Monday, 29 June 2009

Pathology (2008)

Neveldine/Taylor are douchebags. This is a fact. Yet they have an instinct for making appealing if at times appalling trash. Re-watching Crank, their notorious writing-directing debut that's basically Speed in a human body, with several friends who had not experienced the movie before, reactions oscillated between outrage at its displays of racism and sexism (“That’s not right, hey” was often heard) and glee at its extreme ridiculous (“This is the best movie ever” was also heard). I decided to check out Pathology, a medical thriller they wrote and produced, but which was directed by Marc Schloermann and is enjoyably trashy if marked by the distinctive bad taste a Neveldine/Taylor production can leave behind, like eating too much candy-flavoured popcorn at the Royal Show.

So, yeah, the screenwriters’ manuals often tell budding writers to open with a hook in order to pull in the viewer and Pathology has three of them. First, we see shaky video footage of unseen hands treating cadavers like ventriloquist dummies, re-enacting the orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally in true po-mo Quentin Tarantino style. Second, we get the Hippocratic Oath repeated for us in white text across black, establishing a gravelly serious tone to the proceedings. Third, we get a close-up of Alyssa Milano’s lips imploring her boyfriend – our anti-hero Milo Vertimigilia (from TV’s Heroes) – to “fuck me.” This movie just dares you to watch the remaining ninety minutes with a triple-threat opening gambit like that.

What basically happens in this movie is that Milo playing a character named Ted Grey is a hot-shot forensic student who joins a prestigious internship presided over by John De Lancie (Q from TV’s Star Trek: Next Generation). Anyway, making the rounds of the morgue as bodies are sliced upon and cracked apart for our viewing pleasure, all the surgeons are Beverly Hills 90210 types and there’s a lot of dick swinging and name-calling between the new maverick and these snotty brats, particularly when they challenge each other in determining how an eleven-year-old fat cadaver died. So, it’s like the Top Gun of pathologist movies. Then Milo meets Dr. Gallow, Iceman to his Maverick, another young hot-shot played by Michael Weston (the ‘That’s my dog’ psycho from TV’s Six Feet Under) who inducts him into a diabolic clique of young hotshot forensic students who test their skill by playing a game; one murders a bad person (pimps and paedophiles are the first victims, so relax your uptight morals) and then guessing how they were murdered in a late night, sex-filled, crack-smoking bull-session, the allure of which causes Milo to leave his humanity behind. So, it’s like The Lost Boys of pathologist movies, particularly when Milo starts sleeping with Lauren Lee Smith’s red-headed nymphette who displays lesbian tendencies and is aroused by S & M shtick like slicing her tongue with a scalpel before making out. But then Schloermann obviously is a follower of the David Fincher school of film-making so everything is cloaked in pristine darkness and Nietzsche-styled phrases are thrown around like “[everyday people are] consuming, multiplying, copulating. It makes me sick” or “We’re animals. It’s our nature to kill.” So, it’s like the Fight Club of pathologist movies. Particularly when the third act twist involves Milo bringing his loyal girlfriend Alyssa Milano back to the big city and it all goes a bit like the third act of Se7en, just with the asshole villain being subjected to an autopsy but paralysed and conscious, like every second Stephen King short story you've ever read.

On one hand appealing to the sort of torture-porn in vogue with the success of the Hostel movies and yet also a throwback to ghoulish EC Comics trashy-horror, Pathology is entertaining to a certain degree. Milo Vertimigilia is solid as the tightly-jawed “hero” who proves to be as morally bankrupt as the villains in the end. So, it’s like the American Psycho of pathologist movies. Basically it functions as a pretty decent thriller as the majority of the characters are despicable jock assholes (there's that Neveldine/Taylor touch) who want to see hacked to death by the end of the film. However, it totally plays into that fusion of sex and death in its montages of Milo and Lauren Lee Smith copulating in cold medical labs while other strangers are killed off by the other students, which makes me wish I was a fifteen year old with pretensions to being a goth that reads Clive Barker and listens to Orgy so then I could really get off on all this sub-par sadomasochistic crap. Oh, and for another insight into the assholish auteurs that are Neveldine and Taylor, during their DVD commentary over the closing credits, they discuss the design of their onscreen writing credit “Neveldine & Taylor.” Apparently they had to accept an ampersand to join their names by the Writers’ Guild, which was an upset as they prefer to be known by the credit “Neveldine/Taylor” (the slash makes it sexy). But what they did, you see, is slant the ampersand, which “was our little rebellion to the Writers’ Guild.” Now I don't use the word "renegades" often, but they might be warranted here...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Days Of Thunder (1990)

Note: the very first film I wrote a bullshit review for...

