July 31, 2012

10 Movies Guilty of Providing Too Much Information

Earth is all water now...does it really matter why?
As a species, humans are collectively stupid, and we don't like to think too much for ourselves. But some of us are smart enough to figure a few things out on our own, and do not need every movie explained to us like a Dick and Jane book. That hasn't stopped Hollywood from sometimes making certain even the dumbest in the audience know what's going on. For example...

WATERWORLD - This movie actually starts off pretty awesome, with Universal Pictures' iconic logo of Planet Earth, all the land silently disappearing as the oceans rise. It's all the viewer really needs to know before the film begins proper. But the mood is ruined with a pointless voiceover..."The future...the polar ice caps have melted..." What, did they assume people in the audience would think Earth was simply changing color?

IDIOCRACY - Similar to Waterworld, this vastly unappreciated satire of the dumbing-down of society begins with a montage showing how people devolve into complete idiots over the next 500 years. The visuals do all the work. It's pretty amusing, but almost ruined by a ‘funny’ voiceover, explaining the obvious. If such a movie needs this narration, maybe we’re already the society Idiocracy makes fun of in the first place.

THE TRUMAN SHOW - This movie totally blows it by letting the viewer know right away that the title character is the oblivious star of his own reality program. After that, all we're doing is watching how long it takes him to figure it out. Wouldn't it have been cooler if we were forced to figure it out along with him?

WAR OF THE WORLDS (Both Versions) - Both movies begin with similar narration as a nod to H.G. Wells' original story, which also began with this unnecessary prologue. But really, if you haven't gotten the gist of the thing from the title alone, you're a dumbass.

Better dumb-it-down a bit.
MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE - One of Stephen King's best short stories, "Trucks," offered no reason why the world's machines decide to start killing everyone. But for some reason, this film (horribly directed by King himself), starts with Earth being caught in a rogue comet’s tail. That explanation is dumb enough, but then at the end, King tacks-on the lame-ass revelation that a malevolent UFO instigated everything.

PSYCHO - Even this, the ultimate slasher film, goes too far. It’s terrifying enough that the seemingly meek Norman Bates turns out to be ‘mother.’ Do we really need a five-minute coda at the end which explains his psychosis?

Midichlorians did this to my hair.
STAR WARS EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE - Raise your hand if you wanted a biological explanation of how The Force actually worked. Midichlorians? Really, George? We already accepted The Force for what it was, a mystic ability.

DUNE - Even today, this mega-budget bomb is baffling. There are a lot of astounding scenes, as well as some of the most quirky-ass characters ever featured in a mainstream sci-fi film. It’s still amazing this was helmed by David Lynch. Considering his reputation for ambiguity, I suppose it’s not surprising he’d include such a worthless narrative intro, which supposedly sets the stage, yet is still nearly incomprehensible. Even weirder are countless scenes of whispered internal monologue from characters throughout the film...they provide nothing which makes the murky plot any clearer, nor do they offer any info the viewer couldn’t have picked up on their own.

BLADE RUNNER (Original Theatrical Release) - Harrison Ford’s tacked-on voice-over to this cerebral story was one of the main criticisms of Blade Runner when initially released, by adding completely unnecessary exposition. And indeed, Ford's narration truly did render it little more than a 21st Century detective story similar to the cheap film-noir of the 50s. Later editions of the film have remedied this, making Blade Runner one of the few movies ever retooled to acknowledge its audience had at least a little bit more intelligence then originally given credit for.

HALLOWEEN (Remake) - What made the original John Carpenter movie scary is that we knew almost nothing about Michael Myers...he was the personification of evil because he killed without motive. Rob Zombie’s ill-advised remake, however, is mostly an origin story, and we’re subjected to depressing scenes of Myers’ abused childhood in an attempt to make him somewhat sympathetic. The problem with that is we end up knowing so much about Michael that, when he finally dons his infamous mask, he’s not scary anymore.

July 30, 2012

TRANSFORMERS: Michael Bay is Hollywood’s Yngwie Malmsteen

Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rahcael Taylor, John Turturro, John Voight, Hugo Weaving. Directed by Michael Bay. (2007, 144 min).

For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Yngwie Malmsteen is a heavy metal guitar virtuoso whose heyday - like most guitar heroes - was during the 80s. He is blindingly-fast, performing solos that would trigger carpal-tunnel syndrome in most people's hands. He obviously knows his way around the instrument, and there isn't a single musician alive who would deny that Malmsteen has more technical skill in one finger than most rock musicians have in their entire body.

However, despite his shredding talent, Malmsteen can't write a decent original song to save his life. They are technically exemplary, but unimaginative and boring once the sheer novelty of speed wears off. Pure technique can take you only so far before the listener wants to hear an occasional song played more from the heart than the appendages.

Yngwie's songs are a lot like Michael Bay's movies, Transformers in particular. And if my analogy makes any sense, you'd know I'm not necessarily bashing Bay. It's fashionable - if not a bit cliche - for movie purists to jump on the "Michael Bay sucks" bandwagon. But Michael Bay doesn't suck. That would imply he is not very good at his job. On the contrary, Bay is a very good filmmaker. He simply hasn't made any good movies yet.
Technically, Bay is as good as any other director of effects-heavy Hollywood blockbusters, but like Malmsteen, he never wants you to forget it. The difference between James Cameron and Michael Bay is the same as, say, Yngwie Malmsteen and Jimi Hendrix. No one can dispute the raw talent of both guitarists, but Hendrix always used his skill to serve the song, not vise versa. They were never mere platforms for skin-shredding pyrotechnics.

Try watching Cameron’s Titanic and Bay’s Pearl Harbor back-to-back. Both movies are huge historical epics, both feature phenomenally photogenic lead actors, both are technically masterful, and both have screenplays that aren’t really very good. From a technical standpoint, Titanic hasn’t aged as well, but is still engaging because Cameron obviously cares about his story & characters, no matter how broadly-drawn they may be. Watching Pearl Harbor, one gets the impression that Bay can't wait to blow shit up.

Transformers is probably the movie Bay had been waiting to make his entire life. Its premise and built-in marketability - warring alien robots, based on a line of toys from the 80s, who’ve decided to settle their differences of Earth - allow his Id to run rampant. He literally pummels the viewer with so much over-the-top action, volume and hyper-kinetic CGI that it ceases to be logistically convincing.

Transformers is like a song containing nothing but speedy guitar solos, and edited nearly as fast as Malmsteen’s fretboard finger-flitting. The movie is almost masturbatory with its technical fireworks, and it’s obvious Bay is the adult version of a budding teenage guitarist who finally learns to shred with the best of them. Hey, that's great, but can you play an actual song? You know, there’s a reason why everyone knows & loves “Louie, Louie,” but very few can even name a single Yngwie Malmsteen song. In the end, it’s how music makes you feel, not how hard it is to perform.

Similar to Malmsteen’s lyrics, everything non-technically related to Transformers seems like an afterthought. Need character exposition? Show more of Megan Fox’s shiny cleavage and have some of the Transformers speak like homies. That’ll amuse the kids.

And it did...big time. The fact that the Transformers franchise (three films, with a fourth on the way) has raked in more cash than the annual gross national products of most third-world countries says more about the audience than it does Michael Bay, who is simply giving us what we obviously asked for. Does that make him the bane of the film industry? Absolutely not. We are getting the movies we deserve. Bay is simply providing them on a grand scale, something he does very well.

