Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Demolition Man (1993)

Schwarzenegger and Stallone were the titans of the action movie genre during the 1980s because both of them were muscular, spoke in impenetrable accents, and both served Regan-era America by killing drug dealers, ethnic criminals and evil communist in all of their films. I was more of a Schwarzenegger fan myself and as the early 1990s began, Schwarzenegger seemed to be the clear winner with sci-fi blockbuster epics like Total Recall and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, as well as more importantly ingratiating himself with mainstream America by branching out into comedy successfully, sending up his own screen image with director Ivan Reitman for Twins and Kindergarten Cop. However, Stallone’s attempts at showing he could do more than be Rocky and Rambo failed miserably with the John Landis mob comedy Oscar and the unrelentingly terrible Stop or My Mom Will Shoot! The end seemed nigh. Then Cliffhanger was a box office hit and there was relief for Sly. He then took a page out of Schwarzenegger’s playbook and made Demolition Man with producer Joel Silver, a film that combined science fiction and comedy to bullshit effect.

Opening like a cross between a James Bond film and Tim Burton’s Batman, the film throws us into the middle of an action climax where Los Angeles is a pitch-black war-zone as signified by the fact the Hollywood sign is on fire (APOCALYPSE IMMINENT!). We find our hero Sylvester Stallone, wearing a nifty Special Forces beret (taking a page out of the Steven Segal playback), zip-lining from the ass of a helicopter into a hostage situation where a crazy ass criminal played by Wesley Snipes has like forty civilians inside a building wired to explode. Stallone quips, “You’ve got to send a manic to catch a manic,” which is like a 1990s remix of that old Rambo maxim, “To win a war you’ve got to become a war.” Snipes doesn’t really have much of a character, just being a crazy dude. The main thing that distinguishes him is his Vanilla Ice hair-do (as my friend Adam remarked, “A black dude with white hair goes against the laws of nature”). Oh, and he’s also named Simon Phoenix so that someone later in the film can say with a straight face, “A Mr. Phoenix has risen from the ashes.” And before, I forget, Stallone’s character is called John Spartan, also satisfying bullshit action movie heroes with ridiculous surnames espousing their heroic character (up there with John Matrix from Commando). Back to the film where Stallone and Snipes kung fu each other around this smoke-filled building amongst tons of barrels with “C4” stamped on the front, which caused my friend Dan to state, “I wasn’t aware that C4 was a liquid?” Anyway, they both fall out of a window or something and the building EXPLODES, collapsing into rubble, following the template that Lethal Weapon 3 set, which is that if there’s a building about to be demolished in L.A., hold on everyone at City Planning and let Hollywood set its cameras up to catch that shit for their next outlandish action epic. Turns out the unseen hostages were killed on account of the explosion and the Police Chief yells at Stallone, “Try to remember a little thing they call Office Police Procedure” and is blamed for their deaths. So, we have Stallone playing Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, lowered into a cryogenic freezing device, which is how we decide to imprison people in the near-future of 1996.

Fast forward and its 2032, which is the future to us mere mortals, and the film proceeds to establish its main satirical thrust in imagining an ordered society where political correctness has gone mad! Yes, everyone wears Japanese-styled kimonos, sports strange vertical haircuts with the sideburns removed, and speak like robots with sentences like “Attitude readjustment... Info assimilated” or “the lack of stimulus is truly disappointing.” The do-gooders have had their way and everything is really peaceful and no one has been killed – sorry, Murder Death Killed as they call it in this movie – for over twenty years or something, which really does stagger belief in the idea that murders have been eliminated, even without a Pre-Cog System in place of preventative psychics floating in pools. Sandra Bullock plays a restless police officer who finds all this peace SO BORING and loves the 1990s as evidenced by the paraphernalia all over her office with a Lethal Weapon 3 poster and a Blood Sugar Sex Magic poster, causing Dan to remark, “This is such bullshit! No one in the future is going to have nostalgia for the 1990s!” Back to the plot, Snipes is let out of cryogenics but is able to speak Mexican and unlock codes and basically escape by killing everyone, even gouging out a scientist’s eyeball to pass a retinal scan in a sick twist. All the Future Police can do is watch on their security cameras as Snipes wastes everyone the 1990s way, which includes soundtracking his martial arts fighting with record scratches and ‘Bam’ horn samples, las if Terminator X from Public Enemy was hired to Mickey Mouse his every move (nice appropriation of black culture, Hollywood). Thankfully, Bill Cobb, a kindly old black cop remembers the good old days of the 1990s, remembering that maverick renegade they called ‘The Demolition Man’ and that they need ‘an old fashioned cop.’ So, they thaw out Stallone and he’s like ‘Take me to Planet Hollywood!’ but they are like ‘Sorry, your wife and everyone you knew is dead.’ Before Stallone can get too weepy, he remembers his old warrior instincts and hunts after Snipes across Muesuems that feature wings dedicated to Violence and Weapon stashes, all the while reacting to the madcap zaniness of the future where cigarettes are banned, sexual intercourse is relegated to virtual sexing, bad language is always being fined by ticketing sensors, and as my friend Dan remarked, “even their high fives have no balls!”

