Thursday, May 24, 2007

Review of "The Hidden (1987)"

The Hidden (1987)
"An explanation is not going to help", replied the movie.

Even though the title may imply otherwise, the plot and plot twist is reveled to us from the beginning. This is an action/science fiction mash up from the 80's, starring Lynch alumni Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Nouri and B-movie diva Claudia Christian. This sounds like the perfect cast for a Tarantino movie, just add Sizemore or Michael Madsen. Danny Trejo (who makes a cameo here) will be the common link. It is definitely a hidden gem for those that know about it.

I can remember watching this movie on Cinemax in the middle of the week, around the early afternoon. It was always in the 3:30 - 4:00 PM slot. It is not overly ambitious, yet the end product has infinite replayability. The soundtrack is a combination of stock 80's music (which sounds cheesy, catchy and quite indicative of the period) and some synthetic alien sounds. I can compare this movie to Alien Nation, I Come in Peace, Dead Heat, Total Recall, the Running Man, the 6th Day, My Best Friend is a Vampire (another catchy 80's soundtrack) and even the Peacemaker (which strangely enough has a similar plot, just a different type of alien). The main elements throughout all of them is the buddy cop/tag team concept, occurring in unusual situations (for example, with aliens, postmortem, clones,etc). They are a somewhat of a guilty pleasure, but still not as guilty as after you have downed 3 double shots of Southern Comfort, before watching this movie (my new rating system). While the shots are not necessary for the pain or enjoyment of movie, it does pass the time.

This is classic good guy, bad guy. There are cops and crooks. The twist is that it's a revenge/duty story about aliens (another world and not just across the border) in L.A. These aliens, like fast cars (Porsches and Ferraris), loud music, women and money. "Who doesn't?", you're thinking. It's the 80's, when sealing the deal involved a drink and a snort. The concept of taking by force is not lost on the aliens. The plot is based in the detective procedure, in which a lot of gunfire appears to be a requirement. The progression of the plot is relatively brief, albeit logical (if not a bit visor-vision) and entertaining.

I would attempt to figure out if there is any social commentary hidden in there, but who am I kidding. Thats why you were watching this movie on Cinemax, Tuesday afternoon, right after that nap on the coach. You aren't looking to relish in the human condition by empathically connecting to some talk show host. You want to be woken up by the sheer visual bloodlust and auditory force of the movie. Thankfully this movie has enough of that or rather enough gas to get you there comfortably and as quick as possible. The views are passable. It is perfect on lazy Saturday/Sunday afternoons as well.

*Use with caution, as the results have a risk of dependency.

Review of "¡Mátalo! (1970)"

¡Mátalo! (1970)

I am so bored of being parched in the desert and not caring.

Six years after Sergio Leone's A Fist Full of Dollars created the term "spaghetti western" and the passing of the San Fransisco acid wave of the 60's, someone thought it would be a good idea to combine the two. It would be a showcase for the international talents of Bolivian born actor Lou Castel, Argentinian actor Luis Davila (a.k.a - Luis Devil), Zaire born actress Claudia Gravy, the Italian Corrado Pani and directed by Cesare Canevari. For those familiar with the sultry naiveté of Emmanuelle, Canevari was the director of the first. If you haven't guessed so far, this is all a recipe for disaster.

Speaking with "J" (a friend and I don't mean the John Malkovich currently residing inside of Will Smith) about my reviews, he suggested I should make them my own somehow. I thought I had already done that, but it got me to thinking. I'm not sure if anyone has used this concept before, but here goes. I could rate movies based on a "shot scale". That would be the amount of shots required to enjoy or completely forget about the movie in question. It would only be in use for what I consider to be bad movies (also includes the "good-bad"). So for example, Matalo would require me to down 7 shots of Jagermeister, SoCo (minus lime) or Gentleman Jim D (or a combination of all 3 that would total 7 shots still). So the higher the "shot count", the worse the movie (inverse order to the normal scale). Now back to Matalo.

The whole plot of the movie revolves loosely around the heist of a United States official luggage from a stagecoach in the middle of the desert. We don't get to this point until about 1/2 way through the movie, however. The main character loves the smell of gunpowder, money and women. From the predictable "gore" introduction, I was getting an uneasy feeling in my gut and it wasn't because of the two shots I had quickly guzzled. The "gore" is quite light (even by 1970 standards) and seems almost melodramatically over-theatrical. For an action western, the action is as lively as the ghost town backdrop ; squeaky, rundown, dusty, but with lots of water. I have never seen the desert and water concept/metaphor driven this much into the ground, yet with as little emotion (or sweat) as possible. The director was obviously very influenced by Chappaqua and other "psychedelic" films, as he over uses their effects ad nauseam (literally sometimes). I mean how many times can we show spinning, Outer Limit's tilted framings, and close-ups of thespians with goofy expressions? This is a poor, drunk, blind and deaf man's version of El Topo. It's an Italian import, but definitely not a Ferrari.

