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Sunday, September 25, 2011

THX 1138

For those of you who somehow don't know, this is the directorial debut for much hated/loved/hated film maker George Lucas from 1971. Based on a short film he made for college (with the copiously long title of Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB), but with professional actors and a higher budget at the urging of Francis Ford Coppola and released as the very first film by Coppola's American Zoetrope production company. Needless to say the sterile, gritty, and dystopian science fiction story did not succeed during it's original theatrical run in 1971. Even after the first Star Wars film garnered Lucas popularity and he edited five previously missing minutes back into the film which expanded its running time to 86 minutes, it still faired very poorly.

After viewing this trailer, it's no wonder nobody bothered to see it. No sense of bleakness or foreboding (laden heavily throughout the film) are present, just that tacky repetitious voiceover. The film takes place in the far future when mans over reliance of machines and technology finally overtakes his common sense and machines take over the running of everyday life. Men, women, and children now live out their existence in underground cities. They are heavily drugged to stay sedate and obedient to the whims of the computers that control their every thought and action. Drug evasion is a high crime, but not nearly as high as falling in love- something THX 1138 (Robert Duvall) and his room mate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie) are about to find out...

Everybody knows about Star Wars. It's glitzy, optimistic, and reasonably budgeted. THX 1138 is none of these things. It's dark, riddled with social/political commentary, and decidedly not optimistic in it's vision of where mankind is headed. I think it's a masterpiece of lower budget film making. The filming locations range from the Marin County Civic Center to the then unfinished tunnels of San Francisco's BART system. Everything about it conveys a world that is closed, claustrophobic, and ultimately fascist in every way. George Lucas never made a film this dark or "real" ever again, and more's the pity. Even in interviews at the time he couldn't stress enough the claustrophobia of the world he created. So in true George Lucas tradition he decided to do what he now does best (besides resting on the 30+ year old Laurels of the Star Wars Trilogy)- re release it in a brief theatrical run and put it on DVD but not before he fucks with it digitally and adds a bunch of CGI bullshit into what was already perfectly fine.

That's right, once again he denied everyone the original theatrical cut on a home video format everybody wants it on. I do have to admit that some of the changes weren't actually all that bothersome. Maybe the most hilarious (yet still sensical) was the addition of the jerk off machine in front of THX 1138 while he watches the nude dancer on the holographic TV. I'm just imagining George Lucas sitting around the Skywalker Ranch and thinking that up, running into the development room and enthusiastically telling everybody it needs to be there. It makes sense because in this future, sex is punishable by death (and averted via heavy sedation anyway) so why would the computers allow people to just jerk off if they couldn't legally have penetrative sex in society? Touche' Lucas, you win that one at least.

Other changes made FAR less sense to me, like adding antenna and wings to the little lizard we see behind the electronics panel. Or the scene where Donald Pleasence's character comes across a rat on the city outskirts. Instead of a rat e get a REALLY poorly done giant centipede like insect instead, and I could only raise an eyebrow and go "really....?". Don't get me started on the replacing of the little people outside the city with awfully done CGI monkey beasts... I think what annoyed me most about his "director's cut" was the addition of wide open spaces in a film that really otherwise had none. These happen a lot during the car chase sequence at the end, with THX's car zooming to and fro through traffic. Guess what uncle Georgie? NONE OF US LIKED WHAT YOU DID, IT LOOKS LIKE CRAP.

There's a great 11 minute video on youtube that I cannot seem to embed here that shows comparisons between some of the shots between the original and director's cut versions. I highly recommend looking it up. One thing I DID find however was this great promo clip from 1971 talking about the shaving of the entire casts heads for their roles. Somehow I don't think it was too difficult for Donald Pleasence or Robert Duvall what with their already thinning hair...

