Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Don't Put Your Dick In That - A Guide To The Perils Of Supernatural Dating: Part One, Mermaids

Seriously, who doesn't want to fuck a mermaid?

Okay, realistically, probably a lot of people, but that doesn't change the fact that the idea of these nubile young water nymphs and their secret sexual ways has fascinated gross horny gentlemen such as myself for untold ages. Think Bo Derek in Ten or Jacqueline Bisset in The Deep, only, you know, with fish parts. Hell, the whole legend comes from a salty sailor's long felt desire for betwixt harbor nooky, slaving away on a ship for months, in need of some love and affection after the peg boys have all been used up. According to a half remembered factoid I misheard one time, they would often mistake manatees for beautiful sea maidens after so long on the water. Not sure how that squared with the "No Fatties" rule most Captains wisely instituted on their ships, but to each his own I guess.

The point is, today I want to talk about fucking mermaids, and because regrettably I have no real world personal experience in this particular esoteric fetish, instead I'd like to explore some of the logistical problems with the concept. Now, I know the first thing you're probably thinking of, the classic top half/bottom half paradox. The part of the mermaid you find attractive is the top half, but the bottom is fish, so you can't have sex with it, and if the situation was reversed, you could go buck wild, but you'd have to look at that creepy ass giant fish head while you're doing it. Personally, I would submit that either scenario is easily doable, either through a massage of the Russian variety or simply by politely asking your partner to turn around respectively, but luckily, modern cinema has taught us that we need not even concern ourselves with these petty problems.

The Cinema File #9: "Werewolf: The Beast Among Us" Review

Or should that be "Amongst Us"? I don't know. Grammar Nazis, help me out here.

If you've read some of my other reviews, you know that I tend to give straight to DVD movies a little more slack when it comes to the technical side of filmmaking. Part of that comes from my basic framework of recommending films, judging them not just on general quality but based on a tier of whether they should be seen in the theaters, or maybe just as a rental later on. Obviously, budgets matter to the look and feel of a film and something like the recent Cloud Atlas is going to look a lot better than, say Arachnoquake. But at the same time, all the money in the world couldn't give the latest Wachowski effort a point, and the lack of it didn't stop Dungeons and Dragons 3 from excelling beyond its franchise, or Julia X from coming back from behind with a ridiculously fun last five minutes. Conversely, I tend to judge big budget fair more harshly when they ultimately fail from a story or character perspective, because it seems like they have less of an excuse, with so many more people involved being paid a whole lot more to make a great movie. Still, overall, story and character matter more to me than effects or the kind of visual perfection that only major studios can buy. To my mind, when I hear a person complain about a movie and they start by ragging on the CGI or special effects first, I tend to think they don't watch movies for the same reason I do. That stuff shouldn't matter, as long as it's fun. Today's entry, Werewolf: The Beast Among Us, is gonna be one of those movies that a lot of people dismiss purely due to the admittedly low budget feel of the effects. The titular werewolf is, frankly, not the best looking monster you've ever seen. And yet, for all its many problems with tone, pacing, and characterization, this movie had enough fun moments for me that I have to think there are a few people out there who can look past the visuals and find something to like.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

From The Idea Hole: Holiday Movies - Eight Days Of Night, Turkillikus, and Santa Claus Conquers The World

Now that Halloween is over, we're coming up on the last two months of 2012, where, like every year, what was once several holidays is now celebrated as one massive clusterfuck of a holiday season that I like to call Thank Christ (it's the) New Year! (Coincidentally, before Thanksgiving was incorporated, it was just Christ, it's the New Year, which was considerably more depressing). Anyway, recently I talked about my favorite modern day Christmas movie, Fred Claus, and how its secretly horrifying premise makes it a masterpiece, as well as a warning for all future generations. So, today I thought I'd try my hand at forging a new holiday classic of my own. Here are some of my ideas for Kick Ass Holiday Movies.

1: Eight Days Of Night 

Okay, this one stems from an episode of my podcast where I was mystified and a bit disturbed by the fact that whenever we have a horror movie, the pious religious figure that uses his faith and holy artifacts to fight evil is always Christian, and for the most part, Catholic.  You see this mostly in vampire movies, what with the cross and holy water often being depicted as core weaknesses, but the fact that that's all we ever see hurting them almost suggests that Christianity has a leg up over the other religions, which as an enlightened, pan theistic 21st century chap I find a bit offensive. Not that there's anything wrong with being Christian mind you, but my point is, why should they get all the fun? Where are the kick ass monster hunting Rabbis? So, in honor of Hanukkah, my thought - Hasidic Vampire Hunters! Think of how you could expand the idea of vampire killing. Now, instead of just holding up a cross to ward them off, you can use the Star of David, which is a much more useful weapon, at least when turned on its side and used as a, wait for it, motherfucking throwing star! Or what about automatic motorized dredels with sharp wooden points that burrow into a vampire's chest like drills and dig straight into the heart? And in place of holy water, you've got Kosher foods, sanctified to burn a hot dog shaped hole inside any unsuspecting vampire's face. What else? Fuck I don't know, extra garlicy potato pancakes? The sky's the limit. According to Wikipedia, the closest thing Jewish people have to an ancient vampire is the biblical Lilith, so I say she takes on the Dracula role, building an army of the undead to take on a small Jewish enclave community. Maybe they even go to a priest first, just because they've seen it in so many movies, and all he can say is "maybe she should confess or something," and then Lilith rips his fucking heart out, and the secret order of Hasidic Vampire Killers bursts in to kick some ass. Yeah, this needs to happen.

Monday, October 29, 2012

More Videogames I'd Like To See Made Into Movies (And Who I'd Pick To Make Them)

A little while ago I posted an essay about my general thoughts on video game movies, and ended with the top five videogames I'd like to see made into movie, and the way in which I see them working best in film. Reading over the list again and re-listening to the podcast that inspired it, I couldn't help wanting to come up with a few more. So here's a new batch of videogame movie pitches, in no particular order.

1: Okami

One of my favorite games of the modern era, a beautiful distillation of Japanese myths and legends and an interesting play mechanic with the use of painting to fight enemies and literally change the world. Probably a hard thing to adapt, with a lot of potential to screw up and turn into an Ice Age style farce, what with the protagonist being a wolf (or wolf shaped God thing). My thinking, go the Pixar route (or at least Pixar before the last two shitty ones), and make it a love letter to ancient Japan in the same way Brave was a love letter to Ancient Ireland. You'd have to resist the urge to make the little bug sidekick too wacky, try to avoid John Lequizamo or Eddie Murphy, and probably simplify the story a great deal, but I think it could work, even with the game's environmental message thrown in (minus the Ferngully-esque pretentiousness).

From The Idea Hole: Untitled Peter Pan Project

Actually need your guys' help with this one. I started writing an outline for a movie a while back, but gave up on it because I thought the whole concept was a little too pretentious and self indulgent. I'm considering coming back to it, but I'd like to know if anyone else thinks its worth pursuing. Any comments would be appreciated.

The idea is for a modern retelling of Peter Pan set amid teenage drug users. There would be a clear demarcation between the boring suburbs and the almost surreal excitement of the nearby city night life, as though two different worlds, one the real world and one the proverbial Neverland. A young girl meets a mysterious drug dealing neardowell who leaps into her window one night, in this case to hide out from some gang chasing him. She becomes fascinated by him, and insists she take her with him when he goes to see the city, and she does, with her younger siblings reluctantly going along for the ride. They have a bizarre one night adventure where more elements of the fantasy source material would seep in. The high of some new designer party drug is likened to flying (maybe called Fairy Dust), and when you're on it you see little bursts of flying light (analogous to Tinkerbell) that lead them around and astray.

Eventually they would encounter the biggest name in the local drug trade, simply called The Captain. He has a prosthetic hand that conceals a knife. He lost the real one when our hero Peter dosed him with some powerful hallucinogenic drug and handcuffed him to a radiator, after which he woke up disoriented hours later, having cut his own hand off in a panic while fleeing an imaginary, giant bipedal Crocodile. In this case, he'd be obsessed with time not because of the ticking inside his enemy's stomach, but because losing time was the first symptom, so he's constantly checking a fob watch to make sure he's still grounded. He's been hunting Peter down ever since, and becomes the primary antagonist. Eventually, his main lacky, the Smee equivalent, would betray him and dose him with the same drug, leaving him cuffed by his ankle and dropping a bone saw in front of him before running away.

The film would end with Peter high, running from more of The Captain's men, and leaping across a rooftop, as he'd done many times successfully before in the movie, but this time, even though he appears for a brief moment as if he's flying, he misses the ledge and falls to his death. Then, many years later, an older version of the girl would look back on a photo of him, still young, never being able to grow old. I think the fantasy elements would be depicted as almost real but not, like something out of a Terry Gilliam movie.

