July 30, 2013

New Disc Review: AFTERSHOCK (Blu-Ray)

Starring Eli Roth, Andrea Osvart, Ariel Levy, Natasha Yarovenko, Nicolas Martinez, Lorenza Izzo. Directed by Nicolas Lopez. (2012, 89 min).
Anchor Bay Entertainment

Since Cabin Fever and the first two Hostel films earned Eli Roth a well-deserved reputation as a purveyor of unrelenting, nasty horror, one can’t help but have similar expectations for Aftershock. Although he didn’t direct it, he is prevalent both behind and in-front-of the camera, co-producing, co-writing the screenplay and playing one of its main characters. His stamp is all over it, and even though it is not really a horror film, Aftershock is similarly disturbing, graphic and brutal.

Structurally, the story is similar to Hostel…a small group of beautiful and cocky twenty-somethings are looking for thrills a in an exotic country (in this case, Chile), then we watch them getting shit-faced during the entire first act before something unexpectedly awful happens. In this case, it’s a massive earthquake that devastates the entire city. But that’s not the worst of it. In the aftermath, they face an even worse horror…not only must they try to escape an impending Tsunami, the quake-ravaged streets are filled with criminals taking advantage of the disaster in order to steal, kill and rape. One band of really despicable & murderous thugs has their sights set on our main characters (particularly the women); much of the rest of the film focuses on these characters’ efforts to escape the marauding bandits.

If you think Aftershock sounds more like a disaster epic than a horror film, it‘s understandable. But there’s something more demented and twisted at-work here. This ain’t your granddaddy’s Earthquake or the dozens of made-of-TV disaster flicks which pop-up on the SyFy Channel. The quake is simply a catalyst for the ensuing brutality we witness afterwards, where we watch people die horribly at the hands of others. Like Roth’s Hostel, there are a few truly cringeworthy scenes that’ll make you lose all faith in humanity.

Eli Roth discovers the consequences of unprotected sex.
Eli Roth is top-billed and (other than an amusing cameo I wouldn't dream of giving away) the most recognizable member of an ensemble cast, all of whom do decent jobs with their roles. There’s also a surprising amount of character exposition; we develop a quick fondness or dislike for the primary players, important in a film like this, since it follows the Hostel structure so closely…we care about their fates before it unleashes the mayhem which follows. The film’s greatest strength lies in the fact we are never confident about who lives or dies.

For a relatively low budget film, Aftershock is pretty ambitious. A film like this cannot afford the expensive CGI effects of a big-budget blockbuster, so it creatively avoids relying on them in favor of smaller scale practical effects, which do the job nicely. The only obvious CGI moment comes towards the end, a scene which can either be seen as tragic or ironically amusing.

On the downside, for a disaster film, the tone is unrelentingly grim and nihilistic, which will turn off a lot of viewers. Aftershock seems to care less about its primary characters than we do, more concerned with killing them slowly and slipping into exploitation mode when depicting their gruesome deaths. Hence, this movie isn’t what most people would consider fun to watch. It also makes the near-fatal mistake of throwing in a totally unnecessary plot twist late in the game, when it reveals one of the primary characters is not what he seems. His immediate actions after this revelation are totally out of character…stupid and contrived, thrown in for the sake of adding a cheap shock (and one more gruesome death).

Still, aside from the gratuitously-exploitative moments, Aftershock is a darkly-compelling variation on the old disaster movie formula, one which will please Eli Roth fans, even if it doesn’t reach the heights (or depths) of Hostel. We may not feel great afterwards, but we aren’t likely to feel too insulted either.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Making of Aftershock; Shaking Up the Casting Process featurette; Commentary by Eli Roth & director Nicolas Lopez.

(Out of 5)

July 29, 2013


Starring the voices of Justin Chambers, Kevin McKidd, Michael B. Jordon, C. Thomas Howell, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman, Dana Delany, Cary Elwes, Kevin Conroy, Vanessa Marshall. Directed by Jay Oliva. (2013, 75 min).
Warner Home Video

This latest feature-length animated film from DC Comics, based a 2011 crossover series, is nothing if not ambitious. Everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at us…dozens of familiar heroes, villains & secondary characters from the DC universe, lots of action, violence, a surprising amount of bloodshed, alternate timelines and an impending apocalypse. For what’s essentially just a cartoon on par with the stuff which shows up on Cartoon Network, The Flashpoint Paradox is occasionally too ambitious for its own good.

The central character in this one is The Flash, still reeling from the murder of his mother when he was a boy. After thwarting the plans of his nemesis, Thawne (with the help of Justice League pals Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Aquaman & Wonder Woman), he wakes up in an alternate world where he has no powers, his mom is still alive and the world is on the brink of destruction from a war waged by Wonder Woman’s Amazons and Aquaman’s Atlantis army. Meanwhile, Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s dad) is a much darker and burnt-out Batman who uses guns and drinks a lot, Cyborg is an advisor to the President (who looks and sound a lot like Obama), Superman has been held in government isolation ever since landing on Earth, and Hal Jordan gets killed before he ever gets a chance to become Green Lantern. A slew of other DC characters, good and evil, pop up on both sides of this impending war. It’s up to Flash, Batman and Cyborg to try and stop this war before Flash can use his speedy powers to restore the proper timeline.