But junk food, no matter how you dress it up, is still junk food. As a kid, I loved Dairy Queen corndogs, but my palate has developed a lot since then. The Transformers franchise will probably be fondly remembered by kids who grew up with it, but it is unlikely that they’ll look back and continue to think it's a great film.

Michael Bay has skill to spare, but has so-far chosen to use it for visual chest-thumping. Even his lone-attempt at making a thought-worthy film (The Island) ultimately succumbed to car chases, explosions and ear-bleeding volume.

Yngwie Malmsteen learned how to play the guitar faster than anyone else on the planet, but speed is all he really has to offer. Even among us idol-worshipping rockers back in the 80s, we eventually grew bored with pure speed, which was why Malmsteen's "Icarus Dream Suite, Opus 4" was never as much fun to blast from our car stereos as Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It."

Bay has the talent to make a truly great movie. He could be another Spielberg if he were inclined, but has chosen not to. And why would he? As moviegoers, we’ve given him no reason not to keep churning out stuff like Transformers. Like I mentioned before, The Island is the one film he directed that almost transcended its big-boom-bam origins, but people stayed away in droves. The Island is, so far, Bay’s only box-office flop. For a fleeting moment, he tried to make something smarter, but we shot him down.

So we get what we deserve.

July 27, 2012

THE NATURAL: Alternate Ending

Starring Robert Redford. Directed by Barry Levinson.
Alternate Ending Restored by D.M. Anderson

"Roy Hobbs...for neglecting to inform the court of your use of performance-enhancing steroids, not the mention the dead woman found in your hotel room, I hereby find you guilty of PERJURY!"


July 26, 2012

JASON X and the Solitary Man

Starring Lexa Doig, Lisa Ryder, Chuck Campbell, Kane Hodder. Directed by James Isaac. (2002, 93 min)

This was the last movie I ever went to a theater to see by myself.

One weekend when my mother-in-law came to visit, my wife suggested taking her to the Saturday Market in downtown Portland. I must have had a look on my face like I'd just caught a whiff of someone else's fart, because she simply sighed and said I could stay home.

"You sure, honey?" I asked with mock-concern, doing the Snoopy dance in my head.

"Yeah, just make sure to go to the store and pick up stuff to barbecue later," she replied. Then off they went, Francie, her mom and our daughter, Natalie.

I have nothing against the Saturday Market, so long as I'm not there. Row upon row of homemade preserves, breads & sauces, tie-dye t-shirts, blown glass, hemp clothing, hippie jewelry and art made from boat propellers, all sold by folks who look like they really enjoyed the 60s. There's also a lot of would-be artists, breakdancers and street musicians. Of those, the only one who ever impressed me was this scraggly, pot-bellied Elvis impersonator with thick glasses, who looked like he'd lived his entire life as a mountain man. His toy guitar didn't even have strings, but he knew all of The King's moves as he croaked out "Heartbreak Hotel." The guy may have lacked any discernable talent, but at least he was different. Hence, his guitar case was the only one I tossed my change into.
As a teacher, husband and father, having an afternoon to myself was a rare occasion indeed, so I decided to make the most of it and do something I hadn't done in ages...take in a movie all by myself.

When I was a kid, I used to go to movies alone all the time. On their way to afternoon Portland Buckaroos hockey games (the Buckaroos were a minor league franchise), Mom & Dad would drop me off at the Southgate. I enjoyed those times, sitting in the dark, nothing but me and the screen. Sometimes I got to bring a friend, or was forced to bring my sister, but if it was a movie I was really dying to see, I preferred going alone. I guess that might be considered a little weird, but I didn't know that at the time.

I don't know why going to the movies has always been considered a social activity. Sure, I understand the whole dating thing, but other than that, why does almost everyone on Earth feel the need to have a companion at the movies? Unless you are a total douchebag, it isn't like you're gonna be shooting the breeze once the lights go down. And unless you are on a date, you aren't likely to give a single thought to the person next to you until the movie's over.

The next time you go to a movie, take a look around the theater. Chances are good you won't see anyone sitting all by themselves. None of us have a problem watching TV or a rented movie alone, so what is it about being in a theater that makes nearly all of us feel the need for company? And really, isn't going alone a hell of a lot cheaper?

Still, once I hit my teens, I pretty much stopped going to movies alone as well, and wouldn't fly solo again until 2002. Today, I am often able to talk my my wife into tagging along for something I want to see, but still, there have been dozens of films over the years I passed on during their theatrical runs, simply because I couldn't convince anyone to go with me.

For my family-free afternoon, I chose Jason X, the tenth movie in the never-ending Friday the 13th franchise. Aside from some pretty spectacular death scenes, I never thought there was anything that great about the series (even though I have seen them all). They are derivative, poorly-acted, badly-directed and generally pretty stupid. But I decided on Jason X for two reasons...1) I was in the mood for mindless violence, and 2) The premise of this one is so outrageous that a guilty good time seemed guaranteed.

In case you just arrived here on Earth, Friday the 13th was an enormously popular series of slasher films featuring Jason Voorhees*, an unkillable, hockey-masked psycho who stalks the woods in and around Camp Crystal Lake (save for his short Manhattan vacation in Part 8), slaughtering any teenager he stumbles across. He ‘dies’ at the end of almost all of them, but you can’t keep a good psycho down (not when there's cash to be made), so in ensuing films, Jason has been repeatedly - often ridiculously - resurrected.
One unfortunate man is about to discover Jason's
farts are as lethal as his machete.
This ridiculousness reaches its nadir in Jason X, arguably the most bizarre left-turn of any film franchise I can think of. In this one, Jason ends up cryogenically frozen, only to be accidentally awakened onboard an orbiting space station 400 years later, where his killing spree continues unabated. That’s right...it's the slasher movie equivalent of Abbott & Costello Go to Mars.

Whether or not you are a fan of the series, you have to admire, not only the audacity, but the sense of humor of those responsible for this film. I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall at the story meetings, where the writers must have finally thrown up their hands and said “Fuck it. Let’s launch him into space.”

This gung-ho attitude not only saves Jason X, but arguably makes it the best film in the entire franchise. The premise is ridiculous, but the filmmakers know it is. How else can you explain why a technologically-advanced space station is staffed with scantily-clad, nubile nymphs and hunky douchebags just as horny & dumb as the camp counselors at Crystal Lake? However, it is kind of discomforting to think, as a species, humans won't be getting any smarter.

Nearly everyone dies horribly, and sometimes more creatively than any previous Friday the 13th movie. The best death scene is easily the one where a young woman’s face is smashed apart on a countertop after Jason dips her head in a sinkful of liquid nitrogen (no, it is never explained why a laboratory would need a sink filled with this shit).

"The HIIILLLS are alive, with the sound of
Obviously, we ain’t talking Henry V here, but I knew that when buying my ticket, grabbing a soda and nestling into a seat near the back of the theater, keeping my distance from the few packs of babbling teenagers who also showed up. Of course, I was the only person all by himself, not-to-mention the oldest guy in the room. While I tried not to let that bother me, I briefly thought maybe I should have paid to see something with appeal to a normal 40-year-old.

Despite my advanced years, I have to admit I enjoyed the movie for all the reasons I’d mentioned before, even though the gaggle of teenage girls several rows ahead wouldn’t shut the fuck up, gabbing amongst each other like...well, teenage girls. At one time, I actually shouted at them to shut up because I couldn’t hear what the actors were saying. One of them shot back the same expression I gave when my wife suggested going to the Saturday Market. I suddenly felt like an idiot, realizing I just chastized a group of kids because I couldn't hear the dialogue in a Jason movie. While I cannot stand people who feel the incessant need to talk back at the screen, it wasn’t like this was The Usual Suspects.

