Saturday, March 25, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

      Rogue One is the first film in the planned Star Wars Anthology series of films set within the star Wars Universe. It is an extremely entertaining a promising start. I found the film to be a good I of nostalgia for old school Star Wars fans while bringing a new feel to the series. Apparently, it worked for other fans, too the film has grossed over $1 billion worldwide to become the 20th highest grossing film of all time as I write this.
      Rogue One is the story of Jyn, a young criminal, who is recruited by the rebellion to join Rebel team to capture her father, Galen, who is aiding the Empire in building its famous planet killer weapon, the Death Star. Galen was taken by the Empire and his wife killed fifteen years prior in front of Jyn. Jyn was rescued and mentored by Saw Gerrara, a veteran of the Clone Wars, whom the team seeks out for help. They find Galen, although he is killed, and Jynn discovers Galen sabotaged the Death Star by introducing the design flaw of one shot down an exhaust vent enabling the destruction of the Death Star. Jynn and the team AR unable to convince the Rebels to attack the Death Star with this knowledge, but go rogue themselves to steal the plans from a weapons development facility. I assume I do not have to reveal where those plans win up?
     I said above Rogue One was great in terms of both nostalgia and bringing a new feel the the Star Wars Universe. Let us take those two claims in order as we analyze the film.
      Fiat, nostalgia. While Rogue One utilizes state of the art CGI, the art design calls back to 1977. This sense of design continuity was a glaring omission from the prequels, so I am thrilled the problem is rectified by Rogue One. We also have original elements from the original trilogy making a triumphant return, like original stormtroopers, AT AT, and Darth Vader's original suit of armor. The most controversial element is the CGI rendering of old character Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia. (Ironically, both Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher have passed on.) I was not bothered by the recreations, though from a technical standpoint, Leia's cameo was less convincing than Tarkin's. I find it odd considering Tarkin had far more screen time. Nevertheless, seeing the film end with Darth Vader's ship pursuing Princess Leia's ship made me giddy.
      As far the new themes, Rogue One is far more violent than anything seen in Star Wars before. The violence I still relatively tame compared to today's epic action movies, but it is a jolt to the Star Wars status quo. Rogue one can easily be described as a straight forward war movie set in the Star War Universe. In parts, I was reminded of The Dirty Dozen in plot with action sequences similar to Saving Private Ryan. It is intense from beginning to end. The film certainly has heart with Jyn's story—but it most certainly means to be a white knuckle adventure first and foremost.
      If I have any quibble with Rogue One, it is how story elements still do not stray far from old Star Wars tropes. The main characters parallel those from the original series. Jyn is a tough young girl battling long odds against an unstoppable enemy. Cassian Andor is the Han Solo figure leading the mission for the Rebellion. K-2SO is a reprogrammed Imperial droid forced to work with the Rebellion against his will. His constant griping and stating the odds are reminiscent of C3-PO. Chiimut, a bind force sensitive ninja, is Obi Wan Kenobi. The lack of new character element is not a huge problem, but it does feel like Rogue One is coasting on past success rather than trying something new. Speaking of which, how many times can the pot of taking down an Imperial shield be recycled? The pot device is here again in all its glory.
      It was necessary to introduce a new villain, but Orson Kremic as the head of Imperial Weapons Development was just mediocre. He was overshadowed. by Tarkin and Darth Vader. The problem is how much Kremic reminded me of the villain SS officer Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds.  But I liked Landa more. Maybe Christoph Waltz should have played Kremic instead.
      My criticism do not take away much from Rogue One. It is still one of the best Star Wars projects out there. I would place it right up there with the original trilogy in terms of quality and entertainment value. I confess trepidations an ongoing series of standalone Star Wars films stretching into the foreseeable future may grow stale, it certainly enjoys a sold start. There I something to like for old and new fan alike.
     Rating: **** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Girl Next Door

