Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Silent Running


Silent Running (1972)
Dir. Douglas Trumbull

Silent Running starts off feeling like a precursor to Pixar’s Wall-E. After all, just like Wall-E there’s a strong environmental message, a pair of care-taking robots, and humans that have become so dependent on technology that they have become completely ignorant of the most basic facts about nature. Both are great films in their own right, but Silent Running isn’t constrained by the family-friendly conventions that Disney films are required to have. This was a film made back in a time when sci-fi films didn’t need neon signs or dirt scattered everywhere to be dark. The story by itself managed to be dark enough.  (Although, ironically, Director Douglas Trumball worked on visual effects for both squeaky clean 2001: A Space Odyssey and grimy Blade Runner)

Silent Running may look like a brainy science fiction movie like 2001, but its story is very simplistic. In fact, the entire movie feels very much like a short story. There are few characters, few sets, and a clear moral. That’s not to say that the message isn’t a good one, and even years after it’s been made, it still deserves some thought. 
The film takes place on a space craft with several bio domes connected to it. Our main protagonist is a man named Lowell, who’s been working for 8 years on recreating the Earth’s lost fauna. It would seem that all, if not most, plant life on Earth has been destroyed. Lowell is part of a project to grow it back. His human companions are a raucous bunch that don’t really get his strange obsession with nature and like to race through his forests on go-carts. Like an old man telling youngsters to get off his lawn, he throws his gardening tools at them. They’ve only been on the ship for about 6 months and they share a love/hate relationship with the tree hugger. Lowell manages to tolerate them for a while and even brags about how he’ll someday lead a project to restore all the parks on Earth in an obvious bit of foreshadowing. 

Not long afterwards, the project is cancelled, all of the forests on the ship are ordered to be destroyed, and Lowell isn’t too happy. Will he let 8 years of work go to waste, or will he betray his crew members, and try to save the trees? What happens next isn’t too hard to figure out.
We’re given one very emotional scene very early on where Lowell gives an incredibly Hallmarkish hippy rant. This monologue would be unbearable, if not for the fact that we can really feel Lowell’s frustration. He seems convincing enough in his arguments, but he’s faced up against a crew that needs to work to make a living. Lowell has his values, and they have theirs. This is really the big dilemma of the whole movie, since it’s difficult to decide who’s more right or who’s more wrong.

What makes Lowell so likeable as a character is that he has a such a sharply contrasting dichotomy about him. On the one hand, he has a gentle and nourishing side, but on the other, he can also be aggressive and deceitful, like a human version of HAL 9000.
As we see later on, he manages to adopt many of the flaws that he once accused his other crew members of having. We can see this hypocrisy about him as not only being a subtle hint of his own guilt, but also his ultimate realization that he shouldn’t have been so against humanity when he himself is only human. 


Spoiler Section:
At the end of the movie, there’s a conflict that occurs where the plants in Lowell’s forest start dying. He only manages to figure at the very end that the plants are dying because there’s no sunlight. I think this can be interpreted as one of two different ways:

1. The writers of this movie are complete idiots!! The guy’s a freakin expert on horticulture and has been growing plants up in space for like 8 years and he couldn’t figure out that plants need sunlight? That’s something even I thought of, but I didn’t think Lowell would be dumb enough not to check to see if there was any sunlight.

2. What I really think the writer’s intended to do with this was actually create an interesting metaphor. I think they wanted to show that Lowell had become so far removed from the nature he was fighting to protect that he even began to forget the basics of life. The fact that plants need sunlight is such a fundamental thing, but his mind had become so muddled that he became unable to see his present situation clearly. 

4/5 

-Gabe Stein

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hawk The Slayer


Hawk The Slayer (1980)
Dir. Terry Marcel

It's about a guy named Hawk who's got a badass sword. There's a giant, who's not really a giant, but is a bit tall. A dwarf who's not really a dwarf, but just a guy who's a bit short. An elf with halloween store spock ears. Oh! and Curly from City Slickers is in it!













