Monday, June 11, 2007

I hate formatting, and it hates me

Sorry about the newest posts. I can't seem to figure out how to get it to insert line breaks. I'll keep trying, but in the meantime join me in cursing

Trash is letting me down

Recently I’ve been working insanely long days, and I found myself turning to a dear old friend for some relief. Bad movies. Given that my work involves a lot of thinking, I turned to the trusty world of simple-minded trashy movies for that sweet elixir called “escapism”. But I found myself being disappointed much more often than I should when watching movies that I already had rock bottom expectations for. Take for instance, the abysmal movies Hostel and Smokin’ Aces.

First, let’s tackle that snooze-fest Hostel. First and foremost, it was just fucking boring! The whole movie basically breaks down into 45 minutes of Eli Roth cramming in as many boobs as possible followed by 45 minutes of dirty, gross-out horror. Sounds good, right? I would have thought the same thing, but someone he turned that seemingly fool-proof formula into a painfully boring 90 minutes.

Basically, I hated all the characters so much from the very beginning that all I wanted was for all of them to die as painfully as possibly and as quickly as possible. The whole thing could have been 20 minutes long, and that would still be about 15 minutes too much. For a movie that seemed to generate so much controversy upon its release, it was a massive let down. Never has a torture movie been so dreadfully dull.

People have tried to explain it all away by saying that Roth is just resurrecting the maligned genre of ‘80s exploitation horror. Well, that may be true, but those movies sucked. Sure, some of them had some solid campy cult-ish fun, but really Hostel ends up being a shining example of why those movies went away. They are poorly made and boring as all hell.

And while I’m on the subject, I’m sick of hearing this nonsense about the new “Splat Pack” of young horror directors. I mean, really, what have any of them done that is worth noting? Saw? Cheap Se7en rip-off. Haute Tension? That movie could have been great if it weren’t for its one major, movie-ruining fuck-up. The only one worth keeping an eye on is Rob Zombie. (C’mon, House of 1000 Corpses is just the kind of trashy fun I wanted from Hostel, and even the critics liked the Devil’s Rejects)

All is not lost, though. The night I watched Hostel, my faith in the cinematically depraved was restored by watching Takashi Miike’s comedic splatter-crime masterpiece Ichi the Killer. Leave it to the Asians to take something American and make it 20 times more kick-ass. (see Japanese Night in the SXSW entry)

And now onto Smokin’ Aces. I expected even less from this movie than I did Hostel. I figured it’d turn into 90 minutes of big explosions, dizzying shoot-outs, and maybe a little bit of nudity to round it all out. Well, it had though things, but just not nearly enough or early enough.

The whole movie was about 1 hour and 40 minutes, and the action didn’t start until a good hour and 10 minutes into it. And even then it lasted all of 10 minutes before it was over and the movie finished itself off with 20 minutes of plot twists and exposition. A movie that should have been a highly stylized cornucopia of violence tried to make itself into a serious thriller by shoving in as many unnecessary plot twists as possible, and then added insult to injury by over-explaining every single one to the audience. We get it! That old FBI agent is the dying mob boss. You can stop bringing it up and telling us. The only thing worse than the first ¾ of the movie was the last 20 minutes. It was so bad it doesn’t even merit explanation.

Ultimately, that was Smokin’ Aces biggest problem. A movie that can’t even spell out the word “smoking” in its title tried to be serious. From the death of Ray Liotta to a ludicrous story about unrequited lesbian love, the whole mess was just handled way too seriously. The movie was bloated with quite a few name actors (Ray Liotta, Ryan Reynolds, Jeremy Piven, Jason Bateman, Andy Garcia, Ben Affleck) and even one R&B superstar (Alicia Keys), someone at some point should have known better than to play it all so straight. (Affleck came close with his bail bondsman character who couldn’t seem to remember what accent he talks with, but that might not have been intentional)

The only saving grace of the whole movie was the characters the Tremor Brothers. Three white trash hitmen who were all half-brothers (same mother, three different fathers). The scene in which they are introduced is brilliant. Unfortunately they are only in two more short scenes after that.

