PSA: Blade Runner (1982), or Fiery The Angels Fell…

27 12 2009

The last PSA of the year. I wanted to end things on a high note, so I thought I would finish my sprinkling of Public Service Announcements about cinema with a movie that should be mandatory for moviegoers of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner sits atop the apex of science fiction in a very real sense with a very small handful of peers, and I don’t say that in a sensationalistic manner. This movie, released to dumbstruck audiences in 1982, revolutionized the way sci-fi movies are made. For America, it re-institutionalized the intelligent science fiction film, a genre lost in a mire of post Star Wars mania and established Ridley Scott as a director wh0 had something meaningful to say as a filmmaker. It’s a hypnotic, passionate futuristic noir about the very nature of humanity, and what it means in a cold, harsh future. It’s one of the best there is, and I think before 2009 closes out, you should invest just 2 hours of your time to this beautiful sci-fi masterpiece.

Based on a novel by sc-fi legend Phillip K. Dick, Blade Runner takes place in 2019, where we follow a detective named Decker who is on the trail of four humanoid robotic workers called “replicants” who have escaped from an off-world mining operation to hide on Earth. Decker is a retired “Blade Runner”, a detective who specializes in tracking non-organic humanoids and terminating them. He has been called onto this special case after one of a series of four runaways blows away a younger Blade Runner after being interrogated and escapes into the city. Decker travels from the tiniest cracks in the nasty, futuristic slum of 2019 LA to the top of the splendorous Tyell Corporation building, where the replicants are designed by the reclusive Dr. Tyrell himself, in search of information about these 4 strange runaways who look and act almost exactly like humans. He learns about their history, their design, and a most interesting failsafe on their particular model; a four year lifespan. Decker begins to deduce that perhaps these four are on Earth to discover a way to increase their lifespan, an act they feel that only Tyrell can give them. But along the way of tracking them down, he begins a strange relationship with a woman named Rachael, who works at the Tyrell Corporation. They harbor feelings toward each other, but Decker knows something about her that keeps him reticent; she is a replicant who doesn’t know she’s a replicant. Implanted with false memories, Tyrell created her as an experiment. Decker struggles to come to grips with this strange fact amidst his own feelings about her, the constant struggle to track down the replicants and their relentless leader, Roy Batty, and his own doubts about the assignment and his own humanity…

This is such a thematically dense work. Ridley Scott took an almost obsessive attention to detail as a director and turned it into something exquisite. Los Angeles 2019 is an absolutely complete world, a slum of a city that only houses the people who could not afford to live off-world. It is a world constantly darkened from the shadow of the skyscrapers and the industry that towers above, and there seems to be no hope left in the streets. Much like the noir films of the 40s and 50s, the city is a perpetually darkened hellhole, and acts as a harbinger of the ills to come. Scott’s futurescape takes from Lucas’s idea of a “used future”, but it goes so far beyond that. This is a dilapidated future, where the only lights arrive from neon signs and where the streets are filled with the whirring and buzzing of machines instead of the sounds of people; a future devoid of humanity in its human population, another interesting thematic decision.

And the cast is simply amazing. This might be the best Rutger Hauer performance I’ve ever seen. He plays the antagonist, Roy Batty, with such an intensity that it cannot be contained on the screen. He is a replicant, but he is more alive than any of the downtrodden humans he encounters on Earth. He is strong in heart and in spirit, and his is the true tragedy of Blade Runner, because while he is not human, his soul is great, which makes his four year lifespan all the more cruel. And his love interest, the attractive replicant Zhora, played by Daryl Hannah, is equally tragic. She is a playful female replicant who wants to live life to the fullest. Her character, as much as Rutger Hauer’s encapsulates a love of living that is exceptional and magical in contrast to the real human characters. Harrison Ford plays one of the greatest role of his career as Deckard, the replicant hunter whose life is slowly unraveling. He plays it with a style reminiscent of Bogart’s Philip Marlowe, a wise-talking gumshoe with a street-wise wisdom that is constantly at odds with the evil he encounters on the mean streets that puts his soul constantly at hazard. It’s a rich, complex character that will have you guessing, in some rare moments, whether he is even human, or if he is another lively replicant with a good heart and a short life. Sean Young is beautiful and compelling as Rachel, the replicant who doesn’t know she’s a replicant. She plays the character calm and cool, but underneath her exterior lies a confused and terrified woman who doesn’t understand what exactly is happening to her. Sean Young brings a surprising vulnerability here that I was absolutely NOT expecting, and it’s one of those things that really brings home why this is just one of the best films out there. Her candid romantic scenes with Deckard will leave you both moved and fixated to the screen as the two dance around their own emotions in totally unexpected ways.

