Sunday, November 25, 2007

Alligator (1980)

If you're a fan of Urban Legends than you should probably check this one out. Urban Legends is pretty much garbage. Alligator is not. You've heard the one about the baby alligator flushed down the toilet? The alligator then grows to epic proportions and feeds on those unlucky enough to venture down into the sewers. This movie takes on that particular legend but blends in some elements of its own about an experimental growth hormones used on dogs. The gator, named Ramon (named so by the little girl that originally purchased it from one of those touristy gator farms down south), feeds on their abandoned carcasses and grows really large. Also, I think the hormones give him the ability to teleport.

A humorous diversion, chock full of some grisly deaths and moderate scares. Speaking of grisly, why is it that the whole "vs" phenonmenon didn't take off more. I know, Godzilla did it to death, but those matches were basically just guys in costumes wrestling each other. We're starting to see these pictures come out today with films such as Alien vs. Predator, Freddy vs. Jason, Dollman vs. Demonic Toys, and Ecks vs. Sever to name a few. Personally, I think we should go back to the 1980s and before to film death matches between these pictures, particularly the ones about nature run amuck. For example, why not Prophecy vs. The Nest? I would certainly love to see The Swarm vs. The Kingdom of the Spiders. Why not The Stuff vs. Street Trash?? I guess the movie I most want to see though is Grizzly vs. Alligator (you probably didn't think i had a point when I said "speaking of grisly, did you?), not just because they both blatantly rip off Jaws. In the case of Grizzly, it was right there in the god damned tag line: "Jaws with claws". No, not just because of that. Not just because, like Jaws, neither beast gets a fair shake with their demise. Hell, Grizzly get's blown up by a fucking bazooka. How is that fair? No, the real reason I want to see this particular match is to see how the Grizzly approaches a battle with a 36 foot, 2000 lbs alligator. How does he avoid being taken in by Ramon's single best move, the death roll? Sure, the Grizzly has some enormous claws and teeth, but Ramon's got near impenetrable skin, a jagged whip like tale. Grizzly's best chance would be to gouge his eyes or cover them to put him to sleep, but, see, I'm not sure Grizzly would follow that strategy. Why? He's a fuckin Grizzly. So, to sum up, I give Ramon about a 90% chance to win this fight. Then again, what do I know? Ramon spent all the majority of Alligator eating dead dogs and children. Perhaps I give him too much credit.

This is a movie that's much better than it has to be, much like Frankenhooker or Kirdy Stevens' The Animal in Me. Credit for that can probably be given to the writer John Sayles (Piranha, 8 Men Out, The Return of the Secaucus 7, Lone Star). Sayles, I'm sure, added all of the humor including an allusion to Edward Norton (one of Ramon's victims, a sewer worker). No, not the actor, the honeymooner. I'm not going to give very much credit to the director, Lewis Teague. He followed this up with Cujo and Cat's Eye. I think he was last seen filming the Dukes of Hazzard reunion movie. He did an ok job.

Where Alligator really shines is the cast. Robert Forster (The Black Hole and Jackie Brown) plays David Madison, the cop who seems to have a difficult time holding onto partners. They tend to get shot or eaten. Robin Riker (Body Chemistry II) is his love interest Marissa but, in a twist, she's also the girl that purchased Ramon as a child. Robert Doyle (Barnaby Jones) plays Marissa's angry, vindictive father who flushes poor Ramon. He's only in this for a minute. Also, this was his last picture. My favorite character was Frank Pentangeli (The Godfather II) as Chief Clark. Whenever Madison screws up, Frank is there to fire him, but he always takes him back. Good old reliable Henry Silva (Chained Heat) even shows up as some sort of professional crocodile hunter. I guess they were confused because this was an alligator and so predictably, Silva gets eaten. He must have had some bad intel.

I mentioned earlier that this movie is funny. I know I'm not the trustworthy sort, so I'll just spell it out for you. A kid gets eaten at his own birthday party. Do I even need to elaborate? Ok, they are playing a rousing game of "walk the plank" as young kids are apt to do. The boy, dressed as a pirate, is pushed off the end of a diving board. He sees the alligator the instant before his friend, unaware of Ramon's presense, pushes him in. The water becomes red. Happy fucking birthday. Hysterical.

There's another great scene, set in the ghettos of St. Louis (Note: The film takes place in St. Louis) where some kids are playing stick ball in the streets and the alligator busts through the sidewalk. Since this occured directly after the suburban pool incident, I just assumed that the gator had taken on the ability to think himself across town. Of course, he's still working out the kinks of his new superpower, otherwise he wouldn't have gone through the sidewalk. That looked like it hurt. I loved when one of the stickballers ran to his apartment and grabbed a knife out of his room. I was anticipating a fight, but, unfortunately, the kid wised up and realized only a fool would bring a knife to a gator fight.

