Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Collector (2009)

Some people like to collect stamps, other people like to collect seashells. Some people have collections that others might find completely insane or bizarre. Some people like to collect brain cells – clearly those who made The Collector were not among them, as this is a seriously insipid, valueless piece of celluloid trying to be a movie.

Director: Marcus Dunstan
Starrimg: Josh Stewart, Juan Fernandez

(Co-written with Michelle and Kevin.)

If all you want is gore, gore and more gore, this will satisfy you. They succeeded at that goal. However I tend to think making a movie just to show off a bunch of torture crap is about as laudable an accomplishment as “Hey! I bashed my own face in with a hammer MORE TIMES THAN ANYBODY!” I heard about this movie back when it came out in 2009, but nobody ever talked about it all that much. I wondered why that was, especially for a movie that generated a sequel a few years after, up until I actually saw it. Then I perfectly understood why nobody ever talked about this movie.

We start off this movie with a couple finding a magic box in their bedroom. It sort of looks like one of the boxes a magician might use to "cut a girl in half." Since it's a suspicious object which shouldn't be there and obviously signifies that someone broke into their home, they call the police and ... HA HA HA, of course not. The idiot husband just goes up and, like a true idiot, opens the damn box, which is just a distraction for the movie's killer to grab them.

And it's allllllll downhill from this, guys!

After a credit sequence more befitting of a crappy CSI: Miami ripoff TV show, we get main character Arkin doing what he does best on the job: hanging out with little girls in their rooms and having tea. You know, the BEST parts of being a pest exterminator! The father comes in and is suitably indignant about it, as he only wants the plumber and the electrician to hang out with his daughter, NOT the pest exterminator.

Yeah this kind of credit scene was totally rad and cool ... when I saw it in Se7en 20 years ago.
The purposefully shitty picture quality combined with the awful audio doesn't make this retro, just ultralame.

It seems Arkin just can’t win though, as he goes outside and immediately gets the older teenage version of having a tea party: the other daughter of the family comes up and demands to take a drag from his cigarette. She’s the kind of person who flirts by asking what Arkin’s name means – truly a tantalizing and flirtatious question, I know. Then again, I guess ANYTHING sounds tantalizing when you mutter it in a voice so low the audience can’t hear a fucking word you’re saying. Yeah, this is one of THOSE movies … you know, the ones where the movie tries to disguise its own banality by making every line of dialogue a half-whisper like the characters are about to fall asleep.

Smoking is cool! Too bad the cancer spreading in our lungs right now will make it impossible for either of our characters to say a single line that isn't impossible to understand with the movie's bad audio quality!

So the daughter then goes upstairs and fakes an argument with her mom about going on some family vacation. Uh, OK? Why are we seeing this again? Maybe to confirm that the daughter is a bad actress, played by an already bad actress – it’s sort of like acting inception! Bad acting inside bad acting inside a bad movie.

So if you’re wondering if this movie has ANY real direction or coherence at all, the movie FINALLY gets off its ass and does something. Arkin goes to meet his girlfriend or ex-wife or mother of his daughter or whatever they are – it never really explains their relationship. He brings his daughter a stuffed bear, which causes his ex to get MAD because he should’ve been using that money to help pay off the loan sharks who will otherwise kill her.

I'm just blown away by how many shots there are in this fucking movie of Arkin up close in peoples' faces like that, holding the sides of their head. He does it like all the time! Weird thing to complain about, yeah, but even so - it's weird how many of these shots they tried to cram in. Also, you can't see it in my stills, but good luck not being nauseated by the jangling, unfocused mess that tries to pass for "camerawork" in this movie. Bunch of trendy shaky-cam crap, is what this is.

Yup, you know how it goes! The old “ex-wife owes money to the mob” love story. We’ve seen this a thousand times over in … uh … well, actually no, it’s just bizarre that THIS is what passes for drama in this movie. You seriously couldn’t think of anything else that could possibly drive the film’s conflict forward? It HAD to be “the mafia is coming to get me”? Maybe in a totally different movie, but in one of these torture-gore-porn flicks it just comes off as ridiculously extraneous and unnecessary - especially since they don't ever focus on it again, outside of a hollow reason to get Arkin into the torture-house pretty soon.

I just love the implications of this, too; the ex-wife is clearly afraid of someone coming to kill her, so of course she brings her young daughter out in public where anyone could easily try to kill them! Genius!

The scene is droll and boring: the ex-wife just bitches at Arkin a lot and there’s really nothing of substance to latch onto. Arkin then goes to a sleazy nightclub where I guess it’s “I Know Who Killed Me” day at work:

Aside from the sad fact that I Know Who Killed Me (second pic) is actually better than another movie - even just in terms of production quality - can you even tell the difference between these two? Would you even guess they weren't from the same movie?

I guess Arkin is just there to see Laurence Fishburne’s drunk deadbeat brother, who is some kind of crime boss or something – I don’t really know, and he never appears in the movie again, so either way. What follows is an overly long scene where Fishburne-lite and his cronies burn the hairs off of Arkin’s hand and eventually just tell him they won’t help him and he’s on his own about the money. Why did we have this scene at all? To pad out the running time, of course!

So that's what happened to Marcellus Wallace after Pulp Fiction.

