Saturday, January 31, 2009

So You Won't Have To: Repo! The Genetic Opera

Tonight the Cap'n will fill you in on Repo! The Genetic Opera, just in case you run into someone that says "have you ever seen...?". The good news for you is that's only likely to happen in one of two places: outside of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, or at Hot Topic.

In fact, this movie ought to be called Hot Topic! The Genetic Opera, because that's exactly who this movie is targeted to. People who wear Invader Zim t-shirts and carry Jack Skellington lunchboxes while skulking around in JNKOS and listening to the nu-metal flavor of the month. Because "normal" people just don't get their pain. They're going to eat this movie up like like a popsicle of Marilyn Manson Brand Absinthe*.

And maybe that's not such a bad thing. I can't say that I really liked Repo: The Genetic Opera, but I have respect for Darren Lynn Bousman for adapting this stage production to a movie. If anything, Repo! presents a very particular vision and sticks to it all the way through, even when it doesn't quite work. Were it not for an unnecessary flashback montage near the very end, I wouldn't have guessed this was the same guy who made Saw II**.

The cast floats between adequate and unfortunate, with a couple surprises and a totally out of left field cameo. Actually, I take that back: for the song that Joan Jett inexplicably appears in, it's thematically logical. Just not logical considering the rest of the cast. I guess if there's a lead character in the movie, it's Alexa Vega (the Spy Kids movies) who plays the pale, wig wearing proto-goth Shilo. She's bald because of some skin disease that killed her mother and plagues her father Nathan, played by Anthony Stewart Head (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Nathan has a secret, because this is supposedly an opera (more on that later), and we find out he's actually a Repo Man in the employ of Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino), the owner of GeneCo. GeneCo sells organs to people who need / want them and if they get behind on payments, the Repo Man comes and collects the organs. Largo has three children: Luigi (Bill Moseley), Ravi (Orge from Skinny Puppy), and Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton), who are all equally shitty people and behave like children who kill people.

There's some intrigue and love triangles and other nonsense you don't really need to know in order to talk shop about Repo!, but helpfully for the film many of these expository pieces are told in comic book panels by a narrator / graverobber (Terrance Zdunich, co-writer of the stage version). Graverobbers exist not to steal organs but to extract some drug from corpses that's highly addictive. This element of the film is only addressed briefly and frankly would only make less sense if they had tried to explain it. All you need to know is that it's like a blue version of Herbert West's ReAgent and it kills pain.

What I would consider to be the film's biggest coup was getting Sarah Brightman (stage productions of Phantom of the Opera) to play Blind Mag, who was blind but isn't currently, so the name is a little unnecessary. She has eyes that can play videos outwards, and appropriately enough shows Shilo her mother singing in one scene. Brightman and, oddly, Sorvino are the best singers in the movie, and it kind of moves incrementally down from there.

It's not that Anthony Stewart Head can't sing; I just never took to his voice, even in the Buffy musical episode. He has a double problem here because Head is playing an American and tries very hard to carry over the American accent to his singing, with mixed results. Since he starts the film singing, I didn't know he was supposed to be American until he started talking. I just though good old Giles had taken up organ hunting. Zdunich and Ogre do what they're supposed to do just fine, Vega is okay but clearly from that Disney style of "kid" singing. Paris Hilton's character is supposed to sound awful so I'm going to give her a pass for living up to that, but Bill Moseley is just terrible.

Now I understand why I hated "Mark It Up" when I saw it online: Moseley can't carry a tune to save his life, even if he plays the character with bluster. The song also doesn't work out of context because you really have to be in the world of Repo! for any of these songs to work. Like I said before, Bousman, Zdunich, and Darren Smith have a very particular vision for the film and it doesn't translate outside of the film.

Addressing the "opera" component: I'm not exactly sure this is an opera since there are periods of time where nobody sings at all and dialogue rules the day. This is a little more like Sweeney Todd, which I wouldn't classify as an opera. Repo! is certainly a musical, and the transition from dialogue to singing occurs frequently, but there are clearly songs that begin and end. They may not have a chorus that's discernable, or all be particularly good, but the songs fit the movie.

Even if I had been a big fan of the movie I would never buy the soundtrack. The songs wouldn't work on their own, and frankly many of them aren't the kind of song you'd sing along to outside of midnight screenings of Repo!.

That, by the way, will eventually happen. The Cap'n went 0 for 2 in "manufactured cult classics" this year. Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer and Repo! The Genetic Opera are both movies that will have some following in the years to come. I liked Brooks more than Repo! but don't be shocked at sequels to Monster Slayer or a growing "cult" movement for Repo!. The films are built that way, and personal taste aside, they largely succeed in their efforts. I respect Repo! for putting such a wild vision out there, which is way more than I expected.

So now you know pretty much all the nuts and bolts of Repo! The Genetic Opera. I'd go so far as to say a few of you might enjoy it, but not many. I know the tastes of a lot of you, and Repo! is not going to rock your world. It is better than Saw II and more competent than the ads lead you to believe, but you REALLY have to be willing to go along for the ride.

Repo! The Genetic Opera is not for everybody. It's probably not for you, but the people who love it are going to LOVE IT for a long time. Hell, the design of the Repo Man's suit is iconic enough that if they made a figure of it, I might buy it. There are things to enjoy, but for most of you, the Cap'n watched Repo! so you wouldn't have to...

* there is such a thing.
** and III, but I never watched that one.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Tonight marks the 1,000th entry into Cap'n Howdy's Blogorium. It crept up on me and until last night the Cap'n truthfully had no idea we'd gotten this far. Writing every day will do that for you, but the multiple film coverage from Horror Fests 1-3 and Summer Edition certainly bolstered the numbers.

