Tuesday, December 11, 2012

EVERYTHING ELSE:


DVDs

Against The Dark (2009): God bless Steven Seagal. His best work may be behind him and his age, limited range and strange, physical swelling (in which the more films he makes, the larger he grows) have kept him from making even the sort of effective if mediocre action movies that constituted that best work—hell, his movies from here on out might all end up being direct-to-DVD ones like Against The Dark—but the guy’s not just sitting there brooding, waiting for the producers of The Expendables to call. He’s still making movies. Shitty, shitty movies.

I’ve sort of lost track of Seagal’s career since the last movie of his I saw, which I only saw because I was being paid to do so*, but this one seems a bit unusual in that it is a fairly straight horror genre film, and that Seagal has a fairly limited role in it. He’s the closest thing to a hero in the piece, but he’s not the protagonist. Rather, it’s a rather claustrophobic, ensemble attrition survivor drama.

In the near future, a zombie movie plague has decimated the human population of earth, with the infected turning into something between a zombie and a vampire. The DVD box art says vampire, but they act more like the Infecteds of 28 Days Later—they’re fast, strong and seem to eat flesh as much as they drink blood. They are nocturnal though, so maybe the better comparison would be the creatures from the Will Smith version of I Am Legend.

However you want to classify the monsters, they vastly outnumber the regular folk. (They’re called “mutants” by one guy who studies ‘em pretty closely, and they gradually seem to be developing higher brain function than your average movie zombie, being capable of speech and guile by the film’s climax).

A couple of small groups of such folks meet one another in an abandoned hospital at night, and are trying to make their way through hordes of the Whatevers and to a particular exit where they have a vehicle waiting. Don’t think too much about this plot point, as it doesn’t make any sense at all; for the movie’s purposes, the characters just have to get from Point A to Point B before the hospital loses power, and the electrically controlled door can’t be opened.

Adding additional drama is the fact that we, the viewers, know that the United States military is planning on bombing the whole area at dawn in order to mop up all the vambies, whether there are any un-infected humans among them or not.

Where does Seagal fit in…? He is Tao, a katana-wielding giant who leads a small group of hunters, ex-military badasses who walk the land, exterminating the Infected like cockroaches. They all dress like Blade, in head-to-toe leather, save the two women, who are obviously naked from the throat to the breasts (Did I mention the virus is transmitted through biting? So maybe not a practical outfit for the ladies). It’s a great look for Seagal, though, who looks like his Blade coat is a circus tent made of leather. It's billowing shape allows him to look gigantic without letting a viewer see if he's all muscle under there or not.

The narrative reminded me a lot of one of those first-person shooter video games I’ve never played, as the characters have to move through the hospital, level by level, fleeing and fighting antagonists and overcoming obstacles, with cutaways to the hunter action and arguments among the army guys over whether or not to shoot their missiles.

The bulk of the action is performed by stuntman Tanoai Reed (The Rock’s own stunt double!), who is among Tao’s hunters, and who slays the Whatevers using some kind of weird looking knife tonfa. Seagal mostly uses his sword, and aside from a cool sidestep or two, doesn’t do a whole lot of fighting; too bad, as the undead would seem perfect combatants for the arm-breaking Seagal of old, as he could snap ‘em like matchsticks with no remorse and no worries that the audience might begin to feel bad for the bad guys.

It’s not a very good film, but I have seen worse movies prominently featuring Steven Seagal.


Amazing Spider-Man (2012): I was never really on board with movie’s very existence, which apparently crossed some line of naked money grabs that I didn’t even know I cared existed. As a reboot of the Sam Raimi trilogy, it seemed particularly quixotic—superhero film franchises don’t get rebooted until the studio fucks them up so bad they have no choice but to reboot (Batman) or an entire generation has passed (Superman).

There was really no reason to do a fourth Spider-Man film without the folks who made the first three, other than to save money by hiring newer, younger, hungrier, cheaper talent (unless there’s some deadline-related film rights thing going on) and I can’t think of any reason to reboot Spider-Man rather than hiring a new director and principals the way they do with, like, James Bond movies (The character actors that the films of the Spider-Man franchise were stocked with were all top-notch, and it was hard to imagine new players improving on some of those portrayals).

So this was a rather weird big summer superhero movie for me in that I didn’t care about it at all, and didn’t see it until my library received DVDs of it (And even then, I brought it home and it sat on an end table for a few days before I made time to watch it).

I found it to be a remarkably small movie in its scope, and a rather stitched together affair, as if it were going through rewrites while it was being shot (And it felt like it was going through rewrites while I was watching it).

Andrew Garfield did a great job as Peter Parker, I thought, and his slim build coupled with a much more low-rent looking Spider-Man costume really made this Spider-Man seem like much more of a creepy weirdo than the Maguire version with the fancy costume; this Spider-Man you could see dividing the populace of New York on whether or not he was a bad guy, and freaking J. Jonah Jameson right the hell out (Jameson, like the Daily Bugle, is not in the film at all; well, I think the Bugle gets a cameo, in the form of a banner on a stack of newspapers hitting a curb).

Emma Watson was fine as Gwen Stacy, and she has a few good scenes with Garfield (the one where he asks her out was darling), but overall I didn’t think they spent nearly enough time together, nor did there seem to be anything momentous about their romance, perhaps because they seemed to run in the same circle and school and are both presented as super-hot super-nerds who belong together, in a way that Maguire’s Parker and Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson didn’t seem to in the first half of the original Spider-Man.

Dennis Leary did okay as Captain Stacy, but his character arc didn’t really work, and his heroic death (it’s not a spoiler if it happened decades ago in the comics, is it?) and the temporary influence it held over Parker seemed unearned. There just wasn’t enough time spent on Stacy and his relationship to Parker to make it seem like a big deal at all, and with Gwen knowing Peter’s identity and exactly how her dad died, it takes some of the tension out of the plot point as it occurred in the comics that inspired the movie.

Rhys Ifans seemed fine as Dr. Curt Connors, who becomes The Lizard, although I liked Dylan Baker a lot better, and I actually feel bummed out for Baker, as he and Raimi spent movies foreshadowing that. Ifans only gets, like, three scenes to go from upstanding dude to crazy-ass maniac, and his plan to turn all of New York City into lizard people is as ridiculous as it sounds, with no effort to make sense of it (a few seconds spent establishing the fact that turning into a lizard drives people crazy would have sufficed); I couldn’t make sense of why they imported the worst part of the X-Men movies into this Spider-Man film.

The Lizard is pretty lame-looking; he looks like The Hulk with a tail, basically. I was hoping for something resembling the Mego Lizard action figure from my youth.

