Friday, August 26, 2016

Doctor Strange... er, uh, Mordrid (1992)


Although the premise certainly enticed me, I distinctly remember seeing Doctor Mordrid at the video store a million years ago, perhaps even picking up the box, but passing it up anyway. To be honest, I didn't really want to watch it today, either, but Doctor Strange is coming out later this year and I'm reasonably hyped. So I guess it's time to check out Doctor Mordrid, which entered pre-production as an official Doctor Strange film until directors Albert and Charles Band let their option expire.

That didn't stop them from making the movie anyway (I wouldn't expect any less from Full Moon). The character names which would've gotten 'em sued have been changed. What we're left with is a movie about an alchemist (he's insistent he's an alchemist, not a wizard) from another dimension. He's in charge of protecting the film's MacGuffin, which is known as the Philosopher's Stone... hey, maybe Full Moon should sue J.K. Rowling!

I'm legally obliged to inform you this is NOT the Sanctum Sanctorum

The "alchemist's" name is Anton Mordrid. He and his brother Kabal were taught all manner of wizardry when they were children. Unfortunately, Kabal is breakin' bad now that he's all grown up and he plans to unleash demons from hell... or something. I didn't really follow that part, but it's enough to know that if he succeeds Earth is kind of fucked. Probably. Anyway, when he arrives on our planet he leaves a rash of murders in his wake, which snags the attention of Samantha Hunt, the policewoman who just happens to live in Mordrid's apartment building.

What develops between Mordrid and Samantha is one of the mildest romances in movie history. You won't even know they're attracted to each other until the very last scene in the movie—and even then you won't really know for sure. Yet what Mordrid suggests to her, out of the clear blue, is the equivalent of popping the question to a neighbor you occasionally see on the sidewalk. I love Jeffrey Combs to death, but his chemistry with actress Yvette Nipar is nonexistent. Considering they appear quite at ease with one another in this behind-the-scenes video, I'm not sure when or how the ball was dropped, but I suspect it has something to do with Full Moon's speedy production schedule.


Kabal, played by Brian Thompson (you've seen him before in movies, but I'll be damned if I can think of a single one off the top of my head), is just another bad guy. Yeah, he's evil, but he's not extraordinary evil and, frankly, he talks way too much to be effective. For some reason his presence gives me more of a Warlock vibe than a Doctor Strange one. Again, here's another element that could have worked, but it doesn't.

Look, Full Moon made a ton of movies. They've managed to produce a lot more greatness than you would expect from a fledgling studio, so you can't be surprised when they make a dud like this one. The directors, at that point in their careers, were such experienced filmmakers you can't even laugh at the movie in a so-bad-it's-good way. Technically, it's a well-made film, it just happens to stink. Even if you go into it seeking the hokey factor, you're bound to be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Robot Jox (1989) [Trailer]


Stuart Gordon movies rocked my world when I was a kid. I can't wait to see this one in HD.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Starship Troopers was a terrible adaptation?

"If I tell the world that a right-wing, fascist way of doing things doesn't work, no one will listen to me. So I'm going to make a perfect fascist world: everyone is beautiful, everything is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships, but it's only good for killing fucking bugs!" — Paul Verhoeven

I remember thinking the marketing which led up to Starship Troopers' release was awful. At first glance the cast looked like it belonged in a teenybopper drama. Meanwhile the over-the-top macho mentalities didn't come across well in the 30-second TV spots, which didn't have enough time to convey the fact the filmmakers were indeed in on the joke. My overall preconception of the film was this: it looked like a straight-to-video movie which somehow wormed its way into theaters.

Yet I still went to see it on opening night, shuffling into the theater with the lowest of expectations. I had nothing better to do on a Friday back then. There were maybe six other people there including, I think, a local film critic who occasionally shone a flashlight on his notepad and repeatedly touched the illumination dial on his watch. He didn't look too happy.

You'll remember in Paul Verhoeven's Robocop that the narrative is occasionally interrupted by satirical advertisements and news segments, as if the film has absurd commercial breaks baked right into it. (It pains me to think we can expect nothing nearly as creative, original, or daring from anything coming out this summer.) Likewise, Starship Troopers opens with war propaganda, simultaneously establishing the tone for its irreverent attitude and setting up the plot's simple premise: it's the future and humans really hate aliens. In fact, humans hate aliens so much that young men and women everywhere can't wait to fight the bastards.


