Category Archives: Movies

Zatôichi – No Happy Endings from this Masseur

I’ll cry when I’m done killin’.

I haven’t watched a traditional Japanese modern-day drama by Ozu or the like in so long, that I’ve forgotten that normal films come from that country. Zatôichi isn’t really weird, but Takeshi Kitano’s loving remake of the last film in the 26-episode series is definitely tongue in cheek, but still respects the character and gives us a good story.

Zatôichi movies all follow a pattern- the blind masseur wanders into town, making money by doing acupuncture and massages, as a low-caste blind man would do in the Edo period. Through his heightened senses, he slowly learns of the yakuza or corrupt officials oppressing the local people, and eventually has a showdown with them, slaughtering them with his hidden sword cane. It’s sort of like some Westerns in that way; the stranger coming to town, who just happens to be a master gunfighter. One of the movies was made into Blind Fury with Rutger Hauer in the 80’s.

The movies began in 1962 and ran until the late 70’s, with Zatôichi played by Shintarô Katsu, who starred and directed in the finale to the series in 1989. I saw that one on the Sundance channel a while back, and while some reviewers called it a muddy mess, it was decent fun for me. Takeshi Kitano, star and director of many brutally violent yet also pensive yakuza films such as Fireworks and also touching family films like Kikujiro, remade the last movie as a homage to the character; his take has a touch of camp and keeps the bloody swordfights, but manages to make them seem more comic than brutal.

Reign in Blood

Kitano’s style usually mingles quiet introspection, slice of life dialogue, and then of course the infamous sudden bursts of violence. This is no different; he doesn’t mind lingering on a shot of peasants working the fields while Zatoichi enters town, meeting a passing ceremony on the way. He finds music in daily life- as the farmers hoe their rows, the score matches their beats; the staccato slaps of raindrops hitting rooftops, sandals on wooden walkways. This helps keep our interest between scenes of action and drama, and paints a vivid picture of romanticized village life in the samurai era.

Dude looks like a lady

The story weaves three separate plots quite well- Zatôichi’s entrance to town and how he uncovers a corrupt gambling den that fleeces and murders unwary businessmen; a pair of geisha brother and sister who seek vengeance for their murdered parents; and finally, a retired ronin with a sick wife, who relents and hires out his sword to one of the town’s three warring gang leaders who has bloody ambitions on the other two. This sounds complicated, but Kitano winnows out the unessential in the storylines, and gives us brief flashbacks so we understand everyone’s motivations. The three plots converge in a superlative syzygy of slaughter, and all the sleazy town’s secrets are revealed.

Thumbs up!

He manages to keep just the right level of camp and humor throughout. Zatôichi isn’t as campy a character as let’s say, Hanzo the Razor, who was a government agent ferreting out corruption through swordplay and sexual interrogation, but a blind masseur with a sword-cane who can slice out candle wicks and slaughter a dozen swordsmen in the dark can’t take itself too seriously, or it gets silly (like Daredevil, which was inspired by it). For example, one of the village characters is a fat kid who runs in circles around his home with a spear all day, “training for battle.” And when one of the villagers finds out that a geisha girl is actually a guy, we see him in similar make-up later, wondering if he is pretty enough to be one, too.

Fans of over-the-top ninja epics like the forgettable Shinobi: Heart Under Blade and the classic Azumi may find this a little slow, and Kitano’s stylized fights too artistic. Like the old jidaigeki films, the fights are often finished with a single blow. The blind swordsman’s reverse hand sword cane style is sneaky infighting, so protracted battles wouldn’t make sense. Many people didn’t like that all the blood is computer-generated, either. Kitano wanted it to “look like flowers blossoming across the screen,” and it does soften the body count of the movie, which nears Lone Wolf and Cub proportions.

So You Think You Can Dance, circa 1683

Kitano is a stone-faced actor probably best-known in the U.S. as the teacher in Battle Royale, but he is an actor-director best compared to Clint Eastwood here. Imagine if Eastwood took something like “Kung Fu,” or Billy Jack and remade it artfully with a touch of camp and played the lead himself. That would be the equivalent. It works, but he does dip a little too deeply into nostalgia at times. The film ends with a musical number including all the villagers from the cast tap-dancing in wooden sandals on a stage to Japanese taiko drumming. Darth Milk and I didn’t mind; any chance to bust out the conga drum and play along is much appreciated.