The Spider-Man action scenes are all top-notch though, and that’s maybe the one thing they have over the original film. The way Spidey fights with his webbing, pulling stuff to him or himself away from harm is pretty cool. I think that and how hilariously bad this Peter Parker is at keeping a secret identity—practically fist-fighting Captain Stacy at a family dinner to defend Spider-Man’s honor, writing “PROPERTY OF PETER PARKER” in giant letters on a camera that Spidey is using to photograph a fight with The Lizard for a reason that’s never explained—were the more enjoyable parts of the film for me.

For the most part, this film wisely tries to differentiate itself from the original, with a different love interest, different super-villain, different frenemy (Stacy instead of Jameson), but the changes to the origin are pretty dramatic…and by dramatic, I mean radically different, not that they add drama, as they do the exact opposite.

Here Spider-Man doesn’t selfishly refuse stop an armed thief who would then go on to gun down Uncle Ben while robbing the Parkers’ home; instead, Peter stands idly by while a shop-lifter non-violently lifts a six-pack and stack of bills from an asshole convenience store clerk, and then later drops a gun that goes off into Uncle Ben…who happened to be walking by, looking for a sulking Peter.

It’s…weird, really, and doesn’t demonstrate Spider-Man as someone whose selfishness got a loved one killed. At least, not in the same, straightforward fashion (Like, Uncle Ben was only in place to be killed because Peter was being an a-hole teenager, but how could Peter know the guy who stole from that register was even packing…?)

This Spider-Man, I’m sure has been pointed out repeatedly, lacks agency in his own movie. It’s Captain Stacy who takes down the super-villain, with Spider-Man functioning as his sidekick (Weirdly, Stacy tells the entire New York City Police Department to stand down while he runs to the top of a skyscraper to fight The Lizard by himself; essentially, Stacy commits suicide). And there’s this scene with crane operators which…I can’t even make sense of it. It is just insane. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, I don't have the words to explain it.

Coupled with the oddly dropped—not saved for exploration in a sequel, just forgotten—plot about Peter’s parents and their involvement in the mystery behind his spider-bite origin, the film is a weird hodge-podge of likable qualities, deeply stupid scenes, non sequitir characterization, perplexing decisions and competing visions.

I’d have preferred another Spider-Man 3, frankly, as that film’s only sin was that it had one villain too many in it. Now we have to wait another decade or so while they make four more of these things before Hollywood’s finally in position to follow an Amazing Spider-Man 5 with Amazing Spider-Man: Sinister 6.


Beauty and The Beast: A Dark Tale (2009): I won’t call this the worst movie I have ever seen, because I am sure I’ve seen worse ones…granted, I’m having a hard time thinking of any at the moment, while this is still fresh in my skull, but I’m sure I must have. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of movies, so that’s just math.

I will say that it is perhaps the first movie I can recall seeing that was so bad that it seems like the filmmakers and actors were all making it sarcastically.

The sub-title must be a metaphor of some sort, as the entire film is shot in daylight, because that is cheaper. Every creative decision that went into the film seems to have been dictated by what’s cheapest, from a small cast consisting of fewer extras than your average community theater production, to costumes that look like they were acquired by the producers jumping out of the bushes in a Ren Faire parking lot, beating up attendees and taking their costumes.

The one exception to the Whatever's Cheapest guiding philosophy is the presence of Canadian beauty Estella Warren, the saving grace of 2003’s abominable Jerry Bruckheimer-tries-children’s-entertainment fiasco Kangaroo Jack; my dayjob at the time required me to drive to a Columbus suburb to see an advanced screening of it on a Saturday morning in theater full of children. If it weren’t for Warren and her tank top and shorts, I don’t think I ever would have made it through the film. The rapping kangaroo sequence would almost certainly have broken me.

Warren is the soul acting presence that doesn’t seem like she was taken directly from the craft services room of an Australian soap opera, and hers is one of the few costumes that doesn’t look like it was stripped from an unconscious Ren Faire attendee; rather, it looks like a “Naughty Pirate” Halloween costume, with an improbably mini mini-skirt and a low-cut top that suggests a better sub-title than A Dark Tale might have been Look At Estella Warren’s Boobs.

In this version of the tale, the set-up involving a kindly single merchant father, greedy sisters and a contract with a beast are all excised. This beauty, named Belle like Disney’s, lives alone with her washerwoman mother, and the adventurous, voluptuous young woman specializes in finding herbs and flowers with which to create the best-smelling medieval laundry detergents for her mother to use.

There is a beast killing people in the forest, and naturally everyone assumes it is the guy they call Beast, who is poor Victor Parascos (his Beast is designed to resemble Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules…if a bucket of rubber cement was thrown on Sorbo’s Hercules’ face, and then he was bludgeoned with lit torches).

But, it turns out, there is another beast! This one is called a troll, but it looks more like a cross between a chimpanzee and a naked mole rat, and is animated through the magic of very, very poor computer generated imagery. It is controlled by a wicked witch, the very one who turned Parascos into Beast, and she and a wicked duke are conspiring to take over the kingdom, and rule over all twelve of the people who live there.

Only Belle, Beast and a kindly old man can save the kingdom…and also Belle randomly falls in love with Beast, so that he becomes handsome again, because who wants an ugly king? No one, that’s who.

According to the Internet, this film was broadcast on the SyFy network, which isn’t terribly surprising, and is available in a Blu-Ray edition, which is rather surprising, as I can’t imagine a sharper, crisper image makes the unconvincing special effects, just-some-dude’s-backyard sets and amateur actors look any more appealing.

On the other hand, I suppose there will always be an audience for Estella Warren’s breasts.


Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011): Despite this movie about a flaming skeleton who rides a burning motorcyle and fights Satan starring Nicolas Cage and gaining the directing team responsible for the two over-the-top, completely-insane, awfully-awesome Crank movies, it is still something of a disappointment, and not quite in the same ballpark as the word "good."

It is, however, an incredible improvement over the original, 2007 Ghost Rider, and it's not necessarily a bad movie either. It's just not a good one (Nor as good a one as one's imagination likely conjures upon hearing things like "Ghost Rider", "Nicholas Cage" and the guys who made "Crank" in the same sentence.

In this one, Cage's Johnny Blaze is hiding out in Europe, trying to forget the fact that he sold his soul in order to become possessed by a skeletal motorcycle demon. A French monk played by Idris Elba recurits Blaze and "The Rider" to help defend a young, innocent boy from becoming the vessel of Satan on Earth—there's an awful lot of faux supernatural, Christian mumbo jumbo in the movie, but something about this kid's body makes it one that Satan can inhabit for a long period of time without burning through it as quickly as any other form he takes on Earth.

