Archive for February, 2011

ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, John Carpenter (1976)

Posted in Action!, Directors with tags , , on February 25, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Whenever John Carpenter is mentioned, titles such as Halloween, Escape from New York or The Thing are doubtless essential references. They’re classic films, and anyone interested in sci-fi or horror loves his stuff.

Precisely in many of these conversations I came to the conclusion his most prolific years were concentrated on the decade from 1976 to 1986, to be more accurate, I’d say there were 7 splendid years, covering titles from Assault on Precinct 13 to Christine, Stephen King’s book adaptation.

Assault was one of the latest films I saw, I think a couple of years ago. I had tried to see it before, but for no apparent reason I ended up falling asleep or distracted. I think it’s a very dark movie and if you don’t know what the film is about, the beginning is not as catchy as others.

Anyway, before I start talking about it, I must say it’s one of my Carpenter’s favorites. I really enjoy those eighty something minutes of non-stop action.

After six gang members of Street Thunder were shot to dead by the Police while stealing a massive amount of rifles and guns, revenge is agreed by the members, decide to spread  chaos and terror  in Anderson, a dangerous neighborhood in South Los Angeles.

Lieutenant Bishop, on duty, is commanded to supervise the closing of the precinct 9, district 13 police station that night, an apparent quiet task, with 2 secretaries left packing stuff, the captain in charge and a couple of cops as the only staff.

However a gang member shoots a little girl and an ice-cream man and the father of the kid, in a moment of insanity, chases the punks and kills his daughter’s murderer, with consequences.

In the meantime Napoleon Wilson, a very dangerous criminal about to serve 30 years, and two other prisoners are being moved to a maximum security facility. But something changes their way and end up reaching the police station, waiting for a doctor to assist one of the prisoners, who is very ill.

The father, pursued by the gang, prepared for revenging their pal, also gets shelter at the same station.

Nobody can imagine they’ll be under siege for the rest of the longest night they’ll ever live…that if they manage to survive.

With very tight budget and really narrow timing, Carpenter offers around 85 minutes of craziness, chaos and action which cannot be underestimated, however box office wasn’t too successful and critics didn’t show much enthusiasm for the tape.

One of the most interesting features in the film is the gang. The way they organize and how they are able not to call the attention from the outside by means of silencers and hiding the corpses is almost supernatural. They move so subtle you don’t know where they will turn up from. On the other hand, they form part of a whole, none of them is shown as an individual nor stands over the others as a skip, just in the beginning, silent and impassive, few of them swear the oath with blood. When assaulting the station, they remind me of the scene when the pirates are attacking the people at the church in The Fog, the way they move and creep through the windows is more like they are zombies. Curious.

Napoleon Wilson is definitely the character in the film. We don’t really know what he did, but he’s dangerous and popular, and people are afraid of him. He’s impulsive, yet calm, he’s got the right sentence at the right moment, I particularly love when he says “I was born out of time”. Sexual tension among him and Leigh is evident, and the climax is that moment when he, after several times asks for a cigarette, and she just puts one in his mouth. I find it really cool, there’s no need of anything more explicit that that, and still it’s a relay hot moment.

Carpenter uses unknown cast of actors, yet they belong to his personal entourage, as many of them will appear in following films. Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis (I find it funny Mike Myers’ doctor’s surname is exactly Loomis), and John J. Fox, collaborated with the director in following projects.

What can I say about the soundtrack? I’m particularly fond of Carpenter as music composer. Always with his synthesizers which seem shabby Casio’s we used to have in our early years, but at the same time, providing tension and the proper atmosphere to develop the story, providing some sort of mystery and thrilling feeling.

Enough said, I think, now If you feel like turning your tv out loud and diving into an ocean of violence and non-stop shots, this is your movie, you’ll love it!

SOYLENT GREEN, Richard Fleischer (1973)

Posted in Sci-Fi with tags , , on February 14, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Why are we so scared about future? Why is it depicted so dark in films and literature? In which point Future started to be considered as something dreadful? Lately, as you may have noticed, I’m spending some time reviewing  sci-fi movies, especially old ones, or at least away from the digital and super special effects era, and it’s shocking  the way they all portrait society in the future, very pessimistic.

Right from the start, during the initial credits, Soylent Green is praising the past times, showing war as the seed for the current situation of a dehumanized society.

