Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Mutant Chronicles: Movie Review

Mutant Chronicles (Simon Hunter, 2008)

Based on a Swedish role playing game, Mutant Chronicles feels like an epic tale whittled down to a “made for TV” length, sacrificing story and sense in an attempt to make a rip-roaring action film.

In its ponderous opening, the audience learns a whole lot of crap about how the world works in 2707. Suffice it to say, there’s a machine from outer space which makes men into “mutants” that look and act like zombies with spikes for arms. It’s up to cleric Brother Samuel (Ron Perlman) to put together a rag tag group of culturally diverse fighters to destroy the menace. He manages to gather his forces in a quick voice-over montage. The Dirty Dozen, it’s not. There are fewer folks and, other than Perlman, only two of them stand out.

Looking more like Christopher Lambert than ever, Thomas Jane turns in a passable performance as Mitch Hunter. He’s good with a gun, fair with a sword, and destined to save the world. Chipmunk-cheeked Devon Aoki tries her best as Valerie Duval to bring some backstory and motivation to the narrative. Alas, no matter how hard she tries there’s not much substance to be found in Mutant Chronicles.

Substance is in short supply but digital effects are plentiful. The film bears the over-processed look of films like Ultra Violet and Sin City; films created more in a computer than in nature. This doesn’t necessarily play well with the film’s retro-futuristic themes. Meanwhile, the script feels as if screenwriter Philip Eisner had to roll his twenty-sided die to figure out what would happen from one scene to the next. This flick will do double damage to your brain and may make your intelligence go down quite a few points. Roll again and hope for a better film.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Chaos Experiment: Movie Review

The Chaos Experiment (Philippe Martinez, 2009)

Six actors are locked a steam room. This sounds like a good set-up for a joke or a new R. Kelly song but it doesn’t make for too good of a movie.

Val Kilmer continues slumming in the “direct to video” world along with staples Armand Assante and Eric Roberts. Kilmer plays Jimmy Paris, a nut who shows up at a newspaper office with a wild story of global warming and testing peoples’ limits. He spends the rest of the film feasting on scenery with Detective Mancini (Assante). Kilmer narrates a tale of how he locked up a group of people in a steam room under the guise of a dating service. He's like Jig Saw from the Saw movies if Jig was down with Club Med.

Eric Roberts leads the steam room group in killing one another and themselves. The poor group has literally two sentences of motivation with which to work. They play things out like every other “we’re trapped in a confined space” thriller (Headless Body in a Topless Bar, Cube, etc). The only thing missing is that their antics are being broadcast on the internet--something screenwriter Robert Malkani already did with the 2005 film Dot Kill (produced by The Chaos Experiment’s director, Philippe Martinez).

The steam room scenes are cross-cut with the police interrogation, helping to make The Chaos Experiment all the more disjointed. Though beautifully filmed and with plenty of mentions of Detroit (it was shot in Grand Rapids), there’s little else going for the film. This experiment has failed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Inglourious Basterds: Movie Review

A new Quentin Tarantino movie brings along a flood of questions in my inbox. Typically, "What'd you think of it?" "Where's your review?" "What'd it rip off?" I wrote a review of the script for Inglourious Basterds (sic) back in July, 2008. Like most Tarantino screenplays, little changes between final draft and finished film. Additionally, Tarantino always does a good job of painting a clear picture in the mind of the reader, leaving one feeling as if they've seen the film with their mind's eye. Thus, much of my review of the screenplay goes for my review of the film.

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

A group of Jewish soldiers goes after Nazis with a vengeance during WWII. Lead by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), his “Basterds” strike fear in the hearts of German soldiers due to their merciless tactics and their love of scalping victims. Sadly, there’s no “getting the team together” sequence (which makes movies like The Dirty Dozen so great) or even a montage of why these guys are “Basterds.” We only see them in action briefly, joining the team already in progress as they tear ass through enemy territory and terrorize soldiers. Like Mickey and Mallory Knox, they always leave someone alive to tell the tale, though they’re scarred with a swastika on their forehead.

The “Basterds” aren’t at the crux of the story (a mistake), rather, they’re unwitting foils of Shoshanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent), the “one who got away” from Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), The “Jew Hunter”, in the film’s opening scene. Shoshanna runs a Parisian cinema where a Nazi propaganda film makes its premiere. She utilizes the former cinema owner’s extensive nitrate film collection to take out the Third Reich’s high command including Adolf Hitler! Operation Valkyrie? Not quite. It’s Operation Kino!

Tarantino does well to not stuff Inglourious Basterds with his usual group of stars (including some has-been looking for a career transfusion). Sure, Samuel L. Jackson and Harvey Keitel make cameo voice appearances but, apart from Brad Pitt (and, to an extent, Eli Roth), lesser-known actors comprise the cast. This feels reminiscent of Paul Verhoeven’s Dutch Resistance film, Black Book, in which story trumps stars. Rumor has Tarantino attempting to attach many other big name actors to his work. This would have proved distracting, if not disastrous. As it was, the stunt casting of Mike Myers as a British General provides the film’s weakest point. Despite (or perhaps due to) the layers of make-up, Myers stands out like a sore thumb. Chomping on a British accent, I kept expecting him to break out an “Oh, behave” or “Shall we shag now, or shag later?” Unfortunately, Myers scene mires the film.

For as bad Myers may be, Christoph Waltz shines as Colonel Landa. The opening scene (which brings to mind the introduction of Lee Van Cleef’s character in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) sets up how suave and ruthless his character can be, going from one to another in moments. It’s important to have this duality set up as he seems to make a rather out-of-character change late in the film.

Overall, the film neither thrilled nor appalled me. My ambivalence stems from what others may find endearing; the use of quirky moments that take the viewer out of the film’s overall narrative arc. These include oddities such as a title card over the introduction of one character, some on-screen titling that point out key Nazi players, and subtitles that leave in foreign words and phrases (rather than translating everything to English). Tarantino continues to use title cards, myriad fonts, and fake titles (the end credits run twice – once as if we were seeing an older film and once in the current contractually-obligated manner). This is perhaps Tarantino’s strongest narrative and he nearly succeeds in balancing three main characters. He falters on pacing (two longer scenes could be tightened up without loss of dramatic tension) and the “Basterds” arc. The audience doesn’t get to know most of the “Basterds” and several of them disappear from one scene to another.

It should be noted that this is the first time that Tarantino’s gotten close to creating a “remake” rather than just ripping off another film (or films) and calling it his own. Oddly, the similarities between this work and Enzo Castellari’s original Inglorious Bastards stop at the (English) title and WWII setting. The film seems more indebted to other Italians like Sergio Leone and Sergio Sollima. Like Kill Bill, the soundtrack brims with themes culled from other films, especially those scored by Ennio Morricone. The use of music from The Big Gundown ("La Condanna") in the opening scene may be clever but soon it feels like someone forgot to re-score Inglourious Basterds and left in a temp track by mistake.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Projects To-Do List

I'm making myself a to-do list to keep me sane/honest:

- A-Team fan vid here
- Doktor Kosmos music video here
- Seijun Suzuki "fan vid"
- The World Hates Paris

- Movie review: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
- Article: Oldrich Lipsky Films
- Article - "Far East Superman" - Indian/Turkish versions of Superman
- Article - "My Pants Are Talking!" - Talking genital films
- Article - "Killer Cocks and Vicious Vaginas" - Killer genital films
- Screenplay 1 - TB VS JK
- Screenplay 2 - TLR Hucksters
- Robot porn book
- CdC Sequel book
- Article - "Boys to Men" - Body swap movies of the late '80s

- Get all of my various compilations together and re-torrent/post here