Q: The Winged Serpent Is Awesome

Q The Winged Serpent Last fall a buddy of mine sent a few Blu-rays he got through his work my way. I’m always super appreciative when people do nice things like this because, unless I hit a really good sale, I’m probably not going to get my hands on a great many things. In that package was a little movie called Q: The Winged Serpent directed by Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) and starring Michael Moriarty (Troll), Richard Roundtree (Shaft) and David Carradine (Kill Bill). I was sold solely on Moriarty’s involvement who I had just seen in The Stuff and, as it just so happens, that film was also directed by Cohen, so I guess they bring out the best in each other because I love both of these movies, like hard.

Here’s the basics, as best I can remember them. People in New York City are dying and going missing. The police don’t know why, but it’s because there’s a giant flying monster eating them. Moriarty plays a wheelman dragged into pulling a jewelry heist that goes south. On the run, he winds up in the top Chrysler Building  which just so happens to be the monster’s nest. Meawhile detectives played by Roundtree and Carradine are trying to figure out what’s going on. In the process, Carradine becomes convinced that it’s not only a big monster, but also the reincarnation of the Aztec god Quetzlcoatl.

One of the many elements I love about this film is the fact that Moriarty’s character is so important to how this story plays out. This isn’t the story of a down on his luck hero finding the threat to the city and bringing it to the attention of the authorities. Instead, Moriarty uses the monster to take care of two guys trying to shake him down and he only tells anyone in the local government about what’s going on until after he’s made a deal to get a huge pile of money and pardons for all crimes, even the ones the NYPD might not know about (a “Nixon-like pardon” he says). Since he’s a sneaky, shifty dude, the movie goes places it wouldn’t if this were a more typical Hollywood tale.

For his part, Moriarty really carries this movie. He pulls off this oddly alluring synthesis of charming, down-on-his-luck and  bad that works so damn well. You might like him because he can play the piano so causally, but then you hate how he treats his long-suffering girlfriend. Then, at just the right point, he reveals a piece of his personal history that doesn’t excuse his behavior, but might explain it. That’s another major plus for this film, Cohen reveals bits and pieces of Moriarty’s character when they’re necessary, not before. In that way, it’s a really great example of delving out information at just the right time.

It might sound like I’m going overboard about this strange monster movie from the early 80s and maybe I am, but I still think it’s got a lot of greatness held within. However, it’s not perfect. The special effects don’t look so hot these days. From animated shadows to poorly composited images, there’s a lot for the modern eye to pick apart, but for me that was all part of the film’s charm. It did the best it could at the time and probably looked pretty darn impressive in 1982. I thought the actual Q monster looked pretty solid when it was on screen and there were plenty of dizzying aerial shots of NYC (maybe too many) that acted as monster perspective shots.

Now that I think about it, I think I might like this movie because it’s a combination of two of my favorite films without directly ripping them off. On one hand, all the perspective stuff reflect’s John Carpenter’s Halloween where he puts us in the killer’s perspective for chunks of time. Since we’re dealing with POV on a completely different level, it doesn’t feel like a direct lift. On the other hand, there’s a lot of “you don’t get to see the monster JUST yet” elements taken from Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Around the time I watched Q, I heard a lot of people saying that the latest Godzilla  was like Jaws in the city, but it’s a dynamic that worked well given the setting and time of this film.

Also, like both of those admittedly much better films, Q also makes the locale a huge part of the film. Cohen and company made such good use of the Big Apple that it practically oozes all over ever frame. Obviously, the Chrysler Building plays a huge part in the proceedings, though how accurate the film is or whether they actually filmed inside, I don’t know, but those swooping arial shots also firmly cement the fact that we’re dealing with NYC. There’s even a scene shot at Columbia which I only knew because I’m familiar with another film that made such good use of New York City, Ghostbusters.

At the end of the day, Q: The Winged Serpent benefits from a great many positive notes. Moriarty is stellar, Carradine and Roundtree are great, the setting is perfect, the story works specifically because of the characters involved, the monster looks pretty good and presents a definitely threat and it’s got a pretty well thought out mythology. For all those reasons and more, I fully recommend checking this movie out.

Computer Movies: Antitrust (2001)

After a lengthy discussion with some friends on Facebook about the merits of Hackers as opposed to The Net and other computer movies, my buddy from way back in the 5th grade Geof suggested I check out Antitrust. I immediately added it to the top-ish of my queue, but didn’t get around to watching it until the other day. Glad I did as it’s a fun mix of crazy computer stuff and fairly decent dramatic action. Kinda.

