Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Shining (1980)

What makes a horror film truly scary? That's different for everyone, but for myself I feel that it's a matter of relatability. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fan of the outlandish horror tropes that are so outside reality that there's never any need to worry about them in real life, be it your yawning hellgate, Satan coming to steal your soul or monsters trying to kill you. For crying out loud, two of my favorite movies of all time are "Event Horizon" and John Carpenter's "The Thing." I'm okay with "off-the-wall."

But at the same time, there's only so much you, or at least I, can be scared of something like that. It can be intense or disturbing, and from that standpoint you might call it scary, but it's not very relatable is it? After all, nobody has a valid fear of being eaten by a dinosaur, and least nobody with a grasp on reality. But to dive into something that's tangible can elevate a film from being a collection of well-timed and executed shocks, and turn it into something that can crawl into your head, dig under your skin, and mess with you in a way that those outlandish monsters can't. That's where the real horror is, in my opinion. After all, everyone can relate to being angry at your family. And everyone can also imagine the fear of someone swinging an axe at your head.

And let's be honest. I think we all have an ingrained fear of Jack Nicholson. And plaid.

That brings me to what I consider to be one of the greatest horror films of all time, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's "The Shining." Kubrick is a director whose works for me run the gambit from the sublime ("A Clockwork Orange") to the moderately decent ("Dr. Strangelove") to the wretchedly unwatchable ("2001: A Space Odyssey"). You can never quite tell what you're getting yourself into with him, which makes him an interesting director to discover. And even though I think that often his work is frankly overrated, I can't deny that he makes a damn good horror film. Too bad he only did one.

The reason "The Shining" works so well is because of three main factors. The first is the famous Kubrick slow burn, which sucked all life out of "2001" but made "The Shining" fantastic because a) It's not nearly as slow, b) It serves a purpose other than to simply take a long time and c) Things actually happen. From the opening helicopter shot where we see Jack's car while that horribly ominous, unearthly music plays, we can tell something is off. Something's not quite right. The hotel itself seems to be watching him, keeping something waiting around every corner, ready to strike.

 Man. This would have made the best Fruit Gushers commercial.

The cinematography helps with that, framing many shots like someone is watching without the character's knowledge. It's quite subtle, but it lends a lurking horror to what is honestly not that much happening. That is until the climax of the film where things go absolutely ballistic. And while it may take some time to get there, by the time we do get to the true madness the tension has been building up so much that the film stock seems like it's about to catch fire, aided along by some truly heart-stopping moments like the pantry door unlocking, the REDRUM scene, and my personal favorite moment - "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." That entire scene is unreal, and worthy of being placed up there with the greatest movie sequences of all time.

That brings us to the second reason, which is the acting. It probably would have been a better move to cast someone else besides Jack Nicholson, or at least cast someone who wasn't known for playing somewhat crazy people, but that being said Nicholson does an amazing job of taking us through a mad, twisting journey inside the mind of Jack Torrance. Having a more unassuming actor may have made that progression more surprising, but that's not really the fault of Nicholson. The man is just good at playing crazy people, and here he knocks it out of the park with one of the most terrifying performances I've ever seen.

And one of the most quotable.

I've heard a lot of people bash on Shelley Duvall as Wendy for being an annoying pushover. I disagree, but I understand where people are coming from. Duvall has moments of somewhat hammy dialogue where what she's saying doesn't sound like normal speech like she's doing an after-school special. But at the same time that comes across like a mask she's putting up around herself. When she does that she becomes the kind of "Good Wife Action Figure" with the pull-string voice box that'll spout stuff like "Sure thing, hon!" and "This is just dandy" and "Let's forget our troubles with a big bowl of strawberry ice cream!"

It's a front and a sham, and she wears it constantly to the point of passively accepting a rather severe amount of abuse from Jack, which could understandably make some people dislike her. But when the mask comes off, and her world crumbles around her as her own sanity is being stretched to its utmost limits, that's when we see her in her basest, most naked form. The scenes that some people say they find her at her most obnoxious as she weeps and sputters in gasping cries (roughly the entire last act of the film) are not the marks of a bad actress, but of someone who is portraying a human being who has been stripped of everything short of their body. That should be ugly and unpleasant. I frankly find her performance oddly stunning and hard to watch in a good way.

Pictured above - A master's course in acting afraid.

Danny Lloyd also was one of the best child actors, but like Carrie Henn six years later with "Aliens," he only did one film. That's a damn shame, but at least he went out by giving one of the best performances by a kid ever put on screen. He's got this amazing thousand yard stare that is really unnerving to watch him do, and he brings this oddly intelligent presence the film like he's the smartest one there, and this little kid totally sells that. I especially love the scene between him and Scatman Crothers where they talk about what "shining" is. Absolute gold.

Lastly, as I mentioned before, it's the believability of the story that makes "The Shining" so terrifying. And I'm not talking about a hotel being haunted. I'm talking about the fact that this could easily be seen as a movie about people going insane due to cabin fever and their own personal issues they brought with them. True there are supernatural elements to it what with Danny's psychic gifts and whatnot, but if you took that out it's completely plausible to believe that a guy could go nuts and attack his family with an axe. And that's the kind of story that'll get under your skin, even if you believe that the ghosts made him do it or that he's the reincarnation of the groundskeeper who's been there since at least 1921. Or whatever the heck that last shot is supposed to mean.

I still can't decide if this is one of the best or one of the worst trailers ever.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Shining" is one of my favorite movies. It's scary as hell (one of the scariest films ever, I think), it's superbly acted by everyone involved, and while Kubrick's directing may be a tad full of itself as usual, boy did he nail it this time around. I consider it the best movie he ever made, personally.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Room 237 (2013)

"The Shining" is one of my favorite movies of all time. It's moody, it's superbly acted, and it's terrifying as all holy hell. Few films can match it for conveying a since of cold, bleak dread and creeping terror. The air of mystery about it in all the different layers of the story and the baffling last shot of the film only adds another level of enjoyment to it when you sit down and discuss it with other people, and hear their thoughts on what in the world is going on. Everybody seems to have their own ideas as to what's really happening, so there's always a lot to talk about.

When I heard about the documentary "Room 237," which featured several people giving their own interpretations of what the film was, ranging from plausible to outlandish, tin-foil hat theories, I was quick to check it out. The glowing critical praise heaped upon it didn't hurt my expectations. Seriously, this thing pulled a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.

I really don't know why I still even look at that website. "Room 237" was, hands down, one of the worst documentaries I've ever seen in my life. And that's not just because of the content, but because it's so poorly put together that it's borderline incomprehensible and damn near unwatchable. This is amateur hour. This is a waste of an hour and forty minutes that could have been better spent just watching the making-of documentary on the DVD of "The Shining" rather than this pathetic heap of conspiracy laden, film school drop-out, post-modern elitist garbage.

