Sunday, September 27, 2009

Surrogates (2009)

Director: Jonathan Mostow

Starring: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Ving Rhames and James Cromwell

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: Human perfection. What could go wrong?

Plot: Set in a futuristic world where humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots, a cop (Willis) is forced to leave his home for the first time in years in order to investigate the murders of others’ surrogates.

My Rating: 7/10

Would I watch it again? why not

I love a good sci-fi-makes-you-think kind of flick. Having said that, I don't go to the theater to see them because there are few sci-fi movies that are worth a spit these days. I did catch DISTRICT 9 (2009) a month or so back and liked what it brought to the table. I probably would have avoided this one if it weren't for the casting of Bruce Willis. He's got a good track record with sci-fi - THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) and THE TWELVE MONKEYS (1995). ARMAGEDDON (1998) doesn't count because that movie was shit. Besides all of that, I've rarely disliked him in anything.

That said, I liked SURROGATES. It's not the home run I would have liked it to have been but it's a much better-than-average sci-fi movie in a sea of so-so films. But it's not without flaws.


Some things that kind of bugged seems that nearly EVERYONE has a surrogate. We're not told how far into the future we are but I just can't imagine that they are soooooo affordable that just about anyone can have one.

There are large groups of humans who do not like the idea of surrogates. So much so that they live in barricaded communities that looked like bombed-out third world cities. The humans (the film's slang is "meatbags". Cute.) look like trash and live like trash. The dichotomy wasn't good enough for me. There must be humans that cannot or choose not to have a surrogate but are perfectly OK with it. I certainly wouldn't want to be among the shitbags that live in shanty towns.

I see that I can get carried away with this so I guess a large part of this boils down to reading the graphic novel it's based on to see if there's a more reasonable explanation for some of these things.

The ending is a mixed bag. I dig how Willis made a selfish decision that affected possibly THE ENTIRE PLANET. That was cool to a degree. But I would have like more of a negative consequence to have gone along with millions of people dying.

Once people are 'off the grid' they wonder onto the empty (of humans at least) streets looking dazed. Nearly everyone was overweight to some degree (nice touch, as you are basically chair-ridden for the duration of your surrogates activities) but you didn't see anyone that was disappointed or pissed. Maybe that comes later. I'm not exactly sure where those lie in the steps to healing. It'll be interesting to hear the director/writer commentary once the DVD hits.


The special effects were just fine. Nothing made me shit my pants or anything but then I didn't get the feeling they were about $5 million short of completing them, either. I dug it and I love how Bruce is still kicking ass at the age of 59!

Probably the biggest gripe, if you can call it that, was that it didn't compel me in any way during the film. However, after it was all said and done, I kept thinking about how it would be to live in a world where we could literally be anyone we wanted. How we could live our lives without physically being anywhere but home. How we could interact with others without hearing their true voice or seeing their true selves...Oh, wait a second. We're already there. Gotta go. It's time to log into my online job as a sexy lady of pleasure. I'm a knockout, you know. Five foot two, eyes of blue, boobs till Tuesday...

Viva Django (1968)

Director: Ferdinando Baldi

Starring: Terence Hill, Horst Frank & George Eastman

More Info: IMDB

Plot: A mysterious gunfighter named Django is employed by a local crooked political boss as a hangman to execute innocent locals framed by the boss, who wants their land. What the boss doesn't know is that Django isn't hanging the men at all, just making it look like he is, and using the men he saves from the gallows to build up his own "gang" in order to take revenge on the boss, who, with Django's former best friend, caused the death of his wife years before.

My Rating: 7/10

Would I watch it again? Sure

In 1966 Italian actor, Franco Nero, shot to international stardom in the now classic spaghetti western, DJANGO. The SW genre had also found it's next anti hero in the titular character. Although it took Nero another 20 years to actually do a true sequel to DJANGO, the character became so popular (much like Clint Eastwood's 'man with no name' who, well, had no name to steal) that many films named their lead characters Django for no other reason than to capitalize on the newly famous moniker.

Of the literally dozens and dozens of SWs with a Django in the title or film (some went so far to have the name in the title with no such character in the picture!), VIVA DJANGO may be one of the few that actually could qualify as a sequel in so much as the Django in the film shares the same character traits as the 1966 original. It's been said that Nero turned down this film and Hill was hired because of his resemblance. True or not, there's no denying the striking similarity.

Here's Nero...

and Hill...

It would be another another two years before Hill would hit the big time in the HUGELY successful SW comedy, THEY CALL ME TRINITY. From that point on, he largely made slapstick family films. It's kind of neat seeing him in a serious action role.

