Monday, June 28, 2010

The Incredibles

I was a late Pixar convert; I still haven't seen any of the Toy Story movies.  But I am a fan of animation done well, because if done well, anything thing is possible and plausible.  I did somehow see A Bug's Life on accident or by some ancillary means (i.e. some girlfriend or something), and I did enjoy it.  But The Incredibles was the first Pixar film I purposefully paid to see; in fact I saw it in theatres by myself back in '04 for the sole reason that it was about super-heroes, which I have a soft-spot and hard-on for.  And only during the opening credits was I pleasantly surprised to find that it was written and directed by Brad Bird, who created one of my favorite films, if not my favorite animated film, The Iron Giant (actually, I'll have to revisit that thought later, but I fucking love that cartoon).

The Players

The aforementioned Brad Bird writes and directs.  The voice talent is supplied by none other than "Coach", Craig T. Nelson, as Incredible patriarch, Mr. Incredible (super-strength, invulnerability), as well as Holly Hunter, Mr. Incredible's wife/baby mama, Elastigirl (super-stretchy).  Samuel L. voices Frozone (subzero coolness), and Jason Lee does the super-villain voice of Syndrome.

Synopsis and Stuff

The story about a family of super-heroes.  It's definitely been done before (the Commish has a new show about one, No Ordinary Family), but never with the power of Pixar.

The film begins in the past, where we're introduced to several super-heroes via old-timey, narrated news-reels.  This world's "Superman" is a fellow by the name of Mr. Incredible, whose secret identity is Bob Parr.  He enjoys the life of a care-free, bachelor superhero, occasionally teaming up with his buddy Frozone, but never taking on a sidekick.  His biggest fan, teen-aged Buddy Pine, has trouble accepting this latter bit, and insists on assisting Mr. Incredible.  With no powers of his own, Buddy uses an array of gadgets to try and stop Bomb Voyage from robbing a bank, but bungles the job and enables the villain to escape.  Mr. Incredible and Frozone are forced to clean up the mess, humiliating and scolding Buddy in the process, and consequently making them late to Incredible's wedding to his new-found love, Elastigirl.

Shortly thereafter, a series of lawsuits from injured bystanders results in the government banning super-heroics.  Cut to the present, where Bob and Helen Parr now live extremely boring lives in Municiberg, with their super-children Violet (invisibility/force fields), Dashiell (super-speed), and baby Jack-Jack (appears normal), all of them forced to suppress their powers in public.  Bob, now an insurance agent, hates his job and secretly sneaks out with Frozone to fight crime.  One day, Bob's fired for losing his temper towards his boss (voiced by Wallace Shawn, who's Vizzini from The Princess Bride (5 stars) and who I thought was dead), and is dreading telling his wife, when he finds a video message from the beautiful Mirage, who covertly hires him to take out the killer robot, Omnidroid 9000, on a remote island.  Incredible handles the job with ease, and takes on more assignments for Mirage, making lots of money and keeping the loss of his real-life job a secret from his wife and family.  Bob is eventually led back to the island, where he discovers that Mirage and the Omnidroid actually work for Mr. Incredible's would-be side-kick, Buddy Pine, who now goes by the super-villain moniker, Syndrome, and who traps the hero, forcing his family to attempt a rescue.  Syndrome ultimately reveals his evil plan of luring the world's super-heroes to his island to fight the Omnidroid, improving the robot's weaknesses each time, and killing the do-gooders in the process.  After seemingly destroying the Incredible family, Syndrome takes his robot to the city, and stages a fight with the monstrosity to win the hearts of the public.  The animated shit hits the fan, and the Incredibles escape from the island to save the day, but not in the way you'd expect (hooray Jack-Jack!).

Brad Bird's stories are laced with the love and nostalgia of Golden Age comic-books and fantastic tales. But he doesn't alienate those of the audience who don't give two shits about any "Age" of comic-book by just telling damn good stories, with lovable characters, ingenious plot twists, and with the help of Pixar tech, seamless animation.  So for 115 minutes, I forget that I'm an unemployed 30 year-old man watching cartoons.    Not that that would stop me.

5/5 stars

Monday, June 21, 2010

Re-Animator "What kind of medicine are you involved in? Death."

If any photo or recollection of author and cult-leader H.P. Lovecraft is accurate, the man was very short on light-heartedness and optimism.  But even Lovecraft, America's version of Uncle Aleister Crowely and father of "cosmic horror", the Necronomicon, and all things Cthulhu, would be hard-pressed not to smile at this hi-larious adaptation of his story, "Herbert West-Reanimator".

The Players

Directed by Stuart Gordon (dir. of The Dentist, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, and Space Truckers and writer of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids),  Re-animator features an unheard-of cast suitable to it's B-level stature with the likes of Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton as protagonists and Al Berry as Dr. Hans Gruber (a beer on me for whoever can tell me which movie features a classic villain of the same name).

Some directors go for broke with their debut films and leave everything on the table, as if they'll never get the chance to direct again.  Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) and the Coens (Blood Simple) come to mind.  Re-animator was Stuart Gordon's first shot at the megaphone, and while it may not have led to as storied a career as his counterparts, he nevertheless turned the opportunity into an operatic splatter-house comedy horror that never fails to entertain.  

 Synopsis and Stuff

American medical student, Herbert West (Combs, looking like a younger, shorter, smarter, and more serious Bruce Campbell), somehow eludes authorities at Zurich University Institute of Medicine after being accused of murdering his professor, Dr. Hans Gruber....and then bringing him back to life via some neon green reagent that looks a lot like funky cold medina.  He's unexplainedly deported  back to America, where he's allowed to continue his death-defying research at Muskatonic University.  