I also had this thing written down where at one point they would find different groups doing different drugs, each one referencing a different fantasy story involving parallel worlds. One group would be doing a drug called White Rabbit that makes things appear bigger or smaller at random, and the other is taking something called Toto that makes things appear to be in more vivid colors.

So, what do think? Is it too much? I'm currently collaborating on another script right now, but that's almost done, and I'm trying to figure out what I want to do next.

Oh, By The Way, I Did A Thing: "7 Minutes Or Less"

Almost forgot about this. In case you were wondering how I can justify shitting all over other movies all the time (okay, really just the one really bad one so far), here's my own brief foray into cinematic greatness, a short film I helped co-write and co-starred in called "7 Minutes Or Less". I'm the dirty hobo lookin' motherfucker towards the middle. It was made for a regional short film competition called the 48 Hour Film Project where teams are given a genre and several elements to include and have to complete a 7 minute short film (minus credits) over a weekend, from conception to finished product. Our genre was Road Movie, and our elements were a Pizza Box, a character named Edward Bulmer who is a tourist, and the line "I have good news and bad news."

Here's the link if the embed doesn't work: 7 Minutes Or Less - 48 Hour Film Project, Columbus

And for a Weekend Recap, in case you missed 'em, three new movie reviews are up this week:

Alex Cross


Cloud Atlas

Enjoy, everybody.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Cinema File #8: "Cloud Atlas" Review

Just got back from a three hour movie about Tom Hanks making funny voices, and my first thought coming away from the proceedings is that Hugo Weaving makes for one ugly ass woman. This, is Cloud Atlas. The story is actually several stories strung together by a rather too loose framework of written tales within written tales chronicling the lives and travails of a wide cast of characters, most playing multiple roles across time as narrative and thematic threads struggle valiantly to come together into something I should give a shit about. I almost do, but the further I get away from it, the more I wonder if it was all just a clever combination of feel good schmaltz and pathos wrapped up in pretentious nonsense masquerading as a point. In other words, it's a movie made by the guys (or rather now guy and girl) who brought us The Matrix Trilogy

Full Disclosure, I haven't actually read the book upon which this movie is based, and all I knew about it beyond the basic story and structure was that many had called it unfilmable. I'm not sure what was cut out or changed, and the final product is still pretty dense and expansive as far as movies go, but just coming from someone engaging with Cloud Atlas for the first time with no context to prepare myself, it seems to pan out just fine, at least when it comes to the schematic of it. I was rarely confused by anything once things we're revealed and the individual stories came into better focus, which itself seems like a feat given the demands of the multiple interweaving narratives. The problem is that by the end, once all of it is laid bare, I can't really come to any sense that the journey was important or worth my time. It's a very pretty and well made movie with a lot of interesting characters, and I can't say I was ever bored, but as a whole, it just feels like the filmmakers had a lot of themes they wanted to address, and an overriding idea concerning the recursive nature of those themes, but forgot to actually explore them in any meaningful way or bring them to a conclusion.

It's just a bunch of stuff that happened, a lot of it very interesting, and much of it repeating in different time lines. The movie wants desperately to make some kind of grand unifying point about life or the human condition, or something, but like an old bearded man in a room full of television sets with Keanu Reeves inside them, it comes just close to the edge of being profound and then just takes a shit all over itself. Not every movie has to have something amazing and insightful to say about life, but don't say that that's what you're doing, and construct this big hoopla of fanfare about how you'll be doing it any minute now, and then just forget to do it. It's cheap, deceptive, and only serves to diminish any good you might have accomplished with the rest of the film. It is a very entertaining mess, I will give it that. The actors are all top notch and for the most part pull off multiple and in many cases very different roles very well, with the exception of Hugo Weaving, who can evidently be nothing but pure evil no matter what life he's living. By the end, chronologically speaking, they just stop trying to explain what kind of evil thing he is and just make him the literal personification of evil (or possibly also the ghost of an old timey slave trader based on his dress, which would be an interesting twist if true, or rather true true). There isn't really a weak link in the bunch, though Hank's various accents can border on comical when I don't think they were necessarily meant to be, and Hugh Grant seems like an odd casting choice, never really fitting well into any of his many roles, though that might just be due to my own preconceptions of him as an actor.

Visually it might just be the best looking movie I've seen all year, which is really no surprise considering the people involved. The Wackowski siblings may not always be the best storytellers when all things are considered, but they always deliver on making a movie fun to watch. The stand out sequences are obviously the two set in the future, one a dystopian high tech setting, and the other a post apocalyptic tribal one, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the other, more traditional settings. There isn't really a lot of disconnect between any of the different time periods in terms of one being more or less engrossing, and they are threaded together rather seamlessly from a visual standpoint, so that it never feels disjointed when bouncing back and forth between them. That alone should be applauded, as this epic scope in the hands of a less talented crew could have been a mess on a colossal scale. I can't fault the movie on style, but the substance leaves something to be desired.

One quick note on the design that did trouble me a bit was in the make up, which seemed to be all over the place in terms of quality. It isn't quite as bad as the silly putty Bruce Willis brow Joseph Gordon Levitt had to wear in Looper earlier this year, but given how so much of the movie depends on the same actors assuming different roles, in many cases assuming different races and genders, a lot of the make up jobs and prosthetic work comes off as cartoonish. The idea that Halle Berry could look anything other than stunning seemed crazy to me until I saw her as what I assume is supposed to be an attractive white lady, and when they make non-Asian actors appear Asian, they look like aliens, so much so that I'm surprised no one has come out as offended by it. And the less said about Hugo Weaving's Nurse Ratchet turn, the better, though I imagine he/she was supposed to be soul shrivellingly terrifying.

I am reminded of Argo, and how the different tones were merged together so easily and complimented each other so well, and I think that might be my main dispute with this movie. The stories were each individually very interesting, so much so that I wouldn't have minded any of them being separated and expanded into their own movies. In particular, the final two future stories, which have the most connection with the main character of one being important to the history of the other, had the potential to be a great sci fi movie on its own. And as I've mentioned before on this blog, Keith David is on the top of my list of celebrities I'd go gay for, so I'd watch him kick ass in a 70's era political thriller any day. The problem is, I don't see the justification of putting these stories together. When I'm laughing at Jim Brodbent's wacky nursing home misadventure, I don't want to have to concern myself with the terrible secret of what happens to clone waitresses in futuristic South Korea. I don't buy the bullshit past life pseudo-reincarnation linkage device the movie wants to force upon me, trying to provide more consistency than actually exists in a way that ultimately comes off as hamfisted and too clever by half.

Just for the visual accomplishment and general grandiosity of the movie, it would probably be disingenuous of me to give Cloud Atlas an outright bad review or not recommend it. Certainly, it's much better than, say, Arachnoquake. At the very least, it's the best movie about literal and figurative cannibalism that I've seen in a long time. Go see it, let the epicness wash over you and embrace the schmaltz. Enjoy Tom Hanks try to charm you with his funny voices, and then watch him die a few times for his trouble. Also, see if you can figure out just what the fuck any of those future people are saying, because half of it just flew past me. Enjoy the majesty of it, and try to ignore how much of it is manufactured and artificial. Just don't expect to be inspired, or to feel the kind of deep and profound something or other that the swelling music is telling you that you should be feeling.

And don't come back to me and tell me it moved you in any way, because I might just have to jump inside of you and explode you from the inside out, Neo style.

The Cinema File #7: "Arachnoquake" Review

In my Dungeons and Dragons review, I worried that my ability to regard a movie as legitimately bad may not be working properly, so, as an experiment, I decided to watch a movie that's been in my queue for a while now that I've been deliberately trying to avoid, the SyFy Channel Original Movie Arachnoquake. Yeah, I think I'm going to be fine.

I don't know how far I want to go with this, because at some point, it's like picking on a retarded kid. Do I have to say that Arachnoquake is a bad movie? Do I need to bother saying, "do not ever see this?" Was anyone planning to see Arachnoquake, but was just waiting for a few reviews to figure out if it's worth a watch? Probably not. Anybody whose going to see this movie probably already has or will see it, because for some reason, they're into this sort of thing. And I'm not even judging by the way. There are a lot of different kinds of movies that I love that most people think are really stupid (I actually do a whole series on this). I try to be understanding when it comes to matters of taste, even if, in this case, I can't possibly conceive of the market or the audience for this movie or movies like it. I actually want to meet the person who was not only excited by the prospect of this movie, but then also came away satisfied with the result. I want to know what makes them tick, what they see in movies that I don't, and just generally where they're coming from. Because for the life of me, I don't get it.