The movie is good fun and if you want some lighter samurai action fare, this is 2 hours well spent.

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The Fury … how I feel about Brian De Palma

I’m going to admit up front that Brian De Palma kicked my puppy as a child, and that’s why I don’t like his movies. I think he makes good trash, but when people start comparing him to Hitchcock I get apoplectic. Hitchcock made good trash too, but he elevated it, De Palma wallows in it. Hitch also built his movies around dialogue– I just watched The Birds again and forgot how much of it has nothing to do with the story; yet, we are riveted to the screen. The entire first act is spent in getting Tippi Hedren to the little town that will be swarmed by angry peckers, and it’s still interesting. The whole premise is ridiculous, but Hitchcock manages to make us terrified of terns, toucans and ptarmigans.

Young Amy, and Jim Belushi’s first role in the back left.

The Fury, on the other hand, beats us over the head with action and manages to be pretty boring. Peter (Kirk Douglas) and his son Robin are on an Israeli beach when they are beset by terrorists; it turns out to be an elaborate plot by his buddy Childress (the always-evil John Cassavetes) to kidnap Robin. Later the story picks up in Chicago, where Peter is trying to track down his son, with Cassavetes still trying to kill the hardy bastard. We learn that the reason Robin was taken is that he has powerful psychic powers, and that leads to a college psychology experiment where Amy Irving’s brain is hooked up to a Lionel train set. She plays Gillian, who is psychic too, and Peter seeks her help in finding his boy. Amy was one of the nasty kids in Carrie, and now she gets her chance to throw telekinetics around; unfortunately when she looks scared, her face twists up like Gilda Radner’s, and it’s hard to take seriously.

Cassavetes once again exuding evil.

I heard it told recently that Brian De Palma’s oeuvre is best appreciated when you realize that they are all comedies, and as I looked back, I felt a sense of peace replace my apoplexy at his directing style. The Fury works great as a comedy. Take De Palma’s horror masterpiece Carrie, about a powerful psychic girl… and double it. Now there are two, a girl and boy, and they are being trained by the government as weapons by Charles Durning.

Robin has anger management issues.

There are things that make no sense until you realize it works as farce, or as a spoof of Hitchcock that Mel Brooks would envy. For example, after hijacking a cop’s car to escape, Kirk Douglas tells them to leave the car after the bad guys chasing them have been dispatched to the courtesy table in a fiery display. Then he inexplicably drives the car off the dock into Lake Michigan. Sure, he’s a government agent and has survived numerous attempts on his life by the skin of his teeth, but wouldn’t you at least drive to the train station?

Slow… mo…tion…

Then there’s an extended slow-motion sequence when one of the psychics escapes, and someone dies in the process. They never seem to learn that if you’re touching one of these kids as they undergo their dramatic episodes, blood will start pouring from your orifices like you’d chugged a six-pack of Ebola cola. At first, Amy Irving runs like she’s heading for her lover’s arms, and then Hester (Carrie Snodgrass) is chasing after her, and then the bad guys in their sedans, and finally Kirk Douglas shows up with a gun, all in gut-wrenching slow-motion emphasizing every grimace on their faces. As drama, or action, it’s torture… but as a comedy, I couldn’t stop laughing.

Now you’ll look up to me, Dad…

De Palma does manage some cute shots- he loves reaction shots in reflected glass- and I liked the scene with Mother Knuckles, an elderly woman Douglas befriends after busting into a tenement, but mostly this must be viewed as comedy. How else are we to take it when his psychic son Robin, who believes him dead at the hands of Arab terrorists, just happens to see a gaggle of sheiks at the Old Chicago amusement park, and plays havoc with them on the tilt-a-whirl? Better yet, when the kid finally cracks during his emotional reunion with Dad, as they dangle from the rooftops. There’s no way to take this seriously, and I don’t think De Palma wants us to. He’s riffing off the B movies of the past. De Palma had to know how ridiculous this all was, and that he got the job because of the material’s similarity to Carrie, so he just went nuts with it. It’s interminably long at two hours, but in the right mindset, The Fury can be very entertaining.

You won’t like her when she’s angry.
John Cassavetes’s explosive performance.

