Wednesday, July 31, 2013

'90s Trash: Village of the Damned (1995)

I don't hate you, Mr. Carpenter- honest!  My track record with John Carpenter films on this site has been kind of bad.  Let it be said that Escape from New York, The Fog and Assault on Precinct 13 are all great- I just didn't review them.  The fact of the matter is that Escape from L.A. was a pointless and silly re-tread of a Classic.  He really shouldn't have done it.  That brings us to the 1995 Remake of Village of the Damned.  Fate works in mysterious ways sometimes.  I happen to find the original films cheap on DVD and, less than a week later, find the Remake also for very little.  The good thing is that there is absolutely NO way that this will be brought down by a forced Cold War sub-plot.  Instead, it finds new and sadder ways to be brought down.  I will say this: if you had no idea what the original film was like/never saw it, you wouldn't look at it the same way.  Is it wrong to judge a Remake based on how the Original film turned out?  No, of course not!  Right or wrong, people are going to judge your film this way.  It's in this comparison that Carpenter's film fails to deliver.  I won't necessarily place all of the blame on him as many things can happen to a film during and after Production.  If that's the case, I understand.  To see why I have many problems with this Remake, read on...
The Remake takes a bit longer to set up the characters before the black-out.  While it's not inherently-bad, it takes away from the sudden nature of the event.

Oh and the pointlessly-kill a guy that they just spent time setting up and never use him again.  No, really.
Like in the original, the women all suddenly get pregnant.  One change is that the lead Doctor (the late Christopher Reeve) is an actual Doctor- an Obstetrician.

Oh and they kiss in reversed poses.  Intentional homage?  Given that they credit both the Book AND the 1960 Screenplay, perhaps.
One thing that is changed is the effect used for the kid's eyes.  It's...sillier.

Seriously, I like the practical effect made 53 years ago more than the digital one done only 18 years ago.  Who would have guessed?!?
In a new bit added, the mothers have these weird 'dream/vision' things happen.  They are never mentioned and amount to nothing.  Yea?
Don't worry, there are still more repeated scenes.  Why the 'lady forced to put her hand in boiling water' bit was so important that it had to be redone is anyone's guess.
In place of the old men talking about what to do, we get Kirstie Alley talking to some old men about what to do.  That's...progressive?
Want to know where this film really 'screws the pooch' for me?  Are you ready?


Seriously?  Okay.  Here's what the Children really are.
Just take that all in for a moment.  All done now?  Okay.

After a bunch of pointless kill scenes (including a retread of the Guy Forced to Shoot Himself part- minus any set-up), we get...the same exact finale.
Seriously, that's it.  Nothing new.

Actually, they sort of do tease some sequel-bait, but don't deliver.  It's oddly-underwhelming.  The End.
This really makes me sad.  The film isn't terrible.  The problem is that it should be great.  Great story, great Director and even a pretty good Cast.  I'd say great, but I've never been a fan of Alley.  She's not that great here, honestly, showing a range from Gruff to Mildly-Emotional.  Even when she's making the closest thing to a heartfelt plea, she either sounds uninterested or upset.  Which emotion were you going for (if any)?  Reeves and the rest do a much better job, even if some of them get little to do.  Take Mark Hamill as a great example.  He has a couple of brief scenes early on, one where he questions whether or not the Children are safe and one after that.  In that scene, he has gotten to the point where he is going to shoot the kids with a high-powered rifle.  However, despite stalking them, he doesn't notice where FIVE OF THEM are and gets forced to kill himself.  That sure was almost no build-up for a seemingly-important character to die.  That is just one example, mind you.  I didn't mention the Janitor, Alley herself or even Reeves' wife.  On top of that, the gore is upped to silly degrees- e.c. the guy burned by passing out on the Grill-, the movie is padded with pointless flair- like the dream bit- and shows you scenes that worked just fine as being explained.  In the original film, they say that the Military tried to move the Children from another area and it was 'a bloodbath.'  In the Remake, it actually happens in the Town- which is now in America BTW- they actually have it happen on-screen, leading to a pointless shoot-out and explosion-fest.  This- sadly- signifies all that is wrong with the worst kind of Remakes out there.  It takes the basic idea, but ruins everything that made it good.  On the plus side, they kill Michael Pare (aka Oba Nobunaga, Vampire Slayer) in the opening 10 minutes, which should make one Reader of mine happy...
Next up, the sequel to a crazy, Kung-Fu film that I actually loved.  Will it be a second trip to the Buffet or did I just mix sauces?  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

