Category Archives: Blog

Low track to “High Lane”

Details

  • Director: Abel Ferry
  • Writer(s): Johanne Bernard and Louis-Paul Desanges
  • Starring: Fanny Valette, Johan Liereau, Nicolas Giraud, Raphael Lenglet
  • Released: June 24, 2009 (France)

Synopsis

High Lane tells the tale of a group of friends who go into the mountains on a climbing trip, and after enduring many dangerous extreme-sport scenarios, discover that they are going to have to brave more than just the terrain, and themselves, to survive.

Review

I was 15 minutes into High Lane (2009) before I realized it was dubbed in English, and I was 30 minutes into High Lane before I realized I wasn’t going to see any mutants circa Wrong Turn (2003), which is sad because every once in a while I pick a film at random just to see what’s happening in the world of indie (ish) horror films, and sometimes I find an interesting story in a pile of ill-conceived scripts and what might be movies made as tax write-offs.

Director Abel Ferry oversaw both High Lane and the television film Piege blanc but had no other ventures into film from what I could tell, and I think this is worth something when considering the content of the film. It’s not an incompetent movie, but it’s not adept, and like many films that have an interesting premise but still fall short—the execution is often lackluster. Writers Johanne Bernard and Louis-Paul Desanges do not add much else aside from the initial pitch it seems, and the stars—Fanny Valette, Johan Libereau, Raphael Lenglet—work with what they’ve got in the script, which is not much.

Case in point, once the squabbling between the characters started I began to tune out—I’ve seen this all before. As Boromir from the Lord of the Rings (2001) might say, “One does not simply go on a camping trip with your friends in a movie and not get into Whose afraid of Virginia Woolf-level arguments.” Hours seemed to go by, and I was still holding out hope that a three-eyed humanoid would jump out from behind a tree and ravage one of the climbers with his three arms and jerry-rigged penis (oh, come one, it’s a mutant I’m imagining for gods’ sake!). I mean, I was begging for anything to get me out of this 84-minute French film based on the finer points of mountain climbing and how not to act in social settings—even if you are trapped in the mountains.

High Lane is exactly like Cliffhanger (1993) starring Sylvester Stallone except all of the fun has been sucked out of it and it’s less intelligible than John Lithgow’s henchman—you know the one who screams and curses his way through the whole film? Moreover, much of the character development has been replaced by the actors loudly screaming each other’s names. It helped me figure out which character was which, but as I sat there, I could feel my life draining due to decibel exhaustion. Then, suddenly, one of the characters stepped on a bear trap and I sat up in my chair, excitement boiling in my stomach. Then someone fell into a pit and the vague stirrings of elation began to rise in my chest.

“Mutants!?” I cried, and my wife stuck her head in the room confused at her husband’s sudden outburst. She saw tears in my eyes—only the second time she’s seen me shed tears (the first time involved the birth of my child)—and I looked upon the screen triumphantly as the mutant antagonist emerged. I was right from the beginning, there was a mutant in High Lane, dammit, and I had good fortune for a while, but one must realize that if a film has difficulty injecting life into archetypical characters and a-typical plot structure, well, even a crazed mutant will only get you so far (I hate writing that because mutants are so much fun when done right).

I want to say High Lane was original because it blended mountain climbing with The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and High Tension (2003) (which is also French), but it was too similar to too many films. This movie is the rehashing of repeated themes, and the viewer will recognize these tropes: a doomed relationship headed for terror, a timid teenage boy with a crush (he’s just a super nice guy), an alpha survivalist guy who can’t possibly live until the end of the film, a maniacal woodsman (aka mutant), a frantic woman who does all of the wrong things to get herself killed, a strong independent woman who is clearly the “final girl,” and frat house-level ass grab-assing. This is every Friday the 13th without the entertaining kills and low-quality charm.

