Thursday, August 23, 2007

This Movie Blows

There is an invasion going on, but I can assure you Aliens aren’t behind it. No, the invasion is that of corporate ideals into modern society, and my friends they’ve probably gotten to you already. Case in point: The Invasion. Body Snatchers was a story by Jack Finney serialized in 1954 which became the basis for Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This first film, made in 1956 by grit-meister Don Siegel and starring Kevin McCarthy was pretty eloquently done, especially considering the time. It was seen, because of it’s larger theme of alienation and conformity as both a pro-commie and anti-commie vessel. My guess is anti, but as I’m sure Don Siegel didn’t want to get blacklisted, he kept his take to himself. The film ends on something of a positive note, though much of the hero’s California town has been converted, help seems to be on its way. Next came the 1978 version of the film under the same title, this time directed by Philip Kaufman and starring Donald Sutherland. Kaufman added his own flair to the series (mainly atmospherics and pacing) to make this film about 98% brilliant. Considering the time period the effects look gorgeous but understated. This one ends on a much bleaker note, after much of the hero’s California town has been converted, apparently so went the rest of the world with only survivor Veronica Cartwright being routed out publicly as a non-alien. Then followed one more remake, in name and basic plot points only. This time simply called Body Snatcher in 1993 by Abel Ferrera maker of such rough cautionary tales as Ms. 45 and Bad Lieutenant. This one is about a military base over run by the pod people, starring R. Lee Ermey, Forest Whitaker and other character actors. I can’t speak to the quality of this one as I have not been able to track down a copy, but the consensus is that the movie was in need of a bigger scale for there to be any real scare to it. Anyway, there have been dozens of other half-remakes and rip-offs like The Faculty for instance and what popular sci-fi/horror movie hasn’t had a “That’s not my mother” moment in the last 30 years. Anyway, my point in telling all of this is that the Body Snatcher theme has been something of a constant for the last half-century; so why, oh why would studio heads pick this as a fucking vehicle to sell Mac Computers and Pepsi.

The Invasion
by Oliver Hirschbiegel
The Invasion is a straight-up modernization of Body Snatchers, keeping the names from the story that appeared in the 78 version. First thing to take into account, Joel Silver produced this movie. Previous credits include Road House, The Last Boy Scout, Assasins, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Lethal Weapon I, II, III & IV, The Warriors, Xanadu, Romeo Must Die, Dungeons & Dragons, Tales from the Crypt and of course, The Matrix. Just thought I’d mention that. Anyway, our hero is Catherine Bunnell (a shockingly empty Nicole Kidman, whose southern accent deserves its own special commendation for bad continuity), a divorced psychiatrist with a Mac laptop and a son who looks like a computerized squirrel. When her ex-husband Tucker, some kind of nondescript government cheese, returns from a space shuttle crash site a changed man and insists upon seeing their son for the first time in years, she understandably gets worried. Scarier still, her son finds some kind of pulsing amoeba in his Halloween basket. She brings it to her friend/boyfriend Dr. Ben Driscoll (Daniel Craig, who managed to convince the director to let him keep his accent) who with his friend and lab tech Steven (Geoffrey Wright in the worst performance of his career, and I’m counting Peebles from Shaft) discover it’s living tissue, not unlike a virus. Before anything else can happen they are called to a Czech friend of Driscoll’s house to be shown a jellied house-guest. This guy is covered head-to-toe in that jazz that Catherine brought into the lab and he now reacts violently to being woken up. Ben figures that something must happen during REM sleep to cause the virus to start changing the cell and converting it, which Catherine figures would probably look a lot like nothing at all had happened when it was over, hence her Husband’s and other sorted character’s strange behavior of late. Few, glad that shit’s over with, now let’s get Nicole out of those clothes for a minute and sell some fucking Pepsi. From here on out, it’s Catherine running around (in a shiny new Mercedes and inexplicably a brand new Jaguar with the keys in the ignition) being pursued by snatched bodies as they try and convert everyone while Steven works on his Mac Book Pro to come up with a vaccine. Catherine uses her cell phone to no end, using text and video messages to communicate with her son. She gets her son back after FAR too many close calls of almost being discovered and then takes pills and drinks Moutain Dew and Pepsi to stay awake in a pharmacy. Her drinking Mountain Dew is the first thing you see in the movie and it’s not the last time we see her do it. And it wasn’t even this early product placement that tipped me off to how bad this movie was about to suck, it was when people opened their mouths to talk at the crash site of the space shuttle. These guys use the word ‘contaminated’ in the most absurd fashion, but never bother explaining what the fuck the contaminant is, other than it’s from outer space. Why would the military instinctively quarantine a shuttle crash? Cause they’re waiting for aliens? And then as soon as Tucker comes home, his irritating girlfriend takes her clothes off in front of a mirror and gets into bed. 8 seconds later we see Tucker being turned into an alien.