'60s Class?: Children of the Damned

Don't call it a Sequel!  Today's film is Children of the Damned, the follow-up film to the 1960 Classic.  It's not a Sequel, as I said, but rather an alternate version of the story.  Yes, that is confusing.  I waited for a while to find out what explanation they had for more of the Children being around, but eventually gave up.  The movie is viewed in the same way that many people view Evil Dead 2- an alternate version of the same story.  Mind you, Evil Dead 2 is a Sequel, but people are allowed to be wrong.  If you want a more accurate description, the ____ of the Damned 'Series' is much like the Blind Dead Series.  Each film features a similar villain- the Children or the Knights Templar-, but no film follows the other in any way.  The big difference here is the outside event that greatly-influenced the tone of this one.  That event: The Cold War.  There's no mistaking the influence in this 1963 film, good or bad.  The film is dated in all of the ways that the original is not.  The story again features mysterious births (but no blackout event) and Children with psychic powers.  Things take a slow, odd turn, however, as the film progresses.  Without Spoiling it too much early, the change in the title is a key one.  To find out whether it's worth staying on the same Menu to watch this one, read on...
More mysterious births from 'immaculate conception' occur, but don't think that this is following anything.  We do, at least, get a younger lead.  He's just as wooden though.
Unlike Village, the Children look...normal.  It's a bit less scary like this.  Is it intentional?  Maybe.
The big change is that we have Children from different countries.  It's pretty much the U.N. of possibly-alien Children with psychic powers.
See- I told you!  It's like the freaking Real World!
What makes the film quite a bit dated is that it simply cannot exist without the Cold War connection.  The Children are all drawn together, you see, which upsets their handlers of their respective countries.

Could this lead to war?
The other big change: they are much more overt about the Children's origins.  They don't say it exactly, but they literally show you one of their cells.

To see how you really 'screw the pooch' with this part, wait until tomorrow.
In something I'm amazed you could do back then, one of the kids is shot to death.  Seriously, that happens!
Well, they got away with it because the Children can also bring people to life.  Yeah, they embraced the whole 'Jesus' vibe for this one, it seems.

A tense stand-off ensues and the Children- who claim to be an Advanced race from the future- agree to meet with the Government officials/The Army.
Unfortunately for them, a technical error causes a call to fire to go out.  The Children are all killed as they slowly pan over to show a Screwdriver, the cause of this whole mess.

Don't you just love forced irony hammered into you?  The End.
Everyone says you're a dated mess.  Let me just say this first: this isn't a bad movie.  The problem is that it doesn't really have a unique story.  The story it is doing is just about the original film.  That was a good movie.  So why would you just do it again?  Was it just because it worked the first time?  If so, that's lazy.  The only new stuff here is the Cold War influence and it's...just not that interesting.  There are good movies that play with this material.  There are films like Dr. Strangelove or The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming- just to name a couple.  Those films played with the issues of their day and made you laugh.  This film says 'We're important because we're doing a story based on what's happening.'  It's a precursor to the 'Ripped from the Headlines' Episodes of any Crime Show.  If they had done anything at all to play with or really exploit the idea, I'd give it a pass.  Oh and the use of the Symbolism that the Original was smart enough to avoid is a bit silly too.  It's not a bad movie- it's just a movie that tries to be like one that was good already.  It's...just disappointing overall.  What do you think, Gandhi?
Next up, the infamous Remake of the original film.  While I love John Carpenter, this one is a serious mess.  Stay tuned...

