Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004)

The original Starship Troopers is one of the greatest movies ever made. I'm not going to preface that comment by saying "within the genre of science fiction". It's one of the greatest movies ever made. Period. I remember walking out of the theatre stunned, in a euphoric daze, looking over to my friend and saying "That might be the best fucking movie I've ever seen". He agreed. In fact, it was all we could talk about for the rest of the weekend (I was in upstate New York visiting with college friends at the time). Verhoeven, at one time, had amazingly big balls. It may have looked like Beverly Hills 90210 in space, but it's far more than that. It had space bugs. It had extreme violence. It was funny (intentionally so). It was smart. It had co-ed naked shower scenes. It had glorious shots of immense space cruisers as they avoided plasma bug rays launching out of the bellies of strange gargantuan beetles. It had Doogie Howser, M.D!

Despite this, the audience stayed away. I'll never understand how a movie this fun could bomb so badly. It's because of you people that a sequel was always destined to go straight to video. So, 7 years later that's exactly what we got. A DTV sequel with no budget. Aren't sequels supposed to be bigger and better? At least more expensive. How could they possibly recreate the same bug battles from the first movie? No chance. This movie is going to suck. Ok, I never thought they'd be able to improve on the original, but dammit, I wanted something with at least a quarter of the fun. A 2 hour diversion where I could look at the giant screen and smile at the scenes of deep space and mass carnage. Why couldn't you people and your friends fork over the $7 (estimated ticket price in 1997) and enjoy as wild a ride as you're likely to ever take? I'll never forgive you. It's taken me three years to work up the nerve to watch the sequel. I should have been watching it back in 2000 with stadium seating surrounded by glorious dolby, but nooooooo......you guys would rather watch The Jackal or Mortal Combat: Annhilation. So, yeah, I'm still mad at you. Fuck off! Ok, now that I've alienated 75% of my audience it's time for my review of Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation. Maybe I can alienate the rest of you.

My initial reaction? It's not bad. I enjoyed myself. Where as part 1 is big and epic, this one is small. The first movie is WWII and this one is Korea (thanks John). An opening scroll informs us that the Humans are smelling victory. They have pushed deep into the Arachnid quarantine zone. Then we are presented with one of those propoganda pieces that worked so well in part 1. A cartoonish drill seargent asks us "Do you want to live forever"? Would you like to know more? Yes. Ok, we're then shown a squadron planting a flag on top of a hill (a la Iwo Jima). Suddenly, we're thrust right into the action. A mobile infantry company deep in the quarantine zone on planet P, fighting for their lives atop that same hill, requesting aerial support, or better yet, pickup that will not come. These scenes had me a little worried. The effects worked (in small doses), but I was sure that some of what we are seeing was stock footage from part one. I started to think that my fears would be confirmed, that this would just be more of the same (only with a much smaller budget).

So, consider how relieved I must have been when the movie had something else in mind? The General orders his troops to hole up in an abandoned outpost within Satan's Anvil (love the names). Unfortunately, the General (played by the great Ed Lauter), for unknown reasons, stays behind. I don't know, perhaps the hill had a really nice view. It's hard to give up a good view. Fuck those bugs, this is my hill! With the General out of the picture, Lieutenant Dill (a psychic) takes command. He's the typical lieutenant. Book smart, snivelling, and a coward. 2nd in command is Seargent Rake (Brenda Strong). You may remember Rake as the captain of the Rodger Young in part 1. Now, I always thought she died in that one (since the collapsing door seemed to demolish her chest cavity seconds before the ship exploded). Clearly she got out and accepted a demotion. She was actually pretty good in this one and got off some good lines such as "No wonder we're losing this war. Everyone's fucking instead of fighting". She was probably just horny. Another character was private Sahara. She looked a lot like Carmen (another reference to part 1, sorry). She was a tough kid, with borderline psychic abilities. Once inside the outpost (which looks like those defense towers on hoth, only a little bigger, a little fatter) they find a man locked inside a cell labelled MURDERER. This would be Dax, the titular Hero of the Federation.

