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!





What Did You Think Of The Cinematronica Project?

21 12 2009

What a year! I can’t believe we’re finally almost done with it! I can’t believe I have almost fulfilled my promise to watch and review 365 movies in 2009! It all stems from you, though; everyone who read, everyone who commented, and everyone who is as much in love with film and the arts as I am who was genuinely interested in what I was talking about. Now that I’m only ten days and ten movies away from the end of the year, the end of Cinematronica, and the beginning of my new website at http://ifreviewscouldkill.com, I wanted to do a few retrospective pieces on all the movies I’ve covered; I’ll be doing some of my personal top ten lists, some of my personal favorite reviews, and other extremely ego-tastic stuff. But until then, I wanted to know what you thought about this site; what were your favorite reviews? Were there movies you discovered here that you now can’t live without (or can’t live without making fun of)? Did I do a good job as a reviewer, or am I just another face in the crowd of writhing sycophants across the internet who wants to write about this stuff for the rest of their lives? Let me know: I want to see how I’m doing, what direction you think I should go, and if there’s anything you want for the new website. Spare no detail, good or bad! What has Cinematronica done for YOU?





The Night Out: Avatar (2009), or Cameron’s Spectacle

20 12 2009

I currently have a wager set up with my boss. The wager is that within the time of one month, James Cameron’s Avatar will make $200 million domestically. I am not sure whether or not that is obtainable, as of this writing, but what I do know is that nobody has really talked about the movie much since the whisperings of James Cameron’s opus were started earlier this year. All I’ve heard is that the movie costs this much to make, the special effects are so amazing, the technical specs are blah-blah. But the bottom line is this; it’s not AMAZING unless it does its job and tells us a good story. The specs are just a way to tell the story, but if it isn’t very good, then the effects shouldn’t matter, but now we’ve gotten away from that into this area where effects trump any other aspect of a mainstream movie in the discussion. Avatar is a movie with truly amazing effects, and it really does have the potential to revolutionize the way people make CG effects. And luckily, the movie has enough archetypal strength to carry some genuine emotional power at times, because it’s honestly, on its own as a story, fairly derivative.

Avatar is essentially The Last Samurai with aliens. A wheelchair-bound Marine named Jake Sully, living in the extremely far off year of 2154, is given a chance to replace his twin brother, a scientist, on the far away world of Pandora where he was to research the alien life there, an alien race known as the Na’vi. He is given an Avatar, a creature made with Na’vi DNA that has mental uplinks so a human might control it via a VR interface, and is sent to help the human-Na’vi relations. The humans are on Pandora to mine a precious metal that is worth millions back on Earth, and while they don’t want to eradicate the Na’vi to get it, they’ll do what it takes to get what they want. But they’re trying the talking approach first, though it hasn’t produced results. So Jake is approached by one of the mercenaries contracted by the company mining the mineral with a simple proposition; infiltrate the Na’vi, learn their ways, gain their trust, and learn their defenses at the heart of the forest, and the mercenary will get him his legs back. Jake is torn between the Na’vi, a people he is learning to love and understand, and the ability to walk again, to be self-sufficient. As his Avatar gains more respect in the Na’vi tribe, and he falls more and more in love with the Chief’s daughter, the responsibility he has shouldered in the human world to bring war upon them becomes too much to bear. What will Jake decide to do about the home he has found light years away from his old world? Can he save his new-found people amongst the forest? Or are they doomed to make way for a strip mine?

Avatar’s stats are self-evident, and they have been propagated all over the internet. Let’s just say a LOT of work has gone into this film, and director James Cameron has spent a good chunk of his life making this come to life. I am very serious when I say that the special effects in this film represent a change in the course of how movies will look in the future. Nearly this entire movie is created from completely new CG concepts, and the realism for something so fantastic is really and truly remarkable. There are animals and plants and places that feel real, that breathe with a life of their own. It seems like the sky is the limit now, like anything could be possible all over again. The ceiling has been shattered again with living, kinetic CG characters that exist in an immersive world all their own, and many people will be spending many years trying to achieve what has been created here. There are flying creatures here called ikran (they look like pterodactyls but more alien) that had me rubbing my eyes in amazement from their sheer technical and aesthetic beauty. Hopefully, whoever is next, they will come up with something that is a little more robust and strikingly original from a story standpoint as well, rather than from just a visual standpoint.

