Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Top 25 Films of the Last 25 Years

In 2006 Entertainment Tonight asked their resident film critic Leonard Maltin to commemorate his 25th year working with them by compiling a list of 25 of his favorite films. However, instead of simply picking his 25 all-time favorite movies, they asked him to name his favorite movie from each year for the past 25 years, beginning in 1982 and ending in 2006. Taking a cue from Maltin's list, I've compiled a list of my own favorite films by year. For some years it was hard to find more than one movie that I felt was worth mentioning and then there were others with seemingly too many great films to pick from. Keep in mind that, while I'm doing my best to catch up, I haven't seen nearly as many movies as Leonard Maltin, so there are surely some good ones that I'll be neglecting as I haven't gotten around to watching them yet. I thought about waiting until I'd seen some more of the seminal films that are out there before compiling my list, but I figure that I should either do this now or wait another 25 years, so without any further excuses I present my list of the Top 25 Films of the Last 25 Years:

1982: John Carpenter's The Thing
runner-up: Poltergeist

1983: Christine
runner-up: Videodrome

1984: Ghostbusters
runner-up: The Terminator

1985: Back to the Future
runner-up: Brazil

1986: Aliens
runner-up: The Fly

1987: Predator
runner-up: Full Metal Jacket

1988: Die Hard
runner-up: Akira

1989: The Abyss
runner-up: Back to the Future Part II

1990: Tremors
runner-up: Total Recall

1991: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
runner-up: The Silence of the Lambs

1992: Alien 3
runner-up: Reservoir Dogs

1993: Jurassic Park
runner-up: The Nightmare Before Christmas

1994: Pulp Fiction
runner-up: Clerks

1995: Se7en
runner-up: Toy Story

1996: Fargo
runner-up: Primal Fear

1997: LA Confidential
runner-up: Cube

1998: Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
runner-up: The Big Lebowski

1999: Fight Club
runner-up: The Matrix/American Beauty (an unavoidable tie)

2000: Snatch
runner-up: Memento

2001: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
runner-up: Frailty

2002: The Rules of Attraction
runner-up: Spiderman

2003: X-Men 2
runner-up: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

2004: Spiderman 2
runner-up: The Incredibles

2005: Sin City
runner-up: War of the Worlds

2006: Children of Men
runner-up: Slither

2007 (thus far): Grindhouse
runner-up (thus far): Superbad

* To view Leonard Maltin's list, Click Here.

** My choices for 2007 are based on the selection of films released on or before Monday, August 27, 2007.

*** I have omitted Kill Bill from the running because it's two parts came out in separate years. Together they would undoubtedly be on this list, but separated I had to go with some other choices.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Episode 55

Superbad - Best friends Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) are high school seniors with about two weeks left until graduation who have to deal with the fact that, having gotten into separate colleges, they will soon be parting ways. Not exactly the most popular guys in school, the two of them have high hopes of losing their virginity before moving away to college. A perfect opportunity to score presents itself when they find out that a popular girl named Jules (Emma Stone) is having a party and they are invited. The catch is that Seth let it slip that he would be getting his hands on a fake ID and Jules has given him $100 and asked him to pick up alcohol for the party. In reality, Seth and Evan's nerdy acquaintance Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is the one with the fake ID, so now Seth must rely on a guy that he doesn't even like very much to take Jules' money and seal the deal. In a similarly sticky situation is Evan, who has promised to pick up a special bottle of vodka for Becca (Martha MacIsaac), the girl of his dreams, and doesn't want to screw things up by not coming through. Everything seems to be going according to the plan until Fogell is involved in a robbery at the liquor store and police officers Slater (Bill Hader) and Michaels (Seth Rogen) arrive on the scene. Evan and Seth panic, leaving Fogell behind and continuing their quest for alcohol. As the night goes on and their time to acquire the booze begins to run out, Seth, Evan, and Fogell embark on hilarious journeys that may just change their lives forever. My only real attraction to Superbad was Michael Cera, whose dry comedic stylings I fell in love with on the show Arrested Development. I had assumed that the film would be funny, but I had no idea that it would be as hilarious as it indeed turned out to be. Superbad is the first comedy that I've seen in the theater since last year's Borat, which I claimed that I had laughed harder and longer at than any other movie that I'd previously seen. Having seen Superbad, that record may again be broken. What makes this film so funny is not just the great cast of character actors themselves, but their ability as a whole to mesh their comedic timing together so well. Cera, Hill, Mintz-Plasse, Hader, and Rogen are all great comic talents by themselves, but when you put them together it's almost impossible not to laugh your ass off. The basic premise of Superbad is not all that different from other comedies such as American Pie or Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle in which a group of young guys go on some kind of quest or adventure and hilarity ensues, but it is the slight nuances that really set it apart from these others. The intricate back-stories of some characters, the strange personality quirks of others...there are a million little details thrown into the story that make it much more grandiose and fleshed out than the precursors of the "sex comedy" genre. Not to mention, beneath all of the cursing, vulgarity, and dick jokes, there is a very relatable sub-plot involving the relationship of two best friends who have to come to terms with the changes going on in their lives and how they will affect each other. Also on the topic of relatable elements, I have never seen a movie before in my life, comedy or otherwise, that genuinely captured high schoolers and high school in general so well. There are plenty of films that show the camaraderie between students and the segregation of the different archetypes of young people, but the thing that no other movie about high school has never done quite like Superbad is to realistically translate the way the students talk. It's just a fact that teenagers in general have dirty fucking mouths, but movies like American Pie have always seemed to stray from showing it. It is sometimes jarring to hear the way the young characters in this movie use vulgarity and swear words in combinations such as "suck dick at fucking pussy", but to me it always rang true to reality. In fact, despite the obviously ridiculous and unbelievable turns that the plot of Superbad sometimes takes, I really feel like it properly translates how it feels to be a kid these days. I've been in situations in the past that mirrored multiple scenes from the film which felt totally genuine. For example, the feeling of awkwardness when going to a party where you don't know anyone or the crazy shit that goes through your head when you're tempted to steal something from a store. On every possible level I found Superbad extremely enjoyable. I laughed through the entire running time and can't wait to see this movie again.

Rescue Dawn - Based on real events, Rescue Dawn follows the story of United States fighter pilot Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale). On a mission over Laos during the Vietnam War, Dieter's plane is shot down by the enemy. Surviving the crash, Dengler narrowly escapes immediate capture, using his training to survive in the jungle. Before too long though, he is tracked down and caught by the a group of Vietnamese soldiers before being taken to a local town where he is tortured using a variety of cruel techniques. When he refuses to say anything about himself or his mission, Dengler is led to a small prison camp where he is kept alongside a group of about five other men, some of whom have been in captivity for over two years. Learning the habits of the guards and timing his actions with the rainy season in Vietnam, Dieter plans an escape from the camp. However, before he can execute his plans he must convince his fellow prisoners to join his cause, which proves more difficult than expected as some of them have reservations about taking any risks with the guards. When rumors begin to make their way through the camp that all of the prisoners will be executed in the next few days, Dieter's plans are rushed into immediate action. Relying on his cellmates, Dengler makes a break for freedom, but even if he make it out of the prison, how long can he possibly survive in the harsh, unforgiving jungles of Vietnam? As long as there has been cinema, it seems, there have been films about war and escaping from prison. Often times these two premises have been combined, and at first glance Rescue Dawn is no different. Take a second look though, and director Werner Herzog just may make you think otherwise. Having already helmed a documentary about Dieter Dengler's plight and finding the story so fascinating that he felt the subject would make a worthy narrative film, Herzog was obviously the perfect person to helm this project. You can feel how much he cares about the material when watching it. There is an incredible feeling of realism in Rescue Dawn that I've personally never quite gotten before from a war movie (not to say that this is a war movie, but moreso a movie set during a war). This is mostly due to Herzog's attention to detail and serious approach to the topic, but equal shares of the credit for this film's successes must go to the cast. Christian Bale has fast become one of my favorite actors, and his role in Rescue Dawn is a perfect example of why that is. He is an incredibly versatile actor. He can play anyone from a corporate psychopath to a futuristic rebel to a gentleman magician, and even Batman, all seemingly with the greatest of ease. All of the emotions that the viewer feels in Rescue Dawn are derived directly from Bale's performance, often being sparked by a mere facial expression. Adding to the intensity of many scenes during the middle of the film are the performances of Bale's fellow prisoners. Steve Zahn, who is usually more of a comedice than dramatic actor, puts in a great performance as another American pilot named Duane. Also very impressive is Jeremy Davies as the slightly deranged and malnourished Gene. There are many moments during Rescue Dawn that will make you feel as though you are in fact watching a documentary as opposed to a narrative movie, which I think works to the film's advantage. It's very easy to get caught up in what's going on because it is filmed in a sort of sterile way as opposed to the flashy directing of other war films like Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor, which seem to focus more on accentuating the action than the story. This is not always a bad thing, but it certainly wouldn't have suited the story behind Herzog's film. Perhaps the only thing that I wasn't completely satisfied with about Rescue Dawn was the ending, which I felt strayed from the mood of the rest of the movie a bit. It's certainly a satisfying conclusion, but if I had to complain about something, that would be it. Since Rescue Dawn is often very bleak and filmed in a very realistic fashion, not everyone will be able to truly enjoy the experience of watching it, but I think that the knowledge that what you're seeing really happened is enough to at least make the events of the movie interesting to just about anyone.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next - A smalltime criminal named Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) has landed himself in prison yet again. In order to get out of the slammer he convinces the prison staff that he is crazy and is shipped off to a mental institution. Once there, Randle thinks that he's going to live an easy, carefree life without being confined to a cell, but soon discovers that life in the nut-house isn't going to be the walk in the park that he'd expected. Despising authority figures, Randle immediately gets off on the wrong foot with nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who works with the patients daily. Nurse Ratched is a stern, cold woman who appears to want to help the people in the institution, but generally treats them like children, which Randle believes is actually working against the therapy which she is trying to provide. Over time Randle stirs up the daily goings-on at the institution more and more by requesting that he be allowed to watch baseball games on television and other seemingly small gestures. The scope and intricacy of his ploys grows in the coming weeks, making life in the institution more and more interesting. The sheer fact that he wants to do things differently begins to liven up the other patients and seems to garner results in making them less irritated and more personable, but nurse Ratched cannot see past her own ego enough to realize that not only is it possible that Randle is right, but that he himself may not actually be mentally disturbed. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is considered a classic by many, which certainly made my expectations for it pretty high. Seeing the film for the first time, it wasn't quite able to meet those expectations, but that is by no means to say that I didn't like the film. For whatever reason, Jack Nicholson has never really been one of my favorite actors, but I think that his portrayal of Randle McMurphy may now be my favorite of his roles. The demands of the role seemed as though they came rather naturally to Nicholson. His job in the movie was essentially to try to have fun and argue with authority figures, which he does in a way that makes for some very memorable and entertaining scenes. He becomes a real leader for the seemingly aimless group of patients at the mental institution where he finds himself, and his relationships with some of these characters are really what allow the film to have the strong impact that it leaves the viewer with. Primarily, of course, is his friendship with the chief (Will Sampson). Other memorable roles in the film were played by Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd, and Danny DeVito. One role that garners a lot of attention, it seems, is that of nurse Ratched. While I do think that the character is important, I honestly wasn't the biggest fan of Fletcher's portrayal of her. I think that this may have something to do with the writing, because I almost feel as though she didn't really fall into the role as the real antagonist of the story until the climax. For the majority of the film she just seems like a small hurdle that Randle must overcome from time to time instead of the true force to be reckoned with that I think she was supposed to be. Then again, I guess most people don't feel the same way as me on this topic. While the film was heartwarming and comedic at parts, I think that I really needed a stronger feeling of opposition to Randle to get the triumphant feeling out of him that he deserved at parts. Of course, the lengths that the hospital goes to to calm him down become quite devastating, but as the characterization of "the man" keeping Randle down, nurse Ratched just didn't cut it for me. As I said, it could have been the actress, it could have been the writing, or it could have been a combination of the two. I find myself looking for other things that I had a problem with in the movie, but I can't necessarily pinpoint anything, which is why I get the feeling that my high expectations for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are really what ended up being it's downfall. As I said, I enjoyed it, but I honestly don't really see what it is about this film that places it so high on so many peoples' lists of favorite films. Case in point, it's spot at #9 on the IMDb's Top 250 films list. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a memorable movie watching experience that I think anyone can enjoy, but I guess my advice to those who have yet to see it is don't put it on a pedestal like I did until you've seen it and can form your own opinion.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Episode 54

