Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen


After the tragic results of the first film, I swore I would not pay a single dime toward viewing a sequel. I would go out of my way to avoid Michael Bay films. The horrid filth of the first film could never lower the bar any further than it had. It took a simple premise (giant robots that can transform into vehicles battling one another over a MacGuffin device) and managed to vomit forth a brutal masterpiece of dizzying and nonsensical narrative that never failed to crap all over any storytelling medium. So I took the high road and just decided that I would lay down not one single penny… but then my wife decided to watch the film while I was on the computer in the same room. Add this terrible mistake to her insistence that Star Wars really isn't all that great and her lack of understanding the pure awesomeness that the film brings to this world. This black hole monstrosity of awfulness managed catching my interest enough to wonder what the hell was going on and how the hell they would justify this meaningless stream of filth. I discovered that the bottom of the well hadn’t even been scraped in the original movie. Things were about to get a whole lot worse.

To be fair, one of my biggest complaints about the first film was a lack of on-screen robot bashing. It was all stuff we heard in the background while human actors would give reaction facial expressions. Learning from his mistakes in the first film, Michael Bay manages to incorporate a few more big-robot battles into this farce when he isn’t shoveling bathroom humor down our gullets with a gleeful disregard to human decency. The constant barrage of explosive sound lets up only long enough for the racial stereo-types to glare with the light of a thousand suns and sear their impressions into even the densest of skulls in the frat-boy acumen for which Bay has built a career. Only slightly less grating on the nerves is the presence of the films lead, a punk kid who has made it his personal mission to become the next … something? I don’t even know what he’s supposed to be. I’m not holding my breath. Megan Fox poses and sort of slinks her way between set pieces, reminding everyone who pays attention that the only real female presence in this testosterone laden clusterbang is a vapid doll incapable of delivering even the slightest line of dialogue with a degree of emotion. Her own feminine charms not-withstanding, we do get the surprise delivery of another transformer in human female guise… which simply BEGS to question why they would bother transforming into cars if they could disguise themselves as normal humans. But we’re not going to bother exploring that concept… or the ability to immediately teleport to any other location the planet. Yeah, that’s thrown in there too for no apparent reason. Look, I could tell you about all the things that fail to ever make the slightest degree of sense, but that’s the entire movie. None of it means anything! They go from point A to point A and nothing ever seems to get accomplished.

So let me tell you about something good. This film, for all its terrible dialogue, lack of focus, piss poor direction, obnoxious narrative, and the formless gear, piston, metallic clanging forms that PASS for Robots this film has a bright shining beacon of goodness. This movie has an AWESOME soundtrack. It has the kind of music that makes you think you are watching something FAR better than it is, something that is heroic, daring, a little scary, and epic in scale. When Optimus rises for battle, you almost forgive the script for the deaux ex machina that brings him back into the conflict… you almost forget that you can only barely tell which transformer is which in the formless jumble of gears that clash against one another, so you sort of know when to cheer and when to jeer. The music is so incredibly good. It’s purely the only redeeming quality of this horror show.

The wonderful thing about a bad movie is that is as capable of inspiring the same passion that a good movie is likely to inspire. For as much as I’m sickened and disgusted by this awful travesty in film making, I know that someone else will make a fantastic film down the road that will inspire me to write something of great praise and worthy regard. I love the storytelling medium of film and I’ll continue to see tons of crap in the hope that I will one day find another great film that inspires me to the same thrills and chills of countless other movies. I can still throw Raiders of the Lost Ark into my DVD player and get all giddy to the adventures of Indiana Jones, or cheer the exploits of Ash in the Evil Dead trilogy, or I could cry my eyes out to the Lord of the Rings and realize that there are still GREAT films out there and that people are still making GREAT films to this day. Maybe I’m being too hard on this brutal assault on the medium… the box office certainly seems to indicate that I’m wholly wrong. The last truly great theatrical film I saw had a dismal return, indicating my lack of connection with the general populace on the whole. I am a niche audience.

