Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kick-Ass: 'Nuff Said, Am I Right?


In honor of San Diego Comic Con going on this week, today and tomorrow will feature two comic book movie themed blogs! Rejoice, ye nerds, and bask in the glory of my nerd-reviews!

Are you basking?

First off, it's one of the most outrageous, violent, ridiculous, and most awesome comic book movies in a long time: Kick-Ass. Based on a series of comics by legendary creators Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita, Jr., Kick Ass is a tale of a young man who dreams of becoming a superhero. After minimal training, and in a home-made costume, Dave Lizewski is critically injured while attempting to stop a mugging. Stabbed and left for dead, he's taken to the hospital. When he recovers, he suffers from nerve damage. Still spurred by his near-insane need to help people and function as a superhero, he goes back on the streets. His actions attract the attention of the mob and other costumed vigilantes. How can a high-school kid with no superpowers stand up to the entire mob? Well, when he's got a gun-toting, knife-throwing 12-year old girl with him, he may have a chance.

Directed by relative newcomer Matthew Vaughan, Kick-Ass stars Aaron Johnson as Dave Lizewski/Kick Ass, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Red Mist/Chris D'Amico, Nicolas Cage as Damon Macready/Big Daddy, Marc Strong as Frank D'Amico, and Chloe Moretz as Mindy Macready/Hit Girl. It's a pretty interesting cast of actors for a comic book movie, and surprisingly, Nicolas Cage is not only tolerable, he's actually pretty good. I'm not really familiar with Aaron Johnson, but I guess he plays a young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy, which looks good, too. Chloe Moretz really steals the show, though; she's been in a few things, but she is absolutely malicious and terrifying here.

This film also features one of the better soundtracks out there. It features a few great songs by The Prodigy, and a few good updates of crazy songs for Hit Girl's scenes: Banana Splits by the Dickies, and Bad Reputation by the Hit Girls. I especially like the sort of theme song to the movie, Stand Up by the Prodigy. I normally don't get into film soundtracks, but this one was especially good.

I took my lady to this crazy movie, and surprisingly, she didn't hate it. Essentially, it's not the kind of movie she'd want to go see on her own, but she liked it once she got there. It was funny, interesting, unpredictable, and shockingly violent. A dude gets his leg cut off! Seriously, it's wicked.

It's a fairly standard action movie as far as direction goes; the costumes were amazing, though. Everything looked like it could have been made at home, with household crap, but it also had that slick, Dark Knight kind of look to it, as well. The characters were interesting, and Kick-Ass was a surprisingly ineffective hero, and didn't do a whole lot of ass-kicking. Hit-Girl was the actual bad-ass one, and her dad Big Daddy is crazy brutal. Imagine Batman with a moustache, a shotgun, and a huge grin, and that's almost as intense as Big Daddy was. Red Mist is fantastic, as well; it's basically McLovin' in a costume, driving a fancy car around. I don't want to give any spoilers, but Red Mist has his own reasons for becoming a superhero, and his own agenda.

In some ways, I think the film is moderately realistic. Hear me out, don't just laugh. It's essentially supposed to be our world; a world where people read comics, and there are no superheroes. Nobody turns into Batman; nobody has utility belts full of awesome gadgets. Kick Ass is a kid in a repurposed wet-suit and Doc Marten boots, with two lead pipes strapped to his back. Big Daddy is an ex-cop who trained his daughter to be a killing machine; they both use guns and knives and their crazy fists as weapons. Red Mist does nothing at all, really. They don't go around saving kittens from trees, but they don't battle intergalactic invasions, or giant robots, or supervillains. They fight muggers, gang-bangers. Dave fights High School; imagine that nerd who gets wedgies all the time started working out, threw on some tights, and beat up petty bad guys on weekends.

Overall, it's an extremely entertaining movie. It has little value other than that, but that's by no means a bad thing. It's wacky, insane, violent, full of actually decent action, great nerdy characters, great nerdy comic-book discussions, and things you didn't know you wanted to see until you saw it. For instance, I had no idea I wanted to watch Marc Strong punch a little girl square in the face until I saw it.

