Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Some Sage Advice for a Video Daily Double

 Good day to you all, Educationeers! Cap'n Howdy back with a summer-tastic edition of the Video Daily Double. During the next few months, in addition to our normal educational lessons from days of yore, I'll be including shorts about fun tips for summer time activities. We wouldn't want you at home glued to your GameStation X20 now, would we? And they said I wasn't hip to the lingo...

 Lingo!

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 Our first film, Better Use for Leisure Time, should give you some ideas of things to do other than be a couch potato. Didn't anyone ever tell you that people fry up couch potatoes and eat them up? Why, I bet you'd be delicious fried and served with a cold beverage...



 Our second film, You Can Tell By the Teller, is for those of you looking for a good summer job. Here's a hint on how to be the favorite new employee in no time!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Retro Review: The Faculty

 So, interesting tidbit about The Faculty - I completely misjudged when this came out. If you asked the Cap'n when I thought I saw this movie, I would have leaned summer of 97 (15 year anniversary!) or maybe early spring of the following year, but December of 1998? Really? That's just odd, and not because The Faculty is more of a late summer / fall kind of movie (it's like the reverse of Batman Returns, a winter-themed film released in the summer of 1992). Most people are out of school by December, and The Faculty is very much a "high school" kind of movie.

 In fact, it's a distant cousin of the post-Scream "teenagers in peril" self conscious horror subgenre that was all the rage until remakes of Japanese horror films became all the rage. Just like I was wrong about when it came out, so too am I surprised by two things: 1) that it came out AFTER Disturbing Behavior and 2) that Disturbing Behavior was released in July of 1998, because I saw it with two people I only thought I spent time with in high school. Weird. But this is not exactly about Disturbing Behavior.

 So why, do you ask, did I even bring up Disturbing Behavior, a movie that many of you are struggling to remember if you saw or not? Because when I put on The Faculty, the first thing that l realized after a long time away from the film is that its soundtrack leaned heavily on the "alterna-pop" of the day (Disturbing Behavior will always be linked with Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" in my mind, but imagine my surprise that The Faculty opens with The Offspring's "The Kids Aren't Alright," a song I'd totally forgotten about). Not exactly a promising start, huh?

 Well, there's a pretty good reason that I'd forgotten about the musical accompaniment for The Faculty, Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Williamson's "high school John Carpenter's The Thing." When we went to see it at The Studio - the long gone shoebox dual theatre in Raleigh where the young Cap'n saw Trainspotting and Trees Lounge - the transition from trailers to actual movie was so abrupt that we didn't actually realize the film had begun and it wasn't just some trailer about Robert Patrick as an irate football coach. In fact, jokes were made and we were genuinely caught off-guard when Patrick started yelling at Shawn Hatosy and Usher Raymond, making his (much hyped) cinematic debut. Oh, this IS The Faculty. Wild!

 So The Faculty is a pretty good (not great) version of the "movie trope literate teens who find themselves in ____ genre situation," in this case an alien invasion from creatures who need lots and lots of water and who can infect humans and control their bodies. Eventually it becomes a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, including a scene where they use a drug to prove who is and isn't human. Then there's a showdown between one of the heroes (I won't give it away just in case you haven't seen it) and the alien and everything goes back to normal. Oh, SPOILER. Then there's a kinda Breakfast Club "we learned to overcome out high school social castes and work together to fight aliens" but nobody gets a nose ring ripped out like in Disturbing Behavior*.

 On the Robert Rodriguez-o-meter, The Faculty rates well below El Mariachi, Desperado, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Sin City, Machete, or Planet Terror, but probably slightly above Spy Kids 3D. Maybe on par with Spy Kids and Spy Kids 2, but not in the same league as From Dusk Till Dawn, it's rough contemporary in the "making a movie like the ones he used to watch" Rodriguez filmography. Comparatively speaking, it's probably really high up on the Kevin Williamson-o-meter, right below Scream but waaaaaaay above Scream 2, Scream 3, Scream 4, and Teaching Mrs. Tingle.

 Also of note is the high ratio of people you kind-of knew in 1998 but definitely know now. There's Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings, Wilfred), Jordana Brewster (Fast Five), Clea DuVall (Canivale, Zodiac), Laura Harris (Dead Like Me), Josh Hartnett (30 Days of Night), Shawn Hatosy (Southland, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), Famke Janssen (X2, Taken), Jon Stewart (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Death to Smoochy), plus distinguished guest stars Piper Laurie (Carrie), Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers), Salma Hayek (From Dusk Till Dawn), Robert Patrick (Terminator 2), Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore), Daniel von Bargen (O Brother, Where Art Thou), and uh, Harry Knowles (Ain't It Cool News). Also in cameos, Danny Masterson (That 70s Show) and Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused). It's like a who's who of "huh, they were in this movie?"

 Well, so The Faculty isn't exactly a classic, but it's enjoyable enough considering other movies like it that populate theatres from 1997-2001 (when Valentine functionally killed the subgenre**) and we had fun when we saw it. While I can't remember correctly when I saw The Faculty, I certainly recall who I saw it with, because when leaving The Studio one friend announced to another that his car was being towed, which was a bad joke. For some reason, it's the first (and almost only) thing one says to the other when they see each other, even though it's really not funny nearly 14 years later.

 So in closing, happy fifteenth anniversary to Face/Off. You were a ridiculous movie.


 * The only other thing I remember about Disturbing Behavior. Seriously, that movie sucked.
** And NOT Urban Legend: Final Cut. That movie rules.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Blogorium Review: Young Adult

 Young Adult, the fourth film from Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Up in the Air), is also the re-teaming of Reitman with Diablo Cody (Jennifer's Body, The Evil Dead) after their successful pairing on Juno. Long time readers of the Blogorium are probably aware that I don't like Juno. In fact, I hate Juno, find the movie to be obnoxious. Fortunately, Young Adult is not Juno. It's not anything like Juno, or anything about Juno that I found grating. What's funny is that I think you're supposed to dislike Mavis Gary and to pull for Juno MacGuff, but to be honest, I sort of feel the other way. It's tied to parts of Young Adult hitting home for the Cap'n, and I'll get to that in a bit.

 Mavis (Charlize Theron) is a semi-successful ghost writer for the Waverly Prep young adult novels. She's divorced, lives in a disheveled apartment with her dog and sleepwalks through one night stands in the aftermath of her divorce. The Waverly Prep series is coming to an end and her publisher needs Mavis to finish the last book, but she's more interested in a birth announcement from her high school sweetheart. Mavis decides to drive from Minneapolis to her hometown of Mercury to split up his marriage and live happily ever after.

 It's the funhouse mirror version of every romantic comedy ever (even The Baxter), but Mavis isn't exactly a likeable protagonist. Other than being perpetually drunk and belligerent, Mavis is delusional to the point she's willing to destroy every relationship she comes into contact with, lie to family members, and exaggerate passing glances or pauses in conversation into professions of love from Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), despite the fact that he seems uncomfortable (at best) with him Mavis ingratiates herself into his life with Beth Slade (Elizabeth Reaser). The problem is that because Mavis left Mercury to live in "the big city" and to be a famous writer, most of her fellow high school alumni defer to her judgement to a fault, even when it's clear she's back for purely selfish and destructive reasons.

