Archive for July, 2011

It’s been a little while since we surveyed the at-one-time-booming postapocalyptic subgenre of B-movie sci-fi here, but since I watched 1986’s straight-to-VHS Robot Holocaust on Impact Action On- Demand the other night (once in awhile they do us all a favor by showing something that’s never been made available on DVD , such as this one), now seems as good a time as any to trek once more into the nuclear-irradiated wastelands of the future that, hey, still could happen.

I’d been wanting to see this flick for quite some time ( I understand an MST3K treatment was also done and is available in ten-minute chunks on YouTube), since director Tim Kincaid is a name we know and trust around these parts from works such as Riot On 42nd Street and the world’s first (although that distinction might be debatable) direct-to-video release, Breeders. And I admit I have a soft spot for all these low-grade Road Warrior rip-offs, particularly the ones made by the Italians, like The New Barbarians  and Exterminators Of The Year 3000.

Unfortunately, even in a cinematic realm where one expects very little, to be generous, and the rules of what constitutes a “good” movie or not are pretty much turned upside-down to the point where the cheesier a flick is the better, Robot Holocaust really doesn’t deliver the goods. First off, in case you hadn’t guessed a piece of voice-over narration at the beginning informs us that the titular holocaust of which the movie speaks won’t be on offer here, since it’s already happened. The robots have turned on their human masters and now we’re all enslaved to something-or-other called The Dark One, a mysterious quasi-mystical overlord who enslaves all us flesh creatures in his factories and mines with the help of his mechanical minions. Never fear, though, because a rough-and-ready warrior of the wastelands named Neo (we’re talking a couple decades before The Matrix, here, folks — oh, and he’s played by some guy named Norris Culf, if that matters, which I assure you it doesn’t) has emerged from the fractious clans of humanity’s survivors and is leading a ragtag rebel band through the desolate ruins of the future in a brave quest to bring The Dark One down.

Will he succeed? Of course. Will it be interesting? Not really. For one thing, the “obstacles” facing Neo and his band are pretty weak. Not only are robots few and far between, but the only mosters we see are the so-called “sewage worms,” the humans inside one of The Dark One’s mines are already ginning up a revolt of their own, and The Dark One’s leading henchwoman is pretty damn incompetent, unreliable, and doesn’t really like working for the guy.

So the deck is all rather stacked in Neo’s favor from the outset, which leads to a story with essentially no suspense whatsoever, and really that’s  fine in and of itself, but when a movie can’t even pretend to be trying to approximate something resembling dramatic tension, we’ve got ourselves a problem. I appreciate the lower-than-low grade production values on display here as much as the next guy — cheap modelwork, guys in costumes as “robots,” unconvincing matte-painting backdrops, the disused Brooklyn naval yard standing in for The Dark One’s control center/mine/everything, but when every single plot development from start to finish just makes the hero’s job easier, even the most committed viewer can find him or herself losing interest at some point.

All in all, then, I have to say this flick is a real bummer because it has all the elements for a successful post-nuke laugher, but frankly its too damn dull to even have much fun with.  I can’t help but feel its heart is in the right place, but it’s just such a yawner that you can’t bring yourself to give a shit about what’s happening even though you feel like you should.It almost feels like you’re being forced to root against the home team.

And that’s the real tragedy here — no matter how hard you might try, Robot Holocaust just can’t seem to make you care about it, even though it seems like Kincaid and his cohorts were doing their best given what they had. I’d love to congratulate them for trying their best in the face of daunting circumstances to make something vaguely entertaining — goodness knows that’s usually more than enough for me, as seasoned readers of this blog well know — but the end result here is just really, truly, well — blah.

It’s a shame to see such a copious serving of low-grade cheese go to waste.

Okay, so I promised about a month or more ago to get around to the next film in our little “CineHoax” series in, I believe the words I used were, “the next couple of weeks.” Sue me for being lazy. In any case, here it is, 2010’s decidedly lackluster  (at least in movie terms, more on just what I mean by this as we near the end of the review) straight-to-DVD release 8213 : Gacy House, a transparently phony effort from our friends at The Asylum (the folks who continue to bring us such “mockbuster” wonders as Titanic 2 and The Day The Earth Stopped, among others) to do a Paranormal Activity-style “realistic” horror flick purportedly set in the home of now-executed serial killer/rent-a-clown John Wayne Gacy.

The premise is simple enough : send one of those “paranormal investigation”-style teams we see on TV shows like Ghost Hunters and Paranormal State into Gacy’s now-abandoned former residence. In just about the only nod to reality that this flick and its director, one Anthony Fankhauser, provide, however, we learn that this isn’t actually the “real” Gacy house at all, but a home built on the small-town Illinois site where his place used to be since they tore that joint down. Doesn’t matter, though, apprently, since the ghost/apparition/whatever of JWG hung around here, too, even though it wasn’t his place strictly speaking, and scared the new owners off.

