Green Hornet

I’m sure you’re all wondering if The Green Hornet is any good. It depends on what you’re looking for. A far cry from the original version, this one is more like a mismatch buddy comedy than an actual super hero movie. The first scene (aside from the prologue) sets the meta tone for the movie. Two villains meet in the back room of a night club and attempt to intimidate each other. What do they talk about? How many men they each have? Guns? No! They critique each other’s image and marketing. “You need a better name!” “Well you need a better suit!” By now we all know what kind of movie this is going to be.

Much like the villains, our heroes decide to be such almost by accident. The new Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) is the irresponsible son of a millionaire newspaper owner (Tom Wilkinson), who spends all his time partying. After his father’s death, Britt hates being overshadowed by his legend. He meets Kato (Jay Chou), who used to work for Britt’s father and also didn’t like him. After a few beers one night, they go out to vandalize Britt’s father’s tomb. Since this is a movie, they just happen to run across a couple being mugged by several men. Through his impulsive heroism Britt manages to piss the bad guys off, before Kato puts them all in the hospital (Britt lands one punch). They then go home and get really hammered. Britt says to Kato “We’re wasting our talents! We could be heroes.” The rest of the dialogue boils down to “sure, why not? We just need a cool name! And better suits!” Thus begins the battle of image between heroes and villains who strive to be cooler than each other. I won’t mince words; The Green Hornet is definitely stupid. It’s saving grace is that it knows it’s stupid, and remembers to make fun of itself, rather than insult its audience.

There are a lot of funny moments here that I won’t spoil, and some great action sequences (Refer to Mythbusters for the question of whether any of them could happen).

Seth Rogen with the real Green Hornet.

On the other hand, Rogen’s Britt Reid is hardly hero material, being propped up by Kato throughout the movie. What’s more, the relationship between them seems pretty forced, changing from standoffish strangers, to friends who call each other “brother,” to hating and punching each other over (what else?) a chick, to reconciliation in time for the big showdown, in a little under two hours. It would have been more effective had Rogen (who also wrote the script) reduced the number of transitions.

I guess it boils down to personal preference. When I go to a superhero movie, I expect to be blown away, not to laugh at movie that laughs at itself. I want a real hero, not a wise-cracking bumbler who gets lucky a lot and has his sidekick do all the work. If you want a movie you can have fun with and not take seriously, check this one out. Don’t bother with the 3-D.

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Mega Piranha

Piranhas are found in a handful of rivers  in South America. They are usually slightly bigger than a man’s hand, and are widely feared for their ability to eat a 400 pound animal down to the bone in minutes (they occasionally eat the bones as well). Now, what would happen if they started to grow to hundreds of times their normal size? That’s right. They would choke the river with their bodies and die of asphyxiation, and the worst part of it would be the cleanup. Problem is, that doesn’t make for much of a movie, which is why, when he saw a script with the title Mega Piranha, any director with half a brain would have run the other way. Apparently, Eric Forsberg wasn’t that smart.

This movie has the same basic strategy as the Megalodon films; take something people are scared of and make it even bigger. Except that, unlike sharks, piranhas are feared for their tendency to attack in groups, each one taking many little bites. You might as well make a movie about giant germs. This might be the worst movie I have ever seen, but it’s so much fun to make fun of; an excellent candidate for Deathstalkering. So prep your air tank and leave the cap off your de-skeletonizer ointment as we tear into the bloated, drifting carcass that is Mega Piranha!

