Tuesday, July 28, 2015

New Flix: We Are Still Here (2015)

It is nice to be ahead of the curve.  Today's Film is We Are Still Here, a 2015 Horror Film that I got as part of the random batch of Films for my Birthday.  I'm getting through them at my own pace, thank you very much.  This is one of the 'slow-burn Films.'  People tend to either love or hate them.  As far as I go, I don't mind a slow pace if it is worth the time put into it.  The Film tells the tale of a sad couple that move into a new home.  Naturally, something goes wrong and all hell eventually breaks loose.  Who will live?  Who will die?  What is the secret of the House?  I won't SPOIL too much here, but I will give you enough info to help make up your mind about this one.  To find out what is what, read on...
This couple is moving out to the countryside to get away from their old life and Home.
Unfortunately, they may not be alone in this Home.  The Guest isn't one of the living...
They are eventually visited by some Neighbors and (without SPOILing anything) there is more than meets the eye going on here.

I mean, come on- it is a Movie.  Of course something more is going on!
Our heroes eventually have some Guests over- her friend and a spouse- and they are Mediums.
Meanwhile, whatever is in the House doesn't always play nice.

This poor Electrician would be a Poor Bastard of Cinema, but he's more scared than hurt.
What is keeping them up at nights?  What is the secret of the House and what role does the Town play into it?  To find out, watch the Film.
This one is worth the wait.  The Film is definitely a 'slow-burn,' but it totally works.  The people are nice and understated.  The Setting contains menace, but could easily be in any other Film.  It works as a Haunted House, but you could also totally live in this place.  The key thing is that you have to feel for these Characters so that you get invested in their Story.  While the Story hits alot of familiar beats, ti does them well, so I can't complain too much.  All of the Actors do their parts well.  The Writing is quite good too.  With that combination, you get solid, believable Characters and a natural Story.  While I won't SPOIL what the creatures look like, I will say that they are neat.  They don't show them too much and too often, but it makes them feel extra special when they show up.  The whole Film is nice and the Climax is no exception.  The only SPOILER for the overall Ending I'll give you is this nice Reaction Shot...
Next up, a Film that I watched last week...but was unsure of what to do with it.  Reluctantly, I bring you one of the most ridiculously-offensive things I've seen.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Twin Piqued: Double Play

Another Saturday and another trip to the crazy Town of...
Big events go down!  Investigation, assault and lots of melodrama.
Important Stuff
- Cooper reveals his back-story to Truman related to Windom Earle.  He fell for the guy's wife while he was protecting her, but she died.  He thinks that Windom killed her!
- Big Ed seems to be freed up to go after his long-lost love, while the guy in the way is now going to go back to Jail.

- Major Briggs shows up, says that he thinks that he was at The White Lodge and then leaves.

- Leo is awake and tries to kill his wife.  After meeting with Audrey, Bobby goes home to save her.  Leo is wounded and flees.
- Ben Horne continues to be crazy, while the town Doc says that Nicky isn't a killer.  Is that the end of this Story?

- The Mayor tries to kill his dead brother's wife, but they end up together.  He's been dead for 2 days?

- Pete learns the truth about Josie's husband and who they think tried to kill him- Thomas Eckhardt.
- James' Soap Opera story seems to end with him leaving with Donna as the Police investigate the (unseen) death of the woman's spouse.  That was sudden, right?

- At the very end, we see Leo wander to a Cabin in the Woods (not that one!) and meet...Windom Earle!  Oh shit.
The simple one here is Ghosts of the Past.  Not much has changed, but...

- James' past finds him in the form of Donna.
- The sins of Cooper's past return via Windom.
- The man from Josie and Catherine's past returns.
- Ben Horne channels the Civil War as he goes more insane.
I still have to ask- why is he a Southern General?
Weird Moment(s)
In Nadine's absence, Ben Horne takes the cake for his mental regression as a Southern General.  To help secure the spot though...
The Doctor is back, observing Ben from a large chair like a Lifeguard!  Weird.
This one leaned a bit more towards the weird, but it was still quite good.  James' silly Story seems to have wrapped up quickly.  It wasn't a bad one, but it wasn't really my take.  It didn't turn into To Die For, so kudos there.  The story with the Mayor and his dead brother's Widow took a weird, but expected turn.  You have odd taste, Teen Witch!  The Ben Horne stuff isn't really going anywhere that I can tell, but at least it is so bizarre that it is funny.  The Nicky stuff seemed to stop cold...or did it?  Seeing Leo finally awake and active was nice.  Will he ever live up to how bad-ass he thinks he is?  The bit at the end with him and Windom Earle makes me really intrigued.  Will Cooper and Truman be up to the task?  This turn isn't too much of a surprise, I will admit, but it is still so neat that I can't wait to see what happens.  As a bonus, we get David Warner- win, win.  I'm stoked to see what happens next.  Here's an interesting factoid for you: the one-time Episode Director here would go on to make a Film that many of you may have heard of...
Next week, what will Windom Earle do next?  Is Cooper up to the task?  See you then...

