Saturday, February 27, 2016

Narcopolis – review

Narcopolis is a neo-noir science fiction thriller. The movie quality is good, the acting is so-so, but the story itself is a convoluted mess. Just when you think you might understand what is happening in this story it takes a bizarre turn and leaves you wondering why the filmmakers decided to proceed to take the story in such a strange way.

Narcopolis takes place in the distant future of 2024 where in 2019 drugs have become legalized across the board. Pharmaceutical corporations sell the drugs and special cops called Drecks are created to arrest the drug dealers who still trade in the black market. After finding a mysterious body the Dreck, Frank Grieves finds out that legalization comes at a price.

On paper this sounds like a modern version of Reefer Madness. It has away more in common with another neo-noir film, Blade Runner. The similarities are abundant:
·      Blade Runner takes place in 2019, this movie has major plot elements that begin in 2019.
·      Both films feature a cop that has a title that is a slang term (Blade Runner/Dreck).
·      Both officers basically work for the corporations to remove problems that the corporations are responsible for causing.
·      Both officers have futuristic weapons that are fairly similar.
At times I longed for the futuristic ads welcoming a new life in the off-world colonies because despite the similarities to Blade Runner, this film does not bring any of the brains to the table that Blade Runner did.

At about the halfway point of the film the story introduces time travel through drug use. Time travel movies are somewhat tricky as it is and often require a lot of exposition to truly get the audience onboard. Adding it like a last-minute thought is a really bad idea that just makes the movie confusing. As if that was not bad enough the time travel idea makes the ending a paradox that should loop itself through eternity.

The bummer about this film is that the central idea is not a bad one. Making a dystopian movie about a world where all drugs are legal could have been interesting and smart. The political and societal implications could have been intriguing and really built a world that is terrifying no matter what your views on legalization are. Instead it felt like the writer just wanted to make a movie that people would find bizarre. The effects are not terrible but that alone does not make a movie good.

The cast does an okay job given the material. The only person that stands out is Jonathan Pryce. He has a part that is so small that it feels like the producers wasted an opportunity with him. There isn’t anyone who sticks out and the performances are wholly forgettable. If only somebody brought a unique performance or some nuance to this film it might have elevated the quality of the film quite a bit.

The noir setting of London is not bad. There are elements of dark cynicism and moral ambiguity that is par for the course with noir.  To add to the confusion the movie begins in the year 2044 then leaps to 2024, and then back again. I am sure that if I had multiple viewings I might understand it a little better. The problem is that the characters are not compelling enough to want to view it multiple times. The ending is bizarre and the build up to it seems like the setup to a lame punch line that causes nobody to laugh.

When it comes to recommending Narcopolis, I would say this movie is a dud. The characters are not people you want to go on the journey with and the story is a mess of sci-fi themes that might as well have been created from magnetic poetry on a refrigerator. Even the people that enjoy bad movies might find it a bit tedious. Save your time and watch Blade Runner.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My 2016 Oscar Nominations.


The Martian






The Danish Girl


Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera


Doug Mitchell and George Miller, Producers


John Seale


Jenny Beavan


George Miller


Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey




Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega and Damian Martin


Production Design: Colin Gibson; Set Decoration: Lisa Thompson


Matthew Wood and David Acord


Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson


Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington and Sara Bennett


Ennio Morricone


Written by Alex Garland


Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy


Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees

Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle


Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage


“Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground; Music and Lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga


Screenplay by Drew Goddard

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Cherry Falls – review

Cherry Falls is a satirical slasher film that seems like it is built for cult status. The story is silly, as many slasher movies tend to be.  Still, the actors at least try to make the humor subtle without going into a meta territory like Scream or winking at the camera like later Nightmare on Elm St. movies. The gravitas that the main actors bring make the movie interesting and watchable.

Cherry Falls is a town in Virginia where teenagers are being brutally murdered. Their dead bodies have the word “virgin” carved into them. As Jody Marken, played by Brittany Murphy, goes to school and find out about the fate of her fellow students, she soon finds herself being chased by the killer. The killer creates a scare in the community where all the virgins want to loose their virginity so that they will not be targets of the killer’s rage.

For the most part the actors are the standard teenage slasher movie tropes. Hordes of twenty-somethings pretending to be teenagers acting like stupid stereotypes. You do not care if they die because they are painfully annoying. Brittany Murphy, Michael Biehn, and Jay Mohr are actually trying to make an entertaining movie and anything entertaining coming out of it is almost solely owed to their talents. The many other characters could easily be replaced by cartoon characters with names like “gay best friend,” “slutty friend,” and “loud-mouth bully.” 

