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: Dark City (1998), or Let’s Start Over Again

14 12 2009

A big shout out to Alex for requesting this movie! Your name is now immortalized in my writings! In 60 years time, you’ll be able to print this very review out on a FUTURE! printer and send it into a literary authority for pricing. He or she will soundly laugh in your face and send you on your way, but at least it will get you out and about in your old age!

Okay, let me make this one quick because I have some sleeping to catch up on from a weekend where I saw too many movies. Let’s turn the clocks back a few years, shall we? Long before the movie known as Knowing totally burned down my trust bridge between me and director Alex Proyas. Let’s turn it all the way back to 1998, where techno was getting darker and angsty, the Matrix was brewing in the Wachowski Brothers’ brain stems, and we were living with a President who liked blowjobs on the down-low of the extra-marital kind. Back then, if you had told me a movie like Dark City was possible, I would have mightily doubted you. But assuaging doubts was something Proyas was good at back then, and I would have been put to shame once I saw one of the most cerebral films of the decade. It is a mind-bending sci-fi film that breaks barriers and takes more risks than I ever would have dared to as a filmmaker.

A big part of it is the story, written by Proyas himself. It is crafted so well, to the point that I am surprised that it is not based on a novel. It has all the makings of a great mystery, in the tradition of Raymond Chandler. Involving things as common as amnesia with things as unbelievably complex as the nature of time and the destiny of man as a species, we are taken from the noir to the nouveau and into the world of the extraterrestrial as Proyas weaves his tale of mystery and whispered truths into our minds with his cerebral, gut-punching cinematography and his intense special effects. The magic of Dark City is not the answers to these troubling questions, but how we arrive at the point of discovery.

The characters walk through half-remembered states of routine, living in a haze that seems almost manufactured. It seems like the world has always been that way, but nobody really knows for sure. The truth of their existence is more disturbing than they could imagine, but it’s always just out of their reach. Rufus Sewell plays an amazing amnesiac as the lead character Murdoch. He is really quite amazing here, pulling off what might be one of my favorite performances of his career. He’s fully committed in every way, and it’s his zest for discovery that makes the movie so fun to watch. Also intriguing is Kiefer Sutherland as the Doctor, a mysterious man seen around town in the company of strange, pale-faced men. His quirkiness is practically coming off the screen in chunks; I can’t remember seeing Sutherland so animated. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see him act so weird, so I suggest you relish it. William Hurt plays a detective similar to Phillip Marlowe who is in WAY over his head. He smolders with a low-voiced beat-down attitude that reminds me why I like William Hurt’s character acting so much. He adds so much to this, but you don’t ever notice it the first time, so just try to keep an eye out for him in this film. Do NOT keep an eye out for Jennifer Connelly, though, who plays Murdoch’s gal pal. She again looks helpless and weak throughout most of the film, and whether or not that was a character flaw,  it seems to me that too often I see her just ease up on any realistic emotional response and go for the Hollywood Shuffle. I think she has a lot of potential, but none of that shows up here in Dark City.

I could go on and on about this film. I really like it, and I think it’s a unique experience, even as far as Proyas’s filmography goes. But I am dog tired, so let me conclude by saying that if you were to see one sci-fi film from the 90s, I would probably make it Dark City. It’s well-crafted storytelling from start to finish, and it creates real movie magic by forcing us down this long, shadowy corridor of the mind, not allowing us to see the light until we’re all the way through. It’s amazing, and therefore I give Dark City 9 1/2 jittery Kiefer Sutherlands out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow we go to Boston for The Departed! Until then!!!

Photographing Fairies (1997), or The World Around Us We Do Not Know

5 12 2009

We are taken to the Victorian age for our film today, where we get a tinge of sadness, anger, love, and hope in the guise of a small fantasy film. A dejected WWI photographer named Charles living in Britain makes a living by debunking phony pictures of ghosts, sprites, and other superstitious things people have hoaxed in recent years. One day, though, a woman named Bea comes into his office and gives him a photo that defies explanation. It’s a picture of fairies playing in a garden, and he can’t invalidate it. This intrigues him, and so in an effort to research this phenomenon further, he visits the small hamlet where the woman with the photo lives. As he’s investigating the fantastic claim of fairies, Bea dies in very mysterious circumstances. This prompts him to seek out these fairies, looking for them in their natural habitat, which is apparently cutesy-tootsy meadows filled with haze-inducing flowers. But on the way, Charles becomes slightly obsessed with the idea of talking to his dead wife, who perished tragically, by using the fairies as mediums. This turns out to be a slippery slope for him, as the object of his desires are much more complicated than he anticipated, and so in the sleepy little hamlet of Birkenwell he must unravel this mystery that lies somewhere between life and death, truth and fantasy, and the mundane and the divine.

