Saturday, May 31, 2014

Child’s Play

Indubitably, the 80s were the years in which horror movies—and all other genres, as well—prospered.  Just like the trend going on now in Hollywood, where they’re spewing out remake after remake, the 1980s were the times where studios whipped out a bunch of horror movies. 

Sometimes I wonder why that decade was so good for the horror genre, issuing out one after the other.  You had a Friday the 13th sequel released nearly every year, so many slasher rip-offs (that weren’t so bad) along with them, some great werewolf movies, Stephen King stories were being adapted left and right, the Nightmare on Elm Street series of films had about five within that decade…until you see all of them on a list (which I found here), you wouldn’t believe how much we’d had back during that awesome period for movies (but not the music…ugh).

Though, as the horror movies were being rolled out, the ideas started running low and quite a few bombs were dropped, ultimately making the horror genre dormant as we went right into the 1990s.  But during the late 80s, there were still some gems that turned up, making the movie-going experience enjoyable.  Movies like Return of the Living DeadThe Lost BoysThe Blob, and of course, Child’s Play.

Directed by Tom Holland, who’s had a hand in some classic—yet contemporary—films like Psycho II and Fright NightChild’s Play was released in 1988 to rave reviews (even Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars in his newspaper column).  At the time, when I was getting tired of the cheesy horror films I saw, I just figured that this was another forgettable one.  I hadn’t the slightest idea of what the movie was about, figuring it was just some slasher movie with some masked maniac killing a bunch of teenagers.  But then word had gotten out that the film was about a doll that comes to life and wreaks havoc.  It sounded all right, I thought at the time, but I didn’t think the special effects were up to snuff in making a doll look like it was alive.  Thinking that I was going to see a puppet filmed from the waist up, I had no intention in seeing it and was deciding to save my money for something else.  However, a group of friends wanted to go watch it, so I reluctantly went with them to our local theater (probably the Meridian Quad) and paid to see 1988’s Child’s Play.

The film opens with Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) chasing down a known criminal, Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif), on foot and ending up in a toy store.  Wounded and about to be caught by the detective, Charles Lee Ray takes one of the popular “Good Guy” dolls—a 2-foot tall red-headed and freckle-faced
figure—and begins to perform some sort of voodoo chant as he places his hand on the doll’s head.  A bolt of lightning crashes through the roof of the store at the height of his screaming mantra and blasts the area where Charles Lee Ray was conducting his ritual.  Later, he’s found dead and the case is closed.  The movie then shifts and centers around Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) and her 6-year-old son, Andy (Alex Vincent).  It’s Andy’s birthday and he expects to get a Good Guy doll for a present, obviously a big fan of the children’s show as he wears Good Guy clothes and accessories.  But his mother tells him she wasn’t able to get him one, upsetting him but he understands.  At work, Karen’s able to buy a Good Guy doll from a homeless man and is able to give Andy the gift he’s wanted.  But, soon, bad things start to happen and the doll, which is possessed by Charles Lee Ray—né Chucky—may be to blame.

I have to admit, when I first saw the appearance of Chucky as he’s revealed in his true evil form, I silently admitted to myself that my preconceived notion of Child’s Play were so wrong.  Thinking I was going to see a fake-looking doll moving around from the waist up, I was pleasantly shocked to see that that wasn’t the case at all.  The film truly frightened me as I put myself in place of some of the characters on screen.  From the first attack by Chucky—which was implied but not seen—on Karen’s friend, Maggie (Dinah Manoff), to the climactic act where Chucky just keeps on coming after we think he’s defeated, it’s all pretty terrifying. 

Probably the most intense scene that plays out in this film was when Karen has her suspicions that Chucky may be alive.  As she turns the doll over to see that the battery compartment had been empty the whole time, we, as the audience, are either sitting at the edge of our seats or looking through our fingers as we cover our faces.  Of course, the part that had gotten me, and had gotten a big collective scream in the movie theater when I first saw this, was when Karen threatens to throw Chucky in the fire if he didn’t talk.  Showing his true face and voice for the first time was a big shock, still making me cringe when I watch it today.

For being a horror movie about a talking doll, the actors in this film definitely take it pretty seriously.  I can just imagine how I would feel, having to pretend that that little doll is a threat, I don’t know if I’d be able to take the role earnestly.  Let’s face it, there’s a few ridiculous parts where you think to yourself, “Just dropkick that mother fucker!”  But the filmmakers, along with their special effects wizardry, were able to make this little doll a horror icon to respect.

Now, as for the special effects, I really had a hard time wondering how the heck they were able to pull off some of these scenes.  Of course, a lot of the work was done using puppetry, but there were some great shots where the doll was walking on its own.  I know, CGI would usually be the answer to this conundrum,
but computer effects would not be around for some time during the era of this film.  As it turns out, some of the scenes were shot with a mechanical doll controlled with an apparatus.  The act would be shot in such a way—with a clever angle—to hide the device, making the doll look like it was moving on its own.  Other long and faraway shots would make use of a dwarf or child in the Chucky costume, adding to the eerie look of some of these scenes.

Tom Holland does a great job at directing this classic, giving us some really intense and thrilling parts of the movie that I will never forget, but the movie couldn’t have been made without Don Mancini.  Mancini is the visionary of this movie, definitely knowing what scares us—a fucking doll that comes to life!  Before this movie, the one movie that made me check under the bed before going to sleep (to this day!) was the third part of Trilogy of Terror.  Child’s Play is just that…multiplied by a thousand.  Mancini wrote this at the right time, perhaps knowing full well special effects were far along ahead enough to pull off what needed to be done, either that or he worked closely with them to work out ways to make Chucky look like an actual living doll.  But, regardless, he knew that any of us who are by ourselves in a house and hearing strange noises are creeped out with that alone.  Adding a living, crazy doll to the mix was pure brilliance.  All the set-ups to the scares and kill scenes were written and planned out perfectly, giving us—the audience—some cringe-worthy images that we’ll never forget.  Along with John Carpenter and Steve Miner for creating the icons, Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees respectively, Don Mancini had added another icon of horror to that pedestal by giving us Chucky.

Finally, Chucky wouldn’t be Chucky without the right voice and personality.  Brad Dourif was impeccably cast as the little doll’s persona.  He really brought out a hell of a performance during the attacks and kill scenes, sounding like he had a lot of fun recording his lines.  Who can forget Chucky’s laugh?  His sense of humor?  This will be the one problem the studio will face if they reboot this franchise: Nobody will be able to fill Brad Dourif’s shoes in voicing this horror icon.

Although the franchise strayed from its serious tone and went with a more comedic edge in the next four sequels, it righted itself last year with the terrifying sequel, Curse of Chucky (see my review here).  I’m hoping to see more from the original line of films and pray that this great series doesn’t go the reboot route as many Hollywood studios are doing. 

So, what’s my final “bit” on Child’s Play?