Arachnoquake is supposedly about a series of earthquakes that, as one might expect from the title, release a horde of subterranean spiders onto an unsuspecting Louisiana populace. I say supposedly, because looking back on it, I'm fairly certain you don't actually see any earthquakes in the entire movie. They are mentioned, and we see a bunch of giant holes in the ground where the spiders emerge from, but you'd think if you were going to put Quake in the title, you'd actually, you know, have one. I can't imagine it's a budget thing, because all you'd have to do was shake the camera around, and its not like they didn't have a CGI budget if need be. Also, the spiders aren't really spiders. I mean, I guess they are, but for some reason they're pink. I've never seen a pink spider, and I kind of have to marvel at the aesthetic decision here. When constructing a monster that is supposed to be threatening, what do you think is the one color you don't ever want to use. It never comes up as a plot point, why they are pink, and they could have just as easily been black or red, or anything but the color of Princess fucking Peach (who, strangely now that I think about it, is not peach colored). Oh, and they breathe fire, because apparently anything that evolves underground will adapt to the gases and learn to spit flames. And we only learn this half way through the movie, as if they just added it because they couldn't think of more ways for a spider to attack people. So there you have Arachnoquake, minus the Arachnids and the Earthquakes. Fuck me.

Our story follows a tour bus driver and his group of frightened tourists, including no one you know or care about save possibly Growing Pains' Tracy Gold, as well as a subplot involving Edward Furlong and a bunch of cheerleaders. I want to say that the Furlong/cheerleader subplot adds nothing to the film, but that would imply that anything in the film adds anything to the film, and I wouldn't want to get your hopes up. Still, the main theme, such as it is, seems to be about taking responsibility, following a perennial screw up whose forced to step up and be a man when things go crazy, eventually coming out the other side as a hero. And I mean that literally, as at one point he is eaten and shat out by a giant spider. Oh, sorry, spoilers I guess, cause that fucking matters here. It's not like the main character is ever that likable. Really none of the characters are, but if I had to rank them, I notice that the characters I enjoy most, save one, all seem to be the first ones killed off. Again, enjoyment when spoken of in the context of Arachnoquake is all relative.

I think it's fitting that the one good thing I can say about Arachnoquake is also its biggest indictment, namely that the most interesting character in the movie, the one character who comes off as competent and interesting even in the slightest, bare minimum capacity, is played by goddamned Ethan Phillips. If you don't know who Ethan Phillips is, he's probably best known for playing the character of Neelix on Star Trek Voyager. If any one character all but killed the Star Trek TV franchise, it was that hairy motherfucker, and as I'm watching the same guy show up in Arachnoquake, I find myself clinging to his sole good performance for dear life to maintain my sanity. He had probably the only genuinely funny line in the entire movie, though I'm not sure if it was intentionally meant to be funny or not, and if he had been the protagonist instead of the douche bag we got, it might have actually been half way decent. Congratulations Syfy, you put fucking Neelix in your movie, and found a way to make him the best part of it! And by the way, has Edward Furlong always sucked this bad? This is the first thing I've seen him in since that godawful Crow sequel he did, but wasn't there a time when he was an okay actor? Are my memories of Brainscan faulty in this regard? And he just looks so sad and broken down in this movie; the guy looks like he's pushing 50 even though he's only in his 30's, and yet I still can't buy him as an adult. It's like as an actor he's Benjamin Buttoning, without the part where he actually gets younger.

If you want to see a better movie set in the Louisiana bayou, I would recommend the other movie I saw this week that coincidentally is also set there, Julia X. Not that that one was even very good, but compared to Arachnoquake, it was a masterpiece from beginning to end. Though I happen to notice that in both of them, no one actually speaks in a Cajun accent. It's possible that in real life, most people from there don't and my image of the region is colored by cliches in movies, but I found it strange. Still, in the case of Arachnoquake, it's not like I can say it took me out of the movie or anything, because that would presuppose that I was ever engaged in any way to begin with. Now that I think about it, given the setting, how much better would this movie have been if they introduced voodoo into it? Either make the voodoo the cause of the spiders, or better yet, make it the means by which the citizens fight back. Voodoo Bokor vs. Giant Spider. That would have been a movie.
Okay, I really shouldn't start trying to think of ways this movie could have been better. I'll be here all day. Just...find something better to do with your time.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Cinema File #6: "Alex Cross" Review

I've reviewed a few movies recently that have defied my initially low expectations and turned out to be much better than I thought they would be. Actors I have always dismissed have surprised me by not sucking, and even a whole franchise of shitty movies redeemed itself with its lowest budgeted feature yet. At one point, I even wondered if I was beginning to lose my ability to tell good movies from bad. Alex Cross did not surprise me at all. Looking back on it, I think the final product is pretty much exactly as I expected it to be, both in what I was expecting to like, and what I think we were all expecting not to like. The end result is a decent, middle of the road action crime thriller stymied by stale cliches, with one of the best villains I've seen this year, and one of the most lackluster heroes.

The story follows detective and psychology professor Alex Cross as he leads a taskforce on the trail of a merciless assassin nicknamed Picasso, who starts out hunting the subordinates of a wealthy real estate magnate, but moves on to hunting Cross and his team when they get in the way of his mission. The movie follows a fairly standard and predictable genre format with few surprises, and the plot pretty much takes a backseat to the private war between the two main leads, Tyler Perry's Cross and Matthew Fox's Picasso. As far as the story goes, there was really only one legitimately effective moment that I did not see coming, which is effective due to the movie being so otherwise tame up to that point, and the shift in energy and tension afterwards is pulled off relatively well. The rest of the plot is pretty much paint by numbers action thriller. Nothing special, but not obviously bad in any way.

If there's any reason to see this movie, it's for the performance of Matthew Fox as the villain. He's credited as Picasso based on a nickname given to him for his signature of leaving charcoal drawings of his victims at crime scenes, but we never learn his real name or that much about what motivates him, beyond an overriding sadomasochism and a tendency to become obsessed very easily, either with his own physique, his job, and later, with his personal vendetta against Cross. Every moment Matthew Fox is onscreen turns this movie from mediocre to exceptional. Just on a physical level, what Fox did to his body for this movie might not quite be to the level of Christian Bale in The Machinist, but it's close. I barely recognized him after watching the guy for six seasons on Lost, and just the fact that he read this script and was willing to go this far to make the role just that much better really illustrates his commitment as an actor. His role is by far the best part of the film, and every time he shows up, I just wish he was in a better one.

As much as it might be easy and tempting to rag on Tyler Perry's performance and make a bunch of Madea jokes in the process, I honestly can't say that he was terrible. He's a competent actor and not entirely unbelievable as an action hero, or at least better in that context than you might think. Still, it's pretty clear from the beginning that he was miscast, and if I didn't know who he was or why the producers might have thought he'd be a box office draw, I'd question the decision to have him in the movie. With the possible exception of the final fight scene, there are huge swaths of this movie where it feels like he just doesn't want to be there. He looks uncomfortable in the role of a bad ass to the point where I found myself rooting for the much more charismatic bad guy, who seemed to have more on the ball than any of the people chasing him. That being said, in the lighter moments, joking around with his partner or spending quality time with his family, he was perfectly fine, as if he thought he was filming two different movies. If anything, I think this might just have been too soon for Perry to try something like this. Had he cut his teeth on something a little smaller scale to develop his action thriller bonafides and come to this in a few years, this might have been a more solid movie. As it stands, he's the weak link in the proceedings, and considering not only that he's the lead, but also that he's taking over a role from Morgan Freeman and beat out Idris Elba for the part, it makes the experience feel like a lot of wasted potential.

And it wouldn't be as bad if the movie didn't go out of its way so much to make Perry's Cross appear to everyone else around him as so smart and kick ass without ever really demonstrating it. It's been a while since I've seen either Kiss The Girls or Along Came A Spider, but if I remember it correctly, I don't think everyone in that movie who wasn't Morgan Freeman was constantly talking about how awesome Morgan Freeman's character was. While he doesn't come off as incompetent by any means, Cross as portrayed here doesn't really come off as the genius everyone's saying he is. Matthew Fox's assassin is far more well developed, to the point where when people fear him or talk about him as a person that is threatening, you believe it. By contrast, Cross is set up as the sort of peaceful mental ying to Fox's violent physical yang, and when it comes time for the scene where he shows off his intellect and skill at profiling in a dramatic monologue, it just comes off like he's pulling shit out of his ass and you don't believe any of it. This all builds to the final moment where you must believe that Cross can beat this merciless assassin on his terms, in an actual fight, and it just comes off as implausible and ridiculous. He's practically a Mary Sue, which is bad enough in written form, where you can't actually watch the character fail to live up to the impossibly high standard in real time.