What everyone remembers is the tacked-on ending, where Amy unleashes her psychic angst on John Cassavetes. It would be topped a few years later with the head-exploding in David Cronenberg’s Scanners, but it’s hard to beat Cassavetes’s severed head floating out of frame in slow motion. The movie ends abruptly afterward, and we assume Gillian escapes. I have fonder memories of Firestarter, which was goofy but at least had a comprehensible story arc. That’s saying a lot. De Palma has a lot of style, but unlike say Michael Mann, who can use it to craft a gripping storyline, De Palma seems unable to balance them both very well. Sure, he’s made some good movies- Scarface worked because it updated a scenery-chewing gangsploitation film to the 80’s, The Untouchables likewise comes from an era where bombastic characters are expected. In Carrie, Sissy Spacek’s amazing performance, Stephen King’s archetypal story, and De Palma’s stylish direction converged perfectly. In Carlito’s Way he managed to tune things down a bit and let the good story do the talking, and material like Raising Cain lent itself to his excesses.

This is as terrifying as the prospect of efficient gas-powered vehicles!

If you watch De Palma’s movies as a fan of Hitchcock and old gangster films, and imagine John Waters is next to you helping heckle the screen, you can enjoy even his most indulgent films like Snake Eyes, which was a miserable failure. If only he’d gotten face-contorting performances out of Gary Sinise and used a lot of slow-motion and Hitchcockian Dutch angles, we could have had at least a comedy masterpiece.

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HBO’s Making of The Dark Knight

I watched this 15 minute teaser on HBO last night; it’s quite good, it gives a real taste of what we’re in for. I’m forgoing the midnight show, I think, but we have tickets for Friday. And we’ll see the IMAX show soon enough.

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Batman Begins … Revisited

In anticipation for The Dark Knight, I finally got around to watching my HD disc of Batman Begins. After hearing oodles of comic book nerds complain about Katie Holmes, and Gordon driving the Batmobile, I wanted a fresh look to see if it’s as good as I remembered, or if it was just great compared to Joel Schumacher’s bat-nipple camp-a-rama and Tim Burton’s Gothic take, which concentrated more on the villains.
I wanted to see how this held up after Iron Man. The movie still has the weak points of Katie Holmes’s superfluous Rachel Dawes and Gordon’s goofy Batmobile adventure, but other than that, it’s one of the best superhero movies yet made. Christian Bale gives a nuanced performance, only dipping into the well of Patrick Bateman when he’s expected to play the sleazy playboy. We meet him as a man consumed with the desire for revenge, whose morals barely keep him from killing the man who murdered his parents in broad daylight. This is where we first meet fiery Rachel Dawes, the one Assistant D.A. in town who can’t be bought. Her fury at Bruce’s attempt at vengeance is what sends him on his pilgrimage to find what he must do. He first confronts mob boss Carmine Falcone; he tried to corrupt the young Wayne heir by putting a hit on the man who killed his parents, and this adds a layer of depth to the story. When faced with Falcone’s brute power and control over every element of justice in the city, Bruce realizes that facing him head-on is a death sentence for him and the people he cares about. He has to find another way. He needs to learn how the criminal element works.

Stop calling me “padwan,” dude.

This eventually leads him to China; a place he can disappear and infiltrate a gang of thieves, and toughen himself for the battle ahead. He is still aimless and confused, picking fights with groups, penitence for letting Rachel and his parents down. When Liam Neeson and the Brotherhood of Shadows find him, he is once again tempted down the wrong path, and this second time it nearly works. The movie’s complexities are what make it so good. We spend a lot of time watching him train, and such montages are commonplace, but here they build a bond between Bruce and his mentor, making the inevitable betrayal hurt that much more. While having three villains hurt the previous Batman movies, here they are woven together, using each other for their own purposes, creating a singular enemy unbeknown to some members of the triumvirate. It’s clever, and works much better than teams of rival super-villains ganging up for shallow reasons.

We’re telling you you’ve got issues, mate.