Disturbia - On their way home from a fishing trip, Kale (Shia LaBeouf) and his father Daniel (Matt Craven) are involved in an accident that leaves Daniel dead. Afterward, Kale becomes distant and rebellious, and his grades begin to drop. When confronted by a teacher at his school who brings up his father, Kale punches him in the face and is later sentenced to house arrest for the duration of his summer break. He is fitted with an ankle bracelet which alerts the police if he travels more than 100 feet from a device in his kitchen, and to make things worse, his mother Julie (Carrie-Anne Moss) has cancelled his Xbox Live and iTunes accounts. With nothing to do and nowhere to go, Kale begins casually spying on his neighbors, most notably the new girl named Ashley (Sarah Roemer) who has moved in next door. As time passes Kale not only begins a relationship with Ashley, but also starts to suspect that Mr. Turner (David Morse), another of his neighbors, may be murdering women and hiding their bodies in his home. Putting together clues that he's gathered by watching Mr. Turner from his bedroom windows and things that he has heard on the news about some missing girls, Kale soon drags Ashley and his friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) into his amateur investigation. No one believes him at first, least of which the police, but Kale won't be swayed from his belief that his neighbor is a cold-blooded killer. At the risk of breaking his probation and going to prison, Kale must discover whether his hunch is true or whether his imagination has gotten away from him, especially since his loved ones' lives may hang in the balance. Having watched and fallen in love with Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window shortly before Disturbia's release in theaters, I had the suspicion that, being so similar in premise to Hitchcock's masterpiece, it would be complete garbage. However, while not as good as Rear Window, I have found Disturbia to be a suspenseful, well-made, and all around enjoyable film. Rear Window was released in 1954 while Disturbia came out in 2007, leaving a lot of room for updating the premise. Making the main character a high school kid with a court-appointed ankle bracelet turned out to be a great way to not only modernize the story, but amp up the suspense. Whereas in Rear Window, Jimmy Stewart's character had a broken leg and was incapable of leaving his apartment, Shia LaBeouf's character has the ability to leave his home, but must be prepared to deal with the circumstances of this action. Speaking of Shia LaBeouf, much of Disturbia's quality rests firmly on his shoulders. The character of Kale is a relatable, likable character who can be humorous one moment and serious, angry, or sad the next. It is my firm belief that had this movie's lead been played by an actor even slightly less talented than LaBeouf, it would have fallen flat. This is not to say that he puts in the only worthwhile performance in Disturbia, though. Sarah Roemer is a great contrast and also a great compliment to LaBeouf's character. As just as much of the film's running time is devoted to the flirtation and romance between these two roles as it is to the suspenseful mystery, Roemer was required to help carry a lot of scenes, and she did so with ease for the most part. Also a great addition to the cast is Aaron Yoo who adds a lot of humor and one more likable character to the roster. Carrie-Anne Moss' role was a bit weak, but also didn't have much screen time. David Morse's character is the one that I'm really torn on. Sometimes he felt like he really fit into his role while other times he seemed completely out of character. This could just be because I still think of him as the nice pilot from The Langoliers, but regardless, he was occasionally one of the few weaknesses of the movie in my opinion. In addition to the top notch acting talent that Disturbia is packed with, director D.J. Caruso deserves credit for keeping this story from drifting into silly territory. With all of the modern gadgetry and teenage stereotypes employed in the film it could have quickly gone from believable and serious to dumb and predictable, but by a sheer exercise of his exceptional talent as a storyteller, Caruso keeps everything tied up into an unlikely, but acceptable and staid tale. In the end, Disturbia is just a fun movie. It has tons of humor, a sprinkling of romance, multiple doses of drama and scares and even a bit of shock value. After seeing how sloppily some horror/suspense films such as Hostel juggle their comical and serious elements, it is truly refreshing to witness the perfect balance of all of it's genres that Disturbia displays. The movie just has a really nice flow and an entertaining story that is held together by some terrific performances. It has it's flaws, but they are mostly overshadowed by it's successes.

