Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hostel

I finally got around to watching Hostel the other day. Are you fucking serious? Really? People like this shit? It pisses me off that when I say I like horror, this is what people assume I’m into, which is really too bad, since this has no redeeming qualities. The only things worse than this are PG-13 action and horror.

The first half of the movie is spent on some douche bag American frat boys out on a European jaunt before delving into lives of corporate meaninglessness. All they want to do is bang hot Euro sluts, smoke weed, and party. Are we supposed to want them do die? Because I do. They eventually get lured to a Slovakian hostel where they get fucked and drugged and, oh yeah, eventually kidnapped and tortured by rich dudes who paid for the privilege.

In reality, this is just the most recent adaptation of “The Most Dangerous Game,” which was written in 1924 by the way. You should watch Hard Target, it is the same story, a much more entertaining movie, and you get to see Van Damme’s jerry curl mullet flapping around in slow motion for ninety-seven minutes. Or check out Surviving the Game, and watch Ice-T fuck up Gary Busey, Rutger Hauer, and John C. McGinley.

These new-jack torture films aren’t horror. There is no tension, there isn’t any story, and they are not scary. I’m all for gratuitous blood and guts and gore, but all of this is to no end. I know writer/director Eli Roth and some critics have stated this movie has lofty goals, like showing capitalism gone to an unchecked extreme, and the nature of violence, and all that fun stuff. There are hints of these things, but just hints, and it is chiefly to excuse excessive and pointless violence by hiding behind a supposed message. The gore serves no larger purpose other than to be gory. I can’t stand the Saw movies, that entire franchise is a lame pile of crap, but at least they try to include the elements of horror that make the genre truly frightening. They try to have plots and surprises and twists and friction and legitimate scares. This movie has none of that.

And for a movie that relies solely on gore as the central focus (well, a good portion of the movie is also focused on naked breasts, so there’s that), the gore isn’t that good. The camera looks away for most of it. We get a snap and a scream over a shot of a dingy floor. Even what we do see is pretty run of the mill. The Achilles’ tendon cutting scene in Pet Sematary is way more brutal than the one in Hostel.

If you insist on watching stuff like this, at least get something Japanese so you can see some shit, not this nonsense mush for American audiences that has to be watered down because no one has the balls to release an NC-17 movie. Who the fuck are they going to let into the theater to see this anyway? I got carded for Pulp Fiction when I was seventeen.

The only thing about this movie I liked is the group of feral Gypsy children who randomly show up to demand cigarettes and bubble gum, and are capable of horrific acts of violence on their own. I partially retract an earlier statement. When the kids crush the skulls of two big burly thugs, it does look pretty cool.

Shit, this movie makes me want to torture Americans for making the rest of the world think I’m a butt hole.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

I read someplace that the people who made Alien vs. Predator: Requiem hoped to make audiences forget that the first Alien vs. Predator movie ever happened. That is a worthy and noble goal, as the first movie is a dismal piece of shit. Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to make a movie that featured either the Predator or Aliens primarily about people, and PG-13 to top it off? When will people learn that anything that is supposed to be scary or violent or both will never be appropriately rendered with a PG-13 rating? There’s really only one Alien against Predator fight in the whole damn movie, for God’s sake.

That said, at least they gave it a shot in the second film. The trailer even listed a body count. There was a significant increase in the Alien on Predator action, but even that couldn’t help deliver this movie from the depths.

This movie tried to have plot. It didn’t work. This movie tried to make me care about flat, boring characters, of which there are far too many. It didn’t work (they tried to interweave a bunch of generic subplots, only to end up with a bunch of generic characters we neither know, nor care about). This movie tried to have tension. It didn’t work.

I just have one question. Who is going to make the third movie to try to make me forget about this one?

Iron Man

I was skeptical going in to Iron Man, but my fears were quickly assuaged. Essentially, this is exactly what I want out of a big budget, summer blockbuster, popcorn movie.

This is Marvel Studios first independent production, and they started off with a doozy.