90 minutes of that, mixed in with bare-bones dialog and acting (the dialog and acting in this movie share a border with pantomime) is too long I think. The plot could help, right? Not really. Characters coming out of the desert can't help this one, either. The acid rock soundtrack is actually not too bad, however, it is metaphorically alone in the desert with no water. I felt like I was watching Sergio Leone's evil hack clone remaking Tell Your Children (Reefer Madness) for posterity. It's really a smelly, decaying carcass that one million boomerangs cannot save, but it is still in the desert. If you're going to go there, bring the essentials (drugs/alcohol and a gun to shoot yourself afterwards). If you heed my advice, seek Django.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Review of "Grindhouse (2007)"

Grindhouse (2007)
Missing reel?? I think not. The Porkchop Express rides again.

Much like a Rocky movie or a Jackie Chan classic gung-fu movie, an elaborate montage of training scenes is required here. Please include the jogging, mastering of elaborate martial arts techniques seemingly overnight, chasing chickens and fighting slabs of meat (and I don't mean Stallone). My preparation was mental, spiritual and even physical. I primarily prepared myself by going to the cliff notes of grindhouse (42nd St. Forever Vol 1,2,3). This was not my sole preparation. I also skimmed the classics and even managed time for things I had not seen. I was ready. (For more on grindhouse, see my review of 42nd St Forever, Vol 2).

Initially I was to see this movie on opening weekend (Easter weekend) at AMC 42nd Street at the midnight showing (it would have been perfect). It was not to be as my body decided it had other plans. It wasn't a total loss as I did get to see it at AMC 42, with a smaller, but excited audience. At the box office, it has done terribly and I think this is in part mostly due to the its marketing, release date and subject matter. This is not a mainstream movie. It is a niche homage and perfect movie for the fans, but not for the masses. This is more than a movie, as it is a time capsule of a movie experience.

Theatrical breakdown (in order):

1) "Machete" trailer - directed by Robert Rodriguez

2) "Planet Terror", the first feature - also directed by Robert Rodriguez ("Grindhouse" titles instead)

3) "Werewolf Women of the SS" trailer - directed by Rob Zombie

4) Tex Mex food ad

5) "Don't" trailer - directed by Edgar Wright

6) "Thanksgiving" trailer - directed by Eli Roth

7) "Death Proof" (a.k.a - Thunderbolt), the second feature - directed by Quentin Tarantino

Planet Terror starts out with a heart pumping pole dance by the salacious Rose McGowan. The rest of the movie is an adrenaline ride based on the Return on the Living Dead and Assault on Precinct 13, complete with grape jelly CG blood and lots of zombies. The action is over the top (machine gun leg, helicopter, firepower, etc) but felt more like 80's "R"-rated action movie than grindhouse. I felt like Rodriguez didn't really get grindhouse. The humor works for the movie, but the feeling throughout is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It should be serious, but is too much tongue-in-cheek. While visually nice and heart-pounding, it lacked passion. This is the part of the movie most people enjoyed. I would give it 7/10.

Death Proof is Tarantino's answer to I Spit on Your Grave (a.k.a. Day of the Woman), with cars and a pinch of Rutger the Hitcher and Duel. And not just any cars, but heavily modified muscle cars. Most people felt bored by this feature, since it involved a lot of talking. First of all this is a double-feature and I usually don't expect the same movie type twice (would also make it a bit repetitive and boring). I think the segue, though rough on some with caffeine/sugar addiction, is a nice way to tuck you in for the remainder of the movie. It is classic grindhouse and the dialog is done in classic Tarantino style. It sounds really cool but not much is said. I would call it "elevated wasted dialog". It contains the best death scenes of either feature. I was clapping and cheering by the end of it. I give it 10/10.

The trailers (and the features as well) are pure homage; From the missing reels, to the static, to the skips, pops, burns, movie posters and even Jack Burton's T-Shirt. As with most things Tarantino, the soundtrack is eclectic. It works for his feature, but outside of the movie it falls a little flat. I guess Kill Bill set the bar a little high. Rodriguez, on the other hand, uses a more traditional soundtrack. As with other Tarantino movies there is a revival of talent with Michael Biehn, Josh Brolin and Kurt Russel. They are not alone and makes for a great cast; from Cheech to Nicholas Cage.

