Friday, June 30, 2017

Baby Driver (2017) [Midnight Movie]


You know what Baby Driver reminds me of? A musical version of Layer Cake, which was one of the finest crime movies of the twenty-first century. No, it's not a musical, it's just musical, man. Anyone who saw Edgar Wright's previous movies know what I'm talking about. His stuff doesn't move like your run-of-the-mill genre movie. Music plays a big part, sure, but you don't always have to hear it to feel it... a point the movie makes quite literally.

The kid's name is Baby. He's the getaway driver for Kevin Spacey who plays a business savvy crook. Spacey never uses the same crew twice in a row, but ever since he met Baby he uses him on each and every heist he organizes. Speaking of heists: you never really see them. The movie's not about the heists. It's all about the driver and the orbital role he plays in Spacey's underworld.

Baby wants out because he never really wanted in. It turns out he owes Spacey a lot of money due to an unfortunate coincidence. The details don't matter. What matters is Baby's in love and when things fall apart, as they inevitably do in crime movies, his ruthless associates set their sights on his girlfriend.

The first scene of Baby Driver contains more wit and creativity than most summer movies can muster in two hours. As soon as it's over, Wright treats us to a stunningly choreographed credits sequence, which tracks Baby as he goes out to order coffee. He's not quite dancing, but he's not merely walking, either. He's a character, I think, who's modeled after Han Solo and Gene Kelly. How do I explain it? Just see it.

As he's waiting for his coffee, she walks by the window. And my god, that moment... it's movie magic, plain and simple. Everything else doesn't matter. That tiny moment is what matters and the movie is so effortless at making it clear. Baby and his waitress girlfriend were destined for each other. Their scenes together are so good they hurt.

You know what irritates me? Hearing moviegoers say they're sick of seeing car chases and romance on the screen. But aren't those just about the two most cinematic things you can get at the theater? It's like saying you're sick of seeing tragedies on the stage. If these people really mean to say they're sick of seeing routine car chases and lazy romances, then I wholeheartedly agree. Baby Driver proves it's not the subject matter that's the problem, it's the bloated studios' inability to get this stuff right.

I adore crime movies. Seeing a good one can pump me up like no other genre. Unfortunately, the audience I saw this movie with had no pulse. Go see the weekend showing, with a large group of friends, at one of those theaters that serves beer. This is electric stuff, maybe even Wright's best. I walked out of the movie over two hours ago and I'm still on cloud nine.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pieces (1982) [Trailer]


I can say with almost 100% certainty I'll be featuring Pieces for this year's 31 Days of Gore. As always, there's a countdown to the big day in the right sidebar (unavailable on mobile, unfortunately). I have a feeling this year's is going to be the best yet.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Lobster (2016) [Midnight Movie]


In the opening scene a distressed woman parks her car on the side of a road, in the middle of a rainstorm, and shoots a cow repeatedly. I can't not like a movie that starts out like this.

The Lobster is a lite science fiction tale in so far it's set in a world in which unwed adults are forced, by law, to find mates. If they fail to take lovers, they're sent to a machine which transforms them into an animal. The good news is the losers get turned into the animal of their choice. The main character, played by Colin Farrell, wants to become a lobster should he fail his probation period as a single adult.

Why a lobster? Farrell's character doesn't have a great reason (most of the characters don't), but I wouldn't be surprised if it meant something deeper... or nothing at all. Either way, it's pretty damn funny. The Lobster is a strange movie, not in a look-how-quirky-and-offbeat-I-am! sense, but genuinely strange. It seems to find being strange as natural as breathing. Then again, maybe it's not as strange as the social norms it satirizes.


So in case you're not clear on the setup, let's go over it in detail: if you're single you get sent to a hotel in which you've got forty-five days to find a match before you're sent to the animal transformation room. The management arrange a variety of activities for the, uh, contestants, so to say, encouraging everything from phony meet-cutes to premature marriages. Each morning the men are tortured by sexual stimulation, but anybody caught relieving the tension without a partner are punished severely. The hotel manager (Olivia Colman) seems to have a contingency for any kind of dating crisis: at one point she tells a newlywed couple, "If you encounter any problems you cannot resolve yourselves, you will be assigned children. That usually helps."