"I just don't think of you that way, Bruce."
That’s a quick & dirty summary of a plot that’s actually a lot more convoluted, mainly because the story shoehorns way-too-many many iconic characters into it. For the novice, it is difficult to keep track of them all, especially since the story seldom slows down long enough to explain their importance in the DC universe. Hence, how much you actually enjoy The Flashpoint Paradox depends largely on how much you already know about everyone who shows up. As someone who doesn’t read these comics and is unfamiliar with their origins and quirks, I was thankful my wife was there to explain just who the hell some of ‘em were.

One conclusion I was able to come up with on my own is The Flash is not a very interesting superhero, at least compared to Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman. I know his particular power is central to the story, but his story is simply not as intriguing as Batman’s. Speaking of which, the film’s best moments come when we learn, in this alternate timeline, it was Bruce Wayne who died and his father was the one who became Batman, who’s even more nihilistic and vengeful.

As with most DC Comics films, its limited-animation style is either wonderfully artistic or monumentally distracting, depending on your tastes. Personally, I prefer images to move more fluidly, but that’s just me. The quality of animation in The Flashpoint Paradox is no better or worse than the countless DC films which proceeded it.

It should also be noted that the movie is really violent. There are a few scenes in which the blood spurts freely and iconic heroes are turned loose to commit the kind of bodily mayhem they never would have been allowed to if it weren’t for this alternate universe storyline. It’s PG-13 rating is well-earned and definitely not for little kids.

While it helps if you are already familiar with most of the myriad characters who show up, this Justice League installment is still entertaining enough to placate novices like me. Yeah, the movie tends to bite off more than it can chew, and assumes everyone in the audience is already up-to-speed on the DC universe, but even as a stand-alone movie, it has just-enough moments (mostly Batman’s) which will make it worth checking out.

SPECIAL FEATURES: My Favorite Villain!: The Flash Bad Guys & A Flash in Time featurettes; audio commentary by writer Geoff Johns, producer James Tucker, writer Jim Krieg & director Jar Oliva; Flashpoint #1 comic; bonus cartoons; sneak peek at Justice League: War (after the end-credits).

(Out of 5)

July 24, 2013

20 Random Facts You May Not Know About Movies You Know

1. Over 7,000 rounds are fired during the climax of Scarface.

2. Saw VI, part of the franchise most associated with the “torture porn” subgenre, was distributed in Argentina by Walt Disney Studios.

3. The “dog” in John Carpenter’s The Thing also played the title animal in the 1991 version of White Fang.

4. The film with the highest all-time onscreen body count is The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (836).

5. Only six actual alien costumes were made for James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, which is why you never see more than a half-dozen on the screen at any time.

6. Francis Ford Coppola agreed to write and direct The Godfather Part III mostly because he needed the money.

7. One of the transvestite performers during the “vaudeville” scene in Escape from New York is Roger Bumpass, better known to the world as the voice of Squidward in Spongebob Squarepants.

8. Despite their reputations as box office flops, both Waterworld and Godzilla (1998) actually made money for their studios.

9. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins were the two catalysts for the MPAA’s decision to add a new rating to their existing system. 1984’s Red Dawn was the first film to be officially designated PG-13.

10. The Black Hole was Walt Disney Studios’ first live-action PG rated film. The Black Cauldron was their first animated PG rated film. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was their first PG-13 rated film. All three films have the word ‘black’ in the title.

11. Technically speaking, Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X have the highest body counts of all the films in the franchise, both with 23.

12. The word ‘zombie’ is never mentioned in Night of the Living Dead.

13. Even though O Brother, Where Art Thou? is loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey, neither of the Coen Brothers ever actually read it.

14. During the making of Soylent Green, Charlton Heston was the only member of the crew who knew co-star and old friend Edward G. Robinson was dying of cancer. The emotions Heston displayed during Robinson’s character’s voluntary suicide scene were genuine. Robinson died 12 days after filming his scenes.

15. The Exorcist is the only horror movie ever to be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture category.

16. Kurt Russell auditioned for the role of Han Solo in Star Wars.

17. Jaws was the first movie to gross over $100,000,000 during its initial theatrical run. Taking inflation into account, it is still the seventh biggest film of all time.

18. In France, Jaws is known as The Teeth from the Sea.

19. The producers of Dirty Harry originally wanted Frank Sinatra for the role.

20. Die Hard with a Vengeance was originally conceived as a Lethal Weapon sequel.

July 23, 2013

SHARKNADO: Genius at Work

Starring Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, John Heard, Cassie Scerbo, Jaason Simmons. Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante. (2013, 86 min).

