Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Whatever your travel woes this holiday weekend, they can't be as bad as the ones depicted in this great Thanksgiving comedy.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Starring: Steve Martin and John Candy
Director: John Hughes
Steve's Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Neal Page (Martin), an over-acheiving, workaholic business man wants nothing more than to get back to his Chicago suburb home and celebrate Thanksgiving with his wife and three kids. Fate, and an unwanted, would-be helpful but constant screw-up Del (Candy) seems to conspire against Page at every turn, thwarting this simple desire and throwing Neal into the most stressful three days of travel of his life.

"Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" is perhaps the best film ever made by John Hughes. It's got a lightning-paced, hilarious script with some unexpected turns, a touching and family-values reaffirming ending (even if I also find it to be a very sad ending), and the diverse comedic talents of stars Martin and Candy are shining brighter here than in perhaps any other film they are featured in. (The movie, more than any other, shows what a loss Candy's premature death was to the world.)

This is a great holiday picture, and I'm sure it's going to stand the test of time as a comedy classic.

Friday, August 31, 2007

'Halloween' is horrible, horrible, horrible!

Halloween (2007)
Starring: Malcom McDowell, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, Brad Dourif, and Scout Taylor-Compton
Director: Rob Zombie
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

Michael Myers comes home for a "re-imagining" of his classic beginnings. Fans of the original film are going to wish he stayed away.

This sorry prequel/remake goes wrong almost immediately. It spends a great deal of time "humanizing" Michael Myers, showing us his awful childhood with an awfully cliched bad family with members who spout awfully bad dialogue. (In fact, there's barely a decent line of dialogue in the film, except perhaps those uttered by good old Dr. Loomis (played here by Malcolm McDowell, in the only performance that measures up to the original cast).

Why the filmmakers thought that Michael Myers needed to be given a reason to kill other than "he's an evil homicidal maniac" I'll never know. The first quarter of the movie is dedicated to undermining the otherworldly monstrousness that Michael Myers embodied in the original "Halloween" flicks, presenting him as a character that we should feel sympathy for. What's more, once the killing starts, we the viewers are put in the awkward position of feeling obligated to root for the bad guy because he's lashing out at those who made his life hell.

The filmmakers even decided they had to give a lame tie-in to Michael Myers childhood for his signature mask instead of the accidental origin that was presented in the original.

If you do go to see this film, don't make the mistake I did: It does NOT get better once the "he was just a poor widdle boy who lost his way" crap is behind us. There are a few "boo" scares, the splatter is well done, and the cinematography is impressive, but the awful dialogue gets even worse and several of the murders are so drawn out that they become boring. In balance, the last hour-and-a-half or so of the movie is even WORSE than the beginning.

I should have trusted my instincts. I KNEW this was going to be another crappy remake of a great John Carpenter film, and I was absolutely right.

I never imagined in my worst nightmares that it would make me wish I was watching "House of 1,000 Corpses", however.

I should have saved my time and money, and I strongly encourage you to not make the same mistake I did. The ONLY good thing about it is Malcolm McDowell... and he is simply not enough to make this a worthwhile movie.

For reviews of more horror movies, click here to visit Terror Titans.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

'Balls of Fury' exposes cluelessness of critics

Balls of Fury
Starring: Dan Fogler, George Lopez, Christopher Walken, Maggie Q, James Hong, and Thomas Lennon
Director: Ben Garant
Steve's Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A one-time child Ping-Pong star (Folger), who has been reduced to performing Ping-Pong tricks at a dinner theater--is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the deadly underground table-tennis tournament hosted by reclusive Chinese crimelord and Ping-Pong effecianado Feng (Walken).

"Balls of Fury" is the best film I've seen on the big screen in several weeks. It's funny not only because it takes the harmless rec-room sport of table-tennis and turns it into a game of mortal combat, but also because it's a hilarious spoof of the 1970s-style martial arts movies, and even the Yellow Menace films from the 1930s and 1960s.

Contrary to what critics seem to think, this is more of a spoof of the traditional Chinese martial arts movie than it is a spoof of sports films. It's got all the cliches you'd expect from a Bruce Lee film, or a Shaw Bros. prodution from the 1970s, except instead of Kung Fu, we've got paddles and tiny white balls. (We get a little bit of Kung Fu, courtesy of the love interest played by Maggie Q. who also gives us a very attractive showing of skin.)

There's also some obvious nods to the Fu Manchu movies of the late 1960s, both through Christopher Walken's character and the location and nature of his stronghold.

Yet, most critics seem to have missed these fairly obvious cues.

This is another film that is getting bad reviews from a number of critics who simply don't have enough of a context to understand it. They are comparing it to movies like "Blades of Glory" when they should be considering it in the light of "Enter the Dragon". These same critics also missed the boat on "Nacho Libre" for much the same reasons--they simply aren't well-versed enough in genre pictures to properly judge a film that's primarily directed at lovers of B-movies.