He's just a maguffin though. Obviously, the point of the movie is machine gun-wielding monks, Cage acting Cagey, the special-effect from the neck up that is Ghost Rider, chase scenes, explosions and gunplay.

Cage seems to have been given a much longer leash here, and he gets away with a few bits of rather deft gonzo acting; particularly enjoyable is the scene where he desperately tries to hold Ghost Rider "in," and another late in the film where Elba tries to purge his soul of The Rider.

The Rider here is greatly improved upon from the original. Part of it is no doubt the advance in special effects, but part of it is also design; he looks burnt under all that fire, the leather of his clothing charred and melted, his skull blackened.

This Ghost Rider seems able to Ghost Rider-ize any vehicle he rides or drives, which is awesome, but, sadly, is given the work out it could have been. I hope there's a third film where we get to see him on a skateboards and moped and jetski and biplane and...well, you get the idea.

I didn't hear the word "penance stare" at all—at least, not that I remember—but there's a scene where Ghostie attempts to eat a guy's soul and, in doing so, he preps by doing that weird, head-cocking, stare-down move that Larry David does in Curb Your Enthusiasm when he thinks someone is lying to him and examines the person from different angles for tells.

I liked this, and would definitely watch another Ghost Rider like it. Although I'd obviously prefer a Champions movie, because who wouldn't?!


King Kong (1933): I’ve watched King Kong about once a year or so ever since I was a teenager, and it remains one of the few movies I can watch as often as daily without ever getting sick of it (Bringing Up Baby, Animal Crackers, Duck Soup, She’s All That, My Blue Heaven and Empire Records, if you’re wondering). This time through was triggered by my recent reading of a novelization of the film (discussed below), which had a few scenes that varied rather greatly from those in the film, and my need to half-watch something while I spent hours drawing that last round of comic strips I did for EDILW.

This time through, I was struck by how scantily clad Fay Wray was throughout the scenes onboard the Venture, with her nipples visible in several scenes, and how stilted and strange some of the dialogue seemed in those same scenes, especially compared to how it was rendered in the novelization.

I scribbled two pieces of dialogue down on the nearest piece of paper, including one where Driscoll responds to Denham’s accusation that he’s going soft on Wray’s Darrow with, “A love affair…? Think I’m gonna fall for any dame…?”…with no accent on the “any,” as if to imply he will never, ever fall in love with a woman.

Later, Darrow coos, “Why Jack, you hate women,” to which he responds, “Yeah, but you ain’t women.”

I scribbled these lines down with the intention of making some joke about the secret sexual identity of the supposedly he-man action hero, but, before writing this, I started reading King Kong Cometh! (see below), a collection of essays on the film and its characters and, brother, someone’s already thought deeply and seriously about just about any interpretation of the sexual identities, politics and messages of that movie you can imagine.

I was also struck once more by how little of the film seems to have aged or seem dated—especially once they get to Skull Island and past the rather unfortunate depiction of the natives there. The unreality of the special effects help keep them remarkable effective; the animated Kong, the creatures he battles and the world in which they move don’t seem real, but they don’t seem fake either.

As many films as I’ve seen, made using these same methods, there’s relatively little in the film that jumps out as an obvious camera trick, certainly not to the extent that it overpowers the willing suspension of disbelief (the scene where they walk by an Apatosaurus-sized dead Stegosaurus being one of the few that comes to mind as less than seamless).

I think the more we and I learn about real gorillas and real prehistoric life, the more effective the nightmare fantasy elements of the film are. I mean, now I know there are no creatures in nature like that wyvern-like thing that tries to get Driscoll in the cave, that saurapods didn’t eat meat, and that Tyrannosaurus’ almost certainly didn’t stand like that, fight like that or sound like that. Now I know gorillas don’t act like Kong, sound like Kong, or even look all that much like Kong.

The creatures of Kong therefore become more and more fantastical the further that our advancing knowledge of nature and prehistory isolate them from what is and likely was.

As soon as the film ended, I re-started it, this time with the commentary track on. It’s billed as featuring Ray Harryhausen, Ken Ralson, Fay Wray and Merian C. Cooper, but the bulk of it is Harryhausen and Ralson, with one or two archival comments from Wray inserted and, slightly more frequently, a woman’s voice will cut in to explain a snipping of a recording of a Cooper interview is going to be played.

Harryhausen and Ralson focus mainly on the special effects and how incredible Max Steiner’s score is; Harryhausen shares a fun anecdote about taking a trip with his wife to visit the nearest land mass to where Skull Island was supposed to be and, remembering Captain Englehorn saying he though the natives were speaking the language of the Nias Islanders, he tried a bit of dialogue out on a confused native there.

They talk about a lot of the legends regarding various scenes, and it was intriguing to hear the discussion of the extreme long shot of Kong scaling the Empire State Building, as apparently no one knows exactly how the shot was really created.


King Kong (2005): I haven’t watched this one as often as the original, but it’s another movie I seem to re-watch about once a year, usually in conjunction with re-watching the original Kong.

What jumped out at me this time?

Director Peter Jackson sure took Merian C. Cooper’s refrain to “make it bigger!” to heart, everything about his Kong is bigger than the original. There was one brontosaurus/apatosuarus in the original? Here there’s a whole stampede. Kong fought one T. Rex-like dinosaur in the original? Here he fights three of ‘em simultaneously. He battles one winged creature atop Skull Mountain in the original? Here it’s a whole flock. And man, that legendary “lost scene” of the sailors who fall off the log and into the pit of spiders? Jackson’s version of that is just horrifying, and maybe the best piece of work in the film, from a pure sense of film direction.

He also poured a great deal of effort into establishing a two-way relationship between Naomi Watts’ Ann Darrow and King Kong, going to lengths to demonstrate what the pair might see in one another which removes some of the mystery and subtext (especially the feverish sexual and racial subtext), but, in doing so, it adds a layer of tragedy to the ending. In the original Kong, you felt for the big guy, but you didn’t feel for him along with Ann.

Jackson’s Kong is conceived as a real gorilla, that looks and acts and in many ways behaves like a real gorilla and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. I don’t think it’s necessary that the film be realistic in that regard; does King Kong need to be a bigger gorilla, rather than just a giant, gorilla-like animal? The way he stands, emotes, throws temper-tantrums, even his diet is that of a real gorilla, and I’m not sure realism is a necessary ingredient in the film. It doesn’t necessarily detract from the film, it just seems like a curious inclusion, given how fantastical so much of the film is.

