Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)

Yeah, I'd have that look on my face, too.
Yeah, I’d have that look on my face, too.

I won’t pretend I’m some knight-errant, riding in on a white horse to save Tomb Raider. I know that, as a hetero male nerd, I’m supposed to love Lara Croft, but I’ve despised every game in this franchise and things only got worse as it went on, each iteration more shamelessly copy-pasted than the last.

Then the old girl almost died in 2003, when Core Design and Eidos Interactive released the sixth game in the series, Angel of Darkness. It combined the tank-like controls and five-story screaming death drops of the previous five games with a headscratchingly stupid plot involving magic paintings, a camera that’s as bent on Lara’s death as the antagonists, and more bugs than Jurassic Park’s computer systems. Continue reading Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Photo by Peter Parker.
Photo by Peter Parker.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of giant monster movies. If I were Emperor, I’d ram a law through the Imperial Senate making it a felony office to call yourself “a giant monster movie fan” without having seen this movie. You don’t have to like it, certainly, since it’s not very good. But the one thing it is beyond all else is influential. Without this film, there would be no Godzilla, no daikaiju genre as a whole. Beast from 20,000 Fathoms did for radioactive dinosaurs what Dracula did for vampires and King Kong did for giant apes. For that, I salute this film, and so should you.

If you want to understand why monster movies are what they are to day, seeing Beast is unavoidable. It’s an indispensable resource, a key to all the genre’s modern conventions. It brought the monster-on-the-loose movie forward, into a post-War age. And it did it all without even trying to do anything more than cash in on a the previous year’s re-release of King Kong. Continue reading The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Unbreakable (2000)

The word of the day is "Parallelism."
The word of the day is “Parallelism.”

had a lot on its shoulders, as evidenced by the ubiquitous banner headline every trailer, poster and DVD box still sport. “From the Visionary Director of The Sixth Sense,” it said, before adding “M. Night Shyamalan” almost as an afterthought, since no one really knew how to pronounce his name correctly in the Year 2000.

Fewer still knew that Sixth Sense was Shyamalan’s third film, the penultimate flick in his autobiographical period. All artists go through one, especially since its propagandists managed to make the dictum, “Write what you know,” synonymous with common sense. They forgot to add the necessary corollary: “The more you learn, the more you’ll be able to write about.”

Night’s first film, Praying With Anger, was about coming to terms with his heritage as an Indian kid raised in Philadelphia, watching baseball and eating hotdogs. Wake the Dead was about growing up Catholic, and going to school with the penguins in true Blues Brother’s style (though not nearly as awesome). The Sixth Sense was about Night’s childhood as a great big scaredy-pants wimp, afraid of Stephen King’s old bogey, The Thing Behind The Closed Door. Shyamalan just painted the doorknob red. Continue reading Unbreakable (2000)

Captain America (1990)

Hey, at least they ditched those damn motorcycle helmets.
So you see this picture and you think, “Alright, most of the movie’ll be like this.” But it won’t.

So, after reviewing four other films, we finally get to this Captain America. Thanks to its director’s reputation among internet-savvy Bad Movie aficionados, this movie arguably “enjoys” the highest profile of any pre-2011 Captain America production. That’s unfortunate because it’s a terribly flawed film that nevertheless remains faithful to its source material in ways no superhero movie would even try match until the turn of the millennium.

We’re really spoiled in this post-X-Men/post-Spider-Man era. These days, budgets are high, actors are enthusiastic, and corporate shills are rubbing their hands together in barely-sublimated glee as each new superhero movie edges toward opening weekend. Back in the late-80s, the opposite was true. Batman might’ve hit big after a year of full-tilt marketing but, previous to that, the last big budget superhero production in America’s conscious memory was…Superman IV…a cataclysmic failure that undid pretty much all its 1979 prequel’s hard work and turned the entire genre’s Campiness Clock back to 1968. Continue reading Captain America (1990)

Inception (2010)

"For everything, turn, turn turn, there is a season, turn, turn..."
“For everything, turn, turn turn, there is a season, turn, turn…”

In the lead up to Inception a lot of the advance press wondered if the movie would prove too complicated for modern audiences, something we should’ve all dismissed as “bullshit.” Then the advance critics started crowing about it being the BEST MOVIE EVAHR, which I dismissed out of hand because advance critics are bullshit artists. Then the print critics who actually matter found out it was something other than the BEST MOVIE EVAHR. So it became “[t]he emperor’s new bed-clothes.”

Such is what this film’s had to deal with, over and above all the ten years of Hell its creator supposedly endured just to get it written in the first place. Either Christopher Nolan wrote the thing right after Momento and needed the Dark Knight‘s billion dollar profit to get a green light or it just took him ten years to write. Either way, I’ll believe it. Paradox, right?