It starts the way all monster movies start, with a couple picnicking next to the Orinoco river. They go for a swim and get eaten. So far so good. But then, with no break, Forsberg shows us a boat going down the same river. On board is an American ambassador and some other bigwigs. The piranhas actually attack the boat, sinking it. Mind you, we’re less than five minutes into the movie. We then meet Jason Fitch (Paul Logan), some special forces-type guy (that’s all the explanation we get) who is dispatched by the U.S. Secretary of State to investigate the ambassador’s disappearance. Logan has the body for playing a special forces guy, but we’re going to spend most of the movie wondering who taught him to act. It’s as if he watched 30 seconds of a John Wayne movie and tries to recreate it over and over. He doesn’t say his lines so much as bark them out, and every single line is awkward. He makes Gerard Butler’s performance in 300  look subtle and understated. To his credit, though, he does manage to keep a straight face when he delivers the line “It wasn’t terrorists. It was giant piranha.” Fitch has to sneak out of the Venezuelan base where he is staying in order to do his job without a corrupt colonel interfering. He walks around half-bent over in order to show us that he is sneaking, and that he is a sneaky special forces guy. To further emphasize his sneakiness, Forsberg fills this scene with totally random (and pointless) camera wipes from all directions. These wipes cause the guards to go blind right before Fitch walks by. You can actually see guards start to look at him and then quickly turn their heads away.

Following this death-defying escape, Fitch meets Sarah Monroe, a scientist (former pop princess Tiffany, trying desperately to slow the aging process. You can almost hear her thinking “Oh, and I used to sing to sold-out shows. Sob …”). She tells him that the boat was sunk by piranhas, who are getting bigger by the day because they were injected with a serum called O-Hucares, and they will keep growing exponentially until they are (I’m not kidding) the size of a whale. So Fitch teams up with Monroe and her team of nerdy scientists to fight the potentially world-destroying phenomenon of giant piranha.

The abomination that is the special effects in this movie deserves a section all its own. Also ala Meg, Forsberg relies completely on CGI for the visuals. No miniatures, no

Oh, yes they did.

animatronics, just cheesy, pixelated images, clumsily bolted over the footage. I don’t hold that a film has to have seamless special effects to be worthwhile, but that shouldn’t be an excuse not to try. And even with a limited budget, a resourceful filmmaker can make decent effects. James Cameron and his crew built only six Alien models for Aliens, but with some creative camera work, they made us believe there were hundreds of them. Similarly, our first ever glimpse of a face-hugger in Alien is simply Ridley Scott’s hands in a pair of gloves. CGI has become an excuse for a lot of wanna-be directors to be lazy. Were model piranhas so hard to come by? Would it have been so hard to use a few five-dollar air hoses to generate the thrashing in the water? Was it so prohibitive to rent one helicopter, instead of the computer-generated blob that we see, then use a split-screen to reproduce it?

Then there’s the editing. Countless times, we see the same footage used over again. At one point, when Fitch’s phone battery dies, Monroe tells him to suck on the battery. We actually watch him do this for close to two minutes.

The stupidities just keep piling up. Once the piranha problem is known, the Venezuelan government actually tries to eradicate the plague by firing lots of missiles into the river. (And you thought W was trigger-happy.) Later, Venezuelan soldiers interrogate a prisoner by smacking him with a phone book. Toward the end, the piranha seem to have not only grown to enormous size, but developed a death wish, as we see them leaping out of the water, and crashing into buildings, resulting in huge explosions! One fish actually impales itself on a light house!

The one thing you can sort-of feel good about in this movie is that nothing was wasted. No good actors poured their talents into a hopeless script. No quality special effects were wasted on a stupid concept. All the components of this movie deserve each other.

There are a couple of lessons we should take away from this. One is that, as we saw in Meg, bigger does not mean scarier. Many things, piranhas included, are scary for their speed, their efficiency, and above all, their invisibility. When they grow to such size that they have to leap out of the water to do anything, and then they explode, it’s stupid, not scary. The other is that incredibly lame monster movies were not limited to the days of the Blacklist. The only thing Mega Piranha has that, say, Invasion of the Saucer-Men didn’t is bad CGI. Hollywood has always spat out tripe, regardless of the political landscape.

As much as I complain about this movie, I have to admit, we had a great time making fun of it. It’s perfect for lampooning. It’s stupid, it’s over the top, there are countless opportunities to insert lines or jokes, and these opportunities are extended by bad editing. And of course, just when you think it can’t possibly ask you to swallow anything more ridiculous than what it already has, it does. From Fitch ninja-kicking a school of piranha back into the river (I’m not kidding) to a school of piranha actually eating an entire destroyer (I’m still not kidding), this is one of those movies you have to see to believe. The one thing that is kind of impressive is how actors say things like “Florida is being attacked by giant fish!” without cracking up. I wonder how many takes they had to do.

