Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Inception: Planting a Clue in Sandy Kenyon's Dreamscape

Dreamscape (film)Image via Wikipedia
Joey's Back!

That's right, faithful listeners! Last week, Joey was found huddled on his own doorstep in the morning, covered in sap, pine needles and blue face paint, vainly attempting to nurse the sports section of the Sunday Star Ledger in a feverish delirium. He has since been reunited with his family, and while it will be quite awhile before he is able to speak of his ordeal at the hands of psychotic Avatar fans (the recovery and deprogramming sessions are a slow and gradual process), he has recovered enough to come back and be a part of MovieSucktastic Episode #18!

With Joey in rare form and Scott in attendance, Episode #18 delves into the land of Nod, following the escapades of Dennis Quaid and Leonardo DiCaprio as they explore the deep recesses of the human psyche through dream exploration a quarter of a century apart in Dreamscape and Inception, respectively. While much is said and other topics occasionally intrude (Honestly, you can't shut these two up!), the quality of both films is discussed and dissected, along with their similarities and differences, and some theorizing as to who ripped off who (most of the votes go to Wes Craven, oddly enough). 

Differences of opinion also arise when Joey takes a turn in the Rant Chamber and goes on a mini-tirade against ABC Eyewitness News Film Critic Sandy Kenyon, who is apparently (and admittedly) one of the few people in the country stupid enough to be confused by Christopher Nolan's masterful and extremely straightforward screenplay. Also listed among his sins on the show is his purposeful misrepresentation of Inception's concept of the inner mind's dream landscape in an effort to back his "Too Complicated" complaints regarding the film.

The finger list also makes a long-awaited return, and Scott formally and publicly apologizes to the ticket girl at Becky's Drive-In for an unintentionally unflattering and inaccurate physical description of her in his review of Twilight: Eclipse.

Joey and Scott's heartwarming reunion can be listened to or downloaded from iTunesPodcast AlleyPodcast.com orMovieSucktastic.com. Sandy Kenyon can be mocked and ridiculed both directly or indirectly at ABC Eyewitness News.
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Friday, July 16, 2010

Before INCEPTION, there was... DREAMSCAPE (1984)

Cover of "Dreamscape"Cover of Dreamscape
Years before Christopher Nolan had Leonardo DiCaprio teaching Ellen Page how to steal secrets from people’s dreams, Dennis Quaid was saving the President from Snake Men and seducing Kate Capshaw in the 1984 science fiction adventure film Dreamscape. Achieving cult status for a generation of children captivated by the horrific visions now slightly further out of reach with the newly enacted PG-13 rating, Dreamscape is remembered by most children of the eighties as “That film with the giant Snake Head creature.”

Of course, there was far more going on than that. Well, sort of. Dennis Quaid is a rebellious bad-boy psychic forcefully recruited by Max Von Sydow and his sexpot assistant to become a psychic interloper in the dream world. Normally aloof Quaid is quickly converted into selfless dream protector by a kid in a wheelchair with bad dreams, but things get complicated when President (of the United States of America) Eddie Albert comes to the facility because of the horrific nightmares of nuclear destruction that have been keeping him up nights. It turns out that Sydow’s old buddy Christopher Plummer is a really powerful shadow-government official that wants to stop the resident from deactivating America’s nuclear stockpile by having Patricidal Sociopathic Psychic David Patrick Kelly kill him in his dream. Can Quaid and Capshaw save the President and the day?

As far as performances go, the film is all strictly middle of the road. No bad actors per say, but with the possible exception of David Patrick Kelly (is this guy ever NOT creepy?), no one really delivers a breakout performance. Christopher Plummer and Max Von Sydow are both powerful actors, and they manage to exude a lot of tension whenever they are on screen, despite the scripts overall lack of it. Eddie Albert is also solid as the president, but he never really seems up to the physically demanding end-film romp through the post-apocalyptic nightmare landscapes. Keep an eye out for brief appearances by George “Norm” Wendt and the ever-present Peter Jason.

Watching the film over a quarter of a century later, the special effects do not really hold up. The 1980s were full of high-concept science fiction films that did not have the budget or technology to achieve their vision, and Dreamscape easily earns its place on the heap. The end result of this combination was always hit-or-miss; either the film would overcome its restraints and truly shine, or it would eventually overextend its reach and try to pass off poorly executed effects as a finished project. Dreamscape tends to fall more into the latter category. If you were a child in the eighties, you were got used to the bizarre mix of excitement and disappointment that came being subjected to countless Little Films That Almost Could, But Didn’t.

