Sunday, May 17, 2015

Godsend (2004)

Do you think movies have too many entertaining parts? Perhaps too many things about them that stand out, make sense and make you want to watch more? Well, if you do, have no fear – Godsend is the movie for you.

Director: Nick Hamm
Starring: Robert de Niro, Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn

Co-written with Michelle.

This was actually released a year before the other shitty Robert de Niro thriller, Hide and Seek – but when I saw these movies as a kid, this was the order I saw them in, so that's how I'm reviewing 'em. It's a woefully uneventful film with all the charisma and liveliness of a hay bale after a barn fire.

We start off with what everyone always wants to see at the beginning of a film, a birthday party scene. When has watching a birthday party of people you don't know ever been entertaining? Like yeah, really, I'm stoked to watch people pretending to have a birthday party for some kid in a movie. That sounds like awesome cinema!

Godsend: it makes you not want eight year olds to have good birthday parties.

You'll notice very quickly in this that the movie's only mode of getting you invested in the characters is to show the most fluffed up, happy-crappy nonsense ever. There's no real meat – just pictures of the characters smiling and laughing. Because that's the barometer for how life works...either you're happy without a care in the world, or your son is dead. Those are literally the only two options.

Because, yup, in the next scene, Adam dies. His mom, played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, takes him out to buy a new pair of sneakers. While he's outside playing, a bicycle implausible swerves for no reason in the path of a car, which then swerves to avoid the bike, and ends up hitting Adam, killing him instantly.

You'd have to be a really terrible driver to actually do this. I mean, like, blind-deaf-mute kind of driving.

The next few scenes are just the parents, Paul and Jessie, grieving because, I presume, those shoes were really expensive, dammit!

"Damn you, Nike products! My wallet is crying even more than I am!"

Luckily for them, at the funeral, they run into an old professor of Jessie's, played by Robert de Niro. He really came prepared, as he's already got a whole spiel planned about how his new science lab can clone their dead child and bring him back to life.

"You can trust me because I am wearing a suit and tie."

Paul and Jessie spend an astonishingly short amount of time discussing this – I guess Paul is a bit on the fence at first, but once he watches some more blandly cheerful home movies of the family smiling and laughing, he's on board for this abomination against nature.

And I get it – losing a kid is a devastating thing. But the movie just doesn't portray it as any kind of big deal – there's really no depth or understanding of the grief. They're just sad because they can't make more happy-pill-addled home videos of people laughing and smiling. We don't know anything about this family or about the kid, and the movie just rushes through all their grief in favor of bullshit thriller junk. Like so many films in the mid-2000s, it exploits human tragedy in favor of shocking plot twists and cash-grab thrills with zero substance, which basically makes it an instant zero-star film for me.

Clearly the movie was trying to convey sadness - that's obvious. But it's just not well done. We don't get any real insight into these characters and their motives just by showing us extremely generic videos of them laughing together.

Okay, so there's some half-assed dialogue thrown in about how she can't have any more kids, or some shit like that – so grieve naturally, and adopt a kid then. Fucking hundreds of people do that every day. I get that, given the chance, it might be tempting to try and bring your kid back – but come the fuck on. There were no red flags given by the creepy, mysterious old man who showed up at the funeral and told you he could clone your dead son? This merited no skepticism?

The most trustworthy face in the universe, ohhh yeah.

But hey – I'm sure it'll be fine. When has something this shady, dangerous and insane ever turned out bad in a movie? While you're at it, go give your credit card information to that guy in the ratty coat who's been standing on a street corner all day and says he has good financial advice for you. I'm sure he'll help.

They go through an overly long and boring scene of getting the wife artificially inseminated again, and after the baby is born, she thanks God for it. Yeah, fuck all those doctors (and the probably-illegal scientific developments) that made this possible. Thank God instead.

But really, I was just hoping the baby would come out like this:

What a beautiful hellspawn abandoned by nature...

But whatever, they do it and then eight years go by and their new genetic abomination of a child is at the same age their old son was when he died. They also had to move to some remote location in a beautiful country home, because all of these stupid movies always have to have super nice, clean looking homes that look like nobody has ever lived there. I mean, why bother making any aspect of your movie relatable?

And how did this kid get so many friends again? I think we need some plausible scriptwriting here – just remove most of the other kids and have him eating cake alone.

No, we don't need any more birthday scenes, you hacks!