Friday, July 24, 2015

Poor Bastards of Cinema: H.P. Lovecraft's The Unnamable II (Part 3)

At long last, the last Poor Bastards of this Film.

As a refresher, these 2 guys separated a Monster from its Human Host and all hell broke loose.  Since the Host was transformed in the 17th Century, she is a medical anomaly in the Present.  They find a Doctor on Campus to take a look...
Unfortunately, someone else showed up too- the Monster!
That...looks painful.  I'm no Doctor, but I'm gonna guess that you won't make it through the...well, the next minute or so.
Just to note: he is killed mid-sentence and as soon as he appears to bring aid.  Is this another Deep Blue Sea Moment too?

Anyhow, this guy does from a Monster that was unleashed by our heroes and was only targeted because they called him.  It is 99% their fault here.

The lesson: being a Doctor is deadly!

Next up, more random death for no good reason.  What profession will be next?   Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Quick Reviews: Chappie

After not catching this one in Theaters, I might as well join the Robot Revolution...
A nice Engineer has helped develop reliable Robots that take over the Police Force in Johannesburg, South Africa.
This guy (Hugh Jackman) would rather they use his big, bulky Moose design and doesn't like to be ignored.
After a series of events, the Engineer's experimental new Robot with sentience ends up in the hands of these less-than-reputable Criminals.
Will Chappie turn to the dark side or find a way to once again enforce the Law?
This learning Robot begins to find out what life is all about.  Will it all be for naught though?

To find out, watch the movie.  The End.
A good, solid Film.  This one got a mixed Critical Reaction and wasn't a Blockbuster.  I suppose I can see what problems people had with it.  Let's be clear: Neil Blomkamp doesn't make subtle Films.  His messages are pounded in with the subtlety of a Nail Gun.  Let's make this clear: I like Neil Blomkamp Films.  Yes, even Elysium.  I actually thought he was a little more subtle here.  Jackman's villain didn't give any big monologues, while the other villain- a muscular gangsta- was just plain angry.  The biggest thing was just how Chappie's (the Character) played out.  Once he gained sentience, he slowly grew into a strong, understanding Character.  Seeing him mimic He-Man was quite fun too.  His Story feels real and the people around him get a little bit of nuance to help the situation.  A big credit goes Sharlto Copley for bringing innocence, emotion and depth to the Character.  When he feels happy, you feel it too.  When he feels sad, you feel for him.  Everyone here does a good job in playing their Characters.  It is nice to see Jackman playing outside of what he usually does, even if him in Sci-Fi Films involving Robots don't tend to turn out too well financially.  Regardless, I like this Film alot more than some others out there.  I can live with that.  Something else I can live with- finally having a real Indian in a Robot Film...
Despite what I heard alot, I actually liked this one.  I really felt for Chappie, which is the biggest thing this movie had to accomplish.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Project Nostalgic Awesomeness: The Trial of the Incredible Hulk

Welcome back to...oh, heck. I can't call it Project Terrible for this one, so I'm officially changing the title for today's article. Project Nostalgic Awesomeness. That's better.

Confession: I really, really loved the old Incredible Hulk TV show starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. So, Al's submission of The Trial of the Incredible Hulk for this round of our little project had me cautiously optimistic. As it turns out, my optimism was justified.

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk was one of a couple attempts that I know of to start up a spinoff show from the Hulk TV series centered around another Marvel superhero. The first was The Incredible Hulk Returns, which added Thor in an attempt to create a show based around him. This one...well, if you know comics, it's pretty obvious who this one involves. Trial?

She-Hulk? No. Okay, so, maybe not quite as obvious as I thought.

Nope, it's Daredevil, he who recently got his own show on Netflix, rendering this little review pretty timely. Daredevil, for the unfamiliar, is a blind crimefighter with enhanced senses akin to a particularly powerful sonar or radar, who also happens to be a defense attorney named Matt Murdock. He's actually one of the more interesting characters in comics, to me--I guess I've always kind of liked the crusading defense attorney shows...and video games. Daredevil / Phoenix Wright crossover, anyone?

