Friday, July 31, 2009

Oldboy: Asian Cinema Is Way More F***ed Up Than Ours

oldboy,korean film,psychological thriller,foreign film

This will be the first Asian film I've posted about, and probably one of the only Korean films. It's a deeply disturbing and intense psychological thriller called Oldboy. It is a fine film, with an immensely engaging story, top-notch acting (even considering the relatively poor English voice-over), and a punchy twist ending that makes The Sixth Sense look like Sesame Street. And Sesame Street doesn't even have twists.

Set in presumably contemporary Korea, in a town I'm not sure is ever specifically identified, Oh Dae-su is drunk off his ass. He's pretty useless, in general, and his friend needs to retrieve him from the police station. He drunkenly calls his young daughter to wish her a happy birthday, and when his friend gets on the phone to tell Oh Dae-su's wife that he'll be home soon, he's abducted. He's locked up in a hotel room for the next fifteen years, without any idea of who captured him or why. He spends his days watching TV, tattooing the passing time on himself, and shadowboxing. Eventually, he slowly begins digging his way out, and the day he gets his hand outside, he is released, left on the roof of a building with a new suit and his prison journals. Then things get a little weird.

The actor that plays Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik) went through a radical physical transformation for the movie; he was somewhat overweight and out of shape in the beginning, and becomes fit and a talented fighter by the time his character is released from his "prison." He has a few incredible fight scenes, one which took three days to perfect and is actually one continuous take, with one bit of CG (a knife that stabs into Oh Dae-su), and several where he just fights people. But this isn't an action movie, really. He's given five days to track down his captor, and figure out why he was imprisoned for so long. The truth is so shocking and insane, you probably wouldn't even believe me if I told you. Also, he spends a lot of time like this:

oh dae-su,oldboy,Choi Min-sik

Oldboy was released in 2003, and was directed by Park Chan-wook. It was based on a Japanese manga of the same name, and won the Grand Prix of the Jury at the 57th Cannes Film Festival, as well as a handful of other awards. There's really no doubt why it won so many awards: you probably won't see the ending coming, and it's pretty hard to turn away, even during the weird and gruesome bits.

Dae-su does find out who his captor is, but it doesn't really help him much. He doesn't recognize the man, played by youthful but intense Korean actor Yu Ji-tae, nor does his name ring a bell. The apparent motivation behind everything is "Oh Dae-su talks too much," but this makes even less sense. Dae-su meets a young woman his first night released, played by Kang Hye-jeong. Believe me, she has an absolutely terrible secret, but it's so secret that she doesn't even know what it is. When Oh Dae-su finally learns the truth at the end of the movie, it's so freaking traumatic and insane, he literally snips out his tongue with scissors. Here, look!

oh dae-su,oldboy

Ok, sorry, so that picture is from after he cuts out his own tongue, to keep the secret from his love interest Mi-do. Seriously, if this movie was any older, I'd tell you what the secret is! It's such a juicy, juicy secret, too! But, unfortunately, I have a rule about spoiling movies that aren't old enough to buy cigarettes for themselves. Maybe in 2021 I can reveal it. I highly recommend this movie, but I feel I should warn that there are some extraordinarily graphic scenes of sex and violence, and almost as gross, a scene where he eats an octopus like a wad of spaghetti, as it slimes all over his face, writhing around. Yes, the octopus that he eats is alive while he's eating it, and it's quite profoundly disquieting.

I don't know what it is about Asian cinema that is so much more out of whack than American cinema. Don't even get me started on Japanese films... One of these days, I'll have to review some Takashi Miike films (like Ichi the Killer and Audition, or maybe Sukiyaki Western Django, even though that one isn't too disturbing). The sad thing is, we'll probably try to remake it over here, and it will be missing virtually everything that makes it great. The plot twist probably won't be there (there are some stigmas in this country about ... what's implied/revealed).

The bottom line is, it's a complicated, convoluted story of lust, violence, revenge, love, hatred, and fear. Lots of people die, lots of weird, crazy stuff happens (the first person Oh Dae-su encounters at the start of the film is a suicidal man on the roof; Dae-su tells the man his story, and then leaves. When he exits the building, the man hurtles into a parked car behind him). Also, did I mention that he cuts out his own freaking tongue?

oh dae-su,oldboy,horror

This film rates a 9.1 on my Weird Shit-O-Meter®, and deserves four out of five writhing, delicious octopuses (octopi?), or four out of five [I can't even tell you, the urge to spoil is killing me!].