       The Girl Next Door is a film about hidden horror in the suburbs during the supposedly more innocent tie of the mid-'60's. The film is based on the similarly titled novel by Jack Ketchum. The novel itself was inspired by the true life story of Sylvia Likens, a teenage girl who was held prisoner by her aunt, tortured, and murdered over a period of months in 1965. it is not a film for the easily disturbed.
       The story's main character is David. Sequences set in 2007 serve as bookend as the adult David reflects on how the experience affected him. David meets Meg, a young girl who has, along with her younger sister, are sent to live with a twisted woman named Ruth and her sons. Ruth allows the neighborhood kids to roam in freely through her house, smoke cigarettes, and drink beer. She belittles Meg and her sister while allowing her sons to bully them.
       David develops a crush on Meg immediately. While he comes and goes through Ruth’s house as the other other kids do, he becomes concerned by the increasing emotional abuse he sees Ruth and her sons inflict on Meg. After Meg reports Ruth to a cop for taking a necklace that was given to her by her mother, David comes to Ruth's house to find Meg tied up arms over head in the basement where she is subsequently stripped naked and left all night.
       So begins Meg's torment of continuously being tied up beaten, cut, burnt, and sexually assaulted. David suffers his own torment as he can do nothing but watch. Meg refuses David’s help in escaping out of fear of leaving her sister behind. Meg's torture escalates to the level of a mortal wound before David figures out a way to alert help. He ultimately cannot save Meg, but is forever compelled to do anything to alleviate his guilt as he grows older.
       The Girl Next Door is definitely a tough film to watch. I am curious who the target audience is supposed to be. There is no gore to speak of, but Meg’s torture is too gratuitous for a crime drama. The issue is further complicated by the sexual content. Blythe Auffarth, who plays Meg, was 22 at the time of filming, but she was playing a sixteen year old who is frequently nude, tortured, and sexually assaulted. The realization Meg is a minor only contributes to the discomfort.
       I do not think The Girl Next Door is a bad movie by any means. It is attempting to show the darker side of suburbia happening behind closed doors. It does so without resorting to the so called “torture porn' genre of horror movies like the Saw or Hostel series. For that I will give it credit. I am not sure I would consider The Girl Next Door entertaining, either. One viewing is going to be enough for me.
       Rating: *** (out of 5)                 