It was tempting to do some kind of retrospective, but to be honest with you all of those posts are still accessible and it's better to look forward than backwards*, at least in terms of what's been written. On the other hand, I did feel like taking this opportunity to give you folks an idea of how I arrived at one thousand posts and the indoctrination into cinema that facilitated it.

A love of movies is something I've always had. I've mentioned before that the first two movies I was ever taken to were before I could possibly remember them: The Muppet Movie and The Empire Strikes Back. I've told you about my first memory of going to see Return of the Jedi was also my first exposure to midnight movies and fandom / cosplay (before it even had a name).

I don't often mention that it was Dad who started this off. Once we had a color tv and a Betamax, he would tape anything and everything off of broadcast television and HBO that we might like. For years I didn't see the first five minutes of Tron because the tape started with Dad frantically flipping the channels to get to the movie. I always thought it started in the computer, not with Flynn's Arcade at night. I still can't think of the beginning of Tron without seeing Bill Cosby's face flip past.

Dad was (and still is) a science fiction geek. It's because of him that I saw The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy not long after it first aired in the US. My love for all things Disney came from mom and, to an extent, my grandparents who kept a copy of Robin Hood at their river house in West Virginia. Dad could not wait to show us the Star Wars Trilogy on tape, and eventually corrupted our young minds by showing us Blade Runner and Spaceballs a little too early.

I learned how to copy a vhs tape from him, although we weren't supposed to do it. Because we could rent a laserdisc player and laserdiscs from Video Bar, I saw the director's cut of Aliens years before it was released on vhs. We spent a LOT of time in Video Bar and Carbonated video, and I spent accumulated hours wandering the genres looking at the covers of tapes. Years before I ever saw them, I knew of The Hills Have Eyes, They Live, Swords and Sorcerers, Time Bandits, and The Evil Dead.

My favorite series of books were the Video Home Movie Guide by Mick Martin and Marsha Porter. It was like a video store with handy synopses of movies I'd never heard of, cross referenced by genre and with a listing of actors, actresses, and directors in the back. I might never have known what Shock Treatment was if not for accidentally stumbling upon the entry. The foundation of film geekhood was well in place; it was simply a matter of finding like minded folks.

Shows like USA Up All Night and the early days of the Sci-Fi Channel also gave me the opportunity to watch movies (sometimes edited, sometimes not) that I never would have thought to rent. If Elvira ever aired in Cary, I didn't see it, but WKFT TV 40 did air MonsterVision with Joe Bob Briggs on Saturday afternoons. That, along with Mystery Science Theater 3000 gave me an appreciation for the low budget monster movies of the fifties and sixties. Even if they were bad, the flicks were still entertaining.

All this time, I'd never considered writing about movies. Sitting down to do such a solitary thing is actually counterintuitive when you have fellow film geeks to talk to. Part of the fun of those first two years of college was meeting folks who had the same love of cinema and could talk endlessly about a wide swath of topics. We had movie viewings and shared tapes and played the "Movie Game". I even started a movie quiz in a composition book; one apparently so hard that almost no one got all of them right.

I owned two dvds before even having a dvd player. They were Ghostbusters and Mallrats. I still have Ghostbusters. I still own almost all of my tapes.

Writing about movies didn't really begin in earnest until I had a livejournal. It was something else to write about other than the day to day business. I was still watching movies all of the time and at the end of the year I would send out a massive email to everyone I knew that served as a recap of "the year in movies". People enjoyed it, so I kept it up.

Finding the balance is always tricky. The hardest thing about the last two Horror Fests has been walking away from the party outside to recap a movie before starting the next one. We do watch movies all night long, but there are breaks of anywhere from five to fifty minutes sometimes depending on how good the discussion is on the porch. Sometimes I wish I had a laptop so as to be able to share the experience while it happens, but in other ways I would like to try to get as many of you out here for Horror Fest as well. It's a whole hell of a lot of fun.

As far as the future goes, I have some ideas for what I want to work on as a dissertation in Graduate School, but the urge to write a book about the history of the drive in is gnawing at the back of my brain. I'm really interested in understanding how it supplements the notion of the grindhouse in larger cities, and how roadshows and drive ins helped bolster the reputation of "cult" films of the 1960s and 70s.

I'd also love to write more about "cult" cinema and horror. I realize I do it here almost all of the time, but no matter what else I watch, I tend to gravitate back to the two. I guess you can thank Up All Night, MonsterVision, and MST3K for that too. If there's one thing I tend to get behind on, it's seeing things on the big screen.

While it is true that there are a number of hassles with seeing a movie theatrically these days, it is still an experience which can't be fully replicated at home. I always mean to do it more but rarely do, and honestly it's not likely to change any time very soon. Working on Friday nights and Saturday mornings don't really help that much, but I have so much at home begging to be watched that paying ten dollars or more sometimes isn't worth the hassle.

That being said, the drive in story may continue in some form at the 1.50 theatre, a subject I'd like to explore more. There's so much more that can be said and done. So many more movies to watch and discuss. So many more people and conversations about mutual experiences to be had. Enough to fill another thousand posts, or even ten thousand.

Will the Cap'n still be writing this in thirty years? Even ten? Five? Next year? I don't know, but whatever I do, I'll welcome you to keep reading and to keep giving me your input. It helps improve the quality of the writing, which should be evident if you go back to post one and follow chronologically. Look forward to at least two more Horror Fests, because I do.

And thanks for reading. I really do appreciate it.