I wanted to include one real mega-piranha, since it’s more interesting than the movie.

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Legion

Well, what can be said about Legion? It’s a bit too nonsensical for me to call it good. On the other hand it isn’t really badenough for me to talk about that either. It’s not remotely accurate to its subject matter, but it’s not irreverent enough to be offensive. Ultimately, when the lights go on and you’re walking away from this one, scratching your head, what you’re most likely to remember about the movie is exactly what you saw on the poster: an Archangel with a machine gun. And if that by itself isn’t worth a “hell, yeah,” it’s got to be at least worth a “heck, yeah.”

The movie opens with the text of Psalm 34:11, and actually builds on that theme pretty well. For all its faults, Legiondoes make God seem pretty scary. Fed up with man’s wickedness, He dispatches His angelic legion to exterminate us. However, the Archangel Michael (Paul Bethany) refuses to give up on man, and possibly refuses to believe that God has really given up. He drops into Los Angeles on Dec. 23 and hacks off his wings with a combat knife. He then breaks into and loots a gun store, steals a police car, and drives to a trailer park in the middle of nowhere called Paradise Falls.

But wait. It gets better.

At the Paradise Falls diner, we meet a motley crew of characters from different walks of life who either work in the diner or have had the misfortune to get lost/break down there. Most notably, we meet Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), a seemingly insignificant, poor, unwed mother to be, and Jeep (Lucas Black), her live-in boyfriend. Not only is Jeep not the father of Charlie’s child, but she has slept with just about everyone in town except him. Nonetheless, he loves her and offers to help her raise the baby.

Why sneak out the door with the guns when you can blow something up?

There follows an unintentionally comical scene, in which a little old lady (Jeanette Miller) orders a rare steak, uses the c-word, bites a guy on the neck, and then climbs the wall ala The Exorcist, before being shot to death by Kyle (Tyrece Gibson), the token gangsta of the film. Then we see a swarm of bugs that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Then Michael shows up and shoves sub-machine guns into everyone’s hands, telling them more like the old lady are on their way.

Michael explains that the deformed maniacs now assembling around the diner are possessed — not by demons, but by angels! He has come to protect Charlie, because her child is humanity’s hope for survival.

Yep. The male child of an insignificant, young, single girl, born on Dec. 25 in the middle of nowhere is humanity’s hope. Ever hear a story like that before? Other than a vague reference to the child “leading mankind out of darkness,” no explanation for Michael’s assertion is ever given. From there, Legion shifts from The Exorcist to Night of the Living Dead, as the Possessed try to fight their way into the diner.

The whole ordeal raises a lot of questions. If God has truly despaired of humanity, why is He committing so many resources to killing this child? And if He hasn’t, why not let the child live? Why do the Possessed sometimes exhibit a survival instinct and other times not?

What are the rules on angels? Are they truly immortal, or just tougher than humans? Do they lose their powers if they cut their wings off? The movie never seems to make up its mind. If humans possessed by angels can’t come near the child, why can Gabriel (Kevin Durand) walk right in the door? And when we see that God has apparently resurrected Michael and given him a new set of wings, just in time to save the day, are we to assume that Michael somehow changed God’s mind, or that this was what God had in mind all along?

Such questions matter not to director Scott Stewart. I don’t believe there was ever a hope on his part to do anything more than make a cool, scary action movie.

And action there is. Bethany gets a few fight scenes that would make Chuck Norris jealous. Near the end, there is a scene where Michael and Gabriel go one-on-one in the diner and tear the place apart. This scene, if you will pardon my technical jargon, is probably the most freakin’ awesome action sequence I have seen since Spiderman 3. It’s worth sitting through the rest of the movie for.

I can’t say I recommend this movie, but I definitely recommend searching YouTube for the angel smack-down scene. Can I get heck-yeah?