Now, Dax is a pretty standard character, but he's played extremely well by Richard Burgi (Hostel 2). Dax was locked up by the previous occupants of the outpost after killing his commanding officer. Why he killed him, remains a mystery. He's a man that plays by his own rules. Burgi is one of the most underrated character guys around and hopefully he will continue to get work because I really enjoyed his performance (and he was the only good thing about Hostel 2). When told he should remain in his cell like a caged dog he replies "every dog has it's day". I believed him.

So far, we've been set up for a pretty good "last stand" picture. The bugs attack the outpost, the Lieutenant botches the defense, and Dax comes to save the day (with a little help from Sahara). Suddenly, the movie becomes something more interesting. The General returns with three other soldiers in tow. Something is not right here. He was surrounded by a million bugs when last we saw him. How did he escape? Who is the pretty boy medic with the burnt fingers? Whose the comatose hotty? Who is the freak with the pasty skin that seems to be dripping off his bones? I'll reiterate. Something is not right.

My new favorite character is Seargent Peck (freak with dripping skin). Peck quickly restores power to the outpost. He is an engineer after all, freak or not. The perimter defense (basically a big bug zapper) is back online. Everything is copacetic. Soldiers are partying, drinking, smoking, having wild sex. Good times. Even the comatose girl (Private Soda) wakes up and starts walking around topless. I am starting to enjoy myself. Typical calm before the shit storm scenario.

It all goes to shit as soon as Private Soda vomits a mini bug (when I say mini, I mean in comparison to the other arachnids. It's still pretty huge) into the mouth of an unsuspecting soldier. She lured him to her quarters under the guise of a pretty sweet sex romp. He didn't have a chance. It's here that the movie becomes like The Thing and also where I stood up to applaud (no, I didn't) Phil Tippet, the director. This guy is a genius and I'm not talking about this movie (although, it's pretty good). This is the guy behind the effects of not just the last movie, but Jurassic Park. He's big-time. He managed to advance the story within the confines of his miniscule "we can't leave the soundstage" budget. He introduced a new kind of small bug. One that can remain hidden and control their host. A bug that latches on to your brain and drives you like a car. We've seen this before in films like The Hidden and, more recently Slither, but I am an absolute sucker for movies where people are not who they are. Also, think Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And this guy, Tippet, took my favorite concept, and inserted it into the world of my favorite sci-fi film of the last twenty years. Did it completely work? No, but I still enjoyed it. There wasn't a whole lot of suspense as to who was under bug control and who wasn't. Basically, the bug plan was to possess the general, get him rescued, and then take control of the Federation from the inside. It wasn't a bad plan. They just didn't count on a Hero getting in the way.

I mentioned Seargent Peck earlier as my favorite character. It's clear he's not normal from the start. I can only describe him as the love child of Gollum, Nosferatu, and Spike Jonze. He's constantly twitching. The only reason people keep him around is because he restores communication with the Federation. They even give him a lame cheer with fist pumping "Peck! Peck! Peck! Peck!". It's a half hearted cheer and it's clear they're all thinking "I can't believe this little freak saved the day and now we have to cheer him. If those bugs break through, I'm tossing him into the onrush, first chance I get!" Even the girls were thinking this. That's how small Peck is. Sorry girls. As the movie advances further, he quickly decays. Let's just say he's the equivelant of a bug tote bag. If an arachnid were to fly Delta, they wouldn't even have to check him. Again, pretty small. I laughed when his arm fell off out of nowhere. Great character.

The movie finally comes down to a last stand on top of the outpost. Sahara and Dax trying to prevent the General (C'mon people, he's clearly a bug! I'm not spoiling anything!) from getting rescued as thousands of arachnids swarm up the tower walls. This was a terrific sequence with top-notch effects. It brought to mind the aliens swarming up the pyramid in AVP. Guess, which movie came first? This one. Need I say it? Ahead of it's time.

If you want to know who survives, you've got to watch the movie. I will tell you that Dax's fate is unclear. When last we see him, he's blasting away at the arachnid onslaught. A federation propoganda piece about Dax, the Hero of the Federation, reveals his last words (apparently, they believe him killed. I don't) to be "shed no tears for me. My glory lives forever". The real Dax would have had the utmost contempt for such a bull shit line. He didn't believe in heroes. I'm sure he shot his way out of there. Bruce Willis couldn't have done it better (I'm referring to Bruce in Armageddon. He died in that one).

p.s. Sorry for telling all you non Starship Troopers fans to fuck off. I liked this movie ok. It wasn't terrible. Slip me a twenty and we'll call it even.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I Drink Your Blood (1970)

Or, 28 Days Later for the Hippy Generation. Or, Old Yeller: The Next Generation. Or, Fuck You P.E.T.A.!

