The Great Texas Snow-In

Sure. Laugh while you can, Monkey Boy. Ice and (minimal) snow shut down the city for two days. But you see, that doesn’t happen around here. Sure, there’s trucks to spread sand on bridges, but not many of them – they’re not needed that often. I don’t think you can even buy snow tires south of Dallas/Fort Worth (and maybe not there). Every video of a car crash due to ice is usually somewhere that has some experience with those conditions. Don’t get me started on what it would be like here, where driver considerations of safety and sanity go out the window when it rains.

I remember briefly reading how to put snow chains on a car back in high school, during driver’s ed class. There was no practical exercise, of course. It was as exotic an experience as learning the proper way to don lacquered samurai armor. Like algebra, it was believed that no use for it would be found in our adult lives.

So a long weekend – for me, two days in a row is a long weekend – turned into a four day unpaid vacation. Well, sometimes, all you can do is watch movies, right?

God help me, the first movie was Roller Blade.

Now, a couple of Crapfests ago, Erik broke us all with The Roller Blade Seven, which is the second sequel to this. Doing a bit of research, I got the impression that the earlier movies were well-regarded, and like a fool, I checked that out.

Post-apocalypse, we are informed that it is the Second Great Dark Age. Some semblance of peace is kept by the roller skating Bod Sisters and the police force of the Good Marshall (Jeff Hutchinson). The motto “Skate or Die” is pretty much proven by the murder of a guy on foot in the first few minutes. The killer is a mercenary (Shaun Michelle) who is sent by the villainous Dr. Saticoy (Robby Taylor) – or, to be precise, his literal right-hand man, a hand puppet – to infiltrate the Bod Sisters and steal their power source, a pre-apocalypse gizmo that will power his rocket cycle to reach an isolated automated factory that is still producing energy weapons (incidentally, he doesn’t tell us this until an hour into the movie, because I don’t think the writers knew up to that point, either).

“Curse you, Direct-To-Video Reed Richards!”

That is a half hour worth of plot spread unevenly over 88 minutes. The remainder is filler, and it feels like improvised filler. There is occasional cleverness, like all of Marshall Goodman’s lines sounding like they had been written by whoever did the King James version of the Bible, but that may also be me clutching at straws while I drown in DTV crap. I was pleasantly surprised by the sudden appearance of Michelle Bauer, who was apparently paying back some favors at the time? If that implies to you there is some full frontal nudity, you are correct. I gave the movie a half-star on Letterboxd, and that is largely thanks to my beloved Michelle.

So what do I decide to follow that up with? The Snowman, of course. Really, it seemed kind of climatically necessary.

Yes, this movie was universally excoriated when it was released. And that is the sort of movie I have to check out, because, you know, oftimes people are just wrong. This is a case in point. The Snowman is not terrible, it’s just aggressively mediocre.

We’re in Norway. Michael Fassbender is formerly well-regarded police detective Harry Hole, who is currently in the midst of a long drunken spree. His superior is tired of covering for him, but also ignores Hole’s protestations of “All I need is a case.” Hole manages to slide into a visiting officer’s case, leading him to a serial killer who’s been operating for years – and has also contacted him with a cryptic letter even before he started investigating.

This is based on a long-running mystery series by Norwegian writer Jo Nesbø – in fact, the seventh book in the series – and apparently deviates from that book quite a bit. Folks I know who enjoyed the book were rather dismayed. Its production history is somewhat tortured; it started production in Norway (to take advantage of a state funding program to promote filming in the country), then moved to London, for whatever reasons.

I’m hamstrung in any critique by not reading the book; what I can say is that the movie is deadeningly predictable. Any questions I had were answered an hour later, and none of those had anything to do with the plot. They were questions like “What does this alarmingly puffy-faced Val Kilmer have to do with anything?” and “When will we get to see more goateed Toby Jones?” I will admit the Kilmer one is little unfair, as he was apparently recovering from cancer treatment at the time. But that’s some problematic storytelling, and I wasn’t encouraged to spread any spackle on the gaps. I suppose the movie did make me care enough to go “Oh come on!” when the coincidences and conveniences started piling up toward the end. I do wonder about the killer’s fondness for Hot Butter’s proto-techno song “Popcorn” – is that in the book, or is it an attempt to co-opt a cultural relic, as Zodiac did with Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”.