Monday, July 29, 2013

'60s Class: Village of the Damned

How have I gone this long without seeing this film?!?!?  Today's film is Village of the Damned, a movie that's been well-respected for the last fifty-plus years.  Is that why I've avoided it?  Perhaps.  There are some films that are simply 'review-proof.'  Sometimes its because their fan-base is just so fervent that no matter you say, they will see the movie.  The most recent example of this is the Twilight franchise.  You could tell the 'Twi-hards' that the films are utter shit (which they mostly are), but they'll still see every film.  If you want the flip-side, there are movies so good that they are also 'review-proof.'  Go ahead and try to review Citizen Kane.  You can either say that it's great and sound like everyone else OR you can say it's got issues and suddenly be 'the one guy who doesn't like it.'  That's not to say that Kane is bad, mind you, but the fact that I have to add that addendum says alot.  So what is Village of the Damned about?  Given that the film opened in Theaters about 53 years ago, there are probably a few of you who don't know.  It tells the tale of a Village that gives birth (literally) to a brand new danger that could affect the whole world.  The Children are the future, but that's not necessarily a good thing.  To find out what is going down in the UK, read on...
In a great opening, everyone in a Village out in the British Countryside suddenly passes out mysteriously.  What is the cause of this?
Thanks to some happenstance (and convenient writing), his Brother-In-Law finds out what's happening and calls in some Military help.

It seems that there is an invisible line surrounding the Village on all sides (even in the air) which makes you pass out the moment you cross it.  It's freaky to say the least.
In the aftermath, Scientist try to figure out what happened.  There is a more pressing concern in the months that follow: every woman of age is now pregnant!

Shockingly, they avoid any 'immaculate conception' references.  They get to those in the sequel.
All of the Children are born surprisingly-quickly and share many similarities.  This White Dog doesn't approve.  I'd make a White Dog joke, but I don't know how many people would even know what I'm talking about.
The Children seem to share a sort of hive mind and can also read people's minds.  Could you imagine the hell that they would go through spending even a day in High School!
Since this film was made in the '60s (at the start of it, anyways), they spend a lot of time watching stodgy old people discussing the situation. To be fair, super-powered Children that like to kill people are worthy of discussing!
As dated as the method used to make the effect is (they just draw on still frames), it still looks cool.  We'll see if the '90s version holds up this well.
The finale is actually a bit darker than you might expect as the one Scientist who was trying to protect them decides that they are just too dangerous.  He tries to block this thoughts by thinking of a brick wall.  Good stuff.
The Children discover his secret- a bomb in his bag-, but do so too late to stop it.  The film ends with a bunch of Children dead in a house explosion.  Hurray?  The End.
The film certainly holds up better than you might think.  There are many films that were not, but should have been left alone.  The Haunting- for one.  Other such films include Psycho, Night of the Living Dead and Citizen Kane.  Does this film make the list?  Not to judge the Remake before having seen it (in full), but I think it is.  The film is not a product of its time in all of the ways that you might think.  Other than the fact that it's black-and-white and features old men playing scientists, it could pass for a film made much later.  The same can't be said for the sequel, but I'll get to that shortly.  The film both works and fails (depending on your perspective) by telling you little and letting you imply alot.  Are the Children aliens (a la Baby Blood)?  Are the an advanced race transposed into our time?  Are they the product of magic?  The film never actually explains this exactly, nor does it explain the area-wide knock-out effect.  I would love if they explained it (as I hate unanswered questions), but I also realize that any answer that they give exactly could ruin whatever you in your mind decide is what happened.  While the middle of the film is chock full of talking heads (not the band, sadly), the pacing is otherwise great.  The surprising Opening leaves you wondering and the rest of the film follows suit.  It's not perfect, but it was easily worth the $5 I paid for it (and the sequel).  If you're a fan of old-school cinema, get this already.  These folks don't agree on much, but even they think so.
Next up, the Sequel (of sorts) that is often forgotten about.  Is it an over-looked gem or rightfully-ignored dud?  Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Immediate Response: The Wolverine

Was there any doubt that I wouldn't see this movie?  I didn't think so...
Seriously, it's Wolverine vs. Ninjas and a Giant Robot Samurai.  Sold!