Herbert moves in with fellow student, Dan Cain (Abbott, looking like Combs' younger, handsomer brother, or Noah Wyle from E.R.), and turns their basement into his own little secret laboratory.  Dan is secretly dating the dean's daughter, Megan, and has a Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense poster on his bedroom wall (which led to my netflixing the seminal concert film that I'll review soon).  Megan is almost immediately weirded out by Herbert, and her suspicions are justified when her cat Rufus shows up dead in Herbert's freezer.  Herbert gives some bullshit excuse about finding the cat already dead and storing it in the freezer until he could break the news to the couple (which reminded me of The Office episode when Dwight euthanizes Angela's cat), and recruits the naive Dan as his research assistant when he "re-animates" Rufus with the FCM, albeit as a ferocious, uncontrollable zombie cat.

Herbert creates animosity for himself and Dan, with their professor and Megan's dad the dean, which leads to them being banned from the university, making them desperate to perfect the re-animating reagent/medina in order to salvage their reputations.  So, in search of test subjects they break into the morgue.  Re-animation madness ensues, fake blood and guts abound.

Worth Your Time?

This movie is just 86 minutes long, but it's 86 minutes of fucking Frankensteinian fun. The gung-ho Gordon manages to stuff every minute of the film with all sorts of creative gore splendor.  At one point, Herbert, having trouble keeping Professor Carl Hill's severed head up-right, uses one of those desk note-spear thingies for support.  And the skull-peeling scene is masterful.

Also, every member of this fully capable cast treats their respective performance as their only chance at an Oscar.  And when you mix that level of dedication with a movie as campy and playfully gory as this, it's just a damn good time.  So, is it worth YOUR time?  I'll leave you with this image:

4 out of 5

Fun little tidbit I pointed out to myself, and then verified via IMDB:  the opening credits theme is inspired heavily by Hitchcock's Psycho theme; almost identical, in fact.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Nightmare On Elm Street ('84)

I remember first learning, on the playground of Talbot Elementary, that there existed movies whose sole purpose was to scare the crap out of you.  The couple of my friends who were lucky enough to have parents who were oblivious to what they watched on television would regale us with stories of ax-wielding, hockey mask-wearing behemoths terrorizing teenagers at Crystal Lake, and before I had even seen one, I was in love with horror movies.

As I began seeing the trailers for the newest Nightmare, predisposing it as crap and proclaiming it as inferior to Craven's masterpiece, I realized it had been at least a decade since I'd seen the '84 classic, and wondered if it still held up 25 years later.  So with a rainy Tuesday night and Netflix Instant, I turned off the lights, got out the whiskey and weed, and settled in for a little historical horror.

I'm quite sure no one needs a synopsis of Nightmare, but truth be told, there were some plot points that I don't remember from the first go around, and that made my reunion with Fred that much more enjoyable.  Back in the day, I remember not giving a shit about the 'how' and 'why' of Fred Krueger, and being more concerned with how the hell he was going to slice up his next victim.  This time around I found myself paying closer attention to Nancy's mom's story about the neighborhood parents banding together to hunt down and kill alleged kiddie murderer, Fred Krueger by cornering him and setting him on fire.  But it was never explained why Fred used a glove with knives for fingers, and why he only showed up in his victims' dreams.  But I don't really care why, because it enables Kreuger to kill in increasingly bizarre and disturbing ways, which may ultimately be the 'why'.  For example, how else would you explain why Freddy's chasing Tina down an alley with ridiculously elongated arms, other than that it's a fucking dream so why wouldn't he elongate his arms (for some reason, that image above all other fucked up images from this film sticks with me the most, that and the goat).

A Nightmare On Elm Street still stands strong as ONE of the best horror movies of all time (but not THE best; that distinction in my opinion currently belongs to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  It does however have arguably THE best scene in horror film history.  And I of course welcome all dissenters to weigh in on this, but THE quintessential scene in horror film history unfolds as follows:  after realizing that they're all three having the same nightmare about a creep in a fedora with fucked-up fingers and face, teen friends Nancy (Heather Langenkamp, older sister on that 80's show Just the 10 of Us) and Johnny Depp stay overnight with Tina when her mom goes out of town (i.e. requisite horror movie sleepover).  Their jock -friend Rod shows up and plays some spooky pranks on the three, then goes upstairs to have loud requisite sex with Tina, while chaste couple Nancy and Johnny Depp stay downstairs.  After they all fall asleep, the inevitable shit hits the fan.  Freddy appears and watches Tina in her sleep through rubber wallpaper, then goads her into the dark alley behind her house by throwing things at her window and creepily calling out her name.  She is startled by a goat.  And then Freddy makes his move, chasing her down the alleyway, blocking her escape with the aforementioned Mr. Fantastic arms, and cornering her in her backyard where he slices off his fingers in front of her just for shits and giggles.  She tries to make it back inside, but he grabs her and a struggle ensues, which we then see is taking place in her dream as she begins to thrash about next to a sleeping Rod.  Rod wakes up, pulls off the bed-sheet and Tina's stomach is slashed open by four invisible finger-knives as she's pulled screaming by an unseen force, up the wall to the ceiling and falls to the bed in a bloody heap.  Classic.

This and so many other iconic moments in Nightmare (Freddy's hand surfacing between Nancy's legs during her bubble-bath; Johnny Depp getting sucked into his bed then spewed back out in a gore geyser), coupled with the semi-intelligent storyline, if not thoroughly explained, make for one of the most inspired and inspiring horror films ever made, and certainly the best of Craven's and of the 1980's.

5 out of 5