Ridley Scott asks quite a few questions of us, some that we are perhaps not entirely prepared to answer. The nature of man, his destiny in an unknown future, and what it truly means to be alive are pondered very loudly here. Blade Runner is a very intelligent, beautiful movie that digs into the subconscious and forces us to confront ourselves in a very meaningful way. The characters are incredibly rich, vivid, and well-written, the score by the prog-new age group Vangelis somehow gets better with age, the story is powerful in a way that most sci-fi could only dream of being, and the film itself is still gorgeous, even after all the various cuts and versions to be released (for a more in-depth history of Blade Runner‘s rocky history, stick with me in 2010 for my planned essay on the making of this classic and how it might have easily been different!). It’s a timeless film that only seems to increase in character and insight as the years go on. I have so many things to say about this, but I’ll just leave you with the fact that if you have any desire to watch sci-fi, then this film is absolutely part of the curriculum! I give it 10 unwitting replicants out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Tomorrow I will take on the great and wonderful Fellini film 8 1/2! Until then!

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Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi (1983), or A Demigod Among Gods…

26 12 2009

So we arrive at the end of Cinematronica and establish a week of classics, where I pick out of a select set of films some of the best and most wonderful movies imaginable. I come to the Star Wars franchise, a wealth of wonderful sci-fi entertainment, and out of the entire series, I can only pick one to represent in this final week of goodness and awesomeness. Logic would demand that I pick The Empire Strikes Back, for its inventiveness, relative dark tonality, and gratuitous incestuous kissing. I could also have gone for A New Hope, the movie that started it all, for its historical value and innovation. But no, I chose the chump of the original trilogy, the ending. Return of the Jedi is like the solid chocolate square in a Zachary sampler box; it’s still fucking chocolate, but it’s just not as beloved as the rest of the bunch. The other two movies have droves and droves of champions all around the world, people who proudly declare that “Episode (IV or V) changed my LIFE”. Nobody really feels the same way about RotJ. There’s something about it that undeniably is different. The dynamic is different between all the characters after all we’ve gone through with them, the space-battle-to-lightsaber-battle quotient is skewed significantly, and, well, Ewoks. It’s a completely different feel here compared to the rest of the series. But I will defend it with even more vigor than I defended the tepid Episode I, and this time around I think I can surely persuade you to give this movie a second chance!

[I will not be repeating the story of Star Wars to you; please go watch the first 5 movies if you wanna get in on this discussion, COMRADE!]

Okay, so the second trilogy of Star Wars is about Luke Skywalker and his issues with his dad, Darth Vader, while the first trilogy was about Anakin Skywalker and his problems with not wanting to become Darth Vader. So by the time the 6th movie has come to pass, Darth Vader, under the command of the evil Emperor Palpatine, has rebuilt the Death Star, and is overseeing its reconstruction personally so the Empire can terrorize and monopolize the entire galaxy. Well, the Rebellion has a little something to say about that, and they are preparing for an all-out assault on the Death Star once they receive word that Palpatine himself will soon be boarding to oversee the finalization personally as well! But before the Rebellion can do that, Luke and Co. have a whole lot of personal errands they have to do, like jeopardize the entire galaxy’s freedom to save Han Solo, who was in no rush to be saved, since the Carbonite Freeze process apparently works like a metallic Zip-Lock bag, as well as zoom all the way to the Dagobah system to see Yoda and have him train him for an indefinite amount of time (luckily, Yoda has the good sense to deny him training due to his own poor health). Once Luke’s incredibly selfish agenda is put aside, the assault is set to take place. But the Rebellion needs a small group to disable the Death Star’s shields, which are powered at the nearby moon of Endor. Luke is finally rarin’ for some action, and takes off with Han, Leia, and the gang, but even when he arrives for the mission, he decides to gallivant off and get captured on purpose so he can try and talk some sense into his father, so that he might turn from the Dark side of the Force. The Emperor has foreseen ALL of this, though, and is waiting patiently for the Rebellion to fall into his clutches. Can Luke somehow get out of himself long enough to actually do something for the Rebellion, or is the last Jedi too busy finding himself to save the galaxy?

