Friday, July 29, 2016

Return of Swamp Thing

The Return of Swamp Thing (1989)

In the sequel to Swamp Thing, nefarious geneticist Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) survives being turned into an anteater/warthog monster and killed, and continues his genetic tampering in the Louisiana swamp. The only downside to his miraculous recovery is that he is slowly disintegrating or something, and can only stop the process by harvesting genes from his genetically perfect stepdaughter (Heather Locklear). Meanwhile, Swamp Thing (Dick Durock) patrols the bayou, protecting lost hunters and trailer park residents from Arcane's escaped experiments.

This movie was way better than Swamp Thing. From the opening credits - old school comic book covers set to "Born on the Bayou" - you just know that where the first movie took itself way too seriously and was kinda dull, this one is fun and silly.

The special effects and costumes were way cooler in this movie. There's a dude whose head is basically like a giant cockroach, that was decent. And remember how in the first movie Swamp Thing's costume was basically a green-grey jumpsuit with a couple shitty looking vines glued to it? In this movie he's all slimy and shaggy with all kinds of shit hanging off of him and a face that's reminiscent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon

There were also a bunch of goofy one-liners - for example, when Swamp Thing explains to Heather Locklear that he can't be her boyfriend because he's actually a plant, she replies with "that's okay, I'm a vegetarian". Hilarious, right?

Also, and this is a little bit nitpicky but whatever, the first movie had all these gimmicky wipes between scenes which seemed totally out of place considering that movie was pretending to be serious. This movie had them too, but they were way more appropriate.

The acting wasn't great. Heather Locklear in particular was pretty bad but it fit with the cheeziness of the movie. Swamp Thing goes from sounding tired and sort of in pain in the first one, to perky and matter-of-fact which is sort of weird but makes the movie more amusing.

The plot didn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense - Dr. Arcane for some reason needs genetic material from Heather Locklear, and Swamp Thing (I think), and his mistress (Sarah Douglas) who is also his housekeeper and a brilliant geneticist in order to not die, and the process of extracting said material will be lethal. There were a bunch of characters and subplots that serve next to no function - like the two little boys from the trailer park who are trying to get a picture of Swamp Thing, and this talking parrot who I was sure was going to give away some crucial piece of information coz why the fuck else would you have a talking parrot in a movie, but nope, it was just there - which is weird and sloppy.

Realistically, Swamp Thing is not that great of a hero because, as he demonstrates halfway through the movie, he can regenerate his entire body after being blown to pieces. Also, his ability to heal others has seemingly no limit, so neither he, nor his friends, can ever be in any real danger.

There are also some weird discrepancies between this movie and the first one. Dr. Arcane's regeneration is, surprisingly, explained. However, the magic serum in the first movie was supposed to enhance attributes the person taking it already had (which is lame), whereas in this movie it's used to make Dr. Moreau-esque animal/human hybrids (which is FUCKING DOPE AS SHIT). Also, Adrienne Barbeau's character got chucked out the window and replaced by a blonde California ditz which sucks a little bit.

But, you know, on the plus side, we find out how Swamp Thing has sex. Spoiler ahead, he doesn't have a peen so he has to get it on like Barbarella.

All in all, this is by no means a sleek piece of sophisticated filmmaking, but it's fun to watch and a better movie than Swamp Thing. It even sums up what happens in Swamp Thing so you can just skip that movie without missing a whole lot.

Directed by: Jim Wynorski.  Written by: Neil Cuthbert & Grant Morris, based on the character Swamp Thing created by Len Wein & Bernie Wrightson.  Starring: Dick Durock, Louis Jourdan, Heather Locklear, Sarah Douglas, Ace Mask.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

End of Days

End of Days (1999)

In this movie, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a former police officer who dramatically lost his faith and winds up having to protect a young woman (Robin Tunney) from being impregnated by the devil who happens to be walking around New York in the body of an investment banker (Gabriel Byrne). Said impregnation is scheduled to happen between eleven and midnight on New Year's Eve 1999 and will open up the gates of hell and bring about the, you know, End of Days.

The movie has some gruesome parts which held my attention for a little bit. There's one scene in particular where a guy gets crucified to the ceiling with surgical tools which was almost reminiscent of something out of Seven although not as gross and a lot more ridiculous (which is saying something).