There’s a lot of demented genius behind Sharknado. This SyFy Original/Twitter sensation has viewers either laughing at it or with it. There’s almost zero middle ground, but I think both camps missed the point of the movie. Just like a lot of numbskull conservatives once mistook Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” for a patriotic anthem, most folks either jeered at Sharknado’s supposed ineptitude, or congratulated themselves on Twitter as being hip to the joke.

But Sharknado is not ineptly made; that would imply its makers didn’t know what the hell they were doing. I think every line of terrible dialogue, laughable visual effect, incredible lapse in logic and blatant continuity error was deliberate and intentional. According to iMDB, Sharknado had a budget of about a million dollars, less than the cost to produce the trailers for most Hollywood films. Hey, if you can’t afford the cost of realism, then you might as well go to the opposite extreme. As such, Sharknado is actually a pretty competent piece of filmmaking, and part of its genius is the fact that everyone laughing at it were suckered into thinking its makers were idiots with serious intentions.

At the other end of the spectrum, because it’s such a deliberate piece of schlock, one might view Sharknado as intentionally-campy, delivered with a knowing wink and a nudge to the ribs. And sure, many scenes are so over-the-top and contrary to all known science that we must conclude it’s all one big joke. During its premiere, the movie was a Twitter sensation, most tweets coming from folks with clever quips to impress their followers. I also think some of them had their comments ready well-in-advance.

But self-congratulatory Tweeters are actually late to the party. Sharknado was produced by The Asylum, a studio that specializes in low-budget knock-offs of popular movies (i.e. Transmorphers, Snakes on a Train & the gloriously cheeky Titanic II), and outrageous flicks like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus & Two-Headed Shark Attack, titles probably created before a single word of their screenplays were typed. Fans of wonderful movie cheese have been enjoying these films for years. The folks at The Asylum have filled a much-needed void since Samual Z. Arkoff’s American-International Pictures and Roger Corman’s New World Pictures disappeared…an honest-to-God, proudly-exploitative movie studio who’s production mantra is the same…do it quick, do it cheap and get it out there.

And God bless them. The only thing keeping epics like Sharknado from being perfect date movies are the current lack of suburban drive-ins. Because of this, The Asylum’s brand of low-rent thrills have shown up on SyFy every weekend for years, that prestigious network which once aired a horror movie featuring a psychotic Paul Bunyan.

But why have so many people suddenly latched onto Sharknado, of all things? Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus is just as intentionally crazy (and even features 80's has-been Debbie Gibson, who bumps uglies with an Asian scientist she just met). Some of its popularity obviously stems from the title, embraced by the same internet addicts who briefly attached hipness to bacon, grumpy cats, Llamas with Hats, penguins, Rick Astley & Chuck Norris (see the lovingly-produced graphic to your right as an example). Because most of them tweeted about Sharknado until their thumbs bled, SyFy got higher TV ratings from the rerun than the premiere.

But the genius of Sharknado (and most Asylum films, for that matter) is that it’s made by people who simply don’t give a damn what we think. It’s a throwback to monster movies of the 50s and animal rampage flicks of the 70s, when plausibility sat at the back of the bus. Like the glory days of Arkoff and Corman, it wasn’t made with ‘art’ in-mind; it was made with profit in-mind, and I seriously doubt its producers care one whit if it’s perceived as woefully-inept or brilliantly-campy. Making fun of it says more about you than the movie, as does pretending to be hip to the joke, so the filmmakers themselves are likely having a good chuckle at everyone's expense over this minor media frenzy. Because of this, Sharknado achieves a level of accidental brilliance that even clever commentary by the MST3K guys couldn’t improve upon.

Sharknado’s brief moment in the spotlight will likely go down in pop culture history alongside the Pet Rock and LOL Cats...one of those things so stupid that it has everyone thinking, why didn’t I think of that? As for the film itself, I gotta admit it’s a lot of disreputable fun. If I had paid to see it in a theater, I would have felt less ripped-off I did with Man of Steel.

July 20, 2013

HELP! and the Magnificent Obsession

Starring George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr. Directed by Richard Lester. (1965, 92 min).

I’m pretty obsessive when it comes to the things I’m into. Some obsessions have come and gone over the years…Hot Wheels, MAD Magazine, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Looney Tunes, fantasy football and the hots for an Asian girl I knew in high school. Other obsessions have been mainstays most of my life (like records, movies, NASCAR, Stephen King & The Beatles). Whether it’s a past or current interest, they all have one thing in common…I give them a level of dedication that might be considered a tad over-the-top. Just ask my wife, who's forced every weekend to make family plans fit around my NASCAR TV schedule.

