Independence Day Resurgence review

I love science fiction stories about global events. The bigger the better. The problem is the filmmakers who love blowing things up the most suck at every other aspect of filmmaking. Case in point: 1996’s Independence Day. I was thirteen years old when it came out and I saw it on the biggest screen in the city, opening day. I liked it, but something funny happened when I saw it on VHS around a year later: the novelty had completely worn off.

Aliens attack Earth on a global scale? That’s great. Ships as big as cities? Love it. Jet fighters verses alien spaceships? Bring it on.

So what’s not to like? Literally every other aspect of the movie. Independence Day was kind of like a partner who was great in the sack, but gradually revealed they had absolutely nothing to offer as far as relationships go. I had no desire to see Resurgence until I finally saw the trailer and heard one of the characters say, “This one is definitely bigger,” or something to that effect. I’m a sucker for that kind of shit. Look, I know me and Independence Day aren’t right for each other, but the good times were just too fun to pass up. And who knows? Maybe it matured emotionally since the last time we hooked up.

Spoiler: it didn’t.

Resurgence spends way too much time introducing the new characters while simultaneously bringing us up to speed on what the returning characters have been up to. I never expected to see Charlotte Gainsbourg in a summer blockbuster, but she and Jeff Goldblum steal the show. The movie would have been great if it focused on them instead of an ensemble cast. I never asked to see Brent Spiner’s Dr. Okun return for an even bigger role, but I liked him, too. Unfortunately everybody else, including Bill Pullman, sucks in this movie.

It’s apparent the studio didn’t want a proper sequel as much as they wanted a soft reboot. The original cast is used to bait us into the theater so they can switch ’em out with the new (read: young) and improved (read: less expensive) actors. The new actors will no doubt be the leads of the next sequel even though they belong in TV commercials and soap operas. They’re far too squeaky clean and safe for movies like this.

This sequel double downs on everything but the fun, which was the entire fucking point. The jets and the alien fighter ships seem to be moving at idling speed while the aliens’ new methods of mass destruction are, visually, duller than the city-leveling weapons in the last picture. The action bits are too few and far between and none of ’em last as long as the finely crafted sequences in ID4. In fact, it takes nearly an hour before the aliens attack at all.

And you remember that much vilified moment with the dog in part one? They kind of do it again, but this time with a baby and, later, a bus full of children. Audiences aren’t stupid enough to think a summer blockbuster is actually going to kill animals or children, so why do these filmmakers keep trying to create suspense with them?

Independence Day Resurgence feels more like a straight-to-video knockoff than a sequel. As far as action goes, I would rank it slightly higher than Battlefield Los Angeles and much lower than last year’s San Andreas. I think it’s obvious what’s going on here: when the writers found out the financiers wanted two sequels, they probably took their original concept, split it into two, and padded it with a bunch of bullshit and an arbitrary ending. If Roland Emmerich thinks this climax is anywhere near as exciting as the last one, he needs his head examined.

If you thought the original wasn’t melodramatic enough, and all its action made your head hurt, then this is the movie for you.

Clown (2014) has finally been released in America

minor spoilers in the trailer… as usual

I never thought clowns were scary, but I love seeing them in movies. It’s almost as if they were made for movies. (See: Álex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus, possibly the greatest use of clowns in a movie ever.) Hell, I kind of like mimes, too, so maybe there’s something wrong with me.

Anyway, you remember that part in Parenthood in which Steve Martin has to dress up as a clown for his son’s birthday party? Imagine if he discovered the costume wouldn’t come off. Then, as his frustrations mounted, he developed urges to murder innocent children. That’s the premise behind Clown, a remarkably deadpan horror-comedy written by a couple of filmmakers who got Eli Roth to produce after they made a proof of concept trailer.

So Kent McCoy, a real estate agent, is stuck in the old clown costume he found. All attempts to take it off—which have involved razor blades, hemostats, and power tools—have only injured him. The costume is apparently fusing to his body. Like Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker, it’s his skin itself that’s white so he has to put on flesh-colored makeup to pass in public. Unfortunately, it’s clear he’ll never look normal again and his appearance is only devolving into something hideous, never improving.

While researching the origins of the costume, Kent meets a man played by Fargo’s Peter Stormare. Stormare’s character reveals the costume’s not made out of fabric at all, but it’s actually the skin and hair of an ancient demon. Ridiculous, right? Wisely, the film plays it all with a straight face and never elbows you for a laugh. I laughed quite a bit anyway. I think the reason the idea of getting trapped in a clown costume is actually scary is because it would be as embarrassing as accidentally showing up somewhere without any pants on.