Why do I say that? Well, because it’s not something you’ve never seen before. In fact, you’ve probably seen it quite a few times before. It’s 160 minutes of a man going native. That’s it. There’s a forest of cool shit walking around, but the main story is, verbatim, a mix of The Last Samurai and Dances with Wolves dashed with a sprinkle of astro dust and shot in digital 3-D. The script is derived from archetypes as broad and as universal as Joseph Campbell’s wet dreams, not to mention the situations are completely and utterly stock. I won’t say that it’s terrible. The situations presented give us an almost reactionary response that we cannot avoid, and I could feel myself becoming attached to the Na’vi and their world a number of times. But not once did I really feel the characters, their plight, or any of the dramatic scenarios they set up. The only thing that I enjoyed was the emotional attachment the audience gains for the forest, the poignant remembrance of a life of freedom we have traded away for modern convenience, because at times I cannot help but feel that this world would be much simpler if we were closer to the bosom of the earth, even if it meant the end of modern life and the easy prosperity of men and their long-winded lives.

The acting is good, but it’s really not fair. No matter how cut Sam Worthington is, he can’t really hold a candle to how cool his Avatar looks. For what it’s worth, though, he is a damn fine up-and-comer, and I think his turn here as Jake was enjoyable. I especially love his strength in the face of his disability; what a trooper! Stephen Lang is the villainous mercenary trying to kill the rain forest and the Na’vi. He is unflinchingly evil here, and more than that he is uncaring and battle-hardened, which seems to be an irreversible condition in the face of all the carnage he causes. Sigourney Weaver throws Cameron a bone and gets in here as a scientist helping Jake realize his potential as an Avatar controller. She is a hard-ass, but Weaver adds a sweetness that comes out as she controls her own Avatar, a nice touch that adds to the experience. And Zoe Saldana, while never really acting, lends her voice to the Na’vi chief’s daughter, Jake’s love interest, who shows him the ways of her people. She has a lot of character that comes out in her strong but intensely feminine voice that really makes the character come to life. She has to speak another language a lot, and she also does a different voice than her speaking voice, which I L-O-V-E.

Odds are, you’ve already seen Avatar, so I don’t know why I’m reviewing it, honestly. Apparently it is the 7th highest grossing opening of all time as of today, and the numbers are only growing. But if you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll just say that you might not get what you’re expecting. It’s a decent movie that is jacked-up by the aesthetic. If the budget were quartered, I don’t think Avatar would be seeing the attention it’s receiving. But the numbers are what people are talking about nowadays, for good or bad, and this movie is certainly up there as far as that game goes. It’s a huge movie with what seems to be the future of CG as a bolster, and while that’s certainly nothing to snub one’s nose at, let’s not put this on more of a pedestal than it needs to be just because the price tag is more than we could afford in out lifetimes. I give Avatar 7 sprinkles of astro dust out of 10.

Tomorrow I promise to watch The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai! Until then!!!





Mortal Kombat (1995), or I Had No Taste As A Kid…

19 12 2009

I had to interrupt my viewing of The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai today. I seem to be doing that a lot lately, but with the end of the year rushing up to meet me like a tide of joy and effulgent triumph, I can’t keep my mind on only one movie. In a moment of extreme inspiration, I decided I needed something extremely action-packed and filled with suspense, danger, some martial arts, and topped with heaping helpings of awesome! But, unfortunately, all I could find was this, the smash hit of summer 1995, Mortal Kombat! It’s so cool they spelled combat with a K! Other than the faux etymology, however, there’s not much to rave about in this video game adaptation. I don’t know if I needed to let you know this, though, because depending on the demographic I cater to, you’ve probably already seen it and purchased the smash platinum soundtrack! Everybody my age, as a rite of passage, has seen this at some point in their lives, expecting some sort of action epic, and I’m sure when they were young, as I was when I saw it, they were blown away by it all. But I implore you, if you want to keep your nostalgic fuzzy memories intact, don’t watch it again as an adult, because you will be astoundingly disappointed.