This is a kind of film I like to think was made by people on speed for people with ADD. “Audiences don’t want to think, they just want to do, now cut another line, I’m losing all my zing!” The editing is so quick and edgy and stylized that sometimes, entire scenes happen in cut-aways and we never know what the fuck is going on. You’re told something is happening, and then you’re thrown into the tail-end of that scene. In one scene, you see Nicole Kidman googling something, drawing conclusions and then talking about them with Daniel Craig, and then meeting him at the hospital. Their talking could never have happened logically because it’s supposed to occur between her googling and her meeting him at the hospital. WHAT THE FUCK!? It’s a little like what Seijun Suzuki used to do, except he did it because he didn’t believe in wasting time; he wanted a scene, you were in the middle of it. That sort of editing works in free-jazz yakuza pictures, not in supposedly cerebral horror films. How are we supposed to figure out what message this movie is sending if it won’t slow down and send one? Maybe it’s because the only message it’s sending is “Drink Pepsi, Talk Sprint, Drive Mercedes, Think Mac”? The only message the film sends is one they talk about from the start (albeit in a none-too-subtle fashion) that humans are awful and that the world could only stop fighting if humans weren’t humans anymore. This scene is annoying enough without them foreshadowing the loss of humanity by an alien race as obviously as if they’d hung a billboard over the dinner table that says “We’re coming to get you!” Oi! And what’s more at the end of the film when everything’s back to normal, we hear voice over from that scene again. And Nicole Kidman looks sad about it. “Was I wrong not to give in?” That is corporate interests interfering with my science fiction. It’s ALWAYS a bad idea to conform, ASSHOLES! Nicole Kidman looking sad as her human husband reads a newspaper and human son go to school while bodies are being pulled from gutters after a bunch of fucking bullying aliens killed all who stood in their way is the same as if they had her refusing to drink Pepsi because of the way corporations treat workers and then regretting it because she thinks she might just like the taste. What they’re saying is that the aliens were absolutely right to come here and try and take over and do things their way because we’re a race of violent children who’d rather kill than love. And when this is the kind of message put into a movie in an attempt to tell us it would be worth it to sacrifice your individuality so that the world could be run without your input (like it is now), then I’m inclined to agree. I hope that the mothership lands right in your backyard, Joel Silver and sucks your brains out first, not that anyone would know the goddamned difference. FUCK YOU!

And more irksome still are the performances. When Nicole Kidman blows, man does she go for the gold. She, Geoffrey Wright and every featured alien overact, underact or act unreasonably. The director didn’t have a clue what he was doing; they just threw a script and a list of names in his lap and kept the Monster energy drinks coming until they had something in the can. And boy, do they. This films one saving grace is that Daniel Craig is incapable of sucking. This kind of nonsense is popping up all over the place, faux-edgy teenager movies with brand names everywhere you look and unbelievable performances from good actors (Pulse, Transformers). Advertising is bad enough in commercials, worse when the commercials are before movies and inexcusable when movies are turned into commercials. There’s only one way to describe this nightmare and David Lynch said it best, “Fucking Bullshit!”
My final thought is that there was not a single alien pod to speak of. How in the name of Ed Wood’s brassiere can you remake Invasion of the Body Snatchers and not have a single pod to show me? To throw me terrible acting, stupid editing, product placement, mindless action, implausible escapes and a “you should have conformed” moral at the end of it all is one thing, but to forget to put the pods in? There are levels of Hell reserved especially for people like you!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Over The River And Through The Woods...