Flyboys - By the year 1917 World War I had been underway for several years, but the United States had yet to enter the conflict. When Blaine Rawlings (James Franco) is forced to leave his home after the bank forecloses on the family ranch, he is left with nowhere to go and nothing to look forward to. After viewing a newsreel that shows French fighter pilots in battle, he goes for broke and decides to join the Lafayette Escadrille, a French fighter plane squadron. Along with a few other Americans, Blaine is trained by the French to operate a plane and hold his own in a dogfight. Over time the young men become friends as they fight alongside one another, though the average life-span for a pilot in active duty is only a few weeks. When Blaine's plane goes down in a field he is knocked unconscious and wakes up in a nearby French brothel where he meets a beautiful young woman named Lucienne (Jennifer Decker). Sneaking away from the base occasionally and learning some French in his free time, Blaine falls in love with Lucienne, which doesn't bode well for his flying career. As the Axis forces move closer and the war begins to heat up, the Lafayette Escadrille are once again called into action. Now Blaine must do his duty and save the woman he loves while avenging one of his fallen comrades against the pilot of a notorious black enemy plane. Going into Flyboys I was expecting it to be a World War I version of Pearl Harbor. As such, I was expecting it to have some good action, but a generally poor plot and weak characters. In many ways this movie was exactly the opposite of what I expected. The trailer for Flyboys is very misleading inasmuch as it shows primarily action scenes, which make up only a very small part of the actual film. In addition to this, much of the action is rather basic and unspectacular. The dramatic portions of the plot are in fact what make up the best moments of the movie. The love story that unfolds between Blaine and Lucienne is heartwarming and believable, and never goes into the overpowering direction that the same sort of scenes in Pearl Harbor did. Also, the camaraderie of the pilots was very entertaining to watch, albeit sometimes rather stereotypical. We have for example the veterans who don't accept the new recruits, the African American character who grows a bond with his rich, snobby roommate over time, the guy who really wants to fly, but can't shoot to save his life, etc. All of the characters are for the most part nothing the average movie-goer hasn't seen before, but in this way they are sort of immediately acceptable as the archetypes that normally fill a war movie. All in all, it's not something that I'd truly complain about. As far as the acting goes, this film is less reliant on the singular acting abilities of any one person than it is on the interaction of it's stable of characters as a whole. James Franco does a decent enough job of leading the cast, but is really nothing special. Martin Henderson gives a noteworthy performance while Jean Reno, the biggest name in the movie, is put to rather poor use. It's really hard to come up with a clear way to describe my feelings about Flyboys. It is a fairly forgettable film with no particularly memorable moments, but when I think back on watching it I recall having an alright time with it. I guess the best way to put it is that this movie is nothing special, but if you should find yourself in front of a television when it's on, you shouldn't be terribly disappointed.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Episode 53 - The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons Movie - Everyone knows who the Simpsons are (and if you don't, you should be worried), so let's get right down to business. Lisa (as voiced by Yeardley Smith), as she tends to do quite often, goes on a crusade. This time, along with an Irish boy who just moved to Springfield named Colin (Tress MacNeille), the cause she is behind is that of cleaning up the town's horribly polluted lake. Meanwhile, Homer (Dan Castellaneta) has procured himself a new pet after saving a pig from being slaughtered at the local Krusty Burger. Much to Marge's (Julie Kavner) dismay, Homer insists on keeping the pig in the house and has been collecting it's droppings in a poorly crafted silo which resides in their back yard. When the silo is full and Marge orders Homer to dispose of his mess, he is about to deliver it to a waste disposal plant, which would be the correct thing to do. However, when he gets a call from Lenny (Harry Shearer), who tells him that free donuts are being given away, he rushes down to the newly-sanitized lake to quickly rid himself of the silo of pig feces in order to make it into town in time for some free donuts. Later on, having taken a liking to hanging around with Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer) instead of his own neglectful father, Bart (Nancy Cartwright) is hiking with his neighbor when they stumble upon a squirrel that has been mutated by the pollutants unleashed upon the lake by Homer. When the Environmental Protection Agency finds out about the lake they deem Springfield the most polluted town in America and decide that the best course of action is to seal the entire town inside a massive glass dome. The residents of Springfield aren't happy with this turn of events and are in the process of taking out their frustrations on Homer, who they've learned is the cause of the whole fiasco, when the Simpsons make a daring escape. By leaping into a sinkhole in their yard they are freed from the dome, but everyone else is still trapped inside. With a country-wide search going on for the Simpsons, they flee to Alaska to live a new life, but when their collective guilt begins to build up over leaving their friends and neighbors to suffer inside a dome that exists because of them, they decide to go back and try to save the day. All of them except for Homer, that is, whose selfish nature pushes his family away and leaves him alone in Alaska to ponder where everything went wrong. Will Marge and the kids be able to free Springfield from the dome? Will Homer come to his senses and admit his guilt? Will the town survive when the decision is made by evil EPA member Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks) to blow it up? The Simpsons Movie manages to be pretty similar to most of the episodes of the show inasmuch as it is pretty funny, but not that great. I used to love the show, but I honestly feel that it has dropped in quality quite a bit over the years. I can still go back and watch episodes from the first nine or ten seasons and laugh my ass off, but the newer ones are more "hit and miss". In the case of the movie, I can't say that it's either a hit or a miss. Perhaps my biggest problem with the movie is that I didn't particularly like the plot. There are stories from several episodes of the show that I think would have made for a better feature length movie. Also, it just felt as though it had been done before. The basic premise is fairly similar to the episode of the show in which Mr. Burns uses a large device to block out the light from the sun. Speaking of which, this is a bit picky on my part, but I really felt that Mr. Burns should have been the villain in this movie instead of some new character that honestly isn't even very well fleshed out in the film. But anyway, exchange the sun blocker for a giant dome and you essentially have the same situation. Also, the subplots all felt re-hashed. Homer does something stupid, which ends up being cataclysmic (such as in the episode where he gains weight to go on disability and almost blows up the town). Marge questions her relationship with Homer (much like the episodes in which Homer almost cheats on her with a co-worker and a country music star). Lisa has boy troubles (much like the episode in which she dates Nelson [Nancy Cartwright]). Bart builds a relationship with Flanders (much like the episode where he and Lisa are forced into his care by the government). The fact that so many different aspects of The Simpsons Movie felt as though they were recycled from previous story lines can obviously be blamed on the fact that there have been so many episodes of The Simpsons. This only leads me to ask, "If there wasn't a new, unique, worthwhile story to tell here, why did they even bother making a movie?" The answer is of course that these characters guarantee a certain monetary gain for the filmmakers. Sadly, this doesn't make for a particularly great movie-going experience. Now, before I start to sound like I hated The Simpsons Movie, let me say that I did find parts of it humorous. One or two of the best laughs are revealed in the trailers, but there are many more instances in the film that had me chuckling or even full-on laughing out loud. Then again, there were also various points at which I was wondering if things were funny to anyone, or if they were even supposed to be funny at all (such as with the breast jokes involving the old eskimo woman). Not that I'm a fervent watcher of the show these days, but I'll be interested to see if some of the continuity from the movie holds up in the coming seasons. For example, I'm wondering if Colin will become a recurring character, and I'll be interested to see if the character(s) who meet his/her/their demise in the movie will indeed stay dead in the show. As far as differences between the television version and the movie, there are a few that I was honestly surprised by. Anyone could have guessed that in the film version of South Park there would be more cursing and vulgarity than usual, but I hadn't expected the same from The Simpsons. There isn't much, but prepare yourself for displays of "the finger", use of the phrase "god damn", and a completely unexpected shot of full fontal nudity...of a minor (albeit an animated one). Everything taken into account, The Simpsons Movie is certainly worth seeing, but in the wake of so many seasons of the show that are filled with quality episodes, it really doesn't stand up to what came before.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Episode 52 - Masters Of Horror Part 2

The Fly - Meek scientist Seth Brundle ( Jeff Goldblum) has been secretly working on an incredible new technological breakthrough for past six years. He hadn't told anyone about it until he met Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) at a science expo. Bringing her back to his home in an old warehouse, Seth demonstrates his invention to Veronica: a set of pods which can teleport objects between them. Veronica, a reporter for a science journal, secretly records a conversation with Seth and plans to become famous by writing about the invention, but her boss (and ex-boyfriend) Stathis Borans (John Getz) doesn't believe that what she's telling him is true, even with her taped conversation. When Seth catches up to Veronica he convinces her to hold off on publishing the story until he can perfect the machine, which as of yet, has been unable to transport an animate object without mutilating it. After several tests and a lot of time spent together, not only do Seth and Veronica fall in love, but they also finally discover how to successfully teleport living things. One night, drunk and suspecting that Veronica is cheating on him with Stathis, Seth teleports himself with his invention, becoming the first human to undergo the process. When Seth begins to grow stronger and more agile, he believes that his creation has made him better than before, but when his skin begins to deteriorate and he becomes violent and angry, he realizes that something is wrong. Checking his computer files, Seth discovers that a fly had gotten into the machine with him when he first teleported and that the machine spliced their DNA together. Now Veronica can only stand by and watch as Seth is transformed into something inhuman. Where to begin? The Fly is a film centered around an age-old science fiction premise with a brilliant new twist. The premise: teleportation. The twist: what happens when two living things occupy the same teleporter at the same time? Writer/director David Cronenberg answers this question with style. The direction and pacing of The Fly are perfect. In every scene a new question is raised regarding either the technology of the film or the main character's transformation. For someone inclined to have to think while watching their movies, you couldn't ask for much more. Sometimes the directions that the movie takes are so strange and repulsive that I'm honestly surprised that it was as well-recieved and acclaimed as it was. Jeff Goldblum, who seems to usually be stuck in supporting roles, proves in one fell swoop why he is so deserving of being a leading man as Seth Brundle. When he stutters and gives awkward glances to Geena Davis' character you honestly feel as though you're looking at someone who has had no human contact for six years, and then he can turn around and go off on a rant about random science-related topics and totally convince the viewer that he is excited and knowledgeable about the subject. Then, when the transformation of Seth Brundle into "Brundle Fly" begins to occur, Goldblum seems to completely lose himself in the act of becoming an illogical creature. This is by far the best performance that I have seen from Jeff Goldblum. Equally impressive is Geena Davis, whose character doesn't go through all of the changes that Goldblum's does, but must react and respond to the unbelievable events that occur. The emotional roller coaster that the character of Victoria is taken on because of Seth Brundle's experiments is deftly pulled off by Davis in every instance. The one slight drawback in the cast is John Getz's Stathis Borans, who often seems a little forced and not as emotionally natural as his counterparts. This doesn't manage to detract from the overall experience, though. Next on the docket are the special effects. The Fly is a movie (like many others) that would most likely be horrible had it been made a decade later. The mid-eighties was the perfect time for such a make-up effects-heavy movie to be made. The different stages of transformation between the human Brundle and the mutated creature that he becomes are all beautifully achieved without the use of CG. Body parts falling off and skin being shed are somewhat fake, but joyous to watch. Another great effect comes when Seth uses his acidic vomit to burn an enemy. Trying to decipher how the effect was achieved is almost as fun as just watching it happen. Also, seeing Seth climb from the ceiling to the wall, and finally back to the floor is very intriguing to behold. The fact that this effect was performed by rotating the set as opposed to using computer effects is purely delightful. As I said before, I'm not really sure how The Fly managed to squeeze through the margins of what is widely accepted in film because of how dark and disturbing that it often is, but it certainly feels like a victory for fans of gory horror movies that don't dumb themselves down for the masses.

