Friday, July 1, 2016

The Vagrant (1992)

It's July and it's as hot as hell outside. I don't know why, but that always puts me in the mood for horror. Maybe it's because I enjoy seeing fictional characters suffering more than I am. You get extra points if you manage to make me laugh while showing me bad things happening to good people or—even better—good people doing bad things.

I've always loved this stupid poster

Check this out: The Vagrant stars Bill Paxton, Michael Ironside, Marshall Bell, and Collen Camp. That's a killer cast, but each supporting character exists in a bubble isolated from the others. If you don't see them interacting with Paxton you just don't see them interacting at all. He's been a good lead in other films, but here he's weighted down with more than he can handle.

Paxton plays Graham Krakowski, which is pronounced "Crack-house-ski" by some characters. He has a stable yet mind-numbing office job, which allows him to buy a fixer-upper from his nymphomaniacal real estate agent (Camp). Soon he'll learn there's a bum in the neighborhood (Bell) who has been squatting on a nearby lot. When Krakowski discovers the guy occasionally relieves himself in nearby bushes, he takes out a second mortgage and fortifies the property with the best security money can buy. This includes a perimeter fence, stadium lights, and an automatic music player that makes intruders think someone's at home when they're not.

After spending every dime on this worthless stuff—worthless because it doesn't stop the bum from letting himself into Krakowski's house—he realizes he should have bought furniture instead of Pentagon-level security. So he has the inside of the house decorated at his girlfriend's insistence and puts it all on his credit cards. Now that he's probably ensured he'll spend the rest of his life in debt, the bum's antics drive him crazy, he loses his job, and an over-the-top homicide detective (Ironside) is trying to finger him for a murder the bum actually committed.

after watching this trailer you won't have to watch the actual movie

Did I mention this is supposed to be a horror-comedy? I like funny horror movies, but this one isn't scary and it isn't very funny, either. I mean, if you think optimistic people who pursue the American dream are hopelessly hilarious suckers then sure, you might think it's kind of funny. Maybe you think characters who are unrealistically weird are funny, too. But if you don't, you're probably not going to like The Vagrant.

I didn't like it, but I wish I did. The concept was ripe to become a cult classic and I'm a fan of all these actors. This is actually my second viewing and I was hoping I would notice satirical complexities I was too young to pick up on the first time around. Nope. It's shallow and intentionally cheesy (the worst kind of cheese) and pretty incompetent to boot.

No, The Vagrant isn't a terrible movie, just mediocre. That's usually worse than a terrible movie, but this one still manages to entertain here and there. Yet I can safely say there won't ever be a third viewing in my lifetime.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Independence Day Resurgence review

I love science fiction stories about global events. The bigger the better. The problem is the filmmakers who love blowing things up the most suck at every other aspect of filmmaking. Case in point: 1996's Independence Day. I was thirteen years old when it came out and I saw it on the biggest screen in the city, opening day. I liked it, but something funny happened when I saw it on VHS around a year later: the novelty had completely worn off.

Aliens attack Earth on a global scale? That's great. Ships as big as cities? Love it. Jet fighters verses alien spaceships? Bring it on.

So what's not to like? Literally every other aspect of the movie. Independence Day was kind of like a partner who was great in the sack, but gradually revealed they had absolutely nothing to offer as far as relationships go. I had no desire to see Resurgence until I finally saw the trailer and heard one of the characters say, "This one is definitely bigger," or something to that effect. I'm a sucker for that kind of shit. Look, I know me and Independence Day aren't right for each other, but the good times were just too fun to pass up. And who knows? Maybe it matured emotionally since the last time we hooked up.

Spoiler: it didn't.

Resurgence spends way too much time introducing the new characters while simultaneously bringing us up to speed on what the returning characters have been up to. I never expected to see Charlotte Gainsbourg in a summer blockbuster, but she and Jeff Goldblum steal the show. The movie would have been great if it focused on them instead of an ensemble cast. I never asked to see Brent Spiner's Dr. Okun return for an even bigger role, but I liked him, too. Unfortunately everybody else, including Bill Pullman, sucks in this movie.