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Celebrity: Occasionally Prone To Self-Mockery and Meta-References

woody allen,kenneth branagh,leonardo dicaprio,movie poster

Hey, have you guys ever wanted to see Kenneth Branagh do a subtle Woody Allen impression? You have? Well, do I have a movie for you. In 1998, Woody Allen directed a little film called Celebrity, ostensibly about the highs, lows, pratfalls and successes of contemporary American celebrity. It features a small central cast, but virtually every other secondary character is played by a celebrity. Surprisingly, Woody Allen himself doesn't make an appearance, which is relatively unusual for him.

As typical for Woody Allen films, the plot is rather loose, focusing mostly on character interactions, conversations, dialogue, and mise-en-scéne, we follow the lives of Lee and Robin Simon, played by Kenneth Branagh and Judy Davis, respectively. They're a divorced New York couple, each pursuing different goals, and reaching different resolutions. ...Yeah, that's pretty much it, generalized-plot-wise. Lee is a writer and journalist, conducting celebrity interviews and trying to write novels and screenplays. His ex-wife Robin used to be a schoolteacher, but suffered something of a breakdown when their marriage deteriorated. By chance, she met Tony Gardella (Joe Mantegna), a television producer, and they start a romantic relationship and entertainment partnership. Lee goes through a slew of lovers and girlfriends, always with one foot out the door, never quite putting as much effort or passion into his writing as he does his seemingly endless pursuit of romantic and sexual gratification and happiness (ultimately, he finds neither).

This is a good Woody Allen movie. Which I mean to say, it's pretty much the same as most Woody Allen movies. He's pretty much turned good directing into a cliché. Unique camera angles? Long takes? Smooth tracking, panning back and forth between conversationalists? Witty dialogue, complex interactions, rounded characters? Yawn! Seen it before! In addition to all of that, the film also hammers to the audience Allen's own ideas about the nature of celebrity, and presumably how he really feels about writing. It's chock-full of meta-references. The film is done in black and white, and Joe Mantegna's character refers to an in-film director as "very arty, pretentious; one of those assholes who films in black and white."

kenneth branagh,celebrity,melanie griffith,woody allen

Like most other main characters, Lee Simon is a writer, and not a very successful one. He wants to write a good screenplay in order to be financially successful, and to have a blockbuster film, which is his ideal of celebrity. When that doesn't really pan out, he tries to write a novel, but he's haunted by his past failures (and also his ex-girlfriend, who throws it in the river, page by page, when he breaks up with her). I think of Woody Allen primarily as a writer, simply using the camera as a means to show us (in his own signature style, not just a "point-and-shoot") the conversations he wrote, like visual narration. So I find it interesting that his writer characters are often failures, not only in their professions but in their interpersonal and romantic relationships. We don't really see Lee having many friends; some acquaintances, and several lovers that he ends up cheating on anyways. I can't help but wonder if it's some not-so-subtle commentary on the profession.

I didn't really like how Kenneth Branagh was affecting an American Accent. I guess I'm just not really used to it, even in other American films, I prefer him British. It was pretty entertaining to hear him do a version of Woody Allen, though. Certain lines had Allen's signature stammering, hemming and hawing, and even a slight accent/intonation that was very Allen-inspired. I can't help but wonder if Woody writes all his dialogue with that weird nervous stammering that he's become such a "master" of.

As you can see from the above poster, Leonardo DiCaprio was in this movie, too. For all of ten minutes. That's not even an exaggeration: he was literally in this film for 10 minutes and 20 seconds. And yet he's on the poster for the film, and the star, Kenneth Branagh, is featured somewhat off to the side. This may not have been intentional on Woody Allen's part, but it serves to pretty much prove his point about celebrity. In 1998, Leo would have been a much bigger audience draw than Kenneth Branagh, Joe Mantegna, Judy Davis, or pretty much anyone else in the film. Even Lee's various girlfriends have more screen time than Leo, I'm sure (I didn't count, of course).

celebrity,woody allen

Woody Allen makes good movies, I think many people are in agreement on that point. Unfortunately, so many of his movies are better than average in terms of subtle and interesting camera work, low-key mise-en-scene, and witty dialogue, it doesn't really matter anymore. I think I would be more impressed if he purposefully directed a "bad" movie with his great dialogue, just to mix it up a little bit. It's gotta be a little boring for him, too, which is probably how he's able to direct a new movie every year for the last 32 years in a row.