You may have heard that Days Of Thunder is pretty much Top Gun but with a NASCAR paintjob. And you’d be right. It’s all there -- Tom Cruise is a cocky stud with a drive to be the best; his love interest is an uptight professional older woman who needs his cock; his coach/instructor is a father-figure substitute for a missing father; there is a competitive rival but they turn out to be friends through begrudging respect, etc. And it’s produced by Bruckheimer/Simpson and has their trademark orange-sunrise polished aesthetic to all of the images. And it’s total bullshit. Just check out the characters’ names – Tom Cruise as Cole Trickle (!), Robert Duvall as Harry Hogge (!), Michael Rooker as Rowdy Burns (!), Cary Elwes as Russ Wheeler (!!!). You know just by those ridiculous action-figure names, that this movie will be a bullshit treat.

Days Of Thunder was one of those movies that my parents taped on video when I was a kid, and because I didn’t know any better, I just re-watched it again and again on the family VCR. Re-watching it now, I was struck by how vacuous it was. There is not a lot to it besides your usual Climb-From-Despair-Into-Victory sports movie formula. First, Cruise becomes a NASCAR racer. Then he wins. Then he crashes. Then he meets Nicole Kidman as the love interest. Then they fuck. A to B. B to C. It takes about twenty minutes before you even know Nicole’s first name (it’s Claire). But then is anyone surprised that Days Of Thunder would be a shallow movie? There are a ton of great bullshit moments. Cruise’s introduction hero-shot, riding through track-field smoke on a big motorcycle with his shades on - hilarious. Duvall, obviously taking a paycheck, being a salt-of-the-earth hillbilly who wears a different trucker’s cap in every scene and is so Southern that he only drinks moonshine from a jar - pretty funny. Cary Elwes as the Vanilla Ice-looking real bad guy racer with his constant smug look and gum-chewing - priceless. Nicole Kidman’s big speech to Cruise where he calls him an "infantile ego-maniac" and says that everybody in the world but him knows that "control is only an illusion" (really? Thanks, Nicole!) - classic.

But the whole reason for the movie’s existence is one great scene where after his first win, Cruise’s track-team pull a prank on him. When his tour van gets pulled over by the highway patrol, this real sexy blonde female cop pushes him against the side of the van and asks him to spread his legs. Then there is BULLSHIT low-angle shot of Tom Cruise’s crotch as the female cop frisks him, and it fucking looks like he has a banana stuffed down his tight jeans. Anyway, the female cop says that it looks like he is carrying a concealed weapon, and asks suggestively, "But does he know how to use it?" She takes off her hat, pops open her top, and it’s revealed she’s a stripper! Just part of a big ole boy's own prank on the Cruise Missile who smiles and takes her in his arms and plants her a big kiss. But the whole point of the movie is in that low-angle shot of his crotch, which effectively states for the record that Tom Cruise has a big cock. This is important, because it helps him bed Nicole Kidman as the "brain doctor" who treats him and helps him win Daytona at the end.

So check Days of Thunder if you want to see some fast cars, a good actor like Duvall coasting, Nicole still with an Aussie accent and a crimped perm, and of course, Tom Cruise playing the cocky, competitive, egotistic stud (y’know, the one he played in Colour of Money, Cocktail, Top Gun, Rainman, etc), but this time in a white-trash hick sport known as stock-car racing. Get the need for speed and feel Tom’s big-cocked thunder, people!

Memorable Quote:
DR. CLAIRE: "Tell me what you love so much about racing."
COLE TRICKLE: "Speed. To be able to control it. To know that I can control
something that's out of control."

Pterodactyl (2005)

J-Ro dug up this direct-to-video b-grade Jurassic Park rip-off on a double video store screener (the Armand Assante net-thriller Digital Reaper was the flipside) obtained while his sister was still working at Video Ezy. Reasons for watching this was that the film was called Pterodactyl, features Pterodactyls and stars both Cameron Daddo and Coolio. Turns out it was also directed by Mark L. Lester who made a name for himself during the 1980s making trashy action epics like Class of 1984, Commando and Showdown In Little Tokyo. How the mighty have fallen.