Demolition Man satisfies as a Joel Silver produced action flick as all the clich├ęs are in full swing from scenes being swathed in smoke machines for atmosphere, gratuitous female nudity (minimal really, but yeah Stallone gets a wrong number video call from a naked woman for no reason aside from showing some tits), people firing off handguns and machine guns with volcanic sound effects, and even corny one-liners. Our favourite was the pay-off to a running gag involving the farewell phrase that everyone in the future uses, which is “Be well.” Later in the film, Stallone realises that Cocteau (Nigel Williamson from Yes Minister), the leader of this Brave New World is duplicitous, having released Snipes/Phoenix in order to kill a dirty rebel leader who lives in the sewers, Edgar Friendly (Denis Leary). CONSPIRACIES OCCUR IN THE FUTURE. So they have one of those scenes where Stallone punches a lot of television screens and angrily accuses Cocteau of his evil-doings, but he’s the leader of this Brave New World and he tells Stallone that he’ll be hunted down by the police and put in cryogenics. Stallone, pissed, moves to leave.

Cocteau: “Be well.”
Stallone: “Be fucked.”

High fives for the screenwriters! They must have taken the day off after coming up with that spectacular punch-line. There is also obvious product placement masquerading as comedy where in the future fast food is now upscale cuisine with Cocteau asking Stallone to dinner at “Pizza Hut.” However, this was great as though his voice said “Pizza Hut”, his mouth clearly said something different, a really obvious example of ADR post-production overdubbing. Turns out it was originally Taco Bell as Adam explained to us after having done some pre-film research. They have a scene in the restaurant where the signs are replaced and there are two more examples of characters saying “Pizza Hut” while their mouths say “Taco Bell.” We all thought that it was because Taco Bell didn’t want to be associated with Demolition Man. Turns out it was more the fact that Pizza Hut had an international reputation while Taco Bell hadn’t quite hit the global market yet. Purchase your John Spartan and Simon Phoenix action figures next time you are at Pizza Hut, gang! (Note: sources inform that Pizza Hut and Taco Bell were owned by the same megacorporation so greedy capitalistic product placement wins again!)

What else do viewers have to contend with in Demolition Man? You have Rob Schneider during his SNL years being an annoying cop offsider. You have Sandra Bullock pre-Speed fame being quite attractive in her police leggings, well, the most I’ve ever found her potentially sexy. You have Sandra Bullock in awe of Stallone’s ability to kick ass with the line, “You’re better live than on LaserDisc.’ You have a silly virtual sexing sequence where Stallone gets angry that he was given a towel and computer headgear instead of being able to get physical. You have really sub-par Robocop-styled satire where things like commercial jingles are referred to as “golden oldies” by the air-head citizens of the future. You have a lame running joke where Sandra Bullock always incorrectly utters standard tough-guy lines into malapropisms like ‘You really licked his ass.’ You have another relic of the 1990s, Denis Leary, cast as a grimy resistance fighter who champions his cause in a speech that is basically his rant from the middle of his one-hit wonder ‘Asshole’ repeated for mass consumption. You have Jesse Ventura in a bit part as one of Snipes’ unfrozen henchmen and he is not given any dialogue in the film! INCORRECT, MOVIE! You’ve also got a car chase where Stallone drives off a bridge into some water and the car fills up with protective foam because it’s the future and that’s how airbags work now, and he quips, “What happened? This car suddenly turned into a cannoli!’ ZING. Anyway, fast forward to the end where Stallone sprays Snipes with some liquid nitrogen and karate kicks his head clean off. Then we hear a Sting cover of ‘Demolition Man’, which apparently was a song by The Police that this movie took its name from. End of movie. Yet, this exchange was often remembered when Schwarzenegger became Governor of California:

Lenina Huxley: I have, in fact, perused some newsreels in the Schwarzenegger Library, and the time that you took that car...
John Spartan: Hold it. The Schwarzenegger Library?
Lenina Huxley: Yes. The Schwarzenegger Presidential Library. Wasn't he an actor when you...?
John Spartan: Stop! He was President?
Lenina Huxley: Yes! Even though he was not born in this country, his popularity at the time caused the 61st Amendment which states...
John Spartan: I don't wanna know. President...

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Commando (1985)

