Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Lazarus Effect (2015)

The Lazarus Effect is yet another movie about how bad science is, in the mode of Splice, Godsend and several others. It's kind of weird that so many of these movies seem to want to talk about the dangers of science like it isn't constantly creating miracles for us every fucking day, instead thinking it's something evil and sinister.

I wonder if they think we should all just drop the stuff and go back to worshiping Jesus in the dark by candlelight and thinking the Earth is flat and magic is real because someone invented something. Would that be better, Blumhouse Productions?? I dunno. But I think it's real easy for movies like this to miss the point of The Exorcist, is all I'm saying.

Director: David Gelb
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass

Co-written with Colin/The Observer.

This really is a pretty dumb, silly movie on all accounts – but there is one really, really good moment that comes out of nowhere and is then never seen again. We'll get to that in time.

The film begins with a bunch of scientists trying to reanimate a dead pig, I guess – what a weird opening scene! If the first line in your movie is “this pig smells like shit,” then I think you need to go back and rewrite your script, buddy.

Then we see that a new intern chick is filming the two lead scientists, Frank, played by Mark Duplass, and Zoe, played by Olivia Wilde. They're both joking around and act more like college students than actual pros. I guess you have to find humor somehow, but they seem awfully cavalier for a group of people trying to reanimate the dead!

This is the fun science lab where they break all of God's laws! Also, bad idea to show the type of camera set-up the entire movie had in your first scene.

Oh, and their other scientist assistant guys include one guy who's basically a stereotypical stoner character. Who thought that was a good idea? Did you try harder to assemble a Scooby Doo-like cast of misfits than a scientific research team? I love the scene of these two just sitting around playing a board game in a scientific research lab – what is this, the pre-school daycare section of the lab? Are they waiting for their moms to pick them up?

The idea behind their project, though, is to reanimate the dead and “give everyone the second chance they deserve.” Which is awesome, because Fidel Castro just died. I'm sure that's why they're really doing this.

So they test their project on this dog, and it actually works – the dog comes back to life. They seem pretty casual about that, honestly – they barely bat an eye when it happens. Uh, guys, pretty sure it's worth more than popping open a bottle of champagne! You just fucking brought a living creature back from the dead. But you're treating it like you just passed an exam in school. Kind of a disproportionate reaction there.

"Meh, I got the new iPhone the other day, this isn't that great."

They take the dog home, which seems like a brilliant idea to me. It predictably starts doing weird shit like walking on the bed in an odd, possessed manner... I'm sure this is normal for the dog. The next day they all get into a rousing conversation about if dogs have memories and if it can remember its former life – well, of course it has memories. Based on that bed scene, I think it has memories of watching Paranormal Activity too many times.

They also get in a conversation about the afterlife, with Frank saying when you die you see a light because the brain floods the pineal gland with DMT, so that's why people think they've had some religious experience. Zoe disagrees and says she thinks the soul has a “waiting place” that it goes to after death and that's sometimes why it happens. It's kinda silly, but I only bring this up because it will matter later on... 

It turns out the school they're working in has mostly Christian students, so the dean of the school forces them to stop doing it, because... I guess it would offend their delicate sensibilities? Huh. I guess that whole safe spaces on college campuses thing WAS onto something. I love that they apparently didn't have any idea what these scientists were doing on their own fucking campus. “You can do whatever ungodly abomination of science you want, but if we find out about it, our Christian sensibilities will shut you down. We're oddly reactive in that way!”

"Oh ho ho, I'm a hoity-toity upper class official standing in the way of your progress! I forgot my monocle and twirling-mustache at home! My only role is to be a one-dimensional obstacle that never shows up again!"

I also love Frank's argument as to why they should be allowed to do the experiment. He says it's because many other scientific accomplishments started as accidents – going on to list Penicillin and Coca Cola as examples. Yup, what you're doing is just like those! Penicillin, Coca Cola and the Necronomicon are all on the same page!

So then a bunch of cliché guys in suits acting like dicks come in and take literally fucking everything in the lab. They don't take the dog though! You know... the one thing that's proof that the experiment worked. You'd think that would've been their first priority, but I guess they just liked all the shiny lab beakers and toys more.

"Oh ho ho, I'm ANOTHER hoity-toity upper-class official standing in the way of your progress! Bet you didn't think a movie would have TWO of us, did you??? Hit you with one and you thought it was done, but I was right around the corner! Muwahahaha...."

Then the main characters are all whinging about how they can't go on and they lost all their data... you still have the fucking dog! Did you forget about that??? You know, the abomination of nature that you brought back from the dead? Remember?!

They even go back to the lab, frantically in the middle of the night, to recreate their experiment so they have proof, still never remembering the dog even exists. I guess the script has Alzheimer's and forgot about its own plot. Either that, or this was a cheap-ass way to have Zoe killed off so they could revive her. She really is pretty clumsy though! What a doofus.