The rest of this film sinks into levels of banality I never knew were possible. We get tons of lame-ass jump scares where the movie goes quiet for a second and then some loud sound happens. There are also a bunch of idiotic dream sequences where Adam dreams a bunch of kids in school are making fun of him, and also another one where he's attacking someone with a hammer. Eh, it happens – this is pretty much all a metaphor for puberty.

There's also a few times when he acts weirdly, like when he gets in a swinging contest with a bunch of bullies at his school – because you know, bullies have contests to see who can swing the highest in between atomic wedgies and swirlies in the bathroom. It's just part of the bullying vocabulary. But yeah, after he falls off the swing, he spits in his teacher's face.

Oh, and there's also the tiny little detail that he kills that bully later on by shoving him into a frozen lake. I'm not even being sarcastic – it really is just played off like a tiny little detail, given no weight or drama behind it. He killed a kid? So what! He's having dreams about hammers! THAT'S the important thing!

This is a metaphor for the fact that you should turn this movie off and go outside instead of watching any more.

Eventually, Paul and Jessie, being geniuses, figure out that not everything is quite right. Really, guys? Genetically cloning your dead child in a secret hush-hush experiment where the scientist who told you about it swore you to secrecy ISN'T a trustworthy thing? Gee, only took you almost ten fucking years to figure that out. Nothing gets past you guys. You're real Sherlock Holmeses, the both of you.

Well, I say both of them, but really Jessie is trying to cling to the hope that things will be okay, so it's really just Paul who's actively suspicious. The two of them have a seemingly endless slew of conversations in the last two acts of the movie that all kinda go like this:

PAUL: There's obviously something wrong with this kid because we cloned him and now he's having weird dreams and acting strange!

JESSIE: No, he's our son and we have to protect him!

PAUL: You're crazy!

It's like two people with Alzheimer's forgetting they already had the same argument before.

That's it – just that mind numbing conversation, repeated enough until you want to claw your eardrums out with a spork. Jesus fuck this is a boring movie. They take an hour and forty minutes for the movie, and most of it could be dialed down to one two-minute scene. I don't know if you're keeping score, but yeah, that's called trash filmmaking from the dumpster.

So, I guess if you even care, they figure out that Adam has some other kid haunting his mind, Zachary Clark. Paul then goes out and finds this old housekeeper lady who knew the real Zachary Clark from years ago. I love how this lady was apparently just ready to drop everything she was doing to talk to this idiot about a story that has obviously traumatized her. Like, she was just waiting all these years for some dumbass to come to her door and ask about it. It's basically like she doesn't exist except when exposition is needed.

"I only exist for this one scene, in a vacuum, to spew exposition. After the scene is over, my non-existent character disappears into thin air, never to be seen again."

The story is, I suppose, that Zachary Clark was bullied by kids at school, so one day he killed his mom with a hammer and then burnt down the house, or something like that. I guess in some reality that might make sense, but it isn't mine. We also find out – dun dun DUN – that de Niro was the father of Zachary Clark and has been trying to clone him.

I get that it's trying to be a plot twist, but it's a pretty poorly done one, with how much plot they tried to cram into that very short few minutes, like a dozen Twinkies into the mouth of a fat Dachsund. I get the idea the writers just fell asleep writing the rest of the movie and then the producer just came in, scribbled some nonsense on a napkin, stapled it to the rest of the script, and then turned that in to be filmed.

If you can believe it, de Niro and Paul get into a fight in a church in which a fire is started. De Niro leaves and we never fucking see him again – oh, except for this newspaper clipping in which front-page news was devoted to saying “No new information found on disappeared scientist.” Fucking brilliant, that is.

Paul then goes and saves his wife from being killed by Adam/Zachary, and talks Adam down just by saying a few nice words. Wow. That's pretty much the lamest and most anticlimactic ending this movie could have had – what if other horror movies had that as the climax? Michael Myers in Halloween talked down by Dr. Loomis saying “it's okay, you're a nice person.” That would have improved it tenfold.

"Please, just stop acting crazy. I want to get a paycheck without having to emote in this crap movie." 

The actual ending is when they're moving into yet a third home to try and start over again – but it turns out, as we see in a rather blunt shot of Adam being pulled into the closet by “Zachary.” Awesome – it's like the Psychology for Dummies version of Session 9. Thanks so much for that.

This film is just the kind of thing you'd pick out of the bargain bin box at Walmart when you literally have zero other ideas for what you want to see. And then you'd just wish you had forgone watching anything and just stared at a wall for an hour and forty minutes. At least in the latter case, you'd be able to think in solitude without the idiotic dribble of the movie's story constantly annoying you. Goddammit, I hate this shit. It's just so fucking bad, and every scene just hurts me.

