February 9, 2014

Robocop 2014

At first  I thought MGM decided to mock their famous Lion with a bizarre soundclip that replaced the trademark growl.

Turned out it was Samuel Jackson's Pat Novak. The guys's pre-broadcast mouth calisthenics that produced all that sound. It's there where I concluded Jose Padilha's remake of the 1987 Paul Verhoeven classic was a different entity altogether. 

Like the 1987 incarnation, the upgraded version never fails to underscore media's role into molding the public to puppets dancing to the tune of the most powerful corporations. That of course, and the neverending romantic theme of every successful fairy tale about the ages-old question of what makes us all human. 



The over the top R-18 violence that made the 1987 version so compelling was toned down for a more PG-friendly version this time. OCP is still the evil corporatation, and in place of the 'Old Man' we have a Steve Jobs-like CEO named Raymond Sellars. I never really liked Michael Keaton before The Other Guys but his performance in RoboCop made me a fan. The guy managed to make the character a very likable villain. Along with Jackie Earle Haley's mercenary and company military tactician and Jay Baruchel's goofy marketing executive, the film had all the makings of a very compelling movie by virtue of its villains (no Clarence/Jones but equally good) but somewhere in the middle the entire thing goes...level.

It's not that the movie was bad. In fact it's good---if it didn't have the specter of the original hanging around the back of your head to compare it with. The story and the overall direction of the new one is totally different in tone and even in story than its predecessor. That alone is reason enough why the movie is an excellent stand-alone entity on its own. I guess my major gripe about it is that the main character somehow lacks the charisma and bad-assness you'd expect from it. Granted that it's somehow a major improvement over the original considering it can move faster and has a whole lot more sophisticated access to technology and weaponry. I can't blame the actor (Joel Kinnaman) if that was how the character was written. You just can't empathize with it enough. Desensitized? Probably.

Had it not been for Gary Oldman's character, the film would have been a total waste.  Dr. Norton is the moral and humanist center of the story. They detached it, because RoboCop seems to be more like a machine in this version despite his human memories being intact.

There are a lot of allusions to the original other than the shared similarity of the characters' names. In place of the notorious 'Directive 4' we have the red band. Still a powerful tool to remind our hero that he's still just a product and still in the mercy of the company that made him. Good action/drama film overall. If only you haven't seen the original to compare it to. You just can't avoid it.

August 4, 2013

Men of steel and titans of metal

Been a while since I posted anything here so might as well talk about the two movies I really loved so far this year.

MAN OF STEEL

More of a reaction to the negative feedback of most viewers/critics whose rallying cry was that the thing was "too dark" and---my favorite--- that "Superman doesn't kill". Wonder if those same people had the same sentiment about issue #75 of the comics where the Man Of Steel met his "demise" in the hands of Doomsday. I'm sure that titanic face-off between the two ridiculously superpowered beings didn't produce any casualty at all. Just buildings and other inanimate objects because it would have been too dark a tone for the Norman Rockwell-esque world the blue boy scout lives in. Or that Superman has no intention of killing someone whose threat level is insane because, well, he doesn't kill. I'm sure that final blow he gave to that character was meant to only "stun" him.



I don't know. Maybe these chronic complainers have a better solution to that Zod-Superman smackdown that does not involve desperate, last minute solutions like snapping your opponent's neck to prevent him from killing some more. And that the character who did the killing was a first-timer at this kind of business. 

As for the "critical" mass who apparently found the violence and "lack of humor"  so off-putting, well tough luck gentlemen, sometimes genre entries like this revolve more around actual action than subtle artistic metaphors on life and deep meditations on existence. Snyder's unfairly lumped into the Michael Bay category of all flash and mindless mayhem devoid of good stories that may in fact be grounded on something---except that David Goyer and the Nolans are behind the writing that any more comparison with the former is far-fetched. This film was simply a reaction to the Singer-directed Superman Returns that managed to stoke the critics but left a stale taste on the mouth of most its target audience, including myself.

Donner's version is fine, but it's time for another take on things.


PACIFIC RIM

Best movie of the year. If only for the sheer ambition of making a big-screen tribute to those 
Japanese mecha/kaiju anime and manga that gained popularity during the 70s and 80s. I was a huge fan of Voltron, Daimos and Voltes V when these shows aired on free TV. And watching Guillermo Del Toro's fanboy output of giant robots bludgeoning giant monsters with makeshift weapons like a massive ship, that elation you had as a kid jumping out the sofa mimicking those cartoon robots as they administer their brand of justice to those giant invading monsters with extreme prejudice---comes back. Del Toro obviously made something he wanted to see as a fan, and that translated very well on the big screen. 