In 2022, New York actually has become a refugee camp. 40 million people live stuck up, deprived of basic human rights such as housing, running water and proper food, only affordable for the elite at huge rates. Moreover, the problem of greenhouse effect killing many people every single day. Soylent Green is the solution to face the shortage of essential supplies. These not very fancy looking green chunks provide proteins, calories and constituents enough for surviving, at a high cost, apparently  manufactured  with  the oceans weed.

William R. Simonson, one of the most relevant members of the Soylent society is brutally killed. Evidence indicates a case of burglary, however detective Thorn (Charlton Heston) suspects the bodyguard and the attractive mistress living with the victim, Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young), are linked to the murder  and will start investigating. The more he will deepen into the case, the more stuff related to the Soylent Green origin will come out to the surface, an inconvenient truth society should not ever be aware of.

The story, based on the novel written by Harry Harrison, is absolutely fantastic, yet terrible. If you think of it (sorry, I’m not to spoil anything), we are so ignorant regarding so many things, if we knew the truth of many things, we wouldn’t be able to face reality. This reminds me of a 1984 sentence:  Ignorance is Strength.

Dictatorship, elite and extreme poverty are constant features which define Future. Investigation and development , communication and technologies,  do not contribute to a better world but just the opposite. The question is, if society tends to such status, why investing so much instead of trying to find a solution? OK, alternative sources to the current almost extinguished ones are one of the top priorities, but we all know that’s not enough. Economies are rotten, debt in many countries is a plague, so is the increasing  unemployment rate (situation here in Spain is absolutely devastating).

I feel curious about when human being identified future as something negative, away from the many advances we’ve been witnessing. Were old models of societies better than nowadays? Let me doubt it.

 

DONNIE DARKO (DIRECTOR’S CUT), Richard Kelly (2001/2004)

Posted in Sci-Fi, Thriller with tags , , , on February 7, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Years have passed since this film was released, and Donnie Darko has become one of these modern sci-fi classics everyone who has watched it has something to say about it.

Categorized sometimes as horror or  even surrealist drama, the truth is that it’s actually a modern  story of love, truth and sacrifice for the others, it really has values underneath, which probably people feel quite enthusiastic about.

It’s late 1980’s. Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal)  is a weird teenager who’s under medication for his apparent schizophrenia. He’s got imaginary friends, sleepwalks, and suffers from hallucinations in certain occasions. This time, a scary rabbit named Frank  commands  him to wake up and tells him 28 days,  6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds remain till the end of the world unless he manages to defy space-time issues and set  the world in order. Luckily, thanks to his night walk, he survives an unexplained  plane turbine crash just in his bedroom, something close to a miracle.

From that moment, he will fight for saving the world, even though nobody is aware of it, investigating time worms guided by Roberta Sparrow’s essay called The Philosophy of Time Travel, receiving visits and messages from the rabbit, facing the hypocrisy reigning his high school encouraged especially by Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), and falling in love with the new girl in town, Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone).

Donnie Darko, is a modern model of anti-hero, an eccentric kid with apparent mental issues, under medication, everybody looks at him as a complete nutter. He actually is a freak, in terms of attitude against falseness and “correct” values, for some he’s the crazy guy in the neighborhood, for others the rebel bloke against rules, and for his parents, their beloved son who is in trouble and try to help him by paying a shrink, completely unable to understand him. Darko is characterized for featuring contradictory attitudes: he’s shy but brave, cold but tender, protective but afraid, he always talks about stuff not everybody understands, shocking his friends and family all the time. The kind of guy some show  respect to, but many  others are afraid of. Guess audience would have a more positive view for the guy, as at the end of the day he’s a fair guy suffering a lot, trying to discover how the world could be saved, no matter whether  it deserves it or not. Darko is charismatic and strong character enough to stand the weight of the story perfectly. Not quite a fan of Gyllenhaal’s acting, I must admit his performance as Donnie Darko is absolutely impressive.