It really says something that this movie was such a low point in de Niro's career – I mean, fuck, even the one where he cross-dresses was better than this.

Yeah – safe to say, I'll be sticking to Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Heat next time, thank you very much. I'd rather remember why de Niro used to be a legend instead. As for this movie, well...

That about sums it up.

Images copyright of their original owners; I own none of them.

Cinema Freaks LIVE: Ex Machina (2015)

Here's another thing we did. This time, my friend Tony and I looked at Ex Machina, a strange sci fi film about a kid and an android interacting as part of an experiment. We found it a clever movie with some good twists, some subtle undermining of the usual stereotypes, and well done characters. Director Alec Garland has a good feel for ambiance and atmosphere, and there are a lot of beautiful settings and creepy, desolate atmospheric moments to go along with the story - accentuating it lightly like frosting on a cake.

There were a few silly moments, and maybe the movie tried too hard at times to cram in too many different genres and elements. However, I'd personally still take that over a movie that didn't do enough.

See you guys next time!

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Widow and Sexism

The new Avengers movie is out, and people are angry about stuff again – more specifically the character Black Widow, and whether or not her portrayal is sexist in the movie. So, is it? Well, let's talk about that.

For those of you not in the know, I'll try and sum up peoples' problems – basically, in the movie, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) have struck up a romance between films. The first thing we really see Black Widow do is touch the Hulk's hand and help him turn back into Banner. A lot of her role in this movie is interacting with Banner. There's one scene where the two have a conversation about how they can't have a normal life together, because they can't have kids.

Now, I'm not one to try and presume anything about people with such vastly different life experiences than me. If you thought this was a sexist portrayal and they could have done it differently, I'm fine with that. I just didn't see it that way.

The thing nobody is saying about this is that Black Widow before this was a pretty generic character – she was the stoic badass tough chick with very little else to her. I know Joss Whedon wrote some great tough chicks in Buffy, but they were full, three dimensional characters, with worries, fears, individual thoughts and realistic personalities. To me it always seemed like Black Widow was just a cardboard cutout of a character, although Johansson did a good job portraying her especially in the second Captain America flick.

Now, in this new one, she does kinda have a character – she's in love with Bruce Banner. And no, a woman character being in love with a guy is not the only way to show character. But the way she acts in this movie is refreshingly honest and down to Earth for a Marvel flick. You can believe her character and you feel sympathy for her, as cheesy and simple as the romance is – it works. I can see why people think it's sexist for a female character to be based solely around being in love with a man, but frankly, Bruce Banner doesn't have any other plot in The Avengers 2 besides being in love with her, either. It goes both ways.

If it were a much older movie and Banner was portrayed as the uncaring, stoic, manly-man character who was complex and full-bodied, while Black Widow was portrayed as a wishy-washy emotional female, then I'd probably be on the other side of the argument. But as is, it's just a fairly decent portrayal of two people caring about each other.

The one scene people are complaining the most about is when Banner says he can never have a normal life, have kids, etc. She matches him and says she can't have kids because she was a trained assassin and they sterilized her. The line is “you still think you're the only monster on this team?” It comes off to me as two people trying to relate to one another and connect – it was fine. Some people, I guess, thought that scene suggested Black Widow's character was only wanting kids, etc – stereotypical, cliche woman stuff, which seemed sexist and outdated to them.

What people overlook in all of this is that being in love and wanting kids and everything IS realistic, and it can make for a good, interesting story. It brings out the softer sides of characters – in a superhero flick, that's pretty important. While some writers can certainly come off as sexist by not fleshing out their women characters enough, I think Whedon did it fine within the constraints of Marvel Studios' ridiculously anal-retentive control game over their movies.

So what exactly is the root of the problem here? I just think sometimes people can take their eye off the ball Рthey make it more about politics than about character, and their sight can be a bit too narrow. A lady can certainly have a love interest and her character can be sad when the guy is in trouble or whatever else Рthat's a human emotion and it adds depth. Trying to make it so women can only be tough, bad ass, stand-alone sirens of war who don't need men is just tipping the scale too far in the other direction from the old clich̩ of the weak-willed, subservient women characters of the 60s and 70s. You've got to have a medium. At some point, you just have to quit worrying about it and write the best character you can.