Videodrome - Imagine a world where VHS tapes are still the most advanced technology in the film-viewing world. It is in this world that there lives a man named Max Renn (James Woods). Max is an executive at a sleazy cable television channel that goes out of it's way to push the boundaries of sex and violence. In search of a new show for his station, Max and his co-worker Harlan (Peter Dvorsky) have stumbled upon a pirate satellite feed called "Videodrome" which shows very convincing scenes of torture and murder. Max is immediately intrigued and enlists the help of a television promoter with connections named Masha (Lynne Gorman) to track down it's creators. When Renn's girlfriend Nicki (Deborah Harry) finds a Videodrome tape in his collection, she too becomes obsessed with the show, and after telling Max that she is going to Pittsburg for an assignment, instead tracks down the show herself to become a part of it. Max tries to stop Nicki after discovering that the acts of violence on Videodrome may in fact be real, but she's already made up her mind. All the while, Max has been experiencing exceedingly wild hallucinations, prompting him to visit the man responsible for Videodrome as soon as Masha tells him who it is: a man who calls himself Brian O'Blivion (Jack Creley). After meeting O'Blivion's daughter Bianca (Sonja Smits), he discovers that Brian has been dead for almost a year and that his daughter has been keeping him "alive" by playing people who wish to see him old videotapes of her father, of which there are thousands. What Max also discovers, as he expected, is that Videodrome is in fact responsible for his recent hallucinations. However, what he never dreamed of was what exactly had been causing them, or what purpose they would eventually serve. To truly enjoy Videodrome in this day and age you must be able to accept that the story takes place in a world without the internet or virtual media like MP3s. You also need to prepare yourself for some strange and often disturbing imagery. Videodrome is the brainchild of controversial writer/director David Cronenberg. Cronenberg is perhaps best known for The Fly and the recent A History of Violence, but he has also helmed such trippy films as eXistenZ and Naked Lunch. Videodrome is definitely one of his trippier films. The concept is very original and very strange, as are the visuals. As Max's hallucinations get worse, the special effects of the film become more intricate and impressive. Most of the effects are make-up and prosthetics that are part of James Woods' body, and they often walk the thin line between horrific and beautiful. Regardless of which side they fall on, though, they are always impressive. Another very memorable and intriguing visual effect involves the screen of Max's television as it grows out into a sort of bubble that Max can touch and interact with. The only part of the film when I honestly didn't think that the effects worked was at the very end when a man's body rips itself apart from the inside. It is still interesting to watch, but also very fake. Perhaps more disturbing than the special effects, though are the scenes in which the characters watch the Videodrome program. Most involve people being tied up and beaten, and they are made more unsettling by appearing on static-filled old television screens. James Woods' performance in this film is very impressive as he manages to keep the audience fully involved in the plot even when it gets a bit confusing or odd. His ability to remain a character that the viewer can connect with even in the most strange, unimaginable situations is impeccable. The rest of the cast is very well-rounded as well, creating the perfect world for Videodrome's curious story to take place in. Story, acting, and visuals aside, the thing about Videodrome that impressed me the most was, in fact, the world that Cronenberg has crafted. In modern society you can find almost any extreme of violence or sex with a few keystrokes in the privacy of your own home thanks to the internet. In my opinion, if the internet never existed, Cronenberg's vision of the near future in Videodrome is probably very much like the world we would be living in. Since there would be no way to search online for videos with horrific or sexual content like we can now, there's a good chance that television would evolve into a more open forum for content of that nature. In this manner, the alternate reality of Videodrome poses a lot of questions that are perhaps more viable today than they may seem at first glance. "What is it people want to see?", "how can we give it to them?", and "what do we do when we've gone too far?"

The Return - At the age of eleven, Joanna Mills (Sarah Michelle Gellar) was in a car accident with her father (Sam Shepard). Ever since that day she has had strange visions that resemble memories, but none of them are hers. She also sometimes harms herself while in deep trances that come out of nowhere. Fifteen years later she is a young woman working for a trucking company. Her work requires her to take trips all across America, but she normally refuses to set foot in Texas where she grew up. When an opportunity to impress a big client near her hometown arises though, she takes the offer and is on her way. The closer she gets to her childhood home, the more frequently and violently her visions begin to occur. Mysteriously drawn to a bar she's never been to before, but which seems very familiar, Joanna meets a man named Terry Stahl (Peter O'Brien) who she has seen in her visions, and decides to ask him some questions. What she soon finds out is that his wife was murdered at about the same time that she and her father were in their car accident. Assuming that this is why she's been having the strange visions, Joanna begins looking into the death of Terry's wife, but what connection does she have to the events that took her life some 15 years ago? In a word, The Return is bad. In another word, it's uninspired, and in yet another, it's boring. Based on the advertising campaign for The Return, I had assumed that it was going to be yet another in the long line of copycat films spawned from The Ring to feature pale, creepy dead people scaring the shit out of attractive blonde girls. As it turns out, The Return is just a slow, pointless film that I nearly forgot about as soon as it ended. I never watched the Buffy The Vampire Slayer television show, but Sarah Michelle Gellar has got to be deserving of better roles than this. As such, I dare anyone to show me proof that she cared in the least about putting in a decent performance in this film. Outside of Gellar, the only significant character in the film is Peter O'Brien's tortured soul Terry Stahl, and he also put in a weak effort to make anyone care about him. No one else in The Return really seemed all that important, so it was up to these two main characters to drive the story, and it felt more like they fell asleep at the wheel. Perhaps it would have helped them out some in entertaining the audience if director Asif Kapadia had at least tried to add something original or interesting to his movie, but alas he seems to have opted not to. It is not Asif's fault though, that the story behind The Return is complete garbage. Not only is it uneventful and boring, but it also manages to be confusing. There was a scene at the end of the film that was obviously supposed to wrap everything up and clue the audience into what was going on the whole time, but it just left me with more questions. Questions that I didn't really care that much about finding out the answers to. There are movies that are bad and then there are movies that should just never have gotten past the scriptwriting stage. The Return is far and away one of the latter.

Virus - The Sea Star, a tugboat under the command of Captain Robert Everton (Donald Sutherland), finds itself caught in a storm at sea. Barely surviving it's wrath, Everton and his hesitant crew stumble upon another ship, seemingly deserted in the wake of the storm. Boarding the ship, which turns out to be a Russian science vessel, the crew of the Sea Star opts to salvage the ship for themselves and collect on the reward money for bringing it in. However, their plan is compromised when they discover a raving woman onboard named Nadia (Joanna Pacula) who claims that she is the ship's only surviving crew member. According to her, the vessel's satellites intercepted an electronic signal from space that took over all of the ship's electronics. In the wake of this event, her crew shut down all of the power. Disregarding her ridiculous claims, Everett orders that the Russian boat's electricity be restored, but as soon as it is, people begin disappearing. Before long, mutilated humans with robotic limbs and weapons welded to their bodies begin attacking the crew of the Sea Star. Slowly losing his mind, Captain Everett confronts the creatures and agrees to help them murder the rest of his people in exchange for a position of power among them. With Everett now against them, Kelly Foster (Jamie Lee Curtis), Steve Baker (William Baldwin), and Richie Mason (Sherman Augustus) team up with Nadia to once again attempt to defeat the creatures, which view humans as a virus that must be terminated. My feelings on Virus are fifty-fifty. On one hand it has a great premise, decent directing, and some truly impressive special effects. On the other hand it has a stereotypical formula, poor writing, and some equally bad special effects. Based on the Dark Horse comic book of the same name, Virus' core concept is refreshingly original. Instead of a monster from space or a demon that takes over people's bodies, we have a bit of a combination of both. The enemy in Virus is a living electronic signal. As such, it possesses electronics, and using human bodies, creates man/machine hybrids which it controls via a hive-mind. In this capacity, there are some pretty neat looking creatures in the movie without it feeling too cliched. Speaking of the creatures, the designs and make-up effects of the cyborg villains are (for the most part) great. They are truly creepy and pleasing to the eye, yet at the same time they can appear fairly clunky in action. It is always obvious when there is an animatronic enemy onscreen as opposed to a person in make-up, which makes some scenes feel more cheesy than others. By the time the majorly CG final enemy, the Goliath, makes his appearance, though, he takes away any hesitations that the viewer may have about the technology utilized in making of the film. For being produced in the mid-nineties, the computer effects in Virus are surprisingly convincing. The filmmakers also did a good job of matching the real props with the CG imagery, especially in, as I said, the final scenes with the Goliath. The acting in Virus is one of it's downfalls as even proven veterans Donald Sutherland and Jamie Lee Curtis seem to be unable to sell the wild story that they are a part of. Particularly horrible is Sherman Augustus, whose character Richie goes insane for no good reason about halfway through the film and begins randomly building things that will come into play during the movie's climax. This is just a poor plot development and a transparent way of wrapping things up at the end of the movie. I wouldn't say that there are any really good instances involving scares in Virus, but it's certainly worth checking out for some of the effects and the original premise. I haven't personally read the comic books off of which this film is based, but after seeing it again, I'd like to pick up some copies and give them a look.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Episode 51 - Masters Of Horror Part 1