Rest of characters turn around our hero, and all of them, not emphasized over the rest, have issues which help to create this atmosphere of the world tearing apart: Gretchen and her false identity in order to get away from her abusive father, Samantha Darko who only cares for dancing and win the talent contest, Elizabeth Darko supporting Dukakis, Cherita bullied by Darko’s friends for her Chinese condition…

And suddenly Jim Cunningham, the perfect man in his forties women fall in love at his feet, supported by the stupid hysteric miss Farmer, with his theories about fear and love, trying to brainwash everyone to squeeze money from them. Everything subjected to these two concepts, with no middle options, inhibiting natural human reactions is nonsense, and Darko is constantly mocking of these cheap lessons about life publicly.

Cunningham reminds me of Tom Cruise in Magnolia, ok, different kind of discourse, obviously, but another public figure, powerful and popular, everyone pays attention to, and in private, having even more issues than people they’re apparently advising solutions for a better life.

Frank the Rabbit is a total mystery. To start with, he’s actually a real character, in fact is Elizabeth’s special friend, although Donnie and he never get to see each other until it’s too late. As a human being, Frank is not very outstanding, however as the rabbit, means  both the starting point and the end of this story, the axis of the plot. The distorted voice and that frightening mask are stressing. You could think of him as a troublemaker, however Frank saves Donnie from a terrible death, for the purpose of saving the world. But why is Darko the chosen one? Maybe because the kid is strangely sensitive to  different dimension events…

This Director’s Cut is really interesting thanks to the insertion of Roberta Sparrow’s (aka Lady Death) The Philosophy of Time Travel. With this book and quoting several affirmations from different chapters, one can understand what’s going on much better.

As commented earlier, what I was moved most with, was the feeling that Donnie sacrifices himself on behalf of the world survival, he’s able to give up everything he loves or stands for. Think about it, would you sacrifice for your neighbor or  the stupid asshole who gets on your nerves at work? Yes, you might do it for the person you love most, still, I wouldn’t commit for the rest of the world, I would give my life for my most beloved ones or so I think.

One of the most commented features related to this film apart  from the story is the soundtrack. You realize it was carefully selected, songs are linked to the story most time, and are total and amazing 80’s hit. To be honest, I used to like INXS when I was a kid, but since I first saw Donnie Darko I became a total fan. Needless  to say Tears for Fears Head over the Heels or Gary Jules’ cover of Mad World, and those sort of videoclips are enjoyable to the max.

One more thing I would like to highlight: Richard Kelly was 26 years old when this film was released, amazing, huh? His opera prima was epic, but unfortunately, I think he will never be able to deliver something so personal and beautiful.

Donnie Darko, is in top position of my favorite movies ever, and belongs to my top 5 of the past decade. I strongly recommend it to everyone all the time, usually with good feedback from people who end up following my advice, so please, please, go and watch it, and if you feel like, then post your comments here, I would love to know your opinion.

BUBBA HO-TEP, Don Coscarelli (2002)

Posted in Just Fun with tags , , , on February 7, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Bubba Ho-Tep is one of these films that you cannot qualify as good, but has something charming and attractive appealing enough to have the need to watch from time to time.

Although its length is not very extent, about 80 minutes approximately, rhythm changes so dramatically you might end up bored, I’ve even fallen asleep myself several times.

I can understand while you’re reading these lines, you’re wondering WTF? Let me explain you the greatness of this story in just two words: Bruce Campbell. Fair enough, don’t you think?

In a quiet retirement home in a remote town in Texas Elvis is still alive. Yeah! But he’s old and life hasn’t treated him as the king of rock n’ roll would deserve. Alone, with no glory nor money, he spends his last days bored, most of time sleeping and with cancer in his pecker.

Fate had to do with his current situation. After getting divorced from Priscilla, sick of drugs and pills, he plans to exchange lives with his best impersonator, Sebastian Haff, for some time, just to have a break  and  enjoy a normal life, without his entourage sucking him dry,, away from Colonel Parker’s dictatorial management, and with no constant pressure. He would impersonate Haff, impersonating Elvis. Unfortunately, due to a barbeque accident, the contract signed with Haff is ruined, and Elvis was never able to recover his identity nor his former life. We all know the story of Haff’s.  To add more drama, during one of his performances, Elvis falls from the stage, breaking his hip and spending long time in coma.

And here he is, surrounded by death, dreaming about the good old days, and waiting for his own death to arrive. Lately the rate of them has increased in the retiring house, but this is not casual, and this is something Elvis and his blackened friend John F.  Kennedy discover: an  ancient Egyptian deity  is trying to recover life by sucking souls from other human beings, by the ass!