I give Vaughan's Kick-Ass three weird, creepy, and sort of amazing performances by Nicolas Cage as a gun-toting maniac ex-cop superhero out of five, or three incredibly amazing scenes featuring a tiny 12-year old in a superhero costume running around shooting, stabbing, maiming, killing, and generally messing up dozens of angry, hulking mobsters out of five.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Crazies (2010): Somewhat Less Crazy

The Crazies

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote about the George A. Romero film The Crazies? Well, we finally tracked down the remake from this year, and gave it a good gander. The remake was directed by Breck Eisner, who directed a little piece of something called Sahara a few years ago. Go ahead and scope out his IMDB page; it's right here. He has like four movies in development; three of them are remakes (of Cronenberg's The Brood, Mike Hodges's Flash Gordon, and John Carpenter's Escape From New York). He didn't do an incredibly terrible job remaking Romero's insane original; still, I'm not sure how I feel about a guy making a career out of making remakes of semi-cult classics.

One thing I like better about the remake of The Crazies is the male lead is a lot less unibrow-y; Timothy Olyphant does a pretty good job, as per usual. Let me rewind a moment; let's list a few major differences between the two films. In Romero's version, the film starts much more rapidly. The main character, David, is a firefighter who served in 'Nam. His friend Clank is also a firefighter, who was in 'Nam, Special Forces. David's girlfriend Judy is a nurse, and is pregnant. The military features a much more immediate and overbearing presence in the original film. It also features a much more ambiguous, much less optimistic, and somehow much less open ending than the remake.

In Eisner's version, David (Olyphant) and Judy (Radha Mitchell) are married; David is the Sheriff of the town (in Iowa, rather than Pennsylvania), and Judy is a small-town doctor. Clank is now Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), and is David's deputy. The action starts much more slowly; maybe because it's a modern film, or maybe the style is different, but the remake takes much longer to get underway. A certain amount of time is setting up how idyllic, small, and quaint the town is. In the original, the opening scene features one of the Crazies burning his own house down with his children and (dead/murdered) wife inside. The military shows up almost immediately after that. In the remake, the occasional Crazy shows up; first, at a local baseball game, where David must shoot the man. Then, one of Judy's patients seems to be afflicted. Eventually, David finds the downed plane that Trixie escapes from (something nobody ever does in the original), and eventually determines that the water supply is poisoned (something nobody connects in the original, either). The first few people going crazy were the first houses in the water supply line (a huge leap of reasoning, actually).

Overall, the plot is fairly similar. Plane crashes into the river, the toxin Trixie seeps into the small town's water supply, and the military blockades them in, killing those infected, capturing others, experimenting on them; our heroes get captured (in this version, Judy is captured because her pregnancy elevated her temperature, an early sign of infection), so David and Russell have to rescue her. They eventually escape to the outskirts of town, running across a few more survivors, and seeing more military brutality firsthand. The ending is quite a bit different, as well; it's ultimately a lot more explosion-y, and a lot more open ended. A large chunk of characters featured in the original don't make it to the remake (like the military scientist researching a cure in the town, the man and his daughter that join the group, get infected, have sex [ew], and then get killed), and actual military characters (the military is largely faceless in the remake, and featured surprisingly little).

Overall, I'd say this movie is about as good as a modern version of this story can be. One of these days, I'll have to study the differences between these old horror movies from the 70s and 80s, and their modern remakes. There are a lot of social, cultural, political, and even technological differences between now and then that account for the changes. There's a lot of action, a lot of gore, a lot of creepiness, and a different brand of military representation in this year's The Crazies. It's a decent flick, and you should check it out; I almost wish I had seen the modern version first. It's kind of like watching the movie version before you read the book; oh well.