It's apparent the studio didn't want a proper sequel as much as they wanted a soft reboot. The original cast is used to bait us into the theater so they can switch 'em out with the new (read: young) and improved (read: less expensive) actors. The new actors will no doubt be the leads of the next sequel even though they belong in TV commercials and soap operas. They're far too squeaky clean and safe for movies like this.

This sequel double downs on everything but the fun, which was the entire fucking point. The jets and the alien fighter ships seem to be moving at idling speed while the aliens' new methods of mass destruction are, visually, duller than the city-leveling weapons in the last picture. The action bits are too few and far between and none of 'em last as long as the finely crafted sequences in ID4. In fact, it takes nearly an hour before the aliens attack at all.

And you remember that much vilified moment with the dog in part one? They kind of do it again, but this time with a baby and, later, a bus full of children. Audiences aren't stupid enough to think a summer blockbuster is actually going to kill animals or children, so why do these filmmakers keep trying to create suspense with them?

Independence Day Resurgence feels more like a straight-to-video knockoff than a sequel. As far as action goes, I would rank it slightly higher than Battlefield Los Angeles and much lower than last year's San Andreas. I think it's obvious what's going on here: when the writers found out the financiers wanted two sequels, they probably took their original concept, split it into two, and padded it with a bunch of bullshit and an arbitrary ending. If Roland Emmerich thinks this climax is anywhere near as exciting as the last one, he needs his head examined.

If you thought the original wasn't melodramatic enough, and all its action made your head hurt, then this is the movie for you.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Clown (2014) has finally been released in America

minor spoilers in the trailer... as usual

I never thought clowns were scary, but I love seeing them in movies. It's almost as if they were made for movies. (See: Álex de la Iglesia's The Last Circus, possibly the greatest use of clowns in a movie ever.) Hell, I kind of like mimes, too, so maybe there's something wrong with me.

Anyway, you remember that part in Parenthood in which Steve Martin has to dress up as a clown for his son's birthday party? Imagine if he discovered the costume wouldn't come off. Then, as his frustrations mounted, he developed urges to murder innocent children. That's the premise behind Clown, a remarkably deadpan horror-comedy written by a couple of filmmakers who got Eli Roth to produce after they made a proof of concept trailer.

So Kent McCoy, a real estate agent, is stuck in the old clown costume he found. All attempts to take it off—which have involved razor blades, hemostats, and power tools—have only injured him. The costume is apparently fusing to his body. Like Jack Nicholson's version of the Joker, it's his skin itself that's white so he has to put on flesh-colored makeup to pass in public. Unfortunately, it's clear he'll never look normal again and his appearance is only devolving into something hideous, never improving.

While researching the origins of the costume, Kent meets a man played by Fargo's Peter Stormare. Stormare's character reveals the costume's not made out of fabric at all, but it's actually the skin and hair of an ancient demon. Ridiculous, right? Wisely, the film plays it all with a straight face and never elbows you for a laugh. I laughed quite a bit anyway. I think the reason the idea of getting trapped in a clown costume is actually scary is because it would be as embarrassing as accidentally showing up somewhere without any pants on.

The demon the skin belonged to was known for killing and eating children, an urge which slowly infects Kent himself. The filmmakers leverage that aspect of the plot into a moral quandary that comes into play towards the end of the movie. Without giving too much away, people often say they would do absolutely anything for their children. Clown explores the darker implications of an otherwise innocent statement like that.

Moviegoers often debate about which kind of horror is more effective—showing it all verses implying it—and that's as silly as arguing which color is best for works of art. I appreciate a horror film that includes colors from the full palette. While Clown's promotional material suggests it might assault you with buckets of gore, it neither wants to push the envelope or shy away. It implies more than it shows, yet it makes effective but sparing use of body horror. Whereas Eli Roth repeatedly hits you over the head with the horror elements in his own movies, these guys sneak that stuff into your blind spots and by the time it's in your peripheral vision it's too late.