0.5 out of a possible 5 for this crapfest.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

3 Reviews: Doghouse / 30 Days (sequel) / Alice in Burtonland.


I saw a preview for “Doghouse” a few years back, just before its initial European release and long before U.S. distribution would land this film in my mailbox. Danny Dyer was heavily featured in the trailer and I had just discovered his particular “charm” after his performance in Severance. In “Doghouse”, Dyer hits familiar notes as the egotistical womanizing jerk in a troupe of British mates taking a holiday trip to the small village of Moodley. Their goal is to distract best friend “Vince” from his recent divorce through drink and rough-house drinking in a small town atmosphere away from the city life the boys were usually living. The seven mates arrive in the town only to find it a near-barren wasteland nearly devoid of life and split up to wander around. Things hit the fan when they’re attacked by the blood-crazed cannibalistic female residents of the town… the “Zom-birds”, if you will.

Okay, that’s the premise of the film. What this film is really about, however, is a grown man coming to terms with his own maturity and recent divorce. He has done everything the right way for so long, only to wind up losing his wife because she’d grown “bored” with their life. He is frustrated and angry, he feels as though all women hate men, and his buddies are all coping with different stages of their own lives. So he and his buddies run from one hiding spot to another, chopping, stabbing, burning, and otherwise behaving in a rather ungentlemanly manner to the towns’ female zombie residents. Because, what this film is really about is a bunch of goofy blokes getting attacked by female “zom-bird” slags.

Brit-slang and dry wit humor blends with a decent amount of prat-fall gags and gory F/X. The verbal interplay remains consistent between the characters, each character seeming like lifelong mates out for a weekend jaunt away from their spouses. While Dyer may own most of the film, he’s in strong competition with the extremely likeable and nerdy heart of the troupe, Matt. Mikey, desperate to please and impress his blokes, also rises to the occasion time and again. The movie is funny and kept me entertained from start to finish with a group of loveable goofballs. Even the misogynistic Dyer comes off as redeemable when all is said and done.

4.5 out of a possible 5.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days

A story has a beginning, middle, and an end. The original film featured a fairly standard ‘siege’ premise when the Alaskan City of Barrow faces a month without sunlight and the hungry assault from a clan of vampires. We followed Eben as he made difficult choices and struggled to save the people he loved from a terrible fate. We had a beginning as the sun set and Eben was unable to help his estranged wife catch the last flight out of the city. The people of Barrow settled in for a harsh month and a mysterious stranger had disabled communications with the outside world. The middle came in a wave of hunger as the vampires took to the city, slaughtering and killing with reckless abandon. Eben struggled to keep his family and friends safe from the harsh cold and the unrelenting horror that stalked them. And he faced the end of his story, but for that you should see the original 30 Days of Night and probably stop reading this review. That’s the end of the story.

But with any successful property, there’s always an attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle. Attempting to expand the tale beyond its fitting end, Dark Days continues to follow Stella in the aftermath of her survival against the undead. She has published a book about her experiences and is touring the country to spread her tale, to create a wider awareness of the vampires’ existence. She’s caught the attention of the undead and a number of people who are actively hunting the monsters. Lured by a promise to disrupt their ‘system’ by killing the vampire known as “Lillith”, Stella once again does battle with the undead and makes several startling discoveries.

Actually, it’s not all that startling so much as it’s just lazy writing. We find out that vampires who burn in the daylight can be reconstituted, completely destroying a number of scenes from the original film. Lillith is about as threatening a vampire as can be when she has almost no lines and pretty much struts around the screen and stares people to death… there’s no depth to her character and she completely lacks the menace of the first films lead vampire. Heck, she isn’t even nearly as threatening as the first films child vampire. Added to the growing list of problems is the introduction of “Dane”, a “Good Guy” vampire who is somehow able to curb his thirst and attempts to help Stella and the new Scoobie Gang track and hunt down the undead. In the wake of her towns’ destruction, Stella has become a chain smoking, booze swilling, teeth-clenched grumpy pants “tough girl” semi-hero straight out of central casting. One of the best parts of the film features the death of a fellow hunter when he turns, leading one of the cast to say “We’ve never had to kill one of our own.” Stella flippantly mentions that you get used to it, to which I’m looking back at the events of the first film as Eben did all the dirty work while Stella sat around crying. What, precisely, is she supposed to have gotten used to? And what’s with the attitude?