I give The Crazies three arbitrary nuclear explosions as the heroes drive frantically away in a truck out of five, or three deadly-crazy toxic viruses still inexplicably nicknamed Trixie, stored inside a giant plane that then crashes into a river water-source out of five.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chloe: Who Wants to Watch Amanda Seyfried and Julianne Moore Make Out?


I had never seen a film by Atom Egoyan before, to the best of my knowledge. I may have to look up more of his movies if they're all like his 2009 film Chloe. Starring Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, and Amanda Seyfried, Chloe is a psychological thriller with erotic tendencies; I hesitate to call it a flat-out erotic thriller. Mostly because I didn't really realize that's what it was when we watched it... Until the erotic parts happened.

Catherine Stewart (Moore) is a gynecologist, throwing a surprise birthday party for her husband David (Neeson), a music professor. He's in New York giving a lecture, and is late coming back to Toronto, and misses the surprise party. Catherine begins to suspect he's having an affair, especially when she finds a text and photo on his phone from one of his students. After a chance encounter with a young woman in a restaurant bathroom, and frustrated by David's constant flirting, she hires the young woman, Chloe (Seyfried) to seduce her husband and confirm her suspicions that he's cheating. Things eventually take a turn for the scary when Chloe forms an obsession around Catherine, and in addition to David, seduces their son Michael (Max Thieriot). Full of twists, turns, thrills, and surprising sensuality, Chloe has a surprise twist ending to cap the whole crazy mess off.

Since the movie just came out last year, I can't in good conscience spoil it. It's a pretty good one, though; if you pay attention to how the story is being told, and some of the subtle details, you may see it coming. It's still interesting, though.

Where Sharky's Machine was almost unequivocally a violent tribute to manliness, Chloe is the opposite; it may not necessarily be feminist, but it does feature female characters in prominent roles, in somewhat opposite ends of the spectrum. Catherine is a strong, professional woman; although it's interesting that she's a gynecologist (though we only really get to see her actually doctoring in an early scene). Chloe, as a prostitute, is also sort of strong and professional, in a totally different way. They're both a little nuts, too; Catherine is so paranoid that her husband is cheating on her, that she wants to create a situation in which he cheats on her, so she can be proven right. Chloe forms an immediate and unhealthy obsession with Catherine, feeling a deep affection and attraction for her, attempting to inject herself into life as much as possible, even sleeping with Catherine's son. Chloe uses her sexuality as a weapon, and Catherine finds her sexuality shifting and morphing in unpredictable ways.

I'm not gonna lie, there are some pretty intense scenes with Julianne Moore and Amanda Seyfried. I knew to expect some of that, but the full extent of it was a surprise. I can't really use it as a selling point, but it was definitely a surprise, both in terms of the scenes being in the movie, and it was surprising that these two actresses would be involved in something like that.

Everyone's great in this movie; Liam Neeson is always interesting, and Julianne Moore is intense as a woman facing her middle age, her husband's flirtation, feelings of inadequacy, and her new, growing desires. Amanda Seyfried plays an unusual role as Chloe; she's manipulative, often violent, aggressively sexual, and often times entirely menacing. It's intriguing that as a younger woman and a less experienced actress, she can dominate so many scenes over Julianne Moore (not to mention physically and emotionally dominate Moore's character).

Egoyan seems to pay special attention to th sets, backgrounds, and especially mirrors throughout the movie. The mise-én-scéne is modern and simple; Catherine and David's home is large, modern, full of tall doors, tall windows, mirrors, paintings, and expensive equipment and furniture (which is just in the background, having nothing to do with the story, but showing their evident affluence). There's also an understated and nearly subtle connection between Catherine and some sense of Chloe's mother; Chloe wants to give Catherine a hair pin that Chloe's mother gave her when they first meet; she tries to give it to her again, later. Chloe tries to kill Catherine with it in the climax of the film, and Catherine is wearing it in her hair in the final scene and final shot of the film.

Chloe is an intense, surprisingly twisty modern erotic thriller. Again, this isn't normally a genre I enjoy, or even really watch (as in, at all), but I was pleasantly surprised by this film. I'd recommend it, if this is the kind of thing you might enjoy.