* is it totally obvious that my car was totalled? like, never coming back totalled? well it is, so I am forced to move forward from this stupid accident.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Digital Media and USA's Up All Night

To follow up a little bit on last night's PlayOn / Hulu / Netflix discussion, I thought I'd share my thoughts on streaming / digital media. There are a number of bloggers and internet writers who have already declared Blu Ray a dead format, and I believe that Tom also shares this opinion. While digital media certainly has its perks, I'm hard pressed to buy into this "next wave already" argument.

For one thing, the convenience and portability of a dvd or Blu Ray doesn't exist yet. Talk to me all you want about portable hard drives and quick USB hookups, but until each digital media source has the same unified standards for all of the various types of computers, projectors or game systems out there, it's just not as easy as bringing the disc over.

Sure, I understand that having a Blu Ray player limits what I can bring over to houses that don't have it, but it's not like I cleared out all of my dvds either. However, if I have a movie on my iPod and want to bring it over to hook up to someone's computer, we have to make sure that iTunes doesn't try to erase my iPod while syncing, or beyond that, that they're even compatible. DRM is still making things tricky in a way that set top players don't have to deal with.

The other big issue I've noticed so far is that if you want to watch something in HD from a digital source you'd better be prepared to wait for it. The higher the quality the larger the file size so you're pushing those high speed connections. Even downloading demos and add ons for the PS3 takes time, and that's not even close to the size of a movie. The Apple TV is still pretty expensive, and while cool, requires quite a bit of set up in order to use, let alone trying to move it to someone else's house.

While I can understand how digital media is already permeating the next generation players (not just game systems but blu ray players, Apple TV, Tivo, DVRs, etc) and that it will eventually become uniform enough that portability and compatibility are no longer an issue, for now I think it has a way to go. The streaming Netflix looks good, but it's like having a VHS tape. You can pause, stop, and play. Fast forwarding and rewinding work to a degree but there's only so much bandwith it has to work with.

PlayOn also doesn't work with Macs right now. For now I'll take the ability to bring discs from one house to another, including being mailed something from Netflix in addition to their "instant" queue. Tangibility is still a plus as far as the Cap'n is concerned.


In news which will make many of you happy, Tales from the Darkside season one is finally coming to dvd next month. If you're wondering what that is, there was a period of time before USA showed Monk and Psych and Burn Notice all the time. Back in the network's skeazier days they used to have this program called USA Up All Night, hosted first by Gilbert Gottfried and then by Rhonda Shear. From 1986 to 1998 Up All Night was for many of us an introduction to movies like Revenge of the Nerds, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Basket Case, and Night of the Comet. The wikipedia page doesn't have Klowns listed, but I know that's where I and many of us first saw it.

As important to the movies were the host segments, which are on Youtube. Click the screen of each of these for links to more of them.



After Up All Night ended (usually with an episode of USA's Silk Stalkings), the network would air Tales from the Darkside, which was a cheaper version of Tales from the Crypt. Because it aired so late and because the budget was so low, they frequently went much darker than Crypt and were more violent. USA didn't really care since we're talking well after midnight here. If you were lucky, Darkside was followed by Monsters, which was the cheaper version of Tales from the Darkside and while rarely scary was frequently hilarious.

Here are the intros for Tales from the Darkside and Monsters:



While it may seem hard to believe to you jaded kids now, just the intro to Tales from the Darkside used to creep me out. Monsters is, as it always was, retarded*. If Monsters comes out on dvd I'm not saying I won't buy it, but Tales from the Darkside is a guaranteed purchase. I haven't seen that show in years, and thanks to Phillippi I unearthed a memory of one episode that scared the shit out of me. Don't know how quickly I'll leap to watch that.

It's a curious time for horror television, as the not-that-great Friday the 13th: The Series is now on dvd. Freddy's Nightmares will no doubt follow as the remake gets closer to release. Freddy's Nightmares is only kind of better than Friday the 13th: The Series, mostly because of how stupid it is:


* other than Patton Oswalt's bit about Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, the only contact I had with man-eating beds was in an episode of Monsters.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bad Decisions in the Mine Shaft

Tonight we watched My Bloody Valentine 2-D, aka the original film from 1981, complete with all gore intact. Scratchy though it may be, My Bloody Valentine benefits greatly from the added presence of eye-gouging, tattoo piercing, corpse drying effects. Combined with the insistence on a plot that requires every character do the opposite of what they should, the movie can finally sit atop the pile of cash-ins on the success of Friday the 13th.

My Bloody Valentine would still be fun without the reinstated grue. Since the premise of the film is based on miners (or high school students... it's really up to you) throwing a Valentine's Day party in a mine they were specifically told NOT to, we're already in slasher territory. What's fun about MBV is that in order to conform to certain genre conventions (couples splitting off to make out, a rising body count, the murderer's mysterious back story) the characters consistently make decisions that aren't just stupid for their "type", they're stupid for anyone in any movie.

For example, all of the much-to-old-to-be high school student miners insist on wandering off alone or doubling back when it's abundantly clear (even to them) where the killer is. Other characters, like the token "drunken old coot", continue doing things like testing their prank well beyond the point it would be funny, even to them.

When one gentleman returns to find his girlfriend hanging from the faucet, instead of freaking out he slowly makes a series of "acting" faces. Most of the cast, in fact, make faces like this all throughout the film to indicate how much they are "feeling". Strangely, the only effect it has is to make the audience laugh, particularly when the Sheriff willingly gives up several opportunities to save the kids in order to stand around and look pained.

The "twist" ending of MBV is admittedly a pretty good one, although kind of predictable. Since you can guess almost immediately after being introduced which characters are GUARANTEED DEAD MEAT, the one that doesn't bite it on-camera and is never discovered is a pretty good bet. The reason why the masked miner is killing everyone is a little dodgier, but it fits in the scheme of "whatever works with what we have".