Dark Days does feature a number of good gore effects. On its own and ignoring the back story of the original film, it’s a fairly good vampire hunter film. But when you compare it with the original, or when you look at it as a continuation of the characters struggles, it fails on an epic level and reminds you that a good sequel should always respect the original films ending.

3 out of 5.

Alice in Wonderland

What, precisely, was wrong with the original story of Alice that Tim Burton felt the need to only sort of and kind of address its original premise with this supposed sequel to the original story? It is never billed a sequel, of course… it is presented as a wholly new vision to the original Lewis Carroll story as presented time and time again throughout the years. It is designed to look like Alice, it is designed to feel like Alice, but the original story certainly didn’t leave enough room for a headlining Johnny Depp to chew up the mess of dialogue and deliver Carroll’s poetry in a dreadful hodgepodge of semi-European dialect accents and drunken Captain Jack slurring. And yet Depp goes out of his way to out-weird himself in full make-up while Burton forces the cast and crew into one poorly designed green room effect after another in an attempt to recapture the same exact vision he’s already brought us time and time again. It’s like Burton just takes a weird story, adds more weirdness to it, grounds it with the same thematic presentation of EVERY single other film he’s ever made. Take a deep breath, try to relax, and enjoy the film for what it is…

Alice is a young girl who might very well be mad. Her father disappeared some time ago, possibly dead though we never really find out the truth of it. He might have just gone mad himself, and his former estate is now owned and run by a family friend whose own son is preparing to propose marriage to the young Alice. He’s well-to-do, of course, and everyone expects the girl to accept because it’s only sensible and everyone does the sensible thing in a sensible world… except for the one single outsider that Burton continues to place in all of his films, leaving that one person to deal with the hostility and persecution of a normal world again and again and again! I FREAKING GOT IT WITH EDWARD SCISSORHANDS YOU TIRED HACK OF A … .deep breath. Enjoy it for what it is. So, Alice the loon takes off right after the proposal and chases the Rabbit into the hole and goes through the motions… again, it seems. We’re told that she’s doing all of this again by the residents of Wonderland, who are all familiar enough with Alice to hope that she is the right one. You see, this isn’t just a remake of Alice… it’s a sequel, I suppose, though they didn’t ever say it was going to be a sequel… GARGHGHGHGH!!!! Because the original material isn’t weird enough? Because WHY?!?!! I’ll tell you why… because Johnny Depp is the Mad Hatter, and Mrs. Tim Burton needs more screen time to weird up the theater with her bizarre British mannerisms when she’s really just a tired old slag!!! ARGH!!!! Deep breath!

The movie isn’t bad… it’s just nothing we haven’t already seen, and nothing we haven’t already coped with, and nothing to do with Alice in Wonderland when all is said and done. It’s a hodgepodge collection of random elements from the story swirled around to tell the same exact story Tim Burton made famous with Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, and countless other fantasy adventures. Fans are going to enjoy the work because it’s the same thing he’s done over and over again, but I couldn’t stop marveling at how magnificently he managed to work in more and more screen time for both Depp and his own wife. The Red Queen and the Mad Hatter were important to the story, but didn’t have near the presence they happen to carry in this reworking of Carrolls original story. So, to be fair, it’s neither incredibly bad or awfully good… it’s another Tim Burton movie in a glutton bundle of Tim Burton films.

2.5 out of 5

Monday, November 8, 2010

2 Reviews: Centurion / Night of the Demons (remake!)


The legend of Rome’s Ninth Legion has survived for centuries. They were purported to have disappeared into the mists of the Scottish highlands, never to be seen again. Historians have long since disproven the story, but it makes for some stunning material with which to weave a dramatic story. Writer/Director Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) asks what might have happened and manages to create a thrilling adventure. Early in the story, a Roman soldier (Michael Fassbinder) is captured by the Picts after a successful raid on his outpost. The Ninth Legion manages to rescue the escaped prisoner and then walk into an ambush. Nearly wiped out to a man, the soldier leads a rag tag group of survivors on a daring rescue of their stalwart general. Things do not go according to plan and the troupe is forced to run, harried by the Picts in the aftermath of their unsuccessful rescue.