The guests talk like they're auditioning for Love Connection. The management sound like those insufferably happy folks who're constantly trying to set up their single friends. I'm not sure how these actors pull it all off with a straight face, but the blooper reel is probably longer than the movie.

Another activity the hotel encourages is hunting. Rather than hunt the animals roaming the wilderness around the hotel (because they used to be humans), the guests are forced to hunt runaway single people with tranquilizer darts. The guests who bag the most are rewarded.


I'm trying to avoid spoilers here, but Rachel Weisz and Léa Seydoux are in this, only they don't come into the movie until it becomes an entirely different movie altogether. (It's the kind of movie which blows up spectacularly early on, rather than meting out its fun until the very end... thankfully, it's got enough fun to spare.) John C. Reilly is right there from the start, playing the kind of dopey character he plays so well. (Can we all just stop and marvel at how he gets in so many different types of movies, even though he often only plays a certain character?)

I've grown to like Colin Farrell in movies like In Bruges and the better than expected (but not great) Fright Night remake. You've got to have massive talent to claw your way up from the likes of 2003's Daredevil, in which his role was nothing short of embarrassing. The Lobster makes me like him even more. It's my favorite dark comedy in years, but heed this warning: things can get very dark at times.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace (1996) [Midnight Movie]


I recently featured The Lawnmower Man, which was so far removed from the short story it was allegedly based on, Stephen King sued to have his name removed. (It turns out the script existed prior to the producers acquiring the rights to King's story, so they amended his name and title to the project in order to sell tickets.) It only makes sense I would check out the sequel this week, right? Well, now that I've seen it I'm not sure anything about this movie makes sense.

Spoilers for the original film follow....

Jobe, whose digitized consciousness escaped the lab explosion in the original film, is inexplicably human again. Even though we saw his abandoned body wither away and catch fire, the corporate characters of this sequel have managed to recover it from the debris and employ him as a super sophisticated hacker in cyberspace. This time Jobe's played by Max Headroom's Matt Frewer, which has gotta be one of the laziest typecasting decisions in the history of film.

Pierce Brosnan is nowhere to be found, either. That's fine. I have no problem with a sequel continuing the story without the original actors. After all, that was par for the course with these genre films back then. What I do have a problem with is the fact the only returning character is Brosnan's kid neighbor, who was so insignificant to the original film I didn't need to mention him when I explained the plot of the previous film two weeks ago.

See, actor Austin O'Brien was a no-name when the original Lawnmower Man came out, but in the following year he co-starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Last Action Hero. There's no reason for the kid to be in this movie, but some executive likely thought they could bank on his newfound fame. That might have worked in more capable hands, but the filmmakers obviously wanted to take the story far into the future. Instead of setting the movie a reasonable amount of time into the future, they set it only six years after the first one (because O'Brien's character would have been all grown up otherwise) and ask us to believe the world became a dystopian future practically overnight.

Worse, the adult nature of the original film has been sabotaged by a PG-13 rating and a cast of annoying children. I knew I was in trouble as soon as the kids flew around cyberspace via the magic of green screen. It looks like one of those totally radical 90s commercials for Kool-Aid or sugary cereal.

spoilers

In the lead role you have Sleeping with the Enemy's Patrick Bergin who more or less looks like Tommy Wiseau. That's not a complaint. He's a lot more interesting to look at than Brosnan was in the previous film. He's also more interesting than Fewer's portrayal of Jobe, which is a major step back from Jeff Fahey's nutty take on the character.

What's amazing about The Lawnmower Man 2 is how far CGI progressed in the four years since the original. I complain about the overuse of CGI quite a bit, but it's perfectly suited for films with this subject matter. I just think it was a mistake to insert the actual actors into the cyberspace sequences rather than digitize them the way the first film did, if only for continuity's sake.

If you enjoy cheese as much as I do, this movie isn't terrible. It's entertaining enough and the production value is much better than expected—perhaps better than the first—but there are some serious flaws contained within. Again, that's par for the course when you're dealing with these kinds of movies.

I honestly don't remember this movie getting a theatrical release. I always assumed it was a cheap, straight-to-video sequel, but it turns out it was actually a theatrical release which was a lot more expensive than its predecessor. Too bad it's nowhere near as good.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Alien Dead (1980) [Trailer]


Another winner from Fred Olen Ray. I haven't seen it. I don't want to see it. I'll probably watch it anyway. This is because A) that's a brilliantly bad title and B) I'm stupid. 

I forgot to do Midnight Movie last Friday. It totally slipped my mind. I'll probably feature Lawnmower Man 2 this week. 

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Best news you'll hear all month: Scream Factory is in the middle of their summer sale. Everything in the catalog is half off until June 19th. I've never featured it here, but The Resurrected is one of the better Lovecraft adaptations so it's nice to see it get the factory's treatment. And if you know what you're getting into, Dark Angel (it was called I Come in Peace when I saw it on HBO or Cinemax many moons ago) is a steal at eight bucks. Dolph Lundgren and Brian Benben is such an intriguing combination, it really doesn't matter if it works or not—just marvel at the fucking thing.

After two unbearably busy weeks, I have an unexpected day off. Time to marathon a bunch of stupid movies. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Lawnmower Man: The Director's Cut (1992) [Midnight Movie]


The Lawnmower Man might just be the first movie which fueled my lifelong obsession with virtual reality (I'm writing this mere minutes after an Elite Dangerous session in a VR headset, an experience I've been dreaming about for decades). The movie's obviously significant to me, but is it any good? I guess it depends on where you're coming from. (I don't think I've ever featured a 90s cyberpunk movie unfavorably on this blog, so if you're looking for an objective review, you're not going to find it here.)

I love this kind of shit. I don't see past the glaring problems so much as I embrace them. The motion-controlled chairs I thought were so awesome when I was a kid? Today it's obvious they're cheap recliners, which the actors are lying on backwards while off-screen stagehands buck them back and forth. What looked so cool in the 90s now looks awkward and impractical; Jeff Fahey is clearly struggling to hang on.


The movie begins in a top secret laboratory where a research team is using a combination of drugs and virtual reality to train chimpanzees for war. Naturally, one of the chimps escapes the lab and goes on a killing spree. When it seeks refuge at a church it bumps into Fahey's character, Jobe, a mentally challenged groundskeeper who mistakes the chimp for a comic book character. Whoever suggested actors shouldn't go full retard was obviously ignorant of Fahey's Jobe, which is probably the most entertaining aspect of the movie. Blue collar actors like Fahey will never win an Oscar, but his performance here is contextually perfect.

Then the police show up and murder the chimp. Jobe is traumatized by the shooting, as is the head researcher on the project, Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan). Angelo decides to take a break from top secret military research and spends most of his downtime chilling in virtual reality while drinking himself silly. It's there he concocts a plan: he'll continue conducting his research, but he'll do it without the government breathing down his neck. And instead of a chimp, he'll use a human test subject this time. Jobe is the perfect candidate because there's no need to have him sign a NDA as he has no idea what's going on anyway. He just thinks he's there to play Angelo's awesome games.

The research, however, has the unintended consequence of improving Jobe's mind well past the boundaries of a typical human. Later in the movie, he'll develop the ability to soak up entire encyclopedias in minutes. Angelo, who seemed to have no real ethics to begin with, is frightened by Jobe's progress, but it's too late to pull the plug now that his subject is developing disturbing thoughts and inhuman powers.


From the beginning, it's absolutely clear where all this is headed. Many characters are unnecessarily mean to Jobe because those characters were born to die. We've seen this formula many times, especially slasher films. This movie just does it better than most. You can't help but like Jobe so you root for him.

I am a little disappointed in Brosnan's performance because, even though he's the biggest name in the movie, he just doesn't get the material as well as his lesser known co-stars (Jenny Wright and Geoffrey Lewis are perfect for a movie like this, and Breaking Bad's Dean Norris understands what he's gotten himself into as well.) I wonder if there was a version of the script which explored Angelo's unethical side rather than completely ignoring it so that he could become the flawless hero who saves the day by the end of the movie.

If you weren't impressed by the theatrical cut of The Lawnmower Man, you're not going to be thrilled by this one, either (Scream Factory is releasing the film on Blu-Ray in June... all versions are currently unavailable on VOD services, unfortunately). It doesn't radically alter the story like The Assembly Cut of Alien 3, it just makes it longer. But considering I was legitimately entertained throughout, I'm going to recommend it to anyone who's a fan of the original.