This obviously won't be winning any awards for best picture but this is clearly the best picture of the year. You advertise robots beating monsters to a pulp and live up to it. 

In this aspect Pacific Rim lives up to its promise.

June 30, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man


There were the doubts about how someone known primarily for 500 Days Of Summer could possibly pull off a seemingly ambitious superhero blockbuster flick like The Amazing Spider-Man.


I had the same doubts at first but were quickly dispelled by those small promotional clips taken from the movie they released gradually up until the opening date. Most notable of them was the clip  where Spider-Man was trolling a carjacker. So far so good. At least they got the trash-talker aspect and sense of humor of the character right. Whenever Tobey Maguire tried those one-liners off the Sam Raimi version, it came off being delivered by a nerd trying so hard to be cool. Granted that Peter Parker was a real nerd, he was one without any of those cliched social handicaps filmmakers try so hard to hammer down the heads of the audiences to the point of actually preaching how great it is to be one. He's a nerd, but not of the Big Bang Theory-variety. With over a truckload of re-invention and reboots ranging from comic books, TV shows, the occasional direct to video B-movie treatments to Sam Raimi's version, the last thing the world needs is another 'reboot' of an established franchise.




But the movie is everything the first three were not: It's better.


Rabid comic-book purists will no doubt complain again about the entire re-invention of the Peter Parker backstory and how un-Norman Rockwell-esque the treatment of the hero's relationship was to his aunt and uncle up to the inclusion of a conspiracy theory regarding his parents' disappearance, but it's all irrelevant yapping at this point. 

Webb and his pool of writers created a fresh and grittier take on the evolution of the iconic web-slinger. There's a certain realistic feel to it that's apparent and devoid of any excessive melodrama or long speeches on nobility. And Parker naturally gets back at the bullies who made his life miserable and exacts a level of enjoyment for his small revenge; as any normal person who suddenly discovered the power to fight back, would do. 


But the two lead actors [Andrew Garfield/Emma Stone] were perfect for the parts they played. Specially Stone, who did not come off as the token hysterical neurotic female lead with a sense of entitlement despite knowing her partner's nocturnal activities and responsibilities.


The fight sequences with the Lizard, which most people actually go for in movies like this were excellent. And the Spider-Man contortions made famous in the comics when he was web-slinging was given due recognition specially in the ending. It also showcased Peter Parker's scientific wizardy and his creation of the web-shooters. Without a doubt this Spider-Man is better compared to the one-dimensional version Raimi introduced. Webb and the others hit all the right note with this first installment, and a possible inclusion to The Avengers.


And basing from the extra footage at the end credits [as with all Marvel movies], looks like The Green Goblin is up next. I hope they still get Willem Dafoe for it. 


Minus that horrendous helmet, this time.



May 2, 2012

Face-offs: 1

There are a lot of movies that featured memorable fight/action sequences. These are the ones that came to mind on such short notice. I'm sure I missed out on a few excellent ones but we can always create a new list. Preferably on the next five of the list's continuation.

Gun-Kata duel, Equilibrium

Of course Gun-Kata is a load of BS director Kurt Wimmer invented to make the action scenes in his Dystopian film more flashy and palatable to the movie-going public. Lucky for him lead actor Christian Bale was involved or else the film would be a total disaster. It's an ambitious film, and entertaining mostly because of the unique blend of weird samurai style melee fighting and calculus shooting.This is also the film that convinced me Bale could pull off a decent Batman. His cleric (killer mode) is a lot more Batman than Batman, actually.


Train, From Russia With Love

The titanic faceoff between two elite killers in the 2nd film installment of Ian Fleming's quintissential spy is, up to now, voted as one of the most intense and realistic celluloid fights of all time. Robert Shaw's SPECTRE assassin Red Grant, had been pursuing Sean Connery's 007 in the course of the movie to terminate him. In the train, disguised as the M16 agent he killed, engaged Bond in a hand to hand combat to the death. Grant with his trademark garrote/wristwatch and Bond with his knife/gas/briefcase. No quarter, winner take all.


Mall skirmish, Terminator 2: Judgment Day

This is one of the breathtaking sequences in James Cameron's sequel to his killer cyborg movie in 1984. Up until then we didn’'t know squat about the new villains' abilities. Until his T-800 nemesis (Schwarzenegger) cratered him full of shotgun blasts. What follows is the two terminators’ introduction to each other’s capabilites and limitations by throwing each other around, while retaining a sense of stylish aesthetic that still looks cool more than 20 years after its release.