The film is a great 80s horror flick that you’ll have fun with, especially with a big group of friends.  I’ll never forget the fun I’d had in the theater and how many girls were screaming during the intense scenes featuring Chucky.  For me, it’s a nostalgic walk down my horror-laden memory lane, but it still works and isn’t that dated when watching it today.  I annually throw on a marathon of the Chucky movies every year and I’m starting to think it’s way past due for my 2014 viewing.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Directed by Rob Hedden, this is definitely the longest title of the series, giving me a workout when typing it up.  But with this sequel, Jason finally gets to travel outside the little community of Crystal Lake (during the last fifteen minutes of the movie anyway) and is finally able to do a bit of sightseeing in the Big Apple.  Nevertheless, Kane Hodder is back for his second go of playing Jason Voorhees and he's true-to-form as he does a hell of a job doing so—I think this is my favorite Hodder portrayal of Jason.

Although there were a couple of more parts after this movie, 1989's Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan was unceremoniously the last of the series to be released by Paramount as they sold the rights to New Line Cinema soon after this chapter.  I guess they were tired of their ties to a poorly received (by haughty movie critics, not the fans of the franchise) horror movie chain of films, which I don't understand why since this sequel gave it a chance of resurgence; this sequel wasn't that bad, all things considered.  I mean, if they had less cruise ship and more Manhattan, this film would've been pretty bad-ass.

But let's get into the summary of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan...

After Jason ends up in his final resting place again in part seven, once again he's revived when a yacht's anchor drags the underwater power cable over to him and shocks him back to life.  After dispatching of the young lovers that were minding the boat, he lets the vessel drift off through the Crystal Lake outlet to the waiting cruise ship anchored at the ocean harbor.  He hitches a ride onto the ship (destination: Manhattan, New York) to continue his bloodshed of the passengers.  Will any of them make to Manhattan alive?

First off, after watching all the previous films preceding this one, I never knew Crystal Lake had an outlet to the sea!  But if you can suspend that hunk of disbelief, the rest of the film is pretty good.  Although, after seeing how it turns out, you may think that they should've subtitled this film with something else—"Jason Goes Cruising" or "Jason Takes to the Sea" or something other than what it was named.  Like I'd mentioned before, most of the film takes place on the ship with only a fraction of it in Manhattan (which I believe had another city or some sound stages stand in for it).  For the most part, however, the film is a solid Friday the 13th outing, with some good, thrilling fun.

The subplot given to us about the main character, Rennie (Jensen Daggett), was interesting and tied her to Jason as she came in contact with him as she was forced into a swimming lesson—using the sink or swim technique—by her dick-of-a-guardian, Charles (Peter Mark Richman).  The catch-22 about all of this, especially if you've been following the timeline up until now, is that it would've been impossible for her, as a child, to have seen the child version of Jason.  Even though this movie was released in 1989, if you've followed the timeline so far, the year is probably around 1994 or later.  Even it was 1989, Jason supposedly drowned in 1958, so that would mean Rennie is around 30 to 31 years of age during this movie instead of the high school graduate she's supped to be.

Another glaring problem I see with this film is that it's not consistent with the other films in the look of Jason.  For one, when they show glimpses of Jason as a child, they show him with a full-normal-sized-head of hair, not the bald deformed head we saw in part one; though they still highlight his deformity.  As for the head shape of the adult Jason, it seems the filmmakers went away from it after part four and just went with a normal shape-but I can live with that.

Lastly, what is it with Rennie's visions of Jason?  Does she have some sort of psychic connection with him?  Did she really see a young boy swimming underwater at Crystal Lake as a child?  Why is she seeing visions of him?  All this is very confusing.

Now, for the good things about this film.

It's definitely has some inventive kills.  Even though the special effects seemed to have been neutered during the last few years, the kills by Jason are still fun to watch.  Of course, the highlight—although pretty illogical—of all the kills is after Julius (V.C. Dupree) stands up to Jason and starts fighting him, until Jason gets the last punch.  Another one features the wannabe rock star as she's constantly playing her electric guitar in some of the ship's mechanical rooms (for the acoustics) until Jason finds her and uses her guitar for a killing tool.  The one kill that always has me holding my gut as I watch, is the sauna scene...you'll know it when you see it.

Yes, this movie could've been more, but they just went too long on the ship.  I really wanted some more time within New York, having Jason terrorize the city and get a police manhunt involved or something.  One thing for sure, when he does climb up onto the harbor and sees the billboard for the local hockey team, seeing his mask on a giant sign...it was pretty epic and THAT'S where the film should've started.

Anyway...there's not much more I can say about Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, so my final "bit" is this: see it.  Although it's the movie that "could've been," you won't be disappointed on where they chose to go with this one.  So, if you've come this far, don't stop—there are a couple of sillier chapters to come, all thanks to New Line, so you might as well go for the whole ride.

Well, okay...another Friday the 13th movie down, with two more to go...so, thanks for reading...and I welcome any comments!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Out of the few comic book movie franchises that are not Marvel Studios properties, the X-Men series is the one that is flourishing the most.  Since 2000, 20th Century Fox has released seven movies based on characters from the X-Men comics and it looks like they’ll continue to do so for quite a while.  With the latest chapter receiving a significant amount of positive appraisal from critics, looks like this X-Men train is going to be moving down the track for a long, long time.

I, for one, have never been a big fan of the comic book series, maybe purchasing a few of their books here and there over the years of my collecting, but was always intrigued with the X-Men line of books.  I was familiar with some of the characters, namely Wolverine, and was somewhat interested when their first movie was released 14 years ago.  It gained recognition for Bryan Singer as the director of this comic book actioner and may have started this boom of superhero movies we’ve had since the turn of the century. 

I have one or two friends who are comic book extremists and have big opinions on what the X-Men movies should include and why they think Fox shouldn’t own the franchise and what they did wrong, etcetera, etcetera.  The bottom line is…Marvel Comics—before they had established their own studio production—sold the rights to some of their comic book lines to have live action movies made, fair and square.  If it weren’t for these transactions, and the money made from them, Marvel wouldn’t have been able to have their own studio.  Additionally, the whole cinematic universe they’re producing their films in (Iron ManThor, etc.) would never have been created.  I understand their gripes on how the characters have been mish-mashed and their personalities have been toned down or changed, as well as the timelines for the introductions of these characters have been altered or ignored, but the movies have been successful and entertaining.  As long as the movies make money for Fox, the X-Men franchise is there to stay.

With all that said, on Friday, May 23rd, I took a couple hours of vacation to see an early screening of X-Men: Days of Future Past on its opening day and loved what I saw.

The film opens in the future, a desolate time for all mutants and any normal human who helps or will conceive a mutant in the future, where Sentinels are dispatched all over the world to search and destroy them.  At one such location, some familiar mutants—Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Shadowcat (Ellen Page), and Colossus
Daniel Cudmore)—go up against these large robots that can adapt to any power the mutants use to counter them and can even absorb their powers.  Along with some new mutants—Sunspot (Adan Canto), Bishop (Omar Sy), Warpath (Booboo Stewart) and Blink (Bingbing Fan)—they all start losing the battle, resulting in Shadowcat taking Bishop into a safe-room to use her evolved power to transport his conscience back in time to warn them of the attack.  Just as a Sentinel is about to kill the two remaining mutants, they all disappear.  Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Storm (Halle Berry) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) meet up with the mutants and discuss why this dystopian future came to be.  He then introduces a plan to have Shadowcat send Wolverine back to 1973 to try and get help from the younger Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to prevent this bleak future from happening.   But with the Sentinels able to close in on all mutants, it’s a race against time—both in the future and in the past.