What's amazing about these critics missing the foundation of this film is that not only do they have numerous scenes mirroring "Enter the Dragon", not to mention much of the storyline, but they have a supporting cast of actors who have appeared in numerous Kung Fu action films over the years. There's also the fact that the main Chinese bad guy is being played by a white man, like Fu Manchu has been in every scrreen appearance--Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Peter Sellers, and Nicolas Cage are all as non-Asian as Christopher Walken.
While the film is more chuckle than laugh-inducing, it's nowhere near as bad as the "professionals" would have you believe. They simply do not understand what they are watching, and they are completely missing all but the most obvious slapstick and "Naked Gun"-esque jokes. It's rather sad to watch them revealed to be utterly clueless about genre films and therefore totally miss the essense of "Balls of Fury".

I suppose it can be said that this is a film with humor that's too low for the "real" critics to get, because it's poking fun at films that many of them haven't bothered to see.

Even allowing for cluelessness, I think many critics are dumping on this movie unfairly. The actors all show great comedic talent and timing. Even Maggie Q. (who is having a really good year, since this is the second quality film she's appeared in this summer, the first being "Live Free or Die Hard") who I suspect is mostly in the film for her hot body gets in some funny moments by playing off the martial arts film stereotypes. Fogler is hilarious as he bumbles his way through the storyline, ultimately ending up in a Ping-Pong battle to the death against Christopher Walken's unpredictable, wakcy-yet-menacing evil Chinese villian. James Hong is also very funny as he applies martial arts cliches to the "ancient art of Ping-Pong" and delivers motivational speeches full of similies that are anything but expected. (In fact, it's a toss-up as to who's funnier in the film, Walken or Hong. Both really earned their paychecks for this one.)

If you have a sense of humor and a love for class martial arts movies, I think you'll enjoy "Balls of Fury" immensely. Trust me. You don't want to take the word of the "experts" on this one. They truly don't know what they're talking about. (I recommend taking in a matinee, as it's cute but not exactly roof-raising. It's just not as bad as the critics would have you believe.)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

An overlooked sci-fi classic involving time-traveling without pants

Idaho Transfer (1973)
Starring: Kelly Bohanon, Kevin Hearst, Caroline Hildebrand, and Keith Carradine
Director: Peter Fonda
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Time travel is a reality, but only if you don't wear pants.

Such is the case in "Idaho Transfer" where half a dozen young scientists partaking in an illicit time-travel experiment are stranded 57 years in the future after a mysterious disaster has wiped civilization (and possibly even human life) from the world.

Despite my amusement at the fact that the time machine only works if those using it take off their pants--the movie gives a rationale for the need to do so, but it's so laughable that the real reason had to have been the director liked to see young women in their panties--this is a dark, bleak film that ultimately conveys the message that there is no hope for humanity, no matter what we try. However, unlike many other movies of this kind, it's a message delivered by decent actors, with interesting visuals, and a script that although nearly devoid of action is never boring.

This is one of those films that doesn't deserve the obscurity it has been consigned to. Its fate was sealed the week of its release in 1973 when its distributor went bankrupt. It was released briefly to home video some 15 years later, but soon vanished again. It took nearly two additional decades for it to see a true wide release, and it is now available in a couple of different DVD editions that are easy to come by.

And this is a good thing, because not only is this a quality movie that deserves an audience... and one might even be able to assert that it's a true classic that's fallen through the cracks of the movie business.

"Idaho Transfer" carries a message that's just as timely now as it was in 1973. It will even speak to more people than it did back then, as there are even greater numbers of those are convinced that the world will come to an end the day after tomorrow, due to pollution, over-population, and sinister government plots that there were some 35 years ago.

If only the similarly-themed "An Inconvenient Truth" could have delivered its message with the same level of class as "Idaho Transfer", it might have been tolerable to sit through. Yes, one is a supposed documentary and the other is pure fiction, but the makers of "An Inconvenient Truth" could have taken a lesson or two from the 35 year old film "Idaho Transfer" in regards to delivering a message about the dangers of excessive exploitation of the planet. The chilling, quiet ending to "Idaho Transfer" and the pall that hangs over the entire film stays with you far longer than the with a megaphone-and- and-sledgehammer approach of "An Inconvenient Truth".

I highly recommend "Idaho Transfer" to those who like well-done but downbeat sci-fi films in the "end of the world" mold. I recommend the film even more highly if you're a member of the Cult of Al Gore and only wipe your ass with one piece of toilet paper at a time, and if you've stopped washing your hair to save energy. This is a movie that will speak volumes to you (pants or no pants).

"Idaho Transfer" is included in Mill Creek's 50-movie pack "Nightmare Worlds", and it's one of several reason why that set is a very worthwhile purchase.

(The film can also be had as a stand-alone DVD, but you'll be paying almost the same to get it that way as you will if you get "Nightmare Worlds" (at least if you order the set set from The smart money says you shoud get the Big Box with the 49 bonus movies--some of which are actually pretty darn good.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Ali Larter, Iain Glen, Mike Epps, Oded Fehr, Spencer Locke, and Christopher Egan
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Steve's Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Five years after an accident in a top secret lab unleashed a virus that turns dead bodies into flesh-hungry, violent zombies, the world is overrun with undead. Pockets of survivors still exist, and Claire Redfield (Larder) leads a convey from place to plance, attempting to gather them and form strength in numbers. She eventually crosses paths with Alice (Jovovich), who is on the run from the creators of the virus. They consider her their property, and they want to back. Will Alice be the salvation of Claire and her mobile community, or will she bring doom to them all?

