Friday, February 26, 2016

Red Faction: Origins (2011)

Directed by: Michael Nankin
Run time: 88 minutes

Red Faction: Origins is a movie adaption of the video game Red Faction Guerrilla.  The game is centered around Eric Hammerguy, a guy who reluctantly frees Mars from the tyrannical rule of the Earth Defense Forces.  He does this task by destroying everything Earth related with a variety of weapons and a mining hammer. Since this game did better than the other two Red Faction games, so a movie adaption was just a matter of time.

The starts twenty five years after the events of the game. We catch up with Eric Hammerguy,  who is now a drunk hero of Mars. In news broadcast info dump we learn that few years after freeing Mars that Eric had his wife and daughter murdered by the Marauders. The Marauders are the other faction that control Mars.  The best to describe them is Hollywood's idea of Native Americans mixed with the Fremen from Dune. They dislike Earth, the Red Faction, and firearms, and will kick thirty two kinds of ass when put into a fight.

Eric meanwhile is drinking in the only bar on Mars, sick of hearing about how much of a hero he was, and is annoyed with another drunk who is a fan of him. So he fixes the one problem he can do something about and punches out the drunk.  This leads to a brawl that leads out of the bar and becomes the problem of officer Eric Hammerguy Jr. Who arrests his dad, again, for drunk and disorderly conduct. It should be pointed out that the Red Faction are a sort of militia police force.

The next day, Eric Hammerguy Jr.'s boss smoothed things over with the bar so his dad can keep drinking there. He also wants Eric Hammerguy Jr. to take a salvage party out to crash site. Part of a Earth battleship that was blown up twenty five years ago is crashing on to the surface of Mars. The problem is that the ship fragment is crashing in an area that is contested by both the Red Faction and the Marauders. Another problem is that Eric Hammerguy Jr. doesn't know much about valuable Earth technology. Fortunately the Red Faction has hired an Earth born technology genius. Her name is Ms. BornonEarth and she is expert in all things technology, science, and reminding everyone that she is was born on Earth and how no one trusts her.

Eric Hammerguy Jr's team is the last to arrive where the ship crashed. The Marauders got to the crash site first and were killed by the mysterious soldiers in white battle fatigues. Eric Jr. and Ms. BornonEarth catch up with with one of the soldiers in white and it just so happens to be Eric Jr.'s sister. The movie then becomes a hunt for Eric Hammerguy Jr.'s sister across the surface of Mars. Along the way Eric Jr. runs into and befriends a couple of Marauders who are on a quest of plot convenience and annoyance. Together they solve the mystery of the soldiers in white, find Eric Hammerguy Jr.'s sister, expose old man Faust as the ghost of the haunted Mars amusement park, and have a positive ending. Though several people die to obtain it.

I am of two minds on this movie. On the one hand, this is the best video game adaption movie I have seen in awhile. Thought the movie has a limited budget it makes good use of it's CGI and practical effects. The other side, the plot, while faithful to the game, is lazily written, full of one or less dimension characters, and suffers from It's a SyFy/Video Game Movie So Who Gives A Fuck syndrome.

If you are a fan of the Red Faction Guerrilla game and trashy scf fi movies, this is a movie you will want to find. Otherwise, it is a great movie to have on in the background.

MVT: The CGI work in the film, while cheap, is well done and is the best thing in the movie.

Make or Break: Though Mars is smaller in size than the Earth, Mars has roughly similar same amount of land mass as there is dry land on Earth.Yet the writer of this movie managed to make Mars feel like a quarter of the size of the United States. So rather than having a wide open planet, it instead feels like small place with a settlements named after Robert A Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.

Score: 3.2 out of 10

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Plankton (1994)


Over the years, it’s often been said that fish is “brain food.”  What this means is that eating fish helps with both cognition and memory (so long as it doesn’t contain high levels of mercury, of course).  The basic hypothesis behind this is that the high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids found in some types of fish help produce more complex fatty acids which in turn bolster brain cell walls.  This is why so many drug manufacturers peddle their Omega-3 pills to anyone with the money to buy them (and probably more than a few without it).  However, a recent study conducted at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center posits that Omega-3 is of far less consequence than popularly believed, in yet another case of “He Said, She Said” that the medical industry loves to go through every couple of years (“Red meat is bad for you,” “No, wait.  It’s good for you,” “No, wait…”).  

Aside from the occasional piece of salmon or Chilean sea bass, I’m not overly fond of seafood, myself.  Maybe this is why I have a memory like a sieve (then again, maybe not).  But what I’ve noticed about the expression “brain food” is that it is commonly misused in terms of making you smarter, and that’s simply not the case.  It aids your brain in functioning better, but it doesn’t augment intelligence.  There are likely as many inherently “smart” people who don’t eat fish as there are “dumb” people who eat it ritually.  If you seek proof of this, simply take a gander at Alvaro Passeri’s Plankton (aka Creatures from the Abyss, aka Sea Devils, aka Object X, aka Piranha 4 [I didn’t even know there was a third one]), because the film contains one of the most repulsive scenes of idiots eating fish I have ever witnessed.

