Monday, June 28, 2010
It’s just the boring part that’s a bother.
His first cyberpunk novel SNOW CRASH is a smashing success. It gleefully balances pulse pounding action and innovative ideas without ever missing a beat. His later novel Cryptonomicon does the same, and expands the world view to include three separate time lines and hundreds of characters.
At the other end of the spectrum, his newest nvel ANATHEM is a slog. Heavy with ideas, but lacking in characterization and any reason for attachment, the novel suffers from someone trying much too hard to appear smarter than everyone else in the room. He has a knack at world building, but forgets to make any of it interesting. He tends to fall into the habit of beginning every chapter with page after page of architectural descriptions that have no impact on the narrative. It’s obvious that he finds it incredibly enjoyable, but for the rest of the audience wanting to have something engaging, not so much.
Don’t get me started on his tendency of making up words.
DIAMOND AGE is stuck right in the middle of both of Stephenson’s stylistic extremes. Obstinately taking place in the future of SNOW CRASH, it’s the story of an interactive book YOUNG LADIES PRIMER, the girl who takes care of it, and the people that surround her.
This is a novel of ideas. It doesn’t have much of a forward driving plot. There are some really neat concepts at play here, but Stephenson either dumps them on uninteresting characters (which make up about half of the people in the novel) or drops in analogy after analogy that grinds everything to a halt. The idea of Victorian rules coming back and nanotechnologies implementations in an ever evolving world could make for a cracking read, but instead it comes off as a lot of interesting disconnected concepts forced together to make a whole.
There are still a few glimmers of base excitement in THE DIAMOND AGE, but they come off as teases to something that never develops. The action packed climax of the novel feels like it was inserted at an editor’s behest. It feels disconnected. The ending is incredibly abrupt, comes out of nowhere, and leaves a ton of plot threads dangling.
DIAMOND AGE would have been more interesting if stuff...happened. Instead of people just sit around and talk. There’s not much drama or suspense (there’s a little) but just continuous metaphoring. I could be suffering from a case of wrongful expectation. Stephenson has proven himself over a time as a writer that has intellectual concerns as his main interest, and narrative lays somewhere behind that. If you go in with that in mind, maybe you’re experience will be better than mine.I’d suggest DIAMOND AGE with trepidation to the casual reader. If you’re craving something new, with ideas to spare, this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a page turning adventure tale with more than a few brilliant ideas in its head, this is NOT for you. It isn’t light reading. Go read SNOW CRASH instead.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
A goofy Direct to Video effort from the golden days when everyone and their uncle were making stuff for VHS consumption. This one even has a clever high concept!
A couple on their way to Las Vegas are driven off the road by the HELL COP, who grabs the girl and rushes off to HELL CITY. The young man (Played by Rob Lowe's brother!) grabs a sawed off double barrelled shotgun, a vintage car and his trusty dog sidekick and rushes off to HELL to save .
Not a horror film by any stretch of the imagination, what we have here is a broad goofy comedy that's nearly a fun time for the entire family. This is low budget Terry Gilliam-lite territory - lot of kinda clever visual gags stretched out on the very Hell-ish desert locale. It's a little too sparse in the 'Stuff happening' category, but has enough quirky charm to make it worth a watch, but not enough to hunt it down. Written by Hollywood heavy hitter Bryan Helegeland (Who writes for the likes of Ridley Scott)
Watch out for Ben Stiller, his dad and his sister in minor roles. Also, Gilbert Godfrey as Hitler!
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
How about a D+ for effort?
I've got to give it to PYTHON - It is a little smarter than your average bargain basement horror schlocker. There's an actual attempt at creating some likable characters, a few clever bits, and an genuine attempt to bring a cool monster to the screen. But even with all this going for it, its still a b-grade movie of the finest quality. We've got the terrible acting, a distinct lack of any on-screen violence (It was supposedly made for TV) and a monster, that while intended to look cool...is still a big fake CGI python! Any kind of suspense is thrown out the window once the pixels slither on screen and menace an actor who doesn't quite know where to look. Still, there's some fun going on here, like Casper Van Dien and the case of the disappearing accent, a purple haired Will Weaton, and Robert Englund haming it up on screen. It's something you'd stumble on at 1:00 PM in the afternoon on a cable network (You know, the one that plays RUSH HOUR 2 all the time), catch the tail end of, and be surprised that it isn't a complete snake turd.