The following scene, where he breaks into the house from earlier, is also incredibly boring and pointless. Yes, we have to have a scene painstakingly showing him breaking in to bridge where the movie is going – but does it HAVE to be so incredibly bland? The only thing going on here is what a fucking piece of shit ingrate Arkin really is. Yeah, buddy, you break into the house of those people who trusted you to work for them! You’re a real upstanding guy!

It’s just amazing that we’re actually expected to root for this thieving piece of garbage, good intentions notwithstanding. Maybe it’d be one thing if he was a better written character in whom we could see the complexity and depth of his conflict, but in THIS movie? That’s a laugh – the only thing any of what’s going on before this point was good for was just padding before the movie turns into a torture fuck-fest of epic proportions. As an aside, he’s there to steal some kind of rare jewel, which this family conveniently has in a safe hidden behind a painting. Because I guess most suburban families just happen to have rare jewels they can hide in safes in their own homes.

I have to admit a couple of the atmospheric shots of the house are sorta nice, building up some tension. However, it’s all pretty much ruined as soon as Arkin opens his fucking eyes and suddenly realizes that the entire house has been booby-trapped the whole time and SOMEHOW he just missed it when he was coming in! This guy is the worst thief ever. How could he miss all these wires and traps set up? They’re literally all over the place!

"Guess I must have missed these obvious wires all over the place when I came in! When they taught about situational awareness in thieving school, I was passed out drunk by a dumpster outside of a Burger King. Whoops!"

Some of these traps are just ridiculous, and way too contrived and implausible to really be effective at captivating the audience’s imagination. He tries to call 9-1-1 but…

Ha HA! He didn't count on me wearing protective earmuffs to make a phone call in his sick torture dungeon house fantasy land! I have outsmarted the great Collector killer!

Yup, a spike in the phone – I guess the killer was COUNTING on whoever came inside the house jamming the phone to their ear hard enough to drive that spike in. Because you know, that’s how you use a phone!

So Arkin, bewildered that he’s appearing in the Jigsaw Killer’s interpretation of the Home Alone franchise, finds his way down to the basement, where the family is being tortured in horribly green-lit dungeons with so much grain on the camera filter that it’s like the movie spent too long sunbathing at the beach without a towel to lay on.

"Allow me to keep placating and comforting you without actually trying to save you or do anything useful ever, like I do with every other character in the film." Seriously, yet another worthless cliche straight from the asses of the writers. When will these movies learn that the whole "leave kidnapped victims where they are so as not to distract the killer" thing NEVER works?

These scenes are just amazing in how stupid they are, mostly because of one fact: Arkin now knows the killer is in the house and has found the victims left alone. Instead of just waiting for the killer to come back and surprising him or knocking him out or something, Arkin decides the best course of action is to tell the blindfolded, tied-up wife to scream and distract the killer while he goes upstairs to fuck around some more. The movie could be over in five minutes if Arkin just waited down there and beat the killer over the head from behind! But that can’t happen yet. We haven’t had the SUPER SCARY threatening tongue-cut-off scene with the wife:

Yeah because for one, a tied up, blindfolded woman in a bathtub being tortured is real fucking good cinema, right? Fuck you. Two, they don’t even take advantage of this while they have it on screen! As despicable as it would be to mutilate this woman’s tongue, AT THE VERY LEAST it would fit with the movie’s modus operandi of showing gore! But the killer doesn’t actually do anything to her, and she’s fine the next time we see her. This movie's failure is so all-encompassing, so universal, that it can’t even accomplish the ONE MINISCULE, SMALL-MINDED GOAL IT SET OUT TO DO.

Upstairs, Arkin finds a bloody guy in the closet inside that box – the same guy who discovered the magic box from the opening. This guy is really only here to spew exposition like a leaky sewer pipe: the guy in the house is called the Collector, and he “collects” people and kills everyone else. That’s it – that’s really all the story you’re going to get with this. Just the image of the killer putting that guy in the box and hauling it to this house on the off-chance someone would actually find and open it in the fucking closet is astounding to me. How did this guy even survive that long trapped in that tiny-ass box? Did the killer just put a mini-fridge and A.C. in there for him? I guess it wouldn’t surprise me, given how implausible and insane the rest of this is.

Like, really, was putting hot yellow mustard-colored acid on the floor of a whole room a great idea? All it amounts to in the end is a cat getting caught in it. Arkin does the sensible thing and rips the cat out and hurls it toward the window – you’re not playing football, you inbred moron. What, you couldn’t have tried to save it? You had to throw it like that? The cat lands on the windowsill, which the killer anticipated: he outfitted the windowsill with a motion-sensing guillotine that clamps down and cuts the cat in half.

Huh. That’s two movies in the last three weeks I’ve seen where cats are killed. I don’t know how to feel about that!

We then see another trademark of the film – the killer just can’t seem to find Arkin. Part of me thought this was because he knew Arkin was there and was just playing with him. No, though – he can’t even see him right there:

"If I stay here long enough, maybe he'll get bored and go home!"

Don’t play Hide n’ Seek with this guy; you’ll stump him so bad he won’t EVER find you. Speaking of which, what’s with the killer’s outfit anyway? Was it made solely from the ass-cheeks of leather pants made for fat people? Personally I was more intimidated by the GIMP mask guy from Pulp Fiction.