I do recommend this film however, don't get me wrong. Branagh is always extremely entertaining, and his incredibly subtle impersonation of Allen is apparent at random points in the movie, and somewhat fluctuates from nearly nonexistant to nearly over-the-top. It also features a large number of celebrity cameos, famous characters, and Bebe Neuworth practicing fellatio on a peeled banana (which she then chokes on). Four out of five stars!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Marathon Man: Way Different Than The Princess Bride

marathon man,movie poster

Hey, look at that, we're back in the 1970s again. After yesterday's brief foray into the movies of the 2000s, the next film on my Netflix queue was the 1976 paranoid thriller Marathon Man. You may not know this, but William Goldman wrote the novel that this movie is based upon. William Gibson is most well known for writing The Princess Bride, later made into a movie movie of the same name. Marathon Man has no similarities in plot or characterization whatsoever to his more famous work. However, it isn't a bad movie, and is actually quite taut with tension and paranoia at times, with some great performances by Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, and Laurence Olivier.

Marathon Man was directed by John Schleisinger, and was released in 1976. Hoffman plays Thomas "Babe" Levy, a History PhD candidate nearly obsessed with his father's suicide due to his implication in the McCarthy hearings. His brother Doc (Scheider) is a covert government agent, assigned to courier a large cache of diamonds. The diamonds are the property of Dr. Szell (Olivier), a former Nazi. When his brother (played by, I shit you not, Ben Dover) is killed in a car accident, he needs to come take care of the diamonds. For some reason, Babe is targeted by Dr. Szell, and Doc is murdered. An amateur marathon runner, Babe needs to stop running and face things head on, regardless of the dangers and consequences.

marathon man,dustin hoffman

Thrillers in the '70s are so much different than contemporary thrillers. They leave much more to the imagination, and rely much more upon editing techniques, camera angles, music, and pacing, and not just shocks, violence, and special effects. The most memorable (and oft-imitated/parodied) scene in the film is an especially chilling dental torture scene, where Szell tries to extract information from Babe, repeating the phrase "Is it safe?" in an increasingly disturbing manner. There's not a lot of gross close-ups of metal hooks dragging slowly and agonizingly across teeth, rending gums in a gush of blood, the screech of metal on bone like fingernails on chalkboard. Just a subtle medium shot, decently long takes, the uncomfortable repetition of "Is it safe?" and Hoffman's agonized howls, and infantile dependance and desire for relief in the form of oil of cloves. Unfortunately, he doesn't know anything, and doesn't know whether it's safe" or not. He briefly is rescued by his brother Doc's superior Janeway (William Devane), who is also hinted to be Doc's boyfriend. (In an earlier scene, he's talking to someone named "Janey" on the phone, and when Janeway introduces himself to Babe, he calls himself Janey.) Janeway turns out to be a double agent, working with Szell all along, and brings Babe back to the terror dentist for more torture.

Of course, there's also a conniving and deceitful foreign woman. She pretends to be interested in Babe, in order to get closer to him, and get more information (they assume Doc has filled him in on the situation, even though he didn't know Doc was even in the government until after he died). Doc realizes there's something suspicious about her and catches her in a lie during an interesting dinner scene where Hoffman's character is wearing a polo shirt with a bow tie, and a hideous tan-plaid blazer.

Maybe I wasn't paying too close attention, or maybe I'm just a little sleepy, but I couldn't really figure out why Szell needed to be an ex-Nazi, and why they kept bringing up Babe and Doc's father, his suicide, and the McCarthy hearings. The diamonds could just as easily have been from some random guy, some German criminal, or pretty much anybody. I fail to see how it makes a difference, or enhances the story whatsoever. I might have to watch it again at some point and see if there was some connection that I missed the first time around. To some extent, there's an interesting commentary going on: Szell goes to the Diamond district to get some information on how much the diamonds would be worth, where he encounters Jews pretty much everywhere, much to his dismay. Even more disturbing, an old woman seems to recognize him as a Nazi, and one man directly confronts him about it. In the opening scene, when his brother is killed in a car accident, it's a semi-humorous car chase scene between him and an elderly Jewish man, in a bizarre road rage scene. Other than that, I can't really see how it matters.

dustin hoffman,marathon man

The best part of the movie, to me, is how bad-ass Dustin Hoffman can be. I'm not used to him being presented as a character than can kick anyone's ass, or can be somewhat vicious or clever in any way. After pretty much everyone except Szell and Babe are killed in some manner, Babe hunts the crazy Nazi-dentist down, taking him hostage and bringing him to the pump rooms in the Central Park reservoir. There, he tosses diamonds like confetti into the water, just to drive Szell crazy. He then tells Szell that he can take away as many diamonds he can carry... so long as he eats them (he the commands him in German, as well, to "Essen!"). The formerly diamond-hungry Nazi manages to force one down before stopping. After a brief tussle, where Szell tries to slice up Babe with a retractable blade he has concealed within his coat (a really cool little killing gadget that isn't really explained or given particular attention, which is odd), and Babe throws the briefcase down the stairs. The diamonds (and the coffee cans and random tins that had held the diamonds) go flying into the water. In trying to chase after them, he falls, killing himself with his own blade. Babe leaves him floating facedown in the water. Verdict: Totally badass.