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Green Inferno

     It has been well over two years since Apocalypse Cinema was last active. I never intended for the blog to die off, but less than ideal circumstances—to put it mildly—helped derail a whole lot of things in life. These days, my life is patched up to a workable degree, so I am going to give Apocalypse Cinema another go. Of all movies to re-launch with, I start with a horrific cannibal flick.
      The Green Inferno is writer/director Eli Roth's homage to the cannibal splatter genre of films popular in the late-'70's-early '80's. Specifically, Roth had the infamous Cannibal Holocaust in mind, even going so far as to take the film's title from the fake movie being filmed by the characters in Cannibal Holocaust. The Green Inferno is far tamer. I wold go so far as to call it a borderline black comedy with splatter elements. My assessment may explain why many fans of Roth's work in the gore genre consider The Green Inferno his worst entry.
       The film centers around Justine, a naive college freshman and daughter of a United nations lawyer. Justine develops an interest in political activism because of Alejandro, a human rights advocate planning to lead a protest against loggers in Peru to protect n indigenous people. Justine joins in the protest, and nearly gets herself killed by a militia protecting the loggers. Justine is spared when Alejandro, who directed the group to film their protest with their cellphones, reveals who her father is. The militia backs down and the immediate international exposure forces fores the logging operation to stop.
       The action really begins on the flight back when the group's plane crashes in the Peruvian jungle. The survivors are captured by natives and carried by boats to their village. The group quickly realizes this is the tribe they were trying to save. Because the group is wearing the logger uniforms they donned in order to sneak onto the logging site, the tribe considers them the enemy. The tribe is also cannibal.
     What I just laid out for you is the first two-thirds of the film. The pacing of the story is incredibly slow, especially if you are watching for the gore. There is none to be seen until nearly the film's climax.
       For full disclosure, I m not a huge gore fan. I will watch these kind of films, but I do not care much for any one to top any I have already seen in terms of gruesome content. But even I was surprised by how tame The Green Inferno was in terms of actual cannibalism. The most horrific scene occurs right after the group's capture when the chubby, most sweet matured member is selected for a celebratory feast. After he is tied to an alter, the Tribe Elder cuts out his eyes an tongue while he is still alive screaming and eats them raw before decapitating him. While there are some bloody and shocking moments later, nothing comes close to our introduction to the tribes cannibal ways. One cannot make an effective gore film when the bulk of the gore steadily goes downhill as the film progresses.
     What you do get is a lot of comic relief as though events might actually be too excessive for the audience. Some of the comedy is cringe worthy. One of the girls in the group suffers explosive diarrhea while they are all imprisoned in a bamboo cage together. Others were all right, such as when the tribes gangs up on one of the group who escapes and eats him raw. A little girl about four or five runs out from the crowd carrying the legs leg severed below the knee.
    If anything baffles me about The Green Inferno, it is the focus on the main character's peril. She joins the protesters because she feels strongly about female genital mutilation rather than the environmental cause of saving the tribe. So naturally, the Tribe elder wants to perform FGM on her so she can become a “real woman.” Justine is virtually never under the threat of being eaten and she is the only non-villain in the group to survive. Alejandro is actually a rug dealer paid off by a rival logging company. Justine laves hi to the tribe's mercy as she escapes with the help of a young boy who develops an infatuation for her after she his first imprisoned.
     Who could blame him? Lorenza Izzo, who plays Justine, is gorgeous. She spends a decent amount of the clix in skimpy native wear. Roth married Izzo a year after shooting the movie, so he knew the score. The lady is a keeper!
       I have not addressed the major them of the film's criticism of uniformed activism.  Such a subject flt better suited for my main blog Gods & Monstrs. Click over over here to read The Green Inferno and Uniformed Activism.  Reading the post is not necessary to appreciate this review, so it can be skpped if you prefer.  
     The Green Inferno is frivolous entertainment for those who can take milder gore. Most every fan of the splatter genre out there dumps on the movie for being too tame. But I do not base my reviews on whet other people think. So you will just have to decide whose taste you generally align to figure out if you want to sit through The Green Inferno.
       Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Logan's Run