Two Pulp Fiction references in the same review. Damn I'm good.

We then see the film’s ultimate height of stupidity as the older daughter comes back with her boyfriend and finds the house locked. The killer, somehow sensing them, opens the door for them and then hides. They come in and have maybe the worst sex scene I’ve ever seen, just for one fact – HOW DO THEY NOT SEE ALL THE TRAPS SET UP AROUND THE LIVING ROOM?! Even if you’re gonna tell me they’re just so into each other, even then – it still wouldn’t make sense. The traps are ALL RIGHT THERE. CLEARLY VISIBLE. OUT IN THE OPEN. These characters should see them, freak out, run outside the way they came and RUN. But nope, we need nudity in the movie, so we get some right before their unceremonious deaths:

And he's just sitting there watching them; what a fucking loser this killer is. "Hmm, well I was gonna torture and kill everyone, but I think I'll take a break to watch two people have sex." Pfft.

I gotta admit, the death scene by way of a bunch of bear traps is almost worth it. Almost. Not really though.

Arkin, finally having had enough, actually escapes and gets out of the house through an upstairs window. He could easily run to the cops and get help, but instead he sees the little girl of the family through a window and has to go save her:

No, the right answer is STILL go find law enforcement and get help. Not go back in the torture house it took you like an hour to escape from already!

Why are you so worried? Oh, I guess it’s because The Collector knows she’s in the house and is just biding his time to go get her! Actually no, he has no idea where she is. He can make ALL THESE DETAILED TRAPS ALL OVER THE HOUSE but he can’t find a 10-year-old girl hiding in a room. At first I once again gave the film too much credit – I figured maybe The Collector had kidnapped her and was hiding her in the room for later. But nope, I gave the film too much credit for even that miniscule level of brain activity. He doesn’t know where she is.

They hide in the bathroom, where of course there are a bunch of fish hooks hung up everywhere. Because yeah, if someone had already bypassed every other trap in the house, the fish hooks in the bathroom would get ‘em. Also I love how dumb-ass Arkin manages to see the hooks and duck the young daughter’s head under them, but then gets hit by them himself. What an idiot.

"Owwww, I could have easily ducked and NOT been hit in the face with fish hooks, but that would have made too much sense and I need to provide more gore for the camera!"

The Collector finally gets Arkin and tortures him in the basement. I guess he’s about to go find the daughter, when Arkin commits the unforgivable sin of calling the Collector a faggot and screaming profanities at him – truly a sign of his mental wit and word-wizardry. The greatest part about it is that it works. Yes, I'm serious; the Collector, this bad-ass torturing serial killer, gets his widdle feelings hurt when his captive victim calls him a faggot. Is there something you want to tell us there, buddy? Some insecurity you feel you have to defend your honor from?

"I spend my day disemboweling helpless victims, cutting off limbs and sewing their lips together, but don't you DARE call me a faggot! That offends my feelings!"

If this movie wasn’t worthless enough yet, we get the same dumb cliché we see in every bad horror movie: the cop who comes up and almost catches the killer, but is then killed by a cheap foil right before he can do anything useful. You waste of existence; you absolute void of anything creative or interesting.

I'm starting to think these scenes are like a neurotic tic bad filmmakers can't stop doing: the cop shows up, comes within an ass-hair of catching the killer, then gets killed off by some last-minute implausible scenario. It's been done a billion fucking times before and I am sick of it. I mean, what, do you HAVE to do every rehashed, trite scene in the book? You really couldn't resist the impulse to put this in the film?

But it's OK - the dog is killed shortly after when Arkin shoves a flaming bucket on its head and then throwing it in front of the Collector's shotgun blast, prompting it to literally explode in flames.

Tonight for dinner, chunks of exploded murderous German Shepard...

After finally escaping the Collector and trapping him in one of his own traps, Arkin gets away and he and the girl get to safety. Arkin is being taken away for his injuries in an ambulance when a truck slams into the ambulance. It’s actually the Collector, who amazingly has super-speed powers now and can catch up to a moving ambulance despite being incapacitated just moments before. So he kills the paramedics, overturns the ambulance, kidnaps Arkin and locks him up in another box! And I guess the wife just gets axed by the mafia or whatever, since Arkin definitely won’t be delivering that ruby to them now!

This was crap. It’s got no suspense, no character development, no real point to anything that happens beyond “HEY! LOOK AT ALL OUR TORTURE AND GORE, GUYS!” Not to mention the ass-load of bottom of the barrel disposable horror cliché this movie has all over it like a cockroach infestation. The whole thing is just one implausible, ridiculous scene after another. The traps were so ridiculous in how elaborate and set-up they were that it's impossible to believe even one second of this movie's plot.

Come to think of it, how did the Collector even get all those traps in the house in the first place? It's sort of implied that the Collector was actually one of the bug exterminator guys who was at the house at the beginning of the movie, and scoped out the house that way. Did he just put all of that stuff in while he was supposed to be exterminating the bugs in the house? "Oh, yeah, don't mind all the bear traps on the living room floor and the fish hooks hanging up in the bathroom! THAT'S JUST HOW WE CATCH BUGS, IT'S NOT WEIRD!" The only other option is that he somehow came back and set them up later without the family noticing, which is equally stupid.

