Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Flying Monkeys" - - Flies Of The Planet Of The Apes

When you sit down to watch a movie called "Flying Monkeys" you expect to get a movie like this.

And you do, don't get me wrong, this movie has all the flying monkey monsters you could want in a movie called "Flying Monkeys." And it has lots of action and blood and everything you want in a movie like this. But when I remember this movie, I'll more likely remember this:

Friday, July 19, 2013

"The Loved Ones" - - Worth The Nightmares

I can't review this movie. To review it is to spoil it and I want you to watch it the same way I watched it: with no idea of what it was about.

I posted the above trailer after watching 5 others, looking for the one that gave away the least amount of the twists and turns in this movie. If you're cool like I am with watching a movie blindly, skip the trailer and just watch the movie. If you need to know a little bit about what's in store . . .

This movie gets a definite recommendation from me. Brilliant directing, great acting, interesting subplots, it's tense, it's shocking, even my stomach churned at the implications . . .and then the implications become the reality. This isn't just "torture porn," it's one of those "What would you do/how would you escape" movies that has you on the edge of your seat, except this time the seat is bolted to the ground and your feet are  . . .

Seriously, just watch this movie. It's well worth the nightmares that will follow.

One of the things that I think elevates this movie over a lot of other movies coming out recently is the idea of the "Compelling Force." I've started to see a trend of movies that are simply violent for violence sake, and when the movie is something like "Saw" or "Hostel" I understand it, because you have two sides: the good guys and a Compelling Force that they either overcome or fall victim to. Even if the good guys lose there is a chance that they can win. "The Loved Ones" falls into this category.

Other movies, like "V/H/S" ditch the idea of a Compelling Force. It is just a series of deaths that cannot be avoided and by the time any concept of good or evil is established everyone is dead and the next story starts. I'm all for horror anthologies, but "V/H/S" and, from what I hear it's sequel, is just slaughter videos. The worst offender I've seen so far of this is "I Didn't Come Here To Die" which is basically a movie about a bunch of campers who just randomly drop chainsaws on their heads. What is there to overcome? What's the antagonizing element? You know a movie is bad when even I don't want to review it. "V/H/S" and "I Didn't Come Here To Die" is about being in the wrong place at the wrong time and dying brutally for no reason. "Hostel" is about being tortured by bored rich people but you can escape. "Saw" is all about outwitting the traps. Give me a compelling force and the movie becomes a narrative rather than a loose connection of bad gore effects.

"The Loved Ones" may put it's characters, both good and bad, in some pretty grotesque situations. But it's extremely well done and I think a new benchmark in psychological horror.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Pacific Rim" - - Failed At What It Wasn't

"Pacific Rim" is an average movie. And that breaks my heart.

On a scale of 1 to 10, no scratch that. It's better to compare it like this. "Pacific Rim" is near the same level of the first "Transformers" movie. It's loud and dumb, the characters are just broad shades of nothing, and every one speaks their lines like they're reciting them for the movie trailer. There's nothing special about this movie,  this movie just exists, and if it never existed, we never would have missed it.

Here's the thing, though. I'm old enough to remember seeing "The Matrix" opening night at the movie theater. And I'm watching it, and back then we didn't have all these movie spoiling websites and nerd gossip, we just had the commercials. And the commercial was: "What is the Matrix?"

"Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself." That was it, those were the ads they aired, you had no idea what the movie was about. They just showed you all those crazy action scenes and it just set your brain on fire. 'No movie can be that cool,' I thought to myself.

But as I'm watching "The Matrix" for the first time opening night, I realized I was watching something important. This was a movie that was a bench mark for my generation. It was the cynicism of the 90's portrayed as "The Agent" and "The Matrix" as literal constructs. Grunge music and gangster rap were both a "fuck you" to the mainstream. "The Matrix" was blowing up the ivory towers of suits and ties and telling us that it was all an illusion.

The Internet was new to us, we didn't know where it was headed. "The Matrix" embraced the mystery in a New Wave cyberpunk fantasy. It blasted Marilyn Manson across TV ads that played during episodes of family sitcoms.

Instead of the beefy action heroes of Rambo and the Terminator, it gave us a computer hacker named Neo, and Trinity, the (gasp!) female action hero who starts the film off by kicking ass. No disrespect to Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley, they're also in the action hero hall of fame. But they start off as women who turn hard over the course of their films. Trinity knows her shit from the get-go. These heroes were us. Even if we could never be as strong as Arnold, we could be the Chosen One. It was about fate. It was about believing you could do something, even if reality said it couldn't be done.

We could learn kung fu.