Overall, there isn't enough about this movie that I can get passionate about either positively or negatively. It's not poorly made from a production or writing standpoint, but it never strives to be anything unique or better than a million other movies you've seen that are just like it. One great character does not make a great movie, as much as I wanted it to. Evidently the sequel to this movie, based on a book apparently called Double Cross, has already been greenlit with Perry committed to reprising the role. Maybe by then he'll fit into the character a little better. For what we get with Alex Cross, I wouldn't waste a night at the theater, but it's probably a safe bet for a DVD rental down the road.

Oh, and if they're gonna make another one, they probably shouldn't call back Cicily Tyson. She plays Nana Mama, Cross' annoyingly opinionated sassy old grandma in the movie, but I didn't bother to mention her character in the review because it's only a small role and didn't amount to much. Probably want to drop it going forward, or at the very least, re-cast it. Hm, I wonder who Tyler Perry could get to play a sassy old black lady.

The Idiot Box: My Thoughts On Arrow

As I've pointed out before on this blog, I've never really been a huge DC comics fan. At the same time, I've always felt that the one thing DC had over Marvel was a greater degree of freedom in its capacity to adapt their comic properties into other mediums. That's not to say that I think the adaptations of DC properties are better (and obviously it would be hard to argue that with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, except possibly in one case), just that I think the general focus on iconic characters over memorable stories gives DC a wider range of options. While their movies of late outside of the Nolan Batman series have suffered for unrelated reasons owing mostly to the lack of a unifying vision, classic DC characters have flourished on television in a way that even Marvel has yet to be able to do (though we'll see how that changes with Joss Whedon's upcoming S.H.I.E.L.D. series)

When I say they have more options, what I mean is, they have the ability to maintain some sense of credibility with their characters whether they adapt the actual original stories associated with those characters or not. It's why you can do a show like Lois and Clark, re-casting Superman into a kitschy romantic comedy soap opera, and it can still essentially work, while something like the live action Spiderman show from the 70's where he's basically just Spider Cop, doesn't. You can't tell the Spiderman story without, well, telling the stories that we remember and love, but you can do Superman or Batman without ever doing Death of Superman or Knightfall, and as long as you get the characters right, it can be a good show. I think Smallville was sort of the apotheosis of this distinction, seeming to delight in reinventing and some might argue going against the canon of classic DC characters.

And yet, you can't really argue against it. Anytime the show did something that smacked the fans in the face and they wanted to scream betrayal, all you had to do was hold up any Silver Age Superman comic and point to things like Super Ventriloquism, or the issue where Superman becomes a hobo. And if they came back and said that none of that stuff is canon, than you could just remind them that since the new 52, neither is the post-Crisis shit they love. In short, DC's lack of consistency with its history and apparent lack of concern with canon can be an advantage when branching out and trying to target audiences that haven't necessarily read the comics. I thought the character of Doomsday for example was much more interesting in Smallville than he ever was in the comics, and my favorite DC character is The Question despite never reading a comic in which he is featured, solely on the strength of his appearances in Justice League Unlimited. And without the freedom of reinvention, we wouldn't have the Nolan Batman trilogy, or the tragically reimagined Mr. Freeze, or Harley Quinn, both products of the animated series.

And now we have Arrow, the latest live action DC TV show, and the closest thing we have to Smallville's successor. Obviously, given Smallville's epic ten season run, it's too early to say whether Arrow is an adequate replacement, and it would be unfair to try to hold it to that standard. But the question is, is there any reason to think this show has the potential to be what Smallville became - a platform to expand the universe of the central character and explore how other DC heroes and villains might be translated into a new context? We're now three episodes in as of this writing, and while I was initially optimistic based on the pilot, what I'm seeing so far is making me less and less inclined to stick with it.

For those who haven't seen the show and don't know much about the character, he's basically Batman crossed with Robin Hood, a trust fund kid returned to civilization after being lost on a deserted island for five years, where he was forced to learn how to be a bad ass crimefighter in order to survive. Now back home, he's been given a mission from his dead father to clean up the streets by shooting people with a bow and arrow. That's the show's take on it anyway, which is basically consistent with the depiction from season six on of Smallville, though I don't know enough about the character to know what does and doesn't match the comic version (other than the comicbook Green Arrow having a much manlier beard). I know the supporting cast is a lot different in this regard, with his sidekick now his baby sister, his superhero girlfriend now his non-superhero ex-girlfriend, and one of his minor enemies now his best friend, but its the kind of thing that you have to do when adapting something for television, expanding the cast so it's not just one guy brooding to himself in his secret lair.

Any Smallville fan will probably be hesitant to join in on this simply for the fact that its a new, original show, rather than a spin off of the same character from the established franchise, and I have to wonder why they didn't just do that. I can't imagine the actor turned them down, especially considering he's now on another, and I would guess far shittier CW show this season, and if they were going to continue the character anyway, it would seem to be a no-brainer. Maybe it was a budget thing, better to start fresh rather than carry over a ten year production, but ultimately it hurts the show, if only because you can't help but think of the potential of that already vast universe being explored through this character instead of starting from scratch and re-introducing him. And quite frankly, the new actor just isn't nearly as charismatic in the role. He's not terrible, but he's a little wooden, and seems to have trouble shifting back and forth between the fake playboy secret identity and the dark action hero as the show demands him to. He's good in the action scenes, and pulls off the look of a nighttime crimefighter, but the rest leaves much to be desired.

The set up is intriguing enough, with this Green Arrow working from a list of names of all the people who have wronged his city, while flashbacks reveal a more complex history of his time on the island beyond simple survival, and a growing conspiracy emerges concerning the circumstances surrounding the boat crash that put him there, and so far its just enough to keep me interested. The problem is, the week to week stories just aren't nearly as engrossing, and I'm skeptical about how far they can go with it. It seems to me that there are only so many ways you can tell this modern day Robin Hood tale of rich guys getting their comeuppance before you just start repeating yourself. It would be different if, like Smallville's Kryptonite infected supervillains, there was some common theme or source uniting all the villains he's going to be facing each week, but as it stands, I don't see where they're going to go with it.

Also, the Green Arrow's personal story is the only one that is even remotely interesting to me, and even then only slightly. The rest of the cast aren't bad, but they just feel like stock TV characters surrounding a central hero, only there to complicate his life rather than having any independent personality or characterization on their own. The rebellious, drug addicted teenage sister, the bitter but forgiving ex-girlfriend, the grizzled cop out for revenge, all seem like automatic placeholders whose lives I don't care about except to the extent that they relate to the main character. Thomas Merlin's comic relief best friend is at least somewhat charming and isn't as annoying as characters like him tend to be on shows like this, and the growing friendship between Oliver Queen and his bodyguard Dig is somewhat fun to watch, and by the end of episode three shows enough promise to at least bring me back next week, but overall, the ensemble kinda falls flat.

I think there's probably just enough good in this show to justify sticking with it at least until the end of the season, but it will need to establish a more defined path if it is going to retain my interest. I need more of a reason to keep watching than what I'm getting. Going back to the Smallville example one last time, I think this show would benefit greatly from mining the DC universe a bit more than it seems to want to. The death knell for this show will be if our hero is just busting up random rich guys or criminals every week that we have no reason to care about. From what I understand, the creators are establishing their own rule similar to the No Tights, No Flights rule, where they are going to try not to introduce any superpowers or supernatural elements to the show. I'm not sure if this is wise, but regardless, there are a lot of non-powered characters in the DC universe to work with, or characters whose powers can be tweaked to fit a more gritty, realistic tone. I brought up The Question before, and I think he'd be a perfect foil for the Green Arrow in a recurring capacity, for instance. Or if they do decide they want to make his sister his sidekick Speedy, or his girlfriend a non-powered version of Black Canary, fine, just do it sooner rather than later. Don't get bogged down in combating drug smugglers and hit men when you have a wealth of more interesting bad guys and potential allies all ready to choose from.

And stop with the narration already. Every episode starts with this voice over recap of his mission and his dedication to cleaning up the streets and his need to hide his identity and all this other crap that we already know, or will easily learn in the coming episode. Its unnecessary and really cheesy to listen to, setting a tone that distracts from any given episode.

Yeah, I looked for an image of narration in Google.

Anyway, personally, I'm gonna at least give it the rest of this season and decide from there. If you haven't seen it yet, I'm pretty sure the previous episodes are available on Hulu, and it's easy enough to jump in. Not much has happened so far that would get you lost. If you liked Smallville, thought you'd like Smallville, or just enjoy this kind of costumed vigilante story (all you fans of Night Man, I'm talking to you), then I'd suggest at least giving the pilot a chance to see if it meets your threshold for entertainment. Otherwise, probably no reason to bother. There's not much else for the more casual viewer.

This happened twice. Fucking twice!