There's also the Internet mentality of “well, if you're not X, you must be Y” - like, if Whedon didn't write the most complex, individual, independent and unique woman in a movie ever (every time he does something, too), he's a misogynist – like it can only be one or the other. There's just no grey area with the Internet, and in everything in real life, there's tons of grey area. People aren't just one thing or the other. Not everything has to advance the same single agenda or else it's the opposite of that agenda. That's kind of a childish way to look at the world.

If you're only writing one type of character, chances are, you're a bad writer. Women, like men, can be sensitive, they can be tough, they can be easy to anger or they can be chill and relaxed – they're human beings, and a good writer pays more attention to the human emotion of a character rather than trying to fill a quota by making X number of characters whatever personality type.

And it's a tough thing to really balance out and measure – how do you balance out the expectations of an audience that wants equality, but with so many different ideas of how to do it? You also have to take into account that, with a movie like this, where a lot of kids are watching - some of them young girls - you need to have a good role model type of character. It's a sensitive issue, and I can see why people want to talk about it and debate it.

There's obviously a problem in Hollywood with having good, well written ladies in the movies. There are some, especially when you get down to more independent films – it's not an epidemic or a total void of quality. But in terms of real mainstream, well done female heroines, we could definitely always do better. So if that's your argument, well, I don't have a problem with that – just put away the torches and the pitchforks on Whedon. I mean, damn, he isn't that bad. 

And listen - everyone, and I mean everyone, is allowed to have some opinion on this. Our personal experiences shape our viewpoints on everything, social issues, politics, etc. Some people, women or men, may see the movie as sexist or whatever else, and maybe they're not entirely wrong. But do you have to shut people out who disagree with you? Feminists telling a bunch of straight white dudes to shut up are just as wrong as misogynistic assholes telling women their problems aren't big deals - they're all wrong. Just, fuck, don't be a dick about it. You don't have to have a final, line-in-the-sand answer to every question. Sometimes viewpoints are still evolving and you don't have to be sure of everything.

With that said, though; yeah, we really do need a Black Widow stand alone movie. Get on that, Marvel, you bastards.

Images copyright of their original owners; I own none of them.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Hide and Seek (2005)

Mental health is a tough thing to tackle in movies. Some of them get it right, some of them do it poorly, and others seem to not realize that they're about as sensitive at tackling the subject as an actor using blackface to talk about Rosa Parks. Guess which one this movie is!

Director: John Polson
Starring: Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning

Co-written with Colin and Michelle.

Holy fuck this movie is bad. I saw this like, ten years ago now, and hated it then too, and I think I may even hate it more now. This was one of several absolute duds Robert de Niro did in the mid 2000s, and it's just painful. I guess it begins pretty innocuously with a mother saying goodnight to her daughter Emily, played by Dakota Fanning. I'm sure nothing bad is gonna happen to the mom when she says she loves her daughter.

But of course it does, because any movie that throws in non sequitur lines like that always has bad shit happen to the characters. In this case, she gets, erm, how should I put it? Ah yes - “Dexter Season 4'd.”

Clearly this was all the result of a deranged and oddly specific killer who always kills married women in bathtubs. There's no other option.

Why do all of these limp-dick thriller flicks have characters taking baths in such nice tubs anyway? I wish I had one with the candles around it and shit. If it was a slasher movie, though, it'd be a girl in her 20s in the shower. That's actually the barometer of how you tell what genre of horror you're watching. If a slightly older woman takes a bath, you're watching a psychological thriller. If a hot chick takes a shower with the camera angled down, it's a slasher. Just the rules, guys.

You can tell what type of shitty movie you're watching from how women bathe in it, which is pretty creepy and weird when you think about it.

We then fast forward through the funeral because fuck that, who cares? No, now it's time for them to do what they do in every shitty ass horror movie – go up to some kind of mountain retreat in a small podunk town to “heal.” It works for a Stephen King novel because he can at least write good characters. In this movie, it's just more nice house porn – ooh, look at all these nice furniture items! Those must have cost a lot of money at Ikea!

I wish I had that desk. That's the nicest thing I can say about the entire movie.

Robert de Niro plays the grieving father, David. Well, grieving, as in just kind of bored and annoyed looking throughout all of this. He's terrible in this; about as exciting as watching a sea algae try to emote. What happened to him? Did all the charisma and power get sucked out of him with a vacuum cleaner?

Oh, and I guess the story, if you even care, is that little Emily keeps on apparently doing weird things in the house like writing on the walls of the bathtub in blood, and blaming it on an imaginary friend named Charlie. I guess this is normal for de Niro's character, as he never thinks to send her to therapy in this.