The film starts off quickly enough, but seems a little clumsy for the first several minutes. The Legion are not heroes, they are soldiers on a mission. The Picts are defending their homeland. It becomes difficult to identify with the Romans. They are portrayed as arrogant, bullish, and bloodthirsty. They are the invaders of a land, and we start the film by seeing them in a terrible light. Their enemies and the films primary antagonists seem far more sympathetic at the start. We get the gory goods from Neil Marshall, but the man is no slouch at telling a story. What seems clumsy at first actually comes together later as roles become reversed and we see the Romans as vulnerable and desperate. We see the Picts become set on the hunt, sadistic in their own cruelty, and vicious to their own people. Fassbinder grows into the role of the “Centurion” of the title, leading his adopted men through the terrible winter wasteland of the Scottish hills in a desperate attempt to evade his pursuers. This is yet another terrific film from one of the most talented directors of our time and something

The harsh winter cold seeps into the marrow of the film, allowing the viewer to imagine how the land itself is rejecting the presence of the Romans. Swirling gray clouds shift and swirl constantly, threatening to break open with a frozen snow or rain. The terrain is jagged, uneven, and difficult and we feel each stumble and fall as the men scramble to reach safety. Hardcore traditional effects generously splattered with blood were shot on location. The battle scenes are brutal, with limbs savagely ripped or chopped off and faces painted in tortured agony.

I definitely urge my readers to check out if they get the opportunity.

4 out of 5.

Night of the Demons

Remaking “Night of the Demons” is actually a pretty good idea. It’s a little known cult classic with a great many faults but a terrific little Halloween Night premise. There’s a strong enough fan following to provide instant interest, but just enough wiggle room to do something a little different and possibly improve on the original source material. So it actually came as a surprise to me when I rented the remake and discovered the depths of an epic failure that so brutally scrubbed my brain with its utter lack of anything worthwhile to bother with the time it takes to actually watch this trash. I’m at a loss of where to begin, because this movie doesn’t just fail in simple direction, acting, or special effects… it leaps into the worst CASTING decisions to possibly plague such a wretched little project, promotional material that puts forth its’ best effort in displaying the vapid lack of thought from a single person on the cast or crew, and even a location that boasts the least eerie “haunted house” to ever grace my screen.

Shannon Elizabeth, a person who seems very sweet and gentle, is terribly miscast as the vampishly sensual “Angela” upon which most of the film relies in order to provide a degree of menace. But you’ll notice that Elizabeth is described as both “sweet and kind” which makes her attempts at “vampishly sensual” seem awkward at best and just flat out clumsy at worst. It’s usually at “worst” when she attempts to slink her way across a room or intimately wrap her arms around some future victim. But; there seems to be a genuine love for the genre work in her excitement for the role, so I feel badly about ragging on her performance. Honestly, I don’t think it was her fault. This terrible casting decision pales in comparison to Monica Keening and co-star Edward Furlong. Neither actor shares the slightest shred of chemistry with the other but we’re supposed to believe that their failed relationship will provide the emotional anchor their characters need. Furlong is just plain hard to watch while Keening is flat and terrible as the films main protagonist. She sucks the excitement from a scene and makes several unsuccessful attempts at sarcastic dialogue in order to maybe come off as cool or snarky. Attempts made, and epic failure achieved. Just about the only redeeming thing about this movie comes from the brief cameo made by Linnea Quigley, a feature performer in the first film.