 Young Adult's "voice of reason," Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), immediately and continually calls out Mavis as a horrible person. They nevertheless become kindred spirits, both emotionally stunted from high school (Mavis emotionally and Matt quite literally rendered to walking with a crutch after being attacked by homophobic jocks), and she's willing to overlook his frankenstein-ed super hero action figures because he also makes homemade bourbon. Matt overlooks Mavis' selfish ploy to woo a married man away from his newborn child because she hates everything about Mercury that he hates. High school opposites come together out of mutual disdain for small town Minnesota.

 In a normal romantic comedy I suppose that Mavis and Buddy would realize something important about each other and then Beth would do something horrible and they'd run off together to Minneapolis. Appropriately, this is exactly how Mavis imagines things should happen, so we should expect the opposite - Mavis fails spectacularly and learns a lesson about the downward spiral her life is taking, and then leaves to start life anew (or stays and ends up with Matt, maybe). But Cody and Reitman choose to do something a little trickier, something that apparently does not endear audiences to Young Adult in the way that Juno or Up in the Air do.

 Mavis does fail spectacularly, and as her delusional state crumbles, she heads over to Matt's, and they do in fact sleep together, but it's more as a last act of desperation for acceptance before she leaves. In fact, Mavis seems to be on the path of self awareness the next morning, when Matt's sister Sandra (Collette Wolfe) offers her some coffee. Sandra was one of the many Mercury High School students in awe of Mavis, and she mistakes a moment of clarity in her hero's mind for weakness. At the exact moment audiences expect Young Adult to go one way, Sandra Freehauf nudges it the other, by insisting to Mavis that she's better than everybody in Mercury, that she's better because she left, and that nothing that happened when she came back should even matter. And Mavis believes her, leaving Mercury once and for all convinced her delusions were justified and that Buddy is at fault that it failed. Sandra, trying to help Mavis feel better, has her idol drinking the "Mavis is Better Than Us" Kool Aid in no time.

 There's a little more going on beyond the reductive ending I mentioned, including emotional trauma on Mavis' part that cut as deep as Matt's physically abused body, and while it doesn't justify what she does, it hints at a firmer foundation of her illusory vision of "true love" gone wrong. Young Adult does, in some ways, feel anti-climactic because the main character doesn't learn anything despite the best efforts of almost everyone, but it's more appropriate considering how easy it seems for Hollywood narratives to turn a life around in ninety minutes. Beyond Reitman and Cody, Charlize Theron is fearless as the anti-social, condescending, and emotionally manipulative Mavis. She drinks herself into oblivion, abuses anyone who gets near her, and vicariously lives through her Waverly Prep characters (delivered in narration throughout the film). So I get that people wouldn't be happy that Mavis "wins" in the end.

 Strangely, I didn't dislike Mavis the way I think you're supposed to. It seems clear that Matt is probably the audience surrogate (and Oswalt does a spectacular job as the guarded geek man-child) and while it's an inevitable course, we hope that Freehauf and Mavis don't have sex because he succumbs to her magnetic (if toxic) personality. To be fair, I understand the Matt Freehauf character, but the reason I don't hate Mavis is because some of how she sees herself reminds me of where I'm at. Let's take a brief look, with as little navel-gazing as humanly possible.

 While I don't feel, like Mavis does, that I "peaked" in high school and everything went downhill after that, I totally relate to her feeling of not being where she wants to be in life. The characters are roughly the same age (probably two or three years older tops) to where I am, and the Cap'n definitely isn't pleased with where I find myself. Thankfully (I guess), most of the people I went to high school with don't idolize me, so there's no risk of delusions of grandeur beyond "internet movie blogger," but I can relate a little bit. When I look back at old yearbooks, it's clear that people expected big things from the Cap'n, things that didn't materialize. As a result, I'm more comfortable with most high school peers not knowing where I am or what I'm doing. Like Mavis, I prefer an illusion to the reality, even if our reasons are different.

 Anyway, so Young Adult worked for me, even with the "unsatisfying" ending. Nobody gets off the hook, and Mavis Gary and Matt Freehauf will in all likelihood go back to their lives of desperate solitude. Not a happy ending, but a believable one. Reitman's direction is assured and improving with every subsequent film. My concerns that Young Adult might be like Juno because of the presence of Cody were ill-founded - other than a nickname for the combination Pizza Hut / Taco Bell / KFC's, there isn't much of the "clever" dialogue that had me gritting my teeth last time around. The Young Adult screenplay feels more reflective, more self-deprecating, but that may just be me projecting the character of Mavis onto the screenwriter. That may not be fair, but whatever the reason, Young Adult feels more rounded as a film than Juno. I can't say you'll like how it ends - you might even feel cheated - but the film is worth investing in on the off chance you don't. I wouldn't be surprised if more people in their thirties related to Mavis Gary than they'd think.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Wes Craven (Part Two)


The Serpent and the Rainbow


Shocker


The People Under the Stairs


Wes Craven's New Nightmare


Vampire in Brooklyn


Scream


Scream 2

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's the Opposite of Safe for Today's Video Daily Double!

 Guten Tag, Educationeers! That's German for "you'd better learn your lessons or be prepared to serve your European Union Overlords." We all like to be free, right? Well, today's Video Daily Double probably won't do anything to save you from when the dollar collapses and we return to being a colonial state of a consortium of foreign interests, but I can teach you some other important lessons in the mean time. Let's open up the vaults and explore the wonderful world of vintage education films, shall we?

 Jawohl!

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Our first film, Turnabout Man, is about learning to be courteous to others, but instead of some boring narrator or a magical wizard (or spring), it was all a dream. A wonderful, impossible dream...


Our second film, The Stranger, should settle down any jubilant feelings after our last film. Sure, it's nice to see somebody learning how to change his attitude, but never forget he might try to kidnap you! Beware!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Retro-Review: Spider-Man

 Hey, so maybe you've heard there's a Spider-Man movie coming out next month. Specifically, The Amazing Spider-Man is the first major "reboot" of a comic book franchise since Batman Begins erased all the lingering stench of Batman and Robin from out memories*. I've been noticing quite a bit this summer that when I see "big" summer movies in theatres, audiences are enthusiastic for The Dark Knight Rises, Brave, and The Expendables 2, but the auditorium gets very quiet when the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man plays. It's not so much that a new director (Marc Webb) and a new Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) are jockeying for our attention, but that the movie seems to be retelling the "origin story" of how Parker becomes Spider-Man.

 I know ten years can seem like a while, but it turns out that audiences seem to remember Sam Raimi's Spider-Man after all, and the response to yet another "origin story," no matter how much it promises "untold secrets" is tepid at best. Mind you, this could just be a casual disinterest for now that suddenly turns into Spider-mania in early July, but even that is going to feel like a bit of a retread. Allow me to explain.