Yup, you read right – he doesn't take her to therapy. Even through all the weird, traumatizing shit that happens in this, he just sticks to his guns and keeps her out there alone in that big house. No talking to anyone, no therapy, nothing. Jack shit. The funniest part is that HE HIMSELF is supposed to be a therapist in this movie! That's his character's occupation! And you're telling me he doesn't think it's a good idea to have her talk to someone about her mother's death and get through it healthily? Bull fucking shit.

"The way she's sitting motionless in a cliche way staring out a window like this is some kind of Lifetime movie about a mental patient really makes me think she is psychologically okay."

But no, I guess hanging out in an empty house and letting your daughter just run around outside doing nothing is good too. There's a scene early on where David is walking with the two guys showing him the house, for like a minute or two around the corner of it, and they lose Emily. She's standing around in the same spot, but the fact that David took his eyes off her for that long should have been a warning sign that he's as good a parent as Casey Anthony was, really.

"Hey, where's your daughter, David?"
"What daughter? I'm just walking along here, without a care in the world! Ha ha ha!"
"You're a disgrace to the very concept of parenting, you slime!"

There are a bunch of weird-ass scenes where David has dreams of a masquerade ball, like an Eyes Wide Shut party I guess, except with all the sexual energy of a juvenile detention center. Then he wakes up and it's 2:06 a.m. exactly. It comes off like the let his seven year old child watch Jacob's Ladder and then contribute to the script.

Instead of orgies and weird masks, they just got a bunch of gold balloons from the dollar store. I mean c'mon guys, not even a variety of colors for us to look at? Pffffftttttttt.
"Ah yes, 2:06, my favorite time ever..."

The rest of the movie's first two acts are taken up by a seemingly never-ending parade of red herrings that march through like lemmings on their way off a cliff. Hey, you never know! Any of them could be the killer! It's good writing, really!

There's the two neighbors, with the wife who acts really nice and neighborly and the husband who is the kind of guy who sits next to little girls he doesn't know in a creepy manner and remarks about how beautiful they are:

Apparently they had a child who died, so Emily reminds them of their own child. But it's still not really that interesting or well done of a plot...

Then there's Elizabeth Shue, who plays a woman named Elizabeth – what a stretch that must have been for her.

"Yup, I'm in this movie! Really!"

She has a daughter who she brings over to play with Emily. Emily, being a true friend, does this to the daughter's doll, while talking in a really creepy voice about how bad things will happen.

That's never mentioned again, by the way – the daughter doesn't show up again, but Shue never mentions it to David and David never talks to Emily about it. It's cool though. Disfiguring dolls and talking creepily about how bad things happen is just the normal way little girls deal with tragedy.

There's also Creepy Bearded Man, who shows up at 2 a.m. just to give David the keys to some of the other rooms in the house, because he's apparently leaving for Canada with his wife. No explanation is ever given for why, and we never see him again. It's just an incredibly random, out of nowhere scene.

I'm guessing he committed some heinous crime and is now fleeing the country to escape the law. That's what I'm going with and it does make the film slightly more entertaining. Slightly.

But yeah, a large majority of the film is just David and Emily playing off one another so poorly I'm surprised the crew wasn't falling asleep filming it. And the psychology is just bad, really bad. There really is just a shitload of excuses made for her behavior in this – the writing on the bathroom wall continues appearing, Emily keeps blaming Charlie, and David just keeps shrugging it off. At one point a dead cat is found in the bathtub, with all signs pointing towards Emily as the one who did it.

Just another normal part of the grieving process.

But does that faze David at all? Nope! Not in the least. I mean, it does at least get him on the phone with his hot therapist friend played by Famke Janssen. But even after she comes out in person and tells him that Emily needs professional help, he still doesn't do it. He says he'll wait two more weeks and see if she gets better. Two weeks?! I guess you really want to see how many more animals she can kill, huh?

And I guess these drawings don't signify a child in need of therapy either:

"Wow, my daughter really can't draw!"

For those of you watching this who think 'Jesus, how long till someone dies and he still doesn't take her to therapy?', well, Elizabeth comes over later. She finds out David isn't home and yet hangs out with Emily and chats like they're old friends over a cup of tea. For those of you who aren't paying attention – this is a grown woman just chatting it up with a nine year old girl. What the hell kind of person acts like that? No normal adult would do this! “Hey, I'll just come over and hang out with your nine year old daughter! Maybe play some hide and seek or something!” “Sure, man, any time!”

