Posts Tagged ‘movies’

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The Many Lives of Keanu Reeves

June 12, 2010

There’s an Internet meme making the rounds of the Web these days, a paparazzi snapshot of Keanu Reeves, shabby and faded, sitting on a park bench, eating a sandwich and looking forlorn. “Sad Keanu” was good for a laugh, but quickly sparked a backlash from people who said “Hey, don’t make fun of Keanu … the guy gives most of his money to cancer research.”

This, in turn, led to a new meme: Let’s make July 1 Keanu Day. From that sprung another quickly-spreading joke: Keanu is immortal, a revival of a minor meme from late last year. These claims are often accompanied by photos of Keanu 20 years ago compared to now, showing little, if any, aging. Also used as supporting evidence are images of the actor Paul Mounet, who worked 100 years ago and looks like Keanu if Keanu could grow a full beard.

I was thinking about all this today in the bookstore when I spotted a new biography of Josef Stalin, the Soviet dictator, featuring a front-cover portrait I’d never seen before. “Young Stalin,” I noted, “Looks remarkably like Keanu Reeves.”

And then it hit me: These theories, made in jest, were in fact correct. Keanu Reeves has walked among us for a lot longer than you might think. This set me off on a path of intensive research using all the tools at my disposal, namely Google, Orange Crush and two slices of Hawaiian pizza.

  • Earliest known recorded Keanu sighting: This cave painting in southern Spain, dated to 14,000 B.C., depicts Keanu playing hockey and fishing, because he would eventually live in Canada. “That could be anyone,” you may say, but please understand that I like to tell people I am an expert on things.

  • The Last Supper: Keanu is sitting to Jesus’s left, and appears to be saying “Whoah, no more bread?”

  • St. Germain: This legendary occult figure first appeared in the 17th century and flickered in and out of the royal courts of Europe for the next two hundred years, never aging, and proving to be a master of the arts. Sound familiar?

  • A pirate: Because he would if he could, and so would you.

  • Paul Mounet: When Keanu discovered his passion for acting, it should have been no surprise. An immortal can’t take on identity after identity, life after life, without learning how to immerse himself in the role. To hone his craft, Keanu became Paul Mounet. But while Mounet had a long career, he wasn’t always the same person. I say this because later photos of him look nothing like this painting above. In the age of photography, Keanu had no choice but to move on more quickly as people began to track his agelessness. However, he failed to realize people would compare photos and notice that he was suddenly a totally different dude. This marks Keanu’s first use of a successor.

  • A cowboy on The Pony Express. Strangely, Keanu would later audition to play himself on The Young Riders, but didn’t get the part, because producers thought he looked too young.

  • Josef Stalin: Before embracing cinema, Keanu took over Russia. For his first few months, he gave everyone bonuses and paid vacations, and personally delivered cake to shut-ins. Later, as word began to spread that he was an immortal being, he hired another guy who didn’t look much like him to carry on, and headed west. The new guy, by the way, was kind of a bastard.

Along the way, Keanu studied with Aristotle, rode with Genghis Khan, sailed with Columbus and served as the inspiration for The Last of the Mohicans. He might also have been Billy the Kid, but I doubt that, because Billy the Kid actually looked like Emilio Estevez. There are also unconfirmed reports that the third statue from the left on Easter Island is a portrayal of Keanu, and there are whispers in certain circles that the dead alien recovered at the Roswell crash site was clutching a picture of Keanu.

And there you have it. This is as much as I could cobble together on such short notice, but you’ll have to trust me on it, because I’m Canadian, just like Keanu. Well, he is now.

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Cutting The Human Centipede In Half

May 18, 2010

I watched this movie.

It took me a couple of days to work up the nerve, and let me remind you: I am a horror junkie. I read, watch and listen to scary things for fun on almost a daily basis. Yes, I am a professional science fiction talker-abouter. But horror is my main interest as far as the fictive arts go.

The Human Centipede: First Sequence crawled into the public eye a few months back when its trailer started making the rounds. So I don’t think I’m spoiling much if I describe the basic plot, which is laid out for you in full vivid detail in that preview clip. Three tourists are kidnapped, drugged and held captive by a crazed German surgeon who wants to create a human centipede. This guy spent his career separating conjoined twins; now he wants to go the other way.

In other words, this is the first movie ever made about people being kneecapped, then sewn together butt-to-lips so they can crawl around while sharing a gastric system.