Flick opens with some redneck poachers in the hills of Turkey becoming serrated in half by CGI globs that are actually Pterodactyls! Meanwhile in a nearby small town Cameron Daddo who has grey hair and is going for a third-rate George Clooney type of hero leads a band of plucky high-school archaeologists on a field trip in the one rusty jeep. Yes, the line-up includes one red-head assistant who has a student-crush on Professor Daddo, one busty blonde who is an archetype Beverly Hills bitch (and provides the cheesecake for this cheesefest) and a couple of flat-out science nerds. With the level of characterisation and performance, you might be confused and think you’re watching a Saturday Morning high school sitcom: “Stay tuned you’re watching Pterodactyl High!” Anyway, they hit the road while the composer of Gangsta’s Paradise, Coolio, is going for a third-rate Samuel L. Jackson type of hero, commander of a platoon of soldiers who are tracking some Turkish drug-dealing, women-thieving warlords. With the poorly choreographed action sequences and Coolio’s troops’ inability to look comfortable handling prop guns, you might also be confused for thinking you’re watching a high concept comedy about a Special Ed. branch of Crack Marines.

The plot begins to creak into existence when Cameron Daddo finds some dried Pterodactyl urine on the trees, which looks like someone dumped a kilo of Crunchie on the ground, and then the Blonde student takes a dip in a lake in her bikini before being pecked at by a Pterodactyl. Features genius cross-cutting between CGI dinosaur, resembling a refuge from a 1990s PC game, and a poor puppet dinosaur diving into the water, demonstrating seamless cross-cutting worthy of Stan Winston himself. Then the freaked out team of archaeologists bump into Coolio who has captured his swarthy warload and they are all attacked in an open field by more Pterodactyls that keep ripping off characters’ heads and arms. As Mitch asked during the screening asked, “Are Pterodactyls made completely of razor blades?”

The rest of the movie rips off Aliens, Tremors and Dog Soldiers and every other movie where a motley crew fend off a batch of creatures. You’ve got one nerd student babbling on about what Madame Curie has to teach us about science and then you’ve got Coolio using heat-seeking missiles to terminate the creatures with extreme prejudice. You’ve got the hero’s love interest, the red-haired assistant with the crush being picked up by a pterodactyl, but left unharmed UNLIKE EVERY OTHER CHARACTER, deposited in a cave for the rest of the characters to climb up and rescue her. You’ve got a wounded nerd throwing a chocolate bar at a pterodactyl before he is chomped. You’ve got pseudo-science and shithouse graphics when the sun goes down and the pterodactyls IMMEDIATELY fall asleep because they only sleep in the dark and that gives the humans a break (nice going, science). You’ve got a stupid climax where Coolio sacrifices himself by firing a missile at the last pterodactyl but then dying like an idiot and forcing Cameron Daddo to step up to the plate and finish the job by PUTTING ON SOME GOOGLES THAT GUIDE THE MISSILES (nice going, military). Then you’ve got Cameron Daddo and the red-haired laughing it up as they walk off into the sunset making some references to Jurassic Park before the camera tunnels into the depths of the Turkish mountains to discover a CGI T-Rex! Illogical bid for a sequel!

And now for the most memorable quote of the movie:

COOLIO: “Now Professor... tell me about these dinosaurs?”

Friday, 12 June 2009

Future Bullshit: Old Dogs (2009)

Bullshit movies tends to stay away from comedies. When a drama or an action movie or a horror film or any other 'serious' genre fails by being bad, more than likely an unintentional comedy is provided. The existential question I always ask myself: when a comedy fails at being a comedy, what do you have? On the basis of this trailer for the upcoming Disney comedy Old Dogs, a black hole that swallows intelligence, laughter, ideas, goodness, decency, sunshine, and sensibility right into the eye of the storm and belches it all back to you as a hard lump of coal.

Seriously: you watch this trailer and you will want to hit yourself in the head with your own shoe.

There, how does your head feel? Not too good. I cannot remember a recent comedy trailer where I felt the straining for laughs more acutely in the pit of my bowels. Remember to put your shoe back on...

Friday, 5 June 2009

The Happening (2008)

In little under a year, The Happening, which was released in 2008, has already become this generation’s The Swarm. For those not familiar with Irwin Allen’s late-1970s flop, The Swarm was a disaster movie predicated on a ridiculous threat, that of killer bees(important distinction: AFRICAN killer bees, not the hard-working and industrious American bees), a central flaw compounded by many more flaws. The Happening is also grounded on a ridiculous threat, one which was supposed to be a surprise in the narrative flow of the film, but which has already been exposed with the badness of the movie being culturally propagated like a swarm of killer bees. To paraphrase Michael Caine, I never dreamed it would be the trees... they’ve always been our friends! Yes, trees have had it up to here with mankind and have sought to teach us a lesson by releasing airborne toxins that make us want to kill ourselves in spectacularly grotesque ways, which also in turn makes the wind our enemy. Did I mention that The Happening was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the auteur renown for illogical twists at the end of his movies like Signs and The Village? He’s given up on the illogical twists and gone straight for illogical here!

