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Archive for May, 2009

#1545: Darkman

Three words:  Disfigured Liam Neeson.

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Neeson plays Peyton Westlake, a scientist working on an artificial skin to help burn victims.   It’s got one problem:  it can’t survive more than 99 minutes in direct light, but functions perfectly in the dark.  Other than this stumbling block, his life is moving along well:  he’s got a great girlfriend, a sweet research gig and a swank laboratory.   Until he hits the worst day of his life.

Westlake’s girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand) is a lawyer working for the Strack company, headed up by the evil Louis Strack.   She discovers an internal memo by accident.   It’s too bad for her that the memo contains information about Strack’s shady business dealings with a mobster named Durant and Strack’s bribes to the zoning committee.   Westlake picked it up by mistake on his way to his lab, so off go Strack  & Durant’s minions to clean up the problem.

Poor Westlake got his marriage proposal to Julie laughed off that morning, then mobsters come in, beat him, drop him in a vat of acid, kill his assistant and explode his lab.

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Yeah, that day would go right in the “Shittiest Day Ever” category.

Westlake’s battered, burned body washes ashore and the local hospital mistakes him for a homeless person.   You know what this means!  Experimentation!   They snip some nerves so he can no longer feel pain, making him sorta superhuman, but with the major bummer side effect of increased emotional angst and some serious adrenaline rages.   Think half-Wolverine berserker kind of stuff.

Westlake escapes the hospital, rebuilds his lab and decides to take out the bad guys who basically fucked up his awesome life and win his girl back.   Said girl is operating under the assumption that he’s dead, actually, so Westlake has a ton of work ahead of him.

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Darkman is far from greatness but it is fun.   Made by Sam Raimi, it features a lot of Raimi hallmarks, but it feels more like a throwback to the old monster & sci fi flicks from the ’30’s – ’50’s than it does a modern flick.   (Raimi’s montages in particular are evocative of this.)

Neeson does about as good a job as one can expect.   He’s part Phantom of the Opera, part Hunchback of Notre Dame, and he spends most of his role (sadly for us shallow folks) in full burned up makeup.   He’s stronger in the first part of the film, where he really does tug your heartstrings after he’s escaped from the hospital and is gradually realizing what happened to him.

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What’s shocking is how much of a dullard Frances McDormand appears to be in this one.   She looks shell-shocked for most of the movie, even before Peyton catches the fireball express to the river.   Afterwards, she doesn’t get much better.   Sad, but true – and it makes you wonder what Westlake’s expending all this energy to recover.

The ending of the movie is great and solid, but probably not the one audiences wanted to see.  While the bad guys get their just rewards, the story line between McDormand and a progressively more and more unstable Neeson can only end in an unhappy way.

While it is entertaining, the effects can border on the bad and muffle the actors’ ability to do what they do best.    It’s fun, but not inventive; dated and not fresh.   This is something you’d pause to watch on cable on a Saturday afternoon and then move about your day, nothing from the movie sticking in your head.

However, since this is a Sam Raimi flick… obligatory Bruce Campbell cameo!

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I know it’s widely popular to love Bruce Campbell, but how can you not?  I adore the man, so this was the cherry on the top of a fun movie.

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Okay, so  I didn’t mean to make these past few days Hellraiser-tastic, but Tommy dared me to do this one!  Unless it’s sticking my tongue to a frozen lightpole , I have been known to very rarely refuse a dare.

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Hellraiser III starts out promising and then blows away all its promise in the second half of the flick.   It begins with an enterprising newswoman, hot on the trail of a Very Big Story, a hedonistic club owner, an eviscerated guest of said club and the club owner’s desperate girlfriend.

Meet the asshole club owner:

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He buys an expensive statue that’s actually got some very bad things contained inside, like, for instance…Pinhead.  (At the end of Part II, we saw Pinhead and friends torn apart and shoved onto a spinning column.  That’s the statue, essentially.)   After a clubgoer of his messes with the puzzle box stuck inside the statue, aforementioned clubgoer meets a dubious end at the end of some chains.  Familiar territory we’re finding ourselves in.

Terri, the determined newscaster, smells a story.  She hooks up with Joey, the girlfriend of the piggish club owner, J.P.   Together they investigate the origins of the statue and the box, as Pinhead begins to reawaken and starts to sway J.P. into bringing him into the land of the living.