Now, if you think I painted a more cynical picture than I should have for my case, let’s be honest; the entire series is all about the Skywalker family doing what they want, when they want, even if they have honor and duty to think about. If you put it like that, I think you’ll find that this behavior is really not as bad as it is in some of some of the other films.

What this movie does better than any of the others, and why I think it holds a special place in my heart, is its presentation of the two sides of the fight; who is in charge, and what they are fighting for. The Dark Side is always talked about in vagueries and mysterious parables with the other 5 movies. But the Dark Side is there, alive and breathing, in the form of Emperor Palpatine, the real villain of the Star Wars saga, and the mastermind of so much awful shit. He IS the Sith, a terrible old man who breathes lies and treachery, who is willing to sell anyone out and do whatever it takes to keep the one thing he cares about; power. And we finally find true virtue in Luke, a man who is struggling not to repeat the same mistakes as his dandy of a dad, but who is wrestling intently with the same lust for his awesome power that Anakin was years ago. He really does want what’s best for everyone, even if it seems like he’s impulsive and kind of a dick at times. So it becomes a battle for the soul of the last Jedi, in the end, and the final assault against the Sith Lord will not be fought with Star Destroyers and TIE fighters, but with lightsabers and dark persuasion.

And the action sequences are the best, arguably, out of the whole series! That is the real reason most people go to see a Star Wars movie, I think; if you’re looking for space battles, any movie can give you that. I posit that space battles are the worst part of the Star Wars saga, and while unfortunately this movie features plenty of ships flying around and shooting pew-pew lasers at each other ad nauseum, there’s enough stuff going on to keep you entertained in between. If you’re looking for entertaining stuff, how about a no-holds-barred fight on a floating pleasure barge in the desert? How about a battle to death with a 50 foot-tall monster won by beating it to death with a door? How about a super-fast chase through the woods on speeders so fast that you can barely make out the forest background in a blur of green and brown? Or how about teddy bears smashing an AT-ST with two logs smashed on its head simultaneously like a fucking 3 Stooges skit? YOU GOT IT! And let me tell you, this movie has, without a doubt, the best lightsaber battle of the original trilogy. It is the most emotionally-charged, expertly handled battle of them all, and it wouldn’t be until 2005 that they would top it in Episode III between Anakin and Obi-Wan. If you’ve never seen it, watch it above, and revel in its goodness.

The acting is the best it ever was in this trilogy. The players all know their parts by now and can inhabit them with an ease that is really remarkable. Mark Hamill IS Luke, Carrie Fisher IS Leia, Billy Dee Williams IS Lando, and everyone just exists seamlessly in this space opera, not as an actor, but a beloved member of this colorful fantasy world. Harrison Ford is the only person who doesn’t seem to be in it 100%, due to his distaste of Han Solo being revived, therefore somewhat dampening the sacrifice he made in the last movie, and while I can understand people’s frustrations with that, this is more of a Jedi story than the other two, anyway, so he seems to be left out of a lot of the action. All he does is shoot some stuff, declare his love for Leia, and get a little peeved at Luke for taking her attentions away before discovering they are related (OOPS), so it’s really not that much of a loss.

Return of the Jedi is the most emotionally charged movie out of the original trilogy. It has the final choices, when all the shit is really on the line, instead of just whimsical chasing sequences and flirty Leia-Han dialog. It is when Luke comes to terms with his lame-duck of a father, and decides to take the high route and SAVE him instead of wasting him, which is what everyone wants him to do. It also, for the first time, shows Darth Vader’s reckoning with the choices he’s made, and the first time we see him falter in his loyalty to Palpatine. And of course, it’s the first time we’re taken to the lair of the beast, and we get to take a look at the real Dark Side, Palpatine, and not just his lackey, a confused Jedi with a codpiece and a breathing problem. This is the last one, where things really matter, when the choices are made, the lines are drawn, and the fate of the galaxy is decided. And for that, I love it. I think you should go back and give this one a chance. I think you’ll love it too, and if you don’t, you’d have to have a stone heart to not love that last lightsaber fight! I give Return of the Jedi 9 1/2 floating pleasure barges out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I examine our existence with Blade Runner! Until then!