The Good
* Wolverine kills lots of people- with super-metal claws.  Do you need more?

* Fine.  The Story is good and takes place in a diverse set of locations.  Most of them are in Japan still, but you do get to see Tokyo and the more rural areas.
* That Train scene is both ludicrous and awesome.  It's something you have to see.
* They manage to cover entirely new territory, freeing the story from any of the other X-Men, Sabertooth and the rest.
* While Jackman is a hard act to not be overshadowed by, the Supporting Cast does a good job.  It's not a one-man show.
* Speaking of which, he does an absolutely-ridiculous, but also bad-ass moment before the climax.  You may see it coming with the foreshadowing, but it's still amazing!

The Bad
* Is Hugh Jackman allergic to shirts?  I mean, I'd probably never wore a shirt if I spent 6 months bulking up like that, but...you're worse than Taylor Lautner.
* One sub-plot really only makes sense if you saw X-Men: The Last Stand.  They *kind of* explain it in the film proper, but a lot of people will be lost as to the full context.
* Some of the science is a bit dubious.  I won't SPOIL what it is, but you'll know it when you see it.
* Nerd Alert: Viper has never been a Mutant.  I'm just saying...

In summary, it's not a perfect movie, but I liked it.  It's bound to be less polarizing than the X-Men: Origins film for sure.  If you like comic book movies, you'll like this one.  If you don't, you'll either like it for the bad-ass action scenes or the fact that Jackman wears a shirt for maybe 20 minutes in total.  You may like it for both- I don't judge.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Streaming Standard: Scooby Doo- Mystery Incorporated

Well, it's been about 18 months, so it's probably time for an update.

This is honestly a show that I never expected to get into.  Thanks to Streaming, however, I've watched the entire First (of Two) Season!  Let's just dive right into...
Let me preface this review by saying one thing: I have never been a Scooby-Doo fan.  Not as a kid.  Not as an Adult.

The only show I really liked was The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo.  The reason: Vincent Price.  That said...

I really like this show.  I know- I'm as surprised as you are!
The plot of the show involves the Gang living in a town famous for its 'monsters' and 'spooks.'  The problem: Mystery Inc keeps catching and disproving them. This makes The Mayor unhappy.  Oh and The Mayor is Fred's Father, by the way.

The Characters play to their one-note pretty well.  Fred is obsessed with Traps.  Daphne is obsessed with Fred.  Shaggy and Scooby are, well, you know.  They do something interesting with Velma though...
Yes, Shaggy and Velma are dating!  Hide your Slash-Fiction!

The show plays off of the other versions- there are like 1,000- without changing the continuity too much.  They throw in nice nods to the earlier shows throughout.  In one Episode, the villain is related to a villain on the original show called The Creeper.  In another, they briefly mention what happened to Flim-Flam, the character who was only on 13 Ghosts, and actually explain why Fred wasn't on the show.  Touche.
Naturally, every Episode has some sort of 'monster' with some scheme.  That's nothing new.  What is new, however, is..

A Chapter-Based Story!  Yes, a story that spans the whole series.  Ho-ly shit.
It's not a big thing for most shows, but it's a real first for this property.  The closest they've come is the 'Catch all of the Ghosts' plot that made up 13 Ghosts.

Speaking of 13 Ghosts, they bring back Vincent Van Ghoul!  Granted- he's not voiced by Vincent Price (on account of him being dead for the last 20 years), but instead by Maurice LaMarche.  This show features a slew of recognizable Actors and Voice Actors.  You've got Gary Cole, Patrick Warburton, Jeffrey Combs (as an H.P. Lovecraft analog) and even...Harlan Ellison.
Yeah, that happens.

In summary, this is one of those shows that kind of grows on you.  The worst part is that only the first Season is on Streaming right now.  I have to use actual Discs to watch the rest of the show (which just wrapped up in April)?!?  Oh, the humanity!
If you like Animation and want something to watch on a rainy afternoon, give this one a look.  If you get a few episodes in, you may find yourself hooked.  It's much better than I ever could have guessed.  It's main plot- involving a treasure hunt and a previous Mystery Inc.- builds slowly and actually kind of intrigues me.  I'm halfway through the show and now I kind of want to know what happens next.