This really is something of a lost gem. Never really appreciated when it came out, Photographing Fairies is barely recalled in the United States, and is now something of a cult classic in Britain. I found this incredibly spiritual tale to be delightfully imaginative, a real wonder to experience, and it has a lot to do with the setting. The surroundings of this film are so romantic, vibrant, and intoxicating, that I was wound up in the beauty of it all. Director Nick Willing creates an extremely photogenic portrait of life in this strange, vibrant world. What strikes me is how different and magical it is from post-war Britain, one of the saddest places on Earth. It sets up this separate world of hope and otherworldly delight that needed to exist for that sad, burdened generation. I enjoy the thoughts that this film brings forth. It’s an intellectual fantasy about the trials of death upon the living, and the search for solace after losing a half of your heart.

The cast is great! Ben Kingsley is seriously good as Bea’s husband, the local minister and chief nemesis of everything mystical and fairy-like. His steady gaze and the unwavering sternness in his face have a way of hitting you hard, right in the cockles of your heart. Kingsley in fine, fine form here, and I am SO happy to say that. Emily Woof plays an important role as the nanny for Bea’s children. She is a soft, nurturing type, and her face speaks volumes about her heart. I think her most valuable asset as an actress is her ability to be overwhelmingly sympathetic. Her scenes are few but key, and I was entranced by her simple beauty and elegance. The star of this film, Toby Stephens, is surrounded by a good cast, but he is most definitely the breakout. He plays the melancholy Charles Castle with something approaching brilliance. He really is a broken man in this film, and it brings me to the brink of some really heavy emotions to see him like that. My favorite scene is him during World War I taking the photographs of the dead soldiers. It’s a haunting scene, one that is exacerbated by the events that will follow, and Stephens handles it with an exceptional grace.

Don’t let Photographing Fairies slip through the cracks! This could easily have been something silly or unnecessary, but there’s something moving about this film that allows it to transcend its confines. There is something philosophical here, something intelligent and emotionally raw that should be cherished and fully experienced. I highly recommend this to anyone with a sentimental side, or anyone who likes being sucked into a different world. It’s not always a peaceful world, and there are some moments of scathing darkness, but it fits the scheme so perfectly, and I am very, very glad I saw Photographing Fairies. I give it 9 British pixies out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow we have another surprise! I’ll tell you about it then!

Time Barbarians (1990), or If I Could Tattoo One Movie Title On My Forehead…

26 11 2009

Dear Readers,

If you are reading this, that means that I have just watched Time Barbarians, one of the worst sword-and-sandal flicks I’ve seen in all my days. Perhaps it was hubris, to think I could handle it without first being given a heavy sedative, or perhaps it was the muscular, hulking gremlin that was my curiosity, forcing me to watch something involving the keywords “Barbarians” and “Time-Travel”, but whatever it was, I watched it, and now my fate is uncertain. For if this is being posted, likely by one of my confidants, then I, Eric “Wonder Pants” Young, in a spectacular fit of pain and confusion, beat myself in the face with my own living room knick-knacks (probably my ceramic figures based on characters from The English Patient) until such time as I was incapacitated. Hopefully I survive my own foolish experiment into the world of T&A fantasy flicks featuring former American Gladiators, and hope to report back to you soon. But if not, let this be a very real warning to you kids who think it’s “cool” to watch awful movies. It’s not cool at all, and it’s possibly lethal. So fuck you, kids.


Well, everyone, I’m back from the hospital. They let me go early. The doctor said that not only is there nothing wrong with me, but apparently I just made up that whole scenario for the purpose of written comedy! Well, I didn’t get my Ph. D. in either Voodoo or Bullshit, so I guess I’ll take her word for it (my Ph. D. is in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with a minor in Alligator Wrestling).

Now, I did indeed watch this straight-to-VHS atrocity, and while I’m sure you’re probably aware of its intense lack of quality, I still think you should watch it. Why? Because it redeems itself in unexpected and hilarious ways. If you wanted something serious to watch for Thanksgiving, stay tuned for my review of Thirst tonight, and I’ll make sure you have something to recommend to your smart friends so you don’t look like a colossal pleb. But this is a horrible movie that I think is pretty good for a lark. It sucks, and I’m not going to lie about that; just watch the trailer, for fuck’s sake. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and and give it a dreadful 1 time-traveling American Gladiator out of 10. But Time Barbarians is still worth your time if you’re of a particularly twisted mindset like me and enjoy the folly of the B-movie filmmaker.