These girls knew exactly what they were paying to see, exactly what would make the movie fun, probably more than I did. In fact, I’d wager they knew nothing of Jason’s history to begin with, and if I were pretentious enough to tell them, they still wouldn’t give a shit. Some movies are truly meant to be watched as a mob, and if there was ever a franchise less worth defending for its dramatic qualities than Friday the 13th, I’ve never seen it.

So once I got over myself, I had a pretty good time. Yes, Jason X is a shitty movie, but at least it knows its a shitty movie and no attempt is made to convince the viewer otherwise. This actually makes it a lot more fun than the previous nine Friday the 13th films. When you think about it, the movie may be even more self-aware than the Scream series, which most critics and audiences would agree is far better. But Jason X’s uninhibited outrageousness sets it apart. Sure, it’s still a badly-acted, clumsily-scripted slasher movie, but at the same time, you can’t help-but-think everyone involved in its production knew so from the get-go.

By the way...after the movie, I forgot to stop by the store to get stuff for our barbecue.

* Jason wasn’t actually the killer in the first film. It was his mother. Nor was he present in the fifth one.

July 24, 2012

NIGHT OF THE LEPUS: James Cameron, Eat Your Heart Out

Starring Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, DeForrest Kelly, Rory Calhoun. Directed by William F. Claxton. (1972, 88 min).

I wrote my first novel a long time ago, and although it's a sleazy piece of junk (called Bunnies from Hell), and remains mercifully unpublished (it's pretty terrible), it was a proud moment in my life. After years of talking about writing a novel, I finally wrote one. It's a raunchy satire, in which I tried to find the most ridiculous animal crawling the globe with which to write humorous horror tale. Little did I know that someone beat me to the punch...25 years earlier. Only they were serious.

As a fan of animals-gone-bad movies, I’ve sat through a lot of junk about killer ants, bees, frogs, cats, dogs, worms, slugs, rats, etc. For every great movie like Jaws, there are dozens of low-budget knock-offs. But if you can’t appreciate good trash, there’s no point watching movies.

And I thought I’d seen it all until  Night of the Lepus.

Night of the Lepus is one of the all-time great bad movies, the kind of endearingly stupid flick that makes you wish Mystery Science Theater 3000 was still around. Unless you think such tripe is beneath you (how sad for you), this is a hard movie not to like. In case you don’t know, ‘lepus’ is another word for rabbit. That’s right. This movie is about killer rabbits. I’ll pause for a moment while you ponder the concept.
I’ll repeat that. The movie is about killer rabbits, the least terrifying animal on Earth (except maybe for otters). That doesn’t stop director William Claxton from doing whatever he can to try and make them scary. He fails, of course, which is precisely what makes this movie so great. Night of the Lepus, made in 1972, is a no-budget hoot in which rabbits, breeding so fast they are destroying crops in the Arizona desert, are injected with a hormone intended to disrupt their breeding cycle. Instead, it turns them into cow-sized maneaters that kill everything and everyone in their path.

While the story is your basic nature-run-amok plot, what makes the movie worth seeing are the numerous (and oft-repeated) scenes of herds of little bunnies running (in slow motion) through miniature city streets, farmhouses and river beds, accompanied by cattle stampede sound effects. Occasionally, we get close-ups of vicious hares, blood dripping from their whiskers, chomping on their victims. What shoves Night of the Lepus into classic territory is its deadly-serious tone, as though there’s any possible way rabbits, no matter how large, would ever be considered terrifying. Rabbits could be fifty-feet tall, venomous, carnivorous and able to shoot lightning bolts out their asses and we'd still want to cuddle them.

Adding to the hilarity is a cast of once-famous actors earning their paychecks by reacting to the mayhem, including Janet Leigh, which is kind of pathetic. In 12 short years, she’s gone from being the most famous slasher victim of all time in Psycho to igniting fuzzy puppets with a road flare. And fans of the original Star Trek will be overjoyed to learn DeForest Kelly (Dr. McCoy), didn’t remain completely unemployed after the show was cancelled. Here, he looks like an aging 70's era swinger, complete with scarf, polyester bell-bottoms and a porn-star mustache.

Yes, there's an obligatory 'cute' child, so perky you'll want
her to die, especially since the rabbit invasion is
Aside from the incredible special effects, there is even more incredible dialogue. I don’t think even Christopher Walken could have ominously shouted, "A herd of killer rabbits is heading this way" and have it incite any terror at all. In that respect, the whole cast must be commended; lesser actors wouldn't be able to get through their scenes without bursting into laughter.

Add a title theme that sounds like discarded James Bond music, and you’ve got a movie so awesomely bad that it actually manages to be more entertaining than most modern big-budget epics.

Night of the Lepus is a must-see. And as ridiculous as it is, the movie is fast-paced and quite bloody for a PG-rated film. To quote an often-used cliche, they just don’t make movies like this anymore. Being relatively obscure, it may not be waiting on the shelf of your local Best Buy, but it has popped up late at night on TCM on occasion. Trust me, it's worth checking out.

My first novel, Bunnies from Hell, remains tucked safely from the world in my desk drawer, where it will stay. The book was intended to be funny, but for sheer belly laughs, it simply cannot compete with a movie like this. Night of the Lepus is more hilarious than all the Twilight movies combined.

July 23, 2012

STAR WARS: The Director's Cut

Starring Kenny Baker, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher & David Prowse.
Directed by George Lucas. Re-edited by D.M. Anderson.

"I want to know what you've done with those plans!"

"R2...Take these plans, get in the escape pod and find Obi Wan Kenobi. He's our only hope."

"Funny...the damage doesn't look as bad from out here."

"Lord Vader, an escape pod was just launched, but there are no life signs aboard."

"Eh, blow it up, anyway. Your boys could use the practice."


SPEED: The Director's Cut

Starring Keanu Reeves & Dennis Hopper. Directed by Jan de Bont. Re-edited by D.M. Anderson.

"Pop quiz, hot shot. There's a bomb on a bus. Once it reaches 50 miles per hour, the bomb is armed.
If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do?"

"I suppose I'd shoot out the tires before it even reaches 50 and call it a day."

"Shit...I didn't think of that."


July 22, 2012

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES: Cinematic Italian Food

Starring Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman. Directed by Christopher Nolan. (2012, 165 min).

Isn't it weird how Italian food always tastes better the second day? For me, it's the same with The Dark Knight Rises...

At first, the best part about finally getting to see TDKR was I could safely go anywhere on online and not worry about some idiotic troll giving everything away. That's the bad thing about the internet. For those of us who love movies so much that they want to know nothing about a film until they see it for themselves, the internet is a minefield. Even before TDKR was officially released, there were people, some masquerading as critics, some just wanting to show off they were the first to see it (like anyone is really impressed) lobbing spoilers like grenades. Hell, even David Letterman revealed a huge plot twist on his show.

