Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Reduced Expectations

James Cameron has never seen The Incredibles.

PLAYBOY: So Saldana’s character was specifically designed to appeal to guys’ ids?
CAMERON: And they won’t be able to control themselves. They will have actual lust for a character that consists of pixels of ones and zeros.

Unfortunately, no one was jumping up from their seats to hump the screen at my showing of James Cameron's latest epic, but it was amusing to see the heads of four male attendees go left and right in the hope of catching a glimpse of alien sideboob. So kudos on that one, Jim.

If you've seen the trailer for Avatar (google it, I'll wait), you've probably kind of got an idea what the movie is about. In fact, if you try to fill in the blanks for the remainder of the movie, it's very likely you've come retardedly close to the actual story.

Nothing in Avatar surprises, but plenty of it dazzles like a disco mutant. It's extremely pretty to look at (catching a 3D-showing is pretty much a must) with its space horses and superpterodactyls and Tokyo Drift neon trees and confusingly androgynous butts, but if you're looking to be somewhat challenged: this is not the droid you're looking for. Go see Crank II or something.

The actors are all serviceable enough, with Stephen Lang and Zoë Saldana as standouts as the man-boobed Colonel Quaritch and the side-boobed Na'vi princess Neytiri. Both of them act like the cartoons their characters pretty much are. Lang is introduced pumping iron, decrying the faggotizing low gravity of Pandora. Throughout the movie, he gets set on fire, breathes the toxic planet's atmosphere without a mask for about a full minute and says things like "PAPA DRAGON OUT". He is in the military. Just so you know.

Strangely enough, Saldana is the only Na'vi who does things like hiss and growl like the panther woman she looks like, while the other members of the tribe generally just act stoic/offended/condescending to the monstrous alien in their midst.

That monstrous alien is paraplegic marine Jake Sully, portrayed by inexplicable movie star Sam Worthington. It's not that Worthington is bad by any means, but he hasn't played anything but grimngritty manly men (and 2010's Clash of the Titans doesn't seem to change that). Lighten up, Sam! You're no Arnold who can get away with that stuff because of a funny accent and a ton of cheesy oneliners -- something this silly as hell movie actually was in dire need of.

I suppose Michelle Rodriguez' "You ain't the only one with bullets, bitch!" was a valiant attempt which some people may actually deem awesome, but then again, I was never much of a fan of the confoundingly popular "Get away from her you bitch" either. In perhaps the only gamechanging aspect of the entire film, Rodriguez plays a character that is likeable from start to finish. Perhaps for the next installment of the Avatar franchise, Cameron should get his script doctored by the people behind 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand. I'd love to hear a marine threaten a proud Na'vi warrior with "I'ma kill ya whole generation, muthafucka!". Surely, the MPAA will show some leniency for the sake of poetry?

In the end, I came out thinking I'd seen an alright movie that I probably would have thought amazing, were I still twelve. This is a sign. I should stop wasting my time on such cinematic trifles. I should recalibrate my tastes towards insightf--

lol guess not

Thursday, October 29, 2009


I've been gone for so long and you've missed me, I know, but I have had horrible things happen to me. Infernal, diabolical and abyssal things! I HAVE BEEN BURGLARISED, SIRS! I stood transfixed as I stepped out of my car to find my place of residence ransacked and in frankly a repugnant state! Tossed around by ruffians and ne'er-do-wells, all my possessions lay in tatters on the floor, or else were missing! I was an emotional wreck: this was almost like watching the trailer to Where The Wild Things Are on a big screen! What to do? Could I do anything? A pang of inspiration hit me: call the police, of course! But...

At that exact moment, the universe knew a schism, a rip, a dimensional rift! My life had become a DC comic or perhaps the film Sliding Doors in which Gwyneth Paltrow misses a train which causes her hair to change colors.

For you see, dear reader, in two wholly different universes, I called two wholly different police forces:

On Earth-CSI, William Petersen and his team of ethnically diverse but highly photogenical underlings immediately cordoned off the premises, choppers were circling and I occasionally see things in x-ray vision.

On Earth-Wire, I'm checking my watch.

On Earth-CSI, some sexy banter is going on between the members of the team that's on my case. A speedboat chase happens.

On Earth-Wire, an stocky bald man and an annoyed-looking black man show up with a notepad. I am asked about whether or not I've seen anything out of the ordinary, but I have a feeling my answers are drowned out by crass remarks about sucking Steve McQueen's dick.

On Earth-CSI, the culprits are revealed to be some of my closest friends, who had motives and agendas I never could have guessed 44 minutes before this earth-shaking reveal. My world is shattered, but amid my tears I gaze upon Team CSI walking off into the sunset with a final pithy remark and rock music and know all is well with the world.

On Earth-Wire my two visitors speed off blasting the "Theme from Shaft". I'm pretty sure I had more blu-rays than this only half an hour ago.

Dear reader, I ask you this question! Which show do you think is still on the air? Lest you fall out of my good graces, reader, I urge you: watch The Wire! Buy it! Borrow it! If your judgment is anything less than "holy fucking shit awesome goddamn" I shall gently weep, my heart in tatters even more so than my libido. But beware! If your judgment be "i dunno man i already watch csi thats pretty cool lol" I name you worse than a failed abortion. I call you... you...

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Seagal Factor

Out of nowhere, a little direct-to-DVD movie called Blood and Bone hit me like the fist of an angry black man. For years now, Michael Jai White has been trying to establish himself as somewhat of an action movie leading man. You might recognise him as the black mob boss killed by the Joker in The Dark Knight or, if you liked metal in the 90s, the titular character in Mark A.Z. Dippé epic Spawn. Whatever happend to Mr. Dippé?

Dippé aside, Blood and Bone is an entertainig martial arts film, recounting the tale of Isaiah Bone (White). Fresh out of jail, Bone goes to live with a nanny lady played by Marvin Gaye's daughter Nona, an actress you might recognize as Spunky Black Girl in The Matrix Revolutions, if you're unlucky enough.

Bone is looking for some street fightin' action because that is just how he rolls and soon becomes represented by Asian thug-wannabe Pinball. Pinball is played with reckless abandon by Dante Basco. This guy voices Prince Zuko in the excellent Nickelodeon cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender, but (slightly) older filmgoers will know him as

in Spielberg's unfortunate Peter Pan re-imagining Hook (that I still manage to watch at least once a year around Christmas time, which I am not entirely sorry for). Together they rise to the top of the underground fighting scene, where they must go up against James, an ambitious gangster with connections to the mysterious Consortium. James is quite a hilarious villain, as he is like an anime geek in the body of a gangster. He's always going on about samurai warriors and shit, and being PURE IN BODY MIND AND SPIRIT I DON'T DRINK SMOKE OR EVEN CURSE. And then he holds his crackhead wife hostage with drugs.

Bone has himself to pick with James for reasons that are altogether irrelevant and frankly, slightly boring. If you know this kind of movie you can pretty much guess and never be too far off the mark. What is very relevant is James' desire to climb higher within the Consortium. You see, his contact is one Franklin McVeigh, a British crime lord played by none other than Julian Sands (yes, the Warlock himself). McVeigh lives in a castle, has some kind of ninja chick bodyguard and very amused by "the high-flying shenanigans of the negro" and finds it laughable that the Consortium would admit one in their own ranks. James retorts with a parable about black men's penises. A tense situation arises, but it is quickly deflated with sympathetic laughter from the two men, followed by a hug. Does that mean McVeigh's racism is nothing but a humorous attempt at edginess? Who knows! It's certainly "internet" enough to go with James' samurai obsession.

These colorful villains (and I haven't even touched James' ten-pills-at-a-time+steroids-while-yelling-his-ass-off-in-the-back-of-a-limo henchman Hammerman) form a great backdrop for Bone to punch/kick his way through. There's no real tension here, as Bone just destroys everyone he comes into contact with, without breakin any real sweat. It even occurs twice in the film that he's set up for some big fight, there's a whole lot of build-up and then Bone just KO's the other fighter in one punch. The other guy's coach then becomes super angry and proclaims loudly for all to hear that Bone and Pinball somehow cheated (even though it is pretty much impossible for him to have done so). He then sends about twenty guys up against Bone, who -- again -- demolishes most of them with a single punch/kick. Twice.

Michael Jai White is the film's best special effect, and director Ben Ramsey chooses wisely to just let the camera linger on him when he does his thing. No doubt, the man's skills are truly a thing to behold. I didn't notice any (obvious) wirework, something that plagues a lot of modern day martial arts movies. So kudos on that, movie!

The movie is very "grindhouse" in that it's all about the fight money shots, its typical revenge storyline, and the fact that Julian Sands appears for about ten minutes throughout the entire movie, if that. It's something so beautifully B-movie to have a semi-famous actor in there, only be able to pay him for a few days' work and still give the dude second billing. Strangely non-exploitative was the lack of boobies. Every single woman in the film offers herself up to Bone (no pun intended, honest!), but being the honorable warrior that he is, the lone wanderer allows himself only the sexual release of teaching Nona Gaye tai chi. Whatta catch, ladies!

Lone Wanderer, indeed! The film ends with Bone taking to the road, ever watchful of new adventures to get caught up in. Well, the film technically ends with something a lot more comical than that, but I don't want to give it away. Instead I will give you the final fight between Gino Felino and Richie Madano in that other classic Out For Justice. Scroll down carefully if you still want to know, I spoil the ending beneath the vid.