And yeah, that is what happens – Elizabeth agrees to play hide and seek with Emily and “Charlie” the imaginary friend. Because the writers of this movie are about as attentive to realistic human behavior as a space alien seeing Earth for the first time. Fortunately, an unseen killer leaps out of the closet and shoves Elizabeth out the window, killing her instantly.

David wakes up from his almost surely alcohol fueled sleep and finds the police at the door, asking about Elizabeth's disappearance as they found her car nearby. He tells them he hasn't seen her, then finds her dead body upstairs in the bathroom. You'd think this would finally be the point where he gets the police involved, but no, we're building up to a TWIST at the end! So, you know, nothing has to make sense.

David mostly just shouts like a geriatric person lost at Walmart. He puts on a yellow rainslicker to go outside and goes and buries the body. Then he goes inside and finds a bunch of boxes, unopened, full of stuff he thought he'd been using this whole time. This...somehow leads him to the revelation that he killed his wife because she cheated on him at that party he kept dreaming about all movie long:

Maybe she cheated on you because you're the kind of weirdo who gets a split personality when she cheats on you.

Wow. That's fucking amazing psychology you're using there, movie! His wife cheated on he killed her and several other people! Makes sense to me when you didn't bother to give him any other character or explore his disease at all. Hell, why bother? If you have a split personality, you probably killed people already and don't know it. Too bad for you, sucker. Guess you're fucked.

So, of course, like every other shitty ass movie like this, he then goes on a killing spree. He kills the sheriff, because in every horror and thriller movie without a brain, the cops have no purpose but to get axed off in the climax because they apparently aren't good at their jobs. Oh, and there's also a dumb scene where he plays hide and seek with Emily while hunting for her. Actually it's not even hide and seek - he's shouting about Marco Polo half the time. That's right; he can't even get the right stupid kids' game to shout about coinciding with the movie's title.

"Here's...Jimmy? I dunno. I'm old and bad at this."

If you think it's sad that a great actor like de Niro has been reduced to shouting "Marco Polo" while trying to kill a little girl - and failing, even at that - well, you're right. It is sad. I don't have a joke here. I just think that's really fucking sad.

Anyway, he gets stuck in a random Pan's Labyrinth-esque cave on the property (just go with it; the movie is almost over at this point), and gets shot down by the lady therapist, who showed up somewhere in between the ridiculousness of the last few scenes.

Fast forward to some time in the future, and Emily now lives with the therapist, and goes to school. But she drew a picture of her with two heads, so ooh, that must mean she has multiple personalities now or whatever. Because I guess multiple personalities are kind of like a hereditary thing – if you have them, your kids probably will too and it will be like a growing genetic tree-chart of serial-killing multiple personalities. Hooray for nonsense!

And she's still a terrible artist!

My favorite part is how she apparently still didn't get any therapy or counseling! Both her parents are dead? Fuck it, just send her back to school. She's living with a therapist now after all. So she'll be fine.

This whole thing is full of bad characters, dumb mid-2000s thriller cliches like bad jump scares and pointless red herrings, and of course the absolute pits of awfulness, the psychology behind the 'twist.' No, dumb mid-2000s thrillers – having multiple personalities doesn't make you a fucking serial killer. That was literally never a good twist. It's shit – it's the kind of thing a moron would write because he wants to get cheap shock-tactic scares from middle schoolers. It is garbage, sewer slime, just trash all around. It is about as scary as a Sunday School Bible reading session.

I mean, when has anyone in real life ever not realized they were a killer for that long? Sure, sometimes you get deluded psychopaths or whatever, but most of the movies that pull this shitty twist are just too pussy to actually make the main character aware of what he's doing. Make de Niro know he's a killer and just trying to hide it from the cops. Why not? Because you're afraid it'll be controversial? I mean, I can't see any other reason...surely you can't actually think you're being smart in what you did with this movie.

Surely not. Heh heh heh...

...that would be ridiculous.

Images copyright of their original owners; I own none of them.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Let's take a journey back in time to before any of us were born pretty much. It's a magical time full of psychedelic colors, svelte soundtracks and action movie heroes who slaughter people indiscriminately. One of those three things has survived today, anyway, but unlike your latest Liam Neeson flick, this one has a complete lack of any moral center. But on the other hand, it has lots of gold and money that the characters have sex on top of, so you can live vicariously through that.

Director: Mario Bava
Starring: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell

Co-written with Michelle.