After getting over the dissapointment of the fact that "Resident Evil: Extinction" does NOT follow up on what seemed to be an obvious and very cool sequel set-up at the end of "Resident Evil: Apocalypse"--except with an brief exchange between Carlos (Fehr, the only returning castmember from the other film aside from Jovovich) and Alice--I came to appreciate this supposedly final film in the series for its "The Road Warrior Meets George Romero's Day of the Dead" vibe.

I can't praise the film for its script... it unfolds as though it was based on someone's "All Flesh Must Be Eaten" or "Dark Conspiracy" roleplaying campaign, as the fillm moves from horror-flavored, action-oriented horror encounter area to horror-flavored action-oriented encounter area. While the main story-thrust of the film is resolved and the main villain within reach gets his by the end of the film--and please say that's a spoiler... you KNOW that even before he shows up in the movie that the mad scientist is going to bite the dust during the final reel!--the film leaves so many dangling plot-threads that it feels more like the middle of a film series instead of the end. Just like a supposedly "climactic" session of a well-run (and continuing) roleplaying game session.

I also can't really praise the acting in this film, because I don't think there was any. (I know that's not true... the apparently lack of acting is acting in and of itself, as anyone who's seen more than two or three low-budget indie horror movies will confirm). But, the film is so devoid of anything but action that there's no need for the actors to do anything but run around and shoot off blanks and beat on extras in zombie make-up. Jovovich does a little acting when she first wakes up at what seems to be the beginning of first "Resident Evil" movie, and then later when she comes upon the cornerstone of Umbrella Corporation's latest project, but she isn't exactly required to stretch herself.

I am, however, impressed with movie's breakneck pace and how it kept me entertained... and even how it shocked and startled me with violent zombie attacks. The zombie crow sequence was also expertly staged and executed, and it was one of the scariest sequences I've seen in recent cinema. Yes, it was remincent of both "The Birds" and "Night of the Living Dead"... but I wouldn't have thought that borrowing from two such different classics could result in something so nifty.

There isn't a scrap of padding in the film. It promises to deliver zombies and lots of gory violence, and it delivers on that in spades. While part of me would have liked a slightly more structured plot, the overall film still worked for me. I also didn't mind the fact that the end of the film really isn't all that much of an ending--instead, it opens up branches to two possible sequels. Maybe that's because I've been running running roleplaying game campaigns for some 30 years now, and that's exactly how I like to "end" my campaigns. I want to always keep openings so the fun can continue, if the players are willing.

"Resident Evil: Extinction" is not a masterpiece. In fact, it's probably downright forgettable, and I am certain that in a week, my memories of it will be as vague as those I have of the first two, but while in the theater, I enjoyed myself immensely.

Monday, June 4, 2007

'The Villain' is live-action to Looney Toons

The Villain (aka "Cactus Jack") (1979)
Starring: Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margaret, and Arnold Schwarzenegger
Director: Hal Needham
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

The Handsome Stranger (Schwarzenegger) volunteers to escort the lovely Miss Charming safely to her father... but the villainous Cactus Jack (Douglas) has dark intentions for both!

"The Villain" is a hilarious physical comedy that plays like a live-action version of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd or the Road Runner vs. Wiley E. Coyote. It even borrows several jokes from those cartoons... and they're even funnier when live people are put through their paces by them.

I'm sure some hysterical parent will be up-in-arms over the violence in this film, and I suspect there's some retarded kid who will watch it, draw a tunnel on the wall, and run headlong into it and crack his head when it doesn't become real. The rest of us, however, be we normal adults or kids who are congenital idiots, will certainly laugh ourselves silly while watching this highly underrated, very unusual comedy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Is that a special kind of sheep dog?

Film star denies lamb tale

A Japanese film star has denied reports she was conned into buying a lamb disguised as a poodle.

Maiko Kawakami has dismissed stories she was the victim of a scam by tricksters importing lambs from Australia and Britain to sell as poodles to rich Japanese women.

It was widely reported that the scam came to light after Kawakami complained on a television talk show that her new poodle refused to bark or eat dog food.

"Ms Kawakami is very surprised by how much this has spread overseas. She was just recounting on television how she had heard of such a story while she was at a nail salon," a spokeswoman for her talent agency said.

"Ms Kawakami does not even own a poodle."

Police in Sapporo, where the fraudulent company was reportedly based, also denied the tale.

"We have had inquiries from so many media - CNN, CBS among others - and all I can say is that that article is completely made up," a spokesman said.


Yes, Ms. Kawakami. We understand you don't own a poodle.

But do you own a lamb?

(BTW, the "media morons" referred to in the tag for this article are not Maiko Kawakami or her spokespeople, but rather the anonymous reporter who wrote this article,and all the other journalists who apparently didn't notice that even the original writer didn't fully believe the shaggy sheep tale he was relating, because even he states that "this has a whiff of the 'urban myth' about it."