You ready? Here it is:

Instead of funny bloopers and outtakes, the credits show us James in prison, being raped. I don't even think I need to come up with a joke around that.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Welcome back, you orthopedical bastard!

You probably know at least one of THOSE GUYS. A guy who's really smart and talented, but just lazy as hell. Instead of going out there, looking for a job or scoring with loads and loads of babes he's just watching movies at home, smoking weed and playing World of Warcraft. You just shake your head and try to meet him at places that are not his house. Because he really is a funny and cool guy when he wants to be!

Now imagine that one day that fellow knocks at your door. You open to find him the slickest fucking Armani suit you've ever seen, and you're pretty sure you're seeing a Ferrari filled to the brim with fine bitches over his shoulder. Before you can ask him "what's all this, Quentin? Didn't you have a raid on Kharazan tonight?" he tells you to SHUSH because he applied for a telemarketing job and is now president of the world and here's a wad of cash and you're now his minister of Getting Blowjobs From Angelina Jolie.

This a vague approximation of what watching INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (why is spellcheck not picking up on "basterds"?) feels like, especially coming on the heels of Death Proof. Like many of Tarantino's films, Basterds is actually a film about film. FELM. But instead of a super hot babe talking our ear off about a movie Quentin likes, an effort is made to incorporate film in a somewhat organic manner. And lo and behold! It works!

Basterds is an ode to film. Italian exploitation as always, but this time there's Hitchcock as well, the art of propaganda is examined and much more shit goes down I am not big enough a cinephile for to understand. In the Basterds universe, everybody sees film as this big and important thing to be respected. Shosanna Dreyfus, one of the protagonists, at one point tells a would-be suitor that "here in France, we respect directors." It's hard not to see Tarantino's own experiences in Cannes reflected in that line. When Brad Pitt's Lt. Aldo Raines says he's happy a German POW chose being beaten to death rather than giving away his countrymen's positions because "it's the closest thing we get to goin' to the movies" in years, that's remarkable. I mean, you'd think he'd say it's the closest thing they'd had to a baseball game in a while. You could say it's probably just a joke by the Raines character, but in a movie so informed by cinema in general, it's likely to be a contribution to the whole "film is kind of a big deal!" theme. As someone who really enjoys movies, it warms the cockles of my heart to see that one of the few things we find out about these characters is that they miss going to the theater. I don't know why there's cockles in/on/around my heart I am not a whale they shouldn't be there what is happening

If you've read up on Basterds, one thing will probably keep coming back: Christopher Waltz' portrayal of SS Colonel Hans Landa. It is, no doubt, the best performance in a movie filled with good ones. The Jew Hunter, as Landa is called, considers himself a detective. Shit, he's even got a Sherlock Holmes gimmick pipe. Unlike Holmes or, say, Batman, Landa spends his time catching enemies of the state rather than criminals. The state being nazi Germany, it's debatable how dangerous the people Landa was sent to hunt down actually were. Whether or not it's up to Waltz' performance or Tarantino's script, it doesn't really look like Landa cares. He just enjoys fucking with people, regardless of the regime he's currently living under. He doesn't so much verbally bury people as allow them to dig their own grave, stand on the edge and ask them what they would like as an epitaph. In this interview with AICN's Jeremy Smith, Waltz professes to believe Landa is not a sociopath, merely a highly intelligent social chameleon. One course of action he takes near the end of the film makes me doubt that particular statement, but that would head into spoiler territory. You'll know it when you see it.

Which brings me to my final point: fist-pumpery (not that kind). I've discussed in an earlier post the joys of simple black-and-white morality in films. Cheering the good guys on as they vanquish the bad guys, living vicariously through cinematic victory. Inglourious Basterds kind of fucks with those expectations. Every nazi save one very minor character is shown to be kind of irredeemably evil. The Basterds are also, in fact, bastards. They kill, torture, maim, scalp and head-butt. This also applies to defenseless prisoners, which definitely paints them more as a bunch of Frank Castles than Steve Rogerses. But the movie is not about KILLIN NATZEES. It's about film. And through the Basterds' (and Shosanna's) cruelty does Quentin reveal his message. The nazis are simply cinematic shorthand for the vilest of the vile. Obstacles.

During the (frankly fantastic) climax, which I shall attempt to discuss without actually spoiling, cinema changes the world. Shosanna's projection quite obviously symbolizes film. A smaller, more subtle, piece of symbolism in the scene is Eli Roth's character Sgt. Donnie Donowitz. His actions in the scene will have audiences talking and laughing and whoooa-ing on the way to the car, to be sure. But were they necessary? Shosanna and Marcel would have gotten everyone in the room regardless. Where Shosanna's projection symbolizes cinema, the eternal and inescapable force, Donnie symbolizes exploitation cinema. It's there along with "real" movies, and it's definitely doing something as well. That something may be gaudy and over the top and shallow and pointless and ludicrous, but sometimes that's just the thing you remember. Even though there may not have been much of a point to it in the first place.

Sometimes film can change the world. But sometimes film can just make you go "hahaha hooooly shittt". Both types are valid.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Internet I do not get you

In the desolate wastes of the most remote corners of Internetia lie small pockets of near-civilization, where forgotten, empty shells of humanoids dwell who remember fondly an animated series of the 80s called GI Joe. Paying no heed to the fact that very cartoon was designed solely to sell them toys, these husks of men will tell you the Joeniverse (I made that up, maybe there's another term, I don't care) has a rich mythology made up of complex, multi-layered characters.

A fan favorite is Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes is a silent ninja who never reveals his face or, indeed, speaks. He is one of those ultimate blank slate characters geeks can project all their insecurities upon. Other examples of such awful non-characters are Master Chief and Boba Fett. Fett is probably the worst example of nerddom latching on to someone who "looks cool", since his greatest achievement is calling the cops on Han Solo. At least (movie) Snake Eyes and Master Chief kill a million dudes.

Which brings me to G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Stephen Sommers' new opus. My morbid curiosity lay not only in the fact that G.I. Joe was inherently an extremely silly concept, but also the fact that Sommers was involved. Here was a guy who, a few years ago, took the premise of Van Helsing battling Dracula, the Wolf Man and made a movie that no doubt still resides securely within the bottom 10 of all theatrical movies I have ever seen. In the immortal words of William Hurt in A History of Violence: "How do you fuck that up?"

So how epically was Sommers gonna fuck up a concept this easy to fuck up? Well, as it turns out, he made it kinda awesome. Not awesome in a good way, mind. The film is very much the cinematic equivalent of playing with your action figures in the back yard. The funny thing is, Sommers really captures that chaotic vibe of "not having them all" and also using He-Man figures or maybe Jurassic Park dinosaurs and shit we broke a vase don't tell mom we're on a mission here.

The plot is a very perfunctory affair, obviously just designed to get you from set piece to set piece. Heck, we even start out in 17th century France, probably because Jimmy had a knights playset he really wanted us to use. Well, okay, sure!

What really makes the film fun are the retarded character backstories we're given in little snippets throughout the film. The main character Duke and his relationship with the evil Baroness is pretty tied to the main plot, but for some reason Sommers thought it necessary to also give us a glimpse into the past of Snake Eyes and his nemesis Storm Shadow (a much snappier dresser, internet).

Their relationship adds literally nothing to the plot, nor does it give you any insight into a character that actually matters. It does probably provide most of the films laughs, as we learn that Storm Shadow was a vindictive and evil child, stabbing fat, benevolent ninja masters in the back during their lunch break with huge katanas. I was wondering when I first saw the fat man who was supposedly both superninjas' master how that gentleman could be a Master Ninja. Getting stabbed in the back by a kid carrying a huge fucking sword, the fellow confirmed my worst suspicions. This man wasn't a very good ninja at all. Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes must have had awesome ninja textbooks. Well, if the girl from Crouching Tiger got that good from a textbook...

Other amazing moments:

*Scarlett, GI Joe's cute redhead, does not believe in emotions. She literally does not believe they exist. Also graduated college at age 12.

*Sgt. Stone is a happy retarded man they keep around the base for some reason. He is played by Brendan Fraser in a montage where his only contribution seems to have been yelling stuff like "OOOHHHH DATS GOTTA HURT! YEAH GOT YA THERE! DAT'S JOE STYLE!" I like to imagine Brendan Fraser also hangs around movie studios like this and occasionally gets cast in things.

*People are called Dr. Mindbender.

*Destro is a French word meaning Destroyer of Nations.

*Ninjas are trained to run like fags.

In the end, it's kind of amazing how much the final status quo of the movie is similar to the one at the end of the first X-Men: the big villains are incarcerated but still very confident (THIS IS MEEEEERELY THE BEGINNING DUKE!) and one shape-shifting henchman has taken the mantle of a figure of authority. I can't lie, the movie kept me very entertained. This was mostly due to the extreme melodrama everything was handled with and some fine actors who knew exactly how to play the material (Miller, Gordon-Levitt, Eccleston, Lee).

