Thursday, March 23, 2017

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (2006)

I can't believe after all the years doing this blog, I'm still reviewing Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies. I know what you're thinking – couldn't you just, like, stop reviewing them, then? The answer is yes, yes I could. But that would be so much less fun in that sweet schadenfraude way. I have to do this. It's just how it is.

Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: R. Lee Ermey, Jordana Brewster

Co-written with Nathan.

This is a prequel to the 2003 remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is a real feat of confidence, as the gall it must take to assume anyone cared about that piece of shit movie and wanted to know more is far greater than anything I've ever felt.

This one starts off with a woman giving birth in the middle of a meat packing plant, which as everyone knows is exactly how you birth a serial killer. I'm glad they showed us this because I never would have known how Leatherface was born if they didn't and that was always the worst thing about the original movie. The way humans are born is just a total mystery to me so I'm glad this movie is setting the record straight on that!

Then we flash forward like 20 years to the same meat packing plant, now closing down, I assume, to become a vegetarian meat packing plant. Damn new trends... actually it's because of financial woes, I guess. For some reason, Leatherface is working there right as it's closing down – he's working in the exact same place he was born. I wonder what that's like... must be weird.

Then we learn by watching the manager that it's a bad idea to insult a mentally handicapped giant with a hammer in his hand while you're all alone in close proximity in the dark – it doesn't turn out well for him, to say the least.

And we see how he gets his infamous chainsaw – he just picks it up off the table at the meat factory as he's leaving. What an Earth shattering revelation. I am amazed how these writers were able to tie together the rich history of that chainsaw throughout multiple movies.

The main characters this time around are totally different from the last movie. Instead of a bunch of really attractive people, it's a bunch of really attractive people who have a few lines in the movie about going to Vietnam to fight a war. What a change! I guess these two guys are brothers and one of them doesn't want to go back to the war. Yeah, this is awesome. I watch slasher horror movies for serious plots about Vietnam war draft dodgers. I'm weird like that!

I do like the one scene of the brother tied up about to have sex with his girlfriend, and then he can't do it at the last minute because he's thinking about his brother too much. An every day occurrence I'm sure. Maybe producer Michael Bay is working some stuff out with scenes like this.

This is the time for deep thinking...

So I guess the Leatherface family, helmed again by R. Lee Ermey's Sheriff Hoyt character, are upset that the meat factory closed down because, I guess, this will mean the town is taken over by hippies and bikers? What a weird correlation. Except then we see that they're right – bikers just magically appear in town. Right on cue!

Did they sprout from the ground like mutated weeds? What the hell?

What follows is an incredibly strange scene in which this one woman biker chases the heroes on a motorcycle on the road with a giant gun to rob them – because I guess the movie forgot that this is TCM and not fucking Mad Max. But to be fair, a Mad Max sequel would be way better than this movie.

I liked her better when her name was Sarah Connor.

There's also an insane car crash that flips the car over and shatters several windows, yet the people inside don't break any bones or show much injury at all save for some blood on their heads! Man is that gonna be a mess! Damn car crashes.

It'll take hours to wash this off and put makeup back on! Fucking car crashes!

Hoyt shows up and kills the biker girl though, kidnapping three of the main characters – both brothers and the blonde chick. The other girl is not kidnapped because she was instead thrown out of the car in that crash earlier, yet she's perfectly fine and without a scratch on her! Because, I guess they can't have anything that ruins her hotness at all, lest they lose the interest of the people they delusionally think are watching.

The next forty minutes of this movie is all a bunch of torture porn nonsense. Really nothing scary at all – just gore and torture crap, which is almost always awful no matter what. A few highlights:

There's a needless scene where Hoyt makes the one brother do push-ups and then keeps hitting him while he's down. It goes on waaaay too long and has no point – Ermey's character just isn't well written enough to make it work as a tense scene. It's kinda gross and weird, but not scary or tense in the least. Plus being in broad daylight makes it kind of lame.

He's in the military and can barely do any push ups. Weird.

The main girl teams up with this lone biker guy to go save everyone, and their brilliant plan is of course to go do it alone. No point in even trying to get help, because what would THAT accomplish? You know, except for an awesome scene where a bunch of badass bikers fight Leatherface? That would actually be a cool scene, but what do we get? Just more of the same boring crap.

Instead, the biker shoots this old man in the family and then is butchered by Leatherface in an extremely predictable manner – it is always amazing to me how horror movie scripts do these tired, predictable scenes over and over like this. Do they think we all just have amnesia and really don't know what's going to happen at every fucking turn? I really want to meet the ideal person they think is going to watch this: “Holy fuck, I never expected him to jump out at that extremely obvious moment! What avant garde film technique!”

It's gory, but is it scary? No. No it isn't. That would require actual suspense and stuff we haven't seen a hundred times over.