Iron Man has all of the things you want in a great comic book movie. It has high flying acrobatics, tons of action and flash, and the requisite fan boy nerd shit. Jim Rhodes (Terrance Howard) is there—they even set it up for him to be Iron Man in the future. Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) is around. Obadiah Stane (the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges) is the Iron Monger. There is even a little bit of S.H.I.E.L.D. thrown in for good measure, and of course, Stan Lee makes his obligatory cameo. And since it is Marvel, without interference from co-producers and studio heads who’ve never read a comic, they can stay pretty true to the story and characters. I have read some Iron Man books, but not a ton, but pretty much everything I do remember is in here. That said, I’m still pretty forgiving about adaptations, but I’m sure you can find someplace that lists every wrong detail.

And I do have to say, Robert Downey Jr. is spot fucking on as Tony Stark. He is better than I ever hoped. Really though, it is the role he was born to play. Who better to portray an alcoholic millionaire than an alcoholic millionaire?

The movie starts out with Stark, weapons manufacturer and world renowned playboy, getting blown up and abducted by some gnarly terrorists. At this point I was pretty worried that it was going to be one of those, all Arabs are terrorist, go team America, woo, movies. Admittedly they do a pretty good job of keeping that shit to a minimum, and playing the enemy in our own back yard card.

The terrorists are well armed, stocked to the gills in fact with the very weapons Stark manufactures with the intention of protecting America (okay, so I have a little trouble buying that any large scale weapons manufacturer would really be so naïve, but after some witty banter, gunfire, and explosions, I’m along for the ride). He’s got some shrapnel inching ever closer to his heart, so his buddy, and fellow prisoner, Yinsen (Shaun Toub) rigs up an electromagnet to keep them away. The bad guys want Stark to build them a weapon. He fools them into thinking he is, while in reality he is building the Mark I suit. He makes a daring escape, Yinsen dies, and the entire ordeal makes him see the error of his ways, and that he should be using his resources for the good of the people of the world, not leaving a body count as his only legacy.

It is not a half-bad adaptation of the Iron Man origin. It is pretty true to the original. From then on we get some sweet armor making montage action, complete with comic relief in the guise of a bunch of hapless, but loyal and friendly, robot assistants. There is the requisite double dealing, sexual tension, corporate intrigue, friends revealed to be enemies. If you’ve ever read superhero comics, then you know what to expect. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, because it totally is. But really, it’s all about watching Iron Man fly around spreading some justice, and in the end, fighting a big ass evil mechanical suit. That it what this movie is all about, and that it precisely what it delivers. I’m not a fan of most CGI (did you see the bullshit in I am Legend?), but in this movie, as much as it pains me to say it, it actually looks really good.

Outside of Batman Begins, this may be the best of the bunch when it comes to guys in tights, superhero movies. We’ll see what Marvel has in story for us with the release of the new Incredible Hulk later on this year (and the rest of the absurdly long list of their catalog they plan to adapt to the big screen). Now if only someone could make a decent Punisher movie.

With a movie like this, you know enough to know you have to stick around past the credits, right? If you don’t, you don’t have any business being in the theater. If you didn’t hang out, you should probably go back and take another gander, because I’m about to ruin some shit for you. After the credits it gets real nerdy. Stark comes home after admitting to the world he’s Iron Man, only to find a shadowy figure lurking in his super posh living room. Who is this mysterious individual? None other than Nick Fucking Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., that’s who, motherfucker. I don’t know if I buy Samuel L. Jackson as the eye-patch wearing badass, though. Not because he’s black, in the Ultimate Universe, Nick Fury is indeed an African-American gentleman. My problem is that one David Hasselhoff gave a pretty definitive portrayal of Senor Fury in the 1998 powerhouse made for TV movie, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. I’m just saying, Mr. Jackson, you have some rather large shoes to fill.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

The Western is back with a vengeance, and I love it. The genre is digging out of the grave like the undead, one rotten hand protruding from the dirt and mud, ready to crush the world in its zombie fingers.

I cut my teeth on a lot of movie sub-genres—post-apocalypse, zombie, slasher, spy, Seagal, Van Damme (yes, they are both categories unto themselves). Westerns were always a prominent feature in this mix; from the Man with No Name trilogy, to Django, to the Great Silence, the Searchers, the Wild Bunch, Unforgiven, and everything in between.

This rash of New Jack Westerns is pretty sweet. From the modern day setting of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and the pseudo-Western, No Country for Old Men, to the late nineteenth-century Australian outback of The Proposition, this revival has been consistently solid. They are grim, they are savage, and they are not to be trifled with. (Though, I still feel a pain every time I am reminded that Ridley Scott is attempting to adapt Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian for the screen. Unless he has the sac to go with an NC-17 rating, all hope is lost.)

