Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Chaos Experiment (2009)

At a glance:
Val Kilmer still has almost enough screen charisma to carry this flawed adaptation of an intriguing premise about a climate scientist who uses human subjects in his extreme global warming experiment

Our review (with spoilers):
Jimmy Pettis (Val Kilmer) walks into a newspaper editor’s office and proclaims that he has six people imprisoned in a steam room, and plans to kill them all with 125 degrees heat if he is not given a front page headline. He says it’s all to prove his extreme theories about the end result of unchecked global warming. The editor isn’t so sure, so he brings in a buddy of his, off-duty Detective Mancini (Armand Assante). A subdued game of cat and mouse ensues between Pettis and Mancini; is Pettis insane, or does he really have hostages, or both? Switched on viewers will probably guess the correct answer a lot sooner than I did.

There certainly seems to be six people trapped somewhere in an ornate steam room. As the heat rises, they attack each other and themselves. When they try to escape, someone cruelly stops them. Of course, the sleazy Latino is the first to go, but soon most of them will succumb to fear or anger. Yes, Pettis has certainly proved that a future with global warming is a living hell. Of course, if the temperature really does rise above 125 degrees Fahrenheit, people will probably have to go crazy while under water.

Kilmer is still captivating to watch on film; he’s got that special magnetism and slight touch of craziness that makes for a live and unpredictable performance, even when he isn’t doing much of anything in front of the camera. He’s let himself go a fair bit in a latter-day Marlon Brando sort of way, and this movie isn’t going to have helped that at all, since he spends virtually all of it sitting (in an editor’s office, then in a car, and finally in an interrogation room).

To portray the steam room inhabitants, ambitious editing, saturated colors, and weird juxtaposition of background tracks don’t always succeed, but at least show someone trying to create an original work of art. Unfortunately, the script did not successfully generate anything about these trapped characters that would make me care whether they live or not. Another problem is that it never seems to actually get hotter and hotter in this room. In reality, I thought people would barely be able to move. They move a lot in this steam room, and the only thing they seem to be subjected to are brutal yellowish tints added in post-production.

In the end, (major spoilers follow) the two survivors worship Pettis (who is actually dethroned climate scientist Dr. Gregory); however, they have also been turned into ruthless survivalists by their steam room experience, and plan to kill Pettis rather than take the chance that he will again go to the media and risk exposing their behavior in the steam room. At least, that’s my interpretation; I always get a slightly queasy feeling when I’m not sure what just happened in a film.

Rating: 2 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"After a round of introductions, director Philippe Martinez does all the heterosexual males in the audience a huge favor by having Jessie (Eve Mauro) remove her bikini top, strut across the room in slow motion, and recline invitingly on a tiled bench, all to the strains of Ravel's "Bolero." For me, the movie will never get quite that good again."
- porfle (HK and Cult Film News)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Project Moon Base (1953)

Movie quotes:
General Greene: Now that we have a space station -
MST3K: - or Frisbee -
General Greene: - it is at last possible to send a ship -
MST3K: - or batteries -
General Greene: - all the way around the moon.
MST3K: - or playground ball.
(MST3K, commenting on the origin of props)

At a glance:
The Mystery Science 3000 team adds some humor to this flawed, misogynistic space procedural

Our review (with spoilers):
The USA is on the verge of building a base on the moon that will be used to monitor/defuse nuclear threats. Russia, of course, wants to foil that plan, so they send a spy to infiltrate a mission to circumnavigate the moon and take photos. The spy will attempt to take control of the ship and crash it. In his way are the pilot, Colonel Briteis (Donna Martell) and co-pilot, Major Bill Moore (Ross Ford). Briteis and Moore have to get past their petty squabbling and sexist jibes to defeat the spy.

Project Moon Base should, I suppose, be commended for showing women in positions of power (Colonel Briteis and the US President are women). However, these efforts are negated by its portrayal of ‘Brite-eyes’. She rarely shows any regard for army protocol, and what’s worse, when the situation turns dour, she all but relinquishes command and suddenly defers to the man in the space ship for help and guidance.