Director Marcus Dunstan said in an interview that the Collector was supposed to be like a spider, hunting its prey – thus all the spiders seen in the movie at various points, I guess. It’s really not much of a metaphor, though, as the film fails to do anything clever with it. So the killer is sorta like a spider – so what? How does that help the meaning of the film or add any dimensions to it? It doesn’t at all. It's not good symbolism, and in fact the idea of this film having any symbolism is kind of like etching Shakespeare verses into a literal horse turd: it doesn't exactly help your case.

Maybe this movie could have been okay if the traps weren’t so prevalent and over the top; if it was just a home invasion movie about the family being kidnapped or whatever. It still wouldn’t have been good; it would have been turgid water-treading sewage without any real writing talent even then, but it at least would have been better than what we got here.

Overall I think this is a wretched experience with nothing good about it whatsoever, and I hope every copy of this movie burns in a garbage can where it belongs. You could get the same effect from looking at a stubbed toe through the night-vision filter on your video camera. With that said, tune in next week for the sequel!

Images copyright of their original owners. I own none of them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Isla Vista Massacre: Movies and What They Mean

I realize how preposterous it is to have a post this somber just days after I posted a review of a film where trucks took over the world. And I don't want Cinema Freaks to become JUST a vehicle for my own politics and personal opinions. The main thing is still fun and laughs and jokes. Those will continue later, but now it is time for something a bit more somber.

By now, you’ve all heard about the Elliot Rodger mass murder case. Last weekend he massacred a bunch of college-age kids in Isla Vista, California – but the source of much news has been his “manifesto,” which detailed all the ways he would “enact revenge” against every woman who didn’t date him. I won’t bother going too much more into detail on this whole incident because everyone else already has – literally it’s been all over the place. You can’t turn over a stone without finding another opinion on this whole thing and another source of “blame” for the whole incident. People blamed guns, misogyny and (the lack of) mental health care – all the usual targets, which all had varying degrees of truth to them.

One of the more unique points of view I found was that of Washington Post critic Ann Hornaday, who asserted that Rodger’s manifesto and mindset were the result of a life of watching modern Hollywood comedies and romances.

“How many students watch outsized frat-boy fantasies like “Neighbors” and feel, as Rodger did, unjustly shut out of college life that should be full of “sex and fun and pleasure”? How many men, raised on a steady diet of Judd Apatow comedies in which the shlubby arrested adolescent always gets the girl, find that those happy endings constantly elude them and conclude, “It’s not fair”?” she wrote.

Now, I do not proclaim that this tragedy, which claimed the lives of six innocent victims, was the result of movies being watched. Judd Apatow is a talented director who’s made some successful films that reach a wide audience of men and women alike. Also, in general, movies, books and other entertainment are never the direct reason a mass murder happens. Elliot Rodger was criminally insane, and to suggest that this massacre happened JUST BECAUSE he watched a few movies is ludicrous.

BUT … I do think Hornaday’s article is interesting and poses some good points. Not to single out Mr. Apatow or any one film in particular, but her point that modern movies are really only about a small section of the population, only focusing on white mens’ sexual conquests and dating adventures, is a valid one. I would say there is a definite trend in modern American films to portray these dumpy, young guys getting really hot girls. Look at Superbad – it’s a great comedy flick, with a lot of good jokes, but to argue that it does not present a slanted view of real life would be a delusion. That’s just one example.

Face it – women in Hollywood movies are overly sexualized and often presented as trophies for men to “win” at the end of the film. The way modern comedies treat women, you’d think you could be a sloppy, under-achieving loser and somehow still get the hottest chick in school with just a bit of pluck and persistence. Which of course is the whole point – he wants her because she’s hot, nothing else. Never mind the dozens and dozens of less attractive girls – they aren’t given the time of day. Or worse, they are turned into comedic foils. (I fortunately have not seen the latter scenario happen too much.)

Does this mean we can’t enjoy movies like Superbad? Of course not. Plenty of women enjoy the film and plenty of intelligent, self-aware men enjoy it, too. That’s the cincher – even if we do find some brainless enjoyment in commercial summer blockbuster Hollywood films, we should be able to notice the flaws in them, notice the biases and recognize when a film is separate from real life.

Because it’s easy for young people to fall into the trap of watching movies and expecting real life to mirror them instead of the other way around. I was like that as a kid myself. I think lots of people, boys and girls both, tend to look at movies and wonder why they can’t have a picture-perfect romantic relationship, or why they can’t save the day. I believe this has grown over the years that kids have grown up with movies into something like a “main character” complex – we think we’re the main characters in our own lives and expect things to go in a three-act structure, with a climax and a denouement in which we come out on top. This is human nature, but I feel like it has amplified a lot in the 80s and 90s culture of entertainment.

In real life, you don't always get the really hot girl who's ten times more mature than anyone else in the class. In real life, the really hot girls are also insecure and have their own problems like everybody else. In real life, winning those girls doesn't mean your life is suddenly set, and in real life getting into a relationship isn't just a personal victory for you alone to gloat over.