As far as positive aspects in High Lane, I found myself chuckling at the subtitles a they can be entertaining. At one point in the film, the protagonist (our “final girl”) unsheathes a knife and the closed captioning reads: “Knife Pulled Sound,” which I think is like a shink noise but it’s funny to me that it is just kind of expected that the audience would know what “Knife Pulled Sound” means. I guess I can’t put that on the filmmakers, though, because their is a crew (or unpaid intern) for that sort of work. But I will blame them for the mediocre time I had watching this film.

Fiction on Fiction in “Delirious”

Details

  • Director: Tom Mankiewicz
  • Writer(s): Lawrence J. Cohen and  Fred Freeman
  • Starring: John Candy, Mariel Hemingway, David Rasche, and Charles Rocket
  • Released: August 9, 1991

Synopsis

The plot revolves around soap opera writer Jack Gable (John Candy), who, through the powers of a head-on collision, gets trapped in the melodramatic world of Ashford Falls, which is a setting that Gable himself dreamed up (thus the delirious aspect). In Ashford Falls, Gable meets Janet DuBois (Mariel Hemingway) and takes part in a long list of misadventures that ultimately lead to him understanding the importance of standing up for himself (not without a few front flips, horseback riding, and some fancy driving), and he also discovers that the woman he has been pining after is far more vapid than he first imagined.

Review

I don’t think I would ever argue that John Candy is a master-level actor, but I would argue that he was certainly really good at playing endearing characters, which was probably a good place for him to be as he seemingly had to play the same character in every movie.

With that being said, Delirious (1991) is not a great movie, but it’s a film that I really just appreciate as an attempt at fantastical narrative, and I also really appreciate it as an ode to John Candy’s ability to make even the most intractable material seem great; and, this film is certainly all over the place, but, without a doubt, it’s really damn charming.

It’s a super basic plot (humdrum even), but it has a lot of surprises, too. For instance, Dylan Baker, who plays Blake Henderson, is quite entertaining throughout the film. He physically falls apart in each scene as he is being fed the wrong kind of drug by his insane brother that results in him getting sicker and sicker, and he also becomes more and more disgusting. The revulsion on some of the other character’s faces toward the end of the film is priceless. David Rasche is perfect as the slimy Dr. Paul Kirkwood, and Charles Rocket plays the conniving (and oh so dramatic) Ty Hedison with precision.

Mariel Hemingway provides charm in the film playing the rough-and-tumble DuBois. The nicest part about Hemingway is that she is effortlessly funny, much akin to her costar, which makes their scenes together fun and genuine. These kinds of comedies tend to have such wooden relationships that it makes for a nice change. Regardless, while she is a strong female lead, the film doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. It’s a film about a man, and so the women seemingly have to talk about that man (or men) because that’s what male writers believe women think about all the time. I can cut it some slack, though, as the setting invites this kind of sexism. I don’t recall many soap operas being rife with ideas of female liberation.

Delirious_1991

The true beauty of Delirious, which is often times aimless, is John Candy. I can’t think of another actor (maybe Sean Connery) whose sheer charisma and likability is enough to give a winning performance. Jack Gable is a John Candy character, without a doubt, but he also has little nuances here and there that makes him just different enough from Candy’s previous characters (for instance, he carries himself with a bit more bravado and a bit more sarcasm).

The plot is mostly nonsensical, though, (not Who’s Harry Crumb [1989] nonsensical), and derives most of its humor out of the premise (a writer gets trapped in his own piece of fiction and attempts to mold it with his imagination). The ramifications of Gable’s circumstances are capitalized on for humorous effect, and rightfully so, because there’s a lot of humor to be had out of the situation. A scene in which Candy chases down a love interest on horseback is a highlight (that stunt double is ridiculous).