Brittany Murphy was an underrated actress who will certainly be missed. Her performance is vulnerable and believable despite the rather ludicrous material. Michael Biehn is sort of under utilized. He is the sheriff and Brittany Murphy’s father in the film. He is trying to make the script work for him but at times he seems like he is just annoyed with people. However, since he is playing an overworked sheriff, that attitude seems to work. Jay Mohr is great. His acting range goes from a subtle, calm one to a scenery-chewing ten.

The movie is said to have gone through five attempts to the MPAA before the censors would approve it. That being said, it would have been so interesting to see a director’s cut of this movie. It does feel like there might have been a lot more gore and sex at one point but it was neutered for a more mainstream audience. It is the sort of movie that should draw a cult status form fans of horror that is not that serious or scary.

The story is silly. The overall motivation of the killer is mindless. It is a tale of revenge but it is also chaotic and directionless. Much like Ghost Face from Scream, the killer spends a great deal of time placing his victims in scary positions and getting his butt-kicked by the protagonist. The teens discussing losing their virginity to save their lives is amusing and the inevitable orgy that ensues is laughable but makes the movie at least unique.

The movie is full of product placement for Coca Cola and other junk food. Not to the point of distraction, but many shots linger on desk or tables with Coke products. The movie does not seem to take itself too seriously but it also does not go to the level of being so over-the-top that it comes off like the characters are winking at the camera or just going through the motions to get their paycheck.

Cherry Falls is worth checking out. If you are a horror fan or a slasher movie fan then this movie will entertain you. The film is just unique enough to not fall into the same camp as the horde of movies that came out during the Scream generation of horror movies. The great performances really make this hidden gem into something that hopefully finds more of an audience in a cult status and the ending kicks the movie into an insane gear, which will have the audience laughing at how over-the-top things get.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

R.O.T.O.R – review

 R.O.T.O.R is a science fiction movie that seems to rely on the ideas of movies that came before it. It is one part Robocop and one part Terminator and only entertaining to those people who are into movies that are “so bad they are good.”  Even the poster is a blatant rip-off of Mad MaxR.O.T.O.R is basically banking on the fame of other movies to make people watch it.

Barrett Coldyron has created a robotic police officer. They call the new mechanical officer R.O.T.O.R., which stands for Robotic Officer Tactical Operation Research. During some tests a mistake occurs that causes R.O.T.O.R to become active. When it does it is programmed to judge and execute. It finds a couple speeding on the road and kills the male driver. The female passenger goes on the run with the killer robot hot on her trail.

The movie has some amusing dialogue. Most of it is southern slang that would make Huckleberry Hound feel right at home. There is a wisecracking robot sidekick for the scientist who is stupid but it is sort of fun when you pretend that this is the same company that sold Rocky Balboa the robot that he gave to Pauly in Rocky IV. There is also an unexpected ending, which was appreciated given the unoriginal turd that the audience is subjected to.

The acting is pretty bad. The characters just do not have the gravitas to make you believe the words coming out of their mouths. They should have realized this movie was a turkey from day one and decided instead to perform it as melodramatically as possible. This gives nothing memorable and I am pretty sure this was a lot of the actor’s first and last movie to perform in.

The story is ridiculous.  It is never explained how R.O.T.O.R has a human outer shell. There is no explanation for its weaknesses and its weaknesses are truly bizarre. For instance, car horns are too loud for it. R.O.T.O.R also expresses frustration regularly, which makes no sense for a robot. In fact, there is little that does make sense. Let us imagine that crime was so bad that police needed robotic help. Why would they make one that is programmed like Judge Dredd? We would still have rights. I am pretty sure that the writers of this film have no clue how a computer works, much less how a robot would function. You cannot just have a robot switch on and go on a killing spree. The creator must have made it to kill or there is a huge glitch. So either the creator is incompetent or just evil.

The style of the film is bizarre. There are nameplates that are the same height as doorknobs, all establishing shots have the day and time labeled on them as if they matter and the end of the film does not match with what we saw at the beginning in flashback. Most of the movie is told in flashback and it makes me wonder how boring it must have been for the person listening to Coldyron tell every minute detail of his life in this story, “I woke up, had some orange juice and my vitamins, then I went roping stumps.” Riveting. There is also the addition of the female character, Steele, who is there simply to fight the robot in a skunk colored mullet.