I give Atom Egoyan's Chloe three creepy bug-eyed starey shots of Amanda Seyfried out of five, or three completely unanticipated and random shots of various actresses naked, holy crap it was so weird out of five.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sharky's Machine: Nothing to do With Sharks or Machines

Sharky's Machine

Burt Reynolds has directed a few movies, did you know that? And some TV shows, too. He's no Scorsese, but at least he's no Edward D. Wood, Jr., either. In 1981, he directed and starred in Sharky's Machine, which was his most successful. It also featured some impressive stunt-work by the legendary Dar Robinson, who performed the highest wireless free jump from a building in a film, although in the final cut of the film cuts short the full extent of this fall.

While undercover, Narcotics officer Sharky (Reynolds) is interrupted by fellow officer Smiley (Darryl Hickman), and the bust goes sour, resulting in a pregnant woman being held hostage, and Sharky having to shoot and kill the dealer. After, Sharky is busted down to Vice, literally in the basement, where a rag-tag group of weirdos and more weirdos struggle at the bottom of the barrel. They accidentally discover a high-class prostitution ring, and a mysterious assassin is picking off high-end clients. During their observation of the $1,000 per night hooker Dominoe (Rachel Ward), Sharky begins to fall in love with her. Eventually she is shot and killed, and Sharky seeks to find her killer, a drug addict named Billy Score. His brother Victor seems to be pulling the strings in the prostitution ring, even being involved with a gubernatorial candidate. Sharky and his "machine" (the group of vice weirdos he assembles around himself) find Dominoe alive (her friend was killed accidentally, because she was staying at Dominoe's), find out that Smiley is involved somehow, Sharky gets tortured by Smiley before killing them, until they finally confront Billy Score.

If that synopsis didn't make much sense, don't worry; it's not entirely my fault. The entire scope of the movie is largely nonsensical, and based almost entirely on action movie cliché, motivations, and characterizations. Sharky seems entirely motivated by the fact he's a cop; there's no real sense of his home life, friends outside of other cops, etc. There's an attempt to show maybe a glimpse of what he's missing by having one of his machine have a wife and family; but he seems uninterested. The machine are motivated by hating being in vice; they look up to Sharky because of his reputation, but also seem to have little of their own aspirations aside from this one particular investigation. Sharky runs around, shooting bad guys, falling in love with hookers (and then threatening her with violence when she stands up to him and refuses to give him some information). I'm sure an entire study on masculine roles, general masculinity and violence, and the roles of females almost entirely as prostitutes, but it would take far too long. It's kind of everywhere, and likely doesn't even attempt to make any apologies for it.

Overall, there's not much to say. It's an early 80s action movie, which means it's still mostly the 70s; there's a lot of Dirty Harry flavor going on here, but it's hard not to say that about any action movie. The "Machine" does get a good bit of screen time, featuring some great character actors, and everyone does actually have their crucial role to play in getting things resolved.

My favorite part is the ending; Billy Score kills his brother Vincent in some sort of drug-rage. Then Sharky confronts him, shoots him, and he crashes through the window, falling like 60 stories to his death. Then, after that, there's a jarringly random shot of Sharky and Dominoe at some sort of playground, and I think she's on the swings. Happy ending! Credits. This was the famous Dar Robinson stunt, where he fell free of wires over 200 feet to an airbag, but the shot only shows him for a few seconds, and then the rest is obviously a dummy. I think Burt Reynolds probably didn't get a good enough usable shot after the first few moments of the stunt, so they had to just chuck a dummy wearing a suit out a window.

The jarring ending actually takes a star away, because it's so random and tacked on. That may not be Burt's fault, but it's still a major issue with the movie. It's kind of funny sometimes, though, and has some decent action; and by "decent action" I mean "really loud gunshot sound-effects and smashing into stuff."