So, before going in this movie, I remembered the after-credits scene inThe Wolverine which led us all to believe that X-Men: Days of Future Past would take place right after.  However, this movie supposedly takes place in 2023, or around that time, so that extra scene was a tease for nothing really.  I wanted this new film to discuss or explain three things: How exactly did Professor Xavier get his identical body back after he was torn apart and killed in the third film?  How did Magneto get his powers back?  And how did Wolverine get his claws covered in adamantium again?  I can assume that Professor Xavier took over that brain-dead body, as it’s teased during an after-credits sting in X-Men: The Last Stand, and Magneto just slowly regained his powers back at the end of that movie as well, but how did Wolverine get his metal claws back?  If you’re a comic book fan, you’ll know that Magneto has manipulated Wolverine’s adamantium many times, removing it and reapplying it, so I guess we can assume he had a hand in it.  It just would’ve been nice to get some minor clarification about it.

If there’s another complaint I can make is the absence of character backstory for the new mutants we haven’t seen before in the X-Men series of films.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s only a very trivial criticism, but these new additions to the group have some very cool powers displayed and I wish we were able to get to know them a little.  From what we see in the beginning of the film, the mutant Blink is able to create portals to teleport anything from one place to another; Bishop looks to be able to absorb energy and has a special armament to discharge the energy in blasts; Sunspot is probably the coolest of the new mutants as he seems to be just like the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch, able to be covered in flame and expel the flames as a weapon; Warpath seems to have enhanced strength and superior fighting abilities.  Maybe they’ll be showcased a little more in later films, and since they really weren’t that important to the main story of this film, I can wait to see them characterized in the next chapter.

Like most of the X-Men films thus far, Wolverine is front and center in the first third of this film, taking a back seat to the story in the second act, but coming around, full circle, to bookend it.  Coming straight off The Wolverine, Jackman, once again, embodies the character both physically and verbally.  To date, however, these X-Men films haven’t shown his full berserker mode as he sometimes goes into in the comic books, going absolutely crazy and nuts on his enemies.  But he’s here, once again, chewing on cigars, throwing in a “bub” here and there, and just looking his bad-ass self.  Wolverine was very important to be featured in this for the beginning as he’s the only one of the characters who can take having his conscience being transported back to his younger self 50 years in the past.  Which brings me to ask, what is Fox going to do when Jackman doesn’t want to make these films anymore?  Let’s face it, the man is 45 years old and is supposed to be playing an ageless character—he won’t want to play a superhero too much longer.  But if anything X-Men: Days of Future Past proved is that these X-Men films don’t always need to have Wolverine as the main focus.

The film is able to pull off the early 70s pretty damned well, showing us the look and feel of that time with the type of dress people wear and the cars seen driving up and down the streets.  It’s funny, because the audience I saw the film with laughed when Wolverine steps out into 1973 for the first time to see people wearing these outfits of the era.  Although some of the getups were a little exaggerated, they were pretty much how I remembered everyone dressed back then.  The biggest chance the filmmakers took on this film was including President Nixon (Mark Camacho) in the story.  Although he looked like the late president a little, it still seemed like a funny caricature being played out for laughs.  I guess it doesn’t help that we’ve seen countless impressions of Nixon in the same vein for years, so you can’t help but laugh when you see someone depicting him in a film.

Having the Sentinels finally featured in an X-Men movie was sort of satisfying—although their addition was only featured as the possible future and isn’t featured as the main threat throughout the movie.  Introducing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) as the inventor of the search and destroy program that will rid the world of the mutants in the dystopian version of the future was a little dry in my opinion.  Although I’ve only seen Dinklage in the Christmas movie, Elf, I’ve heard he’s quite a talented actor and there are pretty good reviews out there regarding his role on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”  His role, here, as Trask, however, seemed a little dry and boring. 

Certainly, the stand-out of this film is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), the fast-moving mutant who can’t stand still for a minute in this film.  Although he’s the comic relief in a poignant scene near the beginning of the film, his power was represented so well in this film that I’m starting to worry Marvel’s version in next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron may look silly or banal in comparison.  Bryan Singer captured his powers beautifully in the Pentagon scene and Peters acted it out so well.  I’ve known since seeing him in the first season of “American Horror Story” that he was an actor to be reckoned with.  He plays Quicksilver with such an innocent and self-indulgent demeanor, as if he really doesn’t understand his full potential just yet.  Definitely one of the highlights of the film and I wish they featured him a bit more than they had.

Returning from the First Class version of the X-Men universe are James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Professor Xavier and Magneto respectively.  If there was any reason why the character of Wolverine took a back seat to the film’s storyline was because of these two actors.  They’re portrayals of the lead mutants of the good and bad side was undeniably superb, but both have their reasons for their downfall since the First Class film.  You can actually understand why Xavier chose to live the life he had and see Magneto’s points as well.  There’s clearly no definite line between them to gauge who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist.

Finally, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique was pretty awesome.  When we first saw her in X-Men: First Class, it was hard to think that she’d ever turn into the conniving version of the character that we see in the first three films.  After seeing her reason for becoming the antihero she’s portrayed as in this film, it’s hard to imagine we wouldn’t do the same.  In fact, you almost cheer for her in this film in spite of what the futuristic results may be.  But much like Rebecca Romijn’s depiction of the character in the first two films, Lawrence is able to equal her bad-assery in this film, taking center stage in most of the fighting sequences.

So, before I let out any spoilers, let me give you my final “bit” on X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Time travel is always a good subject to put in a film and making it an X-Menfilm makes it that much more awesome.  The added mutants in the beginning was a blast, the storyline moving to the 70s was great and gave us sort of a sequel to X-Men: First Class as well as to the franchise as a whole, bringing the young and old together in one film was just great writing and solved the problems created by The Last Stand.  I loved it all the way through and feel this is the best X-Men movie so far.  Go see it!

As a side note…surprise, surprise…there’s an after-credit scene that you may, or may not, understand.  I, myself, had to Google it after getting home, but it’s still pretty cool to see…maybe not worth waiting through ALL the end credits to see.

Edge of Tomorrow comes out June 6th.  I may check that one out.  But anyway…thanks for reading!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Predator

If there’s any type of movie I can fall back on to watch and enjoy, it’s any of the films in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s library of films.  When you watch his flicks, you can expect three things:  Muscles, explosions, and a lot of one-liners.  It seems like that last piece of criteria is in his contract, because you can hardly find a movie he’s been in where there’s no memorable line to quote.  Obviously, the first one anyone thinks of is the classic “I’ll be back.”  Who doesn’t recite that in their best Austrian-accented Arnold impression?

1987’s Predator is no different and features quite a few unforgettable lines and scenes.  With a star-studded cast and testosterone levels overflowing the screen, this flick is pretty bad-ass!