I have been inundated with warnings about how bad The Happening is: from my friend Jess’s hilarious discussion of it as the Worst Film of 2008 to Christopher Orr’s hilarious spoiler laden list of its terribleness and finally The I.T. Crowd writer and director Graham Linehan leading a global twitter-based viewing of the film here. What is great about The Happening is that you can read all this stuff, read all the reviews about how awful it is and get wind of all the internet chatter about its use of wind as a laugh-inducing threat, but when you watch it you’ll still be left utterly gob-smacked at how stupid the movie really is. It’s a bad movie classic that with its anti-science ecological message becomes totally bullshit. My friends Seymour, Mitch, Jarrad and I let The Happening into our lives one night on DVD and we were became Happened.

Field Notes from a study of The Happening:

1. The title itself, The Happening. Isn’t it the most generic, stupid title you could think of for a movie? Why not call it The Event or The Something? And as if to rub it in every character seems to say the word in dialogue like “What is happening?” or “An evil is happening!” or “Where is this happening?” or “Can this really be happening?” I suspect M. Night was stuck for a title and searched for the most popular word in his script – discounting “the” and “a” and “hotdogs” – and went with The Happening.

2. The problem with M. Night as a director besides his desire to become the next Hitchcock and Spielberg combined is the fact that he has talent. I’ve been an apologist for him in the past as I really liked Unbreakable and Signs was entertaining (a fucking masterpiece in comparison to The Happening) and The Village was decent if you didn’t pay too much attention to its ridiculous Twilight Zone twist. And why? Well, he knows what to do with a camera and he can create slow-building suspense effectively. There are several shots that are fundamentally creepy such as the opening scene where two best females friends chat on a park bench before the Happening causes people to stand still as if frozen by time and one of the female friends decides to stick a hair pin in her neck. Then there’s the one-take where the cop shoots himself in the middle of traffic and we watch several people pick up his gun and do likewise. And a one-shot special effect where a 4WD slams head-on into a tree was so enjoyable we rewound it to watch it again. The problem is that The Happening has the aura of a great zombie film but without zombies. Instead what is our threat? Wind! Fucking wind? How can you film that without being laughable? There is the classic scene where Mark Whalberg, our hero, leads some survivors through a field, running away from a soft breeze as if Days of Heaven was a horror movie. Quick, we need some wind-breakers STAT!

3. Speaking of Mark Whalberg, on the basis of his angry reaction to Andy Samberg’s impression of him on SNL, I fantasised that he went to the premiere of The Happening, saw how he came off in the film, and then went gunning for Shyamalan at the post-film party, ready to punch him square in the face: “Fuck you, dude, you made me look like a total dick!” I like Whalberg, he can be a really great actor and charismatic presence in any number of films (even a dumb action picture like Shooter), but I’ve never seen an actor saddle-bagged the way he is in The Happening. Our introduction to our ‘hero’ is a classroom scene where Whalberg stands in a vest, next to a blackboard with some Einstein quote, mumbling leadenly about disappearing bees. “Have you guys heard of this article about all these bees disappearing?”

The classroom scene also highlights M. Night Shyamalan’s – who is a devout Catholic by the way – broader theme of faith.

Whalberg: “Come on, buddy. Take an interest in science. What could be the
reason bees have vanished?”

Student:[after a long pause] “An act of nature, and we'll never fully
understand it.”

Whalberg: “Nice answer, Jake. He's right. Science will come up with some
reason to put in the books, but in the end it'll be just a theory. I mean, we
will fail to acknowledge that there are forces at work beyond our understanding.
To be a scientist, you must have a respectful awe for the laws of nature.”

As Jarrad remarked, “Is he a scientist or a religious teacher?”
Mitch: “Alright, kids, time to drink the special red cordial...”

Yes, part of the reason why Whalberg is directed to be so ineffectual and his character is written as such a dunderhead is that his role as a scientist means diddly squat in the face of this Happening. Yes, faith is a fact. Wait, sorry, faith is a facet of how we approach nature and the world and things like global warming. In Jake’s line of dialogue, replace “nature” with “God” and there you have it.