What’s the setup, you ask? Only one of the most epic scenarios since Rollerball! In Inconsequential Medieval Fantasy World, a beefy long-haired barbarian king named Doran runs around the forest righting wrongs and attacking his queen with the lil smokey he’s smuggling in his loincloth. Everything’s going good in the land of merriment and stoic mirth until Mandrak, an evil dude with a plot to take down Doran even though he never did anything to antagonize him, takes his queen hostage and steals the magical amulet bestowed upon Doran by his father and his father before him. Doran chases after them and eventually finds Mandrak, but his queen dies at the hands of the fiend, and, worse than that, he escapes after the amulet’s power transports him far away. Broken and discouraged, Doran screams in anger, but just when all hope seems lost, the sexy blonde wizard who gave his family the amulet ages ago appears before him and demands that he get off his ass and chase down Mandrak to get that amulet back! She gives him a sword that will take him to the exact spot in time and space that Mandrak left to, and sends him off to his destination. And, of all places, you’ll never in a million years guess where he lands up. No, not the Bronze Age! No, not the Belgian Revolution! He lands in Los Angeles during the early 90s! How whimsical! It turns very quickly into a fish-out-of-water story, and Doran has to find that evil Mandrak in a modern city with the help of a reporter who looks suspiciously like his dead queen…

Some people have complained that this movie is misogynist, and I really don’t see that here. It all has to be put in context. Time Barbarians is exploitative in the most charming way. There are one or two brief flashes of nudity here in the beginning that are both tasteful and borderline respectful, but those four or five nipples might have been the entire reason this movie was put into production by the super-frugal straight-to-Betamax production. It reminds me of a Boris Vallejo calender, only not very good. Time Barbarians, like the sliding pens that allow you to take the top of a woman if you turn it upside down, is harmless and delightful.

Too bad the acting IS harmful. Jesus Christ, these people should not be in front of a camera. Deron McBee is Doran, king of the barbarians and Malibu from the first season of American Gladiator! He wields a sword mightily enough, but as soon as someone asks him to talk, he doesn’t know how to sound like a normal human being. It’s cringe-inducing, but not quite as cheesy as Daniel Martine, who plays the insidious Mandrak! He really can’t get out of the same tone, like no matter what happens, he’s a fucking villain, end of story. And worse than that, he does that awesomely embarrassing look into the camera, and he does it at times as if he’s waiting for the scene to end! “Someone just get me out of this god-damn movie!” The best acting comes from Joann Ayers, who plays Doran’s queen/reporter future girlfriend. She abstains from completely shaming herself, but she still falls pretty flat. None of her lines sound quite right, and for some reason even the future version of her is off. She LIVES in the 1990s! What the hell, Joann? On aside note, her breasts are quite enjoyable, bolstering a much-maligned cast.

With a score from a series of 90s RPGs, special effects by a 7 year old, and a script that was rejected from the Deathstalker series, Time Barbarians sucks pretty hard, but in a hilarious way. The same way Hell Comes To Frogtown endears itself to me, I can’t help but feel like this has a lot of entertainment value. This is something you and your friends can tear apart late night on a Friday, drunk and looking for something easy to ridicule. I enjoyed it on a certain level, and if you have the right sense of humor for it (a good one), you’ll get a real kick out of Malibu the Barbarian cracking necks for the good of the land!

I’ll be working on watching Thirst tonight, so stay up with me, folks! Until then!

Stargate (1994), or This Makes Perfect Sense

21 11 2009

Last week, as I’m sure you noted, I reviewed Roland Emmerich’s effects-riddled disaster opus 2012. I did not think it was very good. So you might be wondering, “Eric, you myopic jerk, why are you reviewing ANOTHER Emmerich film so close to your first?” Well, trust me, my rapier-witted friend, I have a reason. You see, after combing through the filmography of Mr. Emmerich, or, as I like to call it, the $5 bin at Wal-Mart, I noticed an alarming trend; all of his movies, while not without their merits, pretty much suck. I mean, it’s alarming how much his movies have made considering their poor quality. And while that must really say something about us as a nation that we would all rather go see mindless shit rather than well-told and well-executed films, it also says something about Emmerich’s style.

In an odd way, he’s making movies based on what we want to see rather than a vision or his own ideas. Movies like Independence Day, 2012, and especially The Patriot are, in an aesthetic sense, his critique of American taste. And, based on his box office clout, he has hit the nail on the head with a forklift, which is what he uses to haul all that American money away. It’s a shame that they’re all terrible movies, though, and a real shame that Americans identify with them and roll with it anyway, like a pig being teased with a slice of bacon. Today’s film, Stargate, is probably my favorite example of this strange phenomenon. It’s still not very good, but you can look at it as a surprising indictment of American Imperialism and our rough-and-tumble cowboy attitude and really get a lot more out of it.