"The Matrix" was the beginning of a new era of action films. I'm not saying it was the best movie ever, but it did change things. I remember walking out of it, mind blown, and I knew the new "Star Wars" movie was coming out soon but I didn't know how it would compare to this film. And when "The Phantom Menace" did come out it seemed so old fashioned. It was like hearing Nirvana play a live set for the first time and then walking across the street and going to a Bon Jovi concert. Things had changed, and there was no going back.

So here's my beef with "Pacific Rim," and it's *sigh* you know, the movie is what the movie is, it's boring and dumb. There's one real monster-in-the-city-robot-kicking-ass action scene in it, but most of what you see in the trailer is a montage of the first five minutes of the film. The bulk of the movie is people talking about how much they want to get in giant robots and beat up monsters and the last twenty minutes they get in robots and beat up giant monsters under the water in the dark. The end. That's my review.

Here's my issue, though: That is not what this movie should have been.

I'm not going to go piece by piece and pick apart the plot, I'm not going to try to say I could make a better movie . . .but this movie should have been important. It could have been, easily, the "Matrix" for the post 9/11 generation.

Giant monsters destroying cities. Unneccsarry carnage, people are dying and we don't know why. We don't know how the creatures are getting here, or why they want to kill us. But they just won't stop. It happens over and over again. The people on the ground hope the solidiers know how to save them, the soldiers hope they survive another battle with an unrelenting enemy.

As I was watching this movie, I realized most of the audience would be about this girl's age, watching those towers fall, and being just as helpless as she was.

But she grows up in an uncertain world where terror can strike at any moment. We grew up as well, and while our monsters didn't come from the ocean, they came from everywhere else. They attacked our temples where Sikhs worshipped, they attacked our movie theaters and our elementary schools and our marathons.

I would have loved to see more action in "Pacific Rim" but imagine a subplot where the first creature got out as a mistake, and it gets blown up. So why are they sending creature after creature? To avenge what the aliens perceive as the murder of one of their own. Give it some political weight. Why not have the creatures' overlords say "You know what, manifest destiny, we are here to make this world a better place. Oh by the way, worship us or die." Or just have them be crazy monsters who have no agenda, just like the crazy guys who stab 20 kids at school just because? Instead we just get "Oh they want to invade us because resources/that's what they do/blah blah blah" same old crap we've already seen in the Avengers, Man of Steel, War of the Worlds, etc, etc.

And if the Kaiju were the personification of terror rather than stock movie monsters, the Jaegers would represent the best of us. They are the ones to stand up against this terror. But we all have to work together to build them. We all have to have the political will to put all things aside to stop evil. It takes two pilots to operate but it takes a nation to build them. Instead the movie starts off with some stereotypical bureaucrat saying "Oh, we're cutting your funding in 8 months to build a wall" so the good guys have to sell monster guts to get the money to repair their trillion dollar war machines. Ridiculous.

How we move forward as a nation is going to be based on the actions of those kids who grew up post 9/11. My generation, like "The Matrix" itself, is too cynical. We believe by it's very nature that the system is corrupt so how do you cure the cancer of a system that worships cancer? The generation behind us, the Baby Boomers, is too invested in the system, so they have everything to lose by change. They will do nothing. So what will the kids who are growing up now do?

The moral of "Pacific Rim" is even though America makes a shitty robot that is almost a decade older than every other country's robot, it's still the best cause America. It's ok for two adult men to fight over "the honor" of an adult woman even though that's one of the leading causes of death among men in real life. I'd love to see Trinity put up with that kind of macho bullshit.

This generation needs a "Matrix." It needs a movie that tells them "Shit happens, and it's going to keep happening, until you do something about it."

"Pacific Rim" is not that movie.

Friday, July 12, 2013

"Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan" - - The Gun Goes Off

There's an old writer's proverb known as "Chekov's Gun," named after it's author Anton Chekov.

"Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

Let's leave that lesson aside for a second and move on with the review of "Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan." This movie tells the tale of a group of first time convicts on a work-camp disturbing the grave of Babe the Blue Ox and  . . .you guessed it, invoking the wrath of Paul Bunyan.

Paul Bunyan is an American folk legend from the 19th century about a giant lumberjack who helped shape the landscape of this country. His mighty axe felled great forests in a day, his footprints created the Great Lakes, and the Rocky Mountains were created when him and his pet Babe the Blue Ox playfully wrestled. I remember all this from grade school so the details may be wonky but here is Paul Bunyan and Babe.

Looks like a friendly pair. Oh wait, sorry, wrong pic.