 Let's flash back to May of 2002, when Spider-Man kicked the door open for comic book movies. After the miserable Batman and Robin, the even worse Spawn, the cult following of Blade, and the okay-but-not-great first X-Men film, there was some question about whether comic book movies could hang with blockbuster Hollywood fare. It turned out that Sony had the answer, and it came from an unlikely source. At the time, despite having drifted away from horror films, director Sam Raimi was still best known as the creator of The Evil Dead series, and his only remotely "super hero" film was the gonzo Darkman.

 Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst also seemed like strange choices for Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson, having appeared mostly in indie dramas or goofball comedies, but despite the unusual casting and unorthodox director, Raimi and screenwriter David Koepp were able to do what even James Cameron couldn't: bring Spider-Man to the big screen in a big way.

  Spider-Man, while a little bumpy, is still a whole lot of fun. It stumbles a bit when it comes to the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe) being a credible threat, mostly because so much of his transformation feels crammed into the narrative after we've established Peter's transformation and subsequent guilt for inadvertently causing the death of his Uncle Ben (Cliff Roberston). However, prior to getting to Norman Osborn becoming the Green Goblin (and setting up James Franco as Harry Osborn for future installments), there's a very entertaining movie. I know a few people that never bought him as Parker, but I liked Maguire's wide-eyed enthusiasm as the shy nerd turns into reluctant super hero. Kirsten Dunst hits all the right beats as Mary Jane, a girl way out of Parker's league, and there are a host of great smaller roles from J.K. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson, Ted Raimi and Elizabeth Banks as his lackeys at the Daily Bugle, the first appearance of Bruce Campbell as someone tormenting Peter Parker, and even Randy "The Macho Man" Savage as "Bonesaw McGraw".

 I have two memories that really stuck out from seeing Spider-Man that first time: the first was an argument between two friends about why one refused to accept the energetic action, funny dialogue, and dynamic visuals because he staunchly insisted Spider-Man would NEVER have organic webshooters. That, for him, was a deal breaker, and nothing else in the movie even mattered after that point. He still uses that as his basis for hating the movie, and that alone. The argument was as heated as it was hilarious to listen to.

 The second memory was following the box office for Spider-Man, which was the first time I'd ever seriously considered how well a film was doing. When Spider-Man (at the time) broke the record for all-time opening weekend ticket sales, it was a sign that comic book movies were ready to duke it out with other summer films, and they have been ever since. In the wake of Spider-Man, comic book movies not only became more numerous, but many of them were better than we could ever expect: from X2 to Hellboy to Batman Begins and even Spider-Man 2 (which I actually prefer to the first film - it's a better overall movie). With the good came the bad (and you only have to do a cursory search to be reminded of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Elektra, Catwoman, or, sadly, Spider-Man 3), but we've still had a solid run of comic-based films that are better than could be reasonably expected ten years ago.

 And that brings us back around to The Amazing Spider-Man, a movie I don't really have any interest in seeing. My friends seem to be on the same page, even though Spider-Man 3 wasn't good by any stretch of the imagination. It seems like audiences remember the origin story well enough for Spider-Man, and films like X-Men: First Class have demonstrated you can reboot a series without telling the same story over again (even if they're pushing this "predestined" Spider-Man really hard), so it's more "meh" than anticipation a decade later. The attention span of audiences is fickle indeed, but The Amazing Spider-Man doesn't feel like it has anything to offer we can't find by watching Spider-Man at home. Other than The Lizard (Rhys Ifans), taking over for Dylan Baker as the Curt Connors we were promised in Spider-Man 2 and 3 but never got during the Raimi cycle. Oh well, we shall see what things look like in 2022, when maybe we'll be looking at The Spectacular Spider-Man or Ultimate Spider-Man, or "The Clone Saga": The Movie. *Shudder*




 * Sure, you could argue that Punisher: War Zone was a reboot of The Punisher with Thomas Jane, but I prefer to think of them as films vaguely linked together about the same character, kind of like Ghost Rider and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Blogorium Review: Men in Black 3

 It turns out that when I said that "I'd rather write a review for Men in Black 3" rather than discuss Prometheus last week, I may have been overstating the case. You see, there isn't really a lot to say about Men in Black 3, a movie that is, at best, adequate. Provided that you haven't seen Men in Black in a while or don't mind what feel like blatant character contradictions, you'll probably have fun watching Men in Black 3, walk out of the theatre, and promptly forget everything about the movie. It's a cinematic Neuralizer (tm), so to speak.

 There may have been a better movie about Agent J (Will Smith)'s and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones)'s frosty relationship after working together for 14 years, but this isn't it. I don't really remember Men in Black 2 because I haven't seen it in ten years, but Men in Black opens on a light, goofy note as K deals with an alien trying to smuggle himself across the border. After a moon prison escape for Boris "The Animal" (Jermaine Clement), Men in Black 3 opens with the preparations for the funeral of Zed (Rip Torn) and K's eulogy. J is irritated that he still doesn't know anything about K after being his partner for a decade and a half, and K's brief statements about Zed only make him angrier. On top of that, there's an indication that Agent K and the new head of MIB, Agent O (Emma Thompson) have a history, but the only answer J gets is "don't ask questions you don't want to know the answer to."

 The visibly disinterested Tommy Lee Jones isn't in much more of the movie as Boris travels back to 1969 and helps the younger version of himself kill K and erase everything the Agent accomplished between then and now from history. That way his species, the Bogladites, will be able to invade Earth rather than being wiped out. J is the only person who remembers history changing, and with the help of Jefferey Price (Michael Chernus), the man who gave Boris a time machine, he jumps back to 1969 to prevent the time tinkering happening.

 Men in Black 3 picks up when the notably subdued Smith arrives in New York circa 1969, where J meets the younger Agents O (Alice Eve) and K (Josh Brolin). Brolin's version of Tommy Lee Jones is uncanny, and at times reminds you of the Agent K that enjoys his job in Men in Black. It livens up Smith and the surly, frustrated J begins to disappear, and before you know it Men in Black 3 is more fun than somber. That won't last, but we can enjoy the middle of the movie anyway. Rick Baker's alien makeup and costumes are fantastic, Bill Hader breathes some life into a superfluous Andy Warhol cameo, and Michael Stuhlbarg's Griffin, an alien who can see multiple realities at once, brings a sense of wonder back to the series, something we've been missing since the first film.

 For a while, the movie almost works. There's a sense of fun, a more mature Will Smith is comfortable not delivering wisecracks every other line (there's a great moment where J meets two racist cops and has to explain that while, yes, he did steal the car he's driving, that doesn't mean they should assume he did), and Brolin gives us hints of K before he "shut down" emotionally (this is why I recommend not watching Men in Black too closely to 3, because the character of K doesn't make much sense from one film to the other). Stuhlbarg is a lot of fun as the innocent Griffin, although he never serves much more of a purpose than to say "oh, this is the one where _____ happens, unless it's the one where ____ happens." He's really a convenient plot device to get J and K where they need to be at the end of the film that happens to have a great actor elevating the role. On the flipside, Clement doesn't have much to do as Boris (in either iteration) than look like an alien Hell's Angel that shoots spikes at people. It's not clear why bringing in a member of Flight of the Conchords to play the villain and then not use any of his comic timing, but a lot of this movie just seems to happen for no reason.