Bruce has allies as well; we see the young Detective Gordon as the lone good cop in a sea of corruption, and trusty Alfred kept things running for him while he fled his problems. Michael Caine is the real glue that holds the film together, since we believe everything he says and he’s wise enough to know how far to push the comic relief. Alfred and Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox “Q” character together give us a foundation to make the ridiculous comic-book world believable. Yes, the latest reboot of the Batman franchise is much darker, but in essence it is still a rich man who dresses up to fight crime. The film takes great pains to justify the bat costume, and succeeds- but Caine and Freeman’s little smirks and grins at Bruce Wayne’s issues help us along as the ears get explained as communicator antennas, and the cape– shown in The Incredibles to be a deadly bit of foppish extravagance– here becomes a hang-glider, so the bat has more tricks up his belt than the grappling hooks we’ve seen since the Adam West days.

It runs on testosterone.

The film also dips into the true reboot of the Batman that began when Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns. The bat-a-rangs aren’t little flying deus ex machinas, but more akin to ninja shuriken, made by hand on a grinder as painful, untraceable calling cards. It’s too bad we never see a criminal in the E.R. biting the bullet as a nurse pulls one out of his forehead with a pair of forceps. The new Batmobile most resembles the crazy riot tank Miller used from DKR, toned down into a cross between hot rod and Tonka Toy, tapping into every male moviegoer’s inner 6 year old. It’s even sillier than the ridiculous Burton-era vehicle, but when we see it in action, plowing through concrete and stomping squad cars like a monster 4×4, all is forgiven. Miller also wrote Batman: Year One, which brought the series back down to earth in the gritty streets, and built Batman again from the ground up. It’s from here that we get Carmine Falcone– played with delicious glee by Tom Wilkinson– and the Chicago setting for Gotham makes an above-the-law don running the city utterly believable. Gordon’s sleazy partner is underappreciated, and looks like he came from a Serpico-inspired cop movie from the 70’s. Just one look at him with a badge, and you know the city is corrupt top to bottom.

We get to see Batman learn the ropes, too- his first foray into crime-fighting isn’t all that perfect. He does get better, and his first strike at Falcone has us on the edge of our seats, showing how he strikes fear into the hearts of criminals and uses their panic against them. Nolan also took inspiration from the excellent Batman: The Animated Series, which was surprisingly brutal. When Batman pulls a bungee jumping act to get a corrupt cop to talk, it’s something we’ve never seen him do in movies before; he always had a supernatural ability to appear where crime was occurring, and he never had to do any sleuth work. Batman’s roots are in Detective Comics, after all.

What? I’ve got something on my face?

The fight scenes are a bit forgettable, reminiscent of the Bourne movies, which make better use of the close-up, jarring quick-cut method. Nolan does keep the fights nasty, brutish and short as they ought to be, especially when he’s up against multiple opponents. They seem believable and real, and you’re never wondering why they don’t just gang up on the good guy… they are. This foundation once again prepares us to accept the unreal, such as Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow. He’s yet another over-the-top character reined in perfectly to fit the film’s dark world, a mob-bought psychiatrist with sick fantasies of his own. The film does have flaws, but they aren’t with its villains, but its heroes.

Gary Oldman plays Gordon perfectly, but he is given very little to do except establish that he is not corrupt, and that he’s willing to help this unconventional vigilante clean up the city. He’s almost too much of a milquetoast everyman, and it feels like Oldman wanted to veer away from his over-the-top villain characters, and plays it too bland. When he echoes “I gotta get me one of these,” last uttered by Will Smith in Independence Day, it hits a sour note. It was the wrong thing for the beaten-down good guy to finally pipe up and say, when he sees the bad guys getting taken down.

Katie really nailed this scene.

I hadn’t seen Katie Holmes in anything since Go and The Ice Storm, and she seemed fine in those. Here she’s not given much to do except be a one-note character, chiding Bruce for his selfish moping, and not living up to his parents’ heroic philanthropy. I’d like to blame this on her future as a Scientologist baby factory, but it feels like the script. Unless there’s a lot of bad acting on the cutting room floor. It would have taken a great actress to do much with so little screen time and dialogue, and we all know Katie Holmes is not that actress.