The Re-Animator - Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a slightly unstable, but well-meaning medical student. After being thrown out of the school he'd been attending in Germany he relocates to a med school in the United States where he is under the tutelage of the famous Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), with whom Herbert doesn't see eye to eye. In need of a roommate, fellow student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) accepts Herbert into his home where he promptly sets up a makeshift laboratory in the basement. When Dan's cat goes missing, his girlfriend (and daughter of the school's Dean Alan Halsey [Robert Sampson]) Megan (Barbara Crampton) discovers it lying dead inside Herbert's refrigerator. Before long, Herbert demonstrates for Dan what got him kicked out of his previous school: an luminescent green serum called "Re-Agent" that can bring the dead back to life. The serum isn't perfect though, as is demonstrated when Herbert injects Dan's dead cat and it returns to life, though is frantic, violent, and stronger than it was previously. Intent on trying his Re-Agent on a human subject, Herbert convinces Dan to help him sneak into the school's morgue where they test it on a cadaver. The resulting rampage by the previously dead body ends with the death of Megan's father, but before they are caught, Herbert and Dan inject him with the Re-Agent, leading everyone to believe that he has simply gone stark-raving mad. Convinced that something is awry, Dr. Hill visits the laboratory of Herbert, offering to let him get away with the murder of Dean Halsey if he hands over his research regarding the Re-Agent. Before the night is out, Herbert must decide what to do about his problem with Dr. Hill and Dan will do whatever it takes to win back Megan, who Dr. Hill is secretly obsessed with. Bear in mind that while that plot synopsis may seem very intricate and revealing, I've left a lot of story points out. The plot of this film rarely slows down to give you a moment to breath and is constantly changing directions. It's nearly impossible to predict where it's going next, which is one of the reasons that it is so great. The Re-Animator is just a flat-out fun movie to watch. The pacing is great, albeit a bit fast, it's funny, it's horrific, it's intriguing, and it has some incredibly memorable moments. First, the story. As you can tell by the plot synopsis above (as well as by the title itself), The Re-Animator is about zombies and the mad scientist who brings them back to life. Dr. Herbert West isn't your stereotypical mad scientist, though. He is a young man who genuinely wants to help people by beating death. He just gets a little too worked up and makes some bad decisions sometimes. Jeffrey Combs is an actor who I've never really noticed before, but he is far and away the perfect person for the role of Herbert. He livens up the entire screen whenever he's on it with some of the best facial expressions and line deliveries in a B movie since Bruce Campbell. Playing the perfect opposite to the over-the-top Herbert West is Bruce Abbott as his roommate Dan Cain. Bruce is another exceptional talent in this film, not necessarily because he's an incredible actor, but because he plays so well off of Jeffrey's performance. He knows he has to play the less entertaining straight man and he just pulls it off wonderfully. In many ways The Re-Animator wouldn't work without a good performance from Dan's character because he's the person in the film who is most like the audience: being pulled along on an insane ride which he wasn't ready for. The third performance in The Re-Animator that really shines is that of David Gale as the evil Dr. Carl Hill. For a good portion of the movie Dr. Hill's character is just an unlikable old fart, but by the time the climax rolls around he has become an absolutely despicable villain that you just want to see get mutilated (and if you feel this way too, you may be in luck). The premise behind The Re-Animator is simple, but taken in some completely unpredictable and ingenuitive directions by writer/director Stuart Gordon. He takes the tired concepts of zombies and nutty scientists and creates one of the most original stories that I've ever seen on film. Match the wild, rollercoaster ride of a story and the spot-on performances with the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, pre-CG special effects and The Re-Animator is a must see film for anyone who likes to laugh and scream their way through a movie. In my opinion, the only thing holding The Re-Animator back from garnering the mainstream critical acclaim that it deserves is the general public's inability to accept films with over-the-top violence and gore as anything more than throwaway B movies.

The Stuff - When a miner working late one night stumbles upon a pile of white slime slowly seeping from within the Earth, he does what anyone would do in his position. He eats some of it. Finding the ooze particularly delicious, he soon begins pumping it out of the ground in large quantities and marketing it to families in middle America as a new yogurt-esque desert treat called The Stuff. Before long the new taste sensation has gripped the nation and people everywhere are indulging themselves with multiple servings of The Stuff. In fact, so many people are eating it that an ice cream company has hired a private detective by the name of David "Mo" Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) to investigate the product and find out what it is about The Stuff that everyone loves so much. When he arrives at the small town where The Stuff is mined he meets a young boy named Jason (Scott Bloom) who adamantly opposes eating The Stuff after claiming to have seen masses of it moving around of it's own free will. He ran away from home after his family began to act strangely in the wake of eating the product and joins up with Mo in his search for the truth. Together, Mo and Jason learn that The Stuff takes over the mind and body of anyone who eats it and that it has plans to take over the entire human race. Later on they also team up with a former cookie brand spokesman called "Chocolate Chip" Charlie (Garrett Morris) who is out of a job thanks to the popularity of The Stuff, a woman who Mo has the hots for named Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), and Colonel Malcolm Grommet Spears (Paul Sorvino) of the U.S. Army Reserves, in order to stop the reign of terror brought on by the deadly dessert. Every now and then a movie comes along that is so bad that it's good. The Stuff is not one of those movies. The Stuff is so bad that it's just plain bad. However, it does have some redeeming qualities. But first the bad. The acting in The Stuff is atrocious. I dare say that there isn't a single believable, well-delivered line in the entire film. This is not helped by the movie's horrible sound quality. Then there is the story. There are so many problems with the story of The Stuff that while it has a great premise and some wonderful ideas, the plot just can't seem to sustain itself. From scene to scene the story bounces all over the place so many times that it can become confusing, and the story is generally told in such a poor way that it's sometimes hard to stay interested regardless. "What is there to like about The Stuff, then?" you ask? Plenty. First is the concept. At the base of every good science fiction film is a original, interesting premise, and The Stuff is no exception. The idea that this substance takes over peoples bodies is not new or revolutionary, but the little differences between this idea and something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers really make it stand out. The fact that people are exposing themselves to the product of their own will and that before anyone knows that it's dangerous they've already willingly tried it is a great idea. The hopeless nature of the situation is also great. As the sad excuse for a plot rolls on there are these incredibly shocking moments of great intrigue when a person with an active imagination can stop and say "Wait a minute! That's a great idea! I wish they did something better with it!" This by no means makes the movie itself all that much more enjoyable, but it certainly can get you thinking, and that's half of the enjoyment of watching The Stuff. The other half is the special effects. I'd say that about half of the effects in this movie are terrible, but the other half are just the kind of stuff that any self-respecting horror/monster movie lover thrives on. Horribly twisted facial expressions, slime oozing out of people's bodies, mutilated human hosts, and ghastly transformation scenes are all achieved with some pretty impressive make-up effects. The majority of the weaker effects shots are poorly constructed and poorly filmed miniatures, forced perspective shots, and reversed action shots, but every now and then one of them manages to look pretty good. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when a bed has been booby-trapped with The Stuff and it comes pouring out of the mattress, pinning a man against a wall and forcing him up to the ceiling. The shot was obviously achieved by titling the set, but just seeing old-school effects in action is often enough to get me excited when watching a B-grade horror movie. The Stuff is most certainly not for everyone, but if you like movies like The Evil Dead, The Re-Animator, or Brain Dead/Dead Alive, chances are that you'll get something out of this film.

Hellraiser - Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman and later Oliver Smith) is the kind of guy you wouldn't want to run into in a dark alley. He's an ill-tempered jerk who likes to dabble in life's dark taboos. That is how he ended up in possession of a small puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration. When Frank solves the puzzle he is drawn from the attic of his former home into hell where a quartet of disfigured, leather-clad individuals known as the Cenobites proceed to bring him to the heights of pleasure and pain via intricate means of torture. Some time later, Frank's brother Larry (Andrew Robinson) and his new wife Julia (Clare Higgins) decide to move from the city into Larry and Frank's childhood home which the brothers still own. When they arrive they find evidence that Frank had been residing there at some point, but he himself has gone missing. While moving a mattress up the stairs, Larry cuts his hand and ends up dripping some blood on the floor of the attic. After he leaves, Frank begins to rise from beneath the floorboards, awoken by the blood, and starts to rebuild his physical body. Discovering Frank's partially reconstructed form in the attic, Julia, who had a secret affair with him in the past, agrees to bring him more blood so that he may continue to rebuild himself. Over the next few days, Julia begins seducing men, luring them to the attic, and killing them to feed Frank's need for blood. Later, Larry's daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), who he'd had with his previous wife, discovers the puzzle box and accidentally unlocks it, drawing the Cenobites to her. Before they can take her, though, she offers to lead them to Frank, who had escaped them, in exchange for her life. The Cenobites accept, but can Kirsty really trust a pack of demons? For years I had a preconceived notion that Hellraiser was simply another sub-par 80's horror movie. It turns out that I was wrong. With Hellraiser, Clive Barker has not only crafted an entertaining story, but also a completely original take on the concept of hell. It will be difficult to explain my feelings for this concept, but some of Pinhead's (Doug Bradley) lines were very poetic and spoke volumes to me about the way Barker envisioned this film that no plot synopsis could. For example, when Kirsty asks Pinhead who they (the Cenobites) are, he replies, "Explorers in the further regions of experience. Demons to some. Angels to others." Then there is Pinhead's bone-chilling delivery of the line "We have such sights to show you!", which drives itself into your chest like a nail when you hear how disturbingly happy he is while saying it. There were some very interesting ideas and concepts in other areas of the film's plot, but the best moments are by far when the Cenobites confront Kirsty on Earth after she solves the Lament Configuration. Without this scene the movie still has merit, but with it it is on a whole other level. Outside of the Cenobites, Frank is definitely the most interesting and well-portrayed character. In general I was unimpressed with many of the film's other characters, but Frank was a delight to watch because of his performance and his physical appearance. The special effects and make-up people on Hellraiser earned their paychecks well by creating every stage of Frank's "re-birth" in visually gory glory (I wonder if that phrase sounds as dumb as it looks). The most noteworthy effects in the film take place when Frank is first rising from the floorboards. Imagine watching a human body literally melt and fall to pieces, and then imagine watching that happen in reverse. That is essentially what the viewer is treated to in this scene. There are some fairly cheesy effects in Hellraiser (particularly at the end of the film when the Cenobites are being sent back to hell or when the two-headed demon is around), but they are overall pretty good. My biggest complaint with the movie would be that in the middle it gets a bit slow and tedious, but as soon as the Cenobites grace the screen with their presence it becomes a whole new ball game. Don't go into Hellraiser expecting a work of genius, but don't underestimate it the way I did for so long, either.

