WARNING! FILM SPOILERS!

The following opinions should not be read prior to seeing the films in question. (Though it is possible you have resigned to never watch them at all...)

These are not reviews upon which you should base movie watching decisions. Rather, I write with the hopeful purpose of inciting sometimes interesting, sometimes informative, sometimes humourous discussions about cinema. What may prove unfortunate for the reader is that I often express myself in a pompous and juvenile fashion...mayhap there ought to be a "warning" in recognition of my sense of humour...

Regardless, I implore film fans to always remember that all film is art, and all art is subjective. No one can tell you if you like a movie, except you. Likes and dislikes of film can only be opinion, and opinion can never be wrong; only intelligently expressed and defended. There is nothing wrong with unconditionally loving a film that isn't necessarily held in the highest regard, so long as you understand and accept why you love it.

Search This Blog

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS

Director - Ace Hannah
Starring - Deborah Gibson, Vic Chao, Lorenzo Lamas

Finally, the direct-to-video, extra low budget, painfully lame underwater deathmatch we've all been waiting for. And who better to mediate the bout than washed up 80's icons Debbie Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas, thus resulting in not one, but two check marks on my "Match Ups I Never Thought I Wanted To See" list. (Actually, if Gibson and Lamas rode the Shark and Octopus and chased me around a swimming pool, it would have made reality of a nightmare I had when I was 4.)


Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus, or MSVGO as us cinema hipsters refer to it, falls into the same category as it's two-bit predecessors in the Super Animal A vs. Super Animal B shit-genre, in that the best thing about any of these movies is always the title. Probing (unnecessarily?) deeper into these "Vs." oddities, one discovers that they follow the same basic plot structure, and this one sure isn't breaking any new ground; as per usual, Super Animal A is found in one part of the world, Super Animal B in another part of the world, scientists fail miserably in their efforts to destroy them separately, then come to the logical conclusion of pitting them against each other. I long for the fateful day when one of these companies asserts their creative superiority by implementing an A vs. B vs. C formula.


Opening with a couple of aesthetically pleasing stock footage shots of mountain tops and underwater reefs, the film disintegrates, literally within seconds, into a revolving parade of shitty CGI attacks, medium shots of people crammed into cardboard underwater vessels, and Gibson and Vic Chao swooning over each other amidst unfinished-basement command posts and Toys R Us laboratory sets while Lamas lurks around acting tough.


I can't help but assume that had the cast and crew not gone to the vending machine during their lunch break, they would have had twice the budget to work with. Anything and everything that can be done to pinch pennies is attempted, and seemingly without shame. All of the supposed "hi tech" background equipment has been replaced with Commodore monitors and Lite Brites, and are disinterestedly poked at by some key grip's nephew. Shots remain stationary, panning as little as possible and filling the frame with our heroes, avoiding the even further embarrassment of accidentally showing the limitations of the sets. Though I do appreciate the actors' collective efforts to stare intensely off-screen in order to cover up the lack of proximity between them and impending doom, be it in Shark-form or Octopus-form.


But who really gives a shit about all that stuff? When you sit down to watch a movie called Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus you really only care about two things, and they better be versusing the hell out of each other. Alas, much like it's "Vs." brethren, the animal chaos is kept to a minimum, and upon witnessing all of the CGI glory, these omissions may be regarded as a mercy skimping. The Shark and Octopus have four scenes in the film (granted, the Octopus does seem to take a noticeable back seat); an introduction which frees each from it's underwater trappings, (when will misguided humans learn to not tamper with the unforgiving environment?), an attack on innocents to illustrate their threat, them defeating their respective government assaults to punctuate their superiority, and their final, un-epic, fin on tentacle face off. All told, it combines to make up just about 10 whole minutes of screen time...and what screen time it is... One has to suspend a lot of disbelief in order to accept the notion that a Mega Shark has some sort of beef with a Giant Octopus, and I'm okay with that; I love suspending stuff, and my disbelief is usually the first thing blowing in the wind. But when the supposed menace looks like it was the product of a High School software assignment, one that may have received a generous C+, it's difficult to embrace the prehistoric terror. Most of the actual confrontation consists of healthy doses of teeth gnashing, ink squirting, and general squozen twisting; there's even a tentacle-bite that the filmmaker's were so enamored with, they mirrored the image and used it a second time. Not intense enough for you? Plenty of rapid editing and shaky camera work should provide the desired amount of squinting/head scratching.


The other hour of screen time, (hour-five max,) have Gibson and Lamas desperately trying to hold onto fame (slipping into infamy) as they go through the motions of "brainy-but-not-bad-looking scientist" and "impulsive, hardened military type", and much of the dialogue is either science-based or military-based mumbo jumbo blandly filling the feature length time quotient, with the odd nature sentiment thrown in by the benevolent Chao. At least the obligatory romance is fueled by firey passion, expressed in nearby utility closets and through kisses so steamy the participants don't even care that Lamas is hovering over them.