5/5
-Gabe Stein

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Highlander III: The Sorcerer AKA Highlander: The Final Dimension


Highlander III: The Sorcerer (AKA Highlander: The Final Dimension) (1994)
Dir. Andrew Morahan




When talking about Highlander III, legendary internet critic Noah ‘Spoony’ Antwiler once said, ‘..it’s not Highlander II...’
That pretty much sums up my own feelings about this movie. Highlander III is probably the best sequel in this undying series, but that’s not saying much. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not terribly memorable. If it could be known for being anything special, it would be for being an apology to anyone who endured Highlander II. Not to mention anyone who endured Highlander: Endgame, Highlander: The Search for Vengeance, or most notably Highlander: The Source, which I always tell people is the worst movie I’ve ever seen. 

To talk about this movie, I really need to talk about the two that came before it, so here come the spoilers. The first Highlander movie was a very fun, but not perfect classic. The premise was very simple and involved a group of mysterious immortals around the world who could only die by having their heads cut off. They would engage in sword fights with each other until in the end, the last one remaining would gain the prize. At the end of the first movie, it came down to the protagonist Connor McLeod squaring off against the evil Kurgan. Connor won and claimed the prize, infinite wisdom and knowledge. 
The first film was a success, so naturally the creators wanted to milk it with a sequel and this is where things really began to get interesting. Highlander II is universally hated by fans of the series, but when I watched it, I knew virtually nothing about it. Just a couple weeks before, I had bought the first movie on VHS for about $5. I liked it so much I had to see its sequels and immediately bought the renegade edition of Highlander II. 
The movie looked like it took place in a futuristic setting, and didn’t appear to start off badly. There was some decent set designs, some opera music, and then..the infamous flashback sequence. In the theatrical version of Highlander II, what killed fans was the revelation that McLeod, and the other immortals are actually aliens from a planet called Zeist. What?
I probably don’t need to write anymore past that to explain what a disaster Highlander 2 was. In the renegade version, instead of being from Zeist, the immortals were from the distant past and suffered from amnesia in the future. This made more sense, but I was still awe struck by what a piece of shit the film was. I even thought I got the wrong DVD by mistake and this was some sort of Highlander parody I picked up. 
Interestingly enough, years after I got over the shock, I would re-watch Highlander II from time to time. I don’t know what it is that fascinates me about that movie. I even watched it more times than the original Highlander which was a far better film.
The point I’m trying to make with this is that a film may be bad, but it better damn well be interesting. It should have something about it that makes it memorable or something that gets people talking about it. I have both really great and really terrible films on my list of favourites, but I would never put something on there that’s just okay. 

Highlander III: The Sorcerer is just an okay film. It’s so okay that I can write a spoiler-free review. I can write a spoiler-free review only because there’s absolutely nothing to spoil about Highlander III! Anyone who’s already seen the first movie has already seen this one. There are no surprises, no twists, no reveals. This movie practically is the first one, but not as good. It really is just the film makers attempt at trying to clear away the train-wreck that came before it.  
The premise of the story is basically that Connor McLeod didn’t get the prize for killing the Kurgan in the first movie. Instead of pimping it out in Scotland like we saw in Highlander I, he’s riding around on camels in Egypt doing his best Lawrence of Arabia impression. This time, though, he’s a different man because he has an adopted son that he needs to have kidnapped later on. The boy barely appears in most of the movie, and Connor barely has any interaction with him. Connor never showed any strong desire to have a son before this movie, and this has got to be one of the most contrived character devices I’ve seen in years.
The only thing that can be more contrived than that is Kane, the main villain of this story who’s competently hammed up by Mario Van Peebles. I have to admit that Peebles doesn’t make a bad Highlander villain. He’s got a pretty cool Mongol outfit and acts appropriately insane enough. It turns out that Kane is immortal and was trapped in a cave for 400 years which makes McLeod’s showdown with the Kurgan pointless. 
What makes this so silly is that Kane isn’t any more intimidating than the Kurgan was, and since he has way less personal history with McLeod, the existence of his character feels more like a punch-line. It would be like if at the end of Return of the Jedi, after Emperor Palpatine is defeated, it turns out that there’s a guy named Roy that’s the real bad guy and needs to be killed.
Most of the movie involves scenes set in New York that try to remind people of how we’ll never get a Highlander movie quite as good as the first one was. Connor’s new love interest is Alex Johnson played by Deborah Kara Unger, who’s really just here to fill the slot left by Roxanne Hart’s character in the first film.
 I’ll just say one spoiler, it doesn’t explicitly mention what happened to Hart’s character, but I can infer from the dialogue that McLeod brutally murdered her and left her carcass in Scotland.
There’s also a detective like the one from the first film who keeps promising that he’ll nail McLeod someday. He was good for a few chuckles. And there’s a car-scare scene directly ripped off from the first movie as well, but this time it lacks the 80s Ghostbusters’ music.   
Speaking of music, Queen seems to be absent from the movie this time around.