Director Tom Mankiewicz makes good use of sight gags and low-level action to move the plot along to the next set piece or interaction. Earlier in his career, Mankiewicz had been a script doctor for numerous films and television series, and had also been given “creative consultant” credit by Richard Donner for both Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980). He was also involved in writing the James Bond film’s Diamonds are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973), and he received shared credit for The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Considering his history, I can certainly see why Delirious is such a fun romp, even though I’m not a huge fan of either the Superman or James Bond franchises.

If you can look past the meandering plot and don’t mind a little silliness, then Delirious will be a treat.

“Quigley Down Under” excites but doesn’t live up to its epic aspirations

Details

  • Director: Simon Wincer
  • Writer(s): John Hill
  • Starring: Tom Selleck, Laura San Giacomo, Alan Rickman
  • Released: Oct. 17, 1990

Synopsis

The film centers on Quigley, who travels to Australia after being hired by Marston to shoot Aborigines—a fact that Quigley did not know upon accepting Marston’s invitation. This leads to a conflict between the two characters and a series of battles ensue between Quigley, Marston, and his cohorts.

Review

Quigley Down Under (1990) has the draw (rifle?) of what might be a good western for its time, but it falls short of being an exceptional film by erroneously wasting the viewer’s time with a lack of depth in the setting and frivolous villainy.

Quigley (Selleck) himself is a one-dimensional character, but Tom Selleck (the would-be Indiana Jones) brings the character to life due to his natural charisma, wit, and charm. Also, a welcome change to the stereotypical western genre—one that was more spaghetti than gritty for a such a long time—is that of Quigley’s gun: a rifle that allows him to hit targets at great distances (a fantastical weapon, perhaps even silly, but a welcome change nonetheless). It provides explosive action any time Quigley pulls the trigger, which often offsets some of the boredom brought on by the film’s poor attempt at character development and plotting.

Laura San Giacomo plays Crazy Cora, who follows Quigley around during his adventure in the Australian Outback—seemingly against her will for the most part. She wonderfully acts the part, and sells the Gremlins-esque backstory scene with command, as she bounces between talking about her road-worn dress and how she smothered her own child to save herself from pillaging Indians. This inciting incident literally drives her (by her husband) to exile in Australia. Of course, late in the film, she has to relive this torturous experience while hiding from carnivorous wolves in a cave.

Alan Rickman plays Elliot Marston, who is truly evil because he needs to be evil, and Quigley punches him in the face for that—twice. Rickman is so exaggerated in the role of Marston that one can almost imagine him threatening to cut out Quigley’s heart, “with a spoon,” circa Robin Hood (1991). Yet, Rickman fails to be even half as charming as his diabolical doppelganger from Sherwood Forest, which is a bummer because The Sheriff of Nottingham is a silly/fun character and Rickman is an extraordinary actor. Regardless, Quigley shoots Marston with a pistol in a final, engaging standoff where it is revealed that Quigley is not only good with a rifle but he is also a quick draw with his pistol. Ultimately, this hammers home Quigley’s point (or pistols home his point?):  don’t mess with the best … or with Quigley … or whatever. Wait, did he have a point? At the very end of the film, Quigley is standing in a corral that is littered with bodies, he is a million miles from his house in Montana, and he just spent a week romancing an insane woman who smothered her kid some years ago, and all I could think was: “Why are you still there? Go home already! Just go home.”

Quigley (2)

Visually, the movie looks good in ordinary shots and camera angles, but some of the more glaring issues can be attributed to its use (or lack thereof) of setting: the location is the sprawling outback of Australia—and it was filmed on locations there—but this fact is not exploited very well. One would think that if it was filmed at a specific location, then perhaps utilizing it would be paramount. In other words, if you are filming a movie about a cabin in the woods, one should maybe use the trees around the cabin, or the streams, or the rocks, or the nature (not unless it’s one of those damn arthouse films—then to hell with you!).

The sweeping shots of Australia could have been easily replaced with sweeping shots of Utah or Arizona (circa Outlaw Josey Wales) or any other ambiguous western scenario from any film (take yer pick). With such a concoction, there is bound to be a bunch of cool stuff you can do with the characters, villains, and extras. Alas, the depth of setting is overlooked by the film creators, who pursue a story about a man with a modified rifle—and the result is a mundane traipse through the backyard of someone’s ranch out west.