The overly hated HELLRAISER 3 has a lot wrong with it: It's middle section drags on forever, the main character is dull as a butter knife, Pinhead turns out to be a droning chatty cathy, the new Cenobites are lame as hell, and the never ending climax ends with a wet fart.
Make that a lot of bad.
As long as you keep your expectations at rock bottom you may even find a few surprises. Anthony Hickox is a stylish director, and while his over the top kinetic style doesn't fit the overall tone of the Hellraiser Universe, he still puts together some neat set-pieces (like the club massacre) that are worth seeing at least once. It's bad, that's for sure, but its not unwatchable, and you may even be forced to call a few bits...dare I say...fun? Even the ridiculous new Cennobites (CD MAN! CAMERA MAN! BARTENDER MAN!) are worth a few chuckles.
This review reads like Anthony Hickox is my brother in law.
"My hair must look like a mess?" said the Hooker "What do it look like?
The Warlock rips her hair off and shows it to her. She screams bloody murder.
"You tell me." he sneered.
A much goofier, and gorier, sequel that ditches everything from the original (The mythology, the time traveling aspect, any inkling of acting talent) and only keeps Julian Sands as the Warlock (seemingly unrelated to the character of the last one). It's another 'end of the world scenario' but this time the Warlock has to get a bunch of jewels to open the gates of hell and only a whiny little magicina-in-training can stop him.
The plot is mostly a series of episodic set-pieces where the Warlock kills the owners of the gems in cleverly violent ways till he goes head to head with the whiny brat in a full out splatter filled spaghetti western show-down. Some of the gags are fairly clever, but the saccharine storyline about the "hero" is a painful Disney toned death march (Unless you laugh with every retarded line). It all moves at a wicked fire pace thanks to the super-stylish Raimi-esque direction of Anthony Hickox (The great WAXWORKS series) who never fails to add a swooshing camera or a crash zoom to a character's eyes. Julian Sands plays the cool as ice supernatural killer. A great deal of fun!
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
An evil wish granting Dijin (Andrew Divoff) is thrust into modern time and must force a diamond appraiser (The terrible Tammy Laurent) to make three wishes so he can TAKE OVER THE WORLD. Along the way he tricks a bunch of people into killing themselves with poorly worded wishes. Don't wish for awesome pecs! Trust me.
Every time I read that a SPECIAL EFFECTS creator is going to direct a movie I always hope there'll be tons of blood, monsters and crazy creative gags. Sadly, most of they try and make a 'real' film with stuff like 'acting' and 'characters' - BORING!
Not Robert Kurtzman.
He's the"K" in KNB EFFECTS (One of the leading effects companies working in film since the eighties ) and his second directorial efforts (Following the female Robocop riff THE DEMOLISANIST) has skeletons jumping out of their skin, stomach monsters and killer wood creatures IN THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES!
While the film can't keep up such a hectic creative pace for its entire running time, it does distract with a bevy of genre bit players in little roles (Ted Raimi! Robert Englund! Reggie Bannister!) and a monstrous lead performance from Andrew Divoff. The actual antagonist isn't stupid, which is refreshing, but she isn't interesting either. She just goes through the motions and the viewer waits for the next bit of nasty business to pop up.
As a Director, Kurtzman is merely adequate. He throws in a swoopy camera move now and then, but it feels right out of the 'wacky horror' textbook. Back on the effects side of things there's a lot of fun stuff going, but a whole lot of missed opportunities too. There's a lot of incredibly lame CGI at play where physical effects would have done a much better job.
