Friday, January 29, 2010

The Crazies (1973)

Quick Synopsis: Contagion is accidentally released into the water supply of a small town leading to mass psychosis amongst its populace.

George Romero knows zombies. They play to his strengths and weaknesses, the latter being namely, poor dialogue and wooden acting. Everybody sounds smarter and moves more naturally when surrounded by the living dead. It is when he ventures out of his comfort zone when things seem to fall apart. The Crazies is no different.

What we have here is basically adults playing cowboys + indians for roughly 100 minutes with a little soft ball social commentary thrown into the mix. An astounding number of private citizens immediately rebel with force against the imposed martial law (unless I just don't understand 1970's gun culture). We end up following a particular band of survivors trying to sneak to the town limits while fighting off swarms of soldiers and the growing realization that the virus is spreading among them.

There are a number of questionable scenes scattered throughout. The incestuous make out session between father and daughter apparently brought on by their infections was unnecessary and the reaction by the soldiers when they attempt to lead the head medical officer into a containment zone was laughable. Seriously, a man calmly approaches them from a restricted area holding test tubes of blood and they immediately determine he must just be another hillbilly that got loose? They didn't know a medical staff was in the building trying to find an antidote? I guess there is a lesson here for all you scientists out there. Never take off your lab coat. You lose all credibility without it. As well, the scene where another scientist states that they could find someone with an immunity anywhere and then immediately shrugs off the notion of testing one of the captured survivors who had direct contact with infected individuals for days but shows no sign of it is equally as bad. I understand that we, as a species, are prone to making poor choices, especially in times of peril, but all this came off as more slapstick than anything.

The ending, on the other hand, is fitting and works on a level that Romero is familiar with. He does have a penchant for making difficult scenarios oddly humorous and there is a touch of that in the reaction of the sergeant in charge as he is relayed information about the virus spreading outside of the quarantine zone. It is horrifying news as this will likely mean the virus will continue to spread through the nation and yet he seems almost amused by it all. It is a rare interesting moment in a not that much better than TV movie of the week material.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Dear Killer (1972)

Aside from the unfortunate coincidence of having a pitch perfect Lifetime Channel movie title, My Dear Killer has a lot going for it. But then, you really cannot go wrong with an opening sequence that includes the classic "severed head rolling down a hill," not to mention a high level of girls screaming in terror and not just because of George Hilton's mustache.

This was billed to me as being quite complex, even by giallo standards, though I don't necessarily see it. Most of the action revolves around Inspector Peretti (Hilton) as he discovers victims and creates a few of his own seeing as the killer takes to knocking off anyone he comes into contact with. There is a link early on to a child kidnapping gone wrong a year earlier and it plays itself out to a fitting conclusion. I will not divulge the identity of the killer though the final scene does come to a common conceit of giallo films. While I tend to be quite forgiving to some of the more ludicrious twists and just plain weird reveals that inhabit much of the genre, we literally get Peretti confronting a room full of suspects that have been built up over the course of the film. Honestly, no matter which of the 8 or so potential killers was revealed as the real one, the emotional impact really would not have changed. It is a minor complaint, but there's just too many bodies to account for in the end and unfortunately, most are still breathing.

In terms of what tends to stand out with these films, the violence was more or less subdued though there is one particularly messy scene for all to enjoy (Remember girls, do not leave your handsaw plugged in and sitting out. You are just asking for trouble.) Other than that, though, disappointing.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Robot Jox (1990)

Quick Synopsis: Fifty years after nuclear devastation, the world is controlled by two factions (which for all intensive purposes here are clearly the U.S. and Russia.) who settle territorial disputes with human controlled mega-robots that square off in winner take all battle royales.

One thing is for sure, I would have a lot more interest in sports if any of them had giant robot fights. Born too soon, I guess. As it stands, there's always low budget sci-fi cheese like Robot Jox to appease my oil-lust. Never mind the plausibility issues here, like how technology has gotten so advanced in such a short time since the world was apparently decimated by nuclear war or why all of the next generation pilots (robot jox) have rat tail hairstyles, this movie lives and dies by the battles which are solid if not too infrequent.