Moreover, I could not understand the use of music in this film. It navigates its way through sci-fi, John Carpenter-level symphonic explorations, to the typical cowboy guitar strumming that a viewer might expect from the genre. The musical styles don’t mesh well and I was left confused as to how I should feel emotionally during many scenes. Take for instance: space music harvested from an obscure, futuristic alien movie from the 80s is a little strange when showing enormous panoramic shots of what is supposed to be a lawless continent set in the 1860s.

Nevertheless, Quigley benefits from a strong cast (even Alan Rickman is a little entertaining in a less-than-riveting role) and from some fine visuals as well. Oh, and even though I’ve never fired a gun in my life, Quigley’s rifle is a neat addition.

Overall: 2/5 stars (writing 1/2+acting 1/2+ sight 1/2+ sound 0+recommend 1/2)

Three Worst Films I’ve Seen this Year

This article first appeared in The Valley Vanguard.

There is a running joke around the Vanguard office that Joshua doesn’t know what “Top Five” means. Such a humorous notion comes from me submitting a “Top Five Favorite Graphic Novels” piece that appeared on these fine pages earlier last semester. Of course, I submitted a synopsis of five of my favorite graphic novels. Low and behold, our intrepid A&E editor informed me that what he had meant to say was that I should have submitted, “Your favorite graphic novel, and I’m going to run five of those from five different people—not YOUR top five favorite graphic novels.” In hindsight, that makes more sense than trying to jam twenty-five “top fives” on the same page; but, also in hindsight, I wasn’t really listening and still don’t really think he knows what he’s talking about. Regardless, and because I’m not really listening and still don’t think he knows what he’s talking about, here’s the “TOP THREE worst films” I’ve seen in the last year, rated from worst to best. 

Bad Taste (Directed by Peter Jackson)

Bad Taste (1987) is one of Lord of the Rings’ director Peter Jackson’s first efforts and features gruesome visuals and the talented director’s burgeoning eye for cinematography. It also features dialogue that is difficult to understand because it is New Zealand English and so low in the audio mix that I’m not sure where the accent starts and the sentence ends. Likewise, the plot is so intrinsically bizarre that it fails to captivate and maintain one’s attention (Aliens come to cannibalize humans….sort of?) and there’s a character who has a hole in his head running around satiating his pain by graphically stuffing random bits of brain matter back into his skull—for some reason. The movie is a spectacle and relies on visuals more than story. While I appreciate such a cinematic endeavor, this is one of those cases where boredom set in before the next interesting visual occurred. 

Zardoz (Directed by John Boorman)

If you want to see Sean Connery in a giant red diaper traipse around a fantasy world with a revolver and a license to kill given to him by an omnipotent being who vomits rifles, please watch Zardoz (1974). It features Freudian themes, some of the coolest names for factions (the Apathetics, the Brutals, and Sean Connery’s Mustache [that last one I made up]), and a scene in which people who are begging for death get ruthlessly shot by red-diaper-wearing sociopaths. I am still unsure if this is the most profound film I’ve ever seen or the worst thing that’s happened to me in a decade; and I watched both Terminator 3 and Terminator Genysis in theaters upon release. 

Getevan aka Road to Revenge (Directed by John de Hart)

Getevan (1993) was written, produced, and directed by one man. It also starred the same man and the music was written by him, too. His name was John de Hart. Is that unfamiliar to you? That’s okay, because it was to me when I witnessed the amazing travesty that was clearly his passion project. In real life, (de) Hart was a lawyer, songwriter, martial artist, actor, writer, director, and producer, but was demonstrably good at none of those things. As far as the movie goes, it features a poorly-delivered Shakespearean monologue, an uncomfortable date that seems to last forever, a cop/judge/Satan-worshiper, a horrifyingly-long sex scene(s), and a 70-year-old hero who wears muscle shirts and recites his dialogue as if he had never seen words on a page before. Getevan is a joy to watch….if you like being stung in the face by bees. 100 bees. Right in the face. 