Rachel Getting Married (2008), or Demme’s Opera

25 12 2009

All right, I’ve been wanting to review this film for a long time, and I’m glad I finally have the chance. Jonathan Demme is a director I’ve never really dealt with on this site, and I think that’s a shame, because he is such an amazing director with such an irresistible eye for the beauty and the emotion in the real world. His naturalistic style brings to life the world we live in but neglect to revel in. Anyone who has seen Silence of the Lambs knows how much he is able to imbue our world with powerful feelings, and today’s film proves that, yet again, Demme’s eye for natural drama can have heartbreakingly beautiful results, as he tell this lush story of regret and familial recrimination.

Rachel Getting Married is about Kym, a young woman in rehab who is allowed to leave to attend her sister’s wedding. Her family isn’t exactly thrilled to see her arrive. Her exploits in the past have cost the family a lot, and all she seems to greet them with are more headaches, more drama. Her sister, Rachel, harbors a lot of resentment towards Kym, and the family is trying to cope with a terrible tragedy that befell them at Kym’s irresponsible hands. Her father is trying to be there for her, but Kym sees all this as him not trusting her to handle sobriety. Rachel’s special day seems less and less cheery to her as Kym continues to take the spotlight away with her addiction, going so far as to use her wedding rehearsal toast as part of her twelve step program. Things just grow worse and worse between this estranged family, and when an unexpected visit from one of Kym’s rehab acquaintances nearly shatters the bonds between Kym and Rachel, is there anything that Kym can do to regain her family’s love? Or will it be too little, too late?

MAN! What a heartbreaker! Rachel Getting Married has all the drama of an opera combined with the realism of a documentary and makes something really special out of it. I could not take my eyes off the screen for a minute as this train wreck of a family unfolded in front of my eyes. The story, written by Jenny Lumet, is a powerful, exasperating drama that leaves you without much breath in your lungs. Kym is a painfully real character that I have personally met a number of times in my life; a selfish person whose addiction springs from an inability to cope with reality. They’re not heartless people, and they deserve love, but Kym constantly proves that selfishness is a hell all its own, and the faithfulness of this character to reality is just more impressive than words can do justice.

I would consider this to be Anne Hathaway’s breakout role as an actress. If Havoc was her first foray into something a bit more daring, this pushes the envelope over the cliff and into the sun as far as serious drama. She plays Kym like a real artist; not band-standing, not competing for lines, not degrading into silly Hollywood archetypes. This character breathes, and Hathaway takes none of it for herself. I appreciated that, and I think it was one of the best performances I have seen from 2008. I really think she has arrived; you will never look at Hathaway the same way again after this. Rosemarie DeWitt also proves she has something to offer as Rachel. You know, the one getting married. She has her own set of issues as a character, and DeWitt handles it beautifully and tastefully as a bride to be distraught over her everything coming undone. DeWitt has an undeniable intensity that adds something to the frenzied bride she plays that I rather liked. Bill Irwin is Kym’s father, the kind and unassuming gent who only wants her to be happy. He’s a Broadway actor, and I thought at first that he would be a little, let’s say overzealous, in his performance. Luckily, he keeps his Broadway belting down a notch and manages to keep everything very demure and intimate. I like him overall, and hope to see less musical output from him in the future. Debra Winger rounds out the cast as the mother, Abby. A hard-to-read character, she is at once a ghost of a character and the most important character, because she is the one who has the hardest time dealing with Kym and her addiction. Debra Winger does an amazing job, and I think her climactic scene with her daughter near the end deserved some accaim from the Academy. It’s an intense scene, well played by everyone and captured exquisitely by Jonathan Demme.

I think everyone should watch Rachel Getting Married. It’s one of the best movies I have seen from 2008, and I really regret not watching it sooner. It is a family drama that has almost no peerage. It’s moving, exquisitely shot, well-acted, and very close to resembling reality. Anne Hathaway finally comes into her own here, and I think this film will be looked at as a watershed moment in her career. If you want something to really make you feel this Christmas, look no further than this glowing DVD recommendation! I give this, Jonathan Demme’s greatest film of the decade, a well-earned 10 Fab 5 Freddy cameos out of 10! My highest recommendation!

(Oh, did I tell you that Fab 5 Freddy is one of the wedding guests? For no reason, apparently. WEIRD, HUH?)

Tomorrow I take on my last PSA with Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi!





Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus (2009), or Need I Say Anything More?