Franchises of Future Past: Tiny Monsters and Puppets Edition

If you've read either of my Unnecessary Retrospectives, you know that if there's one thing I love more than rambling on incessantly about shit nobody cares about, it's coming up with ways to expand on the mythology of said shit via even shittier fan fiction. Now all this talk about Critters and Puppet Masters has got me all imaginatin' again, and so I thought I'd use my new platform here at Stupid Blue Planet to talk about some other movies that didn't quite get the same chance to flourish and play out all of their various possibilities in sequel after sequel, and postulate a  hypothetical series (or rather a series of serieses), where none exist. First up, a movie I've mentioned before, one of my favorites by one of my favorite directors -


Okay, yes, technically Gremlins did have one sequel, which I would argue is one of the few out there better than the original, but I'm going by Unnecessary Retrospective rules here, where a franchise isn't a franchise unless it has at least a trilogy under its belt. And quite frankly, why the hell didn't these movies get another sequel? How is it that there are four Ghoulies movies, but only two Gremlins ones? It's a travesty of Ghostbusterly proportions! Anyway, what would the third in a Gremlins series look like? There are a few ways you could go with it. The obvious choice is to follow the trend set in Gremlins 2 of placing the creatures in a new and different location that is particularly conducive to their unique brand of mayhem. My first thought - Gremlins in the White House. Gremlins 3: Hail to the Creeps.

It starts with the annual tradition of a newly elected president having to choose a family pet, but a recent national rabies outbreak has made dogs and cats unworkable for security reasons. The auditions for new pets leads to the first kids falling in love with Gizmo, presented to them by a shady rare animal dealer after the original owners from the first film died in some horrible accident (I'm thinking auto-erotic asphyxiation to go along with Joe Dante's macabre sense of humor). Everything goes smoothly until a foreign dignitary presents the president with a vial of sacred water from the highest lakes of Machu Picchu, which of course gets spilled on Gizmo, creating a new band of evil Mogwai who proceed to pig out at the buffet of a late night diplomatic gala, turning them into Gremlins. You have a lot of potential for political satire as well as an element of action not seen as much in the earlier films with the secret service and maybe even the military getting involved, and it seems like something that would be right up Dante's alley.

My other thought along these lines was to play around with the mythology a little bit, specifically the rules for raising a Mogwai. One of the things I always thought was weird about the Gremlins is that they duplicate when exposed to water. The thing is, Mogwai appear to be mammals, and most mammals are basically water based lifeforms, right? Do Mogwai not have to drink like every other animal? Plus, does it have to be water in liquid form, or can ice or steam cause the birth cycle to start as well, and if that's the case, what about all the water in our atmosphere? If we must condemn M. Night for Signs, must we not also condemn Dante here? Anyway, this leads to my next pitch, Gremlins on a Cruise Ship, or Gremlins 3: High Seas Highjinks (yeah, not too proud of that one)

A wealthy woman on holiday to a tropical isle unknowingly stumbles upon the home of the Mogwai, and against the warnings of a local shaman adopts one as a pet, taking it home on the Cruise ship back to America. In transit, this new Mogwai eventually takes a swim in the pool on deck and duplicates and the cycle begins again. But here's the catch, now they're in a situation where they are surrounded by miles of water, so the Gremlins start diving overboard and duplicating on mass, creating thousands upon thousands of siblings, some of which crawl back aboard to wreak havoc, while the others swim in all directions towards the nearest continents, setting up an apocalyptic scenario for future films. The planet is 75% water, so the threat would be unstoppable.

My only other idea was to look back at the myth of real Gremlins, specifically the magical imps that would cause trouble on planes during war time. I could be wrong, but I always thought the Gremlin concept had a vaguely Germanic origin (maybe I'm just thinking of a Bugs Bunny cartoon). If this is the case, why not do a flashback and go all Puppet Master 3 up in this bitch? That's right, Gremlins vs. Nazis. Gremlins 3: Fight The Fuhrer - The Third Reich tries to use the Gremlins as living weapons, but they bite off more than they can chew and suddenly Berlin is under siege. Now the Gremlins are the heroes, but without actually becoming sympathetic like Toulon's puppets, just indiscriminately unleashing their carnage on people who happen to be bad guys, without losing their edge.  And of course it ends where Puppet Master 3 didn't have the balls to go, with an Evil Dead slapstick style torture of Adolf himself!

Next up, a movie that's only sort of about puppets, but more about puppeteers, puppet masters, and other puppety things that allow me to use the word puppet multiple times in a sentence. Puppet.

Being John Malkovich

At first blush, you might not consider this a movie that is ripe for sequelization, and truth be told, I don't really have one solid cohesive idea for how to do it, but at the same time, the universe of this movie is so rich and detailed that I want to find some way to revisit it. Obviously I wouldn't go the route of a direct sequel bringing back any of the characters from the first one, unless maybe there was a flashback to the pirate from the first movie and his adventures discovering the mechanism of portals and immortality in a rousing supernatural adventure subplot. Most likely you would have to go with an original story that expands the world more and takes the rules already established and deconstructs them.

I want to know who made these portals in the first place, and who decides where they lead and where they come out at. Are they naturally occurring, or is there some secret society or mystical being that directs it? Does the exit point always have to be the same for each portal (The New Jersey Turn Pike in the case of the original film), or can it be re-directed, essentially using the minds of people to teleport anywhere in the world? And what of the various secret groups searching for the next vessel? How do they find them, and the portals attached to them? How are these vessels chosen anyway?

You could take the story in so many directions, traveling through the history of increasing generations of vessels throughout time. It could also be an avenue to do more personal stories akin to the one in the first movie. A family is shocked when their father reveals that in fact he's been an immortal all this time, and has announced that it's time to go to the next life, and now they have to decide whether to follow him into another body. Or a vessel learns of what he is and has to decide how he feels about being able to grant immortality, but at the cost of his own personality. And the idea that multiple people can enter the same portal indefinitely brings up a whole host of questions that can be explored concerning shared intelligence, multiple personalities, and the nature of the mind. I'd also be curious to know if there were any historical figures still around in other peoples' heads. Is Genghis Khan still alive, inside the mind of an investment banker?

What happens when the use of these portals becomes common knowledge, and an accepted practice among the world at large? Whole families or large groups of people signing up to extend their lives through one person. What would the legal ramifications be? How would our society treat the vessels when they are found? Would they be chosen ones pampered until the day they are taken over, or slaves given no choice in their ultimate fate? Perhaps it is a method used to solve a future Earth's crisis of overpopulation, as thousands are condensed into hundreds, and so on, until we have two classes of people - those born with only one consciousness, and those with many, amalgamated into a psychically much different kind of human being. I envision this ending on an apocalyptic but still hopeful note, as a ship is leaving a dying Earth in the far flung future with only room for one person, and the rest of humanity crawls up inside of his noggin to make the trip, hoping one day to find a way back out and into new individual bodies.

That's all I got, but to be fair, it's better than your article about hypothetical sequels to Gremlins and Being John Malkovich. I think I'll do one of these for every two retrospectives I do, assume I still have enough sanity left to do another one of those things. See you soon America.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Cinema File #5: "Julia X" Review

I'm...kind of all over the place with this one.

Chances are you probably haven't heard of Julia X. It's the kind of straight to DVD horror/thriller movie that comes and goes every year, often getting lost in the morass of similar, or at least similar seeming fare, most of which is irredeemably bad and casts a pall over the whole lot. I'm not saying that this movie is somehow the diamond in the rough, or even as surprising in its quality as, say, Dungeons and Dragons 3: The Book of Vile Darkness. In many ways it is as bad as you might expect a movie like this to be, and in others, refreshingly entertaining. I went back and forth many times during the proceedings on whether the good was outweighing the bad, and coming out the other side, I'm still not exactly sure.

The thing that attracted me to this movie, in fact the only reason I decided to sit down and watch it, was the curiosity of the casting, specifically that it starred Kevin Sorbo as a charismatic, Bundy-esque serial killer. Yes, Kull the Conqueror (and yes, that is my go-to Sorbo reference) is using dating sites to lure women to their deaths, branding letters into their flesh before dumping them in the waters of what appears to be the Louisiana bayou, though it's never made clear. The first third of the movie follows him on one of his "dates" as he kidnaps a seemingly hapless woman named Julia, only to have her escape and lead him on an extended chase through various locations, until the tables are turned, and the hunter becomes the hunted, but not in the traditional way you tend to see it go down in this kind of story.

I don't want to give too much away, because this is a movie that really lives or dies by the twist, but the set up as I've described it is my first issue with the film. It seems to want to play around with the genre cliches of serial killer horror movies, but until the end (which I will get to later, I assure you), you never really get a clear idea of what tone they're going for. They're playing it straighter than you would think for an out and out parody, but so much of it is so outlandish and unbelievable that you think they can't be taking this seriously. Looking back on it, it kind of reminds me of an interview I read with Norm MacDonald about his failed sitcom, A Minute With Stan Hooper. He had this cheery family sitcom that was so earnest, without any of the cynicism he was known for, and apparently they had this plan to have his wife murdered half way through the season and turn it into a dark parody of Andy Griffith style cornball, but the show was cancelled before they could pull it off, so it just exists as this lame shitty show. I have a feeling that many will turn this movie off half way through and consign it to the same fate.