An action classic that my parents taped off television and that I watched repeatedly as a child, Commando was and is still one of my favourite action films of all time. Back when I was growing up under the influence of such demented action films, I even had the Commando action figure with a little plastic Arnold Schwarzenegger figurine that came with a comic-book re-telling of the movie though sanitized of the movie’s violence for the under-13 year old market for the toy, which is funny as the movie is totally made for 13 year old boys. It’s an awesomely bullshit action movie that doesn’t mess around with complex characterisation or plot (i.e. a minimum of “boring” scenes). It’s basically 87 minutes of Arnie running around in on a race-against-time to rescue his kidnapped daughter (Alyssa Milano) from some bad guys who want him to assassinate the president of a tin-pot country. Y’see, Arnie led a Special Forces squad that made enemies all over the world and the pre-credit sequence has his ex-men being picked off one by one. As soon as Arnie’s former commander, General Kirby helicopters to his isolated mountain home with two men to protect him and then leaves after this warning, the bad guys strike with excessive machine gun fire. This movie doesn’t mess around! Now a disposed Latin American dictator (Dan Hedaya) wants to reclaim power and is using Arnie’s daughter to do this (great scene where he asks her “Wouldn’t it be nice to see your daddy again?” and she says “Yeah, when he smashes your face in!”). Arnie escapes the clutches of his foes by breaking the neck of his guard on the airplane, makes it look like the dead guy is sleeping by sticking a blanket over him (quipping “Don’t disturb my friend, he’s dead tired!”), and then jumps off the wheel of the plane. Before long, he’s grabbed an airhead stewardess (Rae Dawn Chong) to help him, joining his quest of fucking shit up in the name of fatherly love. The rest of the movie is Arnie running around, punching dudes out, throwing them off mountains, robbing a gun-shop with a bulldozer, and then invading a small island in the climax where they are keeping his daughter hostage and where he massacres an entire army single-handedly.

This is back in the good old days of the 1980s where Arnie was still making viciously violent movies in the period after Terminator made him a star and before he became a warm and cuddly mainstream icon with Twins and Junior and Jingle All The Way. Produced by Joel Silver, Commando is a prototypical 1980s action movie where all the bad guys are minorities, all the women are beautiful bimbos, and the one-liners are memorably corny, with even room to include Arnie’s catch-phrases like “I’ll be back” and “Trust me.” Not to mention the tell tale sign of a bullshit action movie... unbelievable hero names! Did I forget to say Arnie’s character is called John Matrix. I guess John Grenade or John Supersoldier would have been too obvious.

Classic bullshit scenes come thick and fast throughout this flick. The title credit montage has one of the greatest images ever, conveying the happiness Matrix and his daughter live in, with the postcard image of Arnie kneeling, smiling like a goofball, helping his daughter feed a young deer! HEARTWARMING! Then you have the aforementioned dialogue such as when Arnie gets the drop on the bad guy sleazeball Sully (David Patrick Kelly of The Warriors) who Arnie holds over a ravine in the attempt to obtain information about where his daughter is:

MATRIX: “Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last?”
SULLY: “That’s right, Matrix, you did!”
MATRIX: “I lied.”

Then Arnie drops him to his death. Then he busts into a hotel room to have a fist fight with another bad guy, the bad-ass named Cooke (Bill Duke of Predator):

COOKE: “You scared mothefucker? Well, you should be, because this Green Beret is going to kick your ass!”
MATRIX: “I eat Green Berets for breakfast. And right now I’m very hungry!”

And then Arnie punches him into another hotel room where a young couple are fucking (gratuitous nudity is a Joel Silver staple). The action sequences throughout, from the attack on Arnie’s home where he rushes off to his secret shed filled with automatic weapons, to the brawl in a shopping mall where eight security guards rush him and he throws them all off at the same time like’s he the fucking Hulk! Then the sequence where Arnie crashes into a surplus store and loads up on shells, grenades, weapons, and flip-flops is like Gun and Ammo porn for all the Soldiers of Fortune subscribers out there. Every now and then there will be a scene with General Kirby at the aftermath of all this destruction with some dialogue that testifies to Arnie’s brilliance:

SOLDIER: “What can we expect, sir?”
KIRBY: “World War III.”

World War III is what we get when Arnie and Rae Dawn Chong steal a two-prop plane and land near the island where Arnie blows away every swarthy military man extra in sight, which is a total massacre that Arnie only receives two superficial wounds after having killed two hundred soldiers, never missing with the dozen machine guns he has. There’s even a scene where he gets trapped in a shed and uses garden implements to decapitate and maim more soldiers. HANDYMAN ACTION!

Acting-wise, Arnie is Arnie. You know what to expect. Alyssa Milano is basically Punky Brewster in this. Rae Dawn Chong is hilariously annoying, a woman who whines constantly after being kdnapped by Arnie, comes to believe in his cause and helps him to the point by becoming bait to sleazeballs that Arnie fucks up. Dan Hedaya plays the dictator with an accent that makes him sound like Peter Sellars in The Party. However, the movie is stolen by Australian’s own Vernon Wells (of Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior) who plays Bennett, a bad guy who must be seen to be believed. A former member of Matrix’s unit but was kicked out because he liked the violence too much, Bennett looks like Freddie Mercury with a thick moustache, close-cropped hair and a penchant for wearing chain-mail over his flabby gut. Now Vernon Wells is hilarious enough with his Aussie accent (when Matrix says “I’ll be back, Bennett”, he replies wryly, “Oi, John... I’ll be waiting, John.”). However, everything he says is tainted with this blatant homoeroticism as if Arnie was his former lover. This reaches boiling point in the climactic fight between Bennett and Arnie in a boiler room basement with Bennett holding Arnie’s daughter hostage after having shot Arnie in the arm. So, Bennett has the drop on him, but Arnie wisely convinces him to engage in a knife-fight instead:

MATRIX: “You can beat me... You want to put the knife in me. Look me in the eyes. See what’s going on in there while you turn it. That’s what you want to do to me, right? Come on, let the girl go. You and me. Don’t deprive yourself of some pleasure. Come on, Bennett: Let’s Party!”