The opening match pits the strongest of the two factions against each other with Alaska being the prize due to its richness in oil and timber. Achilles is the all-American hero; his weakness being not so much his heel, but rather his propensity for overacting vs. Alexander, who is basically a pudgier Ivan Drago. And like all good Commies, Alexander tries to cheat by using an unsanctioned flying weapon that veers wildly towards the crowd. Achilles, of course, throws himself via robot in front of the projectile, only to have it knock his transformer, excuse me, robot, into the stands, killing hundreds. I think its fair to question the logic of having bleachers full of spectators surrounding two 30 story tall robots whose sole purpose is to knock each other over, but whatever...the match is determined to be a draw and re-scheduled for one week later.

And this is where Robot Jox kind of loses its way. The next hour surrounds Achilles grappling with whether or not he will fight again, a group of genetically engineered next gen robot jox vying for his position if he does retire (which does include a fantastic scene where they compete for his spot by climbing the world's most poorly constructed jungle gym and of course, Achille's pseudo love interest) and a confusing spy saga. Nevertheless, where the hell did the robots go?

Anyways, eventually the final battle comes to fruition. It is both awesome and strangely heartwarming and the very last scene is a fist bump between two sworn enemies so yeah, its got that going for it.

Note: Pay special attention to the martial arts fight between Achilles and Athena in his apartment as her stunt double is clearly a much taller, white man (she is neither) with a five o'clock shadow.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Troll 2 (1990)

Quick Synopsis: Vacationing family finds trouble in Nilbog. (I'll give you a second to figure it out...though I guess really it should be Llort).

There are still places in this country where values mean something...Small Town, USA. Places where the milk is always sour and corn on the cob has a fresh dollop of green frosting on it. Where the townsfolk can meet at the local church building and discuss rotting flesh. And, of course, where they are all secretly goblins in human form who are led by a Druid witch(?) who really should invest in some Chapstick (even if it does have animal fat in it) know, real salt of the Earth types.

And this is exactly what Dad (or Farmer Waits as he will be always be known in my heart) wants for his family on their vacation. To experience a simpler way of life, albeit by trading houses with another family(?), and getting back to the roots that made this country what it is today. Unfortunately, family vacations tend to be pretty stressful. "Big Sister" is upset because her boyfriend couldn't come and might be a homo since she hit him in the junk the night before (His words, not mine.) Mom is trying to keep the peace by singing her favorite song, "Row, Row Your Boat," (a public domain classic) and poor Joshua, haunted by his increasingly creepy dead Grandpa, just can't shake the feeling that there is something bad waiting for them.

And by something bad, I mean, cheapo rubber masks running around in potato sacks. Granted, that doesn't sound all that scary, but they are hungry...hungry for plant goo, which is what you turn into when the Druid witch lady gives you dry ice to drink. If only somebody had a "double decker bologna sandwich," then maybe the Waits' lives could be spared. This is a weird contention within Troll 2 that has always bothered me. Was writer/director Claudio Fragasso (or the more Americanized Drake Floyd as the credits call him) seriously trying to make a pro-Vegan message that would make Cesar Chavez smile? Probably not, but there it is, smothered all over this film like so much plant goo.

There is a subplot involving the aforementioned boyfriend and three of his wussiest buddies who come to Nilbog in search of all that fine small town tail that us red-blooded males are so into. There is "popcorn sex" and four-leaf clover(?) scars...were the townsfolk evil leprechauns during one draft of the script? "Pissing on hospitality" and a dance sequence that I have mimicked on several drunken occasions...and on and on.

Try as I might, there really isn't an adequate way to review a movie like this. It may be cliche, but Troll 2 must be seen to be believed...and then seen again...and again. It would be the blueprint for how comedy is achieved if only it were intentional. Unfortunately, I have seen other Fragasso films so I know this is not the case, but it matters not. The self-proclaimed "best worst movie" ever, how could anyone possibly disagree?


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Halloween II (2009)

Quick Synopsis: Remember the 2006 interview where Rob Zombie stated that he had no intention of adding to the plethora of modern horror remakes? This is the sequel to the movie he would never make. (And last I heard, he is slated to do another version of The Blob which has, count them, two worthwhile editions already.)