The movie stars this kid:

Actually, it was probably his father since the movie was released in 1970. You may be aware of the term "grindhouse". This is an original grindhouse picture. It was part of a double bill with the film I Eat Your Skin (unseen by me, and likely to remain so since it's not available).

I think several animals died during the making of this film (Fuck You P.E.T.A.). I think this because I doubt they had the budget to convincingly fake kill chickens, rats, and goats. And CGI wasn't invented yet, so....there you go.

This is also a highly political movie, probably a response to all of the peace loving anti-vietnam movies that were coming out at the time. I know this because in this film, hippies are evil. They slaughter animals, rape innocents, eat meat pies, and the women fornicate with construction workers. Oh, they also worship Satan. The opening scene involves a night time satanic ritual in the middle of the woods. The leader looks like the native american from the village people. The hippies stand naked in a circle around an asian woman (we'll call her Yoko), who is on her back being covered in fresh chicken blood. Evil. The leader (Horace) leads them in prayer. Did I mention he carries a sword? Evil. In this scene the sword is planted in front of him so the hilt looks like the hilt of his.....well...evil. On this night a local innocent girl is raped (or at least we assume she is) by the hippies after stumbling upon their seance.

The town is mostly deserted. There is a family consisting of granpa (a veterinarian), Sylvia (raped girl) and Petey (the boy in the picture above). Molly runs the meat pie stand. There's also a doctor, and some construction workers building a dam a few miles up river. The dam is never seen (not in the budget?). Well, in revenge, Petey kills a rabid dog (Old Yeller) and puts its infected blood into the meat pies with a syringe (smart kid). Guess who eats the meat pies. Now, this is good writing. Let's infect a group of already borderline insane hippies with rabies. That'll teach 'em (dumb kid).

As expected, the hippies become infected (some become crazy immediately, while others just act as carriers). One of the hippie females has a gang bang with the construction workers....and suddenly, you guessed it. Rabid village people. How do you tell someone has rabies? Well, if they have shaving cream on their lips, best run the other way. Or, at least find a shallow pool of water. The rabid are terrified of water (hence, the technical term hydrophobia).

How's the gore in this picture? Actually, it's pretty fun (except for the animal gore; you have to draw the line somewhere), considering the limited budget. My favorite character is the hippy Raoul. He's the anti-Duane Jones. You may remember Duane Jones as the black guy from Night of the Living Dead. In this movie he's the first infected and he goes absolutely bat shit crazy. We're talking lots of shaving cream here. He grabs an axe and flees into the night swinging at everything. The next morning, we see him swinging a dead animal against a tree.

One thing I learned is that even if you're rabid, you can still have well choreographed fight scenes. I loved the final battle between Raoul and Horace, involving the phallic sword. These frothing psychos are performing some kind of ballet. It ends with a sword going into the base of the losers spine and somehow coming out his mouth. Amazing.

There's a tragically touching scene where the asian woman (Yoko) infected with rabies decides to kill herself rather than give into homicidal urges. She is preparing to commit seppuku, but changes her mind and just sets herself on fire instead. This is a tremendous performance. Yoko is the one member of the hippies that does not succumb to the urge to kill. It's, in part, for this reason that the group dynamic falls apart. She refuses to join them in their travesties. It's for this reason I'm calling her Yoko. Also, the glasses.

The movie culminates with the Village people surrounding an isolated farmhouse where our heroes go to make their last stand. Is there a last stand? Not really, the movie is a bit anti-climactic and sort of rips off the aforementioned Night Of The Living Dead. Is the movie "grindhouse"? I don't know. It probably had about 1 percent of the budget that the recent Grindhouse had. Still, there's plent of severed limbs, nudity, satan worship for all of you freaks into that sort of thing (I guess that includes me). I'm giving it a plus rating. It's no Frankenhooker or Street Trash. It's certainly not on par with Slugs, but it's still kinda fun.