Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Alien Seed (1989)

Mary Jordan (Shellie Block) loves to jog, and she even has her sights set on Olympic gold in the near future.  If only she hadn’t been abducted and inseminated by aliens.  Now her life is in mild turmoil.  Enter journalist Mark Timmons (Steven Blade), who types while wearing sunglasses indoors as if he were Saturday Night Live’s Michael O’Donoghue, and has been in contact with Mary for the purpose of telling her story to the whole, wide world.  Of course, Mary is also being pursued with much more malicious intent by the probably/definitely insane Dr. Stone (Erik Estrada), and when Mary’s sister Lisa (Heidi Paine) gets abducted too (gee whiz!), all bets are off.  Not that they were ever really on.

I am in absolute amazement how vivid and downright coherent dreams are when portrayed in media.  They may have odd elements in them, but oftentimes they’re little more than either a clue to a mystery the characters need to solve or a shorthand to delineate a character’s inner turmoil.  Personally, I rarely remember my dreams, but several differences stand out between mine and those in fiction.  One, the people I’m with are rarely people I actually know.  In fact, outside of a few instances, they’re simply bodies serving as placeholders in whatever events are taking place, and they are just as likely to become someone else (recognizable or unrecognizable) ten seconds down the road as not.  Two, not only do the people change at a moment’s notice, but the settings do as well.  I don’t even need to leave one place and go to another.  Sometimes all I have to do is turn my head, and suddenly I’m nowhere near where I started.  Three, nothing ever seems to be resolved at the end of my dreams.  They usually begin (if they have beginnings at all) and end with very little having taken place and very little of anything with any explicit value having been learned.  

There are themes that run through many of these dreams, I’m sure, and I’m even more certain that there are those who would suggest that the reason these themes remain constant in my dream life is because they remain unresolved in my waking life.  I understand the reason that dreams seem so cogent in movies, television, and so forth.  They need to serve some narrative function, so they can’t be as deliriously frustraneous as those I’ve experienced.  And that’s what, funny enough, Bob James and company get (mostly) right in their film Alien Seed.  The dreams in this film are nigh-unintelligible outside of the god-awful EBEs (Extraterrestrial Biological Entities) that are peppered here and there in them.  There is a woman sleeping in a very wet bed with some unknown person next to her.  There are women in nighties getting splashed with blood (the only reason I could decipher for this one was as a surrogate wet tee shirt shot).  There are shots of fire.  The point is little to none of what we’re shown is integrated into the film in any significant way.  I suppose that some of it is meant to mimic what UFO abductees have recalled of their experiences, and I can appreciate that.  But so much more of it is just visuals.  Granted, there are some nice boobies in said visuals, but otherwise there’s little point.  But that’s enough for some folks, and it absolutely fits with my personal experiences.

The “alien messiah” angle of the film is easily the most intriguing.  As has been posited by people for decades now, aliens have supposedly been integral in forming and guiding our civilization since its very beginning.  It’s been said they helped build the pyramids of Egypt (most famously).  It’s been said that they have regularly chosen humans with which to breed.  It’s been said that the human race sprang forth as an experiment conducted by aliens, that we’re living on a gigantic Petri dish under a galactic microscope or worse, that we’re being bred as some form of cattle (in which case you would think they should have harvested their product some time ago and/or should really get on the ball with the seeming state of global affairs).  For my part, I can’t fathom why aliens would want to interbreed with human beings, especially if they’re so vastly superior and so much further evolved from us.  Unless, of course, Earth is a big old interstellar brothel for extraterrestrials, and their outer space contraception isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  