Everything about this movie is deserved of mockery. Everything. Which may very well make it the perfect flick to get drunk and laugh at. I laughed at it. A lot. Thus bringing about the question as to how many people behind the scenes were laughing, and how many had faith in their art. More pressing, how many people were laughing when the profits came in, as I imagine they did. Between the bad-movie lovers and the easily appeased suckers, the audience is always there. Personally, I reside somewhere in the middle; sure it's really just a mega-shit vs. a giant piece of crap, but I'll keep watching in hopes that one day a "Vs." will come along that isn't utterly and laughably pathetic. It is also now abundantly clear that no aircraft is safe without a can of bat-shark-repellant...

Monday, October 18, 2010

GROUPIE

Director - Mark L. Lester
Starring - Taryn Manning, Eric Roberts, Hal Ozsan

Imagine yourself in this scenario: you're front row center at your favourite wuss-rock concert, awe-struck by your demigods "The Dark Knights", displaying their talents to simultaneously suck and avoid copyright infringement, holding up your sign or zippo as they belt out the chorus of their astonishingly number one hit "Firing Line", when they predictably do not close the show with an admittedly cool stunt that they've refused to do since it caused the death of an innocent teen over a year ago. Are you outraged? Do you join the crowd in their halfhearted booing? Would you tear up your sign in anger, go home, and begin constructing a new one in preparation for their next show which you've already bought tickets for, thinking to yourself "This time for sure..."? After all, a year is a long time to perfect pyro-technology. If you somehow cannot picture yourself amidst said surroundings, then sorry, kiddo, you cannot be a fan of "The Dark Knights".


Unluckily for us, some quasi-wealthy people are fans of "The Dark Knights", or at least actor/singer/songwriter/fictional front man/Jack-shit-of-all-trades Hal Ozsan, otherwise we wouldn't have been blessed with this shitty excuse for him to mope around and showcase his "skills". Apparently two of his fans are fellow co-stars Taryn Manning and Eric Roberts who offer not only their acting prowess but also associate produced. (Which makes me wonder if Roberts had any say in the band's name, attempting to remind viewers of the last decent movie he was in.)


The flick opens on what turns out to be one of many rock 'n' roll montage sequences built on cocaine, joint smoking, sexy midriffs, tour buses, and hotel rooms, repeatedly illustrating the decadence and overall awesomeness of this lifestyle. It's also a good setting/excuse to get a number of hot chicks topless. Little does the band know that their hard-rocked life is about to come to an abrupt end via vengeful former-fan, Manning, and her satchel of bronzing utensils. (Including the stubbiest pitiful knife ever wielded by an on-screen killer.) I'd almost feel bad for spoiling the mystery were there any mystery to spoil; who could have imagined that the ominously cryptic newcomer who glares directly into the camera and triggers flashbacks to the opening concert chaos was out for revenge? Big fucking shocker.


I expect more from Manning, and am pleasantly surprised on those rare occasions when I do get more from Roberts...though I no longer expect it...Given that their names are all over this mess, you'd think they would've ensured themselves a bigger budget in which to frolic around. Everything from the poor CGI fire, to the same thirty-five people at every concert, to the almost complete and utter lack of blood during the kills, reeks of loose pocket change. Try wrapping your head around the logistics behind that guitar thrown into the overhead lighting...despite the crowd's disdain, it would be a real cool stunt provided the guitar didn't just disappear in a hail of 128 bit frugality. To answer Travis' question as to who gives a shit about face masks; nobody...because face masks make for cheap, shitty kill scenes. One of but many examples of the abysmal writing...


Cheesy dialogue peppers the laughably basic story elements, attempting to make meaningful statements about artistic integrity and emotional expression, but really just allowing Ozsan some sulking time between gigs, whilst pointing giant, flashing arrows at the supposed mystery killer. Riley's "Wake up...you don't wanna miss your own death" is pretty quotable, but why'd the sound guy have to go and plant the seeds of murder by looking directly at Riley and stating about Davis: "He'd better watch out, with his bad heart and all...one shock and he's a goner..."? Fortuitously for Riley, in case she missed that subtle tidbit of information, someone went to the effort of labeling Davis' (and only Davis') guitar chord. One might be inclined to think that there's more to this sound guy than meets the eye...perhaps I underestimated the overall mystery here...Doubts are quelled come the final climax when crappy writing and generic struggling intertwine; Travis disobeys orders and neglects to tie himself up, possibly baffled by the mechanics of the demand, and opts to simply tackle Riley. It seems like a pretty sure bet, until he somehow loses a physical confrontation with this 100 lb. monster, though his pregnant wife is on top of the situation, allowing for one final sarcastic quip. Cue alterna-weep-rock and croon goodbye to one hour and fifteen minutes of your time.