That’s a small nitpick at what is a great script, executed with panache by Christopher Nolan, who wouldn’t have been my first pick for a Batman film. I was really interested when Darren Aronofsky was attached, and The Fountain remains one of my favorite underappreciated films. His Batman would have certainly looked interesting, and seeing Year One through the gritty, paranoid filter of Pi would have been something, but I think Nolan was obviously the right choice. Memento‘s complex web of motives is evident in the trifecta of villains in Begins; the noir edge of his masterpiece Following translated well to gritty Gotham.
The movie wisely never shows the bodies of its villains, and gave us a 3-year tease for the next one, all beginning with that little Joker card in an evidence bag. It set the bar high for superhero movies, and is on par with my other favorites- Iron Man, Spider-Man, and 1978’s Superman. Even if you include non-hero comic book movies like Sin City, A History of Violence, 300, and Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, it’s high on the list. We’ll see if Zack Snyder’s take on the uber-graphic novel Watchmen takes its place next year. The Dark Knight is assured to be as good if not better than its predecessor, but Superman is in the emo toilet in Bryan Singer’s incapable hands, so Watchmen is our only hope.

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Hellboy II: The Golden Army

There are movies from your childhood that will always stand high on the pedestal of wonder, filtered through the lens of nostalgia, to which newer ones can never compare. For me, one of those was The Dark Crystal by Jim Henson’s crew; a world entirely without humans that felt incredibly real. A place you might like to visit, but only if you had a ticket home. Another was Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, which posited that behind the walls and closet doors of our flimsy world were a maze of wormholes that could take you anywhere in time, or even to realms of fantasy. And if I were 11 again, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army would be on that list.

The movie isn’t perfect; it begins at its low point, where we see a goofy-looking young Hellboy with his surrogate father, Professor Broom (John Hurt, the go-to man for grizzled elderly) from the previous movie, being told a bedtime story- this is where we learn the legend of the ancient war between humans and fairytale-kind, and how we were defeated by the Golden Army. They got the forests, and we got the cities, but as you know, we’ve become quite greedy for land in the last thousand years… del Toro tells the story briefly with wooden little automatons, which quickly makes you forget the campiness of young Hellboy and his buck teeth.

From there the movie is an adventure through del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola’s world, where rebel elf-price Nuada attacks an auction house with a huge boar-like henchman and a swarm of hungry “tooth fairies.” Like in the original Hellboy, it doesn’t pay to be a human agent of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, the folks who “bump back” at things that go bump in the night. They get visits from the tooth fairy, and it’s not to leave a quarter under their pillows.

Hellboy’s girlfriend Liz Sherman the firegirl (Selma Blair) and boss Jeffrey Tambor are having trouble with “Big Red.” Only Abe the fish-man seems to get along with him. So the Feds send in Johann Krauss (voiced perfectly by Seth McFarlane of Family Guy fame), a wisp of ectoplasmic smoke in a suit, to reign him in. We learn little about Krauss, but like Tambor in the first film, clashes with Hellboy’s need for recognition for his heroic deeds and his brash style, but they find a mutual respect by the end. As in the first one, we get romantic subplots but they never slow the film down or sidetrack the plot. There’s a hilarious duet of Barry Manilow by two men in the doghouse in the middle that hits the perfect tone for the characters. Like the X-Men, Abe, Liz and Hellboy just want to fit in; unlike X-Men, it’s much less dramatic here, and we aren’t force-fed eye-rolling allusions to civil rights issues. The characters are allowed to blossom without plot-driven acts of stupidity getting in their way.

Krauss helps them find the Troll Market, which just happens to be underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. This is the major set piece of the film, and lives up to the hype that other critics, like Ebert, have gushed forth. In every little cranny of the scene is something you’d like to zoom in on, and I imagine the DVD will be stunning. The Hellboy 3-disc Director’s Cut box set was full of amazing extras, and this movie might fill 3 Blu-Ray discs to show us all the creature designs. The scene resembles the bazaars of old 30’s pictures as they ask around for clurs, some sneaking, some chatting, and Hellboy smacking goons around. I’m sure there’s computer-generated effects here, but everything looked so real that you can’t tell where costumes end and computers begin.

Later on there’s a fight with a huge forest god in lower Manhattan that must be CG, but it never looks like it. We’ve seen Cloverfield trash the city, but del Toro takes a different tack, making Hellboy dash through stalled traffic with a baby in one hand and a big gun in the other, dodging tossed cars and debris as he fights the enraged creature. It’s like the end scene of The Untouchables played for laughs, and it works.