I am pretty bemused that The Snowman managed to make me feel ambivalent toward Fassbender, an actor I generally admire, and make one of the most beautiful countries on Earth look dreary.

The opening scene (aka “The Secret Origin of The Snowman) is the best sequence in the movie. Featuring Chloë Sevigny, it is bleakly affecting. I just wish the rest of the movie lived up to it.

Man, that’s a pretty exciting trailer. Odd how much of it’s not actually in the movie.

In the interest of actually wrapping up the post for this week, we’ll end up with the next entry in this Trip through Hell: I suddenly remember that Tarsem Singh did a Greek mythology movie called Immortals that just sort of vanished, and I wondered why. Why it was so rapidly forgotten, I mean, not why he made the movie, though that turned out to be a fairly cogent question as well. Because it doesn’t have that much to do with Greek mythology, and more to do with 300. I mean, there it is, right on the box: “From the Producers of 300“.

Tremendous cast. Henry Cavill, ripped to the gills after months of training, plays Theseus (who’s kind of turned into the generic Greek hero over the last few decades, hasn’t he?). John Hurt is Zeus in human form, who’s been training Theseus. Mickey Rourke is the villainous King Hyperion, conquering everything with his horde and tearing it apart to find the Epirus Bow, a weapon that does not exist anywhere in the Greek myths, but is the only thing that can release the imprisoned Titans and destroy the world or some damned thing. Theseus is Zeus’s trump card that he hopes will somehow save the world.

Zeus in his celestial form is Luke Evans, and, in fact, all the gods are young, beautiful, and have lifetime memberships to Planet Fitness. Despite Zeus’ training of Theseus, it is apparently God Law that the pantheon will not interfere in the affairs of Man, which is the first instance where it occurred to me that I wasn’t exactly dealing with Bulfinch’s Mythology, or even someone who had read the Classics Illustrated version.

Just when it seems that Immortals is going to cut loose with the mythological grandiosity, it undercuts itself. Both of Theseus’ big fights – with the movie’s version of the Minotaur and the final confrontation with Hyperion – are gritty mano a mano hand-to-hand fights which is fine (if boring) – but the first appears after the discovery of the Epirus Bow, which has no bearing on the ensuing fight, and you keep waiting for the Chekov’s Gun rule to kick in. You will, in fact, be waiting for that for-freaking-ever, because Theseus gets to use it once before losing it. The Titans will be released, and that’s it for the Magic McGuffin. There is also a pitched battle in a long corridor from a hardened gate blown apart by the Bow, giving Immortals its Thermopylae with an added touch of Helm’s Deep from The Two Towers.

It has its moments, like a gorily effective sequence where Ares defies Zeus and literally destroys a group of Hyperion’s troops that are about to kill Theseus. But they are so few and seemingly horned-in to an unengaging and derivative story – and not even derivative of the mythology it’s attempting to exploit – that the whole enterprise feels like nearly two hours of wasted, misguided energy.

I finally rebelled and determined to watch some movies of (harrumph) quality… but we’ll have to leave that for next week. We’ve thawed out and I’ve got a ton of work to catch up on.

 

 

 

 

January again?

It’s been a strange trip to this post. My wife, Lisa, caught The Cough in early December. After Christmas, I caught it too. I was lucky – the worst of it for me was over in a couple of days, thanks to megadoses of vitamins, I’m sure. She didn’t improve though. We still had to get my son, Max, back to college over New Year’s, and we were both so sick that we wound up staying in the college town an extra day. As I write this, Lisa is now in the hospital with pneumonia. As I can’t do anything but leave her to the doctors and nurses, I guess I’ll just write. After all, I ponied up the cash to renew my domain and ad-free account – not using it would be stupider on my part than usual.