I am as dedicated a science fiction fan as they come, but I have somehow managed to miss Logan’s Run until last night.  I had gotten the impression the film was a mid-range sci fi classic.  Where this impression came from is now a mystery.  The gaudy, exploitive nature of Logan’s Run is a huge turn off.  I thought Flash Gordon was gaudy and exploitive, too, but it had a charm Logan’s Run is sorely lacking.
 Some aspects are interesting.  I am generally a fan of future dystopias in fiction.  This one is a particularly insidious product of its time.  We have the general trappings of the end of humanity.  Logan’s world of sterilized, domed cities resembling never-ending shopping malls is the result of war, overpopulation, and pollution.  Pre-Star Wars sci fi in the ‘70’s was riddled with this stuff.   But the culture of the ’70’s is uniquely present.  The flower children of the ’60’s gave up on changing the world with love and freedom at the turn of the decade in favor of empty hedonism.  The people of Logan’s world exist solely for pleasure.  They have all their needs provided.  The catch is one has to die at thirty unless one wins an additional thirty years at an event called Carousel.  No one ever wins carousel, of course.
 Two elements make this arrangement particularly horrific.  One is no one ever questions anything.  No one asks if anyone ever won Carousel.  Any thirty year old person who decides to run is hunted down and killed without any questioning of the morality of doing so.  Logan, a Sandman who hunts runners down, cannot even explain the right or wrong of what he does.  You run, you get terminated.  That is the way it is.  There is no point to human existence beyond seeking amusement, and no one cares humanity’s progress has ground to a halt.  The other point is there is no elite benefiting for this arrangement.  Sure, computers are running things, but they are simply keeping it all going.  So what is the point of it all/  there does not seem to be one.  Humans just exist for the sake of existence. 
You would think with this basic set up, Logan’s Run would make for a compelling piece of science fiction.  You would be wrong.  The plot moves as slow as molasses in January until the last 35 or so minutes.  Until that point, all we have is a silly representation of Carousel, the death game in which the newly turned thirty folks float in a midair ballet while exploding for a cheering crowd.  Logan later encounters a friend of one of those who got blowed up good, blowed up real good.   He is in the mood for sex.  She is not, even though she is wearing nothing but a sheer poncho.  Her attempt to engage Logan on the moral issue of terminating runners fails when two other warm and willing women arrive.
Get used to what I just described.  It is rare for there to be more than a few minutes of plot development before a lady takes her clothes off.  I would guess director Micheal Anderson, who spent the rest of his career directing made for TV movies, felt the need to distract the audience from the razor thin plot with boobs.  There are plenty og boobs, too.  There is even a psychodelic scene in which Logan and Jessica, his almost sex partner from above, escape from the city through a maze of stoned naked people.  The naked people are there for the sake of having naked people.  Because it has been ten minutes since we have seen Jessica’s bare behind.
 I cannot knock the nudity too much.  There is not much else nice too see.  The production values make the film look like a television show.  The look and feel may explain Anderson’s career direction.  Logan and Jessica discover all the escaped runners have been captured and frozen by box, a robot that would have been laughable if featured in an old Republic serial.  Box is literally a rolling box with pipe arms and a Halloween mask from Wal-Mart.  What is Roscoe Lee Browne doing in this get up?  I defy you to resist yelling ’my birds!  My birds!” in mimicry of Box as his ice cave is destroyed.
 Peter Ustinov rounds out the cast as a crazy, old cat man living in the burnt out captol building.  The geography makes one wonder why there is an ice cave south of Washington, DC.  I think it existed solely so Jessica could strip twice when entering and leaving.  Our heroes are convinced there is safety outside now that Box is not turning runners into frozen dinners, but is captured trying to alert everyone in the city.  Logan then demonstrtes the James T. Kirk skill of talking a computer to death, which prompts the city to naturally explode, and everyone goes outside to meet the crazy cat guy. 
I do not see any particular merit to Logan’s Run.  What could have been an engaging idea to explore is told painfully slow with stilted acting.  Maybe the colorless acting was intentional, considering the shallow attitudes of 23rd century people, but I was not clever enough to appreciate that point if so.  The bad production values and constant nudity do not help the film’s claim to be serious science fiction.  I could forgive even that if Logan’s Run had any charm.  But it is completely bereft. 

Rating: ** (out of 5)  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Flash Gordon

I have been enjoying a nostalgic rage over the last few weeks regarding music and movies.  Fortunately for you, I do not review music.  Unfortunately for you, I do review films.  Particularly campy science fiction favorites from my youth best kept to myself.  So have aged well, some have not.  Flash Gordon is that is every bit as cheesy and disturbing as it was during its release 34 years ago, but that makes it so much fun to watch again.
Ming the Merciless, played marvelously over the top by Max von Sydow, is the cruel ruler of Mongo.  Ming has recently discovered earth and has been having fun tormenting our beleaguered world by slowly drawing the moon towards it.  A former NASA scientist, Dr. Hans Zarkov, is the only one on earth who believes the strange natural disasters Earth is suffering are an alien attack.  He plans to use a personal space ship--just go with it, folks--to find the source of the attack.  Zarkov is played by Topol, who visibly spends the entire film wondering how he could have fallen so far from starring in Fiddler on the Roof a few years prior.
During an unpredicted eclipse/bombardment of natural space debris, Zarkov’s assistant chickens out on taking the flight with him.  Fortunately, the bombardment causes a commuter plane to crash into Zarkov’s observatory.  The plane is carrying Flash Gordon, New York Jets’ quart back, and dale Arden, a travel agent.  The two are played by Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson.  The characters survive the crash unscathed.  Their careers do not survive the film, however.  Zarkov shanghais the two into his ship.  Off to Mongo they go.
Thus begins one of the strangest combinations of silliness and inappropriate subject matter to which I have ever bore witness.  Hardly anything can be taken seriously. From Zarkov building his on space ship to Flash utilizing football plays to battle Ming’s minions, the film is simply absurd fun.  The silliness to which I have just referred does not include the psychodelic backgrounds, uneven production values, or the fact Dale is considered the most beautiful woman anyone has ever seen even though she looks like your average fourth grade teacher from Nebraska.  
Then there is the inappropriate elements.  I am certain I do not have to remind anyone of the famous scene in which Ming’s daughter, Aura, endures a bareback whipping for interrogation while her father eats popcorn and gleefully watches.  This scene, along with Princess leia chained to a giant slug while wearing a metal bikini, created an entire generation of perverts with terribly warped views on women.  Speaking of terribly warped, there is also plenty of other instances of light bondage, implied sexual slavery, and even the presumably unintended hint of an incestuous relationship between aura and Prince Barin, who becomes Ming’s successor because he is the ‘rightful” heir.  Tell me that does not mean he is Ming’s son! 
Aside from the kink, there is plenty of cringing moments of terror.  We witness Zarkov’s birth from a first person perspective during a torturous memory drain.  If you are eager to know what it is like to be shot out a birth canal, look no further.  If you have ever had a fear of reaching into a dark hole and being bitten by some nasty critter, they have that covered, as well as an attack from a giant, under the ground dwelling spider.  You might not sleep too well for a while after watching this film.
Amd all the bondage, weird sexual situations, and bad acid trip sequences, flash manages to untie the princes of Mongo against Ming, save the earth, and win dale’s heart.  All this in spite of his room temperature IQ.  I suspect he has been playing football without his helmet.