It didn't used to be like this. For the most part, the only time movie surprises were ever ruined was if you personally knew some babbling douche hell-bent on giving away the ending. Even most critics had enough class to simply summarize the basics of the plot and provide their opinions.
I absolutely loved Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I'm actually not a big fan of comic book movies (and I've never read a superhero comic in my entire life), but these two transcended their comic origins and are simply great films. So I'd been looking more forward to The Dark Knight Rises than any movie in the past decade or so. At the same time, I tried real hard not to set my expectations too high, a hard lesson learned when The Matrix Revolutions turned out to be such a pooch. I don't know what it is about third chapters in franchises; either they end up being complete letdowns (Godfather III, Alien 3, Spiderman 3, Superman III) or they turn out to be surprisingly great (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Back to the Future Part III, The Bourne Ultimatum). There is seldom any middle ground.

Anyway, aside from trying not to get my hopes up, as the release date for TDKR approached, since I wasn't planning on seeing on opening night, I went out of my way to avoid Twitter, Facebook, internet movie sights, and any film review other than Roger Ebert's (not that he'd sway my decision whether or not to see it, but he's one of the few critics left who respects his readers enough to never provide spoilers). I wanted to go into this movie as cold as possible.

So did my oldest daughter, Natalie.

She's 17 now, and although she isn't quite the movie geek that I've always been, this is a series she loves on a level that I remember feeling about Jaws, Star Wars, Escape from New York and Pulp Fiction. And Natalie absolutely loved the previous two Batman films, especially Cillian Murphy, who plays the villain, Scarecrow, and appears in all three of them. Christian Bale and Tom Hardy make her heart flutter as well. As a father who still sees his teenage daughter as a little girl, it's a bit strange watching films with her and learning who she thinks is hot. To those of you whose kids aren't yet teenagers, just wait. Nothing will made you feel older.
Natalie was a tad miffed after I informed her we would not be attending the midnight premiere. But I’m in my late-40s...staying awake until 3:00 AM just ain’t in the cards anymore. I once agreed to drop her off with her BFF to catch the final Harry Potter movie at midnight, briefly forgetting I’d be the one picking them up three hours later. Never again.

Both of us had taken every online precaution to avoid seeing or reading anything threatening to spoil the potential surprises TDKR had in-store for us. Hell, we didn't even bother buying popcorn on our way in. We were on a mission.

There are a lot of things I hate about going to the movies today (cell-phone turds, chatterboxes, nine bucks for two sodas, inflated 3-D prices, 20 minutes of trailers, etc.). But one thing that's really cool is how Hollywood instills the general public with the incessant need to see a movie on the first day, as though it will somehow expire by the second or third. (and with the internet, maybe that's partially true). Anyway, because of this, me & Natalie strolled up to the box office at noon on Saturday, got our tickets and had the pick of every single seat in the theater.
I know it's important for some people to be the first to see a particular movie, and that's fine with me. I wish even more felt the same need, because while you stay up waaaay past your bedtime, grab the last available seat in the front row and uncomfortably crane your head in one direction for 2-3 hours, I can simply stroll into the same theater the next afternoon five minutes before showtime, pay the exact same price and enjoy the exact same movie, with the added luxury of perching my feet on the empty seat in front of me.

As for the movie itself, the big question was whether or not it fulfilled my expectations. If someone were to ask me that question when I first emerged from the theater, I would have said no.

The Dark Knight Rises is really, really long, and for the first half, we see far more of Bruce Wayne than Batman. It's actually pretty slow at first and takes a long time to get going. We are also introduced to so many subplots & characters (including arch-nemesis Bane and femme-fatale Catwoman), that the movie almost threatens to collapse under its own weight. And Bane's voice sounds like a combination of Darth Vader and Sean Connery (which I found monumentally distracting). This thankless role was given to Tom Hardy, and he isn't as strong a villain as Heath Ledger's Joker. This isn't a slam against Hardy, either; he did the best he could with the limitations of the role, and face it...nobody is going to top Ledger's performance in a superhero film for a long, long time. Maybe never.

Overall, my first impression was that TDKR was an anticlimactic conclusion to what could have been greatest trilogy ever made.

Yet, after the movie is over and I thought about it a bit - me and Natalie gabbed on and on about it during the whole drive home - there is a lot to love. The action is first-rate and all of the performances are terrific. I have to admit I was one of those folks dubious hearing Catwoman was a major character, but she turned out to be one of the best parts of the movie (Anne Hathaway was terrific), and at no time is she ever referred to as 'Catwoman.' Then there's Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a dedicated cop, whose character ends up being far more relevant to the overall story (and Batman history) than we're initially led to believe.

The story itself (unpredictable and loaded with twists & revelations) makes this the third film of a true trilogy, not just another sequel. Some scenes, even small ones, will likely seem meaningless if you haven't seen the first two films, and TDKR does not stop to bring the viewer up-to-speed. Finally, the Batman saga (Nolan's version, anyway) is brought to an emotional and satisfying end (if somewhat ambigious), making it impossible for the franchise to continue.

No, what I just wrote is not a spoiler, so shut up.

As I write this, I like The Dark Knight Rises more now than I did when I left the theater. The more I think about it, the more impressive it becomes. Kind of like when my wife makes Italian food; it's tasty enough at dinner time, but somehow is even yummier the next day, after the ingredients have more time to mix in together. The whole experience reminds me of Fight Club. I hated that movie the first time I watched it, but damn if didn't stop thinking about it long afterwards. Over the years, it has become one of my favorite movies.

I still think the second film is the best one overall, but also believe Christopher Nolan made the best third chapter possible.

As for Natalie? This trilogy is her Star Wars. She loved every bit of The Dark Knight Rises and is already clamoring to go see it again (sorry, not at ten bucks-a-pop, kid). I remember thinking the same way after Return of the Jedi...that I'd just witnessed the end of the greatest saga ever told; ecstatic that it was so great, yet a bit sad that it was all over.

July 20, 2012

THE WARRIORS: The Original Reactionary Wet Dream

Starring Michael Beck, James Remar, David Patrick Kelly, Deborah Van Valkenburgh. Directed by Walter Hill. (1979, 93 min).

As I write this, the third and final film in Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman trilogy, The Dark Night Rises, is premiering worldwide. It is arguably one of the most anticipated movies of the last decade. As for myself, I haven’t looked more forward to one film since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I’m trying really hard to learn from past mistakes of setting my expectations too high, since The Phantom Menace, although it doesn’t suck nearly as much as internet trolls would have the world believe, was monumentally disappointing.

Anyway, The Dark Knight Rises is currently worldwide news. Unfortunately, it is not because of its projected box-office numbers. During a midnight premiere in Aurora, Colorado, some misguided nutjob walked into a theater where the film was playing and started shooting people. As of this writing, 12 people are dead and another 38 are injured, including some children.

A tragedy, to be sure, but not even twelve hours after the incident, the utter stupidity of the media, Warner Brothers and people in general, came to the fore:
  • Warner Brothers pulled all TV ads for the movie.
  • Several premieres of the film was immediately cancelled outside the U.S. People are already assuming the movie itself triggered this guy’s killing spree.
  • A boneheaded ABC reporter tried to establish a significant connection between the shooter and his alleged Tea Party affiliation, as though that has anything to do with his actions.
  • Simply because of the incident's relative geographic proximity, some assholes are trying to make poignant connections between this incident and the one in Columbine. How is this fucking news?
  • One of the first things some survivors of the incident did afterwards was start Tweeting their experience. Some even did it during the incident.
  • Shares in AMC theater stock dropped significantly after the incident, as though this asshole chose to open-fire in a theater because it was owned by AMC.