Pictured above - Something more relevant to "The Shining."

"Room 237" is composed of a bunch of interviews of people who tell us what they believe "The Shining" to be about. Who these people are or what their credentials might be is never mentioned once, so I find myself wondering why I should be listening to them in the first place. Apparently noted film critics or professors or directors or producers or screenwriters or actors aren't the kinds of people we want to interview when we're discussing one of the most celebrated horror films of all time. No, let's get this schmuck who wrote a crackpot theory on the internet. He'll know what's up.

As advertised these crackpot theories do indeed run the gambit from "slightly plausible" to "have you lost your damn mind?" The most sane one is probably the notion that "The Shining" is a metaphor for the genocide of the American Indians, but I found even that to be a bit of a stretch. Yeah, there's that line "White man's burden, Lloyd," and there's a lot of Native American motifs in the hotel, but then again it WAS built in a region heavily populated by them. Having decor of that nature in a hotel, particularly in Colorado is hardly out of the ordinary. The only reason that theory gets something of a pass was because they say in the film that the Overlook was built on an Indian burial ground. That's a decent connection, but then again the person putting that hypothesis forward also insists that the lynchpin that proves their case is a can of Calumet baking powder behind Jack Nicholsen in the pantry. See, it's got a Native American with a headdress on it. And 'Calumet' means 'peace pipe,' and you see it when Jack is talking with the ghosts, which clearly means they're having a pow-wow, which clearly means it's all about genocide.

See?! See it behind him?! IRON. CLAD.

Yeah, it's stupid, I know. But like I said, that's the least vapid of the theories. Let's not even get into the creep who says it's all about sexual obsession as he points out penises in the carpet and objects that, were one looking for it hard enough, might slightly look like erections if you squinted and were really thinking about erections a lot. Then there was the lady who insisted it's about Greek mythology because she thought a skier on a poster clearly looked like a Minotaur (it didn't), and the hotel had a hedge maze. And of course we couldn't have an analysis of a film without the Nazis, could we? So here comes the guy insisting that "The Shining" is obviously about the Holocaust because Jack has a German brand typewriter.

And then there's the moon landing. Oh man. This was rich. Apparently Stanley Kubrick helped fake the footage of the moon landing. Not that we didn't go to the moon, because we did. But we faked the famous footage, and Kubrick was involved in that. And "The Shining" is his covert confession of having done that. You see, Danny wears an Apollo 11 sweater at one point, and the keys to Room 237 say "ROOM NO. 237," which contains the letters R, O, M and N, which can ONLY spell out "Moon Room." Can you doubt the rock solid pillar of truth this analysis stands upon?

Can I shut this off now? Please?

Each one of these lunatics retells their revelations which the same gravity as the Narrator realizing he's also Tyler Durden, all saying roughly the exact same phrase of "It just jumped out at me. It was so crystal clear. I couldn't believe it." But once again, I must ask the question of why do we care? Who are you? Why do we care what you think of "The Shining?" Are you a filmmaker? Did you know Kubrick? Do you have a degree in film? Have you ever even taken a film class? I have no answers to any of this because "Room 237" never tells us. It's bad enough that the people talking at us never EVER cite any sources whatsoever while making wild claims that really should be backed up with facts, an aspect that lends credence to my belief that these jokers have no business being listened to in the first place, but that's made worse when it becomes clear that you may as well go down to the local movie theater and ask the dude selling popcorn what the crap he thought was going on at the end of "2001: A Space Odyssey." It's unlikely you're going to get an insightful hypothesis.

Speaking of film class, that's really what "Room 237" is like. This is everyone single film theory class you had to suffer through in college, had you ever taken them. I had to take several myself, being a film minor, and the 'Nam-esque flashbacks I was getting from this were enough to send me into cold sweats. I hate post-modern deconstruction. I hate it bad, and I always have. I can't stand how everything needs a "meaning," and the thought that the intent of the creator is completely irrelevant to the "meaning" of the work, which is a hallmark of the critical process at work, always struck me as exceedingly arrogant on the part of the critic. It opens up the door for them to pour in so much subjective excess baggage that any meaning quickly devolves into the critic giving a confessional about what they see as opposed what was actually there. It turns a movie into a two hour long Rorschach test, and I find that completely obnoxious.

Yeah, you could inject meaning into the shapes of the carpet, like it appearing to trap Danny inside of it. Or see them as a bunch of penises. Or you know...maybe a cigar is just a cigar.

What baffles me is that, as stupid as the theories are, this documentary is so shoddily put together that it comes across more like a final film class project of a straight C minus student who wasn't going to do well in the class anyway and didn't really care enough to salvage his grade. Nearly all the footage is simply clips from "The Shining." There's maybe 90 seconds of original footage shot for this. At no point do we see any of the people talking, a side effect I surmise to be the result of most of the interviews probably taking place over the phone, which I picked up on due to varying degrees of quality in the audio. That's also telling when, during one point, one of the interviewees stops to check on his crying baby for a second. Then he comes back after a moment and says "Sorry. Um, where was I?" They left that in. I swear to Crom they left that in. How professional.

Not only do we never see the people talking or get their names on screen when it changes person, but the film switches back and forth between their incoherent, droning babbling so frequently that it's nearly impossible to tell who is speaking or remember what in the world they were talking about beforehand. Before long it quickly devolves to the point of not knowing what in the world anybody is even talking about because there is no consistent narrative to latch onto. Maybe if they had let one person finish their theory before going on to the next guy it would have been stupid, but at least it would have been slightly coherent.

When Jack Torrance is laughing at your craziness, you may have a problem.

"The Shining" is such an amazing movie. And it deserves a better documentary than this. The only reason it was so well reviewed by critics is because it's doing what they love to do: Making something far more complicated than it needs to be while acting superior about it. Piss off with that.

This is one of the worst trailers I've ever seen. Would you believe it was the better of the two that I found?

THE BOTTOM LINE - If you ever wanted a crash course in the most obnoxious film classes you could ever take, watch "Room 237." It's stupid to the point of being offensive, it's arrogant to the point of making your eyes roll, and it's so amateur in it's execution that I've literally seen college students make a more coherent, informative documentary. This is utter trash, more telling about obsession over a movie than the actual movie itself.

The Purge (2013)

It's the rare film that allows you to feel yourself physically getting dumber as you watch it. I suppose that's an impressive feat to have accomplished, as "The Purge" managed to do, but it's still not something I would be too proud of were I the makers of it. After all that puts them in league with "Transformers Revenge of The Fallen" and "Howard the Duck" in terms of creating something so apocalyptically stupid that you can feel the synapses in your brain firing back on themselves and imploding while it's playing.