To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with remakes and contrary to a strangely popular belief, their mere existence does not somehow tarnish the original. The issue lies in the fact that they are typically poor films of their own merits. Too often they feel like nothing more than a cash grab off an established product made by people who have no genuine interest in the horror genre. This is likely why I have been so disappointed in Zombie because he clearly does care and proved with The Devil's Rejects (2005), that he can be a quality filmmaker.

H2 (as I guess the cool kids call it) is definitely Zombie's film and for that alone I will give him credit. Unlike his first attempt, which is half backstory no one asked for and half sped up retread of Carpenter's classic, Zombie made a Halloween that is distinctly his own, not that this means it is any good. There is actually very little of H2 that is redeeming. Honestly, I don't know who this appeals to. Unrelenting brutality with little style and less substance is just plain boring. Tension of any kind is a mute point because Michael will annihilate anyone in his path with ease. Speaking of which, where was he for the two years that has past since the first movie? Criss-crossing America's heartland trying to find himself? As well, Laurie Strode, everyone's favorite survivor girl, is reduced to a sniveling shell of a human being who somehow never once comes out of that to fight back and Dr. Loomis is nothing but a cockneyed prick who adds nothing to the story and could have been cut out entirely. These are the three that have shaped this franchise from the beginning, yet they are so indistinguishable here from previous incarnations and all the change for the worse that nothing else could possibly save the film.

I knew better.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Deadgirl (2009)

Quick Synopsis: Misfit youths find that nothing cures boredom like a girl to call their own.

A coming of age tale that finally asks the question on all adolescent minds: What are we going to do with the catatonic naked girl we found chained in the basement of an abandoned hospital? And really, one could easily make the argument that this is, at its core, about first loves, a central theme to almost all coming of age fodder, albeit with a little more bite.

There is little exposition before she is found and mere moments later the words are uttered, "We could keep her." A chilling line if ever there was one and a highlight to what makes Deadgirl as genuinely disturbing as it is. With as much graphic imagery that lies within, what really stands out is how quickly and with little thought the boys delve into the deepest recesses of their baser instincts. There is some reluctance from Ricky, one of the two central protagonists, but this likely has more to do with his deep-seeded affection for JoAnn, a living girl, as he never puts forth much of an effort in putting a stop to a situation quickly growing out of control. Believability of the character's intentions is key and I, for one, bought into all of it (well, most of it). These are dead end kids, as J.T., the more singularly minded of our (anti) heroes argues, all prison would mean to them is missing out on a couple divorces and a lifetime of pumping gas. He is completely sincere when he says that this body is the best thing that will ever happen to them. Again, chilling.

Upon first viewing, the ending bothered me as it too greatly discredits the intentions of Ricky as they were built upon from the beginning and just felt like a cheap shock not rooted in anything. This has lessened slightly though I am still not completely content with it. There is most definitely a real affection within him that we never see with J.T., but it is in this moment that the movie still loses its believability for me as I simply cannot imagine that Ricky does not see the fatal flaw in his "relationship" with the girl he has always pined away for.

Still, there is a distinct realism to the writing, a rarity for modern horror whose main cast are teenagers and the direction is solid outside of one set up (the gas station scene) that throws out a lame attempt at humor at the worst possible time. A new favorite despite its minor flaws.

And, please, don't use the 'Z' word. It doesn't apply here.


Monday, January 11, 2010

A Perfect Getaway (2009)

Quick Synopsis: Newlyweds go on honeymoon; try not to die.

Ever open that familiar red envelope and think to yourself, "When did I put this on my queue, much less close enough to the top that it would actually come?" History has proven that this is usually not a good sign, but I went ahead and viewed A Perfect Getaway anyhow. And frankly, I am torn. From its most base standard, the movie works. I wouldn't exactly call it a "white-knuckle thrill ride," or any other easily identifiable quote meant solely to get one's name on the DVD cover, but it did keep me modestly intrigued from beginning to end.