I'm actually very glad Sommers decided to spend so much time servicing fans and devoting a small portion of the movie on Snake Eyes' idiotic background. This is one case where a literal translation to screen was the right decision. Not because it was good in any way, or even made much sense, but because it was so amazingly entertaining. I'd see it if you have a sense of humor about these things. I have included a small litmus test below:

Destro and Baroness GET MONEY Song

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Rise & Foot of Quentin Tarantino

He's one of those few filmmakers who can get asses in seats with the mere mention of his name in a trailer. One of those infallible names where, if you're talking to a member of the opposite sex and film comes up as a subject, you can't help but look cool. Who is this wondrous Film Festival Favorite who also likes gangsters and ninjas and car chases? God, just read the title.

Pulp Fiction, along with Trainspotting, was a seminal film in my life. It was the first film I'd ever seen that really felt like it was a film for young people. There was an effortless cool that the film exuded, unbound by whatever the coolness norms of the time were. I don't know if it really was what Tarantino intended, but I always thought Pulp Fiction was set in some weird alternate universe where pop culture and fashion stopped around 1978 and people generally talked like slick motherfuckers.

It took me a while to get to see Reservoir Dogs because the networks always aired it around midnight and I never quite made it past the twenty-five minute mark. Fourth time was the charm, however, and I found I loved it about equally. This one being a bit more traditional than Pulp, I decided to introduce my parents to this weird and wonderful world. Sure enough, the Keitel/Buscemi/Madsen triumvirate did its work admirably.

Renting Jackie Brown somewhere around the year '99-'00, my friend and I were disappointed. Of course, by then we'd pretty much learned Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction by heart, so anything "less" than that was bound to let us down. I'm thinking I should probably revisit this one, since I literally haven't seen it since then, and some people whose opinions I generally trust assured me it was the last movie in which Tarantino exhibited some growth as a filmmaker.

Whoo boy, were they right.

After Jackie Brown, Quentin suffered from a burnout. Most likely, making a movie about people who're getting older and realizing they weren't the epitome of cool anymore was akin to coming to terms with his mortality for ole QT. It would take the man six years before he half-finished his next movie, the epic two-parter Kill Bill. For years I thought this was a shameless cash-grab from Quentin and his Weinstein masters, believing they could sell anything under boy wonder Tarantino's name. Recently, however, it was brought to my attention that Tarantino actually just kept shooting and shooting and the Weinsteins requested he give them SOMETHING to release. And hey, other than the head-scratcher that was the splitting of the two movies, I really liked Kill Bill. It was insanely over the top, it was funny, it had some sweet tunes, gory fights, hot babes, ... Hell, I still kind of like it simply by virtue of so much cool stuff being in it. The split is absolutely unnecessary.

Bill, the one who must be killed, is the leader of a top squad of assassins. One of them, the enigmatic Bride, was betrayed and left for dead by them and is now, in typical Revenge Movie fashion, coming to get them all one by one. Bill goes to warn his brother Budd, who works at a shitty strip joint. He doesn't come to warn him at his place of work or anything. We just follow Budd there for a while. For... some reason. The first volume has a ten minute animated sequence detailing the origins of squad member O-Ren Ishii, a character that dies (spoiler lol) almost the moment she's introduced outside of flashbacks. But hey, whatever, it's Tarantino, right? Let the genius work his magic!

That was Kill Bill. A movie with tons of fun stuff, but in desperate need of a harsh editor. Three years later, QT would return with his friend Robert Rodriguez and deliver a project that, by all accounts, sounded fascinating and daring. A return to the double bill exploitation features of yore, brought to you by two of the world's most wacky filmmakers + special guests who brought you crazy little extras. Awesome, right? Hell yeah! It sounded like a party in the cinema and everyone was invited! The whole project, called Grindhouse, didn't take off too well, unfortunately. A major bomb in the US, the Weinsteins decided to cut their losses and release the two films separately in Europe, hoping to just cash in on "THE 6TH FILM BY QUENTIN TARANTINO" at least.

Rodriguez did his part. His Planet Terror was basically what you could call a party. Just a filmmaker and his cast 'n crew having fun, doing silly things, generally delivering an entertaining experience. If Planet Terror were a party, there'd be plenty of booze, pot, and a few hours in some girls would start to make out. If Tarantino's Death Proof were a party, on the other hand, you'd find you'd only know one or two people there. Sure, talking to them is fun, but why is the host so insistent that you check out his anime collection? What's that weird smell? This beer tastes funny, and what does Schwanzenzaft* mean anyways?

By Death Proof, it had already been widely known among film buffs that Tarantino liked women's feet. Hell, in Kill Bill 1 we are "treated" to a good minute of staring at Uma Thurman's big toe. Death Proof starts out with a shot of bare feet and has several loving close-ups sprinkled throughout, including one shot of a pretty lady with astonishing disregard for personal safety as she hangs one leg out of the window of a moving automobile. Granted, there's a funny pay-off shot following this, but it's still pretty blatant.

The whole Grindhouse (a colloquial term for cinemas displaying mostly cheap, lurid B-movies) idea was to revive interest in and pay homage to exploitation cinema of yesteryear, most notably the seventies. The problem with this concept is that most grindhouse cinema is pretty bad. There's definitely some interesting stuff in there sometimes, but you really have to wade through an ocean of shit. Roger Corman may have made a gazillion movies a year, but that doesn't mean 500,000 of them are worthwhile.

Rodriguez is almost too talented a technician to pull it off. Renowned for his money-squeezing skills, Rodriguez manages to make a pretty decent-looking movie out of his budget and is creative enough in terms of gags and set pieces to keep the thrills 'n laughs going throughout. Tarantino does not fare so well. Characters text each other, listen to iPods, and halfway through the movie the fake "damaged film" scratches just kind of peter out. What are we left with? Well, there are some great car chases/crashes for about twenty minutes. The rest is 90 minutes of slasher victims talking. If you've seen any Friday the 13th movie, you know that is not good news. In fact, Death Proof kind of plays out like Quentin Tarantino's Friday the 13th. No matter how cool that sounds, believe me when I say it's not. We spend the first half of the movie following a group of girls who are oblivious to their impending deaths at the hand of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell having fun as the movie's Jason, using a hot rod as his machete). Then they die. Spoiler, again? Look, believe me buddy, I'm saving you a whole lot of pain here. Then we follow a new group of girls, who are eventually also chased down by Mike. I'll be nice and not tell you what happens here. We didn't get a sequel, by the way. Between those two killing sprees, what you get to do is you get to hear two groups of girls talk. And talk. And talk. Nothing particularly insightful or plot-advancing. Rosario Dawson's character likes the movie Vanishing Point. Zoe Bell's character is agile like a cat. I guess that's kind of a planting. John McClane's daughter is in a cheerleader movie.

( O__O)

Oh, and sometimes you get good, long looks their feet. Just saying. I don't know if Tarantino was trying to be all meta by making his movie just as boring as a run-of-the-mill 70s/80s slasher whenever no killing was going on, but the amount of foot shots and talk of obscure movies makes me think Tarantino really thought all the stuff he was putting in there would appeal to people that weren't himself.

I'm still looking forward to Inglourious Basterds. It's not my NUMBAH ONE MUST SEE MOVIE or anything, but I'm still willing to give the guy a chance. He did make some really good movies once, after all. Then again, so did George Lucas.

*It means dick juice.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Day The Clown Lied

This depiction of Michael Bay as the tearful clown character Pierrot was meant to be a prelude to an article defending the sensitive artiste Bay everyone was so eager to tear down after his latest opus, Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen. After a bit of soul-searching, I decided to take it a few steps further than a mere review of the film. I had, however, already commissioned this simply lovely photoshop from my good friend Rutger "Wesley Gibson" Stevelmans, and I present it to you here in order not to let his hard work go to waste.

Suffice to say, I enjoyed Transformers II quite a bit. Internet critic Drew McWeeny from HitFix said it best:

Transformers II is Bay's White Album: it's overlong, not everything works, but everything in it is 100% pure, unadulterated Bay.

If you are like me (a freedom-loving patriot) you love everything that glorious son of a bitch stands for. He is a lulz-provider supreme, and his latest is no exception, even if it is indeed bloated and "a film with no adult supervision" as CHUD.com's Devin Faraci put it.

The last few days I'd been trying to piece together what exactly I liked about the film. As I stood there assembling engines (hey, even without tenure, ya gots ta pay the billz), I realised something rather important. There were things in Transformers II that actually worked for me beyond the "OH LOL BAY WHAT U DO NOW MAN" level. They mostly involved robot king Optimus Prime, his yellow buddy Bumblebee or puny human Shia LaBoeuf doing noble shit. There's something about that crazy over the top "goddamn give me six more insert shots and a fucking orange sunset hell yes" Michael Bay style, coupled with the overly earnest (voice) acting from LaBoeuf and Peter Cullen that just makes their scenes together click so well. Coupled with Steve Jablonsky's Hans Zimmer-lite score, I've pretty much booked a ticket to Soldsville. Cheesy? Hell yes. But it works.

But why? Why does it work? Why should I wonder? Eight hour work days are long, is one thing. If we take into consideration the basic plot of the movie, a lot is revealed. The transformers ran around the galaxy for millennia harvesting suns for their sweet sweet ENERGON (hahahaha). They were cool enough to let planets with life on them slide, though. One of the original seven OG's said fuck that, and wanted to harvest our sun. Us humans, being shitty ass pyramid folk back then, couldn't really stop him. So his brothers did! Lucky for us. He was put into stasis or some shit because they couldn't defeat him and later starts stirring up shit in our time, using his disciple Megatron (the first film's baddie) and his cronies. Talk about some petty shit: this big baby's brothers are long fucking dead and all he wants to do is get back at them by blowing up that dumb sun anyway. Neener neener!

