Movie Reviews 210 – Sucker Punch (2011)

February 21, 2015

Sucker PunchDirector Zack Snyder already proved he could make movies look dazzling with some of the most ambitious CGI and special effects in some of his earlier movies like Watchmen and 300. But his followup Sucker Punch didn’t quite live up to expectations and quite frankly I didn’t even know about this movie for some time. In fact, my introduction came while watching the preview trailers on some other movie DVD I was watching.The lack of promotion and invisibility, on my radar at least, seemed ominous.

Without a doubt, Sucker Punch lives up to Snyder’s knack for stunning visuals. I would have to categorize it as a sepia toned, steampunk extravaganza, permeated with leather, lace and fishnets. But with all the flash and glitz, does the movie hold up as a whole?

A promising beginning shows a little girl bravely trying to fend of her father from both herself and her little sister after the passing of her mother. Her sister is killed by the father but circumstantial evidence points to herself and she is ceremoniously incarcerated in an all girl mental institution under the psychiatric guidance of Dr. Vera Gorski  (Carla Gugino who also played in Silk Spectre in Watchmen).

It’s a this point that the movie begins the first of many transformations to alternate universes and dreamlike backdrops. The girl finds herself in oddly similar place to her actual surroundings, a similar yet different institution, where the characters roles have changed slightly.

The girl, now called Babydoll (Emily Browning), then has a dream in which wise man (Scott Glenn) sets her out a quest in order for her to escape and one for which she will need the help of  some of her fellow inmates. Without knowing the exact reasons, she is told to acquire a definitive set of objects that include a map, a knife, fire, a key and yet another unknown mysterious fifth object.

With some reluctance she recruits a quartet of accomplices; Sweetpea (Abbie Cornish), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens), Amber (Jamie Chung), and Rocket (Jena Malone). Together they manage to get the required implements, but in order to do so they rely on Babydoll putting on performances to distract their guardians.

These performances, which we the movie audience never get to see,  put the audience in a trance like state.  It’s during these performances where the movie viewers are once again subjected to alternate universes where we find our girls battling evil forces and in which their objective is to acquire virtualized forms the aforementioned objects they are trying to get in the ‘real’ world. These worlds are comprised of gigantic robo demon samurais, Nazis, castles besieged with Lord of the Ring orc facsimiles, and metallic robot infested sky trains and play out like surreal music videos, infused with adapted music from the Eurythmics, Jefferson Airplane, the Beatles and various grunge and hip hop numbers.

The problem with the movie is that it suffers from too many layers and tries to be too clever delivering a muddled narrative instead of just a good story. The heart string pulls all seem contrived and we don’t feel the empathy we should have for the girls, some of which are merely cardboard eye candy instead of fleshed out characters (although the do have the flesh needed for the candy piece).

On the positive side it is a stylistic masterpiece, with enough CGI and special effect to make Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow look like bush league. But as we all know visuals alone cannot make a movie. In this case it’ll feel more like watching a two hour music video than a movie.

Is it good enough? I don’t know. If enhanced visual are not enough to hide the fact you’re watching a sub par movie you may find yourself to the titular sucker. If the visuals are good enough for you, you may want to check the handful of related animation shorts that are extra features on the DVD.

Movie Reviews 209 – Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned (2008)

February 15, 2015

Midnight Horror - Predator CollectionBeen I while since I plunked in one of those cheap DVD quad packs of Horror movies, so I decided I would consume The Midnight Horror Collection: Blood Predators which I pick up not too long ago for a measly $2.50. Can’t go wrong for 75 cents a movie, right?

 

Bachelor_Party_in_the_Bungalow_of_the_DamnedI started off Bachelor Party in the Bungalow of the Damned, and honestly it was this particular title that was the deciding factor to my shelling out $2.50 in the first place. Read that title again. Kinda says it all if you ask me, but I’ll humor my humble reader with a review none the less.