The demon the skin belonged to was known for killing and eating children, an urge which slowly infects Kent himself. The filmmakers leverage that aspect of the plot into a moral quandary that comes into play towards the end of the movie. Without giving too much away, people often say they would do absolutely anything for their children. Clown explores the darker implications of an otherwise innocent statement like that.

Moviegoers often debate about which kind of horror is more effective—showing it all verses implying it—and that’s as silly as arguing which color is best for works of art. I appreciate a horror film that includes colors from the full palette. While Clown’s promotional material suggests it might assault you with buckets of gore, it neither wants to push the envelope or shy away. It implies more than it shows, yet it makes effective but sparing use of body horror. Whereas Eli Roth repeatedly hits you over the head with the horror elements in his own movies, these guys sneak that stuff into your blind spots and by the time it’s in your peripheral vision it’s too late.

I really liked this movie, which is bizarre and subtle at the same time. I was often reminded of that shocking reveal at the end of Rosemary’s Baby, which is the worst thing that could happen to its lead character and somehow kind of amusing at the same time. The acting in Clown is much better than you expect and the characters seem real and grounded. They don’t even do anything stupid, like walk into a room that obviously has danger in it, or make excuses for why they don’t call the police.

If you ever wondered why I’m a big Eli Roth fan, it’s because of his involvement in movies like this. We need more cheerleaders for the smaller voices in genre fiction and Roth’s genuine enthusiasm for this kind of stuff is infectious. I know I keep pointing this out, but horror is in a renaissance after the intellectually and aesthetically diluted crap of the 2000s almost killed it. I couldn’t be happier.

Rob Zombie’s 31 trailer looks just like another Rob Zombie movie

I don’t know what it is about Rob Zombie movies, but the trailers tend to deliver more of what I want than the actual movies do. I still think his Werewolf Women of the SS trailer is probably the best “film” he’s ever made. (I could say the same about Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving.) Nonetheless, I’m pulling for the guy. He tends to nail the tone he’s going for—which is refreshingly serious—and anyone who casts Meg Foster is cool in my book. 
Now, where the hell is Sid Haig?

Make "Fortress of Amerikkka" great again?

this shit is not safe for work (and probably life)

John Waters once said, “Get more out of life. See a fucked-up movie.” Those are words to live by, my friend.

I’ve talked before about the purity of these kinds of movies many times. They promise a certain kind of entertainment—usually mindless—and they either deliver it or they don’t. Here’s one that certainly delivers, but be careful what you wish for. It crosses the line about as far as The Human Centipede sequels did. Early on, a defenseless old man gets drawn between a car and a tree. Later, a terrified child get shot in the back.

Fortress of Amerikkka has a lot in common with Surf Nazis Must Die. They both have sleazy titles, they both have scenes of unbelievable cheese and hilarious action, and they were both distributed by Troma. My only complaint is Surf Nazis Must Die is just a little more fun. Any movie in which the hero is a motorcycle-driving black mama is automatically better than one in which a white man plays a Native American named John Whitecloud.

John Whitecloud. Just… I mean… shit.

one of my favorite cult films of all time

The first thing Whitecloud does upon being released from prison is stock up on guns and ammunition at the local gun store. There he has a run-in with the dirty cop who put him away and killed his brother. The cop tells Whitecloud he better watch his back, a scene every movie like this must include. Incidentally, there’s a militia performing training exercises in the surrounding woods. Despite the fact their camp is the size of a small city the authorities can’t find them. The villain, who reminds me of Donald Trump trying to “make Amerikkka great again,” commands his loyal followers to kill anyone who stumbles upon the location of their camp, which seems to be damn near everyone but the cops. (When I pointed out how hard it would be for a group that large to remain hidden from the police, my friend quipped, “Camouflage, duh!“)

These are two very different plots which run parallel for the majority of the movie until, suddenly, they don’t. And here’s where the confusion comes into play: Why is America spelled with a triple-K? It leads you to believe the militia has ties with the Klan, yet they’re the most racially inclusive (and female friendly) group in the entire picture. Although Troma films have been known for attempting subversiveness which tends to be as subtle as a cannonball—and I’m almost inclined to suspect this film is saying something satirical about America itself—I just can’t bring myself to believe the guy who directed the first two Class of Nuke’Em High sequels had anything more to say than “violence and boobies, yay!”