Here’s my dilemma: I love horror. I love to be scared. And that never happens anymore. Modern horror is pretty tame; I’ve seen it all before, right? The most recent attempt to transform the genre, remakes of 70s and 80s classics, has fallen flat, and the attempt before that, torture porn, was not my cup of tea at all.

Maybe that’s why I was so hesitant about Human Centipede. I have a built-in fear of operations (having had many, many surgeries, plastic and otherwise). Medical horror scares me because it could actually happen. “You say you like horror,” I said to myself. “So watch something that actually scares you.”

After staring at the DVD case as it sat on my desk  for two days, I took the plunge and put the disc in.

This movie does not look cheap. It was, but it doesn’t look it. Director/writer Tom Six does an excellent job working within the confined space of an actual house, and scores with his casting choices. Dieter Laser is Dr. Heiter, and I can tell you there hasn’t been a better villain since Gary Cole in Office Space. Laser, who has the best name on the planet, is the surgeon, the creepy, evil, deranged genius, who has been trying to replicate his beloved three-dog but has been having trouble finding subjects … until two stupid American girls knock on his door after suffering a flat tire in the same Bavarian forest where the opening of Suspiria happened.

The first half of the film works really well, because Laser just rocks it. He welcomes the girls in and says “I don’t like … people.” Later, as shown in the trailer, he explains the operation in chilling detail. I was loving it. I loved the attempted escape scene, the dread of the three captives, the knowledge that they could not stop this over-the-top madman from creating his vision of a sewn-together chain of people crawling around his back yard.

Horror fans, you should probably watch this. It isn’t as much of a gross-out as you might have assumed, but there are some moments that will make you squirm. It is a surprisingly effective frightfest, and genuinely horrifying, because you really don’t know what to expect. I loved the first hour. The second? Problems.

Here’s where the movie went south for me.

  • This will spoil a bit, so if you plan to see this and don’t want to know, go up there, click up top there on the previous article, and keep going until you hit the Black October series from last year. Those are horror reviews without spoilers.

Anyway, I decided around the halfway mark that this movie was working really well, because the actual surgery, the actual Human Centipede, was being held out as a threat, a final destination, a horrible possibility. Having seen the trailer, we know it’s going to happen, but I thought it would be the last few minutes. But it isn’t. It’s the second half of the movie.

It’s too much. It goes too far. Six removes the idea of suggestion and instead bombards us with images of torture, degradation and terror. It veers out of suspense territory and right into torture porn, with Dr. Heiter’s “I vant to be a surgical pioneer” justification for what he does suddenly reduced to “Vatch me drool while you poo.”

There are some good moments in the second half. The bond that builds between the three tourists as they’re forced to scuttle around, kneeless, stitched lips-to-sphincter, is handled surprisingly well. Laser’s slow mental and sexual deterioration, which is interrupted by the arrival of two cops (played by a couple of former Scorpions roadies)  looking for the owner of the car with the flat tire, is a fantastic performance. The cops, though, should have heightened the tension, but serve instead to draw things out unnecessarily, mostly because of bad mulletry.

The ending is excellent, and lives up to the tagline “100 percent medically accurate.” It’s just that middle sequence that went on too long, too stupidly. It’s better to let us imagine than to graphically tell us, and show us, what’s happening as the characters realize what “sharing a gastric system” really means.

  • Note: This was the low-budget test run for Six’s planned masterpiece, which will apparently involve a much larger chain of people. Can’t wait.
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STDVD: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

May 1, 2010

What the … ?

First of all, I didn’t know this existed until yesterday. Luckily, it was available in the “if you buy Into The Blue 2, we’ll give you this Dragonlance movie for free” bin at a certain video store I tell people I don’t go to.

This is such a bad film. Watch the trailer. You’ll agree.

And I had such high hopes. I loved the first Dragonlance trilogy, liked the second, read the third, and just now discovered there are 200 more books. I won’t seek them out. But that first set of books was a worthy entry-level fantasy series, something that surpassed its “let’s sell some TSR games” raison d’etre and gave us 80s fans a smart, fast series that touched all the bases.

Some questions I have about the movie:

  1. Did its creators not notice that animation has moved on from the He-Man and She-Ra look?
  2. Did they not think people would be a little weirded out by the odd mix of CGI dragons and hand-drawn, stupid-looking characters?
  3. How do you condense even one of these books into a single film without adding piles of suckness. Wait, the movie answers that question.
  4. Is it possible to make an animated movie without Michael Rosenbaum and Phil LaMarr? Nope to that, too. This is why Rosenbaum quit Smallville?
  5. Casting Kiefer Sutherland as Raistlin was inspired, but after seeing this I think Kiefer phoned in his lines from under a pile of scotch bottles in the back of a limo crashed into a tree.