A recently engaged man’s buddies concoct a story about renting a bungalow for a fishing retreat as a excuse for his bachelor party.  Hardly fooling the fiancee, all she want to make sure is that he and the boys don’t go overboard. Unfortunately, the stripper triplet of girls that one of the buddies hires as entertainment, Snowy, Emerald and Vermillion, happen to be vampires and their idea of entertainent includes munching on the boys. Things go from bad to worse when the fiance decides to drop in at the retreat.

I knew I’d be in for a ride, and had no expectations at all, but while it really is a bad movie, it’s almost one of those “So bad, it’s good” movies. Almost.

The dialogue is mostly lame but at least there are attempts at humour and curves (besides those on the women) thrown in. Being a Brain Damage Films release, there are the requisite boob shots but this is a bachelor movie after all, so you kind of expect that anyhow. A short but surprising cameo by Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman was a nice surprise, but blink and you’ll miss him. Most of the special effects are laughable (not in a good way) but there was makeup job of one of the boys in a facial meltdown state that was decent. Just don’t ask why some of the victims end up melting after being assailed by a vampire while others (as expected) and just turn into vampires.

After watching  I can’t help but  wonder whatever happened to director, writer, producer, editor and composer Brian Thompson, the near one-man show who gave us this gem. Surprisingly, he did not cast himself as one of the stars, which is odd for a first time ‘do-everything’ film maker. According to IMDB he hasn’t done anything since. I just wonder if that’s a good thing or bad.

Watch for reviews of The Vampire Conspiracy, Fist of the Vampire and Curse of the Wolf , the other gems in this quad pack, coming soon.

Movie Reviews 208 – Vampire Effect (2003)

February 3, 2015

Vampire EffectJackie Chan has been a fairly big name in both Hollywood and Asian cinema for a long time, and most people of know of, if not have seen most of his movies. He’s even popular enough that English speaking audiences are also familiar with some of his older Chinese movies like Drunken Master and few others. So I did not know what to make of a Vampire movie featuring Jackie that I’d never heard of.

Vampire Effect (also known as The Twins Effect) is one of those movies where Jackie only plays a small role but capitalizes on his marquee name as a marketing ploy. He’s only got a few minutes of screen time, but I’ll give him credit in that those few scant moments are chock full of the Chan Charm.

Now, lets get on and discuss the other Chan-less 78 minutes of the movie. The stars are Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung but why they are listed in the starring roles was for a time as mysterious as that Twins alternate title. Not that they have small roles or anything, but the other male stars were noticeably absent from the billing.

Reeve (Ekin Cheng) is a vampire hunter who acquires a new sidekick Gypsy (Chung), much to the chagrin of his sister Helen (Choi). Helen is no seasoned vampire fighter but engages in a constant ‘vamp’ battle of wits and one-upmanship (or should that be one-upwomanship) with her brother’s new fighting partner.

At the same time as Gypsy comes onto the scene, one of the last ‘Royal’ vampires, Kazay  (Edison Chen), and his entourage have taken refuge in a local church of all places. That isn’t the only unvampirelike behavior Kazay exhibits, opting to drink blood from a glass instead of necks and decking out his uber-cool coffin with all the latest electronic gadgetry, lights and sounds. Kazay and his protective servants are on the run from another powerful duke vampire who wants to kill the remaining royal so that he can reign supreme.

In the mean time as Kazay enjoys the more human lifestyle he falls for Helen which puts the royal vampire and hunters into an awkward situation. The only constant is that they all want the the vicious duke and his clan to die.

Co-directed by Donnie Yen (yes the Ip Man himself) and Dante Lam, it’s a quaint light comedy with plenty of action, although there isn’t much novelty to the action sequences or the story itself which is why the inclusion of Chan scenes are particularly welcome. Chan plays a man desperately trying to get through a marriage ceremony . Even better is the short performance of Chan’s newlywed wife to be, played hilariously by Karen Mok (of Shaolin Soccer fame).

So why is the movie more commonly known as The Twins Effect when there aren’t any twins in the movie? The answer, which also explains that star billing placement, lies in the fact that the stars Choi and Chung are better known as the Asian singing pop duo The Twins. No, don’t worry, there aren’t any song or dance routines here. On second thought maybe that’s what the movie needed to put it over the top.