  But it can't really last because shoehorned into the J and K relationship in the present is the suggestion that something happened to K, something that hasn't happened yet when J meets the younger version. So we know it's going to happen during the climax at the launch of Apollo 11, where Boris and future Boris are trying to thwart K. I guess if you thought the Men in Black series needed more pathos, you might buy into what director Barry Sonnenfeld, writer / mirror universe "Coen brother" Etan Cohen and how ever many other uncredited script polishers came in during the production hiatus, had in mind. But keep this in mind, the end of Men in Black suggests we're no more important than a bag of marbles in the cosmic sense.

 Well, that's as much as I can really wring out of a review of Men in Black 3. Considering that the only thing I remember about the second film was not liking it, then certainly is successful. What it succeeds at is up for debate, but it's the kind of movie that isn't going to offend your sensibilities for 90 minutes, will probably make you chuckle a little, and then let you go back to enjoying your summer. It's adequate, which really shouldn't be enough, but then again I said the same thing about Dark Shadows. Compared to some of the garbage out there, if you REALLY need to see something and want to bring the whole family, this is definitely a movie.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Wes Craven (Part One)


The Last House on the Left


The Hills Have Eyes


Deadly Blessing


Swamp Thing


A Nightmare on Elm Street


The Hills Have Eyes Part 2


Deadly Friend

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Video Daily Double That Doesn't Always Mean What It Says

 Welcome back, Educationeers! I hope you enjoyed your week of from educational entertainment while the Cap'n indulged in a viral edition of the Video Daily Double. This week we're back on track and will be learning how to distinguish a misleading film title from a straightforward one. You see, even in the world of vintage education films, sometimes the maker of the short feels the need to "spice it up" in order to attract your teacher and entice them into loading it into the projector. I know, it's a frightening thought, but today we'll look at two subjects and determine if they mean what their titles imply.

 Learner beware!!!


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 Our first film, Danger is Your Companion, may sound a little counter-intuitive, but it's just the American Red Cross using salacious and misleading promises of violence to trick you into being prepared to help with first aid when an accident occurs. Just shameful.


 Our second film, Hair Dress Through the Ages, is not misleading. It's exactly what you think it is. Like the movie Pieces. (Educationeers, do not seek out the movie Pieces until you're old enough to watch a maniac with a chainsaw cut up people to put together a corpse bride).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Retro So You Won't Have To: Alien Vs. Predator

 I know that you've seen it around, sometimes on sale even, and you've thought to yourself "self, I know that nobody speaks highly of this movie, but dammit, it has aliens AND predators, and Lance Henriksen, and even though Paul W.S. Anderson's only watchable movie is that remake / sequel Death Race, I just want to kick back with some beers and see what all of the hoopla is about."* Folks, let me tell you that even though Prometheus has taken Alien Resurrection's place as "franchise punching bag" for dubious reasons, that's only because Alien and Predator fans banded together to collectively ignore AvP and AvP:R (for Requiem, not just for the "R" rating). This is for the best, but if I need to help keep you away, I will...

 So, here's the reason you see Alien vs Predator (AvP) and its sequel in the "bargain" bin so often, why it isn't included in the Alien Anthology or the... well, there isn't really a Predator boxed set yet, but it is the first film's 25th anniversary this year. Anyway, they sit out there in the $5.99-9.99 price range because nobody wants them. It's not even an issue of having seen it once and then not needing to see it again, because halfway through the movie my friends got up for a cigarette break. The poster's accidentally appropriate tagline says it all: "whoever wins... we lose." Boy do we ever...

 Okay, let's go ahead and wipe out any possible positives: Yes, Lance Henriksen (Aliens) does appear as Charles Bishop Weyland, who runs the Weyland corporation in 2004** but is dying of... cancer? (Sorry, I went to look that up and it's not clear on IMDB or Wikipedia.) Anyway, one of his satellites finds a thermal image of what appears to be a pyramid structure on an island north of Antarctica. He assembles a team, they go down to find out that Predators use the temple for "rite of passage" rituals where they keep a Xenomorph Queen in captivity and fight its offspring. Weyland dies. Spoiler. Also, he briefly plays the "knife" game from Aliens with a pen while on the way to the island.

 AvP isn't really about Weyland so much as it is about guide Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan), who manages to befriend one of the Predators so they can fight the xenomorphs and defeat the queen in a scene that reminded me of the T-Rex chase in Jurassic Park. Then they have a tender moment where more people in the audience than just the Cap'n and friends were yelling "kiss!" to the screen. Also there are some other scientists, archeologists, and Spud from Trainspotting. Most of them die.

 While there is an "extended," "unrated" version of the film, it's still pretty much the same toothless version that played in theaters with a PG-13. Anderson brings to AvP what he brought to Resident Evil, which is to say lots of dark scenes with uninteresting characters saying stupid things, and a Xenomorph, Predator, or Facehugger will jump out and something stupid will happen. I feel bad giving so much crap to "What Script?" Anderson, because when you see him in interviews he's clearly a guy excited to be making the movies he makes, and he has a real enthusiasm that makes you want him to succeed. But he almost never does, and AvP is not the exception (as I said, that's Death Race, which is exactly the kind of "dumb" that he needed to reach for).

 It's been 8 years since we paid money to see Alien vs Predator (no relation to the comic book) and in all that time I've only seen snippets of the movie since, usually on TV. It's the kind of movie that can play on the Syfy Channel because they don't need to cut anything. It's just a sort of bland, by the numbers horror / action movie that adds nothing to the Alien or Predator series. It does end with a chestburster coming out of the Predator who missed his shot at making out with an Earth chick, so you get to see a Predalien. I'm told that it's in the sequel, but I couldn't be bothered to watch it. I think I did you enough of a favor watching the first one. It's not worth even five to ten dollars, or even a rental. You're better of watching Death Race. Actually, you know what? I'm not even going to dismissively recommend Death Race instead of AvP - you'll have more fun watching Death Race, so see that instead.



 * That's what I would think to myself. Does everybody not have that thought process?
 ** Interesting tidbit for people who hope the AvP movies don't count in Alien continuity: technically speaking, Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland appearing at a 2032 TED talk would be old enough to be the son of Charles Bishop Weyland and according to the Weyland Industries timeline, he would have been 14 when Alien vs. Predator took place. So AvP is still "canon." Sorry.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Things We Learned from Prometheus (and Some Other Reactions)

  I never thought I'd write the sentence "I'd rather be writing a review for Men in Black 3 right now" but you can't throw a virtual rock anywhere in the internet right now without it hitting something about Prometheus. And, at least in my experience, 90% of it has been negative. The hostility that the Ridley Scott / John Spaihts / Damon Lindelof prequel to Alien but not exactly movie has been deafening since Friday night, and while I don't argue with the reasons why commenters and reviewers and discussion board posters have been tearing Prometheus apart, I'm astonished at their ferocity.