Children of the Corn - In the small town of Gatlin, Nebraska a young boy named Isaac (John Franklin) and his right hand man Malachai (Courtney Gains) have convinced all of the other children who reside there that there is a being living among the corn fields who requires them to make sacrifices to it. To sate the hunger of "he who walks behind the rows", the brainwashed children murder every single person in the town over the age of eighteen. Meanwhile, Burton "Burt" Stanton (Peter Horton) and his girlfriend Vicky (Linda Hamilton) are on their way to a new life in a new town where Burt has gotten a job as a doctor. While looking at a map, Burt accidentally swerves their car on a back road near Gatlin and hits a child mows down a child. Upon further inspection, the child is dead, but from a lacerated neck, and not from being hit by the car. Burt and Vicky load the boy into their trunk and take off for Gatlin to tell the authorities, however when they arrive they find that the town has been abandoned. Searching a nearby house they discover a young girl named Sarah (Anne Marie McEvoy) who has the ability to draw pictures that tell of future events, but Vicky isn't aware of this when she sees a drawing of herself being attacked in a corn field. Splitting up, Burt searches for help as Vicky is captured by Malachai and some other children and strung up on a cross among the corn. Sarah's brother Job (Robby Kiger) helps Burt hide when he is attacked by some other children and then leads him to where Vicky is being held. Rescuing his girlfriend from some little kids seems pretty easy, but what if there actually is some unseen force that lives among the fields of corn? Children of the Corn has a lot of potential, but sadly comes up short of achieving it. The idea of scary little children has been done to death these days, but Children of the Corn actually has the redeeming quality of not being about demonic children, but just misled ones. I really enjoyed the idea that there's nothing special about these kids aside from their being motivated to do something bad because they don't know any better. Aside from that one good aspect though, this film is a train wreck. First off, finding a movie with a good performance by one child in it is hard enough. This film, on the other hand, has dozens of kids and none of them are particularly good at just about anything in the realm of acting. Malachai is probably the best of the child characters in the movie unless you count Isaac, who was played by an actor with Growth Hormone Deficiency who is in fact much older than he looks. Then again, Peter Horton and Linda Hamilton didn't really do anything for me in this film either. The entire cast was pretty lackluster. Then there's the story. Yes, I like the concept of a bunch of kids who kill people without demonic/alien inspiration, but the plot of Children of the Corn couldn't be more boring. Some people arrive in town, one of them is kidnapped, the other rescues her, etc. The pacing of the film is horrible as well. The beginning is excruciatingly slow while the climax is over in the blink of an eye. Speaking of the climax, I find it hard to believe that the ending of the original Stephen King short story is the same as the ending of the film, because if it is, I don't know how anyone ever convinced a movie studio to finance this project. Then again, maybe no one did finance it because the special effects at the end were so bad that they must not have had much money to work with. The ending is just ludicrous, horribly shot, poorly acted, and so botched in the suspense department that I don't see how anyone could like it. Not that the rest of the film is much better, but it seriously seems as though when the time rolled around to film the climax of Children of the Corn, Fred Kiersch forgot how to direct. When you get right down to it I honestly only liked the most basic premise of the film and that is no reason to like the movie. I implore you to avoid Children of the Corn unless you like your movies bad (and not in a good way).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Episode 50 - Based On A Story By Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick was a science fiction writer who was greatly under-appreciated during his lifetime. He wrote somewhere in the ballpark of 200 novels and short stories over the course of his career, but because of the general public's views on science fiction, he was never truly recognized as the creative genius that he was. Unfortunately, Dick died a mere four months before the 1982 release of Blade Runner, the first film based upon one of his works. Since his exposure to the mainstream with this successful film, his name has become synonymous with greatness in the craft of writing science fiction, but that hasn't stopped Hollywood from butchering the majority of his stories that it gets it's grubby hands on. The following are my reviews of all eight of the feature films that, for better or worse, have been based on his works to date.

Based On The Novel "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?"
Blade Runner - In the near future mankind has created human clones known as replicants who are used to perform labor on off-world colonies. However, in the year 2019 a bloody mutiny has occurred involving a group of replicants, leading to the decision that all of their kind must be terminated. A small group of replicants, wishing only to live normal, free lives like humans do, have escaped to Earth on a space craft and are hiding in plain site, almost indeterminable from normal people. Enter: Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a member of LPD's Blade Runner unit whose job it is to hunt down, identify, and destroy the rogue replicants led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). Tired and struggling with depression, Deckard spends his days tracking down his prey although he is slowly beginning to sympathize with their desire to be free, eventually begging him to wonder if, like the replicants he is after, he isn't quite what he seems to be. No matter how hard I try (and believe me, I've been trying pretty damn hard), I just can't like this movie. Many people regard Blade Runner as a classic, extraordinary science fiction film, but the only word that I can think of to describe Ridley Scott's follow-up to the far superior film Alien, is boring. I have not personally read the novel upon which Blade Runner is based, but if this film is an accurate representation of the source material, in my opinion it was just not meant to be a motion picture. The pace of Blade Runner, I imagine, is not unlike the speed of the waiting room at a doctor's office during an outbreak of the ebola virus: excruciatingly slow. Add to this that the characters (and director for that matter) never come right out and tell you anything, and what you've got is not only a boring film, but a confusing one as well. As it is, there is a definitive answer to the question of whether or not Deckard is himself a replicant, but it wasn't until the recent Director's Cut DVD came out featuring an interview with Ridley Scott fielding this very question that anyone actually found out the answer. The reason for this is that the film never comes right out and gives you any real clues to what Deckard is, but instead throws some psychadelic visions of unicorns at you and expects the viewer to come up with their own conclusions. Now, I'd be fine with this if there was no real answer to the question. For example, I don't mind that in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction we never find out what is in Marsellus Wallace's (Ving Rhames) briefcase, or that in John Carpenter's The Thing we are never told if either MacReady (Kurt Russell) or Childs (Keith David) has been infected by the creature at the end of the film, but in both of those cases the audience is never meant to know the answers to these questions. In Blade Runner we are supposed to be able to solve the mystery of Deckard's humanity, but it's just so confusing that there's really no way to do so. The confusing plot and slow pace of the film aside, I suppose Blade Runner isn't so bad. It looks nice, anyway. The special effects and visual style of the film are damn good for when they were achieved. The acting isn't really anything too special, but I can't recall any particularly bad performances. As I said, I've tried to like this movie, but I find it incredibly hard to do so. In the same way that I never liked the original Batman film because it was way too boring for a movie about a superhero, Blade Runner just falls flat for me. It takes some ideas and situations that could be really interesting and exciting and bogs them down with a script that would have had trouble properly filling a film with half the running time of this one.

Based On The Story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"
Total Recall - Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) had been having recurring dreams about the planet Mars for weeks when he decided to visit Rekall Inc., a company that implants memories into your head so that you may take vacations and/or go on adventures without ever having to get on a plane or risk your life. However, after Quaid undergoes his procedure, he recalls his life as a secret agent fighting an evil corporation on Mars and cannot tell whether any of it really happened, or if it was only part of his fabricated Rekall vacation. Refusing the advice of his wife, and evading the police, Quaid takes his fate into his own hands and leaves for Mars in search of the answers to his questions. When he arrives he discovers that his visions may have in fact been true as he finds himself in the middle of a class war between a society of innocent mutants and a greedy corporation in search of an ancient weapon left on Mars by otherworldly visitors millennia ago. Total Recall is an action film first and foremost, and a pretty good one at that. This movie, along with The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Predator, and True Lies, illustrates why Arnold Schwarzenegger is the household action-related name that he is today. Quite simply, Schwarzenegger kicks ass in Total Recall not only in the sense that he puts in one of the best performances of his career, but also because he beats the hell out of a whole lot of people over the duration of the film's running time. Speaking of which, the fight scenes in Total Recall are surprisingly brutal and often leave me laughing with delight in their wake. Beyond the purely musclebound draw behind this film, though, we also get a spectacular science fiction concept from Philip K. Dick in the Rekall company. Total Recall can almost be called a sci-fi film noir when you consider that it is about a spy with a mistaken identity in the future. The movie really does have a great concept, and one which was used wonderfully by writers Ronald Shussett, Dan O'Bannon, Gary Goldman, and director Paul Verhoeven to craft an exciting action romp with an intelligent, intriguing backbone. Perhaps the most notable (not to mention memorable) aspect of Total Recall, however, is neither the story nor the action, but instead the special effects. Primarily created by veteran FX artist Rob Bottin, the make-up and visual effects of Total Recall were mind-blowing when the film was released, and are still impressive and incredible to witness today. Perhaps most well-known is a scene in which Schwarzenegger, disguised as an old woman by wearing a futuristic transforming suit, removes the article. The woman's face separates into segments, retracting to reveal Schwarzenegger underneath, and the way that this effect is achieved is absolutely stunning. Ignore any instincts that you may have to stay away from this movie based on Schwarzenegger or Verhoeven's involvement and watch it right away if you haven't yet. For fans of science fiction, action, and/or special effects, Total Recall should not be missed.