24 12 2009

Lap this up while you can, guys; this will be my last shitty movie review of the year. And I don’t mean that the reviews themselves won’t be shitty from here on out, because I can’t promise you that (don’t review my reviews, you review-reviewing son of a bitch…). but, the last week in 2009, the year of our Lord, I will be reviewing some really good stuff to end on a good note! But we still have one little hump to get over this year, so let’s flash forward all the way back to 2009. Back when we were all so young, when cars observed the rules of the road, when old ladies were treated with respect, and when the Rhinosaur epidemic of 2009 was only a lingering legend thrown around by clerics and the forgotten members of Soundgarden. Back then, I was working in the back room of a Barnes & Noble, fucking shit up with a propensity that can only be described as a Work-Gasm, and I was listening to our old, antiquated FM radio receiver (how naive we were back then!!!), when some ass-face of a Morning Zoo Crew DJ started interviewing a spritely Deborah Gibson about a new movie she was in. It involved giant sharks, giant-er octopi, scientists trying to stop them from destroying the world, and an evil government agent trying to keep the scientists down with the power of his will. It was called Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus, and as soon as I heard the title, I was unbearably hooked to the idea. It sounded so cheesy, and Gibson said in her interview, if I can recall it from so long ago, that she was camping it up big time. So as fast as I could, I drove in my old-fashioned automobile to the ol’ videocassette store to rent it that day. Well, after having seen it for the first time in what must have been MONTHS, I am revisiting this camp classic, and I honestly love it as much as I did back in my youth.

I really don’t think I can do this story justice with words alone. Not with the time restraints I’m working on. Instead of failing miserably with the inadequacy of weak and weary words, take a look at this fresh and vibrant video to understand what we’re dealing with here:

That trailer reminds me of that shitty Tommy Lee Jones movie from the late 90s called Volcano, where the tagline boasted proudly with the haughtiness of youth and fire, “The Coast is Toast.” What steely reserve you must have to announce to the world that your movie is awesome just because it has giant animals in it! What dimension are you from where that still is considered a selling point? Apparently the right one, because as soon as I saw a clip of a giant shark eating a plane, I was THIS close to putting stains in my Adult Swim boxers.

The technical aspects aren’t even worth mentioning. The Asylum Productions, makers of fine DVD titles that expound on a blockbuster’s success (my favorites: Transformers came out in 2007, the same year we saw The Asylum’s Transmorphers, and when the third High School Musical came out, we saw the release of Sunday School Musical!!! Fucking brilliant!), Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus ekes along with the production value of any American Pie movie without Jason Biggs. It is a confusing mess of a movie that begs not only the question, “How much could this have cost?”, but also, “Why am I watching this sober?”. I don’t mind the lack of budget, the hokeyness of the shark and octopus’s overall look, the special effects that are surely inferior even to Steven Spielberg’s home movies, and the fact that this drivel claims to have Lorenzo Lamas “starring” in it, when everybody knows you have to be a star to star in something, but one thing that really bugs me is the director’s unseemly aversion to filler shots of the beach. There are lots and lots of beach shots; we’re on the beach WAY too much. And when we’re not on the beach, we’re watching tracking shots of seagulls who just CAME from the beach. Look, I know it’s an aquatic themed movie, but a beach is only half water! That’s like making a movie called Ham World, but instead of a 90 minute meat overload (which is also my nickname with the ladies…), all we get is fucking ham sandwich long takes. Seriously, count all the boring beach shots in this film, and by the time you do, you’ll be totally unconscious anyway to care.

Deborah Gibson is the sole saving grace of Mega Shark. She plays this up big time as a marine biologist who is interested in stopping the two aquatic giants from somehow killing millions of people. She is that typical goody-good, ultra-hot scientist who doesn’t take into account that she’s unnaturally attractive for a profession that probably doesn’t allow a lot of time for make-up and hair primping. She has a sense of humor about it, though, and you can tell from her performance that she knows exactly what she got herself into. Lorenzo Lamas, on the other hand, must either have an excellent, advanced sense of humor, or is dead serious about the realities of Mega Sharks and Giant Octopi. He is some jackass NSA type who needs the help of a sexy marine biologist to save his ass with some serious science. Maybe it’s his attitude, maybe it’s just his character, or maybe it’s just his face, but Lorenzo Lamas really bugs me in this movie. I couldn’t really like him after his smash hit television show Renegade was taken off the air, and this, as well as his fucking repulsive reality show, affirms the fact that until Renegade is picked up again, I want nothing more to so with that man.

