Halloween Scene: Planet Terror (2007)

In my post about the exceptionally disappointing Death Proof, I talked about how excited I was about Grindhouse, the combined efforts of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to recreate the feeling of going to a 70s drive-in complete with double bill and even trailers for movies that didn’t–at the time–exist. What I forgot to mention was how inundated we were with Grindhouse stuff at the time for Wizard. I was working in the research department at the time, which meant it was my job to find images to go along with features and news stories. As you might expect, there was a good deal of Grindhouse coverage leading up to the movies, but not a lot of images released. While watching Planet Terror again last night I kept having these weird flashes when particular scenes came on. At first I thought I was just remembering the movie from the first time I watched it a few years ago, but then I realized that they were the stills we kept running over and over in the mag.

Anyway, I was flipping through my DVDs last night to see if there was anything I wanted to watch more than the intended night’s flick X2 and stopped as soon as I saw Planet Terror. I had completely forgotten that I had picked the movie up on one of my many trips through the sale racks of my nearby Blockbuster before it closed down. Bonus! Aside from the freeze frames I mentioned above, I didn’t remember much of the movie other than it had zombie-esque people attacking a girl with a gun leg and a guy who owns a barbecue joint.

Unlike Death Proof, I had a delightful time watching Planet Terror. I think the difference between those two movies is that Rodriguez had a much better understanding of what makes the kinds of movies he was paying homage to work than Tarantino did, which is strange because Quentin has made a whole career based on taking a genre and updating it while also making callbacks to other movies. As far as I’m concerned, Rodriguez completely nailed the zombie outbreak story. He dealt with elements we’ve seen since Night Of The Living Dead but also turned a lot of them on their ears (what happens to Dakota’s son, what happens to Naveen Andrew, etc.). He did a great job of presenting the characters and getting me interested in them–even if it is because of the very B-movie idea that they’re just cool looking so I want to know what happens to them–before getting into the zombie goodness.

And once we do get into the zombie goodness, it’s SOOO good. It looks like some of the blood might have been added with CGI, but for the most part it looks so real and good and gross and bloody that those little bits of computer generated saturation didn’t bother me. The gore is fantastic and something that I’ve missed a lot from most of the modern horror movies I’ve seen lately (maybe I’m just watching the wrong ones, but I felt like I hadn’t seen this kind of big budget feel in a gore-filled horror flick in a while). I also really loved the ending which didn’t just leave our heroes wondering what was happening with the rest of the world, but showing a bit of it. There was something very 70s feeling about it, which was the whole point.

While watching the movie, I came to the realization that Robert Rodriguez might be the most consistent of the directors I like. Quentin really faltered with Death Proof, but I also tried to watch Jackie Brown in the past year or two and was bored to tears. I like the rest of his movies, but those are two pretty big strikes. Meanwhile, Kevin Smith seems to have gone down in quality over the past few years, especially with Cop Out. However, I’m excited about Red State, so he’s in a little better shape in my book. Then you’ve got Rodriguez who has never disappointed me. I’ve watched El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Faculty, Once Upon A Time In Mexico, Sin City, Planet Terror and Machete and have never once been less than impressed. I’m actually excited about delving into his kid friendly flicks like the Spy Kids movies, Shorts and Shark Boy & Lava Girl because I bet they have as much fun with the tropes of those genres as he does with the ones he’s played with in his more grown up flicks.

Time Travel Shenanigans

This Sunday was kind of an unusual night now that I think about it. As a complete coincidence I ended up watching three movies that night dealing with time travel in in form or another: Terminator (1984), Primer (2004) and Next (2007). And oddly enough, I watched them in chronological order. Weird.

I actually didn’t watch Terminator alone as I usually do with rad movies from the 80s. Thanks to the sick looking trailers for the upcoming Terminator Salvation, Em wanted to check out the Terminator flicks. I had recently added the movie to our Netflix Instant Queue, so we finally checked it out.

The first Terminator movie I ever saw was T2 on TV with my parents. I remember them letting me stay up late and watching the end of the movie in their bedroom. Later, when I got my Family Video membership, I checked out the original and wasn’t too impressed. Stupid kid. Even though some of the Arnold masks don’t look that great, first off he’s a robot and second off it was ’84. And damn those exoskeletons and robots look real, even if the stop motion gets a little shaky. Plus, I like to think that Linda Hamilton’s crazy hair is a special effect all its own.

[Potential LOST SPOILER coming up if you haven’t been watching this season.] It’s actually kind of funny that the time travel mechanics are very similar between Terminator and Lost. You’ve got people heading back in time and affecting the future. Reese heads back and fathers John Connor. He always did that, he just didn’t know his role yet. It’s the “Whatever happened, happened” idea (which I have to toot my own horn and say I voiced a few weeks before the saying popped up on the show).