With a film like this, the special effects are everything, and this is where things fall apart. While the Snake Man scene set design is inspired and memorable (probably the only thing that most people who saw this as a child actually remember), the Snake Man’s poor claymation and practically immobile prosthetic head are disappointing and unimpressive, especially when the film revisits them in the climactic end scenes. Beyond the Snake Dream and Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland sequences, the rest of the dream scenes are very flat and uninspiring, settling on soft lighting, wide frames, Vaseline-smeared lenses, and God help us, slow motion. Besides the Caligari-inspired Snake Man scene, the President’s nuclear wasteland sequence is probably the most inventive, from the red-eyed demon dogs and radiation-scarred commuters to David Patrick Kelly’s neon ninja dream warrior action. Even then, the flaws ultimately outweigh these brief glimpses of originality.

There is a lot of potential in the film’s overall concept of psychics invading the dreams of others; the power that comes with being an aware participant in a dream realm, psychic warriors created by the government for covert mental wet works, and even the question of how much control you could actually have over another person’s subconscious. Unfortunately, the film manages to ignore all of these springboard concepts in order to save plenty of screen time for the completely unfulfilling romance between Quaid and Capshaw (Quaid and the Snake Man have more chemistry than these two). The most disappointing part of this is the wasted potential of the psychic forced to turn on the government hell-bent on turning him into a weapon. Films like The Fury and Firestarter (which came out a mere three months earlier) had much more powerful psychics and much more nefarious bad guys. The most Dennis Quaid manages outside of the dream realm is a dirt-bike chase scene, while Plummer’s great performance still comes off more officious than menacing. Actually, Quaid’s character is ultimately the biggest letdown; for someone touted in the beginning of the film as a very powerful psychic, all he manages to do is read Kate Capshaw’s mind once and guess the colors of some flash cards. Even John Edwards would be more useful in an espionage-filled film like this. Speaking of Dream Warriors, considering that Dreamscape came out only three months before everyone’s favorite dream world killer made his debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street, it raises the question of which project started first. David Loughery claims to have written the screenplay back in 1981, which makes me wonder exactly how full of shit might Wes Craven be about his original inspiration for Freddy Krueger.

In the end, Dreamscape is little more than a typical product of the eighties. From the limiting budget to the electronic musical score (It’s so futuristic!), Dreamscape does little more than show those who weren’t there exactly what we were up to, and remind those of us who were there that we loved this stuff back then, flaws and all.
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Friday, July 9, 2010

Bad Movie Review: Killers

The concept of a husband, wife or loved one leading a secret life as an undercover agent is nothing new. Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Grosse Point Blanke, True Lies, The Osterman Weekend, Undercover Blues, The In-Laws and many more have handled this particular subject matter. This isn't to say that this can't be done, but you always want to bring something new to the table. Unfortunately, Killers doesn't manage to do this. The real tragedy, however, is that it so easily could have.

The premise is easy enough to explain; Ashton Kutcher marries Katherine Heigl without revealing his past as a government-contracted assassin. She finds out the hard way, however, as their idyllic life is destroyed when people they considered close friends start trying to kill them. Hilarity ensues. For some reason the film feels the need to waste the entire first act setting up the simple premise of Kutcher and Heigl meeting and falling in love, instead of saving all of that for minor back story later in the film. You could miss the entire first act and still have no problem following the movie, and that is never a good thing. This waste of an opening act is made even more unbearable by Heigl's unappealing comedic overacting, and Kutcher's attempts at a suave bond-type voice that just manage to make him sound dubbed.

Heigl and Kutcher aren't unappealing actors, yet they never really manage to be endearing or enjoyable enough to carry you through the film. Other actors in smaller roles easily still the show whenever they share the screen with the lead actors, including Tom Selleck, Catherine O'Hara, and the Daily Show's Rob Riggle, who seems to get what a dark comedy should look like. If the filmmakers had followed Riggle's lead, they might have ended up with a truly fun dark comedy, instead of the light Forgetting Sarah Marshall with Guns that they decided to make.

Surprisingly, the one thing that Killers has going for it is its action sequences. The fight choreography is not only tight and captivating, but there is a really cool car chase through a suburban landscape that is actually impressive. Little flashes like this really underline the almost schizophrenic nature of the film. The action sequences show a desire to make a hard-hitting dark comedy about government assassins and deadly neighbors, yet the tame PG-13 violence and goofy RomCom antics reveal a desire to be the kind of breezy date film that Kutcher has already done repeatedly in the past.

