Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Movie Review: Doom

  In 1993, when the original Doom PC video-game was released, I was 2 years into my 4 year tour with the Army in Germany.  No one in the barracks had a PC, and the "hot" gaming system was the Sega Genesis.  I played Doom at a friend's house in Germany, and while it was a cool game, when you run around on a regular basis with a real assault rifle going through actual military drills, the game isn't as impressive.

 I was more impressed with the flurry of news stories and media attention that surrounded Doom.  The technology was cutting edge, the marketing revolutionary, and the violence and imagery controversial.  Doom, as far as many special interest groups were concerned, was an evil akin to heavy metal music a decade earlier.  For a while it seemed like every week a new story was coming out about how some kid did something stupid and claimed he was influenced by the game, culminating with a group of idiots who went on a killing-spree at Columbine High in 1999.

 All that media attention will either repulse or attract further interest.  I represent the latter, and based on the success of the Doom franchise, I can say that I am not alone.

 By the time I had my own PC, Doom was old news, and a number of slicker, more violent, and gorier games had hit the market.  Doom, though, was the grand-daddy of all first-person shooter, the standard by which all others are compared.  When word reached my ear that Doom was being made into a movie, I had yet to play the game entirely, but my first thought was "great, Hollywood prepares to take something wonderful and screw it up."

 I am happy to report that I could not have been more wrong.

 I knew the film would be promising when I read that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson would be in a leading role.  I have been a fan of The Rock since his days in the WWF, and have enjoyed everything I have seen him in.  Granted, I refuse to watch Tooth Fairy, which makes making that statement easier.  Karl Urban also was a welcome edition, although he seems to always play the same character (John Grimm, Vaako, and Eomer are all the same troubled by honorable warrior).  The entire cast delivers in this film an impressive performance, with each character being made interesting and believable, hooking the audience's attention quickly in what is a very fast-paced film.

 Doom is extremely well written, building on the familiar story set by the video games.  The discovery of an alien instantaneous transporter which creates a gate from Earth to Mars has lead to the exploration and colonization of the planet.  The exploration is focused on learning as much as possible about the humanoids that left the technology and Mars behind thousands of years earlier.  It is discovered that the aliens were human in almost every way, and were enhanced by the addition of artificial chromosomes.  Experiments on modern humans leads to an emergency situation, and a Marine Rapid Response Tactical Squad is called in to eliminate the threat, secure the facility, and retrieve the facility's research.

 The CGI and special effects are seamless and impressive, and the film is shot beautifully.  The monsters are freakish and sometimes amusing (Pinky), and the film gets the mix between stings and gore just right.  Several scenes and elements are taken directly from the game itself, with the film adding its own twist to each.  Unlike House of the Dead, which clumsily interjected scenes from the video-game into the film, Doom even provides a welcome first-person shooting sequence, using the special effects and high production values of the film to give fans an experience like playing the game itself.  The film also keeps your guessing, providing an interesting lesson about human nature and what resides within each of us.

 Doom is one of the best video-game adaptions to date, second only to the first Resident Evil in my opinion.  After seeing the film, I purchased and played the original game, and was not disappointed.



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elms Street (2010)

 At first, I was willing to give this movie some allowances.  It is a remake, or rather what is referred to as a "reboot".  The premise is roughly the same as the original, but aspects of the story have been altered.  While I can applaud the effort to make the film different, grittier, and more modern, the result leaves something to be desired.

 My biggest criticism is the change in the premise which paints Krueger as a child-molester instead of a child-killer.  There is enough innuendo in the original series of films to suggest that Kruger did molest and torture his victims, but his prime motivation was killing them.  Krueger was a sick individual who was acting against the world he hated by destroying that which was most innocent and precious (and, if you follow the story-arch in the film, children where the necessary victims which gave him his powers).

 A child-molester is a much more realistic, but also more common monster.  This portrayal diminishes the character, taking him way from the fantastic and making him cheap.  I would have much rather seen a Freddy Krueger who was born in the circumstances we are familiar with (a nun raped by 1000 maniacs and raised by a sadistically abusive family), nurtured by the demonic voices in his head leading to the secret to a kind of power and immortality.  That Freddy Krueger is maniacal, driven, and frightening.  The remake is shabby by comparison.

 Modern special effects were an improvement over the original film, but while the first film earned its R-rating, the remake does so just barely, completely avoiding any nudity (the original kept the nudity to a minimum) and being more suggestive about violence than actually presenting violence.  While I can understand that the characters were supposed to be dazed and tired, the acting was still flat.  The writing and plot seemed confused... unsure of where it was going even though everyone in the audience already knew.

 All in all, the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street was a disappointment.  Given the choice, see the original.

 The Walpurgisnacht release date was a nice marketing touch.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Movie Review: Boogeyman

 Tim is a troubled young man.