The first thing I ever became obsessed with was The Beatles. I think I was nine at the time and it was my dad’s fault. Shortly after he married Mom, he gave my sister & I most of his old records he collected during college but no longer listened to. One of those records was The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, which I fell in love with. Until then, music was just something on the radio during long drives to Grandma’s house. But the songs on A Hard Day’s Night found a place inside me I didn’t know existed…where music was more than a background diversion. The songs commanded my attention and shut out everything else. I played that album to death on my tiny phonograph once reserved for Disney storybook records.

For a long time, this record was my only exposure to The Beatles. I had no idea they ever recorded anything else. Then Help! showed up one afternoon on Channel 12, the local independent station which showed reruns of old movies on the weekends. What? The Beatles made a movie? Awesome!

Unlike my little sister, who loved Elvis movies, I never cared for musicals (with rare exceptions, I still don't). But Help! wasn‘t just a musical. It was flat-out funny, loaded with the same irreverent British humor Monty Python later made a career from, and the type of satire, sight gags, puns & one-off lines that eventually made movies like Airplane! something you had to see more than once just to catch everything. The Beatles looked and acted cooler than anyone I’d ever seen on screen, and I was stunned to discover they were British, since they never sang with accents. I suddenly wanted to grow my hair long and speak with an accent, too. My parents nixed the hair thing, but I did develop a pretty decent facsimile of an accent over the years, to the point I once convinced a few gullible girls during college I was English, which somehow made me more attractive.

Then there were the songs in the film, which were even better than those on my lone hand-me-down Beatles record. To this day, “You’re Going to Lose That Girl” is one of my favorite songs of all time. I’d heard “Help” and “Ticket to Ride” on the radio before, but until this movie I had no idea they were Beatles songs. In fact, this particular revelation occured tenfold after my folks gave me The Beatles 1962-1966 and The Beatles 1967-1970 for Christmas one year. These were both double albums loaded with their biggest hits, most of which I didn’t even know were Beatles tracks. I listened to those two albums incessantly, pouring over every lyric, every riff, every solo. These records also included an insert showing the band’s entire discography, singles and albums. This was another stunner…The Beatles had a shitload of records I never even knew existed.

I’d only scratched the surface, a realization compounded when, one weekend, a local Portland AM radio station played every single Beatles song from A to Z. I couldn’t believe what I’d been missing…”Helter Skelter” was easily the catalyst for my eventual love of heavy metal, “She’s Leaving Home” was the saddest song I’d ever heard, and as for “Revolution #9”…talk about your intriguing WTF moments.

My parents moved to an apartment complex and agreed to be the on-site managers in exchange for reduced rent. I provided cheap labor when it came to property maintenance…if I did a good enough job pulling weeds, they’d buy me an album at the end of the week. I almost always chose Beatles records…The White Album, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper, etc. I grabbed some of their solo albums too, but they were never as good.

My obsession had me making lists of Beatles songs based on who wrote what, who sang what, shortest songs to longest songs, mellowest songs to most-rocking songs…you name it, I had lists of it, none of which served any purpose whatsoever. I had Beatles posters on my walls, committed song lyrics to memory and scrawled some of my favorite verses on my Pee-Chee at school. In private, I occasionally put a T-shirt on my head to simulate long hair, used my hockey stick as a guitar and pretended to be George Harrison (my personal favorite Beatle) as I rocked-out to “Old Brown Shoe” or “Taxman.” I’d sometimes switch to being Paul so I could release my inner-psycho during “Helter Skelter.” At the height of my obsession, I remember being outraged when my sister expressed interest in buying a Beatles single with her allowance, defending my position as the only Beatle fan allowed in the house.

I think my parents were getting sick of hearing their music booming from my room, not to mention me always talking about them. They often suggested other groups for me to try out, and once tried to force-feed me Chicago as an alternative...but that was like asking Mom to bring home some Chips Ahoy from the grocery store and she returns instead with Fig Newtons. Besides, I did start buying discs by other artists (I loved record collecting at this point) once I'd acquired every album The Beatles had made.

Yep, it’s safe to say I was a Beatlemanic, an expert in everything related to the band, except for one big and embarrassing bit of ignorance…

It was probably around 1974, after listening to Revolver of the 8,000th time, that I wondered out-loud at the dinner table, “How come The Beatles haven’t made any new records? All I see at the music store is the same old stuff.”

“The Beatles broke up a long time ago,” Mom said matter-of-factly.

I’m pretty sure I froze at the table, mid-bite. The Beatles broke up…years ago? But they’re on the radio all the time! Surely you’re wrong, Mom!

She wasn’t wrong, of course. My favorite band had broken up before I even heard of them. All of their albums were new only to me, and Help! was simply another old movie on Channel 12, like those dumb Elvis flicks my sister watched. This was like suddenly learning there was no Santa Claus. For a brief time, I was heartbroken.

By now, I was obsessed with collecting records, and as I grew up, so did my collection. Forced to accept the death of the Fab Four, I moved on to Kiss, Alice Cooper, Queen, Rush and Emerson Lake & Palmer. My obsession with these bands ebbed and flowed, but never with the intensity of my childhood infatuation with The Beatles. Even today, I go through periodic moods when they are the only thing I want to listen to at home or in the car. It’s during these times I also re-read a fat biography I own about them, and re-watch The Beatles Anthology in its entirety.