If you haven't seen a thriller made prior to 1995, I suggest checking this movie out. If you're a fan of The Princess Bride, check this out, too, since it was based on a book by the same author. I think it's interesting when authors have such variation in their work. It has its weird moments, some moments of extreme discomfort and tension, as well as some great performances (especially Hoffman's method acting performance, where he would really run before out-of-breath scenes so it was real, and who really wanted to be held underwater as long as he could stand during a bathtub drowning attempt scene). I give it four kick-ass Dustin Hoffmans out of five, or four Nazi dentists out of five.

Just ask yourself: Is it safe?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Plot Has Been: Derailed

derailed,movie poster,clive owen,jennifer aniston

There's a reason that most of my posts have been about movies that are at least twenty years old. Mainly, I tend to prefer movies from the 80s, especially when it comes to horror/thriller films. It's also my tendency to put older movies in my Netflix queue, as they;re usually harder to find in traditional rental stores. Also, a lot of mainstream movies these days just aren't very entertaining.

There was only one kinda sorta "oh, cool!" moment during the movie, but it's part of the twist ending, and since this movie is only a few years old, I'm not terribly comfortable spoiling it outright. But it's a pretty cool scene, and it's a pretty good line. Unfortunately, it's the only really decent part of the movie.

Derailed was released in 2005, and directed by Mikael Håfström, and stars Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston. It was based (presumably loosely) on a novel of the same name written by Jason Siegel. This top-notch cast doesn't do much for the film in general, though. For a movie that's supposed to be a taut psychological thriller, everyone seems vaguely uninterested in what's going on. For example, the two main characters start off like they're going to have a steamy affair, but for the most part, they just look like this:

clive owen,jennifer aniston

Have you ever seen two people about to go to a hotel and have tawdry sex look more terminally bored and full of malaise and lethargy? For the love of God, man, tip her a wink, pat her behind, brush your fingers across hers, do something to indicate that you aren't just randomly walking past each other on the street! This serves as a basic metaphor for the movie.

There's a great load of potential, here. Mild-mannered Charles Schine happens to meet Lucinda Harris on the train into the city (Chicago). He was running late, missed his normal train and forgot to buy a ticket. She buys him one out of "generosity," and they flirt with each other for a few commutes. Eventually, their relationship escalates when a drunken idiot hits on her in a bar, and Charles knocks him out. Before they can consummate their cheap affair, they're mugged at gunpoint, Charles is knocked out, and Lucinda is brutally raped.

The next morning, he feels guilty, but she doesn't want to call the cops and expose their affair. Soon afterwards, the man calls Charles up, identifies himself as LaRoche, and blackmails him for $20,000. Charles pays, and thinks he is safe. The next month, LaRoche blackmails him yet again for $100,000, this time having entered Charles's house under the auspices of a business call, and charms Charles's wife and daughter. Charles borrows $10,000 from his job to pay the mailroom guy Wilson (played by The RZA) to "scare" LaRoche off. Wilson is then kileld by LaRoche, and Charles is plunged deeper into a world of crime, murder, extortion, confusion, betrayal, and deception.

It has a pretty good twist ending, with a couple of minor twists beforehand. Clive Owen is kind of reservedly bad-ass, not really out-and-out putting the smack down, but providing that low-key "maybe he'll cut my head off with his shoe" kind of performance he's known for. The guy that plays the bad guy (Vincent Cassell) is pretty decent too, somehow able to be charmingly French and a sleazy low-life all at the same time.

Luckily for me, one of the characters asks a question that I had been pondering the whole time: "I don't understand. Why would he rape her?" That's a good question, random unnamed guy that asks the question in the movie. It isn't a particularly graphic scene, it doesn't seem to enhance anything at first. Maybe it's because Jennifer Aniston has been trying to shed her "Rachel on Friends" role for such a long time. But it seems like plot-gratuitous, instead of sexually gratuitous. The basic point is for Charles to feel extra guilty, that he should have been able to protect her. It's especially terrible when he meets her later, wanting to go to the cops, and she tells him that she needed an abortion; the subject of going to the cops isn't broached again.