4. John Leguizamo plays Whalberg’s best friend in the picture and he’s introduced arriving after Whalberg’s class has ended, Marcus Brody to his Indiana Jones, and he spouts some dialogue about some stuff before remarking, “It’s good to be a Maths teacher!”
Mitch (quoting The Micallef Programme): “I’m only just a lowly Security Guard and that is what I am.”

5. However, it’s not only Whalberg who suffers, Shyalaman has also cast indie-movie delight and attractive songstress Zooey Deschanel as his estranged wife. The camera emphasises her delightful eyes and one can note the lovely dress she wears throughout, but the possibility that her and Whalberg have any kind of relationship is really difficult to discern.
Mitch: “The only chemistry here is the imported toxins in the air.”
Jarrad: “You can almost smell the acting.”

6. There are also a couple of lines of dialogue that seem like self-criticisms of the film itself, or at least fair warning as to what type of cinematic experience The Happening is. Sample 1: “Our brains come equipped with a self-preservation mechanism.” Yes, but can science really explain why I’m watching this film if I’m equipped with such a biological principle? Sample 2: “Why are you giving one useless piece of information one step at a time?” Answer your own question, Shyamalan!

7. In case it wasn’t clear what’s happening here, these airborne toxins cause people to kill themselves. Yet who wants to see simple,ordinary, meat and potatoes suicides? Give us some imaginative grotesque cartoon imagery if you can, M. Night! The prime example of this is when Whalberg and his motley band of survivors are sitting around sedately in a diner with all the other survivors who have left behind the mass suicides of the city. Whalberg makes nice with Leguizamo’s daughter and then suddenly a stupid woman sitting next to him says, “Look at this!” And we see her camera phone showing pristine footage recorded from a relative in another state of a zoo keeper walking into a lion’s den and allowing them to eat him. Yet, as his arm is ripped off by one lion, instead of the lion taking the whole body or him falling over from the shock of that, he proceeds to stand around in a daze letting another lion rip off another arm (in the same the scene is ripping off the Mexican-birthday-hey-look-its-an-alien video footage scene in Signs). Now what was funny about it – aside from everything – is that only one or two of us chuckled, a merriment that slowly developed into mass laughter as it all slowly dawned how STUPID that scene was, particularly compounded by all these shocked, stunned reaction shots to the footage from patrons in the diner.

8. We have a scene where John Leguizamo decides to leave his child with Whalberg and Deschanel so he can hitch a ride on a covered jeep to get to another city where his own wife is shopping for some toy or something. Jarrad: “Okay, that’s dumb, nobody would just abandon his child.” Then a slow-motion goodbye shot of Leguizamo looking back in sadness, to which we all bust out laughing waiting for a single tear to roll down his cheek. The plot machinations of the movie have us already prepared for the idea that a nuclear family is formed with Leguizamo’s child in Whalberg and Deschanel’s protection, which just leaves us with how is Leguizamo going to become Happened? Well, he’s in the passenger side of this crowded jeep as they hit Pennsylvania or something and it’s creepy with all these ladders near trees and Ivy Leauge college dopes having hung themselves from sturdy branches. Then Leguizamo decides to help out a lady in the back freaking out by forcing her to compute a maths problem while they believe serenely in the air-tight security of their wound up windows. Jarrad: “Yeah, cars are pretty much air tight.” Oh no, there’s a rip in the ceiling, emphasised in close-up, symbolic of the fragile nature of our social fabric?

9. Then we have some yokel that our ‘heroes’ bump into, a gormless, bearded, yokel, salt of the earth type who gives them a ride and starts to yammer on about hot-dogs for no reason. Why is he going on about hot-dogs a lot? He takes them to his greenhouse where we glimpse some not-too-subtle smokestacks on the horizon (what have we wrought?) and then he starts yammering on about plants, “I know what’s doing this, plants, they release chemicals in the air” and “Most plants react to stimulus ... they proved it in tests.” Basically all he says turns out to be true in the logic of the movie’s science, sorry, faith, no wait, bullshit, and so I guess all that hot-dog stuff is supposed to make us shake our hands ruefully, “What a nutty guy!” and then later, “Wait, he was right! Believe the hot-dog loving morons, they know the truth!” Then again it could also produce the reaction that Mitch believed in: “Plants and trees don’t care if you live or die, you hippie fuck!”