Sadly what made this movie noteworthy in Asia is the scandal that followed when leaked personal photos found on Edison Chen’s computer made it’s way to the internet starting of with compromising pictures of Gillian followed by those of many more starlets. The repercussions of the scandal rocked the Asian movie industry as well as that of establishment news and newspaper industries dealing with one of the early privacy-vs-newsworthyness boundary conflicts. In the end, that’s were the real society horrors were revealed and subverted any horror in a silly movie. And here I thought I was just watching a simple vampire flick.

And one last interesting tidbit. Both Charlene Choi and Edison Chen are Vancouver born. Wouldn’t it have been ironic if the scandal featured the only two Canadians in the movie. Betcha everyone here would have heard about this particular “Jackie Chan” then, eh!

Planet of the Apes Icarus spaceship papercraft

January 29, 2015

Back in 2002 papercraft designer and fan Jan Rukr  (or Rükr to be precise) designed a model of the iconic Icarus spaceship that crash landed on the 1968 Planet of the Apes movie with Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his crewmates. The spaceship, one of the most recognizable in classic Science Fiction fandom, has often been the subject of much debate, ranging to how it really looked (after all, the movie only showed the upper nose section with a part obviously submerged)  and even the name since it was never specifically called out in any of the original films.

I’ve always been as fascinated by the ship as I have been for the classic Planet of the Apes saga as a whole. There have been (and continue to be) pricier models and dioramas available for purchase, but none of the more traditional plastic model making companies ever created any mass production kit.

When I came across Jan’s papercraft design I decided I would build it some day, and here I am more than a decade later where I finally had the time to actually do it.

Here are the results and a bit of information on the build itself. Before going to far, I should point out that the actual model looks a lot better than the pictures do justice.   I  took these pics with my cheap Canon PowerShot camera and without any decent lighting.

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I printed the model on 67lb paper which is what I’ve always used for the few papercraft I’ve built. Very sturdy and easier to work with than the standard ‘printer’ 20-24lb paper. It is a bit trickier to shape but at the same time holds bends and folds better. Just be sure to score all edges.

IMG_1840

The build is pretty straight forward and easy to understand even without any detailed step by step instructions (the model only provides a single numbered overlay view as an aid).  It is however tricky to get everything just right and there is a lot of bending and shaping for the elliptical main fuselage. The really hard part are the two side jutting canards being both the smallest pieces and the one place where the folds have to be exact. Aside from a few underflaps that there a bit too big or needlessly overlapping one another, I only made one other minor change. The model called for gluing the main ship onto a patterned bottom piece that would then be glued to the ocean base. I had no trouble foregoing the bottom and just glued the ship directly onto the ocean base without any problem.

 

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I’ve added a Hasbro 6 inch ‘Ape-o-naut’ alongside the model to give an idea of the dimensions but the exact measurements in inches are W:10 1/2  x  D:8 1/4  x H: 4.

It took me quite a while to build it but part of the reason was I really took my time trying my best to make it perfect. I painstakingly cut out the pieces on a good cutting board with a sharp Olfa blade. All gluing was with toothpick application making sure not to over glue. I did some minor sanding along edges (again the canards) and did a few touch ups with black pencil, colored pencils and a marker. I think it could use a few more touch ups to improve it, but it isn’t bad as is.

As a PotA fan, I’m just delighted to finally have a decent Icarus to add to my Apes display.

One a final note I should add that Jan has done many other designs of this and more ‘stylized’ versions of the concept. There are even two different color variants of this exact model. Check around and you’ll find this and other designs of his.

Movie Reviews 207 – Santa’s Slay (2005)

January 25, 2015

Santas SlayI’m running a bit behind on my Christmas Holiday centric horror movie viewing and only recently got the chance to watch 2005’s Santa’s Slay which certainly has a promising title.

The film makers decided to start the movie off with a short Christmas Dinner scene in which our evil Santa descends on a dysfunctional family for no apparent reason and just starts killing them off, each in a different stylized manner. With cameos from Fran Drescher, James Caan (uncredited!), Chris Kattan and other semi-celebs, this intro ended up the highlight of the movie.