A funny story of when I first watched this film happened when I was on vacation in Portugal with my family.  We were all supposed to be flying out, back to America, within three days when I suddenly developed appendicitis, having a fever and an unbelievable pain in my abdomen.  My dad took me to the nearby clinic and the doctors decided I needed surgery to remove the appendix as they cited it was perforated.  The thing was I had to stay in the hospital for four days—one day past our departure date.  So, my dad stayed behind with me while the rest of the family went ahead back to America without us.  Now, back in ’87—in a foreign country no less—it wasn’t as easy to find a flight as it is today.  Today, we can pop open our laptop or simply use an app on our smartphones to book a flight within minutes.  So my dad went from travel agency to travel agency, all over Lisbon, to try and find two seats for us back to America.  Finally, he found and purchased two tickets, but it wasn’t until a week later.  Staying an extra week in Lisbon, we’d used the time to sightsee and keep ourselves busy until our departure date.

Besides watching some soccer games and checking out some of the beautiful sights of Portugal, one night we decided to go see a movie.  The movie we chose?  Predator.

One relief about the film was that the movie wasn’t dubbed over with Portuguese dialogue—I’m not fluent in the language even though I’m a descendant—so I was able to enjoy the film with its original English dialect.  The film included subtitles at the bottom of the screen but it didn’t bother me and I was able to enjoy the film immensely.  However, that was the weird thing about watching this movie in Lisbon—there were some funny jokes and one-liners peppered throughout the film and it seemed like I was the only one laughing.  I guess whatever was written on the bottom of the screen didn’t translate too well when it came to the humorous parts of the film.  I remember the only part of the film that had gotten a laugh was when one of the men thought they had caught the predator and started stabbing it down in a gully below the others.  When the rest of the men show up and shine their flashlights at the scene, it’s revealed that it was a wild pig that the soldier had taken down.  One of the men says, “Jesus, you killed a pig…think you could’ve found something bigger?”  The whole theater went up in hysterics for some reason—maybe it was translated differently than what was said.

Anyway…not knowing what the film was really about before going in, when I left that movie house in Lisbon, I was stunned and surprised.

The movie begins with Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team of commandos landing by helicopter in South America.  He’s informed that a high-ranking cabinet minister traveling by helicopter has gone missing somewhere in the jungle, believed to be shot down by a rebel group in the area, and is told that he and his
team need to find the missing man.  Forced to have an old friend, Dillon (Carl Weathers), accompany Dutch’s team, they travel by helicopter to the area and are dropped off to search by foot.  After finding the skinned bodies of another search & rescue team and dispatching of a rebel group in the area, Dutch realizes he and his team were being used and angrily confronts Dillon who confirms it to be true.  However, soon, they all realize that they’re being hunted as they start getting picked off, one by one.  But by who—or what—they don’t know.

By all means, this is a man’s film.  As I’d said earlier, this film is filled with such manliness and chauvinistic mannerisms that people not into these types of films might be put off by some of the lines spoken.  One particular line spoken by the character of Blain (Jesse Ventura) when nobody wants any of the chewing tobacco he’s offering could offend a lot of people these days, but it’s just a character he’s playing and shouldn’t be taken seriously—in fact, I actually love his lines in the film.  Just seeing the start of the film where Schwarzenegger steps off the helicopter with a lit cigar in his mouth is so full of machismo, yet it sets up the tone of the film you’re about to see.

Most people who see this and are familiar with action films of the 1980s will see the typical clichés here and there, especially the overabundance of close-up muscle shots.  I mean, come on!  Who greets someone that they haven’t seen in a while with a mid-air arm wrestle? 

Every Schwarzenegger film I’ve seen always takes me a while to get into and I have to suspend disbelief very strongly when I see them.  The reason being?  Arnold’s accent.  Although an awesome franchise, it never made sense in the Terminator movies why a cyborg (one that can imitate any voice it hears) spoke with an Austrian accent.  When he plays an American cop, even recently in The Last Stand, it’s hard to believe, especially when it’s not explained in the movie.  So, here, it’s acceptable that he’s a commanding officer in charge of his own team and you won’t really have to put your mind around how a foreigner to our country would hold such a post—the real man ended up Governor of California for Pete’s sake.

All the machismo falls to the wayside once this movie gets going and becomes a thrilling ride, especially when the team realizes they’re being hunted by an unknown enemy.

The film looks great most of the time with the special effects ahead of its time for the late 80s.  When the characters are in the jungles of South America, it’s filmed in such a way that you could almost feel the
humidity and heat when watching the characters immersed in the foliage-filled background.  You also get a sense of isolation and claustrophobia, particularly when the characters recognize that they’re the prey for the unseen hunter. 

Although you have your typical special effects for the blasts and explosions, the camouflage the filmmakers created for the creature is outstanding and groundbreaking when this film came out.  Rather than the alien just appearing and disappearing, the special effects team somehow made it look like some sort of shield forms around it.  In the sequel, one of the characters describes it as being able to bend light and it looks that way, like it was done in sections around the creature’s body.

Everyone pulls their weight in this film, each having their own recognizable character traits throughout.  Besides Arnold playing the leader of the team and Ventura as the overly dogmatic soldier, you’ve got the nerdy Hawkins (Shane Black), the calm and collected Mac (Bill Duke), and Billy the tracker (Sonny Landham).  Along with Richard Chaves as Poncho and Elpidia Carrillo as Anna, the cast really makes this movie enjoyable and you tend to care what happens to each and every one of them.

As for the Predator’s design, all I have to say is one name: Stan Winston.  He is a legend when it came to creature and special effects designs, being responsible for an array of famous modern day monster and robot designs in contemporary films.  He was responsible for such designs as the Endoskeleton from the Terminator series and upped the ante with his work in 1986’s Aliens.  Winston earned even more notoriety with his help bringing dinosaurs to life on Spielberg’s Jurassic Park in 1993.  Sadly, Winston passed away in 2008 after dealing with multiple myeloma, but will be forever remembered for the classic movies he’d worked on, especially Predator.  The creature’s design is so believably alien-looking, with the crazy mandibles that open and close in four directions, that it’s truly terrifying.

Speaking of the terrifying alien-monster in this film, it really helped that they cast a very tall man to play the part.  The late Kevin Peter Hall was cast as the creature and, with his 7-foot 2-inch frame, gave the film a villainous character that dwarfed Arnold Schwarzenegger in comparison.  Hall is famous for playing such creatures as the mutant bear in Prophecy, Harry in Harry and the Hendersons, and the alien hunter in Predator, as well as its sequel.  Unfortunately, Kevin Peter Hall died at too young of an age (35), but will always be remembered for his role as the original Predator.

The music in this flick, composed by Alan Silvestri, was perfectly placed and matched the moods depicted on the screen.  For being a composer of so many popular films—Silvestri  has composed for such memorable films like Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, and, most recently, The Avengers—he really doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.  The themes he’d composed in Predator were sort of adventurous and bold, giving us a broad 80s sound that many films today don’t produce anymore. 