Performances are all solid (Steve Zahn continues his impressive streak of criminally underrated roles) and the writing is by and large, crisp, though I could have done without the self-referential nonsense. Characters discussing plot devices typically used in the type of movie they are in such as 'red herrings' and 'a twist at the end of Act II' serves little purpose but to highlight how by the numbers, first year film school project your script actually is. Speaking of the big reveal (that does, I might add, happen exactly where the end of Act II would be), and which is the moment of most contention for me, and look, I can usually be pretty forgiving with this kind of thing, what irks me is when there are prior scenes to the twist whose sole purpose it is to simply throw off the audience. This is lazy filmmaking, pure and simple. Honestly, I really can't go any further here without revealing the moment, so prepare yourselves, SPOILER: Angela has a penis, no, wait...Cliff and Cydney, our likeable every-couple who shortly were meant to become our heroes are, in actuality, the killers they have feared all along.

Now jump back to a pivotal scene where Cliff tells Cydney to pretend she has to use the bathroom so that they can walk off to a secluded spot to discuss why they think another couple may be the killers...why would this conversation ever happen? Now, some may argue that they were staying true to their characters and trying to give the impression that they suspected others therefore making themselves look innocent, but this was accomplished simply by them walking off alone to whisper in the dark. They literally could have discussed anything in that moment; the Crimean War, how anyone could ever justify listening to Coldplay, literally anything, but instead, in this intimate moment, they try to convince us, the audience to the movie, that they aren't the killers. I'm actually a little surprised Zahn didn't break the fourth wall and wink into the camera.

There really were some very good elements to this movie. It's a shame.

Also, Hawaii is quite beautiful.

As a feature film: 6/10
As a travelogue: 10/10

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Young Warriors (1983)

(For the record, nothing even remotely close to what is featured in this poster actually happens in the film.)

Quick Synopsis: Fairly standard revenge film following a group of frat boys turned vigilantes looking for justice for the death of their friend and one of their sisters at the hands of some toughs.

The future was so bright for Kevin. He had homoerotic hijinx with his fraternal brothers, a dog that wore sunglasses and Ernest Borgnine for a father. But then some standard issue bikers, except this time they all ride around in a bitchin' black van, turn his world upside down. While not as wholly enjoyable or quotable as similar fare like Savage Streets (1984), this one is pretty awesome. The last half of the movie alternates between poorly choreographed fight sequences/shootings (the aforementioned dog even gets into the action) and some truly meaningless philosophical discussions on how violence begets violence that always end with Kevin breaking something (because then people will take you seriously). Of course, much like the Death Wish series, these guys suddenly find street crime on every corner that must be dealt with and routinely lose focus on the hoods that led them to their vigilantism in the first place. But then, you can probably guess how this one ends.

Also of note:

-Richard Roundtree (Shaft) is the lead detective following the case alongside Borgnine. Now that's a dynamic duo.

-Kevin is apparently some kind of computer animation major so we are treated to several of his "Atari art" works that act as the window into his quickly deteriorating psyche.

-Apparently, a good number of two-bit criminals in Malibu in the early 80's routinely carried grenades around with them.

-There are seriously a dozen shots whose sole purpose is to show the dog wearing sunglasses.


Daybreakers (2010)

Quick Synopsis: An undisclosed virus transforms the majority of the world's population into bloodsuckers. The remaining humans are hunted and farmed for their blood by way of a massive pharmaceutical company, but the supply is getting more and more limited. With a synthetic substitute still unproven, the vamps are growing desperate while the few humans left continue their own search for a reason to live.

There were a few interesting variations on the mythology and at least to my knowledge, this is the first feature that shows us a world completely overcome by vampires (Dusk of the Dead?), but Daybreakers, unfortunately, is far from good. The writing was already on the wall seeing as this movie apparently sat on the shelf for almost 2 years and likely was just now released to profit off the Twilight-led popularization of the sub-genre, so I guess I only have myself to blame...but that's not much fun so here's who else fucked up:

-The Spierig Brothers: As with their debut feature, the zomb-alien Undead (2003), it doesn't seem like they know if they want to be taken seriously or if they are embracing the idea of purposefully making "B-movies." Daybreakers does not try to be funny, though I laughed more than I did during the comedic moments of Undead. And while its production values were adequate for the low budget, there is some truly awful camerawork that sucks all the tension out of major scenes.