Directed by renowned schlock artist Mario Bava, this was based off a comic book from back in the day. It was a cheesy flick back in the day and seems even moreso now. And since this comic is apparently being remade again now (because we don't have enough comic book movies yet), I'm sure we'll get a modern remake full of dark grittiness and moral grey areas and all kinds of melodrama. But maybe, just maybe, if I review the original, I can help steer Hollywood in the right direction to make a better film.

This movie begins with an acknowledgement that cars are pretty cool: 

We don't need to see your driver's license test, guys.

And especially when they drive under bridges and stuff!

We also get some sweet swirling psychedelic colors for the opening, which go on longer than that time you were given a swirly in the school bathroom by that kid who smells like his drunk father's cigarettes.

Groovy, man.

Apparently main character Diabolik and his girlfriend, Eva Kant, are professional criminals who have stolen a lot of money from under the noses of the cops. A recurring theme throughout this thing is that the cops are apparently completely powerless to stop these two – like they're demigods and the cops are just sitting around twiddling their thumbs at the donut counter. It's pretty one sided.

As this was the 60s, I guess the fashion is a bit different. I'm not one to harp on little things like fashion from a different time, but some of these choices are starting to push it, man. Like, Eva really needs a shirt with a hole right where her boobs are? Really? That's kinda like a guy wearing pants with the zipper wide open all the time.

For that matter, it takes a hell of a woman to want to fuck a guy who looks like the bad guy from The Collector.

Diabolik and the girlfriend go back to their mysterious cave home, because why not, you know? If you're rich enough, fuck it, just forsake housing altogether and live in a fucking cave with futuristic gizmos enough to make Superman blush.

Look at this shit – they have enough money to just throw it everywhere on their weird rotating circle-bed thing and have sex underneath the giant piles of money. I get the idea this is what rich people fantasize about doing with the money they get from tax write-offs and stuff. It's what Congress members would do if they still had any sex drive.

They say money can't buy happiness, but...well, they're probably poor as shit if they say that and are just jealous!

Afterwards, they take showers in the best showers ever made, which is to say they are completely transparent boxes with no curtains, just weird ornaments hanging over where the boobs and face are:

Ah yes, Salvador Dali's shower designs finally got some good use...

So I guess the plot, if you're really paying attention instead of just gawking at all the bizarre shit they put in this cave, goes like this – this other crime lord guy makes a deal with the cops after they catch up to him, telling them he can deliver Diabolik, who is a much more wanted criminal. The cops are apparently so baffled that they can't find the guy despite him driving fancy cars and living in a goddamn futuristic cave – but I guess we can excuse them.

After all, they are trying their best. Like when they let this obvious serial killer and sexual deviant up on the podium to waggle his crazy eyes at everyone:

He's supposed to be some kind of political figure, but I think he killed the real official and is a crazy impostor.

Diabolik, meanwhile, is enjoying the spotlight so much that he can just sneak up on an entire press conference full of cops and spray them with laughing gas and somehow get away afterwards.

Eh, it WAS pre-9/11...we'll give it a pass.

I think these cops just secretly like being bested by this guy. Maybe it gives them an odd titillation and thrill and helps them sleep better at night knowing a challenge is out there, always right outside their reach. Only this is a challenge that sometimes likes to blow the shit out of your police cars and slaughter innocent policemen with throwing knives.

"Don't tell my family I got killed by a guy in a GIMP costume!"
"No promises!"

Meanwhile, the other crime lord is flying on a plane with his henchmen, and when one of them doesn't agree with him, he opens up a trap door right where the guy is standing and lets him fall to his death. And I think that's great, because more planes need trap doors. It's a lost art.

But enough of that nonsense. Let's have a scene now where Diabolik stretches out a long role of mirrored screen so the oncoming cars will see it and crash into it because their headlights blind them, then go careening off a cliff to fiery, horrific deaths.

If this brutal violence for no reason bothers you, just pretend the guys who died were child molesters. Did that make it easier to swallow their deaths? I think it did.

That should be a good palette cleanser from these scenes that didn't have Diabolik in them!

Diabolik breaks into a castle to take some pictures and really just kind of fuck with the cops some more. He's also trying to steal a necklace for Eva, which he does very easily, because this place leaves its valuables on a platter for any thief to take. Like almost every scene in this movie, there are just some things that don't make sense. There's a “secret” security camera hidden inside of a painting. It's instantly noticeable, because when I think of terrible security, I think of defacing classic works of art.

There are also a bunch of guys dressed as Revolutionary War soldiers hunting Diabolik right alongside the cops, because again, why the fuck not? It makes perfect sense to me.

The powdered wigs help them aim better.