The impulse to make a more realistic, more grounded, more believeable film carries through in a lot of different ways. He answers what happens to Kong’s previous bridal sacrifices, by showing a pit full of skeletons wearing the same necklace the natives put on Ann (Kong apparently just smashes ‘em to death and moves on, rather than eating them or attempting to mate with them); he answers whether Kong is a unique specimen, by having Adrien Brody’s character climb over the skeleton of another giant ape; and he answers why on Earth Jack Black’s Carl Denham decides to bring a monstrous gorilla back from Skull Island when the whole reason he went there was to make a film, by making a point of showing Denham filming right up until the point where he loses his camera, and he can film no more. Kong is, in this film, a desperate consolation prize, whereas in the original he was simply a weird choice seemingly made on a whim (It helps that this version of Captain Englehorn has a side business in live animal capture, and a boat full of chloroform and cages and chains).

I still wonder about the softening of Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll from men-of-action who look like they could go a round with Kong to the small, tubby brave-but-maniacal director played by Black and the skinny, weak-looking playwright played by Adrien Brody. Is it a commentary on the way our society evaluates heroes? Is it a deliberate commentary? Or did Jackson simply create characters more like himself than the one Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack created, patterned after themselves?

The relationship between the lecturing Evan Parke’s Hayes and spunky young Jamie Bell’s Jimmy is more annoying each time I see it, although I understand the impulse to give a black man the role of a particularly noble and virtuous character after the unfortunate depictions of people of color in the original, it seems like over-correction: Hayes is simply one-dimensional in the opposite direction of 1933’s Skull Islanders (Who, it should be noted, are racially ambiguous here, rather than clearly played by African-Americans as they were in the originally; geographically, they people who theoretically would have lived on a South Seas island would be much more likely to be Asian in appearance than African anyway, but what’s up with the people on Skull Island is a mystery anyway).

I really liked Andy Serkis’ Lumpy, and was sorry to see him go. I didn’t realize that was Serkis until this particular viewing—that, or I did and forgot.

Anyway, I love this movie. I don’t think it stands alone as well as the original does, nor do I think it is possible for any remake of such an influential, such a ubiquitous film to do so. But it’s immensely enjoyable to watch, and it engage as part of a conversation with the earlier film.


Monster Brawl (2011): There’s a pretty simple formula powering this very cheap, very silly movie: Professional wrestling + Monsters.

And, um, that’s it, really. In an abandoned, cursed graveyard, eight monsters gather to wrestle to the death in two divisions, “The Creatures” and “The Undead." The championship belt going to the winner of the fight between the two divisions.

Writer/director/producer Jesse T. Cook mimics the format of pro-wrestling so closely that if you’ve little to no interest in that particular form of sport-like entertainment, then sitting through this can be extremely taxing, and it feels a great deal longer than its 90 minutes.

Each combatant is introduced with a sort of short film, in which Cook creates Hollywood-like sequences featuring the characters in their home environments, and then we get the characters addressing one another and the television audience. The matches are given color commentary by mustachioed former Kid in the Hall Dave Foley playing Buzz Chambers and actor Art Hindle playing “Sasquatch” Sid Tucker, a retired wrestler (who is not, in fact, a Sasquatch; no Sasquatches are among the monsters fighting).

Then it’s basically just wrestling, with the wrestlers wearing Halloween costumes, with over-active foley artists filling the fights with cartoonish sound-effects to accompany every blow and with the occasional special effect thrown in. Some of the characters have “managers” who pace around outside the ring and occasionally jump in. Gravestones are used like folding chairs.

Adding legitimacy are the presence of Jimmy Hart (who was involved in wrestling back when I watched the WWF in, what, the early 80s…?) playing himself, mixed martial arts ref Herb Dean playing himself (although it’s more of a cameo than anything else, given how long even the toughest ref can expect to survive when coming between wrestling monsters) and real-life wrestler Kevin Nash playing a small role, as the military man/manager to “Zombie Man,” a super-zombie the government has been trying to train to be a super-soldier.

The most welcome presence, however, is probably Lance Henriksen, whose disembodied voice narrates (the closing credits refers to his role as “The Voice of God”). He also announces the winners, names their finishing moves and occasionally chimes in with a laudatory, Mortal Kombat like “Magnificent!” when there’s a particularly impressive move being employed.

In addition to the aforementioned Zombie Man, the rest of the Undead class is made up of the prosaically named Lady Vampire, The Mummy and Frankenstein (“Technically, it’s Frankenstein’s Monster…if you want to be a dick about it,” Tucker says at one point). The Creature class consists of Cyclops (a rather skinny, human-sized one…with a not terribly convincing costume), the unfortunately-named “Witch Bitch”, Werewolf and Swamp Gut, a big-bellied, half-reptile, half-vegetable swamp creature.

It is not—I repeat not—as completely awesome as it sounds (and I realize it does sound pretty awesome; I did watch the thing based on how awesome it sounds). This deisturbing lack of awesomness is due in part to the cheap-ness of the proceedings (although Cook has moments of fine direction beneath the terrible costumes and sets and performances), but moreso to its faithful adherence to the pro-wrestling format…right down to breaking for non-existent commercials.

It’s a fairly inspired idea, and it has its moments—I liked listening to some of Foley’s chatter, for example, and real-life wrestler Robert Maillet plays a pretty good Frankenstein, but I’d hesitate to recommend this to just about anyone who isn’t Chris Sims.


Pet Sematary (1989): Yes, I realize this movie is well over 20 years old, but no, I had never seen it. I was never much for horror movies until fairly recently, and this seemed like one I should watch at some point.

It wasn't quite what I expected when I first saw ads for it in the backs of DC comics, or the cover staring out at me from video stores (for those of you under 30, in the old days they used to have these stores where you could pay to rent a movie on a VHS tape in your VCR). I knew the basics—Indian burial ground brings dead pets back to life—but in my imagination, it brought, like a cemetery full of rotting cat and dog corpses back to life as animal zombies.

That, obviously, wasn't the case. In fact, the two animals that come back from the dead in this are fairly hale and hearty; the only physical clue that something's not quite right with them is that they give off constant eye-shine, as if an unseen set of headlights or flashlight was always pointed at their eyeballs.

The undead cat on the cover, Church, looks disturbingly like the original I Can Has Cheezburger cat, doesn't he?
I was horribly unprepared for how goofy the proceedings actually turned out to be.

Horrible, inattentive parents Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby move their young daughter and toddler son to a house built a few feet away from the World's Busiest Road For Speeding Trucks and, even after their son Gage nearly toddles to his death within minutes of arriving, they never get around to, like, building a fence, nor do they pay all that close attention to him when he's, say, flying a kite.