I travel light when taking Max to school, which bit me on the butt this time with the unexpected layover, but I had, at least, brought my Kindle Fire with me. That, combined with the LaQuinta respectably fast wi-fi allowed me to start my 100 Films, and it was all the fault of the 80s All Over podcast. Drew McWeeny and Scott Weinberg had exclaimed about Contraband, mentioned that it was on Amazon Prime, and since I’d had no idea that Lucio Fulci had made an organized crime drama…

Fabio Testi plays Luca Di Angelo, who with his brother Mickey (Enrico Maisto) runs the cigarette bootlegging racket in Naples. Someone starts trying to muscle in on their business, even to the point of murdering Mickey. Another Neapolitan gangster is suspected, but in truth it’s a vicious French drug gang led by The Marsigliese (Marcel Bozzuffi), who wants to take over Di Angelo’s smuggling operating for his heroin. Lots of people die.

There are parts of the movie that are extremely interesting; it makes the point that the economy in Naples is so depressed that practically everyone, in some way, depends on the black market. The resistance of old school criminals to drug trafficking is going to be very familiar to anyone who’s seen The Godfather, as is the sequence when The Marsigliese starts killing off all the capos – though not during a baptism, nor all at the same time. It’s all the work of one very busy – and speedy – assassin. The bloodletting in Godfather was shocking and fairly realistic, but we’re talking Fulci here. When a guy gets the back of his head blown off, we’re going to linger on it. When a woman tries to rip off The Marsigliese and he takes a blowtorch to her face, that is going to take a while. And let’s not forget a fairly graphic rape scene.

There seems to be a fair amount of involvement of actual criminals in the making of the picture, which would explain the bizarre climax where older gangsters come out of retirement with their favorite weapons to put paid to The Marsigliese and his gang. It’s not a great movie – dang, Luca is one of the stupidest heroes I’ve seen in a long time – but it is fairly entertaining and has some lovely cinematography.

I then watched Xmoor, but I need that for Hubrisween, so you’re just going to have to wait.

I followed up Xmoor with Hell House LLC, another Prime movie that had come highly recommended by my friend and fellow horror fan Rodney. It’s a found footage movie, so go ahead and get the jeers out of your system. I don’t mind them, personally. Found footage movies, that is. I hate jeers.

The setup is this: in a Halloween haunted house attraction, something goes wrong on opening night, and fifteen people die mysteriously, including four of the five people who organized it. The incident is pretty much hushed up except for the footage one attendee uploaded to YouTube. A group of filmmakers investigate, and manage to find the sole surviving member of Hell House LLC, Sarah (Ryan Jennifer Jones). After several years of seclusion, she’s finally ready to talk, and she brings with her all the video footage shot during the creation of the House.

We get introduced to the company in the course of the tapes, and they got several of these haunted houses under their belts. This is an attempt to grow the company outside New York City, and they take over an abandoned hotel in (snerk) Abaddon, NY. It does seem like an ideal locale, and it is rather interesting to watch the group brainstorm the haunted house tour, which will end up in the basement. The group’s leader, Alex (Danny Bellini) isn’t too worried about the fact that the basement comes complete with pentagrams chalked on the walls. Not operating in their home town, the group moves into the hotel and begin to work on cranking up the scary in the first floor, and installing cameras to ensure safety (and more coverage for our found footage).

Clowns. Why did it have to be clowns.

Needless to say, weird stuff starts happening. Sarah is sleepwalking. Props start moving by themselves. The local actors hired have heard, um, stories about the place. Bad stories.

This is all cut together with Sarah’s interviews, along with interviews shot by the investigating crew, and some other attendee footage for the climatic opening night. A lot of the stuff building up to that night is really creepily effective, and the fact that it all takes place in an environment that has been engineered to be scary just makes it worse. The cast is engaging and real, and there is only one instance I can point to where the found footage concept is cheated. I found the reveal on the opening night catastrophe a bit underwhelming, but the stuff leading up to it is so good I didn’t mind. And even after that reveal, the movie is going to continue screwing with you.

I’ll be the first to admit there are a lot of lackluster found footage movies out there. Hell House LLC ain’t one of them. It’s really good, folks.