That's when we're introduced to Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) and his high school friends. The film, quite ingeniously, feels like a teenybopper drama for the first thirty minutes or so, but only so it can jerk the rug out from under our heroes' feet. Rico has a hot girlfriend (Denise Richards), a hunky rival (Patrick Muldoon), a bad girl acquaintance named Dizzy (Dina Meyer), and an ultra-nerdy best friend played by Neil Patrick Harris, whose casting in an R-rated romp was wonderfully scandalous. Remember, he'd yet to shed the Doogie Howser persona we knew so well.

There's even a cheesy prom scene which hints at what's wrong with Rico's life: it's too sheltered and idyllic for him to have any inkling what he and his friends are actually signing up for when they join the Mobile Infantry. Rico doesn't get his first hint until he turns in his papers to a double-amputee who assures him, "You've made the right choice, son. Mobile Infantry made me the man I am today."

Rico's girlfriend is sent off to the space navy, his brainy best friend gets absorbed by the science and technology sector, and Rico himself ends up in one of the toughest squads in existence. (His hardcore drill sergeant is played by the criminally underrated Clancy Brown, who I love to see in genre movies, not only because he takes them so seriously. The same can be said of Michael Ironside, who plays an even bigger part in the story.) There Rico makes new friends for the first time in his adult life, including Jake Busey, whose maniacal appearance instantly washes away the Dawson's Creek vibe from the earlier portion of the picture.

Just when Rico's finally beginning to gel with his new life, who of all people should suddenly transfer to his squad? Why, it's bad girl Dizzy, who has been pursuing Rico since high school. Seems suspicious, don't it? Here's something I really love about Starship Troopers: in practically every movie in which the leading character is pursued by two love interests, he or she always ends up with the wholesome, slightly less attractive option. Not our boy Rico. Soon after his girlfriend dumps him via email, Rico hooks up with Dizzy. Good job, Rico.

I can't even put into words why I find this subplot, like so much of the rest of the movie, so endearing, but you'll notice I've said practically nothing about the action and the science fiction. Starship Troopers is a lot deeper than that and yet I totally get why so many people don't like it. Different strokes, folks.

The score by Basil Poledouris is as rousing as anything he's ever done (and he's done some of the best) while the special effects hold up even though they relied on a lot of early CGI. In fact, I'm a lot more convinced by the effects now then I was back then, when I was still looking for any reason to hate the movie. As for the action, it's exciting and well-paced, and playfully violent as per Verhoeven's style.


Yes, the movie's message is about as obvious as it can get. I scratch my head whenever people suggest that's a bad thing. I think the bluntness seems quite in line with its comedic aspirations, almost in a Mad Magazine kind of way. Besides, when was the last time you saw a hundred-million dollar movie which had the balls to be about anything of significance? This is not lowest-common denominator kind of entertainment here, it's just masquerading as such.

Those of you who suggest it goes against everything Heinlein stood for seem to be underestimating how complex, politically and socially, Heinlein actually was in his long career. This is the guy who also wrote Stranger in a Strange Land. Meanwhile, the argument the film doesn't do the novel justice is an understandable complaint. I kind of agree (Like, where's the power armor, dude?), it's just not a very good argument for me, personally. Minority Report is another adaptation which shares little in common with its source material, but I loved that movie, too, so how can I complain?

I think it's every bit as good as Robocop and Total Recall. I'd be hard pressed to choose my favorite out of the three. We just don't get movies like this anymore.

Friday, August 12, 2016

No Man's Sky might be the most disappointing launch of the year [PC]

  • Current hardware: i5-4690k @ 3.50 GHz, GTX 970, 16gb RAM
No Man's Sky launched at noon today in my timezone. I got a good three hours out of it before it began giving me major problems. (Naturally, Steam only lets you refund it if you return it before two hours of playtime have elapsed, which means I'm fucked there.) I was having occasional stuttering and FPS drops from the get-go, but for the most part it was playable.