See http://youtu.be/VDVVAuz1v7U for the first encounter between the two cyborgs

Coliseum, Return Of The Dragon

Bruce Lee's best film, in my opinion is this. Not onlybecause he beat he crap out of everyone’s totem of machismo Chuck Norris, but broke the man’s spirit first. One of the best choreographed and realistic hand to hand movie fights that not only gave a sense of satisfaction by seeing the arrogant bad guy beaten, making you feel a bit scared for the protagonist because of his own formidable skills.


Intro, Blade 2

Wesley Snipes’ underrated Marvel half vampire hero is all swagger and precision. He knows how to make the character more intimidating than the monsters he kills on a regular basis. The first sequences of him storming a vampire mafia stronghold is gleefully brutal. Nothing like seeing monsters pissing their pants because of a hero a lot worse than they are. Snipes’ own martial arts flare of punishing the villains with extreme prejudice is an added bonus.


Theed Duel, The Phantom Menace

While the entire movie leaves a lot to be desired, the deadly dance between Jedi and Sith was best exemplified by the energetic and ballet-like lightsaber fight against a deadly Sith warrior played to feral perfection by Ray Park. Despite it being choreographed to appeal more to style than actual reality [you can practically see the actors aiming their strikes at their opponent’s blade rather than their opponent], it’s still an arresting sight, specially if you were weaned to the first trilogy’s brand of conservative lightblade duels.


Battle Of Pelennor Fields/The Rohirrim, The Return Of The King

Nothing can match the epic grandeur of the arrival of Theoden’s forces just as Gondor is about to fall. And the battle the followed shorty thereafter. And the Nazgul is always a sight to behold.

April 15, 2012

Phantasm


‘Let me liberate you from this flesh construct that binds you to time and space. All that is unknown will be known to you once more…’ THE TALL MAN

Phantasm was a little-known 1979 film from a relative unknown named Don Coscarelli. It is one of the most unique, strange, and bewildering contribution in the world of popular film boogeymen populated by the likes of A Nightmare On Elm St., Friday The 13th, Haloween, and Hellraiser.

Chief of it is the film's antagonist. A tall, lanky geriatric mortician sporting a Prince Valiant haircut simply called The Tall Man. Wearing black suits a size too small and with the habit of pillaging graveyards and turning corpses into pint sized-zombies, and using their brains to power his floating metallic orbs. A graphic scene involving these deadly spheres drilling into the head of a victim and sucking out the blood from them is a gory, but amusing bit of cinematic creativity. You'd feel the tongue in cheek humor like the creators were having a joke while conceptualizing it.

Angus Scrimm as the nefarious Tall Man

It's the same tone that separated the film among the pack. It knew about the seeming absurdity of the premise and decided to inject a few self-deprecating humor while it had fun scaring audiences out of their wits.

Thanks in no small part to Angus Scrimm's portrayal of the villain. The Tall Man is unnerving, weird---in a funny way---while at the same time able to conjure just enough fright, especially when he's in pursuit. Always in that wide, steady and purposeful stride with the echoing TOK-TOK-TOK of his heavy- cleated boots. Never ran. Not that he needed to, in the first place.

As with all other monsters in the genre, the guy seemed to magically teleport into that place where you thought you were the safest.

Unlike the motormouthed Freddy Krueger, or the one-track mind of Jason Voorhees, The Tall Man’s motivations are slightly a bit more complex than just thoughtless mayhem. You never quite know what the guy is up to; even when you know mankind’s best interest is the farthest thing in his head. He goes from town to town, harvesting graves and leaving a wasteland that almost wipes out a town’s population and leaving not more than a few ‘lurkers’[undead rejects] in them as well.

But what really set the movie apart was that the series [all four of them] had a comic book approach to it that references the classic hero vs arch –enemy routine that promises a perpetual conflict between the opposing sides. The film’s protagonist trio – A young boy, his elder brother and their ice cream vendor bestfriend have been steady characters in all the series. Whereas in other fims in the genre, the average shelf-life of the main characters were two movies at most. The actors even aged in it. By the time the fourth installment came [1998], Scrimm’s appearance was in stark contrast to his 1979 incarnation.