So, basically, in the late 20s, archaeologists discover a mysterious stone ring near the pyramids in Giza. It seems to have some sort of purpose, but nobody can understand the meaning of the hieroglyphs. The mystery stays a mystery until a woman named Catherine Langford, daughter of the man who found the ring, figures it all out. It seems to be, believe it or not, a transport that can teleport people across worlds (!!!). The US government steps in and has all of this information classified, working on it in top secret, trying to get this “Stargate” to work. Eventually, they uncover how to do it, and they put together a team to go through the gate, which now has a thin sheet of rippling liquid suspended in the ring. Commander Jack O’Neil leads the group, along with Dr. Daniel Jackson as the brains, Lt. Col. Charles Kawalsky, and some dude played by French Stewart; together, along with some Red-shirts, they bravely enter the Stargate, and are indeed transported to another world. But it’s not one they like very much.

Apparently, the Egyptian god Ra was actually an alien (!!!) who came to Earth thousands of years ago for slaving purposes. He captured and bred Egyptians so they could serve him on his alien world, with the Stargate as the link to new, fresh Earth slaves. O’Neil is flabbergasted by all this, but even more so by the fact that they, in their current state, can’t return to Earth because the coordinates are missing somewhere. So, for the time being, they’re stuck on an alien planet full of hostiles devoted to Ra and a bunch of Egyptian slaves that don’t really speak their language. Great! They’re going to be in for a bumpy ride on this planet, and what at first was a recon mission soon becomes a skin-of-their-teeth plan to both destroy Ra’s evil endeavor and get back home alive!

Whew! Crazy, huh? It’s a pretty out-there concept if you think about it too much. Even crazier is that someone threw $55 million dollars at this nutty idea! But somehow even crazier than that is the philosophy behind it. If you look at it from a certain angle, it closely resembles our relationship with countries overseas and our wars across the globe the past 100 years. From the Spanish American War to the troubles in the Middle East, Stargate does a fair job in emulating what we do in other people’s countries. We topple the current regime without anyone asking us to, leave a whole lot of rubble to clean up, and expect everyone to thank us for all the things we did that they should have done on their own, just like Mr. Jack O’Neil. What are the slaves supposed to do without Ra? They never planned for a life without him, or a body to replace him, so why is toppling him such a good thing when the people doing it aren’t even invested in the fight and have no intention of staying around after the fighting is over? It’s a pointed question I think Emmerich had in the back of his mind while he was making this, and even if he didn’t, he’s somewhat of a savant for making something that’s vaguely political.

Of course, maybe I’m looking into it a little too much, but I think that something’s definitely there. Stargate is a rather dumb, preposterous science fiction movie otherwise, and it helps if you interject your own thought processes into it so it doesn’t drag like an Egyptian ball and chain. With middling effects, an over-wrought cast filled to the brim with soldier and scientist cliches perpetuated by phoning-it-in A-listers Kurt Russell and James Spader (I feel like I slipped into Starship Troopers for a few seconds of this movie), and a whole lot of ear-screeching dialog, it’s pretty much on par with the rest of his work as far as quality and taste. There is some interesting set design and some of the props are shiny and attention-grabbing, to be fair, and Jaye Davidson, who plays Ra (and subsequently the famous Dil from The Crying Game) is a good character actor, but nothing really meritorious about it. It’s a Sci-fi Original with $55 million behind it. Excuse me; Syfy Original. But if you put your thinking caps on and try digging a little deeper on this, you might find that you can stomach it. All things considered, I give Stargate 6 Americans on foreign soil out of 10.

Keep an eye out for my second review later today or tonight! Until then!

PSA: The Shawshank Redemption (1994), or Maine Is One Fucked-Up State

13 11 2009

Okay, okay, let’s get serious for a minute. I have browbeaten today’s movie around the site very sparsely over the past 11 months. A little here, a little there; not that big of a deal in the long run. But rarely in my history of critiquing movies has there been such a backlash from people when I tell them my dislike for something. If I said right now that I think Citizen Kane is bullshit and I had a reasonable explanation, I think I would be let off the hook if I elucidated enough. But if I tell most people that I dislike watching The Shawshank Redemption and I very plainly give reasons why, I would still be looked upon like I just told everyone I had a plate full of mashed potatoes in my underwear. People are emotionally attached to this movie like it hits close to home or something (I was incarcerated for life, too; don’t feel bad!). Admittedly it has a positive message about the power of equality and courage in the face of despair, but it really doesn’t seem as potent of a film as everyone makes it out to be. I’ve now seen The Shawspank Inflation 4 times now, every time feeling exactly the same as the last. So the two logical conclusions I can come to are either

A). I have a heart made of stone


B). Everyone I’ve ever talked to about this movie has an emotional disorder.

