what makes things weird.  They didn’t overcome the conflict on their own in the end.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, just not what I expected.  I thought the aliens were going to give the tenants the tools they needed to be able to fight back but that doesn’t happen.

Speaking of strange and leads, our main characters are an elderly couple (one has Alzheimer’s (I think)), a struggling artist, a pregnant Latino woman and an ex-boxer that doesn’t speak.  Not your typical family movie cast of characters.  There isn’t a teen like in Back to the Future or even a face punching explorer type guy like in Indiana Jones.  The old woman is legitimately engaging but that’s because she’s goofy and senile or whatever.  I think the only reason the rest of them come off kinda charming is because the folks that want to toss them out of their homes are scumbags so they look good by comparison.  If the story was just about these handful of people living in an apartment building with no threat of demolition then I wouldn’t give a shit.  I mean I barely gave a shit as it was.

The aliens are what the whole picture hinges on.  They need you to think they’re at least a little cute.  And I will admit that they are.  No explanation is given about where they came from or why they’re there but there doesn’t need to be.  It works fine with these things just flying around while silently rebuilding stuff.

There are a few very strange moments in this film that I need to address.  First off, we see the alien robots have sex.  It’s totally innocent looking though with the two of them flying out of a chimney and embracing.  The next they-really-put-this-in-the-movie-? moment comes when the female alien gives birth to little baby robots.  And if that wasn’t bizarre enough, one of the babies comes out dead.  That’s a helluva thing to put in a family movie.  Eventually the silent ex-boxer brings it back to life but there wasn’t really a need to have this in the film in the first place.  That baby robot doesn’t do anything to help advance the plot.  The last peculiar thing that happens is the apartment building actually gets destroyed at the end.  Ok, ok the aliens rebuild it, of course they do.  But keep in mind that the whole driving force of the story is not letting this building perish.  So the one thing that can’t happen happens.  Sure it’s a fake out ending but they toy with the audience pretty hard.

You know, it may not seem like it but this film makes sense, at least from a production standpoint.  Even though the concept for this piece sounds a bit out there I could see something like this being made today.  It would definitely be animated and not live action but I could see it.  Makes sense considering Brad Bird wrote this and he went on to eventually work at Pixar.  The whole production has a very Spielbergian look and feel and that’s because he produced it.  There isn’t enough here for a feature length picture and that’s because it was originally supposed to be a short for Spielberg’s Twilight Zone type show Amazing Stories.  That explains the good thirty minutes (at least) in the middle where nothing happens.  So this film isn’t inexplicably weird.  It’s just a little weird and probably would’ve worked better as a short.   

Overall I have conflicting feelings about this one.  I can say for certain that this isn’t a great movie, or even good really.  But goddammit this thing has a lot of heart and that makes it hard to not like at least a little bit.  It feels like the people that made this picture were really into it and their enthusiasm rubs off.  Like the special effects still look very good and hold up, you feel for these characters even though they’re not the most relatable or interesting and everything that you want to happen does occur: the tenants keep their apartment building, the evil businessman is forced to build around the apartment, the main henchman turns good, the construction workers turn good and don’t want to bulldoze the apartment building and etc.  All the feel good shit you could ever want they threw in there.

Do I recommend it?  Honestly I’m not sure.  If you want a real cutesy movie with a cutesy goddamn title (I think it’s supposed to mean that the robots are alive, although I still don’t quite get the asterisk part of it) and cutesy characters that say cutesy dialogue and there’s cutesy mini alien spaceship thingies that have cutesy robot babies and you see what I mean, then go for it.  If you’re not into that shit I guess don’t see it then.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cocaine Cowboys I & II

Miami in the 80’s is synonymous with cocaine.  You know, Miami Vice, Scarface and all that shit.  Well this is the real deal folks.  This doc has players from the time tell their stories.  And holy shit do they have some good ones.  They lay out exactly how their operation went, how the police were outmanned and outgunned, how people were killed if they fucked up and how they all eventually got caught.