There's also some weird Christian stuff which was vaguely interesting - for example, a woman with stigmata and speaking in tongues I guess hanging out in a church basement - but the movie didn't go into any sort of depth about that. They mentioned that there were more cases, but they didn't show it, thereby failing to capture the sense of impending doom one would expect from a movie called End of Days.

Gabriel Byrne did a reasonably good job playing the devil incarnate. He was definitely less obnoxious than, say, Al Pacino in Devil's Advocate or Jack Nicholson in Witches of Eastwick, but also less intimidating than Peter Stormare in Constantine or Sam Neill in Omen 3. In fact, I feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger would have done a much better job as Satan in this movie - they could have made him a robot devil and called it, oh, say, Terminator: Revelations or Terminator: Judgement Day.

Anyway. The plot was predictable, following all of the cliches you would expect in a run-of-the-mill Satan-walks-the-earth movie. There's a scene with a snake and a weird ritual; a scene where the main character's judgement is called into question due to debilitating alcoholism; the obligatory "I'm not really the bad guy, God is the bad guy" speech followed by the Devil proving that yes, in fact, he is the bad guy; the scene where the main character gets his faith back and is powered by God's love or whatever; the scene where the Devil sheds his human appearance and reveals himself to be a big stupid looking monster. It's all there, and while it's comforting in its familiarity, this movie didn't deviate from the formula enough to be interesting.

The characters weren't strong enough to hold the lazy plot, as we're given almost no information about them. Schwarzenegger's character is mourning the sudden, violent loss of his family, whoopty fuckin ding, how many action movie characters have had that happen? The only reason we're given to care about the female lead is that she's cute and in distress. She's also super rich and if life experience has taught me anything it's that nine times out of ten rich people are fucking dicks so maybe they should've just killed her to prevent the apocalypse.

The worst offender for shoddy character development , of course, was Gabriel Byrne's character. Not Satan, but his actual character. We see him early in the movie sitting down to dinner with some woman and an older dude, he goes to the bathroom and then BAM he's possessed by Satan. He gets no backstory at all. How do we know that he wasn't a violent, oversexed arsonist before he was possessed? We don't. Maybe all Satan did was give him the ability to piss gasoline (that happened in the movie, no lie)? Maybe that was a weird, pre-existing medical condition. We'll never know. The fact that we know literally nothing about the character makes it really unsatisfying when the body gets killed because technically he didn't even do anything wrong. I mean, yeah, he was supposed to be an investment banker, so probably super rich and you can re-read the above paragraph to see how I feel about that, but still, maybe he wasn't, we don't know, nobody does.

Even the action scenes in this movie were ludicrous at best - for example this part where Schwarzenegger dangles by a cable out of a helicopter trying to snag a gunman on the roof of a building - and incomprehensible at worst. There's a scene where Schwarzenegger fights like forty people and the editing was so choppy that it's nearly impossible to tell what was going on. Although, to be fair, I was starting to fall asleep at that point.

The biggest problem I had with this movie, though, has nothing to do with the half-assed writing, or the mediocre acting, or the incomprehensible premise. Although, to be fair, that was a little frustrating too. Like, is the devil trying to father the Antichrist? Or open the gates of hell? Coz like from what I understand of Christian mythology, before the second coming of Christ, there will be a false messiag (or Antichrist) born of a virgin and presumably the Devil, who will be vanquished by Christ when he does show up. But if, as this movie suggests, the gates of hell will swing open the moment Satan's proxy ejaculates into the diabolic receptacle, then really what's the point of siring a false prophet?

I can't believe I'm actually trying to rationalize this movie.

But I digress. The real problem I have is that we are no longer in the year 1692 and the Devil isn't scary anymore. It doesn't matter what you do, you can make him a flame peeing psychopath, the idea of Lucifer actually walking around murdering people is too silly to be frightening. That's why most movies that feature Satan as a major character are a joke, like Ghost Rider, and films featuring Satan that are actually scary focus more on human actions, like Rosemary's Baby and The Witch.

The conclusion that I drew from this movie is that the Devil trumps God as evidenced by the fact that apparently the entire population of New York worships Satan (if I was a savvy New York writer I would make a joke about that), and that he can walk into a church and kill a bunch of priests without the slightest interference from the Almighty. But Arnold Schwarzenegger ultimately defeats the Devil so therefore worshiping Arnold puts you on the winning team.

END

Directed by: Peter Hyams.  Written by: Andrew W. Marlowe.  Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, CCH Pounder, Udo Kier, Miriam Margolyes.