Overall, My Bloody Valentine works because it tries a little too hard to mimic Friday the 13th and Halloween. The effort is so great that it renders large chunks of the movie implausible, but it's hard to argue with the kills. From what I've heard, a few of the really good pickaxe kills are replicated in the 3-D version, which would make seeing it of interest. It may never be a classic like big brother Jason, but My Bloody Valentine is one of the better "second-wave" slasher films. The addition of long deleted kills bumps it further into the "recommended" category.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Blogorium Review: Return to Sleepaway Camp

I need to address Return to Sleepaway Camp, which is probably the most misunderstood sequel this year (a year that included Mother of Tears, Saw V, Pulse 2, Diary of the Dead, Joyride 2 and uh... Lost Boys: The Tribe).

Return to Sleepaway Camp is less of a "part four" (or five, if you have the boxed set), and more of a Sleepaway Camp H20 for the series. Sleepaway Camp's 2 and 3 always felt like parodies of the first film, which is a cheap, occasionally taxing, amateurish slasher film with one hell of a twist ending. They're less concerned with following the original and more interested in turning the story of Mangela into a series of bad jokes ending in murder.

Return to Sleepaway Camp, on the other hand, is a true sequel to the original. This can be problematic, I'm afraid. Original director Robert Hiltzik hasn't changed his directing style much in the last 25 years, so the film has an awkward pacing that invites uncomfortable laughter. The acting is pretty bad (at best) and like the first film, the kills are kind of lackluster.

I have no idea why he felt the need to include Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos) and Isaac Hayes (he's Isaac fucking Hayes!), especially since the latter doesn't do much of anything, but the stunt casting isn't exactly distracting. Honestly, you're going to be too busy giggling at how goofy this film is, which is where the good news kicks in.

As bad as Return to Sleepaway Camp is, it's hard to deny the entertainment value. It might even be more watchable than the original film. One good thing Hiltzik does is continue to cast people that are believable in the setting (Camp Mana-something or other. basically it's Arawak but with a different name). Most "camp" movies are filled with campers that look like they've never left the city in their lives, including both Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3.

The kids in Return are pretty much all unknowns, and while the acting is bad, it at least feels authentic. They act the way kids would act, including the main dude, who I guess is supposed to be a protagonist. It's hard to say for sure because while everybody picks on him, he is a pretty shitty human being and honestly deserves the abuse. That, and he looks like Bam Margera's fatter little brother.

You're supposed to think he's responsible for the murders that start happening to campers but I have to say that little turd is never a possibility. Since this is a Sleepaway Camp film, and Paul DeAngelo and Jonathan Tierston both reprise their roles from the first movie, Mangela can't be far away.

One of the many joys of this awkward, stupid little movie is playing "which character is Mangela?", and I'm not going to pretend it's really hard to guess. This isn't a "wink wink" post-modern horror film, but rather a straight up attempt to follow up the original. Of course, when the original is less than the sum of its parts, then a sequel is going to look awfully silly 25 years later.

If Return to Sleepaway Camp was any longer than 86 minutes, I might tell you to look elsewhere, but if you're in the mood to giggle as a movie tries to scare you, there are worse places to look.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Watch Me Tie Them All Together!

I brought Grizzly home, along with 1990: Bronx Warriors and 2019: After the Fall of New York. The second and third movie are do in no small part to a weakness for Italian Post-Apocalyptic action films, ala Warrior of the Lost World. They aren't great; hell, most of the time they're barely coherent. 1990: Bronx Warriors at least has Fred "The Hammer" Williamson*, Vic "Helicopter Crash" Morrow**, and uh George "Porno Holocaust" Eastman.

Grizzly is inexplicably a two-disc affair, but I have to give some credit for shamelessly cashing in on the popularity of Jaws. Another entry in the "animals gone amok" genre, I probably would've ignored this entirely save for the back of the dvd box, which contains the following synopsis:

When an eighteen foot, two-thousand pound grizzly bear starts mauling campers and hikers at a state park.... (some character crap)... Meanwhile, the giant grizzly, not content with picnic baskets, continues to kill indiscrimintaley, leaving pools of blood and piles of body parts in its wake. Can the ranger and his cronies end the grizzly's reign of terror without resorting to excessively extreme measures? Absolutely not!

Fair enough. Like Day of the Animals and Prophecy, this has almost no chance of living up to that kind of hype, but if it's even half as amusing as either of the aforementioned flicks then it's worth the time I'll spend on it. Movies like this make watching garbage like Righteous Kill worthwhile.


Speaking of worthwhile, I'm only a half an hour or so in, but The Exterminator has me jonesing to drop everything and fire the dvd player back up. It too is cashing in on a popular genre of the 1970s: the revenge film. What The Exterminator does is amp up the pointless violence, cut back on the plot, and string together the remains with inexplicably bad editing.

For example:

- the opening, set presumably in Vietnam and filled with explosions a little too close to the helicopter, is chock full of guys on fire, guys being shot to pieces, one dude getting his head chopped off, and more explosions. Seriously, more than one of them visibly knocks a helicopter off-course.

- how do you follow this excessively violent, credit-less intro? How about a very slow helicopter ride around New York City set to a country ballad about healing. Then re-introduce us to characters we couldn't recognize from the beginning, one of whom is the star of the movie.

- that star? Robert Ginty (Warrior of the Lost World, The Paper Chase), who has THIRD BILLING after Christopher George (Grizzly, Day of the Animals) and Samantha Eggar (The Brood, The Uncanny). Ginty's co-hero, Steve James (The Warriors, American Ninja 2&3) doesn't even make the opening credits.