Rock 'n' roll movies are supposed to be fun. This movie may be, at best, masochistic fun. I can remember the good old days, when I was 7, and could trust seeing the name Mark L. Lester on a cover box. As a rather self-comforting digression, I can't help but reminisce about the year that I watched Commando at least three times a week, and wondered to myself what the future would hold for this budding auteur. Should I limber up my hi-fiving hand in anticipation of a Class of 2084? Have I respectfully waited long enough to pitch my script for Showdown in Little Tokyo II? All of those James Remar/Coolio/lesser Baldwin brothers based thrillers through the 90's must have been practice for something. Well, the future has come. The wonder has ceased. The answer is Groupie. Allow me a moment of silence.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

HOMECOMING

Director - Morgan J. Freeman
Starring - Mischa Barton, Matt Long, Jessica Stroup

I like to imagine this piece of drivel as the by-product of a case of wine and a game of "You Know What Movie's Good..." Close your eyes and permit me to whisk you off to creation-land;
Writer Kate L. Fetting - You know what movie's good...Misery.
Director Morgan J. Freeman - You know what movie's good...Fatal Attraction.
KLF - You know what movie's good...Single White Female.
MJF - You know what movie's good...The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.
KLF - You know what movie's good...Obsessed.
MJF - You know what movie's good...American Psycho 2.
KLF - Hey, I got an idea...
MJF - ...and I have Mischa Barton's home phone number...
(Chuckles had by both parties.)


Ahhh, where to start? So much chastisation, so little time. The biggest concern here is that with access to a not bad budget, a not bad actress, and not bad equipment, everything was still so goddamn formulaic. When will people learn that formula can remain stagnant only when outweighed by spectacle? So much more could have been delivered using so much less...


The storyline is by-the-numbers ex-girlfriend pining over ex-boyfriend and plotting to remove current GF to regain her once perfect life. But the catch is, and this'll throw you for a loop, she's crazy! Go figure. The movie may think it's a little smarter than it actually is by opening on a somewhat cryptic flash forward of Barton's Shelby simultaneously driving, smoking, and weeping, but it's not. Possibly a desperate attempt at invoking sympathy before we watch this character plummet into madness; possibly a reminder of who the star of this thing is; possibly a showcase of Barton's multi-talents. But it's also the first instance of the ongoing trend of shitty and obvious foreshadowing that permeates this film. Throughout Shelby's quest of stolen true love, as long as one is watching the screen, one can predict what will inevitably happen down the line. From the introduction of Roy the banker, to Shelby improperly chopping wood, to Shelby's discovery of the lamest blazer ever, each piece of this "Ages 2-6" puzzle is spoon fed to us with the fear that we've never seen a movie before. (Honestly, who would wear a suit jacket with the number 7 embroidered on the lapel...unless maybe attending a formal dinner on The Island...) My favourite example of this "technique" comes in the form of Billy, the amalgamation of what is normally two stock characters within this obsession-thriller sub genre; a not-so-carefully woven tapestry of disbelieving authority figure and interfering family member. Of course, when he's on the receiving end of what I call "the old Scatman Crothers", what would formerly have been two kill scenes is reduced to one. Though Shelby does also shoot him. And burn him. So maybe it all equals out.


The other consistent presence, and general curiosity, is the inclusion of Shelby's character constantly vocalizing her Mike-based infatuations at seemingly inappropriate junctures, much to the nonchalant, unnoticing reactions of the other characters. No one seems concerned over the fact that she often starts phrases with sentiments akin to "When Mike and I get married...", and apparently nobody bothered to sit her down and tell her to get over it. Perhaps they're all on board the same train of thought as I am, and can't fathom the notion that an extremely attractive, albeit overly slender, blonde chick that owns a bowling alley and likes to drink could possibly be hard up for love.


I feel a little sorry for Mischa Barton. She's not really that bad an actress. The other two I could care less about; they're pretty enough and deliver lines adequately enough that they can both be in Homecoming II: Coming Home.(Copyright pending.) But Barton has somehow tumbled down the chute after climbing the ladder of Lost and Delirious. One look into those wounded and menacing eyes as she maniacally plots from the haven of her Fortress of Stockroom, and I can't help but wish that this vehicle was anything more than just stupid characters making stupid decisions that lead them into stupid scenarios. Given the resources to include overhead rotating camera zooms and multi-space music montages, but two of the many weapons of cinema, an individual may be inclined to utilize more innovation than simply adding football helmets and maple syrup to the cadre of blunt object beatdowns. I find it very difficult to believe that Stroup's Elizabeth would opt to hobble away from the toilet tanked Shelby rather than finish the job, (having discovered that scrapbook of murderous memories and all), or that the final stage of her escape plan was to cower in fear rather then fight back; it's as though she changed her mind mid-risk. Admittedly, it is feasible that this ignorance of verisimilitude was a (purposeful?) blessing in disguise as it did culminate in the snipping of Elizabeth's Achilles tendon, ultimately resulting in the film's most entertaining 2 seconds of screen time.


What a waste; not only of Barton, but also of what I presume to be a grand total of about one million dollars. A psycho love bitch with some imagination behind it could've been a good role for Barton too, but in today's day and age a raspy voice and a passionate high school montage just doesn't cut it.
You know what movie's good...not this piece of shit.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

THE BIG HIT

Director - Che Kirk Wong
Starring - Mark Wahlberg, Lou Diamond Phillips, Christina Applegate, Bokeem Woodbine, Antonio Sabato Jr.