On the other side, we've got Optimus and the Autobots (I know, I know) who think Earth is just swell. In fact, Optimus'll go on about it for quite some time if you let him. The conflict between the Fallen/Megatron's Decepticons (yes...) and the Autobots is never made more clear than in this exchange between Megatron and Optimus:

Megatron: "Is the future of our race not worth one miserable human life?"

Optimus: "You'd never stop at one."

Simple. Easy. Black and white. After that line, Optimus lunges at Megatron and I dare you not to think for even a single microsecond: "Fuck yeah, kick his ass, truckbot!". Because chances are you will, even though you might not want to admit being that into a movie so cheesy.

Transformers II has a few of those scenes of corny-as-shit-but-I'm-kinda-diggin'-it ultra-heroism. I'm a total mark for those scenes. Other examples include Gandalf and Eomer charging downhill in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the ride of the Rohirrim in The Return of the King, Spider-Man's return in Spider-Man 2, "Soo-oo-ooperman" in The Iron Giant, and I could go on. If the movie works, you want to be there. You want to charge down the hill with Gandalf, you wanna slap JJ upside the head for dissin' on Spidey, you wanna pull Oskar out of that pool (I'm treading dangerous grounds with that one, I'm sure), ...

You want to be there because those characters are fighting The Good Fight. And unfortunately, there is no such thing as THE Good Fight. There is no evil robot tyrant or orc horde to dive head-first into combat against. Again, thanks to long hours on an assembly line, I was reminded of a nazi propaganda film we partially saw in a high school history class. Hitlerjunge Quex (or Hitler Youth Quest) is a 1933 is a film detailing the noble sacrifice of a young Hitler Youth paper boy (!) nobly killed in action by socialists (!), giving his life to finish his nazi paper route (!!!). Here's the whole damn thing, if you want:

Now, Goebbels was a clever fella. He done whipped up all of Germany into a frenzy by '39 -- and probably sooner. He knew folks love a martyr -- the most powerful hero is the one that is ended in service of others. I tell myself history has taught us all valuable lessons and I would not be as easy a mark as that. But the thing is, this is some primal stuff.

Humanity has always had their saviors holding back The Night. But now there is scarcely any more Night you'd break out the capital N's for. In the times when Beowulf or even Gilgamesh roamed in the hearts of men rather than the minds of scholars, you'd go to sleep not knowing if the same amount of people in your village would be there in the morning. You see, there was The Night. To hold that back, you could slaughter a chicken to appease the spirits. Or maybe do a wild dance. Or maybe tell a story. Stories of men who faced The Night and came back triumphant, or died saving their loved ones. Did it help? Did telling stories stop a panther from stealing down upon the village and make off with a baby or something? Of course it didn't, most of that shit was just bold faced lies.

But you know what? It made people feel good. It made them feel stronger. Inspired them. Maybe one village's youngsters teamed up and killed that lion who'd been slaughtering cattle, emboldened by the shaman's tales. And so, while the night was still there, The Night had been beaten back, even if just for a bit. This makes the old wise man's lies something more than just lies. That's right. They become Lies.

If there is a form of magic mankind has mastered, it is the power of Lies. Every time you do something that is unnecessary for survival, but you just absolutely feel the need to do, you tell a Lie. A Lie is not a bad thing. In fact, you probably can't imagine a life without Lies anymore. Watch a movie, sing a song, dance, write, love, ... You don't HAVE to do these things to live. But oh, doesn't it all seem a bit less scary now that you have?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pesci, are you okay?

A movie like no other indeed. One of cinema's legendary vanity projects, 1988's Moonwalker showed audiences Michael Jackson was truly the world's greatest dancer, singer and all-around performer. But hey, 1988 audiences were pretty sure of that already before going into the theater. What they didn't know, however, was that Michael was also the world's fastest race car, toughest robot and sparkliest jet fighter.

Did you know that? I bet you didn't. But just like my last article's subject We're Back!: A Dinosaur's story, Jackson's seminal film is but a few clicks away on YouTube as well, so you can find out for yourself.

The first 45 minutes or so -- about half the movie -- are just a selection of Michael videos. Your enjoyment of it is pretty much equal to how much you like the man's music, and let's face it: you're watching a movie called Moonwalker. You're probably eating this shit up.

By the time the more traditional narrative segment rolls by, you know you're in for a real treat about one minute in. I'll refer to this bit as Smooth Criminal, after pretty much the only song that gets performed in it. Smooth Criminal tells the story of three street urchins named Sean (white, played by son of John Lennon), Katie (girl, clutching doll) and Zeke (black, dances well). Archetypes: covered! The kids are gathered on a positively marypoppinsian rooftop and express concern on Michael's lateness. The run-down old building they were supposed to meet in is filled with noting but cobwebs, creaky doors and general spookiness. What they were meeting Michael for is never explained, but why they are concerned becomes all too clear quite quickly!

We see Michael exit a terraced house on the other side of the street, and the children excitedly climb down the building. Michael opens the door to the spooky building and a heavenly light emanates from the opening. From between some trashcans, the children look upon the scene, understandably awestruck. As the door closes behind Michael by itself, the children dare to approach the boarded-up windows. As if by magic, the club has now transformed into a roarin' twenties (thirties? I dunno) nightclub and goddamn is Michael gonna rock it. There's a spectacular dance-off with dozens of gangsters and their molls which easily stands toe-to-toe with Jackson's greats. The children outside are, of course, incredibly entertained by all this and Zeke (black, remember?) shows us how uncanny his MJ-impression is. This just raises so many questions. Were they just gonna hang around and dance in that magical 30s club with Michael? Did Michael show up late on purpose so he could dance with his summoned gangsters? Mysteries abound in this Lynchian menagerie. Well, it doesn't matter when the fascist stormtroopers out of Orwell's worst nightmares starts shooting up the place and everyone gets scattered. But oh no, the children are captured, goddamn!

Flashback time, bitches. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away Michael and the three kids are playing soccer in an idyllic meadow. There's even a dog called Skipper. Oh no, Skipper's off with the frisbee! Oh no, he's gone down a skurree cave! Oh no, it's full of icky spiders! Oh no, a secret door! Oh no, Joe Pesci! Joe Pesci? Aw yeah, Joe Pesci. The erstwhile Lamotta brother is cackling, as villains are wont to do. He is also monologueing about his dastardly plan to… wait for it… deal drugs. Michael and the kids gasp from their little hideout. Truly, not since Live and Let Die was I so shocked at the sheer audacity of a villain’s plot! Near school yards! Near playgrounds! A younger customer is a loyal customer! Pesci’s Mr. Big and his whole spider-organization are pretty much Nancy Reagan’s worst nightmare: what seems like an army dedicated solely to getting kids on drugs. The stormtroopers even have little spider-logos on their uniforms. Mr. Big is nothing if not thematically coherent. For the big finale, he even turns the globe he was cackling over (!) so the United States face the camera and REAL LIFE SPIDERS ARE COVERING THE PLACES HE IS GOING TO DEAL DRUGS TO. Personal piece of trivia: this movie, for all its anti-drug advocacy, was the first time I’d heard of several drugs. I vaguely knew about drugs as a bad entity, but not that there were such varieties as heroine, cocaine, crack, speed, etc. Thinking back, I wonder if Mr. Big was going to deal cocaine at only the most posh schools. You know, the type that has executive washrooms to do the coke in. The spider-covered globe freaks Katie out so much that dumb cootie carrier just has to scream and reveal their location. They are forced to flee as henchmen fire at them, and that’s the end of our flashback.
Now, assuming Michael was always a guy who regularly dances with ghost gangsters, why did he take time out from that to go Frisbee with some kids? I mean, that’s an eclectic schedule, right there. If hanging out and playing Frisbee with kids in idyllic meadows was all he did before that traumatic encounter, one can assume he took up a different life to escape from that shadowy organization.

“They’re looking for a guy and three kids! We better split up! I’ll rent a house in the city and you guys live on the streets or something! Don’t worry, I’ll check up on you occasionally!”

Well, phooie! Michael is very bad at sneaking around, since he is caught trying to save Katie at Mr. Big’s mountainous base. Before he is executed, he will see Katie injected with DRUGS!

“You wanna know why I do this, Michael? Huh? I just… I just wanna get everybody high, man! They’re some good drugs, Michael! Heh heh heh!”

Actual quote! What a monster! I have to say, Pesci is pretty rough with Katie. He slaps her a good ten times and even puts his high-heeled (!) foot on her back. Well, this won’t do at all! Michael transforms into a robot in a downright creepy scene of stop-motion and starts blastin’ henchmen, while taking to the skies angelically. Pesci won’t have that and mounts a huge turret gun, blasting the Michaelbot over a ridge. The children have their “Oh no he is dead!” moment, until a glorious spaceship emerges from the flames to blast the evil drug lord to smithereens.
Michael celebrates his victory over the Spider Cartel by taking the children to a live performance of him doing Dirty Diana. Roll credits.

