Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight

I hated The Dark Knight. I didn't buy Heath Ledger's performance for a second, Batman's "deep, scary" voice just made me roll my eyes, and all I could think about when Two-Face showed up was that he really shouldn't be able to make an "Mmm" sound with no lips. Also, isn't that eyeball going to dry out?

But I'm not going to go into it. I'm not even going to list the two times I thought "That right there was the stupidest thing I've ever seen in a movie." I'll just say this: I went into the movie already hating it. I had been barraged by people telling me that it was the greatest movie ever (Ever!) and that it was the best adaptation of a comic book, and so on. The hype was overwhelming and before the movie even started, I was sick to death of it. I had to force myself to go, and if I had not seen it on Friday night, I probably would never have gone at all.

So, since I realize that everyone else in the world (or at least, "everyone else on the Internet and also everyone at my workplace") loved it, I'm offering you a deal. Don't tell me how great it is, and I won't tell you how much I hated it. If you don't talk about it, I won't.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chained Heat II

It's not often you get a movie that's sleazy, exploitative, and really, really boring.

The main reason I wanted to watch this was because I somehow got the idea that Brigitte Nielsen was playing the ingenue, like Linda Blair did in the first one. That sounded really weird, but it turns out she's really the warden, who struts around in tailored suits and stuff. That sounds more like her kind of role right? So once I established that, the movie was a long slog through a slightly more softcore take on the same things that happened in the first movie. Somebody really likes the sight of women putting on white cotton panties.

I would like to praise the work of Bobo, the transvestite painter. The actor playing Bobo apparently thought he was in a real movie, although the movie he had in mind was a comedy spy spoof or something. I don't really know what he was doing, but at least he was trying something.

By the way, Brigitte Nielsen is a terrible actress.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I was hoping to love this movie, and I didn't. I mean, I liked it, I think. But I didn't love it unreservedly. And now that I'm home and thinking about it, there are more and more things that are bugging me about it. This is going to be one of those things where I talk about things that happened in the movie. So if you haven't seen it yet and that sort of thing bugs you, you should probably stop reading.

Anyway, take the ending. After the plot gets dealt with, Hellboy, Abe Sapien, Liz, and the ectoplasmic Nazi file out of the cave, and then they all tell Jeffrey Tambor to take this job and shove it. Take that, The Man! And the ectoplasmic Nazi (with the voice of the fish from American Dad) references his ghost penis. The weird thing is that there has been no foreshadowing of this. At all. I guess we're just supposed to hate Tambor on principle because he's an authority figure? But I didn't even know these guys hated their job, and then they're all of a sudden walking out. I'm surprised they didn't close the movie by high-fiving in freeze-frame. And in one scene, the ectoplasmic Nazi is an officious German who insists that everyone follow all the rules, and then he's suddenly all "Voo-hoo! Let's steal a plane!" The whole thing comes out of nowhere, and I found it a really unsatisfying ending.

My theory is that this ending was tacked on after people found the actual ending of the plot kind of a downer, what with Abe Sapien's newfound love suddenly dying like that. That bugged me too. When a movie sets up a dilemma (Hellboy must defeat teh prince, but if he hurts the prince, the princess also gets hurt! What will he do?) and then resolves it (answer: pummel the prince, but not kill him, thus saving the princess!) it feels like a cheat to immediately kill off the princess anyway. She could have just cut her own hamstrings at the beginning of the battle, thus crippling the prince and saving us all a fight scene. By the way, have you noticed that ever since The Matrix, you can't have a battle without someone leaning way back in a limbo pose to avoid something and then running along a wall? I guess maybe Abe quit because he was mad that he's not allowed to have a love interest?

Anyway, there were a couple of other scenes that bugged me (the introduction with an annoying kid who was far less interesting than Ron Perlman and the drinking that went on forever), but I'm not sure they made me hate the movie. I really loved the sets, for example. Rhias and I kept nudging each other and pointing to shoggoths in the background. And both the library and the troll market were fascinating. I might actually have preferred this movie if the main characters had been removed so that I could get a better look at the stuff in the background. And I liked a lot of the little things, like the line "I'm not a kid! I'm a tumor!"