Regardless of how involved or uninvolved one wants to get in considering this subject, Alien Seed does its damnedest to play it all inconsequentially and straight down the line.  The government (read: The American military-industrial complex) wants to possess Lisa’s baby to harness its power and increase their influence across the globe, because peace doesn’t sell (contrary to what Dave Mustaine may tell you).  The Reverend Bolam (David Hayes) and his “ministry,” which I believe is in league with General Dole (Terry Phillips), also claim ownership of the infant and the power it will bring, but his motives (whatever his specific aims may be) are more personal.  Bolam is depicted as a genuine man of the cloth, but he is also depicted in the standard cynical way for this type of character.  The very first scene he’s in, Bolam’s eyes bug out of his head as he reminds his secretary (Marilyn Garman) that they will have their usual sexual liaison that evening.  He is in a constant, diaphoretic state of agitation.  We even get a throw away shot of him tossing his clammy head back in revelatory ecstasy while kneeling by some votive candles (though he could just as easily be getting his knob shined by his gal Friday).  The most intriguing pursuer of Lisa and Mark is Dr. Stone as a biological riff on the Terminator (though neither the character nor the actor portraying him come even close to the impact of the James Cameron/Arnold Schwarzenegger/Stan Winston creation), but he gets so little screen time and he’s so ineffectual, you really have to feel bad that Estrada actually put his name on this film as a producer (an associate producer, I grant you, but still…)

What undoes this film in the final analysis isn’t that it’s dumb.  There have been plenty of dumb films stretching back to the very dawn of cinema.  And a lot of them have managed to be entertaining, even when they have been incompetent (and some are entertaining because of their incompetence).  Alien Seed is not one of those films.  There are elisions of time and plot points we are only told about when it becomes important to what narrative there is (and I’m being generous when I use the word “important”).  One can deal with characters who behave unlike actual human beings, but when it’s done with the intent of plot convenience, it’s irritating.  Motivations change just to attempt generating tension to keep the story afloat for a longer run time.  It doesn’t work.  

It’s been a complaint of reviewers for many years that chase scenes are nothing more than padding for films/television shows that are light on content.  Now, you and I know this isn’t strictly true.  Some chase scenes are so well done and so well thought out, they become integral to the potency of the work in which they are featured.  With that in mind, there are no less than three chase scenes in this film, and I can tell you confidently that not a single one of them adds any value to this film as either narrative development or spectacle.  So, no, I don’t hate this movie because it’s dumb.  I hate it because it’s dull.  But you can just read that as “it stinks.”

MVT:  There are several scenes set in the topless bar where Lisa works (Mary may work there too, but who can tell?).  They’re entertaining and engaging for the most obvious reason.  And they’re the only reason I could see anyone watching this film.  Too bad there weren’t more of them.

Make or Break:  The scene where Mark visits Lisa’s apartment is stalker-y and implausible in the extreme.  He brings her Chinese food, and then she lets him in, and then she tells him to leave.  Then he sleeps on the couch.  If this scenario took place in reality, it would end in restraining orders, I assure you.

Score:  3/10 

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Dog's Breakfast (2007)

Directed by: David Hewlett
Runtime:  88 minutes

This quirky Canadian comedy is the work of David Hewlett. He played the snarky jerk who also happened to be a clever Canadian scientist on Stargate: Atlantis. So David Hewlett wrote, directed, and stars in a film where he plays a snarky psychopathic jerk who lives in Canada. I am starting to see a pattern here. This is A Dog's Breakfast.

It is nearly Christmas somewhere in rural British Columbia and we are introduced to the main character Patrick. Patrick is a man who is trying for the platinum medal in being an awkward jerk and is upset that the judges will only give him a gold medal. He also lives with Mars the dog, the only character in this movie that is completely normal.

The conflict in this film comes by the way of a phone call from Patrick's sister Marilyn (played by his sister in real life). She tells Patrick that she has a surprise for him and that she will be coming to see him soon. When Marilyn arrives Patrick notices a stranger following his sister. So he does what any protective older would do in this situation, he knocks the guy out with a cricket bat. This is how Patrick meets his future brother-in-law Ryan.

Ryan is the lead actor on a cheesy science fiction show and Marilyn is the make up artist for the same show. The two of them meet on the show and they are on the disgustingly annoying and cute phase of their relationship. Patrick is less than happy for them and sets out to just be his annoying self again. This plan is brought to a halt when Patrick overhears Ryan on the phone. The conversation Patrick hears between Ryan and whoever is on the phone leads Patrick to think two things. That Ryan is out to kill his sister and that Ryan is out to get the money from Patrick selling his parents furniture.

Not being a rational or well adjusted human Patrick decided to protect his sister by killing Ryan. Luckily for Ryan, Patrick is just as useless at murder as he is at being a well adjusted human being. Patrick tries to kill Ryan by using martial arts he learned from a gaming console, a wood cutting accident, a bathtub accident, and an electrified ladder. All of these attempts fail so fate gets involved and causes Ryan to fall off a ladder and break his neck.