I know, I know, we all wanted this one to work; action-comedy with a smattering of tongue-in-cheek satire produced by John Woo. Unfortunately, though a bunch of small things do go right, the majority of the comedy falls flat, some of it painfully so. At least one, preferably two, more action scenes would have also gone some distance in lifting this film out from the hole in which it fell.


This is an earlier American entry to foray into the realm of over the top, greatly exaggerated, gravity defying action, and the "bang bang boom boom" stuff is generally a success. Provided, of course, that you can swallow the idea of dead bodies soaring through the air and deceptively non-threatening explosions. Personally, I'm a huge advocate of gratuitous violence and can swallow just about anything that involves limitless bullets. We get Marky Mark rolling down hand railings, bungee jumping out of explosive blasts, being chased down a mountain by a flipping car, and (icing on the cake) knife-fighting Lou Diamond Phillips in a video store. There is literally a little something excessive there for everyone. The only down side to all this action hubris comes in the from of a few pointless, unnecessary jumps...and I don't mean "jump cuts"...I mean actual insert shots of the gang simply jumping...which doesn't seem immediately beneficial during a gunfight...


Such a pity that team Wong Woo failed to provide me with that which I so purely desired...50 or so minutes go by with nary an action sequence in sight. In it's stead, I'm subjected to a barrage of jokes ranging from mediocre to lame as shit and involving a running masturbatory gag, a forgetful homeboy, and a domestic comedy of errors. Timeless subjects, all of them. Not that those things are necessarily un-funny, but in these particular situations they too were exaggerated, and proved to turn themselves more silly than anything. Case in point: the "chicken stuffing/sweet sweet loving" juxtaposition. I get the allusion, but some softer lighting and more seductively subtle shots of the chicken's glory (i.e. taking the ridiculousness of the scenario just a bit more seriously) would have turned the whole sordid affair into a joke being played by the filmmakers, not just a cheap laugh being had by them. I don't even want to get into the travesty that was the "trace buster" gag.


Not that the actors themselves can't be held at least partially responsible for their beyond-caricaturistic deliveries and overall performances. Even when the odd couple of chuckles are induced (I did enjoy watching Cisco kill Gump...maybe because I hated him so much...even his name is obvious...), those are quickly squashed by the downhill boulder that is bad acting. Everything out of Gump's mouth is cringe worthy, as is usually the outcome of bad parody, and Phillips' Latino tough guy comes across as laughable and incompetent. He needs to go back and re-watch Stand and Deliver. Top that all off with China Chow as Keiko, pitifully uttering classic love tomes such as "I'm feeling it, Skipper," and you can't help but long for someone to get shot. Anyone. Quick.


The really great moments are far outnumbered by the really weak moments, and when mixed all together everything is merely moderately amusing. So much potential washed away in a hail of playground humour. Not even the good playground humour. Kudos on the soundtrack however. It's nice to see Molotov getting a little notice.

NO MAN'S LAND: THE RISE OF REEKER

Director - Dave Payne
Starring - Michael Muhney, Desmond Askew, Mircea Monroe, Stephen Martines, Valerie Cruz

It`s probably not a good sign when the cover box calls this movie No Man's Land: The Rise of Reeker, the DVD menu calls it The Rise of The Reeker (note the extra "the"), and the opening titles simply opt for No Man's Land. Ah well, can't judge a movie by it's numerous titles...


When you've seen as many shitty movies as I have, particularly within the horror genre, it becomes increasingly difficult to be unappreciative of mediocrity. In many instances, I find the result to be similar to what we have here, which is a generally bad film sprinkled with a few imaginative moments. Of course, I may watch it again simply due to my passion for the genre, but do not let my actions motivate yours; it's not very good and I can admit that to myself.


All this nonsense is further aggravated by the fact that I kinda dug the opening scene and my hopes were mildly raised. In the obligatory origin flashback, I was treated to some decent looking direct-to-video gore and a playful introduction to the background of said Reeker. All is faring positively up until the one-handed dweeb returns to his shanty accompanied by that goddamn overused, herky-jerky camera work as he moves. It denotes death...or stench...or otherworldly spookiness...or just a plain, old, overall successful attempt to piss me off...And with that minute technique, the story regresses into a typical "holed-up, disagreeing survivor" tale. (Not that the two things are inevitably linked...) After progressing to the present, we are introduced to a handful of one-note characters, where the only upside is that the greater the number of one-note characters, the greater the number of one-note deaths. We get the wise ole disheveled sheriff, his by-the-books Deputy son, the feisty waitress, the empathetic robber, the demented robber, the injured robber, and the intelligent, attractive, female doctor. Following a series of grave misunderstandings the gas station explodes, and, unbeknownst to them, the group of stereotypes are hurtled into the realm between the dead and the living. Now, given that Reeker ended with this so-called twist, why would writer/director Dave Payne slowly reveal this fact as though it were some great secret? I was already privy to this grand revelation, why not pay me, a faithful horror viewer, a little credit?