The first one to go is the cat Church, and shitty neighbor Fred Gwynne helps the family patriarch resurrect for some reason—even though he knew full well that the the dead dog he himself resurrected as a child came back all crazy and evil.

Eventually Gage gets run over and brought back, and that's when things get really silly, although Undead Gage is pretty scary. I'm glad I waited until I was 35 to see this; if I had seen it when it first came out, I'm sure the scalpel-wielding toddler slicing tendons from a hiding place under the bed would have kept 12-year-old me up at night. Or at least wearing boots to and from the bathroom at night.


Pet Sematary 2 (1992): A bigger, gorier, sillier and ultimately much more fun version of the original, this sequel features ER's Dr. Green moving his son John Connor to the same small town the original was set in, after the poor teenager's mom is killed in a ridiculous TV movie set accident.

This may have come out in 1992, but it must have been written in the late '80s, as in 80s movie fashion John Connor has trouble making friends at school and is bullied by an asshole blond kid. His only friend is fat kid Jason McGuire, whose super-hot mom is played by Lisa Waltz (Fun fact: Waltz played the lady who wanted to buy Annie's eggs in 90210 and whose step-dad is the town's asshole sheriff, whose super-familiar voice haunted me until I finally looked him up and realized it was Clancy Brown! That's right, Lex Luthor! Awesome!

Rather than a cat, it's a big-ass German shepherd that gets buried back to life in this one and, before long, Brown's sheriff character, who spends most of the movie acting deranged in ways that are generally more amusing then terrifying.

I liked watching and listening to Brown, and looking at Waltz. This probably isn't quite as good as the original, nor as scary, but I enjoyed it much more.


Savages (2012): This Oliver Stone remake of the 2007 Tamara Jenkins movie in which siblings Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman try to figure out how to deal with their aged, dying father—you know, the one that Daniel Clowes drew the movie poster for?—is a terrible adaptation. In fact, Stone seems to have thrown the entire script, plot and premise out, and kept only the name.

Okay, I’m kidding obviously; same title, different movie And, unfortunately, Ware didn’t do the poster for this one, although I really like the poster for it, and the way the A and V line up just so on it:

In actuality, this is very Oliver Stony adaptation of a crime novel about two smoking hot dudes, one a violent, hot-headed veteran (Taylor Kitsch), the other a brilliant Buddhist botany genius (Aaron Taylor Johnson) who share girlfriend Blake Lively (In comic book movie terms, Gambit and Kick-Ass are in a long-term three-way relationship with Carol Ferris; Speed Racer’s in it too).

Together, they’ve developed some super-awesome pot, which has attracted the attention of Mexican drug cartels, and gunplay, kidnapping, scheming and double-crossing ensues. It’s vascillates betweens effective drama and incredibly dumb scenes, but is full of pretty colors and good actors having fun playing big, colorful supporting characters (Salma Hayek as a drug kingpin, Benicio Del Toro as a horrifying assassin/enforcer with super-scary hair and mustache, John Travolta as a corrupt DEA agent).

The most important thing to know about the movie, however, is that he features cameos by not one, but two members of the 90210 cast.

Trevor “Teddy” Donovan plays Magda’s Boyfriend, and gets two, maybe three lines of dialogue along the lines of “Hey, what’s going on? Who are you guys?” (If I’m remembering correctly). And Gillian “Ivy” Zinser plays someone credited on IMDb as “Beach Girl”; she has no lines and only appears for about a second. There’s a pretty, skinny blonde girl on the beach whom I thought looked like Zinser and it turns out it was. Hooray!


Snow White and The Huntsman (2012): Weird that this movie is probably best known at this point as the one directed by the guy who Kristen Stewart cheated on Robert Pattison with, huh?

Perhaps if they had made a better movie, that wouldn’t be the case.

On paper, this sure sounded like a good idea: Totally fly Kristen Stewart as a warrior princess version of Snow White whose Seven Dwarves are of the Dungeons & Dragons or Lord of The Rings variety rather than the Disney variety.

I’m not entirely sure what went wrong, but I suspect much of it has to do with the creators and actors having trouble deciding who was the protagonist, Charlize Theron’s evil queen or Stewart’s Snow White. That, and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be an original thought in the whole movie, with whole scenes and shots seemingly lifted straight out of other movies (Here’s an LOTR Fellowship-walking-on-a-pretty-mountain-path helicopter shot, here’s a scene from Princess Mononoke with a European rather than Asian deer, etc). Most surprising of all was how much it borrows from the Disney version one would expect it to be working overtime to distance itself from, including the coloration of Snow’s dress (it’s merely a darker, drabber version of Disney Snow White’s dress) and a lost-in-the-forest freak-out scene that differs from the cartoon one only in that instead of fear, hallucinogenic mold is blamed for Snow’s visions.

Hardly anything is taken from the Grimms version, source material the Disney version avoided a great deal of, not even the particulars of the second title character’s employ with the queen (that would be the very likeable Chris Hemsworth, playing Thor, who is here called “Huntsman” for some reason).

Between this, Mirror, Mirror and the awful direct-to-DVD Grimm’s Snow White, I’ve seen three live action film versions of Snow White in the second half of this calendar year. This is the second best of those, but considering the quality of the third, that’s nothing to brag about.

Oh, also? There’s a scene where The Hunstman sees a troll and responds by shouting “Trooooooooolllllll!” It’s not as cool as when Warren Ellis-lookalike Otto Jespersen shouts “Trooooooolllllll!” in Trollhunter.


Sorority Row (2009): When a cruel sorority prank to convince a sister's ex-boyfriend that he accidentally killed his one-time lover by over roofie-ing her goes horrible wrong, and he stabs a tire iron through her chest, the five sisters make an I Know What You Did Last Summer pledge to cover up the crime and get on with their otherwise pretty decent lives.

Obviously they don't do such a great job of it, and as they near graduation, someone in a black hood and robe starts picking them and those close to them off.

The main characters are non-existent, consisting of such well-defined personalities as The Good Girl, The Slutty Girl, The Bitchy Girl, The Ethnic Girl and The Smart Girl (Hey don't look at me; that's the way the movie defines the sisters, with Bitchy Girl telling Ethnic Girl Jamie Chung that being friends with her makes her feel diverse, and calling Smart Girl Rumer Willis "like spellcheck with a great rack").

