Friday, May 24, 2013

Parker's Last Stand

More thoughts as I play movie catch-up --

PARKER: Jason Statham IS "Parker", Donald Westlake's thief with a heart o'gold (ish).  When Parker's criminal crew turns on him post-State Fair heist and leave him for dead, it's more or less obvious where this story is headed: bloody revenge!  Bloody, I tell you!  Unfortunately for the real bad guys (led by Michael Chiklis), Parker shrugs off multiple bullet wounds like paper-cuts and, well, mayhem ensues.  I like Statham in just about everything he's done, but I can't say I always like the movies (I'm looking at you, "Blitz"!).  This one falls somewhere in the mid-range... nicely done, but a story involving Jennifer Lopez as a down-on-her-luck real estate agent insinuating herself into Parker's life really slows things down.  Also, I'm as game as anyone for stories about thieves, but the moral world presented here is pretty damn murky.  "Civilian" characters aid and embrace Parker without a second thought.  This guy may give carnival dolls to cute little kids, but he's also a multiple murderer, and sheltering him from the police is not only stupid, it's a felony.  And the ending, which I believe was meant to be heart-warming, is frankly pretty bizarre... unless your only idea of happiness is a big stack of cash, regardless of how many people died to get it.  Oh well.  I still kind of enjoyed it!

THE LAST STAND: This was Arnold Schwarznegger's first starring role post-Governor-ship, and it was sort of a curious choice.  He's actually fine in it, playing a older small town Sheriff forced to confront a bunch of heroin cartel murderers, but the rest of the movie just asks for a few too many "gimmes."  I'll buy that a billionaire Mexican cartel guy can hire enough goons to break him out of custody in Las Vegas.  I'll buy that said goons can arrange an impossibly complex escape plan.  What I can not buy is that after doing all this, the cartel guy's next move is to drive a really fast car from Vegas to the Arizona border and then into Mexico.  And I really can't buy that the entire Federal Government, who are following said speedy car most of the way by helicopter, can't stop him.  No, that job falls to Arnold and his small town misfits, who use the local gun-collector's artillery to wage World War III on the cartel forces.  The tone of this movie is quite bizarre, going from deadly serious to goofier than hell in the blink of an eye.  Johnny Knoxville plays the eccentric gun collector in a performance that makes Jerry Lewis look subdued.  But in the end I come back to the fact that Schwarznegger is fun to watch...

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Fury Of The Evil Dead Texas Chainsaw...

Been catching up on my uber-gory movies recently -- pretty much spoiler free for those who care!

TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D: The original Chainsaw was one of those eye-opening horror movie events for yours truly.  I can't remember where I put my cell phone last night, but I can still remember sitting in the nearly empty Village theater in Beaverton Oregon on the Friday the original Chainsaw opened back in 1970-something.  It was quite an experience.  During the famous scene where Leatherface plops a pretty young thing on a meat hook, an older woman in the almost nonexistent crowd stood up, shouted "I thought this was going to be a detective movie!" and stormed out.  Me, I stuck it out to the bitter end, and to this day I can't think of another movie that's beat the original Chainsaw's trifecta of extreme mood, freaky characters and unsettling bravura horror scenes.  Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel and crew spun some seriously messed up movie magic with their crazy little movie...

I've also managed to catch most of the sequels/prequels/remakes. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, also directed by Hooper, was pretty widely dismissed when it first came out, but it's a minor masterpiece.  Completely different from the first movie, pretty much a black comedy, but any movies that pits Dennis Hopper (!) against Leatherface in a chainsaw battle is a winner.  After that, things get a bit soggier. There was a Chainsaw 3 with future Lord of the Rings star Viggo Mortensen as a freaky family member.  An off-shoot-ish remake featuring a pre-stardom Matthew McConaughy and Renee Zellweger.  Then the two Platinum Dune efforts, which were closer to the tone of the original but were still beating the original formula -- kids arrive at spooky house, cross creepy family, mayhem ensues -- to death.