What are some of the worst films you’ve seen recently? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

 

It: Chapter Two Review (Spoilers!)

As I watched It: Chapter Two, I had to ask myself, “Why did they make this a two-part movie?” The second installment is a staggering two hours and 50 minutes long, and as I recall, there were a few advertisements (or fan-made advertisements) that boasted its length: “You’re gonna get so much bang for your buck.” And bang is what you get, as the movie tells the story of the kids from the Losers’ Club returning to Derry, Maine, as adults after they are alerted to the reemergence of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, who is back to slake his thirst for humankind after a 27-year hiatus.

I can really feel the amount of story on writer Gary Dauberman’s shoulders, too, but all I can think is that the entire production should have been cut in half (a three-hour movie cut in half is still 90 minutes, after all), and the first film should have been done away with because it doesn’t reveal anything that the sequel avoids. That is, It: Chapter Two adeptly does what the first one could not, which is that it doesn’t show us trauma as it’s happening but how adults deal with trauma after its (har, har) happened, which I think is a far more interesting story. Thus, the most powerful moments come from the adults as they look back at their adolescence in a perennially tormented town infested by an alien shapeshifter who likes to pull pranks on the residents…oh, and he eats them, too.

In comparing this adaptation to the 1990 miniseries, there is sort of a flip as to what works and what doesn’t work between the two cinematic properties. For instance, the first installment of the miniseries has widely lauded performances from its young cast, while the second-half of the miniseries takes a nosedive due to the lack of charm from the adult counterparts.

The adults in It: Chapter Two, meanwhile, are outstanding, for the most part.

James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough is magnificent, and the viewer gets to watch him slowly slip back into his childhood stutter, which gets more intense as the film moves on, and James Ransone’s Eddie Kaspbrak is so well done (he’s neurotic, he’s weird, he’s hopelessly addicted to domineering women) that he is very nearly my favorite character of the group. Very nearly, I say, because Bill Hader as Richie Tozier was an excellent move on Casting Director Rich Delia’s part, and leaves Harry Anderson’s miniseries portrayal of Richie far behind.

However, I felt as though Ben Hanscom and Beverly Marsh were under characterized. Jessica Chastain gives a sort of haunted reading of Beverly—she seems somewhat conflicted, somewhat aloof, and always fearful—which doesn’t play as well as Sophia Lillis’s performance as the younger version of Beverly. Lillis is audacious, unafraid, and confident. She is a tomboy and embodies that spirit exactly, which makes the viewer really believe she will dive off a cliff and into a watering hole before the rest of the Losers’ Club even considers looking over the edge. I did not get the same vibe from Chastain.

Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom, meanwhile, suffers the same lackluster fate in the film. While the other characters all have identifiable voices (the funny guy, the leader dude, the neurotic one), Ben is simply the guy that used to be the fat kid who was in love, and still is, with Beverly. (side note: Brandon Crane, who played 12-year-old Ben Hanscom in the It miniseries makes an appearance in It: Chapter Two, discussing one of the new architectural designs that Jay Ryan’s Ben Hanscom has dreamed up). Ben’s story arc resolves as expected, which is fine, but that little extra thing just isn’t there the way it is in James McAvoy’s Bill or Bill Hader’s Ritchie.