It's barely even clear what happened. She... got electrocuted? OK then.

For some reason they take off her shirt to try and revive her Pulp Fiction style with a syringe full of whatever it is. Do her boobs have antenna powers that make her body more receptive to revival attempts? Maybe. I also like that they never once think about calling an ambulance for her! Nope, these geniuses have got it down so hard that they let her die and have to resort to basically black magic science to bring her back.

But on the upside... it works pretty easily!

As an added bonus, Zoe always did want to volunteer at her local haunted house attraction for Halloween, so this is good practice.

The others start asking her what it was like to die. But Frank says that isn't important and she needs to rest. Yeah! Pfft. Who needs to know trivial things like that? That shit is for straight-up losers. Frank is right as always!

But things get more somber for the group when they realize Zoe is now using 100% of her brain power, when normal humans only use 10%, even though that statistic isn't really true, in spite of what the movie Lucy wants you to think. But maybe that's a good thing for Zoe now. Maybe she can now use her brain for important things, like remembering the lyrics to even more songs, or knowing really complicated tax evasion schemes. The possibilities are endless!

The one really good moment of this film is when Zoe is talking to Frank about the visions and weird things she's seen when she died and after she came back. She looks really scared and talks about how she's been trapped in Hell for “years” and how she can't get out even now from this eerie 'burning building' world that ties into her past in ways the movie hasn't explained yet. The way Olivia Wilde plays this is quite effective and creepy, and she looks seriously tormented.

But fortunately, the movie realized THAT was a mistake, and quickly return to the awful jump scares and bad horror cliché of every other fucking movie like this. Phew. Glad you dodged the bullet of actually having to put in effort. There's a scene pretty shortly after this where she tries to make out with one of the guys, then when he tells her she needs to calm down, she locks him in a closet and then crumples it to nothing with her mind, killing him instantly. Glad he was in the movie for no reason but to die!

Nice molasses you put in that cabinet, movie...

The end of the movie is taken up by an endless dull chase scene full of shitty jump scares. There are some more scenes of the burning house hallucination that seems to revolve around Zoe. But nothing of substance, really. Mostly just scenes like this where she gets all black-eyed and growls like a demon dog or something. So lame.

Then it's revealed, pointlessly, that Zoe actually started the fire when she was a kid, and a bunch of people died. I don't know what this has to do with anything. Aside from, you know, making the whole movie a Billy Joel song.

Then the ghost-little-girl version of Zoe (I know it makes no sense, but the stupid movie's almost over) turns into what I can only describe as a great metalcore album cover from 2005.

No children were harmed in the making of The Lazarus Effect except in terms of their social standing and artistic integrity.

It's also very funny to me that this movie is all about science and the characters are scientists, yet the plot validates a completely speculative, specific opinion of Zoe's about what the afterlife is (that "holding area for the soul" she mentioned earlier). It's exactly what she thought it was! Why not go further? Have her think the afterlife is a bunch of talking pigs wearing sombreros, and then find out that's really what it is. Go all the way, you dumb movie!

Then she kills all of them and the end of the film is just her starting to revive them all with the evil, bad science, like they did to her. Oh no! But I guess it's got kind of a rosy lining – none of them actually die. They all get to live happily ever after as reanimated zombie demons! Except for that one guy who she crushed in the closet earlier. But who cared about him?

If horror movies were a class in school, The Lazarus Effect would be the kid that just ate glue all day. The characters and story are just bad, with nothing of any interest, and the scares are mostly all jump scare crap and cliché like the whole 'black eyes' trick that has gotten really old at this point. The movie was full of a bunch of plot threads like the shady corporation stealing their research material, which just went nowhere. At around 80 minutes long, that isn't very impressive.

There WAS that one really good moment where Olivia Wilde was talking about being in hell, which interestingly was the opposite of the usual 'show don't tell' paradigm. But otherwise, it sucked.

The whole thing was like Re-Animator, except it took itself way too fucking seriously. Strangely, Re-Animator was the better-written and better-done film though. Which is a pretty sad elegy for The Lazarus Effect, as it loses out on every count to a movie that had a scene of a decapitated head almost giving a kidnapped woman oral pleasure.

This is what's more serious and mature than The Lazarus Effect, for clarity's sake.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Battle Royale (2000)

Battle Royale is a Japanese film, which means I enjoy it if only for the fact that Japan is the only place in the world that makes my home state of Florida look sober. This is a well known movie if only for the fact that it was made in a glorious time before things got so politically correct and now we can't show school children murdering each other on screen anymore. Oh the halcyon days.

Director: Kinji Fukasaku
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Takeshi Kitano

So this is about a weird alternative universe where the Japanese school system is so fed up with misbehaving children that it allows one depraved maniac to take an entire group of them to a deserted island and force them all to kill each other. In other words, it's every teacher's fantasy come to life. And let me tell you, these are some awful, rotten kids. Just look at this:

These fucking monsters need to die now!