Many would say that Highlander III: The Sorcerer is what Highlander II should have been as a sequel, but I have to disagree. They should have done more. I get that this was a movie that the film makers’ were trying to play safe with. I get that they absolutely didn’t want to piss fans off. But it just ended up taking the opposite extreme, and that’s no good. Highlander II’s problem was that it took too many risks with the story, but Highlander III took too few. In the end, neither is really all that much better, but if I had to choose a film I liked more, I would pick the former. It may have looked like Blade Runner as seen through the eyes of Joel Schumacher, but by God, it had Sean Connery!
Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t mind the idea of Highlander having a futuristic setting. The idea of McLeod and his katana dueling it out with sword-wielding robots would have been cool. If they weren’t trying way too hard to force a sequel and side-step plot points from the previous movie, they could have come up with something better. In the end, though, it wasn’t good, but it was at least something different. It was Highlander II.   

2/5  

-Gabe Stein

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises


The Dark Knight Rises (2012)


Dir. Christopher Nolan


* (If certain sentences appear highlighted this in no way means it is a more important point than any other.  It means something has gone haywire.  Apologies.) 


The Dark Knight rises indeed. The last installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy could arguably be the best. Or at least that’s what I would be saying if it weren’t for a couple of things…

My first thoughts about this film were that it could never be able to top its predecessor. Villains are always what make a good superhero story. This has been especially true for Batman, which has had some of the most iconic villains of all time. When people think of the complementary forces of good and evil clashing for all eternity, what else would you think of rather than Batman and the Joker? And with the tragic death of Heath Ledger after a superb performance, who could possibly fill his shoes? 
It may come as a surprise to many for me to say it, but Tom Hardy’s Bane makes for an even more threatening villain than even the Joker. He not only fills Ledger’s shoes, but rends them asunder. Not only is he a challenge to Batman’s intellect like the Joker was, but now he also has the brawn to boot. 
Despite the handicap of having to wear a metal mask that looks like one of the face-huggers from Alien, Hardy shows both charisma and instills terror in every shot he’s in. His voice may sound like Sean Connery speaking through a muffler, but it comes packed with a piercing sharp intelligence at every intonation. In contrast to his imposing physical appearance, his voice conveys a dangerous level of focus and control that no Batman villain has had hitherto.  I could easily say that Bane alone is what manages to keep this story afloat. That’s not to say that other characters such as Michael Cane’s Alfred, Anne Hathaway’s Cat-woman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Officer Blake, or even Gary Oldman’s Commisioner Gordan pull out outstanding performances, but it’s Bane alone who has the job of keeping this movie from being a derivative repeat of the previous two films. 

Unfortunately this also spells out one of the biggest problems with TDKR, its main plot is dumb. Bane’s motivation isn’t very clear, and instead of elaborating on it, we’re handed one really goofy twist at the end that belongs in a lesser film. TDKR could have been more intellectually stimulating since it delivers a great allegory at some point where Bruce Wayne is trapped in a middle-eastern prison.  Instead it undermines everything by tossing out key parts of Bane’s backstory at the end for the sake of one incredibly stupid character reveal. I can understand what they were trying to do. They wanted to stay true to the batman comics’ storyline and characters, but for the sake of better filmmaking, even the nerdiest of fans would have forgiven some alterations. In fact, if you are a big enough Batman freak, you probably would have figured out the big twist right away. What made this twist so unbearable for me was that it relegated the showdown with Bane into a minor sub-plot, and was anticlimactic as hell. Bane’s demise is ambiguous, and has even less closure to it than the Joker’s. It’s a shame considering there was so much build up throughout the whole movie. It’s as if the screenwriters had some highly intelligent, complex, and inspired script in the works, and then decided at the last minute that movie goers were so stupid that they needed the same kind of ending that…I don’t know….millions of other Hollywood movies have already had. 