 He has spent his life in-and-out of asylums and homes.  His mother is in an asylum, and his father disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  Tim believes that his father was killed by the boogeyman, a childhood monster that lives under beds and in closets.  Years of therapy have provided Tim of semblance of normalcy; he sleeps on a mattress on his floor and has no closets in his home.  A premonition of his mother telling him that he needs to return to the family home prompts him to check on her, only to discover that she has died.  He visit the ward where she was located and where he grew up, only to also discover that the children there are being threatened by the boogeyman.  He returns to his home to determine if the boogeyman is real or just a fantasy... and if real to try to stop him.
The bath is not a safe place in any horror film.

 Boogeyman has some strengths.  It has a high production value, creating just the right mood and tension throughout the film.  There is also enough misdirection in the plot to get the audience thinking that Tim or another character might be the killer, and that there is no boogeyman.  The film relies mainly on visual and audio "stings" for its scares, but they are well done and there are not too many of them.

 The film has two main weaknesses.  The first is the creature itself.  It is apparent that a lot of money went into the creature's CGI presentation, but in my opinion it is poorly designed.  It just looks like a bald, gray, old man in tattered clothes made of smoke... not very impressive and kind of a let-down.  The film might have been helped if the boogeyman was never fully revealed. 

You'll wish this guy would die.
 The second weakness is the PG-13 constraints.  The PG-13 rating keeps the blood and gore to a bare minimum, which takes away from the film.  It also means that while we get to see a girl drowned in a tub, there is no nudity.  This just reminds the audience that they are watching a film and takes them out of the story instead of drawing them in.
 The only other issue I had with the film is Tim's character.  I had trouble empathizing with him.  Tim just kind of comes off as a loser who is not only mired in his victimhood, but drags other people down with him.  If Tim had a little bit of a spine, perhaps with a brain attached, the film would have been better for me.


Movie Review: Abomination

 Abomination is apparently a sequel to The Evil Maker, but watching it there really is no indication of this being a continuation of another story.  In fact, because of the way the film is shot and the shoddy writing, it is hard to recognize a coherent story-line in this film, let alone trace it to another.  It is not that the film is difficult to follow, it is that the film simply does not make sense.

 The gist of the film is that the heroine is investigating a family incident that involves some supernatural activity at a cabin deep in the woods.  In the process, she attracts the attentions of demonic forces who go after her little sister.  The little sister might be possessed, or she might have a demonic doppelganger... or both.  It is difficult to say.

 The production value, even for an independent film, is awful.  The film is grainy and poorly lit.  You get the impression that the actors were handed their scripts just before shooting their scenes.  Special-effects are done in a rudimentary manner, mainly glowing eyes and such.  There are a couple of topless scenes which do nothing for the film.

 The title is appropriate.  This film is an abomination.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Movie Review: After Sundown

 In doing my research for this review, I discovered something interesting about this film's production which is definitely more interesting than the film itself.  Texas, in particular Austin, is becoming the Mecca for independent film-makers.  After Sundown is one of those independent films.  It seems that there are actually two versions of this film.  According to someone claiming to be the "Executive Producer/Writer/Director and Editor of After Sundown", Christopher Abram...

 "This is the better version of After Sundown and actually no other version should legally exist. What does exist is an unauthorized illegal version of the movie that the co-director put together with the the D.P. without my knowledge and began to distribute. The co-director did not follow the directions given to him and he was trying to create his own version of the movie and wouldn't listen to the person who invited him in on this project. Thus having a huge conflict in pacing, acting and all around plot. The co-directors version was the one sent to distributors and was promptly turned down due to lack of horror elements, bad music and a convoluted ending."

 Chris goes on to make excuses for the plot-holes, bad acting, and questionable special effects.  I find myself wondering which version of the film I saw, although I have every indication that I am watching the "better" version.
 The film still sucks. 

 Here's the premise.  Back in the Old West, a young lady is engaged and married to an eccentric cowboy.  Daddy had some initial misgivings about his son-in-law; he only comes around at night, he doesn't eat food, he has an off-pallor, etc.  The astute father only makes the connection that his son-in-law is a vampire AFTER the marriage when his daughter gives birth to a demonic baby with claws and pointy-ears!  The townspeople form a posse and dispatch the vampires, burying the three bodies in the desert.

 In modern times, the bodies are discovered when the patch of ground they are buried in is being changed into tract-housing.  The local funeral home takes possession of the woman and child, and the male vampire awakens on his own to go after them.  It is up to the heroine and mortician, Shannon, Mikey the goofy assistant, and Benjamin the tightwad funeral home director, to deal with the vampires. 

 There are several problems with this film.  First of all, it breaks from accepted vampire mythology.  The male and female vampires use their blood to revive corpses who become zombies.  In reality, zombie-making vampires are the norm in fiction, but rarely are featured in films.  In After Sundown, the zombies infect others in the same familiar manner, soon over-running the small town.  Despite the story being about vampires, the film looks a lot like a poorly budgeted zombie-flic.

 The budget restrictions are painfully obvious.  All the special effects are old-school, but lack the creative genius of Evil Dead which took cheap materials to pull-off great effects and instead appear to try to use the best their money could buy ineffectively.  Most of the FX budget for make-up seemed to be put into the male-vampire's costume and face.  The zombies and blood are shoddy by comparison. 