A lot of the movie is built around reversals where the killer and Julia trade off the upper hand to each other, but it happens so often, and so often because the other person shifted from being unrealistically resourceful to unrealistically stupid, that I have to think they must be doing this on purpose. And yet, because there is otherwise very little indication of satire at first, I struggle to give the filmmakers that much credit or benefit of the doubt, so for long stretches of the movie I just think they're not telling the story well. The reveal that Julia is not what she appears to be and has more in common with her pursuer than he realizes helps with some of that, at least in terms of explaining how this seemingly innocent and helpless girl keeps holding her own as if she expected all of this to happen, but once we get there, we run into a completely different set of problems.

The second third of the movie reveals more of Julia's past and motivations through a series of flashbacks. This is something that always bothers me in movies like this, not because they use flashbacks as a technique, but because they introduce them half way through. If they had them throughout the movie, that would be one thing, but like narration in movies, you can't just throw that sort of thing in when you don't have a better way to tell the story, and then forget about it when it suits you. This section also introduces Julia's sister, who joins in on their date, and stays around for the rest of the film. Her character and her role in the movie is not bad per se, but I think it takes the story in a less interesting direction than it could have gone if it were just a meeting of two minds, rather than a threesome. The strange, loving, competitive relationship between the two sisters grew on me, even as it made them each make increasingly stupid decisions, but overall, I think it distracts from the main concepts and makes it something different and far less novel than it could have been.

It sounds like I'm really bagging on this movie, but I'm not. While I can't highly recommend it, I also can't deny that I enjoyed myself watching it and don't regret spending the time with it one bit. I think this movie had the opposite problem that I saw with my first review, Branded. Instead of having a lot of ideas and not knowing how to put them together, Julia X has pretty much one really clever and fun idea that probably doesn't justify a whole movie, so they pad it out with a lot of slow build up, some of which is very well done, and some of which is just gratuitous or listless. At the same time, there's very little explanation as to why these characters do what they do, but in the end I don't think it's really all that important, because their roles are all very well established in terms of conventions of the genre that it's fine to leave it to the viewer to fill in the blanks. I actually think any more exposition than what is given would probably have hurt the film. Also, it seems like they are trying to lay in several motifs that don't really pan out. For example, Sorbo's character is constantly listening to The Carpenter's "Close To You," replacing his ear buds whenever they drop almost obsessive compulsively, but this never comes to anything, nor do the creepy mannequins placed in tableaus all over the house that close ups seem to be telling me are important.

One thing I really enjoyed is that in the dialogue, it seemed like a very deliberate attempt not to make the characters overly witty. It's not to say that they are dumb or boring, just that they don't make them sound unrealistically whip smart or talk like people only talk in movies. Sorbo's killer is a brutish misogynist, not an erudite Hannibal Lecter-esque genius, and Julia and her sister are clearly two very troubled people, not feminist caricatures out of a Joss Whedon TV show. However, this trend does not sustain itself, as the climactic fight is replete with the characters rattling off a series of dating site cliches that aren't as funny as the writer of this movie thinks they are. I'm guessing this one conversation was the main thrust of the story from the producer's standpoint, but when it comes, it feels out of place, and reminds me of the old screenwriter's adage, that if a script isn't working, start by cutting out the part you love most. And while much of the action is verbally understated, the violence these people heap upon each other is ridiculous. It's a staple of the genre, the serial killer as unkillable superhero, but here it's taken to such an absurd extreme that, once again, I am unsure whether they meant it to be silly, or just don't understand why this shouldn't be in a serious movie.

That is to say, I was unsure of this, until the last five minutes, whereupon all of my doubt as to whether the humor of this movie was brilliant or unintentional instantly slipped away. I definitely do not want to spoil it, but the coda to this movie, completely unnecessary in terms of the narrative, had me laughing out loud through the entire credits. All I'll say is that it involves one of the weirdest celebrity cameos I've ever seen, and takes place in a bathroom. Again, it's nothing explicit, like they come right out and say this was all a joke and it's okay to laugh, but when you see it, there is no way to think these guys didn't know exactly what they were doing when they were making this. And then, if you still have any doubt, a mid-credit sequence brings out one of the most tried and true horror cliches in such a way as to confirm what kind of movie it was you just watched. I have to say that that is probably the film's main flaw, that the pacing and tone leave you unsure of just what they are trying to accomplish, but now that I know, I'm happy with the result. I've heard Killer Joe has a similarly sudden and shockingly hilarious ending, and I do plan on seeing that movie and reviewing it here at some point (if only for the Chicken scene), but as of now, it's got a high bar to meet with Julia X. Admittedly it's a really long way to go for five minutes of insanity, and considering how much doesn't work, or rather only works in hindsight, I still don't know if I can say it is worth the ride. I'm tentatively inclined to recommend giving it a chance.

Or at the very least, wait for someone to Youtube the shit out of that ending.

Jungle Love (Oh, Ee, Oh, Ee, Oh!): Ten Horrifying Consequences of the Jumanji Universe

I like Robin Williams probably more than I should, and probably more than he deserves. He's one of those actors that shares a soft spot in my heart with people like Martin Short, Nicholas Cage, and Steve Martin, whose obvious, repeatedly demonstrated talent is only equaled by the amount of shitty, shitty movies they've chosen to appear in. In 2009 for instance, Willaims somehow managed to star in both my favorite movie of that year (World's Greatest Dad) and my absolute least favorite movie of that year (Old Dogs). He seems to spring from terrible performances to amazing ones so frequently that you would suspect he's doing it on purpose for some reason. Still, there's a sort of amorphous quality to what he brings to a film, even in some of his more maligned works, that I've always keyed into; a darkness that he brings to even the most saccharine of roles. Of those, one of my personal favorites is the perhaps somewhat underrated film Patch Adams.

Yeah, sorry, I guess the title could have been a little misleading there...

Nah, I'm just fucking with you, it's Jumanji!

Jumanji follows two generations trapped in the grip of an evil supernatural boardgame that they must win to both stay alive and to save their hometown from total destruction. What transforms the story from what could have been a fairly average fantasy adventure into what I genuinely call a classic is the treatment of the characters, who are all reflections of the twisted world in which they inhabit. All the elements are blended together so seamlessly that you almost never notice that this wacky madcap kids' movie is about two kids struggling with the tragic death of both parents, with the help of their friends, the spinster traumatized into a hermit, and a man child essentially raised by psychological torture, escaping a world of unending terror only to find that that world has followed him home and threatens to destroy everything he spent his entire life wishing to see again. It's a fucked up movie is what I'm saying. For me it ranks up there with movies like the Labyrinth, Time Bandits, or the early respectable work of Don Bluth, those fantasy films with a sinister macabre quality that elevates them above the typical family fare, and I don't think it always gets the credit for this that it deserves. Anyway, the following are ten examples of said fuckedness that I have always appreciated, in no particular order:

1: Time and Relative Dimension in Jumanji

As is fitting when dealing with the narrative mechanic of time travel, lets begin at the end. The end of Jumanji reveals that upon completing the game several decades after starting it, all of time is reversed, brought back to the point when the two main adults in the film began playing as kids. They are the only ones who remember the original timeline, and this is treated as an opportunity to re-live their lives as they should have, and make things right for others whose lives also ended up badly the first time around. It's a twist that is really unnecessary to the story structure and its not present in the original book as far as I know, and while it is presented as a happy ending, this idea creates a lot more problems than solutions.

First off, you've established that the Jumanji board game is effectively a working time machine. What's to stop some mad man from starting a game, killing the Rhino or whatever that comes out, and then putting it in a closet for twenty years while he becomes witness to future events that he can later exploit to his benefit? Sure it might be dangerous once it comes time to finish the game, but the possible rewards would be too good to pass up. And what of everyone else in this scenario, who live their lives not knowing that in a few years it will all be erased, and possibly replaced by a timeline ruled by an insane board game enthusiast?

Even if you reject the mad time traveler hypothesis, the nature of the game and how it travels from player to player makes this time reversal aspect particularly troubling. The movie implies that Jumanji is almost destined by some dark force to find people to play it, enticing them with its mystical drum beat and finding its way into the hands of children no matter how hard the previous owners tried to dispose of it. And given the instantly frightening events of the first roll, one would think the natural impulse to put away the game for months or years at a time after the first or second turn would cause this time gap to form more often than not. Whose to say we're not in one right now, just waiting for our lives to blink out of existence? And how would we know how many Jumanji induced time loops we've already experienced? This could be the twentieth time you've read this column for the first time!