Remember the good old days, when the only real ‘controversy’ surrounding TDKR was a hilariously misguided rant by conservative loony Rush Limbaugh, who claimed the movie’s main villain, Bane, was a liberal slam against republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney? Ah, good times. I’ll bet ol’ Rush was plenty pissed this shooter stole his thunder. Or maybe he was relieved, since what he claimed was so blatantly retarded.

This is why, as a species, people suck. We’re fascinated by tragedy, we react before we think, and create stories based on our assumptions. The media obviously wants to make a connection between what’s onscreen and a lone psycho’s actions, though I’m not sure why. I’m convinced the shooter chose the theater in Aurora because he knew it would be packed, not because a Batman film was playing. This has not stopped the media from automatically including the film’s title in every headline and story as though it were the catalyst for the incident. If this wasn't such a high-profile release, said-movie wouldn't have been relevent at all.

Aside from the obviously tragic loss of life, the sad thing is that, no matter how good or bad the movie is, no matter what box-office records it breaks, The Dark Knight Rises will now be forever-tied to this incident. Years from now, whether or not the film achieves classic status, every book, essay and webpage will likely include at least some mention of this tragedy. The film is tainted now, and as of this writing, most of us haven’t even seen it yet.

And it isn’t the first time this has happened...

Back in 1979, there was a little film called The Warriors, a stylish-but-simplistic movie by Walter Hill about a small Coney Island street gang who are framed for the shooting of a powerful New York gang leader. They are then forced to make their way through New York City, avoiding rival gangs and the police in order to make it back to their home turf, where they will allegedly be safe. It is a long and perilous journey, and several gang members do not make it back alive.

If you have ever seen this movie, you know The Warriors bares absolutely no resemblance to anything in the real world. It’s a romantic cartoon fantasy - almost science fiction - with elaborately-attired gang-bangers whose ‘colors’ are more like Halloween costumes than the uniforms of a real street soldier (in fact, a lot of kids did dress-up like the Baseball Furies for Halloween that year). The violence is mostly - and romantically - choreographed, shot more for dramatic effect than any attempt at realism. The movie is kind-of like West Side Story without the songs, or the movie Kiss should have made instead of Phantom of the Park.

Still, a few real-life gangbangers decided to go see it, but got into a tiff with rivals before or after the movie, and commenced trying to kill each other. There were shootings, as well as a few deaths.

With these few incidents, totally unrelated to the movie itself, The Warriors became the most controversial film of the year. The media jumped all over it, suggesting the film itself was inciting deadly riots. Paramount Pictures, who released the film, reacted by removing all of its TV and radio ads, and eventually started pulling it from theaters. With hindsight, maybe the powers-that-be at Paramount used these incidents to create a high must-see factor for would-be thrill-seekers. If so, it worked, because for a brief time, The Warriors was seen as dangerous.

All this actually helped The Warriors achieve the cult status it now enjoys, because the movie itself is relatively lightweight fluff. The real-life gang-related incidents gave the movie a so-called street-cred it didn’t really warrant, and it was the media who whipped people into a reactionary frenzy. If it weren’t for the actions of a few territorial gang-bangers, The Warriors would have come-and-gone from theaters within a few weeks. 

Though paling in comparison to what went down in Denver today, the media itself was ultimately responsible for The Warriors’ somewhat-notorious status it enjoys to this day. Similarly, as I write this, due to the frenzy surrounding the shooting spree in Aurora, The Dark Knight Rises, even if it proves to be a disappointing conclusion to the Batman trilogy, has already achieved legendary status.

Sad to say, but ultimately true.

July 19, 2012

LETHAL WEAPON: Details No One Cares About

Starring Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan. Directed by Richard Donner. (1987, 110 min).

When I was in college - the first time - I lived in a small dorm with a roommate, Kyle, chosen for me by the housing director. I was kinda lucky, because Kyle’s parents saw fit to provide him with a fridge, VCR and TV during his stay. This was back when all three were total luxuries for college students who didn’t have a silver spoon crammed up their ass...which was most of us.

I was also lucky because Kyle was, for the most part, a nice guy, and liked to party on weekends. At that point, I was partying every night, which lead to a few arguments, especially when I’d bring girls to our room. Still, we became pretty good friends during my stay, mostly because I was over 21 and he wasn’t, meaning I could score him booze whenever he wanted.

Despite how college is depicted in movies, life in dorms is usually pretty dull, especially on weekends. This was a small town and there wasn’t a hell of a lot to do. Me, Kyle and some buddies would often grab a few cases of beer, rent a movie and spend Friday night getting shitfaced in our room. One of the guys who seemed to be there every weekend was a pudgy, red-headed guy whose nickname was Blinky, and he looked like that fat, sweaty, horn-blaring kid who tags along with Indy during the intro to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Blinky was going for some sort of engineering degree, and I’m sure he now makes more in a month than I do in a year.

He wasn’t exactly one of my buddies - I thought he was self-righteous, smarmy & abrasive - but being classmates with Kyle, Blinky always seemed to be around. What I remember most was he insisted on drinking wine coolers instead of beer, so whenever it was up to me to secure the booze, I had to make sure I picked up this asshole’s Matilda Bays.

Anyway, during one of those weekends, we picked up Lethal Weapon, which had just been released on video. The movie, of course, is the quintessential buddy-cop film which spawned legions of imitators in ensuing decades. Mel Gibson plays a psychotic cop whose suicidal tendencies make him fearless during stand-offs; Danny Glover is his suffering partner, a straight-arrow family man on the verge of retirement. Like every similar movie which followed in its wake, they hate each other at first, but during the course of the story, become best friends while taking down a nefarious bad guy.

Of course, it goes without saying that Lethal Weapon is to police work what Star Wars is to space travel. If the movie truly reflected reality, we'd be sitting through Internal Affairs hearings and psychological examinations of Martin Riggs, both conducted to get this psycho-with-a-badge off the streets. But I do not care if a movie is scientifically accurate or a scene is logistically plausible; if it's any good, I'm more-than-willing to play-along for two hours. But some people aren't...like Blinky.

Halfway through the movie (and our first case of beer), when Mel Gibson informs Danny Glover that a hooker’s recently-exploded house was detonated by some “heavy shit” known as a mercury switch, Blinky recalled his own technical knowledge and piped in with, “Mercury switches are nothing. We use those in my electronics class. They aren’t heavy shit. How stupid.”

I shot back with, “Well, Blinky, the average person ain’t gonna know that, so why don’t you shut the fuck up.”

He simply beamed back with a superior-than-thou expression, like we were all stupid for enjoying the movie because he knew about mercury switches and we didn't. To this cooler-chugging engineer, mercury switches may not be heavy shit, but the rest of us couldn't care less.

We all know someone who enjoys pointing out inaccuracies as though every movie should be the cinematic equivalent of 60 Minutes. And those who do this in the middle of a movie are assholes. That’s like watching a cartoon in a theater filled with kids and shouting, “Yeah, right...like mice can talk.”

Hey, raise your hand if you truly care that they didn’t play night games back when Roy Hobbs shattered those stadium lights with a grand slam home run in The Natural...

...or that a bus couldn’t logistically make the leap from one end of an unfinished bridge to the other in Speed...

...or that the screaming Tie-Fighters in Star Wars wouldn’t realistically make any sound at all, since space is a vacuum...

...what? No?

That's because you’re not a pretentious jackass trying to show off your knowledge of facts nobody gives a crap about. I don’t watch Lethal Weapon movies hoping for a chemistry lesson. I wanna see gunplay, car crashes, explosions, wisecracks and maybe a boob or two. Lethal Weapon had all that and not once did I give a damn whether or not a fucking electric switch was heavy shit.