Mortal Combat with a K is based on the SMASH HIT VIDEO GAME of the same name. Basically, once a generation, the top fighters from all over the world are invited to participate in a tournament to test their skills against people from Earth and beyond. That’s right, I said beyond; people from all the other mystical realms of the cosmos (?) are competing in this, especially one realm known as the Outworld. The leader of the Outworld has sent his most powerful sorcerer, known as Shang Tsung, to defeat the fighters from the Earth realm and gain entry into their world so he can do evil stuff to it. Three unlikely warriors are chosen; Johnny Cage, an actor whose attitude might be bigger than his skill, Sonya Blade, a special forces unit member who is looking for vengeance for a dead partner, and Liu Kang, a man who is also looking for vengeance who seems chosen by the Lord of Lightning, Rayden (who is a white guy, for some reason, even though everybody who worships him is Asian…). With Rayden’s help, can these three unlikely heroes take charge of the destiny of the Earth realm and stop the evil surge of the Outworld? Probably!

Mortal Combat with a K is an epochal action epic. At the time, the early CG effects, the animatronics, and the music were unbelievably on the mark as far as timing. It was like the Transformers of 2009; it was the movie that everyone went to see for the spectacle of it all, because everyone had apparently already seen it. But, like all epochal epics, it has aged terribly. The effects now seem very embarrassing, the creature effects are on the level of an episode of Sesame Street, and the hairdos look like they were all ripped off of extras from Demolition Man. How times change things! It’s good for a laugh, but I promise you that it does not hold up very well. You know that quality The Wizard of Oz has, that timelessness and bold character it exudes despite the year the film was shot and the adjusted budget it ran on? Mortal Combat with a K looks at that timelessness, shrugs its shoulders, and starts doing the Macarena!

This is professional plebeian Paul W.S. Anderson’s first big-budget movie, and his second feature overall. For his second shot, it’s honestly not that terrible. Considering this is the guy who would later mindfuck the die-hard fans of the Resident Evil series forevermore, this is a somewhat tolerable mindless action film. Sure, it goes limp about halfway through after a barrage of good-versus-evil poppycock and a parade of characters we don’t care about getting beat up, but it has some engaging fight scenes and a few inventive martial arts sequences (my favorite battle was between throw-away villain Reptile and Liu Kang; good stuff!).

The actors fare a little worse. Christopher Lambert dons some white hair and an inexplicable accent to play Rayden. He doesn’t actually fight; he just laughs in that weird Lambert-esque cackle and strings together various taunts and phrases. Not too good. Robin Shou, who plays Liu Kang, is without a doubt the standout. He’s a good actor, a great fighter, and I can buy him being the Chosen One. Good all around hero. Bridgette Wilson plays Sonya, to my chagrin. This was a bad choice for her. She is a bland asshole character the whole movie, she doesn’t try to branch out a single iota, and worst of all, her fight scene is fucking shameful! It is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. She doesn’t try very hard, and that’s what kills me. Whatever training she went through to get the part, it was a total waste, because she just does not give it her all, and I can’t get behind anyone who half-asses their job for six-figures. Linden Ashby is a good jerk, though, as the one and only Johnny Cage. His smooth-talking and his one-liners seem to come naturally, which always helps the flow of the comic relief.

Mortal Combat with a K is something to watch with your friends and laugh about. It sure gets the cheeks red of someone who talks it up (I know a guy who thinks this movie is like manna from heaven). I listened to Bren’s copy of the soundtrack this afternoon, and could not control a Category 5 smile as it erupted from my face. It’s kitschy, straight-faced in the face of its own insanity, and it has an animatronic giant with four arms named Goro who gives his best O-face every time he wins a fight! What more could you want from a comedy? I give Mourtul Kaumbāt 5 1/2 Caucasian gods of Asian people out of 10!