As for the main story itself, it takes place 8 years after the last movie. Out of respect for Heath Ledger, director Christopher Nolan decided not to mention the Joker even once throughout the movie. Instead what’s shown is that Batman’s gone into retirement after having Harvey Dent’s death pinned on him. We eventually see a crippled, cane-bound Bruce Wayne, who’s now become a recluse and never attends any public events. We can assume that he’s feeling guilt over the death of his former girlfriend Rachael Dawes from the last movie. If this weren’t a burden enough, his company Wayne Enterprises is being neglected and run into the ground (quite literally as we see later on in the film).  Wayne is reluctant to bring back Batman, but his retirement is cut short when Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) sneaks into his private chamber and steals Wayne’s fingerprints. This is the first of a long chain of events that leads Batman on a mission to stop the nefarious Bane. But first, he needs to visit his old friend Lucius Fox, once again played by Morgan Freeman. Oddly enough Freeman is still the chair of Wayne Enterprises despite saying he would resign in the last movie. He’s got all sorts of new toys for Batman, including a device that can aid his bum leg and a flying bat-mobile known only as ‘The Bat.’

After lots of explosions, lots of fighting, an attack at the stock exchange, and some good chase scenes, Bane unleashes his master plan of isolating part of Gotham under his control. He threatens a nuclear explosion if anyone leaves or enters the city and causes the bomb to go off in 5 months. At this point, the story begins resembling the Batman graphic novel No Man’s Land. This is a good thing for those that have dreamed of seeing a live action interpretation of the story, but I really wish I knew why Bane wanted to create his own lawless, little Lord of the Flies society when he was just going to have it blown up in 5 months. Why not just blow it up right away? This glaring plot hole manages to be the movie’s second biggest weak point.

By the end of the movie, problems are resolved, but nothing feels accomplished. We end up right back where Batman Begins ended. This would be a serious complaint for most moviegoers expecting a big finale to what is supposed to be trilogy of interconnected storylines. Personally, I didn’t mind this fact considering that Batman’s job has always been to maintain balance, not to try and change the world. I still felt Bruce Wayne had undergone a transformation to become an even better person by the end of the movie and that was enough for me. 

The Dark Knight Rises manages to be a very good, but certainly not perfect conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s realistic take on the caped crusader. The movie further expands and develops on the character of Bruce Wayne and has quite possibly one of the best screen villains since the Joker. The movie certainly doesn’t close the book on future possibilities for Batman movies, and with the way things are for movies today, I frankly never expected it to. This will most likely, however, be the last time we see Christopher Nolan in the director’s chair for the franchise, but at least TDKR will have managed to competently pass the torch to future directors’ visions.    

4/5

-Gabe Stein

       

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Gantz and Gantz: Perfect Answer

Gantz and Gantz: Perfect Answer (2010, 2011)


Dir. Shinsuke Sato


     Shunsuke Sato’s two Gantz movies are probably some of the best examples of how a live action adaptation of a popular manga should be done. I’m reviewing both Gantz movies, because Gantz and its sequel Gantz: Perfect Answer were scripted as one long film. I do not praise them lightly since if there’s one trend in film making I really hate, it’s movies that end with a cliff hanger. When a movie ends up being shot with a sequel in mind, often one film ends up being significantly weaker than the other, or the finale ends up feeling anticlimactic. In other cases, directors will end up incorporating all the best scenes in one movie, while forgetting that the other is also supposed to be good. This felt like the case with the two Matrix sequels where Reloaded had the best moments, with Revolutions being left with its leftover residue. The same can also be said of the two Death Note movies where the first packed a lot of punch, well the second just dragged. In my own personal opinion, a movie should never be shot with a sequel in mind and each film in a series should be able to stand on its own, but Gantz is an exception.

     Gantz really surprised me in that not only was the first movie great, but the 2nd one actually managed to top it. I would not only consider both movies some of the best adaptations of manga I‘ve ever seeen, but I would even go so far as to put both on my list of all-time favourites. Saying that might upset the fan boys that hated these movies for not being 102% faithful to the manga. I would like to say, though, I originally went in to both Gantz movies expecting them to be either bad or just average. I was even hesitant about going at all, but in the end I‘m glad I did. They certainly aren’t perfect films, but I feel it’s wrong to dismiss them as shallow live-action anime. Of course, I have to admit that my opinion is discolored by the fact that I’ve never read any of the manga nor seen the anime. It also helped that I got a rare opportunity to watch both movies back to back in a theatre in Toronto’s JCCC, so for me, it was like seeing one long 3 hour film with an intermission in between. So, from here on out, I will refer to both films as if they were one.
   