 There are a few different points of attack, but many of them fall along the following lines: a) Ridley Scott hasn't made a good movie in years and this falls far from a "return to form" that we (the internet) were promised, b) The script is laughably bad, with one or two developed characters and a bunch of people that only do what the narrative needs them to do regardless of their "role" in the story, c) It isn't scary, d) It embarrasses the Alien series more than Resurrection (okay, I laughed out loud at that one*), or e) The movie lacks an ending and instead resembles Lindelof's strategy on the show Lost of "we'll save this for the next one" raising answers and plotlines they have no intention of addressing in Prometheus.

 With that in mind, I'm going to look a a few things to take away from Prometheus, some of which are tied to the criticisms listed above, and some tied to last week's post about Alien and Prometheus. Until the echo chamber of negativity dies down, I don't think I'm actually going to review Prometheus, even though I enjoyed it more than seemingly most of the chatterverse online. It's funny, because I liked it and my friends liked it and everybody I've spoken to that I know has seen it liked it, but if I start looking around online, Prometheus is the "WORST MOVIE EVAR ALL CAPS!!1!!!11!!"

 So let's get into it, starting with the indefensible:

 1. The Writing in Prometheus is a Mess - One of the most cited problems with Prometheus, even in positive reviews, is that the writing is anywhere from half baked to terrible. And you know what? It's true. I can't even begin to argue this, and no amount of thematic "Big Ideas" can overcome basic story problems (speaking of "Big Ideas," if you're looking for an interesting breakdown of the religious / philosophical / mythical references in the film, I suggest reading this post). They fall into two categories, one of which I'm not sure who is responsible and the other seems to follow the M.O. of Lindelof, but let's deal with the first part, the one where characters do things that don't make any sense.

 The primary offender here is Charlie Holloway, who along with Elizabeth Shaw is responsible for the Prometheus being there in the first place. It's unclear in the film itself whether both of them are scientists or if Holloway is the scientist and Shaw is the believer that pushes him forward (I've seen this idea floated out there in a few reviews). I'm inclined to believe that both of them have some interest in ancient civilizations, but Shaw is also apparently capable of overseeing a dissection / genetic analysis of one of the Engineers (Space Jockey) without question by the other scientists aboard the Prometheus. This is kind of a side note, but other than Janek (Captain), Chance (Pilot), Ravel (Pilot), Milburn (Biologist), and Fifield (Geologist), it's not clear what the other "scientists" / non-Weyland personnel do. Does anybody have an idea what Ford does? She's in the pyramid, is involved in the genetic analysis, and delivers exposition about how toxic the air is on LV-223. That's all we know.

 Anyway, I got off track. So the premise is that Holloway and Shaw convinced Peter Weyland to pay a trillion dollars to design a state-of-the-art research ship (hence the holographic displays and fancy equipment that, let's be honest, you aren't going to see on the mining ship Nostromo or the war ship Sulaco) and send 17 people two years into space to follow a space map. They arrive, find a pyramid with a skull on the top, David activates a holographic projection of Space Jockeys / Engineers running from something that ends with one of them being decapitated. They open a room with a giant head, murals, a sculpture that looks like a xenomorph, and jars filled with a black liquid that reacts to the change in temperature. They're forced to leave the room because of the reaction, but the body of the decapitated Engineer is roughly 2000 years old. They leave the pyramid structure because a storm is coming in, but Holloway and David are both lingering. David wants one of the jars, and Holloway dismissively declares "this is just another tomb."

 From this point forward, after being in the pyramid once (after he insisted they go in immediately after landing), Holloway becomes a drunken cynic, convinced everybody is dead and that he'll never be able to "talk" to the Engineers. After being in the pyramid once. Having explored one room, a few hallways, and being forced to leave because of external circumstance, Holloway gives up and starts drinking. His inexplicably newfound fragile mental state allows David to slip him some black liquid and let it do... whatever it does. Decode DNA? Recode it to create new life? Guarantee miraculous births? Look, I don't have any quarrel with the ambiguity of the opening of the film, whether it takes place on Earth or not (Scott says it doesn't matter where it is), and I'm even okay with the obvious horror movie setup of leaving Milburn and Fifield behind (in fact, it plays into two of the most known horror tropes paying off: smoking pot and having sex, the former in the pyramid and the latter preventing Janek from knowing they were in trouble).

 That said, Holloway's turn is arbitrary and only really seems to exist so that he can drunkenly insult Shaw and then get them together in bed so we can get to the "medical pod" scene in the film. It's a perfunctory character shift that doesn't make sense in the story, either as a scientist or as a "believer" - Holloway simply doesn't have enough evidence to leap to the conclusion he does, and since Weyland clearly pushes David to "try harder," it's not hard to see that Charlie giving up gets him out of the way midway through the film. It's logistical, not organic, and I can't get past that.

 The other problem, the "Lost" issue, is part of this notion that everything should be "sequel-ized" for continued franchise use. I fully admit this is nothing new and that complaining about it is like Clint Eastwood chasing hoodlums off his lawn in Gran Torino, but Damon Lindelof seems to be approaching Prometheus like it's a guaranteed ongoing series (and hell, it probably is, it's tied to the Alien franchise that 20th Century Fox has been desperate to reboot), and like he did with Lost, Prometheus raises lots of questions with no intention of answering them. In this film. That's the distinction between Alien and Prometheus. Yes, Alien never explains who the Space Jockey is or how the alien life cycle works in specificity (Aliens does, kinda) or how the derelict got there or a number of other questions, but Alien wasn't made with Aliens in mind.

 Prometheus doesn't even really have a beginning, middle, or end: it has an ambiguous opening shot, an earthbound introductory sequence, and jumps forward to the ship at the end of its voyage. Again, I don't have much of a problem there because the logistics aren't that important. I'm cool with the ambiguity about David's motives (actually, I love that and the tiny ways Scott ties how Shaw and Holloway treat David to the way Replicants are regarded in Blade Runner), the quick way the scientists are introduced and the plan Shaw and Holloway have, but once they land on LV-223, the narrative collapses. We're continually introduced to mysteries, one after the other, as characters are shuttled back and forth from the Prometheus to the pyramid, and instead of addressing these problems we get perfunctory explanations from the strangest sources. Yes, Janek is right that the Engineers are developing weapons in a pyramid with a skull on top in the middle of nowhere (how do I know this, read the previous piece where Scott repeatedly asserts in the Alien commentary what his reading on the derelict is), but is he the only person who realized this? Vickers is content to stick around under Weyland dies, even though she figures out pretty quickly how badly things are going to end.