In real life, you'll probably find love in an unexpected place. It will be a girl who may not fit every single check-list of what would be your perfect girlfriend, and you won't fit hers for a perfect boyfriend either, but you'll love one another anyway because it will feel right. That's all the shit Superbad isn't telling you and the other summer romantic comedies aren't telling you. If you're a 17 year old kid like I once was, you may not get that right away, but someday you will.

Elliot Rodger didn't get that, because he was unbalanced to destructive degrees. Elliot Rodger did what he did because he was insane. That’s the bottom line; that’s the end of it. It wasn’t the fault of movies that he spilled blood on the streets of Isla Vista last weekend. However, I feel it important after a tragedy like this to talk about these things anyway. Not to necessarily point blame or put a big old Band-Aid over the situation, but so we can come to a better understanding of the multi-faceted elements of our culture. Opening up a dialogue on social issues is never a bad thing when it gets people thinking outside their normal day-to-day.

Movies do matter. It’s why I have turned so much of my criticism (which can be seen in some of my reviews) in recent years on the level of “what does this do for society?” “What kind of a message is this trying to send, or unconsciously sending?” “What is this saying in-between the lines of what we see?” Because movies can be influential, and powerful – they impact all of us in so many ways.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Starring: Ken Watanabe and MUTOs (with cameo appearances by Godzilla and Bryan Cranston)
Director: Gareth Edwards

Well, it has all come down to this: the new Godzilla movie. So, what is the verdict? Well, this is Cinema Freaks, so here is Nicolas Cage acting out how I felt while watching this movie:

And this is him acting out how I felt after it was over:

Yeah, this is going to hurt...

Let me start off with the plot. In 1999, a mysterious cave-in at a mine creates worry for a scientist named Dr. Serizawa (sound familiar?), played by Ken Watanabe (I am just going to call him by his real name to distinguish him from the original character).  Not long afterward, a nuclear power plant disaster in Japan unfolds, with tragic consequences for an American family by the name of Brody. Fifteen years later, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), now a married father serving in the Navy, returns to Japan to help his own father, the former plant supervisor Joe Brody, played by Bryan Cranston. Cranston (I am just going to call him that by his real name too because…it's Bryan Cranston) believes there is more to the disaster than officials are letting on. But what they find is beyond their wildest dreams…

…or mine for that matter. I was expecting Godzilla, but instead I got…*sigh*…let me explain…

Okay, I…have some problems with this movie. Now, I cannot really explain all this without going into the important plot details. I will not give away the ending, but you may see some of these details as spoilers. Sorry, that it is the way it is going to go.

First, there is the big one: it has other monsters in it besides Godzilla. It turns out that the military has been keeping an egg inside the supposedly contaminated zone around the former nuclear plant; we know from the beginning that it was found by Watanabe's team fifteen years earlier. The egg hatches and a giant creature emerges from it. Classified as an Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism, or MUTO for short, it is hard to describe and I do not think it is based on any previous Godzilla characters, but it sort of looks like a mixture between a bird and a praying mantis. Anyway, a different MUTO from the same nest is also on the loose. Why did no one has ever bother to look for it despite obvious evidence it was alive? Why did no one even find it by accident in the fifteen intervening years? Those are valid questions…that will never be answered…Anyway, the two of them are set to breed, which would result in more of these creatures coming into being.

Gee, THAT sounds really familiar, doesn't it? Except instead of Godzilla the Hermaphrodite, they have two other creatures procreating...through incest. Gross.

Under other circumstances, this would not be an issue; all but a handful of the old Godzilla movies have him fighting other monsters. But Godzilla was always the main attraction. In this movie, however, the MUTOs actually take up more screen time than he does! I have heard some complaints beforehand that Godzilla gets pushed out of his own film. Well, I agree with them. Stealing screen time is one thing; stealing the whole movie is another. And in my mind at least, this was not suppose to be an ordinary Godzilla movie. This was the anniversary American reboot that was suppose to celebrate sixty years of the big guy, and quite frankly make up for the disastrous '98 version. Putting other monsters in there would have been a big distraction no matter what. They could have saved them for the (almost inevitable) sequel or at the very least held them off until near the end. Really, though, it should have just had him.

Speaking of not showing up very often…Bryan Cranston. He is in this movie. Sort of. What do I mean by that? Well, after he loses his wife in the nuclear meltdown, he spends the next fifteen years hanging around Japan, getting arrested and coming up with all these conspiracy theories about what really happened that day (and yet somehow does not age at all during this time period). When he is reluctantly assisted by his now-grown son, they are arrested by the military and conveniently end up at the detention center where the first MUTO hatches. When it does, it creates havoc and Cranston is seriously injured in the chaos. Watanabe realizes his potential and recruits him to help deal with the dangerous threats. Cranston responds by…dying. Oh, you mean they fake his death to keep his existence a secret so that…no…he just…dies.

Okaaaaaaaaaaay…so all that build up hinting at a big Godzilla vs. Walter White showdown? Yep, that tease goes nowhere. By the time Godzilla is even mentioned, Cranston is already in a body bag. Great…just…great…

Honestly, this two minute fake trailer is better than the actual movie.