The whole thing, every detail is incredibly engrossing.  Each individual story would be by far the most interesting thing that ever happened in an average person’s life and these guys have a million of them.  For example this dude named Rivi was at a club one night when he was informed that there was going to be a hit at a particular table.  Rivi then rounded up his crew to get the hell out of there so that none of them would get hurt by a stray shot or something.  However in the process one of Rivi’s guys unknowingly told the man that was the target that night so he split too.  The hit got fucked up accidentally which put Rivi in deep shit.  This leads to him meeting Griselda Blanco, aka the Godmother (she was a billionaire, or at least a hundreds of millions-aire, in the coke biz and she was responsible for something like two hundred murders), who eventually ends up hiring Rivi as her hitman.

Even a little tale like how the Colombians weren’t wrapping the cocaine right in plastic at first which would cause the package to come undone when it was dropped from a plane into the ocean is fascinating.

This is a must see if you’re interested in crime, drugs or even the history of a city.  Miami was the murder capital back then with something like over 600 murders annually in the early 80’s.  And it wasn’t just drug gangs killing each other, innocent bystanders were getting caught in the crossfire.  There were shootings in public places during the day.  These motherfuckers didn’t give a shit.  Like the Godmother ordered a hit on a guy in an airport terminal.  Rivi wisely turned this job down because he knew it was impossible to get away with.  But some other crazy sonuvabitch took his place and was arrested almost immediately after stabbing his target with a bayonet several times.

Apparently at that time you couldn’t go anywhere in Miami without stumbling across a corpse.  It got so bad that special forces had to be sent in.  A combo of that plus the fact that the cartels were just running out of people to kill finally brought this chapter to an end.

I highly recommend checking this picture out.  Everyone in this is very forward and candid about what they did and how they did it.  They don’t hold back on anything.   

Cocaine Cowboys II picks up where the first one left off.  The Godmother is in jail but she gets sought out by an up and comer named Charles Cosby.  He becomes her right hand man on the outside.  Again, it’s more interesting stories from those that lived them. 

One thing about this series that’s refreshing but also a little off putting is the brutal honesty about shit that you feel like you shouldn’t be hearing.  For example in part II they tell you step by step how to make crack.  Not even in Breaking Bad where the entire show revolves around the production of meth do they actually show how to create the stuff. 

Overall part II isn’t as captivating as part I but it’s still very cool.  And with these two parts this all really does feel like a movie and its sequel.  The original was great and is self-contained.  But the studio wants to make another one so they bring back one of the characters while introducing new ones.  It’s a new adventure.

If you liked the first one you’re definitely going to want to see the second one too. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Undisputed III: Redemption

Pretty good second sequel to the fantastic first sequel to the original I never saw.  Isaac Florentine returns for more and he delivers once again.  Boyka (Scott Adkins (The Expendables 2)) finally stops pitying himself from his last (and only) defeat and wants to enter into the worldwide prison championship tournament.  So this installment follows in the footsteps of Terminator 2 and, well, Undisputed II where the bad guy from the previous episode is now the good guy.  That’s pretty nifty if you can pull it off.

Just about everything is slightly less good (and I want to emphasize the word “good” as opposed to saying “slightly worse” ‘cause I want to keep impressions positive).  The fights, the dialogue, the characters, the directing and so on are all not quite as well done as part II.  The only thing that might be better is Scott Adkins.  He gets more screen time and has to go through a lot more emotional states which he proves he can handle fine. 

It’s unfortunate that the villain isn’t very memorable, the fight sequences kinda blur together (although I really enjoyed the one where Boyka and Turbo beat up the guards in the rock quarry) and overall it’s a cheesier film.  Part II is better but the premise is great and just like its predecessor there’s plenty to like.  

Friday, June 14, 2013

Undisputed II: Last Man Standing

Really fantastic sequel to the original I never saw.  Turns out this one is self-contained enough that it doesn’t matter much. 

Boyka (Scott Adkins (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning)) is the mixed martial arts champ at this one Russian prison but the problem is he’s a little too good at beating the shit out of other inmates.  There’s no worthy competition and the mob is getting upset because they’re actually starting to lose money.  You see Boyka is such a sure thing that no one bets against him.  In order to spice things up the mob frames ex American boxing champ George “Iceman” Chambers (Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite)) so they can get him into prison and fight Boyka.

Great setup and well executed.  Clear fight sequences and lots of ‘em.  Wonderful acting and directing.  Wise old man in a wheelchair that helps Chambers get through his ordeal and a dude gets flung into a sewer filled with shit.  There’s a lot of good stuff here.