...that needs to exist. Needs to.

Anyway, here's the general idea. David Banner (not Bruce, as in the comics, though as I recall he's actually called David Bruce Banner to keep the name in there...comics used Robert Bruce Banner, as I recall?) is a homeless drifter who used to be a scientist before an experiment with gamma radiation gave him a little anger management problem--now, whenever he gets too angry or stressed, he converts into a lumbering green monster with superhuman strength, the Hulk. During the TV show, he wandered from town to town, trying to avoid trouble, but always ending up in the midst of it despite his best efforts, just too good-natured to stay out of things when innocent people were in danger. It was kind of a superhero version of The Fugitive--a man who for his own good needs to leave well enough alone, but can't, because he's too good a man to do it. Between his brains and his alter ego's massive amount of brawn, he'd stop injustice and help the innocent, but always had to move on to avoid the monster within making a mess of things.

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk uses that same formula to an extent: After a brief intro, David finds a place in a city, and tries to lay low and just find a job to support himself. This city, though, is filled with corruption, and he gets involved when a couple thieves escaping the scene of a diamond heist decide to harass a woman on a train. Though David tries to avoid involving himself, he finally can't help it, and stands up to the thieves--whereupon they beat him up, whereupon the Hulk beats them up.

Unfortunately, in a city this corrupt, the truth is twisted. Threatened, the woman claims David was attacking her, and he's arrested and charged. Enter Matt Murdock, defense attorney, who thinks that the men David described in his statement (which didn't, of course, mention becoming a big green guy) sound like those he knows work for a Wilson Fisk--who he believes is in control of a criminal organization. Matt's goal is taking Fisk down, and he thinks David is his ticket to doing it.

From there, the film interweaves David and Matt's stories, at first separating them somewhat (with David in jail awaiting trial, and Matt investigating), but later bringing them together more solidly. It plays out like a superhero film mixed with a Law and Order episode, to an extent--Matt interviews the witness, tries to convince David to talk, and as his alter-ego Daredevil, interrogates street toughs and tries to find the truth.

You'll might perceive that a lot of this film focuses on Matt/Daredevil, and you'd be right about that. It's pretty clear watching this that the focus is on trying to create a new show, and the new main character eats up a lot of the spotlight time. I didn't feel it was a major problem, because the story is still quite good, but at the same time, it feels a little bad to see Bill and Lou relegated to side characters in a film that still bears the name of their show. That said...it's not like they just show up, intro the case, and then sit in prison the entire movie. They get pretty involved, and their inclusion feels valid--not just a cheap trick to try to get someone to watch a new show.

So...this is a good film. No qualifiers, full stop. This is a good film. What you have here is a great cast putting on a neat take on some of Marvel's characters--not quite keeping to the comics, but keeping close enough and doing well any time they divert anyway. Much like the TV show, this film just feels good--it carries on the show's themes very well, and sets up interesting situations for its new characters.

The acting is strong, with Bill Bixby still being the standout. I've always loved his David Banner, and this is no exception. He captures the troubled mind of a man who knows that he could at any moment become a powerful monster, and who can never be sure just what that monster will do. He shows the struggle between his urge to just be safe and live a quiet life, and his inability to stand aside while people suffer. And above all, he just seems like a good and gentle man, which provides a great contrast with what lurks within. Lou Ferrigno's Hulk, though honestly underused in the film to some extent, is always great to see too. Let's be honest here: how many people can you think of who could be painted green and go around dressed in ripped pants and honestly look intimidating as heck? Lou pulls that off, and does a great job bringing out the Hulk's bestial, instinctive sort of movement and fighting style. He doesn't move like he's just a strong man--he moves like an angry animal. It's not an easy portrayal. I always particularly love his slow "calming down" scenes, just before he transforms back. He really does those with a lot of subtle changes in emotion, and it's nice.

The new cast members are a lot of fun, as well. Rex Smith, our Matt Murdock / Daredevil, handily portrays a defense attorney on a mission, and handles both sides of the character quite well. He has to display quite a range of emotions here, with both his civilian and superhero identies having some real highs and lows in the tale, and he plays off of Bixby's David Banner nicely--the two taking turns giving each other some inspiration. I also have to say that I liked his portrayal of blindness in general. It's hard to put my finger on why--it just felt more legitimate than other performances I've seen. He never seems to forget that element of his character, which couldn't have been easy. The only critique I think I have on him is that sometimes he speaks in almost too stereotypically superheroic a manner. His voice just kind of takes on that tone--you know, the "fear not, citizen!" sort of tone, and takes you just a bit out of things. I think that would've been worked out during a series, though, and it's pretty minor.