Here’s the deal: Ryan Phillippe’s a genius computer kid who gets hired by Tim Robbins’ giant Microsoft-like company, but one of his fellow genius computer programmers stays home to work out of his garage in his own start up company. Phillippe’s got a girlfriend in Claire Forlani who moves there with him. He also meets Rachel Lee Cook, a fellow programmer, and Tyler Labine (the bigger guy from Reaper and now Sons of Tucson) who seems to just show people around. As the movie progresses, Phillippe realizes this might be the most perfect job in the world as he starts suspecting Robbins and company of shady practices as he randomly pops up with pieces of code for Phillippe to use in his program.

Welcome to SPOILER country, taste the flavor! Turns out, of course, that things are WAY more devious. Robbins has goons like Labine kill programmers to steal their code, including Phillippe’s friend who staid home. Once he connects the dots, Phillippe hatches a plan with Cook to bring Robbins and company down. He chooses her because he discovers that Forlani is actually working for Robbins. Now that I think about it, this movie reminds me a lot of The Skulls with tons of betrayal and more twists and turns than you can easily keep track of.

Unlike some of the other Computer Movies, I can’t find any fault with the actual computer stuff in this movie, again, not that I’m any kind of expert, but it all seemed to play true. Plus, I watched a special feature on the DVD which had a woman talking about how she put the code together. I didn’t understand it, but no big deal there. What made me laugh is the idea that not only does Robbins’ company steal code from and spy on seemingly everyone with some talent, but also goes so far as to murder people and cover everything up. PLUS, he set Forlani up as a mole with Phillippe well in advance. We’re getting into spy/supervillain territory here. Now, I get that this came out around Bill Gates’ Microsoft antitrust case and there has always been corporate paranoia, but I just kept thinking of guys like Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs and just laughing at the thought of them trying to kill someone. My outsiders view of the computer industry is that there are definitely some shady business practices, but I just can’t see it getting into murder territory. Just doesn’t seem to hold water for that particular industry.

Ah well, all in all, this was a good suggestion, thanks Geof! Oh, I also wanted to note how funny the sets are, especially in Robbins’ company. There are huge bouncy balls everywhere, tables made out of giant puzzle pieces and a kid’s area made completely out of Legos. No idea if that’s how things were back in the heyday of late 90s/early 00s computer companies, but it made me laugh. Even Grandma’s Boy didn’t go that far.

Quick Movie Review: Original Gangstas (1996)

You know what two names will get me to watch any movie at any time? Richard Roundtree (that’s Shaft, duh) and Pam Grier. So much awesomeness deserves loyalty dammit and as a result, when I stumbled upon a movie on NetBox called Original Gangstas, starring the two of them, Fred Williamson (who plays the captain in the Starsky & Hutch movie) and Jim Brown (who played Byron, the big dude in Mars Attacks!) I was sold. Adding the fact that it’s about older dudes coming back to their neighborhood to take the streets back from the members of the gang that they started back when they were kids had me turning that bad boy on right away. Ever since I saw Deathwish 4 with a geriatric Charles Bronson mowing down teenage gangbangers with a freaking machine gun (Jesse Ventura-in-Predator), I’ve wanted to see punk kids get what’s coming to them. Have I mentioned that, for some reason, my grade school thought it would be a good idea to show us several videos on gang violence. In fourth grade. I also happened to live across the street from a park, which people told me was where gangs hung out. Needless to say, I had trouble sleeping for fear of being mowed down in a drive by. I lived on a dead end street. Thanks school! Anyway, the gang members in this flick make it easy to hate them as they beat up an old guy and kill some kids. Jerks. So yeah, it’s a little bit slow at times, but the end firefight between old folks (this is where Roundtree really comes in, it’s mostly the Williamson/Brown/Grier show) and the young kids is pretty awesome. Worth the price of admission for sure.

"Look, Another Girl Fight Season Finale"

The above quote was straight from my lovely wife’s mouth as we watched the last episode of the third season of Alias. If you could somehow throw the word “crying” in there it would completely sum up my thoughts on this show. Season 3 really seemed to rehash a lot of previous ideas from the show (a man being betrayed by his spy wife, distrust in the organization, lying to loved ones, bad guys who just won’t die, incredibly sloppy spy stuff and crying. Lots of crying from our bad ass heroine.