The last half of Hellraiser III is a strange brew of items that make no sense in the established canon whatsoever (Pinhead’s human self and hell self are separated and must be reintegrated, but only through Terri’s dreams).   What’s worse is that the old crack team of evil-people-retrievers are gone, gone, gone.   Pinhead slaughters a whole club full of people, trying to out-stupid his own tactics one by one.   One attendee is killed by ice, another by CD.  Yes, CD.   Don’t worry, he’ll pop up again.

Characters in this flick are bland, boring and make some of the most nonsensical decisions ever.   The sets are cheesy and the special effects are sad.

While everyone else tries to make sense of what in God’s good name is going on in the last thirty minutes or so, Terri’s being chased by eeeevil new Cenobites.   They’re the modern upgrades!   Think of them as the Windows Vista version of Cenobites, but they’re not without problems.

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That, my friends, is a Cenobite who kills people by throwing CDs like ninja stars.

It’s a great idea if you want to make the concept of Hellraiser completely laughable.  If so, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.   There’s another Cenobite with a video lens for an eye and a blowtorch Cenobite.  Each is … mind-numbingly stupid.

From there, Terri, who looks as confused and stricken as any viewer would be expected to appear, travels into dream-world to reintegrate Pinhead and escapes.   Of course she does, because if formulaic horror movies have taught us anything, it’s the sacred rite of the Final Girl.

She drops the Lemarchand Box into a vat of wet concrete, which becomes…

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An office building that looks like the box?  Is this Dana’s apartment building from Ghostbusters?  I don’t know.   …But it looks cool.

Stupid, stupid, STUPID movie.  STUPID.  I have a wall that my head needs to meet, thanks.

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Oh, where to begin?
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If you’ve seen Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, then congratulations:  you already know most of the story in Zombie Holocaust.   Corpses in New York City are being mutilated and it’s discovered by the authorities that a group of immigrants from a faraway island are responsible for ripping up the bodies and chowing down on the pieces.  An expedition is organized to travel to the primitive people in order to discover what dastardly, nefarious things are going on to cause the corpse mutilations.
Zombie Holocaust is pretty much Zombie, only 97% fat-free (now, with less sodium!).   It was even released as Zombi 3 to capitalize on Fulci’s success with Zombie (which was released as Zombi 2, even though it’s not a sequel to anything.  Still with me?).   Unlike Zombie, it’s missing a lot of what made Zombie so entertaining and simultaneously squick-worthy; there is no zombie fighting a shark and there’s no version of the slow eye mutilation.   The acting is bad, the “action” scenes plod along and seeing a zombie take a boat motor propellor to the face toward the end of the flick is little payoff for a movie that delivers something you probably have already seen.
That being said, Zombie Holocaust is not totally horrific.   Sure, it’s been done already, but there’s a certain perverse fun in watching horror flicks, so even though Zombie Holocaust is a retread, so are 8,000 other horror movies.   The cheesy fun of watching a bad dub with dull special effects remains intact, so it’s got that going for it.
The expedition team is slowly picked off before discovering that a surgeon on the island is manipulating the bodies of the dead and experimenting on them.  Thus, the zombification plague is fully explained.  As you would expect from a mad scientist, the evil doctor’s none too pleased about the group discovering his special, special project and so he orders his zombies to slay the lot and let him mess around with some of the group while they’re still alive.   Another member of the expedition is crowned “queen” of the tribe that’s still alive.  They’re cannibals, which makes her inexplicably QUEEN OF THE CANNIBALS.   Don’t be confused by logic.  This is just an excuse to get a pretty girl naked.   Yes, I know.  A lot of you are biting your knuckles at the very thought of a pretty lady naked, but it’ll be alright.
Like a lot of z-grade horror movies, Zombie Holocaust is less about any sort of story or central theme and a lot more about creatively dismembering fake dummies with lots of Karo syrup inside.  (None of the dead folks even remotely look real in this film.  Some scenes it appears the crew didn’t even bother to hide that they were using a dummy.)   

Horror fans, go for it; everyone else… uh, you might want to skip it.

