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Archive for the ‘movie reviews’ Category

It’s surprising, twenty-five years later, how well Runaway has aged. Not because it is anything close to prescient in its vision of the future, or because it is so well-executed technically that it stands ahead of its contemporaries. Instead, Michael Crichton’s movie about cops chasing robots run amok holds up is because, despite its low-fi trappings, it manages to put together a world the audience can believe in.

Sgt. Jack Ramsay (Tom Selleck) is a Chicago Police Department officer assigned to handling robots. It’s not glamorous work, more like animal control than anything else, but he’s gotten to be the best in the department at it. He and new partner Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes) are called in to deal with a malfunctioning domestic robot, and an extra chip inside leads them to Dr. Charles Luther (Gene Simmons) and Jackie Rogers (Kirstie Alley), who may have the answers behind a rash of robot-related incidents.

Michael Crichton writes and directs, and he makes the choice of not setting the film too far in the future (as seen from 1984). Cars, hairstyles, clothing, etc., are thus all from the mid-eighties, rather than anything particularly futuristic (which generally means, the current time period only more so!); Ramsay mentions that one of the older robots they corral is still running on an 8088-series processor (the kind the then-current IBM PCs used; the IBM PC AT with its 80286 chip had just been introduced). Give Chrichton credit for not having robotics technology make the immediate leap to self-aware androids, but the robots themselves do often look cobbled-together, not so much like a mass-produced product.

That’s the big problem with Runaway: Even for 1984, it looks cheap. Crichton’s got good ideas, but the execution is kind of shoddy, and not just in special effects. Crichton piles a cute kid, two potential love interests, guilt over a dead hostage, and crippling vertigo onto Ramsay. It’s a bit much at times, even though it’s seldom overwhelming.

Part of that’s because Tom Selleck is good at selling it; it’s surprising he never had much of a career outside of Magnum, P.I., because he does a fine job of making the unreal or potentially trite believable. Gene Simmons is suitably crazed as the villain. Cynthia Rhodes is likable enough as Selleck’s partner, though Kirstie Alley is kind of annoying as the woman they recruit to help bring down Simmons.

Despite all its faults, Runaway holds together. It shouldn’t; it should seem incredibly dated and tacky. Instead, it has a sort of understated charm.

Some bad movies are interesting to watch as a sort of game – where, exactly, did things go wrong? After all, very few people set out to create a movie that stinks; it’s just the unfortunate end result. Chrysalis is not one of those; things were too obviously doomed from the start, when filmmaker Tony Baez Milan decided to adapt a Ray Bradbury short story and decided that a movie whose main subject just sits there would be terribly engrossing.

It’s one of those futures where the environment is wrecked and the consolidated nations of the world are engaged in a war of attrition. Dr. Hartley (John Klemantaski) is doing plant research in an underground bunker, assisted by McGuire (Corey Landis) and Smith (Glen Vaughan). Smith is close to cracking up when one day he collapses, and the others find a green growth on him. It eventually envelops him, becoming a hard shell, and Hartley reluctantly calls hospital colleague Rockwell (Darren Kendrick) and Rockwell’s assistant Murphy (Danny Cameron) in. Mondragon (Larry Dirk), a gung-ho military type, also interjects himself as the scientists try to answer the question of what’s going on with Smith and what should be done with him?

The large and obvious problem with this set-up is that it’s not very conducive to things actually happening. The middle of the movie is what seems like an hour of people standing around Smith, re-iterating that they really don’t know what’s going on. Hartley becomes more paranoid and hostile, frightened of what will emerge from Smith’s chrysalis. Rockwell becomes obsessed with the apparent healing properties of a fluid he has extracted from it. McGuire and Murphy stand around rather interchangeably, and Mondragon wanders off when he realizes that he really doesn’t have anything to do. The scientists “debate”, if by that you mean exchanging wild hypotheses based on the scant information they have. There’s news footage of the outside world that is utterly irrelevant to the story in the bunker.

That’s just one way the filmmakers try to stretch the story out, by the way – it has some of the slowest fade-outs and fade-ins I’ve ever seen. Of course, given the environment I saw it in, I was thankful for that, as the festival/marathon crowd would cheer with each fade out, only to make a collective groan of disappointment when the movie failed to end. You make your own fun in these situations.