 Okay, let's take a step back. What do we know about the Space Jockey / Engineers at the end of Prometheus that we didn't know in Alien? Okay, they engineered us for reasons we don't know (but are constantly reminded by characters in the film is VERY IMPORTANT), they were planning on wiping us out with biologically engineered weapons of mass destruction (including creatures that will evolve into the facehuggers and Xenomorphs we recognize from Alien) for reasons we don't know (but again, Shaw finds this VERY IMPORTANT) and that they're incompetent. How are they incompetent? Well, taking what we know from Alien and what we learn in Prometheus, they have no idea how to contain the weapons they create and as a result their WMDs end up killing them.

 That's it. We're given the carrot that Shaw and David aren't going back to Earth, but will instead fly one of the "bombers" to the Engineers' home planet (which isn't LV-223) to get answers that Lindelof, Spaihts, and Scott have NO intention of addressing in the film. We get lots of puzzle pieces, a promise that the story will pick up in the next movie, and a final shot introducing us to a proto-Xenomorph to give the audience something to be excited about when they leave realizing that Prometheus didn't actually end so much as throw up a "to be concluded..." ala Back to the Future Part 2.

 Side Note: I only call it a bomber because there's a distinction between the ship at the beginning of the film and the U-shaped, Giger designed spacecrafts, so let's assume that if several ships that look like that are stationed at a weapons facility that they're designed to haul volatile cargo to targets.

 Okay, so I watched six seasons of Lost that continually pushed the "we'll address this next year" only to get to an ending that failed miserably. But that's not my quarrel with the "sequel-izing" of movies. It's more fundamental than that. A movie with sequels can still have a beginning, a middle, and an end, even if it's designed to be part of a larger story. For example, while I don't know why you would do it, you could watch The Empire Strikes Back without seeing A New Hope or Return of the Jedi and feel like you've seen a narrative arc for every character in the film. It still raises questions, it leaves one character frozen in Carbonite, but it's still satisfying as it's own film.

 Movies that intentionally set themselves up with sequels in mind can fail. Case in Point: The Golden Compass. The writers decided they'd leave a bunch of open ended plot threads for the future installments of the His Dark Materials trilogy, and in the process forgot to make a satisfying film for audiences. As a result, the other two films were never made. They probably never will be. The same goes for Push, Jumper, and I Am Number Four. Prometheus will almost certainly get its sequel, but if Lindelof, Spaihts, Scott, and anyone else involved in future entries into this franchise don't tighten up the films so that people can enjoy them on their own (again, that's WHY people argue about whether Alien or Aliens is better, because they work in tandem but also as their own distinct experiences), I don't know that I want to be dragged along for two more hours.

 2. Other Things from the Last Post - Well, I think I've covered that LV-223 is not LV-426 and any speculation about where they are in relationship to each other is still up in the air (depending on which wiki site you visit, it seems to vary, but Google LV-426 and LV-223 and go to any link other than this to keep looking). Speaking of which, a friend asked me what the LV stood for, and even after digging around, I'm still not certain. If you know, please leave a comment for other readers and I'll also try to incorporate it into this section. I would gather it's the classification for planets discovered in the Alien universe, but the the "L" and "V" mean, I'm not sure.

 Since the mission of the Prometheus ends with Peter Weyland, his daughter Meredith Vickers, and the rest of the crew dead (at least as far as Earth is concerned), one can see how Yutani moved in to merge with Weyland Corporation in the absence of the family who ran the "Company." We can probably guess that Weyland-Yutani took the information David gathered about the "weapon" and that leads us into their obsession with bringing a Xenomorph back for research.

 It may sound silly to say this, but Prometheus is a prequel to Alien, just not in the way people expected. This is possibly why expectations are met with such vicious reactions, because other than the mid-section, Prometheus isn't really strictly trying to be a horror film. It's a film more fascinated with the origin of humanity, even if it has very little to offer other than more questions. Where it becomes an explicit prequel is a little white lie that Ridley Scott told about there being "No Xenomorphs" in Prometheus.

 Let's say it's safe to say that if you're still reading this after I broke down most of the major plot points (the Prometheus crashing into the Space Jockey's ship is in the trailer, but since I haven't mentioned it yet, there you go), so it's not going to bother you to mention the last scene in the film. After an obvious homage to Alien - Shaw recording voice-over explaining what happened to the crew playing over a ship leaving - we cut back to the last surviving Space Jockey, last seen on the losing end of a fight with an oversized facehugger. Its body begins shaking, and instead of a chestburster, a scrawny version of what we recognize to be a Xenomorph emerges, stands up, and screams (with second mouth). It's not "technically" a Xenomorph, just like the big tentacled thing wasn't "technically" a facehugger (although if it's anything like the tiny one in the pyramid, it has acid for blood). Therefore, Scott was only kind-of lying.

 What I'm a little curious about is that if the Alien wiki sites say about the chronology of the films (Prometheus taking place thereabouts 30 years before Alien). What we see at the end of Prometheus is are creatures that will evolve into facehuggers and Xenomorphs, but with only thirty years for the species to evolve to that point? Well, they're aliens, so I guess we should just ignore that. Also, I hope that this particular facehugger / Xenomorph combination don't have anything to do with what the Nostromo eventually encounters. Seriously.

 Just think about that: the "alien" in Alien is descended from Charlie Holloway and Elizabeth Shaw, with some tinkering from David, a Weyland Corporation android. It makes it a little less "Alien," doesn't it?


 I don't want to end things on a sour note, because despite the story problems I have with Prometheus, I completely disagree that it's not a good movie. I think Ridley Scott did a fantastic job with the 3D, bringing LV-223 to life, and in generating the tension when Prometheus moves into horrific territory. The medical pod scene is pretty disturbing, as is what happens to Milburn and Fifield in the pyramid (less so the Sunshine-esque reappearance of Fifield later in the film. And it's Fifield, not Holloway - I've seen that mistake made in a few reviews). I really enjoyed watching Prometheus, and would like to see it again. It's true that there's a lot going on in the film that would benefit from another viewing, but I'm not enough to cover story elements that don't make sense. So it's a very good film, but not a perfect one. It's certainly not the travesty or failure that I keep seeing online, but that's just my take. I'm happy to hear your thoughts.



* So I liked Alien Resurrection as a strange, heightened take on the Alien films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but I'm in the minority. You have to REALLY be able to get past how wildly uneven the film is, how the combination of Jeunet's direction and Joss Whedon's screenplay - and I could probably write another entry just about the script - drains any sense of tension and replaces it with overacting and incongruous jokes. That, and the hybrid. I can't defend the hybrid. Anyway, it is not better than Prometheus**. What's next? Are the AvP defenders going to see their opening and go after Prometheus?


** Why yes, I put a post-script in a post-script, but where else should this go? I do think it's funny that various comments and forum posts insisted that only Alien and Aliens were now "canon" for the series and that Prometheus would assure that. Why is it funny? Because one of the things we see David doing while he's waiting for the crew of the Prometheus to wake up is wandering around with a basketball and eventually doing trick shots on a bicycle. Rather than this being an arbitrary decision, I choose to believe Scott made a conscious decision to pay homage to the silliest moment in Alien Resurrection, thus validating its existence in series "canon."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Billy Wilder (Part Three)


Irma la Douce


Kiss Me, Stupid


The Fortune Cookie


The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes


Avanti!