Oh well, we still have Ken Watanabe  right? Well, yes, but his main job in the movie, besides staring alarmingly at the events unfolding, seems to be to tell everyone about how Godzilla is nature's OxiClean: he moves in and wipes away the problems caused by other powerful forces. In other words, he is suppose to destroy the MUTOs and restore balance to the world, so we should just let him do his job. Watanabe is kind of like Dr. Yamane in the originals, but while Yamane was sort of a wise elderly professor of the field, Watanabe comes off as presumptuous for some reason. Maybe because he happens to be wrong: when Godzilla and the creature first encounter each other on-screen, they roar at one another for a few seconds, before they CUT TO THE NEXT SCENE! Seriously, they go from night to day with absolutely no transition at all! And this is not a stand alone error either; this is done a handful of times throughout the film, if less blatantly. Anyway, I like Watanabe as an actor and I might have had a different take on his message if the rest of the movie held up, but as is, it does not work. AT ALL!

The rest of the cast does not help matters. There are no real bad performances, per se. It is just that none of them really do anything. David Strathaim plays a military guy who keeps telling people how understanding and open-minded he is, only to shut them down afterward if he disagrees with them. Elizabeth Olsen plays the wife of Ford who lives in San Francisco, proving that San Francisco is never safe when an Olsen sister is around!

Ha ha ha, I made a "Full House" joke. I could have been on my tenth "Breaking Bad" reference at this point, but I guess that was not in the cards...

As for Ford Brody, he is the supposed hero in this movie, and he does do some stuff: he assist in the fighting against the monsters and takes part in some of the planning. However, none of what he does could not have been done by anyone else in the military. He does do one thing at the end which is courageous, but even that is undercut by the fact that is done in vein. The only reason why he is really in this movie is to connect the dots between the beginning and end of the movie. This is done in a lot of films, of course, but you still have to be able to make the narrative flow seamlessly. In this film, you can see all the mechanics at work, so there is no real suspension of belief.

In some sense, I understand why the people got overshadowed. The Godzilla series has always been about the monsters, and the human characters were not written to be on the same plane as those of Shakespeare. But they still played roles: they fought against or with Godzilla and their personal strengths and weaknesses came through in the storyline. If they did not, the films would just be constant fighting, which would honestly get boring after a while. While it was not quite like that in this film (frankly, there should have been more fighting, not less), it did treat the human characters like they were useless, as if they mere pawns to be shown so that the producers could remind themselves not to blow the entire budget on special effects. I get that this was the message of the film, to let nature take its course without human intervention (I know because Watanabe told me so). However, to take it so far as to reduce almost all the human characters to cardboard cutouts really makes the movie look hallow.

So, is there anything positive about this movie? Well, Godzilla himself is cool. He certainly comes across as very powerful and intimidating. Some people have complained that he is too fat, but while I suppose going on the Atkins diet would not have hurt, there is no doubt in my mind that this is Godzilla (what little I saw of him). I also liked some of the little tributes they paid to the original: naming Watanabe's character after Dr. Serizawa  commenting on events happening in the year 1954, reminding the military of Hiroshima, etc. I even liked when Watanabe says Godzilla's name for the first time: he totally mugs for the camera and its pretty cheesy, but it's fun nonetheless. And believe it or not, I liked some of the parts I just critiqued. The MUTOs themselves have a neat design and the whole message of nature taking its course is really not a bad one at all. I just think they were either misplaced or not done very well in the context of the film (okay, I admit, Godzilla's finishing move at the end of his fight with the biggest MUTO is pretty awesome!).

Now for the last part: how does it compare to the 1954/6 and 1998 versions? Aside from the obvious advances in technology, it falls short of the originals on almost every level due to everything I just mentioned above. As for '98…overall, this movie is better. The characters, as one dimensional as they are, do bring a bare basic level of emotional turmoil and are not as annoying as some were in '98. In addition, there are fewer plot holes (though there are some noticeable ones) and Godzilla actually puts up a fight as opposed to hiding all the time. In other words, it at least tries to take itself more seriously. However, there were a number of moments that reminded me of '98, and not in a good way. So, it is a superior film, but almost by default than anything else.

And that is 2014's "Godzilla." Man, what a disappointment!

Didn't think I would have this again so soon…

Look, I was not expecting a masterpiece: I just wanted a good, solid Godzilla movie. This was the American movie they were suppose to get right, yet I did not get it. Honestly, I feel robbed! So if you are a real die-hard Godzilla fan or just a big action movie junkie, you might like it (actually, you have probably already seen it at this point either way). But if you are an average movie goer or just someone like myself who wants something a little more out of the franchise, I do not recommend it. I heard they are already planning a sequel (shock) and maybe that one will be better. I am not that hopeful at the moment, but, eh, stranger things have happened. Until then, stick with the originals!

By the way, I realize this was a terrible Memorial Day post. If you want something more appropriate, check out my review of Twelve O'Clock High here.