So I was pleasantly surprised that the latest Chainsaw effort tried something new. Essentially beginning twenty minutes after the end of the original 1972 movie, TC3D (which I saw flat on blu-ray) is about rejiggering the franchise in a different direction.  Yes, a pretty girl brings her pals to a creepy house and mayhem ensues, but then there's a turn about halfway through the movie that I found fun. I will say that some of what follows asks the viewer and requires a couple characters to more or less forget that our friend Leatherface is a brutal mass murderer, but okay.  Bottom line, Chainsaw movies certainly aren't for everyone, but if you are predisposed toward this sort of entertainment, then this is a pretty good one.

EVIL DEAD (2013): I can also remember where I was to see the first Evil Dead -- the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, a packed midnight Festival show before the official release.  I believe I was sitting behind Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo and I'm sure there were other like-minded celebs in house, because E.D. had amassed quite a rep among horror fans.  Suffice to say the crowd went nuts. Who would have guessed that many years later I would adapt and expand the original Evil Dead movie in graphic novel form (from Dark Horse, buy it!) and actually get to work with creators Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert and Bruce Campbell on multiple projects.

The new Evil Dead is essentially a remake, but glossier and WAAAAY bloodier. Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Director Fede Alvarez clearly loves the original but isn't slavish to the story, offering some intriguing change ups.  I caught this at the end of its theatrical run -- I was the only guy in the entire theater at my local multiplex -- so I can't offer any reports on audience feedback.  Look, I will always prefer the Evil Dead world where Bruce Campbell's Ash is taking it on the chin, but as an adjunct, this one rocks right along.  However, nothing in the new movie beats the excruciating moment in the original when a demon jams a pencil into a character's ankle.  That STILL gets a wince...

THE FURY (1978):  Recently issued on limited edition blu-ray, this Brian Palma movie is rarely mentioned when discussing Mr. D's filmic contributions. I remembered kind of liking it back in the day, but seeing it again elicited one of those "what wuz I thinkin'?" moments.  John Cassavettes at his creepiest plays a CIA type guy who is collecting kids with telekinetic abilities.  Kirk Douglas is another spy, and father of a gifted son (VERY creepy Andrew Stevens).  For some reason, the Cassavettes character stages a bloody massacre involving multiple terrorists to separate Douglas from his son -- there must have been an easier way! -- but Kirk survives and spends the movie trying to track his wayward son down.  Meanwhile, pretty Amy Irving is also a telekinetic who is roped into Cassavettes' organization and discovers she can make mean girls bleed when they piss her off.  

The tone of this movie is bizarre.  Douglas (who must have been pushing 60 and does multiple scenes shirtless) is trying to track down the guy who kidnapped his son and arranged a massacre.  But he's downright jovial while doing it.  He breaks into an apartment during a chase to lay low, ties up a bickering couple and makes friends with the dingy mother-in-law (!) in a scene of low comedy.  Douglas spends what feels like hours coloring his hair white, putting a pillow under his shirt and otherwise altering his appearance -- only to be identified by the bad guys as soon as he walks out the apartment door.  He then kidnaps a couple of off-duty cops at gun point, including a VERY young Dennis Franz, who is terrified that the ensuing car chase will put a dent in his brand new Caddy.  This scene goes on for-evah and, hold on to your sides, the car doesn't make it.

The Fury is most famous for its bloody climax, where the uneasy combination of spy movie and science fiction thriller finally collide and heads (well, bodies) literally explode.  Those scenes are kind of fun.  But the fate of the Douglas character is one of the more anti-climatic moments in film history.  I have a great affection for nutty 70's movies, but this one is just kind of not-great...

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Me And The Great American Pitch Fest

I've never done one of these events before, but I guess there's a first time for everything.  Barring some unforeseen disaster, I'll be visiting the Great American Pitch-Fest in Burbank on June 1.  I am part of the "free" side of the show, so anyone who wants to come by is welcome and it won't cost you a dime.  I will be available to discuss my work on Hemlock Grove, Falling Skies, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes... you name it, and if I can remember the details, I'll try to offer what may pass for advice.