This gets even more fucked up when you factor in the other magic board game that exists in this world, Zathura. This space themed evil supernatural game works on essentially the same principle as Jumanji, except that it functions more like the Jumanji from the cartoon adaptation, where the participants are always sucked into another dimension inside the game until they succeed or die. But think about this for a second. What if you play a game of Zathura in between someone else playing Jumanji. You're outside of time, so naturally you wouldn't be effected by the time reversal effect, but when you win and go back to your own time, it has since been erased. You would come back to a reality that no longer exists, and slowly fade away like Marty McFly in the alternate ending of Back to the Future where he gives in to incestuous temptation. What cruel universe would allow all of history to exist purely at the whims of a board game and the unsuspecting children who play it?

2: The Jungle of Lost Children

And speaking of those children, another aspect of Jumanji points to a truly haunting reality when the film reveals what happens when someone cheats. When young Peter tries to pull one over on the insidious intelligence inside the game, he is punished by finding himself slowly turning into a monkey. We don't see the full transformation, as the game is won before he goes fully ape, but the cartoon provides more insight into this phenomena, with the character turning into everything from a turtle, to a parrot, to a Manji, a member of the cannibalistic pigmy tribe of the Jumanji jungle. That last example is the most relevant, as it reveals that if trapped too long in one of these punishment forms, a human player may become a permanent part of Jumanji itself.

This brings me back to the world of the film, and I am forced to wonder about all the strange and dangerous creatures coming out of the game. We see monkeys terrorizing the town to much comic effect, but would it be so funny if the connection was made more explicitly, that these mindless beasts were in fact once human children who weren't as lucky as young Peter? One would think the difficulty and high stakes created by this game would make the impulse to cheat almost irresistible, especially if you had no way of knowing the consequences before you did it. And whose to say its just the monkeys? Maybe all the creatures coming into the real world are not just appearing, but escaping to the world they once knew, just like Williams' character Alan, whose turn at the dice transformed him into Jumanji's own twisted version of Tarzan. It's like that scene in Pinnochio with the donkeys on Pleasure Island, or that scene with the dog girl from Full Metal Alchemist that you never want to watch again because it makes me, I mean you, cry every time, except now its expanded into a whole world of kidnapped and mutated children, their innocence taken from them and replaced by a ravenous animal instinct.

3: Rolling A Die

While writing this column, I've been trying to think of other games where the prospect of players dying is as integral a part as in Jumanji. The only deadly games I could think of were Russian Roulette and Human Hunting if that even counts (and of course the short lived UPN series Deadly Games starring Christopher Lloyd as virtual villain Sebastian Jackyl). The thing these games have in common is that the deaths of the participants are required for the game to come to its intended conclusion. By contrast, Jumanji is just as deadly if not more so than any of these, but its turn based design means that even one character dying essentially makes it impossible to continue or end a game.

Remember, the game waited some three decades for one player to roll the dice in the movie, and there's no indication that a player's death forfeits their game piece. The clear implication is that all players must survive at least long enough for one to win, or once it becomes the dead player's turn, the game is rendered unplayable.  On the one hand, you might think that this would be a good thing, and in fact it might be a loophole one could use to stop this evil game once and for all, by forcing a player to roll the dice at gun point, then instantly shooting him in the head. On the other hand, you can almost guarantee that this action would be considered by the game to be cheating, and it would mostly likely proceed to turn you into an uncharacteristically aggressive antelope.

More to the point, the death of any player stops the course of the game in its tracks, maintaining the level of chaos already unleashed up to that point, making it a permanent fact of life for those around ground zero. By the end of the film, the game has destroyed an entire town, released thousands of murderous jungle beasts, an unstoppable Terminator-esque superhuman killing machine in a pith helmet, and a monsoon that would no doubt only grow once it leaves the confines of the players' house. In short, it is a nexus of supernatural evil spreading outward and increasing exponentially with no way to stop it from overtaking the entire country, and then the world, all because Bonnie Hunt was eaten by a lion. Any hope of a time reversal for the good is lost, and all we can do is watch as our world is slowly enveloped by the coming jungle.

4: The Eighth Circle Of Jumanji

And where exactly is this jungle anyway? All evidence points to another dimension, but no direct references are ever made to what this place really is, how it came to be, or why the only bridge between this world and ours is found in, of all things, a board game. That said, I think there's a clue that points to the larger mythology that is easily overlooked, presented in the form of the film's main antagonist of the second and third acts, the unstoppable big game hunter Van Pelt. The character is played by Jonathan Hyde, who also plays the young Alan's distant father, who is said to have died a few years before the adult Alan returns. A superficial analysis of this dual casting choice would see the metaphorical presentation of Alan's unresolved father issues embodied by the unkillable adversary, but I think a more literal interpretation actually serves us better here. What if these two character's are, in fact, the same person?

But how, you may ask, does a person die in our world only to be reborn in another, reincarnated as a force for evil in a place of unending supernatural torment? I think the answer is obvious, and that what the filmmakers are trying to tell us here is that Jumanji is in fact the afterlife, specifically the dark infernal pit of Hell itself. Here the game acts much in the same way as Lemarchand's Puzzle Box from the Hellraiser series, acting as a conduit to the underworld, allowing its demonic denizens some measure of freedom over the living world. Alan's father, condemned for his poor treatment of his son, must now face his guilt by taking the form of his now grown child's worst nightmare, hunting him down day after day in a never ending psychodrama. One can assume that Van Pelt is not the only denizen of Jumanji sentenced there for a life of sin. Those animals that aren't former children transformed for cheating are no doubt the souls of the damned, living through their own personal hellscapes in bestial silence. Trader Slick, voiced by Tim Curry in the cartoon series, is almost certainly the reincarnation of Josepf Stalin. I can't possibly be the only one to have picked up on this.

Now I know what you're saying: Alan's father only died a few years before the present day events of the movie, but dialogue implies that Van Pelt has been a part of Alan's life for much longer than that. This may seem like a contradiction, but we don't have to reach too far back into our own pop culture memory to find an answer for it. The much maligned last season of the television series Lost provides a simple solution to this problem, putting forth the idea that the afterlife is a realm where time has no meaning, the past, present, and future all co-mingling into one. Van Pelt, like Jack Shepherd and his friends, existed in the afterlife even before his former self actually died, because eventually he would die, and in the next life, is and will be are the same thing.

(Coincidentally, this connection between worlds is also how time travel works in both fictional universes. When two realities are bridged together along a common axis, one governed by linear time and the other by non-linear time, the constraints of linear time can be circumvented by rotating one reality against the other, changing the linear timeline's position relative to the non-linear one. The mechanism of rotation in Lost is a giant donkey wheel, with one end wedged into the non-linear afterlife encompassing the past, present, and future, and the other end spitting out into the ice cave, which when turned shifts the island in time. So, in conclusion, suck it, people who said they never explained that shit.)

5: When You Stare Into the Abyss...

So if Jumanji is Hell, and I'm pretty sure I just unequivocally proved that it is, where is the Devil in all of this? The obvious answer is that he is swimming in the inky black ocean of the game's signature clue delivery system at the center of the game board. Perhaps he is trapped in this dome, forced to dole out clues at random until a hapless player reveals the one that finally frees him into the world of men. Or maybe he's simply sending the clues remotely from someplace deep within the jungle, sitting atop an evil palm tree while causally sipping from an even more evil coconut. Either way, the Jumanji universe appears to treat Satan as a trickster like the riddle peddling boogeymen of legend, akin to Rumplestitskin or the Sphinx (I assume; I don't actually know anything about the real mythological Sphinx, and rather than do any cursory research, I've chosen to rely purely on my incomplete memory of an old Extreme Ghostbusters episode, where I'm pretty sure he ate peoples' brains out of their eye sockets. It was an Egon-centric episode if I remember correctly).

Now at this moment you may be asking yourselves if this entry on the list is really deserving of its own separate section, or if it is simply the logical extension of the last point. You may even accuse me of trying to cheat you by promising ten horrifying consequences while only providing nine (and presumably transforming into a meercat or baboon as a result). I take the point, but I think in a way, it still works. The problem here is not so much in the effect this notion has on the fictional universe of Jumanji, but as a meta commentary on our reaction to it as kids. When we saw this movie and how the board game worked, the first thing any of us said was "Wow, Kirsten Dunst has some really crooked teeth. She should definitely get those looked at before trying to play Spiderman's girlfriend." Then, the second thing we'd say was "Why can't all our board games be that cool and have that awesome clue thingy on it?" All Crossfire had were ball bearings, and its ability to serve as a post apocalyptic battle arena was vastly exaggerated. We all wanted the Jumanji dome thing, but in reality, what we were really asking for without even realizing it was that the Devil himself would come and possess our entertainment, to tell us exactly how he wanted us to kill our whole family in sacrificial praise to him, in the form of a series of clever riddles. Think about it. Or don't, whatever.