My final note on casting is that it took me two-and-a-half movies (which is something like six hours) to warm up to Bill Skarsgard as the titular IT. One of the first truly traumatic movie-watching experiences of my life was seeing Tim Curry execute the most terrifying performances of a child-eating clown ever to grace the silver screen (do you know how many goddamned drains I checked as a child?) As an adult, I realize that Curry’s performance was far more nuanced than I could have imagined as a boy—and it’s actually kind of a funny portrayal, too. Nevertheless, Skarsgard gives a winning performance because he doesn’t redo Tim Curry’s role—he makes it his own—which is somewhere between Bozo the Clown and what I imagine John Wayne Gacy was like right before he went in for the kill (morbid, I know, but you gotta imagine that some people really have seen the deadlights).

While this is mostly a positive review, the film is not without flaw.

The sound design of both It (2017) and It: Chapter Two is probably some of the worst I’ve ever heard as a moviegoer. Literally, the crescendo of music stings gave me a headache as noises hectically moved from polite whispers to full-blown cannon fire in my head. Some of this can be attributed to the film’s other committed sin, which is that it relies on jump scares as the main delivery of horror. We are in an era where “horror movie” translates to “jump scare,” which is depressing because that means such things as “subtlety” and “atmosphere” are oftentimes lost. There are plenty of jump scares in classic cinema, sure. I mean, who can forget Dallas’s final moments in Alien (1979) when the xenomorph emerges from the darkness and goes in for a less-than-polite hug; but, there is so much more to the horror elements in Director Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterpiece that both shock and surprise the audience without blowing out their eardrums with sonic explosions, or destroying their eyes with sickening quick cuts.

The final irksome moment in the film is during the finale in which Pennywise is confronted by the Losers’ Club in his own underground nest, which is actually a neat set piece—not as cool as the first film’s final set piece but cool enough. The moment I am referencing involves the use of CGI and nonsensical plotting (side note: if you have to use CGI to make fortune cookies, you should really re-analyze how effective the scene will be with or without it). I will stand by this following statement until the day I die: if the finale of your horror film is even slightly reminiscent of a boss fight in a first-person shooter (or any video game for that matter), you, as a director, must punch yourself in the face immediately and then rework your ending.

In the finale, Pennywise is a giant CGI spider thing (it doesn’t look great) and he is running in a circular motion with three glowing blue balls hovering overhead, which I think he is drawing his power from (not made explicitly clear), and he is chasing the protagonists around as they try to evade him. I mean, I have played this very scene in so many video games. The protagonists were just missing Cortana from the Halo video game series to tell them to shoot the glowing balls to weaken Pennywise enough to hurt him.

Overall, this is a well-done movie with plenty of little surprises and interesting scenes (the Beverly and Mrs. Kersh scene was nearly perfect its level of unsettling), and the cast is amazing (mostly). The sins the movie commits are excusable, too, but this brings me to my last point:

Movies shouldn’t have to have excusable scenes. The rampant use of CGI in film is really destroying movies that could be exceptional. (I’m looking at you and your gingerbread men Krampus [2015]). It: Chapter Two is almost great, but it’s ruined by the sloppy use of digital graphics and some inconsistencies in imagery (baby-headed bugs? Okie-dokie). Cruddy Spider-Clowns and fortune cookies aside, movies are an art form that should rival the best offerings from music, books, and paintings. We don’t look at a Van Gogh painting and say, “This painting is really good, except I could do without that terrible-looking Gungan and droid battle that’s happening in the background.” And, yes, not every director is a genius painter, and practical effects are expensive and time consuming to pull off, but, you know what? Moviegoers will still be talking about good use of CGI and practical effects in films long after they have forgotten about Dwayne Johnson in the The Mummy Returns (2001) or that street fight with a million agents in Matrix Reloaded (2003). I mean, are we setting out to consume and create art that requires excusable moments? At the end of the day, movies should make us feel with a balanced use of visual storytelling and dialogue. They shouldn’t make us roll our eyes.

 

Futility and Nuclear Annihilation in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”

The follow-up to the legendary classic Planet of the Apes (1968) is a strange one, which I think is fair to say, but it’s also far more speculative than the first in the series and deserves a little more credit for its theme and ambition.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) picks up where the original left off, and features a second astronaut (James Franciscus) landing on the monkey planet in search of Taylor (Charlton Heston).