The story is something like this… Angela rents the old manor house with a foul reputation in order to throw a wild Halloween party. The police shut the party down because she’s charging each person an entrance fee and she forgot to get a permit, leaving her high and dry. We also have a number of subplots that eventually lead to several other guests becoming locked into the property until morning, and then they find some bodies in the basement. Angela begins to turn into a demon and spread the infection… oh, man, this actually sounds like it’s not so bad when I describe it. I’m not doing you any justice… so let me be frank: We had about thirty minutes of character development that never went anywhere and achieved absolutely NOTHING in the way of making this a better story or movie. The characters were bland and meaningless, random faces to be splattered with blood or some other fluid. The demons incomprehensible weakness to “rust” became utterly ridiculous with an actual attempt at logical explanation through dialogue… what?!?!!! You hit them, they burn, end of freakin’ explanation! The roguish thug hero of the first film is replaced with an incomprehensibly pathetic drug dealer who gets introduced with one of the most long-winded back story scenes that never EVER meant anything with regards to the rest of the story. And, in case you missed it, he makes certain to keep explaining why he’s freaking out over and over and over again until you simply stop caring. Oh, boy does this movie suck.

The director offers a pre-taped introduction filmed at and for the San Diego Comic Con, promoting the film as a “Punk Rock” horror flick that includes the first demon anal sex scene. I’m not kidding. That’s what he chooses to focus on for promotional material in this flick and he delivers on precisely that promise, but even THAT comes off as just flat out boring and uninteresting. Really, the whole movie is an exercise in tedium with interesting concepts that never really work.

2 out of 5

Monday, November 1, 2010

Reviews: Lost Boys (The Thirst) and "Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl". MORE...

Lost Boys: The Thirst

The Frog Brothers are back in the latest Lost Boys film, reuniting the first films vampire hunting duo for battle against the Undead. Edgar Frog is out on the skids, no longer so gung ho about delivering massive awesome death to the undead. He struggles to make ends meet by selling off his comic collection, scrap by scrap. Just as the bank prepares to foreclose on his property, Edgar is hired by a vampire-romance author to track a vampire rave and rescue her brother from the clutches of the evil DJ X. There’s a little bit of story with DJ X using Vampire blood as a drug in order to transform a literal army to do his bidding. This is a simple follow-up story featuring a spin-off on characters from the first movie and it’s not exactly going to set the world on fire… but it’s precisely the kind of story the fans of the original will most likely want to see. Edgar takes center stage, Alan returns, and the rest of the movie has some fun with itself and with modern vampire mythos.

Corey Feldman is spot on, once again, as Edgar Frog. It’s a role he created and it’s one that the actor seems to enjoy having fun with. He’s joined by Jamison Newlander, reprising the role of Alan Frog and eagerly hitting the right notes for a return to form. A flashback reveals the reason for Alans’ absence in the previous film, a forced transformation into the very thing they hate has driven a wedge between the brothers Frog. Having survived for the past several years on animal blood, Alan keeps himself away from temptation and he’s become very bitter. Sam Emerson is also gone after the results of “The Tribe”; so Edgar recruits some new help in the form of a reality show Hunter and a clerk in the local comic book store. We get a classic “bug Hunt”-style film with the good guys hunting vampires in the sub-basement of an abandoned meat-packing factory.

There’s plenty to gripe about with the film, however. The raving vampires are extremely one-dimensional and DJ X is little more than a footnote to the rest of the film. The Vampires are fashioned after the 30 Days of Night shark-teeth monsters, there are obvious allusions to Twilights’ author in Edgars’ employer, and there were far too many “flashbacks” to the original films bonding moments between the brothers and Sam. Gratuitous scenes of sex and violence are to be expected, but seemed very out of place with the tone of the film. The pacing of the story staggered a little bit around the middle, but eventually found it’s footing in the finale and with its’ awkward tongue-in-cheek humor. There was an obvious desire to stick with a lot of the formula that worked in the first film, a good number of lines rehashed for a follow up story.

3.5 out of 5.

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl

I have spent nearly half the day attempting to recover my senses. I’m trying to shape a cohesive thought, write an honest opinion, and offer my dear faceless readers a fair and objective view so that they are capable of making an informed opinion before watching this movie. I don’t know if that will be possible. My brain is a pile of mush, having been brutally dragged through the blood geysers, flying body parts, and lunatic characters of “Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl”. The Japanese import of this film includes some of the most bizarre scenes imaginable, taking direction from previous Japanese Gore-comedy films like Tokyo Gore Police and Machine Girl in order to raise the bar a little higher.