Bill Goldberg, everyone’s favorite (only?) Jewish pro wrestler plays the titular Santa with the muscle and cranial capacity one would expect of from someone with his ‘real’ daytime job. (Well as ‘real’ as wresting can get.) So why is Santa such a nasty and not the fun-loving jolly man you know? Seems that he was originally a baddie who lost a curling bet to an angel (Robert Culp)  at which time he was forced to be a good Santa for one thousand years. Well time’s up and not only is Santa catching up with every day nastiness, but he’s got a grudge with that angel and aims to get even through grandson Nicolas Yuleson (Douglas Smith). Most of the movie centers on Santa chasing Nicolas, his girlfriend Mary (Emilie De Ravin, Claire from Lost) and grandpa.

I can’t say it’s a terrible movie but it doesn’t have a lot going for it. The gags are mediocre at best and aside from some innovative scenes like Santa crashing in on a strip club and thrashing a Jewish deli, the rest is fairly boring. The FX are kid show quality as are most of the puns.

Appropriately filmed in Alberta, Canada and with minor roles played by our own Dave Thomas (hoser, eh?)  and Saul Rubinek you’d think I’d have more empathy with the film. But when it comes to Christmas horror movies, this one has the appeal of a lump of coal.

Sorry Santa.

Movie Reviews 206 – Werewolf Fever (2009)

January 19, 2015

Werewolf FeverBrian Singleton may not be a well known name to most indie movie fans with nary a handful of movies under his belt, but as odd as it seems he’s had a tremendous influence on me. It was actually his first pizza-and-beer budget movie, Zombie Cop vs. the Alien Terror, that made me a fan. At the time I was not a fan and even barely cognizant of the shot-on-video indie film movement. An almost coincidental invitation to attend the Zombie Cop premiere is what started my fascination for the sub-genre.

It was actually a terrible movie but it was the realization that even a bad movie can have some redeeming qualities. The piddling actors were having fun and you could see the effort the filmmakers put in towards mimicking their big budget brethren. But it was the post-show Q&A with director Singleton where he enthusiastically detailed all the antics of rogue filming that made me a fan.

I first heard about Werewolf Fever when I saw the poster at a comiccon along with the prop of the severed leg roller skate which is featured on the movie poster. I think it was at the Ottawa Horror vendor booth, but I didn’t even know this was another movie of Brian’s. But it looked so cool I wanted to buy it right away anyhow, only to have my hopes dashed when I learned they had already sold out the DVDs. I only learned later on it was another one of Brian’s movies which was just salt in my wound.

I eventually did get a copy of the DVD and let it sit for a while. The trailer, which I had already seen quite a few times looked great, but at the back of my mind there was the nagging sense that the quality may be more like another Zombie Cop than the many great low budget movies I had seen since then. Yes, by now I had become a B-movie “connoisseur”and had higher expectations. I need not have fretted.

Set in a small town burger drive-in, the late night crew of the ‘King Burger’ have to deal with a werewolf who has his stomach set on a meal other than the burgers. It one of those “who will survive the night” stories with a few unsuspecting customers, a love-sick thugs, a red-neck and a surprise drop in by the boss. Needless to say there is a lot of munching going on and yes, you will see a severed leg roller skate do it’s thing (no false advertising here!). It’s all howlingly hilarious and well above miniscule budget quality with plenty of laughs interspersed with all the bloody carnage.

This is low budget movie making at it’s best. I highly recommend watching the extras on the DVD with includes a great “behind the scenes” short that is as hysterical as the film itself. It’s also a testament to the work and effort needed to make this kind of feature on a dime but with a lot of heart. Also be sure to watch the included short Death Trike another Singleton piece that stars another local budget film favorite, director Brett Kelly, still sporting has glam rock long hair.

Movie Reviews 205 – Rubber (2010)

December 31, 2014

RubberDespite the title, Rubber is not a movie about deadly prophylactics (Killer Condom is, but that’ll have to wait for another movie review.)