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My copy of Hellraiser is MIA so let’s recap for the first movie and don’t read further if you don’t want to be spoiled:

Kirsty is the kid of Larry, a quiet, nice guy who winds up married to an adulterous harridan by the name of Julia.   Julia’s not only icy to Kirsty, she also had a days-past affair with Larry’s brother, Frank.  Frank is into some hardcore freaky stuff – he travels the world looking for the most boundary-pushing ways to explore eroticism and one day he happens upon something that happens to be way more than he can handle.  Enter Lemarchand’s box, the well-known puzzle contraption of the Hellraiser series that opens to release demons from Hell.   Frank escapes the demons (called “Cenobites”) to come back to Earth.   Julia discovers his skinless, mangled frame and nurses him back to health by seducing men and killing them so Frank can feed.  (I’d suggest not eating anything during this one.)

Eventually the parties all must face up that some seriously Inferno-esque shit is going down in their humble abode and Kirsty releases the Cenobites, who come to claim Frank…and Julia.

So the second picks up right where the first left off, with Kirsty being hauled in from the ruined remains of her house and shuffled off into a psychiatric ward.

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Kirsty’s psychiatrist is a man named Dr. Channard.   Kindly at first, he takes an interest in her because of her professed belief that demons ripped apart her family like bits of paper.   Dr. Channard also has a girl under his care who’s got a particular knack with puzzles.   Can we see where this is going?

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Dr. Channard’s assistant gets wind of some fucked up goings-on at the good doctor’s house, so he inspects while Kirsty sees her dead daddy leaving her messages that he’s in hell.  She becomes determined to save him.   Dr. Channard’s assistant becomes determined to be creeped the fuck out by Dr. Channard, as his whole life seems to revolve around opening Lemarchand’s box to unleash the hellbeasts within.   It probably doesn’t help that the good-hearted assistant sees Channard allow a mental patient to mutilate himself on the bed where Julia died, thereby resurrecting a skinless lady bent on … rejuvenating herself.

Kirsty and The Assistant meet up and go back to the house, where Channard’s already pressed the girl with the puzzle talent into opening the box so he and Julia can go exploring in Hell.   There’s an appealing travel destination if I ever heard of one, so it’s no surprise that Channard’s so inquisitive.

Too bad for Channard that things don’t go according to plan…

I won’t spoil you anymore, but the whole of the movie is not good at all.   The first Hellraiser explored the crazy S&M kind of idea that pain and pleasure are closely related.  It was about as close as a flick could get to being remotely evocative of Clive Barker’s story.  (Hellraiser is based on Barker’s The Hellbound Heart, and if you haven’t read Barker and feel you can stomach it, it is worth a read.   He writes beautifully, which is a nice counterpoint to the horrific stuff he’s writing about.)   The entire first movie made people’s skin crawl not just with the overt gore but the thematic elements of the movie in general were a little out there.   Plus, Barker put a whole new riff on Hell.

The second one takes all that and kind of pitches it out the window, since the movie makes little sense.   Whole plot points are messily discarded, as Kirsty’s whole reason for entering Hell is to find her innocent Daddy, but as far as I can tell, she never gets a concrete lock on where Daddy is, let alone rescues h im.   The special effects are Harryhausen-lite, something that would’ve been appropriate for a 1950’s monster flick but deaden the terror of demonic, torture-happy beings coming to get you and take you away forever.

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The makeup effects are still good as Pinhead & Co. are enough to make you twitch nervously in your sleep.   The treatment of Pinhead and his gang of pain-inducing troublemakers will make you cringe, however.

The sad thing about this one is that you can see the slim bones of a good movie in here.   There was a lot of room to move in this one and many paths they could have taken.   Instead, what you get is a cobbled mash of stuff that doesn’t totally add up.   IMDB tells me that the guy who played Kirsty’s dad refused to come back for the sequel, which mean shoddy rewrites that account for some of the movie making no damn sense.   The thing feels disjointed and odd, like something went wrong in the editing room.

Julia’s character works every angle like she doesn’t know what’s coming around the corner; Dr. Channard is more entertaining as a morally bankrupt human than what he becomes.   Kirsty’s character is reduced to histrionics and wide eyed terror … and not much else.   Supporting cast members are quickly killed off; they seem to be sacks of meat to move along the plot.