-The Actors: I can only assume that Willem Dafoe fell behind on his mortgage, made some unwise investments, maybe he has a kid in college with huge tuition costs, whatever it may be, this was clearly nothing more than a paycheck to him. Ethan Hawke at least seemed to be trying though it should be clear why this was his first major leading role in almost a decade. Side note: Has he seriously not changed his hairstyle in 20+ years? Throw a thrift store buttondown on him and I would have sworn I was watching Reality Bites 2. Sam Neill was okay, but one-note. I didn't recognize anyone else.

-The Studio: Like I stated above, this should not have been released theatrically and was likely just a cash grab because of how overexposed vamps are right now. Though in fairness, it is January, which historically is a dumping ground for everything that didn't exactly turn out as expected.

-The Sun: Plays a major role in how vamps are returned to their human form and makes for one of the most confusing and just plain retarded twists in a long time.

There were moments, few and far between, that stood out and in the right hands, this might have made for an interesting spin on the well-worn cliches we all know and love. But then, there's only so far potential can take us.


Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Delirium: Photo Of Gioia (1987)

Quick Synopsis: Former model runs gentlemen's magazine after her husband dies. Someone starts killing her friends and colleagues and posing their bodies in front of old blown up photos of her. Killer revealed after appropriate number of fake outs.

It seems only appropriate to mention the bee scene, though I personally was unaware of its significance until I read the back cover of the DVD which proclaimed in a rather bold font, "Featuring the famous bee attack murder!!" Now, don't get me wrong, I like a naked girl covered in bees as much as the next guy, but it wasn't exactly noteworthy. Hell, Culkin biting it in My Girl (1991) was just as effective and truth be told, still gets me a little weepy. More than anything, it was the shots from the killer's perspective prior to the first 2 murders that stuck out. I won't contend to understand exactly why the girl had a giant eyeball head before getting pitchforked in the stomach, but it was appreciated all the same. All in all, highly implausible with a twist that defies all logic (like most good gialli). A solid effort from the waning years of the genre.


Monday, January 04, 2010

The Spell (1977)

Quick Synopsis: Poor Rita has a problem. The school keeps trying to get her to complete the Presidential Physical Fitness program and Dad is openly questioning whether she needs that "second helping" at the breakfast table. See, Rita is a fat girl and no one is happy about it. In fact, it's practically all anyone talks about throughout this entire movie. That is, of course, when she isn't trying to kill them with her mind.

A made for television homage (or rip-off, if you prefer) to Brian DePalma's Carrie from the year prior, The Spell begins much like its predecessor aside from Rita's problem being more glandular and less menstrual confusion though it veers wildly off course in the third act to a twist that wasn't exactly unexpected (Her overprotective mother is actually the queen witch or some shit like that). Credit where it is due, there is a fairly awesome spontaneous combustion death in all its 1970's TV effects glory. And a very young Helen Hunt cuts her teeth as the younger sister just a few years before her own TV movie glory in one of those "The girl wants to be on the sports team!!!" affairs.


Sunday, January 03, 2010

Terror Train (1980)

Quick Synopsis: Jamie Lee Curtis never thought she'd be anything but a scream queen.

Boy, you really needed to be careful pulling pranks in the 80's seeing as how often the recipient would come back years later to kill off everyone involved. This one is kind of forgettable and not nearly as gory as My Bloody Valentine (1981) or Happy Birthday To Me (1981) nor as much fun as the similarly themed Slaughter High (1986). And who would have thought that magician David Copperfield could act? Oh, that's right, nobody.


Saturday, January 02, 2010

Antichrist (2009)

Quick Synopsis: Couple's child falls to his death while they are preoccupied with sex. They depart to Eden, a cabin deep in the woods for therapy, but Nature turns on them. It doesn't go very well after that. Also, foxes are apparently anarchists.

Nothing like a little genital mutilation to start the year off. Still, even with the disturbing images conjured here, it is one of the more beautifully shot films I have seen in quite some time (especially the Prologue). While equally critical of both feminism and the modern obsession with instant gratification therapy, it is ultimately a bit too abstract and lacking in any true insight.