I just wish I liked the movie itself more, you know?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Out for Justice

I think at this point I may have seen enough Steven Seagal movies for one month. This is the one where William Forsythe kills a cop and then drives around a neighborhood being crazy and killing people. At one point, there is an excellent fight in a butcher shop, in which Mr. Seagal bonks someone with an enormous sausage. You don't have to be Fellini to figure that one out.

Above the Law

I watched this a week ago. I mean, I originally watched it back when it first came out, and I thought it was great. That was back in 1988, when new action stars were popping up all over the place. I still remember the ad for 1991's The Perfect Weapon, which claimed that Jeff Speakman was the future of action or something. It turned out he wasn't. Seagal looked great back then. Aikido looks cool. And then I watched it again a week ago and still liked it. That's about all I can remember, really. I'm beginning to think that terrible New York accent is how Steven Seagal really talks.

By the way, I don't think you can read it at this size, but the movie poster actually says "He's a cop with an attitude" on it. Yes, kids, there was a time when you could say that with a straight face.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Chained Heat

Yeah, you heard me. Chained. Heat. Linda Blair and Sybil Danning. Women in Prison. Or as the advertising tagline would have it, "2000 women, stripped of all they had, except the will to survive." I should point out that there are actually only about thirty women who actually appear on screen. Although there are allegedly tensions between the White Girl Gang and the Black Girl Gang, we only see two African-American inmates, one of whom gets killed pretty quickly. The remaining one, the Dutchess, is played by Tamara Dobson, who was Cleopatra Jones, though. So she's got a pretty strong presence. There's also an entire Latino gang we never see any actual evidence of.

It's a really poorly run prison, in my opinion. The inmates apparently get to wander around wherever they want, even in the middle of the night. And the warden's office contains both a bed (with leather sheets) and a jacuzzi. Oh, and a stuffed mountain lion with glowing eyes. And then there are the sadistic rapist guards, but that's just the sort of thing you have to expect in a movie like this. With all that going on, you wouldn't expect quite so much frolicking, but I guess even hardened criminals like to splash each other in the shower.

The plot is pretty much by the numbers: young, nubile Carol (Linda Blair) goes to jail and gets caught up in the whirl of elaborate drug rings, lesbians, and riots. Actually, the only riot in the movie is organized by Carol herself, but that's after she gets raped, goes to solitary, and becomes Tough and Hard, as indicated by her development of a New York accent.

I saw the movie the way you're supposed to: as a midnight (really 11:00 pm) showing at a tiny movie house in the neighborhood. It was a good crowd, because there was a lot of laughter during the movie. Somewhere in the 25 years since it was made, it turned into a comedy

Now, let's talk about Chained Heat sequels. You're not going to believe some of this nonsense! Note that I haven't actually seen any of these movies myself. Yet.

First, there's Chained Heat II from 1993. It stars Brigitte Nielsen, so I have to assume they're skipping past the "young and nubile" stage and jumping the protagonist straight to "tough as nails revenger". It takes place in "a Czech prison, where the sadistic warden and guards rape and perform bizarre sex acts on the prisoners" according to IMDB. The director is Lloyd A. Simandi, who will direct many more of these sequels. For some reason, his company is called "North American Pictures", although he does most of his work in Europe. Weird.

Next: 1998's Hell Mountain, also called Chained Heat 3: The Horror of Hell Mountain. Also shot in the Czech Republic, it's set in Apocalyptical Times, where someone named Stryker keeps women as slaves to work in his mines. There's also something about "the last professor on Earth". This was remade as Rage of the Innocents in 2000, but it appears to have been one of those "remakes" that includes a lot of footage from the first movie.

Now here's where it gets weird. The next movie is Chained Rage: Slave to Love, which is apparently mostly made of footage shot for Rage of the Innocents (which itself was largely made out of Hell Mountain footage). IMDB doesn't list it as an alternate title, but the image it shows is called "Bound Heat: Chained Rage". And there's no plot synopsis, so I don't know what happens in it. At this point, we're looking at sequels to Forgotten Rage, but we'll get back to Chained Heat in a few paragraphs.