So, if you’re reading this, Blinky, I hope you've since-learned to shut your hole. If not, I’ll bet your family hates going to the movies with you.

July 18, 2012

25 Things We Learn From The AIRPORT Franchise

1. Except for the first film, none of them really take place at an airport.

2. Airport’s casting director had an ironic sense of humor, hiring Dean Martin to play an airline pilot.

3. Linda Blair would be more endearing as the sickly girl in Airport 1975 if she was still possessed by Satan.

4. Concorde jets aren’t as fast as we think, because you can slide open a window and stick out your arm to fire a gun without getting it torn off at the shoulder.

July 16, 2012

20 Scenes NOBODY Saw Coming

As filmgoers, we love surprises. The more movies which follow tried-and-true formulas or rehash cliches, the more we learn to appreciate those which defy our expectations, if even for a single scene. Truly-creative plot-twists, surprising climaxes, revelations, or simply shocking, sudden scenes which alter the entire film, are becoming fewer and farther between, mainly because we seldom ever go into a movie “cold” anymore.

Some of the scenes on this list are now so iconic that only those lucky enough to have seen the movies on opening night enjoyed their full impact. Other movies, both good and bad, contain that one scene which you couldn’t have predicted, no matter how jaded you are.

By the way...spoilers abound!

1. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK - Sure, we all know Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s dad now. Imagine being there on opening night in 1980, like I was. Vader’s revelation hit the entire audience like a ton of bricks.

2. PSYCHO - The death of Marion Crane is a huge shock, because the film dupes us into thinking she’s the main character, only to kill her a third of the way through the movie.

3. PSYCHO - And how can we not include the climactic scene when we finally see who “mother” really is?

- A ridiculous-but-fun movie about genetically-altered sharks. Samuel L. Jackson’s untimely death-by-shark-attack, immediately after giving the most inspirational monologue in the film, is both shocking and hilarious. Shocking because the attack is swift, sudden and violent; funny because of its perfect timing.

5. THE USUAL SUSPECTS - Anyone who tells you they figured out who Keyser Soze was before the end of the film is likely lying their ass off to make themselves feel superior.

- The horrifying answer to “What’s in the box?”, a scene which almost didn’t happen.

7. RETURN OF THE JEDI - The revelation which makes Luke realize he once sucked-face with his twin sister, and made Star Wars geeks worldwide go ‘eeew!’ This scene is also the main reason I don’t believe for one second that George Lucas had his entire saga planned-out from the get-go.

8. EXECUTIVE DECISION - At the time this was made, Steven Seagall was still a big action star, so the decision to kill him in the first 45 minutes was not only a big surprise, those of us who couldn’t stand Seagall perked up and collectively thought this may not be such a crappy movie after all. And it wasn’t.

9. LAW ABIDING CITIZEN - A passive judge is killed by an explosive cell phone. We’re lulled into thinking this is yet-another scene of expositional dialogue (which this movie has a lot of). We know the judge is a target and will most-likely die by the end of the film, but just not here in the comfort of her own office.

10. ZOMBIELAND - Bill Murray shows up...playing himself. I was lucky enough to check it out with no prior knowledge other than it was a horror comedy. So when Murray appeared, I laughed so hard my side hurt...and that was before he uttered a single line. This is one reason the internet kinda sucks, because most knew this scene is coming before we went to see it, though there is the added surprise when Murray is killed not-even ten minutes later.

- The final scene is now so iconic - and parodied - that it’s hard to imagine the impact it had on audiences in 1968. We can thank none-other than co-screenwriter Rod Serling for that, who practically invented the modern twist-ending. Yeah, seeing the movie today, there are many previous, not-so-subtle clues making the climax obvious. But when Planet of the Apes came out, sci-fi was seldom taken seriously as social commentary, so nobody expected such the film to suddenly and swiftly change our perception of who the true villains are.

12. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN - The movie starts off with two sleazy criminals on the run with a family of hostages in-tow. Then, with no warning whatsoever, it stops on a dime and becomes a gory, splatstick fight for survival against bloodthirsty vampires. It’s as though the projectionist, while changing reels, spooled an entire different movie that had the exact same cast.

- I didn’t see the end coming, and I read the damn book.

14. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND - The first time we get a good look at the alien ships, as they roar along a highway with cops in pursuit, was easily the most awesome and unexpected special effects scene any of us had ever seen up to that point (and, yes, this was after Star Wars). Even more amazing is the film topped that scene during the climax.

15. THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION - Anyone who didn’t read Stephen King’s novella had no idea that Andy had been planning his escape the entire time.

16. SAW - Of all the movies on this list, the twist ending is the most polarizing. Half thought it was a shocking revelation, half thought it was a tacked-on, far-fetched, easy way out (I’m one of the latter). Regardless, the ending was unexpected.

17. THE SIXTH SENSE - Though hard to imagine today, there was a brief time when director M. Night Shyamalan was a critical darling whose films were massively popular with anyone who never heard of The Twilight Zone. With The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan almost single-handedly brought back the twist ending, which was so clever it forced nearly everyone to watch the film again, just so they could look for subtle clues that were always right there in plain sight, but none of us caught the first time.

18. FIGHT CLUB - That moment when we learn the film’s narrator and Tyler Durden are actually the same guy, thus explaining the importance of nearly every previous scene in the entire film. How awesome was that?

19. THE MATRIX - How would you feel if you suddenly discovered your entire life never really happened, and you were just one of millions of incubated bodies kept alive to keep machines powered? That scene in the original Matrix was as shocking to viewers as it was to Neo himself.

- Anyone who fondly remembers, or grew-up with, the original TV show must have been stunned - not-to-mention a bit pissed-off - that the character of Jim Phelps turns out to be the bad guy. Mission: Impossible is a popular Tom Cruise franchise now, but this plot development in the first film angered a lot of purists, including original series cast members (Peter Graves, who played Phelps in the series, refused a lucrative offer to reprise his role after learning he’d be playing the villain).

July 13, 2012

20 Awesome Bad Guys

Sure, we love the heroes, but playing the bad guy always looks like a lot more fun. The following is a list of some awesome ones (in no particular order).

- For everyone who knows Kurtwood Smith best as the dad on That 70s Show, you should check him out here. He looks more like a college professor than a gang leader, but not only is he cruel, ruthless and violent, he appears to truly enjoy being so.

2. “ANGEL EYES” (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) - Lee Van Cleef was always a great bad guy, but never badder than he is in this classic. His entrance is still one of my favorite scenes in the movie.

3. CAPTAIN RHODES (Day of the Dead) - Played with wild-eyed fury by Joe Pilato, he’s one vicious mother who deserves a slow, agonizing, nasty-ass death...and gets it.

4. HANS GRUBER (Die Hard) - The quintessential Euro-accented criminal mastermind, played by Alan Rickman. Smooth, cold-blooded, overconfident and dies a great death.

5. MR. BLUE (The Taking of Pelham One Two Three) - In the original, Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) is smart, ruthless and virtually unemotional, which is what makes him so cool. Too bad John Travolta goes the opposite direction in the remake, screaming every line like he has Turrets Syndrome.

6. KHAN NOONIEN SINGH (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) - Ricardo Montalban’s greatest role, and the best villain the Star Trek franchise ever had. And yes, that’s his real chest.