Lastly, it doesn’t surprise me that this film was directed by John McTiernan.  Although this was only his second directorial feature, he went on to helm other action vehicles like Die Hard and Last Action Hero.  But he was able to get great performances out of this cast and put together a well done science fiction/action film, giving it cult status which has gone on to spawn two sequels and two versus films with the Alien series’ characters.

So my final “bit” on Predator?

One of Schwarzenegger’s most solid performances in his collection of films, this one gives you the tension and thrills with a very serious tone throughout.  Although you get a few corny one-liners during one scene of
the film, the remainder is a great thrill ride.  With an awesome story, a perfectly cast ensemble, and an amazing climax, you’re definitely going to have fun with this flick.

As a side bit—and it’s something I’d learned a few months back—Jean-Claude Van Damme was originally cast as the predator and actually filmed quite a bit of special effects scenes for the film.  Apparently, he complained so much about being an unseen actor in a costume that the filmmakers decided to let him go and cast Kevin Peter Hall instead.  There’s actually some video somewhere online or on the Blu-Ray with some behind-the-scenes shots of Van Damme in the costume which, I’ll agree, looks kind of silly and I can see where he was coming from when he grumbled about it.

Okay, that’s all for now.  Thank you for checking up and hope to hear from you…your comments are always welcomed.

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

Before I start this post, I’d like to say that I am not a big Godzilla fan, only familiar with the monster from some of the movies I caught on television in my youth.  I really can’t remember which ones I saw—I’m not even sure if I’ve seen the first one introduced to America with Raymond Burr placed in the mix of things—but I do realize the iconic status the character has with a lot of fans.  However, for me, that creature was exactly what it was in real life: a dude in some rubber suit stomping around miniature cars and buildings. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love monster movies and enjoy watching a good giant-creature flick.  I still admire the 1933 version of King Kong, as well as the 1976 and 2005 versions, Jurassic Park was definitely a milestone in dinosaur films, Cloverfield was excellent, Pacific Rim was kick-ass, and I totally loved Super 8 (from what little I’d seen of the creature in that one).  But what most of those latter films had in common is that they used CGI to render the monster/monsters featured.  Take the 1976 and 2005 King Kong films and compare them.  Both films have their problems, but you’ve got to admit that the 2005 film’s representation of the giant ape takes the cake.  Why?  When it comes to giant monsters on film, the CGI’d creatures will always look better than the ones featuring the man-in-a-costume variety.

With that reason alone, I understood why the 1998 version of Godzilla went the way they did, with a completely CGI’d creature resembling what a giant reptile would look like.  I personally liked the Godzilla design of the dreaded Emmerich film, fascinated by the giant iguana/kangaroo hybrid look of it.  I was excited by the teaser they showed in the first trailer, with Godzilla stomping on the Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton in the dinosaur exhibit.  But, alas, it all died down after watching the film and hearing the consensus by fans and critics on how bad it was.  I still like it for what it is, but the human situations didn’t jibe with the fact that there was a gigantic lizard on the loose in the city.

Also, even though I wasn’t very familiar with the character creature, I’m pretty sure I remembered Godzilla being a hero and protecting humans from other monsters.  In the Matthew Broderick starrer, the creature was running amok and had no regard for human life.  Basically, Godzilla was a giant dinosaur on a rampage and the story could’ve been another chapter in the Jurassic Park series of movies.  So if Hollywood were to try again at that point in time, they needed to get the mythological creature right.

Now, with 2008’s Cloverfield and last year’s Pacific Rim, it was proof positive that Hollywood needed to try again with an American version of the iconic Japanese monster.  According to the fan backlash of the 1998 version, the design had to be similar to the traditional look of the creature, yet keeping it from looking like a guy in a monster costume.  So, fifteen years or so after the Roland Emmerich debacle, director Gareth Edwards gave us…Godzilla.

The film opens with a lot of old atom bomb footage mixed with vintage films of researchers conducting studies on an elusive monster that occasionally surfaces from the depths of the ocean.  Cut to 1999, at a discovered cavern in the Phillipines, and a Japanese researcher, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), finds a cocoon that may have hatched a giant creature, later called a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), found to feed on radiation and able to blast EMPs.  It ends up at a Japanese power plant, causing a nuclear meltdown that destroys the facility.  Fifteen years later, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), former lead of the nuclear plant, is still trying to find out what instigated the destruction that caused the death of his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche).  Joe’s son, Ford (AaronTaylor-Johnson), now a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, comes to his father’s aid in Japan, thinking he’s paranoid with unfounded conspiracies.  But he soon realizes his father was right as two MUTOs emerge and Ford, along with the military, engages in an all-out battle to try and stop the monsters.  However, the military isn’t enough, but a monster rises from the depths of the ocean to help mankind deal with this threat.

Man, this just conjures up memories of watching monster movies when I was a kid and it turned it up one-hundred-fold.  Godzilla is far from the 50s era of monster movies, this is the beginning of an epic tome that will reverberate around the world.  Seeing the creature effects with the scope of land- and cityscapes makes me regret not seeing this in IMAX.  I sat in my seat when the end credits started rolling and just wanted more of everything I had just witnessed on screen, making a mental note to myself to make sure that I pick this up on Blu-Ray four to five months from now. 

The story is well-told, basically a human-driven narrative of a man who lost his wife because of something behind the nuclear plant disaster and spends years to prove the subversion that’s been done and how he comes to find out—as well as the world—that monsters were behind it.  So the whole movie isn’t about Godzilla rising up to cast destruction upon the city or fighting the threatening monsters while humans simply stand by and watch.  No, it has a lot to do with humanity and how we persevere—or try to anyway—against a threat no matter how impossible the odds are.  But, the bottom line, it’s a human interest story first with Godzilla coming in to be the protector of humankind.

See, this time around, and unlike the Emmerich version, Godzilla is a hero, just like how the old Japanese films represented the character.  Although not always identified throughout the film, there were a few evident intimations that Godzilla was there to defend the humans.  From purposely  taking the hits of missiles that were heading towards the Golden gate bridge in error to dropping a beat-down on the MUTOs, Godzilla was there as the guardian of the human race.

As for the performances throughout the film, Bryan Cranston shined as the lead with such an array of emotions.  He truly is a great thespian as most of us had seen during the “Breaking Bad” television series (if you haven’t seen that show, you need to jump on Netflix and watch it!).  I was a little surprised by Aaron Kick-Ass films, but he truly has quite a career in front of him.  He has the looks and acting chops for a leading man—I’m looking forward to his role as Quicksilver in the Avengers sequel.  Overall, you won’t see any ridiculous scenes like you had in the Emmerich version—no “Singing in the Rain” performance, no look-a-like movie critics, and definitely no French guys imitating Elvis Presley.
Taylor-Johnson’s appearance, being used to his thinner frame in the

The monster designs of the MUTOs and Godzilla are remarkable.  The MUTOs kind of reminded me of the Cloverfield monster, being unable to distinguish where the orifices are or how many legs they have as they kind of resemble giant mantises or locusts.  Whatever the case, they’re truly terrifying.  Now, with Godzilla’s design, I had my reservations that going with the look of the old Japanese appearance would work, thinking it would just look like a guy in a suit.  But I was wrong in having any doubts whatsoever, because it worked so well.  Godzilla looks so bad-ass and fearsome, the filmmakers made the right choice to appease the fans and stay with the traditional look of the monster.  I won’t give anything away, but I’ll just say that he does expel his fire breath a few times that sent chills up my spine with the way they revealed it in the movie.  It wasn’t fire, but a blue-white beam of irradiated energy that just looked perfect as it was used during a climactic battle.