The alligator effects weren't really effects. I think it was a real gator. They must have used some trick photography to make it look big and for the most part they worked. Except for the scene were he goes through the sidewalk. That was terrible. The gator in that scene was also fake, and it showed. There's not much else to say. You will know if you will like this movie before you even see it. If you like it when people get eaten, especially rich, spoiled people (the wedding scene is priceless) than you will love this one.

Also, it goes great with a gin and tonic. Or seven.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Soldier (1998)

"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I've watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those... moments will be lost in time... like...".
-Roy Batty, Replicant, Nexus 6

Todd (Kurt Russell), like Roy, was at Orion. He fought in the battle of Tannhauser Gate. He TOO shed a tear, only it wasn't raining at the time. How is that possible, you ask? Soldier has been labeled a "side-quel" (by Blade Runner and Soldier scribe David Webb Peoples). While Blade Runner is an indisputable masterpiece, especially the new "Final Cut", Soldier is a decidedly minor film. Still, there's nothing wrong with a "minor" film, especially one that is competently made. Surprisingly, that's the case here. Who knew Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, AvP, Mortal Kombat) had it in him?

Chosen at birth in the year 1996 (Year one), Todd was trained as a soldier. A subsequent montage shows us his training through 2013 (Year seventeen) and then his combat career in such battles as The War of the Six Cities, the Moscow Incident, and the Battle of the Argentine Moons. Finally, in the year 2036 (Year forty), Todd becomes old and so the American government looks to younger alternatives. These replacements are a group of genetically altered supermen (read, Replicants. As far as I could tell, the main difference between the "replicants" of this film and Roy Batty's Nexus 6 version is a lack of empathy in the Soldier versions) commanded by the snivelling, West-point trained Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs). Todd and his fellow soldiers are rendered obsolete. This point is driven home when the pride of Mekum's supersoldier project, Cane 607 (Jason Scott Lee), annhilates Todd and a couple of his buddies in a "friendly" competition. Todd, left for dead, is literally taken out with the trash. By this, I mean he is dumped on a landfill planet somewhere in the outer rims (along with other refuse).

On this garbage planet, Todd encounters a colony of stranded humans (Sean Pertwee, the luscious Connie Nielsen, and Michael Chiklis who unfortunately did not don "The Thing" makeup for this role), who crash landed here years earlier. It baffles the mind, however, that they have not been discovered since space garbage trucks seem to make weekly visits. Still, minor detail. Todd has trouble fitting in initially, because, let's face it, all he knows is war and killing. He knows little about setting the table, washing dishes, or babysitting. Things that are important to any successfully peaceful society. So, he decides to teach a young kid, Nathan, how to protect himself against a viper indigenous to the planet instead of his basic chores. Later, he experiences a flashback and nearly kills The Thing. The colonists have had enough and, so, it's time for banishment. Todd doesn't take it very lightly and he actually sheds a tear, something he's never done before. Ok, I could go on and on about the plot. Basically, Colonists take Todd back. New supersoldiers (led by Cane 406) conduct training exercise on Garbage planet. Training exercise becomes actual combat (as Colonists are deemed hostile). One side wins.

I liked this picture a lot more than I did the first time I saw it. If you're looking for a movie where Kurt Russell's character has 104 words (Not lines, words) of dialogue, than this is the one for you. It's a great way to see Michael Chiklis playing the anti Detective Mackey. He's a pussy here, but a good hearted pussy. The special effects are top notch, for the most part. If you look closely, you'll even notice a spinner from Blade Runner on the garbage planet. Oh, and Gary Busey shows up, in a good guy role, as a commanding officer who fights to keep Todd and his fellow soldiers from going out of print. Did I mention Connie Nielsen (Gladiator) is hot? Apparently, they were supposed to have filmed the Battle of Tannhauser Gate, but I guess it wasn't in the 75 million dollar budget. I hope for Kurt Russell's sake that they didn't pay him per word. There's a great fight at the end between Todd and Cane 406 that reminded me of the Rocky and Apollo Creed fight at the end of Rocky I. If Rocky had been able to use props in that one, say a helicopter propeller blade, he would have fought someone else at the end of Rocky II. See, that's why Todd is superior to Cane. Cane may be faster, stronger, maybe even technically smarter. If he's anything like the Nexus 6, he's at least as smart as his maker (I'm not sure if that would be Tyrell. I'll just assume it though). Unlike the Nexus 6, however, he lacks the human quality of emotion and heart. Roy Batty and Todd fight to sustain their life. They have heart and they know love. Cane fights because he's supposed to.