 I am not down on Flash Gordon.   It is a guilty pleasure favorite I must watch every few years solely to remind myself someone thought it was a good idea to make the crazy thing.  Hiring queen to record the score only adds to the fun.  The band definitely came up with some stirring music.  I defy you to keep the theme some from rattling around your mind after you have heard it. 

Rating: *** (out of 5) 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Steve Carell is one funny guy, but he has had a terrible time finding the right material.  The Incredible Burt Wonderstone comes about as close to fitting the bill as any film Carell has made in the last ten years.  However, I have to say most of the laughs are from the antics of the rest of the cast, but those laughs are enough to make the film worth watching.

Carell plays the title character, a longtime Las Vegas magician who has lost sight of how much performing magic excited him in his younger days.  Part of the problem is the world of professional magicians has passed him by in favor of performers like Steve Gray, played hilariously by Jim Carrey, who have turned magic into a performance art of self-abuse.   In spite of encouragement from his partner Anton and assistant Janue, played by Steve Buscemi and Olivia Wilde, respectively, Wonderstone cannot get it all together until he meets his original inspiration in a nursing home.
 I do not care to spoil much of the story.  Anyone can probably fill in the blanks regardless.  Yes, it is predictable Wonderstone gets his groove back and wins out over the self-torturing for attention magicians and wins the girl.  It is not the story that makes the film worth watching.  It is a half dozen or so gags from the supporting cast.   I would like to single out Carrey.  I am not a huge fan of his, but I can appreciate how he is willing to forego top billing in order to play a character well suited to his talents.  His Steve Gray is a definite highlight right until the end when his act catches up with him.
Wilde is lovely as ever.  Her character is the heart of the film.  Can she carry a movie herself?  I could see her as the leading lady in a romantic comedy.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not a great film.  It is not even a laugh riot.  But the characters, save for Wonderstone, are charming   but it is a big problem when the title character is least interesting.   Watch for Buscemi doing his thing as the put upon Anton.  Watch for Carrey putting his sugar high comedic delivery to good use for once in a blue moon.  Watch for Wilde as a sweetheart who can play a role without showing off skin.  The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not a classic, but it is frivolous entertainment worth seeing at least once.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, June 12, 2014