With all the evident faults, WISHMASTER is still a breath of fresh air from a time when horror films didn't have to be covered in torture and still had some fun bones in their body without relying on parody.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Suitably well-designed from what must be the 'space-ship based horror' warehouse, PANDORUM is a good looking if goofy (unintentionally so) film that's a cobbled collection of parts from much better movies. Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid star as two ship-members that wake up after an eight year slumber to find a completely empty space ship and some ALIEN (*wink*) moving around in the darkness. It starts off well, but before you know it they're being chased by cast-offs from Neil Marshall's The Descent and getting into really awkward wire-work based Kung-Fu fights. The chills and mounting dread are forgotten and in their place we get quick over-sped (horribly so) chase scenes that add up to a puddle of CGI blood. Really, it's not that bad, and its nice to see some sci-fi horror this big budget and bloody, but its way too derivative and dumbed down to be considered anything more than disposable entertainment. Quaid does his gravitas bit and Ben Foster is all over the map when he opens his mouth (Is he weak, strong, knows something other people don't, insane? Who knows). It's well worth a watch, heads and shoulders above most dreck in theaters passing itself as horror - even though its not very scary. We'll just have to turn to the indie scene for our intelligent science fiction based horror.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
The first twenty minutes of Time Cop led me to believe that the concept would be used to its fullest. The 1920's! Old West! Well, forget it. The rest of the film is spent 10 years in the past...so...by that I mean the present of 1994. Yawn. Even with that in mind, Director/Cinematographer Peter Hyams shoots a REALLY good looking picture with tons of blood, boobs and splits to go around. It's just not much of a time travel movie, and should be taken as a simple modern day Van Damme outing. Still, acting wise Jean Claude Van Damme is WAY over his head with as script that asks him to emote, crack witty jokes and do the splits in his underwear...I'll let you guess which one of those he pulls off. Followed by a straight to DVD sequel starring Jason Scott Lee - of which all I remember is a really bad Hitler impersonator.
I lead a full and fascinating life.
- Matinee (See full review)
- Over the Edge: Tonally perfect youth in revolt film. The adults aren't evil, just ignorant, and while the kids are the centerpiece, we're never led to side completely with their selfish actions. The electronic and orchestral score by the director's father hits all the right notes.
- Breakdown: A seat of your pants thriller starring Kurt Russel. Lean, mean and slick. I loved the final that sums up the moment of shock after everything has gone done.
- Runaway Train: From the director of the ULTIMATE 80's action film TANGO AND CASH. Eric Roberts trying to act! John Voight as a bad-ass criminal! Sold. Hey! Was that Danny Trejo in his first role!? At first it felt like the two escaped prisoner's were dropped into another film, but as the running time rolls on the film reveals itself to be much more intelligent and moving than your usual pyrotechnic filled blockbuster.
- Dead Bang: Don Johnson is the man. Director John Frankenheimer is the man. Together they put together a really fun Dirty Harry (lone cop does his own thing) rip-off with enough little twists to make it stand out from the pack. It's a prime example of 80's tropes: It takes place during Christmas for no discernible reason, the villain are white power bikers, and our hero has to constantly deal with his family troubles. Don does exactly what I would do after a heated foot chase.
I remember seeing Matinee as a kid on VHS and being unimpressed. Where were the fantasy elements that evident in Director Joe Dante's films like Innerspace and Gremlins? Matinee was just kids...being...kids. They hung out, talked about stuff they liked, and had crushes on girls. Truthfully, its nothing more than that, but no one does it better (or more believably) than the Joe Dante creates.Set in the 60's during the Cuban missile crisis, the films follows a rag-tag bunch of kids as they deal the horror of real life that surrounds them by filtering it through premiere of a new film by the cheesy B-movies of William Castle-esque showman John Goodman. "HALF MAN! HALF ANT! ALL TERROR! MAAAAAAAAAAAANT!" No one does the meta-movie commentary better than uber-film geek director Joe Dante.