As for the few movies The Beatles appeared in during their time as a band (only four), I acknowledge the groundbreaking A Hard Day’s Night is arguably their best film. Not only did it introduce the affable charm of The Beatles to most of the world, it was likely the biggest single influence on the birth of MTV. But Help! remains my personal favorite. It was my first real exposure to The Beatles beyond that scratchy old record Dad handed down to me. Watching it now, the songs are still awesome, and I’m still transported back to a time in my childhood when it was all new, and the band had never broken up.

July 16, 2013


Starring Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent, Shia LaBouf. Directed by Steven Spielberg. (2008, 121 min).

Growing up in the mid-70s, Kiss was the band, probably the biggest cultural phenomenon to assault American kids since The Beatles. For an impressionable 13 year old, they had it all…the look, the sound and thousands of products available for anyone to proudly tell the world they were a Kiss fan. The band also served an important purpose because, for a brief time, they terrified our parents with face paint, leather, fire, blood and songs about partying & getting laid. Kiss was dangerous, a superficial threat twice-removed from the generation of old farts who once proclaimed rock music was destroying America’s youth. Yours truly was a card-carrying member of the Kiss Army, the band's fan club. For only five bucks a year, I got the latest news on all goings-on, posters, photos and an iron-on patch declaring my allegiance. In other words, a lot of useless crap which mostly ended up in a junk drawer.

We inevitably got older, but Kiss didn’t really grow up with us. As our tastes leaned towards more ominous fare like Judas Priest and Van Halen, Kiss seemed childish and quaint, a band destined to be left behind. Actually, a lot of this was Kiss’ fault. In their quest to appeal to everybody, they became a colorful circus act, flirting with disco and pumping out action figures & lunch boxes for eight year olds. Parents were taking their kids to Kiss concerts like they were the Ice Capades. During this time the band “jumped the shark” on numerous occasions…comic books, an awesomely-bad TV movie, a concept album made years after most bands quit doing them, and (worst of all) replacing iconic band members with new faces and make-up. No wonder most fans tossed away their Kiss Army membership cards and moved on.

As a band, Kiss didn’t suddenly become shitty. In fact, one of the albums they made after the hype died (the virtually-ignored Creatures of the Night) is still one of the best heavy metal records hardly anyone’s ever heard. Personally, I still liked Kiss at the time, but because of their lingering image as a kiddie band, being caught listening to them was akin to Mom bursting into your room while you’re trying to rub one out.

Kiss eventually got rid of the make-up and updated their look & sound for the 80s. But with half of the original line-up gone and videos loaded with more Aquanet and spandex than the Surgeon General recommends, they weren’t the same band. Yeah, they started selling records again, but as time went on, a lot of us missed the old Kiss.

They wouldn’t become truly cool again until the 90s, when the original line-up got back together, put back on the make-up, studs & platform boots and hit the road for a reunion tour. Many of their 70s fans were now old enough to bring their kids to the show, which they did in droves. Kiss’ songs & schtick were exactly the same, but damn, it was sure awesome to see them again.

One could say the same about the 19 year interim between the third and fourth Indiana Jones movies. Like longtime Kiss fans enduring the band’s spandex years, the faithful clung to the fleeting hope of a fourth Indiana Jones installment, even though most of us were grudgingly ready to accept Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as the end of the franchise. Steven Spielberg had gone on to earn respect as a serious director, George Lucas was busy tarnishing his Star Wars legacy and Harrison Ford no longer needed either of them (for awhile, at least). Sure, we were occasionally teased with the prospect of another Indiana Jones film, but few of us realistically expected one.

Like Kiss’ reunion, the official announcement of a fourth Indiana Jones movie was akin to the second coming of Christ among us die hards. We didn’t even care that Harrison Ford had aged a lot since The Last Crusade, just like Kiss fans didn’t care if a geriatric Gene Simmons still sang about banging teenagers. This was Spielberg, Lucas & Ford going old school, returning to a franchise that had a huge impact on all of their careers. It didn’t even really matter whether or not the movie was any good (just like the Kiss ‘reunion’ album, Psycho Circus). We were simply grateful these three managed to get back together at all.