Ok, it's not a great picture. It's a solid one. I'm not a Paul W.S. Anderson apologist, by any means. I dug Event Horizon, tolerated Resident Evil, and while I thought AvP was ok, it could have been SO much better. This might be his best film. It's certainly his most underrated if it's possible for an Anderson film to be underrated. If you can get beyond the ridiculous coincidence that Cane and his troops, out of all the worlds in the galaxy, would choose this particular dump to conduct training exercises, then you might enjoy it too. The last image is one of hope as Todd embraces his newfound ability to love and, for the first time in his life, look toward the future.

Note: I'm not giving away whether or not Todd lives with that last line. It could be someone else's future, right?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Blob (1988)

To celebrate the release of Frank Darabont's The Mist we will look back upon Frank Darabont's The Blob. He didn't actually direct The Blob, but he contributed to the screenplay, along with Chuck Russell (who directed). In fact, Darabont cut his teeth by writing such 80s schlock as The Fly 2 and The Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. He is perhaps best known for writing Mary Shelly's Frankenstein as well as a little known film called The Shawshank Redemption. If you get TNT it's possible you've seen it. Chuck Russell directed Dream Warriors as well as the Jim Carrey vehicle, The Mask. He followed those "classics" up with such crap as Eraser, Bless The Child, and The Scorpion King, so clearly his career went down the shitter. Boy, did he get off to a great start though because The Blob is a fantastic little gem from the "small town accosted by science/meteor/aliens gone awry" genre, a genre that includes such classics as Critters, Slither, Night of the Creeps, The Being, etc, etc. Quite possibly, my favorite type of movie.

"Timing is everything" - Paul Taylor, star wide receiver of the Aborville Colorodo High School football team, all around hunk, and Blob food.

A truer statement has never been uttered. I take it to mean that this movie, this remake, was made at the perfect time. If made today, it would feature soulless CGI and vapid pretty teeny boppers. Thankfully, it was made in the late 80s so instead of Tom Welling and Jordana Brewster we are treated to the likes of vintage Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith (before she fucked it all up by starring in the Saw quadrilogy). We're even treated to some terrific character work by Joe Seneca (Seaquest DSV), Paul McCrane (Robocop and Dr. Romano from E.R.), Bill Mosely (The Devil's Rejects), Candy Clark (Q), and Jeffrey DeMunn (The Mist).

Here's the plot. Once again, the government has fucked us over. It's never a good idea to conduct genetic experiments in outer space, but, you know what? The government could fucking care less. Darabont is infatuated with the idea of the government fucking shit up. Whether it be through our faulty prison system (see Shawshank and The Green Mile), genetic experiments (see This Movie and The Fly II) or through creating rifts in the time space continuum (The Mist; a FANTASTIC movie, by the way). Anyway, the Blob. It starts as a meteor, lands in the outskirts of Arborville, latches onto an old hobo, and then makes its way to the Emergency room where the movie pulls a Psycho on us. By that, I mean, a character that's been set up as a hero is offed in the most horrific way imaginable. Perhaps, I've said too much already.

The movie is full of great special effects (notice I didn't say for its day?). Ok, there is one terrible effect, where the blob chases Brian (Dillon) and Meg (Smith) along the ceiling in the diner, but it's forgiveable and kinda nostalgic. There are several great scenes, including the aformentioned E.R. scene, the diner scene (Yep, we get to see a guy blobbed and squeezed through a tiny drain), and a sewer scene. The best scene is a remake of a scene from the original, as a couple of kids, Meg's brother and his headphone addicted pal Eddie, sneak into an R rated slasher film. They have to endure an asshole who likes to give away plot points immediately before they happen. What kind of a sick fuck would do that shit? It's clear Darabont and Russell despise this fucker too because shortly thereafter, yup, you guessed it. Blobbed. By the time the blob hits the theatre, it has consumed a third of the town and is by now, enormous.