7. JOHN KRAMER a.k.a. “JIGSAW” (Saw II; Saw III) - Kramer isn’t really in the first film too much, and it isn’t until Saw II that we understand who he is and what his motives are. What’s cool about Kramer is he doesn’t see himself as a villain. And quite often, neither do we.

8. DARK HELMET (Spaceballs) - All the best moments in Mel Brooks’ last decent movie belong to Rick Moranis, the funniest ones being when he discovers he’s surrounded by assholes, and when he’s playing with his own action figure. According to IMDB, the latter scene was improvised.

9. RAMSES (The Ten Commandments) - Yul Brynner and his chest play foil to Charlton Heston’s Moses. He treats his women badly and Moses even worse.

10. THE JOKER (The Dark Knight) - What more can be said about Heath Ledger’s performance that hasn’t been said a million times? It’s a revelation, considering most of us thought Jack Nicholson would always be the definitive Joker.

11. DARTH VADER (The Empire Strikes Back) - He was little-more than a powerful henchman in the first movie. Here, he’s the big cheese who has zero-tolerance for failure (just ask his underlings).

12. FRANK (Once Upon a Time in the West) - Not only is it shocking to see Henry Fonda totally nail-it as a ruthless killer, he also guns down children.

13. KEYSER SOZE (The Usual Suspects) - Keyser guns down children, too...his own! Jesus Christ!

14. JACK TORRENCE (The Shining) - As a horror film, The Shining is phenomenally overrated, and I truly believe watching Jack Nicholson going apeshit is the primary reason it remains beloved by so many.

15. MICHAEL CORLEONE (The Godfather, Part II) - Michael wasn’t really a villain in the original, but by Part II, he's become so cold and ruthless that he orders the death of his own brother. Man, that’s just mean. It’s kinda weird that we all root for him, anyway.

16. HANS LANDA (Inglorious Basterds) - Played by Christoph Waltz, Hans is so outwardly congenial that, even when he turns violent, we still like him. And how can you not love the scenes involving Hans and food?

17. TODD (Hostel, Part II) - A financially successful douchebag, Todd is overly-macho, snorts coke, treats hookers like shit and gung-ho at the idea of paying to torture and kill a complete stranger. At least, until the moment arises, when he tries to back out, turns into a sniveling little weasel and ends up as dog food.

18. HANNIBAL LECTER (The Silence of the Lambs; Hannibal) - Sure, he’s a serial killer. Sure, he’s a cannibal. But we love the guy, especially when he performs his awful deeds on the assholes who have it coming.

19. OTTO WEST (A Fish Called Wanda) - A dumbass who thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. Kevin Kline won an Oscar for this, and he deserved it.

20. THE T-800 (The Terminator) - It can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with, and it absolutely will not stop...until you are dead. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

July 12, 2012

Why SAW Is The Greatest Movie Franchise Of All Time

Starring Tobin Bell, Danny Glover, Cary Elwes, Shawnee Smith, Leigh Wannell, Betsy Russell, Costas Mandylor. Various Directors. (2004-2010).

Before I got married for the second time, a bunch of my friends threw me a bachelor party. It must have been a great one, because I don't remember much about it, including some Polaroids of me & the guys standing with drinks-in-hand and our dorks hanging out. One asshole co-worker (who wasn’t even invited) decided to pass them around at work the next day. It was one of the more humiliating experiences of my adult life, especially after receiving a few comments like, "Hey, Dave, was it cold in your apartment? Haw-Haw-Haw!"

Anyway, there was a lot of liquor & drugs at this party but no women (probably a good thing). None of us had money falling out of our asses back then, so rather than strippers, my best man brought a stack of VHS porn videos from his own collection. They pretty-much played non-stop that night...at least until everyone was too wasted to change the tapes.

I haven’t watched any porn since that night, so I couldn’t tell you what it’s like in this day & age of downloading anything your sick mind can think of. But back then, some of the movies had “plots,” so to speak; threadbare - almost pointless - stories which did little more than pad out the running time in-between endless sex scenes. I would imagine, since the advent of DVD, when you can simply skip to the good parts, the job of an adult film “screenwriter” is as thankless as being a bass player for Metallica.

But whether or not you are a fan of adult films, you have to admit that the genre, no matter how artful, acrobatic or amatuerish, nearly always delivers what it promises. In that sense, porn is a lot like McDonald’s. No, you aren’t going to get fine cuisine, nor are you ever going discuss with others the succulence of the Quarter Pounder you grabbed from the drive-thru two weeks ago. And if you absolutely love Quarter Pounders, there isn’t a single McDonald’s on the entire planet that cannot provide you with another one which tastes exactly the same. Like porn, McDonald’s is a safe investment, because you know what you’re gonna get.

Porn stars may come and go, but the industry carries on, providing the same erotic entertainment for bachelor parties, sex addicts, voyeurs and lonely guys since time began. McDonald’s employees may come and go, but the franchise keeps pumping out the same quick, convenient and somewhat-edible burgers since Ray Kroc built it into franchise starting in 1954.

In a way, the Saw franchise, a horror film series which started in 2004, is just like porn and McDonald’s. It has since become a brand-name itself, mainly by stripping-away any initial pretences and giving viewers exactly what they want.

The original Saw is similar in tone and intensity to Seven, in which there is a serial killer who goes to extreme measures to make his morally-questionable victims see the errors of their ways. But unlike Seven, Jigsaw himself doesn’t kill anyone outright, nor does he attack the innocent. Every victim has a dark secret. He targets drug-addicts, sleazy opportunists and heartless bureaucrats who either don’t appreciate the life given to them, or care how their actions affect others. Jigsaw then places them in elaborate, painful and potentially lethal traps through which they must take extreme measures in order to survive. The traps themselves reflect the immorality of their own lives, the most famous being a reverse-bear-trap attached to a young addict’s head, and she must cut-open someone else to retrieve the key which will unlock the trap.

For the first two movies at least, the concept of forcing the morally-questionable to partake in these twisted games make Jigsaw a not-entirely-unsympathetic antagonist. In a morbid way, we can sort-of understand his motives.

But of course, the primary appeal of the Saw films is similar to porn. Yes, there is a story, so to speak, but the lethal mechanical traps by which the victims live or die is what draws audiences. There was an actual plot to Deep Throat, too, but it was still just a hard-core sex film. Ultimately, we didn’t really care about Linda Lovelace‘s sexual peculiarities. Nor do we ultimately care about Jigsaw’s agenda.

Subsequent Saw sequels took this and ran with it, to the point where, beginning with Saw III, even people who don’t deserve an agonizing death meet horrible fates. By now, any creativity from the filmmakers was geared more toward devising clever traps to amp up the gore.

Jigsaw himself dies in Saw III, but there are seven films in the series, and through sometimes-genius, sometimes-ridiculous developments, the increasingly-elaborate torture continues. In fact, traps in later movies are such engineering monstrosities that the viewer knows they couldn’t possibly be constructed within the time frame established, let-alone by one individual. But plausibility ceased to be a factor long before the franchise played itself out. Despite all of the myriad plot-twists & flashbacks attempting to, not only explain how Jigsaw could continue to kill, but influence others to do his work, the bottom line is that those responsible for these films know most viewers simply want to see how creatively someone can be killed.