I get it, you know. I'm not dense. I understand metaphor and the concept of a morality play. I can see what "The Purge" is trying to say: That the wealthy in this country have no concept of apathy for those who do not in turn posses wealth, and in fact they would rather them all die to relieve the haves of the horrible strain of having to lend any kind of reluctant, kicking and screaming help to the have-nots. And in the end, we are all horrible animals that will rip each other to pieces given the slightest provocation or opportunity, the odds of which go up exponentially the more wealth you have. I get it, "The Purge." It wasn't difficult to catch since you're about as stealthy with it as an air-horn in a library.

And you know what? Maybe they're right. There is probably something of a point to be made there. The wealth gap in this country is inexcusable, and there is such a massive focus on what is good for a microscopic fraction at the top that the surging masses of everyone else below them gets completely ignored.

But for crying rivers of blood, there is such a thing as subtlety. The best tales of social commentary don't shove symbolism and morals in your face in outrageous over-the-top antics that come across closer to parody than parallel. They are more sneaky with it. What they don't do is create an America where once every year, in an effort to cull the lower class/poor people/unemployed, for 12 hours all crime is completely legal in an activity called "The Purge." This, naturally, means that everyone with the money to have one barricades themselves inside their massive fortress of a home, while everyone else who doesn't have that luxury immediately goes out and kills anyone they can get their hands on in an orgy of blood, since that's what people like to do. Actually a number of rich people go out and hunt poorer people because hey, what are they gonna do? NOT kill someone? That's what any normal person would like to do, right? That's typical healthy behavior yeah? I mean, they're poor. It's not like they're human beings or anything.

Wow. That's so sneaky that I barely saw what you did there.

The amount of stupid contained in the description on the back of the DVD alone is enough to make my head hurt. That's just a dumb, DUMB plot. How in the hell was that even supposed to have come to pass in the film's far future setting of 2022? Did the Tea Party really become that powerful in that time frame? Actually I don't even think they'd go so far as to implement a policy of genocide on the poor, even though they'd probably like the thought even if they wouldn't say it out loud. I just don't think they'd be able to collect the votes to pass that particular legislation through the Senate. Or is this the end result of the Affordable Health Care Act? Is this what Ted Cruz is talking about when he says that's going to be the end of America? Are we going to starting Purging in less than a decade? I guess that's how it starts: First you have people getting health care, then soon we're all piles of bodies in the streets. Man, I had no idea.

Thanks, Obama.

Ethan Hawke is James, a successful maker of home security systems who has made like a good hard-working capitalist and made a lot of money selling his wares to other families on his block, all of whom live in mansions the size of a damn football field. Naturally he's got quite the elaborate setup when it comes to his own home security. This comes in handy when, during the Purge, his son Charlie (Max Burkholder) lets in a bloody homeless man who remains nameless throughout (Edwin Hodge) in an effort to save him from a mob led by a likewise nameless psycho in a mask (Rhys Wakefield). Psycho kindly informs James that unless he hands over the homeless guy, they'll bust in and kill James and his entire family.

That's the setup, but most of the film is following James and the rest of his family around in the dark as they attempt to navigate their impossibly large house in an effort to find the guy so they can throw him to the wolves. They try and work in some mild tension like it's attempting to be a horror film, but all it boils down to is someone suddenly appearing behind someone else accompanied by an orchestra sting like it's the scariest thing in the world, a cliche which is so transparent and worn out that at this point it's really no more frightening than a sneeze.

Pictured above - Every crap horror movie you've ever seen.

At no point did I give two craps about anyone in this story. James is a bland character with no personality to speak of. His wife Mary (Lena Headey) is a hypocritical harpy who condemns James for choosing to protect his family, calling him a terrible person when he agrees to let the stranger die so that they all may live, saying bullcrap like "What have we become?" when she's supported the Purge for years. I'm not saying that's the right choice for him to make, but that's because there IS no right choice to make in that situation. That's a lose-lose scenario, and he took the path that most people would: The one that keeps his family alive. That's an understandable decision for James to make, but Mary basically calls him a monster for making it. But that's not to say she's above expecting him to kill when the walls come down and the masked people start pouring in. Oh no. Then she's all about him becoming a killer. What a hypocrite. I can't stand characters like that. I wouldn't have minded as much if we weren't obviously meant to be on her side.

And naturally, the film ends with the rich neighbors coming to help James and his family, only to turn on them because they wanted to be the ones to kill them. Why is that? Well, because he's successful and made money off of them, that's why. Of course, this makes no sense since they're all rich anyway and becoming more rich would probably be applauded in that particular circle, especially considering that it's the poor people who are supposed to die according to this idiotic premise, but hey why would the movie start being not-stupid at the end? So the homeless guy ends up saving those who are still alive, and the Purge ends with the neighbors meekly walking back home as if everything isn't going to be horribly awkward from now on.

I pose a serious question: Have you ever seen a more punchable face? This is our villain, people...

I most admit that this film made me feel physically bad, and not in the way I believe the filmmakers were intending, either. I was so enraged at the notion that every single person, not matter who they are or where they're from, is inherently a psychopath who would gladly kill someone else if only they had half a chance. I'm no starry-eyed optimist or anything, but I generally believe that while the average person at their core may be selfish, they do not wish harm on others under normal circumstances, and the average person would probably not find the prospect of killing an attractive one.

And that's on top of it making me sick to my stomach due to a horrible script, terrible acting, and lack of any tension, horror or suspense. By the way, it must be said that the absolute fastest way to ensure that the audience knows that you don't really give a rat's ass about actually being scary is to simply slap stupid masks on the villains and have them prance around and shriek like a bunch of babbling lunatics. That doesn't make me afraid of them. That makes me wonder why they haven't been locked up because they're clearly insane and could not function in any kind of society, no matter how messed up it is.

Yeah, "The Purge," I played "BioShock," too. That was a good game. Stop ripping it off because you suck at it.

You know what "The Purge" is? I'll bet this is what paranoid, Right Wing fringe maniacs thinks everyone else thinks of them. It's like looking into Alex Jones' head. That's a scary place to be, and I feel like I need a shower.