Five people, including a pair of sexpot sisters (Laura Di Palma and Ann Wolf), a non-sexpot girl (Sharon Twomey; we can tell she is not a cinematic nympho because she wears spandex rather than a revealing bikini like the other two), her smart (he wears glasses but doesn’t eat fish) boyfriend (Clay Rogers), and their annoying perv friend (Michael Bon) go out for a little rafting in the Atlantic Ocean.  Getting caught in a deluge, they come upon a seemingly deserted Oceanographic Research Institute boat, do some awkward partying, and get attacked by some semi-aquatic monsters.

This movie is a combination of two things: John Carpenter’s The Thing and Dead Teenager/Cabin in the Woods films.  To the first point, the film has creatures which emerge from being frozen to terrorize humans.  Said creatures come from an environment inhospitable to humans (here the briny deep rather than the cold reaches of outer space).  It has a small group of people in an isolated location which ostensibly ratchets up the tensions between them (this also plays to the second point).  It has monsters that inhabit their victims’ bodies and transform.  It has a big explosion at the end which may or may not have destroyed the threat.  It has stop motion effects.  

To the second point, you have a mix of boys and girls whose sole purpose in life is to party and have sex and get picked off in gruesome ways (with the exception of the couple who are actually devoted to each other and thus are earmarked for final couple status).  You have the two single chicks stripping, showering, and so forth for the camera (“I think it’s time for a new bra”).  You have the extremely irritating “fun guy” character whom no one in their right mind would put up with for more than about five minutes before wanting to kill him (he likes to play practical jokes, talk about the size of his dick, and cajole his pals into taking unidentified drugs with him).  Said “cabin” in this instance even has a dark, cobweb-festooned “basement” where horrible things may lurk around any corner (including, but not limited to, a babbling scientist played by trash cinema [and television] director Deran Sarafian, who is also named after a character in the Carpenter film [Clark]).

Where Plankton distinguishes itself is in the level of sheer weirdness with which it imbues every single frame of its runtime.  There is a talking, winking clock (it’s shaped like some half-assed, cycloptic fish/mermaid/thing) that comments on what’s going on and blithers incessantly, usually at the same time.  There is a character vomiting up green slime with beetles and worm-type things in it (this puddle of puke will remain on the floor for the remainder of the film, even when other characters go into the bathroom to shower or wash up; I cannot, in my wildest dreams imagine the smell not being overpowering, and I’m amazed no one steps in it).  In the “These Things Happen” category, there is a character having sex with living fossils (offscreen; I haven’t yet decided whether this is merciful or not, though I’m leaning toward the latter, all things considered).  There is a character oozing caviar out of her vagina.  There is an oversexed A.I. in the bathroom who moans lasciviously and heavily encourages getting dirty while getting clean (and evacuating, but there’s a lid for every pot, I suppose).  There is a fish-stomping scene that would likely have thrilled John Waters to no end.  There is the supposition that androgynous fish-monsters become sexually aggressive when stimulated by “inquisitive minds” (I guess I can buy that one).  At every turn, the film strives to outdo itself in strangeness and sleaze, and boy howdy, does it succeed.  

This is what makes the well-trodden plot feel fresh (or at the very least interesting).  This is not to say that it’s well-made, because it isn’t.  The film’s opening intercuts the “kids” out on the ocean with smash cuts of closeups of the monster (flicking its tongue, shrieking, et cetera) and Clark assumedly being attacked/molested by same.  But the way that this is done is completely incoherent.  Naturally, this matches the rest of the film, which chugs along, constantly topping whatever bizarre plot point/dialogue/nude scene occurred mere moments before, none of it making any sense whatsoever, but somehow still managing to be massively entertaining.  The one solid piece of information that I could glean from this film is that no one involved in its production actually eats fish on a regular basis.

MVT:  The film is nuts in that marvelous way that drunk people sitting around and solving all the world’s problems with a type of “it made sense at the time” logic both fascinates and confounds. 

Make or Break:  The big sex scene starts with a character stroking the giant phallus on a brass lamp (to turn it on; get it?) and proceeds (uphill? downhill?) from there.  It’s indescribably in poor taste across the board, but I couldn’t turn away (sort of like staring at a traffic accident, but without real human beings coming to harm).