Grindhouse is a part of America that is now gone. A back alley America with dirt on its hands and it didn't care. A blue collar attitude that has instead given way to a white shirt and tie and nothing but veiled political correctness. Some of us got to experience the former. This preserves that experience, albeit it in more antiseptic environment. If you like movies, film and/or the visual arts (and you don't just think of movies as only entertainment), then you should see this movie. It is not for everybody. But for those (like me), who thought this was coconut cream pie with whip creme, then here's to hoping for an unrated-missing reels included version on DVD.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Review of "Spider-Man 3 (2007)"

Spider-Man 3 (2007)
The Public Castration and Impotence of Spider-Man (a.k.a. the former secret of Peter Parker) by Dr. Phil

The potential for subject lines here are as infinite as where I could start with just how bad this movie is. Bad maybe an exaggeration. Knowing what I know about Spider-Man and of Raimi's work, it is bad. The movie by itself is barely average. In the echelon of the trilogy, this movie would be dead last. I haven't been this disappointed by a finale of a trilogy since Matrix Revolutions. I'm not counting Revenge of the Sith because in all honesty we knew it was going to be bad from the beginning (it is somewhere in the void of "it's so bad its decent"). The second movie is the best in the trilogy and one of the best "comic book movies" made. This one meanders from the start with the opening credits involving a montage of scenes from the first two movies (minus Alex Ross). Did I just have my memory wiped? No, that would be one of the main characters (more on this later).

Where as the first movie was relatively slow, I can understand that the character and story development was needed. The follow up had all the elements in all the right proportions. Part three simply tries to be better by sheer force. If 1 villain was good, then 3 must be 3 times better, right? WRONG. If the trial, tribulations and personal problems of Peter Parker was meaningful to the character's development, then dropping a truck load of melodrama will make it that much better, right? WRONG. There is just too much of everything, except action. For those that thought Death Proof was boring, the first half of this movie will have you sucking down a Extra-Super-Large Coke just to maintain a semblance of consciousness. I felt like maybe Barbara Walters and her View cronies had written aspects of the script. I know Peter Parker is not your typical superhero, who often delves into his personal life and emotion, but did we have to give him estrogen therapy? Others have called this movie "dark" and full of revenge. By dark they must have meant the costume and/or lighting and by revenge they must not have seen OldBoy (or any of Chan-wook Park's revenge trilogy). There are too many nemeses, too much meaning-less dialog and situations we have already dealt with in some form and not enough new things. All the growth and development is at the end and done in such a lackadaisically talk show-like moment. I'm not even going to comment on the crappy and sudden "sunset" ending or the "apology". Ugh. Now I have to gargle some Stolichnaya to keep the vomit down.

There are few things that are good. The thing that foremost stood out in my mind is Sandman. I'm not talking about the character, but the CG creation. It is simply amazing and left me in awe. The Venom character is also impressive, but it did not resonate with me as much as Sandman. Maybe that was because Eric Forman kept talking out of the creature, with unscripted comic high jinks. I was half expecting a Chevy Chase-like pratfall somewhere (I think this is more of a problem with the actor than the character). The only other standout for me is the incomparable Bruce Campbell. He single-handedly outshines any of the marquee names in this movie (and he does this with a very limited screen time) and is one of the most vastly underrated actors out there. The black-suited Spider-Man is also interesting and has a couple of nice moments, but overall felt underwhelming (more is better equation again). The few good moments (Peter's dark side dancing included) are overwhelmed by repetition and muffled by long stretches of nothing.

The movie is a summer blockbuster gone bad. It was almost as if everyone involved was forced to work on this movie out of contractual obligations. It is completely soulless and the antithesis of the previous two movies. Even New York is missing, replaced by a generic looking metropolis. This would seem to be the case if you heard the way Tobe Maguire and Kirsten Dunst speaking on the "promotion tour" of the movie. I would be surprised if either of them (or the director) hook up for a fourth movie (this of course does not take in account the money and people's desire to sell as much of themselves as possible). It just seemed that everyone was tired of it all. Tobe plays Spider-Man in either a "robot-mimic" style or an over-the-top emotional fake. Does Spider-Man even need a costume anymore? Everyone seems to know who he is. Was Raimi looking towards the recent Marvel House of M and Civil War events for inspiration? Dunst is back to playing the flat Mary-Jane, who yet again is only good for kissing and requires constant rescuing. Topher Grace just doesn't fill up Venom's suit well and his acting acumen has not elevated him past Eric Forman(yet). Sandman as character made me yawn. About the only good characterization (apart from Bruce Campbell) would have to be James Franco (Harry Osbourne). He is the only one who actually looks like he cares; too bad he gets amnesia, his motivations change more times than a manual transmission and his butler has a sudden outbreak of Alzheimer's.

I didn't even mention the story, but that's mostly cause it just seems to be a collection of coincidences. One could say a Reader's Digest edited version of the best of Spider-Man. This movie reminds me much of the X-Men 3 movie except that movie made me laugh my ass off (unintentionally of course). I actually had high expectations for this movie, albeit I had a feeling it was going to try too much. I didn't expect too much to equal bad. Unless you are a teen, pre-teen or a drooling vegetable, you are probably not going to enjoy this movie much. Go back and see the previous two movies for your Spider-Man craving.