It’s a strange movie and the final number kind of illustrates it well. Michael takes these kids to one of his concerts, and the song played is quite sexual. Now, most children listen to songs with pretty sexual lyrics. I’m aware of that. It’s just that, coupled with the retardedly saccharine outlook on childhood this movie offers, it seems a bit gauche to reward these kids who still wish upon stars with a crotch-thrusting rendition of a song about a woman who is dirty.

But I guess that is the dichotomy of Michael Jackson. His songs are sweaty, sexy, made for the dance floor, and the guy himself seems to live in a perpetual loop of E.T. Still, if you like his music, this movie will likely entertain you. There’s the magic of childhood, robots, spaceships, gangsters, stop motion bunnies, and lots of awesome music. It’s a look into the weird, weird mind of the Moonwalker himself, from my personal favorite period in his career. He looked odd, but not monstrous. I like early MJ as well, but he was just a really good R&B singer back then. With the surgery came the evolution into what seemed like a singing/dancing nobleman from the realm of Faerie.

I have not insinuated anything or made jokes about pedophilia. There's a gigantic lolfest to be mined from Michael without even touching that. Besides, making pedophile jokes can be applied to any pedophile. Michael is/was Michael. He deserves satire with a certain level of je ne sais quoi. And I am wholly on that level, sir.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, John Goodman!

I didn't know it was John Goodman's birthday, but let me tell you about the horrible sequence of events that led up to my discovering it.

There's this forum I post at, a place of wonder and bedazzlement, where gentlemen scholars discuss Aristotle and Kant. In one of our weaker moments, we were discussing the end credits to mostly 80s cartoons. Since this was so much below our usual level of conversation, we started to include intros as well. Such as this one:

Fellow poster Andy mentioned that Denver vaguely pissed him off as a kid because his species was ill-defined.

This brought me to remember We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story.

Executive produced by Steven Spielberg (as was wont to happen with cartoons in the early 90s) and released Christmas '93, mere months after another Spielberg-related dinosaur movie the name of which escapes me right now. I got this on VHS in '94 or '95. Never caught it in theaters. I watched it quite often. I mean, it did have dinosaurs in it and all. There were some things that bugged me about it even as a kid, though. Let me recount the basic plot:

A little birdie, tired of getting teased by his older brothers, wants to run off to join the circus. His mama warns him not to get in over his head, since he's not too great at flying, but he takes the leap anyway. Luckily, he doesn't crash to the ground, but instead lands on the top of a tyrannosaur's 9-iron. Astonished at the sight of a talking, golf-playing T-Rex, the birdie wants to find out what's up. Running away to the circus, eh? Well, Rex -- for such is his name -- knew a boy who wanted to run away to the circus as well. Won't you listen to his story? Might as well! See, Rex used to be a mean old dumb tyrannosaur who ate other dinosaurs. Pretty standard T-Rex behavior, you might say. But one day a SPACESHIP FROM THE FUTURE picked him up, and its benevolent commander Captain Neweyes fed him some IQ-enhancing Brain Grain cereal. The retired inventor wants to do some good for the world in his autumn years, and since he is from a time where every species of every planet (see his Jay Leno voiced comic relief alien assistant Vorb) gets along, he'd like spread a little happiness in the less illuminated age of the late 20th century. See, the captain has a radio that picks up on wishes. Since children apparently wish the loudest, Neweyes decides to grant one rather ubiquitous wish among the kids of the 90s: to see a real live dinosaur. So he's arranged that the four dinosaurs he's picked up meet Dr. Bleeb at the NY Natural History Museum for a rather extraordinary exhibition. But they should beware Cpt. Neweyes' evil brother Professor Screweyes, who was driven mad by the loss of his eye. Of course, the four wacky dinosaurs miss their appointment with the extremely near-sighted Dr. Bleeb and, lost in the Big Apple, team up with runaways Louie and Cecilia. The former of which intends to join the circus, bringing us to the apparent point of this story.

Before seeing this movie for myself, I remember Spielberg talking about it in some promotional material. "Ever kid loves a dinosaur," the Beard said, "but Jurassic Park may have been too scary for them. So that's why I wanted to tell a dinosaur story for everyone to enjoy."

Well, that was pretty cool, I thought. Even if I was 8 when I saw Jurassic Park. Sure, I was pretty scared in parts when I first saw it, but that's part of the thrill with dinosaurs, right? But it's cool for Spiel to want to give everyone the pleasure of dinosaurs. It's only years later that I understand what a fucking shark the Beard was (or at least Amblin Entertainment). Yeah, the dinosaur craze swept the nation with Jurassic Park! Shit, it didn't quite catch everyone. PG-13's a bitch. Quick, make something G-rated!

That bastion of reliability IMDb told me Jay Leno did the voice work for his little alien character three years prior to release. And granted, upon revisiting it (YouTube has the whole thing) it looks to good to be a quickie cranked out to cash in on Jurassic Park. Except for the primitive CGI buildings during the flying scenes. You remember the 90s Amazing Spider-Man cartoon with the opening credits featuring him swinging by some reeaaally shitty CGI skyscrapers? It's not quite that ugly, but it really sticks out in an otherwise slick-looking movie.

During my digging for this article I also found out, as mentioned before, that this was based on a 1987 children's book.

The artwork suggested something slightly more mischievous than the overly family friendly animated movie and after some more digging I found a pretty crucial difference in the plot:

The dinosaurs are used as test subjects for a future BUSINESSMAN who wants to sell an IQ-enhancing cereal and then dumped unceremoniously in New York.

Whoa, quite a difference there, huh? No kids, no circus, no evil brother, no wish radio. In fact, this mirrors another similar change made to Jurassic Park. In the book, park owner John Hammond is a greedy businessman. In the movie, he's a dreamer, a Walt Disney-like grandfather. Oh, Steve! It was pretty minor in Jurassic Park. Here, it pretty much destroys the movie. As a kid it was already kinda grating to see the movie treat the normal, badass versions of dinosaurs as "bad" or somehow undesirable. But hey, you're a kid, it's dinosaurs, you're not gonna complain. Hell, I told myself I liked The Lost World for years.

Andy's remark on Denver made me think of this movie and write something about how lame it was a kid. Then, I started thinking about how the movie portrayed the natural, feral state of dinosaurs as somehow undesirable. In the third act, I remembered, the evil professor devolved the dinosaurs back to their old selves to show off in his circus of horrors. The child protagonists were absolutely terrified. Even the herbivore dinosaurs were portrayed as slobbering, roaring monsters the moment they're not goofy cartoon characters anymore. And remember, these were just animals plucked out of their natural habitat to basically get reverse-lobotomized for the entertainment of the children of the 1990s. What the hell's the movie trying to say with that? Things aren't nice until they're made fit for mass consumption?

Hell, I don't mind a movie that features cute or humanized dinosaurs. This movie just tells us that that's the only way a dinosaur can be cool. Imagine if a crack team of (probably Japanese) geneticists devised a way to make hedgehogs and foxes look like Sonic and Tails and then proudly proclaimed this is the real way foxes and hedgehogs should be. So I watched the entire thing on YouTube because I was wondering how the hell they got a T-Rex to eat cereal. Does the Captain douse it in blood? Does he wrap it in a steak? Stick in a cow's butt and let it wander around prehistoric times?

Well, if you're curious: Rex is on the hunt when a spaceship knocks him in the head. It lands and Jay Leno alien flies out. It starts talking about the Rex being selected randomly to test a new product (a remnant of the original book's premise). The dinosaur, of course, doesn't understand a thing the alien says and just snaps at this pesky little fly. Leno manages to get back in the ship, as the hatch closes around the tyrannosaur's neck. Around its neck. Then, two robot arms just JAM THE FUCKING CEREAL DOWN HIS THROAT UNTIL HE TURNS DOCILE. His look even gradually changes from Jurassic Park style T-Rex to the cartoony one you see on the poster.

Rex, now voiced by our birthday boy John Goodman, is allowed on board where he meets the other three dinosaurs selected for this peace mission: a triceratops named Woog, a parasaurolophus named Dweeb (voiced by Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer) and a pterodactyl (in name only, she looks more like a rhamphorynchus with a pteranodon crest, but sounds like the UKs favorite butt of the 70s/80s Felicity Kendal) named Elsa who inexplicably wants to fuck Rex. In the ship's conveniently dinosaur-sized chill out room, the three others introduce Rex to a new and awesome type of food: hot dogs.

Whoa whoa whoa, hold up. Hot dogs? So... professor Neweyes captured four dinosaurs to show to children of our then-present. He devised a cereal to make them intelligent and friendly. But he didn't bother to make them all vegetarians? Hell, Dweeb and Woog are supposed to be herbivores! I was waiting throughout this scene for the professor to mention that they were veggie dogs or something, but nothing! Goddamn, did nobody think this movie through! And let's not forget that this reinforces the movie's (or my tin foil hat version of it) message of "There's scary stuff out there, kids, but it's cool once treated for mass consumption!" I mean, hunting and killing things is bad, but it's A-OK to eat hot dogs? Best case scenario means you're eating a cow there, Rex, buddy!

Captain Neweyes explains his plan and takes them to the Wish Radio. The children's wishes pop out as bubbles displaying looped holograms of the kids making wishes. The children are hilariously ethnically diverse, too: there's even a lil' sheik! At first, the wishes are pretty diverse too, but one wish soon becomes prevalent -- that of seeing a real dinosaur. Before that one overwhelms the others though, there's a few in the style of "I wish my sister was nicer to me". I just imagined Neweyes sifting through the children's wishes, hearing that girl asking for a better life and going LOL BORING IMA SCROUNGE UP SUM DINASORES!