It has been a long time since I have written any movie reviews.  I never intended for Apocalypse Cinema to die off, but life often gets in the way of such things.  I probably still will not update that regularly, but at least there will be new content added at some interval.  Not that anyone is reading at this point regardless.
It is a real shame I chose Head to kick off the end of the blog hiatus.  It is an even bigger shame I gave into a masochistic whim and watched this acid trip of a film again after twenty years or so.  I was one of those kids who got hooked on the Monkees when MTV aired their television series in a couple of weekend marathons back in the mid-'80's.  I had no idea until much later the Pre-Fab Four hated the goofiness of their show wanted to be more edgy, so they made a movie to show off all the creative talent stymied by television and record producers.  The result is less than stellar.
Six screenwriters are credited.  Such a large number usually means myriad rewrites, but in this case, it means a wild weekend of the Monkees smoking pot with producer Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson--yes, that Jack Nicholson--while banging out a script.  It shows, too.  I suspect one is required to be high in order to appreciate the disjointed narrative--such that it is--and psychodelic imagery.  Maybe if you are one who cranes his neck to look at the aftermath of car wrecks, you can fund some enjoyment in it.
The big question is whether the Monkees succeeded in proving they have something of value to say on their own.    The answer is no.  There is the typical anti-war propaganda typical of hippie rock in the late ‘60’s.  I can even give some credit for likening the American view of war as a sporting event.  But having Peter Tork repeatedly tackled but a football player in a battlefield trench is too much for me.   Ditto for Micky Dolenz using a tank to blast an out of order drink machine in the middle of the desert.  Thankfully, you do not have to dwell on the absurdity of these scenes too long before long sequences of half naked girls gyrating to loud music offer a distraction.
If there is any discernible theme throughout Head, it is the Monkees struggling to assert their identities as free artists against corporate control.  The film is a stream of consciousness bounce between various movie themes--war, western, sports, etc.  During each, the Monkees break out through the fourth wall only to find themselves back in a film under the director’s control.  Peter finally figures out what is going on--breaking out of his television persona as the dumb one--but the others find his assertion that the mind cannot distinguish between reality and a shared fantasy is dismissed as rambling Eastern philosophy.  With no way to free themselves, the Monkees do the only thing they can--commit suicide by jumping off a bridge.  But even this is a trap.  The Monkees land in an aquarium being driven by the director so the band can be storeed for future movies.
Thankfully, that never happened.  The general failure of Head is often attributed to a misleading marketing campaign that did not capitalize on the Monkees’ fame.  But I think fans are grasping at straws with that one.  The fact is the movie is simply not that good.  The Monkees are trying to be edgy rather than actually being edgy.  You cannot fake that sort of thing.  The Monkees are a bubblegum pop band.  They just cannot pull of artsy. 
 I am generally down on the film, but every Monkees fan ought to see it at least once.  If for no other reason, watch it to know why the monkees faded away so fast when they decided they were serious artists who needed to do their own thing.  They may have believed they were constrained by commercialization, but they were actually propped up by it instead.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Superman Returns

It has been a while since I reviewed the other big budget Superman films. With a new one on the verge of release, it is time to bite the bullet and watch 2006’s Superman Returns. I am a huge fan of comic books. Even though I am a Marvel Zombie rather than a DC…whatever nickname they have, I am just now getting over the notion that I should support any and all comic book characters who reach the silver screen. That was a common opinion among fans who wanted to see better super hero films hitting the big screen, but in hindsight, it backfired. Only over the last ecade or so have comic book based films come into their own because the creative powers beind them are comic book fan themselves. Respect for the source material, folk. The rise of the comic book films has had its turbulence, however, and Superman Returns is a prime example.

It probably is not fair to bring up the Development Hell period the Superman film endured, but the film’s tumultuous journey may shed some light on the lackluster feel of Superman Returns. Abandoned scripts were written by self-professed comic book fanatic Kevin Smith and Lost creator J. J. Abrams. The former’s script was canne by the powers that be for being too deep for the popcoen munching summer blockbuster they needed to seel action figures and fast food premiums. The latter famously leaked to Harry Knowles, who promptly lead a fan charge to have it canne because there were no elements of the Superman mythos within. Superman Returns finally got rolling with Brian Singer. The end result makes one wonder if superman ought to have been kept off the big screen a lot while longer.