Then, three hours into it, my CPU overheated and the PC shut down. No other game has ever done this to my current setup. I applied a number of fixes from various forums, booted it back up, and tried again. Thirty minutes later: roughly the same problem. This time my computer locked up entirely as the speakers croaked. I'm reluctant to try again even after they release another patch.


Technical issues aside, here are my first impressions about the gameplay itself: so far, it's nowhere near as fun or polished as Rebel Galaxy. It's not as satisfying as Elite: Dangerous. The ship controls are shit and I don't see them improving at all, whether you jump through the hoops required to make a joystick work or not. I honestly wouldn't bother trying. You can't even pitch the nose down, as if that makes any fucking sense, while the dumbed down landing and docking procedures would be forgivable in a mobile game, but not this one.

This could have been a decent indie game if Sony hadn't gotten their hands on it. I have a feeling the developers knew damn good and well it wasn't a $60 title before the corporation stuck its proboscises into their brains. It's the same way Facebook managed to corrupt Palmer Luckey and his Oculus VR platform. This is not a fun game at launch and I don't see it getting much better, although I had a little more hope for it before my technical issues began.


Although I don't think the dev team is entirely to blame (who would refuse Sony's money?), I can't remember the last time I was this disappointed. I'll probably try it again after a future patch, but so far it looks like a major dud.

Here's a big list of space games you should play instead of No Man's Sky:

Empryrion - Galactic Survival $19.99

Despite being in early access, Empryion has just about everything you wanted from NMS, but weren't actually going to get, including real multiplayer, base-building, and satisfying planet-hopping. The only reason I took a break from this one was to give it more time to ripen. It's tough, challenging, and building your own spaceships is extremely rewarding. If you like supporting developers who actually take early access seriously, this is your game. It's rough around the edges, but the freedom more than makes up for it.

Eve Online $19.99 (plus monthly subscription)

Eve has one of the friendliest, most helpful communities in the world. It's dry, but that's just the nature of this variety of science fiction. (If you love hard SF, you're probably going to enjoy this.) The only thing I dislike about it is the fact it lends itself better to a mouse and keyboard than my joystick setup. I'm allergic to paying monthly subscriptions, too.

FTL: Faster Than Light $9.99

Deceptively simple at first glance, FTL is more fun per minute than NMS is per hour. If you wanted NMS because you like emergent stories, this is the one you should get. It's insane how attached you get to your crew members, all of whom are likely to die at any minute.

Kerbal Space Program $39.99

I think everybody knows how good KSP is by now. It's perhaps the greatest early access title in history. Despite the cartoonish characters, it's by far the most realistic space simulator on this list. The joy of making it to "the mun" (or successfully rescuing a character who you stranded there) is beyond words.

Rebel Galaxy $19.99

I was skeptical of simplifying what I like so much about Elite: Dangerous and games of that nature, but Rebel Galaxy is tons of fun. In fact, if you haven't played Eve or Elite (or you didn't get what all the fuss was about) think of RG as a kind of entry point to those games. A gamepad is a must, so it's a great option for couch gaming, either via Steam Link or playing on a console. The NPC interaction in this game is leagues better than what I experienced in NMS, and the combat is naval style, meaning you mostly fire from and at the broadsides of ships.

RimWorld $29.99

Okay, this one doesn't exactly let you travel through space, but it's one of my favorite games in years. You will die. Your colony will die. It might be best for those who expected a science fiction flavored challenge out of NMS, which I certainly never saw in my admittedly short time with it. I didn't ever feel like I was in danger once in NMS.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion $39.99

I can't believe Sins is still $39.99, but it's probably my favorite 4X RTS this side of Red Alert 2. This one will scratch your itch for deep, tactical gameplay.

Space Engineers $24.99

I love Space Engineers and they've been slowly but steadily folding survival elements into it. If you were drawn to NMS because you were drawn to the insinuation you would be able to do just about anything, this is a much better bet.

Starbound $14.99

I really enjoyed my brief time in Starbound, particularly in multiplayer, and it offers better planet exploration, looting, and crafting than NMS at the moment. I also think it has a better sense of wonder.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go play Destiny for the first time.