Let’s say the 45 first minutes of this film are awesome and delightful to the max, these basically cover the introduction of Elvis and his personal circumstances and the attack from a big bitch cockroach he’s got to face, and the way he recovers interest for life. Of course you want to know what happens, but as mentioned earlier, once the film focuses on what’s going on and how to sort the story out, it loses all the attractive and turns the movie into one more in millions.

Bruce Campbell in his role of Elvis is absolutely brilliant. I think I’ve already said I’m a diehard fan of Elvis, thus anything related to him interests me, on the other hand, I’ve always felt sympathetic to Bruce Campbell, I cannot consider him a great actor, but since I watched Evil Dead for the first time I’ve always liked the guy. Therefore, this combination Campbell-Elvis is, to say the least, curious and genuine. The truth is that Campbell plays the old Elvis convincing us that if he was alive, he’d be exactly like that: with his sideburns, his rings and, yeah! His legendary sunglasses for long distance glance.

The definite device for catching you in the story is, no doubt, Elvis-Campbell’s first person narration, in fact, the story goes flat once the film highlights the part of Ho-Tep. Script definitely was written by an Elvis maniac, easily recognizable by those sentences and expressions in the purest Elvis’ style. For the first time in this blog, I fill compelled to quote some of them I feel totally enthusiastic for:

THE WOMAN I LOVED, PRISCILLA, SHE WAS GONE

EVEN A BIG BITCH COCKROACH LIKE YOU SHOULD NOW, NEVER…BUT NEVER FUCK WITH THE KING

BIG DAMN BUGS, ALRIGHT? THE SIZE OF MY FIST. LIKE A PEANUT BUTTER BANANA SANDWICH!

IS THERE  FINALLY AND REALLY ANYTHING TO LIFE OTHER THAN FOOD, SHIT AND SEX?

HOT DAMN!

Once this said, apart from the presence of Elvis in this movie, rest hasn’t much value and is not relevant enough to comment, maybe Kemosabe shooting his toy guns while screaming “Asshole! Asshole!”

If you are a fan of either Elvis or Bruce Campbell you will appreciate many details and will enjoy the story for sure.

DIE WELLE (THE WAVE), Dennis Gansel (2008)

Posted in Drama with tags , , on February 2, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Lately, not only  I am reviewing  films but also following  recommendations by friends. This one was compared to Experiment, another German movie I haven’t been able to see yet, apparently quite shocking, focusing on human reactions under certain situations.

The Wave is a clear example of the merging tendency of people into a group in order to acquire identity, many times led by a strong character which can manipulate their will and thoughts easily.

In this case, the approach to this sort of dictatorial example happens at a German high school when Rainer Wenger, the cool teacher who used to praise Anarchy, squatting and punk back in the old days, is forced to teach the subject Autocracy for a whole week to those students who decide to join this class voluntarily.

What he starts is a role play in which he’s the leader and the teenagers his followers. Problems start when some of them take the game really serious believing this experience to be an actual philosophy and excluding and even bullying those not interested in taking part of the society, The Wave, and of course, when this behavior  trespasses the school  environment affecting private lives.

The essence of the story is actually interesting, although as in many German films, characters are not very remarkable, and performance is very poor. Moreover, the personal circumstances of the characters, although should be relevant, are so lightly depicted they do not contribute to enforce  the idea of the creation and quick development of this society .  

I can’t help but thinking about The Lord of the Flies, a story of school kids lost in an island after a plane crash, and the way innocence turns into survival and cruelty, prevailing the law of the strongest. The way this society is described is more credible, maybe the Victorian tone suggests it in a more proper way.

The Wave happens in just one week, of course this is a tale about  dictatorship, and the fast development of the situation is not to be taken for real, however, again, it’s hard to believe such reactions among teenagers, the atmosphere created super modern and cool  is a mistake. No matter the few examples, as previously mentioned, of unhappy kids, starting from the point that Autocracy is brought out from a climate of tension, frustration and despair, and here kids are driving BMW’s, drinking and smoking pot and the centre seems Beverly Junior High.