Next up, something called either "Dakota Bound" or "White Slave Lovers", in which a plague kills everyone on earth except for twenty women from a private school. There are no characters named "Dakota", and I'm getting increasingly skeptical about this chain (ha!) of movies.

Cries of Innocence at least sounds sort of related to the previous movies, since a small group of women are enslaved by the controllers of the only source of water that isn't plague-ridden. It's also called Forgotten Rage: White Slave Secrets, so it's got the names of two previous movies in it.

Finally (in this series) we get to Bound Cargo, from 2003. Apparently women are on the run from soldiers and are taken in by a lonely widow, and soft-core hijinx ensue.

Okay! Now let's rewind a bit. Remember Chained Heat 3: The Horror of Hell Mountain? There was also Dark Confessions, which was marketed as Chained Heat III: No Holds Barred. I don't know what happens in it, but the IMDB Plot Keywords are "W.i.p." (women in prison, makes sense), "Falsely Convicted" (typical, although I'll point out that Linda Blair's character was actually guilty in the first one), "Lesbian" (no surprise), "Monastery" (really?) and "Prostitution Ring". And apparently sexual slavery is involved at some point.

Now, there are sequels to Dark Confessions, which are therefore also sequels to Chained Heat. We start with The Final Victim, which has a boarding school with a lesbian warden. It's also called "Bound Heat: Tears at Dawn" and "Girl Camp 2003: Chained Vengeance". Next, Girl Camp 2004: Lesbian Fleshpots, IMDB says "A woman infiltrates a factory producing subservient young women in order to steal from its bank account," and I can't possibly improve on that.

Finally (for now), we get Chained Fury: Lesbian Slave Desires. The only interesting thing about this one is that one of its Plot Keywords is "Czechploitation".

So there you go! Those sequels were all produced by Lloyd A. Simandi, including both of the Chained Heat 3 movies. He also made a series of "Medieval Fleshpot" movies, if you're curious.

Oh! There's also a spot wheree someone says to Linda Blair that something will happen "so fast it will make your head spin". It seems like someone should have realized that it's hard to say that to Linda Blair without reminding the audience of The Exorcist.


I'd say Wanted was about 80% stupid and about 30% awesome. I realize that's more than 100%, because some things can be stupid and awesome at the same time. But for most of the time, Wanted was just stupid. The main character? Stupid. And whiny. Really, really whiny. Even after Angelina Jolie shows up, he still spends an unpleasant amount of time bleating about "What's happening? Ahhhhhh!" and so on. When the most annoying person in your movie is protagonist, that's a bad sign.

It's my theory that the most talented person involved with the movie was the Second Assistant Director. That's the guy who's usually responsible for the stunts, and those were the best part of the movie. The script? Rotten, not to mention completely implausible. Seriously, the backstory of this movie is even less plausible than the one in National Treasure: Book of Secrets. It involves something about ancient weavers discovering random threads in their fabric, figuring out that they represent a binary code, and then translating them into people's names. And then killing those people. Somehow, this gives them super powers.

Having just watched both movies, I feel qualified to make this statement: Wanted is like The Matrix, but less realistic and without the philosophy. Both movies have a scene where somebody jumps across a street from one high-rise to another, but Wanted doesn't even try to justify it. The curving bullets are only the beginning of the nonsense.

I will say that Angelina Jolie is great. I've read that her character used to have a lot more dialogue, but she kept asking to have her lines taken away so she could just smile mysteriously. She's good at that sort of thing. Also, it must be nice to have a role where none of her tattoos have to be covered up for a change. And I really liked her final scene, which was pretty satisfying.

Unlike the rest of the movie.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

Well, I was pretty sure this movie would be ludicrous, and it was. Does that mean it's not fair of me to complain about some of the, um, ludicrosity? Because it really is just completely unconvincing and doesn't bear a second of scrutiny.