Diabolik himself has chosen a fitting outfit – he's dressed like a sperm as he crawls up walls and takes pictures inside fancy rooms.

I will also accept 'KKK ninja.'

Then he ditches the suit so the cops go chasing after that while he hides, presumably naked, up on the roof of this castle. Good job, Diabolik. They'll never notice a naked man wandering around their weird castle place. But then again, even though that was sarcasm, somehow it's true and they really won't ever notice him.

Meanwhile, some goons working for that crime boss kidnap Eva while she's at this spa place and take her away. They use her as leverage against Diabolik, forcing him to give himself up. He agrees, but then throws himself along with the crime lord out of that conveniently placed trap door in the plane. They go free-falling through the air like sacks of potatoes dropped from the sky, landing right where they need to be to find Eva – who is tied to a bed and getting burned with cigarettes by her captor.

There truly is no middle ground between damsel in distress and hot kick ass "Black Widow" type chick with no personality. It's just a matter of which kind of sexism you prefer more.

To let Eva get away, Diabolik pretends to be dead by taking a pill. He gets taken to the morgue and presumed dead while apparently every member of the media comes to see. Eva somehow poses as a nurse and gets him out of there.

They go back to Diabolik's cave and sit in a pool while Diabolik puts priceless gemstones all over Eva's breasts and shoulders. Not to echo a sentiment done too many times already, but again – why the fuck not? You got that much money and jewels, hire a girl with big tits and put them all over her. I'd do it too if I was that shamelessly wealthy.

They also blow up a bunch of buildings, which is totally reprehensible and bad, until they hit this one:

In their infinite wisdom, the cops decide to move a shitload of gold right now – right after the notorious unstoppable thieves who have proven they can fuck you over just for fun escaped being dead. Yeah. I'm sure THIS won't backfire at all, right? I'm sure that gold will get to its right place without any incident. That's why they're showing this part in the movie – to show how effortlessly the authorities can move gold without it getting stolen!

Couldn't just keep it in one place for a while, huh guys?

Also, get this – they melt it down and put it inside of some kind of indestructible container. Bit overkill when you know nothing bad is gonna happen and this gold isn't gonna get stolen at all, guys. Come on. Have some faith in yourselves.

Big surprise, Diabolik and Eva manage to steal the gold. Through a complex sequence of events involving seducing truck drivers and scuba diving, they get the gold back to their cave. The cops find the cave NOW of course, because it's the climax of the film. A shoot out ensues, in which the gold explodes and covers Diabolik. The film ends with him alive and encased in gold.

Which I'm sure, despite the fact that he can no longer move, eat or drink anything, makes him happy – the guy's lust for wealth has finally led him to its logical conclusion. This is what he deserved all along.

This movie is pretty bonkers and over the top, but it's not bad for all that, and it remains entertaining with no real plotholes. It's a crazy, wild and bizarre movie from a crazy, wild, bizarre time. The action is fun and the characters are enjoyably insane. It's also very colorful and fast paced and it doesn't take itself all that seriously.

Really, a lot of modern action flicks like John Wick and The Equalizer just glorify revenge and make it too glamorous looking. They goad us to root for unstoppable killing machines and make us not care about how many random goons die at their hands who didn't deserve to. Most action movies do that in some measure, but the ones I'm talking about are worse because they try and make it a moral thing. They want you to root for these killing machines because they're doing it for a good reason. So, you know, that makes mass murder okay.

The random thugs killed in a movie like John Wick are made to look as despicable and one-dimensionally evil as possible. They don't have any humanity to them on purpose, because they aren't real characters – they're tools used to elicit a cheap emotional response. The movie isn't terrible or anything, but the way it's written just doesn't lend any kind of depth to the revenge storyline. It comes off as hackneyed and morally bent, and rather than a compelling story it's mostly just a silly good versus evil cartoon. Since the movie was not going for that, the effect is dampened a bit.

At least in movies like Die Hard where the main character kills a lot of people, he's doing it because they attacked the building he was in first. And he's also not invincible, and really struggles like an underdog to save everyone in the building. In John Wick and The Equalizer, the main dudes are just completely immortal badasses who hunt down their prey like serial killers. But again, it's okay, because they're doing it for the right reason. Right?

Danger: Diabolik forsakes all of this. It doesn't try to have a moral at all. The main character just kills whoever the hell he wants, with no hesitation, and then never thinks about it again. It's just a goofy action flick, and I love it for that. I guess if you take one thing away from this, well, uh...if you can get rich off stealing from people, do it. The rewards are pretty fucking sweet.

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