Amid the mundane proceeding dialogue, and generic "scares" in the form of disappearing people and bad smells, the film does occasionally offer up some visually satisfying (though CGI dominant) and inventive kill scenes. "Headless Binky" and the "wandering" torso spring immediately to my mind, but the majority of the spewing blood and pierced appendages looked acceptable. Finally, something here worth watching. (Now, if only there was some gratuitous nudity this thing might have made it on my "To Buy" list.) Unfortunately, for every drilled-forehead, there's also a lame attempt at comedy. The deputy doesn't sport the slapstick chops that are required to make walking into an invisible wall funny, (those comic gems are few and far between), and the entire "fish fuck" conversation is one of the worst attempts at natural dialect in recent memory. All this failed talking could have been replaced by moderately successful torturing.


Wrapping up the whole shit 'n' kaboodle is an extremely over-elaborate concluding explosion, involving a flaming pigeon for some reason, that resulted in the types of injuries received via the Reeker, smelly harbinger of death, in...take a deep breath...No Man's Land. (For those who have seen Reeker, the deep breath is not necessary.)


All I need now is the promise of an open-ended franchise and my continued Reeker viewership is assured, accompanied by what I assume will be a modicum of direct-to-video success. Hardcore horror fanatics are desperate for material that is even slightly above pitiful, and seeing how this was not quite a waste of my time, which I have in abundance, I will sit through the next olifactory adventure, stupid shaky camera and all.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE

Director - Stephen Chiodo
Starring - Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson

Recalling the lost 50's and 60's hey-day of "Space Invaders" drive-in flicks, this comedy/horror (emphasis on "comedy") adds a sorely needed touch of the 80's to the familiar sub genre. Predilections towards this one should be immediately obvious; if you genuinely smiled whilst reading the infamous tag-line, you'll probably genuinely smile throughout the film's unfurling. In it's entirety, Killer Klowns... is one, rapid, circus based, pun or sight-gag after the next, laid down atop the stereotypically classic storyline. Anyone who furrows their brow at the idea of deadly cotton candy cocoons or living balloon search dogs should prepare themselves for an arduous journey. Personally, I was hooked from the opening Killer Klowns glam rock theme song. Not for all tastes, but it certainly sets a mood...


The narrative structure is quite simple and familiar; an alien ship passes over make-out point to crash land in a farmer's field. Two protagonists put their heavy petting on hold to investigate, and spend the bulk of the film trying to convince moronic authority figures that what they saw was not a hormone induced hallucination. Meanwhile, the outsiders showcase their threat by dispatching a slew of nondescript townsfolk. An exciting climax ensues. The pacing is kept brisk, with very quick scene changes alternating between clown havoc and our heroes and heroines desperately trying to overcome puberty, jealousy, and popcorn. And timeless 80's humour. Can't forget that 80's humour. Luckily for me, the colourful chaos (both literal and figurative) culminated, every single time, with a close-up of the perpetrating clown's face, laughing maniacally. It heralded the the moment I could put aside my terror, and once again laugh...and love...


Now we reach the real question concerning the film`s construction; Is all this tongue-in-cheek, cheesy-humour laden, death fueled, clown gallivanting preposterousness a loving, exaggerated homage? Or is it lame? Is the movie fun on purpose...or is the fun just a pleasant by-product? (And does it really matter...) I believe the majority of it was on purpose, and it makes the ordeal that much more enjoyable, but pleasure can definitely be garnered on the other end of this subjective see-saw. I still have no real explanation or justification for those "crazy" Torrenzi brothers...I probably would have preferred had they actually melted away with all that exploded ice cream...


Yet, there`s something wholesomely fun about watching a freakishly large clown, with crusty make-up covering his garish animatronic face, attempt to ply a young girl away from Big Top Burger and toward his big-ass hammer. Or a tiny, little clown box the head right off of a dated biker bully. The rousing success for me, as it was simultaneously funny, absurd, and still creepy, was Sheriff Mooney being used as a ventriloquist dummy. Sure, the doll make-up and ominous spot-lighting played integral roles, but it just so happens that one of my fears is not the alarmingly popular coulrophobia, rather a fear of ventriloquist dummies. (They`re just so stilted and unsettling...yet they still toss about scathing insults...)


Even the non-kill scenes, or "plot" as the experts have dubbed it, are in emulation of former cinematic comrades. The boisterous, forced, joviality spewed by Mike as he and Deb enter the ship is mockingly reminiscent of every "Invasion"-esque protagonist of yester-year. Mooney`s stubborn refusal to believe any of the frantic phone calls he receives is also characteristic of the close-minded authority figures upon which he is based.