If you like that sort of thing, check it out. If you don't like action movies at all, then you probably won't like it. It's always interesting to see Younger Burt Reynolds, though. I give this movie two and a half nonsensical and frustratingly misleading titles out of five, or two and a half terribly wasted stunts combined with incredibly random and totally unnecessary endings out of five.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Night Shift: Hookers, Corpses, and The Fonz

Night Shift

I really love the 80s. I mean, what other decade can Shelley Long play a prostitute, and not be considered churlish. It's also the time for funny Michael Keaton, early Ron Howard, synthesizer music, and bizarre cameos of later-famous actors. Specifically, I'm here to talk about Night Shift, released in 1982. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Michael Keaton in his first film role, and Henry Winkler in an amusing mid-Fonzie role. Co-starring Shelley Long and featuring a brief appearance of a young Kevin Costner as a frat boy, a very young Shannon Doherty, and enough corpses, hookers, pimps, and a disturbingly young Richard Belzer to fill some bizarre quota you didn't even know you had.

An oddly simple plot allows this movie to simply run around like a hyperactive toddler, following a relatively cohesive storyline, with surprisingly good pacing. Henry Winkler plays a decidedly anti-Fonzie milquetoast Chuck Lumley, a former Wall Street stockbroker who now works in a morgue to reduce stress. He gets moved to the Night Shift, and he just accepts it. He meets Bill "Blaze" Blazejowski (Keaton) a young, hip, exuberant crazy person just hired to work at the morgue. He almost immediately breaks the rules by using the hearse as an impromptu limo (and uses it to take a young Clint Howard to the prom). When Chuck finds his neighbor Belinda (Long) in the elevator, beaten up, he realizes that she's a prostitute whose pimp was killed in the opening scenes of the movie. Somehow, Bill convinces Chuck to become "nice pimps" to Belinda and a handful of other women. Needless to say, things get wacky, weird, crazy, and a little scary. Belinda's pimp's killers are looking for them, since they're muscling in on their racket with their stock options, benefits, and flex-plans or whatever. A shoot-out ensues, and eventually things turn out ok for everyone, except for the pimps, I guess.

Ok, I need to work on making my summaries a little more succinct. But I can't help it! This film is a classic in the Lady's household, and I'd never seen it up til a few weeks ago. I do have to say, Netflix has been a lifesaver lately.

I've always been a Ron Howard fan; a little trivia, the year before I was born (the year before this movie was released), my parents were in California visiting friends, and while out to dinner, they saw Ron Howard and his wife having dinner. They also had little baby Bryce Dallas with them, too. Anyway, good ol' Opie knows how to direct a movie, and he started to show his real chops with movies like Night Shift. Some of you out there may not know this, as well, but Michael Keaton was originally a purely comedic actor. In the 80s he gave us such gems as Beetlejuice and Johnny Dangerously. And now I realize that Night Shift fits that category as well. Henry Winkler is a great actor, as we see his transformation to hip, awesome, cool Fonzie into meek, antacid-popping Chuck. Of course, both Chuck and Bill learn some valuable life-lessons along the way.

I was never a fan of Shelley Long, though. Having her portray a heart-of-gold hooker doesn't do much to make her seem any cooler, either. She's a little Julie Hagerty to me, a little too waif-y and skinny and interesting looking to be pretty. Luckily, we don't see much of her anymore.

It's also interesting to note that Kevin Costner appears in this movie; he literally doesn't speak. He's a Frat Boy at a party that Bill decides to throw inside the morgue with the prostitutes. He also had a brief role in The Big Chill, released the next year, but his scenes were cut. Within ten years of Night Shift, he was literally directing, producing, and starring in an Oscar-winning movie. What the hell, Kevin Costner. If you can do that in less than a decade, why haven't I wanted to watch a movie you've made in longer than that? It's crazy.