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Shallows

The Shallows (2016)


Blake Lively plays a girl who dropped out of med school to go surf in Mexico after her mom died of cancer. Unfortunately for her, the secluded beach that has sentimental value to her mother and sweet waves also has a gigantic, bloodthirsty great white shark patrolling its waters. What follows is a battle of wits between the former med student and a big angry fish.

The movie looked great. The cinematography was gorgeous, and the surfing stuff made surfing look fun. I don’t surf because I have a deep terror of water, but, you know, it looks pretty cool. I also really liked how they did the phone stuff – cell phones are obviously a huge part of everybody’s life but I haven’t seen them incorporated into a movie in such a stylish and visually interesting way before.
So in all the technical filmmaking aspects this movie was acceptable. I’ve never seen Blake Lively in anything before but I heard her name on the radio so I assume she is important, anyway, her acting was good. This is one of those movies where the main character is in horrible debilitating pain for ninety percent of the time they’re on screen, and she made it convincingly cringey. 

That being said, the real MVP of this movie, the only character that was even remotely interesting was the seagull. It had an air of mystery that Blake Lively’s character did not, and, unlike Lively, I was unsure as to whether the seagull would survive to the end of the movie, which made me genuinely concerned for its safety.

Anyway, that’s all the good things I have to say about this movie. I am a little bit impressed that they managed to make a movie about a gigantic shark swimming around eating people so boring, although the fact that the main character basically doesn’t move for an hour doesn’t help with that.

While I understand that there are only so many things to make a movie about, but this movie is literally Gravity but instead of a comet or whatever the fuck the thing in Gravity was, it’s a shark. And, you know, Sandra Bullock is a better actor than Blake Lively and Alfonso Cuaron is a way better filmmaker than Jaume Collet-Serra, the guy responsible for such films as House of Wax (the Paris Hilton one) and Orphan. The predictability made it really hard for me to really give a shit about what happened.

Another reason giving a shit was nearly impossible is the almost insultingly trite main character. The only reason we’re supposed to care about her is because, you know, she’s cute, and also her mom died of cancer but she was a fighter so like if Blake can fight off the shark than it’ll be like her mom’s cancer battle wasn’t for nothing or something fucking stupid. Fun fact: shit like that doesn’t make me go “oh wow, she has such an interesting backstory I hope she survives this ordeal”, it makes me go “you can’t make me feel feels, I’m onto you, you bastards”

The shark was also kind of disappointing. I have often complained about the use and abuse of CG in movies, and I’m going to again because a CG shark does not do it for me. I will grant that they used to shark fairly sparingly, but the final woman versus shark battle left a lot to be desired. Which is too bad because the only reason I actually went to see this movie was because there was a shark in it and I really like sharks.

Furthermore, although I am by no means an expert on sharks or their behaviour – I consider myself to be more a fan of sharks than an amateur sharkologist  - I do understand a little bit about basic predator behaviour and I do not for one minute buy that if a shark had a dead, rotting whale carcass in front of it, it would waste its time fucking around with a live human. Like there’s a part where it swims through a field of stinging jellyfish, and another part where it basically eats a buoy trying to get at this girl and I’m like, there’s easily accessible food RIGHT FUCKING THERE. Unless it considered her to be a threat or competition, it would probably leave her alone.

Speaking of competition, I also don’t buy that there was only one predator animal there. To quote something my dad used to say to me about wildlife, "where there's one there are probably more" and the big juicy dead whale and buckets of blood in the water would likely attract another shark. Even if not another great white, there are other types of shark in those waters that would probably do some damage if hungry or provoked.

So, you know, that’s sort of annoying. My final qualm with this movie comes in the form of a spoiler so if you’re still gung ho about seeing it than I guess turn away now. Are you ready for the spoiler? 

The girl makes it. She wins the fight with the shark. That’s right, the only way that she can survive is to kill the majestic beast, which I will remind everybody is actually a protected species. Yeah. I didn’t feel satisfied by that at all. I mean, I get it, the shark symbolizes her mother’s death and by defeating the shark and surviving she is really defeating her grief and getting on with her life. Whatever. My dad died but I didn’t feel the need to go throttle a California Condor to stop feeling sad.


All in all this movie was not very interesting, and I would have been way happier if the shark had eaten the girl.  

END

Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra.  Written by: Anthony Jaswinski.  Starring: Blake Lively, Sully the Seagull.