From there I went on to finish Primer, a low budget (supposedly made for $7,000) time travel movie that I heard about on both Horror Movie A Day and The Totally Rad Show. I won’t pretend like I understood the movie (I had to look it up on Wikipedia to get a better idea of the plot and mechanics), but it made me feel like I did when I was 16 working at Barry’s and Drew (whose last name I don’t know and haven’t seen in almost 10 years now) told me about Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects and then later when I saw Lost Highway and Clerks and some other flicks. Aside from feeling incredibly original and new, Primer showed me you can make an amazing movie that doesn’t talk down to its audience. Now, the above-mentioned movies don’t seem to have much in common on the surface, but the all showed me different ways of looking at movies, from a story standpoint and general presentation to how much you need to let your audience know.

Primer’s beautifully confusing (there’s so much jargon and science in there, it’d make my freshman year roommates jump for joy, what’s up Bryan and Hatem, you guys especially should check this one out). One piece of advice I’d give anyone trying to watch Primer (and understand it), is, don’t drink too many beers and try not to fall asleep halfway through. I fell asleep and then tried watching it a week or so later and had an even hard time remembering the whole story. I can’t wait to check it out again.

I will not, however, be watching Nic Cage’s Next again. As I’ve mentioned again and again I have a strange relationship with Nic Cage movies. Sure The Rock and Con Air are awesome, but somewhere along the lines, Cage seemingly went crazy and has been playing a kind of caricature of himself since then. Or has he? Maybe I’m the one that expects him to be crazy (there’s good crazy like in the National Treasure movies which I love and bad crazy like the amazing Whicker Man YouTube video).

Well, the last two Cage movies I’ve watched from the past few years (Next and Bangkok Dangerous) have just been boring. Even Cage’s craziness can’t save a fairly boring movie with some really bad CGI effects that breaks my cardinal sin of storytelling: don’t make everything I’ve just seen pointless, even if it is a tale of what could happen.

You might be wondering how this fits in with the time travel theme and it kind of doesn’t. But it kid of does, because, as Cage explains early in the movie, he can see a few minutes into his own future and just by seeing the future you’re changing it. Sure, it’s a tenuous connection at best, but it’s there.

Now I’ve just got to get Em to watch T2 which I have on DVD. But the last time I tried watching it, I wanted to rip Edward Furlong’s squeaky vocal chords out of his throat and feed them to the T-1000. Ah well, I’m sure I’m a lot more mature now (eh, not really, this was only a few months ago). Also, I might mine these flicks for a Live Blog post or two as I took copious notes.

Uncaged: Con Air (1997) and The Rock (1996)

2008-12-05
5:05:25 am

I recently switched from Blockbuster to Netflix as it was taking way too freaking long for me to get my DVDs (five days at times, even when I turned them in at the store, ugh). As a result I sat here switching my queue over and moving things around. I gotta say, I like the Netflix site a lot more. It’s way more user friendly and I actually like a lot of their movie suggestions. All of which I’m telling you to let you in on how I inadvertently ended up with two crazy, Nic Cage action movies from the mid 90s. I had never seen Con Air before and it’s been about a decade since I saw The Rock, so it was practically like watching it again for the first time.

CON AIR (1997)

What a great and crazy movie. Like with The Rock, I don’t really buy into one of the initial plot points. In this case its the idea that a military man just home from a tour of duty (or something, I’m not always clear on the jargon) kills a dude in a fight, a dude with a knife near Cage’s pregnant girlfriend no less. According to the brief court scene, soldiers are held to a higher standard because they’re killing machines. Sorry folks, I don’t buy it. Isn’t that plain old self defense? Anyway, aside from that (and Cage’s ridiculous accent throughout the film), I bought in. You see, Cage is done with his five year sentence and just wants to get home to his girl and their kid, so they put him on a plane (why was he so far away from home anyway?) with a bunch of other cons to fly them someplace else. Once in the air, the prisoners take over the plane in a pretty ingenious multi-part plan and we go on from there.

The first thing that struck me about Con Air is the cast. Aside from Cage, you’ve got John Cusak as a cop of some kind, John Malkovich as the mastermind behind the hijack, Dave Chapelle, Danny Trejo (the best interview I’ve ever had) and Ving Rhames as cons and Steve Buscemi as a sociopath serial killer. The characters aren’t all that well rounded, but the actors really sell their parts, offering up some of the creepiest cons in recent memory. Even Cusak, who I love in High Fidelity, Grosse Point Blanke and even 1401, is believable in the roll as an action-faring blockbuster cop, who would have thought?

There are all kind of groan worthy aspects to this flick, but I’ll take all of them in exchange for a crazy balls-out action flick that pays off in big names, big explosions and big plots. The final scene takes place in the middle of Las Vegas, first as a plane crash, then as a chase between a fire truck and two motorcycles. One aspect of the movie that was too much, though, was Colm Meaney’s “disbelieving tough guy cop.” In a movie filled with otherwise compelling (if not likeable) characters, Colm’s character just comes off as a boring, one note pain in the butt whose role should have either been rewritten or toned WAY down. It is cool to see his car come to its end, though.

One last thing, I just looked director Simon West up on IMDb and was horrifying to discover he’s the man responsible for subjecting me to the When A Stranger Calls remake. Well, to be fair, I’m responsible for subjecting Ben, Rickey and myself to a pretty awful movie, but who’s counting? It was by birthday after all!