Check it out:

Thankfully one can own the original cut but only on vhs and laserdisc. I am uncertain of whether or not the LD is in widescreen or not, but the vhs certainly isn't. Usually I don't find that terribly bothersome (though I do prefer widescreen over all) but this cassette was released in 1983, so the unusual framing choices used throughout this film rarely translate to how vhs prints were cropped during this period. Sometimes you wonder what's being stared at but having the original version is (I feel) worth it and I'll gladly take what I can get. I may not get the proper aspect ration, but I still get all the original film and no false CGI bric-a-brac. While dystopian science fiction that's bleak as all get out really isn't going to be everybody's cup of tea, I highly recommend giving it a try if only to see how cinema's number one CGI villain earned his wings. Definitely one of my personal favorites.

And just in case you were wondering where this film started from, here's the original student film I told you about at the beginning of this review. From a film making standpoint some of the film works and some of it doesn't, but the concept is definitely there. Lucas made this when he was 23 or 24, and made the feature length version at age 27. Too bad he fell off the boat, but as they say: the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Hidden

This movie lives in the netherworld between hokey and brilliant. You know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. I like this movie because it never manages to take itself seriously but does so in a very serious manner. That sentence probably comes off as highly contradictory to you right about now but frankly I don't really know how else to nail down the shenanigans present. I believe the correct term would be "black comedy". Let's just go with that, because I can't think of anything more appropriate than that, even though it doesn't quite hit the mark.

Watch the trailer:

Even the trailer you just saw doesn't begin to touch on what's what. I will try my best to tell you what it's all about: An extra terrestrial is taking over the bodies of otherwise law abiding citizens, turning them into dangerous criminals with an extreme taste for (to quote the back of the box) red Ferrari's, heavy metal music, and unspeakable violence. Only a mysterious FBI agent and an LA police detective stand in its way. If I try to tell you more than this, you won't believe me any more than you do already. There's really nothing you can do but take the premise I gave you and just go watch it.

This is Kyle Maclachlan's third movie believe it or not, and his character- FBI Agent Llyod Gallagher- is eerily similar to the one for which he would become synonymous- FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper of Twin Peaks fame. Twin Peaks premiered only a few years later and the comparison is completely unavoidable. The deadpan humor he delivers in both roles is off the chart. Even their names have that super bland ├╝ber official FBIish thing going on. The only real differences are that one wears a grey suit and is a fucking alien. His unwilling partner in this whole thing, Detective Tom Beck,  played by Michael Nouri (who you may or may not recognize as the foreman/boyfriend in Flashdance of all things) is constantly agitated either because of Gallagher's unwillingness to tell him what's going on or because he has hockey hair. I'm really not sure which. These two play off each other so perfectly you'd swear they were joined at the hip.

The mixture of science fiction, horror, and humor is really hard to pull off properly. We all know this, we've all seen the times it didn't work. I think most of the time the humor is completely unintentional and is caused by shortcomings in plot/cast/special effects (like for instance, I dunno- The Lawnmower Man maybe?) than it is to do will skillful film making. What's there not to like about this movie? It has aliens, funny bits, car chases, explosions, I mean come on do I have to spell it out? The only unfortunate thing about this movie is how little notoriety it has. The Hidden deserves some major street cred. What other movie have you seen where a fifty year old man gets his body stolen by an alien which then proceeds to steal metal tapes and a ghetto blaster from a record store, then a Ferrari, then goes to a strip club?

Aliens like sleaze and nudie cuties too...



As I am a tremendous schmuck and video interfaces for macs are expensive, I can't show you any clips to illustrate any of this because there are none on youtube unless you happen to speak Czech (as they all seem to be dubbed in said language). As I have yet to receive any views from the Czech Republic I will spare the rest of you any undue confusion due to language barriers. I apologize for the inconvenience and if anybody wants to remedy it point me to a reasonably priced interface so I can plug my VCR into my mac and get you what I know you so very badly want. The options are staggering and I don't know what to choose. Help a brother out here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


If you like movies about safe cracking and haven't seen this then do yourself a favor and get it immediately. This film is well paced yet every frame drips with action even in its slowest moments. Thief was Michael Mann's directorial debut, and I think most film makers should be so damn lucky as to make a powerhouse like this at any point in their career. I also find the film notable for other reasons, such as: James Caan being a super badass, Jim Belushi's feature film debut (It's odd to see him in a non comedic role but he pulls it off really well), and Jerry Bruckheimer helped produce it making it one of the only things (if not THE only thing) he was involved with that is seriously worth a damn.