Patrick's joy turns to dread as his thick brain processes that he is overjoyed that his sister's fiancé. In his own demented way Patrick does not want his sister to suffer, so he hides the body and tries to help her get over the loss she does not know about yet. Two problems arise from this, one problem is the body will not stay where he hides it and he has no idea how to deal with people. To add to Patrick's growing list of problems Mars is digging up Ryan and dragging him into the house.

To address his sister's imagined needs and to soothe his own conscience Patrick sets up his sister on a online dating site. This leads to a guy named Chris showing up for his sixth awkward date. Not wanting to be rude Marilyn agrees to have dinner with Chris while Patrick acts as a waiter for the two of them. With Patrick's conscience not bothering him, Patrick decides to go after his sister for not doing more with her life. Marilyn counters this verbal attack by pointing out that Patrick inflicted brain damage on himself by jumping off the roof in a superhero costume when he was twenty seven years old.

With Chris gone, Marilyn now knows that Patrick's weirdness is beyond what passes for normal for him. This leads to the third act twist of sorts. It also becomes darker in a way and much more funny.

Overall this is a movie worth a rental. It is twisted, dark, insane and a lot of fun to watch.

MVT: Mars the Dog. The dog is the only one in this movie that is sane.

Make or Break: The break on this film for me is the pace. There a lot slow segments filled with Patrick being a neurotic mess and it feels that the movie is dragging.

Score: 7.4 out of 10

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

I, Madman (1989)

Hey, kids, remember mixtapes?  Of course, you do.  And even if you didn’t, the insanely wild popularity of the “Awesome Mix Vol. 1” from Guardians of the Galaxy (okay, and the insanely wild popularity of the movie, too) has certainly brought them back into the public eye with a vengeance.  James Gunn’s film also succinctly summed up what made mixtapes special and appealing.  They didn’t have to have a theme.  They could simply be a collection of songs you like.  Nevertheless, it was the ones that were assembled with purpose that were the most special.  We laugh today at some of the motifs (“Doug’s Rockin Party Mix,” “Mellow Jams,” et cetera), but there was a soul-baring forthrightness to them that held the majority of their charms (the others would be the packaging and the format itself, but that’s a much longer conversation).  For those who were awkward talking to people (I’m of course thinking of other people, not me), the mixtape could express all the things they couldn’t say, and set it to a catchy beat.  They were like serenades for which you didn’t have to pay live musicians.  I can’t honestly think of any longterm couple who came together because of a mixtape, but it sure is a nice thought, don’t you think?  And almost anything would be a better gesture of someone’s affection than what Malcolm Brand (Randall Cook) gets up to in Tibor TakacsI, Madman (aka Sola in Quella Casa aka Hardcover).  

Virginia (Jenny Wright) just loves herself some scary Horror novels, and she becomes particularly entranced by the work of one Malcolm Brand after reading his first book, Much of Madness, More of Sin.  Virginia’s hunky cop boyfriend Richard (Clayton Rohner), however, doesn’t like how her reading habits affect her, especially since they usually lead to his receiving a booty call  in the middle of the night (what the hell is wrong with this cat?).  After a fruitless search, Brand’s second book (the eponymous one) mysteriously shows up at Virginia’s front door, and the people around her start dropping like flies in line with the tome’s plot.

Dark Love is a subject running heavy through I, Madman, and it’s a theme that’s been around seemingly forever (if not, actually forever).  Brand craves the love of Anna (in the book) and Virginia (in the “real world”), but her rejection of him causes what must have been an unstable psyche to begin with to plunge off the proverbial cliff into full-blown psychopathy.  And so the stalking begins.  Brand collects the physical features he thinks Anna/Virginia is attracted to from his victims and attaches them to his own face.  That these individual pieces, when added onto his face, only serve to make Brand more grotesque completely escapes him.  But it is the act of transformation which he believes will attract his unrequited love to him.  That this transformation is only on a physical level further reinforces Brand’s misunderstanding of the situation (and it’s worth noting that not all of the features he purloins are from males).  After all, one can own a Porsche and still be a total douchebag (as we have learned from so many Teen Romantic Comedies).  