Killer Klowns... is certainly not the keystone of comic satire...some of the stupidity lives up too much to just that label; but it will be enjoyed. By those who love the base genre, by those who like what is called a "good bad movie". It will also be argued that it is merely a bad movie, and nothing more, and that is an opinion that can be empathized with. What cannot be argued however, is that it is marketed poorly. With a title sporting unnecessary alliteration and that ugly mug on the cover, one gets a fairly good sense of what they are in for.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

3...EXTREMES

DUMPLINGS:
Director - Fruit Chan
Starring - Bai Ling, Miriam Yeung

CUT:
Director - Chan-wook Park
Starring - Lee Byung-hoon, Lim Wen Hee

BOX:
Director - Takashi Miike
Starring - Mai Suzuki, Yimi Suzuki, Kyoko Nasegawn

Three sweet horror flicks ranging in the 40-60 minute bracket, loosely connected by themes involving the limitations of the human body and mind, and their inevitable link.


DUMPLINGS - There are so many "eating fetus" jokes swirling around inside my head right now that I'm giggling like a school girl. But I shall, in rare form, refrain. The opening soundtrack sets the creepy tone immediately, being obvious but not blatant about the actual consumption of corpses. The true horror comes not from this act, which is more of a bodily disgust inciting revulsion; rather, it stems from Mei's final decisions and acceptance. The "chopping" and "crunching" that permeates the soundtrack in conjunction with the close-up insert shots of the blade rending meat is an unsettling foreshadow of the inexorable descent into mental and physical desecration.


Some fascinating camera work also brings the blood (re: horror and revulsion) to the forefront, both literally on-screen and within the viewer's imagination. Take, for example, the low-angle shot of the fetus plopping into the glass bowl - a glass bowl and a glass table at that angle make it feel as though the whole coital concoction could come splashing into your face. (Most vile facial ever...ooops...restraint, restraint...) Anywho, the transition between the bloody bus seat and the bathtub abortion also fixed the notion of "weaknesses of the flesh" as integral - given the sacrifice she makes in the finale, one can see how important Mei's body was to her. Deliciously disgusting.


All topped off with a cool, ambiguous shot of an elongated tongue at the end - makes me re-think the pros and cons of cannibalism.


CUT - Brought on by Chan-wook Park, the genius behind Oldboy, I found this one to be the most satisfying of the trio...not that I want to detract from the other two. A lot of the cinematography is downright gorgeous, expanding on the surrealism of the situation, showcasing a large, absurd, stage-like setting awash in bright, stark, primary colours.


From the long opening take, swooping between inanimate objects on-set, to the large, wide-angle shots, almost walleye in nature, the camera never lets up. It provides the viewer with every possible vantage, as intimate as Ryo's point-of-view during the Extra's humiliating audition, expanding all the way back to the upper corners of the location, so that we, as viewers, are totally immersed in the severity surrounding our protagonist. The circularity of the opening staged sequence then replicated in the finale, complete with an awesome looking "jugular-chomping", was also quite compelling.


Now imagine the details of the overall story; the bright blue and white checkered backdrop, Ryo's incapacitation via a giant rubber band, the cardboard cutouts Ryo and the Extra exact their admissions through...all of these elements push the general absurdity of the situation. It gives the entire film an almost cartoon-like resonance, with very realistic implications. This ultimately results in straining Ryo's mind, which, in turn, strains Ryo's body: how much taunting, torture, and humiliation can he stand before his mind cracks and reacts in a manner that is uncharacteristic of itself? Those beautiful, wide shots of Ryo's girl strung up at the piano are perfect examples of this notion. From afar, she looks like a marionette on silver strings, but the close-ups of the decimation of her fingers brings the true horror of the situation vividly to the forefront. Picking through the surreal of life reveals the disgust underneath.


Again, a cool finale filled with cool ambiguity - wherein laid the actual point at which Ryo's mind snapped and he took the Extra's kid as his own? He said some pretty cryptic stuff during that final strangulation, and I am once again rewarded with an aesthetically pleasing visual of an elongated tongue.


BOX - This one comes from Miike, director of some great movies and some not-so-great movies, but hard working nonetheless, yet I found it the weakest of the three. Not that it doesn't contain some amazing visuals and some innovative editing, especially in connection with the soundtrack, rather it lacks something with regard to the plot. All of these Asian ghost stories seem to blend into one big smorgasbord, and Miike has already tackled this sub-genre with his mediocre One Missed Call. Protagonist is haunted by an apparition which is, in actuality, a warning about the antagonist - blah, blah, I've already seen this. Thus it's important for Miike to maintain an entertaining progression through aesthetic originality, which he most certainly succeeds at achieving.


Shoko's death scene, bathed in red filters, looks fantastic, and is only heightened by the looming, creepy, half-masked face of the ringmaster. Consider also, the extremely off-putting segment with the ringmaster manipulating the small wooden doll, complete with delicate "creaks" and "cracks", as he longingly leers, almost sexually, at the miniaturized version of his obsession. Given the contortionist subject matter, I found this semblance of foreshadowing quite effective.


Alongside the aforementioned sounds emitted from the marionette, the soundtrack also does some wondrous things during the flashback that fully details Shoko's death. The music fades out entirely, background noises are muted, and only voices can be heard. It's then at the exact moment of explosion that the soundtrack rushes back to a level of auditory compliance, bringing with it all of the chaos and panic that the scene affords; it's quite a brilliant ploy.