When the dinosaurs miss the appointment with Dr. Bleeb (holy shit this movie is horrible with names) I can't blame them either. The Captain literally just opens the floor under them and expects them to pull a Temple of Doom with a raft. Come on man, they just barely learned English and how to eat hot dogs five minutes ago!

They meet Louie, a runaway headed for the circus, because his mom "hugs and kisses him, even in public!" Way to make your kid protagonist sympathetic, movie. The little girl, Cecilia, is pretty much neglected by her yuppie parents, so she's got a little more reason to join this ragtag group. Cecilia is voiced by Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson. Smith makes no effort to do another voice whatsoever.

In the movie's big musical number the dinosaurs walk with the Macy's parade. "Look mommy, real dinosaws!" "Dey're jus roebuts, honey." What, as if robots that advanced and gigantic wouldn't be damn impressive, especially in '93? When the song is over, they are somehow revealed to be real and immediately chased by NY's finest. Like, with guns and everything. They're even told that they're under arrest a few times. This movie's been pretty stupid so far, so I can't tell if it's supposed to be a joke or not.

The dinosaurs get separated from the kids, who end up at their circus destination in Central Park. Nobody told them it was a circus of HORRORS, however! And also run by PROFESSOR SCREWEYES (driven to evil due to the loss of his eye -- replaced by a screw)! Paraphrased:

"We wanna work for the circus!"
"Buzz off, kid, you don't know what you're saying."
"No, really."
"Really? Okay, sign this contract."
"It's blank."
"A pen?"
"Prick your finger."
"You wanna work for the circus, don't ya?"
"I guess!"

The contract then fills itself in after the BLOOD SIGNATURES have been made. Since Screweyes is from the future like his brother, I'm paying heed to that old Arthur C. Clarke quote saying "any technology advanced enough will appear as magic to primitive eyes". I mean, it would be pretty arbitrary to introduce actual magic with only about twenty minutes to go in this movie. The dinosaurs show up and tell Screweyes he's the one Neweyes (oh god) warned them about, and he better hand over those kids! No no, they're under contract now, Screweyes tells them. He promptly gives the kids Brain DRAIN, which turns them into monkeys. Brain Drain is, of course, Screweyes' counterpart to his brother's cereal. I loved how it was presented all sinister-like in pill-form so it looked more like EVIL DRUGS. It turns the children into monkeys, a pretty useless attraction for a circus of horrors, given how cute both Louie and Cecilia now look. They even have their old clothes still on!

Hell, the movie makes a big spiel about how Screweyes won't let Stubbs the clown (Martin Short, in an utterly baffling role) do his act for the crowd until he comes up with something that makes the old Prof laugh, and he never does. What the hell does he want cute monkeys for? He didn't know they were with dinosaurs, so when Rex proposes they'll take the children's place it's as much a surprise to him as to us.

Sure enough, he devolves the dinos back to their old form. They're all terrifying and shit, and Louie and Cecilia have Stubbs sneak them into the show. Cecilia constantly wonders WHY? WHY WOULD PEOPLE WANT TO BE SCARED? IT'S HORRIBLE! Goddammit movie, stop trying to prove my point. Screweyes does have a pretty impressive set-up going, even though it's more like a horror-themed Cirque du Soleil than anything actually scary. It's in this sequence that the movie tries to comfort its young viewers that it's all only make-believe. Zombie monks are shown to be guys flying through the air with masks on cables, we see the guy doing the pyrotechnics, the sound guy, etc. For a guy who's got technology so advanced it looks like magic, ol' Screweyes certainly isn't interested in pushing the envelopes of showmanship. Shit, our three good guys stealthily sneaking in are dressed as Disneyland mascot versions of Maleficent's little imps.

The dinosaurs get dragged on stage rather impressively: on a dais pulled by about twenty elephants. Inexplicably, the four dinosaurs are chained but not caged. Even more inexplicable is the fact that, feral once more, Rex hasn't killed any of his within-biting-range colleagues. Screweyes informs the audience he will now make the T-Rex do his bidding by mental suggestion! Maybe this was what Carl Denham had in mind when he put Kong on that scaffolding. It's a cool idea, in theory. Unfortunately, one of the omnipresent crows (what the fuck, I know) pecks at a button marked FLARES in the pyrotechnics control room and the bright lights break Screwy's mental hold over Rex. He's about to eat the one-eyed bastard when Louie shows up on stage and tearfully pleads Rex to "be a good guy". Of course this works, and love -- and a well-placed hug -- breaks the spell. But wait a minute... if Rex was returned to his natural state by the Brain Drain... does that mean you can just plead and cry to a T-Rex and make it friendly? No, silly. It works on ANY dinosaur! Louie and Cecilia hug each dinosaur in a montage, turning them all instantly back to their cartoon selves. The crowd goes nuts!

Neweyes shows up in his ship and tells off his brother. This gives Stubbs the balls to quit. He humiliates his boss with honking horns and other clowny stuff. The audience is in stitches. Stubbs drives off in his clown car and Neweyes and the gang take off as well. Lights fade.

"Brother no... don't leave me. When I am alone, I am so... scared of the dark."

The crows gang up on Screweyes and engulf him. For a split second, they form A GIANT CROW until they all fly off again, leaving only his screw-eye rolling on the floor. This is perhaps the most baffling Spielberg-related villain death since Dustin Hoffman in Hook. What confounds me even more is that, seconds before this death, hundreds of people were laughing at the antics of Stubbs getting his little triumph moment. They can't possibly ALL have left in that short time. If I, as a viewer, am completely flabbergasted by this event, imagine how a regular New Yorker who doesn't have all this time traveling background bullshit feels?

Anyways, the dinosaurs get brought to the museum, the kids returned to their parents, Dr. Bleeb runs what is no doubt he most profitable museum exhibit of all time and we all learn that if you hug a rainbow just right, lollipops come flying out.

I don't know what kind of lesson that little bird got from Rex' tale, but I'm 100% sure he's never visiting any circus again. I also realize that, in this universe, birds can talk. Unless Neweyes got REAAALLY generous with his Brain Grain.

John Goodman is 57 today.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What makes a man a fan?

Everyone is, of course, entitled to their own opinion. If everyone just got along nicely, the world would be a Stephenie Meyer nov- oohhhh I went there. Everyone likes different stuff, and it's kind of pointless to get up in arms about it.

I used to call myself a fan of various things, but as I get older -- and I am a baffling 24 -- I find I can't work up the energy to get vocal about things anymore. One of the big fromages for me was Star Wars. That one was pretty much a perfect storm of reaching into my young mind. I'd seen the old trilogy on Dutch television when I was about ten. That mystical tome also known as TV guide called them classics, and it made me curious. I remember having to stay up till eleven to catch them, eventually retiring at the epically late hour of one. For some reason, the network decided Return of the Jedi was to be aired on a Wednesday instead of a Friday night, and after the amazing cliffhanger of The Empire Strikes back, being made to wait a few extra days (school night, had to tape it!) for the thrilling conclusion made it hit me all the harder. The very idea of a hero who had to resort to non-violence to win the day was completely alien to a kid reared on Die Hards and Lethal Weapons and Predators.

These were the mid-90s, and if you're somewhat movie-savvy, you remember what happened in '99. And yes, I was, of course, the perfect age for prequel-mania. It took me months, if not years, to realize that maybe... just maybe those prequels weren't as awesome as I thought they were. But those years in between them, oh! how the internet was prequel rumor central. Every dumb Star Wars forum I lurked on, every bit of "news" that Christopher Walken or Gabriel Byrne was going to be in the next one I latched on to. And sometimes I'd hear these names: Mara Jade, Admiral Thrawn, Exar Kun, ... what what? Who were these people? They weren't in any of the movies, new or old. Here's where I found out that there was a whole universe worth of Star Wars besides the movies (an EXPANDED universe, as it were) for good little nerds to consume. The only possible reaction I could have had was obviously AWESOME LET'S GET INTO THIS SHIT. Oh man, my library carries a bunch ohgodohgodohgod!

Let me use this venue to reach out to my no doubt fives of readers and reach out to everyone in my 4th year Dutch class in high school. I am sorry for doing a half hour book report on Barbara Hambly's Children of the Jedi. It was a very lame thing of me to do, and I apologize.

After having read more than a dozen of these bitches throughout my teens, I finally started reading the first one of Timothy Zahn's Admiral Thrawn trilogy on a trip to Italy when I was about 17-18. I remember finishing it, taking it back to the library and just not really caring what happened next. There's only two other books that got similar treatments from me: Dune by Frank Herbert (about 40 pages in) and Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey (18 pages in -- F'lar and F'nor? Seriously?). Even though Zahn's trilogy (fantasy authors have huge boners for trilogies, almost as huge as I have for brackets) was supposed to be the "best" the Expanded Universe had to offer, I was just burned out. I was just going to see the movies from now on, and fuck this neverending supplemental shit.