There we go. That's Paul Bunyan. See, it turns out that Paul was really a hillbilly mutant "who was 6ft tall by the time he was 5!" We are told through painfully long exposition halfway through the film that no matter how big he got, Paul always had the mind of a child. His best, actually, his ONLY friend in the world was Babe the Blue Ox. But one winter was so harsh that the local lumber camp killed and ate Babe. In a fit of rage Paul brutally killed everyone until he was caught (somehow) and thrown into a cave filled with dynamite and then blown up.

Flash forward to the present day and we find Paul Bunyan as a 20-40 foot (depending on the scene) giant and . . .what's that? You want to see a picture of Paul's loveable childhood friend Babe the Blue Ox?

So as I was saying, Paul Bunyan, present day, inconsistent giant, and he's trying to find the horn of Babe that was taken by some douchebag. Before we get there though the first half of the movie is the group of young first time offenders getting to know each other and being tormented by drill-instructor/camp counselor/parole officer who looked vaguely like Commander Riker from Star Trek. There's nudity and high jinks and montages and "fuck this guy, I can't take it anymore" speeches. Pretty standard stuff for these "group of wayward kids find themselves" segments. Commander Riker is a pretty good hard-ass character but his "STUMPS: Stupid Teenagers Under My Protection" are pretty boring.

"Geordi, one half to beam up."

If you can make it through nearly 40 minutes of that, Paul Bunyan shows up and kills a couple people, then it's back to another long story about how Bunyan became crazy, then the last 30 minutes is Bunyan kicking the shit out of a house while the people inside poke him with pitchforks. It's pretty standard monster movie stuff.

The special effects, though, are mind boggling bad. Set aside the top photo of Paul Bunyan holding the woman by the leg, that's bad enough. Let's look at some others:

Exhibit A

Greenscreen after greenscreen after greenscreen. It's Greenception. What is going on there? It looks as bad as those old Full Motion Video games from the 90s like Night Trap. FROM THE 90s! This looks as realistic as walking in front of the screen at a movie theater. No, it's worse than that, it's as bad as filming a guy walking in front of a screen, then filming me walking in front of a television that is currently showing the video of him walking in front of the screen. And then convincing someone else to rent that combination of images for $1.50.

Exhibit B

That . . .that is inexcusable. This is Paul back when he was 5 years old, being dragged into town by the posse. We have the same awful green screen but what's up with those buildings? The perspective is insane, the angles are wrong. It's like the town was built on a Mystery Spot. That fakes dust looks awful and it draws your focus towards Paul's mom jeans. I guess he found the softer side of Sears. Wait. What is that?

What are those people in the doorway doing? That's terrifying!  She already looks terrible herself, I've seen cardboard cutouts with more personality, but what is up with her grey-faced husband? Is he a ghost? Imagine if, today, you were walking down the street and you saw that exact same couple staring out at you from a doorway. Not moving. Not speaking. Just staring.

What would be more horrific, though, is to meet the person who put together this composite shot for this film and thought, "Wow, that looks great. I'm very proud of the way this turned out. Especially that couple in the door way . . .yeah, I'm including this shot in my resume."

If you think I'm nitpicking, I'm not, the SFX look ten times worse in motion. I don't know how many times I rewound the movie to watch Paul Bunyan jumping off a cliff to figure out in what frame he looked the dumbest.

This one. This frame right here.

In the end, though, this is a Slumber Party Movie. It's a movie made for young boys to watch and be amazed and scared and titillated all at the same time. Kids don't care about terrible CGI when boobs and blood are the order of the day. It a fairly rote monster movie with a folk legend in place of Jason Vorhees. Nothing more, nothing less.

So let's talk about Chekov's gun. When an element is presented in a story, it should be used. If it's not used, it shouldn't be there. Fair enough. Usually this stuff is easy to see coming, like in the "Dark Knight Rises" Alfred says "Someday I want to see you in a coffee shop in some other country" and Bruce says "Why,?Yyou can see me right here, everyday" and spends the next two hours fighting Bane and the Joker in the best Batman movie ever made in an alternate universe.

In "Axe Giant," the prologue shows a bunch of lumberjacks eating Babe and Paul showing up and killing them all. The next scene of the movie is in the present, and we see a close up of a recruitment poster for a local militia. Commander Riker walks by, tears the poster down, calls the buffoons and then throws the poster away.

No mention is made of this local group of hoo-hahs until the last five minutes when Paul Bunyan is gunned down by about 20 of the Tea Party's finest. We are treated to a brutally long sequence of gun porn as we see a close up of a rifle barrel, muzzle flare, and then the corresponding wound appearing on Paul's body. This goes on for at least two minutes and then there's the comic relief scene where the militia members argue who shot him the most times in the brain.