While technically a remake of 1983's The House on Sorority Row, it's mostly reminiscent of the post-Scream deluge of sarcastic horror movies full of good-looking young victims, complete with a whodunnit element (it's the most obvious candidate) and a killer whose costume looks a bit like a low-rent Ghostface, who had enough for the cape and hood, but not enough to buy the mask.

I watched it because 90210's Matt Lanter has a small role as one of the girls' boyfriends/one of the suspects, and watching every movie 90210 castmembers are in has become a goal of mine. I was thus pleasantly surprised to find Rumer Willis prominently featured; the lovely Willis, in addition to being my sometimes pretend girlfriend, played Gia, the West Beverly High student who turned Adriana bi-curious for, like, a half-dozen episodes in 90210 Season 2. Caroline D'Amore, the prettiest non-Rumer Willis in Sorority Row, also had a teensy, tiny role in two episodes of 90210.

Of greater interest to many of you may be the presence of Carrie Fisher, who plays the sorority's hard-drinking house mother, and gets to wield a shotgun in one scene.


BOOKS


King Kong Cometh (Plexus Publishing; 2005) edited by Paul Woods: This is the book that incited my current King Kong kick. It traces both the history and the legacy of the film, from the lives of creators Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Shoesdsack, Willis O'Brien and company and the things that influenced the character and film, to its influence on our popular culture.

It's not a straight cultural history, though; rather its a big, thorough collection of essays and articles from over the course of decades assembled into chronological order, resulting in a sort of orchestra of people talking about King Kong. Some of it is slightly repetitive, some of it is occasionally cacophonous, some of it's slightly trying, but on the whole it was a rather rollicking reading experience.

It's pretty much impossible to overstate the importance of the film, and everything cool about it, and I'm not going to even make an attempt, beyond recommending this book to anyone interested in the film, for risk of simply repeating something already better said within.

Actually, even if you're not terribly interested in the film, there is an incredible amount of great artwork and imagery in here, including movie posters, lobby cards and ads from the era—all drawn, rather than the photo-based posters and ads that have been de rigueur in my lifetime. There are also period photos of Fay Wray and directors and others promoting the film, a goofy-looking ticket booth shaped like Kong's head, with a ticket girl visible through its gaping mouth.

Here's one of the many awesome, drawn images scanned from within, taken from an ad:
Here's something from a storyboard:
Here's a photo:
Of special interest to me were the pieces titled "Sons of Kong," discussions of off-brand Kongs, officially sanctioned and unofficially sanctioned remakes and sequels (The Shaw Brothers' Mighty Peking Man is currently at the top of my must-see list) and aborted projects (including a King Kong Vs. Frankenstein movie, one draft of which had Kong fighting a monster created by a descendent of Frankenstein's using the body parts of various African animals!).

Since the subject of this blog is comic books, I would be remiss if I failed to note Donald F. Gluts exhaustive article on King Kong tributes and allusions in various media, which includes mentions of plenty of gorilla comics characters (Titano the Super-Ape and The Gorilla Boss of Gotham City both get mentions, and there are a few images from Mad magazine reprinted).

I was rather surprised at the amount of scorn leveled at the 1970s remake, of which I remember very little (I'd like to re-watch it now, while the other versions are fresh in my head, but I'm having a surprising amount of trouble tracking down a DVD through Ohio's library systems, which perhaps speaks to the film's poor reputation). And I was rather bummed to hear there were two studios vying to produce Kong remakes in the 1970s (after Hammer Films sought but failed to secure the rights!); the Dino DeLaurentiis/Paramount one set in the '70s (derisively referred to throughout the book as "Dino Kong") is the one that got made, but Universal was planning its own Legend of King Kong, which would have been set in the 1930s, employed stop-motion animation and be jam-packed with various prehistoric monsters and include a scene where Kong fights a steam shovel.

Dino Kong killed interest in Universal's film, however, and it never got made...nor did the two sequels whose titles DeLaurentiis had apparently revealed at one point, Bionic Kong and King Kong in Africa. A sequel was made, but it was apparently so inconsequential I had actually never even heard of 1986's King Kong Lives, despite the fact that I would have been nine-years-old at the time and very excited to see it.

King Kong Cometh was apparently occasioned by the then-imminent release of the Peter Jackson-directed remake, and it's kind of too bad the book came out before waht one essay refers to as "Kiwi Kong." There are a few short pieces near the end of the book referring to the not-yet-released remake, but with Jackson's King Kong in the rearview mirror, it's clear a lot of enthusiasts, maybe many of the same ones who contributed writing to this work, would have had a lot of very interesting things to say about it.


King Kong: The Island of The Skull (Pocket Star; 2005) by Matthew J. Costello: I don’t know if you guys have noticed or not, but I’ve been on something of a King Kong kick this fall.

This is a trashy paperback prequel to the 2005 Peter Jackson-directed movie, written by Matthew J. Costello.

The title is a bit misleading, as Kong himself doesn’t really appear at all. In the last third or so of the book, the native Skull Islanders attempt to sacrifice a girl to Kong, but she manages to escape and flee from Kong before ever actually coming face-to-face with him (She sees the darkness of his body blocking out the stars, hears him roar, hears the foliage shake as he moves through it).

In that respect, it is mostly just foreshadowing for Jackson’s movie, explaining where the map that ended up in Carl Denham’s hands came from. Curiously though, Costello doesn’t just tell that story thread, but two others featuring major characters from the films.

The story of the map is the story of Sam, a down-on-his-luck Navy diver who loses his job when his base shuts down, and ends up taking a job aboard a pearl ship sailing the South Seas, looking for freakish, giant oysters with freakish, giant pearls. As you can probably guess, there is an uncharted island in that area where freakish, giant things can be found in some abundance.

He and his shipmates encounter a prehistoric sea monster, and end up on Skull Island, crossing paths with the escaped sacrifice and encountering some of the inhospitable local wildlife, including a “V-Rex” (which, I’ve learned, is the exact species of the T-Rex-like theropods Kong battles in Jackson’s version; the book The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island, which I’ve just started, identifies them as a new, unique and distinct species—an elaborate meta-explanation for why the bipedal carnivore Kong battles in the original has more fingers than a T-Rex should, I guess), some big-ass carnivorous centipedes and a “vulturesaurus” (another creature named in World of Kong).

The other two threads follow Carl Denham as he and characters from his crew and that of the Venture (Preston, Herb, Englehorn, Hayes, even Lumpy) sail the North Atlantic, hoping to make a movie about killer whales and Ann Darrow, who out of desperation takes a job working a show in Atlantic City.