 The plot is full of holes.  The modern-world characters apparently exist in a world where the idea of a vampire is an almost completely alien concept.  A character trapped in a closet uses his cellphone to call someone to call the cops... What, does her phone only dial one number?  The guns all have seemingly unlimited ammunition.  Sunrise and sunset seem to happen at an accelerated pace.  They pay an actress to get topless on screen and only show her back!  She was apparently a modest zombie.

 And those are just some of the highlights.

 The acting is weak, the production values almost non-existent (the DVD cover appears more professional than the film), and at times it seems like the writers and directors are telling the actors to just wing-it.  The cover claims that this is "this year's Dusk 'til Dawn"... but it is a blatant lie.     



Friday, November 4, 2011

Movie Review: The Thing (2011)

 My girlfriend hates horror films.  She doesn't like the gore, the violence, and the often poor production quality, writing, and acting.  Despite all of this, for our anniversary (October 31st), she took me to see The Thing at the theater.  I am a huge fan of John Carpenter's original film, and even enjoyed the video-game "sequel", so she knew I would look forward to this.

At some point, sanity just takes a back-seat.
 One of the issues I think we should get out of the way is how this film is evaluated.  I think it is unfair to hold this film up to the standards set by the original.  The reason that the production team opted to do a prequel was because they considered the original "perfect".  While the prequel has superior special-effects and is as a production equal or superior to the original, it lacks the impact because the concept is not novel and the audience knows what is going on.  The original had the advantage of presenting a new threat which it revealed slowly to the audience, building the suspense.  Not having this advantage, the prequel had to get to the action of the film as quickly as possible and rely on its CGI effects and stunning visuals to carry the film.

 When not measure by those standards, the prequel is wonderful, although the pacing mentioned above might be disconcerting for those unfamiliar with the original.  The audience is given just enough information to establish the personalities of and make a minimal connection with each character.  The alien attacks come much more quickly than the first film, with enough misdirection to throw the viewer off the scent and keep the audience guessing.  The film ends with cut-scenes leading to the events which start the original film.

I wonder if Pinhead promised to keep these two together.
 The special effects are top-notch, seamlessly blending CGI with the real environment, making for horrifically convincing creatures and displaying an impressive alien vessel trapped in the Antarctic ice.  The acting is also excellent, although the characters do come off as slightly one-dimensional (the tough-guy is tough, the heroine is witty and heroic, the damsel is in distress, etc).  This is attributable entirely to the films pacing, which must be what it is because the audience already knows what to expect.  The only problem I had with the story was that the the characters make some incredible and speedy leaps in logic in order to piece together what they are facing.  The clues are there, but are pieced together in a rapid fashion that is difficult to imagine.

 I thought it was an excellent touch for the Norwegian Base to be modeled after the base presented in the video-game sequel, down to in many instances the damage and ruins.  Having spent many hours running around that base while playing the game, it was nice to be in familiar territory.

 All-in-all, this was a worthy predecessor to the original, in my opinion.

Inter-species sex can get a little messy.
 John Carpenter's The Thing is my favorite horror-film, the first film to really frighten me as a kid.  One of the things that bothers me about this film and its prequel is the concept of the alien.  An invader that attacks the body cell-by-cell to become its prey was a novel concept.  However, the method of predation doesn't seem to be very realistic.  It is unnecessarily violent.  The alien tries to attack its victims when the victim is alone, but a violent attack draws unnecessary attention.  As has been demonstrated in the film, casual contact with the alien can result in infection.  Based on the alien's use of technology, we can see that it has extremely advanced intelligence.  The inefficiency of its mode of attack should be apparent.  A more effective mode of attack would be through casual or sexual contact, with the victim not knowing they had been infected until it was too late.  (In the original, the casual contact method was also used as a means of infection).

 A reason for a violent attack could be that the alien simply needs to eat.  They victim is not only infected and invaded, but is also partially consumed, providing energy for the entire bio-mass.  In both films, cells from the alien are demonstrated consuming and then replicating the cells of the host on a 1-to-1 ratio.  The process of consumption and conversion, while providing some energy, would still require more energy than is consumed.  Thus the alien is in a constant state of starvation, and each replicated being needs to absorb more bio-mass in order to sustain itself.  This might account for the violence of its attack; if each cell is a distinct being, and each being is starving, then it would need to rapidly consume its victims.  Still, this remains inefficient.  It is difficult to imagine such a creature ever being able to sustain itself, let alone develop into a star-faring species. 

 This leads to another issue. It must be assumed that each cell possess the sum intelligence and memories of the original alien bio-mass... which is demonstrated to be considerable.  In the first film, the alien is in the process of creating a small craft from gathered parts stolen from the scientific base.  While it is plausible that a significant amount of information might be carried by each cell, is it plausible that the entirety of the bio-mass's intelligence and memory would also be present?  I suppose one could argue that the information is stored in the larger masses and transmitted to added mass once it is formed vs. being carried in each cell, but no other psychic talents on par with this transmission of data were demonstrated by the alien. 

 These questions about the alien take nothing away from the films.  They are questions I ponder more than 20 years after seeing the original, but while I watch these films, I am totally engaged.  The questions are merely the meanderings of a sci-fi deep-geek.