The “that’s so wrong” factor of this movie is simply stunning. Get a bunch of drunk friends together and you’ll probably have a blast. I’d go so far as to say it’s one of the wildest Troma films that wasn’t produced in-house.

* * *

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the short film we watched before the feature: Gayniggers from Outer Space. I’m not sure why we ended up watching this particular combination of films (beer was involved), but it was one of the best movie nights I’ve had in a while. Here’s the heartwarming tale of a group of homosexual aliens who decide to rid the earth of women, featuring complex characters named Captain B. Dick and Sergeant Shaved Balls.

Dead By Daylight: First Impressions

Dead By Daylight Review

Dead By Daylight gives you the choice of being a victim or a Jason-like serial killer. In order for the killer to win he must kill the victims, which requires catching, disabling, and hanging them on meat hooks. Survivors just have to escape, but there’s a catch: the killer’s compound is entirely fenced in. The only way to open the gate is by repairing the generators which are scattered about the map and it takes a long time to repair each one, adding to the suspense. The killer knows where these generators are at all times, but the victims have to actively search for them without the aid of a HUD.

There’s also a point system. The more points you have, the more items and power-ups you can buy in between matches. The point system encourages the victims to help one another, as opposed to fending for themselves (which happens, too), while inspiring the lone killer to get creative with his traps and tactics. I’m actually surprised by how much teamwork is in a title which doesn’t feature in-game chat.

What’s even more surprising is the fun factor’s longevity. There’s only the one game mode and all the maps look more or less the same beyond their drab color schemes. You’re either going to be one of three available killers (which requires hosting a game and sometimes waiting damn near forever for four other players to join) or one of the four survivors, meaning there’s not a whole lot to see beyond your first few matches. With so few combinations, I expected this one to get stale quick, but I find myself loading it up frequently. It’s really easy to jump in and out of it.

Matches last only a handful of minutes and, generally, don’t take long getting into. The overall boot time is fairly low, too, which is probably a big reason I play CS:GO so often. Like that game, Dead By Daylight provides a surprising amount of replayability not in spite of its simplicity, but because of it. The randomly generated layout of maps helps, too. Meanwhile the graphics are more than acceptable and the sounds of blades and meat hooks puncturing flesh are crisp and satisfying—really satisfying.

Theme goes a long way and that’s the biggest thing Dead By Daylight has going for it. Unfortunately (for me) it doesn’t completely bring that 80s horror vibe which the upcoming Friday the 13th game promises. It just looks a little too much like a late 90s/early 2000s horror picture for my liking, while the victim roster is curiously lacking a teen heroine, a dimwitted jock, and a clueless police officer. Still, stalking real-life players with a brisk, intimidating walk is even more fun than you might think.

If you’re not a fan of slasher movies, you should probably skip this one. Otherwise, I certainly don’t feel like I threw my money away as the twenty dollar price tag seems just about right. Besides, the thrill of finding a victim hiding in a closet is something I can’t convey with words. I find the game’s strengths more than makes up for the bugs, most of which aren’t game-breaking.

At the time of this writing, the game doesn’t have a serviceable party system. Players are constantly entering and immediately leaving lobbies in search of their friends, which sometimes makes soloing take longer than it should. The devs have tweeted they will address this issue soon, but a party system could potentially break a game that purposely omitted in-game chat because those players will no doubt be using VOIP software to coordinate against the killer.

Neil Breen’s Double Down

As Rich Evans proves in the video above, it’s impossible to explain Double Down’s plot. I’ll do my best.

Neil Breen stars as a Mary Sue who eats a steady diet of tuna while living on the lam. He has an arsenal of laptops, cell phones, and consumer satellite dishes. Bad guys want to kill him just because. The government wants to kill him, but if he dies then bombs in seven major cities will explode and only he knows where the bombs are hidden. At one point he cures a little girl’s cancer (don’t ask) before smearing anthrax on a random pedestrian’s arm. “Oops,” he says.

His wife (they met and fell in love at age 7) has been murdered by… I don’t know. There are many attempts put on his life by… I don’t know. If repeatedly asking the screen “What the fuck?” is your idea of a good time, then here’s the movie for you.

Look, it’s more than obvious why movies like Toxic Avenger and Ninja III: The Domination are considered cult classics. Double Down? Not so much. Without Red Letter Media’s hilarious review of the film (see the full version of the review here), Double Down probably wouldn’t have found its way into the clearance bin at Big Lots.