Through this speech, the film keeps cutting to Bennett quivering in sadistic, orgasmic delight at the concept of sticking it into Arnie. And if this wasn’t enough, did I mention that Arnie kills Bennett by throwing a pipe into his body, stabbing him into a pressure cooker. “LET OFF SOME STEAM, BENNETT.” This homoerotic quality is a testament to the action genre’s assertion of right wing dogma, characterising the bad guy as a leather-wearing stereotype of 1980s Gay Culture, but then letting the camera fawn all over Arnie’s oily muscles whenever it gets the chance, producing a thoroughly confusing if not compelling comment on sexual difference. Anyway, daughter is reunited with father after witnessing such a shockingly violent sight and along with the airhead stewardess they walk into the surf with the cheesy end credits anthem by Power Station, ‘We Fight For Love.’

Sit back, turn off your brain, and strap yourself in for a perfect Arnold Schwarzenegger Joel Silver action special.

Bullshit Movies Extra Features: A group of us screened Commando once again for the benefit of someone who hadn’t seen it and here are some memorable comments made throughout.

1) Scene of Arnie carrying a log on his shoulders
ERIKA: ‘Is that a real log?’
DAN: ‘No!’
ERIKA: ‘Why would you carry that?’
DAN: ‘Because he can!’

2) Scene of Arnie teaching his daughter how to perform martial arts in the credit sequence
DAN: 'Yeah, we get that he loves his daughter.’

3) Scene of Bennett walking around with his chain-mail on.
SEYMOUR: ‘Look, he’s wearing it in public!’

4) Shot of Bennett in leather pants.
DAN: ‘This really is a gay movie.’

5) Scene where Bill Duke says to Arnie “fuck you” and Arnie replies in a camp fashion “fuck you, asshole”
ERIKA: ‘That’s so gay... [shot of naked women in the next hotel room] Oh my god, look at the size of her tits!’

6) Scene where Arnie rips open a chain lock on a fence
DAN: ‘Yeah, we get it, guys. He’s fucking strong.’

7) Shot of Arnie putting the brake on the bulldozer he’s used to smash into a gunshop
SEYMOUR: ‘He put the handbrake on the bulldozer... Didn’t want it roll away and make a scene’

8) Shots of Arnie taking lots of guns into a shopping trolley
SEYMOUR: ‘This is some Reaganite shit’

9)Scene where Arnie sets a C4 claymore that explodes a building into a gigantic fireball.
SEYMOUR: “Those claymores have a few ball bearings in them.”

10) Shot of Bennett chasing after Arnie’s daughter
DAN: “He’s so fat and weird.’

11) Many shots of soldiers being wasted by Arnie.
ERIKA: ‘These guys suck.’

12) Arnie hides behind a statue during a shoot-out.
SEYMOUR: ‘I’d love it if it was a statue of Jesus.’

13) Shot of Bennett during Arnie’s speech about sticking the knife into him.
ERIKA: ‘Oh my god! He’s actually having an orgasm!’

14) Scene where Arnie throws a pipe into and through Bennett
SEYMOUR: ‘There is no way that could have happened. The laws of physics are pretty against him.’

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Hackers (1995)

I like William Gibson as much as any other wet-wired meat-machine, but cyberpunk seriously has a lot to answer for. For one thing it allowed those involved in computers to portray themselves as cool and hip in a really annoying way, uttering things like “We are the samurai, the keyboard cowboys.” I’m not saying hackers and citizens of the online community are not important or skilled as I have little to no idea of the kind of smarts it takes to program code. Skilled like mathematicians and mathematicians helped break codes during World Wars like the whole Enigma thing, but that doesn’t mean I have to buy a math nerd as James Bond with a calculator. And when cyberpunk prompted a new subculture to be adapted and consumed into popular culture, Hollywood would strike, attempting to invest the mundane task of using a keyboard and perceiving data into a visceral, cinematic experience. Case example: Hackers, directed by Iain Softley, an attempt to translate the world of computer piracy into a hip and edgy and rebellious teen movie, where hackers are upstarts who rollerblade and tap keyboards with lightning dexterity while The Prodigy’s ‘Voodoo People’ continuously plays over the soundtrack.

Hackers attempts to blow your headspace in the opening sequence where SWAT team swarms over a white picket suburban home, kicking down the doors for a suspect, and then there’s a court case with the Public Enemy Number One they’ve captured. A young Felicity Huffman reads out the charges where hundreds of computers on Wall Street were crashed simultaneously through the power of hacking and there was a financial crisis and the camera pans to the right and finds dead air, but wait a minute, pan down and WHAT, it’s an eight year kid named Dade! Wargames wasn’t an effective warning obviously as our investment with computers has turned children into super genius rebellious criminal masterminds – Damien 2.0. The parents are sentenced to fork over thousands of dollars in damages and Dade is sentenced to not use a computer until he’s eighteen as obviously he would no longer be interested in defying authority or anything like that because teenagers follow the law to the letter, so nice thinking there, movie judge. Anyway, time out as I still need to recover from this concept that children can control the flow of society through hacking. Cue the Law & Order sting – DA DUNK. Fast forward to when Dade’s turned eighteen and is now Sick Boy from Trainspotting (Johnny Lee Miller) but with Matthew Boderick’s accent and his mother is knocking on his bedroom door asking,

“What are you doing?”