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Daybreakers

Imagine a world where vampires live in fear. And not of Dr. Van Helsing or Blade, but of poverty, crime and environmental destruction. Sound hard to believe? That’s the world of Daybreakers (2009), directed by the Spierig brothers.

In 2019, vampires outnumber humans more than ten to one. The vampires have become somewhat comfortable with their dominant status, and now drive expensive cars away from suburban homes to boring white collar jobs in the city. Certain noteworthy changes in culture have resulted from this. For instance, all buildings and vehicles are now equipped with lead sheets that cover the windows during daylight hours, and loudspeakers broadcast warnings when there is one hour until daybreak. Vampires in suits line up at coffee stands for coffee with a shot of blood in it.

Subway commuters. And you thought vampires were cool.

But of course, there’s a problem; one that you’ve probably already guessed. With so few humans left, vampires are in danger of starvation. Most of the humans still in existence are kept sedated, hooked up to giant machines ala The Matrix, being farmed for their blood. The government rations blood more and more strictly, with those in control keeping a little extra for themselves, naturally. An increasingly fearful – and hungry –middle class hurries past dark alleys and hides in their homes, and the lower classes, “subsiders,” deprived of blood, mutate into something out of … well, a vampire movie (below).

Amidst all this, we meet Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), chief hematologist for a corporation that controls most of America’s remaining blood supply. With riots breaking out over the blood shortage, the company is putting increasing pressure on Ed to create some kind of “blood-substitute.” Meanwhile, Ed wrestles with his conscience over being a vampire and refuses to touch human blood, to the detriment of his health. This creates a good deal of tension between Ed and his brother, Frankie (Michael Dorman), who hunts humans for the U.S. Army.

A small number of humans are still free, hiding in rural areas. After a chance meeting with some of them, Ed receives an invitation to the countryside to learn about a cure for vampirism that they have discovered, and a chance to restore balance to the food chain.

The cast drives this one home with a number of powerhouse actors. Sam Neil, whom we seem to see about as often as a real vampire, plays Charles Bromley, the CEO of Ed’s company. One of history’s most under-rated actors, Neil blends the smooth charm of a Manhattan sophisticate with the sinister nature of a bloodsucker in a fascinating way. The inimitable Willem Dafoe also appears as the grizzled former vampire who stumbled upon the miracle cure. A collection of Aussie stars (Daybreakers was filmed in Australia) rounds out the cast nicely.

Hawke and Dafoe do not suck in "Daybreakers."

Daybreakers could justifiably be called a horror movie, but not in the way one normally thinks of horror. It does get gory – even ridiculously so – at times, but it’s not about the gore. It’s about the horrors of a society that has gotten too comfortable, and is eating itself. As corrupt potentates drink blood wine and eat blood caviar, we wonder how much longer civilization can bear the strain. The pristine homes and manicured lawns of suburbia are nothing more than petty amusements the vampires use to distract themselves from their impending doom. Near the end, we bear witness to the kind of moral travesties that desperation is often used to justify. And it’s all horribly familiar; the story of our lives, retold through the bloodshot eyes of the undead.

I wouldn’t want to put anyone off this movie, because it is one of the best I have

Neil drinks blood, but still does not suck in "Daybreakers."

seen in a long time. For all of the negativity, it actually has a pretty uplifting ending (especially for a vampire movie), despite a few painfully sad moments along the way. There are also a number of genuinely fun scenes, including a hair-raising home invasion by a bat-like subsider. Even better, this scene is followed by an unintentionally hilarious crime-investigation scene, with every law enforcement cliché from the past 60 years standing around the decapitated body of this bizare creature from hell.

I figured I could get some work done during this movie, but my papers were left forgotten on the coffee table as I was glued to the screen. Daybreakers was only the second movie done by the Spierig brothers, but it’s as gripping and thought-provoking as anything out there. If you’ve got a strong stomach, it’s a must see.

