Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Omega Man (1971)

Charlton Heston escapes from the Planet of the Apes (1968) only to crash land in a deserted Los Angeles, following some kind of nuclear/plague apocalypse. He's the only dude around, long as you don't count that torch-carrying, monk-robed band of mutated survivors who call themselves "the Family" (no relation to the Mansons), and you might as well not, because they blame Heston for the whole nuclear/plague-apocalypse-thing, and are hell-bent on rewarding him with some old fashioned murder. But, thanks to the plague-thing, they can only emerge at night, so Heston can spend the daylight hours joyriding in hotwired Mustang convertibles and looting stores for fashionable track suits. Sundown, he holes up in a fortified brownstone and plays chess with a concrete bust of Caesar while the Family taunts him from the streets below; tip o' the hat to the NRA as Heston occasionally opens a window and answers with sub-machine gun fire. Damn dirty apes, no matter where you go. Based on Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, but without proper vampires or amazing ironic twist ending (nor even Vincent Price) this is a sour, defeatist exercise, especially when the third act turns up a small clutch of other human survivors who seem to exist only so they can screw up their chances. Cold dead hands, indeed.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Creepozoids (1987)

Reset your watches: It's 1999 and post-nuclear apocalypse time. Five army deserters -- garbed in trendy 80's-chic uniforms supplied, undoubtedly, by the Gap -- seek shelter from the radioactive rain in a deserted military facility comprised entirely of endless corridors and supply closets. Linnea Quigley (also an associate producer) has a nude shower/sex scene, which summons the monsters. The main beast looks like Lou Ferrigno wearing a giant ant mask; he sprays black gunk that makes people melt/explode into puddles of Koogle. (Remember that stuff? Mixture of peanut butter and jelly, came in different flavors. What they're using here appears to be Blackberry.) There's also a mutant chihuahua-sized rat with yellow fangs, and a man-eating baby. Eventually, porn star Ashlyn Gere (billed as "Kim McKamy") turns into one of those angry, violent zombies from Evil Dead (1981). Why? Something to do with weapons-grade amino acids, if the one exposition scene can be believed. Stupid combination of Alien (1979), It's Alive (1974), and a bottle of NyQuil. Director David DeCoteau confuses cinematic suspense with extended shots of nothing happening in the dark. Creepocrap.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

The Replacements (2000)

Former college quarterback-turned-goat Shane Falco (the inscrutable Keanu Reeves) is recruited by coach Jimmy McGinty (the irrepressible Gene Hackman) to lead a team of rag-tag scab players during a pro-football player's strike. If the Washington Sentinels win just 3 of 4 games, why, they'll make the playoffs! It's up to Falco to huddle his players (a fraidy-cat running back, a Hawaiian sumo guard, a chain-smoking Welsh kicker, among others) to victory, and bag the hot cheerleader (the irresistible Brooke Langton) on the sidelines. Plot? What plot? What works about silly comedies like The Replacements -- or, say, Galaxy Quest (1999), or Major League, (1989), or Clue (1985) -- is the ensemble nature: the loony-but-lovable characters provide the primary engine for the film; watching them interact, the audience understands there's either no story, or a story not worth following too closely. In other words, sometimes cardboard tastes good. Would make a great sports romp double-feature alongside Slap Shot (1977).

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Crash (2005)