The road to cult film status is paved with movies that didn’t quite make the grade and Rubber is one of those films stuck in the rut. An accident if you will and the only viewers who will be satiated will be the Rubberneckers who can take delight in the carnage it has to offer.

The irritation starts at the outset of the film as we realize that instead of just delivering a straight up silly story about a semi-sentient car tire that kills, we have to endure the silliness that a group of people, binoculars in hand, have come to watch this travesty. Not only do we suffer their commentary throughout, “Where’s the tire now? Did it do anything?” but there is another faction of people trying to kill this mock audience of voyeurs so that the facade of this only being a movie can be dropped altogether. Confusing? I’d rather settle for a simple killer tire story rather than the movie-within-a-movie nonsense.

Director Quentin Dupieux shoehorns in a love story, (well, love in the sense of tire falling for a woman) but as tire stories go, this one is threadbare has no bite. Even the tire’s ability to psychically blow people’s heads off just seemed trite and boring. I usually go for this kind of stuff but the jokes in this comedy just fall flat, and in the end I found myself just … tired.

Now I wish I had Killer Condoms to watch so I could get this wretched Rubber stench out of my mind.

The Phantom: The Hydra Monster (1973)

December 29, 2014

The Phantom - The Hydra MonsterLee Falk’s action hero The Phantom was at one point one of the most read syndicated Sunday comic strips with a readership that numbered in the tens of millions. Predating superheroes like Superman and Batman with a 1936 debut, The Phantom’s adventures continue to be published  today. While the character appears to be immortal sporting such nicknames as “The Ghost Who Walks”, in actual fact Kit Walker is just a regular guy who currently bears the costume that has been passed from one generation to another in the Walker family going back hundreds of years. Well ‘regular guy’ may be stretching it a bit for a hero who’s companion and sidekick is a wolf named Devil and who owns properties around the world (usually one being conveniently located wherever his latest case takes him) and has his main domicile in a Skull shaped cave in the Amazon jungle.

The Hydra Monster is one of a series of Phantom novels that were published in the 70’s. Although the cover highlights “Lee Falk’s original story”, this particular story was not written by Falk himself but is instead credited to Frank S. Shawn in the inside cover. (Falk is credited with other novels in this series.)

The ‘Hydra Monster’ referred to in the title is no creature, but rather the name of a global crime organization and one time nemesis of past Phantoms. The Hydra is a mythological reference to the multi-headed snake that grows a new head whenever one is cut off. In this case it embodies the notion that this network of criminals can never be brought down as any successful attempt to nab  members is simply replaced by new members elsewhere.

The novel is actually centered on an offshoot faction of Hydra, called the Vultures. As their name implies, the Vultures are opportunistic in that they swoop into areas of the globe having recently succumbed to any great disaster. Taking advantage of the fact that authorities are busy with duties beside crime fighting under such duress, the Vultures descend and brazenly liquidate museums or other national treasures.

One of the oddities of the novel is that Kit is often not in Phantom costume at all, but simply a ‘man about the world’ using connections and other means to target this sudden resurgence of Hydra. There are still plenty of gun battles, fist fights and a lot of sleuthing as well as visiting faraway destinations to spice up the action. There are even a few bona fide surprises although they aren’t too hard to figure out before long.

If you like a decent (but somewhat brainless) pulp fix, this’ll do the trick. If nothing else it’s a great way to get reacquainted with a pretty cool character with some great swashbuckling history.

Movie Reviews 204 – I Spit On Your Grave (2010)

December 18, 2014

I Spit On Your GraveReaders may recall my review of the original I Spit On Your Grave, touted as both an exploitation film featuring a brutal rape scene, and at the same time a testament to woman power as the victim exacts revenge on the perpetrators. Aside from a cheesy 70’s low budget look and feel with some sub-par acting, it really is an empowering movie, and as I stated in that review, would be hard to top. Which is exactly what someone did.