So here's the backstory. This is all the stuff that happened before the movie starts. First, there's Cibola, the fabled City of Gold. That turns out to be in South Dakota, even though the movie says it's either Aztec, Mayan, or Olmec. At some point, Queen Victoria -- no, wait. That's not right. I think what happened is that someone (we don't know who) buried it under a mountain and built incredibly elaborate counterweights and things. As you do. Then the guy who made the Statue of Liberty knew about it somehow and hid a couple of Aztec (or Mayan or Olmec) planks in a couple of desks, then put a reference to that on one of his statues. Then Queen Victoria, who knew about it from some other means, sent a coded message to the Confederate army, who didn't do anything about it until after the war was over. Then John Wilkes Booth and some buddies went to a cryptographer (who hung out in a bar all day hoping someone would bring him a puzzle), who started to decode it and then burned the pages from Booth's diary.

And then we jump to the present day and Nicolas Cage, Jon Voight, Helen Mirren, and a couple of other people work through the riddles. My question is: when you have a fabulous treasure, what's the point of doing all this? First you hide it so no one will ever find it, and then you write an elaborate riddle telling people where it is? And then you write another riddle pointing people to that riddle? And then repeat a few times? If you want to hide it, stop putting coded directions everywhere; what are you, the Riddler? Conversely, if you want people to know where it is, just tell them! Just say "It's under that giant mountain over there!"

Marked for Death

The Seagalogical investigations continue! Most people remember this movie, if at all, as the one with the Jamaican Voodoo Bad Guys. I remember it as the first time I realized just how much Steven Seagal hates glass. In all of his movies, he throws people through windows and stuff, but in this one, he actually goes out of his way to break all the glass he can see. There's a fight in a jewelry store, and he methodically takes a thug's head and smashes each display case one at a time. If I were the owner of the store, I'd object to that sort of behavior.

In fact, I object to a lot of Seagal's behavior. He's an ex-cop, but I don't think that quite justifies a gunfire-filled high-speed chase down the middle of a busy street that ends by smashing both cars through a storefront. And I'm not sure how he got that severed head back through customs, either.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Matrix

I just read The Full Burn, by Kevin Conley. It's about the world of stunts and stuntmen, but it wasn't as great as I was hoping it was going to be. I think my main objection was that it was really short, and that about a third of it was stuff I already knew from watching Double Dare. The chapter about Zoe Bell was still interesting, because the author was on the set of Death Proof, but it still spent a lot of time telling me how cool she is. I already knew that, thank you!

Anyway, there's a lot of discussion of driving stunts, and specifically the motorcycle riding in The Matrix Reloaded. And that got me to thinking, maybe I've never really given the second and third Matrix movies a real chance. So, since I was lounging around all day with nothing to do, I figured I'd watch all three of them in a row. That didn't actually happen, but I did get around to rewatching the first one.

It feels kind of dated already, of course. The washed-out green color scheme led to a great many washed out movies, and the bullet time (which, I feel obligated to point out, first showed up in Kill and Kill Again) also isn't as groundbreaking as it used to be. Still, it's a great looking movie. There are a lot of really neat shots and fun action scenes. And there's the vaguely philosophical overtones, which on reflection appear to be a mish-mash of Buddhism, Plato, and fairly obvious Christ symbolism. And you know what? That's fine with me. I have no objection to movies with awesome action scenes and set pieces, vague philosophy to tie it together, and sex-ay people in tight latex. I'd like more movies like that, in fact.

Keanu Reeves is fine in this movie. He's supposed to look dumbfounded and befuddled the whole time, and that's well within his range. I find I like him best when he's playing a vacuous idiot, like in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and arguably Dangerous Liaisons.

Under Siege

Hey, why not watch one of Steven Seagal's good movies? This totally holds up, and it's interesting to compare it to Die Hard\. It obviously hits several of the same notes, but it's not just a straight rehash. The stakes are bigger and the explosions are larger, so it makes sense that the hero has more killing power.

The villainy is top-notch, too. It's not quite Alan Rickman, but Tommy Lee Jones does a fine job and seems to be enjoying himself a lot. And Gary Busey makes a lot out of a role that I think is just "comedic bumbling henchman" on the page. I think this movie's absolutely fine. I enjoyed it the first time I saw it, and I enjoyed it this time too.