So of course, the whole class gets gassed on a school bus, kidnapped and taken to a dark secluded location on an island where they're told they have to start murdering one another until only one remains! Man, detention is starting to look pretty good right now, huh?

They show how serious they are by throwing a knife and hitting one girl square in the head, and making another kid blow up via a weird necklace all of them are wearing. Jesus fucking Christ. Who built these things?

It's insane how serious they are about this. They passed a fucking governmental bill to fund this! I guess solving homelessness, poverty or crime wasn't that important in Japan. How did that conversation go?

TEACHER A: These fucking kids are out of control! One of them stabbed me in the leg the other day!

TEACHER B: Gee willikers, that's fucked up! How about we call the police on that one kid and have him put in juvenile detention center for a while?

TEACHER A: Nah, that's not good enough. I think I'm going to quit my job and become the head of this military group to take the entire class to an island and make them kill each other! And they'll all wear monitor neckbraces so we can know where they are at all times and kill them remotely if we have to!

TEACHER B: Don't you think that's a little overkill...

TEACHER A: Silence!

Also, in case you didn't realize – there are a lot of goddamn characters in this movie. Too many, in fact. I can't keep them all straight, save for the main kid, Nanahara, whose father killed himself and the lead girl, Noriko. That's really one of the film's problems... it's too hard to keep all these characters straight. It's not too big of a deal, since the emphasis is on the violence and mayhem more than characters. But unless you're really into teenage high school drama, I doubt any of these characters' emotional arcs will stick with you.

Most of the movie is just these kids running around on the island murdering each other in horrific ways – via machine guns, swords, who knows what else. They have three days to do all this and every couple of hours, Kitano, the sadistic teacher running this, announces the names of everyone who died. The violence is pretty goddamn over the top, with tons of heads blown up, giant sprays of blood, heads cut off – pretty much everything they could throw in, you'll find here.

I do like how ready some of these kids were to go all-out like that. Clearly, they picked the right kids! These kids never gave a fuck about an education. They were too busy tearing the heads off their little siblings' dolls and action figures and studying human anatomy way too intently. These kids were a little TOO excited to start chasing each other with katanas and assault rifles.

Nanahara and Noriko meet up with an older kid, Kawada, who they find out has won the game in the past, but is now back in – I just love how this guy looks like a Mini-Me Japanese version of a Bruce Willis 80s action hero, complete with ripped sleeves, an open shirt and a bandana around his head. He smokes a lot, too. That's how we know he's SUPER cool!

There's a scene where a bunch of teenage schoolgirls kill each other with machine guns in a tight space. Or as I like to call it, the most Japanese thing I've ever seen. Seriously – this is like a ridiculous caricature of the crazy shit they like to put in movies. It's like if an American action movie had a guy killing a Nazi with a bald eagle's beak and then he goes and eats a piece of apple pie after – just everything summed up in one crazy image!

But then there are also a bunch of other scenes where they try to have some kind of depth... it's really kinda surreal. Like several scenes, they have a kid dying in front of a girl and then professing some cheesy kind of love for her. It's seriously meant to be touching – and after all the other violence! Sorry, but I can't take it seriously after watching the previous scene of a bunch of schoolgirls in uniforms murder each other. Sorry if that doesn't put me in the mood!

They get down to like five people, and have a few more battles that predictably end in more gore and violence – a big surprise, if you just turned the movie on now. Then it's just down to Nanahara, Noriko and Kawada. Nanahara reflects peacefully on life, musing that for SOME REASON he's never trusted adults for most of his life. I'm sure this experience, then, has been nothing but positive for him.

Then Kawada turns on them, proclaiming it was all a trick and he just thought they were good scapegoats to lead to the end of the game. Some gunshots are heard by the guys in control over the kids' microphone neck-braces, but nothing is seen...

Then Kawada comes back and meets Kitano, and they have a pretty over-long conversation about how he was doing all of it to avenge his lost girlfriend. My favorite part of this nonsense is when Kitano reveals this wacky cartoon drawing he did of a bunch of dead kids with one still standing on a mountain. Are we sure this guy should have EVER been a teacher? I think someone needs to do a fucking background check on this guy.

Nanahara and Noriko bust in and they stage a coup and start yet another gun-fight with Kitano. Both Kawada and Kitano take a bunch of bullets. Kitano gets up, somehow, at the end, to make a phone call to his daughter, eat a cookie, and then die... okay then? What a weird fucking sequence.

These two pictures are in order. Never underestimate the power of cookies to sustain life beyond death.