But it takes two to tango, and Virginia has moments of transformation as well.  In the real world, Virginia wears glasses much of the time (something she makes sure to remove when Richard comes to visit).  She also has a tendency to hunch her shoulders, a picture of timidity.  She likes Richard, maybe even loves him, but as she tells co-worker Mona (Stephanie Hodge), she doesn’t want to commit to him.  By that same token, she is not the virginal prude the audience expects in a character who is primarily defined as a bookworm.  She reads some of Brand’s work to Richard as she peels off his clothes, but it’s not indicative of her desire for “bad boy” loving in her life with Richard acting as a stand-in.  Virginia does what she wants to with her body.  That she gives it freely to Richard (the safe, status-quo-upholding, protective, handsome figure) while rejecting Brand (the dangerous, deviant, threatening, hideous figure) puts the lie to the notion that she wants anything other than an unadventurous life, particularly since she rejects Brand immediately outside of the written page.  As words in a book, he’s enthralling.  As a flesh and blood suitor, he’s the pits.

Art not only imitates life in this film; it is life.  It’s hinted that Brand was into Alchemy and all sorts of Dark Arts.  Outside of the Jackal Boy (a great, Randall Cook [yes, the same one] stop motion creation), there’s very little in-depth probing of this angle.  The film’s metatextual facet is a major appeal for me, and through this Super Science device, there is some narrative explanation for the return of Brand.  Virginia enters into the stories in the form of Anna, and the physical world around her changes accordingly.  Clearly, this points to I, Madman’s roots as a take on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.  And yet, as a visualization of how we invest in words and imagine them transporting us, it’s marvelous.  But there is also some hinting that Virginia is the specific focal point for Brand’s resurrection.  After all, she couldn’t have been the only person who ever read Brand’s books, no matter how miniscule the print runs from publisher Sidney Zeit (Murray Rubin) were.  In fact, Richard reads the book with no adverse effects whatsoever.  It only makes sense, then, that Virginia’s emotional involvement is the key needed to unlock the door to the afterlife for her lovelorn lunatic.  

With that in mind, everything that happens in the film could also be seen as a figment of Virginia’s deteriorating psyche.  She could just as easily be the “madman” of the title as Brand.  This sort of story has this concept built in, because anyone who Virginia tells about her ideas is going to be disingenuous.  Naturally, none of the cops, including Richard, believe her.  One of her first sightings of Brand is for a split second in a book store mirror.  How does she know it’s him?  How does she know what he looks like?  How do we know she didn’t actually just catch sight of herself in the reflection (camera angle aside; We’re talking about Virginia’s psychology here)?When she interacts with Brand directly, the scenes are shot in a stylized, dreamlike fashion (again harking back to Nightmare).  There is copious fog, bright backlighting, wide angle lens usage, billowing curtains, Dutch angles, and so on.  Since Virginia’s reading of Brand’s words seemingly incite the mayhem in the story, she bears some form of complicity in the murders and mutilations.  Takacs and company want the viewer to doubt (if only slightly) whether what’s occurring onscreen is real or imaginary.  There is more than enough information here to read the film as a straight up Supernatural Slasher movie (and this is most likely the preferred reading).  But there is evidence to allow interpretation as a Psychological Thriller, as well.  The main problem with either is that the film doesn’t set up clearly defined rules to follow in these regards.  The rules of this cinematic world are capricious at best.  It makes the overall viewing experience something of a hodgepodge and not as satisfying as I wish it was.  Also, and perhaps worse, Brand is underdeveloped as anything other than a standard boogeyman.  Outside of his narrative motivation and what we’re told about him, he does not distinguish himself in any significant way from the pack of Slashers.  I still have a major soft spot in my heart for I, Madman.  I always will.  Just not enough to record a mixtape for it.

MVT:  I love the ideas in the film.  They’re right up my alley in so many ways.  If only the filmmakers had taken the time to hammer out their story’s bumps and give us more three-dimensional characters.

Make or Break:  The opening scene is atmospheric visually and has a distinct, heightened, pulpy flavor that sets the tone for the film’s ambitions.  

Score:  6.5/10