In short, this is beyond bad, beyond unwatchable, and ruins what is, I think, a fine fantasy book series for people who don’t normally like this sort of thing. Go read those first three books, folks. Meet Tanis and Tas and Fizban and Flint. Have some fun with swords and dragons and dwarves and elves. You can use this DVD as a bookmark.

  • Note: This is the return of an occasional series looking at movies that go straight to DVD. The first set of reviews I wrote last year stemmed from my own collection, but now we’re going to look at new films.
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Jack Ketchum’s Offspring

January 2, 2010

Offspring, the book, is Ketchum’s sequel to his brutal 1982 debut, Off Season. Like that first book, it’s the roaring, visceral tale of an inbred tribe of modern cannibals who have been living and hunting in the remote Maine woods since the mid-1850s, and how their hunger leads them to an isolated house filled with people who have no idea what’s out there.

Over the past few years, ModernCine has been bringing Ketchum’s bleak, bloody visions to life.

Until now, I’ve been able to see only one Ketchum film: 1997’s The Girl Next Door. Remember, I live in the last igloo on Icefloe Avenue, and there’s a storm on. My local Blockbuster doesn’t usually stock this stuff, and I owe $100 in late fees at the art-house rental place from the time I lost the DVD of Twitch of the Death Nerve. I think it fell out of my briefcase at a parent-teacher interview.

I was happy to find Offspring (2009) for rent at Blockbuster the other night. I’ve just watched it for the second time, this time with the commentary. Overall, I’m pleased with it. Ketchum wrote the screenplay, and stayed so close to his book that I saw scenes unfold the way I pictured them while first reading Offspring. The casting is right — and effective, considering the limited experience of most of the actors — and the presentation of the cannibals makes them frightening without falling into caricature. These are grunting cave-dwellers, all of whom were stolen as children and raised in the wild, and when you watch, you buy it. Even the very young children, who could have been played for giggles but are as terrifying as the dominant adults (The Woman, First Stolen and Second Stolen).

  • Warning: There are some very disturbing scenes in this film, some very graphic violence and some terrifying ideas.

Offspring stars Art Hindle as George, the sheriff who first discovered the cannibals years before — and eradicated them (in Off Season, the events of which are quickly described in this film). Also in the mix are Pollyanna McIntosh as The Woman and Holter Graham as the current sheriff; he was the kid in Maximum Overdrive. McIntosh, in particular, is a rampaging icon of horror. Speaking of which, I have an autographed photo of Art Hindle from when he was on ENG.

As I’ve told you before, Jack Ketchum is a particular favourite of mine, which continues to surprise me. I don’t like gore, or splatter, or torture porn, but his books (and now films) are filled with such scenes. Not all of them, of course, but enough. What works for me is Ketchum’s ability to sum up a character in a few lines, to set a scene without telling you exactly what you’re seeing. That translates to this film, largely due to Ketchum’s involvement — he’s in the film, too, as a paramedic — but also because director Andrew van den Houten stuck close to the creator’s vision.

Great film? No. Great horror? Yeah. It’s short and tight and will surprise you, because there isn’t a cliche to be found. Everything is fresh and new and dark and disturbing, just like Ketchum’s books.

And I haven’t even mentioned The Cow.

  • Note: I wondered why Offspring was made before Off Season, but it turns out someone else owns the rights to that first book. There are other films — learn more here — and other books, which you can read about here.
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Sherlock Holmes: The Game Is Afoot

December 25, 2009

As we walked out of the theatre tonight after seeing Sherlock Holmes, we turned to each other and said, at the same time, “I kept forgetting that was Jude Law.” And then we laughed. But it’s true; watching Guy Ritchie’s movie, we had to remind ourselves just who that was playing Dr. Watson. Law does “tough guy” well, better than I’d expected, and as Holmes’s strong right arm, Law nails it. Great moustache, too.

When Jude Law gives the best performance in a film, you have to stop for a moment and take stock.

Sherlock Holmes is a strange blend of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Gangs of New York, From Hell and even Iron Man, but it works. Robert Downey Jr. is not as unconventional a Holmes as you might think; his sloppy Bohemian take on the detective is more akin to the original Conan Doyle stories than people realize. In the original stories, Holmes was a renowned bareknuckle fighter and martial artist, never wore the deerstalker hat and never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Ritchie and Downey went back to that original take, and then added their own upgrades.