Anyway, taking the essence of the story, seems that people need to belong to a group in order to reassure their identity, it’s funny because in the last post I wrote,  Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I was questioning whether a global society in which no class differences and everybody would be treated as equal would be better or worse. The truth is that I don’t have the answer, I’d like to think that everyone is special in some way or another, and has their own opinions, but cannot be 100% sure the way we are manipulated and so our state of mind.

Question is, would you end up supporting a movement that in the end is a hidden dictatorship, and become a puppet managed by some powerful organization you don’t really notice? Sure you say no, but who knows… 

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, Phillip Kauffman (1978)

Posted in Horror, Sci-Fi with tags , , , on February 1, 2011 by Toi Brownstone

Whenever I see or hear about Donald Sutherland can’t help but thinking of this movie, it completely shocked me when I was a kid and still gives me the creeps.

Had in mind to review it again and I was lucky on Friday that in the middle of a mini buying-spree the DVD was there, cheap and lonely waiting for me to pick it up.  And first Sunday I’ve been vegetating, recovering from a friendly hangover, it’s been my choice for the first session in the afternoon.

The story has been adapted many times and at this point, anyway, due to certain details and the way the story is developed, has turned this film into a sci-fi horror classic, no matter it’s a remake and shares this status with the original. I particularly prefer this one.

San Francisco is invaded by a silent and unnoticeable parasite from outer space, which takes the form of an exotic flower with the aim of clonating human bodies in order to survive. The new human forms duplicate the originals exactly, however lack of feelings such as love, fear or pain awakes actual human beings suspicions.

In fact, Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams), completely shocked by her husband’s sudden change in behavior runs to her friend Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) for support and advice. What seems something closer to paranoia becomes a terrible living nightmare affecting all society at light speed. Survival will be the main target for those whose bodies haven’t been snatched yet, but the risk is huge and chances are decreasing every second.

It’s very remarkable the pessimistic tone of the film. Decadence and desperation are constant, not only because society is becoming emotionless real fast, but the settings chosen, apart from labs, are dirty and cold: the bohemian party where everyone pretends to have fun, suddenly interrupted by a hysteric woman, the mud baths place managed by Nancy Bellicec (Veronica Cartwright) with disgusting clients or the downtown neighborhood with all the XXX theatres…society is falling apart and if you really think about it, thanks to the snatchers, it would keep people on the same line with no ups and downs nor class difference.

Nevertheless, and even though we are not aware of it on a daily basis, human being tries to survive just to keep their feelings alive. Word Love is constantly used as a proof for feelings, and you could think fighting for survival means keeping love and trust, justice and goodness alive, but also means saving fear, despair and anger, thus, at the end of the day, what’s the point in fighting if you could keep your body alive despite your feelings are vanished.

We, people, don’t care much for each other, in fact we are selfish and are constantly stepping over the weaker ones to be successful or get what we want. However, when something threatens a global welfare state, seems that we join each other and become supportive with the others. We can be such hypocrites!

Seems that Invasion of the Body Snatchers contains more message that we apparently perceive when watching the movie. In a certain way it reminds me of Soylent Green and some other sci-fi movies dealing with the fall of the human civilization. It might had to do with the end of the hippie times, from positive flower power mood to a hopeless view of life, from Jefferson Airplane to Black Sabbath in music terms (just kidding, friends!). You get the idea, right?

Changing of subject and focusing a little bit more into more technical features of the film, I find quite interesting the importance of sound effects in the film in order to cause anxiety and uneasiness effect on the audience. From music, to the roots of the “parasites” growing into people bodies, to the duplicated citizens crying out to catch those not yet converted. Yes,  sound is really creepy here.

I have no idea whether special effects were expensive or not, what I can tell, from my point of view is that they accomplish the target of stressing and making people shit on their pants. The scene at the mud baths with Jeff Goldblum in the middle of his replacement is outstanding, so does the moment when Bennell is taking a nap in the garden and is surrounded by the four or five bodies growing up in order to substitute them…Oh My God! Those scenes kept recorded in my mind since I was a kid and still  I shit on my pants everytime.

It’s my understanding Invasion of the Body Snatchers is considered a classic when relating to horror and sci-fi films and I really agree with that. Supported by an impressive cast of characters including freak Leonard Nimoy, this film is terrific and powerful, with a closing scene impossible to forget at all.