Anyway, VIVA DJANGO has a lot going for it beside the charismatic Hill in the lead. Horst Frank does well as the greedy, corrupt scumbag politician, David Barry (some things never change, do they?).

6'9" giant George Eastman is great as Barry's gang leader, Lucas.

There's some great stunt work that shows off Hill & Eastman's athletic abilities. I found myself amazed at the number of guys that fall off horses in the coach robbery near the beginning. It's remarkable at how these people do this shit for a living. Seriously, these people are falling off moving horses for fuck's sake. It's dangerous enough as it is with the horse standing still let alone one that's running at a good clip. It doesn't take much sometimes to impress me.

Then there's a scene where Lucas meets his end in a fire. Look at how much fire there is around them and how close they are to it. Nice. Just look at the guy that's on fire. His hair is dry. It doesn't look like there's much precaution. Sure there's probably a team of people with fire extinguishers behind the scenes but it's nothing like how they prepare a stuntman today. I'm impressed.

Gianfranco Reverberi's score, while a good addition to the genre canon, feels forced. At the very least it's poory edited. There are a handful of scenes where the main tune is going all gangbusters and then it's suddenly brought down to hear the actors, all the while still going nuts in the background. It's as if Reverberi just wrote four different themes and a couple of variations and moved on without really scoring "for" the film. It's definitely a minus and it does hurt the film a little. At least the themes are good.

Like many films in this lovely genre, there's the double cross followed by lots of killing. The story doesn't bore you and it stays entertaining all the way through. There some nods to the original DJANGO film like the fucking up O' the hands...

and the explosive finale which is one of those, "OH FUCK YEAH" kind of moments that makes you feel like you got your money's worth as you leave the theater. It's tough to top the badassicity of the original DJANGO's ending but this one comes awfully damn close. If you want to see the badass ending, watch the video below. Naturally, it's huge fucking spoilers but who cares. It's a fun flick if you can find it and it's definitely a worthy "sequel" to Nero's iconic turn in the original DJANGO, the film that launched a zillion other Django films that had nothing to do with anything...but this one did and that's all any DJANGO fan needs to know to want to see it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Man from Planet X (1951)

Director: Edgar G. Ulmer

Starring: Robert Clarke, Margaret "Sally Gestated 9 Months Inside My Belly" Field, Raymond Bond & William Schallert

More Info: IMDB

Tagline: The WEIRDEST Visitor the Earth has ever seen!

Plot: To study a rogue planet heading for a near-miss with Earth, Prof. Elliot sets up an observatory on the foggy moors of a remote Scottish island, with his pretty daughter and Dr. Mears, a former student with a shady past. Soon after arrival of reporter John Lawrence, a ship from Planet X just happens to land near the observatory. Is the visitor (who actually looks alien) benevolent? What are Mears' real motives for trying to communicate with it?

My Rating: 6/10

Would I watch it again? Not likely, considering there are tons of films of this genre I've yet to see.

No it won't!

No it won't!

You lyin' sack of shit!

Cool title card lettering, huh? OK, so the trailer is hyperbolic. Aren't they all? When you slap in a low budget sci-fi flick from the 50s, like this one, you kind of know what you're getting into. Though this one's not knocking it out of the park, it does have some pretty cool things going for it that made it not such a time waster after all. And at 70 minutes, that's not much.

We start out with some narration by our hero reporter John Lawrence (Clarke) sitting down to write the most bizarre story a reporter has ever told. Cut to where it all began and we get a hefty dose of exposition about the whos, whys and wheres on his visit to Scotland.

This would be Planet X

Upon his arrival he's picked up by Enid, the OLD-ASS Professor Elliot's jail-bait's daughter. Why is it with these kinds of films the professors, scientists, etc, are as old as the hills, with no wife but with a single child who is always a hot teenage girl? Seriously. Why can't there be a wife or that "special" someone on the side or something? I know the reasons. It bridges the generations, the old codger usually ends up thinking a little differently by the end of the picture (or he's seen the err of his ways), we need a young love interest, eye candy, something for the kiddies.

Alright, so it's on the drive that Enid slams John for not remembering her. It has been 6 years, after all and...

John: The last time I saw you, you were crying 'cause you had to go back to school; all gawky legs and buck teeth.
Enid: I see you do remember me. Braces took care of the teeth.
John: And, uh, [he glances down on her] nature took care of the legs.

Nice, this guy doesn't waste time. Apparently he promised her, 6 years earlier, that when she grew up she'd be his gal. John's a genius. He's planted the seed and now it's time to harvest! Giggidy Giggidy Goo! She's barely legal for fuck's sake! Do you think there's a chance they're going to "do it"? Aw, hell no. Not even at the end of the picture do they end up together. He's going to be heading back to the States and he reminds her that her father will be sending her to California soon to get some research or something. So I guess they get together at some point, but not here. I'm looking way too much into this. Ugh.