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Iron Man 2

This is why great movies shouldn’t have sequels. Make no mistake, Iron Man was a great movie. It took a character from the depths of obscurity and made him a national symbol. Sure it was a comic book movie, but it had more heart and more flare than a lot of more serious films. The story of a man totally absorbed in himself and his own pleasure being changed and using his power to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves was truly inspiring, led by a truly gifted actor. The action, while limited in quantity, was excellent in quality.

How do you follow an act like that? Well, at the command of the almighty dollar, Marvel Studios had to try. To be fair, what they came up with is watchable, in fact clearly a better sequal than their colossal disappointments of Spiderman 2 and X2: X-Men United, but it has none of the power of Iron Man.

The scene in Iron Man where Stark rescues the villagers from the Ten Rings is a scene I’ll probably never forget. It took two thirds of the movie to get to Stark’s first heroics as Iron Man, but it was well worth it.

If you’re thinking that, now that we have the origin story out of the way, we’ll get some extra action and heroics, think again. Marvel has to cram in more subplots and implausible characters to eat up time. Well, that’s not so bad, you say, more plot development is good, right?

Not when the writers are used to writing for comic books. Comic books have room for stories that go in circles, whereas movies simply don’t. For example, in part 2, Stark finds out that he’s dying due to the effects of the reactor core he built in part 1. Precious time for action sequences disappears forever while he remodels his workshop to build a machine and creates some “new element” that was supposedly impossible to create through a process the movie never even tries to explain. This new element magically cures his ailment and everything goes back to normal, so it doesn’t even drive the story. If I were to read through a decade’s worth of monthly comic book issues, I would expect some filler crap like this, but for a movie, it’s just wrong.

Similarly, after Stark seemed to have gotten a new set of priorities in part 1, in part 2, we get more of him staggering drunkenly, driving sports cars, and trying to score. When someone turns over a new leaf, is it unreasonable to expect them to never relapse? Probably. But that’s not the point. Why are we paying to watch the same stuff over?

Unlike comic serials, which are expected to keep a story going perpetually, a movie can, and should, present a coherent story that stands on its own and doesn’t waste time with filler. Judging by the buzz among nerds over the past few years, and by the easter eggs in both Iron Man movies, Marvell plans on changing this. Iron Man 2 is actually set-up for movies about Thor and the Avengers (who include Iron Man). In other words, Marvell plans on making movies more like comic books, written not so much to entertain as to advertise the next movie and keep you coming back for more. This might score with the hardcore comic nerds, but I doubt the general public will tolerate it for long.

I should probably say that Iron Man 2 is not horrible, and is even kind of entertaining if you turn your brain off. I’m sure there will be a third one, and I’ll probably see it. After all, both Spiderman and X-Men made improvements with their third installments. Once Iron Man 2 is out on video, it won’t be a bad way for you to kill two hours.

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Judge Dredd

There’s an old computer term called WYSIWIG.  It comes from the days of dot-matrix printers and non-TrueType fonts that basically means what you see on the screen is what comes out on paper (this used to be a big problem, actually).  Judge Dredd is a perfect example of this concept applied to a movie.  To explain what I mean, just take a look at the trailer:

We’ve got guns, explosions, fights, chases, tree-trunk-sized action stars, and some sweet cathphrases too.  The film is pretty much everything you see in the trailer expanded to 90 minutes, but I ask you, is that a bad thing?  My answer is a resounding “no.”  We’re not talking Dark Knight or Terminator 2 here (despite a scene with Stallone riding his police chopper that looks like was ripped directly from T2), and there’s little in the way of subtext and certainly nothing even remotely resembling subtlety.  But this is precisely why I found the movie to be so entertaining.  It’s a straight-up action movie with a ripped-to-shreds Sylvester Stallone, lots of cool weapons, and a straightforward plot that never deviates from its purpose.  And to be honest, you just don’t see that too much anymore.  There’s even a cool enemy robot that’s (gasp!) an actual animatronic creature instead of a shiny, sterile CGI creation.  Is it cheesy?  Sure, but that’s part of the fun.  Don’t take this one too seriously–just grab a busket of popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

A thousand years from now, the earth is so overpopulated that the only practical way of doling out justice is through the use of Judges with the legal authority to arrest and sentence anyone on the spot.  Entrusted with high-tech crimefighting implements like multifunction handguns, impenetrable body armor, hover-cycles that break down the instant the rider hits the throttle, and a litany of cool quips like “Court’s adjourned” and “I’ll be the judge of that,” these judges run around town responding to threats with an expediency that would make our current legal system wet its collective legal pants.