The kids (no one famous as far as I could tell) all do admirable job, and John Goodman is the same affable smart aleck that exudes charm from every pore. It's the kind of film that feels like you're just hanging out with the characters for an hour and a half. No one changes deeply, nor does anything particularly dramatic happen, but its just a fun ride. As light as it may seem at first, there's a real dark undercurrent running through it all (Atomic fear and Vietnam) that adds that little extra weight to an all around solid production. It would have been nice if they did go a little darker, or something really interesting did happen (instead of the tacked on set-piece at the end) but it seems like that wasn't what they were going for.
My one big complaint: Not enough Dick Miller.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Forget the promotional campaign, because SPLICE is not a thrill a minute horror film. It's a sprint through the moral quandaries of human cloning, not a ponderous morality tale, but an entertaining ride that hits all the right audience pleasing buttons. It's a FUNNY film without resulting to cheap laughs. Thanks to the slick direction of Vincent Natali (CUBE) and the seamless visual effects (A perfectly meld of practical and digital) the exotic looking creature of (Named Dren) jumps to life. Natali and his crew create a believable environment, and succeed in keeping the story chugging along without resorting to cheap gimmicks, but the character work of the two scientists that create the creature is heavy handed at best. The skeleton of what the filmmakers want to pull of is evident, but it never really works. Adrian Brody is a weak willed lump of jello continually pushed by Sarah Polley into doing the wrong thing. We never really get to know them, nor they ever grow above surface quirks and big plot beats. Polley basically turns into a moustache twirling villain by the time the film arrives to its half hearted formulaic ‘monster on a rampage’ ending. The big turning point of the film makes thematic sense, but logically, seems to come out almost out of nowhere. It lands on the audience with a laughable thud. Overall, a film that is not as deep as it wants to be, but still does a solid job at keeping the audience entertained. There's a film that could have been here, a subtler more intimate film, but this isn't it.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Sometimes all I want is the bare freaking action essentials. Eccentric workman director Michael Winters (Of DEATH WISH 1,2,3 fame) knocks it out of park with a tried and true story done efficiently, creatively, and aimed straight for the throat. The monosyllable Charles Bronson stars in a straight forward re-telling on the ‘Old Master Assassin teaches a young kid the ropes’ done in the classic way only the 70’s could deliver. Pair that up with the numerous few tricks the film has up its sleeve to keep things interesting (like a wordless fifteen minute opener) and you've got yourself one hell of a memorable ride. The action is brutal, the acting crisp, and the story straight forward yet still swervee enough to keep the viewer glued to the screen. Clean your palate of the bloated Hollywood blockbusters and lets Charlie show you what’s what. The only misstep is the fact that it ends when it feels like there’s still one act to go. I wanted more damn it!
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Shot in 1976 (On the cusp of the Exploitation film boom), this nearly forgotten horror film is an extremely well put together pre-slasher romp that's head and shoulders above the majority of horror 'classics' by creating a complex tapestry that grow the fright scenes out organically.
Alice has problems. She's a disturbed kid that has a habit of dressing up in a rain slicker and plastic doll mask and torturing her little sister - the 'favorite' child. When the sister in question ends up dead on the day of her first communion, everyone's wondering, could Alice have done it?
Not a body count film by any stretch of the imagination (There's only a handful of stabbings), ALICE is still without a doubt a gem in the junk pile of late 70's/early 80's slasher trash. The main turn off for the horror lover is that the film doesn't easily fit into the expected rut that the stab-and-stalk genre dug itself: There's no cardboard teens, over the top grue or invincible killer. We get instead a gaggle of muti-faceted, slightly unlikable (just like real life!) people dealing with very complex issues that span the gamut of adult responsibility and religious destruction. It's a who-dunnit that doesn't treat the audience like an idiot, with events that don't feel contrived for the shock or scare. If anything, there's too much complexity going on, with hints of deeper issues appearing before dissipating completely. The energetic (and grimy) direction by first timer Alfred Sole, coupled with the engaging (if rough around the edges) acting from the entire cast, birth a film that will most definitely stick in ones memory for a long time. It's a perfect examples at how a limited budget, and loads of creativity, can create something that can disturb and move just as well as the biggest budgeted stinker. A definite must see.
Forget the completely misleading tag-line.