Now, there's a lot of things I can say about this sequence. The first one is, obviously, that this is the most mind boggling distracting version of Chekov's Gun I've seen. I think the only reason I even took note of the militia poster in the first place is because I think militias are stupid. If you believe in something strongly enough to prepare for war, and all you do is hide in the mountains that doesn't make you a patriot, that makes you a coward. Stay and fight now, don't hide for the war that may come tomorrow. If I didn't have such strong opinions on militias, hell, if I had just happened to be at the fridge during that 5 second scene showing the militia poster, I would have had no idea what was going on at the end.

That aside, I think what bugs me the most about his ending is that it's unfair. I get Paul Buyan is a giant freak murderer, but he was harmless until the townspeople ate his best friend! He is then punished for retaliating, and blown up in a cave. A hundred years later, he is harmless until some kids desecrate the remains of his dead friend, then he is punished for retaliating by being shot in the brain a hundred times. When did we stop rooting for the underdog? When did we stop rooting for the Goonies and start rooting for the rich kids? I don't understand it, but I'm seeing it in a lot of movies lately.

It would have been one thing if the people that Paul was trying to kill used their wits to kill him. That's the way it normally works. Friday the 13th movies don't end with the National Guard showing up at the nick of time. It's about Cat and Mouse, not Cat and Mouse and Heavily Armed Dog.

The townsfolk who killed him when he was 5 years old were most likely the ancestors of the militia members who killed him a century later. Both of them celebrated the death of a giant retarded guy who they provoked into being aggressive. Sure, it's a Slumber Party Movie but man, what a bizarre subtext to a movie about an American folk legend.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

"Robot Holocaust" - - They Prefer The Term "Robot Shoah"

"Robot Holocaust" is by far one of the most charmingly bad films I have seen. It is so bad you will spend most of the movie shaking your head in disbelief that this movie was not only made but has somehow survived to this day as a relic of the 80's movie scene.

After "Star Wars" made a splash as a fairly low budget sci-fi hit, the market became inundated with films trying to capture that same vibe. Movies like "Krull," "The Last Starfighter," and "Ice Pirates" along with countless others (well, I'm sure they could be counted if I had the time) tried to ape that special magic that turned "Star Wars" into a historic franchise. Few, if any, were successful.

But "Robot Holocaust" was such a poor attempt that it has succeeded in becoming a checklist for bad 80's sci fi movies.

1) Terrible Special Effects

There are very few laser guns in this film so the worst of the special effects are the matte paintings which are so bad it defies explanation.

2) Terrible Locations

A lot of these movies took place in castles made of plywood or shot inside industrial complexes. "Robot Holocaust" combines the steam works of Freddy Kruger's boiler room with the availability of anything outside.

3) Terrible Acting/Script

Most movies of this ilk don't have acting even half as bad as "Robot Holocaust." As you may have seen in the above video, Queen Valeria had all her lines from this movie edited into 2 videos. Yes, that's right, that 9 minute video up there has a sequel of some of the worst line delivery in sci fi history. She's gorgeous though, so it's bearable, to a point. But she's only one of ten actors you have to put up with as they give their best effort to read the worst lines.

God she's gorgeous

Ok, so moving on, so what's awesome about this movie? Why would I say "Watch this?"

For all of this movie's faults it won me over. It was like watching a group of middle schoolers stumble through a school play and, halfway through you want to leave, but something happens . . .something clicks, and you find yourself cheering at the end.

This movie has, oddly enough, the same set up as "The Matrix." Robots were built to be slaves for humans but they revolted. Now they force the humans to power them (by mining ore) and a hero name Neo shows up to save humanity.

On his journey he meets three young resistance fighters, an amazon queen, and a barbarian warrior who was raped by the amazon queen after his tongue was removed. (I can just imagine how bad his acting must have been to make the director go "Screw it, dude, you're tongue is ripped out, you got no lines.")

And of course, because it's the 80's, you have to have a gay robot!

That's not an euphemism either. This movie is very homoerotic, even by 80's movie standards. This movie makes "Top Gun" look straighter than Fred Phelps's ruler. The movie starts off with a five minute scene of two oiled up men wrestling as other men with suspiciously ripped shirts cheer them on. How did a bunch of slaves end up with shirts that are ripped to show off their abs? Where are they working, Penn State?


The homoerotic imagery doesn't stop there. When we first meet the mute barbarian he's tied up before being rescued by the heroes.

We get to see the robot, who seems to be stuck with the facial expression of someone who just saw this movie for the first time, fight through a cave of dicks.