For crying out loud, the trailer plays "America the Beautiful." FREAKING. SUBTLE.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I hated "The Purge." I hated, hated, hated, hated it. This movie would be laughed off as a pathetic failed attempt at a third-rate home invasion movie in the best of scenarios, but the fact that it's trying to say something but being terribly inept at doing so sinks it even lower into the hole that it dug itself with it's blunt instrument of clumsy allegory. This is a terrible film whose only market is vapid high school girls who might think it's really "deep" because they're stupid and "scary" because they've never seen an actual horror movie in their life.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Frozen Ground (2013)

You know, when I said in my review of "The Raven" that Nicolas Cage and John Cusack should get together in a serial killer movie, I really didn't think they were actually going to do it. Now granted it's not the same as my idea, which was to have it be a story about a horror author doing battle against his dark half that somehow emerged and started killing people using the methods described in his own works (since that would have been a far more interesting plot than "The Raven"), but it's still nice to know that I clearly seem to have some manner of power over space and time. That's good to know.

Anyway. "The Frozen Ground" is another in the recent line of inexcusably straight-to-DVD Nicolas Cage vehicles that try and inform everyone of what myself and other enlightened individuals already know: That Cage is not worthy of the scorn and mockery that is constantly lumped onto him. I can't stand how often I have to say it, but here I go again. The man is a good actor, people. I know it's easy to write him off because he freaks out often and stars in some really, really bad stuff every once in a while (and who doesn't?), but just because a guy goes over the top doesn't make him a bad actor. The fact that he's always believable as that character he is freaking out as while he's freaking out makes him an incredible actor.

Seriously guys. Pacino does the exact same thing and gets a pass but Cage doesn't? Come on.

That's not to say that we shall be witnessing crazy Cage here in "The Frozen Ground." No, this is one of those movies where he keeps it reeled in, since it wouldn't have made that much sense in all honesty for him to do his patented freak outs here. This is a down-to-earth, gritty look at a serial killer which is based on real events, and of the two leads Cage is playing the one who isn't insane. That's somewhat unfortunate, but hey I'm not complaining about watching Cage in any capacity.

Cusack plays Robert Hansen, a serial killer who is believed to have kidnapped, raped and killed dozens of women in Alaska during the late 70's and early 80's. He flies under everyone's radar and avoids suspicion until a prostitute named Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) escapes his clutches and reports him to police. While police initially clear Hansen because of his popularity in the town, trooper Jack Holcombe (Nicolas Cage) is one of the few who believes Cindy, and becomes convinced that Hansen is his man after an FBI profiler essentially describes him to a T in his report of the type of person they should be looking for.

Oh snap! It's the long lost MacKenzie brother!

Working with other policemen and Cindy and diving into the shady underbelly of the seedier side of Alaska, Holcombe does his best to find enough evidence to get a warrant and arrest Hansen and nail him for the murders. But he's got to do it quickly, because as Holcombe believes and we as the audience know for a fact, Hansen will kill again very soon.

This isn't the most original film you'll ever see, true, but as far as true life crime thrillers go it's not that bad. Cage turns in an oddly subdued performance which would normally be disappointing, but honestly it wouldn't seem right to have the expected Cage freak outs during this. I mean, if I want Nick Cage as a cop flipping out I'll just watch "Bad Lieutenant." It's not one of his most memorable roles lately, but it's probably one of his more solid ones.

Trying to pull off those cool shades isn't helped by the flannel and mom-jeans. You need a trench coat and slow motion doves for that.

I'd actually rather have seen Cage as Hansen instead of Cusack. Now it's not that Cusack did a bad job, in fact he's kind of terrifying in this movie, but I think Cage could have really brought something special to the role. Then again, if you look at Robert Hansen's actual mugshot, he looks EXACTLY like Guy Pearce, so maybe they could have cast him instead. I don't know.

The real take away from this is Vanessa Hudgens. As much of a Cage fan as I am I have to admit she stole the show here. This is a scary good performance from her, and it's absolutely heartbreaking to watch the poor girl go through what she goes through as she puts on a tough face as she crumbles inside. It's a fantastic role for her, and should really cement her as someone to pay attention to.

You know, I don't think everyone from "High School Musical" could pull off a scene where they're a stripper ODing from cocaine they just snorted off the back of a toilet while being stalked by a serial killer. (This movie's kind of awesome, actually.)

So I'm glad I saw "The Frozen Ground." It's a well made, moody, kind of sleazy period piece that manages to be both fascinating in terms of real events and disturbing in terms of tone and subject matter. It does what it does well, even if Cage isn't unleashed. Ah well. It's still nice seeing him. Although I'm still not sure why Radha Mitchell was in this as his wife. She's got like five lines and is essentially a pointless character. Between this and doing the same thing in "Olympus Has Fallen," is this just a role that she does now? Has Radha Mitchell been reduced to being a side character or appearing for 30 seconds in a mirror? What's going on here?

Check out the trailer for "The Frozen Ground."

THE BOTTOM LINE - It's not incredibly memorable, but "The Frozen Ground" is worth a look, especially if you're into true crime or just a police thriller. Good performances all around, especially by Hudgens, makes it worth the time. This is particularly true when you factor in that the best we usually get with these kinds of stories is CSI. It's nice to see it done well for a change.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Machete Kills (2013)

I was a huge fan of Robert Rodriguez's "Machete" - a tour de force of exploding heads and grindhouse sleaze which featured enough crazy cameos of actors you can't believe are actually in it and enough catastrophic levels of ridiculous violence that it was impossible for me to not be entertained beyond what one would normally imagine to be possible. Yeah it was stupid, yeah it was so over-the-top that it curved around to be subterranean and yeah it was basically a live-action cartoon, but dammit there was a scene with Danny Trejo cutting a dude's stomach open, ripping out his intestines and using them to repel down a wall. Are you not entertained?

So it was with great anticipation that I sallied forth to enjoy another round of hopefully absurd carnage with "Machete Kills," a title which I approve of, but really feel should have an exclamation point at the end of it. In particular I was excited to see Charlie Sheen as the POTUS which, even though it's probably about a year too late to jump on the bandwagon it probably started on, is an idea so stupid that it has to be awesome. Remember, before he lost his mind Charlie Sheen was also something called "an actor," and he was pretty good at it. Hell, he's a funny guy. Remember "Hot Shots Part Deux?" That's good stuff

What I ended up getting with "Machete Kills" was something that was comforting like putting on a pair of warm slippers after you come inside from the cold. The same level of not-serious-take is still as loudly present as it was before, if not even more so, and it still features ridiculous levels of blood and guts that would be horrifying were they not so tongue in cheek. Danny Trejo is still the same steel-faced, indestructible superhero whose power is that he's an action movie star and simply cannot be killed. The recognizable cameos are still prevalent and bring a smile to my face. This is a good time, and it felt good.

Spaaaaaace kniiiiiiiiiife!!!