R.O.T.O.R is a movie for a very select audience and unfortunately I was not included. The acting is not worth mentioning and the story is nothing new. If you are looking for robot movies with some meat on the bones look no further than Robocop and the Terminator. If you are looking for something more recent try Ex Machina. This movie is not exciting and holds no thrills. It is a clear cash grab attempting to cash-in on the popular movies of the decade.  It is essentially a Mac and Me without the obvious product placements.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sonny Boy - review

If you are a looking for a movie that is one part The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and another part Unleashed, I would still suggest you try a different movie because Sonny Boy is off the rails. This movie is unpleasant and is not made well enough to warrant any one searching it out other than hipsters looking for something to watch ironically. It is exploitative, predictable, and it feels like a joke on the audience.

A criminal named Weasel, played by Brad Dourif, robs and kills a young couple. When he goes to fence the stolen items, he finds a baby in the backseat. The redneck couple that fence the material decide to take the baby. They name the baby Sonny Boy and raise him like an animal. The family cuts off his tongue and train him to kill their enemies and eat them.

As I mentioned, this movie is unpleasant. A child getting his tongue cut out and being drug behind a car is not something I ever need to imagine. Meanwhile, the baby playing Sonny Boy is crying constantly like he is miserable being on screen. Whatever it took to make that baby upset was not worth it. The redneck family is insane. The man, Slue, is a hulk that gets mad constantly, kicks a pig when it is in his way and slaps anyone who crosses him. The woman, Pearl, is played by a cross-dressing David Carradine.

The movie quality is very poor. The screen looks so scratchy that it appears to be edited in a rock tumbler. Between scene transitions, a form of dueling banjos play as if to make the audience feel like at anytime the characters will be raped by hillbillies. Not that there are not a few charms to this movie. Brad Dourif could read the phone book and be awesome. He tries to be memorable every time he is on screen. Paul L. Smith does a great job as Slue. I used to think he was only memorable for being in Pieces but he really is great as acting like an abusive butt-head in this film.

The last fifteen minutes has all the real action in the movie. It feels like the bulk of the budget went to the shoot-out scene, which was covered in explosions and fireballs. The problem is that this movie is nothing new. It is a plot about a man who takes a pitiable man/creature and makes him into his killing tool. When people figure out there is a killer amok they gather a mob and go after them. They did not even make a story that seemed to flow logically. At one point Sonny Boy is being attacked by an angry mob and then the screen just says “Three days later.” We suddenly see Sonny Boy hanging out in the desert and he apparently has a girlfriend.

Who decided to put David Carradine in a dress and have him play a woman? It is so strange and then he also wrote and performed the intro song in the film. It is distracting and it does not add anything to the movie. There is a lot of filler in the movie in the attempt to make Sonny Boy seem more vulnerable. Things like having him leer at a couple he comes across having sex in an abandoned house.  It does not make him seem like a tragic character but more of a creep.

There few things that this movie has going for it do not make it worth seeing. I guess if you are a fan of the bizarre or you might be a fan of obscure Yugoslavian actress Savina Gersak then it might be worth your time. Otherwise, you can see most of these actors doing much better movies. It is amazing that a movie like this ever was green lighted. If it was funnier I could excuse the weirdness but it was devoid of humor and instead seemed to feed of the confusion of the audience.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Curse II: The Bite – review

The Curse II: The Bite is a movie that must have seemed like a good idea on paper but on screen it is fairly dull. Most of the movie is watching a young couple drive around and talk about how in love they are. The characters are poorly developed and the story is ludicrous. There are a few gory moments that are interesting to watch but it only happens at the last few minutes of the movie so by then it is too little too late.

Lisa and Clark are a young couple traveling across the country. They have a few mishaps involving hundreds of snakes on their travels. One snake climbs into their car and bites Clark in the left hand. The snake was apparently radioactive or something because the bite is slowing transforming Clark’s hand into a living snake.

The acting is so-so at best. Nobody acts as if the situation is real. They simply see a guy with a snakebite acting like a psychopath and figure he is just being a turd and they can shrug it off. At no point is going to the hospital an option until he is forced to go there. By that point he has a living snake on his hand that for some reason goes right for the mouths of his victims. 

If there is a redeeming feature to this movie it is that Jamie Farr plays a doctor. At first I was not sure if he would be able to pull off an entertaining role in this movie but sure enough he had a decent amount of charm when he was on-screen. The other character that was trying hard, given the material, was Jill Schoelen as Lisa. She had a much more recognizable role later in her life as the daughter in the movie The Stepfather. She actually tries to make the material work.