If there’s one complaint I can make about this film is the screen time Godzilla gets in this film.  After watching this movie last weekend, I’d noticed that was the one criticism everyone had made and I agree.  It doesn’t take anything away from the story; in fact, in a funny way it helps the human side of the story.  To just show the people of Earth being threatened by these monsters, only to have Godzilla come in to save the day, would make man look helpless, so it works to have the two sides of this film’s exposition.  Godzilla is certainly a movie about what mankind would do against a monstrous threat like the MUTOs, but at the same time it’s a film about an ancient creature that rises from the depths of the ocean to help civilization when called for.  Even though that’s what I had gathered from the story, I still wanted more Godzilla!

So, my final “bit” on Godzilla?

The film is a great human story that you can stand by and enjoy and, of course, seeing the monsters going at it—the battles between them are pretty breathtaking.  Godzilla finally has a great American adaptation made and we can finally stop complaining about Emmerich’s 1998 version…or maybe not.  While Godzilla is still out in theaters, you should go watch it.  Heck, I might go again, just to see it in IMAX.

That’s it for now…I just got back from watching X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Be on the look-out for a post from me regarding that one.

Thanks for reading!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

The Thing (2011)

Before commencing on my analysis of this film, I have to say that my absolute favorite film directed by John Carpenter is 1982’s The Thing.  Now I sometimes get a little flak for saying that because most movie buffs—especially Carpenter fans—cite Halloween as the Master of Horror’s magnum opus—and I do agree it is a work of art.  But I once read that he himself has said that he believes The Thing is his objet d'art in his composition of films, so I feel confident when raising this subject.  The original film has such an eerie atmosphere, tangible and surreal, and the performances Carpenter was able to get out of the group of actors was phenomenal.  Once more, the original film was not original at all, but in fact, a remake of a 1951 film.  But that’s one of two reasons why remakes were done well back then—they were made with a whole different look and story.  The other reason?  They weren’t churned out on a conveyor belt like they are today.

With all that out of the way, and before I start ranting and raving about remakes again, let’s look into the prequel (although some would argue it’s just a remake disguised as one) of John Carpenter’s classic, 2011’s The Thing.

So, right from the get-go, before the film was released but the title was announced, I had a problem with just that—the title of the film.  What was told to us by the filmmakers of this movie was that this was to be a prelude to the 1982 film.  Good.  It was said that they were going to painstakingly go over the first film—especially the scenes when the Norwegian camp is visited—to tie both films together seamlessly.  Great.  We were also informed that they were going to make sure the movie was filmed in the same way to make it look like a film from the 80s.  Awesome.  Then the title was announced that it was going to be The Thing.  What?  The same title as the 1982 film?  Why?  The filmmakers were quoted as saying that they couldn’t think of a subtitle (like The Thing: Begins) that sounded good.  What?!  Are you telling me that with all the time spent on this film and everybody they had working on this, they couldn’t think of a subtitle for it?  How about The Thing: Genesis?  Or The Thing: Origin?  That’s why it’s believed the film was a remake with exploratory tones to it.

Okay, I said I wouldn’t rant, so let’s get into the film, which was directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.

The film opens in Antarctica in 1982, with three Norwegian scientists in a snowcap, following a signal in the ice.  The vehicle suddenly falls through an opening fissure and lodges into it many feet below, discovering a UFO in a cavity underneath them.  We then meet Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a paleontologist who’s approached by a former colleague, Adam Finch (Eric Christian Olsen), and a Dr. Sander Halvorson
(Ulrich Thomsen), to ask for her help in Antarctica.  Although she isn’t given much information besides that a discovery was made, Kate agrees to go.  Once there, she learns about the found extraterrestrial spacecraft and that an alien life form was located as well.  Soon, the Norwegian team of scientists cut a block out of the ice containing the specimen and brings it back to their camp.  They drill a hole into it to obtain a sample of tissue from the body and celebrate their discovery, but the alien is still alive and breaks out of the ice later that night.  Soon, Kate discovers the alien can imitate anyone it chooses, leaving her—and anyone left who is human—not knowing who to trust.

Now, I’ll say there are good and bad things about this film that I’ll get into.  For the most part, there’s a lot of good, so that’s already a plus.

The first thing was the promise that this film was actually going to be a prequel to the 1982 film and they delivered on that assurance.  It is and I feel they did a fine job relating that.  I think it’s always been a wonder what happened in that camp that MacReady and Copper found destroyed and in ruins.  What did the Norwegians go through?  How did they find the UFO?  And the alien life form in the ice…?  What happened when they brought it back to their camp?  The questions were answered, pretty much.  The second item promised was that the prequel would have the look and feel of the 1982 version and they delivered on that as well.  You can easily watch this film first and go into the second one feeling like they were filmed back-to-back—with the exception of the special effects.

Now, the special effects were promised to be mostly practical—not much CGI.  Well…they couldn’t deliver on that, probably because of studio interference or budgetary reasons.  Don’t get me wrong, the CGI looked great, but still had that phoniness to it when compared to the 1982 film.  The good I can say about it is that they made sure to produce the monsters in live form that we see in dead and burnt form in Carpenter’s film, as well as the ax in the wall, the guy who opened up the veins in his wrists, and so on.  All great work in the effects department, so I really can’t complain.  I mean, we really couldn’t expect them to do everthing practical, right?  Some of the stuff in the first film looked a little cheesy by today’s standards (i.e., the remote control spider-head), so we really can’t criticize their decision to make the creature effects look as good as possible.

The one big complaint, which I feel is a big gaping hole of a mistake when trying to streamline both movies together, is the discovery of the spacecraft.  In the first film, MacReady and Copper find notes and VHS tapes showing and detailing the Norwegians’ exhuming of the UFO.  The film goes to great lengths to show us—the audience—that the Norwegians uncovered the spacecraft under a shallow thickness of ice, maybe fifty feet or so.  In Carpenter’s version, they actually show the men find the spot, which is a big crater in the ice, and we see them have to shimmy down on ropes to the ship.  In this prequel, for some reason, the filmmakers decided to show the ship being down under hundreds of feet of ice and that the scientists created a tunnel system to get to it.  I guess this oversight was brought up and that the director admitted to this change, citing that it was illogical for this spacecraft to be under such a thin layer of ice, that radar or sonar would’ve picked it up years ago.  Illogical???  We’re talking about a movie where an alien can imitate anyone it absorbs…I think we have the needed suspension of disbelief to get by the anomaly of the spacecraft.  Why, with all the careful planning to duplicate the camp’s interiors down to the tee and to make sure the creatures and characters are matching as well, would you make such a big change that completely ignores the Carpenter film?  It didn’t—and still doesn’t—make any sense at all.  The 1982 movie showed the footage on the VHS tape of the Norwegian scientists setting up charges and blowing the huge hole in the ice…that was a big reveal in that film.  It angers and baffles me.