Tomorrow I should have a surprise review coming up! Until then!!!





Judgment Night (1993), or Four Friends Plus One Wrong Turn Equals Thrill-A-Minute Action!

18 12 2009

Judgment Night is a quick, cheap thriller from the early 90s that comes packing a lot of heat. Starring some fairly talented actors and featuring a solid premise that really ratchets up the mood, I found this to be a movie that worked based on its eerie reminder of reality. Something I had never known about the urban sprawl of Chicago, which a number of people, former residents and the like, have opened my eyes to is the fact that there are entire blocks, entire areas of old Chicago that are veritable ghost towns. Nobody goes there, police don’t even patrol around there, so it is an absolutely perfect place to be mugged and murdered. One of these areas, a casualty of modern urban planning, is the setting for Judgment Night, and the old side of town becomes a character itself as the main characters play cat and mouse with a killer within its striking old confines.

It starts out as just another night on the town with a couple of friends. Four middle-aged buddies from the suburbs decide to go out to a boxing match downtown and have a good time. One of them can’t go at the last minute, so one of them, Frank, decides to supplement him with his younger brother. They go in a swank 90s RV supplied by one of the friends, and they are having a great time at first. But after the gang takes a wrong turn, they end up on the broken and run-down side of Chicago. The friends start panicking, while Frank’s brother starts rambling about how soft they are and how they don’t know what it’s like to live on the street. But this is all quickly silenced when they hit someone in the barren old streets. He appears to be a dingy thug with a bullet wound and a bag full of money. They try to get him to a hospital, but they are soon dragged into more trouble than they bargained for as the man who the money belongs to, a psycho named Fallon, begins to stalk them, and will not rest until he gets his money back and kills anyone with any evidence on his crimes. The four must use all their wits to keep from becoming another victims of Fallon and his goons, and may just have to resort to going dark places they never imagined on a fateful, terrifying night that will change them forever.

What a scary premise! The thought of being chased down vigorously by anyone is pretty freaky, but adding Dennis Leary to the mix is just plain out of bounds! Judgment Night does not have a whole lot to it. It is a simple thriller with no twists, just the anxiety of being chased through the wrong side of town by men with guns. It’s extreme simplicity is startlingly effective. That, coupled with the dark reality of life on the streets makes it a pretty jarring movie at times.

A problem, though, comes with the execution of it all. This seems a rather sloppy production as far as maintaining a mood goes. There’s really no cohesive effort to create any sense of suspense or danger. Judgment Night just shows you bad guys with weapons and expects you to feel really upset. The music doesn’t really match, and when it does, it’s weak and dated, serving only to drag you out of whatever feeling you were heading towards. The cinematography is not really all that dark for something taking place at night; it reminds me of a dimly-lit music video. And the actors aren’t really that good here. Emilio Estevez is on his A-game, but Cuba Gooding Jr. and Stephen Dorff are on total cruise control, completely botching the rapport between the guys with their very scripted character. I was hoping for a little more from Dennis Leary, who has come into success as an actor, finally, with Rescue Me. But back then, he was struggling for a shot, and I honestly don’t think he could have raised it that much with this little-seen action-suspense film.

Judgment Night is written well, and it has a very interesting idea behind it, but style and execution are rarely the same thing. I feel like it could have been a lot better, if they had chosen to make more of a drastic situation out of it, with more to lose on all accounts, even the audience’s. But for what it is and when it was made, I wont be too tragically harsh on it. I would see it again if it came on tomorrow. I would probably change it back to another station constantly, but I would still see it again! I give Judgment Night 6 1/2 spooky sides of Chicago out of 10!

Tomorrow I take a look at The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai! Until then!!!