The pacing is unfortunate. It feels like this movie would have been about 30 minutes long if they simply cut out the filler material like driving over hundreds of snakes in the middle of the road. It added nothing, and besides being odd, it really does not create an atmosphere of horror. The puppets do not even seem to be creative. They are lazily flopped about and it makes me wonder why Curtis has not cut off his own evil hand like Ash in Evil Dead II.

I was not sure if they were attempting to make an environmental message at one point telling the audience straight out that the world is blowing up weapons under ground and dumping things all over the environment. It is such a glancing conversation that they could have discussed their favorite host of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and it would have added as much to the movie. I suppose that they wanted the audience to think that the snakes were somehow mutated by the radiation so their bite can do things that are borderline magic to a person.

Even the music choices are lazy. When about to have a sex scene the young lovers, Lisa and Clark, turn on a radio that plays some soft-core porno riff that could have taken 4 minutes on a Casio keyboard to make. There is nothing that differentiates this movie from the many others like it. It just feels like a product of its time that was made to be VHS rental fodder.

The Curse II: The Bite is not scary, it is not entertaining, and it is not funny. At its bare bones it is another movie that tries hard to rip-off the formula that movies like The Wolf Man have perfected. There is nothing clever or overly creative and it comes off as boring with nothing of value. If there were considerable re-writes this movie might have potential but as it is this movie is not anything but a forgettable film.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

From Hell – review

From Hell is a 2001 movie that tells the story of the Jack the Ripper murders. The film is loosely based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell and follows the character of Fredrick Abberline as the films protagonist.  From Hell is an interesting interpretation of the Jack the Ripper story going into Royal conspiracy and building on an atmosphere of gory legend. Much like the source material, the movie does a good job transporting the audience to the location of Whitechapel England in the Victoria era.

Mary Kelly, played by Heather Graham, is a prostitute in Whitechapel England. She and a group of prostitute friends go about their day to day drudgery when one them is kidnapped. Then, one-by-one, they are murdered in horrific fashion by a murderer known as Jack the Ripper. It is up to inspector Fredrick Abberline, played by Johnny Depp, to catch the killer before more innocents can be killed. Soon they are drawn into a conspiracy involving Freemasons and the Royal Family.

From Hell is a beautiful movie. The filmmakers did a wonderful job capturing the grim world of Victorian era England. The camera work and stylized shots are very artistic and really make the movie seem dark and deep with a sort of nightmarish essence through every shot. There are numerous references to the fact that this is the Victorian era. Things like a Buffalo Bill Wild West Show pamphlet or having John Merrick, The Elephant Man, make a cameo appearance might seem clever on paper but on screen it takes you out of the movie. It felt like these sorts of additions were there simply to hit the audience over the head with the time period.

Heather Graham is noticeably bad in this movie. Her cockney accent is not on point at all and she seems to be struggling with portraying basic human emotions. Johnny Depp is not much better as he mumbles in a sleepwalker’s haze through his performance. This movie owes much to the talent of the character actors that make this movie watchable. Robbie Coltrane, Ian Holm and Jason Flemyng all give dynamite performances that pick up the slack that the leads cannot seem to carry.

The story itself is intriguing enough but there is very little reason for the lead characters to even be present. For some reason Fredrick Abberline is a psychic. This seems pointless as this ability does not allow him to save anyone from Jack the Ripper and it does not lead to him catching the killer. In fact the killer, once questioned, confesses everything in a greatly over-the-top fashion makes the visions Abberline have even more bizarre.  Also the killer goes from zero to psychotic in seconds flat. There was no telling as to why the insane switch was pulled, but when it was the killers eyes go black and he rambles insane nonsense as if he is evil personified, which is a touch out of character but it is nevertheless entertaining to watch.

The romance between Abberline and Mary is forced at best and the conclusion that is derived from it is not earned. It felt like a needlessly tacked on happy ending. Even the details of Abberline’s previous marriage and his wife’s death seemed like subjects that were tacked on to emotionally manipulate the audience rather than create a fleshed out character. It would have preferred they leave him out completely if they cannot make a character that is developed beyond a cop with a chip on his shoulder.

From Hell is a good movie for a rental. It showcases a creepy atmosphere and scenes that are gritty and haunting. While the effects are dated and a bit silly, it is still one of the better movies featuring the subject of Jack the Ripper. The conspiracy sort of falls apart if you take a moment to think about it. It is still an entertaining movie that has a gothic feel that will linger with you days after viewing.