On the other hand, the slippers that we are slipping into have also been chewed up by your puppy. "Machete Kills" is not, and I hate to say this, a very good movie. I don't mean that from a snobby perspective, I mean that from the perspective of how well it does what it's trying to do. It must be said that it's just not as well executed as the original was, so from that perspective it is a let down. Like the puppy it's hard to be too upset at it, since it's so adorable and you knew it didn't mean any harm, but you just can't help but be kind of irritated. And it's not that you're mad. You're just disappointed.

"Those were my best zapatos, cabron."

Here's the thing. "Machete Kills" did one thing wrong that really should not have been an issue, and I would have honestly thought would have been an impossibility before I saw it: It doesn't kill enough. I feel like such a clod saying that, but when you've built a franchise and a character on the sole premise of being a walking death machine who cannot die, than what you do is jam an hour and a half with him killing as many thing as you possibly can. That's what the first one did, and it was amazing.

What you DON'T do is put him in a situation where Danny Trejo spends most of the movie sitting down in chairs or standing around as he has various people talk at him as they brief him on his mission or monologue at him in villainous overtones. The fact that the majority of the time Danny Trejo spends between these little meetings is simply walking around from place to place without much incident besides the occasional badass quip doesn't help.

Unfortunately this is what most of "Machete Kills" ends up being. It's just Machete walking around doing stuff. He's not even doing anything overly violent most of the time. He's not even talking most of the time since everybody else in the film does all the talking for him. That's fine since he's a Mexican of few words, but you get the impression that Danny Trejo may as well have had a camera mounted in his torso and was walking around Hollywood to get everybody's audition tapes as they tried out to be cast in Bond 24.

You know, I can hear her delivering "Why can't you be a good boy and die?" pretty well.

And right there is the best way to describe what "Machete Kills" feels like: It's a Bond movie. Or at least it's a Bond movie if it crossed over with "Dolemite," "Shaft" and something starring Pierre Kirby and then became Mexican. I know that sounds amazing, but when you factor in the plot the closest match for the Bond movie would be "Moonraker."

Speaking of which, the plot this time finds Machete sent on a mission by the POTUS to stop a Mexican drug lord (Demian Bichir) from blowing up Washington D.C. There's a lot of twisting and turning within the plot, far too much so if I'm being totally honest, but eventually this all leads to our real villain, Voz (Mel Gibson), an eccentric billionaire who has been kidnapping hundreds of Mexicans in order to get labor to complete his secret space station, which he and his race of super-people will live on while he wipes the rest of humanity out.

Like I said - Freaking "Moonraker."

Okay, fine. It's "Moonraker" with Mexicans. I can deal with that. At least Roger Moore isn't here, although that would be kind of awesome. The real issue though is that there's simply not enough action going on in between everything, and the boredom starts kicking in pretty quickly once it become clear that "Machete Kills" is trying to be something other than a shooting gallery. Normally I'd appalled a film for having a plot, but a movie like "Machete Kills" should only have exposition while it runs as fast as it can towards the next bloodbath. When they slow it down with too much plot it only makes it so that the absurdity, ie - the reason we're here, is dialed down a bit. They needed to go all out with this movie, and they really didn't. It pulled back from the peaks of zany that "Machete" reached.

And that's too bad because the violence that is there, inexcusable prevalence of CGI gore aside, is really good. There are some truly cringe-worthy moments here that are so insane that you can't help but laugh and slap your knees at the madness of it all. And anyone who doesn't get the joke of the over-the-top nature of it, or decries it as nothing but a pile of entrails with no point (as I read other reviewers mention to my bewilderment) is simply not speaking the same language. Come on, this is a movie that features a gun that literally turns people inside out. There is no way anyone with a brain-stem can't realize that it is meant to be laughed at. Don't judge from the same perspective as "Pulp Fiction." This is a comedy, for crying out loud. And it does that part well.

All that aside, the cast does make for an entertaining sit. It's like a revolving door of actors who grace the film with their presence before moving on. Mel Gibson threatens to steal the show as the "Star Wars" obsessed precogniscent villain, and plays the role with such glee and fun that it's a wonder he's not played bad guys more often. (Hello, "Expendables 3" ^_^) However my particular favorite was La Camaleón, a disguise shifting assassin played in turn by Walter Goggins, Cuba Gooding Jr., Lady Gaga and Antonio Banderas. That character was just too cool. And any movie that puts a bullet in Jessica Alba's dome in the first five minutes is doing something right.

 That's not to mention President Sheen slamming back whiskeys and dropping profanity laced tirades like he's a hard-boiled police sergeant in a film noire. It's pretty amazing.

So yeah, it's not a good as "Machete." But it wasn't bad, I guess. I was a good time. Now we can only hope that they go ahead and fulfill their promise with that trailer and tease of a non-ending for "Machete Kills Again...In Space." Honestly, showing the trailer for that at the beginning of "Machete Kills" was probably the worst thing they could have done. That movie looked way better. THAT'S the level of ridiculousness we wanted! Damn it, why couldn't they have skipped this one and gone right to that?

You know, the trailer is making me want to watch it again, though.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Machete Kills" is an okay movie if you liked the first one. It's not nearly as good because it's trying to have too much plot, which bogs the pace and acts of carnage down to unacceptable levels. The bits that are in there that are good are great, but you've got to slog through too much not-as-awesome to get there. The cast makes it worth watching, though.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gravity (2013)

I have a very weird phobia: Dying by floating off into outer space. I tried to look up if that has a specific name, but the closest match I found was "Spacephobia," which sounds stupid like a cheesy 80's sci-fi comedy staring Lloyd Bridges or something. It's just this bizarre thought that has worked its way into my nightmares on occasion, and there are few ways that I can personally think of that would be a worse way to die. Fortunately I'm pretty sure that I'll never come anywhere close to having to face that particular fear unless I get selected for that Mars One thing. But I wasn't really going to try for that anyway. I'm too addicted to microbreweries.

So after I saw the trailer for "Gravity," there were two things that went through my mind. The first was "Wow, that looks pretty good." The second was "Crap. I'm going to have a heart attack during this thing."

Christ on a cracker...

I'm glad to report that I did not, in fact, need to go to the hospital after seeing it, although make no mistake, "Gravity" was just as intense as you were probably imagining it was. And yes, for someone with mild spacephobia it was a frightening experience that was borderline torturous on occasion. On those terms alone it could be called a success, but where "Gravity" goes a couple of steps further is in the absolutely gorgeous visual presentation with which it tells this simple story of survival.

The setup for this movie is dirt simple. Two astronauts, Matt (George Clooney) and Ryan (Sandra Bullock) are doing a spacewalk when the Russians do something that they really should have been more careful with and end up sending a whole bunch of shrapnel hurling towards everyone else. This destroys the shuttle and kills everyone on board with the exception of Matt and Ryan, who are left floating adrift in space. Their only hope is to make it to one of the space stations nearby to use one of the reentry pods to get back home.