Score:  7/10              

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Dead Man Walking (1987)

After I graduated college and still had some faint glimmer of hope of actually getting to work in film or television production (In all honesty, I was entirely too hardheaded to move where the industry is, and the local filmmaking community tended to be even more insular, unless you were independently wealthy and could afford to not get paid for doing pissant work, which I wasn’t and still am not), I received a call from one of my professors (who was also a documentary producer).  He was shooting a documentary centered on his life and the town in which he was born (hint: it’s where the Dorsey Brothers are from and are now buried), and he needed a production assistant.  I liked the man, and I wanted the experience (and said town is about fifteen miles from my own hometown, thus I was familiar with it), so naturally I replied in the affirmative.  

The producer, the cameraman, and myself filmed a lot in a short amount of time, and at some points, I even got to give a little bit of constructive input, so I was like the proverbial pig in shit.  The time came for the interview with the director’s father, who was something of an alcoholic, which meant it was difficult to pry him away from the local watering hole.  Since the producer still needed some shots, and the light was waning, and I was a self-described raging alcoholic myself at the time, I got volunteered to stay in the bar with the father while the remaining shots were (hopefully) procured, and after which, the father would (hopefully) be interviewed.  So I got to drink for free for an evening while working on a film with people whose company I enjoyed.  I have no idea if the film ever reached completion (though I’m fairly positive it didn’t), but I’d like to think that it will someday.  My experience accompanying the producer’s dad put me in mind of poor Chaz (Jeffrey Combs), the chauffeur and (I assume) valet of a wealthy corporate fat cat; not because I felt like a servant during my short production assistant tenure, but because Chaz and I were happy to do what we could for our bosses, and we both got to chaperone alcoholics for an evening or two.  It’s just mine wasn’t Wings Hauser.   

In Gregory Dark’s (he of the classic porn series New Wave Hookers amongst many others, here using the pseudonym Gregory Brown) Dead Man Walking, corporations have taken over control of the Earth (what, again?) after the bubonic plague made a resurgence and the world fell into chaos.  The Plague Zone is where the victims are shunted off to live out their lives in despair and squalor.  Among the plague victims are Zero Men, who are non-contagious but still terminal, and this is the reason why their behavior is described as “erratic” (which is putting it mildly).  Regardless, Leila (Pamela Ludwig), the daughter of Chaz’s boss, Mr. Shahn (John Petlock) is kidnapped by escaped convict/Zero Man, Decker (Brion James), forcing Chaz to enlist the aid of loner/Zero Man, Luger (Hauser), to get her back.

When the world goes to shit, any cinephile worth his or her salt knows exactly who will seize the reins of power: the corporations.  Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with shadowy government cabals (and similarly uncaring bureaucracies), corporations are the go-to bad guys in many a film, and even moreso in the postapocalyptic genre.  While I don’t disagree with this vilification (though I also don’t think that every corporation spends every moment of every day trying specifically to do evil [emphasis on “trying”]), I’m more interested in the relationship between cinematic corporations like Unitus (get it?) and the people opposed to them.  Typically, this is a twofold interrelation.  First, and most obviously, is that there is a distinct line drawn between the good guys and the bad guys.  Still, even people who work for an evil corporation can be good after having a crisis of conscience (or just having scruples in general).  Leila questions her dad’s plan to build a housing project in the Plague Zone, which he characterizes as crowd control, and she characterizes as crowding them all together and working them to death.  While Chaz works for “The Man,” he’s still considered good, because he cares about Leila enough to place himself in danger to rescue her (it doesn’t matter that he isn’t very adept at it and more than a little weaselly, to boot).  Second, and more intriguing to me, is the representation of the struggle between conformity and personal freedom.  This is where the Luger character comes into the mix.  Luger is individualistic to the point that he is set apart even from the other Zero Men with whom he commiserates and plays variations on Russian Roulette.  He does what he wants, when he wants, and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks about it (including, but not limited to, his quasi-girlfriend Rika [Tasia Valenza], who gets fed up [“Won’t you just listen to me?” “No”], but I guess she likes bad boys, just not enough to stick around for the whole runtime).  Luger has no time for Unitus, and he goes about his days taking massive risks like an adrenaline junkie (his Meet Cute with Chaz takes place over a live timebomb).  At this point, Luger is simultaneously free and damned, since he’s got the plague and is soon heading for death (we even get the telltale cough that all terminally ill characters in cinema let loose, so we know time is short).  To gain ultimate personal freedom, Luger needs a reason to live, not just a chance, and this sets up the juxtaposition between himself and the Unitus-controlled world.