Then Hoyt decides to make Leatherface cut off the old guy's legs, both of them, because he was shot in one of them. Even the other family members seem baffled by this, which is the real Litmus test for what a piece of shit you are, if the Leatherface family thinks you've gone too far.

So while the 2003 remake skipped out on the dinner scene so infamous in the original film, THIS one decided to put it in for no logical reason at all! Better late than never I guess, even when it makes no sense. Except I guess to establish that... the family is crazy and has always been crazy, since they apparently do this constantly? What an astute judgment of their characters. Why aren't the writers working in the field of clinical psychology?

"We could just kill you now, but that would make no sense for our plan of making no sense. We're just crazy! So we do nonsensical things!"

Hoyt gets beaten up with his head smashed against the floor several times, which looks pretty bad. It was mentioned at some point that he was in the Korean war – so can this just be a Jacob's Ladder scenario where none of this movie happened and it's all in his head as he's dying? Both of those things would be the best case scenario for me.

Then the main girl escapes and goes running through another meat factory, exactly like in the end of the 2003 remake. I wonder if the Leatherface family feels weird about their lives repeating all these moments over and over again, verbatim, like they're trapped in a Hellish loop.

Perhaps the silliest part of all is when she finds this car and gets in, only for Leatherface to suddenly pop up in the back seat after several minutes of driving and kill her. How did she NOT see him back there? He's a seven foot tall fucking giant with a chainsaw. That car isn't that big – it's not like he had a lot of room. So what the fuck, right? I don't feel bad at all about her dying because of this.

"I am very quiet and flexible enough to fit into small places. Isn't that cool?" 

I turned to Nathan before this happened, as she was getting in the car, and was like, wouldn't it be funny if he just popped up in the car behind her like Michael Myers? We laughed about it. Then it happened. That's pretty bad. How dare this movie appease the ridiculous whims of my imagination?

Then Leatherface gets out of the car and walks away into the complete black darkness on the other side of the road. Why is it like that? Can't they put in some fucking street lights over there?

She crashes her car into a state trooper and kills him - some street light could've prevented this tragedy.

Seriously, though, what's the point of anything in this? It's supposedly a prequel to show what happened before the Texas Chainsaw story, but it doesn't do anything but give us a rehash of the same shit we already know about. Oh, but there's a two-second scene of him being born and then finding a chainsaw! The audience was really too dumb to piece THOSE things together!

The rest of it is just boring. The original was good because the violence felt real and they didn't just shove blood and guts in your face from people tied to tables. This one is a bunch of torture porn gore garbage. Fuck this.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Logan (2017) and the Value of Quitting While Ahead

Here's the Cinema Freaks podcast (featuring myself and Tony) for the new movie Logan, in theaters now:

(SPOILERS in the video!)

By now you've likely seen Logan or at least heard about it and have plans to see it, so here's my take. This is one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. I don't think that's too hard a bar to clear – what else would make the cut? Superman from the 70s. The 1989 Burton Batman. The Dark Knight. Maybe a few others based on your personal taste, but I think this is pretty close to a prime cut for the genre that has grown out of being a niche and into a full-blown phenomenon as you can get.

People love superheroes, and this movie is basically for the people who were kids in the 80s and 90s and have now grown up – but still love their old favorite characters. Superheroes, like it or not, aren't just for kids anymore – geek culture has gone mainstream and those who liked this stuff when they were younger aren't letting it go, entranced as they are by the timeless stories and the iconoclastic characters. Logan the film is a dark, gritty, brutal and ultimately emotional and somber picture, and it's made from something that, in the 90s, was marked by pastel colored cartoon characters and colorful costumes fighting giant robots.

And yeah, I know that old show and the X-Men as a whole could be quite great at times before – I'm not saying it was just kiddie stuff. But Logan is another level – it's a superhero action film made with the class, artistry and style of an A-list drama. While it hits all the tropes you're familiar with, from a cross-country road trip chased by bad guys to a superpowered little girl and a reluctant hero, plus boatloads of cool action sequences fueled by superpowers, it does these things with a very serious temperament and a care for great cinematography and atmosphere more befitting of a No Country for Old Men-style dirge.

It's just really well done from a directing point of view, made whole by powerful performances from leads Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. We've seen this kind of stuff before – old men reckoning the ends of their lives, regrets buried deep coming to the surface, an obligation to do what's right even in the face of the desire to just crawl into a dark bar and stay there. But Jackman and Stewart, framed by a vague story of horrible happenings years ago in which most other mutants like them died apparently, make the story visceral and intense. The story is tried and true, but what's new about it is how well it is done.

I like that you get so little of the backstory behind this – the film takes place in 2029 and follows, as I said, an apparent tragedy that killed off most of the other mutants in the world. I like how vague that all is. Please, filmmakers, if you read my blog – don't make any prequels to this, nothing explaining how this came to pass. Also, if you read my blog, I'm sorry if I bashed any movie you made and you're now considering making prequels to Logan in spite of that.