The series has a dreamy, and predominantly melancholic tone to it more than outright terror. Don Coscarelli is fond of long, drawling footages of bleak landscapes and isolation mostly focused on A. Michael Baldwin’s character Mike, who had been the target of the Tall Man’s pursuit since the first film. There are times when the movie even feels like a Joy Division or The Cure video, with all the footages of landscapes devoid of human habitation and complete solitude. It’s closer to David Lynch than Clive Barker or Wes Craven.

Even the origin of the villain or his relation to one of the characters has no visible explanation.Whether the guy is an alien, demon or death himself. The only clue is that there is vital information for whatever plans he has on Mike’s [Baldwin] head. That Mike might even be of the same origin as the Tall Man remains vague, despite the latter extracting one of the killer spheres in his head by the end of the fourth film.

In a lot of ways it’s one of the best films to have come out of the last 30 years. Just on the out of world premise to it that is as confounding as anything Terry Gilliam did and just as funny in some parts as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. It’s one of the better big ‘indie’ films ever made. I doubt if the premise was pitched in today’s gore and sensory overload-addicted climate, it would get any kind of approval then go straight to the can in favor of celluloid cruds big on explosions, more explosions and sub-par storyline.

It’s not without its flaws, and there are surely enough of them to go around in the series, but as with any other films boxed in the same genre, the demographics for this kind of movies aren’t exactly moustache-twirling cineastes. To go watch it and expect any profound statements on the human condition other than watching it for thrills would be an exercise in stupidity. In fact going out to watch any films with that kind of mindset is ridiculous.

Unless you’re paid to be like that.

                             

March 20, 2012

Dark passengers

The original premise of George Romero's least-popular installment to his zombie trilogy called Day Of The Dead, was that underground settlements of scientists and soldiers have finally figured out how to combat the ongoing zombie plague: fighting fire with fire.


It's practically humans rounding up zombies and training them to take out their own kind. One early concept design of it had zombies wearing GI gear and carrying rifles and assorted weapons to kill their 'untrained' ghoulish ilk.


A promising premise and I'm sure would have been great fun to watch, but the machinations of capitalism and studio meddling proved to be a more horrifying and debilitating factor for the kind of grand production Romero had in his head ("Ben Hur with zombies", according to top FX master Tom Savini). 


The result: a weak installment that paled to its predecessors. Zombie vs zombie out, another installment in the study of human fragility: in. The only residue left from the original treatment was Bub, the domesticated zombie pet of the demented scientist played by Richard Liberty.


Face-offs between monsters have always held a high place among fanboys. Since the 40s, where Universal monsters were made to square-off (Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman) to an East vs West battle between Godzilla and King Kong to Freddy vs Jason and Aliens vs Predator. There's always the nagging question of how one monster would fare against another.


Because let's face it: we're in awe of the villain more than the hero.


That's why it's good that there's a TV show that features a serial killer whose victims are the same kind of sick monster that he is.


Dexter (Showtime) features and provides a deeper treatment of serial killers than most films on the subject, notably its protagonist Dexter Morgan. A forensics blood-spatter specialist for the Miami Police who happens to have a very interesting hobby when he's not out working.




The show's format is seen through Dexter's eyes most of the time, interspersed with some of his voice-overs reminding us how completely detached he is from the rest of humanity. That everything he shows people is an act and a camouflage to hide his real identity. Even sex, as the first two seasons have shown, holds little interest for him than that of killing someone in his "kill room". By all accounts his behavior fits the profile of a real sociopath serial killer to a tee, with only a slight difference. While the likes of Hannibal Lecter picks on just about anyone who offends him, Dexter follows a peculiar code instilled by his adoptive father to only kill those who also kill without remorse. Apparently most people who fit the code's limitations are serial killers as well. And what better way to find his victims than looking through the files and utilizing the investigating facilities of a police station.


Michael C. Hall's portrayal of the character is an excellent guide on how not to underestimate the most boring and normal looking guy in the crowd. You'd be amazed at how the character actually go to such great pains in putting out an effort to look and act like the most mundane and uninteresting person in an environment where everyone wants to be noticed. But that's the real thing about these kind of people isn't it? Whenever one of them gets caught the usual reaction from those who think know them best is always a resounding "He looked so normal".


Every season pits the guy against an assortment of killers with different methods of satisfying their urges, but by far the best (in my opinion) was Season 4; where he butts heads with John Lithgow's 'The Trinity Killer'. Lithgow, a brilliant actor who can play gentle, almost pathetic characters to funny clueless guys like 3rd Rock From The Sun's Dick Solomon is stone cold disturbing as  Arthur Mitchell, a seemingly affable family man who in truth is a vicious and calculating monster. Even his villainous roles where he played mentally unstable characters like that in Raising Caine aren't as compelling. And the banter between the two serial killers at the end is priceless.