- after Ginty and James thwart a beer robbery, some thugs cripple James with a garden hoe. This is immediately followed by Ginty telling the dude's wife in a playground, which is immediately followed by:

- some dude not involved in the robbery or the crippling tied up in an abandoned building. I guess he's in the same gang, so Ginty threatens him with a blowtorch and then leaves him to go find the bad guys, who are listening to "Disco Inferno".

I know what you're thinking, and so does The Exterminator. However, instead of "burn baby burn"-ing down their hideout with his blowtorch (that there's no explanation for in the first place.... did I mention his job is to load beer trucks?), he shoots one guy with a machine gun and knocks two others out, transports them to another abandoned building, then I guess shoots them and lets the rats eat their faces.

This is the first thirty minutes of the movie! The only reason I'm not sure if he shoots them or not is because it flashes back to him shooting the Vietcong dude who cut off his friend(?)'s head, then he just leaves. The Exterminator doesn't have time to answer simple questions like "why does he have a blowtorch" or "is that the same abandoned building" or "how does he know where his friend's wife is but the police don't?"

It's too busy being awesome, and the movie hasn't even gotten to Ginty's sweet "exterminator" outfit, which consists of him wearing this:

While we're here, I'd like to point out that the editor's name is Corky O'Hara. If that's not a fake name then I'm very surprised. Either way, he's put together quite a collection of seemingly unrelated plot elements into a third rate sleazefest of violence and gore. The same goes to James Glickenhaus, who is probably using his real name.

Anyway, you should come over and watch this with me. I'll even start it over for you. Then we can watch Grizzly and 1990: Bronx Warriors, because there's a lot of beer here I'm not going to drink and lord knows you'll need it!

* also of Warrior of the Lost World, starring Robert "The Exterminator"Ginty***
** too soon?
*** see what I did there? tied it all back together!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blogorium Review: Righteous Kill

Or, 110 Minutes I'll Never Get Back.

So, like I said: so you wouldn't have to. And for your sake, I hope none of you ever fool yourselves into sitting through Righteous Kill.

Don't get me wrong: I wasn't watching anything better before I started this insultingly stupid waste of time disguised as a mystery. Righteous Kill just happens to be the last thing I saw tonight that was pathetic and totally predictable from minute one. I'm not going to bother saving this for next week because I'm already in a bad mood and thinking about this garbage will only sully an otherwise worthwhile year-end post later on. Let's get this over with.

People might be tempted to say "waste of talent" when they hear about Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in this piece of shit called a movie, but let's face it: they haven't been "Al Pacino" or "Robert De Niro" in years. Maybe not since Heat, which was the last time they were on-screen together and the last time I'll mention that film in the same breath as Righteous Kill.

This downward spiral should be of no surprise to people paying attention. On the one hand, you have Al Pacino the star of 88 Minutes which may be worse than Righteous Kill but I'm not willing to find out*. On the other hand, Robert De Niro who alternates between crap like Meet the Fockers and crap like Hide and Seek. The "legend" part of their resume is long since passed them by, so to hear that they're "finally teaming up" doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

But I watched it, so let's give you a cursory summary, huh?

Pacino and De Niro are two cops who everyone calls Rooster and Turk (for reasons I'll get to in a minute) that did one shady thing a long time ago blah blah blah. All of a sudden criminals connected to them start dying with poetry left at the scene and Internal Affairs gets interested and so do John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg who are also cops but... it doesn't even matter. Throw in Carla Gugino as a love interest for Turk, 50 Cent as a drug lord, Brian Dennehy as their Lieutenant, and start the mystery.

Except that Righteous Kill thinks it's smarter than you are. Or than it is. Because it opens with De Niro's taped "confession" about how he's the killer and he murdered all of these people. Couple that with the fact that the killer is still obscured during the course of the movie and it's pretty easy to figure out where it's going. In fact, the reason that it's necessary to call them Rooster and Turk is because otherwise you'd know that De Niro says his own name early in the "confession" and it's clear his "statement" was written by someone else.

But Righteous Kill insists on maintaining this stupid facade well after it's obvious what's actually going on. Since Pacino is playing "bug eyed bat-shit" Pacino, it's even clearer which one of them is actually doing this, but it doesn't stop director Jon Avnet from putting together a Saw-like montage near the end for anyone stupid enough to still be drooling on themselves in the theatre. Get it? That's how all of this crap happened? Don't you feel embarassed to not say "well duh!"?

So yes, the movie is terrible. It was a colossal waste of time with a cast of "they should have known be- well, that's not true...", but it keeps on prodding forward until the wholly predictable conclusion where everything works out okay because the bad guy who wanted to die dies and the good guy is cleared and anyone with any moral ambiguity simply vanishes from the plot.

Was anything redeeming? I guess if you've ever wanted to see someone blow 50 Cent's brains out, fast forward to near the end of the movie. Then you can watch a patently fake 50 Cent dummy fall through a glass window. Maybe that's worth your rental, but I doubt it.

Honestly, if you need to get you "cop film" jollies out in a tale or sordid cops who break the rules to get things done, you might as well just watch Street Kings. It's bad, but at least it never tries to be smart. How could it with Keanu Reeves?

And that's all you need to know. You won't watch it; I won't talk about it again, end of story. Consider it my present to all of you.

* same director. oh, that's promising...

Friday, January 9, 2009

I'm Just Talkin' Bout Cult Movies (we can dig it!)

I have no idea why I feel a strange compulsion to put movies like Grizzly in my box when they show up at work. They're rarely (if ever) good, and it's not like I'm strapped for movies of the "cult" variety. I just like having them around, so much so that the "cult" section has its own shelf now.