I will give singer some props for two points. One, he is ambitious in scope. There is a lot of Superman as christ imagery throughout the film. The comparison even begins back with the leaked trailer in which Marlon Brando’s booming voice explains why Jor El sent his only begotten son to Earth to be man’s salvation. The allegory is often over the top and gaudy, but it tickles my rebellion against the Bob Jones University influenced education I suffered as a tyke. Back then, anything in popular entertainment was satanic, but especially when secular offerings featured religious undertones. Blasphemy, as they say. The second point is Superman Returns pretends the latter two film in the series do not exist. What a coincidence. So do I.

The film begins with Superman, after promising to never abandon Earth after defeating Zod, having abandoned Earth to search for the remains of Krupton. He apparently said goodbye to no one, because they have spent the last five years miffed at him. Lois lane in particular. She wrote an Pulitzer Prize winning article entitled Why We Don’t Need Superman and had a son. She regrets the former when Superman shows back up for a dramatic rescue. He spends much of the rest of the film rekindling his relationship and battling another wild real estate scheme from Lex Luthor.

When I say much of the rest of the film, I am referring to nearly two and a half hours of tedium. You would think with an action oriented director like Singer at the helm and modern special effects, there would be wall to wall action spectacle. You would be wrong. Very little happens. What few action sequences there are ten to be an excuse to turn the volume up in case you have fallen asleep between them. Not even Kevin spacey hamming it up--the poor guy looks like he knows he is carrying the film solely on his shouldrrs--cannot brighten things up. Superman Returns is simply no fun.

The problem is the usual suspects. The script is lackluster. It is completely devoid of any memorable moments. The plot is lame. Why is Luthor going back to a variation of his real estate scheme from the first film? Homage, or lack of imaginatoon on behalf of the screenwriter? I am going with the latter, even though I believe e was aiming for the former. I am unimpressed with the cast, as well. Spacey is one of my favorite actors, so it is painful to watch him slog through a film he should have never been in. Kate Bosworth is not my idea of Lois lane. Most importantly, Brandon Routh is completely bland as Superman. I swear he is only playing the role because bears a striking resemblance to Christopher Reeve. Tobey Macguire put more personality into Spiderman when covered head to toe in costume than Routh can with superman. ‘Tis a very bad sign.

Superman Returns is for the die hard Superman fans only. There are still some of you out there, right? Even the comic book fanatics who used to support any and all comic book based films should avoid it. There are too many other good choices out there to waste time on such a poor effort like this film. The new Superman film about to be released has only been made to keep the rights in place. Otherwise, Superman Returns rightly would have killed off the feanchise.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Escape from New York

I was looking for an appropriate film to review on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and Escape from New York feels like the obvious choice. The film features a famous, though now dated with poor special effects, of Snake Plissken landing a glider on top the World Trade Center in the far flung future of 1997 when New York City has become an island prison for the worst American has to offer. The film broke director John Carpenter out of the horror film genre he had been working in for the previous four years with solid results.

Escape from New York is set in a dystopian future America in which the crime rote rose to 400% in the aftermath of a brutal war. New York City has been walled off from the rest of the United States to serve as a prison for all sorts of vicious psychos. Air force One happens to crash in the heart of the city on its way to an important summit meeting with the soviet Union and China. Snake Plisskwn, a former soldier sentenced to NYC, is given 24 hours to fin the president in exchange for a pardon.

You have to get passed a lot of shallow plotting to enjoy Escape from New York. It sounds ridiculous enough to wall of the capital of the world as a prison. If the world truly is dystopian, taking New York City out of the picture is probably the biggest factor. Why is Air Force One flying over the largest population of entrapped cut throats on the planet? Criminals holding the president hostage in exchange for their freedom is not all that creative, either. Nevertheless, the film works because of the tension it manages to build up and the cynical tone throughout.

Shot on a paltry $ 6 million, Escape from New York is effectively dark and minimalist. The special effects are often lacking, with many scenes being obvious miniatures. But I really like the atmosphere. Carpenter does a lot with very little. New york has become a place of destitution and depravity. How bright and lush can you expect the place to be?