See the trailer Below:

Plot Summary: Frank (Caan) is a real stand up guy. During the day he runs a used car dealership, and drops by his bar to see how things are going. You know, normal guy stuff. But during the night Frank is a master safe cracker. He's very particular about what he steals (uncut stones ONLY!) and doesn't pay off the cops or crime syndicates. Long story short he's his own man and doesn't take any bullshit from anyone whatsoever. That is until $185,000 of his money falls out a window and an offer he thinks he can't refuse proves too tempting to walk away from...

This film is dark, taught, and gritty. The dialogue is short and direct- when you deal in hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen diamonds, you can't afford to be misunderstood. The main heist scene alone is worth watching this film for. The best part of this movie is everything is believable because real life safe crackers were technical advisers to the film and even appear in it- ironically as cops! As I was saying this film is really well paced. The scores are lightning quick, while the scenes between Frank and his new wife Jessie (played by Tuesday Weld) or his father figure Oklan (played by Willy Nelson) are slower and more somber but no less important or in any way detracting from the whole package.

As anybody who has seen bits and chunks of James Caan's filmography knows he can be a MAJOR badass, and I think he really has it down to a tee here. You can see that he is a guy who really means business, and what research he did to get the ex con still on the hustle part down so well and so very believable I can only begin guess at. All I can tell you is he really isn't the kind of guy I would ever want to cross, because you know you aren't going to get a second chance. He talks tough and he is tough and you can tell he's one inch away from delivering a knuckle sandwich anytime someone gives him the wrong answer.

Check it out this display of Frank's supreme badassery:

I'll save any of the scenes where he tells the cops to put it where the monkey sticks the nuts for when you watch it because it's seriously off the hook and rife with Chicagoan tough guy talk. Back on subject: The cops are sleazy, and want nothing more than to turn a blind eye and skim off the top of the scores going down all around. The syndicate boss is by far the worst. He's a man who will just as soon skin you alive as he will take you on to do a job, and the guy just makes me throw up in my my mouth a little every time he cracks a grin.. He's such a grease ball but you know he's so powerful that nobody could ever touch him. It's basically one big minefield of underworld sleaze, bribery, and extortion.

Usually safe cracker movies are full of Hollywood slick asswipes with movie star lifestyles but Thief is about real dudes. I'd imagine that if I were a safe cracker I'd just do what Frank is doing, running a business or two and lying low until my next big score comes along. One would think any show off flashing his cash around like some movies do would be in the slammer before he took an uncle Benjamin out of his money clip. The smaller and more normal on the outside the less likely it is that anyone will catch on, right? This movie doesn't have ANY of that bullshit. These guys just want to do what they are good at and get bread on the side. They're normal people who's true talent is highly illegal, but like any serious hard drug how can you ever simply walk away and say "just this one, this is my last score and I'm out"?

I can't find a single thing I don't like about this movie, and I manage to notice something new each and every time I watch it. The DVD edition shown here is great, and features a great commentary track by Michael Mann and James Caan which provides some cool behind the scenes tidbits throughout. A film of this caliber doesn't come along very often, and I am honestly shocked that this film remains relatively unknown and never quite seems to get the recognition it so very sorely deserves. I seriously cannot praise this film or any of its elements enough. Do yourself a favor and go pick it up.


Monday, September 5, 2011

The Yawnmower Man- The Directors Cut

Jesus fucking christ! Where am I supposed to even begin? This is easily the worst, most incoherent motion picture I have ever had the extreme displeasure of seeing. I've actually sat through it TWICE. I do not know exactly how I did it, all I know is that I am now endowed with a near supernatural ability to put up with any other bullshit that ever comes my way ever (or so I hope). Also of note: this is the first and probably last Laser Disc I will ever review, unless my friend Max brings out another one that I simply must view out of curiosity.