We meet Enid's old-ass father and his assistant, Dr. Mears (a character actor most people will recognize by face, not by name - William Schallert), who has a questionable past. John's got issues with Mears but we don't know what. Maybe his manliness is threatened by a potential suitor for Enid. Nope. This guy did some time in the hoosgow for who-knows-what. We're never told but he's there because he was a former pupil of the Professor's. So now we've got the nefarious Mears as the bad guy of the picture. Gee, d'ya think he dies in the end?

Enid and John are taking a lovely stroll through the marsh surrounding the castle where the Professor does his experiments or whatever. It turns out that in just a couple of days or so there's this planet (we'll call it Planet X so as not to confuse anyone) that's on a near-collision course with earth. How? Why? Who? Fuck if I know or anyone in the film for that matter.

Well, when not getting all lovey-dovey they find what looks like a bomb of some sort. They go back to castle and everyone speculates. It must be from outer space. It's not long after that when Enid is out amongst the limitless sea of fog and discovers a kick-as space ship. And that space ship has a pilot. We'll call him The Man from Planet X, to be consistent. She's freaked out beyond belief and brings back John. Then John brings back the Professor. You get the idea.

When TMfPX exits the ship he puts the drop on John and the Professor. Looks like he hasn't come in piece. Although, looking at the poster, it looks like he's come for a piece. OH! In a neat little twist, TMfPX looks like his space suit air mix is leaking and he's reaching for a valve but hasn't the strength to turn it, causing him to fall slowly to the ground. John helps him by turning the valve and TMfPX is back on his feet. Like a found puppy TMfPX follows them home. Now he's a good alien.

Trying to communicate with every method they can think of, all seems lost as nothing is working. OK, so verbal isn't cutting it because, uh, well, um, TMfPX can't speak English. He emits different sounds but never uses his mouth on his hideously huge head. Sad sounds. The kind of sounds that make you feel sorry for the small fry. Sign language fails, too, but Mears has an idea that's sure to work. Geometry. WTF? If Bulbous-Head can't understand anything thus far, how the hell is he going to be able to communicate with shapes? Turns out...he can. This movie is so not realistic. Well, except for horndog John's interest in Enid, despite her name being...Enid.

John: Hey, Professor. You've lost me. I'm the shadowy figure in the left background with the stupid expression on his face. I don't get this mathematics.

Yeah, math is hard, huh?

Mears gets the formula from TMfPX for the lightweight metal compound the bomb-looking device was made of. He threatens TMfPX for more formulas by turning the valve that controls the air he breathes in his space suit. This part was really sad, actually. I felt really bad for the little guy. Nice job by the film makers in pulling off some unexpected emotion out of this thing.

Somehow TMfPX gets the strength to overtake Mears and it's splitsville. It turns out that spaceboy has a ray that, when shone on a human, turns people into zombies that are controlled by commands. He gets a few folks here and there to start fortifying the area immediately surrounding his ship. Something's up and we don't know what. Yarrrrrr.

John figures out how to defeat TMfPX. In a neat little twist, the mind controlled minions can be controlled by anyone, not just TMfPX. One by one, John sneaks around the ship, telling them to stop and walk away. They do. The military has been called in and they're about to blow the ship sky high at 11pm. It's at midnight, btw, that Planet X is expected to be at it's closest to Earth. Some think there's a connection, that the bomb-like device was one of many probes sent to different planets to test for atmosphere, and that TMfPX was sent ahead to make sure everything was peachy. So now he's considered a potential bad alien.

BAM! They blow the fuck out of TMfPX and his sweet ride.

Seconds later we see Planet X getting REALLY close to Earth and then heading for the hills as if the planet posse is hot on their tail. And I love how as it got closer to Earth, John and Enid cower against a rock facing, and everyone's hair is now blowing from the wind caused by Planet X swooshing by. Ha!

Yeah. We blew that thing to fuckall! We humans rule! Whatever. One of the things I really dig about this picture is that we never know if the inhabitants of Planet X were friendly or not. That debate could easily go either way. The characters in the film don't know and we don't know. Very nice.

It's not that bad of a film. I rather enjoyed quite a bit of it. but for the rest, it's somewhat plodding at times but not so much so that you're reaching for the remote. The actors do a fine job with what they've got and considering the film makers were working on a $50k budget and shot this thing in a week, they did better than most would have, I'm sure. That and I REALLY dig the alien. Yeah, it's a huge paper mache head, but it's also creepy and emotionless and it makes for better film than it probably deserved to be.

Oh, and Mears? He dies in the end.