Judge Dredd

Judge Dredd: He. Is. The. Law. Don't believe it? He'll tell you so.

Stallone, basically the Master Chief of Judges, is falsely convicted of a murder and sentenced to a plane ride next to Rob Schneider and must find a way to clear his good name before he ends up in a Deuce Bigalow movie.  Several explosions later he ends up back in Mega City on a mission to find his estranged brother who, wouldn’t you know it, is the evil genius behind it all.

Somehow Diane Lane and Max Von Sydow were tricked into joining the cast, along with ex soap opera heartthrob Armand Assante, which makes Judge Dredd a somewhat anomalous compilation of A-grade acting talent (Rob Schneider notwithstanding) in a B-level script.  Don’t come to the show expecting character development either–Dredd was genetically engineered to be the perfect crimefighting tool, so he possesses none of those inconvenient traits like empathy, love, or self-doubt that so often lead to such annoyances like interpersonal relationships or romantic conflicts.  But the movie never takes itself too seriously, and even Von Sydow seems to be winking at the camera during a few scenes.  Fortunately there’s an outstanding production value to the whole spectacle, so the death-deflying stunts, high-speed chases, and human/robot showdowns are all fantastically realized.

The cheese meter is maxed out here, but unlike Stallone’s other future-based blow ’em up movie, Judge Dredd is more entertaining than embarrassing.  Walking a fine line between Michael Bay excess and Uwe Boll stupidity, it’s an outstanding guilty pleasure that gives you exactly what you would expect without overstaying its welcome.  Watching Judge Dredd is kind of like going to McDonald’s and going all-out for the biggest Angus Burger on the menu.  It’s not fine cuisine, but it sure does get the job done.  And sometimes that’s all you want.

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Alien 3

Alien3The third entry in the Alien franchise has been the series’ whipping boy ever since its release in the early 1990s.  Whereas the fourth film, Alien Resurrection, is such an oddity it’s more of a redheaded stepchild than a true Alien movie, the third film walks a fine line between terror and action–the hallmarks of its two predecessors–and though it ultimately succeeds at neither one, it is a compelling film and certainly worth watching.  Much has already been written about how the movie more or less betrayed fans by eliminating Hicks, Newt, and for all intents and purposes, Bishop, the main characters from Aliens, and re-imagining the action heroine Ripley as a brooding emo girl.  Add to that the film’s notoriously problematic production (including a walkout by first-time director David Fincher near the end of the shoot) and one could easily dismiss this as a throwaway sequel far better suited for the $5 Wal-Mart DVD Bargin Bin than on the shelf of any true science fiction fan.  However, despite these shortcomings I have found Alien3 to be far better than most people give it credit for.  Is it a worthy sequel to Aliens?  Not exactly.  But it is a good film, and worth a second look for those who have not seen it in a while or dismissed it altogether.

Where Alien set a new benchmark for realism in science fiction films, as well as a reinvention of monster movies that continues to influence filmmakers today, and Aliens set the gold standard for action films that has yet to be topped (save perhaps by the the director himself with Terminator 2), Alien3 excels at nothing in particular and introduces nothing really new into the franchise.  But in place of groundbreaking filmmaking, David Fincher brought incredibly deep thematic elements into the mix for the first time ever.  Essentially starting with a clean slate on a dirty planet, Fincher uses the Alien mythology as a backdrop from which to examine heavy themes of life and death, spirituality and salvation, and a look into human nature that bears a striking similarity to Golding’s “Lord of the Flies.”

Alien3 Ripley

Sigourney Weaver reprises her genre-busting role as Ellen Ripley sans perm.