Again, the contradiction between what the mind is forced to give and what the body can actually take is a prevalent theme, and inherent to this subject. These girls can alter their body to accommodate even the smallest of spaces, but it's the ringmaster who, quite literally, contorts their minds. No elongated tongue motif, however...crazy, un-adhering Miike...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WALKING TALL: LONE JUSTICE

Director - Tripp Reed
Starring - Kevin Sorbo, Yvette Nipar

"This time, small town justice makes the commute..."
Wow. I can't believe Kevin Sorbo returned to reprise his role as Nick, the ex-marine, ex-sheriff with the ex-Herculean physique. I can't believe Yvette Nipar (whoever the hell that is) got to reprise her role as Kate. I can't believe nobody will throw poor Bo Svenson a bone. I can't believe I watched this piece of shit. (Actually, that one's a little hasty...)


So, in Walking Tall: the Payback, Nick came back home to his small town...and, in the opening title sequence of this one he's moving back to the big city. Guy just can't make up his mind. The "big city" being, obviously, represented by montage inserts of drug production and other "big city" shenanigans. (I.e. graffiti and/or a sub-standard public refuse system.) It’s the original fish-out-of-water parable.


The first chunk of this thing seems to be told in some sort of 4 minute/4 minute story time, jumping between Kate’s Spanish-gang/witness protection/convoluted police case, and Nick’s domestic zaniness, with a smattering of aging-action-star fist fights sprinkled on top. That is, until villainous Perez gets released on bail, and poorly built film element one and poorly built film element two collide in a hail of stupidity. I smell some lone justice comin’ on...


The rest of this drivel is comprised of some short, amateurishly choreographed, shoot-outs, a lame torture scene, and a predictably clich├ęd final confrontation that is quickly becoming a trademark in the medium of direct-to-video action. The classic “corrupt cop holds hero’s loved one as body shield while spouting grand revelations” finale. Luckily for all of us, this is one deadly situation that is easily elbowed out of.


Throughout the unravelling of this familiar yarn, I was also consistently plagued with the abundance of double exposed camera shots showing out of synch, ghostly, images...repeated over and over again, ad nausea...I get it, I get it, something dastardly is about to happen, now focus, goddammit. If Nick had doled out as many 2 x 4 whuppings as the number of times Mr. Reed utilized this stupid technique, all of this justice would have probably been a lot more fun.

Monday, June 21, 2010

CRUEL WORLD

Director - Kelsey T. Howard
Starring - Edward Furlong, Jaime Pressly, Andrew Keegan, Daniel Franzese, Laura Ramsey, Susan Ward

Why did I let myself get the slightest bit excited over this one? Deep down I was hoping for the hybrid love-child of Battle Royale and Series 7, peppered with the progressively demented challenges of 13: Game of Death, all in a Survivor scenario. It's all I really ever wanted Survivor to be. In lieu of my wishes, I got a really low budget, presumably digital video regaling of an over-weight, poorly aged Edward Furlong, Big Brother-watching a bunch of kids compete in challenges that bear a striking resemblance to games I played in my backyard when I was 12. And the tsk-tsk of it all is that Jaime Pressly pulls in top billing only to have her throat slit (poorly) at the running time of 15 min. 42 seconds. Though, her corpse does make a reappearance around 52 min., and that must hold some weight in the marketing world. With one fell swoop, she may have negated all of her My Name is Earl credibility, and I suspect that it'll only take a couple of more roles like this one before she'll have to resort to nudity...


With the intro culminating in the aforementioned death, we're introduced to Furlong's "Phillip", a love-lorn loser from a past reality show trying to regain the object of his desire by killing her and her reality TV sweetheart...by some logic...whilst they prepare for a new series. This affords him two important cinematic aspects: a very flimsy "motive" to terrorize a new batch of twenty-somethings, and access to a large, expensive, camera-laden house. Approximately 9 young, attractive, misled contestants then show up, and chubby Furlong (possibly exhibiting some great physical method acting) eliminates the need for independent thought by giving a voice-over detailing each stereotypical, one-note personality. Of course the Latino chick is "spicy"; of course the guy in the leather jacket is a "bad boy"; of course the nondescript, attractive blond girl is the "hero". I've seen B-movies before, I know how this works. Though were it not for Furlong's help I may have mistaken the flamboyant goofball and the cowboy...


Thus begins the real reason as to why anyone would watch this nonsense; the games and challenges that will hopefully decimate this nubile fodder in some sort of innovative fashion. I don't know what was more embarrassing to watch: the pylon balancing settled by some vengeful hose-spraying, or the fun-loving paintball montage set to modern-alt-rock. The bad boy's laughable melodrama following his balance sacrifice, or the abysmal choreography of the caged sword fight. Now, I don't claim to be any Mr. Atlas, but I would've slaughtered these nobodies and their party games, and laid claim to the coveted unrequited possessiveness of a washed up John Conner.