It’s a strange mess of a flick.   It sets up Julia to be the future baddie when we all know Pinhead became the Krueger-esque face of the franchise.   As a horror fan, there’s something strangely entertaining that I find about it, but my smarts tell me that few others would find much in this morass to entertain them.

It lacks in style and substance.   About the only redeeming thing I took from this movie was, “Hey!  There’s more than one Lemarchand box? Cool!”

I don’t hold much hope for any of the other sequels if this one is evocative of the path the franchise takes.

For horror fans, I’d recommend giving it a once over; for everyone else – you have been duly warned.

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May Giveaway

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Well, what did you think it was going to be?

I have a two disc special edition copy for a lucky reader.  Leave a comment – don’t forget to put a valid e-mail address in the  appropriate box to leave a comment, else I can’t e-mail you for your correct address.

Alright, who wants it?

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If you’re a LAMB member, then you should be aware that the 2009 LAMMYs are going on RIGHT NOW!   The excitement, the glitz, the glamor!

trophyYes, if I win, I hear that one of these babies will be shipped to my house, where people can assume I won a trophy for genetically engineering a mutated sheep.

I’m nominated for Best Blog, which actually means that I’ll probably lose out to that dastardly Fletch over at Blog Cabins or the sneaky Stacie Ponder at Final Girl, but it would be nice if you LAMB members voted for me.   Please?

…I have cookies?

(Wait, is bribery out of the question?)

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Summer is upon us, which means barbecues, skin-melting sunshine (if you live in my area of the woods) and blockbuster flicks.   Since it’s that time of year, the impending release of Transformers 2:  Revenge of the Fallen or whatever the subtitle is has film nerds in a tizzy.   Why, in the words of the South Park creators, does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?   We ask this as we stand in line for a Michael Bay movie.

What is it about Bay movies that keeps us coming back for more?   Are we cinema masochists?   If you think about it, every Bay movie figuratively punches you in the face, defying you to think about things like “logic”, “plot” and “common sense”.   It can’t be the Academy Award worthy acting and directing, can it?

No.  And it wasn’t until Younger Sister told me about this that I realized even as we make fun of Michael Bay, it’s this one thing that makes us come to the fount of stupid again and again and again:

Genius.  Inspired.   Totally true!   Michael Bay’s Explosions might be the movie we’ve all waited to see from him.

Truly, it feels like things involving character development are so boring to Bay.    Watch him try and direct scenes with only humans.   You’ll see what I mean.  Then watch a Michael Bay explosion scene.   Every shot is lovingly crafted, with shrapnel flying full force.  Each fireball is carefully filmed and cars careen into the air with reckless abandon.  Sure, Michael Bay will scorch entire city blocks, operate with complete disregard for environmental rules and laws, and think nothing of torching $2 million + worth of equipment, but at the end of the day, he either gets the shot… or he gets the best shot that CGI will allow.

Not everyone can be Francis Ford Coppola.   Let’s face it, if you do one thing well, you should really focus on that, right?   And God has seen fit to give Michael Bay the extraordinary gift of destroying aircraft carriers and putting it on film, shouldn’t you utilize that gift in the best possible way?

I mean, if God said, “Son, go forth and BLOW SHIT UP,” well, yeah, I’d be right on that.

However, Michael’s just been picking the wrong movies to do.  Transformers? Look, I know we routinely appeal to the “lowest common denominator” here in America, but even slack-jawed snopses will eventually get tired of GIGANTIC ALIEN ROBOTS BLOWING SHIT UP.   This will probably happen sometime after Transformers Part V:  Optimus Prime’s Revenge.  Let’s face it, Michael needs a project that caters to his special needs.

It has to be something amazing.  It has to be something that is simple in the plot and character department, featuring huge explosions and next to no logic and/or common sense.   It has to be something that will enable him to have hundreds of fireballs and all sorts of vehicles exploding.   Someone, somewhere will have to detonate some C4 in a fighter jet, perhaps.

Well, I have just the thing.  And Mr. Bay?  You can have my idea for free.   I just want to see the epic masterpiece you’d make out of…

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Give him Richard Dean Anderson, a matchstick, a piece of gum, a toilet paper holder and $250 million and Bay could make all our nightmares dreams come true.

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