Overall, this was kind of a rambling post. But the main point to take away is: It's funny. It's not ridiculous; well, it is a little, but in an oddly believable way. It's early enough in the 80s that it's not all hypercolor and neon and velcro Reeboks and whatnot, but it's not totally 70s anymore, either. The characters are interesting, fairly round, and easy to identify with. The premise is just outlandish enough to fit in with the era of Airplane!, Animal House, and the like, but real enough to not be some sort of bizarre spoof.

I liked this movie. I miss the comic days of Michael Keaton, the days that Kevin Costner didn't say anything, and the days that Shelley Long was a star. I miss nerdy Henry Winkler (he kind of reminded me of a less insane version of Henry's Barry Zuckerkorn character from Arrested Development. Ok, not really, I just wanted to remember Arrested Development for a minute). I think this post is getting so rambling because I'm watching part of the movie in my head as I write this. I liked it, and want to watch it again.

I recommend it. Go rent it. Find it, it's worth checking it out. And it's pretty low-key, so you can belong to a pretty cool exclusive club. I give it four start-up corporations featuring benefits, insurance, stock options, all for hookers out of five, or four strange senses of disbelief that Shelley Long could make a living as a prostitute out of five.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tiptoes: Literally One of the Worst Movies I've Seen

Tip Toes

In 2003, a movie was released with such a ridiculous premise, such an outlandish plot, that one would assume it had some redeeming qualities. I assumed that it would be one of those movies that was so weird, so utterly idiotic, and so utterly stupid, that it would almost certainly have to be entertaining. If I was a betting man, I'd owe Ben Franklin an iPod, because this movie is absolutely terrible.

Seemingly written, produced, and cast purely on a bet, like Scottish cuisine, Matthew Bright's TipToes "stars" Matthew McConaughey, Kate Beckinsale, Gary Oldman, Peter Dinklage, and Patricia Arquette. Sounds like a pretty good cast, right? Oh, that's what we thought, too. Anything with Gary Oldman simply must have something good about it. Again, I think this is based on dares or bets or blackmail; Gary Oldman plays a dwarf named Rolfe, who is the twin brother of Steven (Matthew McConaughey), who is not a dwarf. Kate Beckinsale plays Steven's girlfriend Carol, who didn't know Steven's family was all dwarfs until the movie. What's more, she's totally pregnant with his child, and she's (I'm serious) deadly concerned the baby might be a dwarf. You know what's weirder? Steven, who grew up with dwarfs and goes to annual conventions, is dead-set against the baby, again because of the fear it will be a dwarf. So she gets to know his family, may or may not fall in love with Rolfe (it's never clear), and SPOILER ALERT the baby is in fact born a dwarf.

At first (nothing against little people), I thought the movie must be spun as something of a comedy. But it's as melodramatic as an emo Nicholas Sparks after being stood up at the prom. They fight, they yell, they scream at each other, and they seem to have had entire discussions about starting a family where it never once occurs to Steven that his genetic proclivities may produce a dwarf. Also, I apologize if I'm using any un-PC variations here; I can never remember the rules. I suppose I should switch to "little person."

In addition to the "story," the other cinematic features of this "film" are questionable. The editing is haphazard and most often abrupt. Transitions are nonexistent or nonsensical. It never quite seems to do what you expect it, but in a jarring, alarming way. Many of the shots are set up awkwardly to accommodate Gary Oldman's costume; they use some fairly poor tricks to make it appear as though he's a little person.

The characters are all vaguely uninteresting, fairly flat, largely underdeveloped, and licking in common motivation. Often times, they do, say, and react in ways that make no sense at all. Coupled with a plot that rapidly deteriorates into pure melodrama and unrelenting conflict, with an incredibly dissatisfying hackneyed ending that completely refused to actually resolve anything, or complete even a coherent thought. It just simply ... ends.

Apparently this film debuted at Sundance, and I can't imagine it received any rave reviews, awards, etc. The rumor is that Oldman was the driver of the project and wanted to play this dwarf character. Although in general he's a fantastic actor, even he couldn't save this abysmal production. Up to this point, Matthew Bright had only directed odd action/comedy films (Freeway, Freeway II, and Bundy), so this serious, romantic drama seemed a bit beyond him.