Oh, you don't think those are dicks? Let's take a closer look.

So yes, this movie is very homoerotic which adds to that weird charm. It's a time capsule of a time where you could have a dick cave in your movie and people didn't really question it.

Anyways, so where this movie won me over was at the very end.

The heroes get their ass kicked. Hard.

This movie does not have a happy ending, and as I'm watching the final battle I realized I was actually concerned about the characters in this film. Over the hour and half of watching them fight mutants in Central park and a giant spider('s one arm), I had stopped shaking my head at the horrible film and began rooting for the characters. As they get killed off one by one, it starts to click that this will not end like "Star Wars" with swelling orchestras and medals and ceremonies. These characters are doomed even if they succeed in their mission.

This movie is bad, so bad that it's good. And at the same time, it's just good. It's charming and old fashioned and deserves to be watched even if you are laughing at it. In the end though, there is no laughter, just  . . .an odd silence and we are left with the lesson we've all be taught since time immemorial:

When the Robots have a Holocaust, nobody wins.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"The Tall Man" Fan Fiction For Kidnappers

"The Tall Man" had two things going for it right off the bat:

An implied connection to the Slender Man mythos:


And Jessica Biel

Art by God

Those are both two pretty good selling points for a film. I'm thinking maybe it's going to be a more realistic version on our dapper fella with no face and a taste for kids. And come on, how can you resist any move with Jessica Biel, right?

Here's the thing: This movie is very competently made. The directing is competent, the acting is decent, it has some suspenseful action scenes, and it stars probably the scariest dog on film since a security camera recorded a pit bull eating a meth addict's left testicle.

That could have honestly been the whole movie and it would be ten times more frightening. It's like when I went to see "Cool World" as a kid and was like "Whoa, that Brad Pitt guy is really cool!" And when I look back and remember "Cool World" I mostly remember Brad Pitt's performance.


That dog, that dog is the new Brad Pitt. Bark Pitt. That honestly took me ten minutes to come up with.

So it has Jessica Biel, Slender man, AND Bark Pitt. The acting is serviceable, the directing is tight, the cinematography is  moody and dark. So should you watch this movie?

Review without spoilers: It's an OK film with a plot twist so insanely offensive to both the viewers and to the general public at large. Is that enough to not recommend this film? No, but it's also not enough to recommend it. A mediocre film with a great twist is still a waste of time to watch. A mediocre film with a stupid twist is more than a waste of time; it's a waste of space.

Spoilers from here on out.

I don't want to recap the plot, so I'll jump right in. Jessica Biel is working with the Tall Man to kidnap kids from poor families and give them to rich people so they can be raised in a good environment.

The twist that she works for the Tall Man is revealed after a long chase sequence where we see Biel chasing A Tall Man, not THE Tall Man who has kidnapped her child.

A Tall Man

THE Tall Man

Mega Man

But surprise! A Tall Man driving the creepy rape van that contains Bark is actually the original mother of the boy that Jessica Biel kidnapped before the movie started to prepare him for a life with a rich family on the east coast! Why is this desperate mother wearing a huge overcoat? Why is she 7 feet tall? Why does she drive a van that Jigsaw would think was "too much?" Who cares? It's a Twist!!!

That all happens in about the first half hour or so. The remaining (ugh) hour of the movie is basically Biel sitting in an interrogation room and people asking her where the kids are. She lies and tells them they're all dead so the parents can grieve, become drug abusers and/or alcoholics, and die always blaming themselves for the loss of their offspring.

But the kids? Ah, they're fine. After all, nothing bad ever happens to kids in rich families.

The conceit of the movie is that poor people are moral degenerates, which is insulting to probably half of the people in the world. It implies that rich people are naturally better at raising kids because, well, because they have money, I guess. Wasn't Mike Tyson rich? What about Roman Polanski?

Anyways, so that's just so ridiculous that it's only offensive to my intelligence. I think the worst part is the fact that if you had your brother/sister/child/grandchild/friend kidnapped in real life, if that actually happened to you or someone you know . . .this movie is implying that you shouldn't worry, they aren't rotting in an unmarked grave 20 feet off a service road, or making slave porn in some sex dungeon in Illinois. No, of course not, that's ridiculous! They're attending Ivy League schools and if they stayed with you, they'd end up like trash.

Like you.

The movie is mediocre, the twist is lame and insulting, and overall the movie is just "eh". I really can't think of a good reason to watch this movie although . . .


BONUS ROUND: While researching this review, I found a website where you can pay people to kidnap you. You know, cause it's the Internet and all.