 Uh oh. Look out, Alfonso Cuarón. I think J.J. Abrams has invaded your movie.

And that's it. That's the whole movie. Now, contrary to what it may have looked like in the trailer, Matt and Ryan do not spend the entire film free-floating in space. Not too far into the film they reach the station and all that good stuff, so for those of you who were perhaps concerned that it was going to be "Open Water" in space can relax a bit. There's more to it than that, although it's pretty obvious that at some point they're going to have to reach somewhere because Ryan is down to 2% oxygen within the first twenty minutes, and it's probably likely they're not going to kill off Sandra Bullock in the first act, as if "Gravity" could be structured like a traditional three act film, which it can't.

That brings me to the actors, both of whom I only can say good things about here. Sandra Bullock absolutely tears it up in this film, which isn't surprising since she's very good. I've been a fan of hers for some time now, ever since I got my first Hollywood Crush on her after seeing "Speed." I was so jealous of Keanu Reeves after he hooked up with her at the end of that movie. Anyway, she's also a fantastic actress on top of still looking amazing (to a possible black-magic-is-involved degree), and "Gravity" is one of, if not the best efforts of her career, which is saying a lot.

Caution: Her storyline involves the feels. Many feels.

George Clooney actually kind of stole the show for me, though. That's weird because I don't even like George Clooney that much as an actor. But he was fantastic in "Gravity," providing the level-headed calmness of a seasoned professional to balance out Bullock's panicked rookie. And he's charming as hell while he does it. And liking both of these characters goes such a long way, and is such an important thing for the tension because it ensures that we want to see them make it.

All that being said, the thing people are probably going to remember about "Gravity" is the visual presentation. In those terms this film is insane. That's the only word I can think of that describes it fittingly. Insane and beautiful. You'll get dizzy watching it. You might get vertigo. You might get queasy. That may sound like I'm trying to dissuade you from watching it but I'm not. "Gravity" does such an amazing job of conveying, at least in some small way, what floating in space must be like as the camera twists and turns and floats around while the Earth's horizon looms overhead like it's the only thing in the Universe, that sitting in your seat you feel like you're about to be sucked up into the movie screen as you plummet towards it. That may be my spacephobia talking, but I defy anyone to watch this and not feel their sense of equilibrium unbalanced.


In terms of any negative impressions I got from it, there's really only two things that I found to complain about. The first is that there comes a moment in the film, and you'll know it when you get there, when something big happens. It's an event that changes roughly everything, and while it was certainly dramatic and rather heartbreaking, I couldn't help but feel that it wasn't a great choice for the film to make. And the reason for that is because the movie is simply not as interesting after that point, and it makes any dialogue afterwards essentially meaningless, despite how well-acted it was. That aspect I was not a fan of.

The other thing that I have to complain about is the fact that "Gravity" isn't a movie I could imagine owning, let alone seeing again. That's a bit unusual for me since I fancy myself a collector, and I do enjoy rewatching films that I liked, and I did like "Gravity." However this film seems more like an event you sit through once, say "Holy crap that was a thing" and then never see it again. And it all goes back to the first thing I talked about. If that hadn't happened I may have had a differing opinion, but it is what it is, and I thought "Gravity" really suffered in the second half because of it.

All that being said, you should still see it at least once. Find the biggest screen you can. It's quite a thing.


THE BOTTOM LINE - I didn't personally feel that "Gravity" is worth the obscenely high Rotten Tomatoes rating of 97% it has, but it's still a damn good movie that's very much worth watching, and it's probably the prettiest thing you'll see all year in the theater. It's gorgeous, it's very well acted, and it's very intense. All that being said, it left me feeling just ever so hollow at the end, enough to make it so I wouldn't own it or see it twice. But it was definitely worth that one watch.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Scavengers (2013)

Ambition is good. Ambition is what keeps the world going. Without it we wouldn't have many of the greatest achievements in human history: The Great Pyramids. The moon landing. Deep fried butter on a stick. The list goes on. But on the other hand, sometimes it's best when to know when to pick your battles, and temper ambition with the cold, hard, stainless steel meat tenderizer of reality.

Take for instance "Scavengers," a 2013 straight to DVD affair with a budget that would have been laughed off an episode of "Firefly," the acting chops and set design of a Sega CD game, and the computer graphics the caliber of "ReBoot." For some reason, they thought that was a perfect setup to make a space opera complete with dogfights and shootouts with lasers and the whole shebang. Now, one can't fault a film for wanting to be more than the sum of its parts, but if the best a film can look like from a production standpoint is an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," then maybe they shouldn't have tried being "Star Trek Into Darkness," you know what I'm saying?

Oh thank Crom. I've been waiting for this since the movie started. Come on. Do it. DO IT! Kill me, I'm here! Kill me! C'mon! Do it now! Kill me!

That's just a thing I've never understood. Perhaps it's just the perfectionist in me talking, but personally if I was going to try and make a film that by Hollywood standards was going to cost on the high end of 8 decimal places, and the most I could get was on the extreme low end of 7, I would reconsider the entire affair. I'd scrap the whole idea and make a horror flick where I didn't have to recreate a dogfight scene from the end of "Return of The Jedi." But again, that's just me because I wouldn't want my end product to suck.

"Scavengers" is about a group of scavengers in space who collect space scrap from space battles in space for space salvage. In the wake of a rather large battle they come across some kind of alien thing called a Chaos Generator (whatever) that does...something, I don't know. The purpose of it is never really made abundantly clear from what I recall, although in the film's defense I stopped paying close attention very early on since I was bored out of my mind.

Which is about the same level of defense as "Say what you want about the slaughter and brutally cruel regime, Sauron kept the place orderly."

They are pursued by Captain Jekel (Sean Patrick Flanery), a psychopathic mercenary who only speaks in grunts and indecipherable mumblings. He's a terrible, one-note character who is impossible to take seriously because of the horrible dialogue and unbelievably bad acting job by Flanery, whom I know can do better than this. Hell, I've seen him do better than this. I have no idea what he's doing in "Scavengers." His sweaty, overly aggressive, blustering and pained performance comes across like a guy who just got kicked in the nuts after drinking a fifth of Wild Turkey. And his dialogue is so stock villain that even when you can understand him it's enough to make your eyes roll. But that's very rare since he's growling, whispering, and slurring all at once with every line.

Every line of Jekel's basically sounds like: "Fwagabala bitdow. Malaga kill 'em all."