I’ve seen my fair share of backwoods horror films and I mean that in as many ways as possible. I mean films set in, filmed in, and for the most part only viewed in the backwoods of America. They are gruesome, stagy, silly, gory and for the most part fairly original. The most famous exemption of this trend is of course The Evil Dead, which received an unprecedented bit of spotlight. Everytime I watch one of these I am either left reeling from staggering Jackassery or pleasantly surprised. I have little expectation of these movies (except the ones that wound up banned in the UK) and so when a good one comes along, or one with some kind of flair or uniqueness in execution. Just Before Dawn springs to mind as one with flair (the color, presentation and locations make this a standout among post-Friday the 13th slasher films), and Don’t Go Into The Woods…Alone comes galumphing into mind as a grimly inept example of this kind of movie. Very few of them concern themselves with Zombies and when they do, I take special care to seek them out for immediate viewing. The subject of this installment is a colorful little film called Toxic Zombies or Forest of Fear, banned in the UK as part of the Video Nasties scare and it wasn’t easy tracking her down. All in all the search wasn’t entirely warranted; plot thin, acting half-ok, effects not great, lighting poor. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen, mind you, but for all the time I spent reading up on the thing I would have liked to see a bit more scare and a bit less scale.

Toxic Zombies
by Charles McCrann

Our story begins with two casually dressed FBI agents who drive up into the middle of nowhere to shoot ‘em some hippies. The cannabis growers are just about ready to pick their crop and the man wants to put the kibosh on that before any fun is had. They get there and kill a pretty blonde hippie just after her obscene bathing scene (the film’s only spot of nudity). The rest of the crew retaliates and then gets paranoid. Apparently this one goes all the way to the top; before the bodies have been uncovered some big cheese at Langley gets it in his head that destroying this pot crop is priority number one and sends an order down to make sure it gets destroyed. So they tell there field man to stay out of the area and send an old crop-duster a canister of experimental pesticide with which to kill the crop, and with luck, those tie-dye wearing interlopers. Well as anyone could have guessed, the crop duster drops the goods and everything goes very, very wrong. The old man wakes up the next morning with a craving for his wife’s flesh, but she’s too used to his bullshit to let him take her alive. The hippies become groggy and sick and before long they too become zombies. It’s about this time that the field man the FBI warned to stay away gets hounded by his annoying wife to go camping. Go fucking figure. So he, his wife and his less-than-mature brother go out to hippie-zombie land for the weekend to help two stranded and recently orphaned kids get to safety.

What surprised me most about this film was the acting from some of the hippies. There are no names in the cast (unless you count John Amplas) but some of these guys act naturally. I couldn’t catch any of their character’s names and consequently can’t say what any of their real names are, but when the one of them gets angry and insists on leaving, it was really good. I guess why I’m stunned by this is because of the wooden acting of all the leads (Director McCrann especially) and the ridiculousness of the storyline that surrounds these small performances. Alone in a much better film I wouldn’t have thought twice, but good acting in bad movies is like spotting the most beautiful girl at a party. That alone, I’m afraid is not enough to recommend this film as it lacks decent pacing or any real scares. One highlight that I haven’t seen duplicated outside of a Mel Brooks film is the manner in which the crop-duster talks to his wife. The way in which he swears at her is absolutely hysterical. The way he injects pauses before his hilarious pronunciation of “bitch” is brilliant. Unfortunately for me and the film he is killed before he is allowed too much screen time. The last point I want to bring up is the aforementioned scale. Don’t bring in the FBI if you can’t afford identical suits and sunglasses. Don’t tell me the oldest of your drinking buddies is the head of his department at the Federal Bureau of Fucking Investigation. There is simply no reason to make your plot unbelievable because you need to validate the creation of undead hippies. The zombies come before the plot, not the other way round.

This one definitely should have been left off the banned list if for no other reason than to stop me from looking for it. Oh well, one more zombie film down, not too many to go.