Costello is canny enough to give Denham and Darrow big stories all their own, with beginnings, middles and ends, but they seem oddly out of place next to Sam’s story, and little if anything ties the three narratives together—aside from the fact that a reader knows Denham and Darrow will eventually wind up on the same island Sam finds himself fighting for his life on.

The Denham and Darrow threads mainly hammer home that theme of destiny that Jackson kept hitting with them in the film, and establishing that Denham is a crafty, ballsy ball of ambition willing to take crazy risks and that Darrow has a way with animals.

Driscoll appears briefly, meeting Denham for drinks with Noel Coward one night, but it’s basically all foreshadowing, offering un-asked for, unimportant backstory to characters that don’t really need it.

A sequel would have probably been a lot more interesting, but as paperback novels-based-on-major-motion-pictures go, this is certainly preferable to a straight novelization in that it offers something new.

The quality of the writing is fine. Terse and unshowy, Johnson does a decent job conjuring visuals, but the book’s most impressive feat is probably staving off boredom in what is essentially 400-pages of stuff that wouldn’t have ever made it into a movie version of King Kong, no matter how many hours-long Jackson made it.


AUDIOBOOKS


No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden by Mark Owen with Kevin Maurer: The sub-title says it all. This is the 2012 autobiography of a Navy SEAL officer involved with the raid on Bin Laden's Abottabad compound in 2011.

"Owen" (that's not his real name) starts his story much, much earlier than 2011, wisely, as it not only builds tension for the climax, but it also gives a great deal of context as far as who he is, who the SEALS are and what their lives are like—hard for me to even imagine, really, even while listening to a professional actor read such a long, thorough first-hand account.

In addition to the bin Laden raid, Owen's team was involved in the 2009 rescue mission of Captain Richard Phillips from pirates in the Indian Ocean. That would probably have been story enough for a book, were it not for the raid two years later.

Owen jumps around in time from his training to his childhood to various important missions—in addition to the Phillips rescue and Bin Laden raid, several battles in Iraq and Afghanistan are laid out in some detail—the book slowing down near the end to reflect the import of the events. All that other stuff is interesting, but the reason people are reading is, of course, to hear about the death of Bin Laden.

The narrative continues quite a ways after bin Laden is shot dead, but I had this weird feeling that some of the more interesting parts of Owen's story were left out, including his decision to write this book, some of the static he might have faced, how he went about balancing national security concerns and military attitudes towards these sorts of books with its creation and the criticism he faced. I seem to recall there being quite a bit of controversy and chatter in the news media over this book when it was first announced, which, to be honest, is what lead me to pick it up.

Owen does address his decision to write the book, but it's mostly a bunch of bland if admirable platitudes. He knew what he and his "brothers" had just done was important and of historical significance, but he was bothered by the fact that everyone kept getting the story wrong (It's been a few months since I've listened to Peter L. Bergen's Manhunt: The 10-Year Search for Bin Laden—From 9/11 to Abottabad, but the stories seem to overlap almost perfectly; neither dramatically contradicts the other...at least, not that I noticed).

It's not a terribly political book, but I was actually surprised by what political content was there. At one point, Owen notes the SEALs are essentially living tools being used by their commanders, and, given the level of dedication to their cause these guys all must have, it was sort of surprising to hear just about any level of concern expressed for what party their commander-in-chief belonged to.

While recounting hearing President Obama's televised announcement of the death of Bin Laden, Owen writes "None of us were huge fans of Obama," and a friend of his says "We just got this guy reelected." (Earlier in the book, Owen expresses his displeasure with the way Obama seemed to take credit for the Phillips rescue). He meets the president and Vice President Joe Biden a few pages later ("Biden kept cracking lame jokes that no one got. He seemed like a nice guy, but he reminded me of someone's drunken uncle at Christmas dinner.")

Ultimately he does credit Obama for green-lighting the mission and making the right call, and he notes it doesn't matter if it was Republican or a Democratic president who ordered the mission, but it was sort of startling to see in print, particularly given how circumspect Owen is with his opinions on...just about everything throughout the book.

More surprising still? Dude eats Taco Bell; given the kind of shape these guys have to be in, I can't wrap my head around a SEAL eating Taco Bell, like, ever.


The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon: This 2001 book is part memoir and part history of depression, including many anecdotes pulled from Solomon's own life and struggle and those of people he knows. It is a very hard book to read, not because of the way it is written, but because of the subject matter: Depression is, unsurprisingly, a rather depressing thing to read about.

I actually tried to read this a few times before; once, shortly after it was first released and I had read some interesting reviews of it, and again about six or so years ago. I didn't get too far in either attempt.

The audiobook proved to be the way to go for me, as when I'm driving to or from work in the car, I don't have the option to set the book down and go pick up a comic book or take a nap or do any of the other things that would distract me from reading a depressing book about depression.

I think it's an important book to read, though, because of how thoroughly it covers an important topic.

I wanted to quote a full paragraphs at length, the ones in which Solomon explains the origin of the title he ultimately chose, which comes from the Bible. It's about as colorful yet authentic image of depression that I've heard:
The section in question occurs in Psalms and would be literally translated from the Vulgate: “His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night. / Of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark: of invasion, or of the noonday demon”—“ab incrusus, et daemonio meridiano.” Cassian presumed that “the terror of the night” refers to evil; “the arrow that flies in the day” to the onslaught of human enemies; “the business that walketh in the dark” to fiends that come in sleep; “invasion“ to possession; and “the noonday demon” to melancholia, the thing that you can see clearly in the brightest part of the day but that nonetheless comes to wrench your soul away from God.

Other sins might waste the night, but this bold one consumes day and night.



I have taken the phrase as the title of this book because it describes so exactly what one experiences in depression. The image serves to conjure the terrible feeling of invasion that attends the depressive’s plight. There is something brazen about depression. Most demons—most forms of anguish—rely on the cover of night; to see them clearly is to defeat them. Depression stands in the ful glare of the sun, unchallenged by recognition. You can know all the way and the wherefore and suffer just as much as if you were shrouded by ignorance. There is almost no other mental state of which the same can be said.


Solomon reads the book himself, and he does so with a rather flat, affecting voice—he sounds like the recovered or recovering depressive he is, although he's dictating a book he wrote and, as you learn his story, you realize how incredible the fact that he lived, that he wrote and that he recorded an audiobook is.



CDs


Frankenweenie Unleashed: The highlight of this album, featuring music "from and inspired by" Tim Burton's recent stop-motion feature film expansion of his old live-action short film is Karen O's "Strange Love." She coos cute couplets of teenage-perfect romanticism ("Love is strange/When there's beauty on the inside, the outside there's nothing to change"; "The lightning's not fright'ning when you are with me/Oh 'cause love is not always what you think it will be"; etc).