I said before how bad this movie looks, and I wasn't lying. I'm dead serious when I say that it looks like an FMV Sega CD game. No joke. This looks like "Sewer Shark." It can't hold a candle to "Wing Commander III." Hell, "Mad Dog McCree" looked better than this. And it's not that it's just low quality, either: It's also lazy as there's a ridiculous amount of recycled shots that just screams out that they just didn't care. There's a rather dangerous drinking game you can do in which you take a drink every time you see the same readout on one of the computer screens. You'll be drunk without 5 minutes because every single time someone looks at a computer screen they show the EXACT. SAME. SHOT. The best part is that they all act as if it's new information every time, making it clear the actors weren't looking at anything, and the readout was put in later by an editor who didn't give a crap.

Apart from that I have no idea what was going on with this movie. There's a scene where a guy explodes, which was awesome because I thought they killed a main character out of nowhere, but that's rendered stupid when we find out he's a clone and they can just make more of him, which they do constantly since he inadvertently kills himself all the time. There's a bar fight with a character named Breathtaker (Kelley Whilden) who is useless expect for the fact that she has a stupid name and they give her a shower scene for no reason. There's a couple dogfights which are incomprehensible and boring. There's a scene where one of the characters is in a crawlspace struggling to reach a button even though it's laughably clear based on the set not having a ceiling that all she would have to do is stand up and it would easily be within reach, which they don't even bother trying to hide. And then the main character just throws the Chaos Generator into space after almost everyone dies because that makes everything we just saw totally worth it. Then the movie ends with Jekel having a piece of it the whole time or some stupid twist that makes no sense.

That's all I remember. And you know what? I don't care enough to refresh my memory. This blew.

Go ahead. check out Flanery's line delivery in the trailer here. Yeah you can laugh at it. You didn't watch this movie. I did. Are you happy that I suffered in your place? Jerks.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "Scavengers" is terrible. It's terrible because it's boring, which is the worst kind of terrible because you can't even take any pleasure out of how bad it is. It's what would happen if the Asylum tried to make "Firefly." Just allow that to process in your heads.

Friday, October 4, 2013

If You Meet Sartana...Pray for Your Death (1968)

I find myself somewhat surprised that the Italian spaghetti western isn't a genre I'm more familiar with. To be honest I'm not a huge fan of westerns by default, having a rather spotty track record with a lot of the entries considered classics. For every one that I like, such as the remake of "3:10 to Yuma," "Tombstone," "Django Unchained," or "The Good The Bad and The Ugly," there seems to be one that I should but don't, like "Unforgiven," "True Grit," "The Wild Bunch" or "Once Upon A Time in The West." I'm at something of a loss to explain the reasons. I guess I'm just odd.

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect with this one, but can you blame me for wanting to see it based on the title alone? "If You Meet Sartana...Pray for Your Death." That title is so amazing that it becomes stupid, and then goes right back to amazing again. And they made a whole series of these. There's "I am Sartana...Trade Your Guns for a Coffin," "Light the Fuse...Sartana is Coming" and my personal favorite, "Have a Good Funeral, My Friend...Sartana Will Pay" among many others. Those sound like the titles of episodes of "Dragonball Z." I get such a charge out of that.

So who is this Sartana dude, anyway? Well, based on the film that I saw, I can say for a certainty that I'm not exactly sure. However, a few things are painfully clear to me. The first is that he wears black, as any self respecting western hero is wont to do. The second is that he is a very good shot. And the third is that, generally speaking, if you double cross him or choose to be evil around him in any way, roughly everyone around you in a twelve mile radius is going to die. I could be off on the numbers slightly, but it's a pretty good ballpark figure.

There's honestly not a whole lot I can say about "If You Meet Sartana," and that's not because I'm at a loss for words. The reason is because I'm honestly not sure what was going on at any point. And that's not because it was complicated. In fact it's dirt simple to a degree that you honestly stop caring pretty early on. All I can do is give the basic setup: There's a stage couch transporting gold from a bank. It gets attacked by bandits. Then Sartana (John Garko) shows up and -


I'm not joking when I say that. After the three minute mark of the film, there are so many back stabs, betrayals, sudden massacres and seemingly random characters showing up only to be snuffed out to make way for the next ones that it's nearly impossible to keep track of who anyone is or what they're talking about or doing. Yeah there's some crooked bankers and an evil mayor and his wife and a lot of bandits and some Mexicans and William Berger with his piercing blue eyes, but that's not what's important. What IS important is the fact that roughly every five minutes we get another scene where the ground ends up littered with both shell casings and blood. That's how this movie rolls.

It quickly becomes tedious and frustrating considering that there's never time or reason to get to know any of the interchangeable characters since they all die before you even know who they were or what they were doing. Add to the fact that it's such a fool-proof guarantee that no matter which character you're talking about (besides Sartana), it's a certainty that they will be betrayed by whichever other character is in the same room as them, who will then in turn then be betrayed themselves and so on, and we come to the point where even trying to understand the plot becomes a complete waste of time. It really is an amazing display of revolving door violence.

It's like a game of Telephone, only with shooting the person who just whispered the phrase.

Do you want to know the most incredible thing about this movie, though? I swear this is going to blow your minds:

I liked it. I'm dead serious. This was a fun movie despite me having no concept of what was happening. It's almost like a bizarre experiment trying to test how much violence can be physically crammed into an hour and a half block of time, plot be damned, while remaining stone-faced serious for its entirety. Most movies that try that are attempting to be ironic or comedic, a la "Shoot 'Em Up" or "Machete" or the like. But this movie is just too badass to contain anything less than a body-count that would make Reb Brown nod slowly in admiration.

Watching it is almost like drifting off into another plane of existence composed entirely of six-shooters, flying bullets and sweaty guys squinting. It's watching the tide roll over your sandcastle. It's the Mythbusters cutting a station wagon in half with a half ton of termite. You're in it for the destruction. What the hell else do you want? And in terms of doing what it set out to do, "If You Meet Sartana" is very good at all that.

You can't see it, but just two feet to the left is like a hundred dead bodies. That was from before lunch.

This is a dynamic movie, and the steely-eyed, chisel-jawed John Garko (real first name Gianni) is very charismatic and brings a great physicality to the performance, although much credit should probably be given to the dude dubbing him. Most all the actors are great here, actually. My favorites were the eccentric old undertaker Dusty (Franco Pesco), the slimeball murderer Lasky (William Berger), and Mendoza (Fernando Sancho), the horrendously sweaty Mexican General straight out of "¡Three Amigos!" Those guys were awesome and a lot of fun to watch. In addition, this is shockingly well-filmed. The camera work is superb, throwing a lot of very creative shots and dramatic reveals at us which are far beyond what I would have normally expected, including a haunting first person perspective sequence which must be one of the best I've ever seen.