Dead Man Walking has one of the most casual apocalypses ever put to film.  Every character is utterly non-nonplussed by everything in their lives.  Partly, this is to play up the angle of a nihilistic existence where “No Future” has essentially come true and is completely ineffable.  From the perspective of people like Luger, there is the need to flirt with death because any moment could literally be your last.  The suicidal games the Zero Men play is the only way to go out on one’s own terms.  It’s also the only way to feel alive when an assumedly even uglier death from the plague is assured.  By that same token, characters like Leila want to go slumming in the Plague Zone to see what all the fuss is about, but she’s quickly disillusioned, and you get a sense of disappointment that the plague victims don’t live down to her expectations.  After Decker asserts dominance over her body (in a truly disturbing scene), Leila becomes even more dispassionate.  Though she cannot catch the plague from Decker, she gives herself over to the fact that she’s as good as dead in his company, and shuts her personality down (this is not to say she had tons of personality to begin with).  Mirroring the Zero Men, her future outlook is nothing but grim, so she may as long go along with it.  The societal scales are balanced.  Yet, for as much as there is in the film with this theme of finding a reason to cling to life (or not), I never felt like any of the characters were committed to it.  In trying to convey a life of forbidding apathy, more often than not, I simply got the feeling that no one really cared (with the exception of James, who gives it his sleazy, bug-eyed all every moment he’s onscreen).  Even while this is part of the point of the film, and it does come across well enough, Dark and company never got me to care about the characters breaking free of their lethargy.  There’s no tension or stakes, because everyone is so devoted to not caring, and Leila and Chaz’s relationship is never defined well enough that I wanted to see her rescue actually succeed.  The film is an okay way to pass ninety minutes, but the indifference it delineates so well is, unfortunately, just a bit too contagious.

MVT:  The locations in the film do an admirable job of creating a postapocalyptic world.  I fully bought that everything had gone to hell.

Make or Break:  The first scene we get in the Zero Club involves Luger and some guy competing to see who will start a chain-suspended chainsaw first.  A true example of necessity being the mother of invention, I’d say.

Score:  6.5/10      

Monday, February 15, 2016

Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)

Directed by: Peter George
Run time: 87 minutes

Troma films always manages to deliver the strangest movies. Some of their movies are down right weird, some are stupid, many are insanely gross, but all of them are strange. Surf Nazis Must Die is a shinning example of how strange a Troma film can be. It's full of over the top violence, a strange plot, an entertaining protagonist, and cheesy effects.

The opening credits also provide the info dump for the movie.  Somewhere California,  has been hit with an apocalyptic earthquake. The result of which is that the police are unable to to deal with the surfer gangs that are now terrorizing the city. The earthquake also destroyed Mama Washington's home. She will be the hero of this movie. Finally, because it's an apocalyptic setting there of course there have to be Nazis. In this case, Nazis that surf and have plans to rule the beach for a thousand years.

The story splits into two plots. The first plot shows Mama Washington life after losing her home to the earthquake. She has been placed into a nursing home and is getting a long well with the other residents. Though it is never made clear why she is sent to a nursing home in the first place. Also, later in the film she shows that she able to take care or herself. In fact her and Charles Bronson could have easily cleaned up old Detroit from the Robocop movie (the original not the remake). The other plot shows how Adolf, Eva, Hook, Brutus, Mengele, and the rest of the Surf Nazis spend their time until the third act. A lot of stealing from people, improvising weapons for their surf boards, and surfing.

Also the Surf Nazis are trying to unite all the other surf gangs under their control. The Surf Nazis invite the other gangs to join the Surf Nazis. To their credit, the other gangs see how delusional and idiotic the surf Nazis are and do not take them up on their offer. This will go badly for the other gangs later.

Both plots collide when Leroy, Mama Washington's son, is out for a run by the beach and runs into the Surf Nazis. Being dickhead nazis they kill Leroy and unleash the wrath of Mama Washington. So she heads off the local pawn shop and gets everything she needs to wage war against gangs. A high caliber semi automatic hand gun and some grenades.

Mama Washington then lets the Surf Nazis think that the other gangs are out to get them. This leads to the Nazis killing off the other gangs and they make it easier for Mama Washington to kill them. Which she does very quickly and violently. With all the gangs dead and vengeance being satisfied, there is nothing more for Mama Washington to do but to ride off laughing in to the sunset.

This movie can't make up it's mind what kind of a movie it wants to be. It wants to be gang crime film in the worst way but it keeps pushing the post apocalyptic theme without having an apocalypse. It is hard to get into the gang part of the movie because the movie assumes that the gang that rules the beach rules the city. It has some well shot surf scenes and when the movie sticks with a theme it does it well but as a whole the movie is an entertaining mess.

If you are bored or you want a starting point to explore the madness that is Troma films this movie is a good starting point.

MVT: The surfing footage is rather impressive.

Make or Break: The tone of this film will take you out of the film a lot. It will be doing it's wacky surf gang that is nazi themed and out of no where will cut to the gang be proper criminals. Then jump to angry woman out for revenge and then to slice of life America circa 1980's.

Score: 5.125 out of 10