     What Gantz does excessively well is managing what could have easily been a convoluted mess. Just like another recent Japanese movie, 13 Assassins, there’s a large ensemble cast of characters, but unlike Assassins, Gantz actually gave reason enough to care about most of the characters.



     The basic premise of the story is actually surprisingly simple, yet its simplicity gets a lot of mileage. It begins with a high school student named Kei Kurono standing at a subway platform, when an old high school friend he hasn’t seen in years walks past him. Another man falls on to the subway tracks and his friend Masaru Kato played by Kenichi Matsuyama (looking less neurotic than he did playing ‘L’) immediately goes to try and help him. Kei hesitantly looks on before finally giving Masaru a helping hand. The good deed doesn’t appear to pay off as the two friends end up being hit by a train. Rather than dying, the two wake up in an empty room with nothing but several other people and a strange black orb. The simplistic, primitive shape of the orb calls to memory such images as the ominous black box in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The black orb turns out to be none other than the titular character Gantz, a being that claims that everyone in the apartment with him is already dead. Gantz communicates his short, but disturbing lines through muddied text that appears on the black orb’s surface very much like a hellish magic 8-ball.

     Gantz only explains its mission as wanting to protect Earth from alien invaders and throughout the film, gives Kei, Masaru, and the constantly changing motley cast of characters their target to kill. Somehow Gantz also appears to be a fan of video games since he actually likes to keep score for his captives.

     I’ll get the problems with Gantz out of the way first. The movie had a lot of opportunities to make sense, but it often chose not to. There are a number of logic gaps and solutions to problems that are obvious to the audience, but elude the characters on screen. For instance, early on in the movie, it takes the characters a long time to figure out that the leather suits Gantz provides them with, do more than just make actress Natsuna’s ass look hot. The suits actually make whoever wear them into a super being. Second, there are also several scenes where the actors seem to neglect the incredibly high powered guns they have at their disposal. Speaking of which, the weapons and suits function in an unusual way and no explanation is given behind how any of the alien technology works. For the first movie, this lack of explanation works really well to give things an eerie and suspenseful feeling, but I can’t help but feel a little bit more explanation later on would have been nice. For instance, why does there need to be a delay before the guns destroy their targets?

     The fact that Gantz is capable of resurrecting the dead would normally be a huge problem for any story, but the way it’s handled actually gives it some dramatic flair. It brings interesting dimensions to the plot in wondering who will be resurrected and how it will impact future events and it provides ample motivation for the characters to keep fighting. Like I said before, though, some of the characters actions don’t really make sense. For instance, there’s one bratty, selfish kid that gets killed off surprisingly early and you would think that it would be for the better of the main characters to leave him dead. Instead, they resurrect him at an arbitrary moment, and you guessed it, he creates more trouble. This is one seriously contrived twist which is impossible to overlook.

     What really struck me as interesting about the plot, is the mystery surrounding Gantz. All that’s hinted at is that Gantz is an alien being that is dependent on energy from a human host to stay alive. Gantz treats human life no differently from how most people treat jpeg files on a hardrive. This makes one really question whether or not Gantz is a benevolent or a malevolent being. Could Gantz, in fact, be inherently good and the human host that Gantz uses be influencing its personality to perform evil acts? Certain factors suggest that the man could have once been a jingoistic war monger, but I was glad this was never disclosed and it gave me plenty of food for thought.

     Suspense and action are two of the things that Gantz does better than even most Hollywood movies and they’re complemented with some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen in a Japanese film (and I’ve seen a lot of Japanese movies). They’re not overblown and overused gimmicks like in Ryuhei Kitamura films, and they manage to be the real deal: special effects used to tell a good story. Every bit of visual trickery in Gantz is used for a purpose and I never once felt the movie relied on them, nor were they distracting.

     Some of the more imaginative and original battles take place in the first film, while the 2nd houses some of the most well-choreographed and exciting martial arts fight scenes I’ve seen in a while. In the first movie, there are a number of very memorable and chilling alien creatures such as a robot that resembles a satanic rock-em-sock-em bot, and a multi-armed Buddha statue. The Buddha fight scene alone almost gives a new meaning to that old Zen koan about killing the Buddha.

     Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that Gantz manages to toy with many of the main characters towards the end of the film. Several of them give in to their own petty desires and we get a nonstop ballad of emotional outbursts piled on top of revenge giving way to more revenge. The climax could be considered a bit overblown, but it all works to good effect to make the harshness of the situation sink in.

     Am I praising this movie too highly? Well, Gantz did something rare for me as a film, something that I seldom see in most Hollywood blockbusters that are ripe with terrible jokes. It had an emotional impact on me. Seeing Kei, Masaru and the other characters struggle with their predicament and have the significance of their humanity questioned by Gantz stirred something up. In this age of wireless communication, and internet communities, it’s interesting to see a film that plays with the idea of technology throwing human lives around like ones and zeroes just as people do with themselves on Facebook. Whether or not it’s faithful to manga is irrelevant since as a movie, it should be judged on its own merits.

4/5

-Gabe Stein


   

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Melancholia


Melancholia (2011)

Dir. Lars Von Trier


      The movie Melancholia (2011) by Lars von Trier is an odd one. It embraces its title to the fullest, providing the viewer with the deepest sense of melancholy and making everything you might do after the viewing pointless and burdening (hipsters and scene kids will really enjoy it - “It's sooo dark and meaningful, but you common people just won't get it”). Also, it will surely be a favourite amongst the snobby types, as the camera work is actually stunning; I still can't get the opening shots out of my head and it has been about a month since I watched it, which means this review was supposed to be ready 3 weeks ago, oops! Anyway...

      The camera work is captivating going from long steady shots in the prologue and introducing the viewer to the emotional backdrop of the film. It then goes to shaky-cam in Part I, showing just how emotionally uncomfortable Justine (Kirsten Dunst) was in the setting created it seems not for her, but for Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg); I will get to characters/archetypes later. In Part II, the camera slows down, and the viewer finds him/herself watching Claire trying to get adjusted to Justine's realm. When she realizes that she can't and her fear takes over, the cameraman was nowhere to be found, so the camera was taken over by a dude filming the next apocalyptic action movie next door. I'm dead serious... no I'm not, but that's what it looks like.

      I also thoroughly enjoyed the light and the colours and all the other stuff that people don't pay attention too. It was all very atmospheric and with all the depressive end-of-the-world stuff happening, it kinda sorta looked like The Virgin Suicides: Part 2. Which brings me to Kirsten, who no doubt regains her crown as the Queen of Indie. The next logical step would be to make a movie with her in a coma for a good half of it. She fits her role perfectly, with her melancholy stares, and cute dimples that suggest that there is a whole range of emotion just beneath them.

A VERY SNOBBY INTERMISSION:

      Here we go! On the ground scheme of things, the main characters of Melancholia represent the three archetypes of human nature. The primitive nature of humans in Claire – the mother fearful for her child; the mystic and unreasonable in Justine – the visionary, detached from socially accepted standards of behaviour; and the logical in John – the scientist sure of his calculations. Leo, the child, plays a role of a bond that keeps all of these characters/aspects together. In Lars's eyes, in the most extraordinary circumstances there is no space for logic, there is only the primitive and the magical that will guide us through whatever there is to come, connected by the pure and innocent.

END OF INTERMISSION!

      The plot of this film starts developing pretty late in the movie. The whole Part I is very uneasy and awkward and a torture to sit through, but I think it pays off in the end, because it helps to develop the main characters. So buy yourself a pack of cigarettes and sit through it! Part II is where all the “action” happens in the movie, and if you had the courage (and enough nicotine) to get to Part II, you will enjoy it.

Overall, I would recommend this movie to:

-Kirsten Dunst fans
-People who like aesthetically pleasing imagery
-People who like seeing lots of references to other pieces of art (oh, I meant hipsters)
-Movie snobs

Till next time!

4/5

-RaiMorrison

Monday, February 6, 2012

Split Second


Split-Second (1992)
Dir. Tony Maylam


     Ah, the buddy cop movie that had its peak during the 80s and 90s with the Lethal Weapon franchise. They all progress in the same way. Two mismatched cops are abruptly assigned to work together and don’t get along well at all. One is the good cop that plays by the book, while the other is a total dick. Eventually, though, the two discover they have something in common and find they can get along pretty well despite their differences. The bad boy cop is supposed to have some redeeming value at some point that’s supposed to make him mesh well not only with his partner, but also the audience. Somehow the writers of Split-Second managed to get the first part of this simple formula right, but forgot to make Rutger Hauer’s Detective Harley Stone likeable in any way, shape, or form.
   