But Downey here plays a very slight variation on Tony Stark, and it seems in some scenes that his heart isn’t quite in it. When he’s good, he’s very, very good, but when he’s bored he’s boring.

Law, on the other hand, reflects Doyle’s notion that these stories are told from Dr. Watson’s point of view. Watson is the voice of reason — a strange thing, considering he works alongside the supposed Lord of Logic. When Watson walks in on a loopy, obsessive Holmes carrying out a weird experiment with houseflies and a violin, the audience sides with the doctor, not with the detective. Watson’s repeated attempts to distance himself from Holmes’s lunacy inevitably end in him leaping to the detective’s aid. Indeed, he saves his skin in several scenes.

  • Plot: Holmes and Watson have caught and jailed Lord Blackwood, a satanic member of parliament who has been killing young women. Blackwood (Mark Strong) is sentenced to hang, and the sentence is carried out, but soon his tomb is found broken open and people believe he is on the loose, his dark powers raging. Meanwhile, Holmes’s old flame, Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams, Canadian) turns up with an agenda. There are conspiracies, lies and huge action scenes with big explosions. Later, Holmes fights Kurrgan.

There’s a lot more to the story, and it’s very densely plotted. While that’s a good thing — too many Hollywood films these days rely on cliche to drive story — there are moments when the story moves too quickly for Downey’s strange fake accent to get the point across. We had to discuss and analyze several key scenes before we had a complete sense of what had happened in the final act.

This is a weird, weird movie. Equal parts funny, frightening, violent and stimulating, it was a genuine surprise. I was expecting two hours of punching, kicking and sexing (as in the trailer up top there), but the detecting was front and centre … just presented in a new way.

It’s Ritchie’s first big Hollywood film, and he tried pretty hard to go Hollywood in it. This is my biggest beef: he uses too many oh-about-five-years-ago CGI tricks and slow motion flashbacks, and the film has a dated LXG look to it, complete with that white glow of digital backgrounds that I’ve mentioned before.

His digital Victorian London looks fine in quick scenes, but in wider shots things look like the beach in Atonement: fake, washed out, over-glare galore. And, for some reason, extras stand staring at the camera, posed like people in old photographs. It’s an odd choice, something that was done well in Gangs of New York but here feels forced.

But every time that sort of thing started to get to me, Ritchie’s gift for great moments came through. There’s one scene with a gypsy palm reader that had the audience in stitches, all because of the what-the-fuckness performance of Bronagh Gallagher (The Commitments). Correct what I said earlier: she’s the best actor in the film.

This was a satisfying fingers-in-the-popcorn adventure on a Christmas night, and I’m glad we went. I would not complain about seeing more of this Holmes.

Here are better, smarter thoughts on Sherlock Holmes.

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Iron Man 2

December 18, 2009

Iron Man was the best superhero movie of 2008. It might even have been the best superhero movie of all time. It was certainly better than The Dark Knight — which was no slouch itself — and it as all because of Robert Downey Jr., who played a strange combination of himself and Tony Stark.

This movie looks even better.

The problem with origin stories is the slow build of story before we see the suit. This used to be an effects issue — sorry, but nobody watched The Incredible Hulk to see Bill Bixby’s Human Littlest Hobo routine, and we waited for those short, rare Lou Ferrigno moments. Back then, it was about money. CGI solved that problem, which means we have digital Spidey and that annoying guy as The Human Torch.

But in introducing superhero concepts to the mainstream, Hollywood feels the need to set the stage.

Daredevil got it right, particularly in the director’s cut (this does not excuse the other problems with that Afflecky film). X-Men got it right, although we’re going back to the beginning with Bryan Singer’s First Class movie, which is a prequel to the X-movies and a sequel of sorts to Wolverine. Marvel is going a different route with its current slate of Avengers films, which will see the characters established in their own movies before they all team up for tea at the mansion.

Iron Man was set up nicely in the first film; now we get to see RJD cut loose and the story come together. This is due in part to the nature of the film; it isn’t about superpowers, but about technology, so it became a solid science fiction film rather than a fantasy funfest.

Senator Larry Sanders? I love it. War Machine, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle … I’m actually okay with Cheadle taking over for Terence Howard. Howard looked the part, but when he spoke, he sounded like Webster doing a Michael Jackson impression. “Next time, baby?” Sorry, no.

This one can’t hit screens fast enough for me.