10. So as our heroes move away from the city away from the wind and plants that are killing people and into the natural landscape where wind and plants are minimal (wait, no, that’s not correct), they encounter this idiot fucking Shia LeBeouf type actor playing a panicky soldier straight out of a 1950s B-movie. This is proven when he leans into the car, shocked by the chaos created by this Happening and remarks, “Cheese and crackers!” Cheese and crackers? How home-spun. This and “Do you like hot-dogs?” are going to be bumper-sticker worthy catchphrases for sure! Question: is there a swear jar on Shyamalan’s set? Wait, don’t say anything believable like “Jesus Christ!” or “Holy shit!” because that’s a five dollar fine. Why don’t you use “Cheese and crackers” instead? Thanks, Mr Filmmaker!

11. Suspense. You can create this with people stuck out in a field and wind menacingly moving towards them, which the characters attempt to out-run. Yes, it’s the flipside of that old chestnut where a hero outruns a fire explosion. This time the wind gets a chance to show off its merits as a special effect. Also let’s show off Shyamalan’s command of direction with Whalberg being all confused and impotent as an action hero, trying to remember his five step empirical plan, and also Shyamalan’s command of believable dialogue when Zooey remarks in all the panic, “We can’t stand here like uninvolved observers!”

12. Marky Mark, Zooey, Leguiazmo’s pipsqueak daughter, and two boys who tag along for the ride keep on travelling through the scenic countryside when they find a model home. Then Whalberg finds himself in a study and notices ... a PLANT! Holy fucking shit. In the words of Ash, “Quick. Get an axe!” But no, Whalberg approaches slowly and starts talking softly:

Whalberg [to house plant] "Hello. My name is Elliot Moore. I'm just going to
talk in a very positive manner, giving off good vibes. We're just here to use
the bathroom, and we're just going to leave. I hope that's okay. [touches leaf]
Plastic. I'm talking to a plastic plant. I'm still doing it."

Ha ha. He was talking to a plant. Ho hum. As Seymour remarked deadpan, “That was an amazing scene.” Then the five heroes run away from the model home and see too many people around it (apparently the toxins affect people when they’re in large groups?) and then we see one older dude start up a massive lawn mower and then lies down in front of it. Jarrad: “This is going to rule!”

13. The heroes find another house boarded up and seemingly empty, but no, some guy is in there being all isolationist and “Don’t come in my house y’all!” The two boys keep banging on the house loudly like they’re the fucking Goonies and what do you know they both get shot-gunned to death by the crazy nut inside. Jarrad: “Oh, humans. We kind of deserve it, don’t we?” Embrace the wind when things are this grim.

14. The heroes find another fucking house this time run by a passive-aggressive kook grandma in a rocking chair who is all “Want some of my lemon drink?” and keeps being all “Well, come in and have some supper. Not that I made it for you!” and all “Don’t take my cookie, child! Here, have the cookie, child.” It’s like they walked into another movie, like a VC Andrews modern gothic horror novel, Flowers in the Attic 2: Electric Boogaloo. This is underscored by the scene where Mark Whalberg wakes up after spending the night at the house, walking around slowly in the emptiness, opening a door, and finding a bed, and oh shit, there’s this creepy porcelain doll on the bed, and yet, he keeps moving towards it slowly. Seymour: “It’s a doll on the bed. What’s he confused about?” Sure enough, the nutso woman springs up behind up and is all “Argh, get out of here!” Then she wanders off outside to where the wind gets her and Whalberg backs the fuck up closing the door before the wind jiggles the door handle (Mitch: “We’ll be okay until they learn how to open doors.”). Then the old woman begins to bash her head against the windows of the house in an effort to kill herself but unavoidably releasing the wind into the house. Jarrad: “Oh well, they’ve hypnotised her to act on behalf of the wind, that’s fucking retarded.”

15. Deschanel is with the kid in a farm house outside and Whalberg is in a cellar, barricaded against the wind, but there’s a talk pipe or something, which they can communicate through despite the fact the pipe is buried underneath a field between their two structures and they can hear each other with perfect pitch clarity. Mitch: “Fuck, this movie is making me angry.” They seem to be the only survivors left alive. Mitch: “This is like Noah’s Ark... where only the best people are meant to survive and one of them is apparently Mark Whalberg.” Then Whalberg who’s been wearing this mood ring because “science” has proven people emit colours that denote certain emotions looks at the wind outside, looks at his ring and its gone orange. Mitch: “Orange means scared of an impending apocalypse.” Then with their unconvincing martial woes and non-existent attraction to each other, Whalberg and Deschanel decide to cross the ground between them and meet in the middle of the toxin-heavy air. Mutual suicide! Nice going, humanity. Love conquers all, particularly when you pull along an innocent tyke who is of no relation to you. And then the wind stops because things were only Happening for twenty-four hours since it started. Woah, nice save, nature. ANTI-CLIMAX!