Charles also has a daughter that is a Type 1 diabetic, which means they have a home dialysis machine, and it puts additional strain on his marriage and finances. This is also to make us feel extra terrible that he has to pay all that money (especially since the $100,000 was directly from their savings for her medical bills). It seems like every little detail is designed to manipulate the audience, to make up for the weak plot and vaguely defined and occasionally nonsensical character behaviors.

I really wanted to like this movie more. I wish I could tell you guys more about the ending, because it's the best part. Oh well. It's barely worth a first look, and I probably won't watch it again. I give Derailed two awkwardly emotionless glances between would-be lovers out of five, or two wasted potentials out of five.

clive owen,jennifer aniston,derailed

Sunday, July 26, 2009

John Carpenter's Cigarette Burns: If Movies Could Kill

cigarette burns,john carpenter,dvd box

I don't mean the title of this post to insinuate that this movie will kill you. It's not that terrible. It's not the best of John Carpenter's rather extensive work, but that may be mostly because this was done for the Showtime series Masters of Horror, and as such isn't up to normal standards. It is, however, a fairly original concept done in a mildly interesting way, so it isn't a total loss.

I realize now that I'll have quite a number of John Carpenter movies here on the ol' blog soon. I'm also waiting to review Big Trouble in Little China and The Thing, and I could always review Halloween and They Live! purely from memory. I do enjoy John Carpenter's films, and this was no exception. I did enjoy it, but given the format, it wasn't quite up to being great, and it was too short, besides.

The film stars Norman Reedus (Boondock Saints) as a Kirby Sweetman, a theater owner and pretty haunted dude, trying to pay back his father-in-law, Walter. To help his financial issues, he takes a film-detective job from Mr. Bellinger, played by Udo Kier (Blade, Halloween). Kirby is to find a long-lost film called La Fin Absolue du Monde (The Absolute End of the World), which is said to have driven its previous audiences to violence and death. Upon retrieving the film, he ends up with more than he bargains for, seeing reel-change markers (referred to as "cigarette burns" from its one mention in Fight Club, though they aren't actually known as such in the industry) in his waking life, before violent and strange hallucinations. He may slip deep into madness just from pursuing the film. Who knows what might happen if he actually watches it?

Ok, I was trying for a more concise with an actual summary of the film before really getting into a rant about it. Did it work? Meh, probably not, but I figured I'd try it out.

The main thing that disappointed me about this "movie" is that even though it has a some-star cast and is directed by a respected horror director, it's still not much more than a made for TV movie. It's too short, and I think there are some restrictions on content to a certain extent. Moreover, I was always aware on some level that this was not a theatrical film, and was originally on television. I like the general idea of the Masters of Horror, putting a bunch of horror directors together on one unified project, trying to make good horror films that are accessible to anyone paying for Showtime. I think the After Dark Horrorfest took that idea and made it into something worthwhile, an actual annual film festival specifically for horror, with excellent branding and a good marketing campaign.

I really liked the idea that a film is/can be more than just a film. This idea was touched on in the novel Three Days to Never by Tim Powers, as well, though not with the same horror twist. Basically, every time we see a movie, we put a lot of trust into it. We'll go to a theater, sit in the dark (surrounded by strangers), giving our attention totally to the screen, hoping the director doesn't try to screw us over. This is doubly true when we see a horror film; we trust that they won't show us anything that we can't handle. The film that Kirby is commissioned to find was created specifically to cause as much chaos as possible with the audience. We find that there's something subliminal in the film, something carefully edited, coupled with the immense power the film itself held. It's suggested that if the camera films something terrible, something unprecedented and terrible, it becomes powerful. In this case, the torture and forced transubstantiation of a real, live angel is captured on film amongst other truly horrific images and edits, which results in a film that drives anyone who watches it completely insane and violent. If anyone actively pursues the film (like Kirby), they begin to feel its effects, getting visions accompanied by the signature cigarette burns.

cigarette burns,screenshot,norman reedus

It's pretty short, as I said before, but Norman Reedus is pretty good in it, and it kind of reminds me of that Johnny Depp movie, The Ninth Gate. The plots are sort of similar (an expert is commissioned to find an evil version of something, with results that backfire, involve angels, evil, etc.), but unfortunately, The Ninth Gate is just a better movie. Cigarette Burns isn't terrible, by any means, though.