As the movie begins, Ripley’s escape pod from Aliens has crash-landed on Fiorina “Fury” 161, a prison planet run by the infamous Weyland-Yutani corporation from the first two movies.  The planet is all but forsaken, and only a handful of men are still around to “keep the pilot light on.”   These men, we are told, are all convicted murders, rapists, and generally nasty human beings who are kept in check by the ill-tempered warden Andrews (Brian Glover) and a spiritual guru-of-sorts named Dillon (Charles S. Dutton).  In essence we see humanity at its worst:  criminals devoid of any contact with the outside world, struggling to maintain a sense of order and decency lest they slip into anarchy.  They have all taken vows to maintain a sort of peace and order in the prison, and despite the lack of a true disciplinary force, they all realize the consequences should they get out of line.  Venerable actor Charles Dance is along for the ride as Clemens, a medical officer who has made some very costly mistakes years ago that continue to haunt him.  It’s a motley crew to be sure, and a rich tapestry from which to present a tale about morality and humanity.

During the opening moments we see an image of a cross silhouetted against the setting sun as debris and junk rolls across the landscape surrounding the prison–a harbinger of the thematic elements that will be explored in the film.  Dillon’s pastoral leadership of the prisoners, from his refusal to let them break the Third Commandment to his moving spiritual eulogy during the cremation of Ripley’s fallen comrades, is a stark contrast to the gun-toting reluctant leader Ripley was in the second film.  (In fact, the entire cremation/birth scene has some serious parallels to Coppola’s masterful baptism scene in The Godfather.) Dillon in essence shepherds the prisoners–a task warden Andrews, not one to upset the order or cause ripples in the water, is all to happy to have him do.  But how does one deal with a metaphysical God and satan when a very real monster is literally killing off inmates one by one?  The idea of rebirth, both spiritual and physical, is also very prominent in Alien3.  It is only through the death of a host that the alien can live, but the prisoners on Fury 161, all serving life sentences, are essentially dead anyway and it is only through death at the hands of the alien that they are set free from this mortal coil.  Ripley, with an alien queen implanted inside her, must decide whether the good of the one outweighs the good of the many, and is in fact the only human on the planet that the alien will not kill.  Elements of David Fincher’s classic directorial style are present in abundance:  a notoriously dark color palette, a cast of tragically flawed characters, and an ending that could hardly be classified as happy (not quite as bleak as the ending of Se7en, but close).  A typical action/horror film this is most certainly not.  And while Fincher lays it on pretty thick, at least there is a message and a subtext here, unlike many action blockbusters.

Alien3 Dillon

Dillon, the spiritual leader of the gang of prisoners.

But for all these high marks, there are serious flaws in Alien3 that are hard to overlook.  There are only a couple characters who are even close to relatable, and I must admit that in all my times of re-watching the movie I never felt a true emotional connection with anyone in it.  In any survival movie there must be someone whom we want to survive, but virtually everyone in Alien3 (including Ripley, unfortunately) is so unsympathetic that watching the film is akin to reading a report filled with bullet points about the tragedies that ensue when letting killer aliens run amok on a bleak prison planet.  It’s a tough bit of oil to swallow, to be sure, especially after the brilliant Ripley/Newt relationship from Aliens.  The prisoners are almost indistinguishable from one another, and possess nothing in the way of distinct personalities–a transgression that is compounded by the fact that they all look virtually identical thanks to their tattered brown clothes and shaved heads.  And as if to salt the wound, Fincher’s alien looks like a sock puppet compared to James Cameron’s ultra-realistic living, breathing xenomorphs in Aliens (with one notable exception).

For those who dismissed the film years ago, I urge you to give it another shot–you might find yourself pleasantly surprised.  For those who never saw it, by all means give it a rental.  While not exactly a worthy successor in the franchise, there is far more to this film than people often give it credit for.