Speaking of which, how many people does a movie that languishes in semi-obscurity need to qualify as a "cult" film? Let's say that something like The Rocky Horror Picture Show represents the "high" end, with literally thousands of people nation (world?) wide celebrating it every week. Appropriately, the low end of the spectrum should be RHPS's sequel Shock Treatment, which at best has several dozens* of seriously devoted fans who were involved in the very dvd itself.

But what makes up a "cult" audience? I've always considered Cannibal! The Musical to qualify because only five or six of us watched it in college ten years ago, and we were also the same people who seriously tried to see Orgazmo when it played at The Studio for like half a week. Now South Park is huge and everybody seems to own a copy of Orgazmo and Team America, but Cannibal! is still less known. Which I think is good. I guess. It's apparently popular enough for Troma to create a Criterion-like brand called Tromasterpiece.

Side note: Spine number 2 of Criterion was The Seven Samurai. Spine number 2 of Tromasterpiece is Redneck Zombies.

It's probably safe to say that movies from Troma and Full Moon are "cult" films, however dubious the size of said "cult". I dislike putting the term in quotes, but does it need to be in Videohound or Midnight Movies to automatically qualify? Does it need an audience base of more than 50 or something?

A quick search on Amazon brought up the following possibilities, and the somewhat dubious** Wikipedia has a page for "cult film". They begin to describe it as such:

"The term cult film is used to describe a film that has had little to no success commercially and critically upon its initial release but has later spawned a small, but devoted and usually obsessive fanbase, however there are various exceptions."

Gee, that's helpful. Especially when you suggest a movie like Freddie Got Fingered fits this criteria***. It is kind of interesting to see that in the "recent" cult films, Wet Hot American Summer is considered alongside the obvious Donnie Darko. There's also a link to Mystery Science Theater 3000, which has in its own way created a "cult" audience for films like Mitchell, Manos: The Hands of Fate, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

In fact, I see pretty much what I expected to see on the Wikipedia page, so I'm going to turn the floor over to you guys. Submitted is the list on films on my "cult" shelf. See if you agree or disagree with their status:

All Monsters Attack!
Atomic War Bride / This is Not a Test
Basket Case
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Cannibal Holocaust
Cannibal! The Musical
Cemetery Man
Class of 1984
The Company of Wolves
The Crawling Eye
The Crawling Hand
The Crazies
Day of the Animals
Detroit 9000
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry
Forbidden Zone
Gojira / Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Godzilla Raids Again
Gone in 60 Seconds
Hell Comes to Frogtown
Horror Rises from the Tomb
I Spit on Your Grave
The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies
Inglorious Bastards
Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter
Killer Klowns from Outer Space
The Last House on the Left
Maniac Cop
Manos: The Hands of Fate
The Mighty Gorga / One Million AC/DC
The Mighty Peking Man
Mommie Dearest
Mothra vs. Godzilla
The Prowler
Race with the Devil
Repo Man
Road Games
Robot Monster
Rock 'N Roll High School
Roy Colt and Winchester Jack
Savage Streets
The Story of Ricky (Riki-Oh)
Stranger from Venus
The Stuff
They Live
The Toxic Avenger
Vanishing Point
The Wizard of Gore

plus the following compilations / boxed sets:

42nd Street Forever volumes 1-3
The Roger Corman Collection (Gas-s-s-s, The Trip, The Young Racers, The Wild Angels, Bloody Mama, A Bucket of Blood, The Premature Burial, X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes)
Drive-In Cult Classics Volume 2 (The Madman of Mandoras, They Saved Hitler's Brain, Terrified, Bloodlust!, The Creeping Terror, Land of the Minotaur, The Hearse, The Devil's Hand)
Exploitation Cinema Collection (The Teacher, Pick Up, Malibu High, Trip with the Teacher, The Beach Girls, Coach, The Hellcats, Chain Gang Women, Don't Answer the Phone, Prime Evil, Superchick, Hustler Squad, Sister Street Fighter, The Bodyguard, Dragon Princess, Karate Warriors, Black Candles, Evil Eye, Las Vegas Lady, Policewomen)
Herschell Gordon Lewis's Blood Trilogy (Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red)
Paul Naschy Double Features 1 & 2 (Human Beasts / Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll and Curse of the Devil / Werewolf Shadow)
The Ed Wood Box (Glen... or Glenda?, Jailbait, Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Night of the Ghouls)

Now I'm thinking about adding the following movies: Circle of Iron, The Warriors, Donnie Darko, Wet Hot American Summer, and Eraserhead. Thoughts?

* I'm being generous, okay?
** Just as professors discourage using Wikipedia as a source, so do I recommend we not take everything it has to say to heart. After all, it's constantly changing and anyone (including the Cap'n) could change a "fact" at any time.
*** The first half (total box office failure) I see. The second half (having ANY fans) I really can't. See, I saw it (I know, you're stunned), and while it's not the worst thing you've ever seen, it's pretty unwatchable.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Taking the Night Off

Today I think I'll let Mr. Cranpire take care of business. That dude knows way more about movies than I do. Here he is:

It takes dirt and sun to make the shit grow. It takes mutha fuckin' Cranpire to start the show. The Cap'n is now "sleeping" and may not wake for some time. So I will tell you his lies. He changes the time stamp on his blogs so that it appears that he wrties a blog each and every day or normal 24 hour period.

Before I took out the Cap'n he requested that I speak about movies, specifically Death Race. We just finished it and is good. All the things that were said about this film are true. You will not be bored, your questions will be answer and yes people drive cars with the intention of both winning and killing the fellow races. That is all I will say about this movie other than you should watch it.