But, in the end, the shark and the octopus are the stars, and they’re entertaining for those few WTF moments like the one I posted above. Most of the movie is actually spent away from them, tracking them and their movements, but when they’re on screen, although they don’t really look that good, the idea comes across well enough for a chuckle or two. Or a bunch of chuckles. Either way, Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus is an acquired taste. If you think this kind of cheesy stuff is funny, then you are going to have a blast picking it apart with your friends. But if you want more serious movies like Ghost or The Patriot, then I would take myself far away from this possibly intentional monstrosity. It’s good in that bad way, so I enjoyed it, but as a reviewer I must acknowledge that it is indeed BAD. I officially give Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus 2 1/2 ham sandwich long takes out of 10! But definitely watch it for laughs if you like to camp it up every now and then!

Tomorrow I start my last week with Christmas, and a seriously good movie called Rachel Getting Married! Until then!

(Note: I have been told to explain that I really don’t like either Ghost or The Patriot and that I was merely joking when I used them as examples of serious dramas: in my head I guess I just assumed that everyone, like myself, scoffed at those movies and used them as embarrassing conversational doormats when discussing lackluster Hollywood dramas. But I guess not. OOPS!)





Invincible (2006), or Well Meaning, But Empty

23 12 2009

Well, ladies and germs, it’s almost Christmas time, so I suppose it’s time for me to review an uplifting film for a change. I am not keen on watching too many actual Christmas movies, considering that most of them leave a taste in my mouth I could only liken to that of a candy cane found in a dead man’s chest cavity, so I’ll instead opt to just write a review on a movie that is not about murder or bizarre sexual practices. Disney’s Invincible is one of those feel-good movies, a movie that makes you believe that you can do anything if you try hard enough, even if it just isn’t possible in any realistic sensibility. It also tries to remind us that second chances ARE possible, despite our high-minded cynicism. It’s an unreasonably bland affair, other than the message of hope, with not that much to bolster its 90 minute run time besides a plot so hardwired to the tracks that changing the course with original thoughts might just be structurally impossible. But, in this instance, that isn’t such a bad thing.

The plot is based on the true story of the 1976 Philadelphia Football Team With Some Mascot I Can’t Think Of At The Moment. Their team sucks big time, embarrassing the city and all the owners. So, in a desperate bid for success, they try something SO CRAZY THAT IT JUST MIGHT WORK; they actually start open tryouts for people to play on their NFL team. The one guy they cull from the droves of idiots and not-quites is Vince Papale, a 30 year old Philly native who has the drive to win and a burning desire to prove himself. His life has hit the skids since his wife left him, his teaching job fell through, and he was reduced to bartending at a local pub recently to keep himself afloat. He is a long shot, being a little old to start out as a rookie, but that won’t stop him, and maybe nothing will. But desperate coach Dick Vermeil will ride this guy’s ass until he’s ready to quit; can these two take each other to the Playoffs in 1976? Or is Vince too old to start a new career as a guy who gets beat to shit for a living?

There goes my cynicism again! And I JUST finished watching this movie! In spite of my misgivings, it actually is a very inspiring movie. Much like the Disney movies of old, I was moved to go out and do something with myself after I got done with it. The “based on a true story” aspect of it is really the neat part. Someone with a dream and a lot of initiative actually made it into the NFL, beating out all other prospective hopefuls and joining the ranks of legendary football players like (and these are just off the top of my head) Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas, um, Babe Ruth, Pelé, and Winston Churchill, I think. It makes you feel like any day could be the day you turn your life around. I think the world needs a little more of that, even if it’s from a predictable football movie.

The movie is really sold by Mark Wahlberg. His Vince Papale is as earnest as can be, and a real charmer to boot. The first part of the film, watching Papale’s life fall apart, wasn’t pretty to watch, and he made us feel it personally with his body language and an impressive failure in his eyes. It is a role that seems to define his later career, that of the put-upon man looking for some sort of redemption. But here he certainly gets it and then some as an actor. Greg Kinnear shines as similarly put-upon coach of the Philadelphia Platypi (is that it?), but he doesn’t fare as well. The problem is that his hard-ass coach role has been filed by so many more impressive performances over the years, like Gene Hackman or Denzel Washington, that this seems sort of an afterthought to have him here. I would have much rather seen Robert Patrick as the hard-ass coach than nonthreatening Greg Kinnear. I could kill Greg Kinnear with my left thigh alone, so watching him coach fully grown large men without a larger-than-life attitude to back it up is a little weak. And Elizabeth Banks shows up as a love interest for Vince to look really pretty. She can’t even really look too HOT, since this is a Disney movie, so her contributions are scanty at best.