The pictures and videos in this post are copyrighted by their respective owners and are being used for entertainment purposes only. Please do not sue me.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Maximum Overdrive (1986)

In 1987, a horrible event happened that changed the course of human history. Machines came to life and slaughtered everybody for no reason. It happened so fast nobody could predict it or tell what the Hell was going on. If it hadn’t been for a bunch of idiots at a random gas station in the middle of nowhere, people today would still be enslaved to a bunch of 18-wheeler trucks. Oh the horror! Let us recount the terrifying events of that day in the Stephen King directed vessel Maximum Overdrive…

Director: Stephen King
Starring: Emilio Estevez, Laura Harrington, Pat Hingle

We start off this movie with the King himself flabbergasted that a bunch of machines and electric signs at the bank are saying some rather rude things to him when he tries to withdraw money:

Well I mean obviously THAT already happens at the bank every time we use it. It's just delivered in a more direct manner here.

We then get what probably took up most of the special effects budget for this as a bunch of cars and trucks crash on a bridge that won’t go down like it’s supposed to, causing a horrible accident. Some people fall off the bridge. May their sacrifice be remembered … let us bow our heads for a moment of silence for these fallen brothers and sisters, the first casualties of the Great Truck War of 1987.

Let us also remember the Great Watermelon Genocide of 1987. Never forget!

After that, we finally get our main destination for the movie – this truck stop diner out in the country, where a guy named Bill is pissed off that he has to work extra hours for no pay. But his boss, a fat jackass named Bubba Hendershot, sees things differently because Bill is a convict out on parole.

If they handed this guy the keys to the kingdom and told him he could rule the Earth, I for one would be fuckin' terrified. His power trip in this movie is bordering on the massive. Never underestimate the power that a gas station owner holds, I guess.

Geez, the Green Goblin’s concept design for The Amazing Spider-Man 3 is really out there and not what I expected:

Sony production executives consider it an interesting twist on the character. People on the Internet bitched and moaned for days even though there was no script or even a trailer yet.

For the next half hour or so, the movie is at its best – just random death scenes via machines. Like at a baseball field, where one guy goes to get a soda and kicks the machine. What he didn’t count on was that the soda machine had FINALLY HAD ENOUGH and so it kills him. While I do wish there were more scenes here of the kids hitting soda cans with their baseball bats, I have to say the one kid who blocks them with his catcher’s mask is just priceless – easily one of the funniest things in the movie.

That's fucking badass. This kid is going places. Like, he will probably grow up to be a Die Hard-esque action hero.

One of the kids ends up escaping and runs off to witness more of the wanton destruction. I’m sure he’ll have a great time watching Sylvester Stallone’s take on the Brave Little Toaster.

Meanwhile, a girl who looks suspiciously like she belongs in a Mark Twain novel is riding in a car with some sleazebag who keeps on touching her thigh. When she tells him (rightfully) to fuck off, he gets self-righteous and starts talking about Jesus and complaining that kids today are SO vulgar and foul-mouthed. I’m just amazed at the subtlety with which King is attacking Christians – truly a masterwork of religious satire!

"Does it bother you that you're the cliche perverted douchenozzle with no moral compass who tries to invoke Christian moral values incredibly hypocritically?"
"Not really."
"Man, it's tired and dated that King is still trying to shoehorn in un-subtle messages about the hypocrisy and belligerence of hyper-religious far-right Christian assholes?"
"I guess. I just can't believe they're letting us go on this long about it."

On another note, when an ice cream truck goes evil and kills its owner, WHY would it still have its tinkly ice cream music playing?! Just for ironic laughs? I guess maybe it wants to tell all the other evil trucks and household appliances that it still has ice cream left over. I wonder what it would do in a fight – maybe open up the back doors and spill ice cream all over its enemies. There are just so many possibilities with this. I hope to one day see a Michael Bay Transformer sequel with this ice cream truck character in it.

Actually I probably still wouldn’t watch it – but sshhhh, it’s the joke that matters!

We also get to meet the best characters in the film. Some newlywed couple is driving down a country road aimlessly after being married. I dunno, maybe they’re going to celebrate their honeymoon in Children of the Corn country. The wife is loud and annoying, and the guy is … eh, mostly just bland. The wife’s absolute asinine nature makes up for that though. They come across a bloodied up dead guy and the wife asks “Is he dead?”

"Nah, he's just taking a nap."

What, are you fuckin’ blind? The only way he isn’t dead is if he just happened to take a drunken nap after being doused in a vat of fake blood and movie make-up gore effects. What follows is a scene where a truck tries to kill them. The wife screams a lot, which probably had the effect of making even dogs in the audience go deaf. They end up getting away unscathed, luckily for them – BUT NOT FOR US! We still have to sit through the rest of the movie with these two characters. Particularly the wife will make you want to claw your eardrums out. Thanks for that one, Stephen King!

Well, it's happened; annoyance finally has a face.

Back at Country Truck Stop Diner Land, we see that another condition of employment, besides having to work random extra hours for no extra pay, is having to light the boss’s cigars for him:

Their jobs also include shining his shoes and wiping his ass.

Shit job. But you know what’s really a shit job? When you’re trying to have some peace and quiet on the John and the main character in a Stephen King movie looks over the wall of the stall at you.

"I really couldn't have just talked to you without looking over the stall because.....uhhhh...."

Jesus, man! Personal boundaries! Get with the program! I guess King really wanted Bill to be a coprophiliac – that gives him an edge over other King main characters.

Because otherwise, we see Bill becoming the cliché Stephen King main character: he’s a young, scruffy guy with a checkered past just trying to beat the odds, and now he also has a hot chick who likes him! Probably just ‘cause they’re the only two characters in their age bracket in the diner. All the others are either old, fat or disgusting – and c’mon, nobody wants to see a sex scene with someone like THAT.