The film has a similar problem with the script and action, or lack of it. Fans of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and other more ‘realistic’, procedural-style films will like the basis in science and the lack of tricks or editing to speed up the action. Ships accelerate slowly; they dock slowly; everything happens slowly. Even the big spy fight happens slowly (because of gravitational issues).

I reviewed this film along with the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew, headed by Joel Hodgson, in this season 1, episode 9 entry. Hodgson’s shows are laconic and match the pace of the film, allowing the movie to be appreciated on its own merits and demerits. There are occasional funny MST3K lines, but nothing to split your sides.

Rating:  1 of 4 (original film); 2 of 4 (MST3K)

Other reviewers said:
"One element that Heinlein tries to add is a touch of feminism, or to at least portray feminine equality in the male military environment. Maybe it was just Robert Heinlein, who tended to be a dirty old man at times, or maybe it was just the era in which the film was made, but much of the cod-feminism in fact collapses into embarrassing sexism."
- Moria (Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Film Review)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Hurt Locker (2009)

Movie quotes:
"You know, this doesn’t have to be a bad time in your life. Going to war is a once in a lifetime experience! It could be fun."
- Doc to Eldridge

Guard: What the fuck were you doin’?
James: I was in a whorehouse.
Guard: Alright…if I let you in…will you tell me where it is exactly?

At a glance:
The Hurt Locker is a harrowing and tense quasi-documentary of a US Army bomb squad deployed in the Middle East

Our review (with spoilers):
Imagine your job is to work in a bomb squad. All day, every day, you are called out to investigate and defuse live bombs that can kill you, your co-workers, and innocent bystanders. Tough job. Now imagine you work in a bomb squad…in Iraq. Not only do you have to deal with explosives, but you have a populace that either loves you, is indifferent to you, or wants to kill you – and you don’t know how they feel until they start shooting or blasting. It is literally hell.

If you do go, you’d best leave your fear of failing at home. James (Jeremy Renner) does so. He shows no fear of the bombs exploding – he just finds the wires and cuts them, even removing his protective suit so he can die in comfort should something go wrong. James’ confidence is so strong that it crosses the border into insanity. To some, he is a hero, but at least one higher ranking officer treats him slightly more like a freak than a hero when he hears how many bombs he has defused. He throws money at an Iraqi boy in exchange for DVDs, but when they are not up to his standards, he jokingly threatens to kill the boy. To Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), he is the alpha male, needing to be challenged, matched kept in line. To Specialist Eldridge (Brian Geraghty), his lack of fear is an inspiration – to a point, anyway.

In 1995, director Kathryn Bigelow's film Strange Days also showcased her knack for presenting an uncompromising, often ugly story. The Hurt Locker’s subject matter is perfect for her dark perception of the world. Combined with frenetic editing by Chris Innis and Bob Murawski, Locker is filled with tension that cannot be defused.

Rating:  3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Like every war before it, the U.S. invasion of Iraq has generated its share of movies. But The Hurt Locker is the first of them that can properly be called a masterpiece."
- Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)

Tyson (2008)