     “They say he’s the best” claims someone at the beginning of the movie, who we’re supposed to assume knows something about Detective Stone that the audience doesn’t. Yet, this becomes hard to buy into after Stone barges into a nightclub, says ‘Police, Dick-head!’ to a confused-looking dog, and fires indiscriminately at rats in an alleyway.

     Somehow, someone came under the impression after seeing Blade Runner, that Rutger Hauer was grade-A material for an action star. They even have him dress in a long leather trench coat, wearing some of the most unfitting John Lennon sunglasses, and smoking a cigar that he lights with a blowtorch as though he were Schwarzenegger. He slings his shotgun over his shoulder to complete an image that can only be described as crass.

     Split-Second is set in what is supposed to be a post-apocalyptic London, England, in the not so distant future of…2008. According to the prologue, global warming has caused massive floods around the world, which ironically isn’t that far off from the truth. Yet the only impact this creates is having Split-Second’ characters slushing around knee-deep in water. This seems less a way to create a realistic vision for the future, and more for a way to cover up the fact that they couldn’t afford any decent set pieces. The London of the future looks an awful lot like the London of the 1990s, but with lots more water. In fact, considering that the futuristic setting has absolutely no bearing at all on the plot, one can’t help but think that maybe there were just a lot of leaky pipes in the studio at the time and they needed some half-ass way of including it into the movie.

     Split-Second’s story is really more horror than sci-fi and I mean that in the loosest possible way. We don’t really get to see the shape-shifting, serial-killing monster that’s been plaguing Stone until the end of the movie. Usually this is a trick that horror directors do, where they don’t reveal the monster until the end to build up suspense. I don’t think the people who made Split-Second were competent enough to rip off a better horror movies. It seems more likely they didn’t even have the monster effects finished until near the end of shooting. And when I say monster effects, I really mean a rip-off of the creature from Alien using a motorcycle helmet barely hidden with lots of ooze.

     The aforementioned good cop of ‘Split-Second’ is Dick Durkin played by Alastair Duncan. After Stone’s rat killing spree, his police chief decides to do something extremely sensible and take the psychotic Stone off of his suspension, and not only that, but also arbitrarily pair him up with the geeky Durkin. Durkin is a real shoe-in as Stone’s partner since he just so happens to have an Oxford education. Throughout the rest of the movie, Durkin helps Stone by talking technobabble and complete random b.s. about astrology that is either there to give Split-Second an air of class, or to rip off Dirty Hairy and give Split-Second an air of class.

     Split-Second actually does manage to be entertaining at some point around the middle. After Stone spends most of the movie being a total dick to Dirkin, his fellow police officers, and pretty much every extra in the movie, the two officers start to bond. It’s not explained why, but I imagine a couple of deadly encounters with the creature made them feel they have a common enemy. This results in a slightly amusing scene where the two go shopping for ‘bigger guns’. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the movie to transform into a contest of which character can say the lamest one-liners. I actually laughed not at how clever Split-Second’s attempts at humour were, but how stupid.

     Despite all of the above problems, the one that hurts Split-Second the most is that not only is its basic premise weak, but it doesn’t even know what it wants to be. Aside from the puddles of water everywhere and the impractically large guns, it’s not really science fiction and could have just as easily been set in the present day. It’s not really a good horror movie since its monster just isn’t frightening. It sure as hell isn’t an action movie since the only thing Rutger Hauer and Alastair Duncan actually shoot at is their own careers.

1/5

-Gabe Stein

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Cool World



Cool World (1992)

Dir. Ralph Bakshi

     Ralph Bakshi was once considered to be a highly influential figure in the field of animation. His innovation, particularly in the use of rotoscoping (which is basically creating animation cells by tracing over live action footage) set the standard for characters that look like they’re having a stroke.
   