After stumbling upon a series of clues and realizing that he is in fact not on a different planet but on Earth and in its own post-apocalyptic future, Brent discovers a group of humans who have survived the war with the apes living deep beneath the planet’s surface. As a society of telepathic remnants who revere a massive “Doomsday Bomb,” the mutant humans decide that the inevitable ape invasion of the “Forbidden Zone” must result in the triggering of the bomb itself. It is up to Taylor and Brent to stop them from setting off the weapon to prevent the destruction of the planet.

Clearly, Beneath the Planet of the Apes was inspired by the nuclear tensions relevant the decade preceding the production of the film and the concerns for what the future held in such a hostile environment. Was it possible that every living thing on the planet could be wiped out by mutually assured destruction? It was undoubtedly on everyone’s mind during the era the film was made.

What the film does well, and what its predecessor accomplished, too, is play off the xenophobic fears of the warring factions involved in the film’s plot—especially the apes—but it also employs the real-world tensions of foreign policy that had Americans on edge from the Nuclear Age onward, partially because the idea of “diplomacy” to the common citizen is either alien or seems an easy task to execute without realizing that money and power needlessly convolute even the most minute aspects of policy in the political realm.

I should say that the human characters—other than Taylor and Brent—have a similar cynical sheen over their characterization, which is to say that human rationale, over ape rationale, doesn’t leave the film unscathed. The telepathic, underground-dwelling humanoids are clearly encumbered by their own fears of annihilation; so much so, that they would rather destroy the planet than let it fall into the hands of a few damn, dirty apes. The irony is all too real.

And, spoiler alert, that’s exactly what happens in a bafflingly genius move on the film’s part: the two main protagonists are killed and the world is destroyed by the “Doomsday Bomb” in the climactic throes of a monkey frenzy. It’s bleak but it speaks to the futility of the time, or at least the feelings of futility in the hearts of every American strolling the streets of what could be a suburban nuclear holocaust if the prevailing attitudes reached a fever pitch.

Of course, there is also a recurring theme in the “Planet of the Apes” series of racism (or in this case ‘speciesism’) that resonates in the Trump-era, but one that was surely apparent when Obama was president, and when this film was made in the 1970s.

Unquestionably, Dr. Zaius’s outburst toward Taylor at the end of the film is a reflection of this: “You ask me to help you?! Man is evil! Capable of nothing but destruction!” That sentiment can be taken as an all-encompassing look at Man itself and its countless fractured relationships within its own race; after all, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated only a few short years earlier and the tumult of race relations is still an ongoing issue even through basic public services such as housing and policing. In response to Dr. Zaius, Taylor’s final expression of hatred toward the apes is just as fitting: he exclaims, “You….bloody….bastard,” and falls forward, triggering the “Doomsday Bomb,” killing everyone and himself.

It’s very Charlton Heston-y.

What I think the film is trying to tell us in so many words is: “If we don’t buck up and knock off the schoolyard antics—we are all going to die,” and I think this gives the film a “timelessness” in a way. Not in the “Forest Gump” or “Shawshank Redemption” timeless sort of way, but in the “2001” or “Blade Runner” sort of timelessness.

With that being said, the film certainly has its problems—lack of concision, cheap effects, some rambling plot ideas—but it’s a pretty solid exploration of a very dark real-world theme and one that definitely rests somewhere near the heart of political science—futile political motivation. We definitely see this theme in US foreign policy (“us” over “them”), in other country’s treatment of their civilians (the use of violence and coercion), and in the capitalist paradigm rampant in emerging global markets (profit over human life).

That is to say, there is a lot going on in this film that is both prescient and appropriate, from the themes to the story, which makes it all the more engaging, and, frankly—that ending is pretty dang cool because it’s legitimately “shit or get off the pot,” and, boy, the filmmakers went for it.