Invincible isn’t really a movie to dwell on too much. It’s a sports movie where a guy gets everything he wanted after living a life of poverty and loneliness. We get it, nobody will be surprised at the ideas being put forth, and this will end up as a movie sold at Wal Mart around 3:28 in the morning. But Invincible has a spirit that a lot of movies today have lost in their pessimism. It gently reminds us of a most valuable lesson, that it’s never too late to take your life in your hands and go for it; there are no rules in our hearts, just the limits we build around it. I enjoyed that immensely, even though I thought most everything else was trending towards the mediocre, including the soundtrack, most of the acting, and the incredibly boring direction. All in all, though, Invincible still gets 6 1/2 Philadelphia Platypi out of 10!

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, so I will be very curious as to what I watch! Hopefully it’s something positive and uplifting! Until then!!





Dark Country (2009), or Trouble In The Night Lands

22 12 2009

Note: This is my review for Dark Country that I wrote for 366 Weird Movies! Check them out at THIS LINK! for all the latest weirdness in cinema, as well as articles on some of the wildest imagery ever committed to celluloid! P.S.- Don’t give me any shit for doubling down on the same review! It’s still good, even though it’s previously used!)

DIRECTED BY: Thomas Jane

FEATURING: Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Laurie German

PLOT: Two blissful newlyweds, driving away from their splendid wedding in

Las Vegas, hit a man in the middle of the road. He lives, but the couple find he is not all that he seems, and are suddenly forced to take drastic measures against him.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: Dark Country is a bit obtuse at times, and it frustratingly delights fans of the obscure by not explaining its motives or workings very often, but I hesitate recommending mainly because it relies a little too heavily on genre standbys and noir reverence instead of blazing new fantastic territory. It is a 50s thriller/noir mixed with a modern horror, but it cannot create an identity of its own between its own stylings. There are moments of heavy cinematic distortion and interesting ideas that run through the story like a highway across the hungry desert, but it can’t quite escape some level of mediocrity as it bends prostrate for that which has already been done.

COMMENTS: Dark Country represents a promising debut effort from a director who is willing to try new things. What’s really impressive from the start is the writing. It is intense and full of good, genuine human touches that really helps the movie flow from scene to scene. From the first scene to the end, I felt rapt with attention to these immersive characters and their odd relationship, especially after the drive out of Las Vegas ensues.

It is a journey through dark and unforgiving territory, perhaps a metaphor for the new marriage between main characters Gina and Dick, who were just recently married and don’t really know what they’re in for. The young couple just made it official in Las Vegas, and are ready to make it home, but even before their fateful accident, things aren’t what they seem between the two. There is tension, there are incidents between the two that are hinted at, and the two have secrets from each other right off the bat. And after their encounter in the desert with the strange man they hit, things only get worse between the two. So, from an artistic standpoint, it can be commended as a smart thriller with some brains to back up its craziness.

Visually and tonally, it is an interesting feast for the eyes. Thomas Jane wants a very engrossing visual experience, but he is also on a budget here, so we are caught in a limbo of many special effects, but none of which really hit the mark in a spectacular way. The CG is a little on the cheap side (it looks like a violent episode of Reboot when they wreck the car near the end!), and the green screen is not very successful in melding the real and fake, but the color effects are interesting, not to mention plentiful, and we are treated to some good old fashioned camera trickery with some slick editing and some nifty shots.

But while it’s a solid debut for Jane, and an offbeat one at that, we’re still not treading any bold frontiers with Dark Country. This is a movie I have seen before, in bits and pieces. This is a story of intense psychological implications, a noir aesthetic, and the lush, frightening mysteries of the deep desert. It’s not anything breathtaking or unflinchingly bold. It’s a good and often disturbing take on some classic thriller ideas, and it has a twist in the story that will have you thinking on your toes for a while, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the weirdest movies I’d ever seen. With a good cast, a taut script, some interesting effects, and a more intelligent angle than your average thriller, Dark Country has a lot going for it. Just don’t expect it to be too weird, because you might be disappointed.

Cinematronica rating: 7 desert mysteries out of 10!

Stay tuned tomorrow for my take on Mark Wahlberg’s Invincible! Until then!