Yup, a sex scene, right in the middle of the apocalypse. I kinda get it – make the best of what could be your last hours alive. But it’s fucked up in this movie because THESE TWO ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THE MAIN CHARACTERS. I mean, they were trying to solve the damn problem before this. And now they’re willing to just throw their hands in the air, say ‘fuck it’ and then … well, actually go fuck it?

It’s just backwards. What the hell am I even doing? Let’s get back to talking about trucks going evil and turning on humanity. How about more scenes with the newlyweds trying to escape Optimus Prime’s disgruntled brothers-in-law?

Oh, put a sock on it.

We see them trying to escape more evil trucks. After narrowly escaping a confrontation, the wife turns to the husband and screams “I NEVER SHOULD’VE LET YOU DRIVE AGAIN!” Because, you know, whenever HE drives, 18-wheel trucks try to take over the planet. For the love of Christ, just let her drive for the rest of the marriage.

"Video games AND shower facilities? That's everything a girl could want!"

It doesn’t even make sense – I mean he IS keeping her ALIVE for fuck’s sake. You could show a little gratitude!

They get to the diner and are promptly welcomed with open arms, as they are clearly among good company with the other annoying people in this movie. I’m so glad we finally get to see a collection of the annoying stereotypes you make when you’re telling a story while mad at a relative all gathered together in one place. There's also this other lady, who in the middle of the night feels an uncontrollable urge to run outside and address the trucks in her best impression of a drug overdose, screaming "WE MADE YOU! WE MADE YOU!"

This is what Shakespeare really wanted back in the day and was actually trying to capture when he wrote such characters as Lady Macbeth.

I guess we finally get some action when they start trying to fight the trucks. Bubba pulls out a rocket launcher he just happened to have around the gas station, and starts blowing the fuck out of everything.

He may be a complete detestable jackass, but never let it be said that he lies down like a welcome mat for evil trucks bent on world domination!

Yeah, well, I certainly feel safe going to piece-of-shit gas stations now that I know the intolerant redneck assholes owning them carry rocket launchers. Peachy! Things are going pretty well, as far as apocalyptic truck versus human battles go, until a military cannon tank shows up and begins killing everyone. I guess the humans were asking for it though, as they just kinda stand around and look dumbly as the cannon begins to fire. Yes, they clearly have time to move. No, they do not take advantage of that time.

"Yeah...I could have ducked or tried to dodge, but I'm a fuckin' idiot."

So I guess that’s the final straw for the humans, as they are now slaves to the trucks! But wait a second – how will the trucks order their slaves around if they don’t speak the same language?! Well, it’s simple – they teach the humans how to speak their language, which is just honking car horns of course. So all the humans forget how to speak English and instead just honk like really annoying ducks all the time. And that’s the end of the world as we know it.

No, that actually was a lie – I know; how can you ever trust me again? Actually the trucks start honking their horns in Morse code, and the little kid understands it and translates. Apparently they want to be “fed” with gas – so I guess the human characters become unwilling gas station attendant slaves.

What follows is pretty much the worst climax ever. It’s nothing but people filling 18-wheeler trucks with gas. Where’s the excitement in that? I get what it was going for, but come on. You could at least put in some car-washing scenes too. Or some paint job change scenes. The possibilities for humans being truck slaves are infinite, and King does not take advantage of it!

The worst kind of slavery is the kind that makes you recall summer jobs you had when you were a kid.

I guess they eventually escape through a tunnel in the sewers. They go to a dock to find this boat which can lead them to an island with no motor vehicles. They’re about to leave when the Green Goblin truck finds them and attempts to do something – though I’m not sure what, as he’s just a truck and they are clearly already in the boat. But they destroy it anyway, finally bringing down the Green Goblin truck and, apparently, ending the entire truckpocalypse right then and there.

What? How do you even know that worked? Why are you celebrating because you destroyed ONE TRUCK?! What about the rest of the world? Isn't it a bit soon to be cheering and dancing when the rest of the world could still be in grave danger?

But of course we don’t get an answer – just a text scroll explaining that everything turned back to normal because really what was causing it was a comet passing over and showering radiation on the Earth. Oh, well that explains it. I hate when that happens. Just like the one last year that made all dairy products come to life and turn evil. The milk shelves at Wal-Mart have never been the same!

We end on the sounds of our heroes sailing off to the island anyway – well, actually we end with the squawking annoying voice of that newlywed wife character, bitching and complaining about more shit even though they just technically saved the world. Is anything good enough? Will SOMEBODY please shut her up?! It’s really fuckin’ unbelievable that they actually ended on this character’s voice – she’s so annoying she practically BEGS to be killed off. That’s what would normally happen to a character like this. But King said ‘nope, we’re letting her live to the end.’

Thank you. Thank you so much for that.

On the other hand, I am glad this movie is finally daring to tell the true story of what happened in 1987 when the trucks came to life. It was for sure a traumatic and world-changing event that we will remember for decades to come and put in the history books. I for one am just glad King made this movie so we can appreciate the real historical value of what happened and learn from our mistakes.

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