I like cult films because they reliably give us what Hollywood is often too prude to show: shamelessly gratuitous action and fun. There’s an honest purity in good B movies. Double Down has none of the hallmarks of a good B movie. The only thing remarkable about it is it’s terrible. Does that alone make it a cult classic? Well, maybe, but it’s just not my type of cult classic. Frankly, I just think it’s a lot more fascinating when a big budget Hollywood movie (such as Fantastic Four) goes off the rails than a movie that was doomed to suck from the get-go.

I finally saw Double Down a couple weeks ago when /r/badmovies had their interactive movie marathon. I had a blast during the first two films, but my enthusiasm plunged during Double Down. Sure, I laughed roughly as much as I groaned, but where were the ninjas? The over-the-top henchmen? The scenes of titillating passion? This isn’t an exciting movie. Yes, it’s fascinating this average Joe got the movie made and seen by so many people, but wasn’t that just a fluke?

Again, I completely understand why there are fans of this material and I’m certainly not saying there’s anything wrong with that—seriously, just look back at some of the shit I gave favorable reviews. I just prefer to laugh with movies, that’s all. If I’m going to laugh at a movie I’d rather laugh at lazy Hollywood cash-grabs (such as Fantastic Four) than an aspiring filmmaker who probably had good intentions. Probably.

Sunspring: a movie written by a machine

So here’s a movie which wasn’t written by a human. According to Annalee Newitz:

“… it was authored by a recurrent neural network called long short-term memory, or LSTM for short. At least, that’s what we’d call it. The AI named itself Benjamin.”

I can’t say my socks were blown off by Benjamin’s debut film, but it’s kind of fun nonetheless. Watch the full movie @ Ars Technica.

X-Men Apocalypse

I’ve never really loved the X-Men movies, but I kind of enjoyed The Last Stand. I tell you this now so you know to take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), the world’s first mutant, was worshiped as a god by ancient Egyptians. The power he was born with was the ability to transfer his consciousness from one body to the next, rejuvenating himself whenever his current body neared death. As an added bonus he retains the superpowers of all the people he possesses. While performing his latest ritual of transference, which will place him in the body of a mutant who possesses healing powers like Wolverine’s, his enemies manage to bury him deep below the ground.

Fast forward to 1983 and Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) stumbles upon a group of dumb asses who revive Apocalypse. Once the big blue cheese-ball is free he decides to “cleanse” the world of non-mutants. This guy can kill ya just by glancing in your direction (unless you’re a leading character, naturally). Despite his limitless powers he decides he needs four guardians—or “horsemen,” if you will.

It’s immediately clear this movie wants to cram in every first- and second-rate mutant from the source material it can. Angel is probably the lamest of them. He simply isn’t a character who translates well to the screen, which is just as apparent today as it was ten years ago (yes, it really has been ten years since The Last Stand). And I know a lot of fans were excited about Psylocke’s authentic look in this film, but because Bryan Singer has already established his “superheroes must wear black” rule she sticks out like a sore thumb in a movie that’s all thumbs from the get-go.

So Magneto has been lying low since the events of Days of Future Past. He has a wife and child now. I’m sure you already know how that’s going to turn out. Long story short: Magneto, Storm, Psylocke, and Angel form Apocalypse’s modern horsemen and they have absolutely no problem with his genocidal tendencies. It’s an idea that probably sounded cool in the writing room, but requires all kinds of logic-deflecting to make it work. A Holocaust survivor probably isn’t going to jump on board with a villain whose plan feels so Final Solution-y, but it’s not the first time Magneto has shown signs of cognitive dissonance.

I haven’t even gotten to the good guys yet. Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is one of those bored action heroes who’s too cool to react to anything with any kind of human emotion. Sophie Turner’s Jean Gray is already being nudged toward Dark Phoenix territory. Once again the best part is the Quicksilver scene, but we’ve been there, done that. Meanwhile James McAvoy’s Professor Xavier is a snore and it feels too late to salvage the romantic subplot between him and MacTaggart, but they try anyway.

So the most striking aspect of X-Men Apocalypse is its absurdity. If Roger Corman had been known for excessively expensive films he could have made movies which felt a lot like it. It’s a good thing he didn’t because the overproduced slickness of Apocalypse works against its B-movie charm. Otherwise it’s one of the best dumb movies I’ve seen a long time. So much of this stuff feels exactly like the kind of mindless storytelling I would have concocted with my action figures when I was eight.