It's worth a watch if you're really a huge fan of John Carpenter. It has some interesting ideas in it, but I feel that they could have been developed more (the majority of the movie is about finding the film, and some creepiness and hallucinations), and maybe I'm just a little weird, but I wanted to see him screen the cursed movie for an entire audience and watch them all go crazy. I do like the idea and its inherent question: Filmmakers have much power over the imaginations of their audience. What if a director made a movie that would harm its audience on purpose?

I give it two accursed demon-films out of five, or two creepy wingless angels out of five.

cigarette burns,deformed angel

Tron: The MCP is Kind of A Jerk

tron,movie poster

I have to admit, Tron is an important part of my cultural heritage. It was released the same year I was born (1982), and stars one of my current favorite actors, Jeff Bridges. It was also released by Disney, which was important growing up, and features a world starting to become obsessed with computers, which is an important part of my life (in terms of personal use as well as professionally). Also, it's a genuinely entertaining science-fiction film, featuring some truly ground-breaking effects and cinematography (especially considering when it was released; it looks like child's play compared to what we currently have).

Everyone should know what this movie's all about, so if you don't know, I'm going to tell you. Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a young programmer and video game enthusiast. He used to work for a large software corporation, until the big boss stole his game ideas to increase their empire. Unbeknownst to the programmers, their programs live very real lives in the computer world, with personalities, desires, relationships, and feelings. Flynn's program, Clu, tries to hack into his former employer's system, but their Master Control Program (MCP) captures it. The MCP is represented as a megalomaniacal entity, trying to completely rule over the computer world with the help of Sark, the computer program created by Dr. Dillinger, the guy that stole Flynn's ideas. Trying to eliminate loose ends, the MCP digitizes Flynn while he's breaking into ENCOM, trying to help his friends and former colleagues Alan Bradley and Lora Baines. When he's in the computer world, he becomes his program Clu, and is captured by the MCP. The MCP likes to force programs to play vicious games with one another, where the winner survives, and the loser is "derezzed," or killed. Flynn/Clu teams up with Tron, the security program created by Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) to take down the MCP.

The truly remarkable thing about this film is that it's the first film to extensively use computer-generated imagery for the computer world. The real-world actors wander about in a simple but immersive computer world, with CG vehicles (including the ever-popular Light Cycles) and backgrounds. The actors themselves are also enhanced, with outfits that have glowing circuity-bits. This was achieved by filming in black and white, and then rotoscoping the enhanced colors and glowing lines.

Tron,Bruce Boxleitner

It's my opinion that this film is severely overrated, both as an important science fiction film, as well as starting up the relationship with computer animation that Disney has now come to rely upon more than traditional animation. I don't think we would have as much CG enhancements to contemporary films without the preliminary work of films like Tron and The Last Starfighter. It's very primitive, yes, but it's recognizably computer animation, and in many ways, it helps the movie maintain its 1980s time representation. Plus, how many movies do you know where the main villain is a giant, rainbow top?


Tron also has some interesting religious implications, where the computer world is analogous of the human world, and their human users as an unseen force that drives their actions. Many programs don't even believe in the users, having never seen any evidence of their existence, and despite being created by the users, they do seem to maintain individual identities and free will. Suddenly, Flynn appears in their world, as his program, Clu. In many ways, I'm glad that they didn't try to put a lot of messiah nonsense in the movie, trying to make Flynn/Clu out to be some sort of program messiah. In reality, Tron is the real hero of the film (obviously, hence the name), with Flynn serving as an outside observer, giving the audience an easy window into the computer world.

I highly recommend this film. I'm deeply afraid that younger viewers might find the "archaic" special effects laughable, but the film has a great spirit behind it, with some really interesting characters, and an extremely original story. However, fear now, younger viewers! There is a sequel coming out next year, titled Tron Legacy with Jeff Bridges reprising his role as Clu/Flynn, with the inclusion of Flynn's 20-something son (presumably born shortly after he takes over ENCOM after the destruction of the MCP and the revelation that Dillinger stole his game ideas). However, it seems that Flynn disappeared sometime in the late 1980s, and may be trapped in the computer world.

Check this out for an extremely awesome trailer for Tron Legacy. It has updated Light Cycles, and is immensely mind-boggling.