It is the cast that truly makes the film. In particular, Kurt Russell’s portrayal of Plissken as a cynical man of few words, but much ’80’s action hero cliché is the best aspect of the film. Curvy Adrienne Barbeau at the height of her sex appeal runs a close second. One feels a certain disappointment at how the quality of the remainder of the cast is underutilized. Donald Pleasance is just sort of there as the president. Lee Van Cleef spends most of the film scurrying between computer screens as the Police Commissioner. The film spens so much time setting up the Duke of New York as the ultimate fearsome crime lord that it is a severe let down when even Isaac Hayes cannot generate any menace playing the role. Throw in Harry Dean Stanton and wonder how a cast like that cannot make Escape from New York shine. Even the best are only as good as the material with which they have to work.

I am not as down on Escape from New York as I may seem. It is still a good movie in spite of its flaws. Carpenter pulls of the combination of science fiction/action film with enough ‘80’s social commentary--high crime in New York City , late Cold War militarization--with being shlocky with the former or preachy with the latter. Neither of the points is to say Escape from New York is a deep film. It most certainly is not. The material is holding back a stellar cast as far as these kinds of films go. But overlook some bad plotting and weak script points, and you can enjoy one of the first film in the ’80’s action film mold that Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Arnnuld would go on to perfect.

As far as I am concerned, Carpenter has not hit his stride by 1981. He had mostly worked in the horror genre, of which I am not a huge fan, but his paring with Russell is magic. They will work together again with better results, but Escape from new York possess many of the latent chocolate and peanut butter combination of Carpenter and Russell.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Blob

I am on a ‘50’s science fiction kick as of late. The Blob may very well have temporarily ended my interest in the subject. For a film that is considered at least a minor classic in the science fiction canon, not to mention starring a young Steve McQueen, The Blob is surprisingly uninteresting.

There are only three points I found amusing. One, the Cold War allegory is great, although one is admittedly beaten over the head with it. A gelatinous, constantly growing red blob consuming small town America? All the blob needs is a yellow hammer and cycle on its side to make the point unmistakably obvious. Two, the soecial effects, while weak by today’s standards, are not as cheap as I feared they would be. Finally, I had never seen before, so I had no idea Stephen King’s ’The Lonesome Death of Jordy Virril” from Creepshow was a parody. Creepshow remains my favorite horror film, so your mileage may vary.

One suspects The Blob is the source of frequent parody because of how many trappings of teenager in peril horror movies are present. The film begins with Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) parked at Lover’s lane for some smooch smooch with his girlfriend when they witness a meteor fall to Earth. An old man finds a meteor on his property and, after inadvertently breaking it open with a stick, becomes infected by a red goo from inside. Here is the Jordy Virril part. Yes, I did shout ‘Meteor sh*t!” when I saw it, I substitute a less offensive synonym for the latter word. I am a class act that way.

The Blob eventually consumes the old man after Steve and his girlfriend take him to the doctor. The Blob inevitably eats more people as it becomes exponentially larger. The excitement level never really builds up, however. There is an improvement during the panicked climax, but I cannot see why The Blob is considered a fine example of this sort of monster on the loose film. I do not think I feel that way because I am jaded. I have seen a ton of films in the genre, certainly, but The blob truly is B-movie shlock. I am disappointed to learn this.

Nevertheless, the three points I mentioned above as being great are still valid. I am a sucker for Cold War allegory. The special effects are impressive for the time. You can determine your own feelings about the Stephen King parody from Creepshow. Then there is the novelty of Steve McQueen starring. The Blob is not his best film by any stretch of the imagination, but he does play the All-American hero to the hilt. You do not have to look too hard to see the Steve McQueen of the future lurking in the teenager desperate to get the adults around him to listen to his warnings.

I would not make much effort to seek The Blob out. It is a film you atop and watch when flipping cannels on a sleepless night or bored Saturday afternoon. It is a novelty piece for the hard core science fiction fans and b-movie fanatics only.

Rating: ** (out of 5)