So when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was finally released in 2008, I was more infatuated with the idea of a fourth movie than the actual final product. As such, I enjoyed it immensely, happy to see Indy again, even during those moments which obviously “jump the shark,” a term used to explain that point when a series or franchise has gone way beyond believable, like when Indy famously locks himself in a refrigerator to survive a nuclear explosion. In fact, the term, “nuking the fridge,” is now nearly as famous. That scene offended a lot of the Indy faithful, though I’m not exactly sure why. There have been plenty of “nuking the fridge” moments throughout the entire series, such as:
  • When Indy manages to swim to a German sub and hitch a ride outside the hull for a few thousand miles.
  • When Indy, Short Round and Willie Scott escape from a crashing plane by jumping out in an inflatable life raft, then sliding thousands of feet down a snowy, cliff-laden mountain.
  • When escaping the Temple of Doom, Indy and his cohorts ride in a mining car traveling on tracks more perilous than a rollercoaster, even successfully jumping 30 foot gap...over lava.
  • The scene in which Indy’s dad manages to destroy a war plane simply by scaring a flock of birds into the air with an umbrella.
Those moments are no-more ridiculous than the fridge scene, yet none of them became dubious pop culture references. Many fans were also offended by the inclusion of aliens in the story, as if this plot were somehow less believable than a face-melting ark, magic crystals or a goblet which renders its drinkers immortal.

"You've got something on your face."
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not in the same league as Raiders of the Lost Ark. What movie is? But the story is no more outrageous, and the film is far more character-driven than Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (the worst of the franchise). And in the 19 years between the third and fourth Indiana Jones movies, when did plausibility become an issue? Aside from some admittedly-bad CGI moments (even though all four movies have some questionable FX), the absence of cast members who are dead or retired, and the presence of Shia LaBouf, isn’t this the best Indiana Jones movie we could have hoped for?

When Kiss went back to simply being the make-up-clad band we loved in the 70s, they didn’t update their sound or look one whit. We were simply glad they were back after such a lengthy absence. Hell, we celebrated their effort to act as though the 80s and 90s never happened. So why all this hatred for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, arguably guilty of the same crime? This franchise has jumped the shark from the get-go, so why is the inclusion of aliens considered more ridiculous than Indy discovering the dark powers of the Ark of the Covenant?

The only thing this movie is really guilty of is being nostalgic, old school action, released in an era when the genre was being redefined by technology-driven epics like The Matrix and hyper-edited spectacles like the Bourne series. Sure, Shia LaBouf is annoying, but so was Kate Capshaw in Temple of Doom, and she had just as much screen time. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is still a good movie, definitely an Indiana Jones movie, which also manages to have fun with its main character’s age.

For those who disagree (especially if you haven’t watched the original trilogy in awhile), watch the entire series again, in sequence, ignoring every snarky self-congratulatory comment about the fourth film by internet trolls. I used to urge friends to give Kiss a second chance by listening to Creatures of the Night, and the few that actually did listen to the album agreed it totally kicked-ass.

I think some of you might discover that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is, at the very least, better than Temple of Doom, the one sequel which tosses aside everything charming about the first film (including Indy's fear of snakes!) so it can bombard you with mindless action and an annoying child-sidekick whose death you’re praying for.

Then again, maybe not. Like my ongoing affection for Kiss, whose old hits I still enjoy, maybe Indy’s time has truly passed. Maybe no nostalgia in the world can negate the overall ill-will toward the fourth film, re-enforced almost daily by snobby fanboys acting like the film took a huge shit on their childhood memories. Maybe I’m one of the few folks left who is able to appreciate the movie for what it is…a well-intentioned throwback to a different era. The movie's no classic, but it's better than no Indy at all.

July 12, 2013

THE HEAT: An Admirable Demonstration of Self-Restraint

Starring Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Dan Bakkedahl, Demian Bicher, Tom Wilson, Michael Rapaport, Marlon Wayans, Jane Curtin, Michael McDonald. Directed by Paul Feig. (2013, 117 min)

For the most part, I’m a pretty easy-going guy. That’s not to say I’m not easily pissed off. I just tend to avoid confrontation because it usually ends badly for me. I’m one of those who thinks of the perfect retort long after the argument is over. I’m pretty terrible at confrontation because I let emotion get the best of me and come across looking like an asshole. Now that I think about it, I guess I’m not so-much easy-going as I am skilled at keeping shit bottled up. Just ask my wife.

I usually try to avoid physical confrontation, too. I’ve been in two fights my entire life and lost both of them. I’ve almost never been angry enough to punch somebody and have managed to avoid being pummeled by anyone I’ve pissed off. I don’t think that necessarily makes me a coward; I simply have a realistic assessment of my meager fighting skills. What’s the point of scrapping with some angry asshole when I’m 90% certain of the outcome? Repeatedly smashing my own face into a brick wall would accomplish the same thing, and I’d be the one to determine when I’ve had enough.

So yeah, I try to get through life as conflict-free as The Dude in The Big Lebowski, with a couple of notable exceptions…

Over the years, I’ve developed an increasingly short fuse behind the wheel, a trait I must have inherited from my dad (who once coined the term, ‘dinkfuckers,’ to describe the legions of idiots allowed behind the wheel). I have almost no tolerance for dinkfuckers either, because unless you’re just learning to drive or completely shitfaced, operating a car isn't that hard. Sorry, dinkfuckers…if you act like a spastic Jerry Lewis behind the wheel, this dude does not abide, and will let you know with the blast of a horn and every middle finger at his disposal.