16. Then we get some quack three months later on the television nervously gesticulating about how “nature is something we’ll never understand” and the whole mass suicide thing “is a prelude, a warning, we’ve become a threat to this planet.” Jarrad: “Why is the film making the man espousing its message look so crazy?” Then Deschanel finds out she’s pregnant and then somewhere in France the same thing that Happened in the opening Happens there in the conclusion and then the credit “Directed by M. Night Shyamalan” came up and Mitch summed it up for all of us when he replied, “Fuck you.”

Monday, 1 June 2009

Hard Target (1993)

So Van Damme decided to bring Hong Kong action master John Woo over to the United States to make another version of that hoary chestnut, The Most Dangerous Game, the story where rich people hunt humans for sport (the Ice T/Rutger Hauer version, Surviving The Game, would come out one year later). Woo was known in cult film circles for making awesome films where Chow Yun Fat would wear a trenchcoat and shoot a million dudes with two 45 handguns while chewing a toothpick and then some doves would fly through underscoring the poetic ballet of the mayhem. Hollywood action films had been aping his shit for the last ten years at that point in 1993 so it was his turn to turn the action genre on its head by making films in the West. While Hard Target was dismissed as an impure John Woo film, what with the censors forcing him to trim down the violence substantially and critics complaining that he had to cope with Van Damme’s acting limitations, even the film that stands as the perfect fusion of Woo and Hollywood, Face/Off, is still pretty silly on reflection (don’t get me wrong, I love Face/Off), so give Van Damme a break because Hard Target is fucking kick-ass. What other film opens with its screenwriter, Chuck Pfarrer (a former SEAL team commander), playing the first victim, a grizzled Vietnam vet who is hunted down and shot to shit with spinning steel arrows by a tanned rich yuppie, flanked by the nefarious Fouchon (Lance Henriksen) and his henchman Pik Van Cleef (Arnold Vosloo), the organisers of this secret hunting club?

Turns out that the homeless vet had a daughter who is played by Yancy Butler and her eyebrows venture out to find the father she never knew in an open top convertible through the mean streets of New Orleans. She turns up at a sleazy diner, flashing her cash and standing out in her yuppie wear. When she returns to her car outside, she is cornered by a dozen sleazy low-lives in broad daylight who proceed to slap her around, desiring to rob and rape her. Now we’ve already had one slow-mo intro shot to the formidable gelled mullet of Jean Claude Van Damme’s character, Chance Boudreaux, a Cajun drifter who sitting by himself at the diner counter eating some gumbo and calling it a “tragedy” to the waitress in his thick Belgian, sorry, Cajun accent. We then receive a second slow-mo intro shot with some B.B. King style slide guitar blues intro music as Chance steps onto the scene to showdown with the neighbourhood roughs, issuing the classic line to the tough guy with the flick-knife, “Why don’t you take your big stick and you boyfriend and find a bus to catch.” Of course, these punks aren’t listening even if they could decipher what Van Damme is saying and so they laugh and say stuff like “This guy’s funny” and proceed to surround him in the great tradition of every martial arts film ever made. Woo shows that he knows how to film this action shit as we get a solid ten minutes of Van Damme performing slow-mo high kicks to all the sleazy dudes, even going so far as to throw a guy through a store glass window like they were in a goddamned western and then taking a page out of the Seagal playback and snapping one dude’s arm backwards. “Y’know, it’s a shame,” Van Damme slurs as he hands back Yancy Butler’s purse as she sits behind the wheel of her car in shock, “this used to be such a nice part of town.” Then as Yancy Butler stares in awe Woo shots a slow-mo hero shot of Van Damme walking away slowly down the street, a parked car in the background picking up a lens flare before the image dissolves into the American flag and no one is in doubt: THIS MAN IS A HERO OF OUR TIMES. This is the Woo style; totally melodramatic and totally sincere. We get a third intro-hero-shot when Yancy Butler finally convinces Chance to help her track down her father and at first he refuses but then agrees turning up stoically behind a truck with tin drums that are moved aside to reveal him with another blues boogie guitar flourish on the soundtrack as he walks towards the camera in slow-mo.

Yancy Butler: “What kind of name is Chance?”
Van Damme: “Well, my mama took one.”