“I’m taking over a TV network.”

Mind explosion control alt delete. Hack MTV, please! No, instead Dade uses his hacking talents to interrupt a Rush Limburagh conservative talk show host with an episode of The Outer Limits, basically turning over the channel but using the magic of computers and fooling dimwitted guards who don’t know what a modem is (a strange new world was 1995...). His user name is Crash Override and he meets another hacker named Acid Burn online and they have a hacking duel, which is portrayed cinematically with the director dropping in stock TV footage for a shoot-out montage while the trance megamix score is notched up a couple of levels. Sample text: “I will swat u like the fly u r.” BURN. Then there’s some Parker Lewis Can’t Lose shenanigans when Dade hits his new high school (see, his sexy single mother has moved them to New York, which Dade is annoyed about as you can’t do anything in New York apparently, NY = BORING!) and he meets some other hackers who don’t know he was that famous outlaw hacker child, but then he also meets Angelina Jolie in one of her first star roles, being sexy and full-lipped and not emaciated as she is currently. Jolie’s lips play a prank on him by telling him there’s a pool on the top floor but he gets locked out when it rains and there’s no pool. Dade uses his hacking powers to make the school computer turn on the fire sprinklers wetting everyone while he opens an umbrella because he is radical, woot. Then there’s a hip new club where the hackers meet and rollerblade and exchange illicit books of government code and the nerd fantasy is indulged that you can impress a girl with your video-game playing prowess when Dade beats Angelina Jolie’s score on a first-person race-game in a mind-numbing scene that makes none of this look very interesting.

The plot eventually kicks in when a corporately sponsored hacker named The Plague creates a Leonardo Da Vinci themed virus in the corporate Oil corporation super-network that embezzles money but throws off everyone the scent by a threatening plot to drop oil into the world’s oceans; the ethos of the 1960s is resurrected with the ecological concern displayed here (I have a dream and it involves hacking the planet to save the whales!). The authorities believe that it was our hero hackers who are responsible, all because of a floppy disc with the evidence on it, which falls into Dade’s lap eventually. First fundamental problem of this movie is that the villain of the piece, The Plague, is played by Fisher Stevens, the rubbery faced character actor who played the Indian professor in Short Circuit; Martin Short must have been busy. I had no idea what they were going for here because The Plague is neither threatening or funny and in the end is quite embarrassing particularly his introductory shot where he skateboards into the main computer network with a goatee, a fur coat and a grim look. The result is the question, “Wait, isn’t he the comic relief to the main bad guy, you know, a corporate boss played by David Warner or someone with... presence.” Warning: your movie needs a reboot, preferably the Alan Rickman version 2.0 villain program, please. And The Plague’s philosophy? “There’s no right or wrong, there’s only fun and boring.” And you, sir, are the latter. Also: the femme fatale of this movie is Lorraine Bracco in a blonde wig, which is neither sexy nor funny to watch. FAIL.

Speaking of things we are supposed to take seriously but cannot take seriously, here is some of the dialogue from Hackers:

“You could sit at home, and do like absolutely nothing, and your name goes
through like 17 computers a day. 1984? Yeah right, man. That's a typo. Orwell is
here now. He's livin' large.”

“You want to be the elite, you want to do a righteous hack.”

“Hacking isn’t a tool, it’s a survival strategy.”

“Has a killer refresh rate.”

“We have just gotten a wake up call from the Nintendo

“It isn’t a virus, it’s a worm!”

“Hackers of the world unite!”

Yes, as Dade and the ragtag group of rebellious nerds on rollerblades are pursued by the Feds (headed up by Bunk from The Wire) and ‘Voodoo People’ is played once again, but they find themselves working together, particularly once Dade discovers Angelina Jolie is a secret hacker nerd who says things like “I want to triple my RAM” (nerd fantasy number two: sexy girls actually dig on this software bullshit!) and is actually Acid Burn (Hackers is the You’ve Got Mail of hacker movies then). Two Asian dudes who run a Wayne’s World public access show and are named Razor and Blade help them out, televising the union of hackers to log onto their laptops and hook up their cables to public telephones and defeat The Plague from realising his nefarious plan that seriously lacks any tension or interest. More Mission Impossible style break-ins into the corporate buildings, please, like Sneakers, thank you. We don’t even have any polygon avatar battles like Johnny Mnemonic or The Lawnmower Man in the climax and instead have arty shots of the hackers in telephone booths spinning in slow-motion. LAME. Give me a dated CGI hacker battle next time, Hackers, that is if you were like a video game and could possibly change at all when next experienced (Paging Tron!).