Having just concluded a terrific run for Season 6 where he fought off two religious doomsday zealots---Edward James Olmos & Colin Hanks---the cliffhanger of an ending looks for a very promising Season 7. 


And if all the shows you ever watch are anything except this, I'd like to leave a quote from  TMZ's Harvey Levin: "You watch lame shows."

November 10, 2011

Re-Animator: Why more films like this should be made

It's a bit embarrassing to admit that I just saw Re-Animator (1985) for the first time last Saturday. 


One of the most popular and must-see cult classics of all time. It's up there with The Evil Dead, The Return Of The Living Dead, and Braindead (Dead Alive) in the honors section of this type of genre. That small group of films that exploit all fear of cadavers and turning that fear and trepidation into a potent mixture of schlock, gore, and black humor not commonly seen in more mainstream Hollywood drivel these days.




Prior to seeing it I have already seen and are familiar with most of director Stuart Gordon's movies. Mostly adaptations of HP Lovecraft's shorts, that were given unique film treatments. Gordon has a knack for transforming Lovecraft's stories---difficult reads I must admit; given to long, drawling narratives that rely all-too heavily on the reader's own imagination---into compelling films that have so much visual impact that it lingers with you even after a while when you first watched it. 


The first film I saw was his 1987 adaptation of From Beyond, Lovecraft's take on stimulating the pineal gland via a machine called a resonator, which enables people to see otherworldy creatures existing in another plane of existence or dimension not readily visible to man's average senses. That was also the first film I saw frequent Gordon collaborator Jeffrey Combs, who played the tragic protagonist Dr. Crawford Tillinghast who eventually had his pineal gland pop out of his head like a gross, bloody insect antennae with a mind of its own due to the constant stimulation and exposure to the machine.


For an 80s horror film, it stood out from the rest that jumped in on the whole slasher craze that swept the horror genre. It's Lovecraft, for one. The late author's fascination with interdimensional existence, beings, as well as the Elder Gods and the notorious Old Ones gave rise to the Chtlulhu Mythos that no more than a few members of the society actually believe to be true. Add in Gordon's natural talent in conjuring celluloid shock material that include morbid sexual fetishes, gore, and humorous/shocking ways of watching people get killed. That was put into good use again with the lesser-known but equally disturbing Dagon (2001), this one an adaptation of the author's Shadow Over Innsmouth---about a race of hybrid human/aquatic creatures that worship one of the notorious deities allied with Chtlulhu that resides in the black abyss of the sea.


But among all of Gordon's outputs, Re-Animator has got to be the most widely known and, to some of the squeamish members of the society, reviled. It's the kind of R-18 film where even adults are driven to nail-biting discomfort, specially when that famous cadaver with the severed head decided to molest a woman in some of the sickest ways a celluloid zombie could ever think of.


It starts off with the introduction of Herbert West (Combs), a medical student kicked out of a European school for his radical theories on brain death and re-animating dead tissue via his special re-agent formula he discovered with a deceased mentor. he transfers to the fictional Miskatonic University Medical School where he met and befriended the other half of the film's two protagonists, student Dan Cain (Dark Justice's Bruce Abbot).


Jeffrey Combs as the notorious Herbert West, re-animator
What follows is the standard partnership between the brilliant, but weird partner and the other grounded, mediocre, and more socially popular one. It was only a matter of time when both people's experiments on re-animating cadavers goes out of hand (like what happens to all horror movies that involve 'experiments') and the fun really goes into overdrive. 


For one thing this is not the typical zombies the George Romero school of zombie-making has taught us. And that's how I view and expect to see how reanimated corpses would behave. Gordon's corpses are different in a way that they are also deadly homicidal monsters but not with the same motivations as standard zombies (sorry, living dead) usually do. The Walking Dead, this isn't.


But for all its gore and ample shocking footage of violence, the most surprising aspect of the film is its ability to make you laugh and cringe at the same time. Mostly in the space of one frame. One second a character does something totally hilarious like bumping over things while holding his own severed head, and the next moment become an evil diabolical mastermind that rivals all other film villains in existence. Not to mention adding a lecherous side to the heavily-cliched portrayals of the living dead.


It's over the top entertainment, for sure. But it won't reach cult status if it wasn't any good.