If you see this film and think "wow, that may just be wacky enough to be good," or "hey, this may be funny, it's extremely not what you think. It may be entertaining if you're drunk, but I highly doubt it. I wouldn't even really recommend this film out of morbid curiosity.

I give Tiptoes a well-deserved one obviously fake and laughably unconvincing dwarf Gary Oldman out of five, or one painfully awkward series of events, plot points, and the stilted dialogue of Anne Rice fan-fiction out of five. Did that last one make sense? Doesn't matter; this movie didn't.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Toy Story 3: Holy Lord Those Toys Are Freaking TALKING

Toy Story 3

We haven't had a new Toy Story movie since the last century. Can you believe it? Can you?! You can't, you liar. The third installment in the immensely popular Disney/Pixar film has been highly anticipated; the last one came out before I was a legal adult! That's crazy to think about. It was worth the wait.

While not directed by John Lasseter, it found itself in the capable hands of Lee Unkrich (Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo), and is truly epic in its scope, scale, and animation. Where the original Toy Story pioneered the use of this level of computer animation for a full-length film, Toy Story 3 kicks it up a notch. It does have 3D, yes, which is done tactfully and tastefully (adding depth and weight, rather than trying to throw things at the camera), but I don't assume it's essential to the process (as 3D generally isn't "essential"). I had heard rumours that the plot was slightly derivative, and I didn't find that to be the case. It calls back quite strongly to the original movie (almost skipping Toy Story 2 references entirely, with the exception of Jessie and Bullseye), and it was actually nice to see all the main characters back together.

Andy, the little boy, is now a young man. He's 17, and going off to college. He's gotten rid of most of his toys, but has kept the main cast of characters; Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen), Jessie (Joan Cusack), Bullseye, Ham (John Ratzenberger), Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles & Estelle Harris), Slinky-Dog, and T-Rex (Wallace Shawn). All the voice actors are back, with the exception of the late, great Jim Varney for obvious reasons (voiced this time around by Blake Clark). The characters have always been wonderfully defined, so they fall back into their old routines without a hitch, and are familiar instantly. Even Andy has the same voice actor, in John Morris, who has grown up with the character.

The plot is somewhat new, but also mixes up several elements of the first two movies. As Andy's going off to college, the toys are afraid they'll be thrown out. Andy wants to take Woody to college with him, and put the other toys in the attic. Andy's mom, however, mistakes the bag of toys for trash, and the toys think they've been rejected. They're donated to a day-care, which is run by Lotso, a strawberry-scented old teddy bear (voiced by Ned Beatty). The toys soon find out that there's more to this daycare than meets the eye, and desperately seek a way to escape and get back to Andy.

The story also focuses somewhat more than usual on the human characters; we get a sense that Andy and his family have been fleshed out in more ways than just their updated appearances. Laurie Metcalf returns as Andy's mom, and Andy himself is shown to feel a strong connection and love for the toys. I had heard rumours that the plot was similar to The Brave Little Toaster, an incredibly melodramatic (and slightly terrible) animated movie about appliances that seek to reunite with their owner (inexplicably a child). I'm not sure why this kid loved his frigging toaster and vacuum cleaner so much, but it's creepy. We know that Andy loves his toys, and it's understandable that he's reluctant to let these go and grow up. I assume that there are a lot of members of the audience bringing their children to this movie, after having seen the first one fifteen years ago. I don't have kids, but in the future, I can definitely imagine showing these movies to them.

The film is honestly frightening in several scenes. It has an intense climax, and a deeply heartwarming and unstoppably tear-jerking ending that fully, aptly, and satisfyingly wraps up the film series. It's the best ending the films could have. I highly recommend that you see this movie, in 3D or in regular ol' 2D. If you have kids, nieces, nephews, grandkids, you need to take them along. It's a fantastic family movie, a great ending to a wonderful series, and it's actually a great story, set of characters, music, computer generated effects, it's all over great.