I really liked this movie, which is bizarre and subtle at the same time. I was often reminded of that shocking reveal at the end of Rosemary's Baby, which is the worst thing that could happen to its lead character and somehow kind of amusing at the same time. The acting in Clown is much better than you expect and the characters seem real and grounded. They don't even do anything stupid, like walk into a room that obviously has danger in it, or make excuses for why they don't call the police.

If you ever wondered why I'm a big Eli Roth fan, it's because of his involvement in movies like this. We need more cheerleaders for the smaller voices in genre fiction and Roth's genuine enthusiasm for this kind of stuff is infectious. I know I keep pointing this out, but horror is in a renaissance after the intellectually and aesthetically diluted crap of the 2000s almost killed it. I couldn't be happier.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Rob Zombie's 31 trailer looks just like another Rob Zombie movie

I don't know what it is about Rob Zombie movies, but the trailers tend to deliver more of what I want than the actual movies do. I still think his Werewolf Women of the SS trailer is probably the best "film" he's ever made. (I could say the same about Eli Roth's Thanksgiving.) Nonetheless, I'm pulling for the guy. He tends to nail the tone he's going for—which is refreshingly serious—and anyone who casts Meg Foster is cool in my book. 

Now, where the hell is Sid Haig?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Make "Fortress of Amerikkka" great again?

this shit is not safe for work (and probably life)

John Waters once said, "Get more out of life. See a fucked-up movie." Those are words to live by, my friend.

I've talked before about the purity of these kinds of movies many times. They promise a certain kind of entertainment—usually mindless—and they either deliver it or they don't. Here's one that certainly delivers, but be careful what you wish for. It crosses the line about as far as The Human Centipede sequels did. Early on, a defenseless old man gets drawn between a car and a tree. Later, a terrified child get shot in the back.

Fortress of Amerikkka has a lot in common with Surf Nazis Must Die. They both have sleazy titles, they both have scenes of unbelievable cheese and hilarious action, and they were both distributed by Troma. My only complaint is Surf Nazis Must Die is just a little more fun. Any movie in which the hero is a motorcycle-driving black mama is automatically better than one in which a white man plays a Native American named John Whitecloud.

John Whitecloud. Just... I mean... shit.

one of my favorite cult films of all time

The first thing Whitecloud does upon being released from prison is stock up on guns and ammunition at the local gun store. There he has a run-in with the dirty cop who put him away and killed his brother. The cop tells Whitecloud he better watch his back, a scene every movie like this must include. Incidentally, there's a militia performing training exercises in the surrounding woods. Despite the fact their camp is the size of a small city the authorities can't find them. The villain, who reminds me of Donald Trump trying to "make Amerikkka great again," commands his loyal followers to kill anyone who stumbles upon the location of their camp, which seems to be damn near everyone but the cops. (When I pointed out how hard it would be for a group that large to remain hidden from the police, my friend quipped, "Camouflage, duh!")

These are two very different plots which run parallel for the majority of the movie until, suddenly, they don't. And here's where the confusion comes into play: Why is America spelled with a triple-K? It leads you to believe the militia has ties with the Klan, yet they're the most racially inclusive (and female friendly) group in the entire picture. Although Troma films have been known for attempting subversiveness which tends to be as subtle as a cannonball—and I'm almost inclined to suspect this film is saying something satirical about America itself—I just can't bring myself to believe the guy who directed the first two Class of Nuke'Em High sequels had anything more to say than "violence and boobies, yay!"

The "that's so wrong" factor of this movie is simply stunning. Get a bunch of drunk friends together and you'll probably have a blast. I'd go so far as to say it's one of the wildest Troma films that wasn't produced in-house.

* * *

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the short film we watched before the feature: Gayniggers from Outer Space. I'm not sure why we ended up watching this particular combination of films (beer was involved), but it was one of the best movie nights I've had in a while. Here's the heartwarming tale of a group of homosexual aliens who decide to rid the earth of women, featuring complex characters named Captain B. Dick and Sergeant Shaved Balls.