Modern movies are caught in a terrible paradox of their own. Either they’re the BEST MOVIE EVARH or they’re the latest grand scam of Hollywood hacks. It’s a terrible state of affairs, particularly for just-straight-up-good movies that deserve to be appreciated for more than one weekend in July. Just because so many directors are artless assholes who only know how to make commercials doesn’t mean Christopher Nolan is too. It just means he has to compete with them all. So his films are inevitably less than the masterworks they probably should be. Continue reading Inception (2010)

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

I don't know. If some crazy Scientist started blabbing about "unlocking" my mind, I just might go crazy and try to take over the world too.
I don’t know. If some crazy Scientist started blabbing about “unlocking” my mind, I just might go crazy and try to take over the world too.

began life as a live, six-part TV serial that aired for consecutive Saturday nights on the BBC over the summer of 1953. By episode four, the serial became a national event. Unfortunately, contemporary recording methods were…less than adequate (British films make me polite) and only two episodes of the original serial survive…though the BBC did stage a remake for its fiftieth anniversary.

That they did so is all the testament this story ever needed. There’s evidence this show doubled the number of TV-owning U.K. households all by itself, and the BBC immediately commissioned writer Nigel Kneale for a sequel. Needless to say, even back then, a movie was inevitable.

It only took two years thanks in part to the production company: Hammer Studios. Resurrected after its founders returned from service in World War II, Hammer quickly established itself as the go-to house for “quota quickies” – cheap movies, made fast and bought up by theater chains anxious to satisfy their requirements under the Cinematograph Films Act of 1927. Parliament originally hoped the Act would fertilize a bumper crop of upstanding, vertically-integrated, English film production company monopolies, like the ones that dominated Hollywood at the time…and still do today, for that matter.

Things didn’t quite work out as planned. Continue reading The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

Outland (1981)

At least there's no gigantic clock tower.
At least there’s no gigantic clock tower on Io. That would’ve been too obvious.

is another weird one, neither fish nor fowl. It’s another transitional fossil, from a time when Star Wars had not yet begun to ruin everything. Not that it didn’t do some good. Before the first Death Star’s destruction (spoiler alert), sci-fi films were exclusively B-listers, unfairly ghettoized, not for the content of their character, but for their budget’s relative cheapness.

Then came Spielberg. And then came George Lucus. And then came a whole horde of big budget sci-fi pictures, most long-since forgotten. So when, after taking a figurative dump on The Rock and a literal one on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, someone requested I review a “good” Sean Connery film, I immediately thought of this one.

No, wait; that’s a lie. At first I thought of Dragonheart. But I’ve already written an intro for Outland and if I start flip-flopping now, terrorists will nerve gas San Francisco. I should know. I’m the guy with the nerve gas. Continue reading Outland (1981)

A musical interlude

Yeah, no Godzilla this week either. I suck. To make up for it, here’s someone else’s music video. If you like MC Chris, watch this. If you like Twin Peaks, watch this. But if you like editing, and if you fancy yourself an editor as well, watch this and take some fucking notes, because it’s brilliant.

Oh, and this should go without saying, but I never like to assume: if you’re screwing off at work, get yourself some headphones.

(For those who don’t speak Jive, here’s the lyrics sheet)

Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

You all know the story, right? Friday the 13th Part VIII was both the most expensive and least profitable film of the franchise. Gee, I wonder if those two facts are connected somehow? Even if they aren’t, Paramount spent the late-80s and early-90s “restructuring” itself after a string of flops (like Friday the 13th Part VIII) drove newly hired managers to do what managers love to anyway and sell everything that wasn’t nailed down. Including Jason Voorhees.

So New Line Cinema bought Jason up for cheap and promptly sat on him until Freddy died his “last” death in 1991. While Final Nightmare had the highest opening of its series, there was no getting around the sad fact that it sucked. So New Line spent 1992 proving they hadn’t learned a damn thing, making a Final Friday film that sucks even more…in a completely different way. Continue reading Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Team America: World Police (2004)

So, if actors are such pussies, how come this one gets to use his magic Acting powers to save the world?
So, if actors are such pussies, how come this one gets to use his magic Acting powers to save the world?

Every morning I thank God we no longer live in that sick, bipolar year of your lord, 2004. Were we still stuck back there, in one of the crappier years of one of the crappiest decades in world history (so far), I’d have to start this review out with an equally crap introduction. Tons of them litter our great series of tubes, all saying the same damn boring things:

“Boy, it sure has sucked, suffering through all these films with explicit political messages. Sure do wish all these filmmakers would just shut the fuck up. How dare they exercise their right to free speech in a supposedly-democratic society? Thank God for Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and their Great Gift, Team America: World Police. It’s a film that gleefully farts in the face of our entire political spectrum. Thank God someone’s finally made a film for apathetic, hipster douchebags whose main source of current events is cable TV news…or award winning satires of cable TV news, Monday-Thursday at eleven, on Comedy Central. (Now where’s my damn check, Paramount?)”

Seems every hack with a movie website cranked one of these out and unjustly tacked them on to reviews of this film. Reading them all in sequence is like reading a series of variant print-outs from some evil artificial intelligence: the Critic-Tron 9000. They may be perfectly accurate descriptions of the South Park episode writer/directors Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Pam Brady turned in immediately after this film premiered (“Douche Vs. Turd”)…but as a description of Team America, they sell the film far too short. Just like I did, at the time. Continue reading Team America: World Police (2004)