Fast forward a few days. We’ll spare you the exhausting drive home. No surprise, our Friday show was cancelled, so let’s see what’s available… huh. Beyond Skyline. I hear that’s crazy.

It is, in fact, kinda crazy.

Frank Grillo is Mark, a tough police detective whose son Trent (Jonny Weston) has wound up on the wrong side of the law again. An old colleague of Mark’s (Jacob Vargas) lets him go for old time’s sake, but makes it clear this is the last time. An attempt at reconciliation between the two on the subway is interrupted by an alien invasion. Enormous motherships hover over the city, broadcasting a blue light that hypnotizes almost everyone and levitates them into waiting holds (that’s about all you need to know from the first movie). Trent gets hit by the blue light not once, but three times, with Mark, apparently one of the few immune, pulling him back each time, until finally they get pulled into the ship.

Now inside, we find that the aliens are harvesting (in a pretty grisly fashion) the brains from captured humans and plugging them into robot bodies, still hypnotized by the blue light, to create a zombie robot horde. Significantly, the more times you resisted the blue light, the more immune you become; Mark is himself rescued by a robot who’s broken the hold of the aliens and needs him to help his still-human wife give birth. One other wrinkle: the first pulse of the blue light has somehow altered the fetus in situ, engendering fast growth (the mom is only three months pregnant when she gives birth to a fully developed baby) and the child has strange powers that the aliens fear. Mark promises the transformed father to get his daughter out of the ship.

You know, like Kill Bill Vol. 1Beyond Skyline really feels like a tender valentine to me and the movies I love. Past the whole alien invasion thing, the scenes inside the ship have an undeniably horrific edge. The freed robot sabotages the ship, causing it to crash in southeast Asia, where Mark and another survivor, Audrey (Bojana Novakovic) run into a drug warlord (IKO UWAIS!!!!) who’s going to have to go to war with the aliens, too. Where Iko goes, so must Yayan Ruhian, who must have it in his contract that he must always die in the most intense fight choreography you have ever seen. Which means, that’s right, just when you thought Beyond Skyline had blended in almost all of my favorite genres, it went ahead and threw in The Raid movies, too. And on top of that, two giant things start pounding the crap out of each other.

Whatever else you may say about Beyond Skyline, it’s not boring. It feels like one of those crazy-ass action movies you chanced onto at two o’clock in the morning on Cinemax, but with actual money.

Let’s see if I can bring this in.

My pal Dave, a couple years back, was dissed by younger hipster actors for not being familiar with the films of Rene Laloux, probably while they were huffing avocados through their Vapemeister 3000s. Laloux’s primary fame on these shores comes from Fantastic Planet, an animated movie I’ve never particularly cared for. It’s pretty, but is, as Danny Bowe’s once said of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, “French as fuck.” Still, I’m down for animated movies. So I followed up Beyond Skyline with Time Masters.

I was not expecting a Moebius movie.

Now, Jean Giraud did not write the story – that’s the work of equally French writer Stefan Wul, but he did design it. Giraud was an artist who could knock you square in the eyes with his work and make you thank him profusely for the experience. Time Masters is still French as fuck.

A young boy, Piel, is marooned on the planet Perdide. His dying father radios an old comrade, Jaffar, to rescue Piel. Jaffar immediately interrupts his current journey to set out for Perdide, much to the displeasure of his passenger, a prince who is escaping some justice on his home planet. Trouble is, in the vastness of space, it will take Jaffar a month to get there.  They can communicate with the boy via a subspace radio, and have to help him survive via instruction. The Prince will try to get Piel to “accidentally” kill himself, there are guys with wings and Time Masters. It’s all French as fuck.

He’s probably smoking a Gauloise

Yes, it does feel like one of Moebius’ Metal Hurlant serials in animated form. The animation style is much more traditional than the nearly-decade previous Fantastic Planet, and often it doesn’t serve Moebius’ work as well as you’d hope. Still worth seeking out for its French-as-fuckness.

There I did it! First real blog post of the year! Four movies into The List! I’ll correct the spelling errors tomorrow! 30!