This is where Killers ultimately fails, in its inability to seize the potential that the setting of the film affords. If the filmmakers had simply scrapped the useless introductory sequence of the first act, and had instead concentrated on building the world that would soon fall apart around the ears of the main characters, the film as a whole would have had much more to offer. Instead of just being an almost goofy comedy, it could have become a dark comedy with subtle commentary on the true nature and lack of intimacy of neighbor relationships in suburban settings, the duplicity of married life, the frailty of friendship, and the tenuous bond between in-laws. Instead, the film let's its own potential rot away on the vine while it goes for cheap RomCom humor and over-the-top mugging at the camera.

Still, Tom Selleck's mustache rules.
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Monday, July 5, 2010

Bad Movie Review - The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

sixImage by 13 Days. via Flickr
"Team Edward or Team Jacob?"

The smiling goth in the ticket booth at the drive-in means no harm. Her words are not spoken out of spite or malice, and there is no malicious intent behind her question. She is simply trying to share in the excitement of the theatrical release of the third film in the Twilight series, based on the novels by Stephanie Meyer. As far as she knows, the only reason someone would be paying to see Eclipse opening weekend is that they share in the joyful anticipation of yet another chapter of Bella and Edward's ongoing saga. She doesn't know the pain that her words inflict upon me, the shame and humility that comes with subjecting a grown man to this question. I should not be in a position that might force me to choose between Team Jacob or Team Edward. No man in his thirties should have to make such a choice.

But the girl means well, so I am not impolite. I smile and tell her that I am here simply to see the film so that I can review it for my film-review site and podcast dedicated to bad movies, and that I probably won't like it. Therefore, I really can't choose a side in the film's romantic triangle, as I am ultimately indifferent. Not quite grasping my reasoning, the young goth cheerily hands me my ticket stub and waves me through. Her farewell comment slaps me in the back of the head like a dull, rusty hatchet.

"Enjoy the show!"

At this point, you will probably guess that I approached my viewing of Eclipse with a fairly heavy bias. In my defense, it is hard to view a film sequel without any preconceived notions, unless the sequel in question is a vast departure from the previous films. There is very little about Eclipse that is a departure from the first two films in the series, other than a new director and a few fresh faces. I know. I've watched the previous films, so I am entitled to my so-called bias. I have earned it, one painful minute at a time.

First comment: The film opens with a Robert Frost poem. If there is anything more annoying than a romantic teen drama that opens with the lovestruck female lead reading a poem, it would be a romantic teen drama that opens with the lovestruck female lead reading a Robert Frost poem. If that isn't bad enough, the poem she reads is Fire and Ice. I don't care how much Bela's choice between the undead Edward and fiery-tempered Jacob is, nor do I care that the intended audience is middle-school students. This is still a exceedingly lame choice.

The third film of the Twilight series finds the main characters in pretty much the exact position that they were in  during the last one; Bela and Edward are still madly in love, Jacob is still a contender for Bela's love, and the redheaded vampire from the first film is still trying to kill Bela, Edward and his family of sweater-clad good-guy vampires. That about wraps everything up.

There is indeed a plot flowing through this familiar territory, but it is a rather thin stream of storyline, and the water isn't all that fresh. It seems that a local boy who ran away a year ago (in case you forget this, the film will kindly remind you every fifteen minutes or so until it becomes even more irrelevant) is now wandering the streets of Seattle raising an army of freshly turned vampires creatively dubbed Newborns for some nefarious purpose that just might involve Bela's angst-ridden heartthrobs and a few previously established not-so-nice sweater-less vampires.

Second Comment: Do we need to show the Space Needle in every Seattle shot? I can understand the establishing shots, but even well after the location of the young army-raising Forks-raised vampire has been repeated numerous times throughout the film, we are still subjected to the Space Needle looming ominously in the background. Apparently, when you live in Seattle, there is no escaping the omnipresent Space Needle.

Don't get all worked up at the thought of a vampire army. The word "army" is thrown around quite a bit, but the actual horde that ends up taking on the Cullen clan only number around twenty or so. The film actually takes the time to explain that a "Newborn" army is actually much more powerful than a human or older vampire army, so the audience shouldn't feel disappointed when the much-hyped battle against the Newborn army only finds the good-guy vampires and their werewolf back-up team outnumbered by a staggering two-to-one. Don't let the concept of an "uneasy truce" between the werewolves and vampires fool you either; for such a centuries-old animosity between two races of deadly creatures, they eventually band together with less trash-talking and glaring than is typical between rival lacrosse teams during a preliminary warm-up match.