The Front Page

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Very Promethian Daily Double

 Hello, Educationeers and non-Educationeers! Cap'n Howdy is back with a special edition of the Video Daily Double: while we normally deal with educational films of yesteryear here on Wednesdays, the Cap'n is very excited for the release of Ridley Scott's Prometheus on Friday, so I'm going to educate you in a different way today. Today we're going to learn a little about "viral" videos. Now for the young Educationeers out there, this isn't something that's going to get you sick, but is instead a development of internet-based ad campaigns designed to get you involved in a movie before you can see it.

 While there are probably examples before this, the first example of "viral" marketing that caught my attention was for Steven Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which used a series of websites designed to fill in ancillary information about the world of the film. Since then, shows like Lost and films like Cloverfield, The Dark Knight, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Super 8 have pushed the concept forward, moving beyond websites for fictional companies or people and included videos. These "viral" videos often give background for characters or cover parts of the story that may be interesting but nonessential to the overall narrative.

 Ridley Scott's Prometheus has a series of "viral" videos, purported to be "released" by the Weyland company, that deepen our understanding of the company's owner, their crown jewel of development, and a scientist who desperately wants them to fund her mission. It's more than two short films, but I thought it would be fun to show them to you all.

 Our first video is a fictional TED presentation from the year 2023, some sixty years before the film takes place.


 Our second video is a commercial from Weyland industries, introducing their android, to be expanded upon in the third video.


 Our third video, "Happy Birthday David," is the expanded version of the last clip, and focuses on the android that will be on board the Prometheus in the film.


 Our final video, "Quiet Eye," introduced Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, one of the protagonists of the film.


 What distinguishes these from clips from the film online is that we will not see these videos in Prometheus, but we are given the opportunity to speculate on their meaning before Friday. Have a look and see what you think, and next week I'll be back with slices of vintage edu-tainment from days of yore...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Retro Review: Con Air

 So tomorrow is the fifteenth anniversary of Con Air entering our lives. I assume that everybody felt the impact of Con Air the same way I did, but if you've forgotten the film (we can't all be 30 years old this year, Blade Runner), let's take a look back down memory lane...

 Con Air was a spin-off of the Jerry Bruckheimer / Michael Bay team up in the 90s that started with Bad Boys in 1995, kicked things up a notch with The Rock in 1996, and then reached its maximum peak with Armageddon, a movie that I'm not especially fond of. Con Air is tied more to the Bruckheimer side of things, as he would also produce Enemy of the State in 1998 before striking gold five years later with Disney and Pirates of the Caribbean. Wait.. where was I? Oh right, before getting tangled up with the people Jerry Bruckheimer was producing with at the Mouse, I was trying to make the point that there was a run of stylized action movies known for excessive "hero" shots, cartoonish plots, big explosions, and lots of actors you wouldn't expect to see yelling at each other. Oh, and the big soundtrack tie-in song: for Con Air, it was "How Do I Live" performed by Trisha Yearwood (after a version by Leeann Rimes was replaced).

 After being reborn as an "action" star in The Rock, Nicolas Cage plays Cameron Poe in Con Air, an Army Ranger coming home to see his wife Tricia (Monica Potter), who is pregnant with his baby. While celebrating his return at a local bar, Poe runs afoul of some one dimensional assholes who decide to assault him outside in the parking lot, and he doesn't really fight back until one of them pulls a knife, and in an act of self defense he kills the guy. Mind you, self defense. Nevertheless, his lawyer recommends he pleads guilty, the judge rejects that because Poe's skills make him a "deadly weapon" who is not subject to normal laws. Because Poe can respond with "lethal force," he is given a 7-10 year prison sentence instead of a reduced judgement. So yeah, it's important to understand this is the logic that sets up Con Air.

 Because it's only going to get crazier, when Poe gets out of prison he ends up flying back home on a plane with the worst of the worst, two of which - mastermind Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich) and Diamond Dog (Ving Rhames) - have planned an execute a jailbreak in mid-flight. They release the other prisoners and hold the guards hostage. Now in order to get home, Poe not only has to stop Cyrus and Diamond Dog, but also needs to find insulin for his cellmate Mike "Baby-O" O'Dell (Mykelti Williamson) in order to save his life.

 I'm not going to pretend that Con Air is a "good" movie by most conventional definitions. It includes an exaggerated version of Cage's H.I. McDunnough southern accent, what I sincerely hope was a wig, and includes a number of great (read: ridiculous) lines, few as memorable as "Why couldn't you just put the bunny back in the box?" But it isn't just Cage being Cage or Malkovich and Rhames chewing scenery that makes Con Air memorable. There's also the rest of the cast, an impressively loaded lineup in retrospect.

 So in addition to Sailor Ripley, Vicomte S├ębastien de Valmont, Bubba Gump, and Marcellus Wallace, Con Air also features Danny Trejo (Machete), M.C. Gainey (Lost), Colm Meaney (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Dave Chappelle (Half Baked), Nick Chindlund (The Chronicles of Riddick), Rachel Ticotin (Total Recall), and Steve Buscemi (Fargo) as Garland 'The Marietta Mangler' Greene, a Hannibal Lecter-esque serial killer that even Cyrus and Diamond Dog are nervous around. Oh, and John Cusack. How could I forget John Cusack, who plays U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin, the only person on the ground trying to help Poe bring down the plane safely, even as Meaney's Duncan Malloy is busting his balls and driving a car with a license plate that says this:


  Well, it is a very silly, bombastic action movie that they don't really make any more. In fact, I can't think of a modern action film to compare Con Air to, because it's more coherent than a Transformers movie and takes itself more seriously than something like Drive Angry, yet not as seriously as a Bourne movie, for example. It's not tongue in cheek, but things are so over the top at times that you have to sit back and laugh at the absurdity. There's a long setup involving whether or not Garland Greene is going to kill again, so during a brief period when the plane is landed, he ends up sitting down with a little girl. We all dread what should happen, but as the plane is flying off (to "Sweet Home Alabama" if I remember correctly), the little girl waves at the plane from the ground. Awww.

 Con Air was directed by Simon West, who went on to make Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The General's Daughter, and the remake of When a Stranger Calls. More recently, he made that kind-of remake of The Mechanic with Jason Statham that still gets the Blogorium traffic because nobody knows what the bodyguard's "World Championship" ring is for. In fact, I bet it's on the right side of the page right now under the frequently visited links. While I didn't care for Tomb Raider and didn't see the other two, I liked The Mechanic all right and enjoyed Con Air. Hell, I still enjoy Con Air, even if it is stupid as all get out. Hopefully he brings some of that absurdity to The Expendables 2 later this summer.