The funny thing, though, is that I kind of liked these storylines better than those from the previous seasons. Maybe it’s that I knew what I was getting into when we started. Maybe it’s because the few people whose opinions I’ve heard said it was supposed to get so much worse this season, I’m not sure. I actually enjoyed this season more what with all the Rambaldi stuff taking center stage and twins and other family members coming to light. It’s not a great show, but the ticks seemed to be less (or at least less obvious) and you can see where shows like Lost and Fringe may have had their earliest seeds.

The most impressive element of this show, by far, has been the crazy amount of high quality guest stars they were able to pull in. Here’s a fairly completely list from Season 3: Scott Adsit, Djimon Hounsou, Bradley Cooper (he came back!), Richard Roundtree (seriously, Shaft is following me), David Cronenberg, Terry O’Quinn (he also came back!), Quentin Tarantino (also came back!), Isabella Rossellini (yeesh), Vivica A. Fox, Ricky Gervais (of original Office fame and general awesomeness), Raymond J. Barry, Peggy Lipton (Julie from The Mod Squad and Norma Jennings from Twin Peaks) and David Carradine (another returner). That’s a pretty impressive roster, especially when you consider that many of them made appearances in multiple episodes.

So, I’m curious to see how Season 4 and 5 go. I know there’s a twin or something. And a baby. But, since my expectations are pretty low, so I can’t really get TOO disappointed.

Halloween Scene: Maniac Cop & Zombie

Every now and then I get a day to myself at the house. And, as you might expect, when I do, I try and watch as many horror movies as possible. Last Saturday happened to be one of those days and I was able to watch two classic horror movies I’d never seen before, Maniac Cop (1988) and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979). I definitely liked one more than the other, but you might be surprised by which one!

First of all, I actually thought that I had seen Maniac Cop as it was crossed off in my Creature Features book. I think I kinda sorta half watched it or one of the sequels one time when visiting Em back when we were dating in college. Her parents had on demand and I tried watching it but probably fell asleep. Anyway, just watching the credits was a surprise. Tom Atkits , Bruce Campbell and Richard Roundtree (Shaft!!!) all in one movie? Plus the bad ass dude who fights Eastwood for like 15 minutes at the end of Any Which Way You Can (William Smith, though he looks completely different than in that movie), sold. I could have given this movie the thumbs up just based on the credits!

But, it really is a fun movie, a great one to stumble on thanks to NetBox (that’s what I call Netflix & Xbox) as there are plenty of kills, a great killer with a pretty interesting origin and such great actors. The plot revolves around a crazy cop killing people out on the streets which, as you’d expect, makes people weary of the cops (one lady even caps one who’s trying to help her). Atkins is investigating and is one of the only people to believe Campbell when he says he didn’t do it after his wife gets iced by the killer cop. Campbell’s girlfriend/mistress, who’s also a cop, forms the third point in this triangle of awesome.

In addition to the basic level of coolness that Atkins brings to all of his horror roles, I really like seeing Campbell playing a straight part. Sure he’s a badass in the Evil Dead flicks, but he’s a winking-at-the-camera kind of a bad ass. Here he’s a regular guy trying to make sense of what turns out to be a potentially supernatural occurrence (an unkillable cop back from the dead?). Oh, also, for those who this might be an incentive for, there’s a naked prison shower fight flashback scene. Hey, I call out boobs, why not a little man nudity?

Anyway, after MC, I almost watched the sequel, but didn’t want to get too burned out on the series (though, in an unusual twist, the Creature Features guy gave all three movies three stars, you almost never see that kind of consistency). So, I was flipping and flipping and flipping until I discovered that Fulci’s Zombie, the supposed semi-sequel to the original Dawn of the Dead I’ve heard so much about, got put on NetBox. I’ve also been hearing about the infamous Zombie vs. Shark and eye gouging scenes for years, so I figured it would be a great candidate for my mini horror fest.

And I gotta say, it’s kind of boring. My experience with Italian horror doesn’t stretch beyond Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Mother of Tears. If you’re looking for a train wreck of a blog post, please check out that Suspiria link, the only blog post I’ve considered deleting. Anyway, maybe I just don’t get the sensibilities of Italian horror, or maybe I just haven’t seen the really good ones or maybe they’re just batshit crazy and that’s why people like them. I’m definitely not against batshit craziness, so it’s not like I’m cutting myself off from further Fulci or Argento flicks, they’re just not incredibly hight on my list.