This movie is f’ed up! Look, I tried to be professional… read the above paragraph, because it sounds like I’m still a little sane. But no, I’m sorry, that’s not the case here. This movie is twisted and bizarre and I don’t honestly know if it was good OR bad. I just know that it was, and I’ll never be able to un-see that which I have seen. Vampire Girl, a new transfer student, is in love with one of her classmates and tricks him into tasting her blood. Her interests are opposed by another school friend, whose father is secretly a twisted scientist seeking to bring life to the dead… while dressed in Kabuki make-up. Surrounding this bizarre love triangle are a series of characters including a “wrist-cutting” club, the “Dark Girls” club, Igor the janitor, and a school full of potential victims, peeping tom teachers, and a seductive school nurse. The gore is way over the top and flatly ridiculous. But if you think the strangeness ends there, you are sorely mistaken… a totally twisted soundtrack mixes show tunes, fusion jazz, and playful ditties that completely warp the mind.

This skull-fucked movie isn’t going to get any star-rating. It goes right next to “Meet the Feebles”, which means you watch it and YOU take responsibility for that decision. I won’t take the blame and I am definitely NOT going to take the credit if this sort of thing spreads any further beyond my eyes. You want it, well it’s not so hard to find anymore.

Riff Trax: House On Haunted Hill (Fathom Event)

Not so much a review in this case… I decided to take a night to myself and headed off to the theater for a Riff Trax special event. Fathom Events tends to rent out space in a number of theaters across the country for simulcast promotional bits featuring the Opera, huge concert recordings, anime films, lectures, and other things. It’s kind of a special treat for people who pay some attention to these sorts of promotions… in this case; it looks like it was me and one other couple for the Riff Trax event. The boys from MST3K have been doing this performance tours for a number of films, riffing movies and shorts from coast to coast… and I love a good movie riff as much as the next guy, though probably a little more.

They opened their show with some good riffs on Instructional Video shorts, featuring a grocery witch and a talking paper bag. The talking bag was probably the most frighteningly funny thing I’ve ever seen, and I dread the day that wood pulp takes over the rest of the world with its awesome might. This poor film never stood a chance, and I almost feel a shred of sympathy for the makers… but then I remember all the school shorts I had to sit through and those unholy monstrosities can rot for all I care! I saw my first real autopsy in a school health class… what kind of sick monster decides a graphic depiction of cutting fat encrusted arteries is good learning material for middle school? You want to tell me that???

Then they went to the main event and I finally got to see Vincent Price on the big screen for the first time in my life. Price and all his mustachioed glory with the little quirks and grins and that highly distinguished voice trilling through dialogue that can’t help but sound far more respectable than it really is when he speaks it. The film was a classic schlock-fest seen in hundreds of Horror Host variations, quite possibly over-riffed if such a thing were possible. But I wanted to take another trip to the “House on Haunted Hill” to have a quick look-see, gander through the colorized rooms and admire one slow pan after another from William Castle as he belted out a good feature-length story with only an extremely small number of gags. I love Castle films, so I would’ve seen this if the guys weren’t riffing… but as it was, I was laughing until I cried. And then I got a headache and they wouldn’t stop cracking jokes, and I was in tears, and my head was pounding, and they JUST WOULDN’T STOP!!!!

The show came to a close at well past the two hour mark and I was clutching my skull, hoping for a blessed end to the horrible torments inflicted through the gift of laughter. I chuckled and guffawed and even gave a donkey-like “HEEEE-HAW!!!” at some point in the evening, giving wonder to theater mates who muttered that I had to be crazy or inebriated, but of course I was not the latter. That always leaves the former, but you all knew that already. So let me close this brief commentary that I enjoyed the Riff Trax event and hope to see some more as time warrants. Now presently and next… Midnight and the Genetic Opera!