The worst thing that Hackers has to answer for, however, is the introduction of Matthew Lillard to the world of acting. While all the characters in the movie are spectacularly annoying, Lillard should get a special Mork From Ork Award for Achievement in Annoying with his character, Cereal Killer, a whacked-out, grandchild of Woodstock (or Hackstock, LOL) with pig-tails and suspenders and acts like a hyperactive tit. Then again, Lillard may be providing the movie’s sole smidgeon of truth, which is that hackers are actually rather irritating sorts who you wouldn’t want to meet in person and would rather read about in a Wired article. While he might not be the coolest Hacker in the movie, Lillard can rest assured with the data that he certainly is a Hack, ROFL. Oh yeah, HACK THE PLANET!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Twister (1996)

Ah, the mysteries of Mother Nature have inspired great artists throughout the decades, none more so than that literary giant, Michael Crichton, who once pondered whether fossilised mosquitoes could retain dinosaur DNA that eccentric millionaires could exploit to create a theme-park island where everything would go terribly wrong in another example of that old chest-nut, “What Has Scientific Man Wrought By Messing With The Environment?” Of course, I speak of the tome known as Jurassic Park, which was adapted by Steven Spielberg into an international blockbuster that threw down a template for Hollywood producers to draw on from the mid-to-late 1990s; if a natural disaster is transformed into a CGI special effects shit-storm, then Mother Nature will provide with high international gross. For an insight into what was wrong with blockbuster movies in the post-Jurassic Park climate, I turn to Crichton’s original screenplay, written with then-wife Anne-Marie Martin, concerning tornado chasers, that painterly engagement with the sublime entitled Twister, which was directed by former cinematographer Jan De Bont who has experienced a hit with Speed and would yet experience the lows of Speed 2: Cruise Control.

For those who can’t remember, Twister follows a couple on the brink of divorce Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) and Bill Harding (Bill Paxton) because I all know you really care about the human characters in a movie like Twister. Jo and Bill were once scientific daredevils who chased tornados across the mid-west in order to study their movements, leading a ragtag bunch of geeks and nerds in sublime encounters with blurry grey tempests. Of course, there needs to be some tension in this movie so they have been separated with Jo still an active tornado chaser and Bill retired from the wild life for the chance to be a weatherman and be married to Jami Gertz. Of course, Bill’s attempts to have Jo sign the divorce papers are always interrupted by special effect sequences of whirlwinds sucking up and spitting out trucks onto roads while someone quips "Where's my truck?" before the truck explodes because Hollywood knows funny; all of which reminds Bill about the ole thrill of the hunt. What is magical about Twister is its wispy characterisation. So, we’ve got Helen Hunt offered as Bill’s true love in comparison to the nagging psychotherapist Jami Gertiz plays and we know she’s no good because she makes a face when someone sticks a plate in her face with a huge steak swimming in gravy (Subliminal movie message: I don’t want a wife who won’t eat a good ole fashioned American steak!). The sour-faced, sleepy-eyed Helen Hunt is comparatively a tomboy who loves chasing tornados and wearing white t-shirts and being called “Jo”, which sounds like “Joe”; basically she’s a man with long hair and breasts. Surely there must be a sensitive, more feminine side to her? Oh yeah, that’s right, Helen Hunt’s character was that little girl in the opening sequence where a tornado strikes through a farmhouse and sucks up the little’s girl Tom Joad farmer father into the spinning vortex. So, everytime Helen Hunt is chasing a tornado, the audience knows she’s really chasing a lost father figure. There a lot of scenes where she stops and gazes in wonder at the tornado, probably thinking, “Are you still up there, daddy?” Nice pop psychology there, movie.

Then again, when Bill, by which I mean Bill Paxton, is described as having an intuitive relationship with the tornadoes, which we can understand in scenes where they are chasing after a tornado and hail starts pummelling their car and he shouts out “We’ve got hail!” Or when they’re all hanging around at a drive in playing The Shining (side-note: one is always thrown off by the appearance of a better movie in the one you’re actually watching) and Dusty, the EXTREME dude with the red cap, shouts to everyone about an incoming tornado, “It’s heading right for us.” But Bill Paxton stands stoically and grimly remarks, “It’s already here.” The masculine cowboy knows the terrain though Bill Paxton really only shines when he is yelling some shit while standing in the rain like “Things go wrong. You can’t explain it. You can’t predict it! GAME OVER, MAN!” Of course, when the “villain” of the movie is a natural disaster that isn’t invested with much character despite the overlays of animalistic moans and groans whenever it appears close, you have to fire up some more tension with proto-villains like the rival tornado chasing team headed up by Carl Elwes. Why are they evil? Let Bill Paxton explain it: “He’s got a corporate sponsorship. He’s only in it for the money.” How do we know this? Cary Elwes has a broad southern accent and his team drives sleek black SUVs, the type that all Hollywood producers drive in L.A, the type of people who have corporately produced this movie in order to receive some financial gain for visualising the poetry of what happens when a tornado sucks up a cow and makes it fly around the van for some deadpan observational shtick, “We’ve got cows!” (We’ve also got punchlines!) Yeah, but how else would we know our team of tornado chasers were the heroes if they didn’t all dress like individuals and were played by recognisable character actors like Alan Ruck, Joey Slotnick, Jeremy Davies, Todd Field and of course, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Dusty (who would have thought that the guy with lines like “He’s gonna rue the day he came against The Extreme” would eventually destroy everyone else starring in this movie acting-wise). Wear a red hat and listen to some Zeppelin and you’re an individual and non-corporate even though you’re basically comic relief. Down with corporate power, man. Love the tornado for what it can teach us about the environment, which is that the power of the twister will not be enough to suck up a reunited couple like Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton particularly when they are tied down safely to pipes using belts. Oh yeah, there was a point to everything with a machine that was is supposed to be swallowed up by twisters and tell scientists the great mysteries of what is going on inside and the machine is called Dorothy which is a reference to that movie The Wizard Of Oz, the one with a golden brick road and flying monkeys and more believability and less bullshit than this movie.