I think you know which one I’m leaning towards…

The Sweetsnack Resplendence is really the story of Andy Dufresne. We follow poor, completely innocent Andy as he’s put through the wringer of the American judicial system in the late 40s after being falsely accused of murdering his wife. He receives a lifetime sentence and is sent to notoriously harsh Shawshank Penitentiary (Maine is one fucked-up state; every King novel references it, and seemingly not in a good way). There, he quickly finds a niche with fellow lifer Ellis “Red” Redding, a friendly fellow who recently was denied parole at his hearing. The two bond over a number of subjects, and they become fast friends. Andy even makes friends with some of the guards, with whom he imparts valuable financial information, and in exchange keeps his enemies at bay. But his one real problem in Shawshank, besides being in prison, is the Warden, a heartless shell of a man who uses the prisoners for his own devious profit. So most of these prisoners will be here for the rest of their lives, doomed to stand behind the same four gray walls until their dying breath. But Andy has a plan; a plan for escape. It won’t be easy, and it will take many, many years for it to come to fruition, but it will be a sweet, sweet victory if he can pull it off without a hitch.

See, a nice story, to be sure. I never once said The Shortcake Relation wasn’t a well made film. It’s meticulously produced and executed with a wonderful cast that had the potential to make something great. Almost to the letter there is quality in every aspect of this production. Frank Darabont makes another appearance on this site within a single week to get on his hands and knees for the one they call Stephen King. His direction is again nothing to scoff at, and it should be noted that while this probably isn’t his best Stephen King adaptation, his is still a vivid storytelling style that will appeal to the visually minded. It’s a good try, and I really can’t stress enough how much I respect the cast and crew for their efforts.

But that doesn’t exactly translate to something worth your time, so what’s the catch? Well, it’s simply that this is one of the most listless mainstream films I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s a story of triumph over adversity that is fun for the whole family (except the rape and suicide parts), but it has no zest, no flavor. It’s a boring gray film that emphasizes only how depressing being stuck in a prison in Maine can be. It isn’t even an artistic decision; there’s a huge difference between feeling a character’s listlessness and being bored by the image and everything it represents. It’s just a spectacularly humdrum affair full of muted colors, Morgan Freeman’s droning narration, an unrelenting cloudy sky, and a time period known for its drab conformity and lack of anything stimulating. I squirm from start to finish during The Sharkbait Rotation, and I somehow sat very patiently through all four and a half hours of Che!

It’s also a certain distance between the main character, Andy Dufresne, played by a prime-of-his-career Tim Robbins, and the audience. We’re seeing him through the eyes of Red, played by a prime-of-his career Morgan Freeman, something that would have worked better had Freeman a more intimate knowledge of the guy. Instead, we get sketches of who Andy is and what his motives are while we see them play out on the screen. Some people might argue that Red is the main character, and that we are really seeing his journey through the exploits and times of a younger, more optimistic prisoner. But we know even less about Red than we do Andy, and for a drama set where people are just sitting around talking all day or curled up in a cell thinking about talking, you think that would be easier. We go off of prison yard legends, gossip, and conversations often had on screen about who these people are, when I’d rather just see it happen.

Don’t get me wrong; I can certainly handle my fair share of longer titles, but this one just seems to drag into infinity. Only spanning about 20 years, the film, while over 2 hours long, stretches out in my brain for about an extra 45 minutes. An excellent production brings all these characters to life, but their lives are apparently duller than a prison shank. I wish I could like The Soreflank Indention, but its reality of banality is as painful as it gets, and I don’t wish to be put through it any more. It is a bore of a film that poses the question to me; could you walk out of this movie and find a better one to say what it has to say in a more concise, artful manner, or are you cursed to stay in frown-inducing Maine state prisons for the rest of your life as a thinking individual? I’ve found enough films in my travels to say conclusively that The Skullblank Retraction is a movie that is all pomp and no circumstance. It’s a little bit of some things, but not enough of anything to make it too exciting or memorable or even intensely endearing. I’m sure I’ll be suckered into watching it again at some point next year, with people telling me how good it is and how insane my ambivalence is, but until that time, I’m so done with Stephen King’s incarcerated fairy tale. I give The Stoolsoft Reflection 5 comically misspelled names out of 10, and a hearty bleh from yours truly.

Tomorrow I will see a movie, but I don’t know what it is yet! Send your requests in today, and I’lll make sure you get your voice heard! Until then, folks!!!

Gods And Monsters (1998), or Beautiful Old Soul

11 11 2009

Nothing is quite as morose as the idea of being forgotten. It’s the very idea that everything that we ever did will be erased by time’s deepening shadow. I personally rue the thought that in the pages of history, I, if anything, will be not even a mere mention, not even a ghost of a name in some intergalactic social studies book of the 22nd century. It’s a dour thought, but at least I’m preceded by a billion nameless and faceless before me who are lost to time, and in a way we will be remembered as those who are lost but not entirely erased from our collective thoughts. Or maybe we’ll all be dead. Who knows? But I’m not the only one who entertains these thoughts; so does the main character in Gods and Monsters, the 1998 Oscar-winning drama from Bill Condon.