Action scenes aside, Hellboy 2‘s great triumph is that when it shows us hidden underworlds beneath Manhattan and Ireland, I believed in it. It’s fantastic without being ridiculous; we know there are mole people and 175 feet of tunnels in layers down there hiding sewers and abandoned subway stations, who’s to say there’s not a troll market? And he makes great use of Ireland’s rocky knolls for a wonderful scene at the Giant’s Causeway. When you walk the broad expanses of the Irish countryside, you do feel like you’re walking in the footsteps of giants, and they make great use of it here. The final showdown with the eponymous golden army is a return to del Toro’s love of clockworks like the device in Cronos; I remember seeing that movie at the Angelika in New York in 1993 and being wowed by it. It was a fresh take on the vampire story, where an alchemist’s clockwork device, meant to give eternal life, does so at a price. It was stylish, clever, funny… and of course had Ron Perlman as the sympathetic thug sent to steal the device. Perlman and del Toro have come a long way- that same sense of humor, love of the dark fantastic, and ability to tell tales and craft characters together which inspire the imagination, have finally culminated in an action-fantasy masterpiece that will hopefully spawn another sequel. There’s nothing quite like Hellboy out there. He’s a comic book hero, but is as far away from the superman who lead secret lives in tights as you can get.

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Last Night – Remember Y2k?

I’d been meaning to see this for years- a low-key, end of the world movie from Canada that was more about how people would react to knowing the world was ending and when, than how it would end. It was more akin to the great 80’s sleeper Miracle Mile than silly stuff like Armageddon. It manages to be quite gripping by not showing or telling us what’s coming, but letting us live with a small group of people and their last days on Earth.

“This is the way the world ends- not with a bang, but a whimper.”

T.S. Eliot’s elegiac chorus from his poem “The Hollow Men” has become almost hackneyed in repetition, but Don McKellar took it to heart when he wrote and directed Last Night, a wistful look at the final 6 hours of a small group of people, and of course, the entire world. This is a more cerebral end of the world picture, reminiscent of The Quiet Earth in ways. In Toronto, we meet a small family preparing for the world to end in 6 hours, at midnight. The older mother and father are hosting a gathering, like a final Christmas send-off; their son Patrick (McKellar) becomes the link between the other folks we meet. He wants to spend the final time alone, listening to music in his apartment.

Lonesome Patrick

His friend is racking up final sexual conquests, while a woman (Sandra Oh) tries to meet with her husband for a one last romantic dinner, but he’s still at work, calling customers of the gas company to reassure them that they will keep the gas running until the bitter end. How civilized. Of course others run amok, and the loneliness and desperation of an inevitable, unavoidable demise rests heavily on everyone’s shoulders. The film creates a singular mood that is quite compelling, and the actors are well suited, culled from the incestuous Canadian film industry. David Cronenberg plays the gas company man, with surprising talent. The film is charming in how people cling to societal conventions even in the face of apocalypse.

Sandra does some last-minute shopping.

Patrick meets Sandra in the street, after he car is vandalized and she waits on the trolley for a driver who will never come. A mother and child wait stubbornly on the train, unable to realize that the system has already fallen apart. Patrick decides to help Sandra get to her husband, and tries to borrow a car from some friends- but they need it for a violin recital. You see, he’s finally got a chance to play at the orchestra, and would you like to come? Not if it was the last day on Earth, apparently. These subtle jokes keep the tone from becoming too depressing, and gives us a chance for a little introspection and inevitable dinner conversation after it’s over- what would you do?

Patrick knows his sex-hungry friend has a few cars; but he is loathe to part with any of them, because he wants to die with a classic car collection. And two is not a collection; that’s just a guy with two cars. He who dies with the most toys wins, not just a bumper sticker, but a way of life.

We never learn what’s causing Earth’s sudden destruction at midnight, except that it’s been constant daylight for the past 6 months. No night, no stars; an arctic summer for everyone in Toronto, at least. It made me wonder what things were like on the other side of the world, with six months of darkness, or if the world was heading into the sun; it’s never explained, which is good, because it’s not meant to be a science fiction picture like The Quiet Earth. It’s a good drama with some mild laughs and epiphanies, and it really drew me in to feel for the characters. A nice chance of pace from your typical end of the world film.