2007’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma (the second adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s story) is an admirable addition to this canon. I can’t stand Westerns where everyone has grime streaked faces, but a set of perfect pearly whites, and the grills of everyone here—from Peter Fonda and that retarded kid from “Freaks and Geeks” (Ben Foster), to mega-stars Christian Bale and Russell Crowe—are adequately grizzled (maybe not to a wholly realistic degree, but decent enough so to suspend my disbelief—they probably have it in their contracts that their grill can’t be too fucked up. Besides, Bale is Welsh. He might have a cultural sensitivity where teeth are concerned).

At the core, 3:10 to Yuma is about the depths desperate men will sink to, and about trying to find God in a Godless land. Bale plays Dan Evans, family man, rancher, a pussy according to his oldest son. He is a former Yankee soldier missing the lower portion of his leg. He’s a good man just trying to hold his family together and scrape by until the wet season comes. This shit is dry. Seriously, the only rain Evans has seen in months is the monsoon of shit the world keeps dumping on him. He owes this banker dickweed a shit ton of money, he’s got one son who’s tubercular, another who thinks he’s a bitch for not shooting said dickweed banker when he burns down their barn, and his wife doesn’t respect him. At one point he tells her, “No one can think less of me.”

Crowe plays Ben Wade, a burgeoning artist with a poetic soul, who also happens to be a legendary stick up man. You can tell he’s all deep and shit because while waiting to stick up a stage coach he sticks a quick pencil drawing of a hawk to the branch the hawk he was just sketching was just sitting on. He likes to quote the Bible, especially Proverbs, has a gun called “the Hand of God,” and really just wants a good woman and a little bit of peace.

Despite any personal feelings about the actors, both of the leads do an admirable job with their characters. There is a solid supporting cast, including the aforementioned Pete Fonda, who plays Wade’s nemesis, a bounty hunter named McElroy, who is on hire to the Pinkertons. He blows up a horse, and then has Pirate Steve from Dodgeball pull a bullet out of his gut without anything to dull the pain. He is a rough, rough man. Foster plays Wade’s sociopathic wingman, Charlie Prince. There is a demented glee in his loyalty to Wade, and in his destructive mayhem. He’s the kind of dude who would shoot you for scuffing his Puma.

Evans and spawn first stumble across Wade and Co.’s hijacking in progress while attempting to round up their stray cattle. Later, Evans is key in distracting Wade while Fonda and posse get the drop on him in a saloon after Wade banged the bartender and drew her nekkid. No one wants to help transport Wade to the town of Contention, to the 3:10 train to Yuma prison, for fear of reprisal by his bloodthirsty gang of outlaws. Against the protests of his wife, Evans goes along for the ride for the price of $200. “We won’t make it through the next six days if I don’t do this,” he tells her. Desperation trumps everything else.

Wade is man of conscience, he just wants to do right by his family, run his farm, and teach his boys the proper way to be men. He is surrounded by McElroy, who has no need to read any book but the Bible, but will unflinchingly mow down Apache women and children. Wade throws out bible verses like bird seed, but has no qualms about killing. He is a foil to McElroy; he quotes scripture, but doesn’t hide behind the hypocrisy. Wade knows he is a bad man and doesn’t use sanctimonious duplicity to mask his depravity.

The good guys have boundaries. That is what makes them the good guys, and that is why they will lose. For all their prayers, for all their piety, God has abandoned these men in a world where there is no black and white. “I’ve been standing on one leg for three damn years, waiting for God to do me a favor, and he ain’t listening,” Evans says. In the end he is alone, and this is where he learns to do what he must. The only chance he has is to cross his own lines, to stand on his own against the darkness, in the darkness.

Through the journey to Contention, their numbers gradually dwindle, and Wade plays head games with Evans. The two form an uneasy, yet symbiotic relationship along the road; one can no longer exist without the other.

One of my favorite badass movie moment clichés is, when after a prolonged period of waiting, the doomed hero stands, clenches his jaw, and says, “It’s time.” With the tension created in those two words, you know all hell is about to come down. The last hint of God for these characters is a sketch Wade draws of Evans on the inside cover of a hotel Bible as they are about to run the gauntlet to the titular 3:10 train to Yuma.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

I haven’t smoked weed since high school. My drug of choice now comes in a bottle or a can. That said, to this day I get a kick out of stoners and stoner humor (and dick and fart jokes for that matter—I admit it, I maintain the mentality of a stoned thirteen year old boy wolfing down an entire box of Wheat Thins).