I’m okay with that. I just can’t believe something so goofy could be made in this age of Brooding Superman and Dark Fantastic Four. It turns out it’s as refreshing as a cold drink on a summer day even though it can’t hold a candle to Captain America’s most recent outing. Bryan Singer has just confirmed what I’ve long suspected: he is a massive dork. There’s just something extremely satisfying about seeing legitimate movie stars act so serious in a ridiculous action movie. Outside of the Quicksilver stuff the intentional jokes are terrible, but you’re going to laugh a lot anyway.

Good show, Singer, but making fun of The Last Stand was a low blow. You either die a hero or live long enough to become Brett Ratner.

Vice’s OUTSIDER documentary series

So begins Zack Carlson’s intro to the maiden episode of OUTSIDER: “For the past forty years, Grandmaster YK Kim has built an empire of martial arts and self-help seminars. But what few of his devoted followers know is that in 1987 he was the producer, co-director, and star of his very own action movie… which nearly destroyed him.” Carlson is one of the minds behind the Alamo Drafthouse’s success, not to mention the fanatical movie collector who discovered Miami Connection by accident. Today it’s among the most beloved lost-and-found movies of all time.

I have no idea if this is going to be a regular series or what, but I sure am digging it so far. The first finely produced mini-doc focuses on the creator of Miami Connection while the second one profiles Laz Rojas, an aspiring filmmaker who currently lives in a hotel whenever he’s not sleeping in his car. There’s also a bonus video in the form of Rojas’s claim to underground fame: excerpts from the four-hour long demo reel he used to send to Hollywood agents, which found a viral life of its own.

Check out OUTSIDER here.

Revisiting The Toxic Avenger II & III

At the beginning of Toxic Avenger IV, Stan Lee’s voiceover-cameo recounts the events of the first film before going on to say, “Then… two rotten sequels were made. Sorry about that.” Considering I’ve seen these two movies about a billion times more than I saw part IV, I wouldn’t say they were rotten. I  actually prefer Toxie’s makeup and John Candy-like voice to the version that appeared in the fourth film.

The biggest problem with the back-to-back sequels is they were intended to be one film until co-director Lloyd Kaufman, upon realizing they had shot too much footage, had the brilliant idea to split the one movie into two. (Troma’s recent Return to Nuke ‘Em High Vol. 1 seems to suffer from the same decision, which was allegedly suggested by Kaufman’s friend, Quentin Tarantino.) Instead of leaving the excess fat on the editing room floor, there’s a ton of padding in between the stuff we all wanted to see.

And don’t get me wrong: a lot of the stuff we wanted to see is present, albeit smothered. The first sequel opens with a hilariously stupid fight scene before the promising pace is abandoned for an overuse of voiceovers and an absurdly extended interlude in Japan. It’s rather like having to sit through Melvin’s vacation footage and only one of the two fights there is any fun. A lot of the footage that’s used in Toxic Avenger II will later be recycled for Toxic Avenger III, sometimes with replaced dialogue, sometimes unaltered, but always at the expense of us—the audience—groaning.

In other words, there’s a good movie between the two. If a skilled editor hasn’t made a supercut yet, here’s a prime candidate. I haven’t even touched upon the fact there are too many versions of the film and the director’s cut I purchased more than a decade ago somehow isn’t the definitive one.

When I was younger I preferred part II because I actually liked that stuff in Japan, but now that I’m older it’s clear the third film, The Last Temptation of Toxie, is the better picture. Like the end of the previous film, the opening of part III was obviously shot after Kaufman decided to split the film into two. The fight may not be as long and complex as the one which opened the previous movie, but its brevity helps establish the pace a little better and believe me: this movie can use all the help it can get.

Toxie’s romance with Claire (even Kaufman has stated he doesn’t know why they changed the character’s name from Sarah) is unexpectedly cute for a movie like this. Toxie literally sells his soul to pay for the operation to restore her eyesight—and get his mother a microwave oven. That’s our little Melvin, a selfless darling, and we can only hope the needless Hollywood remake will repeat those aspects of the franchise rather than focus only on the goofy stuff.

So how do the sequels compare to the original? Do you even need to ask? Nothing in these films is half as funny (or downright wrong) as the punks who squash a little boy’s head with a car before beating an elderly woman to death. Nor is the dialogue quite as poetic as, “I’ve always wanted to cornhole me a blind bitch!”

Unless you’re a completionist, or a die hard Troma fan, it’s perfectly acceptable to skip these sequels. But there is some of that old magic there. It’s just in short bursts, few and far between.