Great exchanges in this sucker. Van Damme is handed a decent amount of one-liners he sneers through such as when he’s been assaulted by henchmen and winds up in a police station asking the cops, “What did you arrest me for? Getting beat up without a license?” Anyway as Yancy Butler and Van Damme prowl around the Big Easy looking for clues, we have the bad guys preparing another hunt. The villains in this film are pretty great. First you have Voosloo, better known as The Mummy from The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, introduced glowering in the dark with his bald head and deep eyes like he was Nosferatu. Eventually we understand how evil he is when he punches a fat sleazoid local operator right in the stomach while he is sleeping and then when the fat guy is being pulled up for fucking up a detail in the last hunt, he cuts off one of the fat guy’s ears with a pair of scissors and then quips the line, “He’s all ears.” Then you have the head villain played by the awesome Lance Henriksen (c'mon, Bishop from Aliens)who glowers like the best of them with his impressively lined and granite-like face, sitting around in his white luxurious mansion playing a white grand piano wearing a white silk shirt in a poetic touch that is supposed to show us his soul or some deep shit like that, while espousing new clients Nietzsche-type maxims like “It’s always the privilege of the few to hunt the many.” Of course, as vaguely European, upper class villains there is a thin line of homoeroticism in the main villain/second-in-command relationship, which comes to the boil when Van Damme and Yancy Butler discover the nefarious details of this evil hunting club and naturally Van Damme becomes their Hardest Target, but then you shouldn’t hunt what you can’t kill, and Van Damme’s so skilled that the hunter becomes the prey if you follow me.

The first half hour is pretty much atmosphere with lots of scenes of Van Damme being tough, like the scene where he drops in on the fat guy with one ear and purrs “Listen to me very carefully”, and then a few more scenes of Henriksen and Voosloo violently killing people in spectacular ways, such as the police doctor they pay to fake autopsy reports who is eliminated with the old standby of looking through his front door’s peephole and receiving a bullet in the eye. Then Van Damme, Yancy Butler and the only cop they trust, played by Kasi Lemmons, who could have been two days from retirement with the way she is gunned down, are all attacked and Van Damme grabs a pistol and starts performing some slow-mo shoot-outs against an armada of black vans and motorcycles filled with assassins. The action is gloriously non-stop in this chase sequence with Van Damme high-kicking one speeding motorcycle assassin in the head, breaking their neck, and then jumping on the motorcycle to make his getaway. Eventually Van Damme proceeds to surf on the seat of a motorcycle while firing his hand gun, speeding down a closed freeway ramp and into an oncoming van of assassins, letting the motorbike slam into them as he flips over the vehicle in a somersault, landing behind them and firing several shots until they explode. All of this is capped off by a hearty “Yeah!” by Van Damme. A-grade execution, Mr Woo.

The rest of the film includes: Van Damme grabbing a snake by the neck, punching it unconscious and then setting it up as a trap for Henriksen and his band of yuppie asshole hunters; an appearance from Cocoon’s Wilford Brimley playing Chance’s moonshine drinking Uncle who helps kill assassins with a trusty bow and arrow; Van Damme grabbing his trusty silver shotgun which is filmed in erotic slow-motion as if it was the modern-day Excalibur; a massive showdown shootout in an abandoned factory with creepy circus shit everywhere that goes into action overkill as there are only so many shotgun blasts and explosions you can handle; Van Damme riding on a paper mache Pelican and shotgunning bad guys to death like an avenging Carnival angel; Van Damme shooting a hand-gun upside down for no good reason with his pinkie finger, filling renown stuntman Sven Thorsen (the villain from Abraxas) full of holes and then fly-kicking the cigar from Sven’s mouth; Van Damme and Voosloo back to back against a dividing wall, reloading their two handguns each and exchanging snappy patter in a draft of the similar scene that occurs in Face/Off; Henriksen with his trenchcoat on fire which he takes off with a roar; and then Van Damme beating the shit out of Henriksen, saying “How does it feel to be hunted?” and dropping a grenade in Henriksen’s pants and high-kicking him to his explosive death with the concluding line, “Hunting season is over.” Then Van Damme, Yancy Butler and Wilfred Brimley all start to laugh it up, walking away from the wreckage while Creedance Clearwater Revival’s ‘Born on the Bayou’ plays over the closing credits. There you have it. John Woo comes to America so that Van Damme can kick New Orleans another arsehole in the name of homeless people everywhere who are hunted by rich arseholes.