The lifespan of a big-screen blockbuster is seasonal. One summer, you’re sitting in a cinema seat as an adolescent, overwhelmed by the sound and fury, convinced that what you watched was something monolithic, then fourteen years later, you’re re-watching it on basic cable where the effects have dated and you wake up quite quickly to the thin characterisation and unimaginative dialogue. Eye to eye with The Suck Zone.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Action Jackson (1988)

Better known as Apollo Creed in the Rocky series, Carl Weathers received further infamy when Mitch Hurwitz decided to cast him in Arrested Development to play himself, constantly referred to as the Actor Carl Weathers, the cheapskate thespian mentor to Tobias Funke (David Cross). Considering this revival of his screen presence, I firmly believe there’s one Carl Weathers performance that demands reconsideration, particularly in the terrain of enjoyably bullshit 1980s action films, and that is his character, Jericho Jackson, better known as... Action Jackson.

Now Action Jackson was produced by Joel Silver, the cigar-chomping, loudly obnoxious, sports-shirt wearing mogul who fronted capital for the Lethal Weapon movies, Die Hard 1 & 2, Commando, Predator 1 & 2, The Last Boyscout, and the Matrix movies. Undoubtedly conceived as a star vehicle for Carl Weathers, Action Jackson is in line with the Joel Silver action movie formula with the opening sequence covering a spectacular double-murder by an assassin squad that crashes through an office window from a helicopter in order to blow up their target – Ed O’Ross (Dimitri from Six Feet Under) – in a protracted death scene that ends with him being shot with a grenade launcher that turns him into a flaming pile shooting out of the fiftieth floor. Then there is a tremendous amount of set-up for Action Jackson’s introduction, a regular Dirty Harry in Detroit City, specifically a laboured sequence where two beat cops (including Biff from Back to the Future) pick up a purse-snatcher and evoke the considerable mythos of Jackson (“Jackson is so violent, we won’t even let him use a gun”). The spacious offices of the Detroit police is filled with colourful prostitutes, mountains of paperwork and an aloof yet angry chief Captain Armbruster (Bill Duke!). The young purse-snatcher tries to make a run for it in the police station but none of the doofus cops can catch him until he runs into the desk of Jericho Jackson, spilling coffee all over his paperwork. There’s a dramatic pause then an even more dramatic zoom in onto Carl Weathers who sneers to the kid, “Mellow out,” which my friend Seymour found to be the height of lameness. Jackson has been relegated to a desk for putting automobile tycoon the murdering son of Peter Dellaplane (Craig T. Nelson with a silver slick hair dye) in the hospital, which is explained to us in a trademark cop scene where Jackson is chewed out by his chief:

ARMBRUSTER: “You nearly tore that boy’s arm off!”
JACKSON: “So? He had a spare.”

We also find out during the course of this conversation with the angry chief that Action Jackson is also a former star of track and field, a Harvard graduate of law, and a lot of other amazing talents that cement him as multi-talented hero of our times. Of course, the Man of the Year awards unfairly go to Dellaplane who is always seen shaking hands with rich white dudes at fancy high society dinners, which should be enough to convince you that he is of course evil, an ambitious crimelord who wants to control the car industry through murdering opponents and installing his own puppet union leader. More familiar to myself as an All-American stalwart thanks to the sitcom Coach, Nelson inflects his performance with a haughty air of entitlement, providing an American version of what Alan Rickman did in Die Hard, the refined intelligent villain to the average joe hero. We get to watch Dellaplane be evil, such as breaking the arm of his martial arts instructor through underhanded tactics and delivering pseudo-philosophical nuggets like “My cars are a hobby, my real interest is power.” Naturally Dellaplane and Jackson have plenty of simmering confrontations during then movie, like this one at the fancy ball:

DELLAPLANE: “You have this nick-name, what was it? Excitement, enthusiasm,
esprit de corps-

I’m glad they reminded us what Jackson’s nick-name was as they’ve only mentioned it, what, like over a HUNDRED times in the film’s first twenty minutes. It doesn’t let up either, especially when Jackson later is stuck with Vanity, the junkie mistress of Dellaplane who becomes Jackson’s annoying partner-in-crime and love interest despite Jackson’s chaste treatment of her (Vanity as her advances are rebuffed once again, complains “I thought they called you “Action” because I ain’t getting any” or something lame like that). In a post-Purple Rain marketing move, Vanity is also a pop singer of terrible Prince-wannabe sexy songs, two of which she performs in their entirety within the Elite Club that Dellaplane owns, but because it’s a Joel Silver produced action flick, also satisfies the requirements of any major starring actress by revealing her breasts in a doped-out seduction scene with Dellaplane. Ahh, the glorious, pre-political correctness, pre-internet days of casual female nudity in over-the-top action movies!