Furlong himself spends the majority of the film removed from the action, and probably only did two days of actual work with the rest of the cast. When it comes down to the physical hands-on dispatching, that honor is bestowed upon his simple-minded yet snappily-dressed younger brother Claude. He slogs his way through all the piss poor, low budget slashing, lame "chasing through the woods" sequences, and even manages to take a little beating via the "Asian Chick's" pitiful kung-fu. (Of course the Asian Chick knows some kung-fu...what sort of character development would it be if she didn't...?)


It all culminates in Nondescript Blonde pulling off the not-so-surprising victory and seducing her way to freedom, upsetting Claude and offering one brief flash of sympathy...who can blame Claude, really?...he lost the kidnapped love of his/his brother's life...we've all been there... Furlong then continues to implement his flawless plan by simply driving away; amidst all the chaos and clamor of the cops, he just drives on out of there; which leads me to believe that kidnapping, torture, and murder are all a hell of a lot easier to get away with then I originally presumed.


But before I toss and turn at night, I just gotta know what happened to Furlong's slighted Phillip. Does Nondescript Blonde get her 15 minutes of fame? Will Claude become the slasher icon that he deserves to be? Please, Mr. Kelsey T. Howard, please allude to a sequel of some kind... Hark! What's this? A last minute, unexplained cell phone call on a crowded tram? Let the games begin, you sly dog...

Friday, June 18, 2010

AGAINST THE DARK

Director - Richard Crudo
Starring - Steven Seagal, Tanoai Reed, Linda Ashby, Keith David

Seagal's first foray into the realm of the supernatural results in his best movie since Shadow Man...you may interpret that statement however you wish... I'm inclined to believe that Seagal has made the best decision of his production career by opting to play a side character in this vampire vehicle, giving more screen fight time to Tanoai Reed, a slightly younger, slightly quicker, equally wooden, Hawaiin version of himself. Turns out, Reed earlier flexed his "acting" muscle on the never popular American Gladiators as the nonsensical chanting Toa. Working with both Hogan and Seagal are but two of the many perks that come along with being the cousin of The Rock. Useless information?...Or goals to aspire towards?...


The construction of this piece of crap is pretty laughable with the majority of the action taking place in what was most likely an abandoned factory/warehouse, cutting between a group of stereotypical survivors getting into stupidly stereotypical situations, and Seagal's group of vigilante hunters, whose toughness is denoted by leather garb and slow-motion "walking with a purpose". Every so often, the monotony of pitiful peril and shitty swordplay is interrupted by transporting us to the inside of a non-specific military tent where Keith David growls his way through some inane lieutenant dialogue. His voice commands as much authority as his career does sympathy.


Of course, the immediate concerns that jump to one's mind when tantalized with the premise of Seagal fighting vampires is that very notion. Seagal is in typical post-Exit Wounds form, wisely replacing his flying fists with swords and knives, limiting the embarrassment of his diminished talents. He stoically mopes around atop his "Seagalian Physique", constantly adhering to the equation for successful swordplay; that of rapid editing + slo-mo swinging = mad katana skills. (For those not in the know, a Seagalian Physique is defined as the body of a washed up action star, desperately/discreetly trying to go unnoticed behind a long, heavy jacket. Whilst cut and fabrics are optional, leathers and jean materials seem to be the preferred choice.) Reed does most of the actual hands on work; he's a big, thick guy, and can easily toss around scrawny, post-apocalyptic undead. Luckily for our inept survivors, he too utilizes the awesome power of slo-mo, as he literally jumps into sticky situations, (as opposed to sneaking for some unknown reason,) and feigns knowledge of his bladed tonfa-like weapon.


The vampires themselves are of the quick and voracious variety, and don't look too bad...or at least I've seen way worse...In fact, the chick filing down her own teeth is the best looking thing in the entire movie. On the general whole, the gore is the only consistently interesting aspect of the flick, and don't get me wrong, it's certainly no vision of visceral beauty. (Damn inexorable link between B-movies and lowered expectations...) Unbelievably, it can be broken into two different catergories; blood at the given diegetic moment, and blood montage. The blood and guts as a result of the so-called on-screen action is nominally acceptable, spurty and red in all the right places and not too CGI inspired, though there are some visible bloodpack outlines that I found quite unsettling. The blood montages, however, are the real curiosity: serving as transitional sequences (...and inspiring terror?...), they feature some mediocre disemboweling (akin to that featured within the film), and some fantastic evisceration, rich in textures and emotions and...wait a minute...I think I've seen that intestine someplace before...A lot of this great footage bears the striking markings of stock footage, and never before has a film benefited so much from it's inclusion.


Why, oh why, Seagal did you not make this movie in the period between Hard to Kill and Under Siege? It could've been so great...kicking...vampires...limb breaking...ponytails...the environment...Mayhap your career requires some sort of revealing, honest, self-referential, abbreviated, dramatic piece to give it that much needed shot in the arm. Course, if I paid money to see a film with S.S. on the marquee, it damn well better feature Ilsa, or I'm gonna be pissed.