PSA: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), or Magnificent Opulence

17 12 2009

Out of all the Wes Anderson movies I have seen, I like The Royal Tenenbaums the best. I am not sure if it is his masterpiece, but whenever I see this movie, I cannot help but lose myself in it. There is a quiet mouthing of pastel joy in the heart of this film, a blithe human spirit dressed in the prim and proper attire of a stuffy wealthy sensibility. Wes Anderson’s beautiful epic comedy/drama is really in a class of its own; there will never be anything quite like it, and it is that striking uniqueness that makes it so enjoyable, and what will make it a cinematic classic in the coming years.

The Royal Tenenbaums follows the very unique lifestyles of the Tenenbaums, a well-to-do family headed by ne’er-do-well Royal Tenenbaum. He and his wife Etheline raise three prodigal children, two of their own, and one adopted daughter. Chas is a science genius, Richie is a tennis savant, and little Margot is a little playwright in her own right (HA!). They’re all living on a high from their arly success, but in their prime Royal rains on their parade by telling them that he and their mother will be separating. Cut to a few years down the line, and the Tenenbaum children are all in a post-prodigal funk. Chas is over-protecting his two sons after their mother died in an accident, Margot is married to a much older man she doesn’t really love, and Richie is unmoored in life after a meltdown at a tennis match. The family is scattered about everywhere, but news of a family tragedy brings them together. Royal, aghast at the thought of Etheline marrying again and broke after years of lavish spending, fakes stomach cancer and asks to stay at the house to try and interfere!!! Everyone gathers to see their poor, allegedly cancer-ridden father, and Royal sees for the first time what a circus his family has become in his absence. He tries to help out with Chas’s sheltered kids by getting them out more, helping Margot out by trying to give her advice on her relationship, and helping out Richie by giving him his honest opinion on the fact that he’s in love with his adopted sister (!!!). All of this stuff backfires on him, and it only gets worse when it is discovered that he is faking his illness. Can this family ever get back together? Can the children ever heal their wounds? Can Royal stop being such a damn jerk?

This gorgeous pastel movie practically drips off-beat indie-ness. it is everything fragile and forgotten, everything tragically hip and unnecessarily kept on the inside. It reminds me of the rare artistic child in school who had real problems, not some imagined malady that plagued him in a philosophical sense. It is a realization of the innate humor and sadness in the idea of a prodigy, the ones who peak too soon. It is sad that they have nothing to look forward to, but there is something so splendorous about their lameness that Wes Anderson captures so well. Anderson explored a little bit of the child savant idea in Rushmore, ANOTHER film I reviewed, and it stuck out to me then. This is something of a meditation on the notion of the young coming into their own, but growing up to be horrible adults. It is as well as a story of redemption, because everyone is running away from their responsibilities to themselves and others and they need a second chance at life. That’s where the good and at times loving heart of The Royal Tenenbaums lies, this idea that we all need a second chance to try again.

The soundtrack is one of the best I have ever heard. Anderson knows how to pick some good lo-fi acoustic jams for his very soft-spoken style of filmmaking. Simon and Garfunkel, Van Morrison, Erik Satie, The Rolling Stones, and others all pitch in some nice frolicking tunes for the movie, which make up the emotional center of the movie, since everyone is usually too damaged to say what they mean. The best example of this is from the clip above, when Richie tries to commit suicide. It is one of the most haunting images ever committed to film, and not a word is said in nearly 3 minutes. All that we hear are the strained chords on a beat-up acoustic guitar while Elliott Smith gently pounds away his terribly sad song, “Needle in the Hay”. These characters are either quiet, unable to say what they want, or comically dumb, so it’s up to the beautiful music that Anderson chooses to let us in on the mood, and he does a great job in informing us with as many rich details as possible.