Still, upon it’s original theatrical release, I didn’t even give 2004’s Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle a chance. It came and went with little to no impact on my day to day life.

In early 2005 I found my self in Reno, during the worst snow storm since either the mid-1980’s or the early nineteen-teens, depending on who you talked to. All I did for the week I was there was trudge through waist deep snow from my buddy’s record store to the house where a dozen plus random travelers were stranded. We drank a lot of coffee, smoked a lot of cigarettes, played a lot of Trivial Pursuit, and watched a lot of movies.

In conversation it came out that I had never seen the aforementioned film. It was one of those shocked silences where the entire room is aghast, as if I just admitted to stealing babies, and they weren’t sure if they should still speak to me.

The argument that finally made me cave in and agree to watch it was, “Dude, they get stoned, and ride a cheetah.” That sounds like a good time.

In order to rectify the situation, half a dozen of us piled into a borrowed Jeep and ventured to the video store. It was a journey fraught with multiple near death experiences, snow drifts, a 360 degree spin out, hoots, hollers, and a rampant shoplifting jag at the supermarket.

We watched it three times in the next day and a half. Any time someone who hadn’t seen it popped in, we watched it. If you poked your head into the living room, there was a good chance either Point Break or Harold and Kumar was on the television. I bought copy on the way home from the airport.

John Cho and Kal Penn reprise their roles as our bong ripping heroes in Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. The story picks up where the first leaves off, with Kumar taking a moist and massive, White Castle inspired shit, while Harold is in the shower, cleansing himself of the grime of the previous night, and reliving the moment with Maria (Paula Garces), the girl of his dreams from down the hall. It is revealed that they are on their way to Amsterdam to stalk Harold’s recently acquired love interest. En route to their flight, Kumar screams racial profiling, and they run in to his ex, Vanessa (Danneel Harris), who is about to marry the douche bag who landed Harold his shitty ass banking job.

Kumar of course can’t wait the few hours until they get to the weed capital of the world, and all the legal weed they can handle, and smuggles a “smokeless bong” onto the plane. A paranoid old biddy mistakes it for a bomb, screams “Terrorist,” and our boys wind up in Guantanamo Bay, from which they promptly escape before having to chow down on Big Bob’s “cock meat sandwich.” From there it doesn’t really matter what happens, it is an epic quest to clear their names and stop Kumar’s one true love from marrying a complete tool.

The journey bears some passing resemblance to The Odyssey, complete with a Cyclops and an oceanic voyage with Cuban refugees. I can’t do any of the humor justice here without spoiling it, so I’ll just drop some highlights. Civilized rednecks, dog in KKK robes, unicorns, “Starship-fucking-Troopers,” parachuting, and a mathematics based love poem. And there is so much more.

Neil Patrick Harris reprises his role as himself, which all you eager little stoners have been waiting for, and does not disappointed. Rob Corddry plays a homeland security agent hot on their trail, who employs every racist stereotype you can imagine, including, but not limited to, throwing a bag full of pennies at Goldstein and Rosenberg (David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas), and dumping out a grape soda in front of an African-American orthodontist.

The film played in March in San Francisco at the Asian-American Film Festival. When I first heard that, I found it really amusing, until I actually thought about it. What else has become such a bona-fide pop culture phenomenon featuring two non-white protagonists? Not much. And while they poke fun at racism in an over the top manner, the truth is, it isn’t far off from the way a whole lot of people in this country think. The entire saga is an interesting cultural artifact, as well as a notable reaction to our national climate.

The friend that I went to visit in Reno three years ago, remarked that some of the humor goes overboard. My reaction was, “Dude, in the first one, they get high, and ride a cheetah.” Yeah, maybe it is not quite as good as the first one. Maybe the hype machine built it up so high that it doesn’t entirely deliver. Maybe it is too absurd at points. But that is exactly the point. And overall, I think it is a fun and admirable addition to the party, one that deserves watching at least a couple of times, both sober, and in your altered mental state of choice.

This movie makes me wish I liked smoking weed, and want to watch Starship Troopers again.