The movie came out in 1998, when many people were concerned about with millennial doomsday predictions, or the anticlimactic concerns over computer malfunctions. Countries that spent millions in preparation seemed to fare as well as those who didn’t, but the turning of the great odometer inspired a slew of disaster movies. This is the anti-disaster movie, and a good way to spend some time, thinking about what you’d do; better than similar pap like The Bucket List, anyway.

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80’s Trash of the Week: Night of the Comet

The Cold War inspired many post-apocalyptic nightmares from Hollywood in the 80’s, but Haley’s Comet only inspired a couple- Lifeforce and Night of the Comet spring to mind. I happen to have watched both last week, so I’ll be inflicting reviews of both of them on you soon enough.

Red sky at morning, sailor’s a zombie.

Night of the Comet is a silly post-apocalyptic teen fantasy about a comet wiping the Earth mostly clean of adults; well, except for a few survivors and of course, the inevitable zombies wandering the earth in a cannibalistic rage as the calcium in their bones is dissolved by comet dust.

I told you, I don’t wanna see “the creature from the black chinos.”

It’s a good B movie and never tries to rise above it. It even feels like an old 50’s movie, beginning with Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart– The Last Starfighter), a spunky gal working in a movie theater when everyone else is out watching the comet graze the atmosphere.

Those were the days.

She’s a video game junkie, playing my favorite- Tempest. She’s got her initials REG in all the spots except one, where a mysterious “DMK” has gotten one of the top scores. This makes her feel miffed, so she gets her angst out by going upstairs to make out with the projectionist. He likes to trade films like It Came from Outer Space with other film nerds; this lets us know what kind of movie we’re in for. When she wakes up in the morning, everyone has been replaced with a pile of red dust and clothes, and a scary black dude with a cap attacks her. This is nothing new for an 80’s movie, where he would fit the mugger stereotype, but he’s more interested in eating her internal organs than snatching her purse.

Gimme your wallet… and your liver!

She wanders the city on her dead boyfriend’s moped, and eventually finds only a few people have survived intact- her ditzy cheerleader sister Samantha (Kelli Maroney- Chopping Mall), and a young trucker named Hector. Together they seek shelter from the few cannibals at the local radio station, which is still broadcasting. It’s pretty boring for them (and us) … So what would a few teenagers do if all the adults were dead? Go to the mall, of course!

80’s overload

The mall scenes are reminiscent of the much better Dawn of the Dead, emphasizing the emptiness of the consumerist lifestyle. It seems to have influenced the Dawn of the Dawn remake too, because they run into the rent-a-cops who once ran the place, still staking out their turf. In the meanwhile, we cut to a remote underground science lab where eggheads Audrey (Mary Woronov from Eating Raoul and Rock ‘n Roll High School) and Brian (Geoffrey Lewis from the Clint Eastwood orangutan movies) are discussing what to do with the survivors… they’ve heard the kids on the radio.

Santa will trade you presents for your sweet internal organs.

The story wobbles on the tightrope between a campy teen horror like Night of the Creeps and a more thoughtful movie like The Quiet Earth, where the allusions are much more clear. This makes it a little dull in spots, but the characters get to shine. Hector is sort of a typical heroic lunk, but he never does anything mean or stupid to further the plot; the girls are likewise realistic, with the older Regina a sharp tomboy, who reminded me of Linda Fiorentino in Vision Quest.

Stupid mall ninjas.

It comes off as a bit of a satire, and while it’s certainly trashy, especially when the scientists show their true colors, it doesn’t dip into exploitation at all. No gratuitous boobies here, and the violence is usually played for laughs. I give writer-director Thom Eberhardt credit for giving the movie its unique mood and tone, but wag my finger at the sloppy “DMK” payoff at the end- it’s too flippant, and he ends up with the wrong girl! Watching the teens turn into chiding parents was a nice touch, though. If you like 80’s movies, this is one of the lesser-known ones in the post-apocalyptic genre that is worth hunting down.

Robotron 2084: Save the last human family

Beers Required to Enjoy: Two
Could it be remade today? No friggin’ way
Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Sharp
High Points: Great premise and tone
Low Point: Weak ending
Gratuitous Boobies: Cheerleader in bra and panties

What pause buttons are made for.


Filed under 80s Trash of the Week, Movies