Two harmless-looking college kids (Larenz Tate and Ludacris) take time out from discussing class to highjack a car; following the incident, Rick, LA's rich, liberal white DA (Brendan Fraser) puzzles out the proper politically-correct spin for the situation, which only underscores his callow nature; his traumatized wife Jean (Sandra Bullock, for once playing a raging nasty) wants the locks changed on their house a second time, in fear that locksmith/"gangbanger" Daniel (Michael Pena doing an interesting Mark Ruffalo impersonation) will return with his "homies" to rob them at gunpoint; Daniel is actually a loving family man who has recently moved to a safer neighborhood to protect his scared daughter... blah blah blah. Paul Haggis's movie works as a kind of flipside to David Cronenberg's tale of sexual fetishism gone haywire. Both films concern disconnected people who have moments of awakening thanks to roadside accidents or violence; the critical difference in Haggis's film is that the characters are willfully disconnected, deliberately ingrown, self-involved to the point of social debilitation, no longer capable of empathy, finding it irresistible not to prejudge solely based on appearances (not to mention, they don't end up having frantic, disassociated sex). At the center of this maelstrom is despicable beat-cop Ryan (Matt Dillon), who salaciously feels up Christine (Thandie Newton), the wife of an African-American television producer, during a questionable traffic stop. The movie brazenly pretends to flesh out both of sides of this incident, and while Officer Ryan's behavior is never rendered excusable, it is given a thematic axis: Racism is bad, absolute racism is absolutely bad, something obvious like that. Crash is like a scatter-shot anthology wherein the stories are all different, but the characters are just varied faces for the same static personality: unlovable, unoriginal, devoid of wit. And this won Best Picture? That's a crime worse than Forrest Gump (1994).

Saturday, June 3, 2006

The Invisible Man (1933)

A mysteriously bandaged stranger arrives in Iping Village one snowy evening -- criminal or accident victim, no one knows. One thing's for sure: he's a grumpy bastard, especially if you interrupt one of his intense chemistry experiments or meals. Disrupt his work one time too many and it's not just the gloves that come off ... next thing you know, there's an invisible marauder terrorizing the countryside... Unlike other of H.G. Wells's works, from War of the Worlds to The Island of Dr. Moreau, Universal got the adaptation of The Invisible Man so correct, there's was no need to attempt a big-screen reboot (multiple sequels and rip-offs not withstanding) for nearly a century. James Whale's timeless direction is faithful to the source material, adding only an erstwhile love interest for Mister Invisible (thus allowing chances for some compassion, if not redemption), and simplifying his mode of disappearance (here just a poisonous, mind-altering combination of chemicals, down from Wells's multi-chapter pseudoscience explanation of magnetic vibrations, &c.). One thing left completely intact: Wells's humor and ironic detachment; Whale remains one of the few filmmakers, past or present, able to tackle the elements of mad-science SF and still tell a compelling, human story. Revolutionary special effects involving traveling mattes and double exposures are still effective (traveling mattes were only recently replaced by digital motion-controlled cameras). This was the debut film for Claude Rains, and subsequently made his career, largely thanks to his distinctive voice; he's seen for only a few seconds at the very end.

Friday, June 2, 2006

The Devil's Rejects (2005)

Joker-painted Captain Spaulding (a gleefully foul-mouthed Sid Haig) leads the murderous Firefly clan out of Rob Zombie's previous film, House of 1000 Corpses (2003), and into a wide-eyed multi-state serial-killing spree, dispatching the cops at every turn and along several straightaways just for good measure. The bloodflow begins with a grisly shootout at the Firefly ranch, providing beleaguered Sheriff Wydell leverage for his quest for vengeance, and is rarely staunched thereafter. With violence never in doubt, tension arises from the mystery of just how sick things will get, especially with the good guys so far in the distance (witness the excruciating kidnap/torture sequence at one of the gnarliest roadside motels ever put to celluloid). Spaulding & Co. eventually make a break for an abandoned amusement park-slash-brothel owned by Altamont (another great turn by the perpetually underused Ken Foree) where they regroup and reload. Mostly, they reload.

Any charm exhibited by Rejects comes from the joy with which the film embraces its genre. Latter-day exploitation (under the moniker "torture porn") tends to take itself too seriously, inspiring revulsion and contempt rather than ironic disturbance, much less any entertainment value; worse yet are films that play highbrow games with the audience, cartoons pretending to be above their own violence, with a "lesson" beneath the gore. Tossing such claptrap aside, Zombie delivers something mean and pure. Rejects is a gritty, witty road movie, an unrelenting examination of amoral death-dealers at every edge of a badge, and a snappy homage to the low-budget terror films of the early 1970s.