Remember the old Road Runner cartoons, where Wile E. Coyote tries to come up with creative ways to kill his prey, only it never works out in his favor? The Saw movies are kind-of like that, except Wile E. Coyote’s traps never work and Jigsaw’s always do. We know Wile E. Coyote will fail...the amusing part is seeing how creatively he fails. Dozens of Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons were made in the 40s, 50s and 60s. They may have different titles, but all have the exact same plot, and even a die-hard Looney Tunes fan would have trouble citing which gag appeared in which title. Similarly, the Saw films are virtually interchangeable, and only a real Fan-tard could accurately tell you which traps appear in which movies.

I have all seven Saw movies on DVD, and I watch them back-to-back about once a year. Not because they are masterpieces. I like them because of their purity of purpose. Like porn, McDonald’s and Road Runner cartoons, you know exactly what you’re gonna get with a Saw movie. In fact, when I truck out my discs, I simply start with whatever film is at the top of the stack and work my way down; seeing them in sequence is not really necessary. Do you really think there is a guy alive who ever refused to watch Behind the Green Door 2 because they hadn’t seen the original first? As a horror fan, as much as I hate to admit, sometimes I just like watching people die, just like porn fans like watching other people fornicate.

Which is why the Saw series is arguably the greatest movie franchise of all time. Unlike Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Alien, James Bond, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Lethal Weapon or The Godfather (all of which had one-or-more shitty sequels), we walk away from every Saw film thinking the exact same thing...“Wow, that was really fucking gross.” The films promise nasty-ass death, and deliver every single time. As a gorehound, you could randomly select any of the Saw films and, despite all of the intrusive plot points, be satisfied with your choice. Even then, those plot points could be considered the pickles you pick off of your Quarter Pounder; you’ll still love the burger and not miss the pickles.

It’s this unwavering cruel streak in every film which arguably makes Saw the most consistent franchise ever made. These movies are not works of art, but at the same time, they never raised fan expectations on the level of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, two movies so polarizing that entire websites are dedicated to fans’ hatred of them. You don’t see any websites spewing their hatred of Saw V or Saw VI, because they are essentially the same fucking movie. In fact, if you are truly a Saw fan, choosing one film over another is almost an exercise in hypocrisy. Saying you hate one film is like saying you hate them all, at least if you’re being truly honest about why you enjoy such sadistic entertainment in the first place.

July 10, 2012

10 Things We Learn From Watching SCARFACE (1983)

Starring Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, F. Murray Abraham. Directed by Brian DePalma. (1983, 170 min).

1. You can make an entire movie about the Cuban criminal underworld with only one actual Cuban in the cast (Steven Bauer).

2. “Fuck” can be used as an adjective, a noun or a verb...226 times!

3. Cranking up the volume on a tiny hotel TV will effectively mask the noise made by a roaring chainsaw.
4. Nothing dates a movie from the 1980s quite like a synthesized, pop music score.

5. Miami has relatively few police patrolmen, allowing you to wage massive gunfights on the streets, in a nightclub or a high-end residential neighborhood whenever you need to.

6. Unlike The Godfather, which needed two movies and six hours to chronicle a gangster's rise to power, one can easily go from hired thug to criminal kingpin during a single five-minute musical montage.

7. All these current would-be gangstas who think Tony Montana is so cool should dress more like him, because even a wide-collared leisure suit looks less ridiculous than belting your pants under your ass cheeks.

8. Law & Order: SVU star Richard Belzer was once a stand-up comic, though not a very good one.

9. People love epic movies where the main character starts off as a vicious, sociopathic, incestuous, greedy, conniving, drug-addled asshole, and three hours later, he’s still the same vicious, sociopathic, incestuous, greedy, conniving, drug-addled asshole.

10. If all he has is his balls and his word, then Tony Montana needs to protect his balls better, because throughout the movie he breaks his word to damn-near everybody.

July 9, 2012

EEEEEW!: 20 Nasty Movie Moments

You know those scenes. Not necessarily the goriest, but the ones which make you wince, hide your eyes, dig your nails into the armrest, pucker your ass or fight a gag reflex. Sure, being disassembled by zombies or birthing aliens through one’s chest is gross, but far removed from any true human experience. But needles? Broken bones? Violated orifices? Swallowing something awful? We can relate on some level.

I don’t think any of us are truly worried about alien slugs squirting from our own asses (as in Dreamcatcher), but the idea of any weird thing squirting from (or up) our asses is likely to make said-ass pucker hard. Sometimes the nastiest scenes in movies don’t even use special effects, but they tap into that weird place in our heads, where we can kind-of imagine the same agony being inflicted on our own selves.

The following is a list (in no particular order) of some nasty-ass scenes that made me wince, gag or want to turn away.

1. AMERICAN HISTORY X - Edward Norton forces a man to place his open mouth on a curb, then stomps the back of his head. Eeeew!

2. MISERY - The hobbling scene. Eeeew!

3. ARACHNOPHOBIA - A spider crawls from a corpse’s nose. Eeeew!

4. THE THING - For all of its slime and gore, the ickiest scene is arguably the ‘blood test’ conducted to determine who is The Thing. Eeeew!

5. INVASION U.S.A. - In this otherwise-worthless Chuck Norris flick, there’s a scene where a woman is snorting coke from a table using a metal straw. That’s when our villain slams her head onto the table. Eeeew!

6. THE DARK KNIGHT - Similarly, The Joker does this to a gangster, only with a pencil. Eeeew!

7. PULP FICTION - Travolta’s adrenaline shot to Uma Thurman’s chest. Eeeew!

8. BAD TASTE - Peter Jackson’s first film is a low-budget gorefest, but the grossest part is when one of our alien hunters is slurping green vomit from a bowl...the added sound effects make this scene truly nauseating. Eeeew!

9. THE EXORCIST - Not the projectile vomit or the violating crucifix, but the nasty tests performed on Regan in the hospital. Eeeew!

10. GRINDHOUSE - Eli Roth’s faux-trailer, “Thanksgiving,” which involves a cheerleader, a trampoline and a really big knife. Eeeew!

11. SAW 3-D (aka SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER) - In a series which revels in nastiness, one of the ickiest traps involves a guy trying to remove a fishing line strung down a woman’s throat. Oh yeah...attached to the end of this line are fish hooks. Eeeew!

12. PAYBACK - In an effort to make Porter cooperate, the mafia commences smashing his toes with a hammer one at a time. Eeeew!

13. DREAMCATCHER - The “Shitweasals.” Aptly named and...Eeeew!

14. STAND BY ME - There’s a leech on my balls! Eeeew!

15. THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION - A hilariously-bad cheesefest, save for the scene when a woman unwittingly includes a large tarantula in her blended breakfast drink. Eeeew!

16. MARATHON MAN - Impromptu dentistry...without anesthesia. Classic Eeeew!

17. JACKASS NUMBER TWO - There are countless, bile-stirring gags in all of the films, but the sickest has to be when Chris Pontious pounds-back a cup of horse semen. Eeeew!

18. THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006) - The father of a hapless vacationing family is the first to die when he’s tied to a post and burned alive...a scene which goes on, and on, and on. And the dad is bubbling and screaming in agony the whole time. Eeeew!

19. HOSTEL, PART 2 - Being eaten is bad enough. Being eaten alive is even worse. But watching yourself being eaten alive, one slice at a time, by the sick bastard who directed Cannibal Holocaust? Eeeew!

20. THE FLY (1986) - The bathroom scene when Seth Brundle begins to notice some peculiar changes in his body, such as pus squirting from appendages and being able to remove his own fingernails with sickening ease. Eeeew!

What about you? What twisted scene from a film gave you the willies, made your butt pucker or triggered a gag reflex?