In summation, I give the original Tron four and a half flying discs out of five, or four and a half evil MCPs out of five. Go check it out!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Escape From New York and Into My Heart

escape from new york,snake plissken,kurt russell,john carpenter

I feel that I should put this out there right away: I love this movie. It's one of many John Carpenter/Kurt Russell collaborations, and arguably one of the best-known of their films. This is also the movie that helped launch Kurt Russell's new acting career, starring previously in mostly Disney movies and more generally family-friendly films. I'm often amazed that more people are unaware of his status as a child star, and most contemporary audiences know him best for roles like this one. Plus, his character has an eyepatch! It honestly doesn't get much better than that.

For those of you that are unaware, the plot of Escape From New York is relatively simple: It's the fantastical dystopian future of 1997, and crime has reached such unprecedented heights that the entire island of Manhattan (which apparently means all of New York City, as well) has been turned into a prison. Air Force One crashes into the city due to a random revolutionary, and the President is then kidnapped by the criminal population. As luck would have it, a well-decorated military man and criminal arrives, and is then forced to rescue the president. This man is Snake Plissken, and he is a bad-ass.

kurt russell,snake plissken,escape from new york

See? Told you.

This film is of particular interest to me in that it features Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, and Ernest Borgnine as "Cabbie," as well as Donald Pleasance as the President. The police force that runs the prison (from outside the walls) offers Snake a full pardon in exchange for his help. To make sure that he retrieves the President in a timely manner, he injects tiny explosives into his neck, which would explode just enough to sever his arteries and kill him. So what's a guy to do, huh? Guess there's no choice but to take a glider into the city, fight some crazy post-apocalyptic Mad-Max-like criminals, check out Adrienne Barbeau, beat up Isaac Hayes, and save the day.

One thing I don't like about this movie is that it's very dark. It may have been partly my settings on the TV, but still; it's often quite difficult to see what's going on. I understand that it's the future, and all dystopian, and depressing, blah blah blah, but still. A little ambient lighting never hurt anybody. Another thing that always confused me was that everyone that Snake encounters in this dumb place seems to know who he is. Ernest Borgnine's cheerful molotov-tossing Cabbie seems to love Snake, and is super-happy to be hanging out with him. Harry Dean Stanton (a.k.a. Brain) is scared of Snake, but that's mostly because he (Brain) betrayed Snake and their friend "Fresno Bob" on an earlier job. The Duke hates him just because he's trying to save the President, and The Duke is used to being "A number one," and Snake basically beats him hands-down at being a badass.

Shortly before his untimely death, I saw parts of Escape From New York on television, and was surprised to see Isaac Hayes in the role of the villain. I'm so used to him as a comedic actor on South Park, as well as his music career and his minor role as "Asneeze" in Mel Brooks's Robin Hood: Men In Tights. I don't feel that they use Isaac enough in this movie, and they definitely don't let him talk enough. He doesn't get a very dignified death (in the film), either, which is a shame.

In a scene that I particularly enjoyed, a captured Snake is forced to fight for the amusement of The Duke and his army of criminal crazies. We also get to see his namesake tattoo, a particular dark and muddy-looking cobra, which is probably one of the worst movie tattoos I've ever seen. It looks like someone drew a cobra on his stomach with magic marker, but he'd never seen a cobra before. Luckily, there was someone that had seen a picture once, and they told the artist what to draw. However, the pure amateur shoddiness of his terrible tattoo is immediately forgotten when I see who he has to fight:

escape from new york,slag,ox baker

Yes, that's right. He has to fight Zangief from Street Fighter! In actuality, this is a character named "Slag," and he's played by the legendary Ox Baker. Not surprisingly, Snake is able to not only defeat this behemoth of craziness and beard, but he is also able to retrieve his timer-bracelet (approximately the size of a bedside alarm clock), and activate a tracer bracelet, both of which had been stolen previously, but were conveniently on some nearby wrists after the fight. Meanwhile Brain and Maggie (Barbeau) have rescued the President, and try to steal Snake's glider. Snake shows up in time to see the bad guys drop it off the top of the World Trade Center, so our anti-hero has no choice but to navigate a bridge lined with mines and explosives. Also, The Duke shows up, Cabbie randomly has the coveted audiotape that's almost as important as the President's life (though nobody's really sure how he gets it), and then everyone but Snake and the President die.

Kurt Russell makes a pretty good anti-hero, looking suitably grizzled and manly in his tank-top and camouflage leggings, shooting guys and throwing knives in their foreheads, all to the absolutely "brilliant" musical score provided by Mr. John Carpenter himself. There are explosions, people getting shot, beaten up, etc. There are no big revelations, no real secrets about mankind's future revealed, no deeper meaning. It's pure entertainment, simple and joyous. Relax and let it wash over you for a couple of hours, and you'll enjoy it. Four Ernest Borgnines out of five, or four fake-Zangiefs out of five.