Movie quotes:
"While I’m in the dressing room, five minutes before I come out, my gloves are laced up, I’m breaking my gloves down, I’m pushing the leather to the back of my gloves, I’m breaking the middle of the gloves so my knuckle could pierce through the leather. I could feel my knuckle piercing through the tight leather gloves on the Everlast boxing gloves. When I come out I have supreme confidence but I’m scared to death. I’m totally afraid. I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid of losing. I’m afraid of being humiliated. But I’m totally confident. The closer I get to the ring the more confident I get; the closer, the more confident I get. The closer the more confident I get. All during my training I’ve been afraid of this man. I thought this man might be capable of beating me. I’ve dreamed of him beating me. But that I’ve always stayed afraid of him. The closer I get to the ring I’m more confident. Once I’m in the ring I’m a god. No one could beat me. I walk around the ring but I never take my eyes off my opponent – I keep my eyes on, even if he’s ready and pumping. He can’t wait to get his hands on me as well. I keep my eyes on him. I keep my eyes on him. Then once I see a chink in his armor, boom, one of his eyes may move, and then I know I have him. Then when he comes to the center of the ring, he still looks at me with his piercing look as if he’s not afraid. But he already made that mistake when he looked down for that one tenth of a second. I know I had him. He’ll fight hard for the first two or three rounds, but I know I already broke his spirit. During the fight I’m supremely confident. I’m moving my head; he’s throwing punches. I’m making him miss and I’m countering. I’m hitting him to the body; I’m punching him real hard. And I’m punching, and I’m punching him, and I know he’s not able to take my punches. One, two, three punches; I’m throwing punches in bunches. He goes down, he’s out. I’m victorious. Mike Tyson, greatest fighter that ever lived."
- Mike Tyson

At a glance:
Mike Tyson paints a mesmerizing portrait of his tumultuous life and troubled soul in his truth-laced, psychologically fascinating soliloquy

Our review (with spoilers):
Tyson is the story of heavyweight boxer and former world champion Mike Tyson, tracing his tumultuous life from his start as a troubled child, his teenage years as a hood, his ascent to the world title, and his descent back to earth. At the heart of all was his intensely close relationship with his trainer/mentor/father figure, Cus D’Amato. D’Amato pulled Tyson from a life of crime that would have surely ended in an early death or a long jail sentence, and honed his raw boxing talent into the skills of a world champion. Tyson, for his part, gave D’Amato a reason to live – to watch this man that he had molded improve and excel. D’Amato saw Tyson start to climb the steps toward the world championship but died before Tyson reached his goal. D’Amato also missed Tyson’s rapid descent. With his mentor/conscience gone, and lured into believing his own hype, Tyson stopped training and gave in to the temptations of non-stop groupie women. He lost the title to Buster Douglas, a fighter he probably could have beaten easily had he trained properly. As his professional life nose-dived, so did his personal life. His marriage to Robin Givens ended in humiliation. And later, he was convicted of the rape of an aspiring Miss America contestant, and spent three years in prison. When he emerged, his heart, mind and body were no longer dedicated to boxing; he fought again, with varying success, and admitted that often it was only for the paycheck.

What makes this story so compelling is that it is told by Tyson himself, with no holds barred (except for those parts where it is obvious that Tyson doesn’t really understand what happened to him, or perhaps has no intention of admitting the facts). Most of the film consists of close-ups of Tyson’s face as he recounts the highs and lows of his life. There is an interviewer, but they are never on-screen, and their questions are never heard; only Tyson’s answers are there to guide us. Interspersed with this are some awesome clips from his bouts that led to his heavyweight title; he was a terrifying superior fighter, expertly trained, singular of purpose, and with amazing hand speed and power.

Even Tyson himself seems only vaguely aware of just how out of control he can get when he is high, hurt, or enraged by current events or his harsh upbringing. He is quite raw, unrestrained, and animalistic, and, amazingly, he shares much of this when he tells his story. For example, recounting the details of when he attacked Don King, he first insults King, calling him a number of names and saying the man only loves money. It is as if he is reliving the anger that led him to attack King. He then says that he loved Don King. Both versions appear to be true, or at least he believes both to be true.

Rating:  3.5 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"...if Tyson never manages to charm us, there are other times when he comes off as touchingly naive. He's uncommonly empathetic to those who might think him a monster. It seems he often sometimes thinks of himself the same way."
- Philip Martin (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

"It all adds up to a fascinating psychological study, a film that goes beyond both the public persona and the fighter's own spin to get at the frightened, angry, explosive, yet utterly understandable boy who became a very troubled and very public man."
- Roger Moore (Orlando Sentinel)