The Cap'n just briefly woke up and mentioned a conversation about an actor we had. His name is Lochlyn Munro. You more than likely do not know who he is and therefore can not appreciate his talent. Dead Man on Campus is the easiest way for me to get you on ball. He is the crazy guy who, well, goes crazy. That is your starting point and you better pick up the scent and follow it till it goes cold.

I am going to let the Cap'n resume his post and finish this shit up. But I will lead you with this. Do not let stupidity stand.

We're watching Burn Notice which is really not as interesting as I'd hoped. In theory I should see Pineapple Express by this weekend. Cranpire is pretty sure that Papa John Phillips from The Mamas and the Papas was also the pizza maven... I should rescind everything I said about him before but instead I'll assume that watching Death Race lowered his IQ temporarily. It'll do that.

Good night.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The other half of the crap sandwich: Death Race

While I don't watch Uwe Boll's movies, I have seen many clips of him on Youtube from interviews. The impression I get from Dr. Boll is that he doesn't give a damn if his movies are terrible. He doesn't care that internet critics hate him (and regular critics), and he went so far as to prove that by beating up anyone dumb enough to accept his boxing challenge. He's happy to make shitty movies as long as they're cheap enough to turn a profit.

Paul W.S. Anderson, on the other hand, seems genuinely excited about each of his projects. In interviews Anderson appears to be full of ideas and can't wait to make this movie. It's almost like watching a fanboy geek out with his favorite toys. Unfortunately, the movies he ends up making are proof positive that all the enthusiam in the world is worthless without some skill. Any skill.

Some of you might have fuzzy memories of kind-of liking Event Horizon eleven years ago. If that's the case, I strongly advise you never watch it again. I made the mistake of sitting down with the "Director's whatever" earlier this year and dammit is that movie awful. Just a half-cocked jumble of bad science fiction, half assed rip offs of Clive Barker and H.P. Lovecraft, and a gaggle of really good actors trying to sell this crap to us.

Others might remember Anderson as the guy who took interesting ideas and made them horrible. Like Dr. Boll, Paul W.S. Anderson* dabbles in video game adaptations. Perhaps you've seen Mortal Kombat. Or Resident Evil. He's working on Spy Hunter right now, but I'll get back to that. Mortal Kombat I can understand. It's a pretty one-dimensional game and not surprisingly it became and awful movie. Resident Evil I can't forgive. Anderson stripped away everything that was interesting about the game and turned the film in to a ninety minute borefest about Milla Jovovich regaining her memory and skinless dogs. Oh, and occasionally zombies.

It's funny that when Anderson isn't applying his leaden hand to directing the film how much better a movie can get. Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the second film (which Anderson only wrote), is cheese-tastic and doesn't try to be any deeper than that. The first film tries to dupe you into thinking it's deeper than it is with endless scenes of exposition.

But I haven't even gotten to the piece-de-resistance: Alien vs Predator. How is it possible that someone who is such a fan of both franchises (and Anderson clearly is in the "making of" footage) could manage to ruin them in one movie? Nothing about Alien vs Predator works at all, in either the mythology of the series, as its own movie, or from a technical standpoint.

And yet, this dude gets to keep making movies that are a) insipid versions of movies we like, b) toothless horror movies, or c) both.

So you'd think after all of that I'm about to tear his newest film, Death Race, a new one. To your surprise (and mine), I (kind of) won't be doing that.

Don't get me wrong: this is a bad movie. Death Race won't be making anyone's list of anything film related in five years, nor should it. And yet this may be the best film Anderson's made yet.

Admittedly, saying this is the "best Paul W.S. Anderson movie" is like saying it's the least pungent fart you've let rip in church, but Death Race finally accomplishes something I never thought I'd get from one of his movies: it's not totally boring.

Going into this movie, it's best you not think of Death Race 2000. There's no point bothering yourself with the "remake" aspect. Gone is the social commentary, the points for hitting pedestrians, the black humor, all of that is wholly absent. Instead we get long stretches of a bad prison movie with Jason Statham and Ian McShane grumbling to each other. Joan Allen seems to be here to collect a paycheck, and Tyrese Gibson apparently thought this was a Fast and the Furious sequel.

If you've seen the trailer, you already know exactly what the plot is and roughly how it plays out. Just to save you from plot recap, here it is:


The good news is that there are all kinds of arbitrary elements thrown in to distract you from the lack of a plot. After a quick introduction demonstrating what Death Race 2012** is to the one person who blindly bought a ticket and wandered in, there's an arbitrary scene of "how tough it is" for Jason Statham. See, the steel mill he works for is shutting down, so they have to pick up their last paychecks and go before they're locked out.

And then for no apparent reason other than to demonstrate that Statham has mad fighting skills, a SWAT team arrives. What's great is that after he beats up one SWAT guy and the workers look like they're gearing up for war, Death Race cuts of a *gasp* helicopter shot, then shows Statham calmly getting off a bus and going home!

But it doesn't end there. As you might have noticed in the trailer, all the drivers have a navigator, who is a woman that was doing time at the Maxim prison for hot chicks who love navigating cars. The only driver who doesn't get a girl is Gibson's Machine Gun Joe, because apparently he's gay. I say apparently because there's no indication whatsoever anywhere in the film that he's gay other than a guy says it. So it's either very forward thinking in terms of sexual politics or totally random. Oh, and it ends with a warning to not attempt any of the driving stunts. Duh.

Little touches like this are what keep Death Race interesting when the races aren't happening, which is most of the movie. The first actual race doesn't take place until forty minutes into the film, so get yourselves some popcorn and settle in for a dull opening act.