The other exception is at the movies. Unless you are my wife and kids, I don’t want to see you, hear you or know you're even there. I didn’t pay for your company and no one (including the people you showed up with) gives a rat’s ass what you have to say. If the movie needs a narrator, the director will provide one.

Speaking of narrators…Disney’s 1940 classic, Fantasia, was restored and re-released in theaters in 1990 for its 50th anniversary. Being that it’s a movie best-appreciated on the big screen, my wife, Francie, and I went to see it the day it opened. Even though the theater was packed, we managed to find perfect seats, right in the middle, and just far enough away from the screen to take everything in.

But all it took was a single douchebag to ruin the movie. A man and his daughter were seated right behind us. He’d obviously seen the movie before and wanted to share the experience with his kid. And that’s cool. I enjoy sharing films I loved in my youth with my own children. What wasn’t cool was this asshole’s need to explain every scene to his kid, spouting pretentious & inane shit like “see how the music and images fit together” and “just look at Disney’s use of color and shade to create the mood.” For Chrissakes, this was Fan-fucking-tasia. Not even LSD-tripping hippies who saw it in the sixties needed help understanding the goddamn thing. I wanted to move seats, but there was nowhere else to go, and even a few well-timed skunk-eyes from yours-truly didn’t dissuade this oblivious shitstain from his verbal vomit. By the end of the movie, I couldn’t take anymore. As the credits rolled, I turned around and sarcastically said, “Hey, thanks for narrating the whole goddamn movie for everybody.” The man shot me an indignant look like he didn’t know what I was talking about.

Since then, I don’t even wait until the end of a movie to protest some babbling butt-munch in the theater. The second they feel the need to add their own ignorant commentary, I have a small cache of retorts to end things right then and there:

  • “I didn’t pay ten bucks to hear what you have to say”
  • “Hey, the movie doesn’t need a narrator.”
  • “You ain’t watching this in your living room.”
  • “You don’t go out much, do you?”
  • “Shut the fuck up.”

“Shut the fuck up” is usually the most effective. Even Francie used this one when we checked-out the special edition of Star Wars, re-released in theaters in the late 90s. Most of the folks in the theater were simply happy to see it on the big screen again, but a few  teenage boys behind us assumed it was Mystery Science Theater time. When Darth Vader first appeared, one of these guys mockingly chortled, “Luke, I am your father.” Francie twisted her head around without moving her body and hissed “Shut the fuck up!” with the same venomous stare that has made me piss myself on occasion. These guys didn’t say another word for the rest of the movie. Even they knew better than to mess with my wife.

The more movies cost to see, the less I’m willing to put up with this. As much as I’ve tried avoiding physical altercations my entire life, at the movies is the one place where I don’t care how big & intimidating someone is. It’s important to remind them to shut the fuck up because they’re probably so used to talking in their own living rooms that they forget when they’re in public.

Francie has pretty-much been my only constant movie companion for 25 years, so I’m always more-than-comfortable voicing my displeasure at some Chatty Kathy without embarrassing her. However, my zero-tolerance talking policy was put to the test during a recent trip to visit her mom…

Francie loves doing stuff with her family, which means I end up doing stuff with her family. I’m pretty lucky in the fact that I actually like my in-laws, even though I never provided a real reason for them to be overly-impressed with me. And that’s okay. While I’m certain I’m not missed too much when Francie chooses to visit them alone, whenever I do tag along, they make me feel welcome, even during our annual 4th of July visits to her uncle’s house by the Columbia River when I always end up drinking too much.

Not too long ago, when trailers for upcoming summer movies began popping up, Francie was really excited for Disney’s The Lone Ranger. Personally, I thought it looked as appealing as a shit & anchovy pizza, the same attitude she had for World War Z (I took my youngest daughter to that one, and we both agreed it was pretty awesome).

Francie made big plans for the 4th of July weekend, as usual. After the traditional riverside party, she’d take her Uncle Art, a huge fan of westerns, to see The Lone Ranger, while I went with her mother to see The Heat. I love my mother-in-law, but we never really ever hung-out together, and the idea of watching a movie without Francie around was sort-of jarring. Still, this prospect seemed infinitely more appealing than watching The Lone Ranger.

"Jesus Christ...was that you?"
I didn’t expect much from The Heat, which looked like yet-another generic buddy comedy. It takes a lot to make me laugh out loud, which is why comedies are seldom my first choice to shell-out my hard-earned income for. But the movie was funny as hell, one of those where I laughed so much that I’m sure I didn’t catch everything after one viewing. It reminded me a lot of Midnight Run, another film which couldn‘t possibly have been funny on paper, but rendered hilarious strictly because of the performances. I’m convinced Melissa McCarthy is the funniest person in the world right now.