THE ROCK (1996)

Like I said, I’d seen The Rock before, but had very little memory of it, which is great because this movie turned out to be a great surprise. I had a ton of fun watching The Rock, even though I was a little worried about it’s long running time (I have gotten pretty lazy, going so far as to sending Armageddon back without watching it because of its 2 and a half hour running time). Regardless, I am officially a huge Michael Bay fan, so of me what you will, even given what I think was a fairly weak plot point. My biggest problem with the story is that I don’t really buy that Ed Harris’ character would at any point believe his plan would work. If he’s not willing to actually kill a bunch of civilians, why would the government do anything by completely annihilate the island? Oh well.

The island in question is of course Alcatraz, the famous island prison which has fascinated me since I first saw it on some long forgotten show when I was a kid. There’s always been a great sense of history and mystery surrounding that place so I’m pretty much down with any movie or comic being set there (I’m also a big fan the Mythbusters where they test to see if prisoners could have really escaped from The Rock). I am also a big Sean Connery fan, though who isn’t? Seeing how great he is in this movie makes me wish he’d come back and do a role or two. In the flick he plays the only man to have ever escaped from Alcatraz. he gets teamed with chemical weapons expert Nic Cage to stop Harris and his hired soldiers (one of whom is Candyman) from firing off a series of missles with highly toxic bioweapons inside, which means they’ve got to break back into Alcatraz.

If there’s one thing Bay knows, it’s how to make an awesome movie. This one’s got everything from chase scenes to bad ass lines to bigger than life characters and cushion clenching suspense. It really makes me wonder what happened to Cage, though. If nothing else, these two movies reminded me of how much fun he used to be to watch on screen. Maybe it’s that I used to feel like we were both on the same page (these are goofy fun movies and he’s having a goofy fun time doing it), but somewhere along the line he turned into the guy who would star in Ghost Rider. Yeesh. I’ve also heard some pretty terrible things about Wicker Man and really want to watch it after seeing this Best Scenes from The Wicker Man YouTube video:

Crazy right? Well, I can always go back and watch Con Air and The Rock, both of which looked super awesome on the new TV (I really love this thing). But, hey, maybe John Carpetner’s upcoming Cage starrer Riot will bring him back to action movie prominence (I sure hope so).

Anything But Abyss-mal

2008-09-05
6:40:38 pm

James Cameron is one of those directors that I forget I like. I was one of the few people that dodged the Titanic bullet (one of the few bonuses of not having a girlfriend in 1997 or all of high school for that matter) and I really couldn’t tell you anything else he’s done recently besides Dark Angel which I never watched and fell off the radar pretty quickly. So, why did I add The Abyss to my queue? I didn’t actually know he had anything to do with it. Underwater stuff kind of freaks me out and I’ve always heard the effects were great, so I just went with it and it was freakin’ GREAT. Let’s hope Cameron can kick things up a notch and do another movie like this, Terminator or Aliens.

THE ABYSS (1989)

Written and directed by James Cameron

Starring Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Michael Biehn and Chris Elliot

So, the basic premise (I say that a lot, don’t I?) is that this underwater drilling team gets co-opted by the government to check out a sub that went down carrying a nuke (making Armageddon almost the exact opposite of this movie). A group of navy dudes including Michael Biehn board the ship and dive deep down with our heroes. Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio play a married couple who hate each other but are both experts on underwater stuff.

Like I said above, I’m actually pretty freaked out by underwater stuff, especially sunken ships with dead people floating limply inside. So, this movie had more potential to actually scare me, but it’s not really a scary movie, which is cool. There are definitely suspenseful chases, both in scuba-like suits and in underwater vehicles, though the scene where they go into the sunken sub and are surrounded by corpses was pretty creepy.

It’s really more of a psychological movie as Biehn starts going crazy. And really, how do you not go crazy when you only have a few inches of steel between you and certain death? Anyway, you’ve got chases, bare knuckle fights, great underwater filming and a pretty convincing relationship between Harris and Mastrantonio that feels really familiar now, but also fresh somehow. Oh, it’s also got aliens (lower case, “A”). The whole thing’s kind of complicated and I’m not sure I caught everything but way deep down in the ocean this huge spaceship of tiny aliens driving jellyfish-like vehicles has been hanging out. They can also manipulate water somehow in one of the coolest and best effects I’ve seen in a while and this was from 1989!

Fun fact, the filmed all the underwater stuff with the actual actors in specially made suits so you can see their faces in a nuclear reactor they filled with water. The sun kept getting through so they had to put at tarp over the top of it. Knowing that going in added a bit more of a creepiness factors because these people probably could have died if one or two things would have gone wrong. I really appreciate the actors doing their own stunts too. Can you imagine this being done today? Everything would be crummy CGI and just wouldn’t have that fear of imininent danger (like the scene after the underwater station starts taking on water, Biehn’s gone over the edge and Harris actually has to swim out an air lock up to another one and then ANOTHER one. Holy cats, that’s crazy.

This feels like a pretty rambling review, but I highly recommend the movie. I watched the theatrical version to save time, but would definitely check out the director’s cut next time.