My disdain for remakes has been lowered a notch as this revamp directed by Steven R. Monroe manages to retain all the positive elements of the original, but also improving and modernizing the story. With only the addition of one new, albeit major, character, I was initially concerned that it was too similar to the original having added little midway through the movie. A common curse of remakes. The only noticeable difference at that point was the improved acting in the form of our harrowed heroine Jennifer, this time played by Sarah Butler, and the introduction of the Sheriff (Andrew Howard) to the story.

But, the second half of the movie is where things go into overdrive. Modern day FX and makeup techniques raises the brutality leashed on the culprits to new millennium standards of gore. While Jennifer did plot her revenge after regaining her senses from the shock in the first film, there was not as much hate and bile, and no particularly extensive planning when it came to revenge. But this Jennifer is seething with rage and meticulously plans every step of her revenge. Her deadly retribution of each character are mostly inspired by their roles and specific actions they undertook during the rape. This is indeed a remake worthy of the effort.

The hardest question that probably comes to those who’ve not seen either of the versions is “Which one should I watch?” I still believe that the original merits viewing if only for the originality and bravery to having made the film in the first place. One must be ready for lower production values and other low budget forgiveness. If you prefer a slicker and updated production, go with the remake. I would still highly recommend watching both versions should the opportunity arise. If there had to be a choice between one or the other I think they are both equally deserving of viewing and regardless of which you watch, you will get an uncharacteristically harsh yet realistic perspective on rape, and a taste of justice being served the only way it can. Violently and bloody. Either way, be prepared.

Now that I’ve embraced the remake, I wonder how the other dreaded word in the cinemaphile dictionary, will play out. Yes, there is a “sequel” sitting on my shelves. This time I have high hopes as Monroe once again takes on directorial chores. But we’ll see about that when I get around to it.

Movie Reviews 203 – Infection (2004)

December 12, 2014

InfectionThere are quite a few horror stories set either entirely in or primarily around a hospital setting.The sterile environment makes an excellent backdrop and the medical facilities are conducive to ‘examining’ unnatural living matter, something that can easily be used as a plot element. While these factor in Infection, the main interest and tension doesn’t come from the bacterial agent at hand, but rather comes from the quirks and eccentricities of the doctors and nurses.

The setting is no regular hospital but one on it’s last legs financially and which seems abandoned by all but the remaining skeleton crew of medical personnel. There is the insecure, ‘slow’ nurse that doesn’t seem capable of mastering the use of needles on patients. The head doctor just trying to keep the hospital afloat despite the fact that the administration is no longer even accepting his calls. The head nurse counting down the dwindling supplies, but is still a stickler for rules and regulations. The doctor who is fretting over the fact that he hasn’t received his latest pay and is in arrears with his child support payments. And the ‘doctor’ accused of such ineptness that he can’t even be trusted to suture a simple wound. And you thought General Hospital had soap opera drama.

This ragtag team faces it’s first crisis upon the death of a mysterious fully bandaged patient due to a dosage misunderstanding between a doctor and nurse at the peak an emergency. With some reluctance, everyone present decide to quarantine the dead patient into a unused room for a given amount of time after which the dosage mix up should be undetectable.

Compounding the death is the spread of some new virus or bacteria that seems to be sweeping the area. An ambulance radio operator keeps requesting any hospital to accept their current patient, each subsequent plea elevating the urgency and describing an ever worsening and spreading black rash on the patient in the ambulance. The doctor at the hospital rejects accepting the ambulance but the ambulance defies the rejection and simply abandons the gurney with the patient in the receiving area. The gurney is empty by the time the staff realize they’ve been saddled with the patient, but when they do find him he’s a pussing medical marvel that one of the doctors sees as an opportunity to study and possibly gain fame and notoriety as discoverers of some new disease.

Two plot points then intersect as the new patient and dead one both transform into putrid green slime pus mounds. After that, it’s every doctor and nurse for themselves.

Kansen” (original Japan title) is definitely an example of character over substance. In this case the substance being the mystery goo. While there is plenty of ‘liquefaction” and other shocking imagery, it doesn’t go too far over the top and relies more on drama and storytelling to deliver a solid movie. Well solid until it all liquifies into a green, oozing, …


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