When talk began to arise of making this prequel, I actually didn’t think it could be done.  It was well established in Carpenter’s film that the camp of scientists were Norwegian and didn’t speak English, as we find out when the shooter from the helicopter speaks.  I didn’t think a film with subtitles would work for this type of film and cheating the audience with the cast miraculously speaking English wouldn’t fare well with the fans.  So, including Americans into the mix was genius, I have to admit.  But Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the
prominent paleontologist that this lead scientist comes to for her expertise was a little doubtful, only because of how young she looked in this film.  But, all in all, she pulled off a good performance, as did the rest of the cast, which is what brings me to my original point of this paragraph.  The courage to include actually Norwegian actors was brilliant and gave the film credibility.  I’d really thought they were going to take the low road and cheat us with American actors speaking in phony Norwegian accents and try to pass it off that way.  However, the filmmakers didn’t go that route and I give them credit for their valor in sticking to their guns.

Well, there’s not much more I can say without getting into spoiler territory, so let me get into my final “bit” on 2011’s The Thing.

All said, this movie hits the tone and atmosphere that the 1982 version had, but it showed its cards a little too soon as the creatures are unveiled right away, not giving us the slow burn of John Carpenter’s masterpiece.  Unfortunately, it’s a retread of the other film with no new ideas or anything else to add to the film’s mythos.  But, then again, it can be perceived as a good thing, as Matthijs van Heijningen Jr was able to match the 1982 film’s properties in order to watch both films one after the other.  And if you do that, I highly recommend watching the prequel first…it makes Capenter’s version all the better.  I recommend The Thing fans to watch this film.  It’s not a perfect film—in fact, I really think there must’ve been a lot of studio interference—but it’s enjoyable and a good prelude into the 1982 movie.  Another thing I’d like to impart is be sure to stay throughout the end credits, as there are scenes cut in to show us how the film ties right into the 1982 classic.

Anyway, that’s it for now.  So thanks for reading and I welcome any comments!

Cinema Bits is on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood

I guess I really love this franchise more than I thought, because I am ready to discuss the remaining canon of films up until the end of them (including the reboot).  As I'd said, the first four films are the best of the lot, still staying entertaining throughout the rest of the films, even as it ventured on from Paramount Studios to New Line Cinema.  So, take a seat, put on your nostalgia hat, and let's go back to 1988 for a movie where Jason Voorhees returns to form.and then some.

After the debacle that part five was and the mediocre part six, 1988's Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, directed by John Carl Buechler, had kind of gotten the franchise back on track.  Not so much in terms of being near the magic that parts one through four had, but more in terms of going back to a serious and scary film, rather than feature too much comedy.

You see, in my opinion, horror films should show a level of humor in some parts of the film so that it's not entirely a vile story.  We need the occasional lightheartedness to show us how to identify with the characters, whether it's the villains or the heroes.  On the other hand, if you show a bombardment of jokes and breaking of the fourth wall (see part six), it becomes too surreal and the movie doesn't seem earnest, making us perceive the people in the film as cartoon characters.

In most films, we imagine ourselves in the position the characters are in, whether it's doing everyday normal things, interacting with other characters, or fighting off the villain.  If we see these characters act in such a way, saying or doing things that normally wouldn't be said or done in real life situations, it shuts off our brain to it and we see what's behind the curtain.  Though Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood is a little more grounded in tone, it still has its problems.

The story takes place years after Tommy Jarvis sank Jason to the bottom of Crystal Lake as his final resting place.  We're now introduced to a young Tina Shepard, running out of the family cabin as her parents are having a violent argument.  It's obvious that her father (John Otrin) was the aggressor as he goes after Tina to apologize.  Tina runs to the lake's pier and hops onto a rowboat, rowing away from her dad.  Suddenly,
because of a power that she possesses and comes out due to her anger at her father, the pier collapses and Tina's father goes down with it, killing him.  Years later, Tina (Lar Park-Lincoln) returns with her mother, Amanda (Susan Blu), and the family's psychiatrist, Dr. Crews (Terry Kiser), to come to terms with everything.  One night, remembering what had happened so long ago and realizing her powers once again, Tina senses someone down in the lake and, thinking it's her father, tries to use her powers to bring him up, fainting as she does.  But what she doesn't realize is that she awakened Jason and inadvertently raised him from his dormancy.  He breaks the chain that held him down and rises to the surface as he walks from the shore towards the Shepard family cabin as well as the cabin next door with a group of kids celebrating a friend's birthday.  But has Jason met his match as he goes up against Tina and her telekinetic powers?

Above all else, this marks the first time Kane Hodder plays the role of Jason, making this the first of four films, and he definitely makes the role his own.  I remember the first time I had seen this flick, seeing the way Hodder used a lot of body language, and it was more than I had ever seen in the previous performances of the other actors who'd donned the hockey mask.  The one thing that struck me the most was the way he heaved his chest in and out, as if he was constantly in a rage and ready to kill.  You can probably call that a signature tick he gave Jason in this one and throughout the next three films.  Hodder's performance definitely gives the character some tension we, as Friday the 13th fans, have not seen since part four.

As for Jason's prey in this chapter, you would be lying if you say that you cared about any of them-except, of course, for the characters of Nick (Kevin Spirtas, née Blair) and Tina.  All the rest of the teens in the cabin are so one-dimensional that you see right away how expendable they are to the story.  Starting with the
character of Dr. Crews.you can't help but think of Bernie from Weekend at Bernies, not to mention his character here is such a pompous and cowardice dick.you definitely cheer for Jason to kill him in this one.  I don't want to name every single character within the teenagers' cabin, but they're so lacking in depth, it's actually kind of boring to see them get picked off one-by-one.  It's almost as if they were working with a spec sheet as to what types of characters they wanted in the cabin:  a good looking hero type, a nerdy sci-fi enthusiast, a bad boy that the girls like, a token black couple, a bitch.almost all of them are so simplistic and to the point with their characteristics, you really don't give a rat's ass what happens to them.

Really, the crux of this whole film is the final battle between Tina and Jason.  Most people call this "Jason vs. Carrie" because of how Tina shares similarities with the main character of the Stephen King story-namely, her extrasensory powers.  It's definitely something that helps the film, giving Jason a worthy adversary to go up against.  But one problem I have with the film, when the powers are supposedly manifesting from the character of Tina, Lar Park-Lincoln doesn't represent that sense of control too well.  It's as if she doesn't know what she's doing, rather than having the poise Sissy Spacek had in Carrie.

As for the special effects in this film, really all we see is the aftermath of Jason's kills.  The practical effects of Tom Savini are sadly missing here, and have been since part four.  A lot of the kills are quick cuts or done off screen, showing us the quick moments of his massacre.  I guess this film was scrutinized carefully by the MPAA and was very strict on what the film could, or could not, show when released to theaters-at the time, it really seemed that way since part five.  As a result, especially when watching the film today, the film has a TV movie feel to it.