Much like the Hostel incident, this night was recovered by going to an old standby, Return of the Living Dead. Never have Quincy Punks, zombies, and nuclear war been so brilliantly blended. There is still hope for the world of trashy cinema. Maybe it just needs more zombies…

Summer Movie Review: Part I

I’ve only been able to see a couple of summer movies so far, so for now I’ll only be covering 28 Weeks Later and Spiderman 3. If you’re looking for another glowing review of Knocked Up, I’d suggest checking somewhere else.

First up is 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to Danny Boyle’s excellent 28 Days Later. All of the infected have, at this point, starved to death following the outbreak of the RAGE virus. American-lead NATO forces have moved into London and are beginning to secure and repopulate the city with the survivors of the outbreak and shipping in Brits who have been out of the country. Naturally, the virus remerges and everything goes to shit.

I was pretty worried about this one. I definitely loved 28 Days Later, and had heard that Boyle was only involved in this one as an executive producer (which basically means nothing). Ultimately I ended up seeing it simply because the Spiderman 3 screening we were trying to make was sold-out. Ended up being OK, though, since 28 Weeks Later was much better than I expected, and I got to see Spiderman 3 later on anyways.

The film was surprisingly good. The return of the RAGE virus was handled very well. The film was well above average, with a few moments of total brilliance. We get to see the virus spread through crazed crowds, bringing to mind in the first film, when a character describes what it was like when the virus spread through a crowded train station. This time we get to see it, and it is terrifying. There is also an absolutely amazing scene that is watched entirely through the night-vision scope of rifle.

The movie was a pretty heavy handed at times in its critique of America military operations, but it doesn’t make it any less affecting. I won’t give away too much, but if you liked the first one, I would definitely say that the second is worth seeing. None of the characters from the first return for the second, but this time you get Robert Carlyle. And, really, who doesn’t love Begby?

On to Spiderman 3. Echoing most reviews, it’s not nearly as good as the first two, but if you’re a fan, it is worth seeing. The biggest problem is that Raimi seemed to try to shove too much into one movie. The story floating about is that Raimi refused to do a Venom storyline, but then was either forced by the studio or changed his mind depending on your source. The movie ends up continuing the Harry Osborne story, introduces the black suit, Venom, includes a Sandman story, and introduces the character of Gwen Stacy. A lot to chew on.

The end result is that Venom, the much more compelling character in the comics, is a very boring and one-dimensional character in movie, while Sandman, basically a thug without a backstory in the comics, becomes much more interesting and complex. The Gwen Stacy character is horribly represented and mishandled. Of course, that really only matters to those of us who are hardcore Spiderman fans.

It’s not all bad, though. The action is definitely rad and non-stop exciting. The Harry Osborne storyline is a little clumsy at times, but ultimately handled very well. Thomas Hayden Church’s performance as Sandman is fantastic. Really, if you want to get a good idea of the movie, imagine the first two with better action and special effects, but with a clumsier and shallower story.

My biggest problem with the film, ultimately, ended up being the Eddie Brock/Venom character. Topher Grace is completely wrong in his portrayal of Eddie Brock, but it seems to be less his fault and more the fault of the writing. The casting was bad from the beginning. (I mean, Eric Foreman as the intense, muscle-bound thug hell-bent on murderous revenge?) The character is written totally different from the comics. Instead of the usual intense and serious Eddie Brock, we get a wisecracking smart aleck. Ultimately, the Venom storyline is really inconsistent and handled pretty poorly.

The movie is worth checking out if you like Spiderman or either of the other Spiderman movies. Expect more flash and less substance.

Movie yet to be seen: Hot Fuzz, Knocked Up, Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End.

the Return of the Octopus Motor

After a painful absence from the World Wide Web, I am pleased to announce that the Octopus Motor will be back up and running smoothly in the very near future. Following an insanely busy month to finish off my first year in graduate school and a wonderful break in sunny Florida, I am ready to once again conquer my small corner of the Internet. I will be posting more updates in the very near future.

Keep your eyes peeled and ears open, the Octopus Motor returns…