She kicks it off with a long, rolling "Oh-oh-ohhh," her sugar-sweet voice previewing and pre-echoing the theremin and the dog howls that occasionally rise up to try and harmonize with certain lines. Ukulele, steel guitar and vibraphone make for a rich, quietly clanking and clanging rock ballad. I was quite literally addicted to this song for a while when I first heard this album, listening to it over and over.

The other most notable song is Robert Smith of The Cure covering the Sinatra standard "Witchcraft," which sounds ever bit as awesome as the previous sentence suggests. Winona Ryder is listed as an artist on the final track, but it's simply a song from the movie itself, and not Ryder revealing her new rock and roll career path or anything.

Grace Potter and The Flaming Lips collaborate on a track, which is as interesting as it sounds

The remaining tracks come courtesy of familiar-sounding names like Neon Trees (Fun fact: I can't tell them apart from The Killers), Passion Pit, Imagine Dragons, Grouplove, Skylar Grey and the Plain White T's (offering a rather uninspired but still welcome over-produced cover of The Ramones' "Pet Sematary."

[Aside: You know, I think my confusion over the plot of Pet Sematary is owed to my familiarity with The Ramones song, the lyrics of which—"I don't want to be buried in a Pet Sematary/I don't wanna live my life again"—indicates that those buried in the cemetery come back to life, but in the movie, only those buried in special Native American ritual area a long hike behind the cemetery are resurrected.]

I liked Mark foster's complex, electornic "Polatropic," which sounds like he's conducting a videogame orchestra heavy on violin and either xylophone or piano and Kimbra's jazzy "With My Hand" which sounds like something from a Frankenstein: The Musical (This song may actually even be in the movie; I don't know, I haven't seen it). AWOLNATION'S "Everybody's Got a Secret" and Kerli's "Immortal" are both pretty okay too; I especially liked the vocals on that latter on.


A Very She and Him Christmas: This is what I listened to while putting up my Christmas tree this year, in lieu of my traditional tree-trimming selections of A Kazoo Choir Chirstmas or the John Denver and The Muppets' A Christmas Together.

It's a lovely package, with the photogenic M. Ward and the hyper-photogenic Zooey Deschanel looking handsome and cute respectively on the front and back covers. Inside, where the liner notes would be, there's a red envelope containing a Christmas card with "Best Wishes for Your Happiness this Holiday Season, Matt & Zooey" written inside in silver-y ink, a track listing of the dozen songs below.

These dozen songs are all Christmas standards, played quietly with a few instruments—piano, guitar, ukulele, some light percussion on a few—the focus of each being Deschanel's sometimes smouldery, sometimes ringing voice.

The Christmas Waltz, Christmas Day, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, I'll Be home For Christmas, Silver Bells...there aren't any songs on the album that you wouldn't hear in a grade-schooler Christmas pageant or a pumping through the air in a grocery store or mall in the month of December. There aren't any original songs, and probably the closest the pair comes to transforming anything is swapping the male and female lines in "Baby, It's Cold Outside," so that Deschanel is the sexually aggressive, insistent one, while Ward worries about what his parents will say and the neighbors will think.

"Yeah, it's a Christmas album," a friend who also likes She and Him told me, as if I were an idiot, when I said it looked like it was all cover songs. "That's what Christmas albums are." I guess maybe I haven't listened to a whole lot of Christmas albums?

If the point is to present a well-liked or favorite voice singing or interpreting familiar, classic songs, then this certainly achieves its goals. I like Deschanel's voice, and hearing her singing these songs is a new enough experience. I like the understated quality of most of the music that accompanies her (and, on a few songs, Ward's) voice throughout; it's much less annoying than a lot of other versions of these same songs.



*Here's what pre-Every Day Is Like Wednesday Caleb had to say about Half Past Dead:
In the early ’90s a tall, trim Steven Seagal starred in a string of straightforward action flicks with interchangeable, three-word titles like Marked for Death and Out for Justice. Portraying an unstoppable, slick-haired, ass-kicking machine, Seagal broke bad guys’ arms and swatted thugs down like flies with his no-frills martial arts.

Then he apparently went insane, gained 300 pounds and started making movies like Glimmer Man and Fire Down Below—movies so awful they made Hard to Kill look like Hamlet.

Now, in post-Matrix Hollywood, where fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping is a household name, Seagal’s a dinosaur, and it could be time to hang up the scowl and ponytail for good. After all, who wants to watch a huge white man slap people around while Jackie Chan and Jet Li are alive and well and working in Hollywood? Seagal’s career, it would seem, is dead.

In fact, you could say its Half Past Dead, the title of the new actioner that pairs Seagal with rapper Ja Rule (the title has to be some studio exec’s idea of a joke).

Seagal plays a big fat undercover FBI agent who gets thrown in jail with his street thug friend Ja Rule. But it’s not just any jail they’re thrown in; it’s a tricked-out, high-tech Alcatraz, where a guy who knows where $200 million in gold is stashed is about to be executed. The Supreme Court Justice who sentenced that guy to death is on site to watch him ride the lightning when, wouldn’t you know it, a gang of big black coat-swirling, machine gun-blasting Matrix extras take over the island in an attempt to find out where the gold is hidden. All that stands in their way is a man mountain with a ponytail.

Writer/director Don Michael Paul couldn’t write or direct his way out of a high school detention room, let alone Alcatraz, and his movie starts to fall apart before the opening credits are over. The action is awful—Seagal rarely appears in the same frame as his martial arts moves, his fists and feet just fly at bad guys from somewhere off-screen. And I swear Paul uses slow motion for a full quarter of the movie; some directors use the technique to make something look dramatic, but he just seems to be stalling.

As for Ja Rule, he’s serviceable here, but then he’s starred in music videos with more nuances. Masochists and bad action movie fans can surely wring some laughs out of Half Past Dead at the movie’s expense, but for God’s sake, wait to watch it on cable. Don’t spend any money on this movie—you’ll just encourage them.
You may not think much of my writing now but, as you can see, it used to be much worse!

3 comments:

Akilles said...

These gigantic posts are as interesting as they`re exhaustingly long.

As for the review of Half past dead...It`s not that bad. Not a masterpiece, sure, but not that bad.

Michael said...

I’d have preferred another Spider-Man 3, frankly, as that film’s only sin was that it had one villain too many in it.

Sounds like someone forgot the dance number...

Bryan Levy said...

There is a sequel to Jackson's King Kong in book form. I just got it on Kindle. It is called "Kong: King of Skull Island" and focuses on Denham's son.