It’s a somewhat-fictitious account of the last days of director James Whale that really hits in all the right emotional spots. If you don’t know about James Whale, don’t feel too ashamed. He is a footnote in film’s history, albeit an important one. The director of the original and beloved Frankenstein, the smash sequel Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and The Old Dark House, he was a well-respected director in the industry for much of the 30s, many of his films riding high on a sea of success and positive word-of-mouth. But by the late 30s and into the 40s, his career faltered and struggled as he tried to move on as an artist from his horror days. The industry and movie-goers alike declined to keep up with Whale, and by 1950, he was on the outs. His final years were filled with tumult and personal anguish, and this film takes place near the time of his death in the late 50s. It tells a sensational “what-if” story revolving around Whale’s gardener, Clayton Boone, and their ensuine friendship in his declining years. Boone is straight, while Whale is openly gay, and thought this strains their bond at times when Whale flatly proposes they have sex, it is a rich and compelling relationship that takes both of them in places they never expected.


I genuinely enjoyed this film. It is a perfect blend of romantic film, drama, buddy movie, and that’s all in one relationship! The bonding between Whale, played by Ian McKellan, and Clayton, played by Brendan Fraser, is very touching and genuine, and it is worthy of much of the adulation that has surrounded this film throughout the years. They start out a little coy, naturally so, but it blossoms in such a way that it really beautifies the male relationship and all of its many splendors. It develops in that very special, tentative way that I think any man who is willing to examine the circumstances around which he and his best male friend starting hanging out together will instantly recognize. I like the way the dialog flirts around for a while without talking about the big gay elephant in the room; the subtlety and patience involved is simply amazing.


Bill Condon is a very classy director who reminds me of James Ivory only with more energy. He is an auteur who writes screenplays and shoots them not long afterwards. It sounds very indie and slapdash, but trust me when I say that Condon has a legendary patience with the camera. It’s truly amazing the shots that he gets. My favorite is at a party where Whale has a photo-op with Boris Karloff and Elsa Lancaster, aka Frankenstein’s monster and his bride. It’s such a bittersweet moment that Condon catches like a butterfly escaping the bounds of the earth. His favorite subject, however, seems to be Lynn Redgrave’s character, Hanna. She’s Whale’s caretaker, who disapproves of his deviant sexual lifestyle (it’s a sin, you know). But the gorgeous and breathtaking shots we get of this lovely lady who still has it today do not go unnoticed. She is a strong actress who adds a lot through the subtleties of her character, who you can tell like Whale despite his tendency towards the male persuasion.


There’s a lot to say about Gods and Monsters, and I’ll definitely be covering this in more detail later for an essay. It is a film that has a very passionate message about the end of life, the sadness of obscurity, and the pressing creep of loneliness. It’s as uplifting as it is totally shattering, and nobody can deny its powerful characters and its incredible dialog sequences. It’s probably Brendan Fraser’s best performance by far, it’s another feather in the cap of Ian McKellan, and a brilliant masterstroke by auteur Bill Condon. Old Hollywood’s magic is alive and well in the nooks and crannies of Gods and Monsters, and I therefore give it a well-deserved 9 Hollywood Horror Heroes out of 10! A high recommendation!


Tomorrow I am finally giving The Shawshank Redemption another chance. Many people have called me crazy for not liking it, but we’ll see what I have to say after giving it one final critical opportunity! Until then!!!

Future War (1997), or Let’s Do The Time Warp!

7 11 2009

Although it’s not anything official, it’s worked out that at least once a month I’ll see a really, truly repugnant movie. Something that will just make your skin crawl, paint peel, and infect livestock with its hideousness. Whenever it happens, I usually comment on how stupid the dialog is, how atrocious the acting is, or how the “direction” seems more like somebody tying a camera to a horse, spooking it, and yelling “Action!”. Today’s film has many of the problems that I would normally associate with all of these attributes, as well as an early onset of acute mental illness. But I just want to focus on a single thing here, if that’s all right with you. Because while this film features not only prostitutes-turned-nuns (!), runaway alien slaves proficient in kick-boxing (!!), cyborgs with mullets and mustaches (!!!), and dinosaurs taken from the past and used to hunt down human slaves (!!!!!), I don’t want to talk about that. That’s stuff you could go to Mystery Science Theater 3000 for (they have an episode featuring this movie, believe it or not!). You want some down and dirty analysis straight from my words to your brain. And I aim to give it to you. So here are a couple of things about Future War that I noticed that, while indicative of a pretty shitty movie, might make you come to the table with a different perspective on it than you would have had any other way.