If you’ll notice, I haven’t bothered mentioning any of the names of the characters, nor the actors portraying them, since none of it really matters. I will briefly congratulate one, a young lady named Diana Terranova who plays the psychic attached to the team, for her rather perfect mammaries, but I think those kudos should actually be going to her plastic surgeon.

Anyway, if you’re still clueless enough to think this might be a “real” flick after seeing incongruities like perfectly-made beds, dust–clutter-free environs, and gothic candelabras in the living in what’s supposed to be an “abandoned” house(the stylistic difference between the bedrooms, basement, and living actually lead me to believe this was probably shot at two — or more — different locations), by the time a couple of the characters hook up for sex, and the Gacy “ghost” is biting one of the girl’s (Ms. Terranova, if you must know) boobs, any attempt to convince even the most thick-skulled viewer that this is an actual “documentary” go right out the window.

None of which would really be a problem if the flick itself weren’t so damn boring. I mentioned Ghost Hunters  and Paranormal State a moment ago and, truth be told, you’ll get more entertainment value out of any random episode of one of those shows than there is to be found here. Sorry, but windows fling open for no reason and mysterious clanging sounds just don’t go very far in today’s “hand-held horror” movie craze. It’s all been done way too many times before, and with way more skill, panache, and a better since of dramatic timing. This is strictly box-check, by-the-numbers shit.

And if that weren’t uninvolving enough in and of itself, the characters here are so less-than-one-dimensional that you can’t even be bothered to work up enough energy to hope to see them die horribly, which is really saying something, when you think about it, because normally when somebody in a horror flick bores me silly, I want to see them dispatched gruesomely merely for wasting my time. Not so much the case here, where you just want the damn thing to end, and you don’t really care how it goes about doing so.

But where the film itself ends, so does my criticism of 8213 : Gacy House. Under normal circumstances, of course, one would at this point say “yeah, well, duh, you can’t critique anything about a movie except for, you know, the movie,” but there, dear reader, is where you’d be wrong, at least in this case. Because in a really weird way I admire what The Asylum have done here, if not what they’ve made, because they keep plugging away at trying to convince you this is an actual documentary well beyond the point where they’ve given their hand away (a hand that, in truth, they never even played). When the film ends, we’re told that none of the people “investigating” the “proceedings” here were ever heard from again — fair enough, that’s typical exploitation-style sensationalism, but then we’re admonished to contact the local police department in Gacy’s hometown if we might know anything about their whereabouts! And that, right there, raises my estimation of this flick by about a thousandfold. Here’s a movie so absolutely unconcerned about anything else beyond its cheap marketing ploy that they’re willing to risk having mentally unstable and/or hopelessly stupid people call up the cops and waste their time just to keep perpetrating a cinematic illusion that they never even cared enough about to make seem even remotely realistic! The Asylum isn’t going to bother actually making a believable pseudo-documentary, but if you’re dumb enough to believe it anyway, please call the cops and hassle them. that’s the sort of absolute amorality I can’t help but tip my hat to.

Quick cash-ins have been a staple of Z-grade cinema ever since the roadshow days, and  kicked into an even higher gear during the drive-in/grindhouse era, but this sets a new benchmark for pure chutzpah, in my view, and shows that today’s low-budget moviemakers haven’t lost sight of the art of wearing a gimmick out well past the breaking point. While I can’t recommend that anyone actually waste their time watching 8213 : Gacy House, I do heartily recommend calling the police and providing bogus leads on the “ongoing investigations” into the “disappearances” of the people you saw in it. Tell ’em The Asylum sent you!

So, yeah, it all ends. And it ends with a bang. And hard-core Harry Potter fans everywhere are wondering what to do next with their lives. And it’s grim and gritty and dark and foreboding and most definitely not for little kids. Harry grew up, things got dark, and then it all ended.

Honestly, that’s the trajectory of the Harry Potter franchise summed up as simply, and yet completely, as possible. And yet —

I find it hard to be anywhere near as dismissive of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows : Part 2, or, for that matter, of the entire Potter series in general, as I am of the Transformers cinematic printing press, simply because what we have here is both a genuine cultural phenomenon, the like of which will probably never be seen again, and because the folks who made these flicks never seemed to be content to just stop caring, go on autopilot, and assume we’d all just show up and fork over our cash. In short, they did their best to earn the public’s hard-won dollars. They never stopped giving a shit, and it never stopped showing.

Now, even though your humble host has seen each and every Potter movie, I’ll confess right now to never being the hugest fan of the series. I had no problem with it, per se, and generally found them to be well-executed and more or less interesting. they just never grabbed me enough to form the emotional bond with the characters that so many fans seem to have — but you know, I get it. Especially when it comes to the people who came of age while this series was going and literally watched Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint grow up with them. This thing has been a part of their lives, goddamnit, and I understand why they’d find it so hard to let it go. There weren’t too many dry eyes in the place when the end credits rolled, that’s for sure.