The races themselves are pretty short, but sleazy enough to keep things moving forward, and it honestly didn't feel like one hundred and eleven minutes. You know, the more I write about Death Race the less I understand why I enjoyed it. It's not good, but it gets by on the sheer randomness of some of the plot points and the fact that the races are more coherent than anything Anderson's done previously***. This is why Spy Hunter will only mostly suck, provided he doesn't fuck up and forget what he did right. It's possible.

So basically I'm saying that Death Race is something you're not likely to watch, and I don't blame you. It's not going to elevate your film experience or provide you with hours of conversation. That being said, if you're flipping through the channels sometime next spring and see it on Spike TV or VS or whatever cable channel gets it, you won't feel cheated if you watch a little bit. You might even chuckle a bit.

It's better than the average Paul W.S. Anderson movie, and that might be the highest compliment I can give to Death Race.

* I have to keep doing this so people don't mistake him for Paul Thomas Anderson, who made There Will Be Blood, Punch-Drunk Love, and Boogie Nights. It'd be like comparing Tequiza to Tequila.
** I can only guess that's what the title would be if you wanted to connect it to the original.
*** It does give you more respect for what Quentin Tarantino does in the second half of Death Proof. Doing what he did as well as he did is apparently lost on most filmmakers today.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

It Can Only Go Up from Here...

Paul W.S. Anderson. Uwe Boll. Paul W.S. Anderson. Uwe Boll. Paul W.S. Anderson. Uwe Boll.

In case you weren't around one year ago when I promised to spend all of 2008 without speaking their names (or the names of their films) in this blogorium, that's who I occasionally refer to. The almost bottom of the barrel in cinema* in terms of output and competence.

Uwe Boll makes almost exclusively video game adaptations, but he does them so badly that at this point they're games almost no one has heard of. He made House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark, Bloodrayne, Postal, and the subject of our first review of 2009: In the Name of the King.

Actually, that should be In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, because the first half isn't stupid enough by itself. I kinda-sorta reviewed it in when the dvd came out last spring / summer, but since I couldn't identify it by name, many of you probably just shrugged and moved on. Bad call.

Until ITKOTKADST, I had a longstanding embargo on Dr. Boll. I refused to see any of his movies, no matter how many big name actors he tricked into appearing in his films (*coughBenKingsleycough*). But somehow the bizarre list of actors in Dungeon Siege (jesus, there's no way to shorthand the title that isn't a mouthful) got me curious. It was a congregation of too many "really?" and "they're still acting?" that I broke my embargo.

Allow me to share the people involved in this "movie"

Jason Statham
Ron Perlman
Ray Liotta
(it drops off pretty sharply from here)
Matthew Lilliard
John Rhys-Davies
Leelee Sobieski
Claire Forlani
Kristanna Lokken
a dude I thought was Michael Jai White but is instead named Brian J. White
Burt Reynolds

With a universally reviled "director" at the helm and the highest budget he's ever seen (courtesy of the German government), how could this not be a disaster of epic proportions?

And boy howdy is it. I guess he blew his budget on the endless helicopter shots that are all over Dungeon Siege, because there's no way that cast commanded sixty million dollars. Statham and Perlman are the biggest stars and I don't think they command twenty five million apiece, probably not even ten. The rest of the cast, well come on. Burt Reynolds is doing commercials for some X-Box game now. The rest of those jokers were probably happy to have work or just say yes to everything (*coughJohnRhysDaviescough*).

He certainly didn't spend it on makeup effects, since the masks on this Lord of the Rings ripoff look cheaper than the masks in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, and that's saying something. Everyone is "acting" at level ten for the whole movie, except the aformentioned Statham and Perlman who foolishly try to take the material seriously. It's not their fault, but you can really only elevate horse shit to dried horse shit.

The "plot" involves a character named Farmer (Statham) who is a farmer to go to battle against an evil wizard (Liotta) that's trying to steal the kingdom of whatever from Burt Reynolds. Helping the wizard is the King's idiot son (Lilliard) and a bunch of other characters none of you care about. I sure didn't, because every five minutes or so Boll hops in a helicopter and films the German countryside in slow motion. Sometimes there are even actors involved.

The dialogue is howlingly bad, especially when spoken by Lilliard, Liotta, or a clearly bored Reynolds. I'd rather not get into Sobieski, Forlani, or Loken because they mostly stare into the distance or utter things woodenly. I swear that's Michael Jai White. Seriously. There's no way that's Brian White or whatever his name is**.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale is the kind of movie you'd expect to see on the Sci-Fi Channel, but somehow made it to theatres. Apparently, it topped out at around seven million dollars in US gross, which to me is still astounding. That means up to one million Americans saw this, and I hope they were all drunk.

The funny thing is that I'm recommending this to you. It's bad, but you're going to have much more fun consuming alcohol and watching this joke of a movie than you would being baffled at how The Happening exists. You won't enjoy Dungeon Siege for the reasons Uwe Boll intended, but you might find yourself laughing all the way through the credits.

However, I'm not going to watch another one of his movies. This level of ineptitude is not something I'm willing to repeat. One was enough, and this appears to be the high water mark in his filmography.


Tomorrow I'm going to take on Paul "What Script" Anderson's ill-conceived remake of Death Race 2000, titled Death Race also starring Jason Statham (sigh). Stay tuned: we're off to a great start this year!

* the actual bottom of the barrel, as I understand, are the guys who made Disaster Movie, Epic Movie, Date Movie, and Meet the Spartans. I couldn't say from experience, never having endured one of their "movies", but that's the consensus from those in the know.
** they aren't even related!