Now, look at the date up top. What does 1997 bring to your mind when you picture that year? Are you thinking about late 80s video technology? Are you thinking about ripped jeans and flannel shirts? No? You’re thinking 1991? Oh, me too!!! This movie is a prime example of movie time travel. What I mean by that is whenever you are working with a limited budget, you can’t always use up to date for your shoot. Sometimes it’s the camera, other times it’s the recording equipment. It’s usually something that can date your materials, but it’s possible to create a time and a place outside of your budget. Usually.

Future War’s predicament, however, is unique in the sense that their budget must have been so low that EVERYTHING procured for the shoot was about 6 years old or more already by the time the movie came around to filming. And I’m not just talking basic stuff; I’m talking the types of special effects they could use, the video graphics, and the camera itself dates the film to around ’89, maybe older. And yet we regress even more here; there are glaring fashion tells her that would let us know that people aren’t wearing the flannel shirts any more, as bell bottoms would let someone know that a movie was from ’81, not ’87. The fact that they hired European kick boxer and Jean Claude Van Damme look-alike Daniel Bernhardt to star in the film well after the Van Damme craze had died down in Hollywood. And, if you want to take a quasi-poetic look at it, the city of LA even looks and feels older than time itself would have us believe. It feels more like the time of the LA gang riots, which would explain the long, belabored gang asides we get near the end. This all culminates to create a look and feel that is quite dated and, perhaps, scientifically impossible…

And, if you end up watching this for some odd, odd reason (probably the same reason I did; to laugh heartily), you might notice that this movie is indelibly Christian. That’s right; a movie about cyborg slavers in the future using dinosaurs with exploding collars on to track runaways somehow brings Jesus “I Love You So I Refuse To Help You” Christ into the picture. We get former Miss Prostitute USA, Sister Ann, giving us the gritty lectures at first about how it’s not easy to love God, which I was excited about, at the time hoping her faith would dissolve in the face of reality and sanity. But instead we have the redeemer of faith, Daniel “I Lived A Life Of Pure Good And All I Got Were These Crappy Kickboxing Skills” Bernhardt as an angelic moron from space who knows Bible quotes and believes anything anybody tells him. So she fills him in on the Christian nonsense he only knew phonetically, and he fulfills her request from help from on high. It’s a great trade, everyone’s happy, and at the end (SPOILER ALERT!!!), Space Kick Boxer ends up working with runaway teens at a Christian Teen Call Center!!!!! What the fuck? Jesus did not do a damn thing, but he gets two renewed followers for it! You might as well thank Scruff McGruff for all the non-help he put forth while you’re at it! At least McGruff is helping to clean up the street from his headquarters at:

Scruff McGruff

Chicago, IL 60652

That’s right; I remember the address…

There are a lot of weird things about Future War that don’t make much sense. The reason for that is probably because director Anthony Doublin, here at his feature debut, was mostly using this tiny film as a large-scale makeup and special effects test for his day-job as a visual effects coordinator for low-budget flicks. But no matter what your excuse is for making a cheap flick like this, there’s just no easy way around some of the weirder elements involved. Too much time is spent on this waste of a script to completely disregard it as just some effects test. Doublin must have had some sort of attachment to this material, and it is a truly one-of-a-kind experience to watch this spectacular failure go down, that’s for sure. Either that, or the Catholic Church and lobbyists in the dinosaur and cyborg industries contributed heavily to the film’s funding. Whatever the reason is, I don’t think anyone could deny Future War the 1 1/2 Christian dinosaur trackers out of 10 it deserves. Watch it if you dare…

Tomorrow is another surprise movie! Let me know if you have any preferences!!!

PSA: Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999), or The Beast Awakes Thirsty And Covered In Tattered Human Skin

6 11 2009

After many years of watching anime, I can safely say that, for the most part, I do not like the genre in an episodic format. It’s not that I don’t like serialized stories; don’t get me wrong. But when it comes to the peculiar world of Japanese animation, I’m forced to often throw my hands in the air and walk away from most of their television shows. If it’s not embarrassingly saccharine and precious, it’s overly slick and boastful of its own J-coolness. Everything is hyperbole, and nothing is very intellectually engaging for an adult. But never fear! The Japanese, much like American artists, know that the real art is not found on television, but in the lyrics and the liberty of the motion picture. Some of the best anime can be found as films, some as engaging, if not more, as a regular movie but without the limitations of reality. One of my favorite films using Japanese animation is Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade, a film created by famed animator Mamoru Oshii and animation supervisor Hiroyuki Okiura. It is an achingly beautiful and eloquent story of longing, displacement, political dissent, and the loss of identity as one steers closer into the world of the animal and farther away from the brood of man.