As soon as the government shows up, we know who the REAL villains are. Led by Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca), they are all dressed in white bio containment suits and carry automatic weapons. Here's a taste of how much Meddows values human life:

"This isn't one of you text-book exercises, Mr. Jennings. This is an experiment in biological warfare, or hadn't you noticed? That organism is potentially the greatest breakthrough in weapons research since man split the atom. What we do here will affect the balance of world power! Of course there are lives at stake - whole nations, in fact. And that's far more important than a handful of people in this small town. And that is my cross to bear, Mr. Jennings. Now carry out your orders. "

Darabont would go on to help create "superior" films. To be honest, I don't care much for Shawshank or The Green Mile. To me, his heart seems to lie with the fantastic. I'm greatly pleased with his return to the genre this year with The Mist. It's possibly the best adaptation of a Stephen King horror story since The Mangler. Just kidding, since Sleepwalkers. Kidding again, Maximum Overdrive. Sheesh, I don't know when to stop, do I? You get the point though. Their have been a lot of shitty King movies. The Mist is the best since Misery and possibly even Kubrick's The Shining (a film King, himself, inexplicably, detests). If I had to describe The Mist in one sentence, I would say "if Maximum Overdrive and The Stand fucked, this would be their bastard child". Well, The Blob has nothing to do with Stephen King. Very little to do with Steve McQueen either. I'll just say that if the giant critter at the end of Critters were to have sex with the original The Blob and then take a post coital shit, this movie would be that runny pile of excrement. I mean that in the best possible way. It's a terrific horror picture. Check it out.

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I hope to be back shortly with another review, or possibly two.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Hidden 2 (1994)

Remember that movie from 1987 called The Hidden? This is a sequel to that one, not to the 2005 Michael Haneke film Hidden (Cache). That would be pretty strange if this were a sequel to that one, because this movie predates it by eleven years. Also, Haneke should probably sue because this one could be accused of seriously fucking up the continuity of his terrific film. It's french, but still terrific. Anyway, it's not a sequel to a film about horrifying voyeurism. Instead, it's a sequel to a film about space slugs that go in through your mouth and control your mind, so I guess this discussion is rendered moot.

Warning!! The paragraph directly below spoils The Hidden (1987). I'm assuming most of you have seen it because, well, it's pretty great and I can't imagine not having seen it. If you haven't, rent it now, then read on.

The Hidden is a borderline great film. Directed by Jack Sholder (Freddy's Revenge) , it stars Kyle Maclachlan (Dune) as a dectective from outer space tracking a space slug that takes over a human host, robs banks, jacks cars, listens to 1980s guitar rock, and ingests lots of drugs. The slug uses up it's human host and then moves on to a new one. Michael Nouri (Go Bots: War of the Rock Lords) costarring as earth detective Thomas Beck is also on the case. At first he thinks Maclachlan is crazy, but eventually he comes around. For the terrific finale, the slug has inhabited a presidential candidate and since these slugs have little personality, his speech consists of him repeating "I want to be President" and the idiots eat it up. Finally, he gets blowtorched by Maclachlan and the slug is zapped with a special phaser. See, the catch is, earth weapons are useless against the slugs apparently. We need an alien phaser that is callibrated to their frequency. Conveniently, the phaser is also useless against humans, so if the slug happens to jump on your shoulder your friend doesn't have to aim too carefully when shooting it off. During the finale, Beck was shot twice in the gut by the slug (based on the number of cops shot in the chest, kevlar was clearly not in vogue back in the 80s) but "saved" by Maclachlan in the hospital, at the cost of his own life. Also, a dog stole away from the crime scene with a part of the space slug. Oh, and B movie staple Clu Gulager has fun in a minor role. The end.

End Warning.

This is a pretty lazy fucking movie. I'm now referring to The Hidden 2. First of all, if you've seen the first one, you can skip the first fifteen minutes of this one because it's pretty much just a greatest hits montage of the final 30 minutes of the original. I suspect they did this so they could convince fans that Maclachlan and Nouri were in this too. No, instead we get Raphael Sbarge (Carnosaur) and Kate Hodge (Leatherface). So, with a runtime of 90 minutes, the meat of this particular story is just 75 minutes. In addition, they didn't even bother to give the main character, played by Sbarge, a name. They just called him Maclachlan because he's basically the sequel to Kyle Machlachlan's character in the first one. Maclachlan had a name in the original though. Lloyd Gallagher. To avoid confusion, I will, from now on, refer to Kyle Mclachlan as Mclachlan 1 and Rafael Sbarge as Mclachlan 2.

The movie, after the lame greatest hits intro, opens fifteen years after the original. The slugs have spawned from that dog I mentioned and have bided their time hibernating in some abandoned steel factory. Well, what are abandoned steel factories known for? I'll give you a hint. Mid 1990s. Yup, you guessed it. Raves. A few clowns are scouting out the location and immediately fall in love with it. They even plan to dub the party, "bad to the max". One of the scouts lingers behind and gets space slugged, hence the tagline "part alien. part human. And it's back for seconds".