All of this makes me wonder how much more I would have enjoyed The Heat if it wasn’t for the old woman in the row behind us, seated with whom I’m assuming was her husband, daughter and son-in-law. Her shriveled old pie hole wouldn't stop moving, loudly restating in her own words what everyone in the theater just watched onscreen, or predicting what she thought would happen later (“Oh, I’ll bet he’s the one who did it!”).

I couldn’t stand it, but because my mother-in-law was seated right next to me (she didn’t appear the least-bit bothered by the babbling ol' bat behind us), I bit my tongue numerous times during the course of the film. Not wanting to make a scene, I reverted back to dramatically whipping the skunk-eye her way with obvious disapproval (even though the same tactic didn’t work on the Fantasia fucknut 20 years ago). Sometimes you can tell someone is stupid just by looking at them, and her face was that of a clueless idiot, staring up at the screen and saying whatever popped into her head. Her comments weren’t even aimed at anyone in particular. The old woman was simply talking for the sake of talking, not giving a damn if anybody was listening, or if she was irritating those around her. Like the jackasses who drive ten miles under the speed limit and don’t signal when changing lanes because the’re yakking on their phones, this old woman was oblivious to her surroundings.

But I refrained from saying anything for the sake of my mother-in-law, who’s far more passive about such social inadequacies than I am. Besides, we both still enjoyed The Heat, which is the first movie since Jurassic Park that I can say I’d like to see in a theater again, this time with Francie, my tried-and-true movie pal who loves stuff like this. If she were sitting by my side at The Heat instead of my mother-in-law, the old lady seated behind us would have shut the fuck up shortly after the opening credits.

July 9, 2013

New Disc Review: EVIL DEAD (2013) (DVD)

Starring Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore. Directed by Fede Alvarez. (2013, 92 min).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Fede Alvarez’ Evil Dead joins a very short list of horror remakes that manage to top the original in every way. Others on this list include The Thing, The Fly, The Blob and Dawn of the Dead (I probably just angered a lot of obsessive zombie fans by including that last title, but as much as I admire George Romero, I think Dawn has aged worse than all his others).

I guess I should qualify my initial statement by admitting I never cared for Sam Raimi’s original film. I admire what he and his team were able to creatively accomplish with the tiniest of budgets, and while that film justifiably put both Raimi and Bruce Campbell on the map, it’s still a shoddy & amateurish piece of work, with a godawful screenplay and atrocious performances. I may be presumptuous, but I think Raimi & Campbell’s well-earned reputations stem more from the bigger-budgeted splatstick sequels (Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness). These two films are awesomely-comedic and over-the-top, with scenery-chewing Campbell spouting classic dialogue that’s still quoted today among horror fans. Hence, I think many of us tend to forget the tone of the original Evil Dead was gloomy & serious.

"Hey...It's my turn to play the Wii."
Director/co-writer Alvarez keeps things fairly morose for this remake as well, returning the series to its roots (the only laugh to be found is after the end credits, which I strongly urge every Evil Dead fan to wait for). The film itself plays like the kind of movie Raimi would have made back in 1981 if he had the financial resources of a major studio at his disposal. Alvarez wisely stays mostly-faithful to the original story, and pays homage to Raimi by using many of the same camera tricks during some scenes. But at the same time, the key changes in both the story and how it’s presented allow Alvarez to put his own unique spin on everything, much like Zack Snyder did with Dawn of the Dead.

Yeah, the plot’s the same…several twenty-somethings venture to a cabin in the woods and one of them comes across the Book of the Dead, which raises unholy demons if one were to foolishly recite the words. Of course, someone does. But what makes this remake work so well is its pacing. After a brief obligatory set-up to introduce these characters, the film charges gung-ho into the bloody horror we actually paid for. Once the mayhem begins, we’re too busy fastening our seatbelts to care about any character’s well-being. That’s Evil Dead’s greatest virtue…it may not always be scary, but it moves at a lightning pace, a virtual symphony truly disturbing, visceral scenes, thrown at us so unrelentingly that it becomes more of a thrill-ride than an actual movie.

Speaking of which, the level of gory, cringe-worthy violence in Evil Dead will have some viewers wondering just what it actually takes to earn an NC-17 rating. The director once claimed cuts were made to earn an R, but as someone who is seldom phased by movie gore, I can’t begin to imagine how sick Alvarez’ original vision must have been.

Onscreen carnage aside, Evil Dead is simply better than the film which inspired it…better direction, better FX, better dialogue & much better performances (even though the characters are still pretty bland).  Fede Alvarez may not be a greater director than Raimi (not yet, anyway), simply having more resources than Raimi did in 1981. Still, he puts his own creative stamp on the material, making him a guy to keep an eye on by horror fans.

Like John Carpenter's The Thing, I think time will be kind to this one.

SPECIAL FEATURES: 3 Featurettes: Making Life Difficult; Directing the Dead (Profile of director Fede Alvarez); Being Mia (sort-of a home movie by Jane Levy).

(Out of 5)