Daredevil's supporting cast members don't get a lot of screen time, but seem interesting enough--he's got a partner and assistant at his law office who both seem like they'd be fun characters, and a good cop who enlists his help to fight corruption (sort of his Commissioner Gordon). The one who does get a lot of screen time is his villain, Wilson Fisk, played by John Rhys-Davies, which is completely and utterly awesome. Look, he may not quite look the part of the comic villain, but he has amazing screen presence, such a cool voice, and he is gloriously evil here. "The Mendez woman...is she still alive?" "Yes, sir." "Why?" He's not subtle, but somehow he avoids being too cartoony. He speaks slowly, rarely raises his voice, and seems utterly in control and totally confident--a powerful and dangerous man convinced of his victory, and quite a control freak and micromanager. I also liked his relationship with his second-in-command, who has more of a conscience but who, for whatever reason, is still valued by Fisk. I'm sure that would've been developed more in the show, but even what is in this film works well. There's some of the not-so-subtle warnings to avoid failure, but...there's also kind of a genial relationship, with Fisk recognizing the value of his employee and praising him. Very interesting.

The effects are good for the time--obviously they look somewhat dated now in certain ways, but there's a lot of good work here. The Hulk is great--like with the TV show, strategic slow motion is used to make his movements seem more weighty, and of course there's a few nice strength stunts thrown in. The green skin looks nice, too--of course, it had better by the time this movie was made! They had plenty of practice by then! Still--I've seen a lot of films fail miserably at convincingly painting someone's skin an unusual color, and it always surprises me how good the Hulk looks. Daredevil gets some fun effects too, including a decent bit of building-to-building travel with his grapple gadget.

The fighting is...okay. This is one area a Daredevil show would've needed a bit of work on, though to be fair, it's pretty acceptable. These aren't amazingly choreographed modern fight scenes, but they're a far cry from the old fakey chops and double axe handle blows of yore (Star Trek, I love you to death, but I'm looking at you!). The biggest complaints I have are that there's some use of the "make sure to attack him one at a time, it wouldn't be fair otherwise" kind of thing, and a couple points where it's not quite fully clear what hit took a bad guy out (one guy in particular during the ending gets kicked a couple times, then Daredevil raises his leg like he's going to knee him in the face, but it's really slow and clearly doesn't impact at all...and the guy collapses. So...was that supposed to hit, or was Daredevil stopping when he noted the guy was already out?). It's hardly bad, though. Hulk's fight scenes, meanwhile, are true to the TV series--guys try to do any damage whatsoever, only succeed in annoying the huge green guy, and he tosses them around or smacks them into next Thursday. I actually really love how some of it goes--there's a few spots where it looks like Hulk is putting next to no effort into hitting a guy, like just kind of gently shoving him away, and the guy still goes flying. It sells the massive power of the Hulk quite well. Overall, neither fight scene type is up to par with the modern superhero films, but they more than demonstrate the prowess of the characters, and they work well.

I do have to mention the Daredevil costume, which is...fine, if a little uninteresting. It looks like a reasonable street vigilante outfit--all black is pretty sensible, if not particularly interesting to look at--and does seem a little armored or at least padded, which is a nice touch. What bothered me was the way the little patch of cloth over his eyes looked. It seemed like it was just kind of thrown on there and oftentimes made it look like he was just wearing a hoodie that was too big or something. Maybe going more face-fitting like the comic costume might have been better. I like the cool little club gadget he has, though, with the ankle sheathe for it. That was neat.

One other major item bears mentioning. I touched on this a bit, but as the film goes on, it does become pretty clear that Daredevil is the real star of the film, with Hulk/Banner being secondary roles. Significant secondary roles, but secondary. The Hulk only shows up a few times (admittedly, as I recall he wasn't exactly bursting onto the screen in every other scene in the TV show, either), one of which is a dream sequence (the so-called "Trial" of the Incredible Hulk is rather...underrepresented in this film), and he doesn't factor into the film's ending sequence at all, leaving that to Daredevil and plain old David Banner. Admittedly, it's kind of cool to see David not have to go Hulk to get through a dangerous situation, but still, this is a Hulk movie, allegedly. That said...the few times the Hulk does appear are cool, and he's still very significant to the story.