Friday, July 24, 2009

WestWorld: When the West was "Meh."

westworld, michael crichton, yul brynner

In 1973, acclaimed author and all-around cool guy Michael Crichton decided that he would write and direct a theatrical film. The story is pretty decent, and would have probably made an entertaining novella, or maybe expanded a little into a real novel. Unfortunately, what we have is this movie instead.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't terrible. It just isn't terribly good. I wasn't expecting it to be brilliant, so I wasn't disappointed. I've seen Maximum Overdrive, so I know how movies that are directed by writers can turn out (though I am glad for Maximum Overdrive, because it has a little league coach being bludgeoned to death by a soda machine). I'm sure there are some quality films directed by novelists, I just can't seem to think of any right now.

Ok, sorry about that, this movie isn't all that bad. It was released in 1973, was written and directed by Crichton, and stars Yul Brynner, James Brolin, and Richard Benjamin, with a puzzling cameo by Dick Van Patten. In the future (or maybe not), there exists an adult amusement park, where for a paltry $1,000 a day, you can basically live in a carefully recreated medieval, Roman, or American western-themed world, and the primary thing that people want to do when they go there? They want to kill and/or have sex with robots.

John and Pete are going to WestWorld as the film opens, taking a hovercraft that jets majestically over a projected-screen desert. John's been there before, and Pete's a WestWorld virgin. When they arrive, we notice immediately that several of the stewardesses, attendants, whatever, have blank, terrible, soulless dead eyes. These are robots, with fully articulated movements, limbs, and extremely subtle and realistic facial expressions, mouth movements, etc. What's the one thing that these amazing future-scientists can't quite get right? Their hands. (This is a pretty major flaw in how an actual android would be; Currently, Japanese scientists have created some pretty amazing robot heads, but the faces are really the hardest thing to pull off. It's a big problem in CG, too.)

The only real problem with this movie is that I can't bring myself to care about the characters. They're pretty poorly developed, and there are some basic attempts made early on to round them out. Pete's apparently recently divorced, though it doesn't really matter too much. Not much is known about John, other than he really gets into the whole Western thing. The major conflict arises when the robots arbitrarily decide that they're not going to obey the rules anymore, and start killing everyone. Again, there are some basic attempts made to scientifically explain this, like it's some sort of real virus spreading around between the robots. But it doesn't really matter.

westworld,yul brynner

The best part about the movie by far is Yul Brynner. He's essentially playing his role of Chris from The Magnificent Seven. He only has like four lines in the movie, gets shot up a couple of times, and mostly stalks around in a very robot-y way, first kiling John and then spending some time trying to kill Pete. He's also apparently the only robot in WestWorld, because when all the rest of the robots go crazy, it seems to mostly be localized in the Roman and Medieval worlds. He also might just have a longer energy reserve than the other robots (because the dumb scientists shut down all the power, which didn't do anything except seal off some rooms and their own doom). The movie never really explains how the Yul Brynner Gunslinger character is able to rampage for so long, but evidently, it doesn't really matter. Because, y'know. He's a robot, man! And he's unstoppable! Literally a killing machine, what's better than that? This film attempts to postulate that not much is in fact better than that.

Westworld,michael chrichton,yul brynner

Also, they take his face off, and it's pretty cool.

This review seems pretty negative, so I must have disliked the movie more than I thought. I took a lot of funny notes while I was watching it, though, so I did enjoy it. (Sample note: "He gives a robot girl that was being tied up a sip of water and her friggin' face shorts out, and smoke pours from her cheek/ear/side of hear head. Good job, idiot. You could have totally had sex with that robot.") It is also a testament that I watched it all the way through. If a movie is that terrible, I'll stop watching it.

It's not imperative that this movie be seen by millions of people. It's even less imperative that anyone go out and watch the sequel, Futureworld, where the amusement park is used to lure the rich and powerful to their robot-y doom. There was also an ill-advised and thankfully short-lived television series called Beyond Westworld, where I rightly assume that the only thing it was "beyond" was sense, rationality, and the notions of entertainment.

If you're a super-huge fan of Michael Crichton, you may want to watch it, just to say that you did. Or, you may just be a huge fan of Runaway, the unexpected flop starring Tom Selleck and Gene Simmons, which was unexpectedly overshadowed by The Terminator in 1984.

I give WestWorld two and a half faceless robot Yul Brynners out of five.

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