The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension! (1984), or A Black Belt In Crazy

21 12 2009

Another big shout-out to Alex for recommending another movie to me! What a hero! This was a great experience; I appreciate you sharing this with me!

If I were to correctly put Buckaroo Banzai in a genre… on second thought, I don’t know if that’s possible. This is undoubtedly one of the wildest movies I’ve seen in my tenure here at Cinematronica! The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!, otherwise known as TAoBBAt8D! is something that cannot be put very simply into words. Blending pulp action, comedy, sci-fi, satire, camp, spy flick, and romance into one movie that is as hilarious as it is completely insane. It’s also one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen. There’s something so charming about the nutty concept, the totally dope special effects, and the witty writing make this a winner hailing all the way from the 8th dimension!

Remember the setup for Indiana Jones? It’s basically like that, only crazy. We arrive in the middle of the unfathomable life of Dr. Buckaroo Banzai. He is probably the most legendary dude who ever lived; he can do anything! He can fight, do amazing science stuff, play in a rock band, and negotiate in times of political crisis! The movie is about one particular incident in which Dr. Buckaroo Banzai must defeat an inter-dimensional species of aliens known as Red Lectroids. During a test run of his Jet Car (!!!), Dr. Banzai successfully drives through solid matter by driving through a mountain. When he emerges on the other side, though, he discovers an alien pod that has attached itself to his car. Hearing of this, a strange Italian scientist named Dr. Lizardo breaks free of an insane asylum. An earlier experiment of similar repute 50 years ago briefly opened a door to the 8th dimension, where an evil alien possessed his mind!!! Now the Dr. has escaped, and, with an evil alien in his head, he has plans for unleashing Lectroid havoc all across the globe! But Dr. Banzai happens to be an expert at kicking alien ass, and he is well versed in the art of just about everything. With his amazing team of scientists and band mates and other various relations to the man, the myth, the legend, called the Hong Kong Cavaliers (!!!), Banzai will try to stop the mad scheme of Dr. Lizardo, that involves somehow Rastafarians, Orson Welles, samurais, the Cold War, and a place called Yoyodyne Defense Company! Can Dr. Banzai do it? He has no choice! Otherwise, we’re all doomed for an alien invasion!

Crazy enough for ya? TAoBBAt8D is something that isn’t really easy to process on paper. I really skimmed through all the plot here, I could go on for hours about all the amazingly superfluous backstory going on here. It’s purposefully dense to give that illusion of history for a new character. Imagine walking in on Dragonball Z halfway through, right when Frieza is about to destroy planet Namek. If you don’t watch the show, you’re going to be monumentally lost, but in a bewilderingly exciting way, which is the effect that Buckaroo Banzai has on you. There’s so much cool stuff happening, and so many references to earlier adventures, that you get lost in this fabricated mythology, and it’s a delightful feeling that this film pulls off incredibly well.

The movie is so kitsch in that hilarious 80s way. The fashion is so forward for ’84 that it’s probably getting cool again as we speak. Everyone wears unfathomable colored jackets with no shirt on underneath and madcap gaudy accessories that scream “I don’t care what my children will say when they see my in 20 years!”. The music is pretty awesome, with Peter Weller actually doing all his own vocals and guitar work for Banzai’s rock band. It’s dated, but actually catchy as hell, and I might, just maybe, like Weller’s voice (I’m still not sure yet). The production is very imaginative, filled with striking images, out-there sci-fi effects, and creative, beatific editing. The movie feels very alive, and every scene etches the wild, convoluted world deeper into your consciousness with its turn-on-a-dime style of direction and scripting. It’s a perfect tone for a movie like this.

Buckaroo Banzai has quickly earned itself a place on my DVD shelf. I liked its originality, its great presence, its implacable genre-bending ways, and most importantly its exuberance. It’s a movie about having the most amount of fun possible. Dr. Buckaroo Banzai is unrealistically amazing so we don’t have to be; while he’s out there blasting Red Lectroids away from his Jet Car, we can sit back, relax, and enjoy the fun of something so incredibly sill as this. There’s everything to like about this movie, and as well as a space up on my racks of DVDs, it has also merited an essay later on next year. I want to get into the nitty-gritty of this wild and zany movie, but for now let me just say that this is a cult classic with a lot under the hood! I give TAoBBAt8D 9 Rastafarian Lectroids out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I check out Dark Country! Until then!