The cast is PHENOMENAL!!!! What a great ensemble! When you hear about a great ensemble cast, this is the one that all others are compared to in the new millennium. Gene Hackman leads off as Royal Tenenbaum, the patriarch of the family and an all-around jerk. He’s pretty funny in that offhandedly thoughtless way. Owen Wilson, the co-writer of this with Anderson, does a fantastic job as well, as Eli, a friend of the family who always wanted to be a Tenenbaum. He flies by without much of a fuss, but his few key scenes are a delight. Owen Wilson is my favorite actor here. He plays Richie, the emotionally complicated tennis savant. There is a lot going on here, with the “loving the adopted sister” thing, so he has a lot to juggle, but he shows that he can really hold his own as an actor (too bad he’s hocking cell phones on TV nowadays…) Gweneth Paltrow is dead-pan Margot, adopted daughter of the Tenenbaums, and she adds a meek sarcasm to the movie that I think it really needed. She is sassy in a quiet-but-hilarious way, and in a few of the comments she makes, she tells a little story about her life that is WAY more exciting than anything going on at the time, which is, ironically, quite exciting. Ben Stiller is Chas, in his first real acting role since Reality Bites in the 90s. He has not really acted since, so if you liked him playing the straight man here, as I did, relish it, because it will not be happening very much more in the future, I believe. Anjelica Huston rounds it all out as the quiet, demure mother, Etheline. She is what drives the whole movie in a way, and her classy, independent ways are very close to how I see Mrs. Huston in real life. What an actress! What a lady!

The Royal Tenenbaums is good for me on so many levels. The music, the direction, the unique cinematography, the cast, the cameos by Bill Murray and Danny Glover, and the script come together in a wonderful collage of hilarity and heartbreak that I really, truly enjoy. If you like something that’s a little off-center and different, it also has a universal notion to it that we can all do a little better next time, and that’s a wonderful feeling to have, and it’s something that I can get behind as a filmgoer. You won’t want to miss this gorgeous com-dram that broke the mold back in ’01. I give The Royal Tenenbaums 10 adopted sister love-affairs out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Tomorrow, by request, I will be watching Judgment Night! Until then!





The Departed (2006), or Palpable Dupilicity

17 12 2009

A big thanks to the always-delightful Jenni for requesting this movie! And letting me borrow the special edition on DVD! And for being so generous with her time! Thanks for just being Jenni!

Martin Scorcese has made an entire mainstream career out of the crime drama. The life of the criminal is something that has taken a firm grip in his imagination for the past 40 years in the business. From Italian mobsters to turn of the century Irish gang members to Italian mobsters to psychotic rapists to Italian mobsters, Scorcese has examined the ne’er-do-well and put his methods into the public consciousness for generations to come.  Scorcese’s most recent crime film, The Departed, is another classic that deserves to live atop the glittering, gleaming mountain of public adoration that his other movies inhabit. It’s an intense, intricate examination of identity in a cat-and-mouse struggle that does not let up for more than a moment.

Basically a remake of Infernal Affairs, a blazing Asian crime film made in ’02, The Departed changes the setting from Hong Kong to Boston and adds a few Scorcesian twists. Colin Sullivan, growing up in the mean streets of Boston, was always protected by local mob boss Frank Costello. Costello treated him like a father, the way he did with many young men in the neighborhood, grooming them for service in his syndicate. Costello placed so much faith in him that he trained Sullivan to be his mole in the police, so that he would keep tabs on all the cops poking in on his business. Sullivan has done all that has been asked of him by Costello, who he sees as something of a father figure, and it has been easy for him to play both sides. Unfortunately for him, the police have begun to suspect a mole is in their midst, so they send out one of their own. William Costigan, a young cop from a poor Irish Catholic family, is asked to pose as a criminal, gain entry into Costello’s inner circle, and help bring him down. Both of them infiltrate into their assigned organizations, but they both end up arousing suspicions about spies, so they are essentially sent on missions looking for themselves (!!!). Someone has to sniff out someone, though, so it becomes a battle between the two moles to reveal each other before it’s too late. Who will prevail? And how many lives will be lost in the process?