I don't know exactly which one of these came first. The release of the animated Clone Wars "movie" or a friend of mine asking if I wanted to borrow a Thrawn omnibus. The former was met with a resounding ahongiveafuuuuck. Yes, technically, there was a Star Wars movie playing in theaters, but it was actually just the first three episodes of a new Nickelodeon cartoon edited together and called a movie. A movie concerning the Clone Wars, the fictional conflict set between Episodes II and III. The fictional conflict that already had a series of cartoon shorts dedicated to it: by the great Genndy Tartakovsky of Powerpuff Girls fame, no less. This new Clone Wars movie was fill-in-what-blanks-in-the-timeline-you-can moneygrubbery of the highest order, typical of this (or any) Expanded Universe. The latter was a lot simpler. An offer of giving the so-called best of the EU another shot years after the facts. I'm sorry, but total apathy. The only thrill in this kind of book is in reading about some adventures with familiar characters. You won't find any deep themes or new insights in them. If you already know that Thrawn ends up getting stabbed by his bodyguard who is seduced to the light by one of our heroes -- sound familiar? -- there's little this shit has to offer you.

The point of this Harryknowlesian derail/introduction was to give you a bit of my background as a fanboy. It was a few weeks ago, at one of my RP nights, a group member asked who was going to see Terminator: Salvation. Awkward silence followed, until someone said he was probably gonna wait that one out till it was on TV. The original fella couldn't believe it: a Terminator movie in the theater and you're not going to see it? I asked him if he'd read any reviews, which really were universally terrible. He said he'd form his own opinion, dammit!

I couldn't really fault him, to be honest. After all, a film's meant to bring about emotions, and that's a very personal process. A movie might work on you that wouldn't work on me and vice versa. Would I have enjoyed Terminator 4 if I didn't know the ugly story behind the scenes? If I hadn't the faintest of how a blockbuster came to be or of the concepts of script doctoring or MPAA ratings manipulations (and that one's an entire Wholly On The Level in itself)? I probably would. I mean, I was 14 once.

But I can't say I'm completely cured. I wish I could say I now seek out solely original, independent creations free of franchise fuckery. I do, to some extent. I'm a lot more open to new things. I don't pit "my" franchise against others. Yes, there was a dark time in my life that I tried to tell myself The Phantom Menace was better than The Matrix AND The Fellowship of the Ring. But on the other hand, I'll always click the Iron Man II article before clicking the one about Moon, for instance.

Fuck you, inner child, I'm trying to convince myself I'm cool now.

Here, have this Erick Sermon video.

Aaah yes.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Retrospective That Was Never On Time, Part 1

I'm gonna do it! I'm gonna watch every single Star Trek movie and report back here! As a non-fan, my insights shall be refreshing, eye-opening and perhaps more than a little erotic. Like Trekkies themselves, pretty much! This first installment's going to be a bit all over the place, as I've watched the first three on end and I got progressively drunker as the evening went on. The retrospective will probably be quite erratic, as it is my friend Rutger (many thanks for the above Photoshop!) who owns the films on Blu-Ray and I don't really care enough to spend any money or bandwidth on these masterpieces. But let us dive into that wonderful world of Starfleets and Klingons and monster dogs and angry latino gentlemen!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

I had seen this one already years and years ago, but I remembered precious little of it. What I did know, was that fans often disparagingly called it "The Motionless Picture". I can see why. Robert Wise (The Haunting, The Day The Earth Stood Still -- a real director, not some studio hack!) wants AWE to be the keyword in this movie. And, to be honest, he succeeds. The first time we see the Enterprise in its dock, it's glorious. For a moment, you understand how much Kirk loves her. Even Shatner's underplaying this scene. And it works. For half a minute. Then it goes on for five more. And there you have it. That’s pretty much the movie’s problem. It’s got some damn impressive vistas, it just forgets to populate them.

Original series creator Gene Roddenberry was heavily involved in this film, and his vision of the future that Star Trek was to embody was supposed to be an extremely utopian one, with everyone being politically correct and non-violent and faggy at all times. In fact, so opposed to action and adventure was this man, that in the foreword of the novelization of this film he declared the entire original series non-canon. I invite you to read this fragment, as narrated by Kirk himself.

"Eventually, I found that I had been fictionalized into some sort of “modern Ulysses” and it has been painful to see my command decisions of those years so widely applauded, whereas the plain facts are that ninety-four of our crew met violent deaths during those years-and many of them would still be alive if I had acted either more quickly or more wisely. Nor have I been as foolishly courageous as depicted. I have never happily invited injury; I have disliked in the extreme every duty circumstance which has required me to risk my life. But there appears to be something in the nature of depicters of popular events which leads them into the habit of exaggeration. As a result, I became determined that if I ever again found myself involved in an affair attracting public attention, I would insist that some way be found to tell the story more accurately."

WHO THE FUCK IS HAVING FUN IN HERE? These star treks are serious business, sir! Then again, if you’re reading the novelization of a Star Trek movie, star treks probably are serious business to you. I’d say more power to you, but shit, people who read novelizations need as little power as possible.

Aaaanyways, Galactus is coming. Okay, so it’s not Galactus, but it’s a big fucking space cloud and it just zapped a Klingon ship. Starfleet decides they need Kirk and his Enterprise crew up in this bitch. Tearful reunions abound, except for Spock, who’s been chillin’ on his home planet of Vulcan the last few years generally being a space hobo. The Enterprise itself has been under the command of captain Decker, a man played by the dad from 7th Heaven, the show where Jessica Biel got her start. Three sequels later, 7th Heaven’s mom would appear in The Voyage Home. If that’s not the universe telling J.J. Abrams to put Jessica herself in his own sequel, I don’t know what is.

This was the first time I’d actually ever seen Shatner do Shatner. It’s pretty fantastic. I mean, you hear all the jokes, you see the impersonations, but nothing beats the real thing. During an ill-advised hyperspace jump, the ship is dodging asteroids. At one point, there’s an asteroid coming right their way, and Spock’s the only one who can do something about it (for some reason). Spock’s gone catatonic, though (for some reason). Kirk is not happy!

“Spock! … Spock! … Spock! … Spock! … Spock!”

He must say “Spock” about eight times in exactly the same tone of voice. Nowadays, perhaps only Nicolas Cage could pull off such a feat of thespianism.

In the meantime, space cloud probes the ship and commandeers bald hottie commander Ilea to serve as his herald. No surfboard, so she got pretty ripped off. The rest of the movie is spent trying to convince V’ger (as is the cloud’s name) and its herald that he Enterprise should not be destroyed, while simultaneously trying to get at the heart of this nimbus weirdus to see what exactly makes it tick. Not exactly the most dynamic fare, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Still, you have to admire the balls in making a huge and expensive space movie using well-known characters the year after Star Wars was released and not make it this big action spectacle.

NEXT UP: The Wrath of Khan!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Why you do that, Cage?

Look at him. Look at his serious face. He's like a chimpansee. I'm not saying he looks like a chimpansee, but going to see a Nic Cage movie is like being in an enclosed space with a chimpansee. You never know what's going to happen. You never know what those crafty eyes are thinking, what that primal intelligence is calculating. He might leave you alone and eat some bananas. He might fling poo at you. He might rip out your jugular. So too with Nic Cage. You might get a Leaving Las Vegas. You might get a Face/Off. You might get a Ghost Rider. Or you might get a Knowing. I think my hair still smells.

By the way, let me preface this by saying a ticket to this movie was bought for me by a friend who was pretty much forced to see this and was in desperate need of entertaining company to see it with. To that very friend, I'm sorry I slept so much.

Knowing is a movie that fits in a long line of movies and TV shows that a friend of mine once called "mystical mumbo jumbo". If I were to hazard I guess, I'd say that its current popularity was jump-started by the success of Lost. How do you make good MMJ movie/show? Simple! Take a premise that is mysterious and vague. Then get your protagonist(s) really worked up about it. They should yell more as the movie progresses, even though it's not always 100% clear what everyone's yelling about, or its importance.

In Knowing, Nic Cage is an astrophysics professor yelling about a little piece of paper with numbers on it. Those numbers were written down by a creepy little girl in 1959, and buried in a time capsule. Their spookiness is cause enough for concern, like any decent astrophysics professor would note. But woe on us all, the little girl was stopped by her teacher before she could finish the sequence of numbers the voices in her head were reciting.

At one point, Nic deduces that one particular sequence of numbers coincides with OMG 9/11 and 2996, apparently the death toll of that fateful day. So he starts looking up other shit and whaddya know? Disasters! Dates! Death tolls! Bejaysis and begorrah, 81 people will die in a few days! That really begs the question: what's a big enough disaster to be on the list? I'm guessing 80 is the minimum here, cuz that list was about 2 pieces of A4 paper long and anything below that just seems like being overly thorough.

Horror! The whisperers also occasionally visit Cage's son, apparently to make him finish that damn list. At this point I know what the list does, I just don't really understand why the whisperers feel the need to finish it.

The whisperers are aliens. I didn't put spoiler warnings up because this movie looked like a turd from the first trailer and if you thought it looked good for even a goddamned fucking second you deserve to be spoiled. Punched as well, but I can't punch you through the internet and like any internet tough guy I would probably be very polite in real life to anyone I insulted online. The whisperers are aliens who like to dress up like Spike from Buffy and they whisper fucking numbers and some people pick up those numbers in their brain and feel compelled to write them down. I guess the logic would be that THE WORTHY get to sidestep all that shit that might happen to them and find the location where the aliens pick them up to start a new life off-world. Okay, I guess.