Here's the theatrical version trailer:

The theatrical cut was a laborious 107 minutes long. This expanded directors cut is 39 MINUTES LONGER, which roughly translates into making a bad film worse. Sure you can't polish a turd, but you can shit on it again to make the turd double the size. I can't even give you a plot synopsis because I'm not even sure what the movie is about. 22 minutes in it still wasn't clear yet which is a sign things just aren't working am I right? I kinda feel like the ilm makers took me out back and did me an extreme discourtesy...

Here's the best plot summary I can give you: I DON'T KNOW. 

No really, I haven't the slightest clue what the fuck this thing was even about. The film takes its title from a Stephen King short story which it shares absolutely no resemblance with. In fact, King was super pissed they used his name to promote the film and successfully sued the parties responsible. The plot simply drags and meanders enough to make you believe you are watching a movie and not a bunch of images and scenes slapped together to provoke coherent thought. There's someone in a chimpanzee suit wearing Lazer Tag gear to make you think about the future, and its not very convincing. There's also a lot of bullshit about virtual reality. Remember this was made back in 1992, when everybody thought it would actually amount to something beyond the puddle of drool left on your pillow when you have a particularly deep and restful nights sleep (which by the way is by and large more pleasant than sitting through this farce). Guess what everybody? its 2011 and VR technology is still bullshit! Way to go! "Another electric dimension" MY ASS!

The film has all kinds of strange plot holes. I'm sure most of them don't exist, but I was so bored that they happened all over the place. There is a really irritating sequence where Pierce Brosnan is holding an unlit cigarette for several minutes (for reasons we as an audience can only guess at) while talking through a megaphone that magically switches hands for no reason whatsoever except to make me even further annoyed. There's also lots of poorly done slow motion throughout to exacerbate when something "dangerous" or "dramatic" is about to happen or is in the process of happening. Sorry, but shithouse slowmo is not going to get me engaged into the drama of a film I already find awful, boners simply don't work that way.

Speaking of boners, what the fuck is with that awful CGI sex scene!?! I've ALWAYS wondered this. Did the film makers think it would be edgy or something? Because its not- ITS JUST FUCKING AWKWARD. The hilarity never ceases as Jobe (played to irritating heights by Jeff Fahey, what happened to him? Who cares.) somehow manages to cyber fuck the neighbor lady he's been slipping a length to retarded. That is something so very fucking dumb, even I couldn't manage to make it up in my deepest darkest drunk. Those of you who know know I am not kidding around here. If for some reason you were lucky enough to have never seen this, here is your chance:

AWKWARD! And above all unnecessary. But I'll give it this much- that scene is about the only thing anybody ever really talks about when the topic of this film comes up, so I guess that's something. This scene also illustrates another completely irritating element of the goings on, the film score. The entire thing is synthesized, and not in a good way. Don't get me wrong I LOVE synths, but not when you spent your entire film making budget on The Last Starfighter quality CGI (which says a lot, because this film was made EIGHT FUCKING YEARS AFTER The Last Starfighter) so you didn't have much leftover for other unimportant things like for instance, say a reasonable script, sensical editing, or decent actors. In fact, the liner notes on the back of the LD state that the SFX were done with a "revolutionary" technique involving transferring the film to video, editing it, and then transferring it back to film. I have no clue if this is how things were normally done before digital editing technology came around, but doesn't this strike you as a little bit more than awkward?

All of this nonsense added up to only one good thing- The Lawnmower Man video game for SNES, SEGA Genesis, and a few other platforms. Its really fucking hard to play (and at times to comprehend, much like the film from which it takes its premise) and every other level is cool looking 3D flying stuff inside the bullshit virtual world. It has a reputation for being one of the harder video games known to human kind. Also unlike the movie the soundtrack for this game totally rips. I tried downloading it but every link I found was dead. If you have it, please let me know.

Have a look at the game play below:

What else is there really left to say about this movie? Oh, I know- AVOID IT LIKE AN STD.