On a boat later, Kawada gives a traditionally sappy-ass speech about his lost girlfriend and dies, too, from the bullet wounds. Later on, we see that Nanahara and Noriko leave society for good and now carry weapons at all times just out of straight up fear. Awesome. Now I'm seeing the positive benefits of this game. I'm so glad the Japanese government made THIS program legal...

So apparently, this movie was controversial because of a rise of violent crime that arose after its release, which conservative politicians, surprise surprise, tied to the violence in the film. Which is, you know, true. Every time I see a movie with violence in it, I go out and commit a crime. And those who know history know that the Mongols and Genghis Khan committed all their atrocities after watching violent movies. Violent media is the only reason any violence happens. Humans are pacifists otherwise.

Honestly, this movie was pretty decent. I didn't love it, but it was entertaining enough due to its wanton violence and energy – just a gleeful good time. It went on too long, though – two hours is way too much for something this one-dimensional. It did try at some other things like drama and character development, but I just didn't feel like either one was done all that well. While parts were fun, other parts did come off as a bit soggy or dull, especially the longer it dragged on. This should have been maybe 90 minutes, not two hours.

And also, it really sucks that this movie ripped off The Hunger Games so hard! That really downsizes it a few letter grades to me.

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Are Mental Asylums Offensive In Halloween Attractions?

So the debate rages on over “political correctness” culture – it's a constant thing now. Like one of the most recent things I've read about is a backlash over is haunted houses and the way they sometimes depict mental asylums. As a connoisseur of haunted houses and someone who has never been institutionalized, here is my take on it which none of you asked for.

You've seen them everywhere – dark, dankly lit mental hospital corridors, often lit by flashing strobe lights. Scare actors lurch around and lunge at you with blood on their face. Cackling like devils, they can be found dragging other scare actors, screaming, through the halls. As you travel through the haunts, people may bang on doors, begging to be let out. Themes like “inmates run the asylum” run rampant through these kinds of haunts.

I get why some people's initial reaction is to be angry. “What?” they proclaim, perhaps choking on their morning coffee and spitting some of it out on their computer screen. “How are haunted houses getting so PC? They won't allow mental asylums to be depicted now? Are we even allowed to SAY ANYTHING ANYMORE?!”

Well, yes, you are allowed to. I am living proof of this as my blog hasn't been shut down by Obama's totalitarian death machine government yet, even though all my reviews have anti-government propaganda in subliminal messages in them.

But haunted houses are based around shock tactics and horrific, weird imagery – and it's natural, then, that some people may be upset by them. People have always gotten upset. That isn't a new phenomenon. You just didn't see it back in the 70s or something – it was perhaps easier to ignore. Now, you can't so readily just ignore the people who are very understandably upset that mental illness is depicted as some evil, Satanic thing. They have just cause.

Mental illness is a real thing – and haunted houses, particularly lower-rent ones, tend to have little tact. I mean it isn't like the people making these are Nobel laureates. Though I would be interested to see the kind of haunted house a Nobel laureate would come up with.

However, the world is a big place, and we maybe should put less emphasis on “crazy mental patient” being the scariest thing you'll see in a haunted house. I don't think the houses should be closed or forced to censor necessarily – but come on, you must have some other ideas. That's just how society works – if something like this bothers people or has something inaccurate and damaging in it, then we should adapt to it and make changes for the better, rather than just whining about how we have to “censor” ourselves. Frankly, if your only idea you ever had was “let's make a scary mental asylum,” and you literally have nothing else, maybe you need to exercise your creative muscles more, anyway.

Now, I'm not gonna get on a high horse here and pretend I am above enjoying a scary asylum. In spite of what I just wrote, I think they can be a lot of fun. I've been to a lot of haunted houses with exhibits like that and I always liked them – the aesthetic is cool and it allows the imagination to roam free with thoughts of devil possession, evil criminals and the circumstances by which the place could have fallen to free-range evil. Like, I never come away from one of these thinking mental patients are bad. I'd hope most people wouldn't. If anything, I think some of the better ones tend to not lean very hard on that idea.

BUT... at the same time, I am not married to the concept. And again, if your only idea or theme is 'mental patients have something inherently wrong with them' then you really weren't working with something that interesting to begin with. So long as no one is arguing to shut these places down solely based on that, I don't see a problem with bringing it up and talking about it. Hopefully people would be open to changing shit if they had to.

If people are so bothered by the imagery and innuendo of these mental asylum haunts, I'm sure there are other ideas haunt-makers can explore. The article above has several examples – a more general 'hospital' or 'laboratory' setting. That can still be cool. I mean, it's not like they're turning it into a kiddie-friendly McDonalds play pen and forcing them to take out all blood or violence. It can still be scary without demonizing mental patients, and it can still be good.

If a certain subset of people who, through no fault of their own, are being stigmatized or made to look like bad guys or negative stereotypes, then we need to adapt and change. That's just how it is.

Images copyright of their original owners, we own none of them.