Third Comment: Foreshadowing is a "literary technique used by many different authors to provide clues for the reader to be able to predict what might occur later on in the story." (Wikipedia. Sue me.) Showing narrated flashbacks and lengthy moments of awkward exposition that blatantly inform the audience what is going to happen an hour from now is not foreshadowing. It is annoying.  

This is the first film in the series to be directed by David Slade, who also directed 30 Days of Night. He also declared that he would never direct a Twilight sequel when confronted with the concept during an interview. Later, shortly after accepting a huge wad of cash to direct a sequel in the Twilight series, he claimed that he was only joking when he had said that. Another funny joke was played on anyone who thought that Slade would bring some of the action in the ultra-violent 30 Days of Night to Eclipse. The two scenes that might by jokingly referred to as action sequences are both shorter than Edward and Jacobs exceedingly boring and pointless heart-to-heart on the mountain peak the night before the big finale. The first was a brief high-speed chase through the woods that resembled the speeder-bike chase in Return of the Jedi more than anything else. Remember the aforementioned two-to-one battle with the football team-sized "Newborn Army?" There's the other. You might want to count the "training sequence" as an action scene. I don't.

Final Comment: When a girl pressures her boyfriend to have sex, and he responds by warning that it could be dangerous, implicating not that she could get pregnant, but that he might lose control and kill her in the middle of it, it is really hard to have any respect for the girl that says "That's okay, let's try anyway." If this sounds to you like the lead-in to either an extremely hot sex scene or an extremely bloody murder scene, you will be sorely disappointed twice over. Instead, you will find yourself subjected to a minute or two of very intense hugging and clothing-smoothing that continues until the shirts of both involved become partially unbuttoned, at which point they promptly decide that they have gone too far. And thus is played the greatest joke of all upon the poor men and boys dragged to see this film with their respective partners, and whose moment of hopefulness is quickly and brutally squashed beneath the heel of Stephanie Meyer's cinematic stilettos.  

Complaining about all of this is a moot point, however, as no one that wants to see Eclipse cares about any of this. All they care about is which potentially abusive boyfriend Bella (a name choice that is a slap in the face of any Bela Lugosi fan) chooses; the undead vampire that repeatedly tells her how much he would like to drink her blood as she dies, or the wild half-animal who has openly warned her of his potential for injuring her if he ever loses control around her. The fact that her indecision and dedication regarding this choice hardly changes from the last film shouldn't sour the fan base, either. It is so deliciously angst-ridden and illogically romantic that you could just die.

I don't want to be mean. I don't want to hate this movie. I don't want to tell the cheerful teenage Goth in the ticket booth on my way out of the theater that the movie she will probably see numerous times with her friends for free was the steaming pile of refuse that I thought it would be, and so much more beyond. But I'd be lying if I said anything otherwise. This is not a film. This is the third act in a four-part abstinence campaign disguised as a supernatural love-story that seems perfectly fine with teaching young girls to avoid sex, but readily risk their immortal soul or hideous disfigurement at the first dreamboat they bump into before graduation.

Eclipse sucked. So there, I said. It might be an unpopular opinion, but it is an opinion I have nonetheless earned. Just ask the young teenage Goth girl in the ticket booth that I made cry.

For the full verbal onslaught of this review, check out episode #17 of MovieSucktastic on iTunesPodcast AlleyPodcast.com orMovieSucktastic.com.
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MovieSucktastic #17 - Killers and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

The Twilight Saga: EclipseImage by Nayara - Oliveira via Flickr

This weekend's episode of the MovieSucktastic podcast is up and available for your Fourth of July listening pleasure. After all, why would you blast Creedence Clearwater Revival or Nickelback by the poolside when you could subject your pool party guests to the fevered rantings of a man forced to watch both Killers and The Twilight Saga: Eclipse in one sitting?

Yes, episode #17 of MovieSucktastic features reviews by yours truly after a harrowing night spent huddled in the front seat of my car at Becky's Drive-In while the feature films Killers and Twilight: Eclipse unfolded before me like two great oceans of pain and indifference. After last episode's positive review of The A-Team, it was nice to hunker down in familiar territory and spew the usual spiteful yet informative venom about some movies that violently sucked several hours of my life into the Godless abyss in which all bad movies store the life energies of their victims.Needless to say, I wasn't as enthralled by Ashton Kutcher or Taylor Lautner as the gaggle of twittering teenage girls packed into the SUVs surrounding my car.

This little foray into my total despair at being asked by the ticket booth girl whether I belonged to Team Jacob or Team Edward can be listened to or downloaded from iTunesPodcast AlleyPodcast.com orMovieSucktastic.com.

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