So, yes, there is an overload of grisly murders and plenty of explosions throughout the film’s running time. Yet Action Jackson also has a heightened comic tone that is obviously trying to cash in on the success of Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, which was a Bruckheimer/Simpson cop movie but with Eddie Murphy providing the yucks. This vibe is present in the opening credit sequence that plays an unremarkable 1980s pop tune from the Pointer Sisters over a tourist montage of Detroit (my friend Dan’s reaction, “Yeah, we get it already, it’s Detroit!”), which is also cemented by Herbie Hancock and Michael Kamen’s ‘Rock-It’ styled score, the synthesiser Mickey-Mousing every pratfall and hijink. The result is that Action Jackson often seems like a parody of itself with it’s over the top action bullshit. There’s a lame bit where Jackson is cornered by some hoods in a bar (including Renegade’s Bobby Six-Killer) who want to cut off his balls but Vanity convinces them Jackson’s an escapee from Bellevue and so he does some over-acting as a wannabe preacher with overlaid Gospel music before snapping out of that stale comedy routine and kicking some ass!

Even better is when Action Jackson, already established as a star of track and field, runs after an assassin in a taxi cab, manages to keep up with the car on foot, throws himself onto the roof of the car, punches out the window while the assassin shoots at him through the roof, is thrown off the roof when the assassin finally wises up to the fact Jackson will fall off when the brakes are hit, then Jackson in the middle of the road convinces the assassin to ram into him to which Jackson performs a vertical leap, flipping over the length of the car as it crashes into a car dealership behind where Jackson was standing. As Seymour observed, “He just jumped over a car.” Completely over the top action bullshit that almost veers into Naked Gun territory.

What else do we have in this sucker? You have tons of familiar faces from numerous Silver productions with pock-faced Robert Davi (Agent Johnson from Die Hard) as a doomed informant, Sonny Ladham (Billy from Predator) as a drug dealer that Jackson throws through one window and into another window in the opposite building, and everyone’s favourite Asian henchman, Al Leong (Genghis Kahn from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) as another in his long line of Asian henchmen. You even have one of my favourite extras – the cigar-chomping garbage truck driver at the beginning of Terminator (the one who sees the electricity from the time travel and croaks, “What the hell?”), better known as Chino ‘Fats’ Williams, who plays a frog-throated former boxing star and mentor to Jackson who runs a flea-bit hotel that Jackson and Vanity have to hide out in. You’ve also got a young Sharon Stone who plays Dellaplane’s dim-bulb wife who discovers evidence of Dellaplane’s evil-doings, tells Jackson, then tells Dellaplane, which all ends in a murderous gunshot embrace from the evil Dellaplane (though not before Stone also provides an unnecessary but welcome shower scene). You’ve got a pseudo-crucifixion torture scene ala Lethal Weapon where Action Jackson is tied up shirtless while the Huey Lewis henchman from Die Hard intends to burn him with a fiery torch, quipping “We’re gonna have ourselves a barbecque.” Then you’ve got Action Jackson escaping and turning the tables on the Huey Lewis lookalike by pointing a hand-held missile launcher at him and counter-quipping “Barbecque? How do you like your ribs?” before opening fire and exploding the sucker (there’s even a classic dissolve from the fiery corpse to a plate of ribs cooking!). Then there’s the climax at Dellaplane’s mansion where Action Jackson and his crew tear up the joint, exposing Dellaplane’s duplicity, but not before another amazing bullshit action moment where Carl Weathers jumps into a Ferrari, drives into the mansion (that’s fine) and also drives up the stairs onto the second floor (as Seymour said, “The laws of physics are against him there”) in order to rescue Vanity from Craig T. Nelson’s evil clutches. One tough kung-fu fist-fight later and a shoot-out later where Dellaplane/Nelson has a substantial hole blown through his chest, Action Jackson stands victorious with an ex-junkie in his hands (she says she’s gone “Cold Turkey” after one day, which doesn’t sound right?) and Bill Duke, the angry chief, promoting him back to Lieutenant. Oh yeah, and as a Joel Silver produced action movie, every interior scene is drenched in smoke for atmospheric effect; it’s like “Cue smoke machine, okay actors, step into the fog and do your thing.”

In the end, Carl Weathers cooks up a stew of stupid one-liners and unbelievable action in Action Jackson, a fine example of the Joel Silver-produced action spectacular bullshit movie. Who else would wear a red V-neck sweater with such extreme style, but Carl Weathers?