     First off, does anyone even remember when Cool World came out? If you were a kid like I was, you probably wanted to see this movie since it looked like Looney-Tunes, with cute, talking, anthropomorphic characters, but your parents probably couldn’t take you to see it, since for some reason it was rated ‘R’. That’s right, Cool World, like most of Ralph Bakshi’s films, was intended for adults. You might have heard of his earlier works like ‘Coonskin’, otherwise known as ‘Coonskin No more’, otherwise known as ‘Harlem Nights’, Otherwise known as “Bustin’ Out”, otherwise known as ‘Street Fight’…. gained a lot of controversy in 1975 for its racist content. Yet, I must confess I have not seen it, nor any of Bakshi’s works before. So I’m not really one to have much of an opinion on him.

     No, doing a review of Coonskin would have just made for a much more interesting review where I could have made lots of racist puns. This is why it only makes perfect sense to start with one of his least cherished works: Cool World. A work that’s according to rumour, less Bakshi and more of a committee-written abomination.
   
     Well…ok, the truth is that I’m doing this review because this is the only one of his movies I could actually find, but I promise to get to Coonskin one of these days. The nice thing about starting with Cool World is that I get to start watching Bakshi with a clean slate, free of biased opinions. For that reason, I may even enjoy this film more than previous critics.
Well, I have a copy right here and I’ll be right back in one and a half hours…
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Ok, I’m back.
   
      Now what did I just see? Well…this is the part where you probably expect me to slam ‘Cool World’ for being a bad film, but to be frank, I actually did enjoy it. The most obvious thing I could compare it to was ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, since both movies combined live- action footage with animation. In fact, most of the movie felt like that one really obnoxious scene in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ where Bob Hoskins’ character visits Toon-Ville. I first have to say that ‘Cool World’ was obnoxious indeed. It’s loud, annoying, stupid, doesn’t make any attempt at subtlety, but it was also a lot of fun.

      The animation by itself is the real star of the movie, and it is gorgeous. Parts of it are overused, but it was so well done and imaginative that it’s easy to forgive. The background paintings alone were beautiful and it was interesting to see how some of them were used as matte backgrounds for some of the live action segments. Unfortunately what really drags in this film are the live-action segments, which can be even more cartoony in how hammy the dialogue is. The live action characters are badly acted, stiff, and most of the time aren’t convincing enough alongside the cartoon characters they’re supposed to be interacting with.
 
      The movie stars Brad Pitt as a brooding detective who’s decided to stay in ‘Cool World’ after being sucked into it by a mad scientist named Whiskers. The movie does a lousy job of setting up his character’s motivations for remaining in the ‘Cool World’, but we can assume that it had something to do with a motorcycle accident that kills his mother at the beginning. This scene is forgotten about almost immediately after it’s shown. We also aren’t told anything about Whiskers’ character either.

      We then very abruptly switch over to cartoonist Jack Deebs who’s been serving jail time, played by Gabriel Byrne. He is just as abruptly teleported to what he believes is his own pen-and-ink creation known as Cool World. Upon arriving in Cool World, he is exposed to our femme fatale for the evening Jessica Ra---sorry I mean ‘Holli Would’ voiced by Kim Basinger. Jack is soon warned by Brad Pitt not to have sex with Holli, who for some reason wants to bang any human she sees so that she can become part of the real world. It’s kind of a hard thing to avoid when Holli goes around dressing like a stripper in every scene. Apparently humans and cartoons, called ‘doodles’ in Cool World, are not allowed to exchange ink, if you know what I mean. It seems to be the only law that exists, seeing as Pitt’s character has nothing better to do but follow Holli around and act as her personal vagina guard.

      One question remains though. Did Jack actually create Cool World along with Holli? Or did Cool World exist long before him and merely plant the idea for drawing Cool World in his head? This question is only really brought up once and is never made terribly clear like so much in ‘Cool World’. It’s left-on-the-typewriter moments like this that I feel had it panned by just about every critic. There really is a lack of exposition or story, and this weakness becomes especially clear in the middle portion of Cool World which borders on being terrible. Rules for how Cool World operates seem to be made up on the spot. At some point I had to abandon all expectations of rationality and appreciate Cool World for what it actually is: A stupid, high-budget cartoon that’s more style than substance, but it’s certainly a delight to watch. The spectacular love-it-or-hate-it ending manages to redeem many of its earlier faults. It’s a shame that a lot of the sexual innuendo gave it an R-rating because some of the toned down language almost made me feel like it could have been originally intended for kiddies to see.

     Yes, it’s cheesy, but what do you expect from a movie called ‘Cool World’?

3/5

-Gabe Stein