One of my favorite things about watching movies is being pleasantly surprised. One of my other favorite things is discovering films and new genres that I previously had been unfamiliar with. "If You Meet Sartana...Pray for Your Death" fulfills both of those things, and while I'm not holding out hope that I'll find many other films in the genre as well made or entertaining as this one, I will have to be checking more Italian Spaghetti Westerns out, because I had a good time.

This trailer is absurd.

THE BOTTOM LINE - I liked "If You Meet Sartana...Pray for Your Death." Whether or not you will is kind of up in the air, honestly. Liking cheesy westerns or drive-in, grindhouse fare is a start, I suppose. But if the thought of seeing the kind of movie that inspired the look and feel and violence of "Django Unchained" sounds like a good time to you, this probably will be.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Carnosaur (1993)

Recently I made the somewhat foolhardy decision to eat some very spicy Thai food. Catastrophically spicy. "I wasn't sitting properly for days afterwards" spicy. Why did I do it? I don't know. Perhaps it was the same kind of surge of bravery bordering on insanity that inspires one to slap on a wingsuit and buzz a mountain or punch a bear just to see what happens. Some things defy explanation.

In any case, as I sat there on the couch, eating my Thai food whilst sweating artillery shells and trying to light a cigarette with my tongue, I noticed that something odd had happened. On my computer screen, suddenly there appeared images of chickens killing people as they grew into horrendously fake looking dinosaurs. Women were giving birth to the things. One of the women ripped open her own stomach to pull it out the dinosaur/chicken and look at it before she died like she was Ellen Ripley or something. Then a dude fought a T-Rex with a skid-loader.

  This is the soooong written for the fight scene. He's trying to eeeeat Raphael Sbaaaaarge...

I thought at first it was merely a nightmarish hallucination brought on by the abundance of those little devil droppings the Asians like to call "chilies." Hell, it had Clint Howard in it. What was I supposed to think? But the next morning after I had managed to not die during the night, in my computer's browsing history was a thing called "Carnosaur." I saw the evidence, and my world collapsed.

 There was a Clint Howard movie worse than "House of The Dead?!" HOW LONG HAVE WE KNOWN?!?!

"Carnosaur" is an ultra-cheesy, low-budget splatter-fest executive produced by Roger Corman, and if you don't know who that is, you should probably not bother with this one. For sake of brevity, just imagine if, instead of really bad CGI, the Asylum did really bad practical effects. Like, imagine if in "Megashark vs. Giant Octopus," the monsters had been sock puppets in a bathtub. Then we're talking. Then again, if you don't know who Roger Corman is, odds are very great you have no idea what "Megashark vs. Giant Octopus" is, either.

It's...well it's this.

So when one is watching a Roger Corman produced film, it's really best to buckle down and accept the camp, lest you want to claw your eyes out after five minutes. The tricky thing about that though, at least for me, is that there exists a point where camp is fun, and a point where camp is boring and annoying. I can't really say "Carnosaur" was fun. Despite having a plot oddly reminiscent of many a PS1 video game, this story of dinosaurs and SCIENCE and dinosaurs made WITH SCIENCE isn't really that thrilling even with its high body count, which is all it's really good for. And despite it having infamy as a gore flick, the violence is really far too corny to get much enjoyment out of.

What's going on in "Carnosaur" is that a geneticist (Diane Ladd) is trying to wipe out humanity with a virus and replace them with dinosaurs, since that seems like a thing to do on a Tuesday. So when the dinosaurs (which are hatched from chicken eggs, FYI) start running amok in a small desert town, it's up to an annoying environmentalist (Jennifer Runyon) and a very annoyed night watchman (Raphael Sbarge) to save the world. Oh joyous day.

Of course there's the usual roundup of characters who exist only to be eaten, a la "Tremors" (a FAR superior B-grade monster series, by the way). There's some hippies who chain themselves to construction equipment in protest, only to be completely boned when a dinosaur shows up, which is admittedly pretty funny, there's some Mexicans, a bunch of horny teenagers and their third wheel drunk friend, a bunch of random scientists and Clint Howard as a hick, all of whom get eaten since that's how this movie rolls. But my favorite was Harrison Page as the sheriff, since he was the most useful of all of them and managed to be something of a badass. It's just too bad he didn't yell at the dinosaurs about not doing things by the book. He probably could have whipped them into shape.


He's also the only one really acting in this. Diane Ladd looks like she's embarrassed to be reading her lines (as is understandable), and while Raphael Sbarge proved many years later that he is a good voice-over actor as Kaiden Alenko in the "Mass Effect" series (!), here he's kind of slumming it. Although I can't fault him too much. Out of all the dialogue he has the best two lines are a cheeky reference to "Jurassic Park" and "I hate wildlife" as the one-liner at the climax of the final showdown. That's pretty weak sauce. And Jennifer Runyon, the person he has to act with for the majority, is the girl from "Ghostbusters" that Venkman was hitting on during the ESP experiment. I don't blame him for not bringing his A-game.

So the cast isn't very strong overall, but let's talk about special effects for a second. You know, when the creatures in your film made in 1993 aren't achieving the same level of believability as the the Gorn from "Star Trek" did in 1966, then perhaps you should consider other methods of film making. Yes, it does tend to make it funny in a hypothetically intentional way (that's a fine line), but in the visual department the dinosaurs in "Carnosaur" look less like a scientist's horrible experiment and more like Shari Lewis finally snapped and went on a rampage with some new friends she found after they ate everybody at Lambchop's place. And that's just distracting.

Listen, I won't fault anyone for liking "Carnosaur." I really won't. There is a definite market for this kind of movie. I'm just not one of them in this case. While I can handle low budget, personally for me, I don't much care for when a movie's ambitions overstep it's means. It's okay if you have a small budget and have to do cheap effects. That's fine. That's perfectly acceptable. But don't try and make a "Jurassic Park" knock-off with a budget the size of what that movie probably spent on the film stock it was printed on. Just...don't, honey. It's not worth it. Make a slasher movie instead.

Damn it, a slasher movie WITHOUT THE DINOSAURS!

Ugh. I'm never eating super hot Thai food again. Next thing you know I'll have Uwe Boll in my DVD collection.

Wait a minute.



That's...actually a pretty good trailer. That surprises me.
THE BOTTOM LINE - "Carnosaur" is basically on the same level as any random Asylum flick, just with bad practical effects instead of bad CGI. On the other hand, it's not without its charm. It's a movie that lends itself better to being a drinking game party event rather than a cheesy genre flick to throw on to unwind. I'm not a fan of it.

* Nobody will get that reference.