I will end this post with the closing narration of the film, just after the planet explodes in nuclear annihilation, which I think is more than appropriate:

“In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star. And one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”

 

 

 

“Zombie Hunter” fails to kill its prey

Zombie Hunter (2013) is the kind of movie I wanted to enjoy. It has all of the elements of a classic splatter flick: over-the-top comic gore, action, and Danny Trejo—who can still maintain the same level of cool even though his filmography looks like an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink-style sandwich. Plus, with a kind of gritty animation from a grindhouse flick established on the cover, one would think this movie would be a rollicking good time if only a little corny…but, it only gets a little rollicking and that doesn’t transfer to a good time.

The movie is directed by K. King, who also directed Cyborg X (2016), and produced both Zombie Hunter and a film that is currently in post-production titled The Dunes. While I’ve never heard of King, I think there should be some encomiums given for an explosively “going for it” first outing. I believe a lot of other directors would be timid when it comes to the violence associated with a splatter flick or the topic itself (zombie apocalypse), but King doesn’t pull away and this results in some pretty audacious attempts to shock the audience, including zombie decapitations and an axe fight between Trejo and a massive CGI train wreck. 

The lead actor, Martin Copping, who both narrates and portrays Hunter, a “badass” in the wasteland of future zombie-plagued America, talks with a sort of Clint Eastwood grit that adds to the films grindhouse-theme, which also helps elevate his character, but inconsistent tone create a weird void where the viewer isn’t sure whether they are supposed to take him seriously or if they are supposed to treat him as a reluctant hero. It is so utterly important to nail a good character that an audience can relate to, but I think King leaned too heavily into his setting and forgot to punch up the on-screen personalities.

In regards to the plot, the audience comes to find out that the film has little to offer in the way of original story. It is similar to the Robert Rodriguez film Planet Terror (2007) in that the heroes of the film are trying to get to somewhere else (a storyline that maims so many prospective zombie thrillers), thus it becomes a generic monster movie fairly quickly.

If you will, I would like to sum up Zombie Hunter in this short bout of dialogue:

“Man, we are stuck here at Point A!” Hunter said.

“I know of a place where there is sunshine and women, and no zombies to be seen! It’s at a place called Point B!” replied a crazy old pilot guy who will undoubtedly die because he sucks.

While the same could be said of the finale of Dawn of the Dead (1978), I would argue that Director George Romero’s film was set in an iconic-looking mall where the heroes’ plan was to remain there within the walls of consumerist idolatry indefinitely, thus the characters are able to flesh themselves out in an organic and unique way through interaction. That’s how truly great horror movies are made, by examining the experience of the prospective victims and how it changes them.

Zombie Hunter, meanwhile, does not try to play with the clichés rife in the movie. For instance, consider all of the classic Zombie Hunter characters that appear throughout the story: dirty blond lady, ripped religious Mexican guy, petite shy girl who is hot for the protagonist, old pilot guy, and fat pervert. It’s like a terrible collection of Pogs.

Not to mention, Danny Trejo’s role as Jesus, a hard-boiled leader of the survivors, is seemingly restricted to where he as an actor could shoot scenes, which appear to be mostly from his living room. There is a dinner scene in the film where it looks like Trejo is sitting at the head of the communal table as the other characters sit around and converse with one another. The camera snaps around the room, catching pieces of exposition from the other characters, and then occasionally veers back to Trejo who is nodding and smiling in a completely separate shot, never really joining the scene with anyone else.

This sort of lameness extends to the unnecessary CGI antagonist, which has no practical effect (literally), nor does it act as a separate antagonist. It merely appears, kills characters, and leaves; or, in the case of the finale, randomly shambles about in the background because the effects department didn’t know where to put it or what to do with it. The rest of the CGI comes off cleaner—but not by much.

The ideas are on the screen, but they just aren’t executed well, which I think is a good summation of the film.