Rating:

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Rating: 3.3/5 (3 votes cast)
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Demolition Man

Demolition ManSome bad movies are guilty pleasures, and some are just bad.  Demolition Man, unfortunately, lands with a resounding thud squarely in the latter category.  Despite so many elements that could have worked in its favor, the movie ultimately falls apart due in no small part to a woefully convoluted, meandering script combined with some incredibly bad acting. Now, I enjoy me some brainless action movies, but sometimes I come across one that is just too awful to recommend to anyone.  And even though I had high hopes for Demolition Man to be, at the very least, enjoyable or fun if only for its value as mindless entertainment, it turned out to be so terrible that only a good Deathstalkering could save it.  Oh Mike, Crow, Tom Servo…where art thou when I need thee?

The opening fifteen minutes of the movie are a paint-by-numbers of action movie cliches, but True Lies this is not.  Demolition Man actually seems to take itself seriously, even as Sylvester Stallone, playing John *cough* Spartan, rappels from a helicopter into a building where insane evil mastermind Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes) is holed up with a couple dozen hostages.  And like a checklist, the action movie cliches begin to pile up like the bodies of evil henchmen:  Spartan the loose cannon who doesn’t play by the rules, thinking Phoenix is bluffing about having hostages in the building, fights through hordes of expendable bad guys, meets and spars with Phoenix, accidentally starts the building on fire, and runs down a hallway while the whole place explodes around him.  Having taken Phoenix into custody, Spartan finds out that the hostages (why had Spartan kidnapped them?  What were his demands?  What was he trying to accomplish?  Such things matter not to director Marco Brambilla.) were in fact in the building and he now responsible for the death of over 30 innocent people.

John Spartan

John Spartan, the Demolition Man. Subtle this movie most certainly is not.

The only fitting punishment for Phoenix?  Freeze him!  That way he can be rehabilitated over the next 70 years by machines that say really nice things to frozen dudes for decades on end so they will mellow out and be able to re-enter society free from violent tendencies.  Conveniently, this is also the best way to deal with Spartan–the movie’s namesake–because, you know, his totally unorthodox methods of fighting crime get lots of stuff blowed up.  But gosh darn it, 30 years into Phoenix’s rehabilitation, something goes wrong and he is accidentally unfrozen!  He begins to wreak havock on Future Los Angeles, a place where violence has been virtually eliminated and the police, grown soft after not fighting crime for decades, have no idea how to deal with an Insane Criminal Mastermind.  The solution?  Thaw out John Spartan, of course!

The ridiculous plot only gets worse from there on out, as the movie wanders from being a paper-thin exploration of how people can become so dependent on technology that we risk losing what makes us human to an all-out ‘splosion fest in various Future Locales.  In Future World, physical touch is considered taboo so people experience pleasure by wearing virtual-reality helmets.  Cursing is outlawed and individuals are fined “one credit” for each instance (an insufferable joke that overstays its welcome almost immediately).  But this James Cameron-esque attempt to add a bit of depth only results in a handful of awkward scenes that do not advance the plot and only serve to create an uneven pacing throughout the film.  Even the barest attempt at developing a relationship between Spartan and Lt. Lenina Huxley is forced and entirely unbelievable.

Simon Phoenix

Somebody forgot to tell Wesley Snipes that yellow hair and blue overalls are the opposite of intimidating.

And so what we have left is a film that is one poorly-staged shootout after another between the well-nigh invincible John Spartan and his nemesis Simon Phoenix, the stark-raving-mad evil genius computer hacker (not kidding) with Kung Fu skillz.  And even this silly premise might not be such a bad movie were it properly directed, but every fight or shootout is so poorly blocked and mindlessly executed that it looks as though you’re watching a ninth-grade home video project.  After a shootout in a museum, Spartan is chasing Phoenix across a clearing when his quarry jumps down an embankment…and Spartan just stops running.  It’s as though writer Peter Lenkov didn’t know how to end the scene, so he just, well, ended it. Even worse, the climax has Stallone swaying slowly back and forth on a giant mechanical arm in the freezing chamber while Snipes laughs like an Evil Maniac and unloads clip after clip while hitting everything in the room but Stallone.  It’s madness, I tell you.  Madness.

In short?  You know a movie is terrible when the best thing about it is a Rob Schneider cameo.  And Demolition Man is that movie.

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Rating: 3.3/5 (3 votes cast)
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