But Nic Cage is the only one who figures it all out. And the Spikes kidnap his son and the daughter of love interest Rose "No Use Crying Over Spilt Padmé" Byrne. They kidnap them. Cage gives chase, but is ultimately told by the aliens he ain't on the guest list. Tearful goodbyes abound as it is the two children (and, inexplicably, their pet bunnies) that get to hitch a ride on the Chariots of the Tards. Oooookay.

What was the point? Why engineer that whole thing with the list if you're going to pick and choose your own chosen ones anyway? Shouldn't Cage be the chosen one? He was the only guy on Earth who deciphered the signal, and his brain wasn't even advanced enough to pick up the brainwhispers the Spikes were broadcasting. That oughta buy you a ticket, right?

God, fuck this turd. All it has going for it are some cool crashes. It's a cheap goddamn M. Night Shyamalan wannabe punk bitch of a movie. Yeah, that's right. Wannabe M. Night Shyamalan. That's like wanting to be the guy who has the 1,000+ anime DVD collection, but just not being cool enough to pull it off.

What happened to you, Alex Proyas? The Crow was pretty cool and I was even mildly entertained by I, Robot. Dude got locked up in a room with the wrong monkey.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Will faith protect them from an explosion?"

Faith will probably not protect you from an explosion. Especially not from an antimatter explosion, the biggest and baddest of all explosions.

Suppose you are at the faithiest place on Earth, and someone hid a very antimattery bomb somewhere. Who better to call in than professor Robert Langdon, symbology scholar? If you've answered: "Anyone else, cuz symbology ain't even a real thing", you have already won! Your prize? Enough sense not to watch this fucking movie.

I, on the other hand, enrolled in a movie quiz a few weeks ago, knowing full well this was the movie to be played while the scores were tallied. I still went. On a completely unrelated note, I like women who hurt me physically and emotionally. I'll give it this: while still mind-numbingly boring and stupid, it's marginally less dull than its predecessor. While nothing interesting happens, it all happens really fast, so there's that.

The movie starts with the death of the pope, and the kidnapping of the four candidates for papacy. A threatening puzzle (seriously) is then sent to Vatican HQ, which prompts them to send for Robert "Bigg Dogg" Langdon.


An overzealous Demolition Man reenactor stabs a dude's eye out to gain access to the precious antimatter that is stored at that heathen institution. The disoculated corpse's friend and moderate hottie dr. Vittoria Vetro goes to the Vatican to... Fuck if I know. She does know her way around antimatter and that is very important to the plot.

Professor Langdon and dr. Vetro team up for some reason, mostly because the movie is a sausage fest if they don't and an averagely hot lady is better than Tom Hanks and some carabinieri. Ron Howard, you are P.T. Barnum come back to life!

Our intrepid scholar friends must stop the murders of the four cardinals at the hands of a secret society (omg ILLUMINATI), the idea of which is explained laboriously throughout the movie. Never mind that the Illuminati are perhaps the most well-known "secret" society of all time. They were the villains in a Tomb Raider movie, for fuck's sake! So Robert and Vittoria embark on a quest throughout Vatican City and a strange land of computer animations, solving puzzles along the way. None of this is very exciting, because Robert usually just knows what the hell is going on or what to do about five minutes after he arrives on the scene.

Robert Langdon as a character polarizes me. I am torn between dismissing him as a trivia-spouting cypher or the perfect characterization of a hilariously boring man. Every other sentence he says is about Pope Phallicus XI who in 1683 blah blah oh I wish I was watching Crank II. This is coming from a guy who loves history, mind you. He even has the ability to think outside the box. When Langdon and a Swiss Guard are trapped in the glass-sealed Vatican Vaults with the oxygen levels slowly dropping, Langdon escapes by dropping a huge metal bookshelf on his see-through prison, followed by... shooting it with the unconscious guard's gun as a last-ditch attempt. I'm guessing both Langdon and the guard thought the glass would be bulletproof, but I'm also guessing Langdon just solved the mystery of the Vatican Vaults' high heating bills.

Even Hans Zimmer isn't even trying, basically delivering the travel music from Van Helsing in a loop for three hours. Hilariously, this overwrought bombast accompanies such exciting and dramatic shots as three Audis driving to a church. Take notes, Michael Bay!

I must give special credit to our villain (oh come on, you couldn't tell from just the trailer?) Ewan McGregor for hamming it up as the villain with a plot much more defined, idiotic and all-around entertaining than Ian McKellen in The Da Vinci Code. I don't even feel the need to crack jokes about it, let me describe his plan:

Angry at the pope's decision of saying something good about the CERN project, Ewan McGregor's chamberlain character Patrick McKenna murders the fuck out of the old bastard. To ensure nobody says anything positive about science for as long as he lives, he hires a hit man to kidnap the next four guys in line and methodically and publically kill them, making it look like an Illuminati plot against the church. The antimatter comes into play to make McKenna look good. It is to be "discovered" at the last minute, flown into the air right above St. Peter's Square and detonated, while the man himself parachutes to safety. An international hero, the conclave would have no choice but to make him pope. Fuck science.

You gotta admit, the dude has some brass balls to expect THAT plan to go off without a hitch. Certainly if you take into account that he apparently hired the dumbest hit man alive. Txt message "Ur final payment is in dis car". Millions of dollars laying around in a Fiat in the centre of Rome? Why, of course! Nothing is suspicious about this deal whatsoe-- WHAT IS THIS EXPLODING CAR SHIT

The article's title is a McKenna quote, by the way, and along with "WHAT MAN DOES NOT COWER IN FRONT OF THE AWESOME POWER OF LIGHTNING?" is the highlight of verbosity of the film. But will faith protect you from this explosion?

Check mate, Mrs. Howard and Brown. Check mate.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

omg kirksnspoxnbuns

I feel so dirty saying I enjoyed the new Star Trek. This coming from someone who's played Dungeons and Dragons for years, should tell you all you need to know. For years, Trek (like D&D, really) has been associated with the lowest of the low. A fanbase so rabid many, if not all nerd stereotypes derive almost directly from it.

There's an episode of The Simpsons where Comic Book Guy interrogates Lucy Lawless on the switching of horse breeds between shots that her mount undergoes in an episode of Xena. She is bombarded with trivial "criticisms" such as these until she exasperatedly replies "wizards did it". Knowing a few Trekkies personally, I can attest this behavior is not too exaggerated.

I never got into Trek as a child. Whereas Star Wars drew me in with its space monkeys and laser knights and gay robots, Trek never put in much of an effort. Whenever the channel would get switched onto an episode (although I must concede I am talking about The Next Generation here), people would be standing in a computer room talking with very big words. To a child, it was like watching the news, only they never went on location.

Well, J.J. Abrams' film certainly would have entertained my young self. This time there's space monsters, aliens consisting of more than just a few prostethics (though they are there), fistfights, gunfights, swordfights, time travel, planets imploding and by gum, it's funny. A lot of it is pretty damned funny. Intentionally so, even!

Chris Pine as Kirk deserves a lot of credit, but honestly, there's no one in the cast who does a bad job. Even Zachary Quinto as Spock, an actor known mostly from televised abortion Heroes, did an excellent job. His Spock is rigid, by the book and sometimes just a jerk but still strangely likeable.

It ain't all green babes and fisticuffs, though. If I may point out a pretty big weakness, it's that the film is a bit flighty. It's not really about anything. It does its job of getting that crew in their places for further adventures, but I'll be damned if I could tell you what the movie's main theme was.


A planet called Romulus is destroyed when a star goes supernova. Old man Spock is too late to help, although he promised he would. The crew of a mining ship led by Nero, portrayed in growls and grunts by Eric Bana, is pissed at him for being late so they chase him into the black hole he created to absorb the Romulus-destroying supernova. The Romulans and Spock so travel back in time. The Romulans immediately attack a ship going RARGH WHERE'S SPOCK (who wouldn't pop out until a good 28 years later). Among the casualties of that ship are Kirk's father, the death of whom normally occurred a lot later in time. The Romulans have thusly altered the space-time continuum and voila: audiences have a new Star Trek continuity without any baggage.

So Nero and his butt-fucking crew wait almost thirty years for Spock to pop out (hence the butt-fucking) once they realize they've traveled through time, giving our main characters the chance to grow up and become the HEROES THEY WERE DESTINED TO BE.

The villains have beef with Spock, but it's not this reality's Spock. The villains killed Kirk's father, but it was only in a fit of rage and nothing personal at all. I guess you might say that the Nero-posse is just a very transparent excuse to reboot the universe and get THOSE people in THOSE positions at THAT time -- and maybe start a lucrative franchise.


It deserves it, I'd say. I was reminded of the first X-Men film, in fact. Fun characters portrayed by good actors, plot kind of flimsy, mostly all set-up for ideas to be fleshed out later. Trek even has some good action scenes (devoid of shaky-cam, even! Strangely enough, a quiet conversation between Kirk and captain Pike shakes like Marty McFly) and there's really no one there as awful as Halle Berry in the mutant movie. Special props to composer Michael Giacchino for writing a score whose main theme I was actually humming on the way to the car.

And how can you not love a movie that introduces its protagonist to the dulcet tones of: