The Triple-D’s of Splatter

2008 03/15

A review of Doomsday. (It’s good).

The Triple-D’s:

Dog Soldiers
The Descent

Doomsday - What day is it again?These are Neil Marshall’s first three movies. Each one is awesome in its own way.

  • Dog Soldiers is an ode to Aliens
    A pack of werewolves attacks a Scottish military excursion.
  • The Descent is a take on Alien
    Cave explorers are hunted by scary/freaky/badass creatures.
  • Doomsday is The Road Warrior
    a simple-minded, post-apocalyptic, brain-exploding action flick.

It’s as if each film is a love note to a previous landmark, even if the new installment brings nothing original to the table other than an updated sense of aesthetics. It’s also as if Marshall’s work to date is nothing but a high budget director’s reel, begging for loftier projects. I believe there is greatness in Marshall’s future, but if that is to be achieved, he will have to stop writing his own movies.

The film starts with about 20 minutes of boring exposition. We listen as Marshall gets all of the plot out of the way; bad dialogue, clunky plot holes, talk, talk, talk. Get to the action, dude! It’s tiresome to get it all at once, but once that’s out of the way you won’t have to think about it again. As a society, are we really so concerned with making plotless movies appear less plotless? Here, Doomsday sheds the sincerity of Marshall’s earlier work.

Marshall’s films trademark themselves with a lack of character depth that comes across as modest – his work doesn’t think too highly of itself. It’s unpretentious at its core, and that has a charming effect. However, the venerated Mad Max series never bound itself to such a clumsy back story, as Doomsday does. It seems that, along with his highest budget and greatest financial concerns to date, Marshall’s deal with the devil included a marriage to some of the more traditional film conceits. In the case of Doomsday though, the marriage is a loveless one.

Thankfully, when the film gets to the action, it gets there with an extra dash of awesome. Neil Marshall is the modern king of splatter, and Doomsday is perhaps his most splatteriffic splatterfest. By the time the movie actually gets going, the action and effects take over completely. Doomsday provides enough gore to satisfy a serial killer. It’s like a great action movie, except the explosions are all of blood. In this respect, Doomsday is everything that the Resident Evil franchise wishes it was.

Rhona Mitra’s spandex clad bootyBut I must admit, I was already sold on this one when I saw the preview and its gratuitous shots of Rhona Mitra’s spandex clad booty. There’s plenty of that in Doomsday too, and it deserves at least an honorable mention.

All in all, this is Neil Marshall’s worst movie. That’s really impressive.

Driving Mos Daisy

2008 03/12

A review of Be Kind Rewind. (It’s good.)

Be Kind Rewind - Driving Mos DaisyThis is a surreal movie. Not because Michel Gondry is a prankster of an art designer who exclusively makes films that are dreamscapes. But because, god damn it, I worked in that video store. No, not the titular video store, but West Coast Video, the rival. The manifestation of corporate evil. I wore the light blue denim uniform. I hung the cheap purple and yellow paper signs on the walls. I alphabetized the DVDs. My video store is in a Michel Gondry movie. Weird.

And make no mistake, this is a movie for video store clerks, for all movie lovers. The centerpiece of the film is as artsy high-concept as it gets: video clerks are forced to remake, or mis-remake, the modern classics of cinema – a process they call “Sweding”. These ultra-low budget adaptations of Hollywood blockbusters provide a perfect venue for Gondry to flex his inventive art design muscles. The result is spectacular; visually, comedically, poignantly. And while it helps if you’ve seen the movies that Mos and Black “swede” (Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, Driving Miss Daisy, who hasn’t seen these?) it’ll be a fun ride either way.

The performances all hit their marks. Jack Black’s absurd side kick antics compliment Mos Def’s Woody Allen-esque anxiety. And after watching far too much Will Ferrell, it’s worth appreciating that Jack Black’s comedy still doesn’t feel like schtick.

At times, the movie gets a little too cute for my taste, and Gondry’s art school style isn’t for everyone. But it’s good. Overall, it just works.

P.S. Michel Gondry “sweded” the trailer for Be Kind Rewind. Here it is:

Fake Slackers Have Fun with Movie

2005 08/12

A review of Wedding Crashers. (It’s good.)

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play the titular roles.Wedding Crashers features funny-men Owen Wilson (co-writer of Bottle Rocket and Rushmore) and Vince Vaughn (whatever) as two adorable, but directionless slackers who specialize in picking up women at weddings. Recruited to crash one last wedding before the season ends, both find women who are more than a fling and learn a valuable lesson about life. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are completely unleashed on what would be an average comedy, chewing up the scenery, the script and everything else in sight.

Through all my experience in the film distribution business (working at a videostore) I’ve learned to deal in genres. I love the over simplification and generalizations that occur, and the formulaic nature of Hollywood certainly lends itself to this form of description. Wedding Crashers is a comedy. But sometimes normal genre descriptions are not enough. For instance, there are a number of different kinds of comedy. There are comedies that aren’t funny, yet don’t seem to belong in the drama section, and there are light dramas with funny moments that are mistakenly categorized as comedies. There are mockumentaries, satires, children’s humor, unintentionally funny movies, and more. Of this brand of more obsessive compulsive genrification, Wedding Crashers is a “fake slacker comedy” and a “gosh, aren’t movies fun movie”.

The fake slacker comedy: This is one of my favorite kinds of movies. Here characters purported to be ne’er do wells provide giggles through their hilarious hi-jinx, which, though colorful, do not technically represent “slackery” (Slackage? Slackhood? I like slackery) because they are clearly the result of hard work. Wedding Crashers falls victim to this phenomenon. Not only do Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson meticulously research the weddings they crash, but both men are so charismatic there is little reason that either of these characters actually needs to crash weddings to pick up women. This renders the actual slacking activity extraneous.

The gosh, aren’t movies fun movie: One of the things people often say about Jackie Chan movies is that the outtakes are the best part. That is because of this phenomenon. You see, a movie doesn’t actually have to be funny to make you laugh if the people making it look like they’re having fun. This makes you WANT to laugh. If you want to, you will, whether it’s actually funny or not. The idea that movies are fun to make is the last great Hollywood lie. Movies are excruciatingly difficult 14-18 hour a day affairs 6-7 days a week for several months straight. And yet people love to believe that their favorite Hollywood stars have a ball everyday at work. And it’s in this aspect that Wedding Crashers excels. The genuine laughs are magnified by this effect.

Wedding Crashers falls into these categories, but make no mistake, it’s very enjoyable. The twists all come where you expect them to, and it has the requisite scenes of Owen Wilson walking around heart-broken while sad music plays. But hey, you see comedies for the plots like you see mysteries for the jokes. Enjoy.

Originally written under the name Bob Genghis Khan for The Outlet.
Wedding Crashers thumb

The Gray Side of the Force

2005 06/30

A review of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. (It’s good.)

Revenge of the Sick, Dude.  It’s pretty sweet.When George Lucas first sat down and wrote the script for Star Wars: A New Hope, he had in mind some of his favorite childhood science fiction serials. The idea was to use modern technology to create a new space opera like the classic Buck Rogers episodes he loved as a kid. So he set about creating the most complex web of characters, weirdest alien species, the most extreme plot twists and religious overtones he could possibly think of. By the time he finished there was enough story to fit 3 films.

And he never had too many ideas again.

And he never had too many ideas again.

After the success of Star Wars, the utter pop culture sensation it became, he tried it again. This time he traded science fiction for adventure and the Indiana Jones trilogy was soon born.

These series were successful, not because they targeted children, the appeal seemed universal at the time, but because they contained children’s sensibilities. The naïve beliefs cherished by the young — good is good and bad is bad — were the laws of Lucas’ mythical universes. When children watch these films, they find a world that makes sense to them. When adults watch these films they are transfixed by powerful nostalgia. Like a child, Lucas saw the universe in black and white; the dark side and the light. This simplicity was his greatest strength. Complexity, “the gray side of the force,” has become his greatest weakness.

During the making of Episodes I and II Lucas was courted by the gray side. In these films, Lucas revealed a world where the cosmic heroes known as the Jedi Knights worked for a largely corrupt and ineffective bureaucracy; where mothers had to make complicated decisions and give up their children; where planetary wars were fought based on financial interests; where a vast conspiracy controlled both sides of every conflict. Without the easy drama of pure right and wrong, George Lucas inept. The gray side, though mature, was too complicated for any sensationalist “universe-in-the-balance” light saber duels. And aside from its cartoonish special effects these films offered little in the way of actual entertainment.

Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker/Darth VaderIn Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, Lucas returns from the gray side. In the new film, Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker is transformed by the Evil Chancellor Palpatine into a snarling, baby-killing enforcer. Though his skills as an actor (the critical death of Episode II) have not improved, Skywalker is no longer the hero — he’s the villain. The good news is it’s very easy to hate a villain, even one played poorly. This time around, Ewan McGregor assumes the hero’s mantle and has the necessary acting chops to match. Even Lucas’ direction seems invigorated by the return to form, delivering his most visceral film to date. Decapitation, mutilation and general excessive violence spell good action sequences where, yes, the universe again hangs in the balance.

In short, Episode III is so good it reminds you why you liked Star Wars in the first place. Movie goers turned off by the last two installments can return with confidence.

Originally written under the name Bob Genghis Khan for The Outlet.