*Update: I'm most of the way through Season Two (now on Netflix Steaming) and it's still good.*

Loathe-craft?: Dagon

For once, the ghost of H.P. Lovecraft is happy.  Lovecraft has always held a devout following among some people ever since he started writing creepy works.  Full disclosure: my Dad is one of them.  Ever since his death, it seems like people have been trying to make a buck by adapting his works to film.  Seriously, IMDB lists 122 Films with Lovecraft listed as anything from 'Inspiration' to 'Based on the Works Of!'  Some of the movies have been good- The Last Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu- and some of them have been very, very bad- Cthulhu (2007).  The best person to keep Lovecraft's legacy intact, however, has always been Stuart Gordon.  The man is most famous for Re-Animator (based partly on Lovecraft's work), but also did From Beyond, a film that's gotten a bigger audience in the last few years, and Castle Freak (which I own).  As a curious aside, Gordon is from Illinois, which is also my Dad's home state.  Anyhow, he also made this 2001 film, which apparently was long in the works.  Some reports list Gordon as trying to get the film made as long ago as 1985!  The film is a loose adaptation of a Lovecraft tale of a Village that decides to worship a Great Old One to survive.  Would you want to visit that town?  Well, if you're in this movie, you don't really have a choice.  To find out how this film works when others have failed, read on...
Our hero has weird visions/dreams about this Mermaid lady and a mysterious city.  I'm sure this won't come up later.
Our hero is joined by his girlfriend and their two friends.  When the weather turns very bad, the pair go to a nearby island for help.  As for their friends, let's just say that fish can bit really hard!
The pair look for help, but don't find that the natives are exactly trustworthy.

Oh and Lovecraft fans will recognize our hero's sweater as being for Miskatonic University.  Nice.
I think that these people have been either worshipping Dagon or living under power lines.
Thanks to a seemingly-crazy man, our hero finds out the story of the Village.  Much like a certain Village in Wicker Man, the fish (or crops) stopped showing up (or growing) and they turned a little crazy to get things back to normal.

I kind of think that this guy was just waiting for a Cult to take over.  He seems like the type.
Our hero searches the Village to try and find his friends.  The people just want to be friends.

Friends eat each other's faces, right?
Something tells me that whatever this Cult has in mind, it's not going to end well.  Considering a guy got his face cut off in the last scene, let's just call it a hunch.
 I don't know what that weird CG thing is, but I don't think it is here to bake a cake.  You aren't, are you, Dagon?
To be honest with you, I don't want to SPOIL any of the film's Third Act Twists.  They're telegraphed a bit, but still well-done.  If you want to know what happens, watch the film.  The End.
It's nice to see one of these rare times that I don't have much to complain about.  Dagon is not a perfect film, but it does alot right.  It's biggest strength is its atmosphere.  It's not long before our hero is left alone in the Village.  He has no friends.  He has a huge group of people that want him dead.  What the film does well is to make you feel like he does.  When he's hiding and barricading himself in, you really feel like you are too.  Lovecraft tales are known for creating a sense of dread and desperation.  In that regard, the film works.  I also have to give props to pretty much all of the Actors.  Some of them- like our lead and the one Human left- stand out more, while others- like the best friends- do well in more simplistic roles.  The film's biggest weak point is the CGI used in the finale.  That said, it's on-screen for less than a minute and still doesn't look terrible.  What I will say as a nice counter-point is that the film is called Dagon and Dagon actually appears.  After 2007's Cthulhu, I'll take whatever I can get!  Hell, the Flash-rendered version from The Last Lovecraft is still better than nothing!  Like a lot of Gordon's films, the movie doesn't get nearly enough acclaim or credit.  Well, I'll give it that, at least.  The worst thing I can find is that amusingly-mistimed Screen Cap I took...
Up next, a two-part look at some B&W British Horror Gems.  This is one Village that won't disappoint you!  Stay tuned...