And just to give more credit where credit is due, just as J. K. Rowling’s book series got kids reading again for the first time in forever, the Potter films have gotten a new generation of kids into movie magic, and the technical art of making good, solid films. Not since Lucas and Romero’s venerable cinematic series captured the imaginations of teens and young adults who wanted to make the art of creating celluloid illusions the backbone of their lives’ work has anything like this happened. The next wave of special effects and CGI superstars are going to be folks who grew up on Harry Potter.

And so an era, well and truly, has ended here. And it’s ended in grand style. Director David Yates has crafted an engaging and dare I say even thrilling finale that ticks every box on the Potter fan’s checklist yet somehow avoids feeling like a cynical technical exercise. If you loved these films, you’re gonna love how it all turns out, and even though you probably knew the story going in, you’ll still be on the edge of your seat most of the way through. That’s saying something. If you’ve loved this whole thing from the start, this is a final chapter that returns your love and says “thanks for being with us” while giving you everything in a Potter story you’ve ever wanted. A flick that the uninitiated can still enjoy while the diehards have, quite literally, the time of their movie lives.

And that’s probably the secret to this series’ success right there — it managed to keep the masses (like myself) entertained, while creating, and then consistently reaching, a core audience of true believers on a level few movie franchises can ever hope to achieve.

My wizard’s hat is off to Yates and company for sending off this series in the way that it — and its million of loyal fans — deserved. The Harry Potter series may be over, but magic, especially movie magic, is definitely alive and well.

So, here we are with the third installment in the Michael Bay/Steven Spielberg/Paramount/Hasbro Transformers franchise, specifically Transformers : Dark Of The Moon, and the question I have at this point is — does any of this shit really matter?

I mean, honestly — do us folks out here in ticket-buying land even expect these films to be good at this point, or for that matter even remotely entertaining, or have we all been so thoroughly-trained, Pavlov-style, to just file into the theater to see these things that whatever they throw up on the screen will pretty much just do for us? Because truth be told, although my wife and I went to see this film on opening weekend, I couldn’t really tell you why. We just did it.

And the same, apparently, can be said for everyone involved in front of and behind the camera. Much like the hotheaded young actor who plays him, Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky character gets less likable with each succeeding movie. It’s impossible, quite literally, to even remotely give a good goddamn about him or anything that happens to him. The interchangeable Hollywood-version-of-“hot” female lead has gone from Megan Fox to Brit Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, but it’s not like it really matters — she’s just there for eye candy. Second-tier supporting players Tyrese Gibon, Josh Duhamel, Frances McDormand, and John Turturro are back, their ranks swelled by the likes of  scenery-chewer extraordinaire John Malkovich,  as well as Patrick Dempsey, Ken Jeong, Alan Tudyk (for all you Joss Whedon fans out there) and even Buzz fucking Aldrin for Christ’s sake, but they’re just all collecting their paychecks and going home like everyone else.

This is well and truly a franchise on autopilot. I don’t know if bay really even shows up for work at this point, and Spielberg certainly doesn’t. There’s not even a thin attempt at disguising the fact that these things are just a celluloid license to print money. The screenplay, by one-time Hollywood wunderkind Ehren Kruger, is as by-the-numbers as you’re ever likely to find, and really the whole thing’s just an exercise in spreading out big, bad CGI fight sequences over the space of two-plus hours.

Even though the theater was packed when we saw it, there was no clapping, cheering, whooping, hollering, or sounds of indrawn breath — not even from the numerous kids in the audience. We just watched it all play out. We were just there. It’s like we were all products of some dystopian future reporting for our mandatory designated “entertainment” period. there’s nothing inolving or even particularly interesting happening on screen. It’s big, brash, loud, spectacular — and hopelessly dull.

Hell, you can’t even summon up enough energy to find yourself bored by these things at this point. Like shit, Transformers movies just happen. They make ’em, and we show up and watch ’em. We don’t know why. we don’t care why. It probably doesn’t even matter why. We’re trained. We’re compliant. We do as we’re fucking told.

It’s not like it’s even a painfully dull viewing experience — hell, I’d take that over this. At least there’s be some memory attached to it. It just is. A couple hours of our life are gone and we can never get them back, but we really can’t even remember where they went. And honestly, I can’t claim to be any better than the other sheep who filed in to watch this flick — after all, I was there, too. I’ve become another interchangeable cog in Hollywood’s biggest money-making machine. If I died tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter. Somebody else would be there to fork over five-to-ten bucks and fill my seat. But at least I’m not as far-gone as the guy I heard coming out of the theater who said to his kid “Can’t wait to see that one again” — with no excitement or emotion in his voice whatsoever. He just sees these things twice. That’s what he does.

As of yesterday morning, Transformers : Dark Of The Moon had grossed over $325 million in domestic box-office receipts and over half a billion worldwide.