 One final sidenote: when I went to see Con Air in the theatre, I was 18 but the friend I went to see it with wasn't. I don't know if other states do this, but the one I live in takes the "under 17" part of the R rating to mean "including 17" so you can only see R-rated movies if you're 18 or accompanied by an adult. I don't remember how he got in - maybe he lied about forgetting his ID - but we did manage to see it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Blogorium Review: Piranha 3DD

 I think I understand where my friends are coming from. You see, I haven't experienced Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance yet, but everybody I've talked to about the sequel to a movie nobody but the Cap'n liked has warned me how boring the film is. How it should be better, should be more gonzo, should be more, well, anything than the inert mass of exposition punctuated with the madness we expected. I mean, you're taking Nicolas Cage as Johnny Blaze / Ghost Rider, building on one of the dumbest movies Marvel's been involved with, and handing that over to the directors of the Crank films. That's a shame, because I was really looking forward to seeing Mega-Acting meets Mega-Filmmaking.

 Piranha 3DD, it turns out, suffers from the same problem of "what the hell happened?" because this movie is, on paper, a can't miss experience. Alexandre Aja's remake of Joe Dante's Piranha was a blood and boob soaked blast of exploitation unleashed on audiences. It was a gleefully perverse movie that managed to sneak in a few characters you were rooting for, even with wafer thin development. It was funny, disgusting, titillating, and juvenile. It also ended with an opening for an even crazier sequel. So two years later, Aja moves on, and the Weinstein brothers hand the directing reigns over to John Gulager, who brings along Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan to write it (with Joel Soisson), reuniting the team that made Feast.

 If you've seen Feast, you know why the idea of them making a sequel to Aja's Piranha sounds like a no-brainer: the film is a relentless, irreverent gorehound's wet dream, and even if the Feast sequels didn't live up to the original, surely they could bring this manic energy to a movie that's basically killer fish going wild on idiotic teenagers. I mean, they took the existing title and immediately turned the sequel into a joke about boobs. Surely they were embracing the schlock and preparing to up the ante.

  So what the hell happened? Piranha 3DD is a film that's dead on arrival, a movie that abandons all of the momentum generated in the Feast films in favor of playing conventional horror / slasher movie for 85% of its screen time. When it isn't moving as slowly as possible to hide the fact that the film is nothing but an elongated climax, 3DD fixates in dragging out cameos or on developing characters that nobody gives a shit about. The editing is horrendous: take, for example, a pointless scene in a hospital that exists in the finished film to go ahead and drop two extraneous characters we've been following since the beginning of the film. After some sloppy exposition about the characters, the deputy indicates he's going to talk to one of them, the scene fades to black, and cuts to a shot underwater, Gulager's go-to transition when he can't figure out how to get from one part of the film to another.

 Piranha 3DD is cobbled together from ideas from the original Piranha (the water park that shouldn't open but does), deleted / unshot scenes from the remake (a van where a couple is making out ends up in the water and piranha eat them before they can escape), and a LOT of filler. The opening of the film uses footage of the Lake Victoria party from the last film with an off-screen newscaster informing us that anything we thought we might see based on the end of Piranha 3D wasn't going to happen. Instead we cut away to Arizona, where Gary Busey and Clu Gulager are wading through a creek to find a dead cow that farts piranha eggs out. Now, I've seen Feast 2 and 3, so I know that Gulager is partial to flatulence in horror films, but it immediately removes the tension of their (inevitable) piranha-based demise. If it was meant to echo Richard Dreyfuss being gobbled up after a prehistoric cave unleashes the beasties, it failed. Instead, we get Gary Busey biting the head off of a baby piranha, spitting it into the air, and falling back into the water.

 But hey, we came for the 3DD's, right? With a title like that, surely we're going to get even more on the "titties" front! Well, if you only watch the beginning and the ending of the movie (the parts in Big Wet, the water park), then yeah, you'll get some nudity. Not a lot, mind you, because the gratudity is limited to the "Adult Pool" part of the park, which turns out to be a lot less integral to the film than you're led to believe when Chet (David Koechner) gives step-daughter Maddy (Danielle Panabaker) the tour. She objects, but he has a controlling stake and Deputy Kyle (Chris Zylka) keeping things running smoothly. Also, he's pumping water in from a prehistoric lake beneath the park.

 So is there anything worth recommending in Piranha 3DD? Well, in theory some of the gore setpieces would be worth checking out. For example, while skinny dipping, virgin Shelby (Katrina Bowden) has a baby piranha swim up her hooha, and she's so afraid that she's dying that she asks Josh (Jean-Luc Bilodeau) to deflower her, only to have the piranha swim out of her intestines(?*) and onto his dick. It should be a moment of madness, but the combination of bland direction, shoddy editing, and Bilodeau's acting make the ensuing self-castration more ho-hum than it should be.

There's a similar set up with a character named Big Dave (Adrian Martinez) who likes to have sex with the water pump valves in the water park, but instead of paying off that setup, a piranha just swims into his asscrack until nebbish hero Barry (Matt Bush) pulls it out. Barry and Maddy are the heroes, by the way, and Maddy is a marine biologist. You don't know this by anything she does, really, but because another character says "you're a marine biologist, right?" or something to that effect.

 If nothing else, you can have a little bit of fun with the cameos in Piranha 3DD, however superfluous they may be. Christopher Lloyd is amusing in a brief, if pointless, visit to the abandoned Lake Victoria, although it's really just to set up the end of the film, which borrows a visual gag from Dante's piranha (a walking fish) that doesn't amount to much in this film. Faring better are Ving Rhames and Paul Scheer, both returning from Piranha as survivors with a fear of water who arrive at Big Wet on the worst possible day. The joke about Rhames and his hatred of "punk ass water" goes on too long, but the payoff of what he did with his "legs" makes up for it. David Hasselhoff appears as himself and is good for a chuckle (a moment with a kid who has no idea who he is and the actor rattling off just about anything you'd remember him from) but Gulager is far more enamored with the Baywatch jokes than I was. There's a LOT of the "Hoff" during the credits sequence, which is a seven minute blooper reel with titles playing in between, and a little bit goes a long way.

 I wish I could recommend Piranha 3DD, but despite all of the schlocky elements you think you're in for, the movie is just too boring to sustain a few good moments. For an 83 minute film, it feels twice that long and I found myself losing interest well before Big Wet opened. Not only is it not the movie it could have been, it's not even interesting enough to qualify as a shitty sequel to a exploitation film. There's no fun to be had in Piranha 3DD (or many DDs), and since it's not playing theatrically anywhere near here (the film is available on VOD), you're not even going to be able to see it in 3D. Ultimately, you're better off putting on Dante's Piranha or Aja's Piranha 3D and having fun with this kind of movie - you won't find any with this film.


 * I know it should be in her uterus, but watching the "sex" scene, it sure looks like it's swimming through her intestines on the way to his johnson.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Trailer Sunday Presents the Films of Billy Wilder (Part Two)


The Seven Year Itch


The Spirit of St. Louis


Love in the Afternoon


Witness for the Prosecution


Some Like It Hot


The Apartment