There is, after all, precious little of it to be had elsewhere. Chrysalis isn’t even entertainingly awful; the cast is bland but not generally inept. The make-up effects for the chrysalis actually look kind of good, and as cheap as everything looks, it’s not the kind of cheap where you can see shoddy workmanship. The ending is terrible – it’s not quite out of nowhere, but it’s also not something that’s been set up beyond the wild theorizing. The movie doesn’t end the way it does because of any particular actions of the characters or any outside force that has any meaning to us.

So, even when something big happens, it feels like nothing has happened. You can get away with that in a short story (and I suspect that Bradbury’s original story was very short indeed), but in an 85-minute film, it’s a form of torture.

If the planet earth had to anoint one grand imperial “Alpha Male”, it wouldn’t be Chuck Norris, it wouldn’t be Mr. T, it wouldn’t be Bruce Campbell and it wouldn’t even be Batman. It would be Clint Eastwood. And let me tell you something, that old silverback will rip the throat out of any pretender who tries to challenge him for that place in the pack and then wipe is ass with it.

I still remember how much joy I felt when I first saw the poster for Gran Torino. A gruff and pissed off looking Clint Eastwood with a shotgun in his steel hands standing in front of his Gran Torino. I didn’t know a single detail about this movie… but I was already 100% sold. Some critics have already given their reviews of this film. Some saying it’s pure creative genius, some saying it’s one of the worst films of the year. In my opinion, the truth of Gran Torino lay somewhere in between.

THE GENERAL IDEA

The synopsis for Gran Torino reads something like this: “A racist Korean War veteran living in a crime-ridden Detroit neighborhood is forced to confront his own lingering prejudice when a troubled Hmong teen from his neighborhood attempts to steal his prized Gran Torino. Decades after the Korean War has ended, ageing veteran Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood) is still haunted by the horrors he witnessed on the battlefield. The two objects that matter most to Kowalski in life are the classic Gran Torino that represents his happier days working in a Ford assembly plant, and the M-1 rifle that saved his life countless times during combat. When Kowalski’s teenage neighbor (Bee Vang) attempts to steal his Gran Torino as part of a gang initiation rite, the old man manages to catch the aspiring thief at the business end of his well-maintained semi-automatic rifle. Later, due to the pride of the Asian group, the boy is forced to return to Kowalski’s house and perform an act of penance. Despite the fact that Kowalski wants nothing to do with the young troublemaker, he realizes that the quickest way out of the situation is to simply cooperate. In an effort to set the teen on the right path in life and toughen him up, the reluctant vet sets him up with an old crony who now works in construction. In the process, Kowalski discovers that the only way to lay his many painful memories to rest is to finally face his own blinding prejudice head-on.”

I was beyond excited when I first heard about the original Underworld movie. I mean come on… werewolves versus vampires! Does a geek need to hear anything else to get his blood pumping? The answer is no. Add on top of that a hot as hell Kate Beckinsale dressed in tight leather fighting the armies of the night. Sign me up! Unfortunately the movie didn’t quite live up to it’s potential. It had fantastic style and a great mythology behind it, but it suffered in its execution. It did introduce us to my all time favorite movie vampire however… Viktor! Then came Underworld 2 and it was… how do I put this? A giant sack of crap. It’s just best that we all treat it like Highlander 2 and just forget it ever existed.

When they first announced that there would be a third Underworld film I was extremely apprehensive (because the second one was so bad and he story seemed to have nowhere left to go), until I found out that it was going to be a prequel. An Underworld movie about the old war. Showing the Vampires in all their glory and the Lycans in all their savagery. This was the Underworld movie I had been waiting to see. Did it deliver on all my hopes and dreams? No… but it was still quite good and without a doubt the best Underworld film to date.

THE GENERAL IDEA

The synopsis for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans looks something like this: “This prequel story traces the origins of the centuries-old blood feud between the aristocratic vampires known as Death Dealers and their onetime slaves, the Lycans. In the Dark Ages, a young Lycan named Lucian emerges as a powerful leader who rallies the werewolves to rise up against Viktor, the cruel vampire king who has enslaved them. Lucian is joined by his secret lover, Sonja, in his battle against the Death Dealer army and his struggle for Lycan freedom. FX artist Patrick Tatopoulos, who developed the creatures for the first two films, is directing.”