Based On The Story "The Second Variety"
Screamers - Screamers get their name from the high-pitched squealing noise that they make when they attack. Created by scientists for use in a war taking place on a remote mining planet, Screamers are small robots which burrow underground and emerge, leaping through the air to attack their prey with saw blades and other sharp weapons. They are self-replicating, and the only way to avoid them is to wear a small device which hides your presence from them. Desiring to evacuate the planet and return to Earth, Joe Hendricksson (Peter Weller) has set out on a journey to find a space craft hidden somewhere in the mountains by the government as a final means of escape for political figures during a crisis. His journey becomes difficult, though, when he discovers that the Screamers have begun to evolve, disguising themselves as humans. Now, unsure of who he can trust, Joe must choose the people he surrounds himself with carefully, because if even one Screamer manages to board his escape craft and make it to Earth, it could mean then end of the human race altogether. Screamers is a film forgotten by time. It was never a big hit and the majority of movie-goers have never even heard of it. Still, it remains one of the better movies to be based off of the works of Philip K. Dick. I've had the pleasure of reading the story off of which Screamers is based, and am happy to say that the movie does a great job of sticking to the basic plot and concept of the story while expanding on some ideas and scenes to make for a better, more well-rounded film. In fact, the opening scene of the movie is taken almost verbatim from the short story, which is a joy to watch whether or not you're familiar with the subject matter. For the most part the special effects are pretty good in Screamers, but they fall apart completely at the cilmax of the movie when an event takes place that was well outside the reach of the computer generated effects available at the time when it was made. Screamers isn't an overly effects driven film, though, and relies more on the characters themselves to drive the story, which is probably why it holds up as well as it does in my opinion. Peter Weller and the rest of the cast sell the believability of the story rather well, especially in the cases of Jennifer Rubin, Roy Dupuis, and Charles Powell, who play stranded soldiers, all unsure of which of them may or may not be a Screamer in disguise. Much like John Carpenter's The Thing (though not quite as successfully), Screamers is about the questions "who is who?" and "who can I trust?" It becomes as much a question that the viewer asks themselves as one that the characters are concerned with. I cannot say that Screamers is a great film, but I personally enjoy it an would recommend it as a good example of Philip K. Dick's work represented well on film.

Based On The Story "Impostor"
Impostor - Spencer Olham (Gary Sinise) is a brilliant weapons designer for the American government during a time of war between Earth and a race of alien invaders. However, it is quite possible that Spencer has gone from our planets savior to the bringer of it's demise. Following the completion of a new weapon that could turn the tide of the war to Earth's favor, it is suspected that Olham may in fact be an alien doppleganger fitted with a bomb inside his chest that could be used to kill significant members of the government during an upcoming meeting. He swears his innocence to security officer Hathaway (Vincent D'Onofrio), only to be told that Spencer himself wouldn't know if he were carrying a bomb, and the only way to be sure is to remove it from his chest along with his heart, which would of course result in his death. Unable to accept that he isn't in control of his own fate, Olham escapes from custody and flees to the demolished ruins outside the city where he meets a group of lower class citizens fighting for their survival. He offers outsider Cale (Mekhi Phifer) access to medicine with which to cure his sick and wounded people in exchange for his assistance in sneaking back into the city where Spencer hopes to prove his innocence. This task won't be easy, however, with the entire police force searching for them. On the surface Impostor is a horrible film, and under the surface things aren't much better. The acting is sub-par, as is the directing and lighting. There is a reason (not an excuse) for some of these flaws, though. Impostor was originally planned as one of three thirty minute short films to be part of a science fiction television anthology. However, after seeing the promise behind Impostor, the decision was made to extend it and create a feature-length film. As it turns out, what was good for television was not so good for theaters. I think that just about anyone will agree that while television should not always be of a lower quality than film, it can usually get away with being so. In this case Impostor just wasn't strong enough to warrant a ninety-five minute motion picture. Perhaps if the production had been started over from scratch instead of just mutating a partially-completed television special into a feature, it would have turned out better. But it's not fair to pull any punches because of it's origins, so here are my thoughts on Impostor. First, the lighting is horrible. I'm not sure if I've ever critiqued the lighting of a film in one of these reviews before, but it is often terrible in this movie. Scenes are flooded with red or blue light way too often in Impostor, and for seemingly no reason at all. At times the poor lighting just screams "low budget, even for television". Adding to the noticeably low budget are the military uniforms, which were obviously recycled from Starship Troopers. Next we have the acting. Gary Sinise and Vincent D'Onofrio have both proven on multiple occasions that they are talented actors, but if this were the only movie I'd ever seen them in I would be hard pressed to believe it. Mekhi Phifer actually puts in the best performance here despite his incredibly stereotypical "mouthy revolutionary" character. The story of Impostor is a decent one, albeit one of Philip K. Dick's less original ideas, and the ending manages to remain a pleasant surprise, but the events that lead the viewer to this point are fairly poorly constructed. One of the highlights of the film is a scene in which the military is looking for Olham and they make use of a machine that allows them to search buildings without ever entering them. The x-ray device that they use is a simple idea, but one that I can't remember seeing in another film before. Everything taken into account, I feel as though this film was doomed to fail from the beginning because of it's origins as a television special meant to be one third of it's eventual length. Of all of Dick's movies, this is definitely the most low budget one, but if you're a completist like myself, it's certainly not the worst movie I've ever seen.

Based On The Story "Minority Report"
Minority Report - In the future, crimes can be stopped before they ever have a chance to be committed. The police employ the abilities of three children called "precogs" to see into the future and identify the locations and perpetrators of crimes prior to their execution. Then, led by Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise), a team of trained specialists arrive at the scene and subdue the criminals as they prepare to commit their crimes. This practice has gone on for six years time, during which not a single murder has been committed. The only foreseeable problem with this method of justice is that if no crime is committed, how can someone be arrested for it? This is a problem that John Anderton finds all the more dire when he himself is fingered as a future-murderer by the precogs. Sure that he would never murder anyone, despite the fact that the children have seen visions of him doing so, Anderton flees his own people in an attempt to find out who he is meant to kill and why in the world he would want to kill them. With the police, now led by Danny Witwer ( Colin Farrell), on his tail, John uses all of his training to search for the truth behind the precogs' visions and finds that there may be more to this case than meets the eye. What we have here is the standard "one man versus the majority and his own sanity" story which Philip K. Dick is famous for. A fair portion of Dick's stories revolve around this same premise, and thus far, so do all of the movies credited to his writing. It makes for an entertaining ride, which is why almost all of his films are action/adventure stories. What we also have are some genuinely original and interesting stamps of futurity provided to us by Stephen Spielberg. and the crew of the film. Moreso than the story or the performances in Minority Report (both of which are solid), I find myself most interested in these glimpses of the future. For example, the police team equipped with riot gear and rocket packs. Jet packs generally have a cheesy feeling about them, which I think worked perfectly in Minority Report. It added a bit of a fantasy touch to the film. Then we have the precogs themselves and the way that they communicate their findings. As opposed to computer readouts or some such technological system for alerting the police to a future crime, when the children sense an offense in the future, the name of the criminal and the victim are inscribed on small wooden balls. I'm not quite sure why, but this small detail adds a whole new layer of character to the process of tracking down criminals. It would have been easier to just have the names pop up on a computer monitor, but the ingenuity behind the wooden balls shows that the filmmakers cared just a little bit more about this project than they probably had to. Another interesting concept is that in the future everything will be activated by retinal scanning, making it nearly impossible to evade the police because everywhere you go your identity is being unveiled and sent to the police. The way that Tom Cruise's character gets around this problem is also rather original and makes for some very cool scenes. As I said, the acting is solid in this film and the story manages to hold together for the majority of the running time. My only real complaint with Minority Report is the ending. The main plot wraps itself up, but then, as with many movies today, there is a little something extra to be taken care of by the main character. Unfortunately, in Minority Report this little something takes much too long to unravel. The ending of the movie didn't occur until about half an hour after the climax. The events that take place during this period are certainly important, but I'd have liked it if they had happened a bit quicker. I just felt like I should have been done watching the movie long before I actually was. Up until this point the movie is very well paced and enjoyable, though. All in all, aside from the ending, I found Minority Report to be an intriguing, well rounded science fiction action film.