Though the previous film didn't feature a Jason unmasking, this one does, but was a little disappointing-it wasn't a very realistic looking face and, unfortunately, what it looked like was a cheap mask.  However, the rest of Jason was magnificently reinvented, going away from the tucked-in and gloved Jason from part six, to this disheveled and decomposing monster in this one.  I especially love the exposed bony spine when we first see Jason, as he walks out of the lake.

So, what's my final "bit" on Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood?

I can't say much more about this flick except that it is quite a bit better than the last two entries of the series.  It was a great idea, but the casting of a too well-known actor (Kiser) and the direction they give the rest of the cast makes this outing slightly above mediocre when comparing it to the rest of the films.  If you're planning to watch a marathon of the series, you'll definitely breathe a sigh of relief when you see this one after the last two.  The movie is still fun and entertaining, plus you get to see the beginning of Kane Hodder's rise to fame as the beloved Jason Voorhees.

As a side "bit," the original concept of this film was supposed to be Jason taking on Freddy Krueger.  I know it eventually happened, but it would take another fifteen years after this film was released.  I guess the rights couldn't be worked out to get those two movie villain giants in the same flick, so they had to go with plan B...which, in the end, wasn't so bad.

Well, that's it.thanks for reading.and I welcome any comments!

You can also tweet to me on Twitter (@CinemaBits) or check out my Facebook page here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Chopping Mall

Always trying to recapture my youth, I constantly look to my library of films from the 1980s, especially within the horror genre.  Because, out of all the memories of my teenaged yearswhich were during the 80smost of the good ones took place hanging out with my good friend, Ron, at a choice movie theater to catch the latest popular flick.  We'd usually partake in a little smoky-smoke before the movie or maybe sneak in as many beers as it was physically possible to hide in our waistband and jacket pockets-whatever we could do to make the movie-going experience even better.  Yeah, he and I viewed quite a few films back then, from the shittiest snoozers to some Oscar-worthy contenders.  But it didn't matter, because those were some awesome days.

Back then, it was all about hanging out at The Meridian Quad in Cupertino, which was a four-screen movie complex with an arcade house across the way.  It was the place to hang out for us in-betweeners who were just starting to drive but weren't old enough to get into clubs or buy alcohol.  Nevertheless, it was some fun times over there, whether we went inside the arcade to waste a bunch of quarters to play the latest popular video game, see a movie at The Quad, or breakdance outside (yes, that was big back then).

Alas, The Meridian Quad has since been torn down many years ago, both the movie house and arcade building are absent from that area with a Round Table and other shops in their place.  But the
memories remain, especially when I put in a DVD or Blu-Ray of a film that I remember seeing at The Quad all those years ago.

It's funny that I went on with that narrative, waxing nostalgic about the movies I had seen during the 80s and where I saw them, because Chopping Mall was a film I'd neither seen at The Quad, nor had I seen it back when it was released in 1986.  In fact, I'd only heard of it a few years ago, seeing it online or in a review somewhere.

Probably the only reason that I'd talked about seeing movies in the 80s and the type that I loved seeing was that this flick fit that description so well.  Chopping Mall was the embodiment of cinema in the 80s where horror movies had a revival, being churned out left and right.  Some were god-awful...others were cheesy and laughable, with a few being really well done.  Believe it or not, this film was all of the above.

Park Plaza Mall decides to improve their security by implementing a small group of robots to be dispatched after the mall closes to thwart any crime that may transpire.  After being put into operation at the mall, a lightning strike hits the mall's antenna, going into the central hub of the robots' computer operation and creates a breakdown into the robots' programming, making them see anyone as a threat and causing them to use lethal force on anybody who comes across them.  As luck would have it, a group of teenagerssome who work at the malldecide to have an after-hours party in the furniture store during the night the robots malfunction.  Will they be able to elude the robots' malevolence and survive the night?

First off, you may recognize the mall where the film took place, as many movies in the 80s featured this mall quite a bitthe Sherman Oaks Galleria Mall.  Fast Times at Ridgemont High had a lot of scenes filmed there, Weird Science as well, and a couple of Schwarzenegger's filmsCommando and Terminator 2contained some pivotal scenes there as well.

Now, I'd mentioned that Chopping Mall was awful, cheesy, laughable and well-donea mixed bag of sequences if you will.  The acting, for its time, was believable with the cast having good chemistry together.  For the ridiculous subject matter, they really put on a good performance and made you believe in the threat they were facing throughout the story.  But the threat, when seen on the screen,
was sort of silly and pathetic, the robots looking like the one from Short Circuit and you sort of get the feeling that these were Star Wars rejects being used here.  The machines' primary weapon to dispatch the kids is some laser blast that they shoot out, but it's a cheap special effect that probably garnered more laughs than terror whenever this was shown in theaters.  It's really hard to take the robots seriously, especially when hearing the sounds they make and the robotic voices they use to communicate.

As horror fans, you may recognize a few familiar faces in this movieKelli Maroney, Russell Todd, and Barbara Crampton.  Maroney, who plays Alison Parks, is most notable for her role in Night of the Comet.  If you're a Friday the 13th nut like I am, you'll notice Russell Todd, playing Rick Stanton, was one of the victims from Friday the 13th Part 2.  Finally, Barbara Crampton, who plays Suzie Lynn, is probably the most recognizable as she's been in quite a few cult horror movies such as Re-AnimatorFrom Beyond, and most recently, You're Next.
 
One noteworthy thing I can say about this film is that I watched it with today's standards in mind.  I'd never seen this film until recently, so there was really no nostalgic value that kept me from giving this a fair shake.  As a result, I felt that it was an amusing film, capturing the free nature of the 1980s' vibe and way of life for teenagers back then.  It also reminded me of how many silly films I had seen and come to love in that era as well.  All in all, I felt that I had watched this film in my youth because it definitely would've been something that I'd have been attracted to go see.

You can almost check off a virtual 1980s horror movie checklist when seeing Chopping Mall: Girls with big, fluffy overly hair-sprayed coifs?  Check.  Guys clearly in the late twenties who are playing teenagers?  Check.  Having sexual relations in really awkward places (in a furniture store, mere feet away from each other)?  Check.  Taking the whole film into account, the characters do so many dumb things that make you yell out to the screen, telling them not to do it and bad decisions are made throughout...I mean, this flick just has everything to make a good horror movie!

One downfall this disc has is that it's a bit misleading when you look at the title and cover art.  The name alone makes you think there's a maniac on the loose in a mall, chopping people up with a machete or cleaver.  Also, the cover shows someone dismembered in a shopping bag, so you can't help thinking you're going to be watching Friday the 13th in a shopping mall.  Initially, the film was to be named, Killbotsbut they decided to go with what it's been titled...I think they should've stuck with the original title.

So, my final "bit"?

Any way you slice it (pardon the pun), you'll enjoy this movie if you're a child of the 80s like I am.  If you love horror films of that era, you'll love Chopping Mall.

Well, that's about it for now...thanks for reading and I welcome any comments that you may have.

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