I won't go into it too much more, other than to note a few minor oddities: Why does Hulk not have a beard when David Banner does early in the film? Why does Kingpin wear sunglasses all the dang time (those look pretty dumb, honestly)? What is with Fisk's weird jet-car-boat thing? And why--and I could be wrong about this, but I can't recall it--why does this film never use the "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry" bit?

Minor quibbles aside...this is a really, really fun film. You get a great Banner/Hulk portrayal, a very nice Daredevil portrayal that I think could've gone somewhere if they'd done a full series, and a surprisingly intricate plot that feels complete but still sets the scene well for a later show if it had been picked up. Most definitely not terrible--I loved it.

And that piano theme...goodness. Felt great hearing that again.

(Also notable: This film is the first cameo appearance by Stan Lee!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

WTF China?!?: Crazy Hong Kong (aka The Gods Must Be Crazy 4)

At long last, I get to see this bit of Foreign crazy!  Today's Film is Crazy Hong Kong aka The Gods Must Be Crazy 4, a Film oddity if there ever was one.  If you don't know, The Gods Must Be Crazy was a strange Film from 1980 Starring a Bushman named N!axu (surprisingly passing Spell Check) interacting with the crazy Locals in Australia.  It became a hit on Video, which led to a Sequel in 1989 (which I have on VHS somewhere).  Now the Story gets weird.  Yes, NOW is where it gets weird.  2 years later, a Chinese Director put together a Film called Crazy Safari with N!axu along for the ride.  It is one thing for an Australian Director to make a Film Starring an Australian Bushman, but it is another for a Chinese Director.  Since I can't get my hands on that one (yet!), I will just go with second best- the Sequel.  This one also Stars N!axu on an adventure in, you guessed it, Hong Kong.  Through a series of silly events, he ends up in one of the most populated Cities on Earth.  Hijinks ensue.  After so long, will this Film be what I hope it to be or just kind of suck?  To find out, read on...
Deep in the outback, N!axu saves a woman from a Lion...only for it to be a Commercial Shoot.  Wah wah!
The Chinese Woman gives him a Coke Bottle with a Toy Bird in it, which he enjoys...until his Village thinks that there is a real Bird trapped inside!

Ha ha ha Racist?
Through an incident so silly that I can't even bring myself to write it, N!axu ends up in Hong Kong and draws the ire of some Comedy Gangsters when their shipment of Diamonds is mixed up with the box he was shipped in.

During this, one random Chinese Guy sees N!axu and says 'Look- Eddie Murphy.'  That has to be a little Racist, right?
The Aborigine Bushman is very out of place in the City, but he ends up back with the woman- since she gave him her Name Badge back in Australia.
Said woman is in trouble due to her philandering and thieving Husband.  Kudos to the English Dubbing Team for bringing up the people wanting their 401K...even though it isn't a thing in China.
During all the hijinks, N!axu ends up traveling outside the city and meeting this Trucker who really loves toys!
The Gangster continue to pursue our hero, leading to a wacky chase/action Scene at the Docks.
She *finally* figures out what N!axu wants and smashes the bottle open...turning the bird real!
In the aftermath, her co-worker goes back with N!axu and helps him run a Restaurant.  The End.
This is just too much.  The Gods Must Be Crazy is a silly Film that has lots of Slapstick.  The Gods Must Be Crazy II has even more and is definitely super-silly.  Even so, they have nothing on this one.  The Acting- goofy.  The Music- wacky.  The Dubbing- unintentionally-hilarious.  To make things weirder, the Cast features mostly Chinese Actors, N!axu and one American (Conrad Janis).  All of them- save for N!axu- are Dubbed into English- badly.  This is like those Jackie Chan Films before he started doing his own Dubbing.  It is also worth noting that N!axu's feelings are told to us by an unseen Narrator- his young Cousin...who does not leave Australia.  He sure knows alot about those things he isn't seeing!  It almost always makes me yearn for the confusing Narrative Structure of Santa and The Ice Cream Bunny- almost.  The problem here is that there is no break from the crazy.  It is all just random, crazy and ridiculous.  The Dubbing doesn't help matters as nobody sounds real here at all.  It is a fun and goofy Film at first, but just kind of keeps going after awhile.  Oh well- the first Chinese one has a Vampire in it...
Next up, I continue to explore the mystery of the batch of Films I got for my Birthday.  I know as much as you do right now, so this should be fun.  Stay tuned...