Based On The Story "Paycheck"
Paycheck - Michael Jennings (Ben Affleck) is a reverse engineer. When a company releases a new product, their rivals will hire Michael to go into seclusion for weeks or even months at a time with one of these products to tear it apart and figure out how to recreate it or make it better. When he is done the company pays him well for his time (under the table of course), and erases his memories of his time working for them to secure his safety. After meeting an old friend named James Rethrick (Aaron Eckhart) at a party, Michael finds himself with a new job. The job will require him to work for three straight years under tight security and then have those three years wiped from his mind. This is a very dangerous task as no one has ever erased that large a chunk of their memory before, but Rethrick promises that he will make it worth Michael's while. Cut to three years later. Michael has completed the job, though he doesn't remember what it was, and is now ninety million dollars richer. However, when he goes to pick up his payment, all he receives is a manilla envelope filled with small trinkets and nick-nacks. Confused, Michael makes a stink at the company and ends up running from the police, unsure of what he's done wrong. Only by making use of the seemingly trivial items that he has in the envelope can he escape from situations that he has no right being able to escape from as he is chased throughout the city. But who left him the small objects, how did they know he would be able to use them all, and what in the world was it that he did over those three years that has everyone so pissed off at him? Paycheck's strong suit is it's ingenious concept which comes directly from Philip K. Dick's original short story. The items in the envelope are different in the film, as well as the situations and characters, but the basic premise of having your memory erased and being forced to rely on a specific set of everyday objects to survive is brilliant. Unfortunately, not all of this film's aspects are quite so incredible. Ben Affleck is capable of delivering a decent performance in some roles, but as Michael Jennings in Paycheck he is absolutely drab. He seems at all times uninterested in what is going on and is never really convincing. Uma Thurman, who plays Jennings' love interest, also puts in a less than impressive performance. Seeing her in films such as Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, I'm surprised that it's possible for her to be uninteresting on screen, but Paycheck is proof that it can happen. Aaron Eckhart, who blew me away in Thank You For Smoking, doesn't even redeem the cast of this film. He comes off as a very two dimensional character with few emotions and no real drive to achieve his goals. In general I think that the entire cast was...well...miscast. The only person to bring any true emotion to their performance at all is Paul Giamatti, who has a small role as one of Jennings' personal friends toward the beginning of the movie. With no real good characters to feel anything for, the action in Paycheck is essentially wasted. There are some interesting (albeit misplaced) action scenes in this film, but since none of the characters are all that great I never felt truly drawn into what was going on during them. The stunts and set-ups are pretty good thanks to the direction of John Woo, but as I said, they were poorly used in this movie. Speaking of John Woo, I personally feel that Paycheck was better suited for a less action-oriented director. It should have been more like The Fugitive and less like Mission Impossible 2. All in all we have a great concept put to decent use in a poor movie. In the case of Paycheck I get a strong feeling of "what if?" What if it had a better script? What if it had different actors who fit better in their roles? What if it were as good as the source material?

Based On The Novel "A Scanner Darkly"
A Scanner Darkly - Substance D is a new illegal drug that is instantly addictive. The first time you try it you are immediately dependent on it, and over time it has brain damaging effects that cause hallucinations, etc. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is a narcotics agent undercover among a small group of Substance D users, attempting to trace the origins of the drug back to it's suppliers. He spends his days hanging around with Freck (Rory Cochrane), Barris (Robert Downey Jr.), Luckman (Woody Harrelson), and Donna (Winona Ryder), who are all addicted to D. Unfortunately for Arctor, he has also become addicted to the drug. As time goes by, Bob watches over his friends in person and via hidden camera feeds which he has set up in their house, although he never really makes any progress with his case. This is partially because he doesn't want to since these friends are where he's getting his supply of D from, and partially because Barris is so paranoid of being caught that he hides his sources well. While inside the agency, Bob wears a scramble suit which hides his identity behind a constantly morphing visage of humanity so as not to risk blowing his cover, but because of these scramble suits he doesn't realize that there is someone else among the ranks of the Narcotics Division who has been watching him all along. A Scanner Darkly may take a few viewings for some people to understand what's going on. Others may just give up and not bother watching it again to find out. It's just that kind of movie. The story, which is very faithful to the original novel by Philip K. Dick (sometimes becoming it's downfall), is incredibly interesting, albeit confusing. Intertwining stories and minute, yet important details are constantly overshadowed by the more appealing interactions and conversations between the main characters, making the story sometimes hard to follow. You really need to pay attention to figure out what is going on. The film moves slowly and often seems as though it is going off on unimportant tangents, but what writer/director Richard Linklater is attempting to do is to draw the viewer into the lives of the characters and make you feel what they're feeling. In the commentary track on the DVD, Linklater explains that he was attempting to make the audience feel as though they too were experiencing the adverse effects of Substance D. I'm not sure if this worked entirely, but I do think that he achieved what he was going for with the seemingly random scenes of dialogue between the characters. Much like Arctor as he lets his investigation slide slowly away from him in exchange for his addiction to the drug, Linklater lets the plot slide away so that the viewer can better understand what kind of world the story is taking place in and what kinds of people we are dealing with. In this way, by the end of the film when the climax happens we truly feel the betrayal and larger-than-thou impact of what has transpired under our noses during the entire duration of the film. The screw that holds the entire film together, then, is of course the actors who are drawing us into their world. Reeves, Downey Jr., Harrelson, Cochrane, and even Ryder, whom I normally dislike, constantly steal the show from one another. Almost every line that is spoken by their characters seems to one-up that which came directly before. Robert Downey Jr. and Woody Harrelson's performances shine particularly bright as the two most animated of the drug-addicted losers of the group. Beyond the acting, which takes the viewer's mind off of the downplayed directing, the most noteworthy aspect of A Scanner Darkly is the style in which it is presented. The entire movie was filmed normally, then taken into a computer program where rotoscoping technology was used to give the film an animated feel. The reason for this was so that Linklater could attempt to, as I mentioned earlier, make the audience feel as though they were under the influence of some mind-altering drug. As I previously noted, I'm not sure that this comes across completely, but the constantly shifting and morphing visuals certainly give the movie a memorable, original look. The first time I watched A Scanner Darkly I was only really focusing on this visual style and became tired of it about twenty minutes into the film, also missing out on the intricacies of the plot as I was waiting to be visually wowed. As such, I found my first viewing to be unimpressive. However, when I revisited the film I paid more attention to the story, which clued me in to several things I'd previously missed as well as allowed me to better appreciate the visuals as I wasn't constantly waiting for them to wow me. For me it took two viewings to locate A Scanner Darkly's rightful place in the echelon of my favorite films. For you it may take three, or it may just never happen. Or you could be lucky and realize it's quality the first time through.

Based On The Story "The Golden Man"
Next - Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) is a Las Vegas magician with the ability to see a few minutes into the future. He uses this ability to perform his magic act and makes some money on the side by also seeing into the future to cheat at gambling in the very casinos he works at. Only once has he ever seen into the future further than a few minutes, and in that vision he saw a woman named Liz Cooper (Jessica Biel) sitting in a diner at a specific time, but he's not sure what day. Convinced that this is the girl he's meant to spend the rest of his life with, Cris travels to the diner every day at exactly the same time in hopes of meeting Liz, and otherwise just lives a dull day to day life scamming people. Elsewhere, some terrorists have gotten themselves a large bomb and have every intention of using it in the near future. Based on the rumors she has heard about how good at magic and gambling Cris is, FBI agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore) somehow deciphers that he must be able to see the future, so she somehow convinces her superiors to let her bring him in in hopes that he'll somehow be able to help them find the terrorists before they set off the bomb. Cris, of course, doesn't want to help because he fears becoming a government lab rat, so he takes off into the desert with Liz after finally meeting her at the diner. When the FBI catches up with him though, Liz is captured by the terrorists as they attempt to escape from the feds and Cris is left with a choice: help the FBI and perhaps save the love of his life, or run for the hills and ensure himself a life of freedom. Okay, now that you've heard the plot of the movie, how about we go over the plot of the story off of which Next is supposedly based? Here goes: It's the future and a race of mutants has appeared on Earth. These mutants have strange powers and are feared by humans, so the government and the military have been hunting down all of the mutants and placing them in camps where they can't hurt people. Cut to a farmhouse in the country. A man whose job it is to search for rogue mutants has discovered that there is one living with the family who owns the farm. This mutant is very tall, his skin his gold, he never speaks or shows emotion, he is incredibly fast, and he can see the future. By sheer luck the government is able to capture "the golden man" and they place him in a cell where they test the limits of his speed and precognitive abilities. Due to his cunning, the golden man is able to escape the facility. The end. Now, let's see what similarities there are between the movie and the story. First, in both Next and The Golden Man there is a character that can see the future. Second...uh...well, I guess there's a mutant in both if you count Nicolas Cage...he looks kind of funny, anyway, and doesn't act like a normal human in most instances. Seriously. Why in the world was Next even credited to Philip K. Dick? It bears no more similarities to The Golden Man than the James Bond movie Live and Let Die, in which there is a woman who uses voodoo to see the future, any of the Final Destination movies, wherein a character always predicts their own death by seeing it happen in the future, or the television show Heroes, which features a character who sees that an explosion will occur in New York City and then tries to stop it. My blind rage that this piece of crap movie is associated with Philip K. Dick aside, lets look at it a bit more in depth. Nicolas Cage is shit. Admit it. He hasn't been good in years, and even when he was good he wasn't that good. Jessica Biel is about as hot as they come, but by no means guarantees a good performance on every outing. This is one of those cases where she just doesn't deliver. Besides, she's way too hot and much too young for Nicolas Cage anyway, making their relationship onscreen completely unbelievable. Julianne Moore is usually someone who gets me excited to see a film, but in Next she just plays the same damn hard-ass, know-it-all, FBI agent that she did in Hannibal (which, by the way, completely ruined the character created in Silence of the Lambs by Jodi Foster). The terrorists are all two dimensional and serve no real purpose in the film aside from giving Julianne Moore someone to shoot at during the climax. Speaking of which, the climax was a major let down. I won't say why in case anyone still wants to see the movie, but after the climax occurs and the scene changes and you see what really happens, I dare you not to be pissed off. You'll know what I mean when you see it. As far as what's good in this movie, really the only thing I liked was how Lee Tamahori visually translated Cris' precognitive abilities. Pretty sad, huh? The only good thing I have to say about this movie is credited to the guy who was responsible for xXx: State of the Union and Die Another Day. Take a clue, read The Golden Man, and if you're ever at a the home of a friend who owns Next on DVD, break it for them. You'll be doing them, the late Philip K. Dick, and our society as a whole a service.