I give the film 5 creepy old strawberry scented evil bear monsters out of five, or five Spanish Buzz Lightears dancing the flamenco or lambada or tango or some such nonsense out of five.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Crazies: Romero's Autobiography

The Crazies

I kid, I kid. It's not really Romero's autobiography. However, it's rather apt that one of his early films (after he established himself as a crazy person) would be so cleverly titled. Released in 1973 (five years after Night of the Living Dead), it was only his fourth movie.

Nobody in this movie is likely to be familiar to the average audience. The only thing I noticed is that the hero of the story looks a bit like Judd Hirsch (you know, that guy from Taxi?), but more fit, and with an immensely wicked and appalling unibrow. His partner Clank is probably suffering from PTSD, and is also a really goofy-looking S.O.B. I'm not entirely certain how such undeniably handsome gentlemen became the leads in this movie.

The film was remade last year, and is on DVD now. I need to check it out as well. (I'm also going to get on a kick to watch original horror movies and then their modern remakes to compare and contrast the methods of storytelling, plot, character, and how the elements of horror and how the horror is presented changes over the years.) Overall, the story revolves around a small town (as it always does) and its cache of quaint, fairly normal inhabitants (of course). Unbeknownst to David (Will MacMillan) and his pregnant girlfriend Judy (Lane Carroll), a deadly toxin ha seeped into the town's water supply. This toxin (codenamed TRIXIE of all things) causes people to turn against their neighbors, friends, and family, turning into raging, slavering, murderous slaves to their own impulsive ids. Of course, this is supremely dangerous (even though they tend to act violently, they are essentially free, which the 60s was all about). The powers-that-be decided that they would be best to nuke the living bejeesus out of Evans City, Pennsylvania.

The plot follows David and Judy, as well as his friend Clank (Harold Wayne Jones). David and Clank are firemen, and served in Vietnam together. When called to a house-fire, it becomes apparent that it was set on purpose. The military almost immediately swoops in and surrounds the town, putting it on lockdown, and sequestering the infected (or killing them, or both). I think we can assume how the movie ends from there.

As with NotLD, Romero seeks to make a statement through these films. The American Military (its infantry, its administration, inherent bureaucracy, extreme violence, etc.) is heavily featured. This is a general theme, even in Zombie films. It fits that the main characters are firemen; several of his zombie films feature police officers as survivor characters. The small town itself is an innocent; "Trixie" is released into the water supply when a government plane crashes in the outskirts of the town (prior to the events depicted in the film). The audience is treated to the backstory of these events by round-table discussions of military men (though they could be more corporate; most of them wear suits without displays of rank, affiliation, etc.).

The Crazies features zombies of sorts; it's interesting that they're so clearly and obviously explained away as being a toxic infection. It could have easily been a sequel to Night of the Living Dead, some interstitial zombie film between NotLD and Dawn of the Dead. But it isn't; it's The Crazies, the word "ghoul" or "zombie" or similar doesn't appear in the film. There is still the fear of the infected, the fear of turning. The warning signs appear on all the survivors except for David, and we dread the moment they turn. The military is quick to react, quick to gun down an infected person, no matter what.

The Crazies amps up the violence, gore, mutilation, and horror factor tenfold in the five short years after NotLD. There's blood, beheadings, incest (seriously, it's pretty messed up), and in general craziness. It went relatively unknown for quite awhile in larger circles, I think. The zombie films always get the most attention. I've been trying to find it for years; I'm lucky they remade it. It made it much easier to get via Netflix.

All in all, I'd recommend this movie to any Romero fan, horror fan, or general 70s zombie-style insanity. I'll have to check out the remake, as well, to see how they differ. Based on the trailer, I have a pretty good idea of what'll be different (I think David is a Sheriff and Clank is his Deputy in the new version).

I give it three and a half unibrowed Judd Hirsches out of five, or three and a half insanity-inducing government toxins named "Trixie" out of five.

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