What a captivating concept!!! The Departed takes the innate suspence of lies and recrimination and uses it against us as we are helpless against the drama of it all. Scorcese keeps us rapt in attention as we mysteriously cheer for the sustaining of a lie. Costigan’s situation is such a lose-lose. Much like Nick Nolte’s character from Mother Night, his identity is basically in the hands of one man. Nobody else knows he is undercover, so he has every possibility of being arrested, which would be bad because Sullivan is a police officer!!! It’s very intense, but we are also taken in a bit by the family-man nature of Sullivan. Besides dropping some info here and there to Costello, he’s not a serial killer or some kind of madman. He’s just a man with ties who is trying to cover his ass and his buddy Costello’s ass while he works his sweet desk job. It’s incredibly well-written, and I found myself really involved with these characters and their confusing lives.

Scorcese did not make a shot-for-shot remake by any means. He adds the flair of a director still wanting to try something new. He and his constant cinematographer, Michael Ballhaus, creates a Boston that is dirty, frightening, and hopeless. It’s also the most intriguing portrait of the city I have ever seen, so what does that say for the city itself, I wonder… Either way, these characters live in a rough and tumble city, so everybody in this town seems to be as tough as nails. The way they’re shot, the way they talk, and the way they seem to constantly skirt death, all seem to suggest an outward toughness that is only equaled by their hidden, vulnerable interiors. Scorcese really outdid himself here, and while there’s not much to mull over, it doesn’t seem to give us much time to think anyway, so it makes for a good, quality drama that has a lot of stylistic tones to keep us invested.

The cast is superb, as far as big-name Hollywood goes. Jack Nicholson, although somewhat of a Red Herring as far as the story goes, steals the show as Frank Costello. He chews so much scenery I’m surprised he didn’t rip a hole in Boston’s side! His character is so crass and loud and, at times, ridiculous, that it’s like he’s from a different movie. Costello is that character who doesn’t give a fuck anymore because he’s old, but he’d rather die than let anyone disrespect him, so he randomly becomes super-serious and rather scary on a dime, which I suppose is Jack Nicholson’s specialty. What an exceptional character! I love the two moles, though, as well, Sullivan and Costigan, who are played by Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio respectively. These two are intense! They both play essentially the same character under different circumstances, but it’s really interesting how much more you care about DiCaprio’s Costigan despite their similarities. Costigan has it rough, having to pretend to be a street tough and not having much means of fighting back against Sullivan’s trickery. But Sullivan does have the mental anguish to contend with, the nagging sensation that what he’s doing is wrong and that Costello is just using him. Both actors do a fine job, and I’m glad they received the attention they did at the Academy Awards. There are a few good cameos, but my favorite two are Vera Farmiga, whose small role as a psychiatrist who is romantically linked to both moles is the emotional rock of this rough-and-tumble crime saga. She again impresses, just like she did in the shameful horror film Orphan, and makes me connect to this story even more. Mark Wahlberg plays Dignam, one of the only cops aware of Costigan’s identity, and a real bad-ass. No more Mr. Nice Guy here! Marky Mark is willing to fuck some stuff up to get the info he needs and the respect he deserves. Any in-fighting between the cops usually involves him being one step away from pounding someone. He’s great, and I particularly enjoyed his fateful exchange with an FBI goon asking about his contacts, who happens to be his brother, Robert Wahlberg:

Agent Lazio: Do you have anyone in with Costello presently?

Dignam: Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe fuck yourself.

Great stuff!!!!!!

The Departed is a great crime flick about secrets, and how they can be used as a weapon. There are some great performances, some amazing camera work, a decent soundtrack, and some of the best (and at times funniest) dialog in mainstream Hollywood of the decade. In time, it will be a classic, in the vein of Scorcese’s other gems. But for now, it’s a movie that needs to be watched again and again for its amazing quality and succinct storyline. I give The Departed 9 1/2 blind moles out of 10. A high recommendation!

Stay with me, folks, as I continue to write through the night! Later on, I’ll have a review of The Royal Tenenbaums for you! Until then!!!