6: God, And His Obvious Hatred Of Children

At this point, now that we've established just how far reaching and insidious the influence of Satan is in the Jumanji universe, it seems fair to begin to question just what kind of God would allow such a situation to exist. Throughout fiction, the relationship between God and the Devil has been imagined in many different ways, though the dichotomy tends to fall roughly into one of two general categories. One has the two entities in conflict with one another, typically in the context of an ancient and endless war between good and evil with the fate of the world at stake, as in the television series Supernatural, or the obviously much more relevant Slam Dunk Ernest. Alternatively, God and Satan are sometimes portrayed as being too sides of the same coin, both playing their part in the greater cosmic ballet, or at worst friendly rivals playing a game of chess with the universe (or in the case of the classic 1991 Blake Edwards film Switch, a convoluted game involving murderous prostitutes, posthumous sex change operations, and Jimmy Smits). Jumanji however seems to go in an entirely different direction, creating a scenario in which God, assuming he or she still exists, must be at best casually indifferent towards the suffering caused by this evil game, if not just as cruel, and possibly even complicit.

To say that the God of the Jumanji universe is a cruel and capricious one is obvious by virtue of the fact that this game is allowed to propagate its evil throughout the world without any interference, but that's only one facet of the problem. It can't be taken for granted that this infernal device is clearly designed to appeal primarily to small and presumably innocent children. To use the Hellraiser example from before, imagine if the puzzle box that summons the Cenobites into the world to reveal to you the sublime pleasure of torture was re-designed and re-packaged as a wacky rubix cube like toy that forms into Sponge Bob Square Pants. To call this simple cruelty is not enough, as this clearly points to an almost whimsical, Roald Dahl-esque hatred of children on the part of the divine (a reference that the Internet tells me is evidently apocryphal, but fuck that shit). So even if you manage to escape the many dangers of the jungle and win the game, any benefit that you may have gained from re-living your life with advanced knowledge of future events will be sullied by the slow realization that you are living in a cold, vicious, uncaring universe.

But it doesn't just stop at passive indifference to human suffering. If Jumanji is Hell, created and controlled by the Devil, then logically the space themed game Zathura, concerned as it is with the exploration of what some might call the Celestial arena, must naturally be its heavenly equivalent. It makes sense when viewed in the context of that cosmic chess game, that God, seeing what the Devil has wrought and seeing humans as little more than pawns subject to his whims, would want to get in on the action. A just and kind God may have created a game that mirrors the path of ascension to some afterlife of paradise, a sort of guided tour of what leading a good life may result in as a counterpoint to Jumanji's vicious descent into the deep dark jungle of damnation, but that is not this game. The other dimensional world inside Zathura is, if anything, just as dangerous as Jumanji, replete with evil killer robots, an army of monstrous reptilian soldiers called Zorgons, and Dax Shepherd, which is never a good thing for anyone. For his own amusement, God has essentially transformed Heaven itself into a weapon to send children into space and then murder them!

7: The Rules Of The Game

And even if you manage to escape either of these deadly board game adventures, you will never be able to escape the ultimate cosmic joke that they collectively represent. The secret other worlds of Jumanji and Zathura do not simply disappear at the conclusion of their respective games. These places are still out there, the games serving merely as portals or conduits between the living world and the lands beyond, lands that every mythology and religion teaches us we are destined to find ourselves in when we die. Winning the game is a small comfort once you realize that the entire experience was merely a prelude to the inevitable fate of your immortal soul. Whether you lived a life of sin, or one of quiet nobility in hopes of one day finding salvation, it does not matter. All morality is meaningless in the face of the Lovecraftian doom that awaits us all. You're only reward for a good life in the service of uplifting humanity - waking up in the cold, lifeless void of space rather than the hot jungle full of terrifying beasts, only to realize the O Henry-esque irony that your new Zorgon body craves both heat and the flesh of large mammals. Yes, like the Monkeys and Van Pelt, Zorgons are the reincarnated souls of dead children. Dispute it if you can.

8: The Shattered Dreams Of Jungle Boys

When viewing something as large in scope as the Jumanji/Zathura Wheel of Life, Death, Time, and Reality, it's easy to forget that there is always a personal element that can't be overlooked. These games have touched so many lives and left only ruin in their wake, leaving those few who survive to live out the rest of their lives, often twice as long as they otherwise would have been, as broken people, devoid of any hope for a normal life. The trauma that results from this experience is nothing short of devastating, and one must only look towards the original film's protagonist to see this played out. Alan Parrish spends the majority of his life in Hell, growing up fighting for his life every day, never having a peaceful night's sleep, and then suddenly finds himself ripped back into the world he once knew, but that is no longer familiar to him. He seems to have a happy ending, living out a new life in which he eventually marries his highschool sweetheart once the time loop starts over, but how can this happy life be anything but a lie. Does anyone honestly believe that any man could go from a jungle savage to a normal member of society at all, let alone so quickly, after growing up in Satan's Skinner Box? The film ends with Alan and his wife throwing a Christmas party for the town, of which he is now a pillar of the community, but like Terry O'Quinn in The Stepfather, this life is clearly just a mask to hide the monstrous jungle beast within. The dark reservoir of pain that must reside inside him, building with every nightmare that pulls him back to his past life in Jumanji, must be like a powder keg waiting to blow. This man is just one really bad day away from climbing a watchtower, ranting and raving like a mad man about monsoons and stampedes until he is dragged away to the asylum. Why they didn't put that deleted extended ending onto the DVD, I have no idea.

9: From The Makers Of Jumanji

And perhaps the most frightening consequence of this universe is also the most obvious. It all started with Jumanji, one little board game in one small New England town that could have been written off as an isolated case. And then there was Zathura, another game, in another town, with a completely different parallel dimension full of terrors behind its mysterious mechanisms. How many more games are out there, and who exactly is building them? Yes, they are ultimately controlled by Satan and God respectively, but presumably, like the puzzle box, there must have been some human element to their creation, some acolyte or acolytes to do the physical leg work of carving the board and its pieces. And while Jumanji appears to be ancient and homemade, suggesting it is possibly unique, Zathura is in a box, with pre-printed cards, suggesting that at least at one point it was being mass produced. How many homes does this game reside it, sitting on a shelf gathering dust until some unsuspecting lover of retro gaming picks it up on a rainy day? And how many other games did this company make? Does every pantheon have its own game? Are the Norse Gods out there somewhere, just waiting for someone to roll the dice so they can enact a mini-Ragnarock on some innocent family? Is Anubis waiting around in a dark corridor in some extra dimensional pyramid waiting to put small children on his scales of justice? I think the answer is almost certainly yes, and if nothing else has, it should chill you to the bone. Also, finally -

10: Jumanji Hates Black People

Okay, this one is just a no-brainer. Carl Bentley, played by David Allen Grier, seems to be a character meant to provide comic relief through his many unfortunate encounters with the game and the resulting gradual loss of his sanity. Why this would be considered amusing is strange in itself, but beside the point. The fact is, despite not being a direct participant in the game, Carl is made a target of its satanic wrath as much if not more so than any other character who is actually rolling the dice. Why is this? You could argue that as a police officer dedicated to protecting his town, he is more likely than the average person to find himself in dangerous situations, but at the same time, there are presumably other cops in this town, and yet he appears to be singled out, and in many cases, finds himself fending off Jumanji related terrors whether he's responding to a call or not. The guy is a walking magnet for muderous jungle terror, and I can't imagine that it's just a coincidence that the only person not playing the game to be so singled out by it is also apparently the only black dude in this entire white bread New England hamlet. This is probably the worst thing on this list for me. I mean, constructing parallel universes of eternal torment that in many cases specifically target children and exist only to churn through human souls and transform innocent people into jungle monsters or space lizards is one thing, but bigotry? That just seems arbitrary. Don't we have enough problems with race in this country without God and Satan using their evil vortex boardgames to make things worse? It's the 21st century for goodness sake. This shit may have played when these games were terrorizing ancient Babylonia, but nowadays, it just comes off as really backwards and distasteful.

So, the next time you're watching Jumanji, or its horrifying companion piece Zathura, always remember that, much like Fred Claus, these films are not merely entertaining jaunts into worlds of fantasy and adventure. These are warnings. Dire warnings of what is to come. The end of days will come not with fire in the sky or rivers of blood, but with crazy motherfuckers in pith helmets and wacky monkeys stealing police cars.

So it is written, and then later adapted into a series of movies.
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