Set in an alternate time-line after World War II in the 50s, we see that Japan’s people, ruling political party, and even their military are divided amidst the post-war depression and upheaval. In Tokyo, there are violent riots by the leftist population that are growing more radical and deadly by the day. The right-wing governing body has sent out specialized troops with large suits of armor called Panzer Cops from their Central Police Unit (a jurisdiction conflict with the opposing military police) to quell the riots. During one particular raid in the sewers beneath Tokyo, a supply train for the weapons used in the protests is busted, and the special troops are forced to pursue many of these culprits through the labyrinthine aqueducts. One soldier pursues and corners a “Red Riding Hood”, a female supply mule dressed in a red cloak carrying bombs and weapons. The soldier is about to shoot the girl, but when she turns around to look at him, he freezes. He can’t shoot her, and in the time it takes for him to freeze, she sets off a bomb and kills herself, damaging his powerful armor, and subsequently knocks out the power for a few blocks, allowing the leftist rioters to escape.

It becomes a fiasco for the government, who not only let the extremists slip from their grasp, but broke jurisdiction restraints and deployed the Panzers despite the tenuous truce the local and Capital police had maintained for quite some time. The soldier who caused all this is named Kazuki Fuse, a young, exceptionally gifted Lieutenant with a spotless record but a tendency towards being a loner outside of the base. He’s put through the Capital Police training again as punishment, but remains fairly unscathed despite the controversy. He doesn’t know why he didn’t shoot, and although the scene keeps replaying over in his head, he still can’t forget that girl’s face. There is something about her he can’t let go of. He even goes to the girl’s wake at the local funeral home. He is shocked to find a girl that looks exactly like her standing there praying for the “Red Riding Hood”; it is the girl’s sister, named Kei. The two develop an unlikely friendship, a relationship that draws out the inherent loneliness in both of them, as well as the desperation that exists in the heart of the city that lies as a shadow of its former glory. Can their love bloom in the face of war, violence, and death? Will Fuse’s own misgivings about his nature and his secrets prevent him from loving her? And is there more to Kei than we know, as well?

What an amazing film! I’ve never seen a film capture better the sadness inherent when I imagine post-war Japan. Even though it’s set in an alternate time-line with different names and places, the reality of this divide and the restlessness of the people is palpable, and Oshii understands this as part of the leftist revolts in the 70s. The sadness in the streets, the cold, unforgiving grip of poverty, and the willingness of those in power to sweep others under the carpet for gain are all very real aspects to this time, and all of these things are handled beautifully here.

Jin-Roh is also sort of a guessing game. All throughout the film, you’re told of this elite group of Panzers in the Capital Police called The Wolf Brigade, an elite Counter-Intelligence group that has infiltrated the highest echelons of the military industrial complex. You’re asked to contemplate on just who is involved in this group, what they want, and who their enemies are. In this political and espionage element of the film, we’re kept pretty much in the dark until the very end, but guessing is always the fun part, and it’s yet another amazing aspect to this wonderful film.

But let’s not forget about the animation itself! The drawings are lifelike and muted, true to the colors surrounding Japan in the 50s. Everything is either beige, a washed-out, formerly beautiful color, or white. The settings are painfully realistic, down to the tiny and sparse apartments, the sensible “modern” clothing, and the lonely dull buses driven all around town. Even the characters are faded, Fuse’s and Kei’s skin pale beneath the frightened Japanese sun. But these dispassionate scenes are interspersed with flashes of Fuse’s disturbing psyche. The memories of the Red Riding Hood, nightmares of wolves attacking and eating Kei, and other, more obscure ideas are shown in quick moments of Fuse’s silent contemplation.

The characters and their thoughtful, meaningful dialog are the real highlight of this Jin-Roh, though. I won’t reveal too much, because this is a movie that needs to unfold slowly and methodically, but it is simply amazing. It’s as eloquent as Truffaut or Godard, only about 40 years after the fact. There are scenes where Kei and Fuse read the original Gothic Little Red Riding Hood (pre-1870) to each other, and these slow, sweet moments are to be relished with the patience of a ballad being penned in front of your eyes. It’s simply stunning, and I’ve never seen anything like it in an animated film before.

In conclusion, please take the time to watch this film. Jin-Roh will not be for everyone; it’s meticulously paced, subdued and dispassionate like a French New Wave film. There aren’t a lot of action scenes, and while the animation is phenomenal, using the most advanced effects of the time to create a realistic alternate time-line, it’s not very eye-popping in the same sense that Transformers is, i.e. colorful and paced like a heart attack. But I can tell you with all sincerity that I have rarely seen an animated film with more power. There’s nothing like it in the history of cinema, and it will forever stand as a testament to the genius of Okiura and Oshii and their contributions to a medium that all too often relies on silly hair and Japanese pop music to sell their stories. Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade is timeless and exquisite, and I give it a fitting 10 animals with human faces out of 10! My highest recommendation!

All right! keep an eye out for a Night Out film for tomorrow! What I’ll watch I don’t know! Maybe you should REQUEST SOME MOVIES FOR ME!!!