The problem with Zombie is that it’s kind of slow and boring. There’s a lot of people talking and sailing on boats, but when it does get to the zombie goodness it is definitely good stuff. I just wish there was more of it. The other problem with Zombie (which isn’t the film’s fault), is that it’s reached this legendary status because of the aforementioned scenes that every horror fan talks about it. It’s been on every horror list I’ve ever seen, so all the good parts were basically ruined. And, with the exception of the final shot of zombies running around NYC, you’ve probably seen those two amazing scenes online or a on a clip show before.

I don’t usually like adding to the SPOILER-ness of horror movies, but here’s clips of those two scenes (I recommend watching just them or reading a trade while half-watching Zombie). First the shark fight:

Holy crap this is crazy. It really does look like a zombie fighting a shark and neither one really wins. It’s an amazing piece of film that I would sit through a hundred hours of boring to see, seriously, it’s worth it and I can only imagine how much better it would look on DVD or Blu-ray (the Netflix file wasn’t of the best quality and YouTube doesn’t REALLY do it justice).

And here’s the eye gouge (not for the squeamish):

Again, this moment is worth the price of admission as it’s one of the most real-looking effects I’ve seen (though I was able to see how they did it and it’s kind of beautiful in it’s simplicity).

One last thing I want to comment on is the “sequel” aspect of the movie in relation to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (one of my top three favorite horror movies). Very simply, it’s not. At all. It was finished before DOTD and the name was just changed. Luckily, my enjoyment didn’t hinge on it’s relation to DOTD.

So, in the end, I had a great time watching some classic horror movies, even though Zombie might have been a little boring aside from the tent pole scenes, but seeing two rad NYC-based movies (I didn’t see anything I recognized, though things have changed quite a bit even since 1988) was a great way to spend part of my Saturday.

Newer Movie Round-Up

2008-09-28
3:42:25 am

Just wanted to say a few quick things about three movies that I’ve seen recently and really enjoyed.

Sometime last week or the week before Em and I watched Baby Mama, starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Greg Kinnear, Steve Martin, Romany Malco and more. I am a big fan of Tina and Amy first from their work on SNL and later Fey on 30 Rock, Romany was awesome in 40 Year Old Virgin and I can’t wait for him to star in something on his own and Steve Martin is funnier in this as an aging hippy mogul that he’s been in anything I’ve seen in a while. The basic plot is that Tina Fey wants to have a baby, but she can’t so she goes through an agency and ends up with Amy Poehler as her surrogate. The plot itself is VERY formulaic (I had it nailed down about 20-ish minutes in), but it’s the performances that really make this movie worth watching. If you’re a fan of Poehler and or Fey, then it’s definitely worth checking out.

Then, just today we watched Speed Racer. I know it bombed in the box office, but I can’t for the life of me understand why. The Wachowski Brothers took a tired old cartoon that I generally disliked and turned it into this crazy mix of action and drama in a really effective live action cartoon. Oh, it also stars Christina Ricci who I’ve had a crush on since Casper. But really, I laughed and called out “Oh [bad word for poo]” off and on so many times during the 2 hour movie. Don’t believe the bad hype and check this flick out on DVD. Emile Hirsch, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Matthew Fox and Shaft himself Richard Roundtree all offer up fantastically believable performances even against the backdrop of this cartoony world. Plus, the chimp scenes in this movie are my second favorite next to Any Which You But Loose and its sequel. Big ups to the Wachowskis, I think there’s some kind of Hollywood conspiracy that kept this movie from doing well. A CONSPIRACY I tells ya!

Finally, tonight Em, her mom and I went to see the Coen Brothers’ latest flick Burn After Reading. It was 97 minutes of pure delight. Definitely more Lebowski than No Country. It was much funnier than I expected it to be (I actually didn’t really know what it was about going in, just that it was some kind of spy thriller). It’s also a pretty hard movie to summarize, so I won’t bother. Two of my favorite actors George Clooney and Brad Pitt were awesome, JK Simmons made me laugh so hard I almost watered up. And of course John Malkovich brought his A game. The Coen’s really wove an interesting yarn with this one, keeping me guessing as to what was going to happen next, but also challenging me to keep up with the story. Oh, I also really liked the poster. Well done, what a great week for movies.