Next, we are reintroduced to Tom Beck, who I was disappointed to learn is not really Tom Beck, nor is he Michael Nouri, who priced himself out of this picture. Tom Beck is really Maclachlan 1. So, Maclachlan 1 didn't really sacrifice himself to save Beck at the end of the first one. Instead, he just stole his body. This revelation kinda sucks. Maybe I missed something. Maybe Beck and Maclachlan 1 just occupied the same body. Anyway, Beck/Maclachlan is now played by Michael Welden (Under Siege). Apparently, there's a catch to these aliens inhabiting bodies. They rapidly age. If Maclachlan 1 was a douche, like those slugs, he could just jump into another body, but that would mean sacrificing yet another life rendering him almost as evil as those slugs. So, Beck/Maclachlan looks to be about 70 even though he's only 49. It's really not much of a distraction though because Beck/Maclachlan is only in this for a few minutes.

So, I guess when you subtract the intro plot involving Beck/Mclachlan, the real story is only about 65-70 minutes. The "real" story focuses on Beck's daughter, Juliet, who has followed in her father's footsteps and become a cop, though you'd never know from watching this film. Sbarge, as I mentioned earlier, is Mclachlan 2, the alien cop sent to finish off the slugs. See, word is they've beens spawning and are primed to take over the world. I'm not sure how that's possible. When these things mature and find a host (that would be us) all they seem to want to do is steal nice cars and listen to shitty guitar rock. Also, they eat shitty food and kill people. The idea is for Juliet and Mclachlan 2 to kill the space slugs before they're able to mature and infect people. I can think of worse ways to kill 60 minutes (if you fast forward through the rehash of part one) such as poking rusty nails into your genitals. That would kinda suck.

The acting across the board in this one is god terrible. Sbarge spends his screentime mimicking Kyle Mclaclan and, I suppose, in that regard he does a fine job. He's given a couple of amusing scenes; one where he tries to use chopsticks, and the other involving a toothbrush. Apparently, they don't have chinese food where he's from. He describes his world as "energy. light. no physical body. real, but not solid. live in spirit, but not body." Yes, that's exactly how it was written. Hodges comes across even worse, filling in for Michael Nouri. One minor improvement over the original is that Juliet and Mclachlan 2 get to engage in the carnal act, although there are some serious repercussions for Mclachlan 2 the next morning. Still, I'm glad we didn't have a scene where Nouri and Kyle Mclachlan go at it. That would just be confusing. In the original, it took a while before Nouri was convinced that Mclachlan 1 was an alien. In this one, Mclachlan 2 immediately leaves his body to prove his point to Juliet. All that character development we had to sit through in part 1 was a complete waste of time these filmmakers wisely thought. Let's get to it.

The acting in the minor roles is even worse. Thankfully, there are very few minor roles, and most of them consist of slug victims. At one point, an infected raver yells to Mclachlan 2"You couldn't hurt me if you tried!" It caused me to wonder a) if the slugs are developmentally challenged OR b) if my brother wrote the script when he was nine.

Speaking of the script, there are several plot points that caused me to wonder if the filmmakers were even working from a script or if they were just making it up as they went along. For example, when I learned that space slugs, after fully maturing, need to return to the steel factory to kill all of their non-mature siblings. It's pretty convenient that Mclachlan 2 would know this particular trait, so that he and Juliet can conveniently meet him/it there for the final act. Another thing I learned is that Mclachlan 2 and these Slugs, or "Hiddens", evolved from the same species. One now trails slime wherever it goes and is evil. The others, the Mclachlans, became spirits I guess. They both have the ability to invade host bodies. Confusingly, Mclachlan 2 has sex in this. I was under the impression that sex was evil. I think Mclachlan 2 tries to justify it by calling sex "love". We've all been there. Am I right?

This is a terrible picture, so I'll just mildly recommend it. The director, Seth Pinsker (several episodes of Eight is Enough) and his crew did very little right. The best directed scenes came at the beginning, but those were filmed by Sholder. There is one effect I liked, when a guy's chest splits open and the slug emerges. They almost won me over with this one because they employed stop motion. The movie does manage to provide us with a terrific ending, the ONE genuinely creepy moment, but then that's undercut because it's not really the ending and there's one more appallingly bad scene to go. So, these guys, these fucking lazy, unimaginative fucks, steal the best parts of The Hidden for their opening. Then they film maybe 60 or so minutes of actual story, a truly SHITTY story mind you, and somehow manage to include a shocking finish (I'm sure they blindly stumbled into that one) and THEN decide to get "ambitious" and tack on another ending?? An ending, which ruins the one good moment in this piece of shit? Here's a hint. It involves waking up.

Do yourself a favor. Check out The Hidden. If you've seen films like Fallen, Slither, or Hero of the Federation, then you've already felt its influence. The Hidden 2, on the other hand, can go away and fucking hide. Let me know if you want to borrow it.