But seriously – that also goes for the fact that Stewart and Jackman will reportedly not return for any more X-Men movies after this. I hope they stick to that as close as they can. I think there is a virtue in going out on top and not over-extending your welcome. Personally, I hate it when a series just drags on forever and loses the quality it once had, and I usually value a concise, beginning-and-ending story contained in one film over a never-ending sprawl of them. The story should end whenever it needs to, and if that takes three good films or only one, I personally like to see it end at that point – not just milked afterwards for money.

In this case, both Stewart and Jackman are going out on fucking top. There's nowhere else to really go from here. Logan is a wonderfully made, dark, harrowing and sad epic, but it's also a testament to the power of quitting while you're ahead. Here's to that.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Get Out (2017)

So after the rousing success of Get Out, including a 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, director and comedian Jordan Peele is set to direct a handful of other horror movies about 'social demons' over the next 10 years.

I think that's fucking great news.

We need more horror movies about stuff like this – about the current issues of the day, about social ills. 

In Get Out, Peele talks about race relations and prejudice and turns those things into a bizarro-funhouse horror/comedy flick. The film, about a black guy named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who goes home for the holidays to his white girlfriend Rose's (Allison Williams) parents' huge mansion and begins to notice things askew, is a breath of fresh air for the nuance and intelligence with which it talks about its subject matter.

SPOILERS henceforth... is henceforth even the right word? I don't know.

The basic concept is that he starts to notice that the family's black servants, and the other few black people he meets in the area, are all acting really strange, like robots or aliens – to the point where things start to get disconcerting. At first, you think it's a pretty obvious and heavy handed thing – oh, it's about slavery, they hate black people, et cetera. And I thought so too. But as it went on, you see it's different than that. These old people are actually using the black peoples' bodies as a kind of body-swap thing, brainwashing them and then putting other peoples' dying brains inside them and becoming them. But still, also, leaving a part of the original person inside, too. Pretty cruel stuff.

I love the humor in this too. Like Rose's dad has a line about thinking Barack Obama is the greatest president of his lifetime. So how could HE ever be racist, right? I love it. Pretty soon, all the conversations turn into stuff like that. It's crazy to me – but hell, to a lot of people, this kind of stuff is likely routine and depressing in how often it happens. We don't know how to talk to one another well enough.

And I like that this is a film about race, made by and starring black men, that isn't just a period piece retelling the horrors of slavery or something like that. I think some more modernized takes are welcome now – there's more to talk about then that. Between this and Moonlight, I'm enjoying the takes on subsets of American culture we haven't seen enough raw, real takes on in mainstream movies. That's a good thing, to see more diversity and culture than just that of the standard middle class white guy protagonist we've seen over and over for decades. It's a step forward.

It's the mutation of racism into the modern day coded words, the 'oh, we don't hate black people, we enjoy conversations with those rare specimens under microscopes and in controlled environments.' It's all the bullshit racism still prevalent in our society that dumb people pretend doesn't exist anymore because slavery was outlawed and Civil Rights happened in the 60s, and that's all there was to worry about, right? God bless the U.S. education system whitewashing everything else that happened.

And we should have more movies like this – so, good that Peele is making more. We live in some weird, crazy times right now, very polarized politically, and social issues are increasingly in the spotlight as we continue to fight over them in the USA. Movies can be mirrors of these social issues. They can have a meaning behind them. Horror, too, maybe more than some other genres, can be used in an allegorical manner – fears run wide and far of so many different things in our society and that's why we created monsters like the Wolfman and Frankenstein to talk about them. Modern horror can do that, too. Movies like Get Out are an important step in that direction, again – I'm glad this was so visible and so well-reviewed.

“The best and scariest monsters in the world are human beings and what we are capable of especially when we get together. I've been working on these premises about these different social demons, these innately human monsters that are woven into the fabric of how we think and how we interact, and each one of my movies is going to be about a different one of these social demons.”
--Jordan Peele, in the article I linked earlier.

Spot fucking on, man.

For that matter, it's just an entertaining film. It's a horror comedy that exists as a tense, creepy thriller, but also injects a fair amount of humor into the whole thing. This is a funny movie, both in awkward, subtle ways as Chris navigates his girlfriend's family's weird, creepy neighborhood and in overt ways with the character Rod (LilRel Howery), a TSA agent friend of Chris's who helps get to the bottom of what's going on. It's just good to have a horror film that's also funny WITHOUT parodying the genre's tropes – we've seen enough of that shit. This is just funny while also being scary. It is possible.

So this is a great